Three days from now I will finish a Philippians study with a few fabulous women at seminary. I’ve known most of them for only three short months, yet in that time they have become forever friends—friends I plan to spend eternity with—an eternity that hopefully involves downhill snow skiing—at least occasionally.
The topic for Monday night is twofold: anxiety and contentment. I taught it this summer to an older group of lovely women at my church. In that group I was the youngest—in this group I am the oldest. I am having a little anxiety of my own trying to decide how to teach on the very same subject that I taught on three months ago. Because, our anxiety and contentment issues are surely different when we are in our twenties, than when we are in our nineties. (Yes, I had two ninety-something year old women in Bible study this summer, who I also hope to snow ski with in eternity).
I plan to start our evening by asking: What brings you anxiety? I’m curious to see what they say. For when I asked this question to the older group, they gave answers such as: the health of my husband, my children don’t know Jesus, friends or family members out of work, and living with chronic pain. These are all legitimate, anxiety-producing issues. If I’m to be honest with myself and God, I have worried over these same issues in various seasons of my own life. And, yes, there is some tinge of anxiety every time I lead or teach a group of women.
But all anxieties are not created equal. Some are debilitating and some are just annoying and evaporate quickly. Like this “chronic pain” issue—that one stays with me. But after I teach—whether I think I’ve done my Savior justice or totally floundered in my words—my anxiety is over.
My husband thinks I have no anxiety—ever. He wishes I had just a little—the kind needed to keep yourself safe from danger—or a wife who cares just a little about what others may think of her housekeeping abilities.
But for many, anxiety is a very serious issue. And because I have little to no anxiety, perhaps I’m not the one that can speak to this subject. Or, I could flip that around, and say because I have little to no anxiety, I am the perfect person to bear witness to anxiety-free living. Personally, however, I attribute my anxiety levels to being a gift from God. And I am certain that the minute I was to take credit for a lack of anxiety, I would become a very anxious-ridden soul.
Expert or not, here’s what I think perpetuates an anxious heart:
We think too much of ourselves, and too little of God.
So, if I may elaborate …
One, we navel gaze … in other words, we worry too much about what others think of us and how we come across to those we think are thinking about us. (My husband loves to remind his clients–and me as well–that people really aren’t thinking about you nearly as much as you think they are.)
And two, we think we know what’s best for our lives. We think we have life figured out and know what we want. Yet we often want the wrong things, and when we don’t get what we think we want, we pout or become mad at God or others. So, when we rely on others to make us happy instead of relying on God and his infinite wisdom for our lives, what we get is an anxious heart.
I think our biggest problem is that we still haven’t discovered how incredible, mighty, lavish and holy our great God is.
We know what our wretched self is capable of—yet we care little about trying to fix the serious flaws that render us ineffective and unproductive toward lasting change. And we know way too little about how mind-blowing God can be in our lives IF we would surrender EVERYTHING into his powerful hands. He is in the details. He does know that we hurt. He does know that our children are still very far from him. BUT the fabulous truth is that he not only knows, he also cares and he is also near. He has never left you or forsaken you, not for a minute. But sadly, we stay ignorant of this knowledge, and continue to run our own agendas, inviting God into the mix when things aren’t going our way.
I think Calvin was right to start his Institutes with “knowing ourselves and knowing God.” For when we are honest about who we are—with a repentant heart—and seek—with that repentant heart—to know God as he reveals himself to us—in His Word, through Jesus Christ, by His Holy Spirit—in the smallest details of our everyday lives—I do believe we will get smaller, He will get bigger, and our anxieties will diminish.
It’s just my opinion. I could be wrong. But it surely wouldn’t hurt to try.
p.s. I greatly appreciated the wisdom from two books on these topics: Tim Lane, Worry Free Living, and Bill Barcley, The Secret of Contentment. I read them this summer in preparation for Philippians chapter four, and I thoroughly enjoyed them both. I whole-heartedly agree with their godly perspective on the topics of anxiety and contentment.
