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Non nobis domine

One of my favourite movies is Kenneth Branagh's Henry V. There is a scene after the battle of Agincourt where the battered and bruised sing in Latin the first verse of Psalm 115: Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory. In Latin, it is: Non nobis, Domine, non nobis; sed nomine tuo da gloriam. That moment is one of the best scenes from that movie.

Psalm 115 is a favourite of mine. If you're praying through the Psalms, that opening verse is always a good thing to pray. The verses following talk about the danger of idols. The nations ask, "Where is your God?" The Psalmist goes on to describe the idols of the nations. They are material objects; silver and gold. They have mouths, but don't speak, eyes, but can't see; ears, but can't hear; noses, but can't smell. They are basically useless.

We all have our own idols. We know the typical ones: money, beauty, power. We can turn just about anything into an idol. And many of us find out to our detriment that they are useless things in the end. One of the most persistent idols even among Christians is the idol of recognition. We can excuse our efforts of erecting that idol by saying that we just want to minister to people; we just want to share the gospel; we just want to be a good example to other Christians. We're not seeking recognition; we're just serving God, right? Perhaps. There is a difference between those who are recognized for their service, and for those whose service is a means to get recognized. And the latter are easy to spot. 

If I'm irritated when I don't get recognized, or if I have to remind everyone that I'm the one who did this or that, I may be getting close to wanting the glory for myself. If I'm not willing to be regularly unrecognized, what is my true motive? If someone doesn't tell me "That was a good lesson," or "That was a good point," will I become disgruntled? If no one responds to my Tweets, will I simply start saying more and more to increase my chances of being recognized? How does that attitude affect the service I do for God? What is the motive for my service?

It's part of our nature to desire the recognition that is only due to God. For some, it's more of a weakness. But we all could use a little more of an attitude of Psalm 115:1.


The Perfect Wisdom of Our God

A number of months ago, a friend sent me a copy of Hymns of Grace. It really is a lovely hymnal. Here is one of the selections, singing about God the Father:

The perfect wisdom of our God,
Revealed in all the universe:
All things created by his hand,
And held together at his command.
He knows the mystseries of the seas, 
The secrets of the stars are his;
He guides the planets on their way,
And turns the earth thru another day.

The matchless wisdom of his ways
That mark the path of righteousness:
His word a lamp unto my feet,
His Spirit teaching and guiding me.
And oh, the mystery of the cross,
That God should suffer for the lost,
So that the fool might shame the wise
And all the glory might go to Christ.

O grant me wisdom from above,
To pray for peace and cling to love,
And teach me humbly to receive
The sun and rain of your sovereignty.
Each strand of sorrow has a place
within this tapestry of grace;
So through the trials I choose to say,
"Your perfect will in your perfect way."



Because we can't change others

My dear friend Persis has a great post today at Out of the Ordinary this morning. It was just what I needed.

Yesterday was not a good day. It started early in the morning (or is 1:40 am still considered night?) with a dog in a paroxysmal fit of "reverse sneezing," which interrupted my slumber. I never really got entirely back to sleep and I had a lot of homework ahead of me.

And then I read an article that just angered me (which just goes to show that I shouldn't be wasting time on social media when I have homework; shame on me). And I was angered at the number of people on my Facebook feed who were lauding it and sharing it. Stupid Facebook, I thought. I considered blogging about it, but thankfully, I knew I didn't have the time. Then, I went about getting my homework done. A few hours of parsing Greek nouns and reading Eusebius was therapeutic. And I realized that talking about it would not have been helpful.

It is so tempting to think that our well-crafted (or not so well-crafted) words will change the hearts of others. We believe our words will cause others to re-think things and change their minds. Some even think that shaming their opponents will work. It usually doesn't. People don't usually read a blog post and have a complete change of heart. Our belief that it does is what keeps the fires of debate raging. And most of the time, those arguments fall on deaf ears.

As I get older, I see the need to step away. Continuing a debate with the idealistic belief that my input will change someone's mind will ultimately drag me down. I will forget to do what Persis suggested in her post, to "think on these things." How much does my belief that I can change things motivate self-focused writing rather than honest reflection on my own heart and attention to the Word of God? As Persis said in her article, just because people don't engage doesn't mean they don't care. But there is a point when we must face the fact that we will change no one.

I am only 52, but I'm getting too old for that stuff. I am under no illusion that I can change anyone except myself. And even then, I need the Holy Spirit to do that. Of all the things I have learned over the years, the truth that I cannot change others has been the hardest. And really, it should not be such a surprise. It should be fairly self-evident. But it's freeing when you really think about it. I'm not responsible for the hearts of other people. I can give time and attention to do what Persis suggests: to think on the truths of God and let them change me.


Feeling my age

My Greek class has a wide variety of ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds. And for that reason -- among many --  I love it. Greek is offered to both seminary students and college students, and I have a college student sitting right behind me. He's old enough to be my son. He's a nice kid who reminds me a lot of my younger son. 

The woman who sits beside me is closer in age; probably at least ten years younger. We shared a chuckle the other when we took up the homework. One of the translation sentences contained a word that the workbook promised we would know if we said it out loud: Ἀνἀθεμα. It's the word "anathema." The younger students in the class maintained that even after saying it out loud, they did not recognize that word. It was only the older students (and probably some of the more widely read younger ones) who recognized it. There is one benefit of age.

Never more do I feel my age than in the last little while. Physically, I feel it a little, but most of my awareness comes as I interact with people. I listened to a podcast over the weekend that left me bewildered as to the appeal, but I wonder if that was simply a matter of me showing my age.

I don't think I'd want to be younger again. I'm content with where I am now. There are things I have learned and sanctification I've experienced that I would not want to give up. There are things I know now that I would not know apart from getting older.

One of the downsides, though, is that current culture is not always friendly to aging. In my Church History class we have seen repeatedly that back in the ancient church, anything new was immediately suspect. Christianity was seen as a "new" religion, and therefore regarded with hesitancy, not open arms. It is the opposite today. Whoever is the newest must surely be the best. And in some cases, the new is good, and the old is not so good, but that is not always the case. There are times, though, when I do fee doubly disadvantaged: I'm a woman and I'm over 50.

A few years ago, I had some of my writing being edited by a younger person. The editor took note and reminded me on more than one occasion that she was younger than I. It was not something I thought about, but she did. Perhaps she found it odd to be in a position of authority over an older woman. The relationship didn't last long, but in that brief time, I was struck by how much this editor focused on my age. 

My Greek professor is younger than many of us in the class. I don't think he dwells much on that fact. And as students, we are all in the same place: newbies trying to learn Greek. For myself, I am always happy to see someone else succeed. When we get together to share our translation homework answers, I'm silently cheering on whoever is offering the answer.  If the young kid behind me gets the answer right, I'm happy for him. I have personally found on a few occasions these past two years that it is often the young guys who are the most welcoming to the students who are old enough to be their moms. 

I'm never going to be one of those women who tries to look (or sound) younger than I am. I don't intend on wearing clothes my 28 year old daughter would or adopting the popular ways of speaking in order to distract myself or others. I'm thankful for what age has given me.


Blogging may be dead, but . . . 

I have been blogging for twelve years. No, I haven't blogged every day, and I am not well-known. But I've been here. If one of the young women of my acquaintance asked me advice on how to begin, I'd be willing to share some counsel. These bits of advice reveal that I'm largely out of sync with things, but this is where I have arrivied twelve years later.

Get Educated

Learn how to construct a sentence. Learn some basic grammar rules. Learn the difference between its and it's. Learn that the possessive form of "I" is "my" not "I's". Proof read and correct mistakes. If you have the attitude "it's just a blog," then why blog at all? Good writing mechanics is the easy part.

Further to that, research what you write about. This may mean reading beyond the internet. It may mean that your post doesn't come to fruition for a week. Or two. If you're really serious, consider listening to podcasts or lectures from seminaries which are available for free. Get a user-friendly systematic theology. Start with something simple like Packer's Concise Theology. Just learn. Keep learning. Use blogging as a reason to learn. Learning has a way of making us humble. When we see how little we know, we feel it. Humility is a valuable tool in good writing.

Sleep On It

One thing about online communication is it tends to be like journalists all rushing after the scoop. When something controversial comes up, there is a rush to see who can respond first and with the most insightful commentary. That is too bad, because sometimes, insight only comes from sustained thinking. At the very least, think about it for more than an hour. Especially if you're really charged up about something, slow down. Passionate writing isn't bad, but if we're too charged up, it might sound obnoxious.

Beware of Controversy

Controversial topics get visits to a blog. There is a feeling of community when everyone bands together to commiserate or complain. That should be the minority of blog content. If all we ever write about is that which is complaint-worthy, how are we demonstrating the hope that is in the gospel or the beauty of the Word of God? I've read a lot of blogs over the years, and some I've given up on. The ones I continue to read don't provide a steady diet of controversy. Part of being a good writer is knowing how to write about anything. Consistent controversy really narrows what we write about, and can ultimately make us boring.

Be in the Word

Being in God's word regularly, and in deep ways, transforms our thinking. It is the Holy Spirit speaking to us. Without that regular diet of God speaking to us, it will influence our thinking, and in turn, our writing. There is only so much time in a given day, and if we spend more time online reading blogs and less time in the Word, we may very well have a great understanding of how to write a blog post that attracts readers, but we may be spiritually poorer for it.

Take Care of Your Kids

There are a lot of parents (especially women) with children who blog. Blogging takes time and attention. Don't rob your kids of time with them so you can get a post up. I did that more than I should have. Am I the only one who ever did that? I doubt it. There were times I know that my kids were speaking to me while I was at my computer writing and I didn't even really hear what they were saying. I'm sad about those times. I have adult children; trust me, they remember the times we seemed to be ignoring them.

Confrontation is not a spiritual fruit

I have come across a lot of confrontational bloggers over the years. I guess some of them are called "watchbloggers." Some are more overt than others. Some disguise their "watchblogginess" with better writing. But I still find them wearisome if that's all they ever do. I avoid those kinds of blogs now. There is nothing wrong with speaking truth or identifying error, but if that is all a blogger produces, eventually I stop reading altogether. There is a very fine line between holding strong views and just beng a harpie. Learn to write incisively about your topic, not go at people with all guns blazing.

Get someone to edit your writing

The blog world is filled with men and women who write without any real accountability. And they may have a lot of readers. Just how responsible are we for what we say on our blogs? It's a worthwhile question. Get someone to read your writing before you post; someone who can be honest with you. I wish I'd done more of that. And be humble if that person cautions you about something.

Write with grace

In your learning (see above), understand what grace is. And use it in large measure. I am not always gracious, but I know grace-filled writing when I see it, and I'd rather read that than anything else.