#33 Trials: Light and momentary struggles

Tags

,

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 The Endyears 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.

#32 Might or Maybe

drumWhat 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.

#31 Voting Day

Tags

The messianic program is in place and your circumstances hasn’t stopped it. (source forgotten)

Oh Lord, what a lovely find this morning – and oh how true – especially on a day where many believe that our future lies in the results of our voting today. Do they really? If so, then this is a serious indictment on all who believe in the sovereignty of You. You know what You are doing – and it does seem like You are giving Americans as much rope as they want in order to hang themselves on it – but still – we are yours – You are eternal – life is abundant and You will never leave us or forsake us – never means never. Ah, Lord, I want to be a part of your messianic program – in whatever way you deem best. And at 54 I still don’t really know what you deem from one day to the next – today I think I will clean out the kitchen at the seminary – and enjoy working alongside my enjoyable co-workers. See! – even in the mist of all the messiness this world brings – you bring beautiful things – I must find that quote. Found it.

Who can make trouble when you send me peace. (from Streams in the Dessert)

Oh Lord, can I really get my head around how truly incredible you are and your ways being so high – yet the attention to every detail of my life is noticed by You.

So on this day of elections, I thank you that I am at peace – and that you calm my anxious heart always and completely. May you do likewise for all my sisters and brothers.  In the mighty and all powerful name of Jesus, Amen.

#30 Happy Ever After

Tags

, , ,

I’m a fan of “happy ever after” endings – in movies – in novels – and especially in real life. I’m not so sure Hollywood shares that passion, for it seems that lately much of what comes out of Hollywood doesn’t have that happy ever after ending I crave. It is no longer a forgone conclusion that the girl will get the guy. Or that the girl even wants the guy!

And novels. Take The Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns – talk about gut wrenching stories! And only the slightest glimmer of hope at the end – after most of my favorite characters have already succumbed to some tragic ending.

Are happy ever after endings becoming a thing of the past? Lately even my dreams are ending horribly. There’s this apocalyptic nightmare thing going on far too regularly for my polyanna mentality.

Perhaps Hollywood—and novelists—and my dreams—are simply reflecting much of this world’s reality. Life isn’t ending well for many. Take stories from just these past few weeks: Robin Williams, so depressed, he resorted to suicide – his wife leaving the house without checking in on him spoke volumes. Or Joan Rivers – having a minor routine procedure in a doctor’s office – something went wrong and she’s gone from this world as her career was still soaring at 81. Or the two reporters who were beheaded by terrorists. And that’s just the stuff that makes it to the nightly News.

Makes me want to pine away with Anne Murray, “sure could use a little good news today.” Or at least have it all end well.

And what about all the other unhappy endings in our own families? The ones that hit us personally? Often these are the moments when we start shaking our finger at God and screaming things toward the ceilings of our bedrooms like, Where are you?! Don’t you see I’m hurting?! Are you there?! Are you powerful?! Are you good?!

I’ve been there. Powerful emotions from decades ago can still flood my memory. But thankfully that is where they end—in my memory. They no longer have any hold on my heart or mind.

Is it crazy to think that I’m becoming ‘ok’ with tragedy?

Like the death of my younger brother twenty years ago. At 31 he was body surfacing in Hawaii. And that’s the last time anyone saw him. They never found his body, because the water was so shark infested they suspended the search assuming the worst. The week following his memorial service – I was still waking up and feeling overwhelming sadness. But I was also waking up to my alarm clock set on 106.9 – a Christian radio station – where they were playing a song called “He is with Jesus.”  The most tender, bittersweet, soul-warming song. Perfect for that moment. I had never heard it before. But there it was, several times, during that period of mourning. Mornings I was too afraid to open my eyes because they were filled with tears I was trying to keep in.

Can we ever be assured that things will end well for us? Even if—and when—there are periods during our lifetime where we are afflicted or victimized or scandalized or humiliated or abandoned? Is there some sort of assurance that no matter what happens we still get to have that happy ever after ending?