My husband, Tom, has a pair of genuine cowboy boots. His former cowboy boss and dear friend, Rex Dunlap, personally measured his foot in his office about 40 years ago. Yes, they are custom made. Tom’s initials are embroidered on the sides and at least one reptile lost its life in the making of these very cherished boots. I’ve witnessed the wearing of these boots. Once. We were with Rex and JoAn, walking a trail (more like a gravel road) in the mountains of Arizona 32 years ago. That’s the first and last time I’ve seen my husband put these boots on. That night, I had to peel them off his feet with as much strength as I could muster, thinking, if I ever get these off his feet, I hope he never tries to put them on again.
I’ve been trying to pitch these boots for over 20 years now. I hate clutter. I hate hoarding things I know will never be used again. Things just don’t carry much weight for me.
But they do for Tom. He loves to look at stuff from his past, and remember. They bring him back. He has a cowbell from his cheerleading days; bottles of stuff that remind him of his sales manager days, medals from his army days, pictures of his dance band, pictures of him dancing, awards from his time at Family Preservation, a bowling trophy, Indian Guide vests, and all sorts of soapbox derby memorabilia. That’s my husband. Yes he’s quite the collector. A collector of things that mean the world to him and only him. I think one of the things that keeps him going at 81 is the fear of what will happen to all these things when he departs this earth and enters eternity.
I walk past most of these things every day and just see clutter.
But not yesterday. Even though I don’t identify, I think I’m starting to get it.
And here’s what I got today. My very dear and precious husband is still going. And not just going, he’s finishing well. Even though some part of his aging body hurts every hour of every day – he hasn’t given up.
Yesterday, when i saw those boots sitting on a shelf in our garage – the garage I’m ready to turn into a pottery studio – my heart didn’t just see clutter. It reminded me of a life well lived and still being lived, and remembering a past filled with the mercy of God. You know that old saying: “He went out with his boots on.” While my husband may not be able to fit into these cherished boots at the moment, for the first time in 32 years I’m thankful they are still here. Because you know what, if he dies before me, I’m going to make sure he goes into the ground with his boots on (or at least in the general vicinity!)
I just noticed something I do. Often. During times of study. Or in my morning God-Time.
I keep reading until something so explosive in thought invades my entire being and then I stop. What follows next are combinations of jumping, dancing, hands lifted, feet kicking. That’s the physical part. Internally my mind is being renewed, my heart is becoming strangely warmed, and burdens are minimized to disappearing levels.
At this point, I’m done with my God time – I just can’t go any further – as I simply want to bask in that thought and moment – really feel and experience what I just read – and not let it go away as quickly as it came.
I was there just now.
Without further ramblings here it is: Joy + Poverty = Generosity.
It’s based on 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 where Paul is referring to the Macedonia churches.
They are joyful and they are impoverished – YET they are generous.
I’m not so sure why this resonates so with my soul at the moment but it does. Perhaps because just this morning I was reading Luke and this passage jumped off the page: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
Or, perhaps because I was watching Fox News last night, and hearing Donald Trump speak about his run for President. I don’t know.
But something tells me that the opposite of this beautiful equation also rings a little too true in our present age: “anxiety + wealth = stinginess/never having enough.”
I agree with the liberals and a few conservatives – the divide between the rich and the poor in America is becoming increasingly wide – even though we claim to be a Christian nation – we “Christians” have no qualms about fattening our 401Ks and accumulating “stuff” only to be auctioned off at $2 a box years from now when we are dead and our children are trying to get rid of said-stuff. Can you tell I recently went to another auction? Perhaps that too has something to say about this current track that is running in my head.
These are the messages that make me want to not only declutter – but also repent. I pray they strangely warm your soul as they did mine. And not just warm us or convict us, but also cause us to go out and do something generous for someone who needs to experience Christ-like generosity.
If you could have any vocation on the planet what would it be?
That was the question my husband and I were contemplating just before I graduated from seminary. He assured me that wherever God called me, he would follow too. Just as I had followed him to his beloved state of North Carolina over a decade ago when he graduated from seminary, he was ready to go anywhere the Lord called—preferably near an ocean.
So, in the presence of my husband, and out of the overflow of my heart, I blurted out, “I’d run a camp.” Knowing me all to well, Tom said, “You couldn’t run a camp – you like the city too much.” Again, without much thought, I said, “Then, I’d run an urban camp.”
