Monday, December 19, 2016

Grown-Up Christmas Lists

My girls love them some Christmas music! I can easily see them growing up into "those people" who start listening to festive tunes in October (no offense intended to any others who number among them!). Well, this year, they discovered the 24/7 Christmas radio station and now that's all they want to listen to when we're in the car. Since it's at least December now, I've largely obliged them, even if it means occasionally having to sit through such holiday classics as WHAM!'s "Last Christmas", Madonna's version of "Santa Baby" or Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas Time?" (good intentions, awfully patronizing lyrics).

The other day, as Ruth and I were on our way downtown, one of the various covers of "My Grown-Up Christmas List" was playing. When I was younger, I always thought the song was rather sappy, but as the years go on, I find it is more likely to bring legitimate tears to my eyes. This year, it brings to mind Aleppo. It reminds me of the little boy we know whose cancer is progressing, despite many medical interventions, and the 6 kids (among others) who will spend this Christmas without their mother. It calls up broken marriages, children who feel rejected by their peers, people stuck outside in the midst of our recent barrage of snow. There is perhaps no time of year where we feel more keenly the strange juxtaposition of joy and brokenness in a single season. Christmas is about rejoicing, yes. We are celebrating the end of the long wait for the promised Messiah to enter our world and bring justice and peace to reign. But at the same time, we are still very much in a period of waiting for the risen Messiah to come a second time and finally do away with all the tyranny that yet remains in this world.

So Ruth and I are on our way to a wedding (rejoicing!) and I'm contemplating grown-up Christmas lists (brokenness), and she asks me what the song is about. I explain to her that little kids ask to get toys and candy for Christmas, but as we get older, it often becomes more important to us to experience true happiness and peace that we don't get by having stuff. Ruth's response was one of those 6-year-old answers that sometimes surprises us parents with its thoughtfulness: "But Santa can't give you those things. Only God can!"

She's completely right, of course, and yet how often do we all, 6-year-olds and 36-year-olds and 96-year-olds included, try to fill our brokenness with material things, with breakable human relationships, with amazing experiences, with feel-good Christmas tunes and dreams of Santa down the chimney? But putting shiny tinsel and lots of coloured balls on a dying tree won't make it any less brown come New Year's.

The older we get, the more we get to Christmas with thoughts of the loved one who won't be joining us anymore, the reminder of people suffering in our churches, our city, and around the world (and maybe in our own home). And it's not wrong for there to be sadness mixed in with the Christmas celebrations. Jesus has come into the midst of this world's brokenness to save us, and that is cause for rejoicing. But His work on earth is not yet finished and if anything, the mixed-up sentiments of this season should cause us all the more to long for His return when He will make all things new and finally cross off all those items on our grown-up Christmas lists.

There's a reason that song has been recorded by dozens of artists. In the season of "Joy To The World" and "Jingle Bells" all the way, requests to Santa for no more lives torn apart and peace on earth and friends for everyone resonate deeply with all of us who've seen and experienced the losses of life on earth. But as you sing along with Amy Grant or Kelly Clarkson or Michael Bublé or whichever version might be playing on your station this time, don't make it a list for Santa. Make it a prayer to the only one with the power to actually bring it to pass, to the one, indeed, who has promised to bring it to pass. And that's not the innocence of youth and blind belief touted in the song. It's faith in what is really and truly true. Amen. Come, Lord, Jesus!

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
   Those who live in the land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy;
   They rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, 
   As they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden and the staff for his shoulder,
   The rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
   And every garment rolled in blood
   Will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born, 
   To us a son is given;
And the government shall be upon his shoulder,
   And his name shall be called 
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
   There will be no end,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
   To establish it and to uphold it
With justice and with righteousness 
   From this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Isaiah 9:1-9

Monday, April 11, 2016


Home [hohm], n.: "the place where one's domestic affections are centred"

The dictionary has other, more sterile definitions of the word "home", but all of them deal in some way with ideas of nativeness, regularity, comfort, what is common or usual, security. When we talk about a house or residence, we don't necessarily attach any emotion to that place of shelter. But far more often, when we refer to our home, there is a sense of familiarity that brings with it affection and comfort. Even when our home is a difficult place to be, even when it is not a peaceful place, we can still feel a sense of homesickness when we're away. There is a comfort in the familiar, even when what is familiar is not particularly pleasant. And how much more so when home is a happy place!

