Tag Archives: Christ

Ratty and Mole and compassion and grace

Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows has been a classic for over a hundred years. I have heard about it all my life, and yet I am reading it for the first time now. S and I are sharing the same beautiful copy I purchased online, a hardback with richly expressive and detailed illustrations by Robert Ingpen. It has been a little tricky trying to share a copy. We both tend to want to read it at bedtime curled up with pillows and the welcome silence of the house. We are also writing summaries, or “skeletons of the plot” for each chapter.

Even as an adult, if you have not read this 1908 classic, I highly recommend it even though I have only completed the first four chapters. It tells the story of inexperienced but eager Mole, wise river-residing Ratty, distractible Toad, unsociable Badger and others. Grahame is a master at presenting their distinctly animal-like characteristics while also providing a discerning eye toward our own human peculiarities. The stories flow at an easy trickle. No great events happen, but we are privy to more and more of their strengths and flaws with each chapter. Mole, for example, is quickly dismayed when his foolishness causes him to get lost in the Wild Wood. Not heeding the sage advice of his friend, he persists in entering the forest alone in search of Badger. A rabbit races past him screaming, “Get out of this, you fool, get out!” This is not helpful to Mole.

But then, there is Rat, ever true and brave, seeking out his foolish friend, despite his own fears and the dangers. His only thought is to rescue Mole. Rat holds no grudges. It doesn’t matter that Mole had previously refused his warnings and brought this calamity on himself. Instead, the Rat responds kindly and works to get them out of the situation.

“Dear Ratty,” said the Mole. “I’m dreadfully sorry, but I’m simply dead beat and that’s a solid fact. You must let me rest here a while longer, and get my strength back, if I’m to get home at all.”

“O, all right,” said the good-natured Rat, “rest away. It’s pretty nearly pitch dark now, anyhow; and there ought to be a bit of a moon later.”

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And that, my friends, is love and compassion and grace. Not once did Rat chastise Mole, though it was all completely his fault. He did not abandon him. He saw his predicament, and it became their predicament.

Here is the way to lead others out of the terrors of the Wild Wood:

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Galatians 6:2

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He made himself nothing

I have been reflecting on what Christ renounced to live here on earth.

 “rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

‭‭Philippians‬ ‭2:7‬ ‭NIV‬‬

In his book Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge, Dallas Willard states that we are to live as Christ would have lived our specific life.

“As Jesus’ disciple… You are learning from Jesus how to lead your life as he would lead your life if he were you. Yes, the very life you have…there isn’t a person on this earth Jesus couldn’t have been. .. he relinquished supreme power. He learned to live  in the kingdom of God as an ordinary human being…He could live in your circumstances now.” P. 54

He could have been any one of us. Instead he was a carpenter’s son, living on the wrong side of the Pax Romana. How would he have lived your life in particular? Perhaps that is part of what he gave up- the ability to live all lives, to be omnipresent and to see humanity from every perspective. Jesus was only able to live the one life here on earth, just as we are limited. We can only see with the single pair of eyes that God created for us. How would Jesus have used my blue eyes in America in the 21st century?

Our prayer might be to catch glimpses of his omniscient vision as Creator and Savior. As C. S. Lewis encourages us,

But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.

C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism

In this way, may he teach us as the all-knowing God of the universe, and may his pattern as a man speak to us of his compassion and wisdom as he also was limited in his humanity.

Walls

We have been hearing a lot of talk about walls. Some people want to build them, and some are concerned about who is going to pay for them. There have been walls throughout history. Some were constructed to keep others out. Automatically, the Great Wall of China comes to mind. It was built in 221-206 BCE by millions of slave laborers in order to obstruct the Mongolian armies from invading.

The Jewish Old Testament writer Nehemiah, after leaving his position in exile as cup-bearer to the Persian king, also built a wall. Nehemiah led the the returning exiles in rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls. Unfortunately, this was also the topic of the inaugural day sermon with erroneous modern political applications. Both of these walls are examples of division in order to keep invaders out.

Likewise, there have been, and are, walls to sequester or keep people inside its borders. The Berlin Wall, which was suddenly and clandestinely erected in 1961, divided West and East. It separated families and friends for nearly thirty years. Prison walls, with their high fences, armed guards and barbed wires, do the same for punitive purposes.

Yet, two-thousand years ago a greater wall was razed.

“…at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace.” Ephesians 2:12-15, emphasis mine.

