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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Our Jealous God

On Sunday we had a powerful message on Encountering God in Worship. One of the points that he dared to bring up was that God is God-centred. (Or, if you prefer the American spelling: God-centered). We discussed this in the following class, 2nd Look and it got me to thinking. We think of God as the ultimate of everything - we can't peg Him down. We can't fathom His greatness, His wonder, His majesty, His depth, His being. We are hushed when we encounter Him. And so often we attempt to encounter Him but forego the awe and wonder, and then, I believe, we are not really encountering God, but playing ritual.

When I first realized that God's highest aim was His own glory I was a bit puzzled. (This was many years ago - not sure if my brain has grown enough to really get this...but I try!) We think of arrogance, pride, jealousy, self-worship, self-love and self-focus as negative. This is appropriate, when we speak of human arrogance, pride, jealousy etc. If I am arrogant, it means I think of myself as above others - better than they are. It means I look down my nose on others. If I am proud it is because I think I deserve honour, or that I feel entitled to esteem. If I am jealous it is because I think something is owed to me that hasn't been given. All of these would be sinful and wrong. Scripture teaches, "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought," and "In humility, consider others better than yourself," and "Do not covet."

But when we come to how God views Himself, His purposes and what drives Him to act, we are confronted with a God-centred God! And because we are human in our thinking, we get a little uncomfortable, perhaps. Even our theology can reflect this. We explain everything in terms of "God loves us and His purpose is to save us." We often leave out the part about saving us for His own glory. It's much more fun to think God revolves around...ME!

There are two things that have helped me understand this part of who God is, though I feel I have only scratched the surface. The first is that when I read the Gospels and the life of Jesus, I clearly see humility demonstrated in Him. Philippians 2 even goes so far as to explain and define just how humble Jesus was. The fact that He is the 2nd person of the Godhead did not keep Him from demonstrating abject humility. Even in all that He did, it was led by, and in honour of, and in submission to, His Father.

John 8:28-29: So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”

In this sense, Jesus, by exalting His Father above Himself was demonstrating humility. At the same time, the Father exalts the Son. See Philippians 2:9: Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.

The other aspect that has helped me understand God's jealous nature is that of marriage. I know there are liberal views of open relationships and freedom being prized above all, but that is all hogwash. Let's suppose Sam came to me and said, "I prize your freedom above everything. Even the health of our family. Even the psychological stability of our children. You are not bound to me in any way other than that I can call you 'wife.' I won't be upset if you chase after other things, other people, other interests. My love for you means you can do whatever you want." If that were to happen, not only would I be very upset, I would feel terribly unloved, uncherished, unwanted and unneeded. The very healthiness of jealousy in marriage secures my heart and induces my love for my husband. The fact that he wants my loyalty and gives me his makes me feel loved and secure. This is one holy aspect of marriage. Sam wants my love - exclusively. He wants me to love him and no other on earth the way I love him. He will guard my love for him, encourage it, nurture it and pursue it. If he didn't, I would question not only his love for me, but for our family. Do you think God loves us any less than a husband loves his wife? No, much much more! His love for His Bride - US - is unfathomable. If that love does not have a zealous, fierce jealousy attached to it, I don't believe it would then be love. Love - God's love - seeks the best for the one being loved, no matter the sacrifice or cost involved. It is perhaps still a 'me-centred' viewpoint to look at it this way, (sorry), but I see God's jealous nature - possessive of our love - as the ultimate attitude of love for me. If I can't connect a theological point to my own heart I get lost, so sorry for all the purist theologians out there who might take my perspective as corrupting...

This is just my point anyways, that understanding, pondering and growing in our knowledge of God must be brought to bear upon how I live life. Knowing God is jealous for my love, how quickly will I devote my heart to idols that detract from His glory? Enjoying His possessive love for me, how quickly will I deliberately forsake Him Who has given even His own Son to redeem me?

Of course we still miss the mark and deny Him His due. But we can always move in the direction of loving Him more, and enjoying Him more, and walking closer with Him day by day.

I'll end with two hymns that put these thoughts into poetic form:

Lord Jesus, Thou who only art
The endless source of purest joy,
O come and fill this longing heart;
may nought but Thee my thoughts employ.
Teach me on Thee to fix my eye,
For none but Thee can satisfy.

The joys of earth can never fill
The heart that’s tasted of Thy love;
No portion would I seek until
I reign with Thee, my Lord, above,
When I shall gaze upon Thy face,
And know more fully all Thy grace.

When from Thy radiant throne on high
Thou didst my fall and ruin see,
Thou cam’st on earth for me to die,
That I might share that throne with Thee.
Loved with an everlasting love,
My hopes, my joys are all above.

O what is all that earth can give?
I’m called to share in God’s own joy;
Dead to the world, in Thee I live,
In Thee I’ve bliss without alloy:
Well may I earthly joys resign;
All things are mine, and I am Thine!

Till Thou shalt come to take me home,
Be this my one ambition, Lord,
Self, sin, the world, to overcome,
Fast clinging to Thy faithful Word;
More of Thyself each day to know,
And more into Thine image grow.


More love to Thee, O Christ, more love to Thee!
Hear Thou the prayer I make on bended knee.
This is my earnest plea: More love, O Christ, to Thee;
More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

Once earthly joy I craved, sought peace and rest;
Now Thee alone I seek, give what is best.
This all my prayer shall be: More love, O Christ to Thee;
More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

Let sorrow do its work, come grief or pain;
Sweet are Thy messengers, sweet their refrain,
When they can sing with me: More love, O Christ, to Thee;
More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

Then shall my latest breath whisper Thy praise;
This be the parting cry my heart shall raise;
This still its prayer shall be: More love, O Christ to Thee;
More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dear Blog Readers of Mine,

Thank you for visiting my blog! I really enjoy writing and getting the Bees out of my Bonnet - if only they would stay out. It is very fun for me to realize that people actually read the things I write. I began to blog after so many people asked me to write my story, and that was the primary purpose... but then there were so many other things that floated through my mind that would keep me awake at night that I began to view it as my venting spot. The millions of thoughts that putter around in my head now have an outlet - how refreshing!

