Friday, October 26, 2012

A Story: The Dark Night of the Soul

One Tuesday evening twenty-some years ago, I sat in a classroom at the seminary with about 100 other women.  The sem offered mini-classes for wives, and this one was crowded because it was being led by a popular teacher.  One of the wives brought up her fear for the rest of us.  You see, according to her, the rest of us weren't really Christians.  We hadn't really turned our lives over to Jesus.  We hadn't really made Him lord of our lives.  She knew what we were like because she used to be one of us, thinking that she was a Christian.  But then, ah, then, she had a conversion experience, you see.  She wanted us to realize our dire straits so that we too might Make A Decision For Jesus and thus be saved.

Her proof-text for all this was from Matthew 7: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven....  I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, all you who practice lawlessness.'"  She accused the whole class of being the ones who thought they were doing the Lord's work but who would be surprised at the end of the world when Jesus says, "Get lost; I never knew you."

I remember well how the teacher/pastor let her keep talking.  I remember well how he said somberly, "Yes, that passage frightens me.  How do I know if I am the one to whom Jesus will say, 'Depart from Me'?"  I remember well how that evening terrified me.

For three weeks, life was hell.  I knew I couldn't pray for help.  After all, God only hears the prayers of Christians, and I obviously was not a Christian.  I don't think I talked to Gary about it at the time; it would be shameful to tell him about it.  I was afraid of death, afraid of a freak car accident or whatever might suddenly kill a 20-something gal.  Death meant an eternity in hell; I wasn't a Christian.  I was trapped in my imperfection.  I had no hope.  There was nothing I could do to ensure that I was living up to God's standards.  Nothing I could do to ensure His wrath would not zot me to hell. 

Then, blessedly, this came up, somehow, in a conversation with our pastor.  Tom Baker [no, not Four, and not Puddleglum, but the pastor] lavished the Gospel upon me.  He told me that Jesus was the one who baptized me.  He told me that God chose me, that I couldn't choose Him.  He told me that Jesus' death on the cross forgives my sin.  He kept telling me and telling me and telling me, forgiving me, blessing me, pointing me to Christ and His work instead of ro my navel-gazing.  I suppose it might have been a little like Luther's tower experience.  "You mean He forgives me?  Me?  But it really is true that I'm as sinful and unbelieving as this 'holy' woman accused.  And still, Jesus forgives me???"

Today I can see how God worked good through that hellish situation.  What the devil means for destruction, God uses to draw needy people to Himself.  I have had to learn again and again what Pastor Baker gave me that day, that week, that month.  Yes, the accusations of Satan (and that sem wife) on that horrible Tuesday night so long ago, ... the accusations are true.  But truer yet --and oh so much bigger-- is my Savior's love for me and His blood shed to save me. 

Through the years I wondered how the teacher could stand in front of class and allow that woman's accusations to stand unanswered.  Through the years I wondered if he too had been damned by her words.   Was the pastor so full of doubts that he could not defend the scores of women in the room that night?  Had someone come to him later with the good news of the forgiveness of sins?  Had someone brought him the peace that Pastor Baker brought to me?  How sad it would be to "hope"* that Jesus' righteousness would cover you, while continuing in the uncertainty that Jesus might instead announce on the Last Day, "I never knew you."

 *Footnote: Sometimes "hope" means
 a sure and certain hope, something 
that is incontrovertible.  But too often
 "hope" means merely wishful thinking.

In Christ Jesus 
we have boldness
and access  
with confidence
through faith in Him.   (Eph 3)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Gobs of Tables

Today is garbage pick-up.

So we're driving to chapel this morning, and I see a table out with the neighbor's trash.   I was gripped by an overwhelming urge to brake and turn around and nab that table!

Maggie didn't understand.  She doesn't remember Nanna's basement.  Nobody in my family ever bought tables.  We just took one from the stash in my grandma's basement.  Why she had a penchant for collecting tables, I do not know.  But she did.

And as revealed by this morning's fight with myself over "To dumpster-dive, or not to dumpster-dive?  That is the question," there must be a smidge of Nanna's need-for-tables in my genetic make-up.

