Thursday, December 17, 2009

Silent Night

I recently discovered this Christmas album by Red Mountain Music. I think it will be a new family favorite for us. It's lovely. You can get two free songs from the album on Justin Taylor's blog here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

More Hope for Miserable Christians: The Romantic Bookeeper

Nothing will make you miserable faster then seeing other Christians do less and receive more. And by that I mean, that you see others doing less for the kingdom of God and yet their life seems better than yours. They may have a better marriage, a better house, better friends or simply more enjoyment in life. They may have had a spiritual experience that you have not, or seem closer to God and they may just seem happier.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones addresses this issue in his book Spiritual Depression: It's Causes and Cure. I was helped by the chapter on the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20).

The first laborers in the vineyard bargain with the master for their payment, but later when they receive their payment in full, they feel that the master has treated them unjustly because others were rewarded in a greater way then they were.

According to Lloyd-Jones the cure for this type of depression is realizing that things work differently in the New Creation. (2 Cor. 5:17) If we are in Christ, we can no longer act as if the old rules of this world apply.
We must say to ourselves every day of our lives: 'Now I am a Christian, and because I am a Christian I am in the Kingdom of God and all my thinking has got to be different. Everything here is different. I must not bring with me those old ideas, those old moods and concepts of thought.' (p.129)
So how do things work in the Kingdom of God? First of all, says Lloyd-Jones,
Do not think in terms of bargains or rights in the Kingdom of God. That is absolutely fatal. There is nothing so wrong as the spirit which argues that because I do this, or because I have done that, I have a right to expect something else in return. (p. 129)
It doesn't matter how spiritual our actions are. We cannot strong arm God into doing what we want. Even if we stay up all night praying for revival, we cannot make one happen. Only God can bring revival. If we are faithful in our spiritual disciplines, we do not have a right to joy and contentment. If we do good to others, we do not deserve to have a beautiful life.

The key according to Lloyd-Jones is realizing that "Everything is of grace in the Christian life from the very beginning to the very end." (p. 130) Not only that, but you are actually robbing yourself if you try to bargain with God. It is never a good idea to do something for God so that He will do something for you. "If you do, you will get only your bargain; but if you leave it to his grace, you will probably get more than you ever thought of." (p.130) (cf. Matt. 6)

I especially loved his next new creation principle:
Do not keep a record or an account of your work...keep your eye on Him and His glory, on His love and His honour and the extension of His Kingdom.
Lloyd-Jones points us to Matt. 6, "do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,...And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."
There is no need to waste time keeping the accounts, He is keeping them. And what wonderful accounts they are. May I say it with reverence, there is nothing I know of that is so romantic as God's method of accountancy. Be prepared for surprises in this kingdom. You never know what is going to happen. The last shall be first. What a complete reversal of our materialistic outlook, the last first, the first last, everything upside down. The whole world is turned upside down by grace...His book-keeping is the most romantic thing I know of in the whole world.
I am beginning to realize that it is all of grace in the Christian life--not just my entry into it--but also the middle and the end. And this realization brings a delightful joy and contentment.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Breaking the First Rule of Small Talk

This post from the What's Best Next Blog by Matt Perman, senior director of strategy at Desiring God, made me smile. I picture all the awkward small talk that I've had in my life and I have to laugh.

Some people instantly welcome you into warmth and comfort with their small talk. With others it can be both stiff and awkward. Why?

Perman quotes author Keith Ferrazzi, and I think there is something to be said for his point of view.

Small talk experts claim that when you first meet a person, you should avoid unpleasant overly personal, and highly controversial issues.

Wrong! Don't listen to these people! Nothing has contributed more to the development of boring chitchatters everywhere. The notion that everyone can be everything to everybody at all times is completely off the mark. Personally, I'd rather be interested in what someone was saying, even if I disagreed, than be catatonic any day.

There's one guaranteed way to stand out in the professional world: Be yourself. I believe that vulnerability--yes vulnerability--is one of the most underappreciated assets in business today. Too many people confuse secrecy with importance...And as a rule, not many secrets are worth the energy required to keep them secret.

Being up front with people confers respect; it pays them the compliment of candor. The issues we all care most about are the issues we all want to talk about most. Of course, this isn't a call to be confrontational or disrespectful. It's a call to be honest, open, and vulnerable enough to genuinely allow other people into your life so that they can be vulnerable in return.

I think we often take ourselves too seriously. And while I think it is unwise to 'air all our dirty laundry' to everyone, I also resonate with Ferrazzi's thought that, "not many secrets are worth the energy required to keep them secret.

I'm a Christian so I know I'm flawed. The only thing that makes me acceptable is that I am "in the Beloved." In all truth, I feel more comfortable with someone who knows my imperfections (and hopefully still likes me) then with someone who thinks I'm better then I actually am.

I also feel much more comfortable with people who are transparent. Those who show the real them with quirks and all. And honestly, the people who are the most fun to be with are the ones that can really laugh at themselves.