I've been thinking about the idea of home a lot recently. Not surprising, as we've just moved to a new house. Again. I won't get into all the details right now, or I might never actually finish this post, but yes, a few weeks ago, we packed up all our earthly belongings (except the boxes that are still at the cottage from 2 moves ago!) and moved from our downtown condo to a little house on the other side of the city. This was not my ideal move--to a place I was excited about, well-organized, meticulously planned for months. It was rather sudden (to my slow-and-steady-wins-the-race brain, anyway). I've never lived on the east end and until last month, wouldn't have had a clue where someone was referring to if they'd mentioned the major intersection near our new place. And our move date got changed more than once, and never to a later date! On top of all that, rather than moving with excitement and a clear goal in mind, this move felt foggy and somewhat unclear. By the time we got all our stuff into the new house, we were exhausted and battling depression. I'm not sure that a move is ever exactly "fun", but we found this one particularly hard.

Don't get me wrong--we love our new place. Even though it's not a big house, it feels positively spacious after the condo. There's a fenced yard I can send the kids into. I like the old-school finishes that are so different from the stark modernity we've lived in for the last 3 years. We're on a quiet street with several other families and we feel like our household fits in a little better with the new demographics than with the old. But it's still a move, a transition, a venture into the unfamiliar. And right at the moment, I'm tired of change. The morning we first woke up in our old bed in our new house, Nathan turned to me and said, "I don't ever want to move again!" And I hear him. Not only is a move a lot of work, it's a lot of change, and no matter how much some people may love new adventures, God has wired all of us to crave the comfort of security and stability in some way.

The problem is that most of us don't get complete stability and security in our earthly homes. Almost all of us move at some point, and some of us many times over. Even people who live in the same home for decades will see family members come and go from the household over the years and will experience change in the neighbourhood around them. We want the comfort of a stable home, but jobs change, families change, finances change, goals change and houses eventually fall apart. So it struck me, that first morning in our new residence which was not yet a home, when I read Psalm 27 and came across a very familiar verse that suddenly had a very pressing application. The psalmist is in the midst of turmoil and war, but he boldly states his confidence in this insecure setting and claims in verse 4, "One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple." What does he make his permanent home? Not the beautiful palace he built, not with his family, not a place free of earthly strife and confusion. His main goal is to make God's house his home, and not just in the next life, but all the days of this life.

And why? "For he will hide me in his shelter on the day of trouble" (safety), "He will lift me high upon a rock... lead me on level ground" (stability), "My father and mother have forsaken me but the Lord will take me in" (welcome), and, going back to verse 4, there is great beauty and wisdom to be found there. God's house is the only place where we can find eternal safety, security, welcome, beauty, wisdom and all other things good. And if home is where the heart is, we don't have to wait until we see God's dwelling place with physical eyes to make it our home all the days of this life. The heart that is seeking God's face, having been adopted into God's family through the reconciliation offered to us in the death and resurrection of Christ, has a permanent home now, regardless of the status of our physical address. I can live in a small condo in a concrete jungle, or in a quiet older house surrounded by pleasant gardens or on a farm in the middle of nowhere or in the slums of a third world country. I can move every few months or every couple years or stay in the same place for half a century. I can live alone, with a new roommate, a new husband or an old one. I can have a noisy home full of small children or a busy home of teenage activity or an empty nest of relative silence. And in the midst of all these changes, I can have one permanent, unwavering home.

I want to put some roots down here on the east end. I want to unpack the boxes, hang all the pictures, arrange the furniture in the most pleasing way, tend the garden. I want my kids to settle in and love the place and have fond memories of this childhood house. I want to get to know my neighbours and have them in my home regularly. I want to invest in our new church community and make it my home church. I want to see God working positive change in my family and my neighbours and my church over the long haul. I want my little house to reflect the warmth, welcome, beauty and safety of God's home. But however much this brick-and-mortar building starts to really feel like the place I love to be, I want to seek one thing: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, gazing on his beauty and resting in his shelter, firmly rooted and centring my domestic affections on the permanent home he welcomes us into.

Things to think about and/or comment on:
What is home for you?
Which home have you loved the most and what was it about that particular place that made it especially homey?
How much does your current physical home resemble God's home?
Do you know the comfort and security of dwelling in God's house?
How can we centre our affections more on God's dwelling place?

Monday, March 09, 2015

The Effective Word

When was the last time your words translated into a direct and perfect action? You know, like the time you said, "Go clean up your toys," and the room transformed immediately into a spotless sanctuary? Or when you commanded winter to be done once-and-for-all and flowers instantly began to sprout from the ground? Or when I said I planned to be back to regular blogging in the fall and well, we all know how that turned out. Okay, so maybe those things are a little unrealistic. But even if we limit effective words to the real world, have you kept your word every time you said you'd make a deadline? Kept every promise made to your kids? Experienced complete obedience to commands given to those under your authority?

Yes, there are times when our words are effective, even seemingly perfectly so. But we are so accustomed to the failure of words, even those with the best of intentions, that it easily distorts our view of God's words. How quick we are to doubt His promises, to hold on to anxiety despite the relentless refrain of His unfailing care for us, to pray the weary prayers of the hopeless instead of the confident prayers of beloved children, or to fail to pray at all, not seeing the point in holding God to His word, assuming Him to be just as unreliable as we sometimes are.