That conversation took place over 10 years ago. A conversation that God took notice of – a conversation that went into my heart as a pipe-dream desire. And yes, several years after it was flippantly verbalized in the parking lot of the Red Lobster restaurant – my ultimate vocation became a reality.
Now mind you, in His mercy, God indeed put his own spin on the desire of my heart to run a camp. For what He gave me was Brookstone Camp in Charlotte. The camp runs for six weeks in the summer, led by one of my heroes in the faith, Kristy Davis. Kristy could run a camp full time. And after one week of running and planning a camp with a team of friends, I realized quickly, one week was as much as I could handle. But what a week! It’s the best week of my year.
The children are gracious and wild and loving and moldable. What’s not to love about that!? Every night during that week my heart is filled to overflowing.
We sing and we dance,
we listen to godly men speak the truth about God into their lives,
we make joy boxes and write character words on stones,
we teach them how to say Jesus loves you in other languages and to sign the twenty-third Psalm,
we have tea parties and etiquette lessons over scones,
and end the three hours over cheese sticks and cookies while having whole group Bible trivia.
And that’s just some of the things we’ve done over the past three camps we’ve been blessed to participate in.
Our week this year is July 20.
Not even a whole week.
Monday through Thursday.
Not even a whole day. 1:00 to 4:00.
I need help. While I love doing this, God did not equip me with all the skills to run a camp. It takes dancers (thank you Kim!), and preachers (thank you Matt!), and story tellers (thank you Aynn & Kristy!), and crafty ones (thank you Wendy!) and organized ones (thank you Julia!) and silly ones and athletes and those who simply love children and love to serve God in the most delightful way.
I need prayer. Even if camp is not your thing – or you are too far away to trek to Charlotte for four days – prayer is essential to pulling off a Christ-centered Fun Camp.
Would love it if you’d consider joining us for a day or more.
I wish you all a happy day.
You who have the hardest vocation on the planet.
The vocation that never stops.
The vocation that always gives.
The vocation that puts everyone else first.
The vocation that has the greatest blessings
and the hardest sorrows.
But there is one mom in particular that is on my heart at this moment, and it is my own.
She’s truly something.
Other worldly something.
Because all that thrills her soul is her heavenly Father.
She talks about Him continuously.
She has no greater pleasures than seeking Him first and making Him known.
She cares deeply for all her children.
Yes, four children before 23.
All born in New Orleans.
And then there are the hundreds of other children that didn’t come from her body.
She cares deeply for them too. Rachel, Coley, Kammy, Buddy, Kathy, Bob … You know who you are.
Here’s what I love about her:
Her faith is rock solid in Jesus Christ, which produces an overflowing joy emanating from her at all times. And if she’s not talking about Father, you can be sure she’s thinking about him.
She’s Polyana. She only believes in what is pure and lovely and true.
She’s also Walt Disney (the early years).
She’s imperfect—never needing anyone around her to be perfect either. Growing up, her expectations were never very high for her very imperfect children – which really takes the pressure off of all who are around her. You can be yourself, and it is good enough.
She’s fun. Four children in your early twenties—living in the projects with a husband who shipped out for months at a time, doesn’t sound like fun. And for her it must not have been. But for us kids? Well, we had a ball. Beignets, Mardi Gras, Halloween, snowballs, Christmas, Easter, ice cream trucks, playing in the streets, building forts out of blankets in our rooms, playing playing playing – we had fun every day of our lives – and every night ended with prayers in bed. Amazing that we found time to go to church twice on Sunday and Wednesday nights. For much of my childhood, my mom was the church pianist. So while she played the piano at choir practice, we ran wild throughout God’s house.
God’s grace to my mother has not been without effect. We really didn’t have much – in the way of worldly possessions – those early years – but God never let my mother out of his sights. And His grace to her has produced a woman after God’s own heart. She works for free for her favorite Christian retreat center, she still plays the piano at her church, she runs the community Bible study in her town – and she still has hundreds of children. And that’s just only a few of the things she is STILL doing in her mid-seventies.
Ma, I love you. You have been a fun, godly, passionate mother. I’m very thankful that the Lord gave me you as my mother. Eternity will be a blast with you and Jesus.
we were to dwell on three things?
and advancing the kingdom of God.
