Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Hokey Pokey

Have you seen those bumper stickers – What if the Hokey Pokey really is what it’s all about?

I know.  They’re kidding.  Except that sometimes it turns out to be true.

In our Sunday morning kids’ worship (LiveWire), there’s a song we sometimes sing from one of our worship DVDs.  It’s a Sunday School version of the Hokey Pokey by Ronnie Caldwell, and it goes something like this:

You put your whole self in

You pull your whole self out

You put your whole self in and

You shake it all about

You give your heart to Jesus and

He turns your life around.

That’s what it’s all about!

It makes for a fun kids song.  We get to sing about Jesus and do a funky dance at the same time. What’s not to love?

The problem is that we grow up, and we become adult Christians, and some of us are still doing the spiritual Hokey Pokey.  It goes something like this:

We put our whole selves in, or so we thought when we gave our hearts to Jesus.  Then we get distracted by other things, and we pull our whole selves out.  Then there’s a crisis, and we put our whole selves back in because life is shaking us all about.  And we know that giving our hearts to Jesus was supposed to turn our lives around, but it feels like we didn’t get it right somewhere.

The thing is, we really were supposed to grow up spiritually as well as physically.  There’s supposed to be some maturity, and the consistency that comes with it.  In Isaiah 40, the voice in the wilderness proclaims that “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain” before the glory of the Lord is revealed.  We know that Jesus is Lord of the straight gate and narrow way, but somehow we never get our own ways straightened out before Him.  This is because we can never hope to overcome our own weaknesses by our own power.  That’s because (drum roll please) they’re our weaknesses.  What we really need is to seek out His presence and the power that comes with it, and we will do that when we pursue Him all the time, and not just when we’re in trouble.  You know what your preacher used to say when you were a kid about reading your Bible and praying every day?  Yes, that still works.

So, let’s make up our minds, you and me, that we’re going to quit doing the Hokey Pokey.  All that in and out is kid stuff.  Besides, at my age, shaking it all about can get a little dangerous.

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The Legacy of Those Summer Nights

When I was in elementary school, my mother used to send me to Bible camp.  This was not because I liked to go.  This was because I was a loner and a daydreamer, and she thought I needed to get out more.  (Or so she says.  I still wonder about her sometimes.  Like did we really not go on vacation all those summers, or did they just wait until I was gone?)  Anyway, the first two years I was old enough, she sent me to TWO different Bible camps, and while I liked the people at the camps (really, I did!), I didn’t like camp.

For one thing, I experienced serious separation anxiety.  You can call in homesickness, but it wasn’t the house I was missing.

For another, the living conditions were not exactly homelike.  The first year I went to Good News Camp, the director was still Miss Haney.  Miss Haney was the director of Child Evangelism Fellowship for Johnson City and had been for I don’t know how long.  Before that she was a missionary to Ethiopia —  I think back when it was still called Abyssinia (and I’m not kidding).  My first year at camp was her last year before she retired.  I remember liking Miss Haney, but she had rather old fashioned ideas about how things should be done.  And they were strict ideas.  There is nothing like a tour of duty on the mission field in a third-world country to knock the nonsense out of you.

One of Miss Haney’s notions was that we should not leave our cabins after lights out.  This would have been a very reasonable rule, except that the shower house and all the toilets were located in a building separate from the cabins.  This created a certain amount of inconvenience.  Technically, all the cabins had access to indoor plumbing; it was just indoors somewhere else.  So, if you woke up in the middle of the night and had to go to the bathroom, you had to rummage in the suitcase under your bunk bed, find your flashlight, put on your sneakers and walk the little path through the woods to get to the appropriate facilities.  Admittedly, this was less than ideal.

Miss Haney, however, had a solution.  Every year, at the beginning of camp week, there was a general distribution of chamber pots to each and every cabin.  On Monday afternoon, while everyone was choosing bunks and unrolling their sleeping bags, one luckless child would be dispatched to the camp office, only to return with a large, white chamber pot.  (Decorated, I recall, with flowers painted on the side, as if this made it more attractive.) I remembered this last night while I was tossing in bed and couldn’t sleep, and I had an epiphany of sorts.  Where did she get the chamber pots?  Surely, they weren’t still manufacturing those in 1983.  And where did she store them the other 51 weeks out of the year?  The mystery deepens.

