May 31, 2012

Where is thy sting?


Death has a way of making life seem short, and fragile and precious. It invades the comfortable rhythm of our commonplace days with a shocking finality! How can a friend, a spouse, a mother, be here one day in all her happy idiosyncrasies and gone the next?

Death does not come in a predictable way. While the aging languish in hopes of release from their bodies, others younger are taken in a moment in their prime. Some suffer long. For others the transition is abrupt-- with or without pain. But death inevitably comes to everyone, ever since Adam was put out of the Garden and prevented from eating of the tree of life. (Rom..5:14).

So I find myself with Moses' prayer on my heart: "Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Ps.90:12 I can't help but think about the implications of death and the possibilities of dying. This reality is foisted upon us every time someone near us disappears. The temptation is to be fearful, or at least try to enact some preventative measures! This is valid if we are not confident of an internal, eternal Life being ours, guaranteeing we'll outlive the grave. But sometimes still, we as believers fall into a mindset that death is the worst thing that could happen, the end of everything, like a plague to be avoided at all cost, a 'work of the Devil' to be reviled, resisted, and resented. I wonder if this is valid?

Considering how our bodies are in fact destined for dust, corrupted by sin, and not fit for eternity (Rom.8:21) why would we want to hang onto them forever? Is a long life all it's cracked up to be? Really? Or is this thinking borrowed from a point of view whose hope is based in this lifetime? To paraphrase Paul: "If our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world." (I Cor. 15:19) My husband regularly challenges my thinking in this way. We work hard to preserve our bodies. We pedal hard and fast, lift our weights and get our sleep. We eat our veggies too, and our chocolate. But there's got to be a point of balance between essential stewardship which enables us to do the 'good works prepared beforehand for us to do' Eph.2:10, and a dogged self-preservationism that turns our bodies into idols of a sort and sees death as the big bad monster come to rob us of our dominions!

There was a reason God banished Adam from the garden. Living forever in an 'as is' state, in a sin-infested world with a sin-bent nature is no picnic. What if it were to go on forever? No, the banishment was a mercy. The world had ceased to be 'user-friendly'. The garden had been infiltrated. Now Adam was destined to die physically, to toil, to groan and to hope for a salvation he could not yet see, that would only be fully realized after death. What if there were no death? What if we were stuck in time 'as is'? Death is our enemy and yet… even it serves God's purposes…

Consider this thought composed in verse:

"Death is the final blessing
Of this life.
The darkened glass
Will thin,
Become a sheet of smoke
And, suddenly,
We'll stand
In front of perfect Love.
He will hold out His arms
And we will run
Into their shelter
Safely home at last."

--Elizabeth Rooney, "Death" 5/11/86
in Gift Wrapped, Brigham Farm Publ.,p81

How can somebody call death a blessing, when Biblically it is called our enemy (I Cor.15:26)?!  After all, God is the God of the living. He has given us life. He has designed us to love life, to fight for life, to live life to the fullest… and yet, because He is God, He is able to use all things for our good. Just as nothing can separate us from His love-- not life, not death, not demons or disaster, so nothing can foil His purposes. Everything must serve Him--even death, even pain, even …(you fill in the blank) …. The Cross is the consummate example of this: "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain" (Acts 2:23) Satan thought he was winning the day but God was calling the shots, orchestrating everything, winning the war!

Christ is the head of all principalities and powers. He has soundly whipped them and gathered the spoils. (Col.2:15) He is risen from the dead, accomplishing His reason for coming to earth--"that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." (Heb.2:14,15) Death's back is broken. It has become the believer's entrance into Glory!

We sing:

I just want to be where You are
In Your dwelling place forever
Take me to the place where You are,
I just want to be with You
[Listen Here]

Have we considered that death is the door to this place? These mortal bodies cannot stand in His presence. "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." I Cor:15:50 Our bodies must put on immortality. While it's true that we are already new creations in Christ Jesus in one sense, our DNA has not been changed. Neither will it be till Christ returns and the trumpet sounds and both living and dead in Christ will rise, changed in the twinkling of an eye, given real live immortal bodies to house our already immortal souls. Then Christ Himself will put to death our last enemy, Death. I Cor.15:26  And we will reign with Him! Till then death is with us, yes, an enemy, but an enemy restrained by God Almighty and constrained to do his bidding.

There is no need to fear it, shun it or curse it. Yes, it is real. It will claim our physical bodies, sooner for some, later for others, (short of Christ's coming first!) But it cannot touch the eternal, immaterial part of a believer. Christ's life is ours. Though our outer shell is flaking, our inner man is alive and well, growing stronger by the day! Our 'light affliction', even when it seems horrendously heavy, is but a blip in the eternal framework and is said to be actually working for us an 'eternal weight of glory'. (II Cor.4:16-18)

Our troubles, our losses, our crosses are doing for our souls what weight-lifting does for the athlete. They're making our inner man tawny and brawny in anticipation of the great unveiling of the sons of God (Rom.8:19) when we will see Jesus as He is in all His glory and find ourselves transformed into His likeness I Jn.3:2. Somehow, all this trouble in these bodies—the physical pain, the mental anguish, and ultimately even death is preparing us for this outcome.

