Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Day for Birthdays


This amazing boy turned 17 years old yesterday!
We celebrated his greatness by inviting a few friends over, friends aged 7-70 
(Diversity of age in friendships is one of my favorite things about living in community!)
These friends were asked to share an affirmation for Chandler.
He was honored for being hardworking, polite, faithful, compassionate, fun-loving, and kind. 
True. All true.
He received each word of encouragement with humility and grace.
And then we ate the cheesecake, which was his cake of choice.

Meanwhile, back in the States...
My oldest nephew anxiously awaited the birth of his first-born son.
This baby boy--the debut of a new generation--was named for both his father (Jordan Burris Korth)
And my father (Burris Dennis)

And he shares a birthday with Chandler.
Introducing  Burris Korth, Born April 22, 2014

Burris with his grandma (my sister, Barbara)


Much love and hearty congratulations to the new parents, Jordan and Chelsea!

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Word About Mothers

I'm sick of it.

Sick. Of. It.

I'm sick of the perversion and glorification of motherhood that I see continually spread across the cyber-world. The video that pushed me over the edge is a video that depicts job-applicants being interviewed for a "job" that requires 24-hour duty, often standing up, with no breaks and no sleep, and by the way, it doesn't pay anything either. Of course, all of the applicants are appalled and cry "No one would do such a job!" To which the interviewer replies, "Yes, in fact many people do. It's the job of being a mom." And then all of the applicants get all mushy and nostalgic, pouring out gratitude to their mothers.

Such appeals are perhaps understandable apart from Christ. I get how the world could arrive at these conclusions. But as a believer, they make my stomach churn. 

First, motherhood is NOT A JOB! It is a calling and a privilege. It is an honor. It is a sacred role, but it is NOT a super-human endeavor. In fact, it is the very most basic human endeavor possible. God created women to be mothers and men to be fathers, and it was his joy to share creation with us through the act of procreation. The slight insinuation that there could (or should) be any sort of compensation put on such a sacred role is on the same level as suggesting that men pay their wives for sex. Do you see how it cheapens the very thing that flows out of love? Yuck! Just, yuck!

Secondly, this idea that motherhood is  "so hard" reveals how selfish we have become in our thinking. Because I struggled with infertility and faced the possibility that I might never have children, I am left with only one feeling for every hard day I've ever had as a mom: gratitude! I promise you that no matter how difficult you think it is to be a mother, there are thousands of women who, having never had that joy, would trade their best day for your hardest day in a heartbeat. If you are a mother you have been given a gift! Stop whining about it. 

Thirdly, why this need for applause? If motherhood is truly its own reward (which I believe it is) why are we begging for adulation in the public arena? Why do we need validation from outsiders or recognition for our role? It is not enough that we have been entrusted with the rearing of another human life? Is it not enough that we have the opportunity to love and shape a real person? Can't we just delight in the sheer pleasure of mothering without needing a pat on the back? Are we missing the blessing because we are too worried about the reward? God does not give us children to make us feel important. Our value should be firmly rooted in our identity as children of God, not mothers of children. What have we become?

Fourthly, this idea of mother as "victim" or "employee" is pathetic! While I am certain that I am a competent, fully-engaged mother, I have never thought of my self as "never getting a break," or "not able to eat until after my children had finished eating," or even felt that I was at the mercy of my boys. Hello, I AM the parent. I CAN set boundaries. Children can be taught (at quite a young age, I might add) to be patient, considerate, and even to entertain themselves. While we carefully meet all of their needs, David and I have never seen our kids as the "bosses." In fact, in order for them to understand and appreciate God's authority it was important for our boys to realize that they were NOT in charge right from the very beginning. 

And finally, I hate the message that such a video sends to my kids. It makes them out to be demanding and burdensome, when in reality they are the best gifts I've ever received. 

Children are a blessing. They are not our employers. They are not a job. They are not trophies. They are not the source of our identity. They are not the reason for our existence. When did we lose our way?

Mothers, please stop seeking approval from the world. Just love and serve your family as God leads you. He's the boss.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Haiku

Photo Credit: Jordan Egli Photography

Do the flowers know
The depths to which the bucket
Sinks to quench their thirst




Friday, April 11, 2014

Wrestling With Wretchedness

God warned Cain.

God saw what was in Cain's heart, and he sounded the alarm.

"...sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it."

Photo Credit: Jordan Egli Photography
It seems that while the serpent had to talk Eve into sinning, God himself couldn't talk Cain out of sinning. 

That thought sobers me. 

I've just begun a book/study that consists of 42 lessons on sin. Not "sin" in a generic sense. MY sin. In fact, on Saturday I was instructed to do a whole life review of my sin.  That's looking at 43 years of depravity, folks. It was no cake walk.

