the second week in review

Here, again, is this wonderful passage from John Bunyan’s book  All Loves Excelling.

“The High God is yours;  the God that fills heaven and earth is yours;  the God whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain is yours, yea, the God whose works are wonderful, and whose ways are past finding out, is yours!  Consider therefore the greatness that is for you, that taketh part with you, and that will always come in for your help against them that contend with you.     It is my support, it is my relief, it is my comfort in all my tribulations,  and I would have it be yours, and so it will when we live in the lively faith thereof.”

This is an amazing concept.    It’s the most perfect antidote to discouragement.   It is so uplifting to consider that this great God is ours, and is our comfort.   Especially since our week here was not very inspirational or inspired.  But we were carried through and cared for through it all.  That is really marvellous!

This is how the outside world looked last time any of us were in it.     I love the look of the dam on our river  when it freezes.   I went for two very chilly three mile runs on Monday and Tuesday,  in temperatures which were something like -11C, and then, along with  my children, I fell ill.

It’s not surprising that our very satisfying start back to school last week…..complete with ball spike and victory dance by me…..was followed by a really mediocre week in which it has felt that we are marching through molasses.   This, thanks to a funky virus that is claiming us one by one and leaving us curled up under blankets and quilts on every sofa, chair, bed and even on the floor in front of the fireplace.
Not all of us have fallen, and the ones still on their feet have loved us and fed us, and kept things tidy and have kept morale up in something like a symphony of cheerful non-complaint.

Maggie has hardly shown any signs of illness, and has flitted from patient to patient wearing her Queen Elizabeth I dress.

Here she is , wearing her uniform, with a bit of war-paint fading from her cheeks, having just donated her mug of milk to good old Cinder.    Gross, but also sweet.    And it’s OK, she knows not to drink after the dog…..

She ministers to us by snuggling up close to her patient of choice, with the rustling crinolines and stiff collar standing tall.   Once she’s nestled in under the covers,  she  tells the most preposterous stories which include dragons, trips to Costco, a creature who creep into houses to steal ginger-ale, hairy spiders taking up residence in people’s noses, and squirrels in bathing suits.   And it’s really encouraging.   It reminds me that health is still close-by……so close I can almost touch it.   And then, later I find her sleeping, curled up like a pinto bean in front of the fireplace, exhausted by her efforts.

As I have said, we are neither inspired nor inspirational.   But we’re really thankful.   I am so very thankful for those blankets, chairs, beds and fireplace.  For Helen singing while she made breakfast for us all this morning.   For my sweet neighbour who just stopped by with a casserole.  For the good words of Philippians swirling around in my head, reminding me to remember my brothers with thankfulness and to look for how the grace of God is evident in their lives.    And for the blessing that comes to us as we remember to pray for one another.

We were all scheduled for the high entertainment of a debate session tonight, in which the three older kids had each taken a different stand on the topic of who should get the vote (as if it were the 1920’s).   One is arguing for an all white vote, another argues for black and white men voting, and another is taking the side of the women’s votes.    But two of my debaters are too dizzy to fight.

We had hoped to rocket  through the early 1920’s in history, and go straight for The Great Depression starting Monday.   Wonder if we can double up and cover all we missed next week and get back on schedule?    I’ll know in a week.

My older kids are doing two courses of Biology this year.  One is Apologia Biology, which seems to be a big favourite among home-schoolers.  The other course is a far more rigorous Biology with Microbiology which is being taught by their dad.   He usually brings them together for science class on Friday afternoon, and science class is always preceded by a day of jittery nervous energy, and three kids who have their heads buried in textbooks and computer screens in preparation.    I wonder if they will have class today……they don’t like to let Jon down, and it’s really beautiful to me to see them trying to rise to his expectations.

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I made a bit of progress on David’s sweater.   Here it is last week:

And here it is this week:

Here’s the original drawing, the plan for this sweater.   It’s silly, but I’m filling the drawing in with color as I get it knitted up.

Still thinking about those hats…….

Just a few more thoughts that grew out of the post about big hats,  below.

