Monday, December 30, 2013

If I Had Known...

It's been quite a long time since I've posted on my blog--perhaps too long. But 2014 will be upon us in little more than 24 hours, and I feel as if that deserves some recognition. New Years is often considered a time to look ahead, but I keep finding myself looking back...back at what 2013 has been.

Today's quote is not really a quote. It's a Facebook post that I wrote on December 31, 2012.

"Well, 2012 is all but over. It certainly has been quite a year. I'm excited to see what the future holds, and though 2012 has had its share of trials, I'm almost sorry to see it go."

I remember where I was sitting when I wrote that, and the things going through my mind. And I can't help but thinking, wondering if I would have been so optimistic about the New Year if I had known what it would hold.

I don't want to sound melodramatic. But I think that I can say without exaggeration that 2013 has been the hardest year of my life.

Maybe that's not saying much. I'm only 22 years old. I haven't really lived yet, and I'm sure that life will get much harder before it's over. It might also get much easier. I don't know what life holds. And I think that's one of the most important differences between New Years 2013 and New Years 2014. Last year, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what lay ahead. This time around, I haven't a clue. It's a good reminder that we never know what our future holds. God's plans are often not the same as ours, but His are always better.

And let me make one thing clear before I continue. There are many things about 2013 that I am thankful for. I am beyond blessed by friends, family and most importantly, my Savior.

I am thankful, too, for the lessons this year has taught me. Though often I have been an incredibly stubborn student. They are lessons I did not necessarily expect to learn--about myself, about people, and about the Lord.

I have learned that trials have no easy fix, no easy out. Life has no "undo" button or fairytale ending. But I have also been reminded that trials show us for what we really are, and so I am that much more aware of how much I need God's grace. I fall woefully short of the mark.

And so, sometimes I wonder how I would have approached 2013...

...if I had known about the disappointments.
...if I had known about the nights I would sit alone in my room and cry.
...if I had known about the things I would do and say and later regret.
...if I had known about the "goodbyes" I never expected to say.

But you see, mixed in with all of that were times of such laughter and love, such honesty and vulnerability, such joy and hope.

There will always be shadows, but you need light to make those shadows. You can't have one without the other, in this life anyway. There is a life coming with all light and no shadows.

Ultimately I'm glad that I do not know the future. God only gives us as much as we can handle. Whatever blessings and trials lie ahead, there will be grace enough to face them both, if only I rely on the One who supplies it.

My hope for 2014 is that I can be content to trust God, even when I can't trust people. My hope is that I can rest in His grace and mercy, because nothing else can save me. My confidence is that He is with me EVERY step of my life, no matter what 2014, 2015 or the rest of my years bring. From Him are the blessings and from Him are the trials (blessings in disguise). Blessed be His name!

So, I greet 2014 with a smile and open arms. Not because 2013 was a triumph, not because I have this all figured out, not because I expect it to be painless. But because HIS grace is sufficient.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Remembrance

November 9, 1938. Kristallnacht. The Night of Broken Glass. It was more than five years after the first official boycott of Jewish shops and businesses in Germany. Treatment of God's people had been growing steadily worse, but this date went down in infamy as the worst organized pogrom since Adolf Hitler came to power. Jewish businesses, synagogues and houses were burned and looted. Men and women were dragged out of their homes and beaten before being carted away to concentration camps. 

And all this in the name of justice, sanctioned by the government, because a man of Jewish descent had assassinated a German official. Chief of the Reich Main Security Office, Reinhard Heydrich sent a telegram to state police across the country instructing them to not interfere with the planned demonstrations and destruction. 

He even went to far as to say, "As soon as the course of events during the night permits the release of the officials required, as many Jews in all districts--especially the rich--as can be accommodated in existing prisons are to be arrested. For the time being only healthy male Jews, who are not too old, are to be detained. After the detentions have been carried out the appropriate concentration camps are to be contacted immediately for the prompt accommodation of the Jews in the camps."* 

Kristallnacht is just one of many examples of the Nazis' disregard for human life and their hatred of the Jewish people. But this time every year, I stop to think about the people whose lives were forever changed that day. Who may have never seen their homes--or their families--again after that night. Who might have not made it through the war.

Several years ago I wrote this small vignette, imagining I was a resident of Berlin, walking the streets on November 10, the morning after Kristallnacht. It is dedicated to those who were never able to pick up the pieces that the Nazis forced them to leave behind.

* * *

Glass doesn’t melt like ice. I remember walking these streets on January mornings when I was young, the cobbles iced over, sun hitting them slantwise as it yawned and stretched above the horizon, casting light between the crowded buildings. I always ran faster than I should have and fell more times than I remember, but I loved to hear the ice and wet snow under my feet. Squish, crunch, slip, smack, laughter, red cheeks, and a wet bottom. By spring it would be gone. We’d run madcap over the streets, ice and wet bottoms a mere memory, a vague one.

