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December 30, 2011

order begins in the soul

A messy life is usually a reflection of a messy soul. When a person's visible life is chaotic, their inner life is also in disrepair. Or at least, this is my observation. The reverse is not as often true. By this I mean that a neat house, a RSS feed to I'm an Organizing Junkie or carefully-filed paperwork are not sure indicators of a soul is at peace. But mark my words, continual disorder on the surface is harbinger of more serious problems. Just keep your eyes open.

Growing up, I knew two families that stood out as having particularly messy homes. I'm not talking about a bit of clutter here and there. I'm talking rooms full of flotsam; and couches that always had to be cleared of miscellanea before a person could be seated. Important documents that never were filled out. Piles of gifts that never were given. Broken door latches that stayed that way. Let's be serious: it took a special kind of person to want to spend much time in these homes. They were a mess.

Years later, we learned that these families were (almost literally) covering deeper problems of the heart. Today, instead of the clutter of a home office covered in papers, I hear that their hearts have been torn to bits. Shards of relationships cover the ground and litter the shelves, paying no regard to the Bible on the window sill or the Bible college diploma on the wall. If only the disarray had merely been that of papers and collectibles, not that of hearts and lives.

I have lived with people whose bedroom floors are almost always covered in, well, anything and everything. Once, my brother noted that when he visited the home of a girl he had an interest in, there were empty cans all over the house; general chaos reigned. I told him that this was a warning sign, that was not the type of girl to date. (He didn't pursue her, though for reasons other than my warning). I have become increasingly convinced that when there is simply no desire for order, greater issues than cobwebs and dust bunnies abound.

Order in a home is more than physical or visual order, it is also order behind the scenes, in how the home functions on every level. Mental order, that understands and submits to God-given authority structures and categories. Spiritual order, where Christ is preeminent, as He should be. (Order always implies the use of suitable categories and distinctions). Homes that exhibit order through cleanliness, peacefulness and godliness are the most comfortable and welcoming for souls seeking Jesus. Physical disorder is often just an indicator that other disorder exists.

Notice that I speak of this in generalizations and in the long-term. I cannot make these statements across the board, because there may be a few loving yet disastrous-looking Christian's homes. And we must all know what it is to have a messy house to clean up, now and again. I'm more organizationally challenged than some. But I think that the difference is, when things get messy, something inside of me says this: as soon as I carve out some time, I'm going to clean this up. I don't want to live this way. I know there's something wrong about living in disarray.

When my home is in order, it seems that I have more time to look in on my soul. When I have time to look in on my soul, I am reminded of my need for the "simplicity and purity" of rekindled devotion to Christ. Just as a city on a hill cannot be hidden, neither can the peace brought about by a life that models godly order.

December 18, 2011

the incarnation and me

It is Christmas again, the time of year when we talk about the incarnation of God the Son.  "Incarnation" means "in the flesh." When Jesus came to earth, humanity finally saw God incarnate: God in the flesh. The classic incarnation passage is John 1:14, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen...the glory of the One and Only...."

God Himself became in every way like humanity. Well, in every way except one. He was without sin.
Humanity's observation of Him could be likened to the Israelites' observations of the lamb they chose for Passover. They could watch Him, check Him over, see if there was in Him any error or blemish, before He was given as the spotless sacrifice for sin.

What did the observers of the incarnation of Christ find? Peter, who lived closely with Jesus for several years, later wrote that He was "as..a lamb without blemish and without spot." (1 Peter 1:19) Pilate's judgment was clear: "I find no basis for a charge against this man." (Luke 23:4) The centurion said, "Truly this was the Son of God!" (Matthew 27:54) No one could find a sin in Him.

One of the many accomplishments of the incarnation was that it proved the perfection of Christ even amidst the struggles of life on a sinful earth. He was in all ways tempted as we are, yet without sin.

We often speak of the incarnation of Christ, but there is a sense in which every Christian evidences the incarnation, as well. Galatians says that "Christ lives in me." I do not know if this is theologically correct to borrow the term for our Christian experience, but humour me a while.

I often think about what it means to "incarnate" Christ in everyday life. I think my struggle with this has been accentuated by the new circumstances I have found myself in at work; management has been a daunting challenge. If there's anything I have learned from working with people who don't know Christ, it is that they observe everything about me, a follower of Christ. At moments when I am most unprepared, they toss out comments which show that they've been analyzing my life.

