November 19, 2011

Is God Good? Is God Angry? part 1

Posted in Reading List, Spiritual Life tagged , , , at 10:58 am by Mo Dardinger

When someone who claims to know God well misrepresents Him, it’s annoying. Just as if he were misrepresenting your best friend or your beloved husband. It makes you want to chuck his book out the window rather than read on.

At my small group, we are now studying The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith, ©2009. This week we’re reading Chapter 2, “God Is Good.” If we hadn’t studied it before, I would at this point think the author had some serious problems with understanding both God and the Bible. And I’d likely quit reading it and turn to reading a different, more profitable book.

Since I’m still a bit under the weather, I’m going to just do the easy thing here and go through the chapter in the order it was written to discuss the difficulties that I find in it. If this gets to be too long, then it will become a series of posts rather than one humongous blogpost.

The author and his wife experienced great sadness when they learned that their second child, a girl, would probably die at birth. He says, “During that time both my wife and I felt as if we had been kicked in the stomach — repeatedly.” A perfectly understandable reaction to a situation that no one would have wished on them.

Then along comes this fellow — a pastor, the author claims, though this is scarcely believable — who takes him out to lunch. He makes a truly vile, thoroughly unchristian assertion: either Jim or his wife must have sinned or their daughter would not have a chromosomal disorder. And the author entertained this thought! For a while, James Bryan Smith actually listened to this “pastor.” Scripture does not back up this claim. Science does not back up this claim. It is made of whole cloth.

The little girl lived for two years. There were other believers who said odd things, too, during that time and after her death. I suspect that we all can relate to how hard it is to find something positive or uplifting to say to grieving parents. Sometimes it’s best to say nothing at all.

The statements that wounded Jim and his wife were these:

  • It’s okay, honey, you can have another child.
  • Sometimes children are too beautiful for this earth.
  • I guess God just wanted her in heaven more than he wanted her here.
  • Well, I am sure the Lord had a reason for this.

The reasons that the first statement could be wounding or offensive seem obvious. The second and third are marginal. But the reason anyone would take offense at the fourth statement is obscure. In fact, later on in the chapter, the author himself makes the fourth claim (just as an expanded version of the thought).

Is this not the very same thing? James Bryan Smith imagines an ideal pastor saying to him, “One day you will fully understand why God allowed your daughter to be born with a birth defect and why she died young, and I believe that when you understand why, you will see that God was not only just, but good.” In other words, “Well, I am sure the Lord had a reason for this.” He is in charge, He is good, and He knows exactly what He’s doing. Exactly, down to the last detail.

The rest of Chapter 2, which largely discusses whether God is angry, will wait for a later post. This is enough to cover for now. God is, indeed, good, though His goodness and His overall purpose for what He allows or causes is often veiled.

September 30, 2010

Enjoy Fine Food!

Posted in Spiritual Life tagged at 9:14 pm by Mo Dardinger

Why pay money for something that will not nourish you?
Why spend your hard-earned money on something that will not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me and eat what is nourishing!
Enjoy fine food!
(Is. 55:2, NET Bible)

My father would have agreed with the first line of this verse. He often said of some purchase my mother or I made, “You can’t eat it.” He valued what could be eaten, as it was necessary for life. Wasteful, excessive, pointless spending was rejected by him. He didn’t have many needs or wants.

What is money for? To pay for our own needs and the needs of those for whom we are responsible, such as our young children or elderly parents.

Should we ever use money for something that we merely want, beyond basic survival? Such as for hosting a party when your daughter gets married or your son earns his doctorate? And for other wants, not just needs? This seems to me to be quite acceptable as well.

The limits on it may be a great deal more strict than we’re used to thinking, but spending on some wants and comforts seems permissible from the evidence we have in Scripture. Let’s enjoy our fine food and the other nourishment that the Lord provides.

