The Endless One

The Endless One

The book my husband and I are reading aloud reminds me of those times when the kids found themselves indoors, in a room together. You remember.

You hear them “playing” in the next room. They call to one another, you hear the thudding of feet hitting the floor, of something hitting the wall, laughing. The pitch rises, the activity escalates to a frenzy, and you know you better step in before the pointless, foolish, nonsensical horse-play turns foul. This is when we, the mom or dad, step in to give direction to the energy. “Stop what you are doing and pick an activity with a beginning and an end.” [Free parenting tip: this instruction directs the rowdy, uncontrolled children to focus on a direction – a game with parameters and boundaries that doesn’t allow for uncontrolled silliness which often results in the youngest of the bunch getting hurt. “Get out the Lego and build something to display on the supper table as our centerpiece. Play Sardines. Play ‘pretend’ where you each have a specific role. Read a book. Go climb a tree. You discuss it and agree on an activity that has rules.” Believe it or not, the kids actually seem relieved to have authority intervene and put a stop to what they, in their childishness, could no longer control.]

It’s the book that never ends. On our e-reader, we’ve been tapping the right of the screen for over a year and there’s still no end in sight. Thinking it would be good to know more about church history, we bought (real cheap) and downloaded “History of the Christian Church – from the 1st to the 19th Century (All 8 Volumes)”. We have read more detailed discussion than I thought could exist about every pope, every reformer and every friend and enemy of each of them.

We’re in Volume 8, the Reformation. We begin to see similarities between the church of the early 16th century and that of northern Namibia today. We have lively discussions, the two of us, as we compare and contrast the past and present, and pray for our Namibian brethren.

Then one day, I tapped the screen to peel off the next layer of discussion on the Calvinistic system of predestination. My eyes glazed over as I looked with disbelief at some very long, very strange words I had never seen before in all my Christian education. Apparently the actual words used in Scripture are not enough to satisfy us as to God’s purposes. These brilliant minds made up new words in order to expand our maze of wanderings in God’s infinite wisdom. Thorough counter-arguments, agreements, and agreements with exceptions postulated by every known theologian from then, to “now” (“now” meaning 1890, the date of publication!) consume hours of our reading time.

Grownups can meander aimlessly in the endless labyrinth of inquiry into Divine mysteries, just as children’s play can be foolishly endless. We, too, must have our thoughts directed. So God steps into our verbosity and redirects us to approach the subject with reverence and a humble sense of the limitation of our mental capacities.

So then, on the workings of God’s grace, the recipients of it and the “timing” of it’s effective application, I offer some of my favorite quotes from our various readings as some “rules to think by” :

“The difference between the two schools [those 2 interminably long words referred to above] is practically worthless, and only exposes the folly of man’s daring to search the secrets of God’s eternal counsel …” Philip Schaff

“There is a learned ignorance of things which it is neither permitted nor lawful to know, and avidity of knowledge is a species of madness.”  John Calvin

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Moses

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor? Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?’” Paul the apostle

Paul himself “humbly sits at the brink and adores the depth.” The angels themselves puzzle over God’s grace and mercy revealed through Jesus Christ and His gospel. (I Peter 1:12)

“We are forbidden curiously to enquire into the secret counsels of God and to determine concerning them. … We are directed and encouraged diligently to enquire into that which God has made known … He has kept back nothing that is profitable for us, but that only which it is good for us to be ignorant of. We ought to acquaint ourselves, and our children too, with the things of God that are revealed. … All our knowledge must be in order to practice, for this is the end of all divine revelation, not to furnish us with curious subjects of speculation and discourse …” Matthew Henry

And, finally, one of my favorite hymns is the prelude and postlude to every read-aloud session, reminding me that “the only way out of the labyrinth is the Ariadne thread of the love of God in Christ, and this is a still greater, but more blessed mystery, which we can adore rather than comprehend”. Schaff

I Know Whom I Have Believed

I know not why God’s wondrous grace to me He has made known,
Nor why unworthy – Christ in love redeemed me for His own.

(chorus)
But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able
to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.

I know not how this saving faith to me He did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word wrought peace within my heart.

I know not how the Spirit moves, convincing men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word, creating faith in Him.

I know not what of good or ill may be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days, before His face I see.

I know not when my Lord may come, at night or noonday fair,
Nor if I walk the vale with Him, or meet Him in the air.

