Event Planning 101

  1. Never completely trust an “I wanna go!!!” Save yourself the heartache. Don’t get excited until you’re all on the road / at the party … etc.
  2. Asking “Do you want to go on a road trip?” is the same as asking “Do you like road trips?” It gives you no indication of whether the person will actually go on a road trip with you on any day you suggest.
  3. Instead, ask, “Do you want to go camping at Location Alpha with myself and so-and-so from the umpteenth of Mayvember to the impteenth of Apruary? It’ll cost $300. We’re leaving by 19:07 and returning by 15:29.”
  4. Remember that your friends are still your friends, even if they keep bailing on you. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Sometimes, I feel that righteousness alone would not actually be that hard. (Now really, it is, but let us conjecture for a short while.) That would be to claim, perhaps rightly, that you are in the right and have been wronged and there’s no argument about it anymore.

But to have righteousness with grace and mercy and peace is another thing completely. To be in the right but not to boast, or be proud, or seek to dishonour others by pointing out that you were in the right (unlike somebody), and not be easily angered, and yet after that to keep no record of wrongs, and then following all the aftermath to still want to trust and hope and persevere? This is where the Bible gives us a far far higher standard than to merely be righteous.

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Sympathy

A friend and I have recently suffered similar losses. We have both found some comments from lovely and well-meaning people to be maddening. Many a wise thought we acknowledge, understand, believe and even trust, but we do not feel. Sometimes, even those dearest to us and most respected by us cannot sympathize with our state of mind and heart. Or it may be that even if they actually could, we still do not perceive that they can. We only feel akin to those who are in a similar state or can clearly recall being in a similar state. This sympathy is so precious. It also legitimizes the love and thoughts you receive from that person in a way that similar love and thoughts from others cannot compare. They just don’t understand — are not moved in their gut the same way.

That precious gift of sympathy reminds me of the precious gift of sympathy followers of Christ have. We know that our God is perfect and on high, and yet STILL, because he was made flesh like us, subjected to trials and temptations and still found to be perfect, He is a God who can sympathize with us in our weakness. In our moments of self-loathing, of doubt, or of hopelessness over all manner of situations, He understands how one gets to that place, though he emerges perfect through all such trials and temptations. He is not just lofty and immaterial, but also walked the earth and was subjected to its darkness and senseless sorrows, as well as enjoyed its loveliness and joys. The One who judges and has mercy and sacrifices and saves and shows grace is also one who sympathizes and comforts. How worthwhile to follow with loyalty such a leader! And how much more precious His commands to us, given this sympathy.

Hebrews 2:14-18

14 Since therefore the children [we] share in flesh and blood, he himself [Jesus] likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Hebrews 4:14-16

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are,yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Getting all discouraged about being discouraged

Genesis 50:20

Perhaps you know this verse by heart just from seeing the reference, or perhaps the image helped jog your memory, because it is one of those verses we use very often to illustrate the necessity and fruitfulness of faith in our God despite dismal circumstances, and is a reminder of the existence of purpose somehow behind seemingly meaningless suffering.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

Joseph’s words, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” don’t often get quoted with the pointer that there was a time of probably 24 odd years between his being sold into slavery by his brothers and his saying these profound words. Time is a great teacher and counsellor, and I’m sure it took Joseph a while to ‘get it’. Hence, in regards to trusting in God for redeeming our messes, the lesson is this…

Don’t be discouraged about getting discouraged.

It will take time and then more time and then some for us to see some of the good God intends and ordains. I don’t think this means we have to repress hurt, and then smile and laugh for the sake of showing joy. Rather, it seems appropriate to me that God is pleased when we are faced with gut-wrenching, forehead-holding, tear-jerking situations, sob the sobs and still maintain that God Himself is sovereign and good. Being discouraged is not good, but God’s grace covers that just like it covers everything else, like the mistakes you make along the way. In any case it could take anywhere from a few days to twenty-four years to see how God meant it for good. I’m betting that discouragement will recur between now and then. His grace covers us even as we use what seems like our last reserves of energy to live zealously, proclaiming God’s perfect kingdom still to come.

[Note: Click the image above for a further interesting blog post on the Joseph situation that I read re: prayer. The rest of the blog is good too.]

 

Throwing off burdens (and some spectacular use of grammar in the Bible)

Abel. Enoch. Noah. Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. Sarah. Joseph. Moses. The people of Israel. Rahab. Gideon. Barak. Samson. Jephthah. David. Samuel. The prophets. (Hebrews 11, the list of the faithful.)