It’s a fine thing to offend the unsaved with the gospel of Christ.
But, knowing that Christ loves this church that He bought with his blood…and that it is precious to Him,  sometimes I feel fearful of saying what is on my heart to believers, as I don’t want to offend those who have slightly different understandings  than I do.  I  understand that there are other ideas than mine, held by sincere believers who love Christ as I do.
Not one of us grasps the entirety of scripture perfectly, as far as I can tell.  And sometimes it seems like too many people in the Reformed church think that in  order to be really Reformed, we all have to act like Martin Luther on steroids.   Reform is certainly needed in the church today, but it’s reform of our hearts first.   And so, humility and caution are most appropriate….  before we begin hacking at one another.

Speaking about faith and then doctrinal  belief on the internet, whether on Facebook or on a blog, brings more opportunity for mischief and misunderstanding than speaking face to face.  I find that there are so many ways to hide the elements of my faith that might REALLY rub someone wrong, or to just blab out what I’m thinking without considering how it may cause harm.    And I am not the only one struggling with this.  Sometimes I read “Christian Blogs” and am amazed at the lack of love, at the arrogance and at the failure to remember that we are to correct one another in love.
And I believe that where Hebrews 12:13 says “Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed”  speaks to our tendency to trip up the one we believe is in error, rather  than gently help him along to a better understanding .
We are told not to be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings, and we are also told to keep on loving each other as brothers.  (Hebrews 13)

So when I encounter people who claim Christ, but who hold to doctrines that I do not find in the Bible,  or who teach one doctrine while practicing something different.   Or who elevate one teaching above another,learning how to respond rightly  requires prayer, and scripture and patience and a fair bit of disciplined silence.  It is essential to know where my authority lies, and to be in the habit of obedience.  And I must love them first.  Whether I’m in the room with them, or reading their ideas on a screen.

It is really the  lovely sandpaper of the Holy Spirit on my soul for me to bow to scripture and receive instruction on how to step forward.   Because my own proud heart always wants to do the wrong thing.

So, first, I must examine myself. (2 Cor. 13)  I must look at my own motivations.  If I can say what’s on my mind with love, and if what I really am after is to help, not to criticize or to elevate myself.  Then perhaps I can speak.

On Saturday, Jon and I were invited for lunch with friends Kevin and Litza in Toronto.  As we arrived and were saying “hello” to  Kevin in his driveway, a gentleman passed on the street with his wife and baby.
This man was a hasidic Jew, wearing a very large fur hat called a shtreimel.    Here below is a photo of two man wearing shtreimel hats:

Now I ask you, is there anything you could put upon your head that would scream “Look at me!”  any louder?

As this family passed by, Kevin commented something to the effect that he admires these men who are so bold to proclaim in no uncertain terms and to all the world, who they are and where their faith lies.   (Isn’t it so wonderful when somebody can point out something beautiful that you had failed to notice?)

He said   “You cannot look at a Christian and tell who he is. Well, except that some people have a fish on the back of their car.”   His idea was that we should all be as bold to make ourselves known as really belonging to Christ as the Jewish people in his neighbourhood are bold to proclaim their own belief.
But we don’t have hats or T-shirts or hairstyles to identify us.   We have to proclaim our faith in words first,  and then by our behaviour.
We have to decide to make it known that our identity is in Christ.  We need to be free and eager to to do what’s required to say “Look at Christ!”

But lots of time we are afraid of confrontation.  Or we don’t feel confident of our ability to articulate our faith.  It’s fear.
And actually, if we are speaking for Christ, if we are standing firmly in opposition to evil, we can be sure that we will meet opposition.  But we must learn to meet it, to march toward it knowing that we are defending the only one worth defending.

Because I belong to the one who is truth,  I can rest in Him.  It’s His universe, so I can humbly and gently and with kindness step out in obedient faith, speech and action.  Because I belong to the one who owns it all.   I am not an uninvited guest, and I need never behave as if  I were, by hiding the one to whom I belong.

Are cellphones the new cigarettes? And is my shallowness showing?

By loving providence, we live in a time when information and communication are available to us in such  abundance, it is nearly impossible to stand apart ….without our  lives,  our time and relationships, and our quiet moments being effected by new technologies and the temptations they offer.  Part of the reason we can’t stand apart from it all is because it’s everywhere, and the other part is  because these technologies are so fabulously fun and interesting and cool and amazing and informative.

