Sayanora

My Blog Friends

For the time being, at least, I am going to discontinue this blog.

For the past few months I have had crushing insomnia, and my blood pressure has been elevated. I can’t help but feel that the two are connected, so I am trying to divest myself of areas of stress, even ‘good’ stress.

Well, my husband, children and grandchildren don’t care to be laid aside. Paul apparently did not exempt me from church/body commitments. My little one day a week job helps keeps the IRS at bay….

So, this seems the one area where I can lay something down. Especially as I have not found a way to keep blogging from clashing with devotions.

But I will miss it, and the interaction I have had with you. That has been a great blessing.

I am going to reevaluate at the end of a couple of months. I may pick Grace Looking Back up again, as it was. I may see whether or not my daughters would like to do a joint blog with me. They are all gifted writers and we have often discussed that possibility. Or I may just let it go altogether.

Check back in early December, or so.

And thanks for being part of my life for the last year.

Barbara Challies

 

 

 

Timing and Time

I think it is fairly common in informal biblical apologetics to say the surprising elements in the Bible speak for its authenticity. There are things in Scripture that no mere human would ever think to insert. Things that at first glance – or even second and third – don’t seem to ‘belong’.

Until you really think about them and put them in context.

One such minor detail is found in John 11:5. Jesus has just been informed of his very good friend’s serious illness, and has been asked to go and heal him:

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, SO when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stated two days longer in the place where he was.”

Not normally a good friend’s response. But, of course, Jesus wasn’t a normal man and in the greater narrative, and the Bible as a whole, we understand his motive. That God be glorified.

His last great miracle was bringing life from death. Pointing forward to his own resurrection, and ours in him -spiritually in this age, and bodily when he comes again.

What could have been more appropriate?

But what a long couple of days it had to be for Martha and Mary. I often think that, to God, a thousand years are as a day. But to us, when we suffer, a day can be like a thousand years. Every second is interminable.

I have heard it said that ‘eternity’ is often misunderstood. That ‘everlasting’ life is more the concept of the new heavens and the new earth. In other words, there is time and it goes on forever.

But no longer will we be crying out, “How long, O Lord God of heaven and earth?”

If a second ‘feels’ like a thousand years, all the better!

Wordless Sermon

For many years I have been a fairly rapt and consistent student of the persecuted church. One thing that has constantly amazed me is their innovative approach to sharing the gospel. Its members are brilliant at seeing opportunities and making the most of them. No wonder their persecutors fear them. They stand opposed to the One who says,

“And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

And they see this in action. Literally, in the following case.

Watchman Nee was a Chinese Christian whose theology was problematic, indeed – infused with much mysticism. But who can not be astounded at the way he handled the following situation?

He was due to speak at a meeting of believers that was being surveilled by police. He knew that if he spoke of the Bible he would be promptly arrested. So he delivered a sermon understood only by believers. And without words!

Randy Alcorn, in his book, “Safely Home”, has a character reenact that famous sermon:

“The slightly built, hunched-over man stood behind a roughly hewn table with a single glass of water on it…. Suddenly his face looked furious. He picked up the glass and stared at it, squeezing hard, shaking it, and spilling water…..

He threw the glass to the ground….then stomped on it, breaking it into pieces….A look of glee on his face, the man crushed more glass under his heel, marching around in a circle, celebrating. He looked around smugly.

Now the man peered down in the dust and saw something. He stooped to pick it up. It was a shard of glass. Then he found another shard, and another, and slivers here and there. He stomped on them again, creating more glass. He walked across the (room) then looked on the bottom of his sandals and picked off glass from them. The more he stomped on glass, the farther it spread. Now he tried frantically to reassemble the glass, as if piecing it together so he could hold it in his hand again. But it was impossible. Finally, he threw the pieces to the ground again in disgust….”

Yes, he meant exactly what you are thinking he meant.

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

And that is a likely place to end this post, but I want to add one more thing.

My daughter was speaking with an unnamed family member about a Voice of the Martyrs conference she wants to attend. Our beloved space cadet answered, “Will there be any martyrs speaking there?” (!)

You know what? Really, there will be. Their stories continue to speak to Christians.

And to their persecutors.