I am not techno-savvy. I don't hardly know how to add gadgets or extras to this thing. I just followed the basic instructions that the blogger site walked me through. I also so far refuse to add any sidebar ads. I am possessive of what appears on my screen and don't want any unwelcome stuff there - and also I figure it just makes it simpler for readers to not be distracted by clutter. If only I could get myself to see the beauty of eliminating distracting clutter in my physical world, I'm sure my family would SO appreciate it. One thing at a time I suppose.

After a few weeks of blogging I figured out I could see where people are reading from. I always get excited when a new country pops up - like recently someone in Qatar viewed it. I don't know anyone in Qatar. That was cool! If you're interested I'll post some of the countries where people read from...

Anyway, thanks for reading - you all are so encouraging to me! Even when I don't know you!


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Emails from the week after the burglary 5


I want to write lots to answer everything from your emails, but the more I write the more you have questions, so the more you write, then I have so many questions and the more I write. I wonder if eventually we'll stop having questions and we'll run out of things to talk about.

I won't begin to answer your last email. It may take a long time.



I don't feel as if we'll run out of things to talk about. You've lived 25 years. I've lived 22 years. That's a lot to talk about!



October 13 1999

Dear Sam,
I have your emails printed out. There's so much in them and I want to respond to it all! I'm starting with yesterdays, and will probably only cover them in this email, so today's will have to wait until tomorrow. How's that for confusing?

I know I've known you such a short time and I too feel like we share a very special friendship. I really can't say enough how I appreciate you. I care about you. I don't know how it happened, and at this point I probably don't need to know. I feel like it all has been out of my control, and probably in the hands of One Who is the Master of Friendship. "Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
When you said you wouldn't email much, I decided I'd email as I pleased. Sorry if I foiled your plans :) I wrote to you about your questions about girls because I think in some ways you are a lot like me. Looking back at the friendships I've had, I really wish I had done things differently. Sometimes others influenced me and clouded my thinking and distracted my heart from being honest. Too often in guy/girl friendships, someone will get hurt. But then you have to ask, is hurt always bad/wrong/to be avoided? On some level it should be avoided - and guarding our hearts is wise. On the other hand, love, by its very nature - in friendship or beyond, is risky.

Like you, though I have desired marriage I realized that the time was never right. I had things to do. I take walks with my friends in Wheaton. Sometimes these are very long walks, and we talk for a long long time. Recently on one of these walks I said to my friend, 'You know, I might be young, but where I'm at in life I feel I could get married at any time. I've had my fun and independent single life. It can continue as long as God pleases. But I am ready for commitment if I knew it was in God's good will.' All that to say Sam, I see such great qualities in you. The way you talk about wanting to love your wife with everything and to give your all to her - that is such a good thing! Don't give up your dreams of being able to do that. That's what any girl wants from her husband. After being pursued by one guy recently, who would show up at my door with flowers, I figure if he has it in him, the least my future husband can do is be just a bit close to that kind of passionate! Don't have a half-hearted relationship!

Just because a desire has come up in you for marriage, don't just marry the first girl that comes to mind. Being ready for marriage entails a lot more than life circumstance. It includes being deeply in love - almost pathetically, helplessly so....



I gagged as I saw some of these thoughts. Looking back 12 years I can't believe I would say and think some of these things. I'm just saying this as my disclaimer. I'm trying to be transparent here and not dress up and edit out the things I said (unless it is necessary!)

In one post I declare to someone I don't believe in romance. In my emails to Sam I declare loud and clear that romance is necessary. This is how people whose hearts run away with them tend to think. In great self-contradiction! I ask myself, what was I smoking?! How duplicitous of me!

Maybe you'll get a laugh out of these thoughts!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Love is Kind...even in parenting

I have lots to say on parenting. I've come a long way, and perhaps not long enough, in these past 10 years. We've read books, watched child training videos, listened to friends, interviewed seasoned parents, watched others and tried to avoid their mistakes and emulate their strengths... I can detail the extremes we've gone to - from strict disciplinarian to seeing the importance of nurture - all over the place! We went through the whole frame of mind that goes something like this: if we don't do it right in the baby's first 6 months, he's sure to become a rebellious teen. If we instill strict discipline and obedience in the first 2 years, the rest of childhood will be a breeze. If we do, do, do, and regiment and plan and order their world, surely they will give us no trouble. Much of this thinking, I have come to realize, is hogwash. We bought into a lot of what we read, and some was good and some wasn't.

My latest frame of mind however has come to rest on the aspect of how we as adults treat our children. I still remember distinctly the feelings and perspective I had when I was a small kid. I remember thinking that if I crawled under the table I had essentially disappeared from reality. I think I was developmentally late in my thinking because some of the things I remember should have been worked out of my brain by then. I remember watching Sesame Street and through t.v. magic they made a little girl walk into a tree and disappear. I remember trying this a number of times, and finally concluding that if I just pretend it happened, it really did and I would never be found in hide 'n seek. I was always surprised when I was found. How could I not have disappeared inside the tree just like the kid on Sesame Street?! Another time, my wonderful Dad told me he had been such a fast runner as a kid that when he would stop it would take his shadow 3 seconds to catch up with him. I tried every day one summer to run as fast as I could to see if I could outrun my shadow. Guess I got good exercise. The thing is I didn't tell my Dad that's what I was doing - only years later did I confess my disappointment at my efforts. I just figured boys were faster than girls and left it at that. I remember being in my child's 'thinking' world and the thoughts I had, the perspectives I had, the impressions I had. And I am reminded of the need for adults to treat kids with kindness.