But God's words are not like ours. God says, "Let there be light," and it is so. As Tim Keller points out in his new book on prayer, when we say, "Let's turn on the lights," we still have to take the action of flipping a switch to make our words effective. But God's words and His actions are one and the same. His words are active and powerful in and of themselves. He says, "Let there be sun, moon and stars," and doesn't need to send out a construction team to make it happen.
The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord, over many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
    the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
    and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
    the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth
    and strips the forests bare,
    and in his temple all cry, “Glory!” (Psalm 29)
God's word goes out and accomplishes the purposes for which He sent it. Every. Last. Time. In fact, if God's words equal His actions, then from the moment He speaks, things are springing up into being, even when we do not perceive it. Yes, God often uses agents to carry out His purposes, but even then, the accomplishment is by His word and not because the agents had any special power in themselves.

And if we really get this, it will change the way we think, the way we pray, the way we live. If God's words and actions are equivalent, then every word of God must prove true. Then when He says that He will not leave or forsake you, it's already done. He says, "I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand," and it is so, whether you are feeling it right now or not. He cries out on the cross that "it is finished" and our sin is fully paid for. Done. No take-backs. He promises that the ends of the earth will be filled with His glory and we can be sure that He is active toward that end at this very moment. This is why we can pray confidently when we are praying God's promises back to Him, because if He said it, it is being fulfilled. And if God's words are God's actions, then we can live confidently, too, fully dependent on his reliable promises to save, uphold, protect, provide, guide and complete in us the good work He has begun. In the face of such truth, there is nothing left to do but to "ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name" and "worship the LORD in the splendour of holiness".

I'm not always as good as my word (so no promises on the timing of future posts!). You're not going to live up to every promise you make. And neither of us can turn on the lights just by opening our mouths. But we have a God who speaks and things are. Will that change how you pray and act today?

Monday, September 08, 2014

Moabite Descendants and Other Objects of Wrath

A couple months ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Orlando for the Gospel Coalition Women's Conference, a weekend of great teaching, some good rest, and the chance to hang out with some really old friends (time, not age!) and some brand-new friends. The final conference message was by Don Carson on Nehemiah 13*, addressing common pitfalls of reformation and revival, certainly helpful things to think through as we work and pray toward the growth of God's church here in Toronto. But of all the things he mentioned from this passage, it was an observation from his first point that I've really been thinking through in the last several weeks. Nehemiah 13:1-3 tells us that as the people listened to the law of God being read, they discovered that "no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the Assembly of God, for they did not meet the people of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them", and that as the people heard this, "they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent". Carson pointed out the danger of going beyond the law, of not only removing those God had specifically asked them to bar, but also anyone at all who was not of Israelite descent. The original law is from Deuteronomy 23, where it says that "no Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of The Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the LORD forever... You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever." But then it goes on to say that "You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not abhor and Egyptian, because you were a sojourner in his land. Children born to them in the third generation may enter the assembly of the LORD." So clearly, God is not barring all foreigners from the assembly of his people. Carson's point was that in our eagerness to be law-abiders, we can be tempted to go beyond God's requirements, setting up standards that are "higher" and more stringent than even what a holy and righteous God requires. Very true, and something to be guarded against.

But what has really struck me as I've reread the passages from Nehemiah and Deuteronomy over the past several weeks is not so much what WE do with God's standards, but what HE does. As I read Deuteronomy 23 and see the blunt statement that no Moabite is to be permitted in God's assembly, I cannot help but immediately think of the Bible's most well-known Moabite. "No Moabite may enter the assembly of the LORD forever". And yet... Turn over a couple books and find Ruth, a Moabite who, by God's own sovereign appointment, was not only brought into the people of God, but who was great-grandmother to the man after God's own heart, King David. Not even close to ten generations passed before God took the descendant of a Moabite and put him on the throne of Israel. And it doesn't even end there! Generations go by, hundreds of years pass, and who is David's descendant? Jesus himself, God's own son and Saviour of God's people. In his genealogy, Matthew reminds us in no uncertain terms that Ruth (along with a few other "unsavoury" characters) is in the very family line of Jesus.

How is it that God can forbid the inclusion of any Moabite or his descendant in his assembly and then turn around and bring his own son into the world as the descendant of a Moabite?  Only in the same way that we, who were once children of wrath like the rest of mankind, have been made alive together with Christ and seated with him in God's heavenly assembly. BUT GOD, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses... While we were still his enemies, pronouncing curses against God and his people, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, the son of a Moabite. His great-great-great grandmother was an object of wrath, brought into God's family by grace alone, and through his perfect life, death and resurrection, he now intercedes for all us Moabites who trust in him for our identity, so that we can stand in God's assembly without fear of rejection.

