Friday, August 26, 2011

Faith like a child

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.  When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
~Mark 10:13-16

In our house, theological discussions often include the phrase, “what does Blomberg say?”  My husband and I enjoy mulling over theology, turning scripture over in our minds and processing it out loud.  Because we own a few Blomberg texts (and the bibliographies therein are great jumping off points), we like to start there.  Dr. Blomberg has done more research than either us will (undoubtedly) be able to in what remains of both our lifetimes.  Thus, for the sake of expediency, we generally start (after reading the scripture up for discussion) by “getting the Blomberg.”
Our kids are privy to these discussions; sometimes originating at the dinner table (“what’s God showing you today?”), sometimes in the car (“this week I was reading…”).  While they’re not always attentive, the kids are aware.  This is evidenced by a question posed by the 5 year old at the end of one such drive.  Sighing deeply, he asked, “Mom do grown-ups think talking is fun?”
“Yes,” I replied.  “Why?”
“Because you do it so much!”  Obviously, for the 5 year old, a robust theological discussion of the discipline of God, in the context of Hebrews 12, is not on par with an epic battle of small, plastic army men. 
The 8 year old rolled her eyes, and informed her brother, “Of course they like to talk.  It’s all they do.”  Again, our conversation not as riveting as the original Nancy Drew series. 
And sponges that they are, they can ignore us to a point and still soak up what’s being said.  There was the day when Mommy had to get her reading done, and the 5 year old wanted nothing to do with his daily, quiet reading time in his room.  “Alright,” I bargained, “you can sit in my lap and I’ll read my book to you.”  He clammered up, delighted at having won his way.  I smirked, opening the Blomberg text, knowing that within a few moments, he’d head off to his room to find something more entertaining.  I started reading.  The assignment had to do with a passage in the New Testament regarding baptism; certainly not dry, but far enough, I assumed, over the 5 year old’s head that he wouldn’t last long. 
The 5 year old stayed.  He held still.  He listened.  And at the end of the passage, he said, “Mom, I think I should get baptized.” 

The youngest, baptized by the former Bible Man [then pastor] in August of 2012
I was mute with surprise.  He’d absorbed what I just read; he hadn’t been absently turning the wheels of his motorcycle?  “Can you tell me why,” I asked when my faculties rebooted enough for a response.
He proceeded to give me a rundown of the points listed in the Blomberg text regarding baptism.  The 5 year old said, though it wouldn’t forgive his sins, it was what he wanted to do because he wanted to follow Jesus with his whole life.  He wanted the whole world to know that he never wants to turn away from Jesus.  Because Jesus died on the cross for the 5 year old’s bad choices, so the 5 year old could be forgiven. 
“And because,” he concluded, rather importantly, “I already asked Jesus to live in my heart.”
What argument could I offer?  That our church says you have to be at least 8?  That I’ve heard and digested valid arguments for believer’s baptism, and have been generally warned against baptizing one so young?  Yet, his was one of the most efficient and straightforward presentations of the gospel I’d heard in a long time. 
Though I shouldn’t have been surprised, coming from the kid, who less than 3 years ago heard that in order to get into Heaven, Jesus has to live in your heart.  So he daily prayed that Jesus come into his heart; usually from his carseat, which begs to question my driving...  One day, during this phase, when he asked me if dogs can go to Heaven, I hesitated, not wanting to be wrong, but not wanting to give a false answer.  “Well, buddy,” I started, “the Bible doesn’t really say…”
Hoping up from his chair, he bent over the supine Huskador on our kitchen floor, and said, “Oso, do you want Jesus to live in your heart?”
The dog lifted his head and licked the boy’s nose. 
“Okay, buddy,” the then-3 year old held a paw, “Jesus, please come and live in Oso’s heart so he can live with you when he dies, because You forgive all the bad things in the world.  And Oso needs his bad things taken away, too.”  Lifting his head, the boy beamed and declared, “Now Oso can get into Heaven.  Jesus lives in his heart!”  He proceeded to evangelize our Labrador and pray for her salvation as well.
There was never a question in his mind: Jesus, as far as his 3 year old understanding held, would live in your heart and forgive your “bad things” if you asked Him to.  And then, when you die, you get to be with Him forever.  Faith.
And to this 5 year old, the Bible says if you claim to be a follower of Christ, you need to be baptized.  So, he asks, in the black-and-white mindset of 5 year olds, why shouldn’t he be baptized?  Jesus said to do it; therefore I should do it.  Faith.  Obedience. 
My mind still turning over why he could/couldn’t be baptized, he looked at me.  His gaze was firm, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say almost condescending.  Sighing, he added, “Mom, Dr. Blomberg says so, too.”
There it was, the truth: I was relying too much on the wisdom of humanity.  I have to engage theology intellectually.  I have to hear the arguments for and against; I have to weigh the evidence.  I need to know that someone smarter than I has put their mind to this topic and come to a well thought out conclusion.   I don’t have the easy faith of a child.
It’s what Jesus cautioned his disciples against.  It’s what adults do: reason our way to confusion.  Muddy the waters.  Complicate simple truth until we don’t know which way is up anymore.* 
What I need to do, is complicate things less.  Scripture says that if you want to follow Jesus, repent and be baptized.  Who I am to prevent anyone (5 or 95 years old) from this?  God created the world with dogs in it; and God promises both a new Heaven and a new Earth.  Who says there won’t be dogs there?  (Though if you only see a black Huskador and Lab, you’ll know how they made it.) 
What if I approach the Bible with the faith and innocence of a child?  What if I simply believed that God is who He says He is; and He will do what He says He will do?  What if, like my little boy, I simply took God at His word, instead of looking to humanity to make the call for me?