But neither was it depressing. It was intense. It was raw. I grieved. I cried. 

The point of the exercise was not to wallow in shame or unearth pain. I wasn't being encouraged to carry guilt for that which has long been forgiven. The point of the exercise was to recognize the length and the breadth and the width and the depth of my own sin nature so that I might rightly appreciate what it means to be pardoned and loved and by a perfect God. 

I was also looking for patterns and trends. Because sin is still crouching at my door, so I best learn to recognize it. 

In fact, within a few hours of completing that exercise, within a few hours of wrestling with my own wretchedness, I had already sinned again. And again. And again.

I don't have to be talked into sinning. I, like Cain, need the Living Word to talk me out of it. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Transformers

"The real issue facing the church is not essentially about methodology or even the preserving of the message. The real issue is why the church is so unaffected by the transforming presence of the living God." Erwin McMannus
"Information, by itself, does not lead to transformation. That is one of the painful lessons so many evangelicals are learning. We have relied on what I describe as information delivery systems (preaching, teaching, seminars, etc.) and assumed that if we delivered Biblical information to the listeners, they would be transformed."  Brian Rice
"I've been a follower of Christ for more than 50 years, and my testimony is that I'm disillusioned. What I have understood to be a distinctively Christ-centered, biblically informed approach to living does not seem to be transforming me the way I was encouraged to believe it would. I'm appalled, after all these years, at how untransformed I remain." Larry Crabb
Jesus did not go to the cross just to save me from the pit of Hell. He went to the cross to free me from the bondage of sin, to transform me into a new creation, and to use me for his kingdom purposes. But for years I was content to be rescued from eternal damnation, saved but sadly untransformed.

The above quotes from respected Christian leaders tell me that I am not alone in that experience.

Are you satisfied with salvation or do you crave transformation?

People tend to favor one of two theological extremes. One side claims that transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit, and that I cannot do anything to transform myself. The other side claims that I must work out my salvation with fear and trembling, investing great effort, in the process, as if everything depends on me.

I think that we are not called to choose one of these extremes; but rather, to hold both truths in a holy tension. It's not either/or but yes/and. Yes, transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit. And yes, I must intentionally cooperate with that work. But cooperation with that work cannot be reduced to attending church, having quiet times, and reading the latest Francis Chan book. As Brian Rice clearly states above--we are tempted to believe that information will necessarily lead to transformation. It simply isn't so.

I have far to go on this journey, but the amazing thing is, I do finally see progress. I am being changed--and it is clearly the Lord who is changing me. Yet, I am investing great effort in the process as well. Paul  wrote "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win." Paul knew that both salvation and sanctification are the work of God. Still, he says, "Run hard! Give it everything you've got!" This tells me that God invites me to participate in the transformation process.

Besides, if transformation is only ever God's work, how could we possibly explain the reality observed by McMannus in the above quote? For indeed, churches are full of faith-professing untransformed people! Either the Holy Spirit is failing at transforming people or people are failing to be transformed. I'm fairly certain that the problem lies with us. 

So what I am doing to avail myself more fully to the transformational work of Christ in my life? I am following the Spiritual Exercises that were first developed by St. Ignatius and have been modified by Brian Rice. I blogged earlier about the first book of exercises called Conversations. Rice simply teaches the reader how to employ classic spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, meditation, contemplation, journaling, lectio devina, etc, for the purpose of knowing God. Which, by the way, is an entirely different thing than knowing about God, which is what most Bible Studies teach.

For me, Bible reading is no longer just an intellectual activity or just a spiritual activity. It is those things, but it is also a relational activity. So is prayer. So is solitude. So is writing. And as I move into  deeper relationship with him, I am changed. No intellectual or spiritual activity apart from relationship will produce lasting transformation. But when I do those things in the context of relationship, I cannot help but be transformed. 

So here's my question for you. How is the Lord transforming you? Are you more like Jesus today than you were a year ago? Is fruit being produced in your life? Do you know your Savior better? Do you love him more? Are you walking in his ways?  

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Tip of the Shoelace

Tomorrow I embark on an adventure.

I am going away. I am going alone. I am going to write a book.

I don't even know where to begin. I've tried to begin; I've written an outline and chapter descriptions. I've made a plan and a proposal. I've painted all of the broad strokes and tried to move into the details. I've done everything that the "How To Write a Book" books tell me to do. But the writing ends up empty and lifeless.

I don't know how to write from outlines or plans. I should. But I don't.

Actually, if you want to know the truth, I usually don't know where I'm going when I start to write. I discover my destination through the writing process. I know that I am supposed to start with the end in mind, but I can't do that. Because I don't know the end until after I have started to write.

I was sharing this dilemma with a close friend and she said, "Have I ever told you about how my son draws?"

