You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2006.

I know, it’s been a while, hopefully I haven’t completely lost my reader base! My apologies for the temporary hiatus…

Currently I am a member of three families: my biological family, my church family, and my Westminster family. While there are obvious differences between the three, there are also striking similiarities, especially when it comes to how we (Christian brothers and sisters) interact with one another. What makes our families different from others? It can’t be a lack of dissension, that’s impossible; and it can’t be unconditional love, even non-Christian families often exhibit that. So what makes the Christian family different? Originally I wrote my reflections below for my biological family, so things like “screaming toddlers” of course don’t apply to the other familial spheres, but you get the idea! My hope is that this will serve as a call to all my families (my Westminster family in particular at the moment) to love one another with reckless abandon:

My family is real. From the screaming toddlers to the tobacco-obsessed men, from the embarrassing childhood stories and the subsequent bellows of laughter to the pre-dinner prayers of blessing; we live and love, we fight and hurt, we want to love and be loved, we seek comfort and are sometimes left wanting. But my family is real, and by “real” I mean “not synthetic,” not man-made, but rather God-made. It’s as real as the ocean’s ebb and tide, and sometimes just as volatile. It’s as real as the blustering wind, and often just as unpredictable. There’s blood and guts in my family: when we fight we mean it but when we love it consumes us.

What makes it my family is each individual. Should one of us be absent, the absence is noted. In my family there is no such thing as “fitting in” even when one ends up being the sole-possessor of a particular opinion. Why? Because it isn’t conformity of thought that binds us. It isn’t having similar personalities, or liking boxed wine or sharing taste in clothes; it is by mere virtue of partaking of the same Covenant. We did not choose each other, and since this is so, it must not be expected that we will always get along. But rather God chose us to be a family, to support one another, to disagree with one another, but in dissension saying with our eyes (if not with our lips), “I love you.” For in the ways we love each other we manifest how we love God. If our love is conditional, we are saying we must be right with God for Him to love us, or that all must be right in our world for us to love Him. If we withhold forgiveness, we are giving God license to do the same with us. And when we fall on our faces before each other seeking forgiveness, it reflects us falling before our Maker.

My family is not perfect, but it is my family. My family is not perfect, but it was perfectly planned since the foundations of the earth for us to be the family that we are, with all our strengths and weaknesses, all our tears and all our laughter; and therein lies our bond. I love them for their love, and I love them in the midst of our collective, corporate pain. It may not always seem like it, but when one of us hurts, we all hurt, as in the groans of childbirth, as when the whole world cries out in its sin-brokenness. We are a covenant family, seeking to honor our God not just in our joy, but also in our pain. And no number of flaming arrows of Satan can rend that bond; it is eternal, even if our bodies are not.

This is my family.

About a year and a half ago I returned from a two-year mission term in Ecuador. Among other things, my time there was one of frequent turmoil, a constant battleground for control of my heart. Often times I didn’t know who I was battling, since I spent considerable time fighting both God and my own sinful nature. Below is a poem I wrote while in the field. It is a story that I think many of us experience in faith. If you think you’re alone in your doubts and fear, you may find it to be true that we all come through this wilderness at times. But my hope is that the progression to redemption I’ve tried to express will also mirror how God might be calling you. It is written unabashedly, admitting crippling doubt and exhaustion. But in the end, it is not I who fights to win, but God who never lets go of His child.

“High King of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.”

Redemption by Michael P. Van Gilst

Desire no more for that which can save,
Strength no more to resist the grave,
Faith no more to strengthen my bones;
To give me desire; abandon my groans.

Beaten and battered and torn down in shame,
Ready and willing to give up this game.
Knowing that this is just what I can’t do
For living is fighting and taming that shrew.

What option awaits then, in days yet to come?
I hear the beat pounding: the enemy’s drum.
Rolling and rumbling, grumbling thump
Louder and closer and ready to jump.

Stormy horizon and thunder close by
Foretell of a no-longer-cloudless night sky.
I with my satchel and naught else to fight
‘Gainst rain clouds and drumbeats that smother my light.

