Two-Part Invention

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April’s book is finished: CHECK!

I decided to read Madeleine L’Engle’s Two-Part Invention next, simply because it was small and short and not intimidating!

This was the first (yes, the first!) book by L’Engle I’ve ever read. It wasn’t my favorite, and I certainly won’t be handing it out to all my friends, but it was enjoyable. People are fascinating, their lives are interesting, and her candid telling of what it was like to walk through cancer with her husband of 4 decades was sensitive without being flowery.

The pace was fluid, never slow, and her writing style was transparent — you get the story without being hit over the head by overly-creative poetic prose. The best part was being inspired to take out my Two-Part Inventions and brush them off. They really are some of the most perfect compositions.

BONHOEFFER: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

We know not what to do; but our eyes are upon Thee.

My book-a-month pace was completely thrown off when I decided to pick up Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy as my read for the month of March. At 500+ pages, I anticipated it being an effort to get through in one month; what I didn’t factor in was the emotional toll it would often take, and how I would read a couple of pages only to put it down, too undone to continue.

It is a deeply human story of Germany in the the 30s and 40s: the agony, painful naiveté, perplexity, suffering. Reading of the unfolding of the Nazi reign of terror from the perspective of a proud, deeply German family was heart wrenching and enlightening.

And against that backdrop, the story of a young man’s faith, which was intellectual in nature, until the Holy Spirit began to beckon him into something deeper. What if we lived like this was true? As the world around him began to unravel, he began to learn what it meant to walk by the Spirit, and the simple decision to obey Christ at all costs set him on a course toward martyrdom, yes, but also deep Kingdom impact.

This is what struck me most: he was not spectacular. He never made a decision to do crazy things. His was not a philosophy of ends justifying means. Rather, he purposed each day to make sure the next step was consistent with the truth of Scripture, as revealed to him. Would I have reached all the same conclusions as he did? I’m not sure, and certainly not every believer around him chose the same path, but even in that, Bonhoeffer’s example of grace and care toward another brother’s conscience was incredible.

He dug deep into life, convinced that God meant to inhabit and redeem our human experience, not take us out of it. He was calm and courageous because he simply did the next thing. The supporting characters in the story mirror the deep conviction and courage that we see in his life. His deeply intellectual, thoughtful faith left me mulling over concepts of conscience, ethics, truth, and obedience.

When I read the last page, and closed the book, I wanted to weep: weep with sadness, weep with inspiration, weep with thankfulness. This gentle man gave his body to be burned, but left a legacy of one whose eyes were fixed on Jesus until the end.

Highly, highly recommended.

Such people [of private virtuousness] neither steal, nor murder, nor commit adultery, but do good according to their abilities.
But . . . they must close their eyes and ears to the injustice around them. Only at the cost of self-deception can they keep their private blamelessness clean from the stains of responsible action in the world. In all that they do, what they fail to do will not let them rest. They will either be destroyed by this unrest, or they will become the most hypocritical of all Pharisees.

The solution is to do the will of God, to do it radically and courageously and joyfully. To try to explain “right” and “wrong”—to talk about ethics—outside of God and obedience to His will is impossible.

Every Good Endeavor

This month I read Timothy Keller’s “Every Good Endeavor.” Hearing a few podcasts of his on the topic whetted my appetite and I was eager to read his deeper thoughts on the theology of work.

Because yes, God has much, much to say about the topic of work. In fact, as I read, I became more and more struck by how “work” is not a topic. It is an intrinsic part of our design. A correct theology of work is so important because it is actually a correct theology on who we are and how we are meant to relate to the world.

Keller is one of my favorite authors and speakers. I am blown away by the lucidity and clarity with which he can convey profound wisdom. I wasn’t disappointed by this book. True, at the end there were several pages that almost lost me, but every time I determined to just follow his train of thought, BOOM, he led me to an amazing idea.

