Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Capturing Beauty

Charly assigned our kids a photo competition last week. We thought it was too hard to choose the best one.
Do you want to help us choose your favorite flower picture?










Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Hero in Holiness

In Streams of Living Water, Richard Foster examines six great traditions of the Christian Faith: Contemplative, Holiness, Charismatic, Social Justice, Evangelical, and Incarnational. Within each tradition, he highlights a biblical, historical, and contemporary example as models we can follow as we seek to grow in these areas. For the Holiness tradition he chose Phoebe Palmer (1807-1874) for the historical paradigm. Deeply moved by her story, I have added her to my list of heroes in the faith.

Foster writes that Phoebe’s “third child Eliza, died under especially tragic circumstances: a maid accidentally dropped a lit oil lamp on the gauze curtain covering the baby’s crib, causing a terrible flash fire. Rushing upstairs, Phoebe ‘grasped my darling from the flames. She darted one inexpressible look of amazement and pity, on her agonized mother, and closed her eyes forever on the scenes of the earth.’” (from Phoebe Palmer: Selected Writings)

“The loss was a critical turning point. In what she called her ‘inexpressible bewilderment of grief,’ Phoebe turned to her Bible—and to her God—for consolation. Her own words best describe the agony of that time:
While pacing the room, crying to God, amid the tumult of grief, my mind was arrested by a gentle whisper, saying, “Your Heavenly Father loves you. He would not permit such a great trial, without  intending that some great good proportionate in magnitude and weight should result.”...In the agony of my soul I had exclaimed, “O, what shall I do!” And the answer now came, —“Be still and know   that I am God.” I took up the precious WORD, and cried, “O teach me the lesson of this trial,” and the first lines to catch my eye on opening the Bible were these, “O, the depth of the riches, both of  the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out!”...The tumult of feeling was hushed...”What thou knowest not now, thou shalt know hereafter,” was assuringly whispered. Wholly subdued before the Lord, my chastened spirit nestled in quietness under the wing of the Holy Comforter...And now I have resolved, that...the time I would have devoted to her, shall be spent in work for Jesus. And if diligent and self-sacrificing in carrying   out my resolve, the death of this child may result in the spiritual life of many.” (ibid)

“Long hours of prayerful searching and biblical study led her to what she would later call her “day of days.” It was almost exactly one year after the terrible death of Eliza that Phoebe had a decisive experience of total consecration and sanctifying grace—one that would energize the remainder of her life. Again her descriptive powers are so great that they cannot be improved upon:

Between the hours of eight and nine (in the evening)—while pleading at the throne of grace for a present fulfillment of the exceeding great and precious promises; pleading also the fullness and  freeness of the atonement, its unbounded efficacy, and making an entire surrender of body, soul, and spirit; time, talents, and influence; and also of the dearest ties of nature, my beloved husband and child, in a word, my earthly all—I received the assurance that God the Father, through the atoning Lamb, accepted the sacrifice; my heart was emptied of self, and cleansed of all idols, from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and I realized that I dwelt in God, and felt that he had become the portion of my soul, my ALL IN ALL. (ibid)

This profound “Valley of Decision,” as she called it, led to the development of her “altar theology.” That teaching, in brief, says that Christ himself is the altar upon which we rest our all in sacrifice, and since everything that touches the altar is holy, we are holy when we place everything we are upon the altar. We, therefore, live in a state of holiness and sanctification as we continually give ourselves as a living sacrifice to Christ, our altar.”

God, thank you for the example of Phoebe Palmer, who turned to you in her inexpressible bewilderment of grief. Thank you for the answer you gave her: that because of your deep love, you would not permit such a great trial without a great good proportionate in magnitude and weight. Thank you for your assurance to her: that what she knew not then, she would know later. Then her spirit could nestle in quietness under your wing of comfort. Thank you for her example in emptying herself of everything, that she could be fully yours. May we also live our lives at the altar of Christ, offering ourselves as living sacrifices, as we follow her example of holiness.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Practicing Holiness

Richard Foster goes on to share about holiness in action in Streams of Living Water:

“Holiness never involves works, as we have seen, but it most assuredly involves effort. Hence we cannot ignore the question of practice. How do we go about moving forward in holiness?