There is nothing vague about glass. The sun hits it slantwise this morning, scattering rainbows across the cobbles, as if an ice sculptor had gone mad last night and smashed his work all over the city. The glass doesn’t melt beneath my feet, nor do I slip. There were others who went mad last night, and they weren’t ice sculptors. In front of one house the lawn is almost white, because the glass is so thick. I walk up the front steps, tripping and falling over bricks scattered in the way. No laughter this time. The windows don’t have panes anymore. Like hollow eyes wide with horror they stare at the white lawn, at what they have lost, unable to recover it. The door is still swinging on its hinge. Maybe the people who lived here were hospitable, doors always open for friends and visitors, anyone who needed a smile. There were other visitors here last night, and they wouldn’t allow their hosts close that door one last time. The wind picks up and plays blind man’s bluff with the curtains, fingering every tear and charred edge, winding under upturned chairs, searching for any sign of life. I am searching, too.

The house smoldered all night, but the wind has blown most of the smoke away. Ashes cover everything like snow, a shroud as pure as a frosty breath on a January morning, and as painful. My chest constricts. The wind stirs again, catching the corner of a curtain and snagging it on the broken window. One tenant still remains, curled beneath the window, unaware that her cover has been removed. Her whiskers are singed, but her striped chin is pressed to the ground in that sly smile cats have when they are about to catch a mouse. I stroke her wooden back and turn away.

The wind has also shifted the ashes on the table. It is the one piece of furniture still standing. Underneath its shroud is a meal partially-eaten. The cups are mostly intact and the bowls are still full of soup, thick and white now. Only the candlesticks are broken, snapped in half with the decorations pulled off and strewn among the ashes. These decorations stare up from the snow, two triangles intersecting. Copper stars in a white sky. On the wall above there is another intersection, two lines meeting at insolent angles--black on brick like gangrene. I will leave before long; even now there is still too much smoke.

When I think of my childhood it is like looking through a frosty window--shadows, voices, impressions. I am always trying to see something that never becomes fully visible. Memories slip from my mind like an icicle in a hand warmed by running through the streets. But memories of today cannot slip away. Images of horror-stricken windows and a lonely wind that had only curtains to play with, are a part of who I am now: crystallized forever. The cold and silence of the November morning swallow me whole, and I wonder if it will ever be warm again. 


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Beauty in the Eye of the Creator

Someone pointed out to me recently that she'd noticed how prone I'd become to negativity and self-pity. I had to mentally take a step back. I would normally consider myself to be a happy person. There are so many things I genuinely find joy in. But this hasn't been an easy year, and I hadn't realized how easily I'd fallen into a pattern of complaint and anxiety and self-centeredness. I had lost sight of the One who is the source of our joy. The poem I am going to share with you is one that I started months ago, but as I pulled it out to finish in the last couple weeks, it turned into a conscious effort to see things differently.

My quote for today is the title of one of my favorite films, 
"Life is Beautiful." 
For those of you who haven't seen this movie, DO! Don't let the fact that it is in Italian deter you. Believe me, it is well worth the effort. "Life is Beautiful" is hilarious and tender, though the ending is hard. I won't give away that ending. Suffice it to say that the movie is the story of a father's love for his son, how he protects him from fear in a concentration camp by pretending the whole thing is a game.

And the little boy looking back, describes it this way, "This is the sacrifice my father made. This was his gift to me."

What the movie suggests is true. Life IS beautiful, but not because we are being shielded from the harsh truth. There's no doubt about it, life is also hard, but we have a God who is above those trials, who promises us a future beyond this damaged life, and who is even willing to walk with us in our present times of need.

It is often said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I believe that's true, but it depends less on differing opinions and more on whether you intend to see beauty in the first place. There is beauty all around us and of all different kinds. Let us rejoice in what God has created and in what He has redeemed.

A Study of Beauty

The mountain peak in sunset dressed,
The cheerful river at play or rest,
A tranquil wood when thunder sleeps,
The calming rain when heaven weeps:
Beauty tried and beauty true.
Beauty neither old nor new.

The intricacy of a spider’s toil,
A butterfly’s tongue, the slender coil,
The veins of a leaf, like stained glass green,
The infant plant within a bean:
There is beauty still so small
That most cannot be seen at all.

On forgotten moons the wastelands lie
Beneath the stars that crown the sky,
The rich expanse of the Milky Way,
The emptiness without night or day:
Beauty too vast to comprehend
Spans the Universe, end to end.

The smile that’s worth a thousand thoughts,
That comforts the heart with misery fraught,
The embrace that forgives an angry word,
The ear that listened, more than heard:
Beauty is a three-strand cord
To walk alone we cannot afford.

