Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Prayer of an Earthen Vessel

Candlemas Day

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I originally wrote this piece as an entry for the FaithWriters weekly challenge (4/25/08). The topic was "Mother."

Today I read back over it for the first time in a long time, and I find that my heart's cry has not changed. I hope that it is a blessing to others.

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God, I am so unworthy.
Who am I that you have entrusted me with these lives?
Eternal souls.
Eternal.
Souls.
How can such a sinful heart as mine
Lead other sinful hearts to You?
How can one so weak, so flawed
Hold in her hands three growing heirs of Heaven
Or Hell,
Three temporary shells of
Eternity encapsulated?
Who is equal to these things?
Not I, Lord. Not I.
God, my heart breaks.
I’ve failed, oh how I’ve failed!
And time is racing against me,
Always against me
Inexorable foe
Which has already defeated every mighty one who has gone before,
And I can only cast myself at Your feet and cry
“God, have mercy on me, a sinner
A mother.”
And the mercy for which I plead
Is for them, Lord, for them.
I cannot be what they need me to be.
The best I have to offer them
Is only dust and ashes
For that is what I am,
And it is what I will someday be again.
Help me, God,
For what I want to give them is You.
You, Lord of Forever, shining through me.
Priceless treasure in an earthen vessel,
Heaven’s greatest glory
Hidden under a bushel-basket of sinful self.
Oh God, You have wounded me
With love,
You have crushed me
With mercy.
Now please do whatever you must
To break even more
Until You shine through triumphantly
And I cast no dark shadow across the face of Your glory.
Open their eyes
To see Your blazing beauty
And not the sin which tries to hide You.
Use me to show them Yourself
No matter what it may cost me
For I believe in You
And I know
You are worth it all.
To love You in this way
Is what it means to be a bride
And a daughter.
To love them in this way
Is what it means to be
A mother.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Propping up Dagon

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half a face

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Those poor Philistines...

Their god was broken!

The trouble began after they defeated the Israelites and took away the Ark of Jehovah. What a coup that had been! And what more fitting thing could they have done than to bring the disgraced Ark into the temple of Dagon, their god, so that their god could enjoy looking at what he had conquered?

But things didn't turn out the way they'd hoped. The next morning, temple worshipers entered to find that their god had fallen down on its face before the Ark of Jehovah.

Well, that had proven embarrassing, but it had been a simple enough problem to resolve. Just get enough strong men to lift Dagon back up, and then the worship could go on, and all would be well, right?

Except the next morning, when the worshipers returned, they found Dagon prostrating himself before the Ark again, and this time his head and hands were broken off. Yet even after this, the Philistines still claimed Dagon as their deity.

We modern westerners shake our heads at the naiveté of our Philistine brothers of long ago (1 Sam 5:1-7). How could they be so foolish as to worship a statue, and to call something breakable "god?"

And yet God's Word tells us that we are guilty of all the things for which we judge others (Rom 2:1). And last night the Spirit brought the story of Dagon and the Ark to mind and convicted me with it.

I have no right to laugh at anyone. I have broken gods, and I have spent my life desperately trying to prop them up.

I'm willing to bet some of you have done the same.

"No," you may argue. "I don't worship anything that's broken in my life. I hate what's broken in my life!"

Really? Could it be that your hatred proves your worship? Why do you hate the broken things? Is it because you believe that their brokenness is the reason your life is unfulfilled? Doesn't that mean that you believe your fulfillment rests in the longed-for wholeness of those things?

If they were whole, life would be perfect.

Once you prop up Dagon, worship can go on, and all will be well, right? We can ignore the fragility and pretend it never happened.

Did it ever occur to you and me that, if something can be broken, it doesn't deserve the place of a god in our lives? It can't be the source of our soul's deepest needs.

What is my "Dagon?" What is yours? It is anything that we believe holds the key to our lives, our hopes, our dreams, our happiness, our fulfillment, our joy. It could be a certain person, a certain type of marriage or family situation, health for ourselves and our loved ones, a certain amount of money, or anything else.

For some of us, the idol hasn't been broken yet, and we choose to ignore the fact that it's fragile. Worship goes on unabated. But for others of us, the smashing has happened, and it hurts. Oh, how it hurts. We run frantically to pick up broken pieces, we search for the super glue, we sweat and strain and groan to put everything back together on its pedestal so life can go on again. It's our god, isn't it? We need it!

Even atheists have gods that they worship, though they would never call them by that name. But what is worship, if it is not the acknowledgment of the total worth of another, and our abject need of them? And what is a god, if it is not the person or thing that we worship?

Let's look back at the Biblical narrative. Not only had the Philistines' god been disgraced, but Jehovah had struck their city with terrible plagues. How did the Philistines handle their situation?

They acknowledged the superiority of Jehovah to Dagon (1 Sam 5:7), but did they bow before the True God? No, they decided to send Him away by sending away the Ark that represented His presence (1 Sam 5:11). And they created a new sacred ritual to worship the place where Dagon's broken body had landed (1 Sam 5:5).

Is anyone here going to argue that we do differently? What happens if we have to choose between obedient worship of God and whatever our idol might be? Which do we choose, especially in a knee-jerk moment?

How do we respond to God's call to rejoice in Him whatever our circumstances? Do we push Him away and tell Him we cannot possibly rejoice until we get all of the pieces glued back together? Do we resent Him for even implying that we should rejoice in Him when He hasn't fixed our idol for us?

Remember, the Ark of Jehovah sat there in the Temple while the worshipers of Dagon struggled to reassemble their god. The people ignored the Ark and did not worship Jehovah, and Jehovah did not help their repair efforts.

It would have been unloving for Him to have done so.

Last night, the Lord asked me to look at the broken, shattered pieces lying all around me, and He gently told me to stop trying to prop Dagon up.

Put down the shards. Turn around and look at Me. I am not broken, nor breakable. Your life might be easier with those pieces put together, but then you would worship them, and miss out on Me. Many unbelievers have the things you long for. Would you trade places with them? Do you really believe that these things you've spent your life longing for actually hold the key to life for you?

No, Lord. I had not realized that I was worshiping the image of a rebuilt idol. But I was, wasn't I? I believed everything depended on my fixing what was broken, or even on YOU fixing what was broken. Either way, my hope was in the wholeness of something other than You. But Your wholeness is eternal. I have been a fool. I do not need these things to be repaired. I only need you.

What does this mean in my life? Does it mean some sort of castle-in-the-sky spiritual aloofness? Do I tell others that they don't matter to me anymore, because I don't need them?

No, just the opposite. You see, worshipers are characterized by need. We need what our idols give us, whatever that may be. And when our idols prove to be less than infinitely rewarding (as idols inevitably do), we needy people tend to become demanding, self-centered, leechlike. The ugliness of our grasping may not be clear as long as we're getting what we want, but even so, we do not love as Christ loved. We love as the child loves the lollipop, as the addict loves the needle.

I love what you do for me. Period.