Here’s a passage in the Bible that gives me a hopeful YES to that question:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long, we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:35ff]

You see, I think the answers to all our finger pointing and wondering whether or not God is good is beautifully reconciled at some point in our lives because of our conversion.

The conversion I speak of is when the Creator of the Universe becomes our Heavenly Father and regenerates our souls. When that light-bulb-in-the-soul goes off and the scales fall from our eyes – and we begin to see things from a heavenly perspective. This of course is completely supernatural and other-worldly in my opinion. I believe it all starts with a prayer such as “Lord Help.” Or, “Lord, come and find me.” Or, “Lord, if you’re real would you please let me know.” (That 3rd one sounds like Anne Rice’s prayer).

Augustine said, “unless you believe you will not understand.” Once you believe, you begin to understand that all things do work for the good of those who love God – eventually.

And I think all our questions start to change when our lives are overtaken with the realization that God is good, and God does love me and, does care for me, and all the messes I’ve made before and since, and will still make, somehow become redeemable in God’s economy. Jesus is proof of that.

While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. [Romans 5:8]

The reason why I know that Steven is with Jesus is not because I heard it on the radio, or because he was a good guy – because surely he was messy too. But I know he’s with Jesus because he trusted in Him for his salvation.

And for me, that is one happy ever after story … all because Steven’s soul was converted and he became one of God’s most treasured possessions for all eternity.

#29 Come Home

Featured

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 8.34.09 AMSoftly and tenderly Jesus is calling,calling for you and for me.  See, on the portals He’s waiting and watchingwatching for you and for me.

Come home, come home, you who are weary, come home; Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling, O sinner, come home!

I love this old hymn. We sang it often in my little Southern Baptist church in the suburbs of New Orleans.

Perhaps you grew up singing it too? It was one of those familiar end-of-the-service-hymns that just did an emotional number on your soul – a hymn chosen in hope – hope that if anyone in the congregation who hadn’t yet felt the call of Jesus on them, this would surely do it. And felt it I did, over and over. I probably hold some sort of world-record for walking more church aisles than any of my Presbyterian sisters. I was easily convinced that I was still a wretched sinner.  Especially during the yearly revival. And, any previous aisle walking and sincerity often evaporated into thin air along this intrepid path to holiness.

And this was all before I was 12.

I lived with enough guilt as a child to assuage even my siblings’ guilt. I would sometimes confess to things I didn’t do because I thought – you never know – maybe I did do it – after all I was a known sleepwalker. I still remember the time my mother tried to convince me that I really wasn’t the culprit to an in-house-robbery-job.

But something must have happened to my heart during my teen years – I don’t think it was instant or intentional – but it happened none the less – where my guilt no longer bothered me – and the world looked much more loving and forgiving than my Atlanta church. So I chose the world. Happily, I chose the world. And they chose me back.

Now at this point you may think God quit calling. Perhaps you only get one or two shots at it, and if you reject him, then surely he has rejected you too. And then there are those really “big” sins, the ones too heinous in God’s sight to really forgive – so you eventually assume that you have crossed some proverbial line that brings you into the category of non-redeemable.

Screen Shot 2014-08-23 at 9.11.09 AMBut, then Jesus – the one who walked this planet 2000+ years ago – kept calling. He proved himself to truly be the Good Shepherd who doesn’t give up on the lost sheep – the Father of thousands of prodigal daughters (and sons) – rejoicing greatly when His call on a prodigal FINALLY becomes effective.

Sometimes I think it just sounds too good to really be true. Jesus calling all sinners, come home. Is he really?  Calling humans who seem to be doing just fine without his involvement and interaction? Calling a world that often times can seem so devoid of any sort of unified belief in the Triune God of the Bible?

I suppose it depends on your vantage point as to how you would answer that question (or questions). But as I sit in my private sanctuary and commune with an audience of One, reflecting on my own calling – that I like to refer to as my rescue – reflecting on the hardness and lostness of my own soul back at 22 years of age – I don’t think my story is all that exclusive to me – I think there are millions of prodigals out there wondering if the God of the universe could really love them knowing the depths of their depravity.