August 15, 2010

What I Learned by Cheating

Posted in Fantasy and Science Fiction, Spiritual Life tagged , , , at 3:32 pm by Mo Dardinger

This week I cheated on a commitment that I’d made. Not intentionally, but on accident. Here’s what I learned while cheating:

  • it’s okay to take care of yourself and put your own healing first
  • it’s not okay to live in clutter
  • beauty and organization are high values, ingrained in most of us
  • we can de-clutter and re-organize
  • some folks are much more loused up than the honey-lamb and I are — but without knowing God, would we be there???
  • sometimes ya gotta break the rules
  • it can be okay to distract yourself from pain for a while
  • when you go on a quest for someone, you’re expected to return and report to that someone
  • when you serve well, you are praised and rewarded
  • God still wants me to go on quests for Him, and these will be the best, most important quests

I was alone at home on Thursday evening — bored, lonely, discouraged, looking for some fun. So I flipped on the TV.

Dr. Phil was on with a messed-up woman whose craving for positive attention from men had led her into one adulterous affair after another. She’d had some bad experiences growing up, and a lack of a father in the home. (Which is roughly equivalent to what I experienced — having a father present but “not there.” A lot of us have that problem, and most of us don’t resort to affairs. That attempted solution seems understandable on one level and yet totally unthinkable on another.) At the end, Phil offered to pay for counselling for her to get the psychiatric help it was clear she needed. Her emotional healing needed to happen first. Later, she, her husband, and her latest shack-up honey could decide what was the best way forward for each of them and all of them.

From this I learned it’s okay to take care of yourself and put your own (emotional or physical) healing first. You don’t have to always put the job first, or the friends first. You can be first.

After Phil ended and before my husband arrived home, Dr. Oz started in. He was dealing with a woman who was burying her own home in clutter. It was really sad to see. Dave and I had a clutter problem a few years ago, before his brother Bob and our sister-in-law Dianna came along to get us de-cluttered. Then, when Bob brought out most of Dave’s stamp collection and when we closed down our mini-storage unit, we ended up with clutter in our lovely townhouse again. We need to re-de-clutter. Because, as I learned from watching Oz, it’s not okay to live in clutter. We aren’t doing as poorly with our things as the gal on the TV show was, but we’re beyond my “comfort level” for clutter.

As I reflect on this, I’ve realized that beauty and organization are high values, ingrained in most of us. We need to expend time and energy to press order into our homes and work spaces. We need to invest in beauty and cleanliness. It matters.

I also realized that we can de-clutter and re-organize. I was unable to help out much while I nursed my knees back to health for a month. But now that I’m over that and over my ear infection and cold, I can jump in. (The honey-lamb has been preparing boxes and stacks of clothes for me to sort through. We’re half-way organized already.)

It was entertaining, thought-provoking, and even a bit of a relief to watch the loused-up lives of the adulteress and the hoarder exposed for all to see. One assumes that they were compensated for their appearances, and that they are glad they endured the ordeal both for the money and for the better lives that will follow these appearances. The “relief” part comes from realizing that I’m not doing so badly after all. My loneliness, lack of parenting, and craving for approval hasn’t driven me to adultery. My acquisitiveness, while bad by some standards, hasn’t totally buried our couches in useless junk.

So I learned that some folks are much more loused up than the honey-lamb and I are. Upon reflection, though, we both have had abundant blessings and great opportunities lavished on us. The primary blessing is knowing the Lord God, maker of heaven and earth. We grew up exposed to the Bible, and we are surrounded by genuine Christians. Without knowing God, would we be where these sadly lacking women on TV were?

