Look and Live

I don’t know whether you have ever read the conversion story of Charles Spurgeon, but here is the core of it, as he recounts it himself. ‘He’ is a simple church member who had to preach one night at a service Spurgeon stumbled into as he evaded a snowstorm:

“Then, lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.” I saw at once the way of salvation . . . I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, “Look!” What a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until l could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to HIM . . .”

Look! Look! Look!

I have become convinced that the same principle is at the heart of sanctification.

The most important part of the process is that time we spend in reading Scripture and meditating on it. We strive with all that is in us to SEE Jesus. To LOOK at him. To KNOW him.

And the Holy Spirit then takes this knowledge and, as only He can, works it into the deepest parts of us to make us like Him.

“…we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is.”

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Pro-Life Moments

Within a year or two of becoming a Christian, I became aware of the nature of abortion. In the 1980’s I was very involved with the political wing of a Canadian pro-life group, called Campaign Life, and served on their board for several years. I thought I would share just a few memories I have of that time.

Campaign Life intersected with its educational counterpart, Canadian Right-to-Life. So I got to know their personnel, as well. I have a vivid memory of the president of Right-to-Life, Laura McArthur, saying in her inimitable, gravelly voice, “Dey want to teach my son sex ed. De kid still goes to bed with Curious George.” Exactly! And, oh Laura, if you were only alive now….

Jim Hughes was then president of Campaign Life. (He is still active as vice president of the international Right to Life Federation) Like most of the executive then, and perhaps now, Jim was a fervent Roman Catholic. We became good friends – I liked him greatly – but, on my part, there was always the discomfort of knowing my Catholic friends saw this as a joint religious crusade – something that I could not accept, and which gradually drove me from the movement.

I was not aware that perceptive Jim saw this clearly. One day after I had sat awkwardly with them in the office as a priest lead them in prayer, he pulled me aside and said, “Roman Catholicism is really hard for you, isn’t it, Barbara?” and I told him of my many concerns. He listened intently and then said, “Barbara, I would say you represent 10% of Evangelicals…..No, 5%…..”

About this same time, we had another board meeting. There were, perhaps, ten of us , carefully chosen, hand-picked. Jim said, “Someone in here is leaking our plans to the opposition.”

I have never forgotten the shock of that moment. And, of course, I have no idea who it was. I just know it wasn’t me! But it gave me a taste of what it must be like to be a Christian in a country where our faith is illicit. Who do you trust?

In one of the final years of my involvement, Right-to-Life’s media people decided they wanted to make several ads featuring couples at different stages of life, all telling of their opposition to abortion. They would be shown in Toronto during the Grey Cup – Canada’s equivalent to the Super Bowl.

They asked John and I if we would be the family couple. We agreed, though I can’t say we shone as scripted spokesmen. In any case, while they were filming us, my little one-year-old Susanna came and demanded to be held. So somewhere in the archives of filmdom are John and Barbara, with little red-kilted Susanna, speaking about one of the most important moral issues of our day. And little Susanna, now a mom with four children, writes articles (as one of their evangelical voices) for a website begun by these same tenacious old friends and their children!

If you are interested, check it out. Very Catholic. But very well done.

lifesitenews.com

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When we were wealthy Canadians I never really thought much about money. We lived comfortably, but not laviously, and it was always just there.

Now we have become struggling Americans and it has forced my to think more about money – not just in an accounting sense, but inevitably – given my temperament – in a philosophical sense, as well.

America has been the land of opportunity until recently, and has produced men known as great philanthropists. Most of these early men gave deliberately from Christian conviction. Even their modern counterparts, I would say, give based on ‘Christian memory’ if not active personal persuasion of Christian truth.

But here is the rub for me.

Since living here, we have had direct or indirect contact with two philanthropists who actively profess Christ. And they both have business practices that range, it seems, from illegal to unsavory.

But they give away lots and lots of money.

If God really means it (and I assume he does!) when he says, “The stone will cry from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond” against ‘evil gain’, then such men are in trouble. Their good works can’t atone for injustice, can’t buy God off.

Having said this, I am sure there are many godly men in this country who make sizeable fortunes legitimately, and handle their money well.

Still, I have come to see the essential strength of the church here, and in Canada, for that matter, in this way:

It rests in the decisions of everyday people making everyday choices but in a heavenly way.

It is the father who decides early on he will cap an otherwise brilliant career because he has a large family and they are his priority. It is the young couple who decide they will not opt for a prestigious position that could potentially threaten their marriage. It is the small businessman, again with a large family, who pays his employees more than the wealthy philanthropist because he wants them to have a living wage. It really matters to him.

These are the backbone of the church, aren’t they? ‘Ordinary’ people making decisions at personal cost because of a compelling desire to please God and invest in eternal wealth.

How does it go? “That men is no fool who gives what he can’t keep to gain what he can’t lose”?

I am sure you know it!

And it is beautiful to both God and man.

Words and Thoughts

Yesterday I worked my regular ten-hour shift at a Christian hotline. Most teens and young adults prefer not to phone but to speak with us by live chat – challenging for me with my minimal typing skills.