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV)

First of all, thank goodness the people included in this ‘great cloud of witnesses’ are flawed to various degrees, just like I am! When I was younger, I used to mistakenly imagine Christians of the past in heaven looking down at me disapprovingly and being disappointed/disgusted – not to mention Jesus or God’s perspective. (Couldn’t even bring myself there.) That sort of watchful ‘accountability’ is terribly disheartening, and resulted in my greatly desiring to let no one get to know me, lest they discover what all these heavenly witnesses knew better. Nevertheless, I know better now: Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is my identity, as with all of those in that cloud of witnesses. None of us could stand before God but for Christ, even if some appear somewhat more righteous than others. (Truthfully though, it also helped my acceptance of this truth to discover how others too were more sinful than I had first assumed, and that I wasn’t too sinful to be forgiven, or too damaged to be made new. Due to the helpfulness of this discovery for myself in making my acceptance of salvation in Christ a joyful thing, it has since been a personal conviction to freely share my dirt as is appropriate to the situation, but regardless of my own discomfort.)

Returning to that verse in Hebrews, the ESV Bible mentions “weight” rather than things that hinder, and the New KJV uses “ensnares” to describe sin rather than entangling. A snare, being a trap, is more active than the action of entangling, which seems more passive. Nevertheless, the idea is the same: we are bound and held captive by sin. Kinda like a slave. Last summer I received a copy of Slave by John MacArthur which I will finish this summer. (On my word, I shall!) It emphasizes the very Biblical but unsung idea of switching loyalties from being a slave to sin to being a slave of the Lord Jesus, and how this second ‘slavery’ is, in actual fact, freedom from sin and the various burdens of a sinful nature.

Recently, at a women’s retreat, I’ve been privileged to be read a list of hindrances by which we may be trapped, and these made me sit up and pay rapt attention.

Hindrances:

  • self-preoccupation
  • false accusations
  • worry and fear
  • bitterness
  • unforgiveness
  • pain of past and present hurts
  • circumstances (health, physical limitations, finances, jobs…)
This made me sit up because as a Christian, I tend to unthinkingly categorize everything negative as sin when not every burden is technically sin, even if it resulted from sin or could result in sin in some way. The point is, though, that both burdens and sin are debilitating to our ability to run the race, to be a new creation, to have the courage to go and be a witness, to rejoice and to worship. Burdens are a yoke of slavery that prevents us from living as those who have been freed.

Anyhow, imagine a hot air balloon, the pictorial theme of the retreat weekend. Being tethered to the ground prevents it from soaring, but soaring willy-nilly is dangerous. Like us, when the balloon is tethered to Christ as a guide, then it can soar freely in safety.

But I don’t always feel like I soar, or am safe!

Where is Christ then? And there, something that John Piper said brought comfort: One of the greatest heartaches of the Christian walk is our slowness to change.

Didn’t Jesus wash me clean? Aren’t I free now? That certainly is a heartache of mine.

The following verse is so wonderful I’ll state it twice, in different versions:

“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14 ESV)

“…because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:14 NIV)

I promised spectacular grammar in the title of this post, and there it is. That Jesus “has made perfect” is stated in present perfect tense, which deals with a past event that has present relevance. (E.g. “I have lived in Vancouver.” I can call myself a West Coaster, but Eastern Canada is my home now.) On the other hand, “those who are being made holy” is in present continuous tense, which deals with events that are in progress now and will be in progress for an unspecified time yet. These two different time tenses happen in unison. Perfect. Holy. Finished and still in progress.

The good news, as I was reminded that weekend, is that “being on the way is proof that we have arrived.” Are we there yet? No, but yes. So keep going, whether the way is slow, tortuous, or quite circular at times. Take heart in the good news of the gospel of grace, and our sanctification that follows. “Our fight against sin is not simply to become perfect, but because we are.”

The funny thing is, when we are weak and struggling through little fault of our own, it is easy to turn to God and rely on Him. In stark contrast, when it is our folly, our lack of self control, our empty purpose, our pig-headed stubbornness, our self reliance, our apathy, our resentfulness, our bitterness, our unwillingness to forgive or anything else like that which has caused us to stumble, struggle and be faint, or even caused others to be hurt, it is harder to rely on God. “Do I have a right to?” subtly comes to mind.

Yes. Most assuredly so. You didn’t earn the right, but Jesus earned it for us, and at this time, you need to rely on the one who sanctifies us. You just gotta suck in your pride and look upon glorious, undeserved grace.

