Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Bittersweet Beauty of Trust

When I was a younger, I thought if you were a Christian you had all the answers at your fingertips. I knew you had to study the Bible and pray for understanding, but I assumed that throughout life you'd keep learning the answers, and by the end you'd pretty much have it down.

I've lived almost half a century now, and I know better.

There are some things, as Ravi says below, that cannot be understood by reason. When faced with such things, we are left in the position that God seems to ultimately want us in--that of raw trust, a seemingly vulnerable and precarious position but one that has a bittersweet beauty about it.

Why Pray?

There is an immense difference between a worldview that is not able to answer every question to complete satisfaction and one whose answers are consistently contradictory. There is an even greater difference between answers that contain paradoxes and those that are systemically irreconcilable.

Once again, the Christian faith stands out as unique in this test, both as a system of thought and in the answers it gives. Christianity does not promise that you will have every question fully answered to your satisfaction before you die, but the answers it gives are consistently consistent. There may be paradoxes within Christian teaching and belief, but they are not irreconcilable. To those who feel that Christianity has failed them because of prayers that went unanswered, it is important to realize what I am saying here.

I sat with a man in my car, talking about a series of heartbreaks he had experienced. "There were just a few things I had wanted in life," he said. "None of them have turned out the way I had prayed. I wanted my parents to live until I was at least able to stand on my own and they could watch my children grow up. It didn't happen. I wanted my marriage to succeed, and it didn't. I wanted my children to grow up grateful for what God had given them. That didn't happen. I wanted my business to prosper, and it didn't. Not only have my prayers amounted to nothing; the exact opposite has happened. Don't even ask me if you can pray for me. I am left with no trust of any kind in such things."

I felt two emotions rising up within me as I listened. The first was one of genuine sorrow. He felt that he had tried, that he had done his part, but that God hadn't lived up to his end of the deal. The second emotion was one of helplessness, as I wondered where to begin trying to help him.

These are the sharp edges of faith in a transcendent, all-powerful, personal God. Most of us have a tendency to react with anger or withdrawal when we feel God has let us down by not giving us things we felt were legitimate to ask him for. We may feel guilty that our expectations toward God were too great. We may feel that God has not answered our prayers because of something lacking in ourselves. We may compare ourselves with others whose every wish seems to be granted by God, and wonder why he hasn't come through for us in the way he does for others. And sometimes we allow this disappointment in God to fester and eat away at our faith in him until the years go by and we find ourselves bereft of belief.

G. K. Chesterton surmised that when belief in God becomes difficult, the tendency is to turn away from him—but, in heaven's name, to what? To the skeptic or the one who has been disappointed in his faith, the obvious answer to Chesterton's question may be to give up believing that there's somebody out there, take charge of your own life, and live it out to the best of your own ability.

But Chesterton also wrote, "The real trouble with the world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite."(2) He is right. Only so much about life can be understood by reason; so much falls far short of any reasonable explanation. Prayer then becomes the irrepressible cry of the heart at the times we most need it. For every person who feels that prayer has not "worked" for them and has therefore abandoned God, there is someone else for whom prayer remains a vital part of her life, sustaining her even when her prayers have gone unanswered, because her belief and trust is not only in the power of prayer but in the character and wisdom of God. God is the focus of such prayer, and that is what sustains such people and preserves their faith.

Prayer is far more complex than some make it out to be. There is much more involved than merely asking for something and receiving it. In this, as in other contexts, we too often succumb to believing that something is what it never was, even when we know it cannot be as simple as we would like to think it is.

Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

(1) Excerpted from Has Christianity Failed You? by RAVI ZACHARIAS. Copyright © 2010 by Ravi Zacharias. Used by permission of Zondervan.
(2) G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 87.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Teton Village, WY Bike Trail 2011

Curt and I enjoyed most of last week in Jackson Hole, WY. I went over to Teton Village on Friday afternoon while he was in meetings and rented a bike. The girls and I did that one other time and enjoyed it immensely. I knew the path was very safe, right along the highway, and I felt comfortable to do it alone.
It was a gorgeous day.
The Grand Tetons!
Eagle's nest...
Bridge over a rippling steam...
More pictures coming as time permits!
These are such busy days for me.
Enjoying every moment though!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Slice of Infinity, worth reading today!

