Thursday, July 24, 2008

Walking in Truth

My Bible study group is working on Matthew at the moment. We are studying chapters 21 and 22 which is just after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem when things are heating up between Jesus and those who held the keys of power in God’s city. Jesus had just stirred the pot by causing a ruckus with the whole donkey ride incident and now he stirs the pot even further by cleaning up the temple. He looked right at the priests and accused “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’” Them’s fightin’ words.

Those who were in power, the chief priests, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the elders, the teachers of the law and even the Herodians, were done being insulted, they were finished with worrying about this upstart from the boonies. These were the people who controlled the temple, the scriptures, the money and the people. Who was this Jesus to come and insult them? Each group had its turn to try and trick Jesus. It was a game of wills. It was a game of wits. However, Jesus was the only one who came armed.

Round one brought the chief priests and the elders. They wanted to know “by what authority are you doing these things?” They thought they were so clever in their trap to expose the charlatan in front of His fans. Jesus retorted with a question they could not safely answer. Was John the Baptist a prophet or a phony? His response to their shoulder shrug: was no answer at all. Because, if they were too afraid to believe in John the Baptist, then they sure couldn’t handle Jesus. These men of fear and lack of action were the sons Jesus spoke of in the next parable, who told their father they would go to work in the field, but didn’t.

Round two was conducted by the Pharisees who hedged their bet by bringing along the Herodians. They thought they had the perfect question. One answer and the Zealots would brand Jesus as a traitor, the other answer would force the Herodians to get Him arrested: “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar?” The Pharisees were so close to victory they thought they could taste it. A few words from Jesus and their problems would be solved. The world would return to the equilibrium they longed for. Jesus countered with the truth: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” In one sentence He not only answered their question but He also established separation of state and church. Scripture says the tricksters were amazed. I am thinking chins-scraping-on –dirt-stunned.

Round three was led by the Sadducees. A group of rich, influential men who believed life ended in death, period. They denied the oral tradition of the prophets and held only to the five books of the law. They were full of themselves and probably disgusted that the Pharisees had failed. The swaggered up to Jesus with the “mother-of-all” trap questions. If a woman followed the law and married brother after brother who died, whose wife would she be after the resurrection? You can almost hear them snicker. Jesus looked them right in the eye and gave them the news about their error. Not only did He declare there was a resurrection, but, the afterlife was going to be something different, something their brains could not wrap around. We are told they were silenced. I bet that didn’t happen to the Sadducees very often.

Round four reveals the Pharisees were not sufficiently embarrassed by their last attempt and have come back for more. Now they were running on pure adrenaline. If they could trap Jesus they would win over the so-called prophet and shame the arrogant Sadducees. They found their best lawyer and posed the question they knew would stop this Jesus in His tracks: “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” After all, who could answer that? Apparently their memories are short; this is only 21 years after Jesus stayed in the temple for three days amazing the teachers of the law with His knowledge and understanding of scripture as a 12 year old. Jesus answered them immediately by summing all of the law into two commandments: 1. love God, 2. love your neighbor. I have a feeling “love” was a totally new concept to the Pharisees.

Round five is Jesus’ turn to ask the question. He wants the Pharisees to explain how King David could call his son Lord? In all their hours of studying scripture and arguing over every jot and tittle, in all their attempts to use scripture to glorify themselves, take advantage of the weak and to put burdens on God’s people, these experts had missed a very significant prophesy. David’s son would be David’s Lord. Jesus is Lord. When the table was turned and the question posed to the deceivers, they had no answer. They could not say a word and from that day forward they no longer dared to ask Jesus any questions. Instead of plotting the perfect trap they moved on to plotting the perfect death. But, Jesus had the last word on that, too. He didn’t stay dead; He rose again in three days. He established the kingdom of God and it didn’t include those whose lust for power drove them to lead God’s children astray.

