Thursday, August 30, 2012

Childhood Development and the Guilty Mom

I'm sitting at the table with my boys, watching them put together (cooperatively no less) a lego boat. It was an airplane, now they are deconstructing it and following the directions to put the boat together from the same pieces. I am struck by the significance of this event. It's only moderately significant for them, but it is monumentally significant for me. Let me explain.

I regularly default as a mom into exactly the thinking of which Paul warns us in 2 Corinthians 10.
2 Cor. 10:12 "...But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding." (ESV)
There is a lot of depth to Paul's arguments in 2 Corinthians 10 – about sufficiency in Christ, inappropriate boasting in ministry, and something unique to Paul's particular ministry to the church in Corinth. I haven't explored the full context of 2 Corinthians 10 in a way to which I can speak clearly. Yet the simple wording of verse 12 has stood out to me at multiple points in my life.
It is not wise to measure myself by an earthly, human standard.
One of the first things I learned as a new mom was there are many childhood milestones. The second thing I learned is that my child didn't seem to care. At one month, most kids can lift their heads. At six months, most can roll over. At two years, most can make two or three word sentences, and so forth. After missing almost every milestone by several months, the best advice I got was from the mom who told me my son would be ready to potty train when he was ready to potty train. If I tried before he was ready (which I did), he and I would both be stressed (which we were). But if I waited until he was ready, it would be a smooth transition. I finally gave up training him, and when he was ready, we did it in a few days.

I've tried to remember that potty training lesson. But I compare myself among my friends and their kids. And I stress. Their kids are walking, and mine is not yet crawling. Their kids are talking in complete sentences, and mine is nowhere close. Their kids are riding bikes with 20 inch wheels while mine is still on his 12 inch balance bike. And their kids can put together legos without adult help.

I noted today as I watched my boys put together their lego set that at some point previously I had stopped worrying about legos. Sure enough, when they were personally ready, they figured it out. They are now riding their big boy bikes with no training wheels too. 

There remains a long list of milestones ahead of them, but I hope my current perspective lasts. When they are ready, they'll be ready. I need to expose them to what I reasonably can and walk with them through their frustrations as they learn, but I also MUST put away the self-condemnation that goads me to push them into things for which they are not ready because I'm afraid of what it reflects about me.

That's Paul's point. Even when people try to project some such thing onto you, there is a place to rest that frees us from that very unwise mutual comparison we tend toward. He said previously in verse 7, “If anyone is confident that he is Christ's, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ's, so also are we.” Maybe those projecting onto you do not consider themselves Christ's. Nevertheless, you are! And being IN Him gives us access to a boldness and confidence that gives perspective to those niggling comparisons that threaten our emotional state daily.

If you need encouragement on exactly what being IN HIM means for you in such moments, here's a post that hammers out the implications of the gospel for us practically.

*Edited to add this thought.  For many of you, due to serious developmental issues, your child may not ever reach certain "normal" milestones.  I hope you'll feel included in this discussion and feel free to share in the comments.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Forsaken by God -- When Our Fears Become Our Reality

The older I get, the more I feel a need for God's protection. I've been through enough things the first time to put all kinds of barriers around myself to keep me from experiencing it again. Miscarriage? Been there, done that. Do NOT want to do it again. Marriage struggles? Been there, done that. Do NOT want to do that again. Conflict with family? Been there, done that. Most certainly do not want to go through that again. Church conflict? Yes. Personal failures? Yes. And so forth.

I talked with several friends recently who each shared with me in separate conversations that God allowed them into EXACTLY the situation they were trying to not find themselves in again. I was struck that this was not a unique situation, but one in which many of my friends found themselves. We wrestled together with God. Why, Lord?! Why, when we know it's a problem and we make wise choices in an attempt to avoid it and we pray for Your protection, do we find ourselves in exactly the same situation again? Why didn't You protect us?

It's a vulnerable question. Why didn't God protect my friend from the very situation she did everything she knew to do to avoid? She had a more mature response to it than I did for her, and I started to note something forged in her character through that experience. 

