Friday, December 2, 2016

Listening to Wisdom

Everyday we engage the community around us, grocery stores, business contacts, neighbors, mechanics, etc … One place I frequent is the YMCA. The Y is a great place for conversation, particularly in places like the hot tub, sauna or steam room. Yesterday, while sweating in the sauna, I was able to meet a young artist from Togo living in GR named Wisdom. It was great to hear a little of his story; to hear about his art, culture, love for GR. It was an initial conversation, I am looking forward to more.

One of the great gifts that we can give to people is to hear them out. I have been struck by this coming out of the recent election cycle. Both leading up to the election and coming out of it, I have seen people much more apt to give their opinion (posting on FB or in person) rather than to listen to their brothers and sisters. James has a perspective that is worth hearing to: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19). When we do this follow, the pattern that God sets when he deals with us: he listens. Take a look at the following list the session compiled a few years ago that indicates how God listens to us:

He inclines his ear to us. He sympathizes with us. Gets down to us (our level). Welcoming - Drawing us to himself. Hears with understanding. Hears the real message through our groaning. Hears us with delight. Never gets tired of hearing us. Without finding fault (not upbraidingly) Objectively. Without neediness on his part. Personally. His hearing has life to it. It’s essential. Hears with undivided attention. Hears above the noise.

Wouldn’t it be great if our listening to one another, both those like us and those different from us (culturally, politically, emotionally, racially, socio-economically, educationally, etc..) looked like that! Well there is no reason why it can’t. After all, who lives in you? Whose ears do you have? We are united to Christ and our life is hid with Christ in God. Let’s listen to Wisdom!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord!

Throughout our study of Colossians we have been talking about inhabiting stories, particularly finding ourselves in the great story of redemption and inhabiting it. Our celebration of Advent is one of the ways we help ourselves along in this endeavor.

Because Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection are the most important events in all of human history, it is not surprising that the Christian church has developed a special calendar to celebrate them. From the second to the sixth centuries A.D., the early church created the annual cycle of special seasons and festivals that we now know as the liturgical year: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost. Like all calendars, this liturgical calendar tells a story—it places the life and ministry of Jesus at the center of the church’s worship, identity, and mission in a clear and unmistakable way.

From November 27 to Christmas Day, we celebrate Advent, inhabiting through Word, song and prayer the story of the incarnation. We remember the story of Israel longing for a Messiah to liberate her from sin, exile, and oppression. We sing and remember how Christ came to this earth a first time as a human infant to carry out this mission. Even as we focus on his first coming, Advent helps us remember that, like Israel, we too await the full and final liberation from sin and death that Jesus will accomplish when he returns for the second and final time.

Another aspect of Advent is preparation. Even in the first Advent, God was so good to soften the hearts of his people by sending a forerunner, John the Baptist, to prepare for the life-altering ministry of Jesus. This week we will think about this ministry of preparation, by looking at the role of John in Luke 1:13-17.

Friday, November 18, 2016


“Excuse me. Can you give me some advice for living? I love the Lord and I really would love for that to show. Ultimately, would love for my friends and neighbors who don’t know the Lord to find satisfaction in Him as well.”

If we were playing Jeopardy, that may very well be the question that Paul answers with these words, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers (1 Timothy 4:16).” Paul here mixes the conservatism of absolute truth with a liberal, selfless love in order to produce a delectable dish; enjoyed by all, for the glory of God. Doctrine and Life. Belief and Behavior.

There has been so much lately on how to live and respond in this post election world. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by the number of articles, blogs, reflections, mandates, and otherwise that have come out recently, but wow! To be sure there are things to analyze, to educate ourselves with, and to reflect on, but sometimes the “old ways” are the best ways. Here the invitation is simply to check what you believe and pay heed to how you will behave. I would submit Paul’s wisdom here as the optimum, post election living plan.

First, fill your heart and mind with doctrine. Engorge yourself on the absolute truths of God’s word. Let your mind be dominated by his holiness, justice, mercy and grace. Be a reflection of Paul’s words to the Colossians that the “word might dwell in you richly. ( Col. 3:16)” It is a mind filled with God’s truth that will help you discern right from wrong in the media. It is a doctrine devoted heart that will season your conversations with more than inflamed rhetoric. It is God’s truth that will ease your anxiety and give you peace.

Second, love liberally. When Paul says to Timothy, “watch your life”, he is saying be who you are in Christ. May the justice, mercy and selfless love that is yours in Him, exude from your very pores. Like Christ, seek out the least of these who are still in their sin. Do not stand in judgment or wait for them to get their stuff together. Let this mind be in you that is yours in Christ Jesus, who being in the very nature God made himself nothing (Phil. 2). He put our needs before his own. He eschewed his own “feelings” in order to secure our future. Living out Christ in us will glorify God, bring us joy, and be attractive to others.

