Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Pop Stars in the News and Thinking Like a Christian

A little while ago, a friend of mine posted to Facebook a video of an interview with the newly-spiritual Justin Bieber. I was intrigued and hopeful as I watched, but was disappointed to see that in all this troubled young man's reaching after God, he had never grasped the real gospel, true repentance and faith in Christ. (I also wished that someone would muzzle the incredibly banal interviewer.) How good it would be for someone come into his life and build sound doctrine on the few things he's grasped.

But that wasn't the end of my thoughts on the topic. If it was, the thoughts wouldn't be nagging me to write about this Bieber thing instead of taking a nap on the couch. There are lots of videos out there of people with shallow doctrine on which we could make judicious comments for the rest of our free time. But there was something deeper. What won't leave my mind is what this video did to my feelings about pop stars and the crazy world out there in general.

First, I have to say that I believe it a waste of time and compromise of pursuing holiness for believers to try to keep up with pop stardom. We have better things to do. But while living a normal life, we do end up hearing or seeing something about the most notable in the limelight. And how do we respond? I was thinking about this especially in regard to the young and dissolute Justin Bieber, who over the past few years became among the most despised, ridiculed figures in conservative America. Who among the 20-something generation hasn't heard at some point a humorous comment which referenced Bieber?

But when I watched this video, I was struck by this one thing. While we were continuing to mock Justin Bieber for his follies, the young man himself was feeling his misery and seeking help. And who of us were praying for him? Again, I'm not hoping that Christians will start reading People magazine to find prayer requests - I'm thinking about our general attitude to things we hear. It doesn't take the Holy Spirit to despise an immoral pop star. It does take the Holy Spirit to be grieved that another person is sinning (so publicly especially) and falling short of God's glory, and yet, yet they may be justified freely by His grace in Jesus Christ. I don't think Bieber reached this point - and yet, he could, and so could any other by God's grace.

Christians with the Holy Spirit should be glad to know as little as possible of the vain doings of the world, but what we do hear should not make us smirk. It's fun for our pride to lift itself up on the rubble of the popular. That's why we enjoy laughing at them, and in one sense it is good to keep a perspective that the world's pursuits are vain and empty ("the world is passing away along with its desires"- 1 John 2:17). But Christ looked at the rich young ruler and loved him (Mark 10:21), and he calls us to die to self and follow in His steps. We may not be acting Christianly every time we laugh - perhaps we ought to hope, pity and pray.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Methodist Hymnal

On this dreary fall afternoon, I took my new old Methodist Hymnal down from the shelf to have a first perusal at the keyboard. I hadn't really played from it since I bought it - and I bought it on the day we moved two months ago. What a crazy day that was. Pouring rain, drop-dead exhausted pregnant, toddler into everything. At one point there was a break in the weather, and I took Walter for a walk in the stroller to keep him out from underfoot, and maybe even catch a last cherished sighting of the train crossing Main Street.
The break in the weather didn't last long, and by the time we were around the block, we were caught in another sudden downpour. I ran with the stroller into the nearby Methodist church which was having a rummage sale. After finding a shirt for Walter three sizes too big but at least dry, and putting it on him to buy later, I browsed the tables.
I found so many funny and memorable things that day...like the watermelon magnets just like my grandmother used to have on her refrigerator, and the nifty peanut butter stirring lid that I'd always wanted, and the old lacey tablecloth that ended up being curtains for our bedroom in the new house. Then I discovered the treasure trove of ten cent books. Stuffing my hands and stroller with works of Lewis, Tolkien, Alcott and Wodehouse, I paused to peer further under the table in the dim corner and spied an old church hymnal. The Methodist Hymnal. I am not exactly a fan of modern United Methodism, but I had to have this hymnal, stamped with the Duncan Memorial church label. This was the church that played bell hymns over our block every noon and evening, speaking truth and cheer into my heart many times. On our last day in Berryville, I could not take the church chimes with me, but I could take the memory of them in this book - a reminder of the importance of encouraging the heart with song.
This evening I opened it and played "O Thou in Whose Presence My Soul Takes Delight", headphones plugged into the keyboard since Walter was napping and singing only in my heart since I have bronchitis. Why do I wait so long to do this? Music and truth together do so much good. Even if you don't have church bells to remind you, don't go too long without song - for the Lord is good and His mercy endures.

