Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Fable

Once upon a time, in a green and fertile land forgotten by time, lived an honest old man and his wife and their three daughters.  They lived in a simple but clean cottage, tilled a garden for their vegetables, kept chickens and a few goats for meat and milk, and tended a small herd of sheep for wool.  The wife was particularly skilled at spinning and dyeing the wool and knitting it into beautiful sweaters, and the family never lacked exchange tokens on market day. 

It was an abundant and peaceful life.  The youngest daughter, though, was always in a state of discontentment.  She was named Rose, and everyone agreed that her name suited her particularly well—beautiful, yes, but full of thorns.  Rose hated feeding the chickens and weeding the garden.   Doing her chores always reminded Rose that she really wanted to be—and deserved to be—a princess.  She was certainly pretty enough to be a princess, and she had no use whatsoever for menial labor. 

What Rose hated most, though, was fetching water from the clear stream that bubbled along the side of their property.  She hated getting her feet wet, she hated the need to walk carefully so as not to spill the water, and most of all, she hated not having a servant to fetch the water for her.

One day, Rose was in a particularly grumpy frame of mind as she filled her buckets at the stream.  She had stubbed her toe on the protruding root of a tree and gotten a pebble in her shoe.  In her frustration, she spilled water on her apron and nearly lost one of the buckets in the stream.  Finally, the buckets were filled and she turned to trudge back to the cottage.  That is when she noticed the frog sunning itself on a nearby rock.  She wrinkled her nose in disgust—those green, slimy pests in her water—and stepped away from the stream bank. 

The next time Rose want to fetch water, she did not stub her toe or get a pebble in her shoe.  She couldn’t help but notice, though, that the frog was still on the rock!  She peered at it in curiosity, and then gave it no more thought as she carefully filled her buckets and toted them away, grumbling about the lack of servants. 

The next time Rose went to fetch water, the frog was still on the rock.  And the time after that.  It was this fourth time that Rose finally gave the frog serious consideration.  Then she remembered the talk of the wise women at the market, that some frogs were magical.  She looked at the frog carefully, noticed a ring of spots on the top of its head, and concluded that this frog was indeed magical—it was an enchanted prince.

Rose slowly and cautiously approached the frog/prince.  It sat looking at her, unmoving and unblinking.  When Rose reached out and touched it, it took all of her determination to not recoil in distaste.  The frog showed no objection to being scooped up and placed in the pocket of her apron. 

Rose spent every available moment of the next hours, days, and weeks tending to her frog/prince.  The first challenge was where to keep him.  There was no place in their tiny cottage that she could house him without her sisters discovering him, and she couldn’t bear the possibility that one of them might become a princess instead of her.  Rose did the best she could in a small gully on the side of the cottage that was overgrown with weeds.  She knew nothing about frogs, but the frog did not seem to mind the bumbling but sincere care of a princess-to-be.  She took great care to keep her unfortunate prince supplied with clean water, even if it meant extra trips to the stream.  She watched carefully when he ate and tried to provide him with his favorite insects.  And when she was certain no one could hear her, Rose would talk to her prince, complimenting him on the green color of his skin and his neatness in capturing his meals.  She would give him outings in the garden while she weeded and placed him on a nice, flat rock to sun himself while she hung laundry to dry.

Rose was so busy caring for her frog prince that she didn’t have nearly as much time to grumble about not being a princess.  And in her preoccupation with his care, she took little notice of her mother’s appreciation for her new diligence in her chores or her sisters’ gratitude for the kindness with which she had started to treat them.  She didn’t even notice the villager’s startled expressions when she issued unexpected compliments.

Meanwhile, Rose’s frog/prince was growing plump and content.  Rose overcame her disgust of his slimy skin and even came to enjoy stroking him under his throat.  The problem was that Rose couldn’t think of a way to break the enchantment and claim her prince.  She tried spells she had heard as a child, herbal potions, and ceremonial dances.  Nothing she could do or say seemed to make any difference in the state of her future mate.

One fateful morning, Rose was late in tending to her frog/prince.  Her elder sister had been ill, and she had helped her mother comfort the patient and had done her sister’s morning chores as well as her own.  When she arrived at the palace she had constructed for her frog, she was shocked to see that he wasn’t there.  She brushed aside all the weeds to be sure, but there was no doubt; her prince was gone.