And especially to the God who hears their blood crying out to him day and night.

Suffering

Just a quick thought for today:

When we were first converted, we spent much time with a family whose four kids were roughly our own age. I loved hanging around with both parents and children – observing and learning what this new Christian life really meant on a practical level. And they were wonderful teachers.

One day the mother, Marjorie, told me that they had had a fifth child, a little girl. On a Christmas morning, years before, they had bought their older children a wagon as a gift. The toddler stepped into it. It was yanked by one of the other girls, and the little one fell onto its edge, breaking her trachea.

Tragic. Her voice was still full of sorrow as she told me about Heather. But what burned into my mind were her final words:

“As we came home from the hospital, all I remember praying is, ‘Lord, help me not to ask why.’”

I don’t know why I was thinking about this again the other day, but it reminded me of how insufficient our horizontal answers to suffering are. We understand, vertically, why suffering exists – the predictable outcome of a sinful world inhabited by sinful people, under the judgment of a just God.

But individual outworkings of that?

Great mystery.

And not only are our answers inadequate, they are dangerous. We can begin to think our own answers are God’s, and then turn against him in rage because they are not good enough.

May I add, that I think many of the most harmful explanations of our suffering do not come from others, but from ourselves. We are our own worst ‘Job’s Counselors.’

“God ordains a man’s steps. How, then, can he understand his own way?” (Proverbs 20:24)

Indeed. We can’t.

BUT

Although we often do not understand God’s providence, we can always understand his character. He is good and just and always purposeful. He will never spill the tears of his own children unnecessarily.

That is what we are left with.

And the New Heavens and the New Earth.

It is enough.

Real Life

A dear friend told me recently that, some time ago, she and her husband were able to leave their children with family members and go away for an unprecedented few days on their own.

Time away from normal responsibilities. To luxuriate a little. To talk. To have fun!

And did they?

No. They fought the whole time!

So many things held over for just such a time. And so much pressure to solve them all and have a wonderful time doing it.

Not very realistic, is it?

John and I had very few ‘holidays’ from our children. His parents died young and mine lived several hours away.

But I do remember one.

We were able to go to Corning, New York – an artsy little town in a lovely setting. That night we lay in bed and started watching television – a treat for us as we never had one in our home. John wanted to watch boring nature programs, and I wanted to watch Rescue 911 – tales of heroism.

We simply couldn’t agree, but he had charge of the remote. So, eventually, I just grabbed it and threw it at him…..

More shades of happy days away for stressed parents.

Isn’t it interesting that you can often keep the lid on pressure when you are subject to a routine, but it ‘outs’ when routine is broken and external discipline is less?

Much as we need breaks…”All work and no play make Jack a dull boy”….routine is wonderful.

I was talking with a young woman recently who has had to work a very fragmented schedule. It is most difficult for her. As long as she has to do it, I know that God will be with her, strengthening her to accomplish what she must.

But God understands human nature so profoundly. Of course, as its creator!

And it is interesting that everything is set against the backdrop of the regularity of nature. Days, weeks, months, years, come and go with absolute precision. The cycle of the seasons is unvarying.

And with that comes comfort, security.

How good God is to give us only very carefully controlled diversity. We just aren’t made to live with too much change or irregularity.

So, before you take your next little Honeymoon break, take nothing for granted.

Pray!

What Law?

John and I moved to the United States in 1999. As I have mentioned, we did not know where to go to church and ended up at First Baptist of Atlanta, with Charles Stanley, for a year or so.

We had many interesting experiences there, both theological and cultural. (My daughters could not get over seeing girls head to the restrooms between church and Sunday School with blow driers!)

But what I remember most vividly is the struggle Susanna had in the college and careers group. What? Why?

She insisted that it was important to God that, as Christians, we live according to his law. The other young people simply could not accept this. Christ had come to set us free from the law and we now lived according to ‘love’. They saw Susanna as judgmental and heretical – a legalist.

My children grew up in a church where the Ten Commandments were read every Sunday as the rule for life. Of course. For what are they?

They describe God’s own unchanging moral character. And they can be summarized as, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength’ and ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

Or they can be expanded into particulars – those Ten Commandments.