One of our children happens to be very particular and some would say a bit difficult. But as I look at what has been learned through psychology I can understand him and what ruffles his feathers so easily. Much of our take on parenting has been theological in nature - as all of life should be - but I will say that to ignore the wealth of understanding that has been gained through the field of psychology is foolish. Some would say, 'The Bible says for children to obey their parents. You can't change that, so that is our bottom line.' and be done with the whole discussion. Oh, really. I agree it is important to teach our children to obey - this is a Biblical principle that we should unashamedly accept. At the same time, Scripture does teach about the need to not provoke children to wrath. Let's look at a basic psychological test that can enlighten us on the matter.

If you take 1 cup of water and pour it into a tall skinny glass, then a second cup of water and pour it into a short fat glass and ask a 4 year old - which glass has more water, he will say, 'The tall one of course.' If you do the same experiment with a 6 or 7 year old they will be wise enough to have figured out they have the same amount. Let's say that you tell the 4 year old, 'You are wrong - they have the same amount.' The child may look at you funny, think you're crazy, accept what you say and keep their thoughts to themselves, or fight you on it and be angry since the tall one OBVIOUSLY has more! In his world, his perception is truth. Not just his own reality, but it is THE reality. So you can save yourself a lot of trouble, respect his age and mental abilities and just not fight him on the matter. You can be like a kid, with a point to prove and provoke him to wrath and upset him by making him see your point. Or you can, with love and kindness let it go.

I have realized that while there is no verse in Scripture that says, 'Parents, respect your children.' that this is not counter-Scriptural advice either. The Golden Rule would apply here. Would you like someone to treat you as if you were 10 times smarter than you are? No. So respect your child, his needs, his mental abilities and kindly lead him, instead of bludgeoning him with your outlook. I am speaking to myself as much as to anyone.

Today I asked Caleb to take out recycling - it was his day. He didn't want to. Now, I could immediately jump on the need for him to obey, immediately. Some would say I am too lax because I didn't. My first approach is to Request obedience. My second is to Encourage obedience. So, I said to Caleb that it was his day and I didn't want to argue with him, and pointed out that Priscilla had kindly done it for him the other day and I didn't expect her to do it again, etc... My approach was to stimulate his mind and heart to willingly do the right thing. I could have done it by force. But I would not want to be treated that way. My third approach is to Demand obedience. I tell my kids that they have a choice, to either obey cheerfully or unhappily after some parental force. I'd prefer it be the former, and I think they would too. Obedience is necessary and important. But forcing it is not my primary goal.

I want to reach and keep their hearts with me. If I go around demanding this and that and asserting my authority right and left and leaving them no room for dialogue, I may obtain the outward compliance I am looking for. I may also foster rebellion in them and lose their hearts - pushing them away from me and the values I hope to instill in them. I don't aim to be loosey-goosey and super lax in my approach. I aim for consistent, firm, loving discipline that is kind but also authoritative. They need to be led - no doubt about that. But I want to win them to obedience first and foremost.

Love does involve tough decisions and sometimes the implementation of discipline that brings pain. But love is also kind, and parenting is not an exception.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bubbly Externals vs. Inner Depth

I am sure to get some annoyed responses to this, but oh well. I am not saying that being a bubbly personality is in any way wrong! I am just going to comment on what I have read in Ecclesiastes 7. I am not a bubbly personality. I don't exude energy. I don't wear a silly grin on my face, everywhere I go. I don't seem 'happy' all the time. (I use quotations because I am trying to imply that happy isn't necessarily an external thing). Some of this is cultural training. In fact, in Hong Kong as you walk along the street randomly bumping into people right and left, and them bumping into you, you generally do not come across giddy, bubbly, smiley people everywhere. It really was a shock to me when I came to this country that almost EVERYONE I encountered was smiling, openly friendly, and chatty. I didn't know what to make of it. And I simply couldn't join in the crowd. It seemed less than genuine to me and I had a snobbery I learned to work through (hopefully), but never quite learned the skill of warm, bubbly friendliness. In my initial 'shock phase' of being in this country I even squelched a lot of others' zeal for friendliness. The lady at the checkout said, "And how are YOU today?" with a big flashy grin. I said, "Quite miserable actually, now that you ask..." She didn't quite know what to say. Welcome to America Sarah.

I even had people often coming to me thinking I was depressed. Well, I suppose they could be right, for a number of reasons. But in general I just think I am not the overly externally bubbly type. I just want to get this out there, in case anyone who knows me is concerned. Please be aware that I harbour great joy in my soul and I delight in the riches of God's grace on a daily basis, but the expression of this is often intimate and hidden from public view. I also don't engage this joyful side of myself very well with others. I think I am weak in this - but trust God will bring it out in me when He decides to.

I pondered my somberness for a while, and swung to different conclusions - I'm too glum, I'm too snobby, I'm too critical of happy people, I'm too un-inculturated, I'm too obnoxious... Now, many of these you may agree with! But after enough soul searching (and yes, there can be too much of staring at one's navel becoming inward and tied up on in knots so much that self-analysis becomes an ingrown emotional toenail... but I digress), I think I have found my key verses - right in the Holy Book of all things. Imagine. Here they are:

A good name is better than fine perfume,
and the day of one's death than the day of one's birth.

