Training in Righteousness
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Thankful Thursday

Some things I am thankful for:

.... family gatherings with all the kids home.

... the sights of summer.

... air conditioning when it's 35 Celsius.

... a cooler day today.

... a clothesline that dries sheets and give thems a nice smell.

... starting school again in September.

... that God is patient with me.


Friendships where you feel safe

A number of weeks ago, my pastor's wife and I were having a visit, and she shared an idea with me. It was her belief that the usual social gatherings for women are not always a place for us to really get to know one another. She proposed that she, I, and two other women gather four times over the summer to share with each other how we came to faith, and to share some spiritual markers in our lives. Each of us would be given an opportunity to share, and on the others, we would listen. My pastor's wife shared the first week, and invited us to ask questions. The first week was wonderful. The discussion we had was deep, loving, and God-honouring. It was far and away better than any "women's gathering" I'd ever been to. We discussed theology in action.

Yesterday, was my turn, and in between the time of the first meeting and yesterday, I pondered what to share. When we are given the opportunity to share about our lives, we begin to look back and we realize just how much there is. It forces us to see that God has been active in our lives in a myraid of ways in the little moments when we weren't even paying attention. 

All of these women know me. One of them, has been my friend for 19 years, and she really knows me. And after I shared, she said that she learned something new about me. The other woman there, I've known for 19 years as well, and through our discussions, I am learning more about her. I'm getting to know my pastor's wife better, and coming to her love her more. I think the best friendships develop at a relaxed pace. Sometimes the worst friendship experiences I have had are the ones where early in the friendships, we shared too much.

These gatherings are a place where we feel safe, and that is what comes from honesty within the Body of Christ. I don't mean that we tell more information than is necessary. We aren't sharing things that our husbands would rather we not. There is no husband bashing, but there is discussion about marriage. We are not confessing lurid details about our sin, but there is simply a recognition that we are struggling with it daily, as will always be the case in these mortal bodies. There is not revelation of details that would shock, but there is a willingness on all of our parts to reveal that we are weak, that we need the Lord. All four of us have dealt with the challenges of marriage, struggles with teenagers, family issues, and two of us have dealt with the death of a child. One of us has dealt with the death of a husband. 

I don't think transparency is about the details we reveal. Rather, it's the willingness to be honest while maintining discretion, and a willingness to accept who we are before God and in Christ. It's a willingness to learn from others. I think true transparency will begin with humility and it will be discreet. It's a recognition that none of us has arrived, and when we begin to think we have, we are in serious trouble.

When I was in eighth grade, I was bullied, and that was a huge watershed in my life. I shared that with my friends. Even as I spoke, I realized how much of an effect that has had on me. For many years, being the tomboy I was, I put my nose in the air regarding female friendships. Who needed them? I'm beginning to value them so much, and I think it's because this summer I have been developing good friendships that begin with the common bond of Christ. In addition to these ladies, another friend and I are growing in our friendship as we study a book together. 

Friendships with women can develop in many contexts. Some of us like to shop, make crafts, or sit and chat over a nice meal, but these friendships I've been involved in over the summer, I believe, are the best way to develop friendships: small, intimate groups with women who love the Lord, and desire to grow in him. It's a small group with a different kind of focus, and I am so grateful to my pastor's wife for gathering us together.


Flawed Relationships With the World

I just began reading Jeremy Walker's book Passing Through: A Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness. Lately, I have thought a lot about what it means to be stranger and alien here on earth. Sometimes, when things are going well, it's easy to take more comfort from our earthly home than remembering that this is not our eternal home.

In the opening chapter, Walker defines what the world is, pointing out that the Bible describes it in a creative sense, an extensive sense, i.e., the human inhabitants on earth, and the ethical sense. Later in the chapter, he describes three flawed ways of how we relate to the world.

First, isolation, whereby we ignore the world, and cloister ourselves from its effects. He points out that this creates an "us and them" mentality, and breeds pride. He reminds us that John 17 shows that Jesus did not pray for us to live in this way.

Secondly, there is inattention to the world. He describes this as a "disinterested ignorance." This, taken to an extreme, results in a lack of compassion or genuine concern for the lost. God gave man a mandate to have dominion over the world he created; there is no room for disinterest.

Lastly, there is emulation of the world. This is when the church adopts the world's patterns, culture, and priorities. One of the ways I personally see this active in the church is the attitude that the church is a corporation, not a body.

