Grandma’s Reflections: Romans 8

Grandma’s Reflections: Romans 8

“Abba! Abba!”, cried a little boy, who raced with his arms lifted high towards a man across the terminal. His Daddy caught him up for a joyous reunion. My son, knowing Whose he is, witnessed this scene upon his arrival in Israel. It was the first of many “Ah! Wow!” moments he and his wife experienced during their visit to that land.

… but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry “Abba! Father!”

Meanwhile, on another continent, their children were with me and my husband. While those words from Paul’s letter to the Romans warmed his soul, that same letter was impressing me in another way.

Their youngest, not yet talking, expresses herself with finger jabs and movements reminiscent of a rider on a trotting horse. Then a glottal stop releases into a nasal grunt-squeak. Incomprehensible. But she is insistent. Her gesticulations becomes more rapid. Her brow furrows. Her eyes dart back and forth between this Baba and Grandma as if to say, “I know that you know what I’m saying so why don’t you just — respond accordingly! What’s with you gray-hairs anyway?”

…the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we don’t know what to pray for as we ought …

Frustrated, I don’t understand her. I want to answer her request appropriately but, more than that, I want her to just stop it! My frailty knows the temptation to lose patience, to tune out or to (imagine!) be offended that she isn’t acting “properly” towards me, almighty adult that I am. It occurred to me that my Heavenly Father never loses patience with my stuttering in his ear, nor takes offense because I dare to approach Almighty God with my limited understanding of Him.

The incident passed, on to the next need to be met … (God feeds mothers of tiny ones, and babysitting Grandmothers, in little bites as they go along. Quiet, alone- time for prayer might not happen every day.) Honesty, the next need to be met probably had to do with the trash. More incomprehensible than the baby’s whining was how to dispose of the cellophane on the cardboard packaging, or where to throw the metal jar lid. There must be five or six receptacles in every German home, each receiving its own, specific type of “throw away” item. They call it recycling. I call it crazy. I met a lady who, after her first visit to this place, returned home with her used dental floss in her suitcase because she didn’t know how to dispose of it in Germany! I didn’t even understand the booklet, written in English, explaining the system. I fear that if I ever return the immigration officer will scan my passport after which a siren will sound and a warning will flash across his screen: “Plastic container found in rubbish bin after last visit. Danger to society. Apprehend immediately.” But I digress. Romans is not about being patient with babies. It’s about the privileges granted to God’s true children. The message is not“recycle”, but restoration.

…but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God …

We are weak in prayer. We don’t know how we should pray because we don’t fully comprehend God’s will and can’t pray in agreement with HIm. We don’t know what to ask. We are shortsighted and very much biased in favor of the flesh [our nature that seeks to gratify our self]. We are distracted, poking our finger here and there, uttering insistent, loud noises, thinking that we know what we need. But the Spirit of God knows us better than we know ourselves and he knows God’s desires and plans. So, His Spirit in us (given freely to only those who accept adoption) helps us, or ‘heaves/lifts with us’. He interprets our requests, and Christ himself intercedes on our behalf. When our soul is so troubled that articulate prayer is impossible, the Spirit knows our heart and knows how to line it up in accord with the will of the Father. What patient attentiveness! That He should take the cries of His children so seriously; that He should have made such a perfect way for them to approach Him, anytime, anywhere and in any circumstance; that He should attend to them; that He brings his divine character to bear upon their case, unfolding His response so that all things work for the good of His children and for His glory — this is a certainty for us to dwell upon, to rest in.