New Moralities

Though the chorus of voices decrying belief in God has been humming in the ideological background for centuries, it seems to have reached a crescendo with the emergence of a movement that has been dubbed the new atheism. The trademark of this new and continuing brand of atheism is its vitriolic attack on religion. To its advocates, religious beliefs are not only false; they are also dangerous and must be expunged from all corners of society. The pundits of the new atheism are not content to nail discussion theses on the door of religion; they are also busy delivering eviction notices to the allegedly atavistic elements of an otherwise seamlessly progressive atheistic evolution of Homo Sapiens.

Given the rhetoric, one might be forgiven for thinking that some new discoveries have rendered belief in God untenable. Curiously, this drama is unfolding in the same era in which perhaps the world's leading defender of atheism, Antony Flew, has declared that recent scientific discoveries point to the fact that this world cannot be understood apart from the work of God as its Creator. This is no small matter, for Flew has been preaching atheism for as long as Billy Graham has been preaching the Gospel. Unlike Flew and others, the new atheists seem to forget that the success of their mission hinges solely on the strength and veracity of the reasons they give for repudiating religion. Venom and ridicule may carry the day in an age of sensationalistic sound bites, but false beliefs will eventually bounce off the hard, cold, unyielding wall of reality.

A good example of a claim against religion that does not sit well with the facts of reality is issued in the form of a challenge to the believer to "name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever."(1) We are expected to agree that no such action or statement exists, and then conclude that morality does not depend on God. The problem is that the conclusion does not follow from the premise. The fact that a non-believer can utter moral statements and even act morally does not logically lead to the conclusion that morality does not depend on God, much less that God does not exist. This challenge misunderstands the believer's position on the relationship between morality and God.

The believer's claim is that the world owes its existence to a moral God. All human beings are moral agents created in God's image and are expected to recognize right from wrong because they all reflect God's moral character. The fact that human beings are the kinds of creatures that can recognize the moral imperatives that are part of the very fabric of the universe argues strongly against naturalism. Unlike the laws of nature, which even inanimate objects obey, moral imperatives appeal to our will and invite us to make real decisions on real moral issues. The only other parallel experience we have of dos and don'ts comes from minds. Thus when the atheist rejects God while insisting on the validity of morality, he is merely rejecting the cause while clinging to the effect.

Without God, morality is reduced to whatever mode of behavior human beings agree on. There is no action that is objectively right or wrong. Rape, hate, murder and other such acts are only wrong because they have been deemed to be so in the course of human evolution. Had human evolution taken a different course, these acts might well have been the valued elements of our moral code. Even Nazi morality would be right had the Nazis succeeded in their quest for world dominance. Unless the world contains behavioral guidelines that transcend human decisions, there is no reason why anyone should object to such conclusions. Though some religious people do not live up to the moral principles they prescribe, it is not true that genuine religious devotion makes no difference to one's moral commitments. It is missionaries, and not atheists, who regularly give up their own comforts and accept unbelievable amounts of pain and suffering to better the lives of societal outcasts, not just through preaching but also through education, technology, and humanitarian relief. Our failure to live up to what we know to be right provides empirical evidence for the need for God's intervention in our lives.

Those who insist that objective morality makes no difference to human autonomy still expect morality to guide the behavior of others. That our society is saturated with transcendent moral sentiments accounts for the popularity of some television programs that arrest our attention night after night. Perhaps ninety percent of the shows they contain depend exclusively on our ability to apply objective moral standards to the actions of the characters. Should the Judeo-Christian moral bank close its doors to our cultural psyche, the bankruptcy of human-centered morality would eventually send our spiritual tentacles scouring for an alternative transcendent anchor. Thus were the new atheists to succeed in their quest, the result would not be the elimination of religion but the entrenchment of a different religion. As Ravi Zacharias has warned, eventually, the real choice for the West will not be between Christianity and atheism but between Christianity and some other religion.  Beware of ethical naturalists bearing moral gifts.

J.M. Njoroge is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Christopher Hitchens, "An Atheist Responds," TheWashington Times (Saturday, July 14, 2007).

Friday, June 17, 2011

Lemon Cake

Curt and I made this delicious lemon cake a couple days ago.