But what if I cease to have idols? What if I draw close enough to Christ to find my life in His infinite sufficiency? What if I no longer need to draw life from the people or things around me?

The closer I come to Christ, the less I will feel like hating the brokenness, or the broken people. They can't "let me down" if I am not demanding their wholeness to feed my soul. I will be patient with the brokenness, and will love the broken people, if I, in my own brokenness, find my life and my healing from Above. And ironically, when I cease demanding and start loving, God may use me to help heal the brokenness around me like never before, because my efforts will be acts of love, not attempts to rebuild an idol.

At least, that's what the Lord is showing me. Now to learn to live in the light of that truth…

I've got a long way to go.

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Yes, I've been gone a long time, and no, I didn't disappear off the planet. But life has happened, and life needs God's merciful intervention. Please pray for our family whenever you think of us. Thank you!

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My Brother's Testimony

Rex Lewis and Betsy Lewis, 1982 Brother and sister, Rex and Betsy Lewis, 1982

My brother and I, not too surprisingly, share many things in common.  One of those is having been saved much later in life than we originally thought.

This past Sunday my brother was re-baptized, so that he could experience baptism as a truly converted person.  As part of the service he gave his testimony, and he has kindly given me his permission to share it here.

His life story, like mine, makes many people nervous because it underscores the tragic fact that false assurance really does happen to people.  But it's vital for people like my brother and me to share our stories, because they can help others to examine themselves as the Scripture commands us to do.

I hope his testimony, given in its entirety below, blesses you as it blesses me.

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I grew up in a home that had a thin layer of what looked for all the world like Christianity, covering a mountain of hypocrisy. My parents were founding members of our church and we children rapidly learned how to fit in. I made a profession of faith at a very early age and became the poster child, so to speak, for our church; filled with promise for a fantastic future of service to God. I could clearly describe the Gospel of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and believed the facts. But God had not wrought the truth of it in my heart. I guess you could sum up my view of things with the phrase, “God is really blessed to have me on His team.” The problem is, it was all a sham; a sham that even fooled me. I guess you could sum up God’s view of things the way Jesus did.

Mat 23:27, 28, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Or, as He said later to the church in Sardis, “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.”

I waited until I was in Bible College to be baptized, mainly because my father believed that baptism was not for the Church age. At the time I was being baptized at a beach in the southern part of Pinellas County, the presence of two coast guard boats and a helicopter searching for a body made for a strange ambiance. Little did they know that right near their search grid, a dead man was being baptized.

With that foundation of hypocrisy firmly in place, I entered full time ministry. After “serving God” in Miami and Tampa, I began to prepare for overseas “service.” During that time of training and preparation, God opened my eyes to the pharisaism in my heart. I went through a major transition in my theology as God allowed me to learn the truth about many of the Scripture’s great doctrines. I don’t know why God chose to do things the way He did, perhaps he will let me know some day, perhaps He won’t. But the revelation of my hypocrisy was only the beginning of a period of over 10 years where I was in ministry but was unsaved for most of it. Though He taught me many wonderful things about the Gospel, He still had not made the Gospel’s effect real in me. I guess we could sum up my view of things during that time by saying, “I am so happy that I know these things.” But I think we could sum up God’s view of things by what Jesus said, John 5:39, 40, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” I understood that Jesus had died and risen again because of my sin. I understood that I had to believe in Him, and I did believe. But I really didn’t know what it meant to repent. I didn’t know just how terrible my sin was that I needed to repent of. What’s more, God had not yet given me the sweet gift of repentance unto life. Gradually, I began to see my evil more clearly. I began to see it in the light of God’s holiness. It brought me to the place where I, though I wanted to be right with God, was willing to accept His eternal condemnation if only He would be glorified by it. It brought me to the place where I was hanging for my life on the truths that I had so confidently believed all those years.

Some time later, God challenged me with 2Co 13:5, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”

What God revealed to me through that examination was that there is, indeed, a new dimension to my life. Although I still struggle with the flesh, the fear of man and the desire to impress, there is now something within me that operates on the level of eternity instead of time. For instance, instead of merely refraining from outwardly doing the evil that I secretly long to do, I sincerely long for sin to be defeated in me and long for the day when I will be totally free from it. Instead of just believing a set of doctrines, I now depend on their truth in my own life and seek to understand what they reveal about the character of my God. I really can’t nail down the moment when the change occurred. I only know that I can’t trace it back all that far. And I can rejoice that it has happened. I guess you could sum up God’s view of things now by what He said through the prophet Jeremiah, “I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD,” and what He said through the writer to the Hebrews, “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” And I guess the best summary of my view is, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”

Rex Lewis

Monday, May 31, 2010

When Shadows Aren't Enough

the dark valley

Image by The Rusty Projector via Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I could have sworn I had already posted this poem here on my blog, but I just searched for it in vain.  And for some reason, I feel that I ought to post it now.

The Lord is bringing significant healing to my life, but I have a long way to go.  And sometimes, especially for the sake of those who are still "in the valley," it is good to revisit the pain.  Not for the sake of morbidity, but for encouragement.  Because if God can bring me out of this valley, as deep as it was, He can bring anyone out of their valley too.

I wrote this poem back in 2006, when I had already been in my "valley" for about seven years.  It took that long to be able to face the pain enough to put it into words.

The poem is about the time when my two-year-old son changed virtually overnight…from a seemingly normal toddler to an autistic stranger.  It is called:

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When Shadows Aren't Enough

Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…

My son is lost in that valley.
He died. He lives.
Two years old.
Toddling
Pointing
Tearing into Christmas presents
Voicing his thoughts with newly-learned words.
Adorable, squeezable, lovable, loved.
Phillip.

Gone.

His words give way to screaming.
Endless, throat-tearing screaming.
Little body stiff in my arms.
Twelve, fourteen, eighteen hours each day
His shrieks rake my ears, shred my soul
Screaming, and screaming, and screaming.
For months.

Hands forget how they once played.
Now they flap before a stranger’s eyes
No longer willing to meet my own.

Sleep mocks me.
Hope perishes.
Sanity flees.
Nothing exists but screaming, and screaming, and screaming
And three little faces who look to me
To give them life
While I am dying.

I reel in this valley of death that is not death.
Through? There is no “through.”
I sink to my knees
But find no comfort there.
No God
And no strength to rise again.

The air in this valley
Fills lungs with dust
Parches them with dread
Not the fear that death will come,
But that it will not.

“If You have any compassion at all
Be done with shadows which bring no relief!
Let this be simply the valley of death.
End it all. Please just end it all.”

Our breaths keep coming.
His rip the air with cries of torment.

Mine can only breathe, “I hate You, God. I hate You.”

Slowly the horror abates
But endless months in the shadow of death
Have transformed me into a shadow of life.
I am hollow.
Nothing remains of me.
I am without form, void, in darkness.

The Spirit hovers
He has little to work with.
The fragments He finds are seething with rage
At Him.