Ahem... the writer of Ecclesiastes - the wise Solomon himself - agrees with my outlook on life. Is he saying it's better to die than being born? Not necessarily! But he is saying something about the reality we all encounter in this thing called life. To quote a great theologian, Wesley of the Princess Bride, "Life IS pain." Solomon would agree. We are born into a world that offers many joys and pleasures, but even the most privileged and successful of this world still encounter pain that cannot be shrouded. The wealthy may find themselves lonely. The successful may find themselves unfulfilled. The pleasure-seekers may find themselves, well, shallow! All who live face pain of one kind or another. In this sense - death is a beautiful thing. The end of pain. Solomon does have a point. But it's not a popular one. In the U.S. I find death is hidden and dressed up as much as possible. It is so scary to people. Whereas in other places (like Zambia) death is considered a normal part of life. Death is common. It is still sad, but it is an accepted, undeniable reality. Americans would do well to pay a little more attention to the day of their death. Now on to verse 2:

It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
since that is the end of all mankind,
and the living should take it to heart.

So, says Solomon, pack up your gaiety and laughter and head off to a funeral. I tell people I just love to play the piano for funerals. I guess that's because every funeral I attend is instructive to my soul. I get a front row seat to review a person's life. I am always blessed by these quiet moments when I may or may not be sad. It is good for me to be in a house of mourning because I get to consider if my life is amounting to anything. What will they say when I'm laying in a box (hopefully it won't be - better to let my body be used for something other than fertilizer)? I have been to some very interesting funerals. I'll have to share some of the stories here sometime.

Grief is better than laughter,
for when a face is sad, a heart may be glad.

THANK YOU Solomon! Next time someone questions my lack of overt smiley-ness I will have to quote this verse. In fact, why isn't this on those cutesy t-shirts people wear. I think it would be fitting. Along with a big yellow smiley face on the back that says, 'And have a nice day.'

The heart of the wise is in a house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in a house of pleasure.

Anyone out there seeking to be wise? Well the above gives you a clue. Keep your heart fully engaged with the reality of the brevity of your life. If you want to squander life away milking the pleasures afforded on this earth, go ahead, be my guest. But don't say I didn't warn you. Or, Solomon, I mean.

It is better to listen to rebuke from a wise person
than to listen to the song of fools.

For like the crackling of [burning] thorns under the pot,
so is the laughter of the fool.
This too is futile.

Solomon doesn't mince his words. He tells it like it is. I aspire to be just a bit like him. Just when I pray for wisdom I pray I have the strength of will to apply what God teaches me, unlike Solomon. He was pretty sharp to ask for wisdom, but he failed to apply much of it - building his harem like there was no tomorrow and letting his women lead him astray. Tsk Tsk - should've known better. This shows me that being wise is less to be desired than living rightly and pleasing God in all things. And wisdom is as wisdom does. It isn't enough to know and ponder. I need to do the things I know. And therein lies my achilles heel. In the doing - that is where I fail.

I'll end these ramblings here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Emails from the week after the burglary 4

Dear Sam,

I can wreak havoc with pen and paper. I will try to be careful with what I say. Sam, I can't tell you how much I enjoyed talking to you and just being with you this weekend. You think your questions meant the conversation was one-sided? Sam! I learned more about you in this one conversation that you realise. I found you to be a man of honour, integrity and with pure intentions. I really appreciate this in you - it is so encouraging to me to know a man who truly seeks to honour, please and glorify God in everything. You are such a reflection of His Son. Your zeal and fervour strengthens my spirit and makes me yearn to be closer to God...

You want the 999,999 thoughts, huh? Well, I don't know how wise it would be...Here's one of them though:
1. When you were talking about your longing to be married, for companionship, love, a family - my stomach began to churn. (I'm not saying you make me sick!) That's because I too have deeply longed for these things but carefully kept them out of my heart and mind because of how intense it is. Sam, you could probably marry any woman you asked, and there - you'd have your dream. But I, as a woman, can't pursue and really I'm not frustrated by it. Even if I were a man however, and felt free to pursue, I would wait until I found the woman I needed to be with before pursuing...I have come to realize that if I am to love anyone in the marriage sense, it will be an obvious work of God, for I cannot force myself to love someone - yes, I can force myself to behave lovingly and to act in the best interests of another, but to really deep down love someone - that's not something I can muster up or manufacture within myself.
I have kept the dream of having a family out of my thoughts for so long (as if that's easy to do anyways...) I have done this perhaps out of self-protection, because God has not promised me these things. I so enjoy my friends who are married and being an add-on to many families I know. In teaching piano I have often been invited to stay for supper and hang out with all the kids. In this way I believe God places the lonely in families - even if families not their own. But when I leave these homes and go back to my single life, I do wish I could be out doing stuff with and for my own 'imaginary' family. 'God,' I pray, 'please let me not think these things anymore, for fear that my heart will burst from unrealised hopes.' When you said what you did it made me want to cry, for it awakened these yearnings in me - yearnings I don't want to deal with - until God provides the man who will be my husband so that these feelings can be unleashed fully. I don't know how you do it Sam - how you live with these intense desires. It's too much for me to bear.
There's one thought in 999,999. Now only 999,998 to go. There's obviously so much I could say, and want to. But I think this is enough for now.

I got 2 hours of sleep last night - and I've had a full day. I finally ate and didn't throw up - a good sign. I need to sleep. Last night I had incredible peace and felt completely safe. But I was just awake. I really felt God's hand on me though. I really felt His presence with me. What a comfort it was! Maybe that's why I stayed awake - because I felt him being so real to me.

I do want to answer your emails - but I must try at least to go to bed now. I hope I will have an opportunity tomorrow - though my day begins at 7:30 and won't be over 'til 8. And all on 2 hours of sleep...

I have trusted you with these things Sam. I don't share them lightly. In fact, I share them with no one, pretty much...So, that makes you kind of special.
And you are.

African Curry Soup

Here's one of our favourite soups - the kids love it - and it is a complete meal by itself!


½ cup chopped onions

½ cup green peppers

1 tsp. Pepper

3 tablespoons butter + 1-2 Tbsp Curry Powder (depending how much you want to put in!)