What if I had the faith to trust God enough to let him outside of my box, without prior expert handling?      

Our eldest, being baptized by the Officer and me in 2011.

* Now, I’m not saying that we should take everything on what some would consider blind faith.  Faith, in order to be genuine, has to be reasoned out.  It has to be compelling.  We are admonished to test everything, hold all teachings (both inside and outside the Church) up to scripture and ensure their trustworthiness.  And everyone needs to express their faith within the context of a responsible, scripture-based community; so that we are protected from being misled, and can correct misleading that we see in others.  But I believe that each Christ follower can do this, while engaging God on a personal and abandoned level.    

Thursday, August 25, 2011

To Lucy, on her 100th birthday. With love, from Ethel

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art.... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.  ~C.S. Lewis

A week or so ago marked the 100th anniversary of what would have been Lucille Ball’s birthday.  No doubt there were I Love Lucy marathons, and boxes of chocolate.  Perhaps somewhere someone concocted a bottle of “Vitamina Vegamin” or two.  But certainly, no celebration would have been complete without a nod to Ethel; the fictitious Lucy’s closest friend, dearest confidant, and greatest accomplice. 

Lucy and Ethel, Thelma and Louise, Scarlet and Melanie, Ruth and Naomi. And more recently, Aibileene and Minny.  Women who were stronger, better, more alive because of a single common denominator: her best friend.  It is interesting to note that some of the most oft used scripture in wedding ceremonies wasn’t spoken between lovers, but between women.  Ruth doesn’t pledge to follow Boaz, make his people and God hers; she promises this to Naomi, her destitute mother-in-law who is throwing verbal rocks at her (a la Timmy and Lassie), trying to get Ruth to abandon her.  But Ruth stays.
Women stay, for the sake of each other.  Thelma and Louise have their fateful cliff.  Aibileene and Minny together motivate an entire community of women to share their stories, for change.  Melanie opens her home and heart to Scarlett, despite the later continually throwing herself at Melanie’s husband.  Each of us needs a friend of this sort.  The kind that will spoon food into your mouth, just to keep you alive when you haven’t the strength anymore.  The kind that always, always assumes the best about you.  The kind that calls you forward into the person you’re supposed to be.
In the first chapter of Luke, tucked neatly into the nativity narrative, is a small passage so often overlooked by any expounding on the miracle of the Christ child’s birth.  It’s in between the glorious Annuciation and the Magnificat.  Seven verses, in which Mary leaves her home, supernaturally pregnant with Jesus, and visits her cousin, Elizabeth.  Scripture doesn’t illuminate Mary’s emotive state during this visit; but she is a teenage girl, betrothed yet unwed, and pregnant, though still a virgin.  Great though her faith must have been, I doubt that she was as carefree on the road to Elizabeth’s, as she likely was before the angel visited her. 
Her song, a few verses later, is one of the most beautiful in scripture; a hymn likened by some to Hannah’s (1 Samuel 2), when Hannah dedicates her son to the Lord.  A statement of faith so rich in theology and yet personal enough to apply to a teenage Jewess, that has been studied, memorized, and quoted at great length.  However, Mary does not break into song immediately after the angel’s announcement that she is to be the mother of the Messiah.  No.  Mary, without her parents or betrothed, hurriedly travels to her cousin, Elizabeth.  Some speculate she was trying to escape public disgrace; perhaps even save her family and betrothed from embarrassment; but scripture is silent on the why, so we can only know that Mary sought out company with Elizabeth.  Elizabeth, the older, married antithesis of Mary, is also miraculously expecting a baby.  And like Mary, Elizabeth is experiencing a type of isolation born from her pregnancy; her husband has been struck mute for his disbelief, and will not speak again until after their child is born.              
