Monday, October 31, 2011

God and Going Green

So, I'll admit that "going green" used to seem really silly to me. Not only silly, but obviously connected to a godless philosophy and certainly not evangelical, conservative, or one of God's priorities. (Oops!) , I'll admit- God changed my mind about this slowly, in part because I brought "political baggage" with me to a lot of issues. It's a good reminder to me that Christianity- and Jesus, for that matter- don't belong in a little box titled, "Conservative" or "Republican" because Jesus isn't a politician. He is Lord. And here is one way some more "politically liberal" Christians (gasp!) helped me see more clearly the Jesus of the Bible.

Genesis 1. God made everything from moonlight to mammoths, and what did He say about it? "It is good." He made man in His image- His representatives on earth, His image-bearers, His royal sons and daughters. What task does He give us? "God blessed them and said, 'fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over every living thing!" Obviously we're special to God in all creation! But here's where I went wrong with Genesis- I had interpreted "dominion" as "we get to do whatever the heck we want with the rest of creation. If that's turn it into one big land fill, that's our God-given right!!"

But in the very next chapter of Genesis, there's more to be said about dominion! (I don't get to interpret it however I want.) "
The Lord put the man in the garden to work it and take care of it." I'm assuming that "take care of it" doesn't mean wasting it or treating it with utter indifference or disrespect. I'm assuming that doesn't mean doing whatever is convenient, even if it's poor stewardship. I'm assuming the Garden of Eden was a pretty spectacular and holy place (unlike my trash can, which is full of things I could recycle or even re-use; and unlike my fridge, which is full of food that I'll throw away in a week when it's moldy because I keep buying new food I want to eat instead.)

A friend of mine once said to me, "if your Dad was a great artist, obviously he'd care more for you than he does for his paintings. But would you ever take that to mean you could just go and throw mud on his work? No! You could be confident that his love for you far outweighs his love for his paintings, but you'd love his paintings too, and honor them as a legitimate expression of your father's heart."

OK. Sure. So Genesis is all well and good...but it's a really old story and it's easy to romanticize. "That's just how things were before the fall. Things are different now."
But that's not all, and here's what really got me! Jesus didn't just die to redeem sinners. Paul mentions the redemption of all things.

Romans 8:19-21, "For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God (that's us! Those redeemed and adopted through Christ's death!)...For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God."

And listen to what else we get to look forward to. Revelation 21:4-5, "He who was seated on the throne said, "Behold! I am making all things new!" This is the same passage that talks about wiping away every tear from our eyes and removing all pain- pain we know so very deeply and keenly now! We know we'll still be "us" when we are with Jesus, but we'll also be new. We'll be free of the pain we've carried. The weight will be lifted, the burden gone. The tears erased. Death itself will be but a shadow when the corruptible puts on the incorruptible. All of creation is a part of this. The curse and its breaking effects extended to all of creation (I talked about that some here). And so the redemption of Jesus will also extend to all of creation, as He takes back in fullness what was always His.

God cares about physical creation. My body is a part of that- He cares about my bad back and I can eagerly await the fullness of the redemption of my broken body. I can also eagerly await the renewal of the rest of creation, and my bad back can remind me of the joy that is to come! It was humbling for me to realize that God cares about how I treat non-human things. He called me to steward all that reflects His heart, and to be about what He is about- the redemption of all that is His.

So this is good news for those of us already following Jesus, because it means we get to be about what He is about. And it's good news for you if you don't yet know Jesus but have found environmental concerns very close to your heart. It means that you have (unknowingly, perhaps!) come into contact with one of God's very own passions and you've reflected His very character. You can be about what Jesus is about too. Let's run to Him, whether for the first time or the ten-thousandth.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Just Fun- CCEF Trip (and Tripp!)

I wrote a bit about some of the great things I learned this past weekend at the CCEF Conference. Here are some pictures of fun people I got to see!

Working at the Redeemer Booth!

Be sure to notice Paul Tripp's face freeze-framed in the right background.

Kentucky is very proud of its derby (?) heritage.

This is the hotel where the conference was hosted. We loved that it was called the Galt House!

An attempt at a "Beatles" photo op...

Hittin it hard at Panera before the trip home.

This was Michael's "napping" strategy during the 15 hour ride home (with four girls)!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Hope in Suffering

So, this past weekend great. I'm not writing a synopsis of it, but I am going to write about a great truth it helped hit home for me. In session after session, speakers mentioned that we are embodied creatures- we're not just souls living in a physical house that is worthless and meaningless- our bodies are part of who we are and God cares about them! That means He cares about relieving our physical suffering, which includes various symptoms associated with depression and other "psychological" suffering! (This whole body thing has been a big deal to me lately so I'm hoping to write more on it later.)