Friday, the friends I met for lunch discussed a massively multiplayer game that they enjoy playing online, World of Warcraft (WoW). I’d never tried it. But when I was feeling blue that evening, I decided to give it a whirl. There’s a 10-day free trial, and that will encompass two weekends. So I downloaded it, read a little on the basics, and got underway. I invited my husband to join me. That’s when he reminded me of the “ban” on watching TV and playing Internet games. Our community life pastor had preached the previous Sunday, and he’d asked us all to back away from these and other distractions for a month. So that we can spend the time on our relationship with God and on building relationships with our family and our neighbors. I’d totally forgotten. I was cheating! On Sunday morning, I’d thought, “No problem. We already don’t watch TV or play games online.” The honey-lamb really got into the spirit of the thing. He gave up playing FreeCell on his computer and also stopped working cross sums puzzles, which he loves.

Now, I’m generally in favor of obeying any rule around. The Lord indicates that the authorities in our lives deserve our attention and obedience. This time I ignored the rule. Since it’s okay to take care of yourself and put your own healing first, that’s what I did. I figured the distraction of learning this new game (and the consequent lift to my spirits) made it okay to ignored Pastor Mark’s request. Sometimes ya gotta break the rules.

As a long-term solution, I wouldn’t recommend playing a game by yourself rather than interacting with others. But as a one-shot temporary measure it was okay. I learned that it can be okay to distract yourself from pain for a while.

World of Warcraft is a fantasy role-playing game. You set up a character, then take him or her through quests to gain experience. You acquire more armor and weapons. You learn new skills or “skill up.” When you have enough skills and experience, you rise to a higher level or “level up.” The challenges get tougher and the rewards get larger at each level. You have to make sure you’re ready for combat before you Engage! At the end of a successful quest, you and your comrades return to the one who sent you out. He receives what you have collected for him, or the report that you have vanquished his enemies. Then he rewards you.

One thing I learned while playing is that it would take a lot of time to learn to play well. Another is that it would be more fun to play it with your friends or family members, like the guys I had lunch with do. Whether I’ll play it again during the “ban” month is up in the air. Today I feel a lot less blue, and there are tons of real-life connections I need to make with friends, so it’s doubtful.

After completing the quest in WoW, I realized: when you go on a quest for someone, you’re expected to return and report to that someone. Then they evaluate your mission and give you what you deserve. When you serve well, you are praised and rewarded.

Later, something else became clear. I’ve been on several “quests” for my heavenly Father over the years. Such as writing my book, creating my Website, and teaching two classes on the End Times with my dear honey-lamb. I’m called to study the biblical prophecies and share what I learn with others. That “calling” still applies. God still wants me to go on quests for Him, and these will be the best, most important quests — not the quests that other people send me on. I have every confidence that He will thoroughly de-brief me. If I overcome, if my quest is successful, then He will reward me handsomely.

So it is for the honey-lamb, too, and for any other boon companions who join in my “quests.” First, let’s trade some of this useless clutter for a prayer mat. Then let’s skill up, level up, and Engage!

August 7, 2010

Welcome Home

Posted in Community, Spiritual Life tagged , , , at 6:33 pm by Mo Dardinger

Eight days ago I arrived in Houston from Lima, Peru. I stood at the line in Customs and Immigration. When the customs officer was satisfied with my documents and my answers, he told me, “Welcome back.” I mumbled my thanks, then trotted off to collect my baggage. “Welcome back.” It’s a nice way to greet citizens and permanent residents of your country. I wasn’t quite ready to kiss the ground, but I had definitely been looking forward to returning to the US and to my husband and friends. And to the comforts of home — air conditioning in practically every residence, business, and automobile (because we live in the desert southwest); safe water from a tap, not just a bottle; vehicles I can drive, and traffic flow that makes sense; being able to converse with everyone I meet, because they all speak English; my heating pad.

My boss was wrong that the two-day extension for some site-seeing and shopping was a mistake, that I would be ready to come home after just the work portion of the trip. I would have missed out on a lot, on many of my favorite moments of the trip. I was glad to stay the extra days. Sorry that we didn’t get to do more site-seeing, sorry I hadn’t brought more cash and exchanged more dollars for soles.