And in the meantime, there is this residing Spirit of God, this unfathomable love of God that wraps us 'round and helps us in our weakness to yet please Him. (II Cor.5:9) And by His power we live out this life we've been given for His glory and His Kingdom's sake till the dinnerbell rings and we are summoned Home. This the perspective I want to keep, till death do us all reunite.

May I commend to you a reading (here) of I Corinthians 15? There's so much there about the redemption of our bodies and of the new ones yet to come!


"So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written,

Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is thy sting?
O grave, where is thy victory?

The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord." I Cor.15:54-58



“Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!” Number 23:10

“Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” Rev.20:6

But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. I Cor.15:23-26

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. II Cor.4:17,18

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. I Jn.3:2

May 25, 2012

If You’re Happy and You Know It…

…but nobody else can tell!

Despite being married to a man who laughs every day, I'm a pretty serious somebody. Side-splitting laughter seldom shakes my frame (unless my sister's at hand). Nor does the face brightening kind for that matter. If you've been reading my 'columns' here for long, this comes as no surprise to you. Reserve, caution, and persistent introspection seem to keep a lid on hilarity for me. Smiling is something of a discipline, not because there's nothing to smile about, but because I'm pre-occupied with other (serious!) things.

So today I'm thinking on things that are happy!

In Hebrew, that's 'esher', related to 'ashar' to 'go straight, set right, be made happy or blessed'. It's where the unusual name, Asher, which is incidentally my father's middle name, comes from. Leah was happy at Asher's birth and he was tagged! There's not a lot said about laughter in the Bible but there's a lot of happiness. It's a cousin to truth and righeousness in a way. Just look at all the conditions pronounced 'happy'…

---Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD, The shield of your help And the sword of your majesty! Your enemies shall submit to you, And you shall tread down their high places." Deut.33:29

---ESHER is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. Ps.1:1

---ESHER is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Ps.32:1

---ESHER is the nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom he has chosen for his own inheritance. Ps.33:12

---Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! ESHER is the man who takes refuge in him! Ps.34:8

---ESHER are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O LORD, in the light of your face, who exult in your name all the day and in your righteousness are exalted. Ps.89:15,16

Now, stop there. Happy are the people who walk in the light of God's face—is God smiling? Who exult in His name and are exalted in His righteousness. Now there's a condition quite the opposite of working out one's own code of acceptable conduct, which takes unrelenting diligence and yes, self-preoccupation. But as His children part of our birthright is to be clothed in His robes of righteousness. We are set free from the pre-occupation of how we're looking…

Hmm… this is something I know a little about, this urge to get sewing my own robes and forget that I'm already decked out in the finest apparel. It's called 'rule-keeping'. I saw an apt description of such a lifestyle this week. Pretty much the anti-thesis to happiness!

"…at the core of “rule-based living” there is a defining of who you are and your worth as a person and the level of "safety" you feel about life by how well you’ve followed the system of rules you’ve adopted from your upbringing and culture. In this way of life, the rules become measuring sticks for your personhood and in many ways your identity is defined by rules—not only the rules you keep, but also the rules about the way you keep the rules.

So the rules become a double handicap—you’re limited and handicapped when you keep them and you’re emotionally tormented whether you keep them or not, since the very presence of the rules means you aren’t good enough or loveable enough just as you are.

The rules also are used as measuring sticks for other people and create either a continual judgement of those who have violated our rules ("You're bad because you don't live up to my expectations for you!") or a continual "comparison mentality" that fosters competition with others ("I'm better than you because I follow the rules better than you do!") "*

Whew! not much room for side-splitting laughter there, or even a smile!

Paul describes such self-righteous rule-keepers this way: "being ignorant of the Righteousness of God and seeking to establish their own, they did no submit to God's Righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law of Righteousness to everyone who believes." Rom.10:3,4

It's one thing to welcome Jesus into my life to help me sort through my baggage and make my load a little lighter, and yes, to help me be good… better… best. (??!) It's another to invite Him to be my righteousness. This entails the 'offense of the Cross' (Gal.5:11) acknowledging that all my attempts at righteousness apart from the activity of His Spirit are 'filthy rags' Is.64:6. But it's only in living in the self-forgetful freedom of this kind of righteousness that I can be truly happy. An author I sampled this week brings out this distinction:

Nobody will raise a fuss if you find Jesus helpful for your personal well-being and relationships, or even if you think he was the greatest person in history—a model worthy of devotion and emulation. But start talking about the real crisis—where our best efforts are filthy rags and Jesus came to bear the condemnation of helpless sinners who place their confidence in him rather than in themselves—and people begin shifting in their seats, even in churches.