Like an accordion, as I used to tell my children. It can be ‘pushed together’ or ‘stretched out’. But it remains the same instrument. Likewise with God’s law.

I have a friend who thinks that inattention to God’s law is the single greatest weakness of the modern church. Maybe he is right.

Those young people at First Baptist of Atlanta had no idea there was a clear standard by which they could assess their spiritual state. Not just the nebulous one of ‘love’. And, also, a clear standard for spiritual growth.

What an odd state of affairs!

How can you live as a Christian without understanding the holiness, the righteousness, you are striving for? How did you come to see your sin in the first place if it had little definition?

And, most of all, how can you properly love a Savior who came to die for us – yes. But who had to live for us first by actively obeying those very laws in perfection – to fulfil all righteousness on our behalf.

J. Gresham Machen said to John Murray just days before his death, “I am so glad for the active obedience of Christ. There is no hope without it.”

Pictures

I am not a person who notices things. When we rented a house in England for a year, long ago, it took me months to realize there was a house down a lane just fifty yards from our front door. Every Sunday I have to ask John which cars belong to which members of our congregation – and our church is small! (Don’t drive by me and expect me to wave!)

I simply have next to no visual memory.

Which makes it all the more surprising that I do have very vivid mental images – concepts fleshed out. Let me share a few with you:

One) I picture someone, in a few decades, digging up Miss Universe’s? Miss World’s? (Do they still even do that?) body…. I know, I know. This is macabre…. But they say, “Look at that dust! Gorgeous!”

Two) Regular person: “Mr. X has a hundred million dollars invested.”

        God: “Wow!”

Three) I have several friends and family members who are devoted to exclusive psalmody. I love them and respect them greatly, to a person. But all I can think of as I assess this issue is God, with his hands over his ears, listening to a hymn and shouting, “Stop! Stop! Don’t mention the name of my son in song!”

And so on.

My son, Tim, has done wonderful charts of ‘visual theology’.

This is my form of the same.

Nancy’s

I have had a chaotic week, indeed, so thought I would post an excellent blog post from my friend Nancy Pearcey at thepearceyreport.com.

As always, Nancy is concise and to the point:

On the Miley Cyrus fiasco, Aldous Huxley gives the broader picture: As the public sphere becomes increasingly controlled and authoritarian, the private sphere — for example, sexual behavior — becomes increasingly wild and chaotic. From his preface to Brace New World:

“As political and economic freedom diminishes, sexual freedom tends compensatingly to increase. And the dictator
. . . will do well to encourage that freedom. In conjunction with the freedom to daydream under the influence of dope and movies and the radio, it will help to “reconcile his subjects to the servitude which is their fate.”

Today, of course, there are far more technological escapes via the internet, etc. And Huxley’s words echo what sociologists like Peter Berger have also said — that as the public sphere is increasingly structured and controlled by Big Government and Big Corporations, ordinary people compensate with the rejection of structure and restraints in the private sphere (see Berger’s book The Homeless Mind).

In the words of John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute, “Those concerned about the emerging police state in America . . . should be equally concerned about the pornification of America: They are two sides of the same coin.”

Flies, Spies, and Condemnation

When I get tired, I lose language. My mouth operates long after my brain has shut down…

Last night I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth when I became annoyed by a fly. I went into the kitchen to get the flyswatter and said, “John, there is a big fat spy in the bathroom.”

Just me and my flyswatter between national security and the forces of evil…

On a more serious note, I am almost through the minor prophets – about half-way through Zechariah. I was fascinated by this vision:

Zechariah sees a huge scroll – obviously with God’s law inscribed on it – flying over the land and eventually entering homes and settling there. Why? To curse them.

What an unsettling image. God looking down from heaven and seeing people only through this floating, hovering synopsis of his righteousness. Which filters out and exposes their sin. Always and every day.

Their homes are no refuge, no bastions of ‘private morality’. Rather, this law with its curse will consume them, “timber and stones”.

Paul, in Corinthians, aptly calls the Old Covenant the ‘ministry of death’ and the ‘ministry of condemnation’.

What a fearsome thing God’s law is, apart from Christ!

And with that quick thought I will end as I am drunk with insomnia fatigue!

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