But, (of course there's a but!) they also stressed that relief of the physical symptoms of suffering- while it's important and should be fought for- should not be our final or primary goal. Instead, we should hope for relief from physical suffering while also learning to depend more fully on Jesus in the midst of it. This transforms the way we suffer and it gives us hope now, even when the end of our suffering may not be in sight! I'll try and give a few examples, although I'm sure many readers have examples of their own.

My father died when I was fourteen. This pretty much rocked my world. Anyone who has lost a loved one can relate to this form of suffering! And God cares about it. He absolutely comforts and restores and provides and redeems my life from this "miry bog". But He has also shown me infinite joy- a deeper joy than I would have experienced apart from my suffering- that has transformed even the way I've continued to grieve as I've grown. So that means there is tender care from the Lord in both relieving my suffering and transforming it to show me more of Himself.

For a few years I really struggled with a particular insecurity- a sin- that seemed to just not go away. Those who struggle with various forms of social anxiety can relate to this form of suffering. I read all the books I could on the topic; I confessed to friends and asked them to pray for me; I sought wise counsel; I prayed and fasted and asked the Lord to heal my heart. In all of these things God certainly cared about my suffering- He was working to relieve it! But He chose to heal in His timing (which believe me, was very different from my timing!) and used even that time of persisting sin to teach me to depend on Him in a way that I would not have apart from my suffering. It taught me to cry out for help on a daily basis, to see my Rescuer as Christ alone and not a self-help book, and it taught me to trust in His goodness, even when I'm not getting what I want when I want. (Which is, of course, complete relief immediately!)

I have a bad back. This is such minor physical pain that it's almost laughable to mention in light of the physical suffering of so many, but it is still a form of suffering in my life. This pain in my back matters to God. He cares about my body. He can heal me and is working to redeem all things in me- even my body. But in the face of remaining physical pain, I have learned to put my hope in Christ in a way I would not have apart from my suffering. I'm daily reminded that this earth is awaiting full redemption, that the return of Christ truly will make all things new and that we groan and long for it.

So, I found that this reminder brings real hope to those suffering, whether it be with depression or a bad back or with various fears that won't seem to go away! It reminds us that yes, God cares deeply about our suffering and yes, His redemption extends to relieving our pain. But it also reminds us to put our hope in the One who is bigger than the relief of our symptoms- Jesus Christ. In His goodness toward those who are His, He turns even our suffering to joy; the joy of dependence and trust.

This is Jesus: a God who both cares to relieve our suffering and who make its possible for us to rejoice in the midst of it. If you are weary with suffering, come to Him!

The Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
-2 Corinthians 12:9

"You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!"
-Psalm 30:11-12

Friday, October 21, 2011

What Christians are Saying about Psychiatric Disorders

This weekend Michael and I (and a bunch of other students from Redeemer!) are at the CCEF National Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. These are people who do counseling for a living and who are interested in equipping others to do the same. Their approach is pretty holistic, seeing counseling as ministry to a whole person. They emphasize not just treating "brains" but also not just telling people to go memorize a Bible verse to make all their problems go away. Their material has been really helpful for me personally and I've been privileged to hear so many stories of people who've experienced freedom and growth through the wise shepherding of those trained by CCEF.

The theme this year is "Psychiatric Disorders: A Compassionate Look at Complex Problems". So far, it has been amazing. I highly recommend this organization and their material! You can check out the titles of the weekend presentations here- let me know if you're interested in hearing one or more of them- I'd love to share with you! This is an issue that is very far reaching and very personal. Whether from personal experience or from walking with a loved one, we all know how complex it can be to struggle with depression, crippling anxiety, bipolar. We all know there aren't pat answers or quick fixes, and that it's worth thinking well about. It's worth engaging those who are suffering with wisdom and moving toward them with love.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Rules and the Gospel, Part 2

So I'll admit I dropped a bit of a bomb in my last post, and I want to clarify a few things: 1) I did not mean to imply that all Christian schools, parents, or teachers are clueless or the reason for the problem. Many Christian parents and teachers displayed the Gospel for me and I am so grateful for their ministry to me as a snotty and difficult young person! 2) I'm not promoting a rejection of structure or rules or saying that homes/schools with rules are always destructive. Rules literally kept me alive at certain points in my childhood! 3) I'm also not claiming to have all the answers to the problem. In fact, I'm still trying to wrap my head around some of the things my teacher is presenting in class right now.