He continues elsewhere to point out that a Christianity focused on my efforts is a recipe for burnout:

Discipleship, spiritual disciplines, life transformation,culture-transformation, relationships, marriage and family, stress, the spiritual gifts, financial gifts, radical experiences of conversion, end-times curiosities that seem to have less to do with Christ’s bodily return than with matching verses to newspaper headlines, and accounts of overcoming significant obstacles through the power of faith. This is the steady diet we’re getting today, and it is bound to burn us out because it’s all about us and our work rather than about Christ and his work.**

But here I am back at churning up the negative…. The happiest reading I've done this week has been in the Word. I woke one morning from a dream with a recurring theme—about failure. Feeling lost and confused and unable to get my bearings or keep to my schedule or find my classes… (This dream harks back to highschool days as a shy kid far from home at boarding school.) Failing and not knowing how to fix it. Failing and noone else seeming to notice (or care). I hate this dream. It reminds me of my longing for a 'life coach' to steer me through all the 'must do's of life. So I get it right and don't miss any 'classes'. I woke thinking these things. Enter, the Word.

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye. Do not be like the horse or like the mule, Which have no understanding, Which must be harnessed with bit and bridle…" Ps.32:8

What am I thinking?! I do have a Life Coach. (Incidentally, I had a Life Coach then as well. I wasn't in fact failing, only fearing that I might.) The disciples likely felt the same. Jesus reassured them: "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you." Jn.14:16-18

And here's the solution for rule-keepers too, those ones living under the pressure of never failing. The Spirit. It's not about keeping the law but walking by the Spirit. The Galatians slipped back into attempts at their own righteousness too and Paul soundly warned them: "You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace." Gal.5:4

In Christ Jesus neither [keeping the rules] or not [keeping the rules] counts for ANYTHING, but only faith working through love. (my paraphrase of Gal.5:6) This is so because Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law—that body of rules we couldn't keep no matter how hard we tried. He became a curse for us 'so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, SO THAT WE MIGHT RECEIVE THE PROMISED SPIRIT THROUGH FAITH.’ Gal.3:14 There it is again, the Spirit, our source of life and our guide through life. Nightmare be gone. If I fail to attend a class or do an assignment or ace a test, all is not lost. I am not lost. I am not unnoticed. He will guide me with His eye upon me. I am His. His Spirit is in me. This is happy news for a rule-keeper!

And it keeps coming:

"But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code." Rom.7:6

"The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we don't know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us…" Rom.8:26

Christ Jesus died, more than that, was raised for my justification Rom.4:25. Who can accuse me? It is God who justifies. Who can condemn? Rom.8:33,34

And this is the choicest tidbit of all this week:

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. Heb.10:14

I love this passage in Hebrews. You really need to look at the whole context, but here is a clear-cut case for the work Jesus has already done being enough for me. Some snatches:

"I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,…I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more. Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,  and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful."

It's ultimately His faithfulness that matters.  His sacrifice.  His work. He pours in the grace. He grants the faith. I believe and live by His Spirit's empowering. This is HAPPY news!

Paul encapsulated this so well in his own testimony: "And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose." Gal.2:20 This was in sharp contrast to what he observed in the Galatian church:

"Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?"! Gal.3:3

Rule-keeping for righteousness was on the rise and with it the attendant conceit and envy. Their corrective prescription: "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Don't use it as an opportunity for the flesh…If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." Gal.5:13,25

These are the makings of 'ashar' to 'go straight, set right, be made happy or blessed', and they begin with counting on His righteousness, luxuriating in His robes of righteousness, as I walk not by some concocted code of "do's" and "don'ts", but by His Spirit.

So I'm thinking on these things this week, things that are true of me as God's dearly loved child. And maybe this truth will yet set me free from bondage to self-consciousness to smile and laugh a little more often, a little more freely… “for My Redeemer is strong. The Lord of Hosts is His Name!”

When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion,
we were like them that dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing:
then said they among the heathen,
The LORD hath done great things for them.

The LORD hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.



*Ellyn Davis of Homeschool

**Excerpts from Chapter One ---Michael Horton, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, Baker Books© 2008 available online at:

May 18, 2012

Beyond Personality—Who I am, was and will be…

--some thoughts on 'self' for children of the King—

P1060579my hand

In an era shaped by much ado about self, the Christian ideal of 'death to self' sounds harshly inappropriate if not wrong! What could it mean? Are we not made in the image of God, creatures with great creative potential, dearly loved and desired? Of course we know there was 'the Fall' marring that Grand Design but then there was also the Cross whereby a way of redemption was bought and now all those who have been 'united with Christ in His death' (Rom.6:5,6) are said to be new creations, alive to God, and empowered by His Spirit to walk in the good deeds prepared for them in the foreknowledge of the Creator… So what to think of 'self'? If my destiny is to be Christlike, do I still get to be 'me'? Is 'self' something to shun or to celebrate?

On the one hand there are many things that could be affirmed to be true of me as a new creation in Christ. There are lists of such affirmations, mostly beginning with "I am…"  I am accepted. I am secure. I am significant. I am free. And under each of these is an array of Scriptures to prove their validity. (This has been done in a lovely Calligraphic form here.)

But as a friend pointed out, shouldn't we be a little wary of the emphasis? Is it so important who I am? Shouldn't my focus be on who He is, i.e. the Great I AM! All these things may be true of me, but only because of Him. Apart from Him I am in fact unacceptable, insecure, insignificant and in bondage to sin, even if self-help programs buoy me up to believe otherwise! Is it me I need to celebrate or Him?