My favourite image from that hot air balloon themed retreat was that of the fire in the burners. In those times of fire and trial, our dependence on and closeness with Christ in the uncomfortable environment of hot air gives us lift to soar that a mild and cool environment does not. It’s like the special treat of trials, almost like a consolation prize, except that it’s much more, and conversely, is really the point of the trial, I would say. It’s hard to complain about difficulties when you see that God is bringing you closer to Himself through these things.

One last scribble that I took from just the first talk of the retreat: Living for Christ – waiting for our emotions to catch up.

Violin Lessons

Years ago, playing violin in my church’s orchestra taught me a memorable life lesson. It came to mind while I was practicing this week, partly because we played Mendelssohn then, and I am playing him now.

Anyways, August 2004. We were about to start our last concert while we were touring around churches in Taiwan, and I sat miserably at the first desk of the second violins resenting everyone. Resenting my violin teacher for making me come. Resenting my mom for persuading me that even if I wasn’t technically good enough it didn’t matter. Resenting my desk partner (two violins to a music stand) for being a virtuoso. Resenting Mendelssohn for writing such ridiculous music as his Symphony No. 2. Resenting God for the situation he put me in. Resenting myself for not living up to it.

Looking up at the crowds, it struck me that playing all my notes was not the point. At the end of the day, whether I played G# or staccato, what mattered was that God loves because he is good. He doesn’t love because I am good – whether good in general, good at playing or whatever. My concerns are so small! This was a delightful thought.

I was free from my sheets of music! Why were we even here? So that God’s name would be declared to the nations. Not so that I could get 100% hit rate on bars of semi-demi-quavers and impress my teacher, my stand partner, my mom, the audience, myself, or even God. Yes, we were offering the music to him, but when is anything we offer God ‘good’?

So I decided to delight in God, and that was that.

(until I forgot again…! and so the saga continues. Romans 11:5-6 sums this up well.)

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Here is part 1/3 of the Mendelssohn symphony ;) I can’t find the ridiculous place I couldn’t play so I cannot point it out to you.

After God’s Own Heart

This has been on my mind for a long time: David’s psalm post-adultery with Bathsheba. This is what he wrote in Psalm 51:

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.

I get it when people say that they think ‘sin’ is a bit overplayed. Really? So sometimes I get angry at people when I shouldn’t. It’s bad, but do you have to go on about how serious it is and how Jesus had to die? We all get angry, we get over it, and whoever we were angry at gets over it. Or, you make a bad call, sleep with someone’s wife because they’re hot. Kill the man – because you can. (This is King David.) This is more serious, because you harmed another person. So depose the guy and give him a life sentence.

But what if Bathsheba ganged up with David, and divorced Uriah due to “irreconcilable differences” because he just wasn’t making her happy anymore? I think our society would say ,”Fair enough,” and “Get over her, Uriah, there are other women out there.” “David and Bathsheba, that was pretty low, but whatever, you have personal liberty.”

See, maybe I’ve gone on too long to make my point well, but what I’m trying to say is, sin doesn’t make sense as long as we measure the badness of ‘sin’ in our heads. “Against you, you only, have I sinned.” David knew that what he had done was bad for Bathsheba. Worse for Uriah. Pretty down and dirty. But that wasn’t the point. Even if they forgave him, it still remains that he did a terrible thing. Why? If they didn’t care, what does it matter?

God gave specific commandments not to covet your neighbour’s property. To love Him before all else – not to be mastered by anything else. And so David’s heart cries out. The world can forgive him, forget his stain, and just remember him for his young heroic victory over Goliath, but his sin will ever be before him and God. Against God, God only, did he sin. Sin by definition must recognise that the only one wronged is God; it is something we owe to God and no one else.

And such a screw-up, such a debt – who can deal with this mess but God himself?

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

And so the Spirit regenerates us, because Christ paid that amount we owe God. David did not only understand his poverty, but he understood that all he could do was helplessly allow himself to be helped by God. “Create in me,” “renew … within me,” “cast me not,” “take not,” “restore to me,” “uphold me.” God is the great initiator. God only has the agency to do anything. I have a thought about being young and being female: what a strategic learning position! You are often accepting things you don’t necessarily deserve, whether it be money from parents, or guys letting you stand first in line. It seems simple, but hey, I can see a middle-aged providing father not wanting to accept anything he didn’t earn himself – bread he did not win. Women, children, the infirm … we all have this great strategic role for understanding the blessedness of receiving. King David was patriarch of a country! He should have bossed it out and sought to have agency over solving his own problems, if we are to stereotype his manhood. That’s enough dominating masculinity to upset any feminist. But he had a humble heart that broke before God.

Instead, his heart cried: I can do nothing, Holy God. Clean me.