It is delectable!

I'm posting the link especially for my sister-in-law who requested a copy of the recipe.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hate Devours Reason

 ~lavender from my garden
Some of us think and think, talk and talk, write and write, but we often fail to communicate effectively. I keep trying to do better myself. It is certainly not an easy task; but I never fail to be put to silent appreciation and admiration when I read Ravi Zacharias's writing or hear him speak. His Slice of Infinity today is short, simple, and easy to understand, but it captures a powerful truth.

Thank you, Ravi! Thank You, Abba!

When we read the word "hate," we often think to ourselves, well I don't hate anyone. But if we have not surrendered our will entirely to God and are not, therefore, allowing His love to be "shed abroad in our hearts," the core of hate remains deeply rooted within us. As Ravi points out, it's the core that matters. So if we are not, moment by moment, dying to self, if we are jealous, if we are holding grudges, if we are putting others down to lift ourselves, we are, in fact, "hateful." It is no surprise then (when we exhibit outbursts of anger and unkindness, selfishness, jealous put-downs of others) that just trying to stop the outbursts will not solve the problem. The very core of our thinking, the "system of values to which our lives are deeply committed" must drastically change.

God alone knows specifically how that is accomplished for each of us. But it's up to us to commit ourselves to His remaking and walk in the understanding we gain from His Word.

~another type of lavender in my garden

Emotion and Impulse

Author Daniel Goleman wrote a best-selling book in 1995 called Emotional Intelligence. He begins that book with the heart-stirring story of Gary and Mary Jean Chauncey who were in the Amtrak train that went down over a bridge into swirling waters which swallowed up the lives of many. They themselves were trapped in their compartment as they tried desperately to save their eleven year-old wheelchair ridden daughter Andrea. They succeeded in saving her life, and they did so at the cost of their own.

In describing this noble act, Goleman points out that such emotionally charged moments do not give birth to impulse in a vacuum, but rather it is the outworking of a commitment to certain values and truths already made in one's life. I believe Goleman is right in this sense. What is most obvious in the love and commitment of these parents to their young one is that passionate commitments never stand alone; they stand on the foundation of a worldview.

I mention this holding thought of many wars and much heartache around the globe, killings, insurgencies, and other manmade devastations. We shake our heads in disbelief that murderous and cruel individuals can masquerade throughout the world as heroes and saviors. They are not. They are destroyers of lives, addicted to hate and power. The truth is that many have wedded hate to their own selfish wills, and once hate lives in the human heart reason dies.

In fact, this is why Jesus said that it is not murder that is the crime; it is hate, the foundation where it all begins. He said that it is not adultery that makes a relationship wrong; it is the lust from where it all begins. You see, our actions do not come just by impulse. They come by a system of values to which our lives are deeply committed. Murderers and masterminds of violence and oppression are rarely emotionally deranged people; they are morally perverted. Their thinking is destructive and their emotions follow.

There is a simple lesson here. We must learn to think righteously if we are to act righteously. We must think justly and honorably and mercifully if we are to act with goodness and honor and mercy. And for this kind of strength, only God’s power is big enough. I hope your life and mine can learn to think God's thoughts after Him. Only then can hate be conquered and life be lived with truth and love.

Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Heart Revealed

"The question to precede all others, which finally determines the course of our lives is, What do I really want?" Is "it to love what God...[wants]...and to desire what He promises?" Do "I want what I" want, or do "I want what He" wants, "no matter what it might cost?

Until the will and affections are brought under the authority of Christ, we have not begun to understand, let alone to accept, His lordship."

"The Cross, as it enters the love life, will reveal the heart's truth."

Your heart will forever "be a lonely hunter unless settled 'where the joys are to be found.' "

~Elisabeth Elliot, Passion And Purity

Monday, June 6, 2011

Graduation Celebration

Our sweet firstborn is now a high school graduate.
Her celebration included camping and water play.
Her daddy, our grill-pro, is pretty proud of his National Merit Scholar. 
She made her own graduation "cap" in the form of chocolate cupcakes!
We aren't quite traditional in such things. ; )
She cut the top off the cupcakes,
turned them upside down and iced them,
baked hard square cookies for flat tops and iced them,
then made tassels and button-tops out of taffy.