He sings, and I weep.
I don’t want to, but I do.
He praises, and I feel it.
Sometimes I can even join in, feebly
Pushing the words out past thick clouds of fury.

I am so glad I still can.
Because if He is life
Then a shadow of life is not enough
Not in a place such as this.

I stagger to my feet
And risk a few unsteady steps.
For I do not hate life
Or the One who is Life
But only the shadow that hides Him from me
Here in this valley.

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Now, the post script.  Ten years after my son and I entered that valley together, God has restored both of us in ways I could never have imagined.  Yes, my son is still autistic and bipolar.  Barring a miracle, he always will be.  Yes, he relies on powerful medications to keep him at a functional level of emotional stability.  But he is a beacon of hope; a hopping, jumping, hand-flapping miracle who sings God's praises sometimes for hours on end.  His growing faith is precious and inspirational.  He is one of God's precious diamonds, and the gleam is already sparkling despite the surrounding coal.

What's more, God led me into that valley as a self-deceived lost person, someone who believed herself saved but had never been born again.  He led me out of it as His daughter.

For many years I would have told you that I hated the valley, and that it was proof that God hated me.  Now I would not trade it for anything.  I'm glad it's in the rearview mirror, and I hope I never have to walk through it, or one like it, again.  But if I do, may I remember God's faithfulness through it all, and may I be comforted by the knowledge that He brings the greatest good out of the worst trials.

And God grant that the same may be true for you.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Faith of a Mustard Seed

Long's Peak and Meeker 

"Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you."  (Matt 17:20)

What is the faith of a mustard seed?

Sometimes people add a few words to this verse.  They say, "Faith the size of a mustard seed."  They take this verse to mean that even small faith can do large things.  And there may be truth in that.  But Jesus didn't say anything about the size of the seed in this passage.  He said, "If you have faith as a mustard seed."

So what is that?  Whatever it is, it is supposed to enable me to move mountains.

On a clear day, if I walk just a little way from my home, I can see the towering, perennially snowcapped twins called Long's Peak and Meeker.  Now, I am a person of growing faith, but I have no desire to "put God to the test" by ordering those giants to move (Mat 4:7).  If I did decide to try it, those mountains would doubtless stay put.  And it's a good thing, too.  Could you imagine the chaos if people went around literally rearranging geography all the time?

Prosperity preachers and their "Name it and claim it" devotees would tell me that if I had more faith, those folks in the mountains would have reason to tremble in their shoes.  But I must ask them, "Is that your definition of faith?  Does faith really mean getting all of your selfish whims and desires fulfilled, without any thought to God's plans for the world, for history, for the people who would be affected by your actions?  Does faith mean telling God to move over so you can sit on His throne and be in charge instead of Him?" 

God forbid that I should ever have such power!  Yes, my faith gives me the power to move mountains…but only the mountains that God wants me to move.  Aren't you glad to know that, mountain folk?

People of true faith in the one true God do not wish to move any mountains that the Lord wants left alone.  Oh, they might long for the day when those mountains move, but they are not willing to step an inch outside of God's will in order to satisfy their own desires.  (Or, if they do try to sinfully move those mountains themselves, God graciously refuses to let them succeed.)  People of faith trust God's plan for where things are supposed to be.  They do not want to usurp God's place, or to turn their religion into a maniacal power trip.

But if God tells them to move a mountain, they speak to it with confidence.

And it moves.

God gives us faith to accomplish His will, not our own.  And true faith wouldn't want it any other way.  True faith sees God on the throne, and is content to have Him there.

It is mustard-seed faith.

What is the faith of a mustard seed?  It's a faith that says, "Oh, I'm a mustard seed.  So that means that God wants me to be a mustard plant.  He gives me His rain, His sunshine, His dirt, and His air, and everything I need to grow into what He designed me to be.  And that's exactly what I want to do."  And it does it.

Mustard seeds do not try to be dandelions, roses, oaks, or eagles.  Nor do they transplant themselves from wherever God placed them, longing for some source of provision other than His.  They are content to use what God gives them in order to grow into what God designed them to be.

Some people have been planted in horrible soil.  Hard, rocky, and inconveniently located (say…right next to a blast-furnace, perhaps?)  Everything in them wants to be somewhere else, growing into something else. 

But let me say it again.  Despite the pain and tears, despite the longing for a better day, mustard seed faith is content to use what God gives it in order to grow into what God designed it to be. This is the kind of faith that our Lord commends.

God may have planned to make me a literal mountain-mover, but probably not.  I doubt that the residents of Meeker have anything to worry about.  So if I'm not supposed to be a mountain-mover, what did God design me to be?

At the very least, He designed me to be my husband's wife, and my children's mother…and to do so with a heart full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control.

Suddenly, moving mountains looks less impossible.  In fact, compared to my actual assignment, making Long's Peak tiptoe to the East might be relatively simple.

My heart is evil.  The amount of wickedness I've seen in my own heart has been sufficient to make me despair of it without an outright miracle.  And God tells me that my heart is a whole lot worse than even I realize (Jer 17:9).  I need divine help to become anything worth being.

Am I content to use what God gives me as I grow in this life?  Will I access His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control for my protection and strength?  Or will I seek to transplant myself into the world's soil, drawing up its hatred and rage and deceit and selfishness as my sources of power and safety?

Am I content to be what He designed me to be, or would I rather be something else, something modeled after my flesh's desires and cut from the world's pattern?  Am I content to grow into a mere mustard plant, unnoticed, on harsh ground?

Lest you accuse me of setting my sights too low, let me remind you that mustard seeds have no idea what is going to become of them.  In fact, Jesus did mention the size of mustard seeds in another passage.  He said that though they are very small seeds, yet they grow up and become larger than all the other plants in the garden (Mark 4:31-32).

And God's Word tells us that we, too, do not know what we're going to grow into.  But it gives us a hint…and if we let it sink in, it will blow our minds.

"Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2 NKJV).

We shall be like Him. 

WE shall be like Him.  "We" means little folks like us, wholly undeserving little bits of matter that look like nothing in the world's eyes, but who are precious in the eyes of God because of our faith in Christ.

We SHALL be like Him.  "Shall" means it's going to happen.  It is a promise from the mouth of God, and it will not fail.

We shall BE like Him.  "Be" is a state of existence, and this particular "be" is eternal in its scope.  If we're drawing our life from the Vine (John 15:5-6), then our eternal state will be more glorious than we can imagine.  Heaven isn't just about what we will enjoy.  It's also about who we will become!

We shall be LIKE Him.  Restored to being flawless image-bearers, like Adam and Eve were, except even better…because we won't ever sin!

We shall be like HIM!  Like Jesus.  Like the One we are growing to love more than anyone or anything on earth.  Like the one whose glories will be the joy of Heaven forever.