Every night, to everyone’s dismay, the chamber pot would be pulled from the corner where it lurked and placed ceremoniously in the middle of the cabin.  Of course, no one ever forgot to make a last minute trip to the bathroom before lights out, but there was something psychologically disturbing about seeing the pot put in place.  It made you feel like you might have to go all over again, and then what would you do?  Not the pot!  Would the senior counselor wake up if you sneaked out the door after all?  Would it be easier to just the wet the bed?  Was it possible to think about something else? Perhaps the purpose of the chamber pot was to insure that no child HAD to go the bathroom after lights out.  If that was the case, I believe it was a wildly successful strategy.

I believe my character was shaped by this experience.  To this day, I dislike sleeping anywhere other than my own house, unless perhaps, it is a hotel that I have personally selected.  I suppose it is not fair to blame that entirely on Miss Haney’s chamber pot.  I’m still the solitary daydreamer, and I don’t get out enough. Still, moments like those live with you.  In my case, it was convulsive laughter at two in the morning when I was trying to get to sleep last night.  Unfortunately, hysterical laughter is not a cure for insomnia.

So what about you?  Did you like summer camp when you were a child?

 

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Martha and Her Frazzled Hair

Today is a Martha Day.

For those of you who are not in our Wed. night Bible study, a Martha Day is a day when, like Martha of Bethany, I find myself cumbered with much serving.  My brother has three appointments, my niece needs transportation from Gray to Jonesborough this aftertoon, and, of course, we have church tonight.  BUT I’M NOT TEACHING TODAY!  I breezed by Lifeway this morning and picked up my personal copy of Victoriously Frazzled because Barb Williams is going to teach that series, and I’m going to learn how to go from a Frazzled Female to a Victoriously Frazzled Female. Go Barb!

This could be a long process.  I don’t even know what victoriously frazzled looks like.  I do know that ever since I got my last haircut, I’ve had perpetual bedhead.  I think it is the way the hairdresser did the layers, but I cannot get this mop to lie down flat.  So, if I come to church tonight looking like I’ve had my finger in a wall socket, it is not because I am a frazzled female.  It is because I am getting a new hairdresser.  And maybe a bottle of mousse.  And maybe a new kind of shampoo.  Mother wanted something that gives body to your hair, so she tried “Tousle Me Softly,” by Herbal Essences.  As far as “tousled” goes, it lives up to the name.  “Softly,” not so much.  So between the layers and the shampoo that softly tousles me, I look like my hair dryer shorted a wire and shocked me silly.

As I was saying, this is a Martha Day (and a bad hair day),  but I’ve had my daily reminder of what’s important.  I’m sitting (as I type) in the hospital cafeteria waiting on radiology to finish taking some MRI pictures of a loved one.  This is not a crisis; it’s just a follow-up.  Someone else in the hospital is having a crisis, though, because they just called Code Blue on 2700.

I find moments like this hard to pray for.  Of course, the family (whoever they are) need prayer, but what about the person who is standing on the edge of eternity?  I’m reminded of John Donne’s line about the Last Judgment, “Tis late when we are there to ask abundance of Thy grace.”  Whatever preparations we make for eternity should be made when we are in good health, and as God gives us opportunity to draw near to Him.  When we are sick or troubled or anxious about the unknown journey ahead of us, we want to know that God’s presence is already there with us as it has been all along.

Of course, God can hear the prayers of those who turn toward Him at the last minute.  He loves to show mercy, and sometimes He uses illness to compel us to take it.  But when I am in my last moments on this earth, I want Jesus sitting next to me as an old and dear friend, and not coming in the door as the new doctor I’m trying in a last ditch effort.

I also want to know that I did the work He created me to do.  I want to know that as packed and frazzled and wearying as my days could sometimes be, that I honored him by getting things done, that I didn’t just ease myself out from under one burden after another – and I’ve dodged a few in my time.  Yes, I need the Mary moments to sit at his feet, but I also want to know that there were times when I got under a burden with Him (we so often imagine that it’s the other way around), and did the impossible things that only God could make possible.

I want to know that it was worth the journey, frazzled hair and all!