There will be many more articles to be sure, but I dare say there will be none to match this wisdom of Paul’s, “Watch your life and doctrine closely.”

Friday, November 11, 2016

Complexity (by Lisa VanderMaas)

It has been a truly mundane and yet monumental day. I wake up to new alerts and Facebook posts of grief, shock, exaltation, and confusion. I have no answers for the day, no quick fixes to the problems our world faces; no answers that is except for Jesus. I hear on the radio that voters of a certain party think one thing and the others think another. Is it really that easy? It doesn’t seem to be from where I sit. Perhaps it is the path we have chosen to walk, non-partisan when it comes to the world, yet one that hopefully reflects the Savior. For my own sanity I reflect: Yesterday. Election day:

I begin the day on my knees praying while I scrub toilets at my housecleaning job (yes, even for college educated white women, making it in America involves sacrifice, humility, and hard work) asking for wisdom, true Godly wisdom, to know how to vote and feeling conflicted in my soul over it. I also spend time talking with the people living under that roof. They are of different generations and perspectives, they have deeply divided opinions on the issues and candidates.

I then talk with my African American son who needs help getting to work while telling us he wants to start making better choices and using the opportunities he has been afforded. My other African American son is too busy working to vote. I think of the times both of these precious boys have been profiled and threatened and yet now have to make their way in the world as young black men, making choices and living with the consequences of those choices.

I grade my home schoolers Latin and Algebra and am thankful for the freedoms to educate as we choose. At the same time I field calls from a public school who would like me to substitute teach. Being in the classroom there makes me anxious for the kids and their learning environment. Teachers express very strong opinions over the type of government they need in order to be effective teachers. For many of the kids, home lives are not strong. Hurt is evident.

At 2:00, I decide to go vote. As I head out the door, I pray, apologize to my kids if I am making a mistake, and then remind them that God is always on the throne. I stand in a church lobby under the “Open and Affirming” sign and wait to cast my vote. I drive down streets gloriously adorned with fall foliage and hope my grandchildren and great grandchildren see and value the beauty of God’s creation.

I drive to a wonderful charter academy to pick up our refugee foster daughter who has never had an education in her life. She stands outside the gleaming building in her uniform and tells me as she does every day that school was “Good”. She loves it and loves to learn. The school has gone out of their way to enfold her.

I then drive her over to Bethany Christian Services, a place where you walk in the lobby and feel like you are in the United Nations with many languages being spoken. It has always been a ministry that values life, adoption, and the dignity of women and children. Our foster daughter will spend time here working through traumas that she has experienced that few Americans can comprehend.

Later in the day, the older of my African American daughters, dressed in her professional clothes, shows me her certificate for perfect attendance for the program she is enrolled in. I am proud of her and the commitments she has made to working hard and overcoming struggles.

Dinner is ready (I am only 6 months late for one of our daughter’s B-Day meals)! We sit around the dinner table and I look into the eyes of my children and I think of people who believe that these lives were disposable. That they were not a life in utero and given their birth history certainly born into circumstances that would have justified abortion. My heart physically hurts to think of this.

We Snapchat with our white son in college who just got a haircut (hooray) probably realizing that he should look semi-professional as he needs a job to pay of hefty school debt starting next summer.

I check Facebook and see our friend from Haiti who lived with us for a year and a half, now living illegally in New York (against our advice) and hoping to become a citizen, watching the election so closely. I think of the 10 yr. old Muslim boy that has spent four weeks with us this summer, who hasn’t seen his mom in 5 years, and is terrified of this election.

I go to a meeting where there are many Christians, none excited about either candidate but praying with humility for God to give us wisdom as a nation. All acknowledging the flawed nature of each candidate.

It’s 10 o’clock, I have a decision to make: watch election results or finish my Bible study of I Peter for our church’s women’s group. I opt for the second and am glad I did, although it doesn’t give easy answers either. Peter, living under the rule of Nero no less, calls the church to expect suffering, submit to all others (including our rulers) in humility, and to expect to be treated as outcasts in the world. He also gave promises of life, wisdom, joy, and freedom that come ONLY from life lived under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and with the counsel of the Holy Spirit.