I hope you will stay with me while I break these down.
I don’t even have to get out of bed for this first one. And yet, it’s often the first place I go during my GodTime. Dwelling on God’s ways brings me into His presence. Simply being grateful for the way He does things – the way life unfolds – the beauty of order and perfection – the knowledge that He hasn’t left me or forsaken me – not for one minute. That sort of dwelling. Selfishly, I tend to spend much of my time reflecting on His ways in my life – looking back and seeing his hand – oh how I love that. It’s one of those personal proofs for God’s existence. Remembering is one of the greatest gifts given to man – and it would be so satisfying to dwell there momentarily each and every day. I think it would change our attitude – change our countenance – change our nature – rejuvenate our mind … the benefits are endless.
I love thinking about eternity. I tend to make dates with friends to snow ski most afternoons in the new earth – it’s one of my favorite ways to picture eternity. However, I am sure that my own ponderings about heaven are not nearly as glorious as what it will truly be like. Saints – far more mature than I could ever hope to be – tell me this often, especially when I insist they ski with me at least every now and then.
But there’s something about setting your mind on things above that puts our earthly lives in a better light. So my head goes to questions such as:
What sorts of things could we do daily that would have eternal value?
I come up with one word: Kindness.
Practically speaking, wouldn’t it be great to write at least one encouraging note—everyday—in 2015? In this age of internet – this act of kindness is practically effortless!
And last, Advancing the kingdom.
I love the notion of advancing the kingdom – I also love knowing that God delights in using his daughters to do it. Not that he doesn’t delight also in his sons – but I think some women have a mentality that God uses the men for the big stuff – and us women just get to clean and cook so as to free up our men to do the really important things. With all the modern conveniences this world affords to middle aged women with no children, cooking and cleaning can be done in a fraction of the time compared with just a few decades ago. Microwaves, restaurants, freezers, wrinkle-free shirts … these are a few of my favorite things. Because! they free us women up to advance the kingdom. Kingdom advancing activities are limitless.
When I think about such things, my head always goes back to my twenties when I asked the Lord to use me.
Here’s the story:
One week, while working on staff at Central Church in St. Louis, the Minister of Pastoral Care was on vacation. I forgot that little tidbit of information one morning as I asked the Lord to use me in his service. Of course I was thinking something big and important – something manly perhaps – just kidding – sorta – but anyway, Don Fortson, Sr. was on vacation.
Now, I, as the Assistant to the Pastors, received all of Don’s calls that week.
Can I just tell you, this was not the week I had in mind when I asked God to use me.
The kingdom advancing activities he called me to didn’t feel very kingdom advancing. The first activity I was called to was taking cookies to an elderly shut-in man. His name was Clyde and surely he is in eternity now. He called the church – as a parishioner in good standing – and wanted the pastoral care minister to bring him cookies. So I did. He was grateful and kind. I hope to look him up in eternity.
Then there was Joy. She was not a parishioner – but she lived a couple blocks from the church and called asking if someone could take her to pay her light bill and buy a refrigerator. Joy and I had a yearlong relationship of carting her around St. Louis. I still snicker as I recall her squeezing out the door of her apartment so as not to let me see anything inside. I still wonder what was in there.
And then the last gift that week was Cindy. Her mother called our church telling us that Cindy was on her way to St. Louis to attend Washington University – a California girl with enough money, so it seemed, to fly here but with little else. She had no place to stay, no transportation and knew no one. Cindy was delightful. The Lord was very very good to her and we found her a place in a Campus Crusade dorm near Wash U that was perfect. I sure hope she is advancing the kingdom and remembering how lavish God was to her 27 years ago.
I’ve said it before, but it is worth mentioning again. We never know how the Lord is going to use us to advance his kingdom. But I think he uses us in ways that mature our godly character – and make us look more like Jesus.
So these are the three things I wish for myself and my sisters this new year – dwelling and lingering in places that are far too wonderful to comprehend. Never forget this one thing dear friends, He is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. So let’s get asking! (cf. Ephesians 3:20)
Ever since I married the man of my dreams, returned to my Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and allowed his Holy Spirit to invade my entire being (most days I hope!) – I’ll have to say, I’ve led a rosy life. I’m in year 32 if you’re wondering.
