Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Sweet and Bitter Providence

My friend Alice bought me a book for my birthday titled A Sweet & Bitter Providence, by John Piper.  In the book, Dr. Piper walks the reader through the book of Ruth and helps us "glean" some very rich and comforting food for our famished souls.  There are too many to share here...just get the book.  But I do want to share one big "helping" because it is so pertinent in light of the devastation in Haiti, as well as other gut-wrenching agonies various friends of mine who will likely read this are experiencing.   May God help us to see His sovereign hand of love even in the most bitter seasons of our lives.

I will string quotes in green, making every attempt to stay true to the gist of Dr. Piper's points, to serve up this meal as concisely as I can (these are all taken from between pages 115-142): 

The painful things that come into our lives are not described by God as accidental or as out of His control.  This would be no comfort.  That God cannot stop a germ or a car or a bullet or a demon is not good news; it is not the news of the Bible.  God can.  And ten thousand times He does.  But when He doesn't, He has His reasons.  And in Christ Jesus they are all loving.

The story of Ruth (along with Joseph and Job and Esther and others) is in the Bible to prepare us for bitter providences by showing us again and again that God is doing a thousand things that we do not know. And they are meant for our good...What I have tried to do in this book is draw out the personal and precious fact that this truth is comforting.  Yes, it is painful.  To know that our Father in heaven has ordained our pain is not a comfortable truth, but it is comforting.  That our pain has a loving and wise and all-powerful purpose behind it is better than any other view -- weak God, cruel God, bumbling God, no God.  To know that in His hands 'this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison' (2 Corinthians 4:17) is profoundly reassuring.  And yes, 'light' and 'momentary' meant, in Paul's case, a lifetime of suffering.  The excruciating 'lightness' of his suffering was light compared to the weight of glory.  And the interminable 'momentariness' of his suffering was momentary compared to the eternality of the glory." 

We ask Can it really be that God governs the sinful acts of men to make them serve His wise purposes without Himself being a sinner?  Yes, He can.  If He cannot, then there is no Christian gospel.

'Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel...that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures' (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  Notice the repeated phrase 'in accordance with the Scriptures.' That means that God planned it.  God planned that Christ would die.  There would be no gospel without the death of Christ.  All the deeds that brought Him to the cross were planned.  This is explicit in the early church's prayer of praise in Acts 4:27-28: 'Truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place.'  This means that what Herod, Pilate, the soldiers, and the mobs did to Jesus was planned by God.  And all those acts against Jesus were sin. 

God does not sin.  He is holy (Isaiah 6:3).  He 'is light, and in Him is no darkness at all' (1 John 1:5).  He is 'the Father of lights' from whom comes 'every good gift and every perfect gift' (James 1:17).  But He clearly ordained that the murder of His Son happened.

...[quoting Joni Earekson Tada] 'I lean toward the old adage that God draws straight lines with crooked sticks.' In other words, when God ordains something crooked, He Himself is not doing anything crooked. 

If we can keep our eyes on the cross of Christ, where God infallibly certified His love for us...then the pain He ordains for us will not undermine our sense of being loved.  Instead, we will put our hands on our mouths and bow before His all-loving, all-ruling providence.  We will trust Him to only do us good - whether it feels good or not at the moment.  And we will wait for the day when all will be repaid and made plain.

A vision of God as absolutely supreme over all the evil of the world - natural and moral - has set Joni Eareckson Tada free to love others. ...  Ruth took the risks of love -- leaving her homeland, promising never to return, working faithfully for her mother-in-law through the heat of the day, going to Boaz in the middle of the night -- because she lived under the 'wings [of God]' (Ruth 2:12). The sovereign goodness of God is revealed to us not only for our comfort, but also to free us from the fear and selfishness that quashes the radical risks of love.

There is no safer place in all the universe than under the wings of the sovereign, all-wise, all-loving God.  But the shadow of these wings may take us to dangerous places in the cause of love.  You may be martyred in the shadow of the Almighty.  But you will not have wasted your life when you die in the cause of love.  As the martyr Jim Elliot famously said, 'He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.'