The joining of two lives as one,
The aspirations of life begun,
To make a house his castle grand,
And growing old while hand in hand:
This beauty beyond horizons lies.
I wait for One whose plans are wise.

The design of suds across a plate,
The delight of a sock who has found his mate,
The valor of a dust bunny chase,
The mirth of dirt that streaks the face:
Beauty often smells like bleach,
A beauty never far from reach.

The mischief made with food or dirt,
A “Jackson Pollock” on his shirt,
The nose that does not cease to drip,
The sticky hand with tightening grip:
A beauty I have yet to know,
A sprouting of the seeds you sow.

The misused life, the damaged heart,
The dream once sure that fell apart,
Still this by God can be renewed,
With grace’s beauty thus imbued.
Imperfect beauty fills our earth,
Excepting one unblemished birth.

The wounded hand, the heaving chest,
One Son by wrath of God oppressed.
The lonely tomb, the weight of sorrow,
Until the wonder of tomorrow:
Beauty in each drop of blood
That fell unheeded to the mud.
The beauty of a tombstone rolled,
A God who every vow upholds,
Because of this His bride receives
A beauty where no soul can grieve.
Till then He shows us beauty here.
If grand or humble, hold it dear.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Checkered Life

The Cat in the Hat was the first book I fell in love with, the first book I memorized before I could read. It has held a special place in my heart ever since. I shared it with my siblings before they learned to read, and I expect I will read it to my children if God blesses me with a family. But I find that the longer I live, the more I envy "Sally and I" in the story. The Cat put those two children through quite a bit, with his wild games and the antics of Thing One and Thing Two. By the end of it all, the house was in shambles. And I often react much more like the fish than the children when things in my life get turned upside down. Even the fish was lucky, though. The Cat came in with his "clean-up machine" and put everything right in a matter of minutes. It was as if he hadn't been there at all. The children's mother never knew any different.

Real life isn't like that. When something goes wrong, when we sin, when we are hurt by other's sin, when circumstances beyond our control sap time and resources and energy, there is not a magic "clean-up machine," no rewind button. This angers me, because I can't seem to give up the idea that everything can be fixed if only we try hard enough. I want to "make it better," to stop the hurt I see wearing on myself and those I love. But, there are things I will never be able to fix. 

What then? Do we despair? Today I came across a quote from Charles Dickens, a favorite author of mine, that I think provides interesting insight into trials, regret, and life that is never what we think it will be.
"To remember happiness which cannot be restored, is pain, but of a softened kind. Our recollections are unfortunately mingled with much that we deplore, and with many actions which we bitterly repent; still in the most chequered life I firmly think there are so many little rays of sunshine to look back upon...and memory, however sad, is the best and purest link between this world and a better."
This is taken from Nicholas Nickleby, a book I only started reading, but I know the story. It is spoken between travelers on a journey, just before the title character's life will take a turn that he hardly expected. It will all come out alright in the end, but there will be trials and tragedy before that point. In a way, this quote captures the theme of the book.

It captures life pretty well, too. Life is a strange blend of joy and pain. The two are often inseparable. And the lost joys we recall, the unfulfilled hopes, the sins and regrets, the irreparable parts of life, serve to remind us that our entire world is irreparable. So damaged is this world, that God will one day exchange it for a new one. We were once irreparable. Until Christ fixed what we could not. He renewed us, though we were decrepit and dead. Without him, we would indeed despair. 

There is something better coming, and this perishable world reminds us that we were made for an imperishable one.

Dickens is not a Christian author, though his work often expresses Christian themes. His sentiment made me think of this Sovereign Grace hymn.

"The sun beams on behind the clouds
"And in the dark still grace abounds
"All is well because of God's great love
"The road of disappointment runs
"Where unseen mercies wait for us
"And all is well because of God's great love."

Think of a checkered hillside in the interplay of light and shadow on a cloudy day. When we walk that hillside, we are sometimes in the shadow and sometimes in the light, but God is with us all the way. It is God's love makes this life liveable. 

I often cannot fix, but I can hope. I can remember the joys that I had for a little while. I can thank God for the joys that I have now. And I can wait for the day when nothing will mar the joy of seeing my Savior's face.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Comb That Was Mightier Than the Sword

My dad is someone blessed with particularly vivid dreams at night. Often populated by spaceships and time travel, any number of them could have been an episode from the Twilight Zone or Star Trek. I find myself fascinated and sometimes even envious when he tells me about all the interesting things that happened to him while he was sleeping. 

The other day, he related a dream to me that was not so much exciting as it was convicting. He dreamt that he was standing in line at the grocery store. In front of him was a mother and her little girl, about six or seven years old. As they were standing there, the little girl pulled a comb out of her mother's purse and began hitting my dad on the leg. When he asked her why she was doing that, she said,

"I'm protecting you from a life of comfort."