I have become especially convicted of my need for complete transparency and integrity in every way in the workplace (and the rest of life). This conviction has come both from experience and from the Word. In my Christian corner on a Sunday, I may seem like a good kid. But toss me out in front of the cranky employee, a difficult manager or an especially onerous task, and my flesh is seen, not Christ in my flesh. Sometimes they point out my blemishes, but more often, I'm just painfully aware of the inconsistencies in my testimony.

In my mind there once was a distinct line between ministry and secular employment, clergy and laity. God seems to be working hard to break down that barrier. He's teaching me about how every Christian is in the business of representing, or incarnating, if you will, the life of Christ before a watching world. The truly spiritual man is not the one who has a ministry title, but the one who lives out the life of Christ in every situation, no matter where he is or what he is doing. The Christian who lives out the incarnation.

Just as Satan many times attempted to thwart the incarnation of Christ, he and his legions still arm themselves against those who would incarnate Him daily. Hence the Christian's uphill battle to live a life of purity, consistency, wholeness. The world, the flesh and the devil arm themselves against us. I am asking God to shine His light in every corner of my life and leave nothing out. To consume my flesh and show Himself in my life, so that when others see my life (which they really do), they would see Christ's life.

As I've thought about Christians as the continuing incarnation of Christ in this world, I've been thinking about places where the good news of Christ is especially unwelcome. This is the wonder of the incarnation of Christ in us: He cannot be removed from us. He is our lifeblood. He is our hope of glory! Let them do what they will.

Incarnation. God came to earth in human flesh, so that He could also redeems us and live in our human  flesh. That He could save and indwell us, enabling us to continue to "incarnate" Him to the world. It scares me little, because while my actions are supposed to show Him, they often show sinful me. But also, it makes me thankful. By His incarnation, I have been given life eternal. Within me dwells God Himself! That is a truly merry Christmas!

October 27, 2011

church: a love story

Do you remember when you fell in love? You were so excited. It was all sunshine, rainbows and dreams (or so they tell me).

Have you ever considered the many parallels between long-term human relationships and your relationship with your local church? I remember when I first started attending my church—a warm place in a city where I knew nearly no one. They extended love and lunch invitations to me from day one. Soon they were my extended family. The Bible studies were insightful, the congregation caring. I was in love and our first months and years were so good—I knew this was God's chosen church for me.

I have been attending my local church for more than four years now. But one day some months ago, something unexpected happen. I found myself at my computer, googling other churches in my area. I noted the name of one that sounded like it might be good. I stopped. When did this happen? When did my love affair with my church cool off to the point that I was entertaining thoughts of leaving it? Where was the love I felt a few years ago?

My interest had jaded. At first that man's jokes were funny, but now they're just lame. I realized that one lady, well, she always does that annoying thing, and she doesn't stop. Sometimes they forget to thank me for something I've done! One unforgiven frustration compounds onto another and suddenly petty differences are a big deal.

(I should here insert that I'm not saying that there is never a time when you should leave your church. There are times when it is the right thing to move on. But as Joshua Harris says, too many of us have become church "daters" instead of having long-term relationships with our churches. We're selfish, independent and critical. The moment things don't go our way, we pout or hit the street.)

What keeps me in love with my specific, local church? It is the assurance that God has brought me to church. My church and I met over unique circumstances. I could not believe them to be coincidences. Until He gives me peace about doing otherwise, or moves me elsewhere, I continue to believe that He brought me to this community for His good reasons. Just like a marriage, I made sure the essentials were in place before I committed. My commitment is to the church "as is", not with designs on completely changing it.
It has become trendy to say that you "love Jesus, but don't like the church." So, what keeps me in love with the Church universal? It is the knowledge that Christ loved the Church, and that to love Christ is to love His Bride. Elizabeth Elliot says, "Love is not a sentiment. It is a fiery law: 'Thou shalt love.'" Not loving the true Church is not an option.

When I'm feeling discontent with my local body of believers, it often coincides with feeling disconnected from them, as well. I find that as I spend time with them, serve with them, grow with them, that the connection becomes stronger. When I am able to overlook my annoyances with others, and forgive, I watch our relationships put down deeper roots. Shoulder to shoulder, we build a history that we couldn't have if we switched churches every time the going got rough.

