High Hopes

I find myself some days lately feeling unaccountably glum. The sun may be shining, the birds calling in search of mates, buds blooming and everything running otherwise smoothly in my little world, but there’s this underlying glumness… How come?

As Rachel counts down the days till she can fly this nest for greater things, I take stock of my purpose in life! I wonder what cause there will be to get out of bed when homeschooling no longer calls us to be up and at it… What is the purpose of life without kids? That question too crosses my mind and I voice it to Jim, my voice quavering…

We’re doing a study these days on applying the Gospel to life. This week’s lesson is on idolatry. There are statements here to shake me out of just picturing gold-covered Hindu gods, into considering whether I have set my heart on idolsanything besides Jesus that I feel I must have in order to be happy, whether a thing or a person, a role or an ability. Where have I set my hopes?

Could this glum sagging of joy mean that I’ve been counting on something other than Jesus for my joy? Have I let my calling become my God?

Take this statement for instance:

“Every self exists in relation to values perceived as making life worth living. A value is anything good in the created order—any idea, relation, object or person in which one has an interest, from which one derives significance…These values compete…in time one is prone to choose a center of value by which other values are judged. When a finite value has been elevated to centrality and imagined as a final source of meaning, then one has chosen…a god…One has a god when a finite value is…viewed as that without which one cannot receive life joyfully.” Thomas Oden, Two Worlds: Notes on the Death of Modernity in America and Russia, IVP,1992, 94-96

Over all these years I’ve found significance and life purpose in my calling as a mother schooling her own children at home. I’ve found great satisfaction in it despite the overwhelming challenge at times. That’s all about to change. The sense of loss leaves me feeling glum some days. The unknown prospects looming seem alternately intimidating and exciting. Today, I’m excited. New ideas are brewing…new hopes.

But that’s just it, my point. Hopes. What are my hopes? Must I really just scramble for another temporary job description in order to restore my joy? Or is this my opportunity to make sure my hope is ultimately set in God and whatever His calling and purposes are for my life at any given stage. If I’m counting on anything else, there is reason to feel deflated!

What do I want, besides ‘just’ God? And how badly do I want it? Health, ‘successful’ children, a comfortable income, freedom from pain, longevity, eternal youth?! Are these my expectations? If my hope is set on any of these, as needful for joy, it’s misplaced.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” Solomon said. False hopes, like false gods, will never satisfy. They’re all temporary. They will always leave us heart-sick. Change comes and knocks them out from under us. Then what? Only God is a rock unchanging. David points us in the right direction as he confronts his own glumness:

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God. Ps.42:11

As believers we are people destined in this lifetime to live on hope, to set our minds on things above, not the stuff of here and now (Col.3:2). Our salvation itself is vested in a future hope, not yet seen. We don’t have it all now. We aren’t intended to. I’ve been memorizing Romans 8 little by little with Rachel and we’ve come to the verses on hope—strong reminders that the best is yet to come—the glory, the Kingdom, the redemption of our bodies—these are all future tense. Meanwhile creation groans, we groan, and even the Spirit groans on our behalf. And we wait, eagerly, and patiently, sustained by the inseparable love of God.

And in this waiting we seek the interests of the Kingdom first and we seek God’s heart, in hopes that He will make His desires our own and conform our desires to His. And this mother’s heart imagines what it would be to have the grandkids near enough to pop by Grandmom’s house and feed the chickens, pet the dog, have a cookie from that never-empty tin atop the fridge, or make some “Heavenly Biscuits” together… Wouldn’t it be great to make an alphabet book together and have first reading lessons, or just to sit and read beautiful picture books…* and I share with God my hopes, but refuse to set my heart upon them. I will trust Him with whatever my future holds. Herein is peace, and purpose. Yes, and joy! Because cultivating a patient, meek and thankful heart, deeply contented with whatever God provides is likely the best prophylactic for idolatry.

I close with Martin Luther’s thoughts on idolatry:

“All those who do not at all times trust God and do not in all their works or sufferings, life and death, trust in his favor, grace and good-will, but seek His favor in other things or in themselves, do not keep this [First] Commandment, and practice real idolatry…” from A Treatise on Good Works, PartX,18

–LS

“…we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in his hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Rom.8:22-26

P.S. I still regularly check out picture books from the library, a habit I can’t quite give up. For those of you blessed with children near at hand, don’t miss reading this week’s find:The Gardener, by Sarah Stewart. illus. by David Small. It’s  a perfect story for springtime. See more here.

Seeing clearly

New vision

I came home from my recent travels to a new pair of glasses, a fresh prescription designed to give greater clarity, reduce eye strain, and help my eyes work together more effectively…

I’ve been adjusting now for a week.  Though sharpening my distance vision, this new pair of glasses has significantly reduced my close vision, hindering my ability to read, to write, to study things close at hand.  In short, frustrating my ability to do the things I am most passionate about!

Disheartening.

As I await my new order—yes, reading glasses! (argh! has it come to this?!) I juggle Jim’s glasses on and off my nose,  enduring eye strain, complaining, avoiding reading and considering how much it means to me to see close-up clearly.

Ha! now that I’m forced to think about my ability to SEE, I recall my New Year’s choice of a word to live consciously with.  It was January 11 and I was asking myself: What would it be like to live for a whole year with this word, “SEE” in focus? Would I learn to see more clearly, more fully, more like God sees?

Well, and here I am, constrained to find things to do that don’t require constant close vision—Perhaps there is a lesson here somewhere for a gal prone to be introspective and caught up in the close-at-hand and to lose the big picture perspective? 

