Pedestal Perching

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One of the commonest causes of failure in Christian life is found in the attempt to follow some good man whom we greatly admire. No man and no woman, no matter how good, can be safely followed. If we follow any man or woman, we are bound to go astray. There has been but one absolutely perfect Man on this earth-the Man Christ Jesus. If we try to follow any other man we are surer to imitate his faults than his excellencies. Look to Jesus and Jesus only as your Guide.
– R. A. Torrey

I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn from great heroes of the faith from the early church fathers to contemporary writers, podcasters, preachers and conference speakers. I honour them. I quote them. I pass on what I have learned from them. But I don’t put them on a pedestal or follow only one person. That’s not fair to them, and it would be dangerous to me.

When I quote someone it does not mean that I accept everything they have ever said or written. The freedom to exercise the discernment Christ gives everyone in whom he lives is far too precious to surrender, but I do value truth when I hear it.

We all need to learn and sometimes that means living with incomplete concepts and trusting that more mature people may have a grasp on paradox and aspects of Christian living for which we do not yet have a grid. There is grace for that, and humility makes room for trust. Sometimes, however, we are prone to looking to public figures instead of looking to Jesus Christ for our answers.

For many years people, especially women, were given the impression they were not educated enough or spiritual enough or had enough authority to respectfully ask questions. Many have not been in a position to reject teachings or practices that didn’t line up with what the Holy Spirit and the scriptures were revealing to them. If they dared they found themselves rejected.

No one knows the perfect truth but God, but even if they did they still wouldn’t lord it over anyone. That would attract attention to themselves and distract their audience from being Christ-centered.

If you are coerced into obeying a church leader who doesn’t permit honest questions or any thoughtful disagreement, that’s not the mutual submission the Bible talks about. It might be time to get your eyes back on the One who sets you free. It might require you to forgive, bless, and move on.

For the Eternal Alone

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I am pleading with the Eternal for this one thing,
my soul’s desire:
To live with Him all of my days—
in the shadow of His temple,
To behold His beauty and ponder His ways
in the company of His people.

His house is my shelter and secret retreat.
It is there I find peace in the midst of storm and turmoil.
Safety sits with me in the hiding place of God.
He will set me on a rock, high above the fray.

God lifts me high above those with thoughts
of death and deceit that call for my life.
I will enter His presence, offering sacrifices and praise.
In His house, I am overcome with joy
As I sing, yes, and play music for the Eternal alone.

(from Psalm 27 The Voice)

But What Will People Think?

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Sensitive people are often keenly aware of the feelings of others. Too keenly, sometimes.

For many of us the first question that comes to mind when faced with a decision is, “What will people think?”

I read a lot of opinions. You probably do too. Sometimes I feel intimidated by the fashion ranters and political pundits and scientific prognosticators and religious worriers and outrage-of-the-day promoters.

I used to spend lot of time trying to create a persona that would be acceptable to people in the various communities I was involved in — or at least tried to avoid their ire. But one day I realized I was letting people who I did not particularly admire set my standards.

Then I asked myself, Seriously? Do you want to be like this person? Is this someone whose life illustrates who Jesus called you to be? Then why does their approval mean so much?

There are some people I do admire. I would like to be like them. One  of their main characteristics is that they look to Jesus Christ as their model and allow him to be the author and finisher of their faith.

What will people think? What does it matter? Some people will be irritated or critical no matter what you do. They don’t even like themselves let alone anyone else.

I’m not there yet – not by a long-shot – but I hope, that when all is said and done they will think, there goes someone who knows the Creator of the Universe, the God of love. You can tell. 

Donkey Tales

 

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My grandchildren are visiting and we decided to do “home church” on Sunday. They remembered doing that last time they were here because somebody had something potentially infectious that was not wise to share at Sunday School. They thought the experience was worth repeating.