Serving your church can seem thankless. But I have been encouraged sometimes as I've looked at old photo albums of people from church. I see that twenty years ago, they were showing hospitality to the church, and they still are. The man I know to have grey hair appears with brown hair and a thick moustache, and he's serving in a different capacity, but serving heartily. I hear the stories of the man who sacrificed half of his holiday time every year to serve at camp. As I learn their history, I know that I can't be the only one who's sometimes felt overwhelmed or under-appreciated, but their stories shine as examples of faithfulness to me. Christ laid down His life for the church, so should I. They are my flesh and blood.

God hasn't brought me to my church simply to be served and happy. We all still carry sin natures, and that means that all of our interactions will not always be happy. It is through our interactions with Him and one another that He can mould each of us into His likeness. In his book Stop Dating the Church, Joshua Harris uses Spurgeon's analogy that a disconnected Christian is like a good-for-nothing brick. It can't do much alone, but as part of the building or temple that is the church, it contributes to a cause that can only be achieved through loving community.
"Going away is easy. Do you want to know what's harder? Do you want to know what takes more courage...? Join a local church and lay down your selfish desires by considering others more important than yourself. Humble yourself and acknowledge that you need other Christians. Invite them into your life. Stop complaining about what's wrong with the church, and become a part of a solution."
(Joshua Harris, Stop Dating the Church, pp. 60-61)

I can't say it any better.

October 15, 2011

on battling apathy

Crunchy leaves strewn on the sidewalk, frosty mornings, river-valley strolls and chai lattes. Autumn is here, in all its glory. As is my church's tradition, on the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend we hosted a Bible conference. It is a busy weekend, full of sermons, turkey, sunshine and conversation. 

Our speaker's chosen topic was Titus and his sermons made me uncomfortable. Truths from the Word filled pages of my journal, but more than that, they cut into my heart. Two of the key themes in Titus are sober-mindedness and good works. Truly, the two go hand in hand. All believers are taught to be "live soberly" (2:12), which means "to reserve your mind for that which is important." Once the believer's mind is reserved, what should it apply itself to? Titus teaches that "those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works" (3:8) and "be ready for every good work" (3:1).

What does Titus' message of sober living and good works has to say to me, at age (almost) twenty-six. Twenty-six? Even as I type that, it looks old. When I realize that it will soon be ten years since I finished high school, or five years since I started my current job, I realize that I am no spring chicken.

When seasons change, it often causes me to think about the passage of time. There are beautiful things that come with growing up. But one of the worst things about getting older is how easy it is to become complacent in areas where you were once more "zealous for good works" (2:15). You've tried something a few times, and seen no noticeable results, so you quit trying. Relationships that once thrived and seemed so central to your life cool off and disappointment ensues. It is too easy to settle for 90%. To trade prayer and Bible reading for extra sleep. To become—let's admit it—bitter. To become jaded.

I easily become complacent in my personal life.Who would have thought that I'd be battling to find time in my day for Scripture reading? This is not because I have no time, but because I expend it in other ways. I don't reserve my mind for that which is important. While I say the Word should be my meat and my lifesource, too often I'm just grabbing the lite, to-go version, with no time for digging deeper. And my prayer life? Let's not even go there. Unimportant, temporal things easily take priority over Bible reading and prayer. Am I getting old and lazy?

Sometimes helping at church feels so yesterday. After teaching quite a few years of Sunday school or designing lots of flyers, I am tempted to want to kick back and relax. I want to sleep through the early service or slough off additional responsibilities. I've done my share, right? I meet young-ish people who "used to lead youth group" or "used to teach Sunday school" but now do nothing to serve their local church (whether public or behind-the-scenes). How close am I to that in my heart some days? While it is not wrong to cut back or asses how best to use my time, sometimes my attitude is so selfish and cold.

At work, I find that my attitudes are often less than Christlike. I "pilfer" my employer's time (Titus 2:10) and answer back (2:9) instead of "adorning the doctrine of God our Savior in all things." I hang my head at how many times words have come out of my mouth that were not edifying. After a good Scripture bath and conviction, I'm reminded of how I need to improve, but too quickly I go back to blasé. The words and attitudes I see in myself at work evidence a heart in much need of a Saviour.

Some days I've been discouraged. I've seen the grey, the clouds, the dreariness. I'm not content being so apathetic, but I'm not zealous, either, and it is not comfortable on the fence. But here is the wonder  of it all: amidst my struggles, I find a merciful, gracious God who runs to meet me when I come to Him in repentance. If anyone would be justifiably jaded, it is Him, with me. Yet whenever I finally come to Him, He fans the flames of this cold heart through the very things it struggles to reserve itself for: the Word, prayer, fellowship with other believers and good, old-fashioned, hard work.