Another friend rightly comes to the defense of self as the essence of all that makes me unique, the very gift of God to me, not the enemy, but the canvas on which God paints His glory! She rejoices in God's design, trusting Christ to do the alterations as needed, celebrating life in the meantime. What do I say to that? Am I so wary of 'self' getting a foothold on my affections that I cast a wary eye at all my comforts and little joys rather than enjoying them with gratitude? Can I celebrate the 'me' I am on the way to becoming the 'me' I shall be when I see my Saviour face to face? Do I dare?

These are thoughts I've been casting about in my mind this week. I don't have all the answers. I suspect it is a matter in part of defining what one means by 'self'. Am I called to despise all that makes me uniquely me, the 'fearfully and wonderfully made' creation knit together in my mother's womb and then shaped by training, circumstance, and destiny under the guidance of God's sovereign Hand. I think not. Who is the clay to say to the Potter, 'why have you made me this way'?! (Rom.9:20) Am I called to submit all that I am-- the 'good', the 'bad' and the 'maybe someday', to God for His pleasure and pruning. Yes, that too.

I've been lapping up C.S. Lewis lucid thinking in "Beyond Personality" (Part IV of Mere Christianity). In a chapter titled: "Is Christianity Hard or Easy?" He differentiates between the 'natural self' and the person we become in giving over our whole selves with all their wishes and precautions to Christ for Him to fill and transform. Lewis says it will do no good to insist on being 'ourselves', intent on our personal happiness on the one hand while striving to be 'good' on the other. We are called to perfection and only Christ can do that in us as we lay aside self's insistence on its own thoughts and listen for His. There is at once the seeming hardship of 'Take up your Cross and follow Me' and the promised ease: 'My yoke is easy, and my burden light.'

Lewis pictures it this way. Trying to be good while yet 'ourselves' is like an egg trying to fly! "It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. [Ha! Can you picture it?!] We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad….this is the whole of Christianity." (169) He comments elsewhere: Christ came not 'to torment your natural self but to KILL IT!' (167)

Now I realize Lewis is primarily speaking here of the self before we have surrendered to Christ, but I do wonder whether there is relevance still to us as believers. Do we not tend to lapse back into 'trying to be good', striving to do 'good works', working hard to 'be pleasing' in our own steam? Unwittingly appealing to the energy of our old self in an effort to be new selves! I know I do. The Galatians did too: "Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Gal.3:3) It seems to me 'self' is always at the ready to step up to the plate and try for a 'home run' that will redirect God's glory to self. Even as I am 'in Christ' I find my 'natural self' is not silent. I need these reminders to surrender everything I am and am not to Christ. So I continue with Lewis' thoughts on self:

'The more we get what we call 'ourselves' out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become.' (189)

He says that all we are intended to be is 'waiting for us in Him'. And we need never fear a boring uniformity of personality in being 'like Christ' anymore than Light makes all thing appear identical or Salt makes all foods taste alike! (188-89) Lewis brings out the idea that no matter how many 'little Christs' (as he calls the believer being conformed to Christ's image) there may be, it will still be too few to express Christ fully. (189) I like this idea. It reminds me of the Body imagery of Ephesians 4. Each of us is an integral part, necessarily unique, to the completion of the Body of Christ. In this respect the proper functioning of each 'self' is crucial to the whole. Seeing myself in relation to the Body also draws me away from hyper-focusing on 'who I am'. I can't determine this in isolation anymore than a Nose put away in a box can determine its worth or role in life. It is needed by the Body and only connected with it will it become all it is meant to be!

The alternative is to try to 'be myself' without Jesus. Ironically, as C.S. Lewis suggests, 'The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires. In fact what I so proudly call "Myself" becomes merely the meeting place for trains of events which I never started and which I cannot stop. What I call "My wishes" become merely the desires thrown up by my physical organism or pumped into me by other men's thoughts or even suggested to me by devils…I am not, in my natural state, nearly so much of a person as I like to believe: most of what I call 'me' can be very easily explained. It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.' (189)

So perhaps this is the place to get out the party hats, call together our friends and celebrate what Christ has done in each of us!


But, if you don't mind, before the party I offer this overview of my understanding of the Bible's teaching on:

By Design
I'm created in the image of God—designed for fellowship with Him!
This makes me distinct from the animals, possessing not only a body but a spirit and soul designed for communication with others and with God. Because of this design I have ability to create, not from nothing as God did, but from the grist of God's creation—inspired by its beauty, supplied with its materials…Because of this design, I have inherent value apart from anything I am able or not able to accomplish. This 'fearful and wonderful' design (Ps.139) is what makes the unborn child, the demented adult and the severely incapacitated individual of equal value with the most beautiful, intelligent, or otherwise capable person. Our value is inherent, not earned. [Contrary to popular cultural thought and practice]

By the Fall
The image of God in man was marred. The spirit was pronounced dead and the body doomed to join it. I was made the enemy of God. Fellowship was severed and impossible to fix without intervention by Someone other than myself. How did it happen? The most beautiful and talented angel wanted to usurp God's position. He was not content to be a creature, but insisted on being recognized, glorified and worshiped. His fall precipitated our own when he tempted our ancestors to trust their own instincts instead of God's words, with the lie being that they too could be like God, running their own lives. I was born a rebel intent on being the center of my universe.