Add: 1 cup fresh tomato chopped

Simmer together with above ingredients:

Add: 24 oz. can kidney beans

2 cups coconut milk,

less than 3 cups water (add salt or a chicken stock cube if you like)


Add: 1/2 cup cooked rice

Serve it up!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

But Christ

But Christ – 2 Corinthians 4

(written: 28 April 96)

There is on each side pressure

But Christ does not allow us to be crushed.

At times great perplexity invades our minds.

But Christ leaves no room for despair.

Persecution may come,

But Christ never abandons.

And struck down as we may be-

Christ sees, and allows no destruction.

Though carrying death – Christ’s death - in our bodies,

Christ’s life may be seen, in that same life of death.

And as we die daily, life we have eternally.

What we see passes, that which we can’t lasts.

So we don’t lose heart,

For in each trial of life,

Christ bears a part.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Being Judged

I once thought a fitting title for a review of the relational struggles of my life could be: Judged. I limit it to relational stuff because it wouldn't be a fitting title for my whole life since so much else has happened that takes center stage. But when I think of how I've lived with and around others 'Judged' is probably the first word that comes to mind. A couple years ago I heard a sermon on not judging others. It was a very good message - and helpful, challenging, convicting as sermons tend to be. At the same time it left me very frustrated. I felt like I was the proverbial 'choir' being preached to. I wanted to stand up in the middle and say, 'Yes, I know all that - about not judging others - but what do you do about those who chronically judge you?' Of course I had barely enough self-control to not do that. (I wonder what church would look like if we could raise our hand and ask a question in the middle of a sermon? Wouldn't it be fun?! It's precisely people like me who need to not have this kind of freedom or we'd ruin everything). Sorry for the rabbit trail. You can see how my mind works (or doesn't).

I decided at that point to do two things: First, to write a letter to the one who preached and dump all my questions on him (lucky him! - ha ha!). Second, to begin my own study of what Scripture says to, about and for those who are judged by others - rightly or wrongly. Below is and edited version of the letter I wrote, plus my initial study. Enjoy my thoughts on judgement! (And feel free to answer any/all of my questions!)

Dear Preacher,

I am not in the habit of writing anonymous letters, but in this one rare instance, I feel so compelled.

Your sermon last week was on Judging. I have given some thought to the things you expressed and would like to share some of my own experiences.

I’d really love to hear a sermon that addresses judging from another angle: that of the judged.Your sermon was quite healing for me to hear because I wanted everyone in the world to hear that message. Lest you think I am unaware of a judging spirit in myself, that is not the case – but I have always landed more on the side of perception as opposed to judgement. I have many questions as to how to handle judgement when you are the one being judged. I think a title for my life story could possibly be: ‘How One Bears Up Under Judgement’ – or some such thing.

I unraveled some of these struggles throughout college and some courses both in psychology, philosophy and theology really served to balance, correct and re-introduce me to the God I had known throughout childhood, but with a healthy dose of understanding of His love. Feeling that God loved me was refreshing to my soul and my spirit revived some. I still knew/felt that I was deep down a horribly terrible person, but was so thankful to know God accepted me in spite of myself – and I fully embraced the Cross of Christ which paved the way for such acceptance. It was a great time of growth in my life.

There have been seasons of my life when I’ve faced seemingly unending judgement. I don’t need to describe them all here – but suffice it to say I am familiar with the territory.

Since your sermon came along and I got to thinking. I’ve worked through major issues in my life spiritually, practically – many areas. I hope we all do – grow and change and progress! At the same time there are obvious glaring faults in me – the way I am, how I do things, what I do, the way I think, the way I talk, habits good and bad, tendencies, idiosyncrasies… I read Romans 7 and I find Paul was a lot like me – trying to do good but failing: finding himself a wretch and needing the comfort of a rescuer. I live in hope because of these passages in Scripture. If Paul humbly, realistically found himself to be a wretch – the chief of all sinners – and he was useful to God, then perhaps, just perhaps, there may be a place for me in God’s kingdom.

My questions are:

When judgements are accurate (and if we are honest, all of us could be truthfully judged for our failings, shortcomings etc), how are we to handle the judgement? How are we to relate to the person who judges us?

When change is slow to come, no matter how hard I try, or pray or seek God’s help or whatever, what should my response be to my accusers?

From 1 Peter I get that Jesus entrusted Himself to Him Who judges justly and He didn’t reply to His accusers.

From Psalm 103 I get that the Lord does not always accuse nor does He harbor His anger forever.

From ? (can’t recall) I get ‘Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’

From Psalm 9 I get that God is on His throne judging righteously.

From Genesis I get ‘May the Lord judge between you and me’ when Abraham and Lot (?) separated.

In Ecclesiastes I get ‘God will bring every deed into judgement’

…I could go on, you get what I’m saying.

I just wonder if for one who has been judged throughout life if there isn’t a silver lining to the depressing verdict of who I am.

Before God I stand in Christ, complete and covered and perfect as He is. The silver lining is that though judgement is painful and difficult, it refines, humbles and shapes us and it drives us to the loving arms of God Who loves and accepts us filthy though we are.

And yet we are on earth and must relate to people, fallen people, sinful people, and less-than-perfect people. And these people may judge us. Then what? They may be right. Are they therefore justified in judging? I’m talking about stuff where it’s not sin – explicitly defined in Scripture. Maybe I don’t study my Bible enough, maybe I don’t pray enough, maybe I am not as diligent as a student or worker as I should be, maybe I don’t have all the externals in order, maybe there are annoying things I do that aren’t necessarily wrong. Maybe I don’t serve enough, maybe I don’t listen enough, maybe I am not godly enough. None of these things (except for diligence I suppose, and maybe listening and being ‘godly’ – defined by who though?) are clearly defined as to how much we should do or improve or be.