The opening chapters address sin, God’s wrath and judgement, our darkened understanding and rebellion against God, the brokenness of all His creation, and what we all justly deserve. The message is doom for those not in Christ. And then it surges into hope, redemption and the guarantee of restoration, addressed to those who receive Christ. The restoration of creation is the greater theme. Why, in our moments of quiet solitude, do we detect a whisper of unnamed longing in our soul? Every request is fundamentally a prayer to restore a body or a relationship, to restore fruitfulness to our fields, to mend a broken vocation, or our honor, or the government, the economy, society, to return our joy, to give back to us what we had before sin entered the world … “Restore!” is the cry of our soul. We long for the promised consummation of our redemption and the complete restoration of all creation, perfect and complete. The Father who hears and takes seriously our babbling is the same Father who will return to this earth as the victorious, resurrected One, the Vindicator, the Just, the One who will ultimately, finally, restore all that concerns me and all that concerns Him. He understands our groaning in prayer for what it really is. “Abba! My own Daddy! Please come make everything all right.” At just the perfect time, He will.

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photo: 2nd generation spoon licker
extra-biblical source: Matthew Henry’s Whole Bible Commentary

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Perplexed, but

Perplexed, but

Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart…we are perplexed but not in despair …
II Corinthians 4:1, 8

Perplexed: baffled, bewildered, there is no accounting for it. Perplexed – it suggests humility; accepting that I don’t have all the information. Therefore, I will wait. “Perplexed but” suggests hope. There is light at the end of this tunnel. The situation is still in process. There is an answer, a response, a reason, and I simply don’t know yet what it is. Closure will come, in time. Therefore, I need not despair. Despair has made the decision, passed the judgement and pronounced in all its pride, “This is the final word. It is hopeless. I quit. It’s the end.”

One element of ministry that perplexes me chronically is the language barrier. Mary invited a few ladies to her house for a simple Bible study. I was to show them how to read for comprehension leading to life transformation. Though church go-ers, they had rarely read the Bible with the expectation of understanding it. My role in the group was a small one, and was made even smaller by the fact that the ladies and I did not share a common language. So, Mary recruited one of her sons, a young adult with English language ability, to interpret. Through him, I gave the brief instruction. They were to read the story, repeating it until everyone understood the content. Then they were to say what the text tells us about God, about humans in general, and about themselves in particular. The young interpreter caught on immediately and began adding his own responses. He later told me he could imagine doing this kind of study with his friends.

The next week, another one of Mary’s young sons interpreted. Like his brother, he engaged in the process until, soon, I was completely left out of their conversation!Forgetting to interpret for me, he joined them in their study and helped them look for the meaning in the text by answering those three, key questions. We were in Mark’s gospel, hearing about the dinner at Levi’s house. Jesus was there as a guest, rubbing shoulders with the despised tax collectors and sinners. “What do we learn about Jesus here?”, I asked, in English. Only my interpreter heard me.

The complex language situation, the fact that various languages are spoken and each woman I know feels strongly that I should learn hers, is chronically perplexing. These “language wars” bewilder me. What’s more, the nature and duration of our assignment here does not lend itself to intentional language acquisition. To choose, then, not to learn a local language works death in me. It isolates me, prevents me from engaging in what I have always considered “viable ministry”. I lose my default mode of communication – verbal. It’s like seeing and hearing everyone through a thick wall of foggy glass. This is so perplexing as to lead, in the natural, to despair.

“We are perplexed but we don’t despair”, declares the apostle Paul. I’ve learned that the slide downward from perplexity to cynicism/despair happens as I begin to look for a way to avoid perplexing situations. I do this when I turn my thoughts towards my personal, unmet “needs”.  I need: to play my cello, a choir to sing in, a class to teach, to express myself, a better way to use my abilities, a better ministry plan … Did you notice that the great missionary Paul never went that direction? He doesn’t run back to the things that gave him widespread credibility and affirmation. Instead, he is proud to carry about in his body the death of the Lord Jesus. This death to self is at work in him to bring life to those who are being saved.

The response tumbled out of my young interpreter’s mouth, “Jesus was friendly! People, especially sinners, liked to be with him and he, with them! I never knew that! I, and all my friends, believe Jesus to be very serious and not someone you would want to be around. Now I see that he would even probably like to be with us! Hey, can I keep coming to this study?”