Wonder no longer. Amazingly and miraculously he continues to watch and wait and rescue and deliver and redeem. Over and over again. He never stops.

I know its true. It happened to me.

Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there, if I make my bed in the depths, you are there (Psalm 139:7-8)

Save

#28 Part Three: On Being a Theologian

Tags

,

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 tThe Endhe 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) 

 

 

 

 

# 27 Part Two: on being a theologian

Tags

In the words of Bruce Waltke to Carolyn James:

“Carolyn, if you’re going to be a theologian, be a good one.”

Carolyn wrote this in one of her books, but I’m too lazy to go and find the original quote.   Yet it has always rung true with me because I’ve equated it with my T.F.Torrance encounter.

So, perhaps it’s time to see what my Mac Dictionary thinks about the subject and see how well I measure up to the title:

  • Theologian: a person who engages in or is an expert in theology.
  • Theology: The study of the nature of God and religious beliefs

OK. I engage in theology. I read theological works regularly.  After all, Dr. Sherry MacKenzie—my favorite theologian—chastised a whole class of would-be-theologians, saying: “Most students leave seminary never having read through Calvin’s Institutes” — I took him up on the challenge and read Calvin’s Institutes – cover to cover – over the course of a year. However, ten years later, could I tell you one thing about those two massive volumes? Unfortunately no. I know I know, I’ve had several men tell me they found the Institutes to be very devotional. But perhaps that was the problem – it’s a very manly book.  Here’s what I often do after this type of theological reading: I pray, God, perhaps you will bless me anyway.  Also, if possible, I try to find at least one thought or sentence to retain in my memoryI’ve become OK with reading a book only for one great take-away sentence or thought.

Sorry for the tangent. Back to the subject at hand.  Am I theologian?

Perhaps this will score me some points:  About four years ago I read texts on a particular controversy going around in my own Christian circle (some actually thought of it as the current heresy). So, I read at least two FULL books on that subject – pros and cons – straight from the horses mouth – and also from the mouths who rejected said horse.  I will now admit, I came away from that theological exercise feeling more confused than when I started.  And, often I find myself coming up empty in many ways—and dare I say it—even spiritually dry.

So does reading expert theologians make me (or you) a theologian?  Because if reading the experts and understanding them (key issue here) made one a theologian – I’d have to hand over my theologian title immediately. (Not to mention even using a word like “sorta” would automatically exclude me from any and all theologian clubs. Surely.)

So, what was it that Dr. Torrance saw in me that made him think I was a would-be-theologian?  I wish now I would have asked him, instead of just standing there dumbstruck. Because now I am left to figure it out for myself.

Of course, the best place to figure anything out is Scripture – prayerfully asking the Holy Spirit to guide you in your quest. So, I’ve come up with two verses that ring true (dare I say: ‘to me’) when contemplating what a good theologian looks like.

Ephesians 5:1:

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

1 Corinthians 15:10:

But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.

In part three, yet to be written, I will attempt to justify why I picked these two verses out of the whole of Scripture to describe a good theologian.

 

#26 Part One: On being a Theologian

Tags

,

“So you’re a theologian!?!”

That comment is seared in my brain for all time.

It came from renowned theologian, the late Dr. Thomas F. Torrance. And even though it may have sounded more like a question than a statement to some ears, to mine it sounded like prophetic affirmation.

I’ll start from the beginning.

I met Dr. Torrance when I had been in seminary (aka graduate school – smile) less than one month. That would be September 1996. I can still feel the soul-warming impression he left on me. He wanted to dictate a letter – so my boss (another renowned theologian, Dr. Douglas F. Kelly) recommended me. After all, I did possess shorthand skills and I had no problem using them just so long as it was clear to the one dictating that they could only speak 100 words per minute – or less.

There are two things I remember from that moment 18 years ago: One, I struggled greatly with his British accent, and two, he called me a theologian – sorta. And I have sorta kept the title ever since.