By Redemption
The Father still seeks worshipers, still wants fellowship, still has our best interests on His heart. So He gave us Jesus to take on our human form—to sample our situation and taste of our estrangement and ultimately to suffer the death we rightfully had coming so that we could be restored to fellowship with the Father. He invites us to know His ways and do life His way. In fact He offers to be our life. By His Spirit I am made alive to God, a new creation. The fellowship is restored and the image of Christ in me is being recreated by His Spirit as I behold Jesus. C.S. Lewis refers to our transformation this way: "This world is a great sculptor's shop. We are the statues and there is a rumour going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life." (140)  In one way redemption is a done deal. I have been redeemed and given a new nature, my sins forgiven, my pardon signed. And yet I still live in a body bound for the grave. My complete redemption is yet future…

By Resurrection/Adoption
I am one who has been bought with a price and called therefore to 'glorify God in my body'
(I Cor.6:20) This I do imperfectly for my body houses a nature at odds with my 'new man'. Though rendered powerless it cries out to be served. But one day my body too will die and with it this old self. I will be fitted with a new resurrection body untainted by sin. When this mortal puts on immortality I will not only be with the Lord forever but will perfectly reflect His image. This is my great hope and the hope toward which all creation looks—the revealing of the 'sons of God' (Rom. 8:21) and the summing up of all things in Christ (Eph.1:10) That will be glory!

Let the party begin!

--LS  P1060579my hand

‘Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.’ I Jn.3:2

For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Eph.2:10NLT

In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory... Eph.1:11,12


Quotations taken from Mere Christianity by C.S.Lewis. MacMillan Publ, 1960, 190pp.

May 11, 2012

Simply Jesus

image *

Warm sun on the back of my stiff neck. Feet up and tucked in a cozy fleece-lined quilt. Laptop purring warm in my lap. It's easy to get into my little comforts and let the lethal impression settle in my bones that this life is all about celebrating me, or at least it should be!

There are an awful lot of books and media messages out there to help me along toward this conclusion. Strangely, even well-meaning Christian books on experiencing Jesus can leave me with this impression. It's as subtle as suggesting that Jesus wants to heal your pain (which He does), so come to Him--for relief. That Jesus suffered and died for you—so you don't need to suffer. That meeting Him will make your world revolve more smoothly-- around you… All these things are true, at least in part. But there's a subtle me-centricity to them which will come back to bite hard when relief is delayed, when I am called to suffer or when my world stops revolving around my dreams and ideals.

I've read two books on experiencing Jesus in the last two weeks. The first, a new book, emphasized the irresistible human personality traits of Jesus and how easy it is to fall in love with Him once we cast off the toxic fog of religion and its attendant qualms and duties. It was an enticing view but left me wary of a self-serving motive akin to the 'I love you because you make me feel good' notion that precipitates 'love, marriage, and the baby carriage'! Infatuation can get the ball rolling but it's only the bare immature beginnings. It may or may not materialize into a long rewarding relationship, depending largely on the expectations and commitment of the partners. What will happen when the 'feelings' fade? Is it just a matter of kindling and re-kindling feelings that assure me I am still at the center of the universe? To be fair, this author did briefly address the concept of surrendering our self-determination and a brief epilogue acknowledged the inevitability of suffering, but somehow this didn't undo the impression that experiencing Jesus is about my satisfaction more than anything else. [Curious? my full review is posted here.]

The second book I finished just last night is a wee thing I read when it first came out ten years ago. It drew me then, as it did again this week, by its title and conciseness: Simply Jesus ** In a mere eight-six pages Joseph Stowell affirms that yes, there is a reality of experiencing Jesus that goes beyond mere head knowledge and religious exercises. The first difference in his treatment of the subject however, is that he affirms regular Bible study and a life of prayer (religious 'duty' by some estimations) as essential foundations to this experience before he proceeds.

His descriptive list of what such an 'experience' is about gives clarity to just what we're after…

--It's about a deep and abiding sense of His nearness on the journey.

--It's about an unshakable confidence that only His abiding presence can give.

--It's about a closeness that enables your spirit to commune with Him, anywhere, anytime, regardless.

--It's about meeting Him in places you may have never dreamed of… in the most heated of seductions, in the midst of suffering, and in acts of unflinching surrender. (10)

That last point I found to be the most intriguing aspect of this book. It is the author's interpretation of Paul's professed passion to: 'know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death' (Phil.3:10) It doesn't fit the popular standard for how (or why) to know Jesus. In times of temptation? In suffering? In giving up what I crave? This is not a picture of using Jesus to fulfill my agenda. Are these the places I must go if I want to truly experience Jesus?

Here's where I found the most striking contrast in the two books. Both hold out the potential of a satisfying experience, but in one the motive seems to be my well-being, my peace and contentment and my feeling better about myself. It's heavy on emotional realities and light on the tough aspects of conforming my will to His. One holds my pleasure as the ultimate purpose for intimacy, suggesting that if I feel hurt I should 'forgive Jesus' and I'll feel better. While the other holds my conformity to Christ at any cost as the actual purpose of getting acquainted with Jesus. Both hold threads of truth but it was the latter one I needed this week.

