Thursday, February 25, 2010

Disney Dreams

Aren't dreams fun?

This morning I was dozing in bed and started dreaming that I was back at my home church and an old friend walked in with an army buddy. There was a conference going on, and I was at the "reception desk" so I started trying to stow all their army gear (because apparently they had come straight from the airport?) and trying to get it out of the way. There was a little space behind the desk and another closet/storage room that I put the rest in. He had a small round bundle that looked like a sleeping bag, and when I put it into a large cubby hole, it knocked out a panel that led to a secret passage! Then, it started rolling... down down down into the darkness and out of sight.

I went to get my friend and we ran after his bundle. The air was damp and musty and our shoes kicked up mud and rocks on the wide trail as we ran down. We could barely see two feet in front of us, but there was a dim light coming from an unidentifiable source even though we were clearly underground. Eventually we found the trail ending at a large cavern with a quiet, but wide stream and a small boat beached on the mud. We could see my friend's bundle bobbling along in the stream, so we got in the metal boat and shoved off. We caught the bundle easily enough. But then something began to change. The current got swifter, and the air got colder. Our paddles seemed to do little good against the swift undercurrent that was taking us further and further from our trail and into the darkness. I realized that the small amount of light must have been coming from a tiny hole in the very top of the cavern. But now we were back in a tunnel, on water this time, with darkness getting thicker every moment. I quickly got disoriented between the blackness and the swiftness of our travel and could no longer tell if we were going in circles or travelling along toward a new destination. I began to be convinced that our boat was being controlled by some outside force... for evil or good, I dared not guess.

Soon, light began to gradually creep into the tunnel once again, but this was certainly not the cavern that we had just left. And the rocks ahead and the roaring sounded disconcertingly like either a large waterfall or an enormous machine that would shred us to pieces. Fortunately, in the light we could see that the stream in the tunnel, though deep in the middle was shallow at the sides with dirt and pebbles rising above the level of the water. We threw are strength against the paddles, and by working inch by inch up the side of the stream, we were able to make our way back the way we came.

About 100 yards from the cavern, the powerful drag on our boat stopped, as if someone had suddenly switched off a magnetic field. At the same time, a pair of double doors swung open and light poured into the cavern. Standing in the door was a small rigid figure about two feet tall. We couldn't tell what it was because it was silhouetted in the light, but it was clearly glad to see us. We quickly got out of the boat and approached the light. Who was it? "The Tin Man?!?!" a voice said beside me. (That was Friar Tuck.) Then the life size Tin Man appeared suddenly and scooped up his 2 foot counterpart as he greeted us both affectionately and welcomed us into his abode (that looked oddly like a hobbit's hole.)

And was so shocked and surprised by both the Tin Man and Friar Tuck appearing in my dream that I suddenly awoke and never found out how they rescued us or from what.

But THEN, I was so excited about the Tin Man and Friar Tuck appearing in my dream that I promptly got up and told my husband about it and giggled... all before 7 in the morning! I have a feeling in my bones that this is going to be a magical day.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Unique Job of a Wife

At my church, there is a course of Sunday School classes which includes a discussion of Biblical masculinity and femininity. The last two weeks, this course was finishing up with a panel of men and women answer question about their own personal experiences striving to fulfill their Biblical roles. There were a few things among their answers that really struck me and encouraged my heart to look at my role as a wife as something noble and good.

I came from a background of independence, and from a state that values independence and autonomy much more than social connections or power jobs. Therefore, the idea that men and women have different roles in marriage, although not completely new to me, was somewhat confusing a unpalatable. Some of the books I have read (including the Bible) and some of the discussions that I have participated in with the women at church have completely changed my mind.

The beautiful thing about different roles for men and women is that it is a picture (a dull representation, but there nonetheless) of the relationship of the Godhead. Although the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equally God and equally important, powerful, and containing all the qualities of God; all three fulfill a different role. Similarly, both men and women are created in the image of God. They are not more or less important because of the jobs God gives them (or because of physical appearance or strength.) How beautiful it is that I can relish my role to help, encourage, and respect because, matched with my husbands role to lead, sacrifice, and love, we can become a reflection of the love and unity in the Trinity.

