Thursday, 24 January 2013

Annal 193: Tale from the Misty Mountain

I started my long practicum last Monday and the result has been me arriving at my placement school between 6:45 and 7:00 in the morning.  No big deal, but it means I don't have quite as much time for contemplation in the morning.  Add to the mix a cold I'm trying to fight before beginning my full-immersion teaching next week and a sore knee that has kept me from running, and I'm sure you can imagine what my mornings have looked like.

But this morning was different.  Today I am meeting with the other student teachers in my pod on campus (which is great since I live on campus).  So I could sleep in a little, take my time getting ready, and actually have a bit of time to think.

The sky is just starting to lighten now, and my mountain dwelling is completely shrouded in mist.  I can't decided who I'm more likely to see emerging from the grey: Rochester or Smaug.  To be honest, I think I would take either.

Yesterday morning I read something in my devotions just before heading to school and I have been mulling it over, off and on, for the last 24 hours.  It's from a book I'm reading called Wednesdays were Pretty Normal by Michael Kelley.  He was a pastor who decided to pursue full-time writing and whose two year old son ends up diagnosed with Leukemia.  This book chronicles the story of what he and his wife went through during that time.

In the chapter I just finished he talked about the idea of pain.  About having to press the button to give his little boy a bit more morphine when the pain became too much.  About longing for something that could dull his own pain.  This leads Kelley to a discussion of Job and Job's engagement with pain.  About how Job asked the real, hard questions that result from pain.  Questions like: "Why is this happening?" or "Is God real?" or "How can a loving God allow this to happen?"

Then Kelley starts talking about Job 38 when God speaks back.  Here's what he says about that.

"...after these thirty-seven chapters of accusations, questions, and pain, the answer God gave was not the 'Why?' Job was looking for.  It was the 'Who?' he wasn't.

"For the next four chapters, God talked about... Himself.  He talked about His power and His creativity.  He talked about His wisdom and His justice.  And He reminded Job that he, as a human, possessed none of those qualities in comparison to the Almighty.  Never once did God crack the door of eternity and say, 'See, this whole thing started when Satan came walking in here...'  Never once did He take Job into the future to show him the good that would come from his struggle.  Never once did He reveal the way He would redeem Job's pain.  Never did God show  Job one of the billions of Bibles that would be printed in the future, all containing his story.  Not one single answer to Job's specific questions.  Just descriptions of Himself.

"While that may seem unsatisfying on our end, to know that God doesn't offer answers or promise a glimpse 'on the inside,' we've got to ask outselves the question: Would knowing why really help?  And at least on our part, the answer is no.  It wouldn't.  Why doesn't bring back the lost time.  Why doesn't gather up the tears we've shed.  Why doesn't make the ache go away.  Why doesn't help with the anxiety of the future.

"But 'Who' does.  God is the redeemer of moments small and large.  God gathers up our tears and holds them in His hands.  God is the healer of the soul.  God is the caretaker of the future.  Who helps tremendously in ways that why never could."

I don't really feel like I can say much more to add to that.

But I would love to hear what others think.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Annal 192: Tale from Holy Ground

When I was twelve years old, I went through this phase.  I know you may find this hard to believe, but I am in possession of somewhat of an overactive imagination.  Shocking, I know.  So I fully understand that you will struggle believing me when I say that throughout my grade seven year I was constantly trying to find a way into Narnia.

I had The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe paper dolls that came with a backdrop.  I would close my eyes and try to stick my hands through the backdrop.

I would try walking through the back of my closet.

I would close my eyes and try walking through the coat rooms at my school.

Even now I will come upon a particularly romantic lamp post and will find myself scanning my surroundings for the arrival of Mr. Tumnus.  Sometimes I even refer to myself, in my head of course, as a Daughter of Eve.

