Posted in Blog, In the Word

An Open Letter to the Pastor with his Theological Finger Held up to the Cultural Winds

Dear Sir,

I heard your message today, and I truly appreciate your heart for our country. I heard your plea to Christians to rise up, to speak out loud against the tyranny of the post-modern tolerance. And I agree with you.

You told us that Christians comprised a full 65% of the “Builders” generation, 45% of your own Boomers, 14% of my Generation X, and only 4% of Milllenials. This is a wretched, heartbreaking state of affairs, and I applaud your addressing it boldly from the pulpit.

But I think you left an elephant or two lumbering around the room in the form of the answer to why we are in this predicament. Why are we losing ground, generation after generation? Could it be that the church is following the larger culture, rather than being a light to hold up in the darkness of that culture?

You encourage us to speak up against the cultural tide. You tell us that “nowhere in the Scriptures are we told to raise our theological finger in the air to determine which way the cultural wind is blowing so that we can adapt to it.”

Preach it, Sir!

But wait…

Is this not exactly what the church has done?

Mothers have left home to enter the workforce, and the culture has made it easier for them to do this by providing free daycare in the form of earlier and earlier kindergarten programs.

And where is the church in this? Why, providing more daycare programs and more childcare during church, of course.

As mothers have taken over the bread-earning role, fathers have been deemed unimportant. We all made fun of Dan Quayle for his insult to Murphy Brown, but the guy kind of had a point. Murphy Brown made fathers irrelevant. And many men have acquiesced, abdicating their roles as spiritual leaders of their homes.

And where is the church in this? Why, absolving fathers from their duty in Deuteronomy 6 by having youth ministers do it for them.

We have more deadbeat dads, more single mothers struggling to be everything to their children, than ever before.

And where is the church? Is it providing financial support to these widows and orphans of our age? Sure, there are definitely some churches supporting charity efforts that focus on the single mothers. But there are also a lot of singles and divorced fellowship ministries that focus more on fun activities and fellowship than on truly helping where it is most needed.

Why are we not encouraging mothers to be busy at home as in Titus 2?

I am not coming down on any individual woman who is working. Each person’s situation is different, and our culture certainly makes it difficult for a woman to make the choice to stay home and raise her children. I cannot judge an individual woman’s response to her own family’s needs. But on a societal level, there is something wrong with a culture that tells women that their work is more valuable in the office than in the home.

But the biggest, boldest, most boisterous elephant in the room is that of children’s ministry. My children stay beside my husband and me in service, for many reasons. While visiting your church in that one service, I was approached by no less than five people encouraging me to put my children in the kids’ program.

Now these were all lovely, well-intentioned people, with no other purpose than to be sure that I was informed of my choices. After all, why wouldn’t I want to sit in peace and quiet unencumbered by cute and noisy little inconveniences throughout the service? These lovely, thoughtful, kindhearted Christian sisters were just doing me a favour by letting me know about the children’s ministry, and there was no pressure applied on me to utilize it. No intentional pressure, that is. But the invisible pressure builds with every separate approach. One begins to wonder if my children were considered a disturbance to the other congregants.

On the other hand, there were just as many people who approached me after the service to tell me how well-behaved my children were, and how special it was to see the children in the service. There were people who were blessed to see my clean-faced, bright and shiny Sunday-dressed-in-their-Sunday-best youngsters struggling not to fidget in the pew. Because this is a reminder of how things used to be, in the past. In the days when the Builder Generation grew up, perhaps? The generation that is still 65% Christian?

When exactly did children’s ministries begin, Sir? Do you think that it could possibly be tied in to the decline in the numbers of the faithful?

90% of those raised in children’s ministries leave the church before college! Why is that? Could it be that they are not raised hearing the Word of God preached? They do not witness the example of their parents, Sunday in and Sunday out, a whole childhood of watching their parents worship, their parents modeling attentive listening to the sermon, checking their Bibles, quietly underlining and studying, gleaning truth from the passage. This is probably the only opportunity all week that most children have to witness an entire community of believers all silently listening to and reading the Word of God. And what do we do? We send them away!

It is not enough to send them to godless public schools five days a week. Now we send them away during the church hour, the most blessed hour of the week. We send them to yet another child-focused activity, to sing happy but theologically simplistic songs, to colour and cut and glue cardboard children onto cardboard scenes of cardboard Jesus captioned “Let the little children come to me.”

And instead of letting our children come to Jesus — for we know He is surely there in the midst of the adult congregation (where two or more are gathered in His name) — instead of allowing our children to meet Him there, we dismiss them to yet another daycare.