No where but not here a hiding place be
For here is just wasteland: a planar Hades.
The enemy sees me and knows I’m afraid.
Contemptuous laughter, a bloodthirsty blade.

Yet somehow in past years I’ve conquered this foe
I’ve relit my lamp and heard the cock crow.
I’ve stood in the presence of darkness and hate
And lived on to tell of my enemy’s fate.

But here in the midst of my fear and my doubt
I look to the heavens and holler and shout.
With no other weapon I’m forced to rely
On that which I know is my only ally.

Tears of frustration, exhaustion and pain
Stream from a body too weak to restrain
There in the downpour I cease to resist
And lay down the satchel that’s clenched in my fist.

The lines of the faces of enemies near
Jagged teeth, sneering sneers beckoning fear
The ringing and pounding! the drums will not cease!
Cacophonous symphony screaming, “Decease!”
From whence cometh help? I see nothing above
Abandoned and helpless, collapsed in the mud.
Grip of death strikes me, so seized by the dark
Yet softly I whisper a song from my heart:

“Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heav’nward, O power of my power!”

With final breath drawn and prepared to depart,
Expecting the blade to cut straight through the heart
I notice the deafening silence around
No hand upon me, nor blade can be found.

For out of the canopied rain-stricken gloom
Descends a white dove with the brightness of noon.
I lay there bewildered and barely aware
That now the drum beating is something more fair.

Softly yet gradually bolder with time
Announcing the feat, the change of the tide,
The clearing of trumpets triumphantly sound
For once what was lost in death has now been found.

Slowly I look up and see face to face
My ally behind me in radiant grace.
No where but elsewhere my enemy be
For darkness has fled me and now I can see.

I have not my satchel yet care not for this
For that which is useless is not to be missed.
All that is needed is faith to go on
Knowing the Ally is never far-gone.

-Excerpts taken from “Be Thou My Vision” (translation by Mary Elizabeth Byrne)


El puesto del sol desde la terraza de mi departamento en Ecuador (Sunset from the terraza of my apartment in Ecuador)

This was a post from my sister Heidi, in response to my post “Great Is Your Faithfulness.” Among the myriads of lessons to be learned from children (including having faith like one), God uses children to bring us back to that time before cynicism and pessimism, and shows us that there was a time that we too wondered unhindered at His creation, and that we can do so still. Thank you Heidi, for insights that only a mother could have.

I never realized that I had “lost the wonder” of God’s creation until I had children. Fall has always been my favorite season because of the changing of the leaves and realizing that only our God could make “death” a beautiful thing; that is into a promise of Spring. However, until I had children I didn’t realize that the “magic” of it all had dissipated somewhat. In the busyness of life we don’t “stop to smell the roses” (or play in the leaves). We let the season fly by and forget what it is all there for: a reminder of who God is and His faithfulness to us. I am truly grateful that every time we step outside of the house or the car I have a 3 1/2 year old who gasps in true amazement at the color of the leaves and how they have now fallen out of the tree just for her to play in and enjoy. I even asked my husband not to mow the front lawn, so that my daughter could enjoy the leaves a little longer, and I could find the child-like wonder again. Thanks, Mike.

When I decided to create a blog, I wanted to cover the broad spectrum of Christian life, issues we face whether they be theological, social, emotional, practical, gastro-intestinal, what-have-you. But I also simply wanted to keep those I love up-to-date concerning what’s going on here, my “day-to-day” to use yet-another-hyphenated-phrase-in-the-same-paragraph.

So, what is going on here? Well, we’ve crossed the midterm mark in the semester and are officially in the final stretch before finals. That basically means professors have one month to squeeze as much information as possible into 2 and 3 hour classes. I’ll be finishing up my formal education in the Biblical languages this semester, after which the real language learning begins as we use it all in our classes. Call me a language geek, I’m thinking of doing an independent study in Greek, possibly translating Romans and doing some exegetical stuff. Although, I may hold off on that till next winter.