That’s not to say it hasn’t come without trials. And at the time of this writing—I waited to publish this—I am smack in the middle of one of them. It’s bad. Very bad. At least that is how I see it. And it has me questioning myself – and God – with questions like:
Can I really hold up and represent Christ in this trial? … and glorify God? … and have everything that comes out of my mouth be pleasing and loving?
No! I can’t hold up. I’m not representing Christ well at all. What is coming out of my heart and mouth is not pleasing or loving. The “trial” (that’s what I’m calling it) has gotten to me greatly.
So of course I must go to my knees, fall on my face (figuratively of course) and say, I can do none of those things unless God gives me the grace and His Spirit and wisdom to do them. It is times like these—when smack in the middle of the experience—that I realize I can do nothing apart from Christ. It is times like these that peaceful and loving and intelligent words escape me.
And oh how I’d like to say the perfect thing to silence the enemy. But I never seem to get those kinds of words when face to face with the enemy. Yes, in the moment, I now see my trial as my enemy.
In my head when I am alone, several verses in Scripture come to mind – but then I have to sort them all out–with the help of the Holy Spirit–as to which one best applies to the situation at the moment.
Am I to dust the dust off my shoes and make a run for it? (cf. Luke 9:5)
Am I to ask for powerful words that will cut like a knife into a hardened heart? (cf. Matthew 12:34)
Am I to love the other deeply and let that love cover a multitude of sins? (cf. 1 Peter 4:8)
Am I to turn the other cheek? (cf. Matthew 5:39)
Funny how I can justify what I’m thinking and feeling in the moment with several passages from Scripture. But I’m still left in a miserable state and wondering the best plan for the current trial that has rendered me a complete mess. The passages like “turn the other cheek” and “love one another deeply” are far from what my heart is feeling. I’m definitely in imprecatory Psalm mode.
So, perhaps in times like these it is a powerful thing to pray while opening the Word of God with a desperate heart – and let the Word flow over me like a balm in Gilead. Yesterday I went to James – because I really wanted wisdom – God assured me that He gives it lavishly – and yet by that evening wisdom went out the window – So this morning I went to Ephesians 4 – and verses 2 & 3 seemed perfect for my trial and helped my soul.
Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.
But I don’t feel humble or gentle or patient and have no love for the other.
But I’m not alone in my trial.
My husband – of course is the only calm in this storm at the moment. Can I just tell you how fabulous he is under certain pressures not his own?
And then I called my mom. That had its soothing moments as well. She prayed multiple times throughout the conversation, and then as our conversation was about to end she expressed her delight in me in such a way that it had me in a puddle of tears – even now as I write there is this puddle – I must stop – tears are not the thing at the moment – don’t let the enemy see you cry, right?
Yet in this moment, something mystical and otherworldly is happening in my soul. My tears of anger and hurt and disappointment have now turned to tears of gratitude and comfort. Through my dear personal saints and because of God’s love for me, I am able to bear up under the trial. Shalom invaded my heart even though the trial went on. But it indeed was one of those momentary trials. And I have to wonder, did it achieve for me a glory that outweighed the trial? While I don’t see it yet – I sure hope that is indeed the case.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
P.S. This particular trial is now over—I’ve had at least two others since I wrote this one—and I am obviously in perpetual student mode, never mastering any trial—self-inflicted or other-inflicted—and I find even then it’s hard to know what I’ve brought on myself because I have a very unguarded heart. This also has me wondering – is my heart too vulnerable? – and is there such a thing as being too vulnerable? Perhaps that’s a chapter in itself. But if you’re looking for a bottom line from me, this is what I think in the moment—the moment I actually will publish this publicly for the whole world to see if they so choose … our trials really are temporary—at least mine are—and I don’t think I’m atypical. And God is there—and He provides his word and his children as the necessary tools to get us past any and all of them. And here’s the thing—they really do produce fruit—perhaps we can’t see it in the moment—but it’s coming—wait for it! And also, remember this—this is the lesson I’m taking away from it—I need to learn how to deal with messy relationships in a godly fashion. I’m still a long way off, but perhaps I’m not nearly as pitiful as I was 32 years ago, just starting out on the journey of grace. Oh that reminds me, others need this grace from me that I lavish on myself. And one other thing, there are no formulas. Stink.