Wow! And now I see how this death in me is working life in Mary’s family. Her sons may not have responded to an invitation to attend a youth Bible study. But because their mother needed an interpreter, and they like to use English, they were poised for the Spirit to touch their hearts through the living word of God. Seeds were planted and, who knows, they may lead a movement of young people who become transformed by the gospel. My weakness could actually be God’s Plan A to train up a particular godly leader!

Whatever role you and I currently have – as followers of Christ we are, by vocation, ambassadors of reconciliation within our respective spheres of influence. I especially think of the mommies among us – ambassadors to your children, husband and all who cross your doorstep. You have probably laid aside a part of you in order to minister to your family – maybe you left a fulfilling career, the mental challenge of academia or the applause of an audience and all the personal affirmation and identity these things bestow. When you are perplexed beyond words, bewildered and baffled by the death of that brilliant side of you, wait! Don’t despair! Don’t insist on reasserting that self. Let perplexity work humility. Turn your thoughts to consider what Christ gave so that you could have life. Consider the death to himself that Paul embraced, for the sake of the young believers. Consider how putting to death your demand for personal satisfaction is working life in your children, your friends, your co-workers, and in your own soul.

Your and my perplexities are light compared to the eternal weight of glory awaiting us!

Philippians 3:4-7; II Corinthians 4:7-18; 5:18; Colossians 1:24

The Making of a Nation

The Making of a Nation

Down through the ages, since the beginning of time, nations, countries and governments have come, and gone. One will shine while another’s light will dim to a flicker. God has ordained the exact number of years, to the day, that each nation will flourish. And He has a specific purpose in doing so.

And God has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings,…

God brought forth the nations. What’s more, He governs every ethnic, language and people group. God has marked out the physical, geographic boundaries allotted to each one and has ordained that they live within these borders for a specified season of time. These are political borders separating one government from another, as well as natural borders of mountains, rivers or oceans. The Maker of nations determines their entrances and exits, their locations and their relocations. He determines human migrations from one place to another. And He does this for a purpose. It is

so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us… Acts 17:26-27

If we could stand back into space and watch our peopled Earth, I imagine we’d see this orb pulsating with movement. There would be streaks of rapid transport from one continent to another, and slower masses floating on the water from one shore to another. There would be fleeing and chasing, trudging and riding from this end to that. Back and forth. From here to there. Walls going up, walls being ripped down. Fences and tunnels. In and out. Stumbling in the dark. Looking for the Light.

The media, and our textbooks, will tell us this to and fro-ness is due to war, to famine, to politics and persecutions. Individuals seek asylum, or simply a better life. But these are only the conditions in which movement seems expedient. The purpose is other. The purpose is God’s.

We call them “displaced” peoples. But in reality, God has strategically placed the peoples.  Though the conditions may be unjust, they are not senseless.  God repositions peoples and boundaries so that they will be pressed to look for Him. He shows us His intentions in the “so that”. When up until now, His pleasant and bright gifts, so abundantly given, have not caused a nation to worship the Giver, He then may bless it with crisis. He offers the peoples afflictions so that in the dark days of their nation they will grope for the One True God and find Him. He is not far; He doesn’t hide. He will make sure the seeker finds and is found by Him. Thus, God relocates entire nations, as well as individuals, so that they might know Him, the God and Savior Jesus Christ. For there is salvation in no other, for there is no other name under heaven, given among men by which we must be saved.

I don’t know how Brexit will change the face of Europe. I don’t know how the next U.S. president will redefine the nation. I don’t know who will, or won’t become “great again”. The coming decades may bring upheaval the likes of which we can’t imagine. This is not a doomsday prophecy but a declaration of hope! Eyes of faith see evidence that God is at work transferring people from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His glorious light. The King of kings and Lord of lords is deposing some, empowering others – changing demographics all over the globe – in order to create a nation composed of members from every people group who will walk in His light. A new nation. A nation of people who He calls His own and who worship Him exclusively.

If you are not worshiping God, He may take you to where you don’t want to go in hopes that you will finally look for Him.