"Dear Shepherd, I hear and will follow Thy call;
I know the sweet sound of Thy voice.
Restore and defend me, for Thou art my All,
And in Thee I will ever rejoice."

 - Joseph Swain, 1791

Friday, October 30, 2015

Secret of a Good Marriage

There actually is a secret to the good married life. I just came across a reminder of it in this sentence:

"At the cross that relieves my conscience
let me learn lessons of self-denial, forgiveness, and submission." 

- from Arthur Bennet's The Valley of Vision, "A Neophyte's Devotion"

To the cross, to the cross!

(Practical note: Reading a Gospel writer's crucifixion account or some excellent cross theology from the Apostle Paul does rather more good than a few seconds' hazy imaginings of 'a hill far away')

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Travel Chronicle

I've not made a diary-style entry on this blog for quite awhile, but it seemed the best way to record our recent trip to Canada with the few pictures taken along the way.

It all started with another of Caleb's Canadian cousins deciding to get married, to our great delight, and on Memorial Day  (for us) weekend at that! So we planned our vacation days, booked a little motel in Smith Falls, Canada, and departed from Virginia with well-diapered toddler, safely enveloped passports, too much luggage, just enough food to get eaten up before the Canadian border crossing (homemade beef jerky in the border dumpster wasn't an appealing thought), and having a prized pot of flowers safely deposited in care of our 92-year old neighbor Rosa.

We stayed a night going to and coming from the north country at my parental home in Pennsylvania, where we enjoyed attending Wednesday night prayer meeting at Grace Baptist Church (for Caleb and I, who met at the church, this is a little like going back to the coffee shop where you had your first date) and spending time with two of my brothers and their wives. Here's Uncle Benjamin and Auntie Megan regaling Walter before bedtime with one of Grandma's books.

The trip up to Canada was rather long and weary, especially as it was Walter's first road trip longer than 2 hours. We stopped frequently, including one rest stop in New York where we met two Pakistani couples (one US residing, one visiting for the first time) who asked us to take their group picture and then promptly invited us to sit down and eat with them from their generous supply of spicy chicken curry, naan and mangoes. We asked them to return the photo favor so we could remember the unique moment. Walter was too busy stuffing down spicy chicken to smile for the camera.

Who thinks of hospitality on the road? I certainly don't make a practice of packing enough food to host unexpected guests at a rest stop. It was such a sweet learning moment, and a blessing. I wish we'd gotten another passerby to get a picture of all of us together. There probably would have been enough food for them too! It was superbly delicious, but as we got back on the road, thoroughly bespattered with curry sauce (guess why?) I was already thinking about doing laundry when we got back home. I obviously needed a vacation!

The drive through the Canadian countryside after we crossed the dreaded border (where they didn't even ask if we had any meat or produce) was lovely. I'd never seen the northern profusion of lilacs that bloom across the Canadian countryside in late May like giant lavendar-plumed hedges. I didn't get a photo of them, but it probably wouldn't have done them justice. And there were the sandy-earthed stretches of birch, aspen and ferns that my Michigan-born heart loved. It was good to be north. Our travel listening encouraged this sentiment - C. S. Lewis's The Horse and His Boy with Bree whinnying for "Narnia and the north!"

When we got to the little hotel in Smith Falls, we were pleasantly surprised to see that the Indian family who operated the hotel lived on the premises. I never told them that I grew up playing with Indian children in Guyana, but it made me feel quite at home to see their shiny black braids and hear their distinctive high pitched voices chattering. Their three little girls all ran out to see "baby boy" and invite him to play on their swing set. He preferred to investigate the riding lawn mower.