My day ended as it had begun – with a girl questioning God’s integrity for allowing circumstances in her life that have greatly affected her since. The perennial question of ‘evil’ presented in experiential terms.

I honestly can’t remember what I said to her. The chats are often in quick succession and merge in my mind quickly. But it did make me reiterate my own little ‘catechism’ regarding evil:

One) God sovereignly determines how the evil of man will be acted out, always in the context of restraining it. (Or we would devour one another, and destroy the world, as well, tomorrow)

Two) The ‘substance’ of evil is not God’s, but ours. Likewise, its guilt.

These two quick points that have been a helpful grid for me as I confront troubling issues.

And just a quick little anecdote I think you will enjoy along with me:

My daughter, Grace, often listens to classical music at home and in the car. A couple of days ago she asked her daughter, barely four, what she would like to listen to on the car radio. She replied, “ Now we will listen to a compilation of trumpets.”

She probably knows what a trumpet is. She most certainly doesn’t understand the meaning of ‘compilation’. But doesn’t it show how God makes human beings love words? What a blessing it is to children when parents saturate them in rich language!

See you on Monday!

Family

As I have mentioned before, John and I met at Bishop’s University. Bishop’s was strong academically, but also close to ski hills and golf courses. Because of this, it was sometimes called “The Country Club of the Eastern Townships”.

With these multiple attractions, it attracted many young people from wealthy homes. One family, in particular, had sent several children to Bishop’s. John and I, separately, got to know two of the youngest boys.

Years later, I picked up a magazine and saw a lengthy article about their older brother.

He has done very well for himself in a number of areas. But what fascinated me was this:

Apparently, as a young man, he was floundering. Simply didn’t know what to do with his life and had not made much of a beginning at anything. A bit of a ‘ne’er do well’, I guess.

So his father sat him down and said he would go through a list of all the companies/corporations where he had friends that could give this young man employment. They would start with “A” and go right through the alphabet until they found something suitable.

That is how he got his start.

Then I think of the people we have gotten to know through our rentals in north Georgia. They come from bits and pieces of families with no meaningful oversight, and so very much to destroy them. One wrong step – which they usually make – and they can’t recover. Ever. There is no support to help them get back on track. And often, the whole train has long been derailed anyway.

The disparities in life fascinate me.

I am glad for those people who have strong, intact families and give their young people a leg up when they need it. I ache for the others who make a bad decision and are going to live with the consequences forever.

Such is life. Always has been and always will be. “The poor you will always have among you”.

But it is lovely that God’s heart is moved by the vulnerable. The early apostles sought out the poor very specifically to tell them the good news. And so have so many Christians through the ages.

And the Old Testament prophets raged when their plight was the result of injustice.

Still, whatever the circumstances, there is only one thing that can systematically lift people from poverty in great numbers.

Not a ‘thing’ at all.

Our one God. Who restores the soul and makes all things new.

A Father for the fatherless.

Burdened

When I was first a Christian, forty years ago, there was much talk of ‘burdens’. “God has given me a burden to do so and so.” “God has burdened my soul in such and such a way.”

It took me many years to see what an apt description that term can be.

I think it captures very well the circumstance where something previously abstract suddenly, or gradually, becomes distressingly real to you.

‘Abortion’ is no longer just a term. You can now hear babies screaming as their lives are painfully taken from them. ‘Sex trafficking’ becomes little girls with stolen pasts and futures who have little meaningful legal protection. ‘Adoption’ becomes heartbroken little ones with no support or hope.

These situations become living realities. And they are not passing disturbances in everyday life, but are recurring and gripping.

I think that is what a burden is. And I think it is often God’s call into action in a certain sphere of life. The only way to alleviate the pain of what you are understanding, ‘seeing’, is to go into action to try to remedy the situation.

In the meantime, the rest of the human race, even the Christian community, seems to be going on blissfully oblivious to this condition that is consuming your soul.

A burden is God-imposed, it is lonely, and it is painful. Sometimes to the point of crying out to the Lord for relief through death as various prophets did, who were so ‘burdened’ for their rebellious people.

Many sincere Christians will carry them at certain times of life.

And usually they are based on an increased apprehension of evil, of ‘fallenness’.

I marvel that God, who knows every detail of existence intimately, can let life , with its everyday wickedness, go on.

The merest glimpse of what he sees day in and day out quickly becomes almost unbearably wearisome to us.

So we call on him to become the burden-bearer of our burdens.

He does. And history goes on.

At least for now.

Infant Fears

I was born in the ‘nightie’ age. Sleepers had not yet been invented. So every night I was tucked in bed with a nightie wrapped around me and pulled down to cover my toes. Yet at the end of every nap, according to my mother, my nightie would be pulled up to cover my face. So I felt secure. So I could sleep.

I see the same pattern in my grandchildren. Most have needed something soft in order to get through their early years – blankets, cuddle-bears, teddy bears….

And in some we have seen rituals – shoes needing to be lined up, words spoken the same way in each similar situation, schedules that can’t be varied in the least degree. All to stave off unknown dangers.