Here’s the conversation:

Dr. Torrance, I just signed up to be a seminary student! [great enthusiasm]

Oh, so you’re a theologian?! [greater enthusiasm]

[Look of wonder – not remembering what I said to that, if anything]

You know, my mother was the greatest theologian in our family.

I can’t remember anything else that was said, yet I do believe in that moment, the challenge to become a theologian began within one month of starting seminary. And it is all because this gentle giant in the body of Christ gave me this affirming encouragement.

You see, the Torrance family oozes great theological scholars.  And, of course, anytime someone mentions a Torrance family member I am quick to share my own encounter.

Now, eighteen years later as I sit and reflect on that impressionable moment, I have to wonder, what is a theologian really – and what makes a good one?

I’m going to ponder this for a while and see what I come up with.

#25 Disrepute

For almost a decade, I’ve had many opportunities to take women on a tour of their new hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina.  I got the idea 31 years ago.  As a new bride – in a new town (St. Louis) – my husband’s company gave me that same courtesy.   I saw lots of places in a few short hours.  The highlights that I still can recall include the magnificent Catholic Cathedral, Forest Park (the sight of the famous 1904 World’s Fair), and Frontenac Plaza – the shopping mall that houses Neiman Marcus and Sacks – or is that Sax?  Walking that mall made me feel like I was touring someone’s home with all the elaborate woodwork on the walls, the hardwood floors – not to mention feeling like we were the only people in the place.

My Charlotte tour includes Freedom Park (which housed a pagan festival the first time I gave a tour), a drive-by of Charlotte’s version of Frontenac, and the Green on Tryon Street.

While managing to get all those hot spots in on my last tour, somehow we wound up at the Smelly Cat.  I think it was Brittany’s idea, could have been Amanda’s – but it wasn’t mine as I’d never heard of the Smelly Cat.  It was in the NoDa district where hip young people hang out.  And hip it was.  The kind of place where you pretend to fit in and be hip yourself – if that’s possible.  When they ask you who you are and what you do – you almost hope they don’t discover you’re a Christian – because from the looks of the place you already feel like they may not be wild about Christians.

Smelly CatWe told them we were in “graduate school” (definitely Brittany’s idea).  I think that may have been one of the few times I’ve ever thought of seminary as a graduate school – but I liked it – letting them think we’re intellectuals without showing all our cards.  The conversation with the baristas was light and easy – explaining that these young women were newbies to Charlotte – and after leaving a 20% tip I felt pretty sure our Christian cover wasn’t blown.

So, we got our coffee drinks and decadent pastries and found a spot to sit down and bond.  And bond I did.  Perhaps it was something about the Smelly Cat – it’s earthy, incense-smelling, hippy-feeling place that made me want to share my nitty-gritty-come-to-Jesus testimony.  Not my usual norm for a Charlotte tour – most people don’t get the nitty-gritty version right off the bat – but I chalk it up to the Smelly Cat – something about it made me want my new intimates to know that I was once very smelly and messy, and in desperate need of a Savior.  There’s just nothing like honesty and baggage to bind new relationships together, right?

I also think I had about as much pretending as I was comfortable with – and just needed to come clean with the truth of who I really am – and where my identity now rests – which is very securely in the hands of Jesus Christ.

The memory of that time at the Smelly Cat came flooding back to me as I was reflecting on my weekly memory verse (2 Peter 2:2):

 Many will follow their shameful ways, and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.

Surely you feel it too – in some measure – when out in public – this feeling that the truths of the gospel and the idea of following Jesus, and being labeled a Christian – if and when our identity is blown – this feeling that Christianity has fallen into a state of low esteem.  Even some of my favorite TV shows let me know how distasteful Christians are to the watching world. We have become the scourge of society – intolerant – irrelevant – exclusive prigs who tip badly.

But what especially caught my attention and is bringing me up short is the “them” in that verse.  Who’s the “them?”

Well, this ain’t pretty.

Because the “them” isn’t Hollywood or our current president or democrats or MSNBC or The View.  No, I think “they” just enjoy shining the light on our demise.