The big ideas in this book are “God’s Plan for Work,” in other words, what Genesis and pre-Fall has to say about work and who we are; “Our Problems with Work,” enumerating the incredibly deep ways in which sin has broken our ability to work or even understand what work is; and “The Gospel and Work” — the amazing news that because sin has broken the world so deeply, a Christian can be a profound light by simply reclaiming the truths of God’s Plan. Not easily, but simply.

Having been taught a very solid theology of work from a young age, I’m not sure there was anything brand new in this book. However, over and over, it was a message that cut through to my heart and challenged me page after page. It’s far too easy, living on this side of the Fall, to grow weary or discouraged, to assume failure on my part rather than seeing that my best work will be plagued by the results of Adam’s choice. (There will be fruit and there will be thorns.) It’s also easy to not consider how holistically we can live for the Kingdom of God — we don’t begin to make a difference when we teach Sunday school, but rather, the minute we rise from sleep and begin to maintain, preserve, and create (wiping down the sink!)

There were too many “best parts” to pick just a few, but for someone who is prone to being a slave to the “work beneath the work” (trying to satisfy some need for production and success and self-worth), the very last segment left me almost in tears — you know, that feeling of your soul being liberated from weight it need not carry?

Remember, God was able to rest in Genesis 2, verses 1-3 only because his creative work was finished. And a Christian is able to rest only because God’s redemptive work is likewise finished in Christ. When the work under the work has been satisfied by the Son, all that’s left for us to do is to serve the work we’ve been given by the Father.

For a read on how all your life’s work can be connected to God’s work on the earth — both your production and your consumption — I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

boundaries

O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You maintain my lot.
The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Yes, I have a good inheritance. –Psalm 16

A page from “A Blossom in the Desert” once again arrested my attention and led me down a path of contemplation, this time as I pondered the concept of boundaries.

“…there is a world of difference between a pool and a river. A river is wide open to its source, and as wide open to the needs lower down. We need all barriers down — manward as well as Godward — to believe for the outflowing as definitely as the inflowing.”

I want to be that river, receiving an endless flow of the Holy Spirit’s life, and without measure pouring it out to others. But what about boundaries? That picture of “all barriers down” — what about knowing when to say no, learning our limitations? Aren’t we supposed to know our boundaries and learn to say No?

Where are the boundaries of a flowing, roaring, lively river? (Because that’s how much grace and mercy there is to receive and give.)

Even the mightiest of rivers has boundaries, but those are neither barriers “Godward or manward,” no barriers to the source nor to the needs lower down. The boundaries are on either side, in the river bed carved out for that flow of water.

And so I find that I need to spend less time studying “my” boundaries, and more time studying the ones He has drawn for me. With the first, it is far too easy to say No because it’s uncomfortable, inconvenient, or just plain old not fun for me. With the second, I find my “yes” and “no” is usually rather clear as I determine to stay within the bounds of His calling for me.

I say YES to honoring Him as Lord, living as His representative.
I say YES to loving husband, caring for children.
I say YES to creating home.
I say YES to living in fellowship with my local church.
I say YES to living as a city on a hill.

Those lines fixed, I can boldly say, “Let the river flow.” Open to the source, open to those “below.”

I need not determine my boundaries; I need to simply know HIS boundaries for me. And then live with open hand and heart to the Holy Spirit and all those I encounter. I bring the obedience; He brings the flow of life.

“The glacier torrent — so obedient to its course in its narrow bed, yet just tossing with freedom and swing in every motion. Such a picture of the ‘rivers of living water’—bound and yet unbound.” –Lilias Trotter

connecting our work to His

This afternoon, as the clear sun streamed in our windows, warming us despite cold outdoor temperatures, I looked up from my book to see little Cecily sitting, smiling at me.

My heart melted.