I thought they were pretty cute.
How grateful we are for the gift she is to us. What a blessing!
Thank You, Abba, for this precious daughter.
You must have known I needed her to help keep forming me into Your image.

Friday, June 3, 2011

I Must Remember

34 "...keep watch on yourselves, or your hearts will become dulled by... the worries of everyday living, and that Day will be sprung upon you suddenly like a trap!
35 For it will close in on everyone, no matter where they live, throughout the whole world.
36 Stay alert, always praying that you will have the strength to escape all the things that will happen and to stand in the presence of the Son of Man." (Luk 21:34-36 CJB)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Why I Wear Dresses #4

As discussed in previous posts,  the Bible teaches that a distinction between the genders matters to God. It also speaks of the importance of modesty.  I trust the Bible as my primary source for truth, and so these Biblical concepts help shape my understanding and influence my decisions about attire.  While I consider these as important building blocks in my decision to wear dresses, I also realize the importance of commitment to shared values with other believers.
In numerous institutions: the military, educational facilities, athletic teams, factories, restaurants, offices, and various religious and cultural groups, the value of the members committing, uniting around a core set of values and objectives, is well established. If an organization hopes to successfully accomplish its goals, the members must work together for the common end. As members commit to one another and to their shared goals, the more unified that organization becomes, the more power that entity has to accomplish its objectives.
Uniforms, in particular, have been found to produce positive results in organizations. Similar attire evokes a sense of oneness and a sense of belonging. Outsiders come to recognize members and the organization those members represent.  A feeling of equality and camaraderie develops. People in organizations which share identifiable uniforms tend to be more caring of their fellow-members, more focused on the goals of the organization, not on their own preferences or personal agendas.
In the Christian context, I have chosen to be a part of a particular body of believers. Building our lives around common values--including our choices of attire--gives us a unified message to the world. The sense of belonging that develops is helpful to us and to our children.  Sharing in committed relationships, where we fully trust one another and are open and accountable, gives us opportunity to continually refine our understanding of issues like what we should wear. Amazingly, the accountability and openness that develops in this scenario helps us grow individually as well as corporately.
As we study the Bible and experience life together, we gain shared insight. We recognize that
what we put on our bodies clearly communicates something. (Living in physical bodies creates situations we simply won’t have to deal with once this short life is over. But for now, we must consider what it means to dwell in bodies of flesh.) If I understand the Bible and life-experience correctly, these bodies are neither good nor evil. They are independent. They will simply do what they want if we, who inhabit them, allow such. All physical bodies desire food, and if we give them food without considering quantity or quality, we will eventually suffer.  Female bodies desire to be thought beautiful. If we allow that desire to control us, we will step onto the endless treadmill of insatiable thirst for self-adoration; the end of that road is decay and death. Male bodies desire to revel in the delight of seeing female bodies and having physical intimacy with them. If males pursue those desires of “flesh” without restraint, without placing those desires under God’s authority, they too will be eventually brought to destruction. These realities teach us that we must make choices about things like attire, keeping in mind the natural tendencies of our bodies. While some will ignorantly say, “It doesn’t matter to God what you wear,” they fail to realize the wisdom of thoughtful decisions concerning issues (like attire) that affect our fellow human beings. Yes, God sees the heart; but man has to deal with his human body, and if we ignore that reality, we will miss an important aspect of Christian living.  Paul writes, to the Galatians, words that speak to us, “And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” (Gal. 5:24 KJV)

There is a cost to committing ourselves to a group of Christians in this way.  We choose to deny our flesh its desired independence when we make such a commitment.  I believe this is another example of what Jesus calls losing our life to find it.  When I make choices about what I wear, I do not allow my “flesh” to simply get whatever it wants. Just how important is it that my eyes are made happy by a particular style of attire or that my skin delights in the feel of a particular cut of cloth?  Is that important in God’s eternal kingdom?  
16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
 17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 John 2:16-17 KJV)
Is the freedom to choose what my flesh prefers to wear worth sacrificing things of eternal good?  No, it isn’t. There is much to be gained from a commitment to “being likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (Phil. 2:2 KJV) with a group of honest-hearted fellow-believers.
This, my dear reader, is part of the mindset from which I have chosen to be a lady in dresses.