How can I battle apathy in my personal life, in my work, in my church, and in every area? First of all, I need a change of mind about my apathy, and must confess my sin to my great God and Saviour (Titus 2:13). After that, for me, the answer lies in discipline. I know that if I don't make definite choices, and follow up on them, my life will default to the path of least resistance, instead of that to which God is calling me. (I know that my mind won't be "reserved for that which is important" without a battle of supernatural proportions - cf. Eph. 6). Lists are often helpful to me, whether they are lists of tasks (to keep myself focused) or lists of priorities, so that I don't get distracted by the urgent rather than the important. Which good works does God have for me? Will I structure my life so that I can be reserved for those good works? Will I be sober-minded enough to keep the standard high? Apathy must be battled intentionally, by the power of God.

Tonight I wandered outside in the blackness. Night comes earlier now, as winter approaches. The tree in front of my house has forgotten to drop its leaves, but many others have remembered. I listened to the renewing sounds of Daylight Worship and gloried in Christ. His mercy is still available to me. He's bought me back, so that I can live a life of purpose and fulfillment. I, for one, am thankful.

September 17, 2011

why i write

Blame Elisabeth Elliot. Or Amy Carmichael. These ladies are two of the reasons why I returned to putting some of my writing online, on this blog, at the end of 2009.

Elisabeth Elliot is to me a greater "celebrity" than anyone Hollywood could ever endorse. In the summer of 2010 I met a gentleman who knew Elisabeth personally. My acquaintance's brother had been martyred decades ago along with Elisabeth's husband Jim Elliot, so their connection went way back. I enjoyed hearing an insider's view on this lady of determination and vision. What struck me, though, was when he told me that Elisabeth now suffers from dementia. "Her ministry is very limited."

Limited? It seemed strange to me, because a very articulate Elisabeth had been knocking me over the head with truth all week! I was in the middle of her book, Passion and Purity, and Elisabeth was challenging me with principles that seemed very counter-cultural, but very Scriptural. It was almost like I was talking with her: "But what about this scenario, Elisabeth? Isn't that OK?" And with the gumption of a woman who could supernaturally love her husband's murderers, she gave me firm, strong "no". As she and I "talked", I would never have known Elisabeth was ill. In her books, her message is as alive as ever. Elisabeth Elliot has discipled me through her writings.

If you have read much of my blog, you probably know that I also admire Amy Carmichael. Amy Carmichael and I are not contemporaries. She died in 1951 and lived on continents I have never visited (yet!). When I read Elisabeth Elliot's account of Amy's life, A Chance to Die, my life was powerfully impacted. But how do we know so much about the life and ministry of a woman who ministered in a land so far from me or Elisabeth? You already know. Because she wrote. And wrote. Letters, poems, books. While many others may have ministered in hard places at the same time, none other has gone on a road trip with me or helped me question how I live life. Amy has challenged me to the core. She has done this through writing.

In this era of information-overload and 140-character tweets, where even the family pet has a blog or a Facebook profile, why write? Isn't everyone else already doing it? Don't so many people do it better? This is why I write: because through writing, the lessons God teaches me can live on, even when my dust returns to dust. I will never be as widely-read as these ladies. But if something inside of me must write, perhaps it is because God knows that someone, someday, must read. 

Image: A scrap from Jim Elliot's journal. (Click to see source).

July 11, 2011

christian freedom

"Here in the West...we keep all the rules, even a few we made up." So goes Derek Webb's Rich Young Ruler song as it reviews Western Christianity. Those "made up" rules of Christianity are something that I have been sifting through almost since I left Bible school at age eighteen and had to make decisions for myself about what I would and would not do. By "made up" rules, I mean those rules that dictate areas on which the Bible is fairly silent.

As I've gotten to know Christians of different backgrounds, persuasions and cultures, I have seen a wide range of rules and practices. My question is always this one: what does Scripture really teach, and what is culture, legalism or caution? I want to be clear in my thinking as to what is non-negotiable (taught clearly in Scripture) and what may be cultural or personal (ie: an additional guideline that I have for myself or my family that may keep us from sin).

If you've been in conservative Christian circles for any amount of time, you could probably name some rules quite readily. They deal with our personal practice or sometimes church practice as well. Some Christians dance but don't drink. Others drink, but don't dance. Some do both. Some do neither. Most are sure they're right! The list goes on and on.