I’ve been busy in the kitchen, tried my hand at grinding my own wheat for fresh ground whole wheat  bread, my own popcorn for cornbread…I’ve tried out a new pasta attachment and churned out light wheat spaghetti and spinach rigatoni that resembled mini saguaro cacti…I’ve stoked the tandem for dozens of miles on some brilliant sunny afternoons…I’ve fashioned little paper pots and planted the annual tomato and basil seeds…and I’m even trying a little landscape painting…

And this was the week for the big news—my last-born has been accepted at the bible school of her choice!  It’s for real; she’ll be leaving us in the fall for the hills of Texas. “It feels so good to be accepted!” were her words and the excitement that entered with the mail kept us from applying ourselves to anything academic for the rest of the day!  Whole new vistas have opened up with this news of acceptance. Practical things like passport applications, flight reservations, shopping and packing lists, immunizations, drivers’ tests;  and fanciful imaginings—what will it be like to fly alone? to live and study with  like-minded peers? to be on her own so far from home ( and money!)  And these broad new visions have radically redirected our focus from the narrow academic trail.  All because she’s been accepted.

This reminds me of something, a  quote I just read that underlines the extreme significance of comprehending the grounds of our acceptance before God.  And I quote:

“Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives.  Many…have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification…drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity, their past experience of conversion, their recent religious performance or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience.  Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude.”

These words were written thirty years ago by Richard Lovelace*, a professor of church history with a heart to see revival as a way of life in the Body of Christ. They ring as true today.  Seeing the Gospel front center in both my near vision as I bumble through my days and in this glorious far-reaching reality of acceptance with God no matter how I falter—this will change the way I see things, and people! and every facet of life now and always.

If it be true that God delights in His children with all His being, not based on their performance but on their radical reliance on what Christ has done on their behalf…ought this not to be the lens through which I learn to see?  Yes, I could use this new prescription, away from things close to myself, to the grand vista of life in Christ, as prescribed by His grace—“who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works…” Titus 2:14

I welcome the relief from this eye-strain caused by focusing so closely on me that I miss the Big Picture—HIM!

–LS

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.   Titus 3:4-7 

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*Richard F. Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (InterVarsity Press,1979) p.101  as quoted in Tim Keller’s Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything (Zondervan,2010) p.27.

Refueling

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Home again after travels to and fro. Too many days with too little manna.  The world looms large, its prospects bleak.  My own place unclear. What will be next?  Where is the strength for it?  My fuel tank on empty, energy reserves low I run to my Father requesting to see as He sees, to be filled up with His love and a sense of His purposes for my life, my day, this moment…

I turn to His Word and begin reading Daniel and am reassured that His is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever, no matter what else is awry in the world.

“The God of Heaven will set up a Kingdom that shall never be destroyed—it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever…”(Dan.2:44)  Oh, this is good news.  World news these days is none to reassuring.  Knowing where it’s headed is.

I find it remarkable too  that God chose to reveal to a pagan king what was to come, the ‘rest of the story’ that we still await in our generation.  He not only gave Nebuchadnezzar a vision in the night but through Daniel, God reminded the king and all future generations what he had seen and what it meant.  God is in control. No Kingdom threatens His.

I am reminded of Psalm 139:  “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.”  This too is reassuring as I get re-oriented to the home routine after being hither and yon for a couple weeks.  God is not thrown off kilter by red-eye flights, or days and nights far from home, or world news or even family news.  He’s got it all in hand while at the same time being intimately acquainted with all my ways.  Incredible. 

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might.  He changes times and season; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.  To you, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for you have given me wisdom and might…” Dan.2:20-23

–LS

We wait for the glory…

 

 
 
“The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed…” and we wait…groaning inwardly, as we wait eagerly for our adoption—the redemption of these bodies…(Rom.8:19) these bodies—transient containers that give out… I sit in the Alzheimer’s ward babysitting (or was it visiting?) my dad.   
 
He’s sacked out on a recliner, asleep, or approximately so, dead to the world, almost.
 
“But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.” (Rom.8:10) 
 
These verses I’m committing to memory seem so apropos in this context.  Somewhere inside this failing body waits a spirit, waiting to be released to Life unencumbered, the glory of the sons of God…
 
A grown daughter passes hurriedly, tearful after spending several hours with her incapacitated mother. “I’ve gotta go. I’ve gotta get out of here” she mumbles as she heads for the door.
 
If my dad could speak, is this not what he would say?  Oh to be delivered from this body of death.  But mutely he sits, eyes downcast, drugged senseless,  this man whose genes I have inherited, who has passed on this life I carry in my veins, and indirectly, this Life I carry in my soul.  His God has become my God.  And we both wait for that which is to come.  He lingers in this ignoble, humble fashion—helpless, prodded awake, fed, changed, babied.
 
Around him mumbling, stuttering graying folk sit in stupors or uttering snatches of disjoint conversation, meaningless except perhaps in the recesses of distant memories.  Others socialize in endless rounds of polite conversation. Who can make sense of it? 
 
But then we make our shuffling pilgrimage to the little chapel down the hall.  Mom sits at the piano. We kids take our seats on either side of Dad and we sing a medley of treasured old hymns: 
 
“It is well with my soul”…
 
“…when darkness veils His lovely face, I trust in His unchanging grace.  When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay……On Christ the solid Rock I stand…”
 
“My Jesus I love Thee, I know Thou art mine…” our voices blend surrounding Dad, giving voice to his soul, calming and comforting him, and ourselves. “I’ll love Thee in life; I will love Thee in death.  I’ll love Thee as long as Thou givest me breath…” 
 
Tears overtake my singing for a moment.  But there is sense, and hope…’the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We don’t know what to prayer as we ought but He intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express…’ Rom.8:27-28
 
“And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (Rom.8:29)
 
The wait is not forever and in my heart I concur with Paul, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Rom.8:17,18)
This too shall pass. The best years are yet to come.  Together we wait.
 
 

–LS