Rules are important and necessary. Rules unexplained in light of God's character and our relationship to Him seem arbitrary; and- here's the kicker- rules enforced with an overwhelming emphasis on behavior are what often times end up making the Gospel seem irrelevant. Quick recap: kids should share, right? Well, we reduce the command to "share, because it's nice" and we enforce the command by expecting the behavior without discussing the necessary heart change that needs to take place to produce a genuine sharer. So, when I see kids fighting over a toy, I ask, "who had it first?" AKA, "whoever gets it first wins." A cute (but scary!) result of this kind of teaching is Paul Tripp's kid at six years old lying on top of a big pile of toys. He said, "I had them all first, Daddy!"

So, back to rules. We set up "sharing" rules so that kids don't have to address their selfishness, but manage it. Computer rotations. Assigned car seats. (I can't tell you how many fist-fights broke out in my family over the front seat of the van!) Or for a high school student, rules about how short skirts can be. Modesty is an expression of a dozen issues: like
a self-image rooted in dignity (not dress-size), an unshakable confidence in one's value as God's child, a humble concern for the struggles of others, an unselfish mindset of ministry influencing our very wardrobe. We often try to address these incredibly deep issues of the heart with a measuring stick on the thigh or a rule book, as if that will magically produce the needed soul transformation!

We reduce God's standard to something manageable by leaving the attitudes of the heart out of it. We learn how to follow the rules with unchanged hearts. Again, we create 1) self-righteous rule followers (for example, girls with perfectly long skirts who might be every bit as insecure, vain, and self-seeking in their appearance efforts as the girls sitting in detention), and 2) kids who have sniffed out the hypocrisy of the rule followers-- and the applause they're receiving from Christian adults!-- and decide they want nothing to do with it. And again, the rule-followers don't think they need grace and the rebels think, "if that's what being a Christian is, I don't want it"

So, what's the solution? (I know, I keep thinking...ok Hannah, you've described this problem three different ways now. When are you going to write part B?) But I'll admit, I'm a result of this culture! It's still a big blind-spot for me. I'm basically scratching my head a lot in search of an alternative. Tedd Tripp writes about one in his book, Shepherding a Child's Heart:

"If you don't call him to be what God has called him to be, you end up giving him a standard of performance that is within the realm of his native abilities apart from grace. It is a standard that does not require knowing and trusting God. In other words, you either call your children to be what they cannot be apart from grace, or you reduce the standard, giving them one they can keep. If you do that, you reduce their need for God accordingly."

I know it might seem dorky that I'm quoting a parenting book while I sit in seminary, but it's convicting me! It's shedding light on a lot of my own experience as a young person and on my frustrations in shepherding young people around me. As long as we reduce obedience to God to following certain rules, the gospel will seem unnecessary. It will remain an ethereal, theoretical idea that we comprehend with our minds and assent to intellectually but it will have no power to bring us to repentance ("what from? I'm keeping the rules!") or produce life change ("what to? I'm already a good girl"). God's standard is much higher than we make it, and grace becomes truly amazing when we realize just how far we fall short. It doesn't exist just to fill in the gaps for our bad days; it rescues hearts so hard that the rules could never penetrate. And the Gospel alone gives us the power to live a life that would be utterly impossible to live apart from the Spirit of God at work in us.

Rules in the context of God and His standard- and my utter inability to keep it- bring me to the gospel. To want to share with a happy heart, to truly care more about ministering to others in the way I dress than about turning heads, to pray for and bless the self-righteous rule-followers with a pure heart, I desperately need grace. To be who God has created and called me to be, I need the gospel. Rules should be in place only to show me my need of Him, not to make my life manageable apart from Him. The gospel isn't just an added bonus, a trophy on my shelf with other good deeds. It's what rescues and redeems the deepest part of me- my heart.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Christian School and the Problem of the Gospel

Per usual, I'm taking a class with Paul Tripp this semester. He's written a number of books (which I highly recommend!) and each semester it's nice to get to go through a book with the guy who wrote it and get all my questions answered. Poor guy; I ask a lot of questions!

So this semester's class is on parenting, which may not sound very relevant. But the cool thing about his material is that it's all based on the gospel, which, as he says, "is for every demographic." In other words, people taking a parenting class can learn about their marriages, people taking a marriage class can learn about their friendships, etc. So I'm taking a parenting class and I'm learning about my Christian high school.