The book serves up other meals to chew on relative to gender, race, and the glories of Christ as He works in the bitterest of times in our lives for our good.  Some food "tastes" better than others, but God gives us what we need and I thank Him for it, and pray that He will use the truths Dr. Piper has drawn from His Word to nourish us and strengthen us to live and die in the cause of love for the glory of His name.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

my coach this week: Hudson Taylor

My curl-up-for-15-minutes-at-bedtime-book this week is Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor.  Last night I reached pg 165 out of 251 and came to this quote:

"I am no longer anxious about anything for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine.  It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest position He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient.  It little matters to my servant whether I send him to buy a few cash worth of things or the most expensive articles.  In either case he looks to me for the money and brings me his purchases.  So, if God should place me in great perplexity, must He not give me much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength?  No fear that His resources will be unequal to the emergency!  And His resources are mine -- for His is mine, and is with me and dwells in me."

Isn't that worth a good chew?

Hebrews 11:4 tells us "By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks."  Hudson Taylor has joined the crowd of witnesses along with Abel and a host of others who loved Jesus, body and soul.  He (though dead) still speaks to me as I read about the unswerving commitment he had to praise and trust the Living God and to make Jesus known to as many as he could actively seek out. 

I want to run the race of faith with endurance, looking unto Jesus the whole way.  How thankful I am for the crowd of witnesses that have run before us who are kind of like coaches, instructing and cheering us on (do I have ears to hear?). 

We went as a family to a basketball game last week and the winners played amazingly well as a team.  We heard more than one person in the stands make the comment that the team was well coached.  This morning I asked my kids what they thought it meant "to be well coached" and we had a fun little discussion about that.  We concluded that it isn't enough to have a knowledgeable coach who sets out to teach his players all he knows about the sport.  A winning team is made up of players who are wise enough to know they don't know it all, who trust they have much to gain from paying close attention to good coaches, and who put into regular practice what they are taught.  A well coached team requires a good coach AND teachable players who will give it their all to taste victory by the rules. 

Of course I helped steer the discussion to how that idea applies in our home school, which it definitely does (as anyone who has children knows, you can attempt to teach until you are blue in the face, but if your children have stopped up ears, you may as well be whistling to the wind).  I used the tail end of our discussion as an opportunity to praise my kids because, by God's grace, they already know and put into practice these "winning team" principles so much of the time. I thank the Lord for this!

I was glad for my chat with my kids.  I love being one of their chief cheerleaders, and count it a privilege to "coach" them along in life.  But all day long the thought that continues to go through my head is my own need to subject myself (in a fashion that goes beyond curiosity about their lives) to the instruction of people like Hudson Taylor who, though dead, still speak.  I'm too comfortable with mental learning...I need to LIVE by faith!

"Father, make me humble and teachable, and eager to put into practice what you teach me through Your Word and the faithful examples and instruction of Your people.  Thank you for so many good "coaches" as I run the race You've set before me.  And this week, thank You in particular for Hudson Taylor who reminds me on nearly every page of the joy of looking unto Jesus with all we are and have."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Shema Class, part two

How many of you think "Jewish" when you hear the word "shema?"  I admit I do.  And that is self-consciously one of the reasons I chose "Shema Class" as our home school name.  When I think of Jews, I think of God's covenant people throughout much of His story.  But with all praise to God, Romans 11 tells us that wild olive branches were grafted by God into the olive tree representing His covenant people.  Galatians 3, Romans 4, and other places tell us that it is the people who have the faith of Abraham that are the children of Abraham. 1 Peter 2:9-10 says "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy."  That is adoption language, and very important for those of us who are not homegrown via Abraham's line.

Romans 8:14-17 says it even more plainly: "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father.'  The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together."

Our God is our Father, our real Father, our 100% Father.  We are joint heirs with Christ.  Just try to wrap your head around still boggles my mind in a fantastic sort of way.  The story of God's people is our story...we've been grafted in.  I want our children to hear "shema" and know that they too are called to hear their Father...they are a part of His story because of an adoption that is far better than the ones that took place in a human courtroom.  We get to be the real children of God, children of the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords, by adoption.  How cool is that?

Here is a picture of a cover sheet I wrote about last time:

Very simply, our goal is to train to do all that our Father puts into our hands to do for His glory with skill, discernment and proper aim.  We want to encourage others to do the same.  What a joy and privilege it is to parent and teach three beautiful children who desire to live out the words of Matt 5:16 which tells us to "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." 