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My Favorite Holiday

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Today is the day we honor the memory of one of the great missionaries of the church.  Patrick obeyed God’s call to the carry the gospel to his former persecutors, and his legacy changed the course of world history through the efforts of later Irish scholars and missionaries.

Our ladies’ class  watched a video on Patrick last night, and there was general agreement that the holiday has been distorted to something that really has no relation to Patrick’s life and work.  Of course, we are hardly the only ones to notice that.  Christianity Today online has a great article today on alternative ways to celebrate Patrick’s life and work.  One suggestion, I found intriguing was the idea that we might use the day to raise awareness of the issue of modern day slavery.  I checked the Department of Justice’s website and discovered that, in the United States alone, an estimated at 293,000 girls are either victims of sex trafficking or considered high risk to be exploited.  Many of them are runaways or throwaways.  Some of them come from abusive or unstable homes and have never had the example of healthy relationships.  They are preferred by pimps because minors are more naive and comparatively easy to manipulate.  The internet has also made them more vulnerable because their “services” can be listed online and because the web has made it easier to distribute and buy pornography.  One of my student’s did a research paper on this issue a couple of months ago and discovered that there are less than ten shelters in the United States that specialize in helping girls rescued from trafficking.  They come with complex issues and obstacles and the average shelter for teenagers simply does not have all the training and resources to cope with their needs.

And, as enormous as this problem seems, it is only the tip of an international iceberg.  The problem exists everywhere, and it is worse in countries where women and children are traditionally seen as property in any case.  I find myself wishing every time I see fresh statistics that the entire body of Christ was more vocal about the rights and dignity of women.

I don’t know if this is a cause to associate with St. Patrick’s Day or not, but what better way to celebrate Patrick’s life than to proclaim liberty to the captives?  Perhaps, too, greater public outcry against prostitution would shame those who use this day as an excuse for debauchery.

What about you?  You don’t have take up this cause, but how would you like to see the church honor St. Patrick’s ministry?  How should we celebrate the day?

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Brutus is an Honorable Man

Today is the Ides of March.

For those of you who have never had to study Latin (lucky you), the Ides of March was a holiday the Romans celebrated on March 15.  It was a festival in honor of Mars, the Roman god of war, and it is still famous because, in 44 B.C., Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March.

The title above is from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the only play by Shakespeare that I liked when I was in high school.  (I’m afraid my opinion of Romeo and Juliet was rather low. What idiots!)   In the play, Brutus is forced to choose between his loyalty to and affection for Caesar, and what he believes is in the best interest of Rome.  The Romans of Brutus’ day, like modern Americans, had rejected monarchy.  The upper class of Rome, those who could be Senators, hated and feared the idea of rule by one man.  The possibility that Caesar might have enough political and popular support to become that one man meant that he had to die.  So, Brutus and his fellow conspirators waylaid Caesar in the Curia (Senate house) and stabbed him to death.  They succeeded in killing Caesar, but they failed to stop political change.  Caesar’s nephew, Octavian, became emperor instead.

Brutus was an honorable man because, given a hard moral choice, he chose what was in the best interest of his people.  You and I face a similar choice everyday because there is a little caesar in all of us. (No, not the pizza guy!)  I mean the ego I have that continually puffs itself up and wants the praise and esteem of others.  It would happily be queen of all it surveys.  The problem is that monarchy is bondage.  Yes, even if I’m the monarch (or think I am).  The minute that Crown of Self-Centeredness alights on my pointed little head, I have become enslaved to me.  And, believe me, I know myself too well to like the sound of that.  Enslaved to my need to please; enslaved to my bad habits; enslaved to my unfulfilled desires and ambitions; enslaved to bad memories that I can’t resist brooding over. Yes, being the Queen of Me sounds like no end of fun.

We can say with rejoicing that God has given us an alternative:  “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:4-5, ESV)

Does that sound like a bloody revolution to you?  Me, too.  At least, though, we are guaranteed more success than Brutus.  It’s not going to kill us to stick a pin in our stuck-up egos.  And when we take on our own strongholds (sinful habits), we have a potent Ally who means to see that the war is won.  According to 1 Corinthians 15, we have victory through Christ who promises to resurrect our sinful bodies and give us glorious bodies like His own.