This is the future that God had in mind when He fashioned the DNA of the little seeds called "you," fellow believers, and "me." It is the future that He planned for when He planted us in the soil we now find ourselves rooted in…and when He planted us in yesterday's soil, and in tomorrow's too.  It is the future He is preparing for us as He buffets us with every wind of adversity, tries us with every drought, and refreshes us with every Spring rain.  It is the future that He provides for, when He develops His likeness ever-so-slowly in us throughout this life (See Gal 5:22-23).

God grant us mustard-seed faith, a faith that is content to use what He provides (scorning other sources), in order to become what He designed us to be (scorning other outcomes).

I don't know about you, but at the end of this day I'd rather be able to look back and see increasing love in my heart, increasing joy, increasing peace (and all the other fruits), than to look back at any feats of geographical gerrymandering. 

To know that the pains and heartaches and joys and efforts of today are preparing me to be like Him for eternity…what could be more glorious?

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Monday, May 3, 2010

Protected and Strengthened…by Meekness

Nectarine (Prunus persica) fruit development o...

Image via Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are nine different types of spiritual fruit listed in Gal 5:22-23.  I've devoted a blog entry to how we are protected and strengthened by love, and one entry to how the same blessings are bestowed through joy.

I don't plan to devote an entire entry to each of the nine types of fruit.  But I do want to give a little "bullet point" summary of how I can see God protecting and strengthening us through each of the nine.  Then I want to devote the rest of this entry to one fruit in particular: meekness.

First, the summary of how God works on our behalf when he develops His fruit in us:

  • Love – protects me from sinning against God and others, and from missing out on the joy of fellowship with both. As He teaches me to love my enemies, He protects me from taking revenge, and from failing under persecution or mistreatment.  These protections strengthen me to do right, to live fully, to risk the radical way of the cross.
  • Joy – protects me from depression, despair, anger, and surliness.  It strengthens me to bless others in the midst of difficult circumstances.
  • Peace – protects me from withdrawal, isolation, fearful self-protection, and the resulting neglect of my family and my duties.  It strengthens me to face the world instead of hiding from it.
  • Patience – protects me from explosive temper, exasperation, quitting, and discouraging others.  It strengthens me to keep on plugging away when I'm tempted to give up.
  • Kindness – protects me from merely theoretical Christianity.  It engages my hands, my feet, my heart, and my smile in the service of the Gospel.
  • Goodness – protects me from the love of sin, and from believing its lies.  It strengthens me to resist temptation.
  • Faithfulness – protects me from breaking promises and hearts, from the shame of failure, from loss of eternal reward.  Strengthens me to do even hard, repetitive, or boring work.
  • Meekness – protects me from turning to the wrong sources of strength, and from the abuse of power.  Gives me strength to do eternal good, rather than just having a temporary illusion of control.
  • Self-Control – protects me from the tyranny of my ever-shifting moods.  Strengthens me to go on even when my moods say otherwise.

So there you have my list.  I hope it helps.  Now let's look at one fruit in particular: meekness.

I chose not to use the translation "gentleness," since that doesn't really capture the essence of what meekness is.  (I read a very helpful blog entry about true meekness here.  I hope you'll check it out.)

Meekness is not weakness.  It is not "being a doormat."  Jesus most certainly was not one of those!  Oswald Chambers says:

For the Christian, meekness requires submitting our will to the Master. Meekness is not submitting to everyone around us; it is taking our direction from God. Meekness means that we do not have to defend our rights, but we allow the Lord to defend us. Meekness means a life that is submissive to the Holy Spirit, giving Him the freedom to make any changes He knows are necessary. Meekness involves a self-control that comes from trusting God. Meekness demonstrates an attitude of long-suffering that allows God to deal with the injustices we face.

Though I've read many such helpful discussions of meekness in my life, none have particularly inspired me. 

Remember a few entries ago when I talked about having a disconnection between what I believe and how I live?  I'm finding that the short-circuit happened because I misunderstood several key things.  I thought the characteristics of godly living (including the development of godly fruit) would make me weak, not strong.  I needed godliness in order to have a certain quality of walk with Christ, but I needed strength to survive my life.  Survival always won, hands down.  And that meant that godliness quickly fell by the wayside whenever I needed to feel strong and in control.

But now God is teaching me two vital new truths.

  • My greatest need for strength is not so that I can stand against circumstances or people that hurt me.  It's so that I can stand against sin and persist in walking with Christ.
  • Godliness gives me the strength I need to pursue my greatest need.

Of all the pains in my life, none hurt as much as regret.  And all of my deepest regrets in life come from my own sin.  Every one, without exception.  None come from circumstances, or from the sins that others have committed against me.  It took me decades to see the truth of that, but it's absolutely a fact.

And I have committed most, if not all of my sins in a mistaken quest for power, for control, for autonomy over my own life.  And so have you.

No, I'm not what most people would call a power-hungry person, and you probably aren't either.  We're not out trying to become the billionaire movers and shakers of this world.  But we do want control over what happens to us, so we can minimize pain and maximize pleasure.  And most of our sins pursue those two goals.

Most of our regrets and most of life's pain come from the sins we've committed in those pursuits.  We've sought strength from the wrong sources and for the wrong reasons.

Meekness protects us from that mistake.

When God develops meekness in me, He protects me from turning to the wrong sources of strength,  and from the abuse of power.

Do you see it?  Meekness is not weakness!  It is a refusal to turn to the wrong sources of power, which we pursue for the wrong reasons.  Meekness recognizes that there is only one power worth pursuing, and that's God's power.  He gives it to us in our pursuit of godly love, and godly joy, and godly peace, and godly patience…and all of the ways in which we seek to have a godly influence in this world.

Everything we gain by worldly, selfish power will burn up on judgment day.  It is wood, hay, and stubble.  But everything we do by the power of God's Spirit, working through the fruit that He develops in us, will shine forth as gold forever.  That's why a truly meek person would rather appear powerless for a time than appear strong by sinning.  When Jesus appeared powerless while Roman soldiers nailed Him to a cross, He was in fact performing a feat of heroic strength.  He stayed and accepted what He could have prevented, and who can measure how much strength that required?  And then, through what looked like weakness, He single-handedly defeated all the power of Hell, for all eternity.

And this hero is the holder of the Name above all names, upon whom all honor will be bestowed for all eternity.  And He says to us:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (Matt 11:29 KJV)

I don't know about you, but I want to discover the glorious power of this meekness.  And I want the protection it offers from all the heartache I bring on myself when I pursue what the world wrongly calls strength.

Lord Jesus, teach me how to embrace Your yoke and learn meekness from You.  Amen!

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Strengthened and Protected…by Joy

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I need this one to sink deeply into my heart today.

It has been a day of painful awareness…of stark realities that, frankly, frighten and sadden me.

No, no dreadful medical diagnoses, or other such troubles.  My concerns are of a sort that have troubled many people (if not most) throughout all of history.  The details don't matter.  You have your own troubles to bring to this reading.

Despair and depression beckon.  I know their voices well.  But I don't intend to answer their call.