I need to be willing to welcome people into my world. I suppose the worst that could happen is that someone will think I'm a bit of a fool...and they may be right. But maybe someone else would feel warm and welcomed.

Happy Birthday, My Love

Whoever came up with the idea of the 'seven year itch' didn't know what they were talking about. Sorry George Axelrod, Billy Wilder or whoever.

My love for you grows every year. You are the best man I have ever known. Being married to you is truly a foretaste of heaven.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mr. Boss Man

My two year-old recently created a new game called 'farm.' And by 'farm' he doesn't mean "You're a horse and I'm a cow" or "I'm on the combine," but rather, he says to me, "I'm Daddy and you're Dave."

In case you're wondering, Dave is the hired man. So our game goes something like this:

My little boy takes an authoritative stance and says loudly, "Dave, help me get this fixed." or "Dave, go ahead and open that door for me." and often, "Dave...DAVE, I need your help here!" Etc. etc., all day long.

I'm beginning to think he just figured out a way to be bossy without getting in trouble.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hope for Miserable Christians

If you have never realized your guilt or guiltiness before God you will never have joy in Christ. It is impossible.
So says Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book Spiritual Depression: It's Causes and It's Cure. I have heard his name often in certain circles, but I can't say that I've read too much of his work. After reading this book, I can now say that I am smitten. His writing is especially insightful. It cuts straight to the heart and I find it very readable.

The second chapter discusses the person who has had a Christian upbringing, always goes to church, and yet is remarkably miserable. This person sees the joy that new believers have and says, "I wish I had been living their kind of life so that I could also have their marvelous experience." Lloyd-Jones exposes the truth underlying this statement. This person does not believe that they are as much a sinner as the other person. I think you would be hard pressed to find a person who admits to thinking this even though deep down this is what they feel in their heart. The devastating result is that the joy of Christ's particular salvation for them is greatly diminished or non existent.

How do I know if this type of self-righteous thinking has crept into my own heart? Here is the test according to Lloyd-Jones:
'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself' (Mark 12:30,31). Forget all about drunkards and their like, forget all the people you read about in the press at the present time. Here is the test for you and me: Are you loving God with all your being? If you are not, are a sinner of the deepest dye, whether you know it and feel it or not. (p.30)
And here is another test:
John 17:3: 'This is life eternal to know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent'. So the test we apply to ourselves is that. Not, 'Have I done this or that?' My test is a positive one: 'Do I know God? Is Jesus Christ real to me?' I am not asking whether you know things about Him but do you know God, are you enjoying God, is God the centre of your life, the soul of your being, the source of your greatest joy?...You and I are meant to be like that, and if we are not like that, it is sin. (p. 31)
We need to stop thinking about particular sins and comparing ourselves to others. "What determines whether we are sinners is not what we have done, but our relationship to God." (p.34) Jesus Christ is our righteousness. He is the only one who can truly deal with our sin. It is incredibly freeing to look to Him for help and salvation.
Salvation is all in Christ, and unless you feel yourself shut up to Christ with everything else having failed, your are not a Christian, and it is not surprising that you are not happy. (p.32)
Our natural inclination may be to try to save ourselves, but it gets extremely tiring, especially when we realize that it is impossible. Having to constantly prove yourself to God, others and yourself is a wearying task that inherently leads to depression when we fail. As Lloyd-Jones says,
What you need is not to make resolutions to live a better life, to start fasting and sweating and praying. No! you just begin to say: 'I rest my faith on Him alone who died for my transgressions to atone.' (p.35)
Here is where I've found true, lasting, life changing joy.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Honey for a Child's Heart

Gladys Hunt's blog specializes in children's literature. I resonate with her viewpoint that 'honey' is a good and necessary thing in a child's life. In her own words, "It means finding sweetness in life, like beauty and goodness that nourishes the inner person." I find her blog very thought provoking as I begin to decide what kind of literature I want to expose my children to. She gives a lot of new ideas and help in deciphering a good book from a mediocre one. One of my favorite posts is How to Know the Best Children's Books.

Monday, October 19, 2009

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Do you agree with this definition of tolerance?

D.A. Carson introduced me to this quote (most famously misattributed to Voltaire) in one of his lectures. He has some very insightful thoughts on this subject in his lecture entitled Evangelism in the 21st Century. In it Carson discusses a shift in the definition of tolerance.

Tolerance no longer means allowing someone you disagree with the freedom to believe and practice something different then you. He says,
“A bare quarter of a century ago ‘tolerance’ was understood to be a virtue that operated something like this: If I hold strong views on any particular subject I am nevertheless judged to be ‘tolerant’ if I think that your views are bad, improper, even disgusting, wicked or stupid, but never the less, still insist you have the right to defend them. In other words, a ‘tolerant’ person puts up with somebody else’s views and insists they have the right to hold them even while – in the vigorous arena of debate – we might never the less disagree fundamentally on who is right or who is wrong. Such a person is a ‘tolerant’ person. But nowadays, that is not what ‘tolerance’ means.
Now it seems that tolerance means that you cannot disagree with anybody. Carson continues,
"Now ‘tolerance’ means that you don’t hold that anybody is right or wrong. Everybody is equally right or wrong. Nobody is more right than another person. If you don’t hold that then you are ‘intolerant.’ Now that is a huge shift … Under this new definition of ‘tolerance’ I don’t even know what ‘tolerance’ means because in the old view of ‘tolerance’ you had to disagree with someone before you could actually tolerate them.
I feel the pressure of the new tolerance. Postmodernism is an interesting phenomenon. I know that when I don't cheer on a friend who is spouting off a worldview that is wrong or possibly harmful to themselves or others, I am seen as intolerant. If I believe that I know a better way, I am instantly branded as arrogant, unkind and sort of stupid. Only the unenlightened believe that one thing is better or truer then another.