First, we train. And in our training we remember the principle of indirection. Rather than tackle the issues of virtue and vice head-on, we undertake activities of body, mind, and spirit that in time will build spiritual resources within us to act appropriately when the situation demands it. As athletes of God we plan a regimen of spiritual Disciplines that will stimulate our growth in grace. If we are struggling with pride, we learn service, which leads us into the many little deaths of going beyond ourselves. If we are needing hope, we learn prayer and meditation, which usher us ever deeper into the heart of the Holy. If compulsions of one kind or another obsess us, we learn fasting, which teaches us to control all the senses by the grace of God. If we want faith, we learn worship, which shows us the Lord high and lifted up. And on it goes. Throughout we are training for holiness, planning for perfection.

Second, we invite others to travel the journey with us. Such persons become both companions and mentors. They provide us with discernment, counsel, and encouragement. Often we are too close to our own training plan to see that we are overachieving and setting ourselves up for failure. Or to see that sloth is setting in and we need encouragement to venture out into the depths. Furthermore, others often can detect our growth and development better than we, and their reassuring words help us see the footprints of God in our lives.

Such spiritual companionship also provides a loving accountability. A trust relationship is built in which it is the most natural thing in the world to answer honestly and fully the query, “How is it with your soul?” In the best of worlds we can identify persons who are giving us spiritual direction and persons to whom we give spiritual direction. But even where the best is not possible—and often it is not—we can still find loving relationships that nurture our spiritual growth.

Third, when we stumble and fall, we get up and start again. Appropriate confession and restitution are always in order, but we never spend too much time lamenting out failures and shortcomings. Where we are not yet perfect, we know that we have a perfect Friend who will never leave us, never forsake us. Besides, we are in this for the long term. We are looking ahead to the perfection that is coming and is to come. We keep pressing on.

I wish that this simple counsel did not sound so trivial, for it is a profound truth for our growth: stumbling is part of our growing. Our mistakes and failures teach us the right way to live—and that right way is the good way. And after stumbling it is no small thing for us to start at the beginning once again. We are learning that by starting again and again and again something firm and lasting is being built in us. The old writers called this something “fortitude,” and fortitude builds habits, and habits build character, and character builds destiny.

Every one of us is called to holiness of heart and life. Anthony Bloom reminds us that, “All holiness is God’s holiness in us: it is a holiness that is participation and, in a certain way, more than participation, because as we participate in what we can receive from God, we become a revelation of that which transcends us. Being a limited light, we reveal the Light.” How wonderful to think that as we become partners with God, participating in this ongoing work of Christian perfection, our little light (which is not the source of light but only a reflection of the Light—and often a distorted and faint reflection at that) might lead others all the more fully to see Jesus, the Light of the world.”

God, thank you for the friend last week who helped me see Your footprints in my life, where I was only seeing shortcomings and failure. Thank you that stumbling is not just inevitable, but an essential part of our growth, which builds our character and shapes our destiny. Thank you for the way that you miraculously use our distorted and limited light to help people more fully see the Light of Jesus. Use us, Lord, as Your instruments in the world as we seek Your ongoing work of holiness in our lives. As we become the people you created us to be.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


I love the way Richard Foster defines holiness in Streams of Living Water:

“Holiness is not rules and regulations. Elaborate lists of dos and don’ts miss the point of a life hidden with God in Christ. No single standard of behavior is dictated by the word holy. All external legalisms fail to capture the heart of holy living and holy dying.

Holiness is sustained attention to the heart, the source of all action. It concerns itself with the core of the personality, the well-spring of behavior, the quintessence of the soul. It focuses upon the formation and transformation of this center.

Holiness is not otherworldliness. Its life is not found by developing logic-tight compartments of things sacred and things secular. We do not come into it by studiously avoiding contact with our manifestly evil and broken world.

Holiness is world-affirming. The holy life is found smack in the middle of every day life. We discount it while being freely and joyfully in the world without ever being of the world. Holiness sees the sacred in all things. It is integrative, synoptic, incarnational.

Holiness is not a consuming asceticism. It is not punishment for the sake of punishment. It neither despises nor depreciates the human body. And it never locates virtue or merit in ascetical exercises themselves.

Holiness is a bodily spirituality. It affirms the goodness of the human body and seeks to bring it into working harmony with the spirit. It utilizes appropriate Spiritual Disciplines for training the body and mind in right living. It is, in this sense, ascetical—but never for the sake of asceticism, always for the sake of training.

Holiness is not “works-righteousness.” We cannot muster up our own willpower to do good deeds and thereby become righteous. Sanctifying grace, just like justifying grace, is utterly and completely a work of...well, grace. It is unearned and unearnable. It is a god-initiated and God-sustained reality; we cannot do it, conjure it up, or make it happen.