No, I'm not "toughening up."  I'm not counseling myself to "Keep a stiff upper lip," "Don't Worry, Be Happy," or "Just have faith that everything will be okay."  I don't have time to waste on false "help."

I need real joy.  Not the kind that we humans can pluck on our own heartstrings, but the kind that vibrates in sympathy with Heaven.  The kind that plays forth from a stroke of the Master's hand.

I need joy for protection, and for strength.

When God develops joy in me, He protects me from depression, despair, anger, and surliness. 

I don't need the kind of joy that denies reality.  I don't need the protection of a hiding place.  I need the kind of joy-armor that puts a smile on my lips as I head into a battle called "tomorrow."  I need a joy that can weep with the genuine sorrows of life, but still rejoice in the divine "Nevertheless."

"The joy of the LORD is your strength." (Neh 8:10b)

I can honestly say that I'm not accustomed to praying for joy.  I couldn't have done so until recently.  Tender emotions were for suckers, remember?  So asking for joy would have made me feel downright idiotic.

Oh, I accepted joy when God sent it, and gladly.  And He has sent it; sometimes in the beauty of His creation, sometimes in prayer, sometimes in the glory of a soul-dance called Sign Language.  But somehow whenever joy has passed, I have tended to see its passing as proof that I was a fool to have entertained it at all.

Sucker.  I don't know when or how that word took such deep root in my soul.  It wasn't used in my childhood home.  But I feel the scorn of it even now, knowing that, when I'm through writing this, I'm going to hit my knees and pray for joy.  I think the request will stick in my throat at first, but only for a moment.  God is working change in this middle-aged heart.  I will ask for joy, knowing that it is His will to give it to me.  How could He not want to grow the Fruit of His own Spirit?

I will ask for joy to protect me from depression, from despair, from anger, and from surliness.  I will ask Him to give me joy to keep me from committing all of the sins that attend those heart attitudes, and from all of the regrets that would follow.  I will ask for joy to strengthen me to persevere and even to thrive right here where God has placed me.  I will ask for it to bless everyone around me, especially those who once felt my strength only as anger.  And I will ask for joy to be buttressed by love, and peace, and by all of the other facets of God's spiritual fruit.

And I will not close my heart against joy when He gives it.  Joy is not for suckers.  It is for those who step into His presence (Ps. 16:11).

That's where I want to live.

 

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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Protected and Strengthened…by Love

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Nothing draws me like the feeling of being warmly, strongly loved and cared for.  The thought of loving protection makes me melt.

So when the Spirit of God nudged me to "Re-think the Fruit of the Spirit in terms of how God protects you," I was eager to go.

According to Gal.5:22-23, the first facet of this "Fruit of the Spirit" is love.

Now, it's easy to see how God's love for me would involve protection.  Isn't that what a loving Father does?  But how does God protect me by growing love in me?

Sometimes, before we can understand protection, we have to understand our enemy.  Imagine, for example, that I went to a remote, "Stone Age" tribe and handed a warrior a small, funny-smelling bit of cloth.  Suppose I told him it was for his protection.  He'd probably laugh me to scorn and use it in playful mock fights with other strapping fellows like himself.  But if he came to understand that the funny smell was mosquito repellant, and that the "enemy" was mosquito-borne malaria, he would no longer laugh.

When I went through some of the hard times that I described yesterday, I thought my painful circumstances were my enemies.  And when God didn't change them, I concluded that He hadn't protected me.  But now, ten years down the road (and counting), I perceive a completely different enemy.  My problem isn't my circumstances, but my inability to cope with them, much less triumph in them.  The enemy is within me.

Now, that's not to downplay the severity of some of the challenges I face.  But when I think how much better my circumstances could now be if I had been a different person for the past ten years, I'm reminded of that famous old quote… 

"We have met the enemy, and he is us."

I do not find myself daily lamenting autism or bipolar disorder or the other challenges that make our family unique.  Instead, I find myself lamenting how I sin against my family, how I inadvertently fail them, how their futures are already more challenged because of those failings, and how I lack the wisdom to do better.

No, I'm not talking about "beating myself up," so please don't write and tell me to go easier on myself.  I'm just explaining that I see the real enemy more clearly than I used to.  And he is me…not that I'm an evil person, but that I'm an ordinary, flawed, flesh-and-blood, finite, fallible sinner like everybody else.  My family needs more than I can give them. 

When I think about God's protection, it no longer looks like "taking my kids' special needs away."  It looks like strengthening me to do His will where I live, because that will help my family thrive.  It looks like feeding my soul where it would otherwise starve.

And so we come back to love. 

When God develops love in me, He protects me from sinning against Himself and others, and from missing out on the joy of fellowship with both.

I would be hard-pressed to tell you any sin that I have committed that has not been, at the very least, a failure of love.  If God changes me so that I love more deeply, imagine the sins that He will have protected me from committing, and the regrets he will have kept me from feeling!  Imagine how my family would be protected from those sins!

And remember, this protection isn't like a hiding place.  This protection is like armor, meant to be worn on a battlefield where the enemy is not made of flesh and blood.  With God's love filling me I am not protected from others, per se, but I am protected from the sin inside myself that would cause me to fail spiritually, to cause harm and shame.

Because I'm protected, I'm strengthened and emboldened.  Imagine how much I could bless my family with more of His love filling my soul!

Remember yesterday I said I had been at an impasse for much of my parenting career, because I felt I had to choose between loving and being tough enough to handle life?  Remember how "toughness" always came from anger, squelched tenderness, and made life miserable for everyone?

God, my protector and strengthener, is showing me a different source of strength.  His love, growing in me, increasingly protects me from the worst things I could be and the worst things I could do…and this protection gives me courage to face more than I could before.  Love and strength are no longer in opposition.  They are two sides of the same coin.  The impasse is being resolved. 

I'm praying for fruit much more than for relief.  I'm no longer squashing my tender feelings or rejecting them as "weak."  Instead, I get to rejoice in them and be strengthened by them.  This is radical, guys.

Of course He has a lot of work left to do, and He will until He takes me home to Glory.  But already I'm seeing new hope springing up in me, because I see exciting possibilities.  Already my children are starting to respond to a Mom who draws more strength from love than she used to. 

I rejoice, because God is so good!

Your turn, dear reader.  Are there any ways you'd like to be protected or strengthened by a new work of God's love in your heart?  Do you have a testimony of how godly love in your soul has already given you safety or strength?  I'd love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below.

 

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Friday, April 30, 2010

Protection and Strength

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"Life's tough, so you'd better get over it!"

"Oh, boo-hoo, you enjoy being depressed!"

It doesn't take long for a child to figure out she's on her own.  And it doesn't take long for her to come up with her own emotional survival strategies.  But of course she's only a child, and a sinner to boot.  Her strategies are fatally flawed, but she can't see that.  By the time she's a woman, they've become an unquestioned part of who she is, and they feel like life to her. 