Our God is holy and righteous and his requirements are perfect and good, yes. And our God is unfathomably full of mercy and grace toward those who will come to him confessing that in and of themselves, they have nothing to offer and, in fact, no reason to even hope for his acceptance, apart from Jesus' perfect fulfillment of the entire law of God and his death on the cross for the curse we deserve.

"God so loved the objects of his judicial wrath that He made a sovereign, unconditional Promise to save them, not by setting aside the requirements of His holy Law, but by fulfilling them Himself, in the Person of His beloved Son! 'Lovingkindness and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other!' To God be the glory, forever and ever!" (Charles Leiter, The Law of Christ)

Do you know this mercy? And do you extend this mercy to those around you, to the outcasts, to the broken, to the rebellious, to those who don't meet your standards?

Let's rejoice today in such mercy extended to us, and may it flow through us to the world around us to the praise of God's glorious grace!

*the full audio and video are available here

Monday, August 18, 2014

Superwoman Falls From The Sky

"Can we build it? Yes, we can!"
"We did it! We did it! We did it! Yay!"
Soundtrack of my life as a mother--in more ways than one.

Not only do kids' TV shows spout the "I can do anything I put my mind to" mantra. It's what I tell myself... all the time. For that matter, it's what I often hear about myself from others. And maybe it's your constant refrain, too. It's a wonderfully confidence-inspiring idea... If only it were true! Of course, if you've ever tried something like keeping your house perfectly tidy while several children inhabit it, you know that, well, just putting your mind to something doesn't always make it so!

But what about things that are actually possible for a human being? Indeed--and here is where I often struggle--what about areas where you are actually gifted, where you've excelled, or where you at least feel pretty capable? Sometimes--or if I'm honest, most of the time--I like to think that if I CAN do it, I SHOULD do it. It's kind of nice to be Superwoman, wind in my face as I jet through the sky and swoop down to save the day again and again and again, solving problems left and right, getting the job done, lifting enormous piles of responsibility high above my head with an appearance of ease. Having the applause of the people and my own satisfaction at another task completed doesn't hurt too much either.

Except that humans weren't made for this. Inevitably, real-life Superwomen fall from the sky, crushed by burdens they weren't made to bear. It can't all be done and done well. And if you've lived life believing that man was intended for flight, the fall can be hard.

For several years now, I have managed--by some manner of insanity and yes, only by God's grace--to run a household of 6 while homeschooling the kids, having people into our home frequently, baking all our bread and making healthy food from scratch, and blogging more or less regularly, in the midst of life fun including a pile of puppies, flooding, multiple moves, Nathan's major surgery, church planting, and the occasional panic attack. Nothing I felt totally unqualified to handle on its own. But the sum of the parts has proven greater than this woman's capabilities.

This spring, after a last few months of homeschooling that were sending me down a quick path to nervous breakdown, we finally made the decision to send our older three kids to school in the fall. This was not an easy decision. I believe that most any form of schooling can be done in a God-glorifying and family-benefitting way, and we've always been open to reevaluating our schooling choices each year, but now that it's moved out of the theoretical and into reality, I've discovered just how idolatrous my standard for myself really is. It's not that I'm afraid of school; in fact, I'm really excited about this new little school and the expanded opportunities our kids will have there. It's not so much that I'll miss having the kids around during the day; while I'm sure there will be days when I wish they were home, I'm looking forward to having more space during the day for my youngest, for the new business I've started*, and for building relationships within the church, the school and with our neighbours. No, what's made this decision especially difficult is that I won't be a homeschooling mom anymore. It means that I won't have that one massively extra thing on my resume of daily activities that makes people say, "I can't imagine how you do that!" It means that I've failed my own standard for how much I should be able to accomplish in a 24-hour period or a calendar year. Superwoman falls from the sky.

And yet, there is grace for this fallen superhero. Having idols exposed is a gift. Being forced to give up responsibility that was too great is a gracious invitation to rest. Recognizing weakness and limitations is an opportunity to lean hard on the strength that is only to be found in Christ. And getting knocked off my own pedestal brings with it more humility to accept others' limitations, too.

I can't do just anything I put my mind to. And there are times to say "no" even to things I am theoretically capable of, so that I can better serve my Lord, my family, my church, my neighbours. Life is not a superhero action flick or a kids' overly-confident TV programme. There has only really been one superhero, one who could do it all and bear up under it. And he's done it all so that I don't have to. His name is Jesus, and this failed superwoman is laying down her cape at his feet. Because that's precisely where it belongs.

*Just to be clear, I didn't give up homeschooling in order to work. The work (which is only part-time) comes primarily out of a need to fund the kids' schooling, with the side benefit of being a good way to meet our neighbours.