After a trip to the slightly bewildering Canadian grocery store, we returned to the motel to cook our supper of chicken and green beans on the camp stove in the chilly evening breeze. It was a decidedly northern evening - light and cold at 8:00.

Grandpa and Grandma Smith had reserved the motel room right next to us, but they didn't arrive till the following afternoon. We visited the nearby locks and canals in the morning, which was very interesting (and slightly terrifying until the very curious toddler was finally strapped into his stroller where he couldn't fall off 8 foot drops into canals). I didn't get any pictures as the phone was charging in the car, but here's one off of a local website (credit) of just one section of the locks where we walked. The path continued along the canal through woods and past houses and was quite lovely.

The afternoon was simply the best of hotel life - microwaved hotdogs, naps, books, and no dishes or laundry.

Friday evening the grandparents arrived, Grandma and I whisked off to Walmart to try another round of bewildering grocery shopping, and then all of us trooped off to see the cousins at Josiah and Jenn's wedding rehearsal. The fact that the wedding program on Saturday went off without a hitch was probably due to the fact that the groom being his own excellent wedding coordinator drilled everyone with remarkable thoroughness in their steps and duties. My husband was thrilled to discover that some assistance was needed with the cordless microphones  and therefore he could technologically participate in the wedding ceremony, which made his pleasure complete.

And then,  Saturday, the wedding! It was simple, sober and sweet with navy blue and baby's breath all round and much singing. We both got teary eyed as the bride came down the aisle in her simple and elegant hand made dress (Caleb and I did - not Walter, who was more delighted that we were keeping him quiet with a tube of kid's toothpaste from my purse). We sang both new and old songs, including one new to me from Psalm 127. Considering that the groom is among the oldest of a family of ten children, the hearty singing of "Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them" gave hope of an equally fruitful future for the newly wed family. We hope that God will so bless them as they show characters fit for being fantastic parents. 

I left partway through the reception to put Walter for a nap at the hotel, and when he (and I) woke up I returned to find the bride and groom still not departed and Caleb helping with clean up. I managed to get a picture with him in the remnants of our wedding finery. And look, I did get capture one of those magnificent lilacs after all - right in the background. Good job, Abby.

The bride and groom finally left the church in united Newton-hood, and back at our motel the evening was clear, crisp and cool. I had such a whim to go and look at the night sky declaring the glory of God in some part of the Canadian wilderness that my rather tired, but kind husband agreed to take me on a creation-gazing date in the direction of Murphy's Point while Grandpa and Grandma agreed to watch Walter at the hotel. We hadn't done anything like this for many moons and it was delightful. We stayed out much too late waiting for it to get dark, as we drove down winding woodsy roads, but it was worth it to see the crescent moon hanging in the deep blue above a forest-enclosed lake, the wind rustling so cool and sweet in the silhouetted leaves and the peepers singing softly. My wish to see the stars covering the unpolluted dark sky wasn't satisfied as we hadn't realized how late full nightfall was already beginning to be at this time of year far north, but it was all beautiful nonetheless.

Sunday was spent with the remaining Newton family, attending church, preparing and eating Sunday dinner with much conversation, and poking around the ever-interesting Newton property which included things like young John's souped-up lawnmower, beans and corn seedlings in homemade seed pots, and two sweet brand-new kittens in the garage. We had a windy walk down their country road, seeing new sown fields and marshy woods sprinkled with ferns and trillium and watching young Tim and Sam spar with sticks. Somewhere my skirt pocket holds gifts of snail shells and leaves, and one shaped like a heart, from those rough but tenderhearted three youngsters who accompanied us. 