Now, I'm not the kind of person who puts very much stock in dreams, and neither is my dad. But, I thought this one was particularly interesting, counterintuitive, and even uncanny. It gave me pause, and I am starting to realize how important comfort is, in America, and in my own life particularly.

The idea that we need protection from comfort is not a new one, but very foreign in our culture. In Deuteronomy 6:10-12 Moses warns the Israelites about the dangers of forgetting God when they have become comfortable in the Promised Land:

"Then it shall come about when the Lord your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you do not forget the Lord who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery."

And in 1 John 2:16, the Apostle John warns his readers to beware of what the world has to offer:

"For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world."

It is not that the physical, mental and emotional comforts this world has to offer are inherently bad. We ought to enjoy those things with which God has blessed us. On the other hand, when we begin to put to much value in worldly comforts that are passing away, they take our focus off the One in whom we should find value and comfort. In those circumstances, a trip to the threshing floor would do us good. 

To add to my father's dream, I have experienced something over the last several days (though a very mild example) that has really made me reconsider my attitude toward comfort and pleasure.

For health reasons, I have decided to give up wheat, dairy and cane sugar for a month. For someone like me, who could eat pasta and ice cream every day of the week, it seemed like a big deal at first. But I also recognize that I have plenty of friends who have much more serious food restrictions that they have dealt with their entire lives. And even more, there are so many people around the world who are lucky to get a bowl of rice in the morning. I may not be able to eat my favorite foods right now, but I still have a fridge full of nutritious and delicious options, and that is exactly the point.

It may sound like the argument to get a little kid to eat his spinach--"Now, you remember that there are children starving in Africa..."

But, I'm not saying that what I can and cannot eat is really the issue. It's not that I can't get a scone from Starbucks or have a cupcake at an office party. The issue underneath it all is this: How much stock do I I put in those things, or anything else that makes me "happy."

Ours is a culture based on rights. The right to free speech, free press, free elections, etc. We have taken that idea much too far, demanding that we deserve to be comfortable. If traffic is jammed, we complain. We deserve a stress-free commute. If the wi-fi is down, we complain. We deserve our favorite shows on Netflix. If Burger King gets our order wrong, we complain. We deserve a hamburger without pickles. And I say this knowing that I am guilty of all of it.

So what is the secret to contentment if it isn't comfort? We know that those in our society who have the most physical comforts are often the least content. Christ promises not physical comfort, but eternal comfort. And that comes not from knowing that heaven will be beautiful and pain-free, but from knowing that we have been made forever righteous before God. We have worth because when God sees us, He sees His Son. We have worth, because we are His children, even though we don't deserve it. We are not the sum of our possessions here on earth.

It was Paul who said it best, "...for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Crash Course in Perspective

About a month ago, my dad came into the kitchen and poured some water into a glass. He then called my sisters in one at a time and asked them a simple question, "Is this glass half full or half empty?"

The first walked in, studied the glass for a minute and replied, "It's half empty."

The second one walked in and promptly answered, "It's half full." But then she stopped and her eyes grew wide. "Wait a minute!" She ran to tell my other sister, "It's both!"

I couldn't help smiling at this exchange, that my sisters so innocently illustrated the point of the "glass half full/half empty" analogy. It all depends on your perspective.

The idea of perception and perspective has been on my mind quite often recently. Much of it is related to several life circumstances where emotions tend to run very high and where trusting God in uncharted territory might be difficult.

I can't see past my own nose sometimes. In the midst the unknown, I want so much to be in control. I focus only on the here and now, and the narrower my perceptions become, the less room there is for God and His ever-working hand.

I think what I've been experiencing is much like a roller coaster. To the observer, roller coasters never appear to be moving very fast. The drops do not seem as steep. Take a step back and you can see the ride as a whole in relation to everything around it. It always ends by coming safely into the station. Riding a roller coaster is a very different experience, though. Every turn is unexpected, every drop is terrifying. We see only a few feet of track ahead of us, nothing more.

And so I come to today's quote. It's actually an entire poem, written by Corrie Ten Boom, expressing the difference between our perspective in the midst of life and God's perspective, who sees the entire sprawling plan of history as one coherent picture.  

My life is but a weaving 
Between my God and me. 
I cannot choose the colors 
He weaveth steadily. 
Oft' times He weaveth sorrow; 
And I in foolish pride 
Forget He sees the upper 
And I the underside. 
Not 'til the loom is silent 
And the shuttles cease to fly 
Will God unroll the canvas 
And reveal the reason why. 
The dark threads are as needful 
In the weaver's skillful hand 
As the threads of gold and silver 
In the pattern He has planned 
He knows, He loves, He cares; 
Nothing this truth can dim. 
He gives the very best to those 
Who leave the choice to Him.