This sequence in Scripture makes me think of the current presidential election. I get frustrated when it seems to me that the main objective of each candidate and the media is to trap one of the candidates in the wrong answer to a question. I don’t want to have a president who is good at playing games I want a president who can lead. Jesus’ answers, to the questions posed to Him, show us how He would handle the media. The powerful of His time, threw every intellectual trick in the book at Him, but, he didn’t flinch. He just cut through the trap with the truth. Furthermore, His truth is so new, so real, so refreshing, that we could not even have imagined it. We can only believe it through the power of the Spirit.

Our family has some potential traps in our life right now. I can see in my father-in-law’s eyes that the nursing home is a lonely and confusing place for him. He may be safe, but he is lost. I grieve over the reality that medication may be all that brings him comfort. My mother-in-law is dealing with much change in her life, helping her to see what is safe for her is a challenging thing and I worry over what she may lose in the next year. Our finances have been turned upside down and I do not know what challenges await me in school. And through all this change, my husband and I still need to take time to tend to our marriage and our children. There are potential traps around every corner, but we walk with our hand in the hand of Jesus. He leads us with truth. The answer to the question “where are we going?” is a no-brainer: we are following Jesus.

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. 3 John 4

Friday, July 18, 2008


When I was packing away my teacher books I noticed one I have had since my college years: “100 Ways to Enhance Self-Concept in the Classroom” (Canfield and Wells, 1976). In fact, now that I look at it I am realizing I checked it out of my Dad’s library, probably when I was a student at Concordia.

Sorry about that, Dad, hope you are willing to waive the overdue fees.

Self-concept was a big topic when I was in school. It was still a big topic ten years later when I took my written and oral exams for my masters. Self-concept, as a teaching or parenting philosophy has received a bum rap over the years. The philosophy works under the adage that you can never love yourself too much. Our effort to improve self-concept in children has been blamed for creating self-centered, yet, insecure children who believe they can do no wrong. Activities, like the one on page 43 called “Bragging” in which children were encouraged to take five minutes, each, to list their stellar qualities, do not do much to give us confidence that these methods result in healthy happy children.

Let’s just say that if “self-concept” was a child he/she would need a little affirmation right now.

I have been reading an Ed/Psych text book to bring myself up to date on current issues and interestingly enough; the experts are still talking about the importance of self-concept. Now a child’s self perception is recognized as including three different things:

1. self-concept (Who am I?)

2. self- esteem (How good am I?) and

3. self-worth (How effective am I?)

While it may be more carefully defined, the basic idea has not improved in 30 years. If we base our self-concept on what the world understands about humans, we are setting up ourselves, or our children, for failure. No matter how you define it, study it, measure it, or teach it, we are sinners in a sinful world and we have no SELF worth. We have only GOD worth.

Let’s redefine self-worth through the eyes of faith:

Self- concept: Who am I?

We do not need to spend our lives searching for our true selves. Am I a wife? Teacher? Writer? Sales clerk? If one of these facts is altered does that change who I am? No, I am simply a child of God the Father. He made me and He loves me, no matter what. Who I am does not depend on what I do; it depends on who God is and the relationships He creates with me.

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine. Isaiah 43:1

Self- esteem: How good am I?

Psychology books urge us to help children find what they are good at and to arrive at a sense that they are basically a good person. Society tells us as adults the same; if you have good intentions, that alone is enough. The Bible turns this upside down. I am not good. Even my good deeds are like dirty rags before the Lord. (Isaiah 64:6) I can never be good enough, or smart enough or fast enough or righteous enough. But, I don’t need to be. I am forgiven through the work of Jesus. My “goodness” is found in the redemptive act of Jesus.

But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5: 8

Self-worth: How effective am I?

I need not agonize over whether or not I make a difference in the world. Will I leave my mark? Will people remember me? Will history remember me? My truth is I cannot be effective on my own merits. Without God I am useless. My freedom is that this does not matter because I am powered by the Holy Spirit. I am effective as God’s tool, doing His work, for the benefit of His kingdom.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22

When I take that test in my first Psychology class and the professor asks me about the role of a child’s self-perception in learning I guess I will have to make up something that sounds good. For myself, I am eternally grateful that my self-perception, self-concept, self-esteem and self-worth are not dependent on me but on the power and love of God.