What drum do I want to beat this morning? I’m not sure – but I really want to beat one. Something that will silence all the other drums – or at least be so loud that it will drown out all the other drums – and clanging cymbals – and tinkling and dripping, annoying thoughts and nonsense that can render me ineffective and unproductive.
My aunt was just explaining meditation to me. Not sure I want to beat that drum – but she does. And then there is this “already and not yet” drum. I think we live too much in the not yet, and not enough in the already.
Living well …
in the already and not yet.
That’s the drum I want to beat this morning. And not just this morning – if I were to beat this drum every day of my life, then perhaps I’d actually live well every day of my life. Jesus said, “I came that they might have life and might have it abundantly.”
The verb there (have) is subjunctive – which means to me that I am to put “might” in front of the verb every time it is a subjunctive one. Because I really don’t have any idea what subjunctive means other than simply that: it might or may be so. Often it is accompanied with an “if” – if you do this, I might do that. That sorta thing. And here’s the rub – I want to believe Jesus came so that I would have life to the fullest. No might or maybe about it! But the truth is there is a might or maybe in there. And just because Jesus came to bring me this abundant life – doesn’t necessarily mean I will walk in it every day of my life – or even most days. And truth be known – when I look around at all these Christians I rub elbows with on a daily basis – after all, I do work at a seminary – aren’t we uber-Christians?! – truth be known, I don’t see a ton of abundant living going on. Some of us seem very weighed down by trials and slaves to so many things that render us ineffective and unproductive for anyone’s use.
They promise them freedom while they themselves are slaves of depravity. For a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.
That’s 2Peter. That scares me. Am I free or am I slave to something other than God. Am I living in the already, yet being a slave to way too many things in the not yet that have mastered me in this life? Yes, every day, there is at least one addiction to something that I have to battle. Tara Barthel just reminded me (not personally) that the battle is won yet we’re still in the battle. Dr. May (he’s dead – so perhaps he’s fully already and no more not yet) reminds me that our addictions are what drive us to Jesus – so am I to be thankful for these addictions in some weird way even though they keep me from living well? – yet they also keep me near the Cross which I so desperately need. Oh the humanity.
It’s hard! It’s just plain hard to live well and abundantly and joyfully and thankfully when we are enslaved and struggle and are brought trial after trial. BUT! That is no excuse – ok, it’s an excuse – but it’s not a good enough excuse to keep us from LIVING in the ALREADY more so than in the NOT YET. Quit acting totally depraved and falling back on your flesh – quit letting your flesh win – ok, you realize I’m talking to myself here. But I’m hoping to encourage my heart and yours. Perhaps we should crank up the country music station and listen to something like “Live like you were dying.” Perhaps we should repent from our selfish, self-absorbed, self-focused self, and start living with eternity in our sights. Perhaps it’s time to be brighter lights than we were yesterday – and saltier than we were last year – and LIVE in the knowledge that Jesus came so that we MIGHT have life abundantly. Grace and Peace be YOURS in abundance says the Word of God (nothing subjunctive in that verse!). So wipe that attitude off your face and dance – or do something that will express gratitude to the One who called you out of the darkness and into His marvelous light. Live in the LIGHT dear sisters – and brothers.
At this point you may be thinking I’m starting to sound like Paul, because that’s what I’m thinking – with this litany of semi-accomplishments – you know, like he did in Philippians 3:
Though I myself have reasons for such confidence … circumcised on the 8th day, etc., etc.
A litany of sorts to secure my spot in the theologian world.
And oh how easy it can be to grow confident in your own eyes — whether it be with big titles, great theological works, journal articles, knowledge of ancient languages, or people who will actually listen to what you have to say — I don’t need to re-read humpty dumpty to know that pride truly does come before a great fall. But like Paul, I have an Achilles heel – more like several of them.