I forget that God sees everything, that His plan has already been written. It's like Philip Yancey's book, Where is God When it Hurts? 

In the last chapter, he says, "You can go to a ten-foot blackboard and draw a line from one side to another. Then, make a one-inch dot in that line. That dot, to a microscopic germ cell undulating in its midst, would seem enormous. The cell could spend its lifetime exploring the dot. But if you, a human, step back to view the entire blackboard, you'll be struck by the hugeness of the ten-foot line compared to the tiny dot the germ cell calls home."

We are all like that germ cell. When I question God's reasons for the circumstances in my life, it is not because He ought to be questioned, but because I am not looking at things with the right perspective. Just today, a friend of mine mentioned the Casting Crowns song "Already There," and I think it is very fitting: "When I'm lost in the mystery, to You my future is a memory, cause You're already there..."

How has my life become a crash course in perspective? I think it is the tough circumstances, or those that may not be tough, just uncertain, that remind me who I am and who God is. It is enough for me to know that we see "in a mirror dimly," and not expect to see more, not yet. I can be content, as one bound by time and space, to rest with confidence in the care of One who is bound by neither. 

For this reason, when someone asks me if the glass is half empty or half full, I ought to instead respond with David, "My cup overflows." And this, because God is the One who fills it.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Story of a Duel

"Why is it not doing away with them?" I cried, outraged. "If you systematically ruin somebody, and take any possibility of earning a living from them, they must surely finally starve. Is that not so? I call it doing away with someone when you deliberately allow them to starve, don't you?"
"Calm down," said Holz, "nobody starves in Germany. If a Jewish shopkeeper is really ruined, he will get social security payments." The terrible thing was that he said that quite seriously, without the slightest sneer. We parted in a hostile mood.
-Sebastian Haffner, Defying Hitler 

I am doing something a little different with my blog today. Why? Because, I have just finished reading a remarkable book, and half the pleasure in the discovery an articulate, insightful, and (sometimes) painfully honest author is being able to share it with others.

For several years I have been a student of World War Two history, largely because the novel I am writing is a WWII story. During that time I have collected a small library of firsthand accounts, biographies and history books all dealing with 1940s in general and Nazi Germany in particular. I have been trying to understand how an entire nation could have been duped into following one man bent on taking over the world and systematically destroying entire races. Even 70 years later, it is a puzzle we may never be able to solve completely, except by simply citing the depravity of man.

Last summer, my mom visited a used book sale and brought me a small paperback that had caught her eye: Defying Hitler, by Sebastian Haffner. Neither of us had ever heard of the author before or this little book that had been written in 1939 but published posthumously in 2000. Haffner was born in 1907 and came of age in a country that was just beginning to fall under Hitler's spell. He emigrated in 1938 and began working on what would become his first book (though the last to be published). Defying Hitler is part historical account, part memoir, part philosophy, part confession, part tragedy and a rare view of Germany by a German who himself just barely escaped being swept away in an ideological maelstrom.

What I found remarkable about Haffner's account was his attempt to explain something inexplicable. From his perspective, everything about post-WWI Germany conditioned his generation to accept the Nazis. He speaks of growing up in the midst of the Great War, when he and his young friends lived for the daily army bulletins and the back-and-forth, chess-like movements of the troops: 

"For a schoolboy in Berlin, the war was something very unreal; it was like a game. There were no air raids and no bombs. There were the wounded, but you saw them only at a distance, with picturesque bandages... It was a dark, mysterious game and its never-ending, wicked lure eclipsed everything else, making daily life seem trite. It was addictive, like roulette and opium. My friends and I played it all through the war: four long years, unpunished and undisturbed. It is this game, and not the harmless battle games we organized in the streets and playgrounds nearby, that has left its dangerous mark on all of us."

This addiction to sensationalism followed Haffner and his friends into their teen and young adult years, when one of the most "sensational" men in history would be vying for their loyalty. Haffner describes the advent of Hitler with uneasiness, but also points out that the Nazi takeover did not seem like a violent revolution to most people. Daily life went on, basically unchanged. People were born, went to school, fell in love, worked, played, died, etc. And when they finally began to feel the grip of the Nazis tightening around them, the cloud of fear hanging over them, they chalked up the additional restrictions (the atrocities even) as necessary to keeping the peace.

While Haffner claimed he could see the Nazis for who they truly were, he was not looking for a fight, as he explains in his introduction.