I recognize that a lot of "made up" rules have come about for good reasons. Frederick Wood says in a booklet called Questionable Amusements, "the marathon would not be run in an overcoat unless it happened to be an obstacle race." Many of the things that Christians have abstained from in generations past have been seen as hindrance to running the Christian race (Heb. 12:1). So, some of our rules protect us from sin and temptation, even if they draw the boundaries a bit tighter than the Word itself does. The problem comes when we insist that other believers must follow our personal practices in areas of freedom.

growthAs I've puzzled over this, I've asked questions: What is the real goal in discipleship? To train believers to understand and be obedient to Scripture. How do we get there? They must learn to study and understand the Word of God for themselves. What happens when they do study the Word? They may realize that some Christian rules or practices, though not harmful, are (gasp!) more cultural than Scriptural. But what was the real goal, again? To see them building lives based on God's Word—not based on Christian culture. (Or was it?)

Too often my concern in discipleship is to create a believer who thinks and lives like I do—even in the grey areas—rather than to build up a believer who can defend his choices with sola Scriptura. I sell the next generation of believers short when I want to offer them a well-packaged, cookie-cutter Christianity where everyone looks and acts the same as me. I want new believers to know the joy of being taught by the Spirit as they learn to interpret Scripture properly. I want them to know the wonder of grace, not the clanking chains of my legalism. I want them to be freed and constrained by the Spirit, not by Julie. (Or do I?)

When we equate our additional, extra-Scriptural rules for Christian living to what the Word of God has said, we are on dangerous ground. We are going beyond our bounds as teachers of God's Word. We're being Pharisees, wrapping the living, vibrant message of the gospel in stagnant rules and regulations. Yet in conservative Christian circles, this happens all the time.

A parent must tremble when the day comes for his son or daughter to leave home and start making all of his or her own decisions. But I've heard that for the Christian parent, prayers heighten when a child leaves the nest. There is a parallel as we build up baby believers, preparing them to "leave the nest" and go on to make new disciples. As we give them the tools to "leave home" by studying, interpreting and applying Scripture, we also give them the freedom to potentially live their lives somewhat differently than we would. Sometimes we tremble with fear, but we must let them go on. As we face this stage, we would better spend our time on our knees in prayer than engaging in heated arguments with newer believers about areas of freedom.

poppyThis is my vision for Western Christianity, not that we base our fellowship with others on "made up rules," but on adherence to what is clear in the Scriptures. There is so much that is clear and is being misunderstood that it is a wonder that we find so much time to emphasize the "freedom" areas. I have chosen to abstain from certain things that other Christians might consider quite alright, and the inverse is also true. I want to make my choices with a clear conscience before God and for the right reasons. I want to be firm and sure about what the Scipture mandates and what is just a "made up" rule. How we need a powerful, constant renewal from God's Word and Spirit to keep balanced, lest we miss "the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ." (2 Cor.11:3)

July 10, 2011

deep suffering, deeper joy

dark sky

In my city's downtown core there's a Brazilian couple living in a small apartment. They're like a lot of other newcomers to Canada in many ways: they don't own a car, they want to perfect their English, they're confused by some Canadian customs, and they miss their home country. Surely most newcomers face their share of hardships—just one winter in this city without your own vehicle might qualify as hardship—but not like Marcos and Janice.

If I were to explain to you their struggles, it would be convoluted or boring. (I've typed and retyped this, wondering how to be concise). Serious health problems afflict both of them, but especially Marcos, who lost vision in one eye last year due to a work accident. Because Marcos can no longer work, their financial situation is difficult, too.

OK, so I know two immigrants who have had a hard year. Why does this merit a blog post? Because Marcos and Janice show incredible joy in the face suffering. To visit with them is to come away encouraged and hopeful. Not because Marcos' vision has miraculously returned or because Workers Compensation Board recalled their decision to cut his insurance payments, but because they continually are reminding themselves and others of ultimate truth.

The true Christ-follower is ever learning to look at life through a Biblical lens. He doesn't live in an airy plane full of gumdrops and rainbows, where the struggles of life are played down or disregarded. No, he looks squarely at life as it really is for a fallen human. But when a Christian looks at reality, he doesn't bow down in the ditch and give up hope, either. He focuses his mind on the truth, revealed through God's Word, and finds the hope to live another day. He looks at life on earth through the lens of Heaven.