Do you worship Christ, the God of the nations, the only Savior of the world?Consider that He may relocate you to where someone is seeking Him; that you are being strategically placed to turn someone from the darkness to light.

Amidst the changes, let us not fear calamity. We must pray against it, we must engage in our democratic processes, of course; but never panic. Rather, let us recognize and glory in God’s mighty power to save; in His activity in the world to accomplish His will. The Lord does reign! Let the earth rejoice; let the coastlands be glad! Though his strategies may be obscured to us, know that He is righteous and just and He will accomplish His purpose. He is preparing a people who are His own to live forever in His light!

Among the gods, there is none like You, O Lord; Nor are there any works like Your works. All nations whom you have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name; for You are great, and do wondrous things; You alone are God. Psalm 86:8-10

A closer look: Acts 4:12; Colossians 1:13, 14; Revelation 21:22-22:5;                  Psalm 97;    Job 12:23-25

Pizza Night

Pizza Night

There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless -a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil … Job’s sons would take turns preparing feasts in their homes, and they would also invite their three sisters to celebrate with them. When these celebrations ended – sometimes after several days – Job would purify his children. He would get up early in the morning and offer a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said to himself, “Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.” Job 1:1-5

It’s Friday! I head to the kitchen to begin the ritual that has engaged me almost every Friday afternoon for the the past 30 years.

I begin by finely dicing a couple plum tomatoes.

Family traditions have eluded me over the years. I love tradition, but it’s hard to keep one going when you find yourself in a different country, a different culture, with different friends and different shopping options every few years. Seasons don’t line up right, either. That tradition we tried to institute in place L just doesn’t fit in location M. And then there’s my own mind that simply doesn’t remember, what with all the changes in our situation. SpoonLicker3 (see My Turn to Lick the Spoon) turns 13 and I ask myself, “What did we do for SL1 and 2 on this birthday?” Beats me. That was a continent and a language ago. But Friday night pizza? That has stuck.

The tomatoes slide into the saucepan where a tablespoon or 2 of tomato paste awaits to receive them, along with a bit of water, several heaping spoons of freshly minced garlic and an equal amount of Italian herbs and a bay leaf. Then, a spoon of olive oil. Put to the heat, it simmers gently. This is when the household members inhale deeply and I hear, “Yay! It’s pizza night!”

We discovered that, especially when living cross-culturally, good family times don’t always come naturally. After a rough week of language learning, or repeated failed attempts to meet with that key person, or when you don’t have running, the roof leaks and the power lines have been bombed again … an intentional “good time” tradition is essential to spiritual health. Thus began pizza and game night. We, and our friends who had the same kind of week, needed to have fun together.

I start chopping and slicing. The toppings all depend on where we are. Today I’m in northern Namibia. Local fresh produce available: tomatoes, onions, squashes and root vegetables. A grated carrot periodically finds its way onto my pizzas but a squash or potato has yet to appear there but …

… I’ve frequently allowed left-overs to sneak onto a pizza. After all, given enough garlic and cheese, who’s to know? But fish from the day before wouldn’t be concealed. That Friday, in Nampula, Mozambique, we took the pizza to a friend’s house for that “good time” we’d waited all week for. Jacob, a dear missionary friend who likes to call my cooking “earthy”, took one bite of the pizza and hollered, “This is horrible! What’s in this?” I think it’s the only time one of my pizzas was declared an abject, unredeemable failure. That threw some cold water (or maybe I should say cold fish) on our Friday Fun Time. My SLs have their own homes and ways to “do pizza” now.  I wonder if any of them are baking one tonight, or maybe picking it up in a box?  But my hubby still prefers my pizza, thankfully. Probably the person who likes my pizza best, though, is … me!

Some great Portuguese sausages are sold here; I thinly slice a link. Most food is imported from South Africa so I have mushrooms and green pepper to slice up, in addition to a sweet onion. I like a lot of toppings. (You know the pizza wasn’t hearty enough if the kids want a bowl of cereal for dessert.) Oh, the sauce has simmered down to a spreadable, but not runny, consistency. It is set aside to cool.