And it's an odd thing that roles are not even about what our best strengths are. There might be times when I'm better at planning out a weekend's events and arranging all the relevant details. But it's my husband's place to ask me to do that. It's good for him to decide what we're going to do as a family and then to ask me to help in the particulars. (And of course, part of deciding can involve asking for my input!) But to have roles that do not necessarily reflect our own strengths is often something of a mystery to people who have been told their whole lives, "do what you're good at." But in this context, it is an opportunity to serve each other lovingly and to trust God that by helping my spouse become better at a skill I might already have, we are becoming more holy and better reflections of who God is. Our marriage should not be about my husband and me both asserting what we're best at, but rather showing God's love and character every way we can.

One of the ladies on the panel to answer questions was also newly married but had been in the workforce for a while (and still is.) When I'm tempted to think that I have a "low-profile" and "unimportant" job as a wife, I remember what she said about a week ago. She was thinking about her job outside the home and realized that if she quits now, she'll be replaced. If she quits in 2 years, she'll still be replaced, no matter how specialized her skills might be. The most difficult and powerful job in the public world could be filled by multiple people. But the job of a wife can only be filled by one person. And if she doesn't fill her role, then the job is left undone. No one else can respect and encourage a husband like a wife. No one else can free his time and thoughts to allow him to do God's work. And no one else can be so clearly an instrument of God's love and grace in his life.

When I see what a valuable job that God has given me to minister to the one person I love most, I can dive into all those "low-profile, unimportant" tasks with the concentration and determination of a brain surgeon! They are important, and they make a difference in God's kingdom, even if I cannot see the immediate results. One of my favorite verses always encourages me when I'm tempted (even in light of all this exciting truth) to wonder if my role as a wife makes any "real" difference. It's found in 1 Corinthians 15:58.

"Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Don't Fool Yourself. Trust God.

Isn't it wonderful how we can be encouraged by Christians whom we have never met? I was speaking with a new friend on Sunday, and she was describing a difficulty that another of her friends was going through. At the end of the day, the question he always had to ask himself was, "Will you trust God?"

I have been thinking a lot about trusting God lately in the realm of having children. My husband and I are willing, though perhaps not trying to have kids. The responsibility is enormous and we certainly don't feel prepared to be parents, but I think that we are convinced we will never actually feel prepared. Therefore, I think (which often means worry) all the time about whether or not I might be pregnant. And in the moments of just thinking and not worrying, I have found several things that are extremely comforting to me.

For one, God is always good. He gives his children good gifts, and also the grace to deal with them when they seem like burdens.

For another, the idea that we can actually control conception and birth is a mere illusion. The more I read about natural family planning and about forms of birth control, absolutely NO method is failsafe. There must be well over 10 options that a couple could use to keep from conceiving a child. But absolutely every method has failed... multiple times. Even using "the pill" which often causes women to be infertile for up to twice the amount of time that they take it, some couples have children. This tells me that our yearning for power over this area of our lives is a futile struggle. God is all-powerful, in this area just as He is over the waves and the winds... and we are equally powerless.

I don't think that all forms of birth control are wrong--as long as they are only preventative and 0% abortive. However, I do think that most couple's reasons for using birth control are wrong. Convenience is so common in our society today that we often unconsciously make it an idol. We claim that it's important to have stability and security, when in reality, it's simply inconvenienct to have the responsibility of caring for another human being. It's perfectly reasonable that some use birth control for health reasons, or maybe are not strong enough to survive a birth... or any number of circumstances are possible. But the vast majority of couples dress up convenience, call it wisdom, and say that they simply "don't want kids." But their are two clear problems with this mindset.

The first problem is this: an unwillingness to bear children because it's inconvenient does not submit to God's design for us. There are many who would quibble with this, saying that timing matters and wisdom with finances and quality of life and so on. (These are usually matters of convenience, but are occasionally truly important considerations.) In any case, the Bible is quite clear that bearing children is not only good and one of God's greatest blessings, but is actually His general plan for all couples. I wouldn't at all say that it's His specific plan for couples because some couples cannot have children and He knows those circumstances, uses them, and works through them.

However, there are several passages that indicate that God's intention for a man and wife is to raise children up to serve God. This is a blessing for us, a provision against temptation, and also something that shows God's great glory to the world.