Maureen Dowd wrote an article at the NY Times on the topic of cell phone use and the health risks it brings, and attempts at legislating controls to keep cell phones safer.  She mentions the incessant use of  cellphones by  teens,  followed by  the disturbing data you have perhaps already read elsewhere about the increased likelihood for tumors in these kids.  A 400 fold increase.  That should get our attention!

And then, putting it into historical perspective:

“The great cosmic joke would be to find out definitively that the advances we thought were blessings — from the hormones women pump into their bodies all their lives to the fancy phones people wait in line for all night — are really time bombs.”

Every generation seems to have it’s beloved new fad which turns out to be a carcinogen once the studies are done.
My own grandmother was given X-rays, while pregnant in 1944, and was thankful for that new technology.    The thought of it makes you shudder, right?
My grandfather was given cases of free cigarettes to help him pass the hours in the trenches in France during WWI.  Not a new technology, but certainly a beloved new fad.
And back in the early ’80s, most of my friends and  I went to the tanning bed about every other week.  Who does that now?

As far as cell phone use goes, it’s not a problem at my house.  I don’t really deserve to have a phone.  I only use it when I’m travelling without Jon.  Otherwise I never think about it.  I have left my phone behind while travelling, left it behind in a diaper bag, left it in the car, and never once missed it.   My cell actually went through the wash last week in the pocket of a tote bag or something.  I had not wondered where it was.   It’s dead now.

For my household, the piece of modern technology that we just can’t get enough of is lap-top computers.
My real addictive concern  is that I can hardly walk past my computer without checking e-mail or news blogs.  On days when we are all home all day long getting everyone educated, I have been known to  hand my lap-top over to one of the kids and ask them not to return it to me until late in the day.   This in lieu of self control.

I don’t worry that this e-mail, information  addiction of mine is going to cause cancer.   But I know for sure that it’s taken a toll on my ability to read printed material for a sustained amount of time and to keep my attention at a deep enough level that I have to sort of “resurface” from a good long spell in a book.  I find it much more difficult to “get lost” in a good book now.  I fear for my kids that they might not have  the same rich experiences that I treasure of being carried away by a fine piece of fiction.

I find that I have to be careful about the amount of time I am on the internet, and that I have to be sure that I spend more time with printed material than with computer images.

And just on this  topic of how internet use might have a degenerative effect upon the brain, here is a tantalizing paragraph from a USA Today review of  Nicholas Carr’s book What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains: The Shallows .

“The news is even more disturbing than I had suspected. Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, educators and Web designers point to the same conclusion: When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking and superficial learning. It’s possible to think deeply while surfing the Net, just like it’s possible to think shallowly while reading a book, but that’s not the type of thinking the technology encourages and rewards.”

Carr cites numerous studies to delineate not only the impact on the brain, but also the alterations in brain biology that lead to the impact. It turns out the human brain is a shape shifter, the technical term being “neuroplasticity.” The phenomenon is not easy to explain, but Carr is adept at explaining with as little jargon as possible. “As particular circuits in our brain strengthen through the repetition of a physical or mental activity, they begin to transform that activity into a habit.”

Here’s a link for some opinions on Carr’s book

I know also that computer and internet “busyness” has a not-so-lovely impact upon our time management skills.   While I am almost deliciously thankful for all that the internet has contributed to the education of my children, and to their ability to stay connected with friends and with the culture of which they are a part, there’s that dark side.   Every parent in North America knows what I’m talking about.   It’s the moment when you say “Where’s Johnny?” and some smaller sibling says “Oh, he’s still on his computer…..'”  And the grass is still not mowed….or whatever.

My point here is not that cell phones and lap-tops are bad.  (In fact, at this point I must confess that yesterday I finally bought myself an iPhone, which will be used less as a telephone…more as a GPS and e-mail checking device.)   But I do think that these cool tools and toys require a tremendous degree of self control and wisdom.  And even more so since there appears to be a slope down which many of us can easily slide into an unhealthy absorption with the images and the instantaneousness of internet and cell technology.