The prophet Jeremiah did this. He wrote, in Lamentations 3: "I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me." Jeremiah acknowledged the reality of his situation, and his hurt. "Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.' Jeremiah filled his mind with truth, and spoke truth to himself, so that he would not wallow in despair.

Marcos and Janice embody true Christianity to me. They tell me stories of near-death incidents or financial trials. Surely these two have been through more serious health problems in one or two years than most people face in twenty or thirty. But their stories are always prefaced, interspersed and concluded with remembrances of the goodness of God. The way their tales flow so naturally from sharing their struggles to meditating on God's mercy shows that they are truly learning, like Jeremiah, to call truth to mind.

When Christians suffer in a godly way, it brings praise to God and deep joy (I Peter 1). Seeing this in action is truly remarkable. Yes, worthy of breaking the silence and composing another blog post.

hopefuly sky

April 30, 2011

creases. lines. furrows.

His face is covered in lines. Creases from age, from work, from life. From marriage.

He laughs often, but something brews beneath the surface.
Something hard. Even more: something hurt.

Mark is a straight shooter. He doesn't pull punches; he tells it like it is.
Truth—sometimes too much, on occasion, too blunt.

On a quiet winter night, as doors clicked shut and cars rolled away into darkness, he asked me what was furrowing my brow. I was fretting, but I didn't know it was so apparent. We began to talk about relationships and marriage, and he, in his typical straightforward manner, told me how difficult his marriage has been. (Yes—too much information for him to be sharing with me, a single lady...but his seriousness cautioned me and urged me to prayer, so I am thankful for that conversation). 

"I wish I had married my best friend."  If he could, he'd do it over.
He'd marry a woman who feared the Lord.

I grieve for him.
More importantly, the Lord grieves for him.

The Lord takes those things that crease our brows.
His back was lined with scars that prove He got personal with our pain.
"Cast your cares upon Him, for He cares for you."
(There is hope: this week I heard the amazing story of a redeemed marriage.)

But for 70 or 80 years on earth, we still hurt. Sin's plow digs deep furrows.
Will we bear one another's burdens?
Will we pray "Maranatha—our Lord, come"?

March 27, 2011

food and the Christian

For some time now I have been wanting to study the theme of food in the Scriptures. I call this my theology of food. Life and Scripture are both full of eating and drinking. I think that to trace those themes would be a profitable study. But for now the ideas are just collecting and simmering, encouraged by books like Edith Schaeffer's Hidden Art (of Homemaking). This homemaker classic gives a Biblical perspective on how Christian women can make their homes places of creativity and art. Framing everything Biblically, Schaeffer details how the everyday tasks of cooking and eating serve greater purposes.

What follows are a few things I learned while reading Hidden Art.
  • The variety and diversity of foods available on earth echoes the creativity and care of God. We should richly enjoy what He has given (without making it an idol, of course).
  • The kitchen is an artist's studio and meals should show imagination! Schaeffer writes "Food should...give variety and interest to meals... Meals should be a surprise, and should show imagination." When a cook considers the plate her canvas, "not only does this give interest, atmosphere and pleasure to the meal, but it gives dignity and fulfillment to the one who prepared it."
  • Children can learn many important life lessons in the kitchen: lessons about working, cooking, taking time to care for and help others and sharing with strangers.
  • Shared kitchens and meals open avenues to deeper communication and meet not only physical needs but deeper, inner needs as well. "The kitchen should be an interesting room in which communication takes place between child and mother and also among adults. It should be interesting in the same way as is an artist's studio, as well as being a cosy spot in which to have a cup of tea while something is being watched or stirred, or while waiting to take something out of the oven." "Meals...should always be more than just food. Relaxation, communication and a measure of beauty and pleasure should be part of even the shortest of meal breaks.... Food cannot take care of spiritual, psychological and emotional problems, but the feeling of being loved and cared for, the actual comfort of the beauty and flavour of food, the increase of blood sugar and physical well-being, help one to go on...better equipped to meet the problems.... The cook in the home has opportunity to be doing something very real in the area of making good human relationships." 
  • The fact that Jesus speaks of coming in and eating with the person who opens the door to Him "is a promise of communication which is very close and special." The Lord wants such a relationship with each of us.
As Christians we have much to enjoy with food. His Word gives purpose and direction to quotidian areas of life. We should see this art as an opportunity to be good stewards (not wasteful), caring, sharing—to be creative, fulfilled ministers of Christ through food!