Tripp says that if we parent in such a way that our goal is to get kids to behave right, we create monsters. Ok I paraphrased there a little, but I'll explain the point. People are relational beings. We don't operate most fully when we detach ourselves from relationship...but that's what we do when we teach rules out of context! So if I try to teach MaKayla that she's "supposed to" share because "it's nice", that's all well and good but it has nothing to do with God. It's just this morally abstract restraint that I've put on her that actually makes her life very inconvenient. Then say that I throw in "God wants us to do nice things" every now and then, all I've done is teach her that God is the one making her life inconvenient, but that He'll like her if she keeps the rules.

This kind of moralistic teaching creates two natural reactions: 1) people who decide the rules are annoying and reject them (openly or secretly), and 2) people who get so good at following the rules that they become self-righteous. Well, that pretty much explains my Christian high school experience. Some kids were honest about their lack of respect for the rules and decided to live how they wanted to. Some kids still wanted the intoxicating approval of parents and teachers based on "doing the right things" so they "pretended" so well that teachers and parents were fooled. And some kids actually liked obeying the rules, and were so good that they kept them all and were able to look down their noses at the ones who didn't.

Here's the problem with this. None of these kids know what to do with the gospel. The kids that don't care about God's law aren't concerned with the fact that they've broken it. For all they care, God's law can go to you-know-where. What does it have to do with them? They don't see that it's connected to a relationship we all have with God whether we know it or not. The kids in the middle aren't really concerned with God to begin with; they're after approval. And as long as they're getting it, as long as they can keep up the game, why not have fun on the weekend? They're not aware that God and His approval are actually much more than a teacher at school calling us "nice kids". And the kids following all the rules are so proud of themselves that they don't think they need grace. They think they're God's VIPs, and pray that God would help others "get with it." They're not aware that they need God's rescue as much as the kid in detention.

The gospel, in fact, speaks to this. It gives us the realization that God's law does in fact matter because we're bound to it. We were created in His image and into an intimate, covenantal relationship with Him. God is God, and we're either submitting or rebelling in relationship with Him. We can't choose to say, "this doesn't apply to me" because it's not an abstract moral system. It's who we are and how the universe works. It shows us that no amount of game playing can work with God because He's not impressed with our superficial attempts to keep Him pacified. He's not a clueless teacher or parent who is happy just because we're making good grades and staying out of jail or not getting pregnant. And the gospel shows us that we are all in desperate need of grace because following the rules perfectly isn't enough. It's the self-righteous, self-saving, prideful idolatry of our hearts that we need rescue from, not detention or skirts that are too short!

I can relate to those high school kids because I was one of them. The gospel is helping me. I'm learning that His laws for me aren't abstract moral restraints administered to make my life inconvenient, and that He doesn't "like me" more when I keep the rules or shame me when I mess up. Maybe you know a Christian like I described above and it upsets you because it reveals our hypocrisy. Or maybe you are one of the Christians I described and you feel tired of keeping up the game. Either way, remember that Christians need the gospel too. Let the gospel help you.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Beauty: What For?

Think about the most beautiful place you've ever been. The most stunning piece of music you've ever heard. The most meaningful relationship you've ever had. Now think about all the warmth and comfort that place gives you. Do you ever still feel empty? Think about all the beauty and meaning that music shows you. Do you ever still feel confused by the brokenness around you? Think about all the love and communion that relationship gives you. Do you ever still feel insecure or lonely?

This morning I was at the gym listening to a Tim Keller sermon (the only way I can faithfully work out for a whole 45 minutes is if I'm completely mentally distracted. Enter podcasts!) and he was talking about these experiences of beauty, meaning, and love. It seems that our experience with them can be both inspiring and frustrating; inspiring because they show us that there is more in us- and more to us!- than just physical appetites for food and sleep and sex, but frustrating because we can't seem to get enough of these experiences to be fully or permanently satisfied.

Tim Keller was saying that the tension exists for a reason. These things show us God by awakening our longing, and they show us our need for God by being unable to fully satisfy that longing. When we hear great music or experience great love, we're given a taste of God- we're awakened to the goodness, beauty, and love that He is! But these mirrors of Him, these shadows, can't be ends in themselves- they aren't big enough to be! Their glory is reflected. The gifts signpost the Giver and they beckon us to admire Him, to be known by Him, and be satisfied in Him.