One being, I think I’m the most non-academic woman in the world – and not just because of my limited time spent in a college classroom – but because I really am very non-academic – I struggle greatly with understanding or retaining most theological & theoretical texts. I’d much rather get my theology from reading a Francine Rivers’ novel than reading Calvin. And, I can’t help but recall the free tutoring I received weekly from my fellow classmate (the brilliant theologian Garnet Slatton). He was great at explaining the answers to the Systematic Theology quizzes. Oh how he could make the complicated simple for such a non-academic student.
Two being, much study wearies my soul. (Now that’s one quip from Qoheleth that I agree with.) I can spend just so much time in a book before I need people interaction. All the theologians I know personally prefer to spend hours with their writings and books – and could probably go for days without seeing another human. My limit is 3 hours.
Now before utter humiliation completely overtakes my soul, I’ll stop with two.
But here’s the thing, when I truly ponder what a GOOD theologian looks like, I don’t think it is really about the amount of time they spend in the study of theology – but what they LOOK like after they have spent all that time in the study of theology. Hence my justification for Ephesians 5:1 and 1 Corinthians 15:10.
A good theologian will imitate the One they are studying more and more the older they get. And, the grace that God bestows on them will become very effective, hence its results will be quite obvious in even their briefest encounters – my personal example being my very brief but wonderful encounter with Dr. Torrance. (I also had one of these brief encounters with Dr. Waltke. Talk about a gracious man!)
And then there are my lengthier encounters with theologians like Carolyn James, who takes me into her heart every time we are together. Or, Dr. MacKenzie who has been described as a modern day pied piper because theology students just can’t help but follow him all over a seminary campus. I took Dr. MacKenzie to the airport over 13 years ago—before 9/11—when you could still walk your loved ones all the way to the gate – and he finally said, ok, you may go now. My response was: I don’t want to go! It’s those people, the ones with whom you can’t help but want to remain in their presence, because I do believe if Jesus were walking this planet today, we’d feel the same way.
Please don’t make me leave you yet.
And then there’s H. Wilbert Norton, Sr. – with more accomplishments in one lifetime than I’ve ever seen in one human, yet at 99 years old, he will still spend much time with me over the phone now that he’s moved hundreds of miles away to a retirement village in Oklahoma. I have a strong feeling the greatest theologian in Dr. Norton’s life is his one hundred year old wife, Coleen. I’ve often thought that God has kept them alive just because they pray for “us” daily. For some reason, I have the comforting feeling that God hasn’t brought destruction on America all because these two saints are still living in the land.
Yes, these are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight. And then there are my daily intimates: my mom who can’t go one minute without bringing her every thought captive to her heavenly Father. She embodies that verse, “pray continually.” Or my personal saint, Elsie, whom I go to every time I want to know where some gem is located in Scripture. She wants to spend eternity sitting at the feet of every Puritan she’s ever read – and yes, I’m sure she’ll be at Jesus’ feet as much as he will allow. And I’ll stop with one more example — the one that hits closest to home — the man I sleep with every night. At 80 he is still in great demand for the wisdom he exudes which he lovingly lavishes on anyone who asks.
That, my friends, is how I see it. That’s what a good theologian looks like to me. The embodiment of what I envision Jesus to look like with skin on. Those people whose side you never want to leave because they are infectious. The ones who let God have great effect on their lives and take pleasure in pouring all that effectiveness out on me and others!
You see, I don’t think it has as much to do with how much you know of God and his Word – as what kind of effect all this knowledge has had on you. It’s about who you are becoming. Paul says it so beautifully with his preface to the “Love” chapter in 1 Corinthians 13:
If I speak in the tongues of men and angels but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
These are they—the ones who love well—the saints in the land who I long to emulate the older I get – because I can’t help but think they have done an excellent job of imitating and representing well the God of the Universe. These are they who have not brought the way of truth into disrepute.
So, am I a theologian? Did T. F. Torrance see any of that in me during that brief encounter? I doubt it – but perhaps what he saw was desire – and one month into seminary, perhaps that was enough to bestow on me the title of theologian. I don’t know. But what I suspect is that to really know the answer, I will have to wait until I’m at least 70. In the meantime, I only pray that I am heading in the right direction.
He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it. (Philippians 1:6)