In Genesis 1:27-28, this oft-quoted passage reads, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'" Here it seems that raising children is a part of God's purpose and plan for us from the first day of man's existence. And in Isaiah 54:2, God comforts single ladies, saying that their children will be more numerous than those of the married women. God provides for barren women and comforts them. But this passage shows just how natural and right it is for married couples to have children!

In first Timothy Paul writes of the young widows under Timothy's care. He warns them against enrolling in the church, and against them becoming idle gossips, saying, "I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander." Reading the entire chapter 5 of 1 Timothy, we find Paul addressing widows in particular and the role of the church in caring for them and particular sins to curb. But it's clear through life and history that these things that can be temptations for "young widows" are equally dangerous areas for "young singles."

And finally, in his second chapter, Malachi talks about how God is punishing Judah for coming to his altar expecting blessings when they had been unfaithful to their wives. Malachi 2:13-15 reads, "And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, 'Why does he not?' Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth." This moving passage underscores God's involvement in our marriages. He is witness to the covenant and He makes a man and wife one person with a "portion of the Spirit in their union." And what is God seeking? Godly offspring. This pleases God!

The main points I want to draw from these passages are that God has designed men and women to be in families and to raise children. This is (1) a great blessing for us not to be missed if at all possible. And (2) it is a built-in method for women in particular (who are expected and designed to be the manager inside the house) to avoid the temptations of idleness and gossip. Lastly, (3) God wants us to raise kids that honor Him.

But believe it or not, unwillingness to follow God's plan for marriage is not the only problem with saying, "I don't want kids." (Even if it is "just for now.") In considering the possibility of having children, it is so easy to worry. I think to myself, "Can we afford to take care of children? Can I discipline them well... when I feel so undisciplined in the things that I'm supposed to do? I'm so forgetful--will I be able to make a home for them that is safe?" And on and on and on. And then a little question will rise in me. "Will you trust God?" When I came to realize that we ultimately could not control whether or not we became pregnant, I realized that God could! (and does!) I think of a few encouraging Scripture passages. "God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory." (Phil 4:19) And Matthew 6:31-33 "Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."

Saying "I don't want kids right now" for the sole purpose of convenience is to spit at God, saying that He has not or could not earn your trust. It says, "God doesn't know my needs or care about them. He isn't good and He doesn't know best, and it's up to me to look out for my best interest and make the best decisions I can." Don't we know that God's foolishness is wiser than a man's wisdom? Don't we know that God has at his ready grasp unfathomable blessings to bestow? Our best plans for ourselves could not possibly hold a candle to the wonders and excitement and fulfillment to be found in God's plan. Let's not fool ourselves into thinking that we're "preparing" or "waiting for a better time." God's timing is not ours, and it's unpredictable and surprising. Don't be afraid to trust God. He loves us and has always proved himself trustworthy. We can't possibly give Him more trust than He has already earned.

So when I think about the possibility of being pregnant and fear starts to rise in me, I remind myself that God is good all the time. And I say (sometimes aloud to myself), "If God gives us children early, we will love them and praise him for the provision He'll bring. If he never gives them, we will love each other and praise God for His provision that he has already brought and will continue to bring." And what an incredibly comforting thought it is to know that God is in control, and as long as we're willing to receive what He has to give us, we can't possible miss out on the fun adventures to be found in His will!

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Lesson for the Church from America's past

I wrote my senior thesis on American musicals and how they reflected what it means to be "American." The musicals that I concentrated on were those from the 1930s (the earliest talking films) through the 1950s, though I did dabble a little bit in more modern musicals as well; though those were more for contrast to the ideals I found in the earlier films. There was element of Americanism that I was surprised to encounter nearly everywhere in these early musicals. It was surprising because it is not commonly thought of or appreciated in the same way as it was then.

The idea of a community in these musicals is inextricably tied to the idea of independence or individuality. Without going into lots of details and examples, I'll try to summarize the main thrust of what I discovered. Many foreigners come to America, and many little boys and girls grow up in America dreaming of what they want to do or become in the years ahead of them. And America has been known as the place where those dreams can come true if you set your sights strait and go for your goal with indestructible determination. In order to do this, people develop a certain set of skills that will allow them to work for what they want. People would often barter their skills for another's skills or the product of his labor. (For example, someone might mend a smith's fence in return for shoeing his horses... there are endless bartering possibilities.) This is how communities form. They are groups of people with complementary skills that rely on and help each other in a symbiotic relationship that allows each an opportunity to pursue his own personal goals. We need people. We can never do anything completely on our own.