"This is the story of a duel. It is a duel between two very unequal adversaries: an exceedingly powerful, formidable, and ruthless state and an insignificant, unknown private individual... The individual is...ill prepared for the onslaught. He was not born a hero, still less a martyr. He is just an ordinary man with many weaknesses, having grown up in vulnerable times. He is nevertheless stubbornly antagonistic. So he enters into the duel--without enthusiasm, shrugging his shoulders, but with a quiet determination not to yield."

But he almost did yield, teetered on the edge of the precipice and stepped back. Haffner was training to be a lawyer. When the time came for him to take their government's equivalent of a bar exam, he and his class gathered at a barracks town. What was meant merely to prepare them for the test was turned into a Nazi conditioning camp by the state. They learned how to march and shoot, to sing Nazi songs, and to enjoy the terrible convenience of being too busy to think about what they were doing. 

Haffner was not looking for a duel. Except for a few angry outbursts at his classmates, he tried mostly to slip under the radar. It worked...until that which he had tried to avoid came so close that he could feel its breath on his face, and he was unprepared for it.

I wanted to share all of this with you, because I thought Defying Hitler was a very interesting book, a good window into one of the most troubling societies of the 20th Century and a telling commentary on the nature of man. There also may be some lessons for us here. 

Now, I am not a political person. I have never been. But even I am tempted to make some comparisons to what this man experienced and what Christians in this country can experience. I'll keep it brief and leave the discussion to those who know what they're talking about. What struck me was something Haffner discovered: Complacency doesn't work. That applies to any society, any moral choice. If we simply try to avoid conflict, then conflict catches us unawares, and we realize that simply for the sake of keeping the peace or saving our skin, we've already taken too many steps in the wrong direction.

Take it from someone who's struggled all her life with avoiding conflict (for the wrong reasons), who is too easily tempted by the path of least resistance: comfort zones can get pretty cramped. But, we have a Father who has given us all the tools to combat evil in this world and whose Word rings like a clarion against the lulling drone of modern liberalism and tolerance for every deviant whim. His is a cause worth fighting for.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Life for a Life

"It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done. It is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known." 
-Sydney Carton's last words in A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

Think back about the best story you've ever read. What was so intriguing about it? How did it affect you? Some prefer the suspense of a thriller or the emotional rewards of a love story. There are mysteries that cater to the reader's intellect and tales of heroism that restore our belief in chivalry and honor. 

When I was in school a professor of mine asked our class what most affected us in a story. The answer was different for everyone, but I knew immediately what mine would be. Nothing will make me weep, nothing inspires me in a story like watching someone give themselves, their very lives for the life of another. This is why I included the above quote from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. Against the backdrop of the French Revolution, the novel tells of dissolute lawyer Sydney Carton and his love for Lucie Manette, and woman of whom he is not worthy. In the end, Carton takes the place of Lucie's husband at the guillotine, giving his life so that she can be with the man she loves. It was this act of selflessness that turned a high school English assignment into one of my favorite works of literature.

I think of books and movies that have particularly moved me, and most of them include the sacrifice of a major character. Why is that? From a secular perspective, self-sacrifice makes no sense. According to evolutionists, survival of the fittest is the guiding rule in nature. Was the person saved by the death of another worth more than the person who laid down their life? If this life is all there is, what a "waste" to purposefully give it away.

And yet, A Tale of Two Cities is literally the bestselling novel of all time. Films like Life is Beautiful win Oscars. (That one in particular I encourage you to watch if you haven't seen it.) Medal of Honor winners and fallen soldiers are lauded as heroes (and rightly so). But why are they heroes? 

I think it has a lot to do with the fact that before humans were dying for each other, this is exactly what God did for us. 

(Note: Please do not misunderstand me. By bringing up A Tale of Two Cities, I am not trying to compare the drunkard Sydney Carton to our Lord. But if we value the story of a sinner giving his life for another sinner, how much more the truth that the Sinless One gave His life for a world of sinners?)

And think that this sacrifice was made by an omniscient God, who knew from eternity past what humanity would cost Him. The lyrics of the song "Mystery," sung by Selah, never cease to amaze me:
"God predestined that His Son would die, and He still created man."
Just ponder that for a moment. Words fail me. 

This is what our Lord did for us. But so much more than anyone else who has even given their life, Christ died, bore the physical pain and the soul-crushing separation from His Father. Then He took His heel and ground the serpent's head into the dirt. He sent the stone rolling back from the mouth of the tomb. He lives. "O death, where is thy victory. O death, where is thy sting?"

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Song of a Galilean Fisherman

I wrote this poems several years ago. I was reminded of it tonight and would like to share it with you. We remember today the crucifixion of our Lord, and we remember the fact that the ones who condemned Jesus to death, who denied ever having known Him, could have been us. We are, in fact, just as guilty of blasphemy and denial, and yet that horrific death on the cross paid our penalty. Remember with me the remorse of Peter and the grace that was shown to him. The same grace has been shown to us.