The reason I say all of this is because you will then understand why everything about my devotions this morning led me back to C.S. Lewis, specifically to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

One of the books I am reading right now is The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson, where he looks at how Jesus is the way and how this is particularly reflected throughout the Old Testament.  Right now I am reading a chapter on Isaiah that looks at the holiness of God.  Peterson talks about King Uzziah, a man who had feared God yet ended up desecrating the temple.  He wanted to deal with God how he wanted to deal with God--"as one sovereign to another."  As a result Uzziah became leprous.  Peterson then compares this experience to Isaiah's temple experience, where instead of trying to use God, Isaiah went to worship and to pray.  He says something that really caught my attention: "'Our God is a consuming fire' (Hebrews 12:29), not fire to be played with.  Holy, Holy, Holy is not Christian needlepoint."  There was another point where Peterson commented on holy ground also being dangerous ground--you approach with reverence.

Hearing this brought be instantly to a discussion the Pevensie children had with the Beavers in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

"Ooh!" said Susan, "I'd thought he was a man.  Is he--quite safe?  I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."

"That you will, dearie, and make no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver, "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."

"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe.  But he's good.  He's the King, I tell you."

So here I am sitting, thinking on what Peterson had said while envisioning a scene from one of my favourite books.  Then I reach for Worship by the Book, and start reading the last two distinctives of worship that Hughes outlines.  He talks of worship being wholehearted, and then his last point stopped me in my tracks.  He says that worship is reverent.

In Hebrews 12, Hughes points out that two mountains are mentioned: Sinai and Zion.  He says the author of Hebrews states that we have not come to the consuming fires of God on Mount Sinai, but rather to the consummate grace of God that is Mount Zion.  However (and this is key), Hugues tells us that our graced standing requires two things: obedience and worship which we see outlined here: "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our 'God is a consuming fire'" (Hebrews 12:28, 29).

First of all, I thought it was pretty fascinating that Hughes used the same reference that Peterson used (Yay!  I love it when there are connections in what I am reading).

Secondly, I love how Hughes summarizes this.  Here is what he says:

"Very simply, both mountains reveal God.  The God of Zion is the same God as the God of Sinai.  And though we can approach him because of his unbounded grace, he remains a holy consuming fire... Christians ought to enjoy life to the fullest.  But they must also know and understand that God remains a 'consuming fire' and that acceptable worship takes place when there is authentic reverence and awe in all of life, not the least in corporate worship."

Sometimes I think I forget about who God is.  I know He loves me, I know He has given me grace, I know He has forgiven me, and I know that I have a personal relationship with Him.  But sometimes I forget that He is also a consuming fire.  That He is holy.  And that this means that while He is good, it also means we are not "safe" as Lewis terms it.

I think Peterson shows this best.

"Holiness is the most attractive quality, the  most intense experience, we ever get out of sheer life--authentic, undiluted, firsthand living, not life looked at and enjoyed from a distance.  We find ourselves in on the operations of God himself, not talking about them, not reading about them.  But at the very moment that we find ourselves in on more than ourselves, we realize we also might very well lose ourselves.  We cannot domesticate The Holy."

This is scary.  It is frightening to stand on holy ground and know that to do so means you will never be the same.  That to give God the reverence and awe that is rightfully His, to fully worship Him in such a manner, means that we have to put ourselves aside.  I wrote on Monday about how particularly self-centered I have felt lately.  But the truth is, it isn't about me.  And if I want to live my life in the holy presence of God, I need to realize that He is a consuming fire.  That He will bring to light the things about me that I don't want to see and that I definitely don't want others to see.

And that's not safe.

But it's good.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Annal 191: Tale from the Children's Bible

I have arrived back at school.  My plane got in bright and early yesterday morning, and I ended up having a bit of time while I waited for my ride.  Rather than just people watch like the last blog post I wrote about time spent in an airport, I decided to pull out some of the books I'm doing with my devotions and to do a bit of reading.

I am not going to lie.  It has felt like tough slogging this last semester.  Every so often I would find a gem it what I was reading, but it was nothing like last winter/spring, where everyday God brought something to my attention.  Where everyday it seemed like my mind was being blown away.  Maybe it was just a dryer period in my reading, I don't know.