Walker says:

Under such circumstances, the church ceases to be a thermostat that regulates the moral temperature of society and becomes a thermometer that merely registers and reflects that temperature. 

He reminds us that all three of these approaches are flawed:

... all of these approaches might be undertaken instinctively, ignorantly, thoughtlessly, or deliberately. But all are flawed in that they fail to take into account the various nuances of relationship demanded by the shades of meaning that lie behind the idea of "the world." Each one, as we have seen, neglects some element of biblical revelation considered as a whole.

I think this topic is timely. We seem to operate in extremes at times. Either we are legalistic in our attitude to the world, or we are too quick to say, "Well, God made it, so it must be good." I think a balance is definitely needed, and only through Scripture can we discern the right attitude toward the world. Walker proposes that we remember our identity as pilgrims in this world, something the Puritans focused on. That is the theme Walker focuses on next.

So far, this is one of the best laid out books I've read. Walker is focused on his topic, and presents his arguments well; a refreshing approach to writing these days.


The "Neat Kid" syndrome

Years ago, when my husband and I were teaching teen Sunday school, there was a student I wasn't quite sure about. He was a bit of a trouble maker, a little disruptive, bordering on disrespectful, but with a charming smile and disposition. He seemed to be well-liked, but he reminded me a little too much of a class clown who knows how to charm the teacher. One of the other leaders did not agree with me about this young man. She thought he was a "neat kid," and thought his outgoing nature said something about his Christian character.

Today, this young man is not living for the Lord. In fact, from what I understand, since he left high school, his life bears very little resemblance to that of an individual professing to be a Christian. I am not even aware that he claims to be a Christian. Meanwhile, there are many quiet, reserved, unassuming young men and women who were never viewed as "neat," but who are today thriving in their relationship with the Lord.

We talk about how the culture of celebrity has infiltrated the Church, but I think at the root of a cult of celebrity is a cult of personality. We tend to think that an outgoing personality is evidence of a sanctified life. Someone who will get up and share without hesitation, or is willing to get up in front of people and speak must be someone who is using his gifts for the Lord. The shy, apprehensive individual must be hiding his light under a bushell, no?

Often, these outgoing people are viewed as natural leaders because they are willing to take the leadership. In my experience, however, often the best leader is the one who is cautious about taking it on. I tend to be very suspicious anyway, but I'm always a little apprehensive about the individual who talks more about his leadership than God. Our task is to live so that attention is given to God, not ourselves.

My husband would never have been considered a "neat kid" growing up. He was bookish, physically small, and avoided the spotlight. Even today, he does not like having attention drawn to him. That doesn't mean he is not a godly man. He loathes small talk, and at a gathering, he's not the one kibbitzing with everyone. More than likely, he's on the outer fringe of the room wondering when he can go home. But he's trustworthy, discreet, kind, and humble. When I was a youth leader, I loved to see quiet, serious kids, and I didn't like it when others perceived them as some kind of dead weight simply because they were afraid to get up in front of others and share a toothbrush with five other people or eat some grotesque concoction while being blindfolded. 

One thing my kids have shared with me now that they are adults is that teenagers can often learn to play the game well. If a kid grows up in a church, he quickly sees what kind of conduct garners approval from parents and leaders. A kid can fake it for a long time within the confines of the youth group. When they get out on their own, or there is a crisis, the reality of their faith is proved, regardless of whether they are a neat kid or bland as dry toast. When we're watching young people grow, looking for spiritual fruit rather than a charming disposition is far more crucial. Sometimes, a "neat kid" can be covering for a lack of spiritual fruit, while someone less gregarious is demonstrating meekness or humility.

God can use people even if they aren't "neat." Even boring, serious folks like me can be used.


The Shining Light

From the Olney Hymns
On the Spiritual Life
William Cowper
The Shining Light

My former hopes are dead,
My terror now begins;
I feel, alas! that I am dead
In trespasses and sins.

Ah, whither shall I fly?
I hear the thunder roar.
The law proclaims destruction nigh,
And vengeance at the door.

When I review my ways,
I dread impending doom;
But sure, a friendly whisper says,
“Flee from the wrath to come.”

I see, or think I see,
A glimm’ring from afar;
A beam of day that shines for me,
To save me from despair.

Fore–runner of the sun,
It marks the Pilgrim’s way;
I’ll gaze upon it while I run,
And watch the rising day.