Oh, the cultural winds are blowing and we have adapted mightily, Sir!

Nowhere in Scripture does it tell us to relegate children away from church and into daycare, as the school system does. Nowhere in Scripture does it tell us to age-segregate these children away even from their siblings, as the school system does.

And when these children grow up, accustomed to fun and colourful children’s ministries and cool and relevant youth ministries, what happens? They have not been trained up in the way they should go. They have not attended weekly services. How boring and dry these services must seem in comparison to what they have been trained up to expect!

And so the church struggles to accomodate them. More segregated ministries! Women’s groups, men’s groups, singles groups, knitting groups and breakfasts and craft groups. Less Bible studies and more craft groups. The people need fun!

But the Church will surely lose against the culture in the battleground of fun.

The Church can only win against the culture in the battleground of Truth. So teach them Truth!

We are losing them, Sir.

There weren’t a lot of GenXers at your church today. There aren’t a lot of GenXers at any church today. And as my eight-year-old noted, “Old people don’t last very long.”

I pray that your church, Jesus’ Church, can stem the tide. Stop making church into entertainment. Bring the children back into the service so that we can train them up. Forget the youth minister. It is the father’s job to educate his family in the faith. There is a place for ministries within the church, but I believe that they should be based on ministering to OTHERS, not to its own members. Bible studies, yes, but the energy put on some of these other ministries could be better spent. Why not a children’s ministry where the children reach out into the community? Rather than have a child care worker minister to the children, why not have the children perform the ministry? They could pack food boxes for the poor, they could learn a song to sing at an old folks’ home, they could be a children’s ministry in the community.

But don’t dismiss them from being a part of the Body of Christ.

Sincerely,

Mrs. Boots

Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast.

Joel 2:16

 

Posted in Blog, In the Word

Polytheistic Worldview

The ancient Israelites were an anomaly among their pagan neighbours. Their LORD was a jealous god who wanted his people to love Him with all their hearts, all their minds and all their strength.

Scholars throughout the 18th and 19th Century held to an evolutionary model of religious development. As a culture develops, it would change from a polytheistic worldview to a henotheistic worldview (in which one god is supreme over the other gods) and then eventually develop a monotheistic worldview, which was considered to be more refined.

Yehezqel Kaufman vehemently disagreed. Any similarities between the rites and rituals, stories and legends of polytheistic Canaanites and monotheistic Hebrews were similarities in form only. The purposes, meaning and function behind them is radically different. Rather than a natural evolution from polytheism, Biblical monotheism was a revolutionary worldview, completely separate from polytheism.

He stated that a culture does not become “more like” monotheism as it reduces the number of its gods. The two systems are different at their core, not because of the number of gods.

At the core of the Judeo-Christian faith is a Being — eternal, unchanging, all-knowing, all-powerful. He is the Creator of all things, but He Himself was not Created. He transcends time entirely.

This is in stark contrast to the pagan systems, in which the gods are themselves created, temporal beings. They are not the source of all. They have a theogyny (an origin). They are made of some kind of elemental material (fire, wind, water, precious metals, etc.) within the Metadivine Realm. It is this Metadivine Realm which is their source.

There are good gods and evil gods, but the Metadivine Realm itself is morally neutral. Humans are caught up, pawns in the struggles between the competing gods.

Pagan gods are not overly concerned with humans. There may be gods whose role is to legislate some kind of justice over the human world, but this is more an occupation than an essential part of their being. Humans may coerce, manipulate or bribe gods to their side with their rituals.

The pagan cult, therefore, also involves magic and divination, because humans can use gnostic means to bypass the gods and go straight to the Metadivine Realm, manipulating substances (flesh, blood, etc.) that have some kind of connection to that realm, to which even the gods are subject.

In the Judeo-Christian worldview, God is subject to no manipulation. There is no MetaDivine Realm, no way to manipulate or coerce God. One can make a plea to Him, but cannot force His hand. Magic and divination are rebellion against His Will, and they are pointless, because He is subject to no elemental substances of any realm above Him.

He is intensely concerned with humans, because He is Good, as a part of His essential character. And the struggle between good and evil is not a battle between gods, but a battle within us. It is a result of the free will that he has given to us — good is His Will, and evil is our choice to do against His will.

I agree with Kaufman that monotheism is definitely not a natural development of polytheism. It is in the heart of man to make idols for himself, we would never “evolve” into monotheism. God had to intervene to reveal Himself to us. And even so, time after time, we put aside our monotheism to “devolve” into pagan worship.