Holiness is a “striving to enter in,” as Jesus tells us. Effort is not the opposite of grace; works is. Works has to do with merit or earning, and the effort we are called to undertake has nothing whatever to do with meriting or earning anything. In fact, the classical Disciplines—fasting and prayer, for example—have no virtue or merit whatsoever in and of themselves. They merely place us before God in such a way that he can begin building the kingdom-righteousness within us. (I say “merely” because I want to underscore that the virtue is all of God, but I certainly do not want to give the impression that our effort is nothing. In the economy of God it is a very important something. We will come to this presently.)

Holiness is not perfectionism. We do not by some act of divine fiat become sinless creatures incapable of any wrong action. As holy persons we can still make mistakes—and we do, with sorrowful regularity. We fail. We fall. Even so...

Holiness is progress in purity and sanctity. We are set apart for divine purposes. Holy habits deepen into fixed patterns of life. We experience a growing preponderance of right actions flowing from a right heart. We are ever in the process of becoming holy.

Holiness is not absorption into God. It does not mean the loss of our identity, our personhood. Through holy living we do not become less real, less whole, less human. Quite the opposite.

Holiness is loving unity with God. It is an ever-expanding openness to the divine Center. It is a growing, maturing, freely given conformity to the will and ways of God. Holiness gives us our truest, fullest humanity. In holiness we become the persons we were created to be.”                                                          

My Life in the Village

Head covered or not?
Modest or "free"?
Teacher or learner?
Foreigner or friend?
Guest of honor or one of the family?
Standing out or blending in?
Isolated or connected in community?
Life of simplicity or life of complexity?
Yes and yes.
My life in the village identifies with both sides.
Not or but and.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Real Life

During the past two weeks that our family has been back in the village, Charly has been reading out loud to us from Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster. I especially liked this quote in the book from C.S. Lewis: “The greatest thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s imagination.”

I’ve been reflecting on this idea of my “real life” and have been blessed by the following quotes:

“That is the great conversion in our life: to recognize and believe that the many unexpected events are not just disturbing interruptions to our projects, but the way which God molds our hearts and prepares us for His return.” (Henri Nouwen)

“Might this thing I long to be different be the actual crucible on which God chooses to shape my soul into something of beauty that perhaps only He sees? Will I let God transform me in this?” (Paula Rinehart)

“Help me, O Lord, to make use of all disappointments and calamities in this life, in such wise that they may unite my heart more closely with Thee. Cause them to separate my affections from worldly things and inspire my soul with more vigour in the pursuit of true happiness.” (Susanna Wesley)

“Where dreams and expectations don’t work out—you are being issued the invitation of your life. Disappointment is, strangely enough, a doorway to the real adventure. It’s the point where you start to leave behind most of your notions of how your story should read—and enter into your relationship with God as a journey.” (Paula Rinehart)

“Waiting for the believer is not the futile and desperate act of those who have no other option, but rather a confident trust that eventually, God will set things right.” (Gary Thomas)

“A waiting person is a patient person. The word “patience” means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere. The moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Waiting then, is not passive. It involves nurturing the moment, as a mother nurtures the child growing in her womb.” (Henri Nouwen)

“Emptiness itself can birth the fullness of grace because in the emptiness we have the opportunity to turn to God, the only begetter of grace, and there find all the fullness of joy...Isn’t this the good news of the gospel? The good news that all those living in the land of the shadow of death have been birthed into new life, that the transfiguration of a suffering world has already begun. That suffering nourishes grace, and pain and joy are arteries of the same heart—and mourning and dancing are but movements of His unfinished symphony of beauty. Can I believe the gospel, that God is patiently transfiguring all the notes of my life into the song of His Son?” (Ann Voskamp)

“People who have let go of their expectations of how they think life is supposed to look usually stumble upon gratitude, which is a wonderful thing to find. You stop waiting for life to begin when it’s fixed and all the broken parts are healed. It’s now in this moment, this conversation, this sunset.” (Paula Rinehart)

God, Thank you that this is the life you have given me to live. Not a perfect life that’s out there and only a phantom of my imagination, but the life that is right here. Right now. The unexpected and the unwanted are a part of your plan for my ongoing transformation. Help me to embrace this life, which is my Real Life, and to live it to the full.

“Surely just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand.”
( Isaiah 14:24)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

God’s Hidden Purposes

I have been rereading some notes I took in the spring from James Dobson’s When God Doesn’t Make Sense. His words have been speaking to my heart in areas where I have been wrestling with God, and I hope they might speak to your heart as well...