Our pastor preached this week from Psalms 22, and I received it as a gift of God's grace to us for exactly these situations. God doesn't leave us to navigate such situations on our own. No, in His Word written and preserved for us, He acknowledges that these situations will happen and then gives us a model for engaging Him when it does.
Psalm 22 A Psalm of David. 
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
David cries it under the inspiration of God, and God preserves it in His Word for the generations that follow. It is finally and fundamentally fulfilled when Christ echoes it on the cross. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” By Christ's final act on the cross, the issue of being ultimately forsaken by God is finally put to rest for good. God will NOT turn His back on us. He will NOT forsake us. He gives us these words to cry out to Him in prayer even as He reminds us that Christ was forsaken in our place that we would never be separated from God again.

Psalms 22 ministers to us when we struggle with a God who didn't move for us as we expected, who didn't save us from a painful road of life that we prayerfully tried to avoid. I have no simple answers otherwise for how to deal with such disappointment—disappointment in your circumstances as well as disappointment in your God who did not act as you expected. The only encouragement I have is that He invites you to stay engaged with Him, to wrestle with Him. He may very well touch your thigh so that you limp the rest of your life, yet like the wrestling of Jacob of old, you will emerge on the other side with something forged in your heart, some bond in your relationship with Him, that others of us who haven't similarly struggled will note from afar. I do NOT like watching my friends struggle as their fears become their reality. I long to protect them (and myself) from such things. Yet, I have to admit that their faith afterwards as they limp forward in life has blessed me. Really, it has convicted me! Such enduring faith is a precious gift of God, to be valued highly, though it is not forged in easy ways.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Crisis Pregnancy and the Church

I'll just get to the point. Truth be told, there really ARE pockets of conservative Christians who believe that females don't usually get pregnant from legitimate rape. Mr. Akin is not alone in his view (which he has since corrected). I've been following a more personal situation for several years, one involving people I know, in which a 16 year old girl was brought in front of a church on church discipline chargers when she became pregnant after being raped by a much older member of the congregation. Years later, the older member was finally convicted of raping the teenager (with the testimony of her former pastor the main thing that led to his conviction), yet for the most part, the many Christians originally involved refuse to apologize to the now grown woman or acknowledge any wrong doing on their part. That situation involves my Christian alma mater and my Facebook friends. The big-C Church has a problem on this issue today because many little-c churches believe exactly what Akin said, and those who knew better looked away as it happened.

I appreciate this clear statement from Covenant Seminary and this article published at Christianity Today. Sometimes, it takes Christians getting their pants handed to them by those with whom they disagree on other things in the media to finally wake up to their own blind spots. For which I say, praise Jesus!

My hope is that Christians accept correction, own their problem, and go forward anew correcting left and right injustices perpetuated in the name of Christ over the years. Mostly, I'm convicted to put my money where my own personal mouth is – advocating for pregnant moms in crisis, because advocacy for THEM is advocacy for the children they carry, caring in whatever tangible ways I can for children in need once they are born, and so forth. By the way, did you know that Microsoft pays the adoption fees for their employees because they believe in the value of adoption?! Almost makes me want to switch back from my MacBook Air to some lesser performing Microsoft product. I truly have a lot of respect for Bill and Melinda Gates.

At the end of the day, I'm most perplexed by those who try to defend the indefensible. The personal need for repentance still seems the hardest thing for believers to grasp for themselves sometimes. Just accept correction. Doesn't our theology more than anything else equip us to do that very thing—to repent?! And then stand in advocacy for those who can't stand for themselves, both the unborn child AND their mother who was violated in the worst of ways, because Scripture clearly instructs that very thing (I recommend Generous Justice by Tim Keller as a primer on this topic).

Monday, August 20, 2012

Good Intentions and Utter Failure

Matthew 26 
31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd,     and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” 33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” 34 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” 35 But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.
This scene from the days preceding Jesus' crucifixion comforts me. These guys were sincere. They loved Jesus. They still didn't exactly understand Him. Even after 3 years, they didn't fully comprehend the cost of following Him. Yet, they were sincere with what they understood at that point, and I believe in their minds they truly couldn't comprehend denying Him.