Toughen up.  Shut down the tender feelings that make a sucker out of you.  And don't expect help from anybody.  In fact, keep 'em all at arm's length, or they'll suck you dry with their demands.  Just show them the smile and move on.  Handle life on your own.

That attitude is so deeply ingrained in me that I've never really examined it until recently.  Of course toughness is necessary for survival, so of course it's loving.  Of course tenderness is for suckers.  (Never mind how deeply I long for it!)

What do you do when life brings you more than you can handle?  If you were raised like I was, you know that God is up there.  And though you don't believe He loves you personally, you do know that you once prayed the right prayer to take advantage of God's legal loophole and get forgiven.  So when you need something, you pray.  And pray.  And pray.

But what if God doesn't answer?  What if your precious toddling son really is gone, replaced by this look-alike who has lost all of his personality, who does nothing but scream day in and day out until you have no nerves left to fry?  What if there are diagnoses that leave you without hope for his future…and then you find out your older son has something similar? 

And what if God doesn't do anything about it, no matter how you plead, no matter how obviously you're drowning?

If you're like me, you go into hiding.  You build walls.  You avoid as much of reality as you possibly can.  People don't help, and now you know that God won't, either.  The circumstances just never change, and they don't look like they ever will.  How could they?  Autism and Bipolar Disorder don't go away.  Medications only help a little.  How can I be the mother these children need?

The answer echoes from my own childhood.  Toughen up, wimp!  That's the only way to cope and be what they need you to be.  And so I try, but it's not in me.  I can't shut off what's good inside my soul, even if I believe that "toughness" is the most loving thing I can do.

Can anything be more paralyzing than finding none of life's options to be livable?

Something inside of me sobs for a protector, but there isn't one.  I learned that when God didn't change what was killing me.  So nothing remains but to try to make the inner sobs shut up.  Pour contempt on them.  Crybaby!  Wimp!  Nobody's going to protect you but you.  So hide.  Hide.  Hide.

Computer solitaire, anyone?  Or how about catching up on Christian blogs, or the latest news?  Has another day disappeared already?

Sometimes I venture out of my hiding place.  The calendar keeps flipping.  Children keep growing.  The past is a blur.  Opportunities have disappeared forever.  The future makes huge demands, and I've got to be tough to meet them.  My family needs me to be stronger!  So I try, but toughness requires anger and kills all softness in me.  And it's so ugly!  I hate it.  My family hates it.  I can't bear to keep it up for long.  Before I know it, I'm sinking back into escapism, knowing I've failed again because I'm not strong enough. 

Of course, during all of the lonely years, God hasn't really been absent.  He has thrown away all religious nonsense about "legal loopholes" and has introduced me to Himself.  He has brought friends into my life, and has taught me to trust and enjoy them, and even to be there for them.  He has allowed my most autistic child to progress in ways I never would have imagined.  He has allowed me to be fed wonderful spiritual food from different sources.  He has grown my faith tremendously.

But still, as I mentioned yesterday, there has always been a radical disconnection between my faith and my life.  It's not that I'm living in any gross sin.  It's just that I still don't have the strength to face my responsibilities. 

But just a few days ago a thought popped into my head that could only have come from God.  It's too foreign to my way of thinking for me to have manufactured it myself.

Re-think the Fruit of the Spirit in terms of how God protects you.

The part of my soul that sobs for a protector sat up and took notice right away.  And God must have done some cultivating to prepare my heart's soil for that little seed, because it seems to be taking root. 

It dawned on me that protection isn't synonymous with hiding.  (That's a paradigm-shattering notion right there!)  Protection can be like armor in the middle of a battle.  It can make even a coward rush toward the enemy, can keep a weak man from being skewered, and can preserve a strong man to fight another day.

Then it dawned on me that, if protection can make you strong and brave, then maybe you don't need ugly, soul-killing, tenderness-squelching, angry "toughness" in order to face life's challenges.

Maybe, "Be strong in the Lord" doesn't mean what I thought it meant at all.  Maybe it doesn't mean "believe the right things and carry a big stick."

Could this "gotta be tough" mindset be the false belief system that has been holding me back?  I've been praying for God to teach me to walk in His grace…is this part of His answer?

This is beginning to sound exciting!  Maybe there's a way to be strong and loving!  Do you suppose?

And maybe…maybe if protection doesn't look the way I expected it to look, then perhaps it's because it's suited for a totally different enemy than the one I thought I was fighting.  Had I mis-identified my opponent?

And if I was wrong about my opponent and about what protection looks like, then was I wrong to conclude that God had failed to protect me?  Could I really scrap my forlorn conviction that I have to go it alone?

And how does the Fruit of the Spirit figure into all of this?  (I know, I had planned to elaborate on that today, but I've already made this entry long enough just by laying the groundwork.  Tomorrow then, okay?)

 

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Confusing Ends with Means

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I've been gone awhile.

Not "gone" as in "traveling," but as in "out of commission."  Life's stresses built up to the point where writing was out of the question.

There is a time to keep silence and a time to speak (Ecc 3:7), and this was definitely a time for me to keep quiet and listen.

Some of you were used by God to speak to me during this time.  You may or may not know it, but I do.  More importantly, God does, and you will not lose your reward (Matt 10:42).

So why is it time to write again?  Because He has given me a focus, a direction, some things to work through.  I write to learn, more than to teach.  I desperately need the content He gives me, and the chance to pass it along to someone else is pure gravy.

And what is He wanting to teach me?  For starters, it's that my spiritual focus has been wrong.  I've been focusing more on external circumstances than on internal realities.  And when I've tried to deal with internals, I've done it mainly with an eye toward changing my circumstances.  That hasn't been my conscious motivation, but it was my motivation nonetheless.

Now, there's nothing wrong with praying about (and dealing with) circumstances.  We do not have because we do not ask (James 4:2).  But sometimes, God gives a different answer than the one we were hoping for.  Sometimes He says to us, like He said to the Apostle Paul, that our pain has a good purpose, and that He intends for it to continue (2 Co 12:8-9). 

Whatever my spiritual direction has been, it hasn't been sufficient to prepare me for an answer like the one Paul got.  I have regularly stumbled, gotten discouraged, and quit in the face of overwhelming and unrelenting difficulties.  My spirituality was beautiful in theory, but it couldn't stand up to the realities of my life.  That's one reason why I've found it so much easier to read and write my faith than to pick up a scrub brush with it. 

I'm not talking about hypocrisy.  I have believed, deeply.  But there has been a radical disconnection between my head's belief and my heart's life, and I haven't been able to figure out why.

I could live out my faith if only they would…

I would be loving, but it's all so overwhelming…

Paul stopped praying for relief when God explained to him that His grace was sufficient.  But I fear that my heart has been saying, "Sorry, God.  Your grace is not sufficient for me.  I need relief!"

What if life never stops being overwhelming?  Is my spiritual walk really to be held hostage, only to be released when things become manageable for me?  Why have I resorted to escapism and other sins so often?  What has made me feel that I couldn't do what I knew God wanted me to do?  Why would I turn away from love, from patience, from kindness when things got rough?