Why was the official Customs greeting, “Welcome back,” I wondered? Why not “Welcome home”? Probably because a lot of people arriving back in the States will have left loved ones behind in Mexico or Peru or wherever. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, fiances, and fiancees. So a greeting of “Welcome home” might sound discordant, might bring up memories of those left behind. Home, after all, is where the heart is.

I have a different home-coming to prepare for. It will be on a much grander scale than getting to tell a few stories at my small group or in Google Wave or over lunch. My true home awaits me. If I work hard, that is. If I stay true. If I don’t abandon my post under fire. If I remain committed to the Lord through the Great Tribulation or whatever else the enemy throws at me. A big IF. Especially given my history of failure to work hard and to stay joyful.

The home-coming ahead will make all the trials here worth facing. More than worth it. Much more than worth it.

While we were in Peru, we saw a part of the hillside community Nueva Jerusalen II. New Jerusalem with streets of dirt? Floors of bare cement? Tin roofs? That little community on the hill is making the best of what they have, using the materials at hand to build homes and community centers. But the real New Jerusalem will feature streets of pure gold, “like transparent glass.”

More importantly, the souls of those who live there will have been swept clean. No dust, no dirt, no filth of any kind will enter the City.

Our flesh that loves to sin will have been removed. Perfected bodies await us. This place of astounding beauty and exuberant joy will be reserved for the righteous, those made clean by the blood of the Lamb of God, those who do deeds in keeping with their status as saints. The offer is open to all, and some few will accept the offer and render obedience.

Someday — if I do my part while I still can — there will be an ear-splitting cry of, “WELCOME HOME” that reverberates throughout heaven. And it will be for me. For insignificant Mo, who can’t even find a lunch partner most days.

The grandest Being in the Universe is making ready already for my arrival. He will not forget me or fail to care about me. He loves me. He will include me in dances and parties, in feasting, in joyous occasions without number.

Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 10:31-33, ESV)

May the Day of Rejoicing hasten, and yet may I have plenty of time to earn the rewards of the heavenly realm, the rewards that will pay off forever. May I become thoroughly faithful. May I reach the “true home” that my heart so longs for.

July 3, 2010

Allegiances

Posted in Spiritual Life tagged , , , , at 6:08 pm by Mo Dardinger

It is harder to live the Christian life than we are living. We have cozied up to the world.

A few weeks ago, my pastor ended his message with this sobering thought.

What he meant is that too often we do not think things through. We let the culture around us dictate our beliefs and practices. It should be difficult to live for God, not easy. We should find ourselves fighting the current all the time, swimming upstream. Not that we would do this unaided. The help of the Spirit is promised to those who do God’s will. The Lord Yeshua Himself said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” But He never claimed that we could plow in one direction while He plows in another and receive this “easy yoke” benefit. There are two oxen in the one yoke. One is our Savior, and the other is me — or you. The two harnessed together in the yoke must pull together. They must set off in the same direction. The Lord Yeshua (Jesus) is already headed the right way — and unlikely to turn around at our whim!

What must change? Today, for me, I find this to repent of: that I value my own spiritual and emotional growth more than I value my brothers’ obedience to the Lord. I may say that I want good things for others, such as the never-ending rewards they will reap for following the clear guidance of Scripture. But when push comes to shove, I truly desire my own freedom and my own spiritual and emotional growth. Their growth and blessing is fine — up to the point where it interferes with my growth. I want to be selfish like the culture I grew up in tells me to be, like my flesh encourages me to be, like my mother taught me to be. I want to be free and happy more than I want my brothers to be holy.

My spiritual director recently pointed out what I didn’t see. There had been for some months a time each week that was special to me and to my friends. More special to me than to them, I’m sure. It was a delight to have a “space” each week where the real, undeveloped me could come out and play. Where I was welcome to be gregarious, boisterous, and loud — qualities that were not appreciated in my childhood home. Where I belonged, knew what to expect, and knew I was “family.”