Yes, I could likely use a more emotional connection with Jesus, but Stowell did me the favor of pointing out the barriers I raise that hinder making that connection. Stated bluntly, one of the greatest obstacles is self-absorption: "At some point, the sooner in life the better, we have to come to grips with whether "He" or "me" will be the main feature of our existence." Stowell adds a caution, it's easy to fool yourself into thinking "that you can be fully absorbed with yourself and in hot pursuit of him at the same time. But that isn't reality. You can't have it both ways." And just in the nick of time, before I squared up my shoulders to resolve (again) to 'work on that' (Ha! Like determining not to think about hulking gray elephants pirouetting in lacy pink tutus!) I was reminded this will have to be His work in me. Mine to acknowledge my shortfall. His to pour in the grace and ability to become so enthralled with Jesus that myself becomes a non-issue. Imagine it.

Well, then came two practical tips—a couple attitude shifts to practice:

#1 Rejoice in the Lord. Now, I've thought on that one many times but hadn't considered its opposite: "It's time to stop rejoicing in ourselves and start rejoicing in Jesus" (35) Well, that surely runs counter to popular psychology. Hmm… And before you start thinking Stowell a dull kill-joy, consider his reasoning:

“It's just that 'no matter how charming, witty, or profound we may be, we were not created to enthrall ourselves with ourselves for long periods of time." (22)

I had to chuckle at that. He clarifies that rejoicing in the Lord isn't about becoming a smile machine, or denying hard times. It's about 'living to brag on Jesus instead of ourselves'! (36) And it starts by taking that spark of joy that comes with personal blessing or accomplishment and turning it into a celebration of His provision and grace in my life. Unlike rejoicing in my attainments, rejoicing in the Lord is an endless source of boasting. Always fitting. Never growing old. If I will learn to take that impulse to make much of me and mine and let it spark appreciation for Him, I will be on my way to experiencing Jesus continually (and will spare myself hitting a self-absorbed dead end!)

I know all about these dead-ends. I've been hitting my head against one just lately. How, for instance, did I come to be slumped in a disheartened 'funk' first thing this morning despite the early sun rising in a cloudless sky promising the coming of a beautiful day?

I was pouting really, sick and tired of not being able to 'make happen' what I want (and I'm confident Jesus also wants) to see happen, sick of asking for enabling and still feeling powerless, sick of feeling like a failure… Hmm… the rejoicing in me runs out pretty quickly!

What was that other attitude shift I needed?

#2 Value Jesus above Everything

Just last night I sat half-heartedly scrawling notes about that in my journal: "My greatest treasure must be Jesus. Attaching my heart to any lesser thing will limit my ability to experience Jesus. What do I really value most? Does it show up in the way I live?"  Well, at this moment my focus was not on valuing Jesus but on my frustration at not getting answers or apparent help for my mission in life… I sat in the quiet chill of my 'woe-is-me'-ness this morning journaling—what does this quick descent to apathetic weariness (again) reveal about what I value most? Can I not 'persevere in doing good' without tangible instantaneous rewards and affirmations? When I don't get what I want when I want it (now) can I not rejoice in the Lord and cherish all He is to me in every circumstance?

The house was cold. My tummy hungry. My body sapped of energy from my mental gloom… I would really have preferred to curl up and close my eyes than face this need for soul restoration. Yet that is in fact why I climbed out of bed in the first place!

And the question came to mind from the previous night's reading: Can I experience Him here—in the midst of frustration and disappointment? And I began to reflect on Jesus' temptations and potential frustrations… Was He ever tempted to self-pity? After all He had disciples that were forever bumbling cluelessly despite the best of teaching and modeling. He walked alone when it came to the hard choices, to setting an example, to going the extra mile or taking the path of greatest resistance…

He got hungry, tired, cold and surely was tempted to wallow in discouragement sometimes? But He had one thing clearly in mind. He hadn't come to this sin-sick earth to please Himself. The deprivation and struggle of his earthly mission wasn't something He'd volunteered for out of self-interest. So what was to be done but to persevere in 'seeking and saving that which was lost', enduring 'for the joy set before Him', 'loving His own' no matter what slow learners they were… washing feet, touching lepers, taking time to teach, living a lifestyle of interruptions, inconveniences, unpleasant confrontations, criticism and rejection but saying and doing what needed to be said and done anyway.

So can I experience Jesus in my place of temptation today, in my miniscule 'sufferings'? And know that He fully sympathizes with my frustrations and my weakness? (It gives His strength a place to shine!) Can I re-commit to this path chosen for me, this calling that isn't all sunshine and hollyhocks?

ou were where I am, only without the pity party, the slumping shoulders, the 'woe-is-me'. You knew Your calling—the joy of 'bringing many sons to glory', so you kept on in the face of opposition, entrusting yourself to 'Him who judges justly' (I Pet.2:23) and doing the next thing step by step… I have overlooked the possibilities of experiencing You in the now, 'as is' of my life, in the process of life as it comes…It's not about finding you in some sacred 'other' state of mind, but about realizing that you are at the door at this moment, waiting for my invitation to meet me here and share in this conversation with my heart's 'self-talk'. Like the 'stranger' on the Road to Emmaus, you show up to interject Your perspective to open my understanding, to help me see what you see... It is enough.