It’s interesting to observe what little kids consider essential to a church experience. According to the eldest, one must, apparently, have decorations on the wall, a theme, a sign on the door posting expectations re: starting and finishing times, music, snacks, crafts, and story time. They loved being in charge of “church time” (although one was clearly more in charge than the others.)

We had a great time, especially after I gave the only boy real drum sticks and a real drum and the girls my box of craft materials. If only Michelangelo had construction paper, toothpicks, butterfly stickers  and tape. Who knows what he could have accomplished.

The kids chose the stories. They asked me to read as they dramatized: King Saul going pee in the cave and sneaky David cutting his robe, David (with rolled up sock stones and uncle’s old plastic slingshot found in the bottom of the toy box) and Goliath (holding a badminton racquet and pot lid shield and standing on a chair with Mommy’s long skirt covering the legs), and The Talking Donkey with a blanket saddle.

Silly me, I failed to notice the escalating violence in these scenarios until the final re-enactment needed to be cut short by a bribe of watermelon and granola bars. Balaam had the donkey in a strangle hold while the menacing angel of the Lord wound up for a good smiting from the top of the sofa back with the re-purposed badminton racquet sword. Good will was restored with juice box communion and then church was dismissed.

 

For some reason seeing the wrestling match in the middle of our home church reminded me of a few unexpected agents of grace in my life that have frustrated me. I think I may have attacked and tried to wrestle messenger donkeys to the ground myself when I didn’t recognize their purpose.

In the story the prophet Balaam hears the Lord accurately but imposes his own agenda. He misses the fact that a big old angel bringing the message of “No! Not this way” is terrifying the wits out of his mount. The donkey collapses under him, then smashes his foot against a wall. When an upset and hurting Balaam starts beating the animal, it supernaturally starts talking saying, essentially, “Sheesh! You really don’t get it, do you?”

I wonder if sometimes when the Lord speaks dramatically to people through crazy, unusual, dramatic, out-of-the-ordinary manifestations it’s not necessarily a compliment or sign of how super-spiritual they are. Maybe it’s not so much an experience to be bragged about as much as  Sheesh! What-does-it-take-to-get-your-attention moment?

Anyway the prophet and donkey who were thrashing it out on my living room floor reminded me of something I read years ago about anxiety attacks and depression and stress-related illnesses and really annoying relationship problems being agents of grace. We are traveling down the road expecting our plans to go smoothly when the things or people we rely on fail us.They collapse under us, or ram us into a wall, or yell Sheesh!  loud enough to scare the wits out of us. The usual reaction is to become frustrated and fight rather than listen to the message – at least mine is.  (Balaam was so defensive he barely noticed it was a bloomin’ donkey talking to him.)

By the time a dramatic attention-grabber shows up we have probably been ignoring the Lord or justifying doing thing our own way for quite a while. It’s the goodness of God that sets up circumstances that get our attention. It’s as if he is saying, “Stop! Yes, you have a gift. Every body in the family gets at least one. No, you may not use it in a way that will hurt others.”

A good tool is one that performs its job well. A knife that can slice through fresh hot bread without squashing it is a good knife. A knife sticking out of a friend’s back — not so much.

Here’s the thing about using the gifts (tools) that Father God gives us: they come with instructions on their safe use. The most essential instructions are found in 1 Corinthians 13 right in the middle of the discussion on the gifts. Without love it’s all a gong show.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing…. 

Love never fails.

Without love, “church” is in danger of turning into a chaotic pile-up on the living room floor.

Save

Sustaining

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The clouds, too, drink up their share,
raining it back down on the mountains from the upper reaches of Your home,
Sustaining the whole earth with what comes from You.
And the earth is satisfied.
Thus You grow grain for bread, grapes for wine, grass for cattle—
all of this for us.
And so we have bread to make our bodies strong,
wine to make our hearts happy,
oil to make our faces shine.
Every good thing we need, Your earth provides;
our faces grow flush with Your life in them.

(Psalm 104: 13-15 The Voice)