Now, there is a vast difference between political attitudes and spiritual truths. We must be careful not to confuse patriotism with our spiritual identity in Christ. The first is temporal, the last is eternal. The former is confined, the latter is universal. One necessarily focuses on divisions and pits “us” versus “them.” The other focuses on  our similarities and recognizes our shared humanity and dependence on our Creator.

Regardless of what any nation chooses to do to “secure their borders,” or  “protect their people,” as followers of Jesus Christ, we must see ourselves as a people of God not to be protected, but to protect.

“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17

also

“And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10: 19

Here I am not speaking to American agendas. Honestly, I don’t understand enough about the formation of foreign policy. Here, instead, I speak to the heart of a Christian, whether that Christian resides in the United States,or Egypt, Hungary, the United Kingdom or Burma. Our heart must be against walls of animosity and criticism. While American policies may fluctuate between good and evil, as Christians we live to a higher standard, that of God’s justice and righteousness. The walls have already been brought down. So when I meet someone from Mexico whose child is having a difficult time adjusting at school, I will not question whether or not they are here legally. So, I will no longer question whether or not my recent financial contribution was used in a way that I deem responsible. So, when I hear in someone’s voice anger and hurt at past wrongs, I will not discredit their pain. I will not put up defenses. Instead, I will strive to discover commonalities, and see them through the eyes of Christ’s compassion. Our task is simply to step across the previously existing lines, and be grateful.

To hear the angels

“The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled;
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world:
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.”

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May you be still, and at peace. May
you know the message the Angels still sing. May we be like Elisha and his servant whose eyes were opened to perceive the ancient heavenly armies about him (2 Kings 6:17). May our ears likewise be opened to hear the angels sing.
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Peace. Good news. Joy to the world.
He has come!

 

 

 

Pursuing what is good

Growing up I think I had this perception of heaven as the perfecting of all things.  God would somehow smooth over all wrongs done. We would forget about any pain we had experienced, and we ourselves would instantaneously, miraculously be perfected, no longer with struggles or any of our former shortcomings.  Now, I am not so sure that this is the case.

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Last time on this blog I shared my thoughts on why I am thankful I don’t feel a complete sense of belonging in any one location.  If this is true, I pray it is because my true home, my eternal home, is still not fully realized.  If I want to recognize it as home it may be that I need to have more than hope in God magically transforming me, but also in a focused plan to hope in the fact that he is transforming me even now.  If I am disciplining my heart to think and feel with the heart of God, then it may be that eternity will be as recognizable and comfortable to me when I arrive as if I truly do belong.  In a sense our change will occur in “the twinkling of an eye,” (I Corinthians 15:52) but its beginnings are here in the midst of the mundane here on earth.  Our steps toward wholeness or perfection begin now, incrementally.

Therefore I….urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received.

Ephesians 4:1

Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing and perfect will of God.

Romans 12:2

Eternity starts now.  Let’s get ready.  I am preparing my heart for it now so it will not seem foreign to me then.

See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all.

Rejoice always!

Pray constantly.

Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I Thessalonians 5:15-18

Excerpts from Nouwen

For several months now, I have felt the need to be more grounded.  I have felt scattered, frayed at the tips of my being.  So, the other day I picked up a book at the library by the late Dutch Christian psychologist Henri Nouwen.  Even before I opened the cover  of this quiet book, I knew what needed to be done.  I always know.  And before you read the following words, you know. Why is it often so difficult to do those simple things – prioritize a morning quiet time, carve out a time for intentional exercise, retreat for a reflective moment in the afternoon.  I do none of them consistently.  It seems nearly impossible.  Is it any wonder I am not focused?

Fatigue, busyness, and preoccupation often serve as arguments for not praying.  Yet without this one hour a day for God, my life loses its coherence, and I start experiencing my days as a series of random incidents and accidents rather than divine appointments and encounters.

from Discernment by Henri Nouwen, pp. 113-114

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Yes!  Divine appointments and encounters.  How much more pressing do the trivialities of my day seem when recognizing they are really moments designed by God?  How much better prepared do I wish to be when I am able to slow down and see that the monotony (or stress) of the day is actually opportunity after opportunity to show Christ’s love?

Who knows but that placing my phone back in my purse is all my son needed to open up and talk?  If I have not been grounded in my day, focused on Him in my spirit, I may not have sensed the need to speak to the woman in the grocery store line.  I may not have been able to discern the gentle stirring within me-   the conversation with my boys in the car as we wait in heavy traffic,  a “coincidental” meeting of someone in need, an opportunity to pray with someone or for someone… These are not “random incidents and accidents.”  How do I know?