Like the Hebrews and the golden calf, or the Israelites time and time again under the Judges, we prefer the pagan worldview. We want to recognize neither our own sinfulness, nor our own powerlessness. We prefer to turn to magic and divination, as it gives us a sense of control over the universe, and enables us to ignore our own sin.

Reading Kaufman’s description of pagan worldview, I was reminded of a book that came out a few years ago, called “The Secret.” It combined pop psychology with gnostic principles, promising a way of manipulating “the Universe” to obtain everything you ever wanted. “The Universe” is merely a rehashing of the ancient concept of the Metadivine Realm. How easily we can fall back into a state of pagan cultic practices. In our post-modern world, God is whatever you determine him to be, reality is whatever you want it to be, and the Universe is here to do your bidding.

More disturbing than this infiltration of paganism into our culture, is the infiltration of paganism into our very Church. Have you run into the prosperity gospel yet? Word-Faith? Name it and claim it? This system determines that because we have the Holy Spirit in us as Christians, we can manipulate the spiritual world by using our words(is the Word the new substance of the Metadivine Realm?) to make proclamations and decrees. We can garner wealth by manipulating the “spiritual principle” of sowing and reaping. Sow a seed of money to a prosperity preacher, and reap a harvest of wealth. There are certain spiritual principles by which the universe must work. Really? Is God Himself bound by these “spiritual principles”? Sounds like manipulation of the Metadivine Realm to me.

I can only conclude that we as humans are idolatrous pagans, in utter rebellion toward God; left to our own devices, we can turn even His Word to fit what we want it to say. Look at the way Micah and his prophet perverted their worship of God in Judges 17.

Those anthropologists of the 18th Century, who were Western monotheists themselves, would have to eat their words. So much for “evolution” or “advancement.” Far from a natural advancement of a culture to a higher form of religion, culture devolves into cultic practices, self-worship, celebrity worship, and nature worship. It is all over our “advanced” culture. The human heart is wicked above all things, and without intervention, its natural state is rebellion against God.

Posted in At Homeschool, Blog, Little Boots

Piano Practice

For Christmas, Grumpa started the big three in a course of piano lessons. We found a wonderful piano teacher, RJ — who turned out to be a Christian, by the way — who comes right to our home for lessons, and the children have been practicing daily on the piano that was given to us a few years ago by friends from our church. Praise God for friends, family, teachers, and music!

We have all enjoyed the lessons so much, and will be continuing on with them. I thought it would be fun to track their progress as we go.

Posted in Blog, In the Word

Beauty from Ashes

For our 11-year anniversary, Farmer Boots and I went to hear Gianna Jessen, the brilliant, captivating, joyful woman who survived a late-term abortion 39 years ago.

“How could you not love me?” she asks winsomely, and the audience agrees. She wins us over easily with her soft voice and infectious laugh. She gives us pieces of her remarkable story: the story of a 2-and-a-half pound baby girl, who was supposed to be born dead, but confounded the abortionists by refusing to die; the story of the toddler who was never supposed to walk or hold up her head, but somehow grew up into a young woman who ran two marathons — marathons in which she finished last, bloody-footed but not beaten.

Gianna tasted the bitterness and rejection of death before she was ever born, and yet she refuses to let any of this define her. She stands strong in her identity as God’s girl. “Don’t mess with me,” she warns us, “My Father runs the world.”

tumblr_gianna-jessen-09-09-15If her story of survival against all odds is remarkable — which it is — it is secondary to the larger story she hints at — the narrative of redemption that we are all invited to be a part of. Just looking at the joy shining out of Gianna’s beautiful face as she tells us how much she loves life, we see how Jesus brings beauty from ashes.

I have seen YouTube clips of Gianna Jessen before. I was familiar with her story, and her engaging manner. I was prepared to laugh and cry, to come away strengthened in my prolife convictions, and inspired in my walk with the Lord.

But what I did not anticipate was the perspective that my chronic illness would give me.

“I have been blessed with the gift of cerebral palsy.” Gianna opened. She spoke of how she had to lean on Jesus for every step — quite literally — and how this literal dependence upon Him creates a closer relationship.

Cerebral palsy was something that I had previously seen as an add-on to Gianna’s main story, an unfortunate fact that she happens to live with. But now, as a person with an invisible disability, I saw her illness as an intrinsic part of who she was, a piece of herself. It shapes her every move, every decision, every day. Very deep down, it is a part of her, not just her body, but her mind and her spirit.