The Song of a Galilean Fisherman

He spoke in manner plain and true.
Why would I not believe?
He spoke because He ever knew.
Perhaps He ever grieved.

But in my false and foolish might
I heeded Him, aghast.
Of all I had on mind that night,
Denial was the last.

I thought, “No doubt I’ll prove Him wrong,
“As friend to show my worth.”
My sword rang out in jarring song.
An ear fell to the earth.

My action done, He firmly chid:
An unforeseen reply.
To put my sword away He bid,
Lest by it should I die.

So close about our meager band,
Came priests and foreign men
 And though a few did by Him stand,
Our numbers dwindled then.

Like one who sees himself as brave
The roguish band I traced.
They reached the house and I, a knave,
The glowing courtyard faced.

I thought to only warm my hands
Outside, while He was tried.
The slave girl came with her demands.
And it was then I lied.

To think that I had been so bold
To doubt He knew my heart.
The rooster crowed as He foretold.
I went a stood apart.

I wept as I have never wept
Before or ever will.
My soul as to a corner crept.
I felt both weak and ill.

But I remembered how He said
That He had prayed for me.
I thought of how He healed the dead
And set the sinner free.

If He could work such works for throngs
That daily would implore,
Could He not cover all my wrongs
Notice them no more?

The evening next I understood
That this is why He died.
My awful guilt was gone for good.
‘Twas then for joy I cried.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Forgiving Legree

       At this moment, Legree sauntered up to the door of the shed, looked in with a dogged air of affected carelessness, and turned away.
       "The old Satan!" said George, in his indignation. "It's a comfort to think the devil will pay him for this some of these days!"
       "Oh, don't! -- oh, ye musn't!" said Tom, grasping his hand; "he's a poor mis'able crittur. It's awful to think on't! Oh, if he only could repent, the Lord would forgive him now! But I'm 'feared he never will."
       "I hope he won't!" said George. "I never want to see him in heaven."
       "Hush, Mas'r George! It worries me! Don't feel so! He an't done me no real harm--only opened the gate of the kingdom for me; that's all!"
       At this moment, the sudden flush of strength which the joy of meeting his young master had infused into the dying man gave way. A sudden sinking fell upon him; he closed his eyes; and that mysterious and sublime change passed over his face that told of the approach of other worlds.

- Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe

Uncle Tom's Cabin is an interesting book. In the more than 160 years since its publication it has been met with mixed feelings. Stowe meant it to be a voice for the slaves of the South. (It was published not long before the beginning of the Civil War). But in the years following "Uncle Tom" became an offensive term, defined by the dictionary as "a black man who is thought to be too solicitous of or subservient to white people." It is a reaction that Stowe never intended and says a lot about our culture. For those who've never read the book, I'll provide a bit of background:

Uncle Tom's Cabin tells the story of a faithful slave who is sold when his master falls on hard times. Tom is forced to leave his wife and family and is passed from house to house. Eventually he falls into the hands of brutal landowner Simon Legree. Foul and heartless, Legree beats Tom within an inch of his life when the calm and quiet man won't reveal the whereabouts of two escaped slaves. The punishment is so severe that Tom eventually dies, on the very day that his original master's son George had come to bring him home.

I cannot in one paragraph convey the emotional power of Stowe's book, nor the poignancy of Tom's death, which I have recounted in the quote above. Read the book yourself, and you will see what I mean. A Christian sees Tom's persistent love, how he chides George for his lack of compassion, his longing for heaven and prayer that his murder might find that same salvation. In it they find a picture of Christ. Tom is not weak or subservient or solicitous. He is as our Savior was in Isaiah 53:7, "He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth." 

I have not read Uncle Tom's Cabin in years. But it came to my mind this weekend as we were singing "The Glory of the Cross" during Sunday's service. The first verse goes like this:

"What wisdom once devised the plan
"Where all our sin and pride
"Was placed upon the perfect Lamb
"Who suffered bled and died?
"The wisdom of a Sovereign God
"Whose greatness will be shown
"When those who crucified Your Son
"Rejoice around Your throne."

The truth in those words is incredible, and something occurred to me while I was singing that never occurred to me before. You may be familiar with the "courtroom analogy" used in evangelism to help unbelievers understand the magnitude of what Christ did for them in dying on the cross. It begins by putting the unbeliever in the place of a condemned criminal. You ask them to imagine that they have committed some heinous crime, such as rape or murder and that they face either $1,000,000 in fines or life in prison. No amount of arguing or pleading with the judge will make him change his mind. They obviously cannot pay the fine, and so are faced with a lifetime of punishment. But then, someone whom they have never met walks into the courtroom and places $1,000,000 on the judge's bench, stating that they've sold everything they own to purchase the freedom of the condemned. 