“If you believe God is obligated to explain Himself to us, you ought to examine the following Scriptures. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 25:2: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter.” Isaiah 45:15 states, “Truly you are a God who hides himself.” Deuteronomy 29:29 reads, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God.” Ecclesiastes 11:5 proclaims, “As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the maker of all things.” Isaiah 55:8-9 teaches, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Clearly, unless the Lord chooses to explain Himself to us, which often He does not, His motivation and purposes are beyond the reach of mortal man. What this means in practical terms is that many of our questions—especially those that begin with the word why—will have to remain unanswered for the time being...

The Apostle Paul referred to the problem of unanswered questions when he wrote, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) Paul was explaining that we will not have the total picture until we meet in eternity. By implication, we must learn to accept that partial understanding...

I have found it common for those in crisis to feel great frustration with God. This is particularly true when things happen that seem illogical and inconsistent with what had been taught or understood. Then if the Lord does not rescue them from the circumstances in which they are embroiled, their frustration quickly deteriorates into anger and a sense of abandonment. Finally, disillusionment sets in and the spirit begins to whither...

Sooner or later, most of us will come to a point where it appears that God has lost control—or interest—in the affairs of people. It is only an illusion, but one with dangerous implications for spiritual and mental health. Interestingly enough, pain and suffering do not cause the greatest damage. Confusion is the factor that shreds one’s faith.

The human spirit is capable of withstanding enormous discomfort, including the prospect of death, if the circumstances make sense...

The key word here is expectations. They set us up for disillusionment. There is no greater distress in human experience than to build one’s entire way of life on a certain theological understanding, and then have it collapse at a time of unusual stress and pain...

Job’s greatest anguish was that God was hidden from him (Job 23:2-9)

David experienced similar times of distress: “How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1)

My concern is that many believers apparently feel God owes them smooth sailing or at least a full explanation (and perhaps an apology) for the hardships they encounter. We must never forget that He, after all, is God. He is majestic and holy and sovereign. He is accountable to no one. He is not an errand boy who chases the assignments we dole out. He is not a genie who pops out of the bottle to satisfy our whims. He is not our servant—we are His. And our reason for existence is to glorify and honor Him. Even so, sometimes He performs mighty miracles on our behalf. Sometimes He chooses to explain His action in our lives. Sometimes His presence is as real as if we had encountered Him face to face. But at other times when nothing makes sense—when what we are going through is “not fair”, when we feel all alone in God’s waiting room—He simply says, “Trust me!”

As long as I know He loves me and He never makes a mistake, why should I not be content to rest in His protection?

He wants us to accept Him in the absence of proof. Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29) We serve this Lord not because He dances to our tune, but because we trust His preeminence in our lives. Ultimately, He must be—He will be—the determiner of what is in our best interest. We can’t see the future. We don’t know His plan. We perceive only the small picture, and not even that very clearly. Given this limitation, it seems incredibly arrogant to tell God what to do—rather than making our needs known and then yielding to His divine purposes...

His thoughts are not only unknown to us—they are largely unknowable. He has never made Himself accountable to man, nor will He ever. He will not be cross examined or interrogated. Nowhere in the Bible does God speak defensively or seek our approval for His actions. He simply says, “Trust me.” In His lengthy interchange with Job, not once did Jehovah apologize or attempt to explain the hardship that befell His servant...

It is not difficult for some of us to believe that God is capable of performing mighty deeds. After all, He created the entire universe from nothingness. He has the power to do anything He chooses. Having faith in Him can be a fairly straightforward thing.

To demonstrate trust, however, takes the relationship a step farther. It involves the element of risk. It requires us to depend on Him to keep His promises even when proof is not provided. It is continuing to believe when evidence points in the opposite direction.”

Dobson’s writing reminds me of the chapter “God's Wisdom and Ours” in J. I. Packer’s Knowing God.

“Now, the mistake that is commonly made is to suppose...that the gift of wisdom consists in a deepened insight into the providential meaning and purpose of events going on around us, an ability to see why God has done what He has done in a particular case, and what He is going to do next. People feel that if they were really walking close to God, so that He could impart wisdom to them freely, then they would...discern the real purpose of everything that happened to them, and it would be clear to them at every moment how God was making all things work together for good...

(But) the God who rules (the universe) hides Himself. Rarely does this world look as if a beneficent Providence were running it. Rarely does it appear that there is a rational power behind it all...