But that space has gone away now. So soon after I saw how much it benefits me, it’s gone. Because of the obedience of others to the Lord — which obedience I should support, not oppose.

My Father will have to provide another way that I can be healed and can grow, if He desires this outcome. He must want wholeness for me, mustn’t He? I certainly want it for myself, and He is said to love us better even than we love ourselves.

There might be other priorities on His infinitely brilliant mind, though. And if there are, that needs to be okay with me. Not all healing will take place this year, or even on this old, corrupted Earth at all. Some of it will wait until we are freed from our bodies of sin and death — freed either by our own deaths or by the rapture of the Church. Some healing may even continue afterward, on the New Earth, the perfected Earth, where righteousness dwells. Who is to say we will not learn, grow, and expand our healthiness year by year and millennium by millennium?

The main point is that we will, if yielded to our generous and loving Father, be healed and whole eventually. And that’s a truly encouraging thought.

June 29, 2010

Heaven On Earth

Posted in Spiritual Life tagged , , , at 7:38 pm by Mo Dardinger

While we were flying away to Seattle for our vacation three weeks ago, I meditated on the Kingdom of Heaven:

The Kingdom of Heaven — it’s not just about the eternal and extreme rewards we will receive. It’s about experiencing joy now and about spreading that joy. By sharing our abundance with others. Whether that abundance is finances, a great sense of humor, passionate prayer, or a kind word.

June 26, 2010

This Foolish Tourist

Posted in Spiritual Life tagged , , , at 2:18 pm by Mo Dardinger

My parents used to watch the evening news on the CBS network. For a long time, Walter Cronkite was the newscaster. He signed off each evening with, “And that’s the way it is.” Until one night when he leaned too far back in his anchor chair, lost his balance, and almost fell backwards. That evening, he signed off with, “And that’s the way it could have been.” It’s one of those “could have been” moments in my life that forms the subject of this blogpost.

When my dear Dave and I signeddeer up for a cruise to Alaska — my second and his first — neither of us realized what a life-changing adventure it would be. We just tGreat Horned Owlhought we’d study some, since learning to use Logos 4 software was part and parcel of our particular cruise package. We thought we’d observe and photograph immense beauty. We thought we’d have good fellowship and good food. We thought we’d get close to some birds we don’t see where we live. We thought Dave would collect his last three states, would have visited all 50 states in his lifetime. All this we did, but so very much more we did — or maybe the right way to say it is that it was done to us!

Our cruise was 80% pleasurable, 10% boring, and 10% frightening and painful. We studied Logos all day Sunday and Monday until noon. Then we visited Juneau on Monday afternoon, Skagway on Tuesday, and Glacier Bay on Wednesday.

On Thursday, we visited Ketchikan. In Seattle, we’d seen deer up close and a great horned owl. We’d witnessed humpback whales engaged in “bubble net” group feeding outside of Juneau, which is a rare and exciting sight. We’d seen harbor seals and various gulls in Glacier Bay. Now we were hoping to see bald eagles up close and other birds and animals, perhaps even a bear.

Our first stop on the Ketchikan bus tour was uneventful. We saw a salmon ladder, though it wasn’t yet the time for salmon to be leaping upstream. I shot tons of photos, as always. (You’re more likely to get at least a few good ones if you shoot lots. And with digital photography, there’s practically no cost to shooting lots — unlike with the film cameras we grew up with.)

Then we arrived! There were both adult and juvenile bald eagles near enough to get some great pictures of them. Some even flew around in groups. (Do eagles flock?)Bald Eagle

On to our next stop. I snapped a few pictures. A couple of people from our tour were looking at something on the front left side of the parking area. So I wandered over to see what it was. Maybe another eagle, even closer? I never found out. For when I reached the spot, stepping onto the muddy ground for a closer look, my feet slipped out from under me.

I expected to plop on my backside, then get up. But to my surprise, I kept sliding. Next I expected that I would soon get hung up on a bush. But I kept sliding. It was a long slope. How would I stop sliding? What would await me at the bottom? Lots of pain, broken bones, maybe even death.