Postscript: a quote by C.S. Lewis (much more important to read than my blog post!) This guy came to faith in Christ over a long period of time and so he wrote a lot for other "seekers", sharing how these experiences of beauty and joy that led him to Jesus can help point others to Him also.

"The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.
For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited."

Friday, October 7, 2011

Garage Sale Adopton Fundraiser Today!

This Friday and Saturday, (today and tomorrow!!!) our friends Rachel and Jesse are having a huge- I repeat- HUGE garage sale to help raise adoption funds! So if you have a heart to support God's means of "placing the lonely in families" (Ps. 68) or if you're looking for a new coffee table or fall sweater, come by and come buy! 100% of the proceeds will go directly toward the costs of bringing home their two little ones. This is a great way to multiply your stewardship of money. If you know you're already going to buy something, look for it at their garage sale, and money you were already going to spend can go toward changing someone's life!

Their address is 6250 Anita St, Dallas. Come by either day at any time! Bring lots of cash! Bring a mini-van to haul your new coffee table and fall sweater in! Shoot, bring stuff with you for them to sell if you have a Goodwill-bound stack in your closet! If you can't make it but you want me to look for something for you, I'll be your personal shopper (here's your chance to feel rich and powerful!)

Again, here's their blog, and here's a map of their address. And here's a way you can buy customized, handmade baby gifts if you're not into the garage sale thing. Ok and here's a dang cute picture of them:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Creation and Evolution?

One of the great things about still being in school (I never thought I'd say that!) is that every week my world gets rocked- in a good way- by the things I'm learning. If I could blog after every lecture, I would. Here's one thing that recently blew me up.

Christians believe God created the world, right? Well I grew up in a certain climate where "God created" meant "God spoke everything into existence in six 24 hour days." It was sort of presented as your only option if you wanted to be considered a "Bible believing Christian." Then going to college in a certain different
(very different!) climate, "God created" meant "well, maybe...but of course we know that evolution has been proven true by science. So 6 day creation is out of the question." It was sort of presented as your only option if you wanted to be considered a respectable, intelligent person.

So I, and many of my Christian friends, were led to believe in some sense that Christians must choose between the Bible and science- if they're so obviously in contradiction to each other, then it must be one or the other! For a number of years I resigned to saying, "I believe God created the world, and He could have done it however He wanted to." For the record, that's still my view- but a few different classes have helped shed light on both of these ultimatums in a way that makes them much more compatible with each other than I thought possible.

I'll start with science, and I'll start by saying I'm not a scientist. (Phew, glad I cleared that up for everyone!) So I don't know all the arguments for evolution, but I do know that some forms of it are basically uncontested among scientists at this point. And lately I've been reading a lot about the fall- the effects of sin on our whole world and how it literally made everything broken- and honestly, evolution makes sense in light of that. One example: reading Genesis, it seems that humans and animals were all vegetarians before the fall. (Yes, I'm saying even lions craved carrots and hummus before things went bad because of sin!) The point though, is that there was no death and no shedding of blood before sin marred the way we relate. But now, it's very clear to see that certain animals (including humans, some would argue!) need meat to survive. Their bodies are made for it. Interesting. Another gruesome example (I'll spare the details- but yes, I really did read about this in seminary) is how praying mantises literally eat their mates after That's just sick. What kind of world is a world where women eat their baby's daddies? The answer is a broken world. So...could all of these changes happened slowly over time after the fall? Yes. Could scientists rightly be observing evolutionary activity in creation? Yes. Does that necessarily negate that there is a Creator? No!

Secondly (and this is the more exciting point, in my opinion)- there is a whole lot more meaning in "and God said let there be light" than I thought at first. I'll explain. Genesis 1 and 2 are written as poetic narrative, not as scientific expostulation. That means Moses is telling the story of creation basically in the form of a poem. How many science books describe the innards of a frog in poetry form? Not many. Now that doesn't mean we read it and say "ok, it's an untrue fairy tale." But it does mean that the words chosen could have more meaning (not less!) than we might first think. (If you've ever taken a poetry class, you know what I'm talking about.) So what's the poem pointing to?

What Genesis 1 says about creation: "God said, 'let there be light.'"

What John 1 says about Jesus: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

What Colossians 1 says about Jesus: "By Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth...all things were created through Him and for Him."

What does that mean? It means that "God said, 'let there be..." is not primarily scientific, but theological. It means that the main thing that should make us marvel about creation is not the how, but the Who. And it means that even from the opening chapter the Bible, Jesus is holding all things together. He is the One through whom all things are made, and His name is being whispered even at the beginning of time.