In the meantime, I’d like to taste some liberty.

 

 

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Remember, Remember

I haven’t been a very good blog buddy lately.  I certainly haven’t forgotten you, but the dissertation has taken all the attention I could spare for it this past week.

My research took an interesting turn this weekend, as several scholars noted Donne’s debt to St. Augustine and his teaching on the role of Memory in conversion.  I was taught as a child that human beings are made in the image of God in that we possess intellect, emotion and will.  Augustine’s model is a little different.  According to Augustine, we are like our Creator in possessing intellect, will and memory.  Of these three, memory is the most likely to point us back to God because, since Adam fell in the garden, the will is enslaved to sin.  Reason is also corrupted because it is so frequently employed in justifying what the fallen will succumbs to.

That leaves memory which possesses, first of all, the natural knowledge of God that He has placed in every human heart.  (I’m not sure how Augustine defends this, but I would use Ecc. 3:11, “He has put eternity into man’s heart.”)  Everyone comes into the world with the knowledge that we came from somewhere, and that there is Someone important we should discover and know.  The theist remembers this; the atheist does not.  For Christians, memory is also important to us because life is all about flux.  We continually move from one stage of life (and one life crisis!) to another.  Memory enables us to hold onto what God has done for us in the past.  Throughout the Old Testament, God continually emphasizes to Israel the importance of memory.  They were to bind the law around their foreheads (symbolic of making it part of how they thought); they were to teach it to their children morning and evening; they were to put up monuments to the victories God gave, and they were not for any reason to remove those “ancient landmarks.”  Even their holidays and celebrations, though they looked forward to the coming Savior, also commemorated what God had done for them in the past – the Feast of Booths to remember their years in the wilderness, the Passover to remember the Exodus, and the yearly Feast of Firstfruits to celebrate how God had blessed them in the past year.  All of this because God knows how easily we forget, and how important it is that we should remember.

In his book, Future Grace, John Piper disputes the idea that we will can become holy people out of gratitude for God’s grace.  We are not, according to Piper, debtors to grace because grace is a free gift and it does not confer an obligation.  Rather, we become holy through living by faith, and this is possible because we remember God’s goodness to us in the past.  Citing a the verse in Isaiah 46 where God says, “Remember the former things long past. . .,” Piper explains, “The reason God wants them to look back on the former things” is to increase their confidence in the future things he is planning for them . . . Remembering the former things that God has done gives a good foundation for believing his Word when he says, “I will accomplish all My good pleasure” (103).

In other words, I will be obedient to God in the future when I remember how He has been faithful to me in the past.  He came through for me before, and He will come through for me again,  Therefore, I can walk forward with confidence.  I can be faithful to Him because He has always been faithful to me.

What has God done for you in the past?  I’m pretty sure that whatever test you are undergoing right now builds on the lessons you learned then.  Remember.  Remember.  Holding onto that past glory is the way forward to a glory that does not fade away.

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Good Friday

This evening, for my dissertation, I am revising my reading of John Donne’s, “Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward.”  Donne describes traveling in one direction, when he really longs to be going in another.  His meditation is on the east as the location of Christ’s passion (in Jerusalem) and the direction of the rising sun (a symbol of the resurrection).  As he imagines himself present at the crucifixion, the poet is troubled by the thought of God experiencing a human death.  God told Moses, “No man can see my face and live.”  Does it do something to us then to see the face of God in Christ?  He writes,

Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not see,

That spectacle of too much weight for me.

Who sees God’s face, that is self life, must die;

What a death were it then to see God die?

It made his own lieutenant Nature shrink,

It made his footstool crack, and the sun wink.  (15-19)

The last line is a reference to the earthquake and the eclipse that happened on the day of the crucifixion.  Donne is saying that even Nature itself broke under the strain of seeing God suffer.  Is it possible, then, that the poet can have such an encounter with Christ and not be changed by it?