She made the choice to stand here in front of us, unassisted by a mobility device. My previously-healthy self would have been oblivious to the independence represented by this choice.

She may lose her balance a little, but she laughs it off. My newly-disabled self can appreciate the courage that takes.

She flew into town and will fly out again in the space of a day or two, and she is very likely extending her energy to its limit by speaking at this event. That pace, madcap for a person with a chronic illness, takes a determination that I could not have understood before.

After her speech, she excuses herself to sit at a table and greet people from a seated position. This is her way of taking care of herself, and I can see the prudence and respect for herself that she has learned from long experience with a disability.

Our conditions are different, but there are certain commonalities to all disabilities. They place limits on our lives, shrinking our lives down in scope and size. A certain choice may be made, a certain event may be attended, but many other choices and events are thereby eliminated.

For myself, I find myself bound more and more to the home. As the mother of five busy young children, prioritizing their care and education does not leave much energy for outings. This exception for our anniversary was carefully planned for, and it was by no means a certainty that we were going to make it through the whole thing.

But it is not just outings that shrink in frequency and length. Everything shrinks. Our new house has a wonderful big wooded backyard which I will probably never be able to explore with my children. I can’t even make it as far as my husband’s garden without the riding lawn mower. I cannot participate in my family’s life in nearly as full a manner as I want to.

“This is not how I pictured my life to be, exhausted and worn out just from making meals. My dreams and visions and plans for motherhood are all slipping away,” I cried to Brian in a moment of self-pity just the night before. “My life is slipping away!”

But here, sitting in this auditorium listening to Gianna describe her condition as a gift that Jesus gave her in order to help her to depend more fully upon Him, I realize how my condition, too, is a call to rely more fully upon Him.

“How can you, healthy person, tell me what the quality of my life is?” she asks. She speaks about the extreme arrogance of the ableist notion of quality of life. “My life is not slipping away.”

And it is at these words that my eyes, already filled with tears, suddenly overflow.  Were these not the very words I whined to my husband just the night before?  I sob silently as I realize how incredibly whiny I am, and how Jesus loves and comforts me anyway.

“My life is not slipping away.” My very words were echoed back at me — minus the petulance and self-pity, charged instead with the power and determination of one who is living for the glory of God. And I felt His love for me. I knew that He had put those words in Gianna Jessen’s mouth for me this night.

And isn’t that just like Him? To come and meet me right where I am, in the midst of my peevish discontent, and to offer me no reproach at all, but only love and inspiration, reminding me that I have a purpose, a life and a hope.

“This is what you have,” Gianna said. “Now how are you going to use it?”

At the end of her speech, Gianna outlined an area in her own life which is causing her to feel impatience. And she told us God’s response to her. “Are you willing to give me your whole life, Gianna?”

Again, I felt convicted, and called to give my whole life to the Lord. As much as I congratulate myself for accepting this disability without a lot of kicking and screaming, there are still many areas in which I am fighting Him, trying to hold on to my own visions and dreams for my life.

Am I willing to give him my whole life? Am I, like Gianna, willing to accept this illness as the gift of Ehlers Danlos? Am I willing to see it as a blessing and an opportunity to lean on Him more fully?

Gianna Jessen is enchanting. She is a courageous advocate for the unborn, valiantly speaking unpopular, politically incorrect words to remind us of those we would rather forget. She speaks for the most vulnerable among us, lending her sweet voice to unborn children who cannot speak for themselves. But last night, it was Jesus’ voice that I heard, speaking right to my spirit.

Oh, and by the way, in case you are wondering, yes, I did go up to meet Gianna after the event. I sat in front of her on my walker-seat, because of course I could not have stood up, and I tried to tell her what her words had meant to me. I told her that the very words I had used in self-pity to my husband the day before, Jesus had used to convict and uplift me in her speech tonight.

“What were the words?” she asked.

And, true to form, I could not remember the words! Ha! My God does have a sense of humour! After an hour of sitting upright with a less-than-optimum amount of blood getting to my brain, my aphasia was in full gear. For such a very wordy girl, glorying in verbosity, occasionally bordering on the fustian, (or hadn’t you noticed?), my once-impeccable memory for words has become sadly deficient.

But never mind, I remember them now.

And perhaps the gift of Ehlers Danlos, with a liberal helping of aphasia, is just His way of blessing me with the all-new opportunity to learn to listen more than I speak.

And, listening closely, this is what I hear:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations…

 Instead of your shame
    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours.

(Isaiah 61)

 

photo credit: The Empty Quarter, Arabian Desert, UAE via photopin (license)