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want….He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul (Ps.23:1,2)


"…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil.3:13)


I must tuck in some quotes that speak volumes:

"It's time to stop turning our backs on Him in pain and flee to His embrace.

But we are only free to do this when we have ceased to live to rejoice in ourselves. If we are intent to celebrate 'me' in life, we will resist trials and quickly become embittered when they settle in for the long haul—to say nothing of the difficulty in meeting Jesus in pain when we have valued comfort and peace more than nearness to Him. If He is the supreme value in our lives then we will be willing to meet Him in times of trouble." Stowell—Simply Jesus, 71

"If we really desire to experience Him, we need to stop blaming God, reverse our self-centered demand for release, and realize for the first time in our lives that we are getting a firsthand experience of what he felt and experienced as He suffered for us. Stop and identify the type of trouble you feel. Think through Christ's suffering and identify where His pain meets yours. Ask Him to forgive you for feeling that you should be exempt. And as you feel His pain in yours, thank Him that He loved you enough to suffer like this for you." (70)

"To experience Him in the midst of our pain requires that we stop whining about our trials." (70)


**All quotations from: Simply Jesus: Experiencing the One Your Heart Longs For by Joseph Stowell (former president of Moody Bible Institute), Multnomah Publ., 2002.


*[I am indebted to Amanda Spencer for this irresistibly bright hollyhock watercolor.  View more of her work here.]

May 4, 2012

My Last-born Treasure


Well, it's been quite a week…may have started with a sag in hormones, but a bunch of things conspired to exacerbate the situation… Being the time of year that homeschoolers assess what's been accomplished (and what's been missed) in terms of academics, I was in this mode well before Rachel requested to see Micah's old writings. Oh boy. That was like opening a kettle of fish.

You see, Micah, our firstborn, was a prophet in his day. His portfolio, tucked carefully away in my closet, holds candid exposés of life as he experienced and perceived it in the Skelton household. The hurts and injustices, inconsistencies and hypocrisy are skillfully outlined in the form of essays and plays, written too accurately to miss or brush aside. There I am in all my glory (not!) trying to manage a household of jostling students who also happened to be my flesh and blood and bear my imperfections… The age comes when one's offspring are more apt to 'rise up and call you blessed' but this was not that age. The assessment I got was honest. And convicting. God's arrow to arrest us in our steps and help us to begin adding grace to the running of our household. But change takes time…Micah left the nest with his own custom baggage. This is not easy to face as a Mom, who wants only to live to bless her children, to love them well, to prepare them for their futures with good things… But the kettle was opened.

Add to this the feelings of nostalgia and regret that inevitably accompany digging through old school books. I had a phone call from a younger homeschool mom in the midst of this, asking for advice and recommendations and I was having a little dig-about to see what I could share… So many books we've waded through together. So many good memories. And always, so much left undone.

This would all be manageable if it were all history, but the writing of our history is not yet complete. You see, Rachel has yet one more critical year of school to finish, and I am VERY aware of this fact given the time of year we are at…Just a few more weeks of this year and then just o-n-e m-o-r-e y-e-a-r in which to teach her all she needs to know before we wave goodbye and she flies off to Bible school…Talk about pressure. And all these good books, so much potential learning, so much to cover, so much to think about…How are we gonna do it?! Too much to bear.

And then came Monday morning at breakfast over our customary Monday-cream-of-wheat. Rachel hadn't yet joined us. I opened my mouth to put in words the pressure I was feeling and the restless night and tortured waking thoughts, and well, the dam broke…I took my toast and tea and retreated to unload my heart...

'To you, O Lord, I call
my rock, be not deaf to me,
lest, if you be silent to me,
I become like those who go down to the pit.

Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy,
When I cry to you for help,
When I lift up my hands
Toward your most holy sanctuary…' Ps.28:1,2

And this is where Rachel found me when she popped her head in to ask what to do with my cold bowl of cream of wheat! Weird, seeing Mom with a blanket over her head all curled up in a ball…praying… for Rachel, for us, for the years locusts have nibbled on, for mercy, for forgiveness, for strength and wisdom, for HELP!

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul…let me not be put to shame; Indeed none who wait for you shall be put to shame (Ps.25:1-3)

"Who is the man who fears the LORD? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose. His soul shall abide in well-being, and his offspring shall inherit the land…" Ps.25:12,13

Praying for Rachel. My fearfully and wonderfully made last-born—this delightful child that undoes any sense of competence that I may have gained with the previous five children…delightfully herself, and so very different than her mother in many ways. She is my dreamer, a visionary that can see teddy bears as potential companions for orphans or old folks if I could just help her get an Organization rolling…She dances along with visions of sugarplums --the potential of all that could be, while I, pre-occupied with the fine print, run into barricades! She composes fiction like it’s the most natural thing in the world while I labor to ferret out facts and put them in order. She doodles in bears of every describable pose and occupation, while I look for models to painstakingly copy. We are different.