Realizing my danger at last, I began to roll over, arms facing the slope, to try to grab at bushes or trees. As I turned, I said out loud, “Lord, help me.” I am not a great saint, but the God of the Bible is a great God, full of mercy. He was certainly the only one who could help me at this point. All the folks on our tour were too far off to do me any good. A small plant appeared on my left, and I grabbed for it, but it slipped away.

area where this foolish tourist fell

area where this foolish tourist fell

Then, as I completed my desperate prayer and completed my turn, I saw a rope to my right. I grabbed it. It held. My fall was stopped. The Lord had heard and answered my prayer.

The rope was an inch or more thick and quite sturdy. The tree it was tied to had an 8-inch diameter. Strong enough to hold me as I got my feet under me and started climbing back up.

Someone called down from above to ask how I was. Though I was shaken and bruised, my arms and legs worked. And I was alive! So I called back that I was okay.

I climbed up using the rope and my legs. A strong young man reached down to help me. I asked him if he was secure, as I didn’t want to pull him down the muddy slope, too.

My legs could no longer find any purchase. Nor could my knees. The muddy ground just gave way beneath them. And I’d reached the top of the rope. Now it was up to the young man and his helpers to pull me up the rest of the way.

chief human rescuer

my chief human rescuer (in red t-shirt)

There were many involved in my rescue: Dave from my right, the young man and those holding him from straight ahead, and many angels from on high dispatched to care for this foolish tourist. Praise God for sending so many to help me. Where would I have been without them? Dead or severely injured.

We finished the tour without further excitement. Though why I can’t tell. I should have been, you would think, jumping up and down for joy, even with hurt knees. I should have collected the names and addresses of those who helped me. I should have told everyone how desperately I had prayed and how quickly God’s answer came. But I didn’t. Dave and I are passive, often too passive. And we process things slowly.

I could tell I’d have a great story to tell back home. And I knew my knees were hurt, so I should take it easy, get some prayer, and possibly seek medical attention.

My gratitude to God is real, though, just not expressed quickly or loudly. My gratitude includes the fact that the iPhone in my pocket didn’t slip out or get broken. The camera around my neck was still okay. The purse around my neck and shoulder stayed shut. My new passport in the purse was okay. I think I lost two tissues and a lipstick from my pockets — nothing huge, nothing hard to replace.

Muddy Mo

Muddy Mo at Saxman Totem Village

Back on our ship, we ate lunch and sent an email to three friends in our small group to get some prayer going. Then we had our stateroom steward bring some ice, and I rested my knees. Dave went off to do laundry while I re-watched “The Young Victoria,” a film about Queen Victoria’s youth and first year or two on the throne. My aches and pains became more evident as the afternoon wore on. It reached the point where I could no longer stand without lots on pain, particularly in my right knee. Dave had to help me hobble to the head in our stateroom. We paged our steward for a wheelchair, waited for the medical clinic to re-open, and paid them a visit.

Dave taking good care of Mo

Dave takes good care of Mo

It took a long time to get seen as there were a slew of crew members and other passengers also seeking attention. But we received excellent care from the doctor and nurses from South Africa. The x-rays showed no broken bones. They treated both knees with Deep Heat, gave me an injection for the pain and swelling, and supplied me with two kinds of pills. My left knee got a urethane brace, while my right knee was heavily bandaged. I was told to sleep with a pillow between my knees and to let Dave wheel me around as much as possible.

By evening the next day, I was greatly improved. I could walk on my own some, though with some pain. We kept using the wheelchair until we left the ship and at the airports on the way back.

Getting up from a sitting position is still more of a bother than it used to be. Soon I’ll see my primary care physician for her take on my injuries and what else may need to be done. Also soon, I hope and pray, I’ll come to a greater realization of just what “might have been” versus what “was and is” — and praise and thank the Lord more fervently for His protection of this foolish tourist.

