Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Growing Up at the 'Dewdrop Inn"

Growing up, my dad often jokingly referred to our home as the 'dewdrop inn' because of the never ending stream of people who would come by to stay an hour, a day, a week or a month or more.  It wasn't unusual on any given holiday for us each to invite a friend or two and not mention it, never realizing that our siblings had all done the same!  We didn't have a lot of money, but mom had amazing ways to make something out of almost nothing, or expand what she'd fixed to accommodate the extras that inevitably showed up at mealtimes.  Kind of like the story of the  'loaves and fishes; not only was there always enough to go around, but leftovers seemed to abound as well.

My reading in Matthew took me to that story again this morning, and as many times as I've read and studied it, the Lord spoke afresh to me as only He can.  It begins with Jesus telling the disciples that because He feels compassion for the crowds, He doesn't want to send them away hungry.  The men are perplexed, to say the least, immediately throwing out the impossibility of the situation :  Where would we get so many loaves  in a desert place to satisfy such a great multitude?

The simplicity of Jesus' response is what struck me.  He didn't preach a sermon on faith, or prod the disciples to trust Him  for great things.  He didn't remind them of all they had in Him, but instead, asked the question: How many loaves do you have?

Today I'm attending orientation for my PhD program at the University of San Diego, and it goes without saying that I am more than a little anxious.  The past couple of weeks as I walked the halls among the masses of teenagers and twenty-somethings to get mystudent ID card, as I've taken tutorials online to understand the library system (which has changed vastly in 30 years), as I've skimmed the Pocket Guide to APA Style and as I've read a series of articles required for my first class next week, my sense of inadequacy has only grown.  While I am excited about all I will learn and how I will grow, it is no false humility to say that this is going to stretch me like I've never been stretched before. God has led with each step of this journey, and I know without a doubt that He is fully sufficient, still, the question:  Am I up to the enormity of this? nags at me in my most quiet moments.

But this morning I think I heard the Lord asking me: How many loaves do you have? And I answered; Not many Lord.  But He asked again, and I felt as if He were telling me to lay it all out before Him -- not in spiritual platitudes or even blessed truths about His Spirit in me or my having His mind, but by looking honestly at my loaves -- those things that I have to bring to the table, so to speak, for this particular endeavor.  Well, Lord, I think I have a bit above average brain, but dont' share the brilliance I've seen in some folks in the program.  I have a hard work ethic that I've honed through the years of being a pastor's wife and a self-employed author.   I've developed some helpful skills and am comfortable with the writing process, and I love to do research and learn about all kinds of topics.  That's my loaves, as far as I can see.

Something happened though, as I went through the process of articulating these things before the Lord -- faith began to flood my soul until I almost laughed out loud.  Though the point from this story has surely been made ad infinitum, I knew in a deeper and more profound way that I serve a God who takes what I have -- whatever small part I can offer -- and multiplies it until there is more than enough to go around.  This is what I can count on in the days and years to come as I pursue this new venture.

When I was a young bride I asked my mom how she did it -- how she managed to take care of so many people, to feed all those unexpected mouths year after year.  She answered something about always having onion soup mix and spagetti noodles on hand, which didn't help me alot at the time, but I realized she'd had secrets and ways of working behind the scenes, that we were all unaware of as we happily filled our tummies and brought friends along to do the same through the years.  This morning as I sat before the Lord, I pondered the reality that He too has mysterious methods and unseen resources and it's going to be really fun to see how He will use them with what I've got to get the job done.  Now, instead of facing this day with low-grade dread, I'm feeling a growing sense of joyful anticipation.

Now if I can just figure out where the bookstore is...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Best Defense

In two weeks I will be embarking on an adventure that both thrills and terrifies me.  After being away from the academic arena for 30 years, I am returning to school to pursue my PhD.  While I am absolutely confident that God has led me each step of the way, I have been trying to come to terms with how very different that environment will be from the ministry I have thoroughly loved for three plus decades. The question I've pondered is, how will I radiate the heart of Christ and stand unapologetically for the truths of my faith, in a culture that at the very least, looks askance at people like me. 

This morning I read something intriguing about the early church that greatly encouraged me.  In his book, All the Saints Adore Thee, Professor Bruce Shelley notes that when believers were ignored, hated, persecuted and maligned in the first three centuries, they had only one defense -- the way they lived their daily lives.  Simply put, when others judged and condemned them for the absurdity of their faith, they held up the purity, simplicity and beauty of their own lives as evidence that the charges were ill-founded.  Shelly says that this was the most effective defense, because the pagan population simply could not deny it.

As I thought about this, I realized that growing up in a country that guarantees me the right to practice my religion has not offered much opportunity for this kind of defense.  Instead of having only my own life to testify of the validity of my faith, I and multitudes of other Christ-followers have held up our inalienable rights as citizens of a free country, asking only that we be given the fundamental respect our constitution demands.  The problem though, is that while this may work as a legal defense, it does nothing to impact the hearts of those who watch us from afar.  It may, in fact, drive the wedge of disdain even deeper.

For this reason I am excited about my new venture, albeit with a bit of fear and trepidation.  I realize that within the hallowed realms of academia, that the most effective defense of my faith, indeed, the most powerful promotion of my beloved Redeemer, will be how I live out my life in front of the very people who may reject me for it.

This reality brings me a great deal of peace.  In truth, though all the circumstances of my life are about to undergo a drastic revolution, I need only cling to the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ, as I have sought to do for decades now.  And by His grace, this will be not only my best defense, but the means by which I can display the beauty of His being and perhaps draw others to Him.

The following quote from a letter written by an anonymous believer in the early second century deeply moved me along these lines, and perhaps will encourage and challenge you as well:
They love all men, and by all men are persecuted.  They are unknown, and still they are condemned; they are put to death, and yet they are brought to life.  They are poor, and yet they make many rich; they are completely destitute, and yet they enjoy complete abundance.  They are dishonored, and in their dishonor, are glorified; they are defamed, and they are vindicated.  They are reviled, and yet they bless; when they are affronted, they still pay due respect.  When they do good, they are punished as evil doers; underoing punishment, they rejoice because thy are brought to life.  They are treated by the jews as foreigners and enmies, and are hunted down by the Greeks and all the time those who hate them find it impossible to justify their enmity. (The Letter to Diognetus, as quoted in Early Christian Fathers).
If indeed I do face enmity in this new venture, may those who reject me find it impossible to justify their enmity in light of the life I live.  This is the desire of my heart and will be my prayer with each new day.