Loving the Beautiful People?

He has no form or comeliness.
And when we see Him, 
there is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  (Isaiah 53)

Oh, so if there were beauty, 
then maybe we would desire Him.

In other words, 
we desire what pleases us, 
what makes us happy, 
what is beautiful to us.

"Well, DUH," you say. 
"Who desires what's despicable?" you say.

There is One who does.
How weird!
How blessedly weird!

And amazingly, that weird, unearned love makes the ugly one beautiful. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Demon Possession

"Can a Christian be demon possessed?"  I've lost count of how many times I've heard people ask that question.  And this week I heard a most awesome answer.

Christians can and will be attacked by the demons.  That's not possession; it's an attack.  A person may wonder if it's demon-possession.  It may feel the same.  It may appear to be the same.  But in the end, does it matter if we know whether it's an attack or possession?  After all, the remedy is the same thing: "Depart, you unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit!" ... and then the comfort of the forgiveness of sins for Jesus' sake is applied to the afflicted one.

How awesome is that?!


"O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise."

Is that really so difficult to say?

I recently attended a gathering.  The devotions had no invocation, no versicles, no creed, no hymn, no psalms, no canticles.  The devotions started with a religious reading, followed by a prayer.  You'd think we could have at least prayed the Lord's Prayer.  (Jesus did say, after all, "When you pray, say 'Our Father....'")

We've been reading John Kleinig's book Grace Upon Grace for Bible class this fall.  In it, he talks about how God's people are made holy by things like the invocation, creed, Our Father, and the benediction.  As I read that section of the book, I reflected on how impotent we think those words are.  They seem silly to most of us.  They seem little.  They seem like the same-old-same-old. 

And then you throw together more than a hundred Christians, and we pray, and I feel cheated (yes, cheated!) that we can't even say "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."  We can't have someone read a psalm to which we can respond with the Gloria Patri.  We can't confess the Faith together -- "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth...." 

Really, dear pastors.  God gave you the words to say.  You can find them in the book.  He ordered you to speak them for my comfort, for my strengthening, for my life.  Would you please just say them?!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Jereboam's Sign

The man of God was sent to Israel to prophesy to King Jereboam (1 Kings 13).  The Lord told the prophet not to eat or drink while he was there.  When the king invited him to stay for lunch, the prophet said no.  When a false prophet invited him for lunch, the Lord's prophet said no.  But then the false prophet scammed him, saying that the Lord had had sent a message for the guy to stay and eat after all.  So the prophet did.  I feel for the guy in the story.  He'd done the hard job of reporting bad news to the king. He'd already said "no thanks" a couple of times.  Then he listened when someone lied to him.  I can sympathize with his reticence to being rude to the men of Israel.

Still, he died.
The Lord said "Don't eat while you're there."
He ate.  He died.

It seems like such a small thing he did wrong.

But this is a sign to Jereboam.  Death was the result when Adam and Eve turned from God's word.  Because we forget those stories of ancient history, God gave a fresh sign to Jereboam: "Act contrary to the good word I have given you, and it will result in death."  If such a small disobedience resulted in the prophet's death, how could Jereboam ever hope to escape death for leading God's people into idolatry and false worship?  What God says will surely come to pass.

Darned Allergies

I polluted my body today.  Attending a conference, I consumed a cup of coffee (with sugar), a cup of tea (with sugar), some white-bread noodles with lunch (although I had the sense to skip the white-bread sandwich), store-mayo on the cole slaw, a delectable clam chowder (sigh -- dairy, of course), two bites of cake, a small Pepsi, a handful of white-bread pretzels, and two glasses of beer.   And I failed to take my enzymes with lunch.


At least I had the self-control to NOT guzzle sweet-tea all afternoon and to keep my hands off the candy-bars.


So this is why I bother to take my vitamins, drink my kombucha, take my enzymes, bake my whole-grain-laden brown bread, mix my own salad dressings, etc.  All that dag-blasted effort I put into eating right must make a difference after all.  One brief day of minor indulgences and this is how much I itch and sneeze?!

Tomorrow I will do better.
I hope.