I ponder good times in hard places. We have a SpoonLicker who very frequently prayed: “… and God, help us have a good time.“ This SL hoped for a life a little less hard, and with a lot more fun. Living in a war-torn, foreign country meant that home life was more about building character than having fun. We tried to teach our children that God could and would use the stresses for his good purpose’ to make them holy.  Another SL, gone from his Africa home and not having fun adapting to western culture, bellowed: “I wish God didn’t care so much about making me holy!”  He had learned to recognize the holiness training ground.

Now for the crust. I like to use as much whole wheat flour as possible in the hopes that it will be more healthy and filling. Making dough is simple: a couple teaspoons yeast sprinkled into 1 1/2 cups of warm water – add a tablespoon of olive oil and gradually stir in four or more cups of flour plus a couple teaspoons of salt. I turn the dough out onto a floured counter top and begin kneading.

Fold, press, turn. Again and again and, for some weird reason, Job’s children now come to my mind. Apparently, they liked to have a good time too. They were grown, each with their own home and families, but the guys would take turns having’”pizza night” at their house. They always included their sisters, too. These grown kids just enjoyed being together. They had fun, I’m thinking. The Bible seems to indicate that Dad Job didn’t go to these events. Maybe he knew they’d have more fun without him.

I roll out the dough and lay it in a sheet pan that I’ve liberally sprinkled with cornmeal. Building materials in place, construction begins. I spread the sauce, then carefully place the vegetables, sausage and kalamata olives evenly, out to the very edges. In other places gouda was the only cheese available. But here there is mozzarella and feta, and both go onto this one. I powder the top with a little parmesan, carried over in our suitcase as we can’t get it here. Ta-daah! Another work of art is displayed on the counter top until the dough has risen and it’s ready to bake.

I don’t think Job was at all opposed to his kids having a good time. Parents like to see their children getting along, desirous of each other’s company, especially as adults. But he was more concerned that they be holy, that the way they live would be acceptable to God. He didn’t pray, “Help them have a good time”, or “Help them be happy” but “Make them holy.” He offered sacrifices on their behalf towards this end. Old Testament sacrifices all pointed to Christ – to his person and to his work on the cross. They illustrated that being holy and accepted by God is a gift offered only by Jesus Christ’s own sacrifice. If Job had lived on this side of the cross, his prayers might have been something like this: “God, may my children know their sin and go to Christ for forgiveness. Cover them with the blood of your sacrifice. Make them holy. Keep them from careless, thoughtless words and actions while they’re having fun. Cause them to want you, to love you and be hungry and thirsty for intimacy with you. Protect them from the evil one and his lies that tempt towards atheism, agnosticism, humanism and fatalism. May they be more Christ-conscious than Self-conscious.”

My daily and continuous prayers for my own children when they were young was that they would believe and trust Jesus Christ as their Savior, the One who died on the cross for the ungodly – them. As they grew up, I added, and continue to add to that prayer: when they are sinking in despondency, I pray they will experience Christ their Hope and Counselor; when their heart is hurting, that they experience Christ the complete Comforter; when they need guidance or direction, that they find in Christ all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I pray that they will be more conscious of Christ’s sufficiency than they are of their own deficiencies. I pray that they will look less at themselves and more at Christ.

J.C. Ryle of the 19th century said, “In all true saving religion Christ is all: all in justification, all in sanctification, all in comfort, all in hope. Blessed is that mother’s child that knows it, and far more blessed is he that feels it, too.”

Pizza’s done! We snuggle up side by side with the computer in front of us on the coffee table, large slabs of pizza on our plates. We’re hoping to find something good to watch on YouTube and that internet will be fast enough to stream it in tonight. We’re ready for a Friday Night Good Time!