The “them” is in the Church!  They are among us! 2P2:1 says they are the false teachers and prophets.  They are the ones bringing disgrace on “the way of truth” – And Peter also says they are destructive, greedy and shameful.

So, is it the church’s responsibility to root out these imposters and sound the alarm for the rest of the world?  I do believe there are those out there doing that very thing.  Several pop into my head as I think on such things.  I’ll refrain from mentioning them – at the risk of being divisive myself, not wanting to bring swift destruction on my own head.

But I do wonder what do such divisive actions look like to the watching world?  And watching they are!  Just watch your favorite TV program for confirmation.

So back to us.  Are we able – in our own communities and circles – to turn the tide of not bringing disrepute to the way of truth?  What is my responsibility in all of this?  What is the Church’s responsibility?  Do we pretend it doesn’t bother us to look like the village idiot?

I love this from Larry Crabb:

I have noticed that few Christians devote serious attention to knowing how others perceive them.  Such concerns, they often say, belong to the insecure and emotionally dependent.  But if the Scriptures express the mind of God who longs to restore us to loving community, then it is reasonable to expect that time spent studying his word should make us more alert to our impact on one another’s lives (James 1:19-25).

Lack of concern for what others think of us reveals not personal strength, but willful arrogance.

Soren Kierkegaard says that Christianity did not come in order to develop the heroic virtues in the individual but rather to remove self-centeredness and establish love. [taken from Larry’s book Men and Women pp 125-126]

Perhaps there is much tension in walking this fence of caring about what the world thinks and what God thinks, or even what other “believers” think?  And I personally think caring more about what God thinks is a top priority in life, and you will even find a few places in the Bible that almost make you think its ok to be hated by the world.  But is this the drum we want to beat?  I sure hope not!

What if we actually worked at making our lives so attractive by the way we live that others will want what we have.  Yes, that’s my old favorite Pascal motto – slightly revamped.  I think it fits in with my pondering this state of disrepute I find so distasteful.

I’ll close with another of my favorite all time quotes — its a bit long – but oh so worth emulating.  I hope you will agree.

All in all, no more attractive religion has ever been presented to mankind.  It offered itself without restrictions to all individuals, classes, and nations, it was not limited to one people … by making all men heirs of Christ’s victory over death, Christianity announced the basic equality of men, and made transiently trivial all differences of earthly degree. 

To the miserable, maimed, bereaved, disheartened, and humiliated it brought the new virtue of compassion, and an ennobling dignity.  It gave them the inspiring figure, story and ethic of Christ.  It brightened their lives with the hope of the coming Kingdom, and of endless happiness beyond the grave.

To even the greatest sinners it promised forgiveness, and their full acceptance into the community of the saved.

To minds harassed with insoluble problems of origin and destiny, evil and suffering, it brought a system of divinely revealed doctrine in which the simplest soul could find mental rest.  2,000 years ago, Jesus burst into the moral vacuum of a dying paganism, into the coldness of Stoicism, and the corruption of Epicureanism, into a world sick of brutality, cruelty, oppression, and sexual chaos, into a pacified empire that seemed no The Endlonger to need the masculine virtues of the gods of war, it brought a new morality of brotherhood, kindliness, decency, and peace. [by Will Durrant in Caesar and Christ].

Save

#24 Pottery

potteryThere’s another summer tradition I love a lot.

It was on my post-seminary-bucket-list.

It’s pottery throwing.

The kind you do on a spinning wheel.

It always looked soothing and enjoyable, and I wanted to at least try my hands at it. So, within a month after graduating – driving past a pottery shop – about 3 miles from my home – I saw a sign on the door of the Bluegill Pottery Shop – “Classes Beginning Soon.” Of course, I chalked that up to a graduation gift straight from God. And in the summer of ‘05 – along with three friends – I took pottery lessons.

And yes, it was everything and more. I’ve been back two other summers since then when I’m ready to do something soothing and self-indulgent. I plan to do it again this summer – for a week – because it takes me at least a week – every afternoon – to produce useful pieces of pottery.