To be honest, this poem has given me some difficulty.  When I first read the poem (the whole thing is 42 lines long), I thought that Donne was struggling with the idea of a free salvation.  He seems to want God to punish him or make him a better person, so that he can earn his salvation.  I think after reading more Donne, that this is not quite right.  It’s sanctification, or holiness, that he is looking for, but that does not make the last lines any less comfortable:

O think me worth thine anger, punish me,

Burn off my rusts, and my deformity,

Restore thine image, so much, by thy grace,

That thou mayst know me, and I’ll turn my face. (39-42)

One of my sources suggests that Donne is thinking of Heb. 12 – Those whom the Lord loves, He chastens and rebukes.  Certainly, that is possible, and it would explain how undergoing punishment might make Donne feel more secure, but I still think he has it wrong.  Christians are no longer children of wrath (see Ephesians 2:1-5), and Hebrews makes it clear that God is not to be compared with human fathers who punish arbitrarily or out of anger.  Rather, God disciplines us according to His own infallible knowledge of what will bring about good for us.

What I think Donne has right is the emphasis on being changed by “seeing” Christ.  God sends to each of us those moments or experiences when something about the character of God is suddenly clear to us, something we never knew or understood about him before.  Those moments are important to our own journey of holiness because we can only imitate what see.  When I learn something new about the character of the Savior, I am one step closer to being like Him, if only I will take what I have learned and apply it to how I live.

So what about you?  Was there a time when you learned something about God that changed everything for you?  What was it?

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A Meditation on the Trinity

I find it hard to understand

That You, self-contained, self-defining,

The I AM of every now,

Should define Yourself by loving,

Three-Personed God.

I measure my strength

By how many people I don’t need.

You measure Your sufficiency

In how many need You.

 

 

And what is beyond my telling

Is that You would reward those who desire You,

As if longing were a thing to be treasured,

As if to be yearned for was a gift without price.

And we who thirst for loveliness

Know not whether each passing thrill,

Or ache, is vanity or holiness

Or only vexation of spirit –

Only that You, Oh Lord, behold our desiring.

(9-11-2010)

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A Call to Faithfulness

Our lesson for Bible study tonight is on the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25.  I have to confess that I always used to feel sorry for the third servant – the one who wrapped his talent in a napkin and buried it.  He was afraid, after all, that the master would expect too much from him.  He was afraid of failure, and who among us isn’t terrified by that?  Why are some people so nervous on their wedding day? Fear that they failed to choose the right one; fear that they won’t be able to make the marriage work.  Why don’t people go back to school or make a career change or adopt a child or do any of the 5,000 things we think about doing at some point in life?  I think if we questioned ourselves, we would find that the fear of failure is behind all of it.

I’m thinking about this a lot because, professionally, I’m out on limb with God right now.  I went back to school for my doctorate because I was convinced that God wanted me to pursue a career in higher education, but now, as I get closer to the completion of the degree, I’m experiencing no small anxiety about whether or not I’ll be able to get the job I need.  Yes, I know worry is a sin.  God and I have been talking about that lately.  Still, there’s nothing like the sensation of climbing higher and higher with no safety net.  I’ve always been afraid of heights.

But was the servant with the buried talent right to be fearful?  You should know, first of all, that commentators don’t buy his excuse.  The master’s rebuke points out the error in the servant’s logic.  If he had really feared that his master would make unreasonable demands, then wouldn’t he have worked harder to try and meet those demands?  His laziness suggests that he didn’t really fear his master at all, and that all his talk about the master’s harshness was just an excuse for not doing his best.  After all, how risky is it to just put the money in the bank and let the interest accrue? Perhaps, the servant meant to do so in the beginning, but the master was gone for a long time, and maybe he began to think that the master was never coming back for his property.

And that leads me to conclude that my fear of failure is really, in itself, a failure of faith.   I will never be faithful to God, and to the important things He calls me to do, unless I trust Him to be faithful to me.  I have to know that God will complete everything He has set out to do in me and through me.  That gives me the confidence to take risks in my obedience.  It gives me courage to walk forward without seeing the bridge over the next chasm.

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, a church that was especially fearful about an uncertain future, Paul says, “But the Lord is faithful.  He will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (2 Thess. 3:3).   These aren’t just the words of an apostle; they are the promise of God delivered through a servant who knew what it meant to risk everything for the kingdom.  God was faithful to Paul, and He will be faithful to us when we learn to trust Him for the outcome.

I Thessalonians 5:24 – “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

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