Isn’t it sad that human beings are born with such a residual amount of fear? I remember it in myself, I saw it in my children, and it now touches very deep chords indeed as I see it in my grandchildren. It breaks my heart.

And who can soothe away these fears with promises of safety in anything close to an absolute sense?

That would be a fairy tale. A turning of the back to Scripture. A lie.

That is one reason we grandparents are so much more compassionate and tender with our grandchildren than we were with our children. We are more aware of the nature of evil, the repercussions of the Fall. As CS Lewis said, who can stand unmoved and see infants that, as children of Christian parents, are called to fight against the world, the flesh and the devil throughout their lives – which have barely begun.

Poor little ones. Privileged little ones.

That dichotomy of life now.

As small children begin to realize the terms of life, they need so very much encouragement and comfort. So do the big ones. (And us, the biggest, for that matter)

May we comfort and strengthen them well, showing them God’s own compassion. Even more importantly, may we encourage them to go directly to God for peace and strength from the time they are tiny.

May it become the routine of their life to – first thing, and in every situation – cry out to the God of All Comfort.

The last week has been a succession of little ones as I have made pilgrimages from home to home. Right now I have a little grandson busy telling me how he now sleeps with just a pull-up, and wanting to share ‘Wally’ books with me. So important business on hand.

 

See you Friday.

Jesus Loves Me (And Mom)

I came into the kitchen to write this morning and found my poor little laptop buzzing noisily. Somehow it had overheated and was letting me know in no uncertain terms it was in pain. It is willing to shoulder its responsibilities again now – I think. We shall see! In any case, my time is now short and I will write in haste…

My mother did not cry often. I think, in the almost-seventeen years I lived at home, I saw her weep twice. The third time she cried was long after this.

I was visiting her with Andrew and Tim. We were chatting, hanging around, enjoying each other when she suddenly began to sob.

“Mom, Mom, what’s wrong?”

“I was just thinking about my father and missing him. It is so hard to know I will never see him again.”

Mom was not a Christian. She was a stubborn, feisty, shrewd (and very lovable) unbeliever.

There were many tense years after my conversion. She was, of course, wary and hostile toward my new understanding of the universe. For years and years I tried to explain the gospel to her, win her sympathy toward this ‘new’ biblical perspective.

She would have none of it.

Finally, shortly before she died, there was a breakthrough. Was it one that actually won her to Christ? I don’t know. All I know is that she had some eureka moments for the first time.

How did this come about?

I trapped her. With her own background.

Mom had been the organist in her small town United church (similar to United Methodist) for many years. Consequently, she knew hymns well.

I simply began to recite and apply their words as testimony that what I believed was not new at all – rather, what she had grown up with, and then taught us.

I will give just one, quick ‘for instance’ – the simplest one of all: Jesus Loves Me.

That is a powerful little song.

Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…The authority of the Bible is cited first thing.

Little ones to him belong. They are weak but he is strong…Human nature is defined as inadequate.

Jesus loves me he who died, heaven’s gate to open wide.

He will wash away my sin, let his little child come in…..God’s own solution to the above. Grace. His works, not ours.

Jesus loves me, he will stay close beside me all the way.

When at last I come to die, he will take me home on high…Our future hope. The ultimate goal of our existence.

All there.

When I presented these truths as part of her own heritage, Mom listened. For the first time.

How I hope this knowledge became saving truth in her mind and heart.

But only eternity will tell.

More Cognitive Dissonance

I continue to have a raging recurrence of insomnia so am going to weave together a few sentences from the biography ‘Benjamin Franklin’, by Walter Isaacson, for today’s post.

We all know that Franklin, though a token Presbyterian, was in reality a deist. Still, he couldn’t stop being common sense Ben Franklin – observing and analyzing effects. Consequently:

As a young man, “….he soon came to the conclusion that a simple and complacent deism had its own set of drawbacks. He had converted Collins and Ralph (two friends) to deism, and they soon wronged him without moral compunction.”

Of course. No lawgiver. No accountability. No restraint. Franklin saw this clearly.

So did this send him scurrying back to the Calvinism of his youth?

No. He decided to fine-tune and expand his deism! He declared that, “The most acceptable service to God (‘God’, that is)  is doing good to man.”

And he developed thirteen categories of moral uprightness he felt he must cultivate to meet this goal.

So, as Charles Stanley used to (and may still) say, “Now watch this.”

“On the pages of a little notebook, he made a chart with seven red columns for the days of the week and thirteen rows labeled with his virtues. Infractions were marked with a black spot. The first week he focused on temperance, trying to keep that line clear while not worrying about the other lines. With that virtue strengthened, he could turn his attention to the next one, silence, hoping that the temperance line would stay clear as well. In the course of the year, he would complete the thirteen-week cycle four times.

‘I was surprised to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined’, he dryly noted. In fact, his notebook became filled with holes as he erased the marks in order to reuse the pages….”

So, again, did this send him back to the theology of his youth, which was so clearly being legitimized?

No.

So he transferred his charts to ivory tablets that could more easily be wiped clean.”

Oh, human nature!