Monday morning, Memorial Day, found us packing the car in the rain to head back to the states. I was anticipating a rather dreary and weary trip, but the rain cleared as we neared the border. When we stopped in a poky little town in NY for food, Caleb declared he wanted to eat lunch in a park somewhere and followed some small signs out of town for a state park. The rolling countryside was charming, but I was even more charmed as entered the designated picnic area and saw a vast expanse of twinkling blue with no visible shore, flashing through the trees. It was Lake Ontario! I hadn't been at a Great Lake for so long, and was as happy as a clam to run down to the stony shore and walk at the water's edge after we'd eaten our lunch.

 Walter was rather concerned about the chilly water.

Happy on the pier.

The outing sent Walter into a nice long nap as we resumed our trip southward. He woke up quite cheerful! 

When we at long last reached my parent's home in Pennsylvania, my oldest brother and his wife and their son were there also, having arrived from their new home in western New York for his attendance at the Banner of Truth minister's conference with my dad. It was so good to see them all and to watch the cousins interact as real 'grown up' toddlers for the first time. 

Vacations are sweet when you don't get them often. (Who does? I guess that's the point.) It was good for this small-town mama who doesn't like driving anywhere more than 5 minutes away to pack up and go...well out of the country- and feel the bigness and yet the smallness of the world God has made. It was good to be together with nothing to do but enjoy each other and our family and nature. That's all you need in a vacation, isn't it? A few baby chuckles make it even better.

"The Lord is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made." 

-Psalm 145:9, ESV

Thursday, April 2, 2015

About Parenting

The Scripture truly is sufficient for parenting. That is, if you read your Bible heartily, consistently and prayerfully, you won't really need parenting books. The Bible is the best parenting book ever, and it will take all our lives to mine its riches in just that one area.

You might be saying, "Really? I mean, yeah, there's the fourth commandment, and that Deuteronomy passage about teaching them diligently, and then a bunch of the Proverbs about parenting, and Ephesians 6, and then that passage about Timothy's mother and grandmother...and it's all really good, but that's such a small percentage of the Bible to study when I want more specific answers for how to deal with my children every day." At least, that's kind of how I thought at one time.

But consider this: The Bible is a book about all about parenting the way the Bible is a book all about marriage, because both of these relational realities picture aspects of God's relationship to His people. In the Bible, we see God dealing with his children from beginning to end - loving them, directing them, blessing them, punishing them, reasoning with them, rescuing them, helping them, and welcoming them home. He does it perfectly. The more we learn from God as Father, the better we will know how to parent. But it doesn't come off nice and slick like a 20 Steps to Raise a Dandy Kid. God did plant some outstanding parenting sign posts throughout His Word, but the Bible isn't just a handy list. The Bible is a story about God and His ways with men, and we have to spend time in that story, following His ways with our hearts as we read His word over and over, praying to see Him, letting His revealed character transform our vision of what it means to be His, and then what it means to glorify Him in stewarding the children He gives us.

I haven't quite finished the journey I've described - but I've started it, and the glimpses of the road are enough to make me say, "Come on down this way - it's amazing!" That is, the road of reading more Scripture, memorizing, meditating, repeating, reading over. At the beginning of this year, I took a challenge of reading a book of the Bible 20 times. I'll admit, I didn't make it to 20 - I read my book of choice just 10 times, but then I did choose 32-chaptered Deuteronomy, so I don't call it a  goal failure. But I was amazed at what happened during those ten readings. God Himself started to become very familiar, and His methods of dealing with His people started to impress themselves more deeply into my moral sense and thinking patterns. That's what Scripture is supposed to do. (When you find yourself making automatic mental reference to Israel in the wilderness while trying to deal with a complaining child, my premise at the top will start to make sense.)

So read the Bible and pray. Yep. Comes down to that, doesn't it? But more and more. And maybe stop reading all those blogs. Except maybe sometimes read them, because (thank you) you're reading mine and I hope it did you some good.