What does the judged do when others want him/her to live up to their standards? What should the judged one do with the criticisms – the valid ones (I understand the invalid ones are inconsequential – they might hurt or sting, but their content is vapid and empty).

How should one deal with parents, a spouse, a child, a relative, a fellow Church member who judges?

With grace, with love, with forgiveness, with kindness, with patience – I know these things. But how can relationships grow and improve in trust if judgement is a main component?

I guess the best answer is to just change and be perfected. But it doesn’t seem to happen no matter how I try or ask God to help me. Whose clay am I anyways – His or the judges in my life?

Enough said – I have been thinking ‘out loud’ here. And rambling, and not concise with my words (another valid criticism). I apologize. I’ve tried to think through and ask and answer my own questions, but I am still at a loss as to how God might want me to proceed in life.

If you ever preach a sermon on this I’ll be listening with wide open ears.

Thank you.

A wounded but hopeful child of God.

I will interject here that he did preach on the subject - a wonderful message that I wanted to order hundreds of copies of! At the same time, I have continued to have my ears/eyes open when I read Scripture for what it might teach me further on the subject. The following was my start:

2 Tim 4:8
There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the Righteous Judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing.

I am doing a study of judging - God as judge, us as judge of others - others who judge us, how we are to judge ourselves - how God sees us? These are my thoughts from today:
How could Paul be confident - SO confident that God would reward him? On the one hand he knew he was chief of all sinners. But on the other he knew and empraced the redemption of Christ. When I think of God being my judge is it with fear and cowardice or with joyful, confident hope? I confess the former! Yet my thinking has been and must be wrong here.
Paul ends this verse by saying the crown is also laid up for ALL who love His appearing - all who eagerly anticipate Christ's return. That describes me.
This verse encourages me to not be so down on myself and think God is wagging His finger in my nose. On the contrary. It removes fearful dread of God as my judge and replaces it with holy passion and gratitude. I can still say 'what a wretched man I am' yet can fully rejoice that God doesn't look on me as a wretch but as His own - (as righteous and pure as His Son - and bestows on me the measure of love wherewith He loves His own Son), who weak and failing as I am, still loves His appearing.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Why I love Hymns (many of them, not all!)

I always wonder a bit when someone mentions to me, 'Oh, I do like the old hymns - I have such fond memories of singing them as a child.' No offense, I probably nod politely when I hear that. But in my mind I'm thinking, 'Oh, you don't love hymns the way I love hymns.' Then I smack myself for my own personal revelation of a less-than-humble, snobby attitude. To each his own I say - yes, you can like hymns because you sang them as a kid - I like them maybe some for that reason, but maybe that amounts to less than 5% of my personal choice of music, lyrical appreciation of this form of sacred music.

I guess I wonder if people who haven't come to appreciate hymns (I mean, the ones that appear in those old, worn, non-descript, boring-looking, dull-coloured thick hardback books that are nowadays relegated to some back closet collecting dust), have just not hit major grief in their life enough to find the deep solace offered in the texts of these older gems. Sure, there are nice, comforting songs coming out every year by pseudo-pop contempo-groupie singer types. And I really like some of these new ones, and the new drive to maximize meaningful content of contemporary songs - with lyrically rich metaphors and an effort to stick to some kind of metre! What I mean is, it isn't so much the music of hymns (which I generally appreciate unless they're completely unsingable or ghastly, in which case I do my best effort at re-writing a more pretty or appropriate melody), it is the words that offer the best catechizing for my weak and poor heart. We are taught best when our emotions are most heightened - either driven to curious seeking, or to desperate need-driven search for hope. A hymnal (most of them) offers the soul a perfect medium of instructing the heart in matters of theology, wisdom, comfort and hope. Where does your hymnal sit, if you even own one? Often there is one on my bedside table and I start at number 1 and go through in order, skipping past those that offer poor theology (there are those, in fact!) or those that are just fluff (lots of fluff in ages past, as there is now!), until my heart, and eyes find one that is a lost, forgotten gem. Then I read it over and over, usually with tears, as an open-hearted prayer to God.

If someone tells me they love hymns, I do wonder if they love them because their life has been instructed, their hope has been confirmed, their joy has been heightened by their constant use of and worship through the pages of an old book that most would have discarded. I wonder if they have sat for hours at a piano or on a couch or anywhere with a hymnal being brought to true worship - worship that is quiet, unnoticed, private and personal.

These are some of the few reasons I love hymns.

Last night I caught the beginning of my all-time favourite radio program, Sound of Majesty. The opening hymn was "Praise my soul, the King of Heaven" sung by a majestic choir. My heart was transported to the throne-room of the Father above. I was alone in the car, waiting in the driveway to turn it off, until the song finished. But that 2 minutes of worship will not be forgotten. In the words of another of my favourite hymns:

"So shall no part of day or night,

From sacredness be free,

But my whole life, in every part,

Be fellowship with Thee."

And so, I, with unashamed passion declare that I love hymns. If you know me at all, you know that that isn't a blanket statement for all hymns in all hymnals - there are some crazy ones out there - 'God of concrete God of steel, God of piston and of wheel...'! But I guess I don't need to clarify. You know what I mean.

A bone to pick with the Little Red Hen

I have another annoyance to vent about so here goes:

It's the story of the Little Red Hen. You know - where she decides to make bread and goes out to get the grain, grind it, mix it, knead it, bake it, slice it and then eat it. She invites help from all her wee chicks to help in the process, as well as the farmyard animals. They all decline citing other activities that they can't spare the time to help her. So when it comes to eating the bread, they all step up to the plate to 'help' with that. At which point she goes, 'Oh no, you didn't bother to help with the making of the bread, so now I will eat it all myself...' - and that is what she does.
I think there is a moral to this story - the proverbial 'sowing and reaping', that if you don't volunteer your help don't expect to partake of the fruits of others' labours. This is fair enough. I think it is a good lesson and should be taught to our children. But we shouldn't stop there. Because we should teach it to them so they will know what could happen to them if they aren't cheerful helpers/servants. 