The instant these women are in sight of one another, their very presence encourages the other.  Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit when Mary calls out to greet her, and the baby within Elizabeth’s womb leaps.  Her delight that Mary would visit her pours forth in her greeting, as Elizabeth loudly proclaims truth over her, calling Mary “the mother of my Lord” and saying, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear” (Luke 1:43, 42).   And it is when she ends with, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her,” that Mary is able to praise her Lord for His promises to her (Luke 1:45).  Perhaps until that point, this promise seemed more like a burden; her fiancĂ© had intended to divorce her quietly and she was likely the recipient of public ridicule (John 1:19).  But with Elizabeth’s Holy Spirit inspired speech, Mary is able, in spite and because of her circumstances, to “glorify the Lord” and “rejoice in God [her] savior” (Luke 1:46-47). 
It takes another woman, not her parents, not her betrothed, not even an angel, to give the Messiah’s mother a voice for praise.  It is the relationship between these two women, grounded in their faith and infused with the Holy Spirit, that washes their loneliness and fear away with truth.  This friendship takes each woman where she is, and points her ever closer to God, moves her to a place where she can see above her current circumstances to the provision and abounding grace of God the Father.  This is the kind of friendship that illuminates God’s fingerprints on our lives.  It highlights His promises and awakens our hearts to movements within and around us.  It is the model of friendship that we each so desperately need; that we all are called to.
May you have and delight in such a friend.  And may you be this friend to others.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.
~William Shakespeare


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Through My Eyes

I’ve recently found a blog that I check every day.  Its transparency encourages me.  Its simplicity overwhelms me.  And its truth envelops me.  In the spirit of , I have been asking myself : Where are God’s fingerprints on my day?   What does His love look like through my eyes?

A bouquet from my garden, gathered by my beloved daughter.  Just because.

 Love is a little girl, gathering flowers; so many that her tiny hands can’t hold them all.  Because she yearns for a visible reminder of just how much she loves her uncle, after they’re parted.     

A note, for while he’s away, to remind me daily.

 Love is standing under a web of twinkling orbs, holding my hand and facing my past with me; lending his strength and belief in who I am now, to combat the doubt and fear that I am still the one I was.

The gift of study, sprinkled with beauty.

Love is my editor and teacher.  It stays up late to impart wisdom, and to refine my tongue.  It helps, even when I am too proud to ask for it.

A quiet spot, just for me; to enjoy a cup of tea and Jesus.

Love delights in my presence and calls me out of myself.  It laughs with me, long and loud.  Love opens my eyes to possibilities and dreams with me.   Love requires that I do nothing more than be.


Be still.

Be at rest.

Be what I was created to be.