-- A word to other mamas. I only have one child, so it's easier for me to read the Bible than others, but it's still not easy. Ask God to help you read His word and then keep your Bible(s) handy and look for how He will answer. No complaining that you can't find time if you haven't seriously asked God to provide some for you. Seems to me its one prayer He will be quite willing to answer.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

His Excellency

Being a home-working mama to a toddler, I don't have wide opportunities to witness to the gospel. I know my child is my great mission work of the moment, and I'm thankful for that. But today, I was thankful for two Mormon missionaries - young men who could nearly have been my younger brothers - who came by as I was in the yard to bear witness to me and gave me an opportunity to bear witness to them.

I don't have time to detail our conversation, except to say that we both understood our religions well, so it was definitely interesting, and we were both polite and friendly, so it was courteous and pleasant. But as we ended the conversation and they encouraged me to look into their Mormon book and beliefs more, I could say to them with a smile, "But I don't need that. I have all I need. I don't need another prophet, or another priest. Jesus is my prophet! Jesus is my priest! Jesus is my king! He is everything to me and all I need." We had discussed our common faith in Jesus already, so what could they respond to my claiming the sufficiency of Christ? There was no need to pick on their odd customs or dubious history. It was enough to say that Jesus Christ was enough.

For me personally, to emerge from stroller-pushing and sippy cups into such a vivid gospel opportunity was a priceless gift, and a reminder to be always ready to give an answer for the hope that is in you. It was sweet to sit on my little porch step and proclaim the supremacy of Jesus Christ - especially to those whose religion so subtly dishonors him.

But is Jesus Christ enough for me always, as I said? Not just in matter of religion, but enough for me with all the little trials of life from health difficulties to a house wife's unending battle with dirt and clutter? Is it enough that I have him, though I may never here have a perfect body or a perfect house or really anything just quite right? Yes, yes, yes - He is really so valuable as to make having Him outweigh any other seeming lack. Proclaiming His excellency to those two young men, over whom my heart still aches for their deception and error, brought His worth to greater light in my own eyes. I hope maybe in theirs too.

"and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ." - Philemon 1:6 ESV

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

End of an Era

Today feels like the winter is almost over. Something about the melting snow, blue sky and singing birds says 'it's not far off'. I know spring really is quite far off. I won't complain that it's not spring though. I'll enjoy today and every day of sunshine between now and sweet May.

Something else is over though. Something that always seemed so far off, and now has come rather quietly, with the strange freedom and bittersweet sadness that I'd waited for so long. On Sunday night, my travel-weary, uniformed husband came home from his last military drill. The seven years of army service are ended. Today I hung out post-drill laundry for the last time.

I met my husband after his first deployment to Iraq. The time between that and his second deployment to Kuwait sufficed to just accommodate our acquaintance, friendship, courtship, engagement and our wedding squeaked in two weeks before he left again. The reality of his uniform and duties always marked our relationship and I've always known him as a soldier. He was the first soldier to join my complete extended family - both sides considered. He's still a soldier. Even the reality of his wife and toddler, whom he dearly loves, could not hinder him from a twinge of sadness over not being able to accompany his unit on their next deployment. I've always been proud of him for the real old-fashioned patriotism and love of service that marked his military career. That same love of service is now leading him to other things that make military service an added burden.  It's become more of a burden as those duties increased. And now it's over.  No more wondering if he'll be deployed again. No more weekends spent apart for drills.

But our true warfare isn't over. That's the battle in which I get to be his comrade, in a way I never could in those dusty battle zones of the middle east. To fight sin, to follow our Commander Jesus, to obey His orders, to help each other up when we stumble. We can't hang up our shield of faith yet, not till all the soldiers come home together. That's why this ending isn't quite as freeing as I'd dreamed - because it's not the real end of duty and service. How far we shall march before we reach that, only our great Captain knows. My husband was awarded for good service as he bid farewell to his company. But my prayer for both of us is much more that we will be found good and faithful servants when we are called to enter into the joy of our Lord. How good it is to know that our Lord Himself with us is the strength that will make our service faithful to the end.