 Up until this point, I think it is a good story. But I am teaching it to my kids with a 'part two', which goes like this:
"So the little Red Hen told all her friends that she wouldn't share with them because they failed to help her. But she was an unregenerate Red Hen who didn't reflect on the grace of God in her life. Her sister, Little Brown Hen, on the other hand, had. She knew she didn't make the grain grow - God did. She knew she had wanted her friends to help her make the bread, and they didn't. But when she looked back at her life, and all the times she had failed to help others, and all the times she had failed to serve God as she should have, she repented. She saw that God did not redeem her because she had anything good to offer Him! In fact, she saw that not only had she repeatedly failed God in her life, but that she still failed to serve Him as she should. God did not owe her anything! And yet, He, in loving mercy, kindness, and gracious compassion, had seen her (even though she wasn't a sparrow, and we all know 'His eye is on the sparrow...') and reached out to her in her need and seen beyond her failures and stooped down and offered her His undeserved salvation. He had been so gracious to her, how could she begrudge her friends a little bread? So what if it had cost her hard work and effort? She had learned 'It is better to give than to receive.' She had experienced God's grace in her life and decided to demonstrate to her lack lustre friends that even in their failure to help, she was going to be generous and kind and extend to them a hand of mercy and compassion.

I'd like for you children to be more like the Little Brown Hen. I want you to willingly serve others and share with them, even when they don't deserve it. I want you to know there are those out there who are stingy with their time, resources and efforts and who want to teach you a lesson by not sharing with you. I want you to be willing helpers and to realise you must do your part in whatever you are asked to do. But if you are ever in the position of the Little Red, or Little Brown Hen, I want you to imitate the loving kindness of the Little Brown Hen who did not hold her right to withhold bread above her desire to show grace. I want you to be imitators of God, Who daily lavishes us with His love and care."

I'm sure there will be those who disagree and will tell me all about healthy boundaries and such. But mercy triumphs over judgement and I just can't stand the judgementalism of the Little Red Hen. She seems kind of snobby and snooty to me - rubbing her friends nose in their failures. I don't think she was 'Doing unto others as she'd have them do to her...' No, she was too perfect - she would never refuse to help, so she can't relate to the failures of others. So she figured she would set herself up above them and be their moral instructor. Maybe this story was written just so I could get annoyed about it.

Have a good day.

And please, be kind when others fail you. That's how I would want to be treated.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Tribute to My Dad

The hospital where Dad was born is now a museum. When we found out about that as teenagers we relentlessly teased him as being a product of another time and an archaic thing that should be a public curiosity. All joking aside, I truly believe he is worthy of public curiosity and praise for the many qualities I admire in him. I don't just say that glibly - it is true. Did you know that even though he performed poorly in school (much like myself, in fact!) he also would read encyclopedia's for FUN?! In this way, he gleaned and grew in knowledge in such broad areas and developed the uncanny ability to interact with almost anyone on their level - from PhD's to little children. I've watched Dad have intelligent, stimulating conversation on almost any topic - from quarks and nutrinos (these are some kind of sub-atomic unit of some sort), to economics and politics, to Russian history, to how to solve a simple math problem with a fourth grader. He had trained as a fourth grade teacher after-all, and everyone knows, fourth-grade teachers need to know just about everything to keep their students 'hooked on learning.'

One of my favourite memories is of a particular Saturday when I was about 10. We had gone on a family picnic breakfast to a secluded beach that had many rocks to climb. Many years later we found out this beach was well-known for shark attacks, so perhaps that was why it was so secluded! We decided to go rock climbing - just us kids, Dad and our dog, Chica. We got high up onto a cliff and were climbing down when Dad realised there was no way back up. We were, in fact, stuck halfway down a cliff in a little rocky inlet about 2 stories above the waves below. Unbeknownst to us, Dad was actually quite nervous. He did some quick thinking and told us, "How would you like to go swimming?"
Incredulous we asked, "But we're in our jeans and sneakers - you mean, jump from here - in our clothes? What about Chica?!"
"She'll swim too!" he said.
And he said we'd need to swim around the inlet and back to shore. We followed his lead (yes, Chica too) and thought it was an exciting adventure. Only years later did we find out the danger we had been in and Dad's ability to steer us through. If he had shown any fear or hesitation, I know I would not have willingly jumped from the cliff into the raging waves so far below.

I think Dad loves adventure - he married my Mom and life has never been boring, for sure! This year he turned 71 and I asked him about retirement. "What would I do?" he asked.
"Take it easy and enjoy the grandkids," I said.
"Nah, I'd be bored." he said. And he did have a point.

I am amazed at all he does and continues to do - even with diabetes and weakened knees. Just a couple years ago he was in a rural village in the Philippines and was so sick with dysentery that he couldn't be transported to the airport to fly home. I was very concerned for him but then I realised that in a sense, he was 'home' for 'home' to him means wherever he is serving the Lord. He visits Philippines two or three times a year where he supports in teaching and shepherding some very young churches there. You'd think one country is enough for a health-compromised man - but no, he also takes trips to two other countries to follow-up those he introduced to Christ years ago. What I admire isn't so much all his effort, dilligence, endurance and drive to travel, hike mountains where minority groups are scattered, tolerate icky food and the like. All those things are admirable, but two things stand out to me as precious character traits that I pray God will also develop in me. They are: genuine love and humility.