She has a son who is a gifted artist, but his approach to his work is completely unconventional. Most "How to Draw" books teach artists to start with the broad strokes--the big pieces, the main subject, and to sketch in the details in the end. But my friend told me that her son does just the opposite. If, for example, he wants to draw a skateboarder, he will typically begin with the tip of a shoelace.

I pondered this story for a few days. Then, while running with a friend, I began to explain my writing woes. I was feeling overwhelmed by the task of writing a whole book, especially because I felt that all of my outlines and plans had fallen flat. As I tried to describe my unusual approach to writing I shared the story about this artist's approach to drawing.

And then my friend said nine words that gave me reason to hope: "You just need to find the tip of the shoelace."


She's right. I think that if I try to outline the entire book, the picture will never be clear. But if God will just show me the tip of the shoelace, the picture will probably emerge through the writing process. It's scary to scrap the outline, but I think it's holding me back.

So this is my prayer; my highest hope; my deepest desire. That I would discover the tip of the shoelace, and move boldly and gracefully into my story from there.

Your prayers would be greatly appreciated.

I have written a few blog posts that are scheduled to be published whilst I am away, so Four for France will not be lifeless over the next 9 days. I do not plan to post from England. This will enable me to stay focused on the book project. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Cross

Jesus had several significant conversations with his disciples while they were traveling.

I spend a lot of time traveling with guys, so I can imagine the kinds of conversations that took place when Jesus and his merry men were on the move. Food was probably a popular topic. Sports and politics may have come into play. And then there were undoubtedly the frequent forays into the totally mundane, the base, and the downright disgusting. But every now and then they found their way to the sublime.

Here's how I imagine this particular conversation unfolding:

"Matthew, dude! Where did you get those pita chips?"

"I brought them from home! And no, you can't have any."

"James, stop breathing so hard, man, you sound like a camel."

"I do not. Camels sound like this:" {insert foul breathing noise}

"That's more like a llama. Or a goat in heat. By the way, did I tell you that my sister's pregnant?"

"Bart, how can you be so rude?"

"What? What did I do? Was I rude?"

"You just compared your sister to a goat in heat!"

"No I didn't. I did no such thing. I would never call my sister a goat. Although now that you mention it, she does have some curious facial hair."

"BART!!!"

A beat of silence.

"I say my sister will be the best mother ever."

"I say your sister has the rudest brother ever."

"I say that you guys are the worst friends ever."

And with a wry smile on his face, Jesus casually enters the conversation. "Who do people say that I am?"

The mood shifts a bit, as the disciples consider the latest gossip. It's a safe question, requiring no ownership, no self-disclosure, no commitment. They merely parrot the accepted theories of the day.

"John the Baptist"

"Elijah"

"One of the prophets"

He lets their words ring in their ears, and while they are still pondering, he changes the game. Now he makes it personal. "But who do YOU say that I am?"

Hush.

Do you hear it friend? He's asking you, too. Every time I read this passage I realize that this is a question that demands an answer. Jesus never allows the spiritual conversation to end at the theoretical level. He always makes it personal. Every person must answer THIS question. Who do you say that he is?

Peter dares to reply.

"You are the Christ, the son of the living God."

It was a bold answer. It was an honest answer. And it was the right answer. Jesus is, indeed, the Christ. The other disciples probably raised their eyebrows and nodded their approval--the silent version of "Way to go, man!" Peter was on top of the world. But he doesn't stay there for long.

The moment his disciples realized that he was the Christ, Jesus set out to explain all of the implications of that significant truth. Jesus lays everything out in simple terms; he doesn't use parables or hidden meanings.
 And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And He was stating the matter plainly.
How does Peter respond to this revelation? He's mad.

He was delighted for Jesus to be the Messiah, as long as Jesus fit into Peter's Messiah Box. This rejection, death, and resurrection talk?  This makes Peter uncomfortable. This makes Peter angry. He's so incensed that he pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him. The Bible actually says that. It says that Peter rebuked Jesus.

I wish we knew his exact words. I would love to know what one says when attempting to take Jesus to task. And I can even be tempted to roll my eyes at Peter's audacity, imagining myself to be way beyond the point where I would ever dare to question the King of Kings and Lord or Lords.

Only the problem is, I'm just like Peter. I love to proclaim the greatness of Jesus when the miracles are flowing or the worship band is singing. I'm great at confessing my faith when the brothers and sisters are nodding along, shouting, "Amen!" But throw in some rejection, a measure of suffering, and an ending that sounds like insanity and, well, I hold up my hand and say, "Wait a minute, wait a minute. This isn't what I signed up for. You've gone too far."

It's all fun and games until someone brings up the cross.
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it."
 
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