(Because) we feel that for the honor of God (and also, though we do not say this, for the sake of our own reputation as spiritual Christians), it is necessary for us to claim that we are...enjoying inside information as to the why and wherefore of God’s doings. This comforting pretence becomes part of us: we feel sure that God has enabled us to understand all His ways with us and our circle thus far, and we take it for granted that we shall be able to see at once the reason for anything that may happen to us into the future. And then something very painful and quite inexplicable comes along, and our cheerful illusion of being in God’s secret councils is shattered. Our pride is wounded; we feel that God has slighted us; and unless at this point we repent, and humble ourselves very thoroughly for our former presumption, our whole subsequent spiritual life may be blighted...

For the truth is that God in His wisdom, to make and keep us humble and to teach us to walk by faith, has hidden from us almost everything that we should like to know about the providential purposes which He is working out in the churches and in our own lives...

We can be sure that the God who made this marvelously complex world-order, and who compassed the great redemption from Egypt, and who later compassed the even greater redemption from sin and Satan, knows what He is doing, and ‘doeth all things well’, even if for the moment He hides His hand. We can trust Him and rejoice in Him, even when we cannot discern His path..."

And as Paula Rinehart concludes in Better Than My Dreams: “His purposes for you are so set in place that you can rest every minute of your journey in the cool shade of His merciful sovereignty over your life.”

God, help us to trust that your purposes are good even when they are hidden from us. To say “You do all things well” when we feel confused by what you’re doing. Keep us humble and teach us to walk by faith, with our partial understanding.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Focusing on Me

The question “Is my turn coming?” in my last post, has been bothering me. It’s like saying: God owes me something and He’s holding out on me. Other people have something that I don’t have and I want my turn. I am entitled to what should be mine. I’ve been waiting and waiting and don’t know when or if what I’m hoping for is going to come. I’m trying to have patience. To persevere. And to learn those lessons that God has for me in this season. But it’s hard. When the focus is on me.

I love this different perspective on waiting that a friend sent to me from Romans 8 in The Message:
"...waiting does not diminish us any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother.  We are enlarged in the waiting.  We, of course, don't see what is enlarging us.  But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy."

And I am challenged by what I read today in The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (following are excerpts from Chapter 21). Lewis was writing from the perspective of a devil to his demon nephew about how to successfully influence a young man to succumb to various temptations and thus turn away from the “Enemy” (God) which would result in his eternity in Hell with “Our Father” (Satan).

“Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury. And the sense of injury depends on the feeling that a legitimate claim has been denied. The more claims on life, therefore, that your patient can be induced to make, the more often he will feel injured and, as a result, ill-tempered. Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him...
They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption ‘My time is my own’. Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property that he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion to which he allows his religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright...

The sense of ownership in general is always to be encouraged. The humans are always putting up claims to ownership which sound equally funny in Heaven and in Hell and we must keep them doing so...It is as if a royal child whom his father has placed, for love’s sake, in titular command of some great province, under the real rule of wise counselors, should come to fancy he really owns the cities, the forests, and the corn, in the same way as he owns the bricks on the nursery floor...

We produce this sense of ownership not only by pride but by confusion. We teach them not to notice the different senses of the possessive pronoun—the finely graded differences that run from ‘my boots’ through ‘my dog’, ‘my servant’, ‘my wife’, ‘my father’, ‘my master’, and ‘my country’, to ‘my God’. They can be taught to reduce all those senses to that of ‘my boots’, the ‘my’ of ownership. Even in the nursery a child can be taught to mean by ‘my teddy bear’ not the old imagined recipient of affection to whom it stands in a special relation (for that is what the Enemy will teach them to mean if we’re not careful) but ‘the bear I can tear to pieces if I like’. And at the other end of the scale, we have taught men to say ‘my God’ in a sense not really very different from ‘my boots’, meaning ‘the God on whom I have a claim for my distinguished services and whom I exploit from the pulpit—the God I have a corner in’.

And all the time the joke is that the word ‘Mine’ in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything. In the long run either Our Father or the Enemy will say ‘Mine’ of each thing that exists, and specially of each man. They will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls, and their bodies really belong—certainly not to them, whatever happens. At present the Enemy says ‘Mine’ of everything on the pedantic, legalistic ground that He made it: Our Father hopes in the end to say ‘Mine’ of all things on the more realistic and dynamic ground of conquest.”

God, please help me to see that nothing is really mine. Help me to focus not on myself but on you and all that you have given me to be thankful for. You do not owe me anything. And you have given me all that I need.


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