I had just been reading about work: about how God is the Master Craftsman, so to speak, and made in His image, we also are made to work. After looking for awhile at Genesis and the model set forth by God and then Adam, the author said, “So whether splicing a gene or doing brain surgery or collecting the rubbish or painting a picture, our work further develops, maintains, or repairs the fabric of the world. In this way, we connect our work to God’s work.”

That thought fresh in mind, I looked into sweet blue eyes. And I was struck again by what a rich calling motherhood is. For each time I do something as basic and “insignificant” as wiping this baby’s nose or changing this baby’s diaper, I am:

Investing in the development of this person. Her sense of value and worth is strengthened each time I cheerfully and gently attend to her needs.

Maintaining in a very real way this person. Sometimes it occurs to me, Where would these children be without someone to wipe noses and put on clean diapers? I am here, standing between them and disease and disorder.

This embracing of my calling is my part of redemption. In a world of brokenness where mothers sacrifice children for all sorts of things, even to the point of death, I am living out redemption — sin, repentance, grace, and all.

And that’s just changing diapers!

How much we are doing, dear mothers. We are an extension of the Kingdom of Heaven, touching lives. Don’t despise the mundane, the insignificant, the seed dead in the ground-ness of it all. See your work for what it is. And in this way, “connect [your] work to God’s work.”

a passion for the impossible

I just finished A Passion for the Impossible, a biography of Lilias Trotter. (I am part of a read-a-book-every-four-weeks challenge this year and am already enjoying immensely the motivation of the group!)

Lilias Trotter was an English aristocrat whose artistic ability had the potential to launch her into the position of first great female watercolor painter — but instead, she followed the voice of the Holy Spirit to Algeria, a part of the world theretofore untouched by the Gospel. Hers was a life of faithfulness. Many times, I put the book down, thinking, “Goodness, this is kind of slow.” And then it occurred to me: that’s the point. Her life never had a fireworks moment. There was never a crusade attended by thousands. She didn’t open orphanages that reached hundreds. In fact, as of the writing of the biography, Algeria is still a hard, dangerous place for Christianity.

And yet, she gave her life, daily, faithfully. She did not judge her steps by their “success,” but by her obedience. She died having affected many fellow missionaries and her persistence resulted in 15 outposts, penetrating the darkness with the light of Jesus. Not enough to make a “splash”, as it were, but counted in the currency of heaven, a chest of treasure.

Several spots struck me especially, and I’ll record them here (for my own future benefit!)

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“As an eagle…fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings—so the Lord alone did lead him.” Fluttereth over—the early stages of faith are reaching upward, like the eaglets for their food when the mother-bird is overhead. . . it is an older faith that learns to swing out into nothingness & drop down full weight on God—the broken up nest of former “experiences” left behind—nothing between us & the abyss but Himself—A rejoicing in every fresh emergency that is going to prove Him true—The Lord Alone—that is trained faith.

***

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
And the love of God
And the fellowship of the Holy Ghost
be with you.”

We have so often listened to it as the soothing ending of a quiet sermon. In its full meaning it is a battle cry.

***

“Two glad Services are ours
Both the Master loves to bless
First we serve with all our powers
Then with all our helplessness.”

These lines of Charles Fox have rung in my head this last fortnight—& they link on with the wonderful words “weak with Him”—for the world’s salvation was not wrought out by the three years in which He went about doing good, but in the three hours of darkness in which He hung stripped & nailed, in utter exhaustion of spirit, soul, & body, till His heart broke. So little wonder of us, if the price of power is weakness.

***

How do we bring things to a focus in the world of optics? Not by looking at the things to be dropped, but by looking at the one point that is to be brought out.

Turn full your soul’s vision to Jesus, and look and look at Him, and a strange dimness will come over all that is apart from Him…

***

Along with this book, I very highly recommend the devotional, “A Blossom in the Desert,” which is a collection of her writings and artwork. It is beautiful, challenging, and bite sized! Her meditations are rich, Word-based, and life giving. Even today, her sacrifice is affecting hearts — like mine. How amazing!