My favorite clay to work with is this smooth grey clay. It’s easy to work with and I like easy because I have weak hands. The clay I learned on was beige, grainy and hard – sort of like stuff you’d exfoliate your face with. Not nearly as lovely as the other. Last time I went they were out of the grey and I had to work with the beige. I think I’ll call ahead and place my order now, because I really don’t want to work with the beige.

It’s nice being the potter instead of the clay. I do get to choose what kind of clay I want to work with. And yes, the clay – whether grey or beige – has not once talked back to me.

But other than these brief moments of being the potter, I am metaphorically compared to clay – in scripture – along with the rest of the human race.

 Class over … back on the wheel.

I used to think that we humans have nothing to bring to the table (or wheel)

Don’t talk back. Just sit there – like a lump – and let the potter do his thing.  

Only a fool would think she knows better than the potter, right? I’ve been that fool before.

But all this pottery talk indeed has me thinking … actually questioning …

Do we have a choice in the type of clay we are?

Do we have a choice in just how moldable we are?

I think we do. Because if I were to compare humans to my limited time as a potter, I would say there are two kinds of people in the world:

Difficult or Easy

If I may, I want to back up this notion with an illustration from Cathy Burwell.

At a retreat a few years back, the speaker, Cathy Burwell, described a mentee of hers as “just add water.” That was her way of saying she was easy to mold (a.k.a. teachable). Just after she said this, she saw another mentee in the audience and pointing her out, said, “you were not easy.” A woman from the audience piped up, “she was made from scratch!”

Now, while made-from-scratch may taste better than just-add-water-recipes, they are more difficult.

Do you want to be easy or difficult? Do we even get a choice in choosing? Perhaps we simply have too much wounded baggage to be anything but difficult. I think it may take more work than we realize to become enjoyable to mold. And I’m not so sure how to get there apart from continuous pleading.

But I must say, this question of why some are difficult and some are easy is always a running question in my head. One of those questions where I want a one sentence answer – but after dozens and dozens of books on the very topic of “difficult people” I’m finally starting to realize there is no simple answer.

Or is there?

Is there something we have to bring to the table – the potter’s wheel – that will help to make us more moldable?

You may want to pause before you see my recommendation, and think about this question for yourself.

Is there anything I can bring to the table except a wretched, pitiful, self-absorbed, insecure woman? Surely, that’s not the type of stuff that’s easy to work with.

So, did you pause?

Because I’m about to give you my answer.

I didn’t make it up.

I found it.

It’s not even a sentence.

It’s a word.

Ready?

L-O-N-G-I-N-G

That’s it. That is what I think is the one thing we have to bring to the table – and of course – I also think that even bringing longing is something we can’t do in our own strength apart from God.

Thomas Watson says it this way:

“God does not require we should bring money with us; only appetite.”

Hence, I think it is those who truly hunger and thirst that perhaps God enjoys molding a bit more. I could be wrong, but here’s where my head goes with all of this:

Do you think God says, oh, I want this piece to look just “so-so.” And this one, I could care less what this clay turns in to. I can’t imagine that! What I can imagine is God wanting to fashion each and every one of us into something worthy of the Louvre – prize possessions – on display for the whole world to see – everlasting splendors – true masterpieces.

Watson says appetite, I say longing. Scripture calls it thirst, hunger, and in Psalm 42:2 he even says: “longeth.”

Isn’t it nice to know we need no money – no gifts – no talents – no wisdom – no beauty –  no nothing. God even says in Hosea, and I paraphrase, I don’t want your sacrifices, I want your love. (6:6)

So when I’m pondering my own life – and satisfaction of soul – and my soul is restless and anxious – I would do myself great service to pause and ask, in this very moment, what am I longing after?pottery

Life is beautiful when our “souls longeth after thee.”

[Other scripture references I find useful for this topic: Isaiah 55; Psalm 66; Matt 5:6; Ecclesiastes 1-2; Isaiah 64:8; Isaiah 29:16, Isaiah 45:9]