March 14, 2011

come what may: contentment

The following definitions of "contentment" have blessed my soul in the past months.
From Jeremiah Burroughs in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment:
Contentment is "that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposal of every condition."
From Arthur Pink:
"Contentment, then, is the product of a heart resting in God. It is the soul's enjoyment of that peace that passes all understanding. It is the outcome of my will being brought into subjection to the Divine will. It is the blessed assurance that God does all things well, and is, even now, making all things work together for my ultimate good."
From Martyn-Lloyd Jones:
"Man's happiness was never meant to be determined by his circumstances, and that is the fatal blunder that we all tend to make... Man's happiness depends on one thing onlyand that is his relationship to God! ...We cannot get it anywhere else. We must come back to the soul and to God who made it. We were made for him, we are meant for him, we have a  correspondence with him, and we will never come to rest until, like that needle on the compass, we strike that northern point, and there we come to rest—nowhere else." 
I could likely read these words daily and be instructed every time. Barbara Mouser writes that from God's point of view, "the height of femininity" is a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4). Gentle: that is, meek, under authority, not rebellious or contentious. Quiet: that is, full of faith, not troubled, upset or fearful. In a word, the woman of God is content. Resting. Gracious. Quiet. Sweet. Her soul is anchored in Christ (Heb. 6:19) amid the storms of life. She is content because her joy depends on the Lord, and on Him only. Is my heart a restful and orderly place, a gentle and quiet corner that reflects contentment in Christ?

(Contentment quotes found in Holding Hands, Holding Hearts by R. & S. Phillips)

January 16, 2011

respecting men

Men in this world have it hard. Women trample all over them. They mock men, use men, nag men, trounce men. Women complain: men are too rough or too sensitive, too controlling or inattentive, too lazy or work too many hours. According to women, men can never do anything right. When they are praised, it is for women's selfish gain, a sort of underhanded flattery. I watch the attitudes in the world—and unfortunately, the sinful attitudes of my own fallen heart—and I know this is true. True disaster. Human wisdom leaves us with a world full of dissatisfied, selfish women and men who jump only as high as the standard women have erected for them: low, very low.

God's wisdom, on the other hand, is the absolute opposite of human wisdom. Scripture's standards are high but so is the joy and satisfaction when one learns to live according to God's design. In my writings I generally only focus on the role of the woman, so here it is: "...let the wife see that she respects her husband" (Ephesians 5:33).

What exactly does respect look like? Today I stumbled across a blog post which relates how the Amplified Bible seeks to expand the term respect from Ephesians 5:33. This helped me to see respect in a fresh way:
"...let the wife see that she
respects and reverences her husband
that she notices him,
regards him,
honors him,
prefers him,
venerates, and
esteems him; and
that she defers to him,
praises him, and
loves and admires him exceedingly.

What man would not want to receive such respect?

A godly woman does not respect a man only when he deserves it or because he is perfect. She reverences him because it is the commandment of God. But the beautiful surprise that sometimes (often?!) comes when a woman reverences a man is this: men thrive into "more respectable" men when they are esteemed and encouraged. The woman who waits to respect a man once he deserves it may never find her man respectable. When we live according to God's design, we begin to realize how well His plan for the genders works.

1 Peter 3 contains one of my favourite passages on Biblical womanhood; I can return to it and learn every time. 1 Peter 3:1-2 (NKJV) says "Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear."

Again, here is the Amplified Bible's version of verse 2:
"When [your husbands] observe the pure and modest way in which you conduct yourselves,
together with your reverence
[for your husband; you are to feel for him all that reverence includes:
to respect, 
defer to,
revere him--
to honor,
prize, and,
in the human sense, to adore him,
that is, to admire, 
be devoted to, 
deeply love, and
enjoy your husband]."

Even as a single woman, I have seen how showing respect in the relationships I have with [saved or unsaved] men can encourage men to live out their roles, too. True, these passages specifically speak of respect within marriage. But I believe I have seen men in my life grow as I simply seek to apply simple principles of respect, along the lines of Romans 12:3,10: "For I everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly...Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another...."

The wise woman of God who overlooks offenses, humbles herself, and encourages and esteems men in ways appropriate given her relationship to those men. She reveres man out of reverence for Christ. It is a high calling, a difficult calling—but there is no greater joy than to live according to God's design!