My mind wanders to a few days ago, Andrew and I watched a tiny white coffin be laid in the earth. We grieved with these friends whose hearts were breaking. As we walked hand in hand through the cemetery, we said, “You know one of these days, it will be my funeral or yours.” We will take no earthly treasures with us, but we will also then begin to live in a perfect Kingdom where we will have a perfect Ruler for all ages.

So much complexity. No easy answers. But I ask myself, “Am I spending my time offering this “perfect kingdom, perfect ruler” hope to the world that desperately needs it? Or am I adding to their fear and despair? I can’t even begin to answer all the questions that confront me each day. I feel convicted over the weight of the decisions our rulers must make. For my fellow followers of Jesus and for me, I wonder, are we living lives that truly reflect the footsteps of our suffering, submitted, and outcast Lord? Daily submitted faithfulness in the ordinary places of life, and our prayers, these are what our hurting world needs more than anything else we can offer. There are no easy answers in this world... but there is one sufficient answer: Jesus.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Right Ruler

So barring some hanging chad, by this time next week we will have elected a new president and weighed in on other important matters of state. While we may not often think of it, elections like this tap into our longings. Here is how Richard Lovelace in Renewal as a Way of Life puts it:

“Every four years the American people elect a new president with the hope that somehow this will make things better. Economic downturns, crop failures, moral declines and worsening international conditions are all blamed on presidents – who in most cases have little control over events. In the hearts of the people is a groping, inarticulate conviction that if the right ruler would only come along, the world would be healed of all its wounds. Creation is headless and desperately searching for its head.”

It is this desperate search for our Head that forms the plot of the OT and the NT. It is the revelation of the Right Ruler that is the climax of the Biblical story. The one who can heal our deepest wounds is the one that Paul has been talking about in Colossians:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col. 1:15-19)

So next week we may have elected a new president, but we still have King Jesus on the throne, our Head and the absolute Right Ruler.

To the King!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Gospel Eyes

One of my frequent prayers is that God would give me Gospel eyes. When I have shared this prayer with others they sometimes ask what I mean by “Gospel eyes.” I never know quite how to answer them. Part of me doesn’t want to be too precise in definition. On the one hand, I want to see and understand the Gospel as it comes to me in the word, prayer and experience. But on the other hand, I also want to see the glories of Gospel “restoration” at work in the social structures of our world and in people’s personal lives. After all, God has promised us that in Christ he is redeeming all things to himself (cf. II Cor. 5). Still further I want to interact with those in my sphere of life with actions enabled by Gospel eyes. Could I be a conduit of and for the Gospel?

I share this with you because as I reflect on this last week, I realize that God has helped me see the Gospel in a variety of disparate experiences. For starters, many of us celebrated the home-going of Wes Pontier, even as we said our goodbyes to his earthly body. Through the Gospel the words of Jude sounded the clarion call that believers would be “presented blameless before the presence of His glory with great JOY!” The celestial joy was palpable. The Gospel is true! I saw the Gospel at work through the motivated hearts of the Christ Church many who went out to serve this week, picking up trash, vacuuming cars, singing in the assisted living center, preparing crafts, etc… Of course, these are simply the organized acts of service, I know many of you serve in many unseen ways. It is the Gospel at work through his people. And then more painfully, yet also more joyously, I saw the Gospel at work in my own heart and home as together we wrestled through what it means to love one another as broken people. Broken people who hurt one another; repent; give and receive forgiveness; and rejoice together that we are not our own but belong, body and soul to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ!

The Gospel is indeed always at work. Lord give me the eyes to see it, to see you!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Reflection on Adoption

“The court deems it is in the best interest for Corvat and Corvast Stroud to be placed in the care of the VanderMaas family. This is a permanent action and entitles them to all care and comfort as if they were biological children. Furthermore the court declares that their names shall be Malachi and Isaiah VanderMaas from this time forward.”

As the gavel fell it was done. Final. Irreversible. The boys were ours. They were given new birth certificates. From the perspective of the court, there is no record of their former life.
It is an amazing feeling to go through this process. It is remarkable to be given custody of two beautiful, gifted boys, made in the image of God. It is incredibly humbling. From a human perspective there is some level of weightiness as they really became our responsibility. But that day, adoption day, there was only joy.

Joy, not only because in the courtroom were these two wonderful boys made my own, but joy also because my story is played out; a story of adoption, a story of being given a new identity, a story of being made an heir. 

It is a story told in Romans 8. Here are vv 14 -17a: For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “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 fellow heirs with Christ. (NIV)

And the best news of all, is that just like with our boys, it is final. There is no going back. These realities have been declared, sealed by the action of the court. So too has the Heavenly Court sealed these actions on my behalf, always and forever, a child of God. Final!