————-
Deut. 29:29; Rom. 11:33-36; I Cor . 2:6-12; Ps. 139:6

Photo: Nampula, Mozambique, May 2008

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Will You Not Play?

Will You Not Play?

“Will you play cello in the small orchestra I’m assembling?” the music director asked. It was 1987, in Lisbon, where we were immersed in language learning for two years in preparation for work in Lusophone Africa. I had left my cello behind at the urging of a well-known ethnomusicologist who warned me that if the “indigenous people are exposed to western tone structure and instruments they will lose their own music”. The inference was that I would be committing an unpardonable anthropological crime if I took my cello to Africa. But I received the exhortation as godly wisdom and relinquished my hobby for the higher calling on my life: to take the word of God to a people who did not yet have it. I believed that my God would provide anything he knew I had to have to thrive in our new place. And so, I gave my regrets to the director – who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

“…but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him; in those who hope in his steadfast love.” Psalm 147:11

“I think I have a cello for you!” responded this persistent one. Sure enough, stashed away in someone’s attic languished a cello. It had been purchased years earlier at the flea market but the owner left it when she returned to her home country. It was in poor condition from lack of care and full of wood-worm holes. My heart sank as I considered the fortune required to have it repaired. The owner, knowing this, sent me the message that if I could bear the cost of repair, it was mine. I didn’t have to pray about it. This was no coincidence. God knew more about my future location than the ethnomusicologist and I received his gift with two hands (the African way of receiving with a full and thankful heart). I felt the pleasure my heavenly Father took in returning music to me. What’s more, the cost of repair turned out to be minimal, due to the exchange rate at the time. My precious Lord brought to new life what I had put to death for his sake. He gave back the part of me that gave him pleasure. I became a cellist once again. And this cello made it to Africa.

I did not commit the unpardonable, anthropological crime. Coca-cola and pop music idols from the west had already beaten us to our destination. Our “oldies” were their “newsies” and how they loved them. Rock music blared from every bar (and there are many of those). Would my little ‘ole cello, being played in the house for my family’s benefit, corrupt the homes and neighborhoods where I lived? I thought not. Definitely not.

By 2010, this instrument had done a good bit of traveling. Finally, it returned to the U.S. with me. But it had literally come unglued during the flight. The extreme climates I’d exposed it to and that final journey had done a number. I had it repaired by a master and it’s probably a better specimen than it’s ever been. “Farmboy” (affectionately named in honor of its supposed origins – but that’s another story) is fragile, though. So, when my husband and I took this recent assignment in Namibia, I left it home. With the confidence of a “seasoned missionary”, well accustomed to necessary sacrifices, I didn’t think twice about living for two years without a cello. For a “seasoned missionary” with open-ended assignments lasting a decade or more under my belt, a two-year assignment is “nothing”. I actually convinced myself, and glibly declared to my friends, “I can do anything for two years! Why, that’s a drop in the bucket of life!” Not. Almost immediately the short-term assignment took on a plodding, endless character. Clearly, the God who gave his life to save me from such pride had more to teach me regarding being “seasoned” – mainly that it’s less about my history and more about him.

My perceptive husband was noticing that I just wasn’t “the gal I used to be”. After all, I had been attached to a cello when he met me. I was “M—E—who-played-the-cello”. Turns out, “cellist” is a part of me that also delights him, even as it delights my Lord. So my man was determined to find a cello for me here. It is true that in my uncertain moments before we left for Namibia I researched “travel cello” online. I actually found one, but didn’t pursue it. My husband, possibly fearing I would go the way of Farmboy and become unglued, directed me to put in an order for the “practice cello designed for air travel”, called Prakticello. This was risky. No cellist of my acquaintance had ever heard of this “instrument”. I had never seen it nor played it in person. Hubby was blessedly insistent, though, so we took the plunge and ordered. We found a traveler willing to hand carry it to the capitol. We drove a day (each way) to retrieve it. And now, I am a cellist — again. And once again, my heart leaps at the joy my heavenly Father has over me. As if his joy over saving and redeeming me from sin’s powerful grip, and forgiving me of my pride isn’t enough, he gives me a cello too! — again! I am not really a seasoned anything. But I am seasoned by God’s presence; daily sprinkled with his loving kindness, spiced up by his generosity and perfect gifts; growing older in the certainty that it delights him to season me so.

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Zephaniah 3:17