Here, again,  what Maureen Dowd had to say:

“We don’t yet really know the physical and psychological impact of being slaves to technology. We just know that technology is a narcotic. We’re living in the cloud, in a force field, so afraid of being disconnected and plunged into a world of silence and stillness that even if scientists told us our computers would make our arms fall off, we’d probably keep typing.”

Which reminds me of a verse about another kind of obsessive behavior:

35 “They hit me,” you will say, “but I’m not hurt!
They beat me, but I don’t feel it!
When will I wake up
so I can find another drink?”   Proverbs 23:35

So the key is that we must be wise in this area of our lives, just like we must be wise in all others.  Not that it’s simple, but there is hope and there is a promise.

“5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”    James 1:5

And we who are redeemed by the blood of Christ can stand up straight with a heart of thankfulness and remember this:

“1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”   Galatians 5:1

And we can read the warnings which are offered by those who see the danger.   If we are wise we will learn from them.

But the key is to throw out the sin.   Then we can hang on to the gift and use it wisely.
We need to  rightly identify  sinful habits in our own hearts, and  repent of those rather than blaming a technology for the damage we may be doing to ourselves.

Well Used

I have an old Thompson Chain Reference Bible that my dad bought for me in 1982.  It has been replaced with a fresh new Bible, and its replacement has also been replaced.    I was a brand new,  rapidly growing Christian when that Bible was new, and it has all sorts of notes in the margins from places like Urbana and K.C. ’83 and one particularly excellent missions conference where  I heard J.I. Packer teach for several days.

This Bible is completely ragged  now.  The leather cover has  chunks missing, and my embossed name on the front has just about worn off, so I don’t use it for daily reading any more.  The pages are about to all fall out.  But I was looking through it the other day, and it brought back so many rich memories.   And while  I was meandering around in the notes scrawled all over the blank pages at the back of this Bible, I found a little prayer there.  I don’t know where it came from, but I know that it was a prayer I prayed almost daily for many years, and here it is:

Lord, You are the Sovereign and Gracious creator of everything I am and everything I see.
Your Son  died to save me when I was your enemy, and I thank you for this gift of salvation which is so entirely undeserved.
Please use me today, because if You use me, I will have been very well used.

It’s pretty simple, but it’s a good reminder to me of who I am and who God is, and how I should get myself organized with the Lord each day,  before I get myself tangled up in my own foolishness… as I am prone to do.

Grace and Peace

It comes to my attention, more and more, that the apostle Paul in all his letters to the early churches always greets them saying “Grace and peace to you…..” along with mention of how he’s always remembering them in prayer with great thanksgiving.

So, I’m aware that I have a bit of a tendency to be something of a peace disturber at times.

So the challenge for today, tomorrow and every day is then to use these greetings as an example for myself.  To set a filter of grace, peace, and thanksgiving on all my communications with my husband, children, neighbors, telemarketers, receptionists…….everyone.
Before I open my mouth  to speak, I need to ask myself if what I’m about to say is consistent with praying with thanksgiving that the person before me will enjoy grace and peace.
And whatever God sets before us to do, he will enable us to do it.
Marvellous!

Endurance, Encouragement, Unity

As I was getting myself oriented to the day this morning, getting some nourishment for my soul from Romans 15, here’s what popped out at me:

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And I am always looking for encouragement and I know that I must endure, so I’m thankful that God is a God of Endurance and Encouragement.   As we are enduring, with the help of God, and receiving encouragement from God………and as we are working all this out in the company of children, some of us,  I think that this business of harmony and glorifying God in one voice is a key item.

When we are in harmony with the toddlers and teenagers and ultra energetic 7 to 12 year olds in our care, we can keep  it in mind that the point of the day, the week, the school-year, and the lives we are building is to glorify God with one voice.   Then, our hearts are easily righted, our sins against each other are more readily seen, confessed and repented of, and harmony lost is quickly restored.
Best of all, then we can actually see more clearly what God is instructing us to do, as our obedience opens our eyes.   And then comes the ability to receive encouragement from God, and to endure rightly and well in the thick of whatever may be hurled our way.

That’s encouraging to me.

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat. “

Theodore Roosevelt