Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bleak House: Chapter 4

I don't ever want to be like Mrs. Jellyby. For all the good she did for others, and all the time she invested, she alienated her own husband and children, those whom she should have been taking the best care of as a wife and mother. But her reactions to Peepy were horrible. And her poor husband was estranged from her, though living in the same house. All of her housekeeping had gone to pot. Her house was a mess and her children were filthy. Her only concern was for the Africans, and I can't see how her neglect for the family God gave her was glorifying to Him.

I don't ever want to be like Mrs. Jellyby.

I don't ever want to be so busy with church commitments that I can't spend time with my husband and make him feel loved. I don't ever want to be so caught up in my own hobbies that I don't spend time playing with my daughter. I want them to know that they are important to me, and if I place them behind other things, no matter how good those things may be, they will not feel important. They will not feel loved. They will feel second rate. And I never want them to feel that way. Leif is second in my life, behind God, but not behind the church. Ellie is behind Leif, but again, she comes before church, and she comes before scrapbooking. I find in scripture where I am commanded to love the Lord with all my heart, submit to my husband, and train my child, but nowhere do I see that I need to overcommit myself to the local church and so push away the ones God has given me.

No, I don't ever want to be like Mrs. Jellyby.

Church today

Last week it was announced that we would have a guest speaker in church today and, I admit, I wasn't looking forward to it. I don't know why, but I like the regularity of a single pastor preaching every week. But I knew I would be there this morning because I am participating in a skit for the Women's Retreat in a couple weeks and we were meeting before church to rehearse.

Some days it just seems like God reaches down and places things along the path, just for you. Just so you can see his hand as you walk along a road whose destination you are uncertain of. Today was one of those days.

We met early to rehearse our skit, and then two of the members had to leave to get ready for their Sunday school commitments. That left me and Shannon talking for a while, something we don't normally get the opportunity to do without the interruption of kids or other people. As the conversation progressed, I shared with her a burden I have been carrying in my heart for months. It just came out in the conversation and we had a good talk. And she prayed with me. And I realized that this was fellowship. This is what had been lacking in my life the last couple years. God's love shared through the lives and words of other believers. There was no condemnation, no disappointment, only genuine concern, love, and prayer. And so I entered the worship service with a portion of the burden lifted.

I opened the bulletin and right there was a prayer focus for the beginning of the service and this week. It was Isaiah 49:13

"The Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones."

It was as though that verse was there for me. I took comfort in its words as we began to sing. I don't remember the name of the song, but one of the worship songs today spoke of the name of the Lord being a tower of refuge. It is His name that has the power to save. And again I was thankful. Thankful that He has saved me, and thankful that He is my refuge and my strength.

The sermon today was about being God's chosen people, from 1 Peter. The last point was that being chosen should change how we live. And though I've read this verse before, it stood out today and I saw two things I don't know that I've seen before. The passage was from 1 Peter 2, verses 11 and 12

"Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Life such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us."

That verse hit home. I am called to live my life in such a way that others, especially those closest to me, who are with me day in and day out, see Christ in all I do. Forming close relationships with those around me is good, but not if I get sloppy and begin living like they do. I am called to be set apart so that others may see God. I am not called to be 97% like them and 3% different. My life should be distinctly different, and that is sometimes a hard way to live. I want to let my guard down around the ones I am close to, but in doing so I am tempted to fall into their patterns and their attitudes, which are not to be my own. And so I remember that HE is my refuge when I am weary, not other people. And HE is my strength when I am weak and don't think I can live to the standard He has put before me. I am to be an example to the non-Christians He has brought into my life, not the other way around. I am to be love to those who cannot yet see where it comes from. I am to be a light to those who are in darkness.

The two things from the passage in 1 Peter that I don't remember noticing before are in verse 12. The first is that little clause that says, "though they accuse you of doing wrong," . It doesn't say IF they accuse you, it says though. We will be accused of things. We will probably be falsely accused. But our duty is to please the Lord, not men. We are to remain faithful to Him, not swayed by the opinions of man. And that is much easier said than done. But our reward is in heaven, not here on Earth, and we do well to remember that. This Earth is a battleground, and we are at war. Our victory is certain, but we do not claim the prize until the race is won.

The second clause that caught my attention is at the very end of verse 12. We are supposed to live righteous lives so that those who don't believe "may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." The impact our actions have is long lasting. We can do what is right over and over and over and never see any result. But those deeds testify God's righteousness to the end and He may use them to draw others to Himself years later. It is not our job to save people. It is our job to remain faithful and obedient to Him so that His work may be carried out through us.

And, with my burden still on my heart, I suddenly find myself singing a song that has long been a favorite of mine. Once again, I can't help but feel as though God reached down and put this song in my heart today as a reminder that He is still God, He is still sovereign, and He is still in control.
Trust and obey,
for there's no other way
to be happy in Jesus,
but to trust and obey.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Bleak House: Chapter 3

Ah.... NOW we're starting to get somewhere. The plot begins.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


I read the rest of Epic by John Eldridge today. I started reading it at Barnes and Noble last weekend when Leif and I were out on our date. (sidenote: I can't believe we're going to get dates THREE weekends in a row! That's amazing!) I picked it up on a whim, adding it to a pile of scrapbooking magazines I'd planned on leafing through. I read the first chapter and put it on my "to read" list. Then Cheryl saw it on the list and offered to let me borrow her copy! It's a short book, just 104 pages, but is well written and easy to read. Eldridge does a good job of making profound truths and ideas clear and accessible without getting too deep into the theological intricacies. I really enjoyed it.