It looks like I’m going to be quitting Starbucks (much to the chagrin of my roomate who benefits most from my free lbs of coffee), and perhaps getting certififed as a lifeguard and working at a fitness center somewhere.

I’ve stepped down from youth ministry at my church to be able to focus more time on an opportunity that is presenting itself on campus as the president of the Student Association (gradually taking over for the current fellow who’s graduating in May). I’ll be more involved in that capacity next semester.

I think that’s about it, kinda boring I know, but all the interesting stuff that goes on inbetween will probably be blogged on other posts. Like the time I accidentally stuck the lit end of a cigar in my mouth…or maybe the time I laughed with brownies in my mouth and shot them a good 5 feet across a table all over my friend, Tim. Or the time I had to go to the ER because of some awful stomach cramps…

a sojourner

ps: since this wasn’t a thought-provoking post per se, I’d challenge you to meditate on the video below, presented here for your viewing pleasure…

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

Lamentations 3:22-24

There are precious few better places in the world than Pennsylvania to witness the majesty of this time of year. And to many, what happens among the trees is simply a spectacle to behold, a lovely sight to enjoy. To others it is evidence of a natural phenomenon signaling death and life, resulting from a cessation of water to the leaf and a lack of chlorophyll to keep the leaf green.

And both these perspectives are true, but they are lacking true wonder. Donald Miller says in his book Blue Like Jazz, “I don’t think there is any better worship than wonder.” So what are we wondering at? The same things that we take for granted every day, the sun rising and setting, the oceans and all their life being contained and sustained, the mind-boggling myriads of stars and galaxies all being held in His hand; sometimes we think about these things, most times we don’t, and even fewer times do we let them remind us of God’s sovereignty over His creation. It still amazes me that this time every year in this part of the world, it gets a little colder, a little breezier, in exactly the same way that it has for centuries. I guess you could say I’m easily pleased, but I don’t consider that to be a naive characteristic, in fact it is this “naivete” that balances out my otherwise cynical outlook.

But given the sovereignty of God exhibited in creation, am I willing (and able) to say “The Lord is my portion”? What does that mean? What does it look like to put our every fiber of being in the hands of the Lord? Well first of all, like Donald Miller shows, it means wondering at His incomprehensibility. There is mystery in what we believe, Paul admitted it, we shouldn’t be afraid to either. That might seem ridiculous to outsiders, but they’re not seeing the same stars we are. And from the outflow of wonder and love in our hearts to the God who does this is a life that characterizes His calling. By virtue of our position this means humility unbounded.

So what say you, theological student of reformed theology? Over the years we’ve gained an unprecedented reputation for criticism and judgmentalism. Is this not the antithesis to our calling and what we claim to rule our hearts??? To be fair, criticism is necessary and good; it is the building up of God’s kingdom. But how we do that is the key. It is very easy to tear apart a book that a brother has written because you’re interacting with mere words. Words you can distort, words you can misrepresent, words you can destroy and not feel the slightest ping of conscience in doing so. But what about the brother behind those words? What arrogance has seeped into our hearts that keeps us from recognizing Christ’s child behind the ideas that do not conform to ours? Instead we retreat to the comforts of our studies and lambast perspectives that frighten us…the kind of behavior that would inspire someone to boycott a conference on a very prevalent phenomenon in the church today.

Have we lost the wonder? And if so, has that void been filled by a spiritual inferiority complex that requires us to protect our doctrine at all costs, even the unity of the Church? Again, I’m not saying (nor do I wish to even imply) that reformed scholastic criticism is unwarranted. Not being critical would be unfaithful to the Scriptures as well. But after each of our criticisms, if we can not praise God for the diversity of His Church and embrace our brother or sister who differs from us, the point has been missed and God has not been glorified. That in essence, is the key, is it not? “…do it all for the glory of God.” In that statement is an implied “and not for your glory.”

This, of course, does not simply apply to those of us in formal theological training. This notion applies to every one of us: husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, parents and children, friends. If you’re not seeking to glorify God even in your disagreements, the glory that could be to God in the midst of it will be lost.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.” Can we say the same of ourselves??

A sojourner