Frantic, Rose began to search the garden and the area where she took the frog/prince when she hung laundry to dry.  Her search covered ever-widening circles of their property, to no avail.

Finally, Rose needed to suspend her search to fetch water for the family’s mid-day meal.  A glimmer of hope grew in her heart as she recalled the rock by the stream where she had first met him.  The hope was short-lived, though.  The rock was there, but her frog/prince was not.  In her grief, Rose forgot to grumble about the heavy and tedious task of filling each jug with water.  As she turned to go, she took one more glance toward the rock.  In surprise and delight, she almost spilled the water when she noticed her frog/prince ensconced on the rock, winking at her.  She dropped the water and rushed to him, scooped him up, and kissed him. 

Rose’s frog/prince sat in her hands, blinking up at her.  She couldn’t be sure that he was glad to see her; certainly, he was not as happy to see her as she was to see him.  Somehow, standing quietly at the stream with her frog/prince resting in the palm of her hand, she understood that he needed to return to his place by the stream.  She placed him gently back on the rock but left her hand outstretched for a moment in hopes that he would return to her.  When he jumped into the steam instead, she returned slowly and thoughtfully to the family cottage. She didn’t spill a drop of water.  For the first time, she noticed the bend in her father’s back from carrying heavy bales of hay and the wrinkles in her mother’s tired face.  She put the water down, put the kettle over the hot coals in the fireplace for tea and turned to retrieve the laundry before the impending storm broke. 

That night in bed, she listened to her sisters’ regular breathing inside and the pelting rain outside.  She wondered about her frog.  She didn’t think he minded the storm.  She wondered if he really was a prince.  Was he magical?  She thought about Market Day tomorrow.  If she helped feed the chickens and milk the goats, her father would be able to come, too.   And perhaps her parents would allow her to get one of the kittens that were invariably available.  She could care for it, and she was sure her sisters would love the fun a kitten would bring.

The beautiful quilt with the red embroidery that her mother had made for her last birthday warmed Rose down to toes.  Her thoughts returned to her frog/prince.  She finally realized that her frog/prince was indeed magical.  Learning to care for him had taught her to love. 

Rose had become a princess after all.  She was ready to be a child of the King.

Eternal life is not so much about what we do or who we are as it is about who we are becoming….

Repentance From Dead Works

"The hard work of Christian growth, therefore, is to think less of ourselves and our performance and more of Jesus and his performance for us.  Ironically, when we focus mostly on our need to get better, we actually get worse.  We become neurotic and self-absorbed.  Preoccupation with our effort instead of with God's effort for us makes us increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective."

                                                                                        Tullian Tchividjian

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Purpose in Life

"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them."  
                                                                Ephesians 2:10

"Even the smallest person can change the course of the future."
                                                               The Lord of the Rings (film),
                                                               J.R.R. Tolkien

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Weak Hearts

"If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased."

                                                                                                    C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Case For Thoughtful Bible Study

"The Bible is so rich and deep and multifaceted that we learn not simply from what the Bible says, but even from how the Bible says things."

                                                                                             Tullian Tchividjian

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Power of Truth

A common manifestation of our sinful nature is a fear of truth.  Truth be told, many of us prefer lies.  I sometimes encounter someone who is so practiced at fabricating his own reality that he has lost the ability to distinguish truth from lie.  The deceiver becomes the deceived.   Not only does such ingrained self-deception have grave eternal consequences--it creates a cavernous separation from the God of Truth--but it robs that person of the goodness of truth.  And despite feelings to the contrary, truth is the "good stuff."  Truth is at the heart of who God is: Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (Jn. 14:6).  Jesus also declared the power of truth: "and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (Jn. 8:32).   May we choose--daily--the power of truth over the bondage of lies.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Body Care, STAT!