God cannot be caught once and for all or contained for all time in a system of titles, names, nature, and events. But God lets himself be suspected!  Therefore, when we pray to God or search for God in silence, we learn to recognize him in the many little ideas, meetings, happenings, signs, and wonders along the way.

p. 93

Only through daily practice, confirms Nouwen, can we begin to hear and discern the voice of God within us.  Christ says this too.  Not only in his parables on prayer, but also through the parable of his life.  He leads our days.

 

Back to School

There was a great deal of complaining last year.  Math was too difficult.  We had too much work.  The dreaded ‘B’ word was bandied about.  You know, as in, This is (gasp) boring.  

After addressing each subject separately, I began to gain some clarity: the problem did not lie with the challenging subject matter, nor the words my kids – one of them in particular, let’s be honest- chose to use.  It didn’t even primarily pertain to the unwanted behaviors.  It was a deeper, yet simpler problem.  A problem of the heart.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight,  LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19:34

I have often wondered why David mentions his words before his thoughts.  Jesus calls out his would-be followers, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks,” and “where your treasure is, there the heart will be also.”

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My children needed to change their thinking.  Controlling my heart, my tongue, and my thoughts are not easy for me as an adult.  How much more difficult will it be for my children? They need to see me model a desire to do so, however.

Our first week of school has passed slowly, with low expectations, incrementally adding topics and subjects.  We have read, journaled, watched the news, completed some map work, and generally re-introduced the habit of sitting down to work again (as well as introduced what it will look like in our new house.  We moved in less than two weeks ago.)

Charlotte Mason’s motto has helped us in approaching this new school year with positive guidelines.

I am.. I can… I ought… I will…

I am hoping to instill in my children a proprietary sense of their education and spiritual life. You can read here for more information about Charlotte Mason’s motto and educational philosophy.

Each day we have added to our understanding of the motto with the Bible verses suggested here.

 

I am….a child of God.  I am a person of great value because God made me.

Ephesians 2:8-10  “…For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

I can…do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  I am capable of accomplishing all I need to do.

Philippians 4:13 “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

I ought…. to obey God, my parents and all those who are in authority over me.

Mark 12:30-31 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this:  Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these.”

I will…decide to keep watch over my thoughts and tongue and choose what is right even if it is not what I want.

Psalm 119:30 “I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I have set my heart on your laws.”

We have discussed the significance of each of these points and used the verses as copywork.  We are slowly incorporating them as memory work as well.  The heavy responsibilities and expectations of the school year lighten when we are reminded how loved we are, along with an encouraging reminder that we are, indeed, capable.

Easter Sunday

Easter didn’t come with chocolates, jelly beans or an egg hunt for our family.  There was not ham or roast lamb for a big Sunday feast.  As much as I love family traditions, I just haven’t prioritized the organization it takes to pull it off for holidays and special events.  Without extended family nearby, and now that my first two boys are getting older, it just seems less of a priority.  Sometimes I allow it to make me feel a little frustrated, a little sad.

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Yet, when I reflect on our Easter weekend, I honestly don’t know how I could be disappointed.  The Midwest has been enjoying the first true signs of spring.  Trees are budding, I have seen daffodils, and the robins are plentiful .  The weather is mild, and for the most part, a light cardigan or long-sleeved t-shirt is all you need during the warmth of the day.

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My family has been out enjoying the graciousness of warmer weather for the last several days.  I can tell, because there are flakes of dried mud in my entry way where my boys have tromped in and out multiple times throughout the day.  The bicycles, scooters and skateboards  are all askew in the garage from their constant use (and apparently we need to work on training them to return to their proper place).  Although G opted for riding his scooter over an egg hunt, it has all been good, solid family time.

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Easter Sunday church services provided us with a reminder of the unbelievable nature of what we profess.  A man 2,000 years ago rose from a tightly sealed tomb, and we meet every week in his name.  We were encouraged to live boldly, bravely and pray for those in imminent physical danger.  My family was confronted with the miracle of resurrection, as well as the challenge of living out our faith even in the most potentially heinous of times.  A serious message for an eleven and (almost) thirteen-year-old.  I am thankful we were present.

As always, we read the Bible together as a family.  I am determined to find a way to practice this more regularly and meaningfully for my boys.  A gentle retelling of Christ’s death and a joyful narration of his resurrection helped us celebrate the weekend.  There is something special about Easter, but I am grateful  that every Sunday we have the opportunity to celebrate the fact that He still lives.