When I was in Ontario, Charming and I were invited for lunch at the home of some of his friends, a couple who are both teachers.  After lunch they reached for their Bible.  Now they also have a two year old son, and as he had not gone down for his nap yet, they grabbed his Bible instead.  I had to smile, as it was the same Bible all the children in my family now possess (my father made it his mission to look for the most theologically-sound Bible he could find).  After they had read a story in it, I remarked about my niece and nephews having the same one and mentioned the effort my Dad had put into finding it.  The wife smiled and explained how much she liked that every story pointed to Jesus.  How He is the theme of the Bible.

For whatever reason, this memory stuck with me throughout my Christmas break.  Then I had a moment, in the Vancouver airport, where everything began to come together, and that lunch time experience was the jumping point.

One of the books I'm reading right now is Worship by the Book and it is a collaborative work by D.A. Carson, Mark Ashton, R. Kent Hughes, and Timothy Keller.  Each of the men come from a different denominational background, but discuss a biblical theology of worship.  Right now I am working my way through Hughes' section, and at this point he is discussing what he calls the distinctives of worship.

The first point, and the one I read yesterday, is that worship is God-centered. 

Seems pretty basic, right?

Yet we miss the point a lot.  Hughes does not say that church should not be culturally sensitive, or that it shouldn't appeal to the hearts of the people out there.  What he is saying is that at the root of it all, worship MUST be God-centered.

When worship becomes human-focused, we can end up with preaching that focuses on lighter, topical subjects because we believe that teaching what is in the Bible is too "heavy."  The result is that churches are "producing a people who are weak in their knowledge of the Scriptures as well as of the great writings and music of the church."  We end up "dumbing down" church.  I know Charming and I discussed this a bit when I was visiting him with regards to teenagers (me from a high school teaching perspective, him from the perspective of a youth leader).  We have this knack for thinking youth stupid--for thinking that they can't handle being challenged, that they must be spoon fed everything.  Yet what does that teach them?  Does it make their faith something strong?  Something they can depend on?  Something that will keep them from drowning when the storms start raging? 

Today I read Hughes' next distinctive: worship is Christ-centered.  Here is how he begins this section:

"The New Testament does not reveal a greater God than does the Old Testament, but the New Testament provides a greater revelation of that God.  As the Apostle John so beautifully said, 'No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known' (John 1:18).  The phrase 'has made him known' is the single Greek word exegesato, from which comes our English word exegesis--so that, as Carson says, 'we might almost say that Jesus is the exegesis of God.'  Jesus explained (exegeted, narrated) God for us.  As the Word, he is God's ultimate self-expression."

And then I had to stop.

Jesus is the Word.  Jesus is the running theme of the Bible (the Word).  Jesus is the Word that explains God.

Maybe it's just the English student in me, but I find this exciting!

Sometimes I think we fall into the habit of asking God what we get out of this whole Christianity deal.  Our focus becomes what the Bible has to say about us.

But the truth of the matter, is that it is all about God.  One of the things that Hughes points out, and that Jesus also stressed in Luke 24:25-27, is that the Old Testament all points to Him.  And He is the Word that explains God.

A.W. Tozer is quoted as saying this:

"Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other?  They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow.  So one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become 'unity' conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship."

Maybe none of this has made sense, and if that is the case I apologize.  I just know that for me it was an incredible experience to read something that grabbed my attention and, in a way, blew my mind by the connections that were made.  And that ultimately made me step back and re-evaluate myself.  What is my focus?  Is my worship God-centered, or is it me-centered?  The stress of a new semester has been clinging to me (I may or may not have had an emotional breakdown on both my sister and Charming last night), and I'm not going to lie, my focus for the last little while has been more selfishly focused.

And I don't want to be that person.  I want to be a piano tuned to that one Fork.  I want my life to be a life of worship, and worship that is focused on God.