rachel face

She loves to be celebrated; I prefer to be inconspicuous. She thrives on anticipation of 'exciting' things to come; I on the rhythm of the commonplace. And she knows how to SMILE and to HUG and to quiver with delight! "Are you excited Mom?!!" How many times have I tried to explain that excitement throws me off balance. I'm happy in a quiet way. I try not to look too far ahead, on purpose, so that today's business is not sabotaged with the emotional energy of anticipation… Makes no sense to a dreamer. So here we are in my 'old age' trying to figure each other out. Daily companions. Teacher and student. Mother and daughter. Improbable friends for a season of my life that might otherwise be bland and predictable…

And into this difficult day comes an essay by Rachel, inspired by her brother's of yesteryear perhaps… to be read aloud to Mom… You should know that Rachel's been reading Our Town, the play by Thornton Wilder. Do you know it? It's an extraordinary piece studied by generations of high schoolers for its unusually ordinary theme—the preciousness of everyday life. There is no particular plot. It takes place in a little-known small town where generations have lived and married and died without fanfare. And it poignantly reminds the reader how precious is each moment and detail of ordinary life. Sometimes only in the loss of a thing, or of life itself do we realize what we have had…

“Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by, Grover's Corners... Mama and Papa. Good-by to clocks ticking... and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths...and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”

"Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it -- every, every minute?” ( from Our Town, Thornton Wilder)

So given that backdrop, here's Rachel to read me her daily piece of writing…

"As she walks out with her teddy bear tucked beneath her arm—the last thing in the house she had found hiding in the closet, she pauses at her room, remembering… [a host of words followed that evoked the return of my tears] …She's leaving this place, leaving for college. Her child-ness is gone. She's grown up. She smiles at her teddy bear."

Oh my! I escape to vent my tears only to hear a knock at the door instead and here's that young mom in need of some good books and homeschooling advice! Oh my! What treasure I've been entrusted with. It can't be time to wave the flag of surrender. Still there is a task at hand. Still a treasure to enjoy, and experience to share.

"Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord…(Ps.27:14)

"Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame." (Ps.25:3)

The week began like that. But one and another little thing have lifted my perspective back to waiting in anticipation of how God will see us through. One sweet conversation was part of that. Rachel shared with me her 'take' on how to be happy, no matter what comes… She watches morning by morning as we swallow our 'happy pills' (Vitamin D). She'll have none of it, just laughs that it's a mere placebo effect that makes us think we've braved the gloomy winter months on account of Vitamin D. Not her. At the start of 2011, she says, she decided she was going to be happy, no matter what the weather. And she has done it. Every morning she comes down to breakfast smartly dressed in her new 'business style' skirts and tops, her hair neatly put up in a girlish swirl. She eats, clears dishes and gets right to her school work. You wouldn't know she doesn't enjoy school. She just gets down to it. 'If you always wish for the weekends you'll waste your life just wishing for them,' she says. The same goes for the days that look 'fierce and scary'… you don't have to worry about them till they come. "I believe Grace will come when you most need it, not now just worrying about it." And she compared it to not needing the ticket for the plane a year ahead, only when it's actually time to board…

I wished I had recorded her words, just got the snatches she wrote down later. But there was something she said about smiling (she's always smiling!). She said something to the effect that 'I just go through the day thinking that everyone is smiling at me'! Well if that won't make a person happy! I think there's something to that. Maybe everyone's not smiling, but the One who matters most of all IS smiling when He watches us. That is something to live by! And maybe I'll learn to smile through my days yet with this Treasure under my roof. Bless you Rachel. You are God's gift to me!

There were other things that lifted my spirits…a vigorous tandem ride, getting out to weed the garden, taking time to paint and draw, reading Words of encouragement, the advice and loan of books by a friend, repenting, and putting action to good intention…but I will close with the words of a hymn that filled my thoughts one morning and turned my heart from hesitant 'unworthiness' to joy. It goes like this:

Arise, my soul, arise! Shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding Sacrifice In my behalf appears.
Before the throne my Surety stands; My name is written on His hands…

He ever lives above, For me to intercede;
His all redeeming love, His precious blood to plead;
His blood atoned for all our race, And sprinkles now the throne of grace…

[I had been reading Leviticus 10 and thereabouts. What a graphic picture is this laying one's hand on the head of the animal that is to be killed because of your sin, and then having its blood splashed on the altar. So serious, this sin. 'without shedding of blood there is no remission' of it!]

Five bleeding wounds He bears, Received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers, They strongly plead for me;
"Forgive him, O forgive," they cry, "Nor let that ransomed sinner die!"

The Father hears Him pray, His dear Anointed One;
He cannot turn away The presence of his Son;
His Spirit answers to the blood, And tells me I am born of God…

My God is reconciled, His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child, I can no longer fear;
With confidence I know draw nigh, And "Father, Abba, Father" cry…

If you haven't heard Twila Paris' rendition of this on her Sanctuary CD, don't miss it. Jim has posted it here.

May its message haunt you with hope as it has me!

"Blessed be the LORD! For He has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;  My heart exults,  And with my song I give thanks to Him."