Could it be that, even though I "know better," I have been judging the value of godliness based on whether or not it changed my circumstances?

What if godliness isn't supposed to be a means to an end?  What if it is the end that we are to seek?

Of course it is.  I know that, at least in my head.  But in my heart I've been screaming, "Life can't go on like this! I can't go on like this!"

And so, I quickly resort to the things that bring me relief, or that I hope will change my circumstances, even if they're not godly.

God hasn't told me to stop praying for circumstantial relief, so I will continue to do so.  But relief may end up coming in a package that has nothing to do with a change in circumstances.

Maybe relief comes from a change in me.  Godliness may turn out to be its own reward, if I give it a chance.

Tomorrow I want to write down some thoughts I've been having about how godliness (specifically, the Fruit of the Spirit) can help me, even if it doesn't change my circumstances at all.  It won't be the wisdom of experience, because I don't have enough experience.  But it will be the sorts of truths that I want to tell myself, the sorts of beliefs I want to encourage.  Maybe they'll help others, too.

 

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Friday, March 5, 2010

Quotables for 3/5/10

"Talking bubbles" by iprole

"I have noticed among domestic servants one very common reason of unsettlement. It is that they do not know who is the mistress and have to take orders from half a dozen people. And all of us are servants in God's house, and always in our service we shall be irritable unless there be one voice we must obey and one will which gives us all our orders. That was the meaning of the peace of Job. He saw God always, and he saw Him everywhere. "The Lord hath given, and the Lord hath taken away," said Job, "blessed be the name of the Lord." It was not God today and fate tomorrow. It was not heaven in the morning and blind chance at night. Through light and shadow it was God to Job, and that was one secret of his rest. So is it with us all. To have many masters is always to be restless." ~ G.H. Morrison

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"No one can serve two masters." 

(Jesus, Matt 6:24)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Christian Brainwashing?

hilter_youth_mind_contol

I continue to feel troubled by the recent events surrounding the death of Lydia Schatz, and by the fact that so many in Christian circles defend the often abusive "discipline" methods of Michael and Debi Pearl.  While I don't intend to write an entire series on the subject, I do feel the need to look at this nightmarish story from another angle.

Would you ever dream of hiring a North Vietnamese Communist prison warden or a Stalinist "re-educator" to babysit your children?  Would you feel that such a "caregiver" would be worth having because of the dramatic results he could bring about?  If he showed you a nice face sometimes, would it make the terrible stuff more acceptable?  Do the ends justify the means?  After all, just think how quickly he could change your children and make them behave!

Preposterous, right?  We pray for our children to be miraculously made new by the Spirit of God, not brainwashed into mindless submission, right?

Right?

Listen to this synopsis of the stages of brainwashing (to get the full version, click on the link):

  • Assault on identity (loss of sense of self; weakened beliefs and values; malleability.)
  • Guilt (the belief that torture is deserved.)
  • Self-betrayal (a break with all ties of loyalty to the past)
  • Breaking point (extreme emotional breakdown accompanied by the fear of total annihilation of the self.)
  • Leniency (makes the victim feel deeply grateful toward their torturer.)
  • The compulsion to confess (Strong attachment to the torturer and the desire to please them by agreeing with them about one's own wrongness.)
  • Channeling of Guilt and Re-education (really two steps in which the person continues the process of casting off their old self as a way to release guilt, and adapting their identity to the torturer's will.)
  • Progress and harmony (the victim finds peace and friendship and relief of suffering as a reward for becoming what their torturer wants them to be.)
  • Final confession and rebirth (Complete and total self-renunciation and total allegiance to the brainwasher.)

Now listen to some of the Pearl's views on discipline in general, and then read the following description of how he would deal with an angry child (I will add comments, though I doubt you'll need them):

"I could break his anger in two days. He would be too scared to get angry." 

(He doesn't elaborate on what he would do in these two days, but if you've read the links above, you know it won't be pretty.  When you consider the fear-based control and his other writings on corporal punishment, there can be little doubt it's torture, assault on identity, guilt, and everything else that leads up to the "breaking point" that comes next.  If that sounds far-fetched, here's another quote from Michael Pearl: "it [the object used for punishment] will absolve the child of guilt, cleanse his soul, and give him a fresh start…" Funny, I thought that was what Jesus did, not what the Rod did.  When the Rod becomes the savior, of course the brainwasher will wield it vigorously!)

"On the third day he would draw into a quiet shell and obey."

(That was obviously the breaking point.  Can you not see the empty faces of abused children who've withdrawn into a shell?  Is this what Jesus did with little children?  Is this what we want for them?)

"On the fourth day I would treat him with respect and he would respond in kind."

(Clearly that's the "leniency" phase of the brainwashing.)

"On the fifth day the fear would go away and he would relax because he would have judged that as long as he responds correctly there is nothing to fear. On the sixth day he would like himself better and enjoy his new relationship to authority. On the seventh day I would fellowship with him in some activity that he enjoyed. On the eight day he would love me and would make a commitment to always please me because he valued my approval and fellowship. On the ninth day someone would comment that I had the most cheerful and obedient boy that they had ever seen. On the tenth day we would be the best of buddies."

Do I even need to point out the steps leading to "progress and harmony," and then to "Final confession and rebirth?"  Can there be any question that this method is brainwashing?

Now tell me, do you believe that Jesus and Chairman Mao drew from the same wells?  Or can you picture Jesus in a Viet Cong uniform?

Parent, if the change in your child is something you forced upon them, it has nothing to do with salvation!  The good works of true Christianity are described as "fruit," which grows naturally from our attachment to Christ as the "Vine."  A parent's job is to teach the truth, to provide reasonable discipline, to encourage, to model, to plead, to warn, to pray, and pray, and pray, and pray.

A parent's job is never to torture and brainwash.  Does that really need to be said?  Apparently it does.

If Jesus' way is the same one employed by communist torturers in the Korean or Vietnam wars, then what is unique about Christ?  How is He superior to an interrogator at the Hanoi Hilton?  How is He honored by the use of the same techniques we Americans so deplored when the enemy used them against our captured soldiers?

Is a child made righteous if he does good works in shackles and under the pain of the lash?  No?  Then how is he made righteous when he does good works under mental and emotional bondage and under the pain of the lash?  Either way, it's force and fear, not a transformed nature, which causes the child to comply.

Parents, there is a world of difference between a desire and a goal.  A goal is something we intend to make happen.  And we cannot make our children trust in Christ.  We cannot make them believe.  We can lead, we can pray, we can teach, we can instruct, we can give discipline, but we cannot force trust and faith.  If we try to do so, we push our children further away from God, no matter how much external conformity we may force to happen.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The World's Most Dangerous People

Plumbing supply line

I don't do many posts on current events.  But one has caught my eye and my heart this week, and I feel I cannot remain silent about it. 