But none of them had understood what Jesus was saying when He predicted His death. Each time Jesus brought it up, He and the disciples seemed to talk past each other. Only Mary of Bethany who poured perfume over Jesus in John 12 seems to understand what was going to happen.

The neat thing about this scene from Matthew 26 is that Jesus doesn't just predict the disciples' denial of Him, but He also predicts that He will rise again and gather them back to Himself, which He does a few chapters later. These disciples have walked with Jesus IN PERSON for 3 years. They have heard His instructions, thought they understood what He came to do, yet missed some pretty important truths. They have boldly declared their fidelity only to fall away exactly as He predicted. And He gathers them back up after His resurrection, reaffirms His plans for them, and sends them off with His affirmation of power and authority. And they change the world! It's really quite beautiful and encouraging.

These are the very guys standing on the sidelines as the Cloud of Witnesses of which Hebrews speaks in encouragement to you and I.
Hebrews 12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Thinking on their denial of Jesus and Jesus' grace to them in return encourages me just as Hebrews says – to run with perseverance the marathon before me; to fix my eyes on Jesus who is the author and perfecter of my faith that I may not grow weary and lose heart. Because it's usually the unbelief within myself that most undoes me. It's not persecution or outside sin with which I most struggle. It's my own lack of trust in light of it all. It's my fears of denying Jesus when I'm faced with troubling circumstances. Yet the disciples failed utterly despite their best intentions, and God used them anyway. And they cheer us on from the sidelines in our own walk with sin and unbelief outside of us and the sin and unbelief within us. Endure, friend, and look to Jesus. Such instruction never grows old.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Conservation from a Christian Perspective

I just spent 9 days in an incredibly diverse and endangered ecosystem, the Salish Sea that covers the border between Washington state and Canada around the San Juan Islands. After a week of intense training and a practicum I still need to finish, I am on track to become a member of the Salish Sea Association of Marine Naturalists, a small group of conservationists who are working to educate the public on the beauty of this fragile ecosystem.

During my week of training at what my husband jokingly calls “whale college,” I've thought a lot about a biblical perspective of conservation. Frankly, the majority of people with whom I interact on the subject do not believe in a creator God, and worship of the creature seems the norm rather than the exception out here. Furthermore, I don't hear much on conservation from Christians. Christian views certainly didn't pop up during my week of training. As I reflect back on my Christian upbringing, I don't remember conservation or environmentalism ever spoken of in positive ways.

What's a believer to do? Before I get into a Biblical perspective on conservation, I should mention the pitfalls that are tempting to one who loves nature and values diverse ecosystems. As I mentioned in the last paragraph, it is easy to elevate the creature above the Creator. Let me tell you, orca whales are incredible. After chimpanzees, they are the most intelligent animal on earth. Their social systems and dialects are fascinating. I understand the ease with which many subcultures have slid into worship of these creatures. God's magnificent creation becomes a substitute for God Himself.

Another pitfall is what I call “straining at gnats and swallowing camels.” People need the Lord. It's priority number one, and the needs of the hearts of men supersede the needs of animals. We had a sober message at our church Sunday of the spiritual and physical needs of a Native American group in our state after our pastor and others from our church returned from the area. The needs among those image-bearers of God are stark and real, and any believer who loves both conservation and Creator knows that the needs of mankind always supersede the needs of animals.

Another pitfall befalls us in our great experiment of democracy called the United States. How far should government go in mandating environmental issues? I remember well during my college years some state institution forbidding my father from plowing and planting a small inner portion of one of his fields because it was considered a wetland for threatened waterfowl. We wrote a letter petitioning for a lifting of the ban, noting that no self-respecting duck would choose that measly mud hole when there was a perfectly good 20 acre pond with marshes on the land just a quarter mile away. I'm not sure we worded it exactly that way, but the state official lifted the ban, and the waterfowl seemed happy enough with the arrangement.

