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Entries in Sanctification (106)


What's in a name?

I didn't grow up in a Christian home, so the use of the name Jesus Christ was not especially revered. Neither was the name of God. I heard my relatives use both names as curse words, and as I got older, I did myself (when no adults were around, of course). Even as I used those words wrongly, I didn't feel right about it. I knew, even in my unregenerate state that those names meant something. Christ just isn't a name. God isn't just a name.

This morning, as I was studying Ephesians 1, I was noting how many times Paul talks about being "in Christ," and I saw how many times Christ is referred to. At the end of the chapter, Christ is on the throne, seated at God's right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, far above every name that is named. His name is above all names, and it's not just because of the letters used or the way it sounds when we say it.

What's in a name? An identity. And when it comes to Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, it is the identity of the one who bled and died that we could be reconciled to God and live in newness of life. When I hear people using it as a curse word, I cringe. I feel the same about the ridiculous "OMG."  I like what D.A. Carson has to say about the matter:

The reason we are not to say "Oh, God!" when we hit our thumb with a hammer or say "Jesus!" when we are disappointed is precisely because it diminishes God.  If you were to be so bold as to turn to a person who has use Jesus' name because he has hit his thumb with a hammer and say, "I wish you wouldn't use my Savior's name like that," he would probably reply, "I do not mean anything by it."  But that is the point:  he does not mean anything by it.  That is precisely why the usage is "profane," that is, common.  Using the name of God or Jesus when you "mean nothing" by it is not profane because you have spoken a magic word that you are really not allowed to use, as if only priests can say the right abracadabra.  The usage is profane beause it is common, cheap.  We are dealing with God, and we must say and do nothing that diminishes him or cheapens him.  It is at best disrespectful, ungrateful, and demeaning; at worst, it de-gods him and thus sinks again in the level of idolatry.

We bear the name of "Christian." To some, that is an ugly name; it represents things they don't believe. What we as the bearers of that name can do is wear it with integrity and sincerity, not associating it with ugly conduct or unkindness. Rather, we should wear it with gratitude for being able to claim that name. 


Building boxes

One of the things I struggle with the most, (always have, likely always will) is being able to compartmentalize things. I have been told that men do this better, but one of my classmates (a man) says he struggles with it as well. When there are burdens, I find it hard to concentrate on anything else, and sometimes, I accomplish absolutely nothing because I can't stop thinking of those burdens. 

In the past year, I have been given progress in that struggle. I don't remember praying specifically, "Lord help me to compartmentalize things," but in this past number of months, I know he has granted it. Burdens are never gone. For those who think parenting ends when the kids move out, think again. Sorry; it only gets harder. Parents age. We age. Friends age. Friends get sick and die. This side of heaven, there is no end to burden and struggle. I can't let each and every burden flatten me. I have to be able to put them away in a box and focus on each day ahead. For me, at the moment, it means school. I have waited a long time for this, and I want to do well. If I let the things I cannot change drown me, I may not do well with this opportunity God has granted me. Right now, I am so thankful for seminary because it gives me incentive to compartmentalize. And I'm beginning to see the tremendous benefits. Those burdens are there, always, in the background, but if I want to do well on tomorrow's Greek quiz, I have to stop rolling them over and over in my head, and close the lid to that box. And I have to trust God.

This morning, my dear friend Persis wrote a beautiful post about a burden she's bearing. Her comments are worth thinking about:

When circumstances are overwhelming, walking by sight is next to impossible because the way seems so foggy, but that's where faith comes in. It's not faith in the strength of my faith or even how well I can recall God's promises. It is the hand that reaches out and clings desperately to the One who is really holding on to me and not letting me fall.

The only way we can shut up those boxes is what Persis talks about: reachig out to God. As we place our burdens before him, we ask him, knowing he can, to bear them. 

And then we close the box for a while and get on with things.


A subject most people don't want to hear about

Every morning, when I have my Bible reading and prayer time, I read from The Valley of Vision. It really is a wonderful volume. While the Puritans didn't do everything right, their devotional reflections reveal so much humility.

From this morning's passage, "Things Needful," I read these words:

I need spiritual comforts
that are gentle, peaceful, mild, refreshing,
that will melt me into conscious lowliness before thee,
that will make me feel and rest in thee as my All.

I thought about that phrase "conscious lowliness." That's not a topic most people want to think about. We tend to have a negative view of lowliness. When I read those words, though, I immediately thought of Paul's exhortation in Philippians 2. Lowliness is something Christ demonstrated to us, and it's something we are encouraged to pursue.

Lowliness goes against the grain of popular thinking. Lowliness is seen as weakness. But it's not the same thing. Some of the strongest people are the most lowly. Christ himself was lowly. Lowliness is not about strength; it is about who or what we are exalting, and whose will we are pursuing. If we pursue our own will above God's, that is not lowliness. If we constantly draw attention to ourselves, that is not lowliness. If we live as if we control our own destiny, that is not lowliness.

How do our daily lives reflect a desire to be lowly? What kind of activities foster lowliness? How do we demonstrate lowliness in our relationships with others? Our families? Our jobs? Our local church? When I think about my day, and how I spend my time, what can I trim away in order to focus on conscious lowliness? Off the top of my head, one thing that I need to do is speak less and listen more; offline and online. I can't help but think what a deterrent to lowliness Twitter can be.

More and more I'm beginning to see that lowliness and contentment are related. When I pursue lowliness, I'm not pursuing the exaltation of myself; I am directing my thoughts and energies to God. Actively seeking lowliness encourages me to yield to God's will, and it is in this yielding to God's will where I can find the most contentment. Yielding to God's will is the way to have my heart's desires changed. Lowliness doesn't mean we are weak; it just means we are recognizing the reality of who we and who God is.