If you read many Christian blogs, you've probably already heard about 7 year-old Lydia Schatz.  She was being raised by what were, by all accounts, a very sweet, loving set of Christian parents.  And she was horrifically, torturously murdered by those parents.

In an effort to save her soul.

Let me say it again.  The parents who systematically, coolly beat that little girl to death were quite normal, well-liked people in the Christian and homeschooling circles where they lived their lives.  And their decision to beat the child the way they did was based on the teachings of a couple named Michael and Debi Pearl, who are apparently very popular in conservative Christian circles. 

How can this be?  How does it happen?  Because from what I'm reading, the Schatzes were no different from a whole lot of Conservative Christians.  And I say that as a conservative Christian homeschooler myself.

What happened?  Did they "snap," as many are describing it?

I don't think they did. 

I think they beat that child because they had come to believe that that's what love does.  Worse, they believed that that's what God wanted them to do.

A blogger called "Water Lilly" says it best (emphasis added by me):

The plumbing-supply-line whippings went on for several hours. To me, this would indicate that it is more likely that the parents were calm rather than angry. I’ve been angry with my children…but that anger burns hot and FAST… Anger and rage are exhausting, and they don’t last long...I want to suggest that only two types of people will beat their children for hours. The first type are sadists who enjoy hurting others…  The second type are parents who desperately care for their children and their eternal salvation. They believe that this world is but fleeting, and that their children’s eternal salvation is the most important parenting goal.

I know from reading a few more of her entries that "Water Lilly" cares as deeply about the salvation of her children as any godly parent does.  Indeed, any truly godly parent longs with all their hearts to see their children saved.  It's one of the most powerful instincts in a Christian parent's being.

Nothing is more powerful than love, and that power has worked tremendous good in the world.  It was because of love that God sent Jesus!  But when love gets twisted, perverted, confused and distorted, its power makes it incredibly dangerous.

I am coming to believe that there are no more dangerous people on the face of the earth than those who believe that love and God are on their side while they pursue an evil which they've mistaken for goodness.  How can they repent, when they believe they're holy warriors?

How does it happen?  How does a loving parent get convinced that beating their child for hours over a minor infraction is an act of love?  (In the case of the Schatzes, the "infraction" was mispronouncing a word!)

I can think of several key ingredients for this horrific stew:

  • The parents are deeply religious in a legalistic way, not living as people saved by the grace of God.
  • They see how the concept of grace has been abused, and they conclude that grace is nothing more than permissiveness.  They do not know what grace does, and they fear it is only a get out of jail free card.  So they reject it, and will not even consider anything other than punitive measures.
  • They are terrified about their children's eternal destinies.
  • They know that sin is the problem, but they believe in manmade solutions.
  • They believe that they have the power to rescue their children from Hell, and that love requires them to use whatever force is necessary to save them from it.
  • They do not know that salvation is a miraculous work of the Spirit which only God can accomplish.  They believe it their duty to force their children to accept Christianity, rather than leading them toward a real relationship with the only true Savior (who saves by grace).

There was a time in my life when all of the above described me.  You know the proverbial road to Hell that is paved with good intentions?  I was firmly on it, and was paving it further under my children's feet.  I thank God that I never heard of the Pearls before I was truly saved, because I would quite possibly have fallen for their schemes.

Listen to how it works.  One mother asked on the Pearls' website, "How do I deal with an angry child? When he doesn't get his way, when I fix a breakfast he's not fond of, he acts angry and blames me.  He often tells me that spankings only makes him angrier. What am I missing?" 

Here are excerpts from the Pearls' response:

"He is manipulating you…He controls his weak mother, but the world is not made up of weak mothers…I regularly go to a prison that has over 1200 men in it. Many of them were just like your son when they were his age...  Mother, I am trying to make you angry—not hurt, not guilty, and certainly not timid. The Devil is running away with your child. You can stop it. You can break the spell." (emphasis added)

(Note the appeal to fear…that would have hit me hard.  If I don't follow the Pearls' methods, my kid will end up in prison!  The devil is running away with him, and it's my fault! Note also the idea that the parent is the messiah, the savior, the answer.  And see…the answer is found in the parents' anger!  To the Pearls, the wrath of man does produce the righteousness of God.  I used to believe that, too.  Note also the insults and accusations heaped on this presumably "weak" mother.  It gets worse.)

Your son needs to run smack dab into a big, high, unmoving fence of authority. You, mother, are a pushover, a sucker…To give over to his demands, even once, is like a mother giving drugs or alcohol to her addicted child…Display indifference with dignity… Like an army Sargent [sic], state your will and accept nothing less…If you think it is appropriate and you spank him make sure that it is not a token spanking.  A proper spanking leaves children without breath to complain. (Emphasis added.)

(The Pearls often make statements against child abuse, and many people use those statements to try to absolve them. But the ugly truth of what they advocate can't be buried under the nicer words they sometimes publish. Their advice is rife with counsel that is abusive, no matter what they may say in other places. Lydia was not the first child to be murdered by a parent under their approach.)

So here is a mother who wants what is best for her children, and who knows that her children need to be made right with God somehow.  Along comes an "expert" with:

  • a self-assured style,
  • proud boastful assertions of what he himself could do to miraculously transform her child in a mere 10 days (further on in the same article),
  • an arsenal of fear, guilt and insults which he sprays liberally at her, calling her a sucker and a drug pusher!
  • tantalyzing promises that, if she only had the backbone to beat her child until he "had no breath to respond," and to be "indifferent" to him, she too could be her child's savior. 

As I said, there was a time in my life when I might have fallen for it.  I had never experienced the transforming work of the Spirit in my own life, so what did I know of what my children really needed?  I knew that sin was the problem, but I knew nothing of grace, so why wouldn't I have believed the lovely promises of all the beautiful results that would come if only I loved my kids enough to…(fill in the blank with any atrocity you like.)

Do you see how it happens?  Love can be convinced to do even unspeakable horrors if it believes it's acting in a child's best interests and in obedience to God.  Praise God I have not been an abusive parent, but reading even a small amount of the Pearls' advice left me speechless with gratitude that God kept their influence out of my life back when I might have been deceived by it. 

It could have happened.  It could have.  That's why, as horrified as I am by what the Schatzes did, I can't think myself superior.  It is God's truth which is superior.  His love and wisdom are pure and peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy… (Jas 3:17).  And while the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God (Jas 1:20), a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (Jas 3:18).

People of God, live grace!  Teach grace!  Love grace!  And just as importantly, understand what grace truly is.  If people knew its transforming power, they would realize that the hope for their child comes from Christ, not a lash.

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Please do not use the "Comments" section to debate corporal punishment.  I'm not saying that it never has its place, within reason (though right now I'm not sure exactly what I believe about its place and its reason.)  But I do know that corporal punishment in and of itself never saved a soul, and trusting it to save is a deadly error and an idolatrous defection from the only One who saves.

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