Dad's love for others overflows unpretentiously and without effort. I know it flows directly from his love for the Lord which is so real and obvious. Why can he manage to hike up mountains on weak knees? Because he loves God and wants those people to love Him too. Why did he faithfully take us to Church even when at times it was more than an hour away? Because he loved God and wanted us to love Him too. Why did he always sing, 'Jesus loves me' when we were sad, upset, scared or hurt? Because he loved Jesus and wanted us to know Jesus' love in our lives too.

Dad is the most humble man I know - ranking right up there with Moses as the meekest man on the face of the earth! When I was hard-hearted, sullen and glum as a teen, my parents and I had long, miserable 'talks' (you know what I mean). The kind that never seem to end and no one understands each other so you end up giving up and just praying instead! My prayer was always, "Lord, help my parents to not be so mean and let them see I'm not as bad as they think I am." With a calloused and crabby attitude I'd end my prayer with a thought of, "Take THAT Mom and Dad..." Then Dad would pray. His prayers broke my heart.

Dad would say, "Lord I have failed. I have failed you, my wife and my children. Please forgive me for not showing love, for not disciplining, for not being patient, for lacking Your wisdom. I pray you'll forgive me and help my family to forgive me. Amen." There was no preaching in his prayer. He didn't just say those things; often he would weep and pause to carry on. I could see how deeply contrite and humble his heart was and it was a glaring contrast to my own 'know-it-all' attitude and hardened heart.

Growing up in another country as an M.K. had its challenges and we had many, many struggles. Much is written nowadays to help M.K's and facilitate what they need to grow and adapt to different cultures. However, I really believe more needs to be said about the struggles parents face raising kids overseas. My parents weren't perfect, and neither was I. But I respect no man more than my Dad who demonstrated for me the two most important qualities a person can have: Love and Humility. I'm so proud of my Dad and want the world to know about him.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Tribute to Auntie Eleanor

Recently for bedtime stories I’ve been reading my treasury of Paddington bear stories aloud to the kids. This book was given to me in 1988 by Auntie Eleanor (Shulz) who lived at the end of our village in Hong Kong. She was a widow – a missionary like my parents and our nearest Western neighbor.

On the long days of summer, when school was out and time was for wasting, I would ride my bike up and down the long driveway in front of all the village houses. After tiring of that I might hike up the mountain behind our house – at the end of the row of houses was a small pathway that led to no-where, but you could take it and blaze your own trail. I would sometimes hike up far enough to get to a little stream where we might catch brine shrimp or tadpoles. On other occasions, if I didn’t feel like hiking up so far, I’d just take a left before starting the mountain path and wander up the steps to Auntie Eleanor’s house. She had a nice courtyard and further steps up her side of the mountain and we’d often go up there hunting for stray dogs that might have a litter of puppies to capture (we got some on more than one occasion, only to have my parents firmly take them to the R.S.P.C.A – much to our great sorrow)! If it was particularly hot, I might not feel like wandering into the mountains, but being thirsty, I might putter around outside until Auntie Eleanor knew I was there and she’d inevitably invite me in for some lemonade and cookies.

She was always very chatty. And I happened to be of like mind – speaking my mind no matter what was on it. (Not much has changed in that regard)! At 9 or 10 years old, not a lot was on my mind, but aimless wonderings and wanderings. Sometimes I’d be upset about something or other and tell her my frustration. She’d listen and then tell me something inconsequential – I think I always left her presence in a better mood – which could also have something to do with the lemonade.

She introduced me to the concept of ‘elevenses’ since it often seemed to be around 11 a.m. that I showed up. She would say, ‘Oh, you’re just in time for elevenses, why don’t you come and sit with me for some cookies and lemonade.’ I don’t think I ever refused. I didn’t know what elevenses were, and she showed me her Paddington book. I wasn’t much for reading at that point. So I took her word for it. Later that year however, I think for Christmas or my birthday (which are around the same time) she gave me my Paddington treasury – 5 books in one – and the fattest book I owned. I took an interest in it, and eventually read it. I would read it alone and then tell her all about the adventures Paddington had. Our elevenses weren’t spiritual in nature. They weren’t formal. They weren’t driven by any agenda. They were built on friendship – pure pleasure and enjoyment and the sharing of simple things.

Tomorrow Caleb turns 10 years old. I don’t think he has a particular ‘Auntie Eleanor’ figure in his life. I am a bit sad about this, so if any of you feel so led, you can invite him for elevenses and share cookies and lemonade with him.

I was a bit of a mis-fit in my youth. Okay, not just in my youth – in most of my life. I have random weird quirks, and often rough edges that just make me stick out like a sore thumb. I’ve had to work at learning social cues, because, to be honest, I just don’t appreciate most of them! Being married to an engineer has helped a lot – helped me to see how obnoxious I can be. (For example, I talk too much – in case you hadn’t guessed – and I just figured that was okay, since I do have a lot to say – but Sam has often helped me see how this is not only a social faux pas, but also a selfish way to conduct myself, dominating conversation and such. A hard thing to learn and something I still struggle with! So bear with me, dear friends…)

I explain this because no matter who we are and how we fit or don’t fit, we all need a friend – an elevenses partner who won’t just push us or ‘help’ us or better us – but someone who will just sit and enjoy lemonade and cookies with us. We need people of different generations to be with, to invite us in – even when unexpected. We need not only to have these people in our lives, but we need to be them. I hope someone will be that for Caleb. I am so glad that I had a friend in Auntie Eleanor.

She graduated to heaven a few years ago. I didn’t keep up with her, but found out through an article in the Missions magazine. She held a special place in my heart and was a great sounding board for me for a few years in my childhood. Children today need these kind of friends. They need to enjoy the simple things of life and they need true companions who are not of their generation. Will you seek to be that kind of friend for a kid you know? I hope so.

And get them to read Paddington too.