However, none of these pitfalls wipe out a Christian's responsibility in terms of conservation. In the last post, I discussed the Us v. Them mentality some Christians have when it comes to persecution. I posited that the diverse response among Christians to perceived persecution often reflects more on our view of end times than our view of current times (or even our view of Scripture). I think the same holds true for conservation. If you think the new heaven and the new earth of Revelation 21 means that God is going to totally scrap the old one, then why in the world would you worry with conservation, right? Some day, I'll write some thoughts on end times, but suffice it to say, I'm convinced that the creation mandate of Genesis 1 is the foundational piece of Scripture that should shape our view of creation and conservation rather than Revelations 21. Theologically, origins are really important points for understanding the whole. God's first words describing what He made and how He created it to function should be the framework for understanding our relation to it today.

The opening story of Scripture concerns the environment – how it got here (God created it), what He thought of it (it was GOOD!), and His plan for man's interaction with it (which I'll explore in the rest of this post). Adam was the first naturalist! Consider Genesis 1.
24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 
27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground. ” 
29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food. ” And it was so. 31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
I've known this chapter of Scripture from childhood, yet I've never paid much attention to verse 30. In God's notes to us of His creation of the world, He highlights His provision of food for each animal He created! And He notes clearly throughout each piece of creation that it was GOOD. The way He made it was the way it was supposed to be. It was beneficial. It had intrinsic value just the way it was.

Then He made man in His image and tasked him with ruling over the fish, birds, and animals. Man, without a doubt, is the king of the jungle in God's paradigm. Clearly he was not created to exist at the whim of his environment. I think of submarines and airplanes as classic examples of man subduing the earth. We shouldn't be able to fly, and we shouldn't be able to live for months underwater. Yet we have figured out ways to subdue natural laws in our exploration and subjugation of our world. Such technology seems a good and natural result of what God set in motion when He created man and declared it all good.

Yet the fall of man occurred. It's not long into Genesis before we see man's ability to subdue his environment gone awry. Instead of ruling as a good steward who values God's creation as God Himself does, man quickly sees himself as god to use technology and creation at his own whim. This is evident at the Tower of Babel, where man's engineering abilities tempt him to grasp for God's realm. 2 Chronicles 26 gives us another example.
5 [Uzziah] set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.... 
8 The Ammonites paid tribute to Uzziah, and his fame spread even to the border of Egypt, for he became very strong. 9 Moreover, Uzziah built towers in Jerusalem at the Corner Gate and at the Valley Gate and at the Angle, and fortified them. 10 And he built towers in the wilderness and cut out many cisterns, for he had large herds, both in the Shephelah and in the plain, and he had farmers and vinedressers in the hills and in the fertile lands, for he loved the soil. 11 Moreover, Uzziah had an army of soldiers, fit for war, in divisions according to the numbers in the muster made by Jeiel the secretary and Maaseiah the officer, under the direction of Hananiah, one of the king's commanders.... 
14 And Uzziah prepared for all the army shields, spears, helmets, coats of mail, bows, and stones for slinging. 15 In Jerusalem he made machines, invented by skillful men, to be on the towers and the corners, to shoot arrows and great stones. And his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong. 16 But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction.
It's not rocket science to say that mankind doesn't steward creation well and gets proudly secure in his technological advances. This post is already too long to discuss the fascinating and disturbing relationship with the technologies associated with institutional atlantic salmon farms in the pacific northwest and their impact on the natural types of pacific salmon that have flourished here for thousands of years. But it's a case study to me in Tower of Babel and Uzziah type thinking.

What I don't understand is why believers who fight for a literal view of creation don't more strongly contribute to conservation as well. I see conservation efforts in many parts of the world as God's common grace at work, keeping mankind from the total destruction of the planet that he tends toward after the fall. God gifted us with the penthouse apartment on a massive 100 story building, yet every day, someone elevators down many flights to pull out 10 bricks from floors below to build an addition on our penthouse. It adds up.