I am His precious child and that is enough.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Preparing a room

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:2-3

Our daughter Anne has an interesting job this summer. Her inability to find the perfect job proved to be God’s plan for her to work for her grandparents. Her grandfather has had Alzheimer's for 15 years and her grandmother a heart condition. Anne has been doing a little bit of everything from killing weed trees to cleaning a chicken bone collection out of the shed to painting the nether regions of the outside of the house. God has blessed the time she has spent there; she came home one day with the insight that maybe she was there as much to do the work that Granny could no longer do as she was to be conversation for this creative intelligent woman who bears a burden we cannot understand as she watches the light in her artist husband’s eyes grow dimmer every day.

This week Anne has a new task. She is preparing a room for Grandpa. Granny has been caring for her husband since the day of the diagnosis. She has worked hard to create a safe and interesting environment for him. She counts on the familiarity of a small town to help keep him safe as he walks the neighborhood. She has set up a system of notes that keep him aware of where she is and who he is. She has relentlessly questioned him to keep his brain working as long as possible. She has gently orchestrated his day to assure he has food and sleep and everything else he needs. She has done this well, but the time has come for Grandpa to receive his care from others. He is moving into an Alzheimer section of the local home where a crew of people will provide what Granny has done, alone, for these many years. The time is right; we are sad none-the-less and now Anne prepares the room.

Anne has been waiting for this section of the home to be remodeled. In this time she has visited the room many times, taken measurements, talked with Granny, made plans with Granny’s friend and neighbor about what furniture to help the space feel familiar, what papers from his office that will give him something to remind him of who he is, what art work should adorn the walls to keep the creative side of his brain alive a little bit longer. When she was little, Anne loved to spend time with her grandparents. Every visit resulted in a new piece of “Anne and Grandpa art” for our walls. She even worked with him on his last commission: a sculpture for the children’s museum. Grandpa lovingly prepared experiences for Anne and now Anne prepares his room.

It is hard to know what feelings Anne is experiencing in this task. Anne has very strong leadership skills and she has approached this task as she always does, with much energy, organization and common sense. We do know that she does this out of a deep love for her grandparents. We suspect she endures grief and we know she understands that this is God’s ministry plan for her. Her father and I are proud and grateful.

The scripture verse from John reminds us that Anne is not the only one to be preparing a room. Even as we rise each day to complete the work that God sets before us, a room is being prepared for us. Because of the love of our Heavenly Father, the redemptive act of His Son and the faith work of the Spirit we will live with God in heaven forever. Our room will have what we need, will feel familiar, and will inspire us to constantly praise our creator and protector. While Anne prepares a room for Grandpa, God prepares one for him, also. Just as he is moving into this earthly room, he will one day move into his heavenly room.

God’s love for us is such that His preparations for us are complete. He prepares for our eternal glory, and He prepared His Son to make that glory possible. And while we wait for our room He prepares a life of love and service for us. The scripture verse begins with the assurance that our hearts need not be troubled. In the context of the verse, the disciples had just heard the troubling news that Jesus would be leaving. Jesus was preparing them for their work, too. This same promise is for us. Our hearts need not be troubled as changes bring us stress and grief. God is our Preparer.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Humbled by Grace and Gratitude

I have felt the love of God through the actions of my congregation. This past Sunday they said a “good-bye” to my teaching and gave a blessing for my work in graduate school. I am humbled by their love and by the grace of our God.

It was 24 years ago, on my birthday, that my husband and I received the call from this congregation for me to come and teach in their new school. We prayed over it and I signed it and sent it off. We both felt confident that this was God’s will for us and that He would care for us as he had while we were in our previous congregation. We, of course, had no idea what God had in store.

I remember feeling overwhelmed when I first began the year. The school was new and no curriculum had been ordered. I prayed and made quick decisions that future staff members had to live with for several years. Then I taught for 6-8 weeks without any curriculum while waiting for the teacher and student books to arrive. I had gone from teaching four grades in one room with too many textbooks to even take them home to teaching one grade with no books. I felt God at my elbow all the way.