How I wish for a society in which people could discuss things freely without fear of being branded. Yes, this would allow for a lot of stupid and even hurtful things to be said, but the alternative is repression of freedom.

How does a Muslim, Jew or Atheist say to me, "You are totally right." They cannot because they do not think that I am. Likewise I cannot say that I agree with them. My desire is that we could discuss and even try to convince each other of the rightness of our views, but with kindness and respect. How else will we come to know if there is a better way. Should we be content to muddle around in the dark because we are afraid to ask and afraid to admit what we believe for fear of offending someone?

The kicker is that this new tolerance is by it's very nature intolerant. If I say that you cannot disagree with anybody, I am making an absolute claim. Sometimes it is hard to see our own hypocrisy.

I need to be willing to really listen to others and to speak the truth in love. The alternative is a life of fear.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Show Yourself a Man

I have always wanted to raise daughters. But to my delight, God has given me sons...loud, rough, active, precious boys.

How do I go about nurturing and training them, especially as they grow into manhood? I take comfort in the fact that they have a wonderful father to emulate, one who is both kind and strong, godly and wise.

I recently read a helpful series of
blog posts by Carolyn Mahaney where she discusses her "plans" for her children. She says, "I think about their strengths and weaknesses, their unique temptations, and consider ways I can more effectively encourage and challenge them to grow."

She lists a number of encouragements she gives to her son. One that I found particularly insightful was "Son, kill a bear or a lion." She says,

This “bear” or “lion” could be an area where he is not gifted or his personality is not inclined, and because of selfishness, fear, or pride, he prefers to avoid. We want to show Chad the underlying sin that hinders him, and then challenge him to attack it. See, we not only desire to help Chad grow stronger where he is already strong, but to also grow strong where he is weak.

It seems so much easier to emphasize your son's strengths and overlook his weaknesses. But I suppose the end result would be an insecure, selfish and unbalanced man. You know...the man whose mother thinks he hung the moon but nobody else can stand him. And what good does that do his eternal soul?

I also really liked Mahaney's encouragement to her son to "lead where appropriate." She gives a few examples of directives they give to him:

* Be the first to pray in group settings.

* Be the first to take an interest in others.

* Be the first to lead in conversation.

* Be the first to stop a conversation that is not edifying.

* Be the first to offer to serve others.

Men seem to constantly be demeaned in our media and culture. I want my sons to buck the stereotype of the apathetic, uncommunicative male...the one who is afraid of domineering women, who never does the right or hard thing, and who is basically just selfish. Give this series a read if you have boys. It has some insightful moments.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Out of My Comfort Zone

A herd of cattle running toward me. It's Clint's third attempt to get the cattle through the gate and into the next pasture for grazing. I'm at the ranch helping, and by helping I mean sitting in the Dually with the boys trying to block the herd from going in the wrong direction. Clint is galloping back and forth around the cattle making as much noise as he can to get the cattle moving. My two year old is yelling out the window at the top of his lungs, "Hya cows!" I just finished running through a marsh with a crying baby who has had enough of this adventure, and now my feet are soaked and I am starting to get some sort of suspicious looking rash on my shins. Suddenly Clint is signaling that I need to move the truck because it's in the wrong place...of course I can't start it.

That was the last time we went to the ranch as a family. This time it seemed remarkably painless. In fact, for my two year old, it was a foretaste of heaven.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Global Mindedness

There is so much evil and darkness in the world that it almost seems to overwhelm me at times. Perhaps ignorance is bliss, but it makes for small hearts and shallow minds. If it were not for the great hope that is breaking through the darkness, the world would be a fearful place indeed.

How easy it is to become cocooned in the realm of my life with no consciousness of the world around me. I forget the benefit of recognizing the work of God throughout the world in millions of peoples lives simultaneously.

I profited from reading the Voice of the Martyrs report on Eritrean Christians this week. I especially enjoyed a guide they included in their newsletter to help people pray for global issues in an informed way.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sipping Coffee at Starbucks

Dear Anna is graciously babysitting two cantankerous little boys so that I can have some time to myself. I feel like my mind is regularly churning with copious amounts of insignificant, mundane details. It seems a rare occasion that I have time to read or think about anything of depth. So I am trying hard not to think about whether or not I put the bedrail up on Knox's crib before I left, or if Hunter is still crying or my never ending list of chores.