These communities and the strength of the peoples' character is seen often in the towns on the edge of a frontier where there are no factories or big cities. People know each other and understand (sometimes learning the hard way) that they cannot survive if the community fails.

In an age when one can shop for everything online and essentially survive on other people's services and products without ever having to come in contact with them, it can be hard to understand the special power of these American frontier communities. People were held accountable to each other in their work, in their morals, in the raising of their children. No one had the option of shirking their responsibility. And when one worked hard and did well, they not only had the option of helping others, but it was expected and required in a way because the whole community would know that he did not succeed by his own strength alone.

The Christian church needs to understand how vital and powerful is this kind of community. By serving each other faithfully and working hard to develop our skills so that we cannot be accused of taking advantage of people, the church will develop a powerful system of trust, accountability, strength, ingenuity, and fun that will be markedly different from the rest of the word. It will be noticeable especially in modern society, and in our culture in particular, because people are fixated on "getting ahead" at the expense of one's coworkers, "looking out for #1" to the exclusion of all others, and taking all they can while giving as little as possible. Can you imagine a secular community today participating in a barn raising or a husking bee?

These events were not the imaginings of historical fiction authors. And their purpose was not solely to come together and "have fellowship." These were times when people did work together, freely, generously, and knowing that each person would have his turn of needing and contributing to the community help.

Paul talks about Christian communities in 1 Thessalonians and gives us many other instructions elsewhere. Speaking to the entire church of the Thessalonians, Paul says, "Now concerning brotherly love, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one." Later on, he says, "We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."

We are to love all of our Christian family, not just those we "click" with. We are to honor all of them, to serve all of them, to be generous and equally available to all of them, and we are to accept criticism from all of them (even those we don't know or understand as well) because we know that they have been chosen by God to live with him for eternity. There will certainly be idle, fainthearted, and weak people in the community. But we cannot simply throw them out saying, "you damage the image of our Christian community... Leave." Rather, it is a further opportunity for a testament to the grace of God to deal with them patiently and to never return evil for evil.... and to always be thankful.

How often do you complain? Do you notice when others complain around you? Do you join in? If you instead expressed your thankfulness and gratitude that your life is what it is, don't you think the people around you would notice and be astonished? Thankfulness, gratitude, contentment. These are rare things in the world today, much rarer than diamonds.

We are commanded to not forsake the fellowship of our Christian brothers and sisters. This is not a call to go bowling every Friday night with a "small group." And it does not mean meeting every Tuesday with the bridge club which is comprised of ladies from church. No. We are called to serve each others' needs, even to consider them as more important than our own. We are to know our Christian brothers and sisters deeply, rejoicing in their victories and sorrowing with them over their failures. One Christian all on his own will struggle and fight with sin a pain and doubts, giving (maybe) a tiny little flicker of a flame to the rest of the world shining just so much much light on the work and glory of God. But a Christian community should be like a roaring fire showing the rest of the world how we work together in love and generosity freely giving and humbly taking, generously bearing with each others' faults and working together to become more like Christ. That is not to say that Christians in a community will not struggle with sin. But the context of Christian accountability, exhortation, and forgiveness will improve a sinner's chance of resisting temptation while it also shows the world a Godly response to sin.

In our minds we can never compare our worldly lot with our neighbors who have rejected Christ without also comparing our eternal lot. We are members of a different world, and we should not read the same things, watch the same movies, laugh in the same way, or even smile or shake a hand with the same attitudes and thoughts as the rest of the world. We are called to be different and we must show the world what this difference is. It does not mean going to Wednesday night Bible study instead of Wednesday night chess club. It means living every moment knowing that someone died so that we could walk and breath and smell with all the excitement of the most rapturous love... And we can do that because we are walking and breathing and smelling (and living!) a new life in the ridiculous love of a God who created the earth and the air and every fragrance there is so that we could enjoy it and praise him for it. And this is how he showed his love for us, that while we were living, ungrateful and hating him for putting us in this beautiful world, he punished his own son for our evil. He loves us that much.

Of course we still struggle with sin, but praise God that our destiny does not lie in our own ability! We have such a great hope. Paul says this at the end of 1 Thessalonians: "Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it."

Amen and Amen to that.