If we believe that what God created was, as He calls it, VERY GOOD, then those of us who are being called back to Him and transformed into His image through Christ ought to look to the early chapters of Genesis for our understanding of our relationship with creation. Christian conversation of late has included lots of wrestling through how the gospel equips us to once again bear the image of God as He intended in our relationship with the opposite sex. I hope we will also have a conversation on how the gospel equips us to reclaim those pieces of His image in us marred by the fall in terms of our relationship with His creation.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Christians Who Please the Lord and Peace with Their Enemies

In the context of current political and religious issues, I have been thinking a lot about this verse of wisdom.
Proverbs 16:7 When a man's ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.
There are several things to note about this verse. Most important is that it is a proverb, not a law. This is wisdom that is wise when it is applied correctly in the right situations, but it is not a law that governs all situations regardless of context. Scripture is the best commentary on itself, and we know this proverb doesn't teach that any time your enemy is against you that you are clearly not pleasing the Lord. Cain and Abel are the first example. Abel's sacrifice clearly was pleasing to the Lord, yet Cain killed him. Jesus and Paul teach us of the reality of persecution as well. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for My Name's sake,” Jesus says.

Nevertheless, this is a wise proverb. And I've felt the Spirit pressing me into the truth of this proverb and moving me to wrestle with Him on how to apply it in ways that are actually wise.

First, this is about pleasing the Lord. These are our actions and responses that He finds pleasing, acceptable, or delightful. And what does He find pleasing, acceptable, and delightful? Those things that reflect Him. It's our first and most important task – bearing His image in His creation. I'm reminded of God's words of David whom He called a man after God's own heart. Something about how David thought reflected how God thought. “Let the words of my mouth and meditations of my heart be acceptable in Your sight ….” A great verse on which to meditate is Romans 12:1-2. There, it's not conformity to the world but transformity which results in discernment in terms of the will of God – those things He finds good, acceptable, and perfect.
12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
It's interesting to have this wisdom in Proverbs that links such transformation that leads us to pursue God's loves and desires with a surprising peace with even our enemies. I've run with a lot of different denominations and independent churches of various backgrounds. I don't remember a time growing up in any of these churches when their teaching linked obedience to God with peace with our enemies.

Yet that is the wisdom from Proverbs. He makes EVEN his enemies at peace with him. The word even indicates that he has expansive peaceful relationship. It's not just his enemies, but this peace in relationships extends from those closest to him out. It's shalom—that amazing, sometimes nebulous state that dominates instructions in Scripture. It's the ultimate manifestation of human flourishing. Peace.

I think whether we realize it individually or not, our denomination or independent church's view of the end times affects how we respond in days of persecution. I used to hang with the independent baptists who held a fairly strict Jenkins/LaHaye view of how the end times would play out. Now I hang with the presbyterians who lean toward viewing most of Matthew 24 as fulfilled during the brutal fall of Jerusalem when the temple was destroyed. For a thorough exploration of Scripture on this topic, I enjoyed The Last Days According to Jesus by R. C. Sproul. He surveys the issues well though he doesn't draw many conclusions.

All that to say, Proverbs 16:7 gives us valuable wisdom that isn't to be thrown out even if you believe that we are now in the last days heading down a road of increasing persecution until Christians are marginalized in the corner trying to beat off persecutors. If you tend more to believe that His kingdom has come and is coming more and more, that He ushered in something at His death and resurrection that is transforming the whole of the world, it's probably easier to envision how Proverbs 16:7's wisdom applies today.

Proverbs 16:7 gives us wisdom that guards us against the Us v. Them mentality that has characterized mankind since Cain v. Abel. Despite repeated instructions by Jesus and Paul on a correct view of, love for, and response to our perceived enemies, Christians still to this day default back into an Us v. Them mentality every time a major issue comes up. I can't control the mass tendencies of those who call themselves Christians, but I can, as the Holy Spirit applies Scripture to myself, make a difference in my own response. Christ Himself is the great example of what it looks like to please the Lord. If you struggle today envisioning this for yourself, the Gospels are always a good place to start. When I ask myself what is pleasing to God in this moment, always, the first rule that comes to mind is LOVING GOD with all my heart and LOVING MY NEIGHBOR as myself. If you, like me, then wonder next, “Well, what does loving my neighbor look like in this context,” I'll leave you with Paul's clear definition of this love from I Corinthians 13, which for me usually removes any doubt whatsoever of what I need to do next.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends.