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Entries in Sanctification (114)

Wednesday
Feb062019

Look beneath the floorboards

In Christian circles, the principle that we need mentors is one that is promoted frequently. It is promoted so much that at times, I have felt like I must be living a very marginal Christian life because I don't have that one person to whom I look for guidance. I sometimes think that is a good thing, because I have a tendency to make people more important than they should be.

People will let you down. Even the ones you think never will. 

This past year, I learned something very disturbing about someone who has been a huge influence in my life. My reaction and my feelings are nothing compared to what that person's immediate family has dealt with for many years, so I remind myself that this isn't about me. But it gnawed at me most of the summer. I began to question everything I knew about this person. At one time, I wanted to be like that person. I loved that person. I looked up to that person. I don't know how to feel about it all, even now, almost a year later.

People are skilled at hiding things. If they were't, then there wouldn't be stories of pastors and priests who were revered until they were discovered to have been sexually abusing some poor child or woman; the vulnerable people. No one wants to believe that the person could do such a thing; despite the fact that Scripture tells us that no one is righteous. After we are redeemed, our natures remain the same. We have the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit, but that does not mean we will never hurt another person or let another person down. It is guaranteed that we will. 

Sufjan Stevens sings a song called "John Wayne Gacy Jr" that disturbed me when I first heard it more than ten years ago. I have only listened to it a handful of times. But I remember well the last four lines:

And in my best behavior 
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floor boards 
For the secrets I have hid

Having a mentor is a true gift if you find one. But in our rush to direct everyone to a mentor, we should proceed with cautuion. For the one doing the mentoring, it can become a heady experience. Being a mentor is a huge responsibility. There is a fine line between control and influence.

I am unnerved when I see people on social media gushing over their admiration for another person, especiallly if they don't know the person face-to-face; "fan girling," I think they call it. Don't do it. Be careful about people you allow into your heart and mind. It can be so easy to give one man or one woman our loyalty at the expense of our loyalty to Christ. If people we know for years can hide their true selves from us, how much more can someone we see only on a screen?

Don't seek to be a protegé; seek to be a disciple.

Monday
Jan282019

I Am the War I Fight

My husband sometimes wears socks with sandals; it's usually when I'm not around to raise my eyebrows at him. He frequently leaves for work looking like a blind tailor dressed him that morning. He is hopelessly out of fashion. And he doesn't care. I admire my husband more than any person I know.

When I was in high school, a girl named Nanci came to school dressed in a green garbage bag. She cut a hole in the bottom and on the sides, put it over her head and belted it. She was short and could get away with it. People talked about it for weeks. They talked about her often; when she wore a safety pin in her ear instead of an earring, and when she dyed her hair pink. This was back in the 80's when such things were not common place. She didn't care about what people thought. I thought she was totally weird, but I did admire her daring.

I have always cared what people thought; to a fault; to the point where fear of what people think has kept me from doing many things I wanted to do. Perhaps some of us are hardwired that way. Perhaps I'm too proud; definitely a possibility. Maybe I'm an ego maniac; another possibility. Maybe it's because I was always the new kid and never seemed to fit in anywhere. At this point in my life, it should not be such an issue. One would think, anyway.

Blogging can easily lead us to care very much what other people think of us. And they are people with whom we have absolutely no personal connection. It is a very noble thing to say "I blog for myself." If that is the case, why put it out there for people to read? Why link my posts to social media?  If I want to write for myself, I don't need to put it online. Don't writers (even unprofessional ones) write to be read? I am pretty sure there are writers out there, instead of having a cache of blog posts online have boxes of notebooks somewhere in a closet. It is unfortunate that blogging puts me regularly at risk to care too much what people think.

As always, "I am the war I fight."

This semester, I must write two papers, one 10-12 pages and the other 12-15 pages. One of them is due in a little over two weeks. I care very much about what the profs think, but it's a different kind of concern. I asked them to evaluate my work, and it's their job. Thankfully, I feel a lot less preessure in this situation than I do writing a blog post. 

Friday
Nov232018

The things we believe when we're young . . . 

When I was converted at the age of 20, I wanted to know the truth. I wanted to know everything; now! I didn't know much about what to read, and the Bible wasn't always easy to understand. I relied a lot on the people from whom I'd heard the gospel. That makes sense.

The trouble is that in my haste to know, there was also the urgent feeling that I needed to fit in. The background of the people who shared the gospel with me was decidedly fundamentalist and there was little encouragement for intellectual pursuit. Yes, there was the encouragement to read the Bible, but I was to rely on the pastor and the Holy Spirit to instruct me. 

There are some things which I embraced without question:

  • All people who practice infant baptism are wrong, and likely not real Christians
  • All people from an Anglican, Presbyterian, or Lutheran background may be truly saved, but probably most of them aren't.
  • Roman Catholics were people to generally be avoided, because they were heretics and had nothing of value to say.
  • Nothing of value can come from someone in a mainline denomination.
  • Anyone who doesn't believe that there is a rapture denies the Bible (that one is actively promoted in my own church by some).

I am far from those days. It was a huge shock to me when I discovered that some people denied the rapture. It was a pleasant surprise when the woman who taught my children piano lessons was obviously a Christian, despite attending the Lutheran Church. The first year she taught them, she gave them a tract at Christmas with a candy cane.

I started reading a book by Fleming Rutledge, who is not only Episcopalian, but is a woman priest. She's also a brilliant writer. I bought her book on advent, because I was curious about the subject. I've read a few articles by her lately, and a friend of mine is reading her book on the crucifixion.

Rutledge, in the introduction to her advent book does not sound like a heretic. In fact, she sounds quite orthodox. And she sounds more informed than some of my evangelical friends and some evangelical leaders. Her book has also alerted me to the possibility that some evangelicals who are promoting advent don't actually completely understand it.

It's tempting to look back and wish I had not been so quick to believe without question everything people told me. Sometimes, that is just part of the process of learning. When one is saved later in life, she wants to abandon everything about her former life. I wanted to ally myself with a particular group, and sometimes, I simply agreed because I wanted to feel like I belonged. It's not their fault I did it; it's my own.

Some people may think that my attending seminary has brought out much of my re-evaluation of some things. Those who think women should not attend seminary may cluck their tongues and think, "This is what comes from giving women a tool they're not meant to use." In truth, this awakening began when I started homeschooling, and specifically when I began participating on The Well Trained Mind message boards. It was there that I learned that other denominations weren't all wrong. It was there that I realized that my pre-suppositions were not always right.

Our lives of faith progress. We come to understand more. We go through struggles where we see God's faithfulness and our hearts are more tightly knit to him. We re-evaluate and see things through a changed view. It's a good thing. It doesn't mean we're losing our faith. It may mean, though, that we're losing the tendency to come to poorly informed conclusions. It may mean we are not so quick to believe something; that we recognize the need to work through things. If I believe something and I'm willing to tell others, I want to know why.

Thursday
Jul192018

Learn from me

Fear is not a good motivator. I know from experience. Fear of rejection; fear of loss; fear of failure; fear of not being good enough; they don't lead anywhere good. I know it's a besetting sin, and I'm working on it; I likely will until I die.

I am a fairly determined person. I have strong opinions, and I like to ask questions. But fear caused me to suppress that part of myself for many years after I became a Christian. Especially as I joined the church where I have been for the past 22 years, I was so afraid of not fitting in, not being good enough, that I did whatever I could to prove that I deserved to be there. Even as you read that sentence, you should pick up on the theological error: it was not about me being good enough. None of us is "good enough." And we don't have to be. Christ was good enough for us. But that was a truth that I was a long time learning.

After I was converted at 20, the majority of the teaching I received was very behaviour oriented. Dress the right way. Read the right version of the Bible. Listen to the right music. And some of the doctrines that I was taught were crucial to my salvation -- like embracing a particular kind of eschatology -- turned out to be what I now see as secondary issues. But out of fear, I embraced them all without question. I didn't know any better.

I remember the moment when I began to question everything I had been taught since my conversion. I was sitting in communion one Sunday, and the pastor said over and over again: "This bread has no power to save; this bread is a symbol; this bread does not give grace; it is just a symbol." I remember feeling like he was robbing it of any meaning. But what did it mean? I realized I had never thought about it myself. After that, over fifteen years ago, I started making the effort to understand my faith. 

As I look back I wish I had been less inclined to find so much comfort in being like everyone else because it caused me to model a shallow view of faith in the eyes of my children. I passed on some of those preoccupations with fitting in. I worried too much about what others would say about our family. My husband reminds me regularly that looking back with regret gets us nowhere, and he's right. What I can do, though, is learn from my mistakes. 

Learn from me: think through your faith yourself. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). That verb "work out" is in the middle voice in Greek, which means the subject acts on himself. Take ownership. Don't let other Christians, as well meaning or as popular or as famous as they may be, work it out for you. Yes, do accept the voices of mature Christians, but think about their counsel. Pray about it. Search the Scriptures. Study. Of course we all make mistakes and we all grow, but if we can learn from others we should. Learn that lesson from me. I don't have a lot to offer, but I can offer that little suggestion.

Friday
Jun222018

Shaken complacency

On Tuesday, I returned from a visit west to see my family. I was also able to see some friends; women I have known for twenty-five years. I was exhausted with all the visiting. I don't normally sleep in public, but I allowed myself to nod off on the plane en route home.

The exhaustion was mostly from having too many visits crammed into too few days. The other was some of the information I took in over those days. There are some people in my life with some very serious circumstances. I was aware of the possibility of them, but when I sat down and had them confirmed to me, it was sobering. I think just about every person I visited had a struggle to face, whether it was illness, financial difficulties, problems with children, or relational difficulties. I was reminded of the reality that we all face struggles. I left wondering if anyone comes from a family which does not have some kind of dysfunction. It's trite to say it, but we live in a fallen world. 

My family members are not Christians. Hearing about their struggles and seeing how they are managing (or not managing) apart from Christ was really hard. I was struck by the difference when I had dinner one night with some women with whom I attended church many years ago. How my sisters in Christ are handling their struggles and maintaining joy was quite a contrast to how hopeless some of my family members seem to be. And despite my family's need for the gospel, their complete disinterest in it makes it even more painful. Quiet toleration best describes their reaction to my faith. In discussing women with one of my family members, I referred to human dignity being rooted in our creation by God. Blank stare; momentary pause; move on to the next point.

While I waited to board my plane on Tuesday morning, I checked out Twitter for a while and looked at some articles, and I was restless while reading. What I choose to read online is largely a function of who I follow on Twitter because that's where I get a lot of suggested articles. I saw less about how to minister the gospel to an unbelieving world than I needed that morning. My unsaved family members with serious health issues don't care about what is going on in the Southern Baptist Convention (and for that matter, how does it affect me?) or whether or not someone thinks women of colour should have a special meeting.

I sat on the plane that morning wondering whether or not I have become complacent about those who don't know Christ. We worry a lot about refining our message in the Church and developing atttiudes that are engaging to the world, but what about simply ministering love and care to those who are in need? In my own dark hours, what has helped is understanding who God is; hearing about the cross; understanding what Jesus did for me. I thought to myself, "I want to hear about the hope in Christ." Maybe that is my trouble. Maybe I have been reading more about what to be disgruntled about than I have to be joyful about.

I'm taking a class in the Synoptic Gospels this fall, and it was my plan to read through each one as many times as I can over the summer. I even bought some Scripture Journals for marking (these are great little tools, by the way). And I still do plan on reading those. But I also picked up a Scripture Journal for Revelation, and a commentary by Grant Osborne. I already know how the story ends, but I need to be reminded, and I want to become more versed in ministering hope instead of disappointment.