May 20, 2010

On Elegant Sufficiency

Posted in Spiritual Life tagged , , , , at 7:08 pm by Mo Dardinger

Today at lunch, I quoted my father to my girlfriends. I don’t quote him often. He didn’t teach me much. I wasn’t open to instruction, and he wasn’t particularly communicative.

My father was, though, a good man in lots of ways. He recognized and opposed pride. He supported his wife and children, then later his second wife and me, his last child.

He had supported his mother and younger siblings, too, when his alcoholic father abandoned the family. He’d had to drop out of school in the fourth grade to earn a living for them. But he didn’t boast, and he didn’t complain.

He worked as a baker, eventually owning his own large bakery. Later he worked for others, mostly as a pastry chef.

For recreation, he went deer hunting with his buddies or gambled at the local dog track. He was a hard-working, responsible fellow. He drank, but not to excess.

Dad smoked, but he quit cold turkey one day and never looked back. I’ve always been proud of him for that.

My father made friends easily with those he worked with and for. He enjoyed a good laugh.

After a meal with friends, at their place or ours, he would often proclaim, “I have had an elegant sufficiency.” Isn’t that a choice phrase? “An elegant sufficiency.” It says, “I’m satisfied. I’ve eaten enough. I don’t need any more, thanks.”

More than that, it states that what is “sufficient” is all that is needful. One ought to be satisfied with “enough,” with that which is “sufficient.” That which is enough is elegant by virtue of being the proper amount, that which is fitting, that which is needful.

If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. ~ 1 Timothy 6:8 (NASB) ~

The apostle Paul promotes the correct attitude in this verse, doesn’t he? Who says we need to stuff ourselves until we can’t hold another morsel? Who says we in the developed world have a God-given right to feast every day while the rest of the world scratches for a living? God Himself would be the first to deny such a “right” exists and to call for a limit to our self-indulgence and greed.

Believe me, I have been living well, eating well, and not engaging in self-denial on behalf of the poor or anyone else. All this while working for a charity that serves the poor, while reading the Bible regularly, and while associating with others who love the Lord. Sometimes the blinders we wear are invisible to us, and sometimes we excuse our own behavior too readily. At least, I do. But I see the need to change, and today I took a baby step in a new direction.

For lunch out with my friends today, I ordered just a bowl of soup. It cost a bit less than the sandwiches or the salads. It came with bread and made for a delicious, satisfying, filling meal. Thus my quotation of my father to my friends: “As my father used to say, ‘I have had an elegant sufficiency.'”

May it become a common phrase on my lips, and may more of my father’s goodness and kindness influence my heart and mind in the months and years to come.

May 13, 2010

Those Were the Days, My Friend: Lingering in the Antechamber to Joy

Posted in Spiritual Life tagged , , at 8:56 pm by Mo Dardinger

One of the songs that I liked back when was a song about “the good old days.” I was too young at the time to have shared the experience elucidated in the verses, but I liked it all the same. It rang true. It told the tale of a group of friends who were sure, as young adults, that the good times they shared together would never end: “We’d sing and dance forever and a day.” They also experienced (and expected to go on experiencing) victory of some sort: “We’d fight and never lose,” the line went.

This song always drew for me a mental picture. Friends gathered in a wood-paneled restaurant or bar. They chatted, joked good-naturedly, lavished their free time on one another. I craved that depth of friendship and fellowship. But I always saw myself as on the outside of the good times, as someone on the other side of the window, out in the street, gazing in longingly.

Then one Sunday morning our worship leader (who was also our senior pastor) heard a word for someone in the congregation. A word from the Lord. (This happens a lot in charismatic congregations, but not so much in the more staid churches that I’ve belonged to since then.) It was something about a wagon wheel and being on the outside looking in. It reminded me of the song, but that’s all. It took my friend Karen to point out to me (after the service had ended) that this was an image I had of myself, and that I should go “claim” the word.