The magnitude of such sacrifice is staggering, and as an evangelism tool I believe the parable is complete. The unbeliever does not know Jesus, so to describe the Christ figure in the story as "someone they have never met" is correct. On the other hand, the courtroom analogy is missing something of what believers know to be true, something that both painfully and beautifully adds to the story of salvation, something that explains why Uncle Tom was such a picture of our Lord and Savior.

The man who walks into the courtroom and pays your fine is NOT someone who you have never met. He is the very person against whom you committed the crime. Imagine the victim of a rape walking into the courtroom and taking the punishment for the person who attacked them. It is unfathomable, but in essence that is exactly what Christ did. Every sin we have committed has been committed directly against our Maker and God. The offended party paid the ultimate price that we might have communion with Him. 

You and I are Simon Legree, the greedy, callous slaveholder who could care less how many lives he destroyed. And yet, Christ is eager to forgive us. I will never understand that, except to rest in the knowledge that my God is just as loving as He is just. Infinite righteousness and jealousy for the glory of His name are matched by infinite grace. So that we are able to sing with the hymn writer:

"Nothing in my hand I bring;
"Simply to the cross I cling;
"Naked, come to Thee for dress;
"Helpless look to Thee for grace;
"Foul, I to the fountain fly;
"Wash me, Savior, or I die."

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Running on Empty, Stalling on Full

"My heart is broken as I cry like so many times before
"But my eyes are dry before I leave the floor.
"Oh Lord, I try, but this time, Jesus, how can I be sure
"I will not lose my follow-though between the altar and the door."
-"The Altar and the Door," Casting Crowns


The lyrics of this song struck a chord with me the first time I heard them--they still do. Why? Because sometimes complacency seems like a chronic disease. It is easy to make resolutions, even promises after a moving hymn, in the midst of a convicting sermon, in the dead of night when there are no distractions to compete for my attention and love. But as soon as the prayer, the sermon, or the night are over life begins again, with all of its demands. That which seemed so clear last night is slowly obscured by the world and the flesh. The work of God, the constant battle against sin becomes less tangible, and we drop our guard. If Bunyan were to rewrite Pilgrim's Progress, is it possible that Christian would have seen the path to the Celestial City strewn with swords and shields that believers had cast aside, though they may have never intended to. I used to say that I struggled with complacency, but then I stopped to think. Isn't complacency, by it's very nature, the absence of struggle?


This post is inspired by several things: circumstances in my own life (some wonderful, some troubling), and my pastor's sermon this morning. Before service, we had gathered to pray and several people asked the Lord that we would come away from the message changed, that we would be spurred to action and not become gluttons of biblical information, who are content only to hear and discuss but never to do. This happened to be exactly what my pastor spoke about. Change, he said, is not something we can muster up, any more than we could "muster up" our salvation in the first place. It only comes about through God's power, and His power comes through the Word.

I find it interesting how God allows things to come together at just the right time. I have just finished attending The Master's College Truth and Life Conference. The topic? God's Word. It had also recently come up in a conversation with a friend that reading the Bible needed to be more of a priority. It is like those laser cut prisms you can often find at gift shops. An image is been etched into the center of the crystal block without marking the outside. The laser used to create what is beautiful and intricate won't leave its mark unless focused by a lens. The angle and wavelength of the laser must all be arranged perfectly. In the same way, there are no coincidences in God's timing. And several things in my life worked together to focus and amplify what I already knew to be true.

Where does my title come into all of this? Logically, neither of the expressions make sense. A car cannot run if its fuel tank is empty. Nor would you expect it to stall if the tank is full. But it happens nonetheless. Why do I, who live in a society where the Bible is always within arm's reach, feel at times like I'm running on empty, attempting to change and not finding the strength to do so? This life, especially in America can be so full of distractions. In addition to the bad, there is so much that is good and neutral to fill our time and hold our attention. I'd be hard-pressed to find someone whose schedule wasn't full. This is not a sinful thing, but dependency on God and sensitivity to Him are hard when life is easiest.

When things are going well, the illusion of self-sufficiency is strong. I stall spiritually when everything seems smooth externally, and I see no reason for change. Then, when trials come (sometimes it's not even trials--it could just be new, unfamiliar circumstances) why do I feel like I'm floundering? When my life seemed full, I let my tank run out, so that it was empty when I needed it most. It is during those times when I am full that I have the luxury to prepare for the empty times. Or rather, remind myself of what I too easily forget, that in Christ I am never truly empty at all.

In the midst of all these metaphors what am I trying to say? The Christian life has always been easier said than done. How do I know? I see it in myself far too often. But we need not be discouraged if only we draw on the power already given: "And take...the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Ephesians 6:17). We can't let our swords fall by the wayside.