As I look back on our “uncelebrated” Easter,  I smile.  No, I hardly missed the jelly beans.  I hope I am correct in saying that my guys didn’t miss them either. Spring, family time, encouragement in our church, and Bible reading.  It was all more than enough.

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Immanuel

Whether or not you are surrounded by family, or virtually alone, whether or not this has been a good year full of prosperity and joy, or one of struggle and pain, my family and I wish you a merry Christmas.

May the good news the angels proclaimed two millennia ago be true today.

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11).

May the ancient prophecies be fulfilled in our hearts.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and you will call him Immanuel [God with us] (Isaiah 7:14).

May you not only be grateful today for the symbol of the cross, but the meaning bursting forth from a tiny feeding trough.  May we marvel at the wonder and love of a God who has completely shared, and still shares, in our humanity.  God with us.  God, a part of us.  Love in flesh and blood.  Our reason why we search for ways to practice and emulate grace for those without.

For we do not have a [Christ], who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Immanuel.

God is with you.

Skilled and Chosen

His hand holds the grey drawing pencil at an angle.  He sweeps downward, then across.  Now he leans in to work more closely on a detail, his wrist hovering in barely perceptible, clock-wise movements.

At ten years old S is capable of something I never will be.  Through his black and lime-green frames he sees clearly, notices and observes.  The pencil is under his control as he manipulates it.  A half circle of the wrist and his left hand moves and lifts up slightly off the paper.    The knight’s chain mail is completed carefully in tiny, individual circles, yet appearing coehesive, virtually impenetrable as the thirteenth century boasted.

It is a skill.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri from the tribe of Judah….I have filled Bezalel with the Spirit of God and have given him the skill, ability, and knowledge to do all kinds of work.  He is able to design pieces to be made from gold, silver, and bronze, to cut jewels and put them in metal, to carve wood, and to do all kinds of work.  I have also chosen Oholiab…to work with Bezalel.  I have given skills to all the craftsmen, and they will be able to make all these things I have commanded you: the Meeting Tent, the Ark of the Agreement, the lid that covers the Ark, and everything in the Tent.”  Exodus 31:1-7

God has chosen.  God has given.  God has filled.  Here is the first time in Scripture someone is said to be filled with the Spirit of God.

How did these men learn their crafts?  Were they artisan slaves to Pharaoh back in Egypt?  Did the Lord miraculously teach them to work with their hands with no prior experience?  Surely they had melted gold down before.   Certainly their hands knew how to hold a chisel against wood, a press for the olives, the needle for the fine tapestries and textiles.  Regardless, His very Spirit filled them with the knowledge and creativity to complete these tasks for the sake of beauty and worship.  As Bezalel carves floral designs, birds or fruit into the wood, gilding them with the gold, covering them in silver, I realize I am also filled with His Spirit, expected to leave a decorative and practical imprint on His holy temple.  For we are His temple.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

And here before me are three temples, entrusted to me to show off all my artisan skill, all for His glory.  The responsibility weighs on me mightily.  How could he entrust me with so great a task?  However, Bezalel and Oholiab speak quietly through the pages of Scripture and through their hard labor.  If God commands, then He will also enable.  If God expects, then He will also inspire.  If God gives, then He will do so abundantly.

What tools has God placed in my hands?  For what purpose has He chosen me?  Do I understand that I am filled with His presence?  The task is too beautiful and too daunting.  I am equal to the task of teaching fractions and literary themes.  I do not quake at the thought of lessons in cooking and folding laundry.  Chosen.  Skilled.  Filled.  Yet, how is it possible to carve empathy into another human soul?  How do I chisel gratitude for God’s grace into my child’s heart?  Where will I find the needle and fine thread to create something so skillful, so beautiful, so worthy of the worship He deserves?

Never will I comprehend.  A pencil in my hands is hardly a tool.  Although S may create worlds with it, never will it bring to life anything from my efforts.  It is merely for scratching down a grocery list, jotting down a Bible verse, demonstrating a division problem.  But the Spirit between us is the same.  My ministry, his temples, are before me daily, hourly.  I gaze on them, overwhelmed at times with the sheer magnitude of the task.

Were Bezalel and Oholiab overwhelmed?

Then, I know.  When God commands, He also enables.  When He chooses, He also provides the skills.  May we all know His presence.