Recommended link:   http://www.biblebb.com/files/ryle/christ_is_all.htm

Schooling for Home

Schooling for Home

Our yearning for home is the schoolmaster training us to yearn for Heaven.

Our Creator designed and fashioned us for “place”. Even more profound, he has fashioned us for “home”. He created in us a good and proper yearning for home. From God’s point of view, home is a location but, more, it is a place of intimate fellowship with the Father. Eden and “being with God” was God’s design for home. When Adam and Eve sinned, they were banished from the place where they were at home, and they lost God’s intimate converse, too. “Home”, as it was meant to be, became an elusive dream.

For many of us, home is a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving, a Thomas Kinkade cottage, or the red sun sinking behind a yellow fever tree. Home is a place we always seem to be reaching for but never quite attain. A fleeting aroma of warm, just-roasted peanuts. Home! The sweet smell of a freshly mown lawn. The gleeful sound of little children playing kick the can. Deja vu! But everyone eventually disperses and the warm fuzzy feelings do, too. We almost achieve it, we see it, we reach for it, but then it evaporates. Those years when I, my husband and all five of our children lived together under one roof were when I felt most truly at home. My growing up years with Mom, Dad and both my brothers under one roof— that was home, too. But the children grow up and leave. Beloved parents die. Family moves away. The house must be sold. Or your assignment is complete, tour of duty finished, there’s a new job and it’s time to move on to the next place. For the umpteenth time, home is something we’re chasing, again.

It’s not a good feeling. Is this longing and yearning we have for home bad, then? Does the longing indicate a weakness of soul or a hidden sin, or some latent issue I should dig up and chew on? God says absolutely not. He has fashioned each heart for home. Home is so important to God, so much a part of his own image, that he stamped the desire for it on each and every soul. He talks about His own desire and plan to make His home with those who love Him! He actually wants us to long for a home and all the happy sensations of security and completeness that come with it because He intends to be the fulfilment of that longing.

Providing a home for us is a purpose of God’s! We see this throughout Scripture. Before Jesus went to the cross, he implored his disciples (those then and now) to believe him when he says “In my Father’s house are many mansions; I go to prepare a place for you … I will go but come again to get you so that where I am, you will be, too.” He is making a real, tangible home for us that is full of Him. As we live and move here, he whets our appetite with gifts of brief sights, smells and sounds which are but a shadow of the real thing. Rather than droop when home evaporates, he wants us to laugh and holler, “Yes! I see it! I can hardly wait!”

God called Abraham to leave his home to go to another place that would be the earthly home of God’s people. During his moving process though, the eyes of his soul were opened to see his genuine inheritance. He saw from afar and was assured of a home with foundations (real, not illusive), whose builder and maker is God. The land was important, but his faith more so. He, and others before him, believed that God would reward those who diligently seek Him out. He would reward them with His presence, which is what makes a house a home.

Abraham and others embraced the promises of God, confessed their identity as aliens and declared plainly that they do still, however, seek a homeland. They didn’t give up on home. They didn’t say that desiring a home is a sign of weakness or sin. They did not say “poor me”. Not by a long shot! They understood God’s plan for home and embraced it. When we adjust our longing for home to God’s plan for one, as revealed in his word, our faith grows! We are able to enjoy earthly homes with a proper perspective.

We read that if Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah had called to mind the country from which they had come they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. God has purposely designed time so that we can’t go back to homes that were (the good old days). He doesn’t want our soul to look back to a time with fewer trials, either. To walk by faith means to not go back. Because the heroes of Hebrews didn’t go back, “God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them”.

If you are abiding in Him, God gives you grace, and watches you as you leave behind all your old ideas of what you must have to be comfy and secure and at home; he catches your eye, and you fix your gaze on Him, contented with Him and the current provision; and then He looks at you and declares, “I am proud to be called your God. I make My home with you now, and forever.” If that does not thrill your soul, no Kinkade cottage will.

See Hebrews 11, 12; Revelation 21:1-8; John 14 and 17; I Thessalonians 4:13-18 …