So we approached my pastor, and he and Karen prayed for me. As they prayed, an image came to me. This rare occurrence is what believers usually call “a vision,” as in “your old men will dream dreams, and your young men see visions” (Joel 2:28). The image was of being in the gathering place, enjoying the fellowship of friends. Then the curtain across the back doorway moved aside to reveal a gigantic meeting place, a large auditorium. It was brightly lit, especially in the center. Concentric circles of worshipers joyfully adored the Being in the center.

This was where I belonged. This was what I should have longed for, in addition to friendship. This was true friendship, true fellowship, with all eyes fixed upon the Most Lovely, the One who dwarfs all others, the One who loves incomparably better than the best of us.

“You and I were made to worship,” another song I like proclaims. That truth was brought home to me through this vision. I had been longing for mere earthly friendship. True joy was offered to me (and to all who will come and join in).

Our relationships with our husbands, wives, co-workers, friends — they’re great, sometimes. But they’re out of kilter if worship of the true and living God is not the center of our lives.

The happy gathering place with chattering buddies has its place in our lives. (Grieving with those have suffered loss has its place, too, certainly.) But we must remember that human fellowship is merely the anteroom to heaven, not the main event. The Lord’s love draws us in to a delight that surpasses our happy, youthful, zestful moments. The worshipers in the circle of light enjoy one another’s company, but they don’t make that particular enjoyment their chief aim. They delight in the Lord’s infinite goodness. Other joys are appreciated, received with gratitude from our heavenly suitor, but not sought as the purpose or goal.

Since the day of the vision, I have often lingering on the outside looking in. And I have sometimes participated in true friendship. But we are offered a much greater joy, and I plan to cling to this vision and pursue that joy. I have lingered too long in the antechamber to joy.

April 26, 2010

Why Joy?

Posted in Spiritual Life tagged , at 6:36 pm by Mo Dardinger

Joy is hard. Hard for me to get to. Hard for me to maintain.

Couldn’t the Almighty One require something simpler of us?

How about this for a commandment: chuckle a little every day. I could handle that. I’d just IM one of my fun friends or hunt for jokes online. Funny stuff comes in book form, too. And on DVD. It would be a simple commandment to obey. A cinch.

Or try this commandment on for size: Once a week, do something nice for someone you don’t like. I could do that, too. Maybe not without grumbling a little, but it’s in the realm of what I can handle.

Why did He have to pick joy??? And why does it have to be all the time, without any “time off”?

Always rejoice, constantly pray,  in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess. 5:16-18, NET).

Rejoice. Give thanks. Always, not just from time to time.

Joy is not easy. I can’t manufacture it. It’s an imported item, not something that my mind and heart naturally produce.

It’s mid-year-review time at my office, and that makes me keenly aware of my inadequacies (not that they are ever far from me). When I focus on my failures and needs, though, I’m not obeying the commandment to rejoice. This is a major clue, I think. The only way to consistently obey the Father’s command to rejoice is to get our eyes off ourselves.

If you’re proud and blind, like I’ve been most of my life, then you may be happy about where you are, pleased with whom you are. I was for years on end, silly Mo. But most of us who truly know the One who made the space-time continuum know that cannot rejoice in ourselves. To find joy, we must focus on Him, on the Giver. He gave us life. He gives us joy. When we come to Him for it. When we bend our wills to follow His will. When we give up our worries and trust Him.

That may be the key right there. When joy is required, the Giver of Joy is needed.

So if we are successfully rejoicing all the time, then we are going to have to be focused on God and His goodness all the time. There just isn’t any substitute. The Giver of Joy wants us thinking about positive, profitable things — which mostly means thinking about Him, about what He has done for us, and about what His great and good plans for His redeemed are.

Go forth, then, and rejoice!

 

Scripture and/or notes quoted by permission. Quotations designated (NET) are from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C.  All rights reserved.

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