Epic sets out to explain why stories (including plays, movies, books, etc.) strike such a resonant chord with us as humans. What is it about stories, with their villains and heroes, conflict and resolution, that draw us in? What is it that makes us see ourselves in the story and experience the emotions of the characters? And Eldridge's answer isn't anything new to me. It's something I've known for a long time, and began to understand better during my time teaching at Petra. But there was one thing in the book that I hadn't really thought about before, though I've been contemplating the subject for a while: Fellowship.

When we were thinking about switching churches, one of the main reasons for doing so was fellowship. I longed to build relationships with the other believers in the church, something that I didn't seem able to do at E-Free. And so I chose fellowship over verse-by-verse teaching when we moved to New Hope. I've never really considered the origin of fellowship. I mean, I know that God created Adam and Eve. This is what I have always considered the beginning of fellowship. But it's not. Fellowship predates mankind. Fellowship predates time. Because fellowship is something that God has in the Trinity. And I'd never really thought about that before reading Epic. The reason we, all of us, crave interaction with one another is because we are created in the image of God. He has fellowship with the other members of the Trinity and desires fellowship with us. And so we desire fellowship with one another, and with Him.

It's a good book. It gave me some food for thought. And it's a good follow up to It's Not About Me by Max Lucado, if you've ever read that. That's another short, but profound, book with the potential to change your life and the way you think about it. But Epic? Epic is a good book. After reading the first chapter I gave it 5 stars (out of 5) on Goodreads. Now, having finished the book, I still give it 5 stars. It's worth reading.


Yes, I am twitterpated. Follow me.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bleak House: Chapter 2 (On Fashion)

Once again, there was one paragraph that really stood out to me in this chapter. It is the second paragraph of the second chapter, and it reads like this:

[The world of fashion] is not a large world... There is much good in it; there are many good and true people in it; it has its appointed place. But the evil of it is, that it is a world wrapped up too much in jeweller's cotton and fine wool, and cannot hear the rushing of the larger worlds, and cannot see them as they circle around the sun. It is a deadened world, and its growth is sometimes unhealthy for want of air.

Initially this struck me as I am considering what material I want to cover for Protocol this year. There is a place for fashion. We ought to take care in how we present ourselves, as God's creations. But if we get caught up in it, we reveal not the Life that is within us, but the death we are allowing to foster by our misplaced focus.

What Dickens wrote about fashion in the 1800s is true about fashion today. That is not because the fashion itself has remained the same, but because humanity has. And his truth about fashion can apply to any area of life if we allow it. In any God-given field, there is much good. There are people who hold to that which is good and true about it. But there are those, too, who are so wrapped up in this tiny little world that they do not see the other worlds God has created around them, nor the God who created them. And so the challenge is to see the world as God sees it, within the context of Himself and all that He has created, and to take what is good, and true, and right from it and discard what Satan has distorted to blind us.

Using Dickens' example of fashion, we must ask ourselves, "What is good, and true, and right about fashion?" Is there anything good about it? Or is it wholly and completely shallow and base? What are the origins of fashion?

And so we go back to the beginning. Genesis 3 gives us the first account of clothing. When Adam and Eve sinned, they realized they were naked and sewed fig leaf coverings for themselves. After the curse, God made garments of skin from a sacrificial animal. The purpose of clothing is to cover our nakedness. It is a symbolic of the sacrifice Christ would make in order to cover our sins. So when we consider fashion, we ought to remember first and foremost modesty. Is the purpose to cover or reveal? The boundaries of modesty are dictated by culture. In the Victorian era, it was considered immodest for a woman to show her ankles. Not so today. In Irian Jaya, it is considered immodest if a man is seen without his gourd, despite the fact that the gourd really doesn't cover anything by our standards. In the same vein, if an American man tried to walk down the street wearing only a gourd, which would be completely modest by Irian Jayan standards, he would most certainly be arrested in a heartbeat for indecent exposure here. Modesty is dictated by culture, and we would do well to make sure we know what our clothes are saying about us before we wear them.

Once modesty has been made the priority, we ought to choose clothing that is appropriate for the event or task at hand, and finally something that is pleasant and flattering to look at. After all, we are representatives of God, and as His creations we ought to reflect the goodness and beauty that He possesses. But if we focus our attention on the form first, we will almost certainly lose sight of the Creator and His purpose. And then we reflect not Him with our dress, but our own sinful desires. And that is not fashionable at all.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Bleak House: Chapter 1

I started reading Bleak House last night. I only read the first chapter, but it was a good start. The first chapter is all about Jarndyce and Jarndyce, a case which has been dragging on forever and ever. Just as the High Court of Chancery is at the very heart of the fog in the city, so this case leaves all who are affiliated with it in the fog of its complication and despair.

This paragraph in particular caught my attention:
Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least, but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable old people have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce without knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the suit. The little plaintiff or defendant who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformed into mere bills of mortality; there are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth perhaps since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a coffee-house in Chancery Lane; but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the court, perennially hopeless.

I have no idea where Dickens is going with the Jarndyce and Jarndyce suit, but I can tell you where my mind goes with it. Sin. It reminds me of sin. It is twisted and complicated, just like sin. The longer it goes on, the more it consumes. People fall into it, often without knowing why or how. Entire generations are born into it and die out of it, their whole lives defined and tormented by it. Sin is an ugly thing.

Like I said, I have no idea where Dickens is going with this suit. But I'm guessing that, like God did with sin, Dickens is going to provide resolution to the suit. He's going to provide redemption for those who are caught up in it. Now I just have to read on to see how.