I won’t go so far as to say that medical television shows make me sick, but I will say that I do not find them appealing.  These programs, however, get one fact right: it is vitally important to stop blood loss.  When a patient is rushed into the emergency room with a wound or internal bleeding due to an accident, the first priority is to stop the bleeding.  This is a medical fact within a spiritual context.  Our bodies are created by God with a blood supply that makes body functions possible.  It is a closed system, though, and a loss of blood, however small, is dangerous.  Even a very slow loss of blood, over time, can be life-threatening.
God designed our physical bodies to require an intact and functioning circulatory system.  He designed the Body of Christ—that group of believers we call the church—to require intact and functioning relationships.  It is in relationship that we, as the body of Christ, are able to fulfill His purposes for us.  In his letters, the Apostle Paul repeatedly reminds his readers (and us) that we are all members of one body.  We are to care for one another because what happens to one of us affects all of us.  If one of our members is injured, he or she will not be able to fully participate in relationship as God intends.  It is our love for one another that will manifest Christ to our unbelieving neighbors.  Relationship is the life-blood of a healthy and fruitful body of Christ.
As we desire the Lord to do His glorious work in us and among us, it is essential that we tend to any blood loss.   Blood loss metaphorically occurs when one of us experiences spiritual and/or emotional wounds that are left unbound or when critical needs are left unmet.  It happens every time there is unresolved conflict, hurt feelings that create resentment, estrangement rather than reconciliation, gossip instead of gracious and honest confrontation, excuses rather than confession and repentance.
It is exciting to see what the Lord is doing in His local bodies and to consider our role in His kingdom’s work.  In order to be fully prepared for this, each of us must share the responsibility to keep our church body strong.  Just as it takes an eye or a nerve to recognize a physical injury, I may recognize one need while you recognize another.  One brother may be equipped and called to minister to one need while a sister may be equipped and called to help mend an area of brokenness.  In our relationships, it is up to us to take responsibility for our own sin and selfishness and respond to the sin and selfishness of others with truth and grace.   Confession and repentance, forgiveness, and loving confrontation are all powerful tools that God has provided so that we may stem relational blood loss. 
Just like dealing with real blood loss can be intimidating and messy, facing the metaphorical blood loss of broken relationship can be distasteful.  The alternative, though, is bleeding to death.  I, for one, would prefer vibrant body health, and I encourage us all to join together in seeking to build Godly relationships with our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, relationships that reflect the intimacy enjoyed by the members of our Triune God.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Spiritual Dance

Mother’s Day is usually not a significant holiday in my household.  This Mother’s Day, however, was sweeter than usual.  It was Mother’s Day, 2011, that my family granted my wish and spent the afternoon helping me to begin a gigantic furniture refinishing project: a large, ornate dining room set with eight (!) chairs purchased on e-Bay.

Thus began an adventure that had my husband and daughter making wagers about how long it would be before our cars could go back in the garage.  Little did I anticipate the gallons of stripper, piles of steel wool, and cartons of ice cream that would be required to complete the job.  And since I am an amateur refinisher, there was as much to learn as there was to do.

As the days turned into weeks and then into months, I began to appreciate that there were spiritual lessons to be learned as well.  The Bible talks a good bit about the need for perseverance through trials and struggles.  Although there is no eternal value in our dining room set, there is eternal value in the lessons that God had for me in the 110ยบ  heat in our garage.  As I faced periodic mistakes and unexpected challenges—steps backward—I realized that it was a dance: some steps forward, some steps back.  Although the steps forward were more satisfying, the steps backward were also part of the dance and valuable in their own right. 

Since refinishing furniture gives one a great deal of time to think, I had the opportunity to see how the “refinishing dance” applied to my spiritual life.  It is wonderful to experience spiritual success: to overcome temptation and sin, to develop a more Christ-like character, to become a more loving, devoted bond-servant of Christ.  My spiritual struggles, though, are also valuable: they send me running back to my Lord, to remember that my righteousness comes not by works or Christian performance but by faith in Jesus. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis observes that our failures in pursuing the Christian walk are essential for the development of our faith:

No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good....  Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is....  A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later....  The main thing we learn from a serious attempt to practice the Christian virtues is that we fail.  If there was any idea that God had set us a sort of exam, and that we might get good marks by deserving them, that has to be wiped out....  Then comes another discovery.  Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs doing anything for God or giving anything to God, I will tell you what it is really like.  It is like a small child going to its father and saying, "Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present."  Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child's present.  It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction.  When a man has made these two discoveries God can really get to work.  It is after this that real life begins.  The man is awake now.  We can now go on to talk of Faith....

Jesus Christ, our bridegroom, wants to dance with us, to celebrate His work in us as we rejoice in spiritual growth and persevere through failure, trials, and struggles.  We need not fear failure nor hide in embarrassment when we fall short of God's best for us.  Learning to dance is an awkward process, but it can bring great joy as we encourage one another and depend on our Lord to lead.