Shema...Jews...people of God...yes, we are a part of that story!  
Thank you FATHER.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Shema Class

We, along with a couple other homeschooling families, have been thinking, talking, praying about, and planning for joining together one day a week to do some cooperative schooling...and this week we started to actually do it.  Yippee for "Friday School!"

One of the two other women came this week with a booklet of reference materials she had kindly made up for each of the students.  It was suggested that we could make up cover sheets for these booklets for our own kids, incorporating the names we've given to our own home schools.  So that is what I set out to do this morning and just finished.  Yeah!

Year's ago, we named our home school "The Meyerdierk's Shema Class."  The word Shema comes from the Hebrew word which means "to hear."  The word Class is akin to Calare (Latin), which means to call.  For those of us who are prone to be wise in our own eyes, we need the daily reminder that instruction originates outside of us...we must submit to Another...we're called to hear God.

In addition to our name, we will have Deuteronomy 6:4-9 written nicely on our cover because it is the passage we've chosen to remind us continually that we've been called to hear and love the Lord our God with all that we are and have.

Well, I am big on making plans and working them so I decided to incorporate a mission statement of sorts for my notebook cover (the kid's will not be this crowded, but I thought it would be good to have it on mine).  Over the years I have practiced plotting the benchmarks of each subject for each child that I am schooling by term, along with revisiting the overarching goal of how we might enjoy and glorify God in all we do.  So pulling from those plottings, I came up with this abbreviated mission/philosophy of education.

Our mission: We are called to worship the one true God, to know Him (not just in the sense of intellectual assent to His existence but in the sense of being intimately related to Him as His children in a loyal, love-besotted way), to treasure Him, indeed to love Him with all our heart soul, mind and strength...HE is our subject.

Every arena of study is like another facet on a diamond, each one highlighting His glorious and manifold perfections.  Through art and science and history and geography and math and languages, etc., we are given opportunities to behold the glory of God's wisdom, power, love, mercy, justice (and on and on)...we see how He has ordered all things according to His own good pleasure; how He is Provider, Sustainer, Deliverer; how He fulfills His promises; how He is ever mindful of His gracious covenant; how He is unswervingly committed to upholding the glory of His name, etc.

The two great commands, in summary form, are to love God and love our neighbor.  We are called to take every thought captive unto Christ (2 Cor 10:4-5 says: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ..”).  We are called to make use of every discipline, every resource, and every sphere of influence God gives us to love Him and to encourage others to love Him (that is what loving others is is not about having warm fuzzy feelings towards everyone you meet, but rather doing what you can to help every one you meet to taste and see the goodness of God so that they'll join you in making much of Him, for He is infinitely worthy of all our praise).  Love glories in Christ and casts down anything that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.

Love imitates kind, patient, compassionate, rejoicing in the truth...lifts burdens, shares the Gospel with others, feeds the hungry, ministers to widows and orphans, remembers the outcast, etc, with the aim of glorifying the One who does all this perfectly.  Education helps us do these things, and everything else God puts into our hands to do, with skill and discernment and proper aim.

We are called to this (individually and corporately), and we are called to this generationally...we are to have God's words written on our hearts, and we are to teach them diligently and passionately to our children, training them to teach them diligently to their children.  Our “Shema Class" is committed to loving God and loving our neighbors.  This is who we are by God's design, and oh how thankful we are to be HIS.

Knowing our labor is in vain if the Lord does not build our house, we hasten to pray: Father, we ask you to give us and our children to the last generation that lives on the earth ears to hear You.  Call us to Yourself and give us minds transformed by Your word.  Make us discerning and loving people who practice righteousness and hate wickedness.  Grant us hearts that are not in love with this world, but 100% loyal to You so that in all we do, think and say we will live in the likeness of our Savior, Jesus.  Make us unswervingly committed in body and soul to living for Your glory.  Make us humble, grateful, merciful, quick to forgive, patient, servant-hearted,cheerful giving, sold-out-to Jesus kind of people.  We ask this by faith in Jesus for Your glory and the joy of Your people.  Amen.