Over the years the congregation has learned to support and love this ministry. God has greatly blessed our efforts and His work flourishes in the school and child development center. I cannot count the number of children and families that have been brought to the love of God through the work of the wonderful people on our staff. This church is blessed and I have been blessed to have been a part of this ministry.

Once again, I find myself overwhelmed. Instead of choosing a curriculum I am choosing classes that will prepare me for God’s next adventure. I am tempted to close my eyes and choose the ones on which my pen lands. Just as I didn’t know if I could handle the responsibility of starting a new first grade and directing the Sunday School program those many years ago, now I wonder if I am up to this task.

The answer is “no.” I am not up to this task anymore than I was equipped for the work of the beginning of the school. God does not call the equipped; He equips the called. I cannot do this, but God can. In this, is my hope; in this, is my assurance.

I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to the congregation for honoring me this past Sunday. thank you for following God's urging to begin a school and center. Thank you for your love and support these many years. and thank you for your generous gifts that will keep my family in groceries for several months as God reorganizes our finances. Please keep me in your prayers even as I pray for you.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Here We Go

My daughter and son came home yesterday from helping their Grandparents in a nearby town. My 21 year old daughter announced that she and her 15 year old brother had stopped by the DMV and acquired a Learner’s Permit. Then Anne said something that made me weak in the knees and a bit lightheaded:

“Joel wanted to drive as soon as he got his permit so I let him drive home.”

Without any previous experience behind the wheel, or behind the break pedal, he drove across town during rush hour traffic.

Excuse me, while I find a paper bag, I am hyperventilating just thinking about it.

This is not merely anxiety, this is not fear, no, this is sheer terror. I could only think in fragments: “no experience . . . both children in the car . . . gone in a flash . . . what were they thinking?”

After I checked them over for deployed airbag fragments, I sat down and started to breathe again. God is good. God is good all the time. They are safe.

Once again, I could breathe. Once again, I could think. Once again, I could hear my son talking: “Hey. Mom, what’s for supper?”

This is the best way to experience sheer terror. This is terror after the fact. There was no longer need for terror or worry because even before I could protest, God had sent angels of protection to follow them. The terror hit hard, but moved on when I could see that my children were safe. However, bits of it came back, later, when my son backed into the neighbor’s mailbox and then took both hands off the wheel while trying to decide which was left and which was right.

I know a little bit about terror. Because of God’s urging, and my decision, my family is embarking on a huge adventure. Besides teaching Joel how to drive, I have begun a doctoral program at the University. In order to do this, and finish before I retire, I have asked for a peaceful release from my call as a teacher at Faith Lutheran School in order to go to graduate school full time.

This is sheer terror. It comes over me in waves. It turns in my stomach and eases out of my body in heavy sighs. What have I done? I left a job I loved, working with a great staff each of whom is a dear friend. I left a comfortable place with a vital ministry. I left in order to torture myself and ruin the family budget doing something I am not sure I can handle which may not ever result in a related job.

My prayer is borrowed from a New Testament father: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:14-25)

This father understood the feeling of terror. His son was possessed by a demon spirit and suffered from seizures. He went to the disciples who, fresh from the experience of the transfiguration, tried to exorcise the spirit themselves. Terror struck again as the resulting seizure proved their efforts to be useless. In come the teachers of the law, arguing, and as always, looking for a way to trap Jesus.

The father plead his case before Jesus begging: “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

IF? Does he know who he is talking to here? This is the Son of God who feeds five thousand people with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. This is Jesus who heals the blind, deaf and lame. This is the long promised Messiah. IF?

But, wait a minute, is my faith any stronger? I stumble in terror when my children return home safe; sort of a retroactive lack of faith. I worry that God will abandon me because I am moving to a different school. My faith isn’t any stronger when I don’t know the end of the story.

Of course the healing of this child was not the end of the story; just as Jesus' death was not the end of the story. His resurrection was the end of my guilt and shame. The beginning of my faith continues through my baptism and sanctification. There is no room for terror.

I pray this father’s prayer because, by the power of the Spirit, I do believe. I pray this father’s prayer because due to the weakness of my faith I struggle with unbelief.

God is good. God is good, all the time.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24