Nothing comes without a sacrifice

A couple of days ago, it occurred to me that it has been 22 years since I came here to Ontario from Saskatchewan. That was a difficult time. I had no desire to leave behind my parents and come to a community where I didn't have friends. What made it more difficult is that we moved to my husband's home town and home church. People did not seem to understand that while people knew who I was, I didn't know them, and it took me a while to find my feet. People expected things from me, and when I didn't meet those expectations, it was obvious. It was a gradual adjustment, and within a couple of years, I was feeling better about it, but it was about five years before I could say that I was glad we came.

If we had not moved here, I probably wouldn't be in seminary right now. The experiences that God brought me to which inspired me to go to seminary are a product of being here in this place, among these people. And at the same time, as much as I love seminary and as grateful as I have been for all that God has given me, it has never been easy to give up being closer to my parents.

My parents are not Christians. They are getting older. They have health issues. My mother struggled along alone while my father battled depression a number of years ago. While he's hale and hearty today at the age of 80, I was not able to be there for him as I wished I could have been. Every time the weather is cold and snowy in the place where my parents live, I wish I was there to take them to their appointments, or even to just be there in case something happens. When I pray for them, I pray that that they don't fall in the winter months. A fall as a senior citizien can be life altering. My parents live in a big house. I wish I could be there to help my mother with the workload. Over these past 22 years, while we have had times together, there are countless other moments that I have missed. And it saddens me.

As a Christian, I recognize God's sovereignty over my life. I don't always understand why things are happening as they are, but I can do nothing but trust him. If I believe him, I must trust him. The past two years in seminary have contributed a great deal to my spiritual growth. I'm learning to think better. I'm learning to be patient as I think through things. I'm grateful for that. I know that whatever happens after I graduate, God wanted me where I am. When I am at school or doing homework, I know I am right where God wants me to be. But my heart is so frequently pulled back to my parents, and there are days when I wish I could just be with them, soaking up those moments that are only going to get fewer. I dread the day when a call comes with bad news.

Nothing comes without sacrifice, but sacrifice is something even Christians have become loath to give. People with chronic illness know about sacrifice, but for those who are riding high on a life of success, achievements, and mountain top moments, sacrifice may be something they don't avoid, or when it becomes inevitable, resent. We are accustomed to being told we can have it all. And it is not just the world who thinks we can have it all. The lines between how Christains think and how the world thinks are often blurry.

If something happened tomorrow that called me to my parents' sides because they needed help, and it meant giving up seminary, I would do it. There would be no question. It would be hard, but I would do it. Caring for parents as they get older is a privilege, not a burden. It's difficult, but it's something we do for our parents because we love them and because when we needed care, they were there. Friends have shared with me how precious it was for them to be caring for a parent in the final days. They wouldn't give it up even though it was hard. I trust that if something like that happened, I would have the right heart. Christ gave his life for me. Surely, I could give up this dream I'm living if he called me to.


September 1st as the real New Year

Happy New Year! I hope that wherever you are, you are warm. Across Canada, it seems like everywhere is under a deep freeze. I am thankful that our windchills, while bitter, aren't as bad as they could be. My husband and I stayed in. Who wants to go out when it's so cold?

I wish that the New Year could be observed on September 1st. It is a far more meaningful date when it comes to change than January 1st is; for me, anyway. That date when summer is drawing to a close and the school year is upon us has been a marker for me since I was five years old. Even when I grew to adulthood, it was still a feature as I attended school myself and as I homeschooled my children. It is still a factor now that I'm in seminary. When I grew up, the significant changes in my life were observed in the summer months. When my father as inevitably transferred, it usually occurred in the summer months in order to make it easier for us as a family. Goodbye old city and school in June; hello new city and school in September. If the New Year was in September, it would be more enjoyable to celebrate here in Canada, anyway.

On December 31st, there is always the typical look back upon the year at events both in the news and personally. Of course, real life doesn't observe markers with such precision, and often when I'm encouraged to look back on the year, I can pick out a few significant things, but there are still things that are unfinished that will come to a conclusion later this year. Ask me in a few months to look back, and I may have a better answer for "how was your year?"

One of the most significant events in my life happened on a day in September: my first child left home. That event was a bigger adjustment than even becoming a parent for the first tiime. Looking back on that time, I think it actually took me about eight years to really adjust. I thought I had adjusted pretty well, but it turned out it had been more difficult than I realized. That day, as we watched our daughter walk across the football field at her new school, toward the student dorms, I had no idea of what change I was experiencing. The significance of dates and times often don't manifest themselves until long after the changes have happened. We never know what will be a watershed until well aftter it's happened. For some, another random date may feel like the first day of a new year.

Perhaps I like September 1st better because there is more of a build-up. I don't feel like I've been out of school that long. I've already begun reading for my history class and I've reviewed Greek every day since I finished classes, so I don't feel that sense of anticipation. My anticipation lies more in the hope for good weather every Tuesday and Thursday when I drive to school. What I do find interesting is that in September, we are often encouraged to reflect back on our summer, not the whole year; as if summer brings with it more scope for change or significant events. The fact that we often anticipate significant things happening in the summer kind of implies that September 1 is a significant date.

It is good to take time to reflect on our lives, but one doesn't have to do so on December 31st. Pick a day of the month every month. Even better, write about the significant things that happen. It is especially valuable to keep track of what we've read in our Bibles and the spiritual lessons we've learned. Paper journals are still a big business. I was at Indigo on Saturday, and the selection of journals was impressive. I guess the point is to be pro-active about looking back. It's a good way to see where we've come from, and help us as we look ahead.