The Mark of the Christian

The Christian really has a double task. He has to practice both God’s holiness and God’s love. . . Not his holiness without his love: that is only harshness. Not his love without his holiness: that is only compromise. Anything that an individual Christian or Christian group does that fails to show the simultaneous balance of the holiness of God and the love of God presents to a watching world not a demonstration of the God who exists but a caricature of the God who exists.

— from The Mark of the Christian by Francis A. Schaeffer, 1970

This concept of holiness and love entwined is behind all the mistakes Christians make. One of the double strand gets loose and my son is in his bed crying because of hurt feelings. Another of the double strand gets loose and we do something on Sunday that is not worshipful. Well, those are just two small examples. Christians make big mistakes, too, and a lot of bitterness and bad feeling builds up because of them. Or an ignorance of the true God grows in people’s hearts.

So we move past the unkindnesses. We strive to be loving.

So we strive toward true holiness. We move beyond the neglect toward God.

Slowly and imperfectly the double strand twines together to form what a Christian looks like, and this is what the Holy Spirit does in us.

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Being Holy

With the first Bible study of the season coming up, I decided to reread some of the book we’re using, which is written by Nancy Guthrie. It tells about seeing Jesus in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Looking at the chapter about Leviticus (a rather boring book in the Bible) I realized how much I don’t even want to be holy. The Israelites in the Old Testament had their entire life structured for them so they could realize the importance of being clean and holy.

But my life in the New Covenant? I try to get away with the least amount of holiness. It’s as if holiness is a chore I want to get through with as quickly as possible. Church services: go there and get back home quickly. Prayer: short or my mind will wander. Bible reading: just a little so I can get back to reading A Portrait of a Lady. Teaching Biblical ways to my children: oh, well, I barely know how to do that; leave that to the Holy Spirit and the Sunday School teacher’s manual.

I’m reminded of the hymn “Take Time to Be Holy.” I really do need to take time to practice holiness. Or else I spend my time practicing selfishness. Or worldliness. It is so difficult to get priorities straight. I hope the upcoming Bible study season will help me along with these struggles, but ultimately, I know I have to ask for spiritual help from God, who can lift me up much more effectively than I can lift myself up.

Marriage

I’m not much for political talk. I usually think I don’t know enough about the subject to speak my mind and be correct. And I don’t read or listen to the news enough to be up-to-date. But while my husband (male) is sleeping through the news, I overhear things about marriage equality in all fifty states. And there’s this rainbow border above my WordPress reader that I know doesn’t represent God’s promise to never destroy the earth with another flood. So here I am, writing about something that I need to say.

An old girlfriend of mine, a classmate, married a woman two or three years ago. I saw them both at the local pool shortly before that. It struck me as strange that I did not feel awkward around her. I didn’t. She was the same girl I used to know. I definitely disapprove of her lifestyle, but I don’t feel like I need to shun her in any way. I didn’t talk much; I’m not much for talking. But I’ve imagined conversations where I’d tell her I think her lesbianism is a sin, and then I remind her that I sin, too, and these are things we must pray about. These are things between ourselves and God.

That was an individual person. Now there is a movement which our country has embraced. The movement is something I must react against. I must shun it. I must not talk nicely to it, even in my imagination. This movement moves against Biblical truth. It pushes people toward sin, away from God. My old friend is not a movement, and neither are the individuals bound together in this rainbow-ribboned ride to hell. I can love the people and hate what they believe in. I can pray for the person’s soul and pray that our country rejects gay rights. I can love what is good and beautiful and hate what is bad and ugly. I can still tell my daughter that she can’t marry another girl. I can reject that term “marriage equality” because it is faulty math; man plus woman is the only way to equal marriage.

Condition of the Soul

I have been reading a biography of Emily Dickinson called My Wars Are Laid Away In Books by Alfred Habegger. I will probably write more about what I’m learning in another post. Tonight I’d like to write about a cultural difference between Dickinson’s time (1830-1885) and today. Emily lived in a very religious culture, Calvinistic, and was often in a church or revival-situation or school in which the condition of her soul was of great concern. This was a culture of evangelism, a culture of “the saved” and “the reprobate,” a culture of talking about spiritual things.

I am also from a Calvinistic culture, but there are great differences. What I am a part of is a sub-culture, not popular, not mainstream. My church family means a good deal to me, and my church does take some efforts to evangelize, but we don’t have any great revivals. Despite wishes to spread the good news, we have a tendency to stick to ourselves because we understand ourselves. And even within our own community of believers, we do not make a habit of talking about the condition of our souls. We are not timid to call ourselves “Christians” so much as to make the distinction between being saved and not being saved. I say “we” but I’m really talking about my own perception of the people around me.

Emily Dickinson was pressured to become one of the saved. Her saved family members wanted to be sure they would have her around in the next life. (Emily was resistant to these efforts, and that is all I’ll say about her soul. In the next life we’ll see if she did convert or not.)

In my life, we talk about heaven with hesitation. Unless you’re my daughters. They ask all sorts of questions about heaven, and it is clear they believe it exists. I believe it exists, too, but I suppose my hesitation comes from not wanting to sound too weird, too radical, too overly-religious. I am all those things, but I don’t want anyone to know. And that is different from the people Emily lived with.

I think a little pressure in the spiritual side of life might be good for folks. Get them thinking about their soul instead of hiding it or ignoring it. But I don’t like the thought of being the first one to start these conversations.

The ways we take care of ourselves

Mothers take care of a lot of people, and all that care takes time. The question is not whether or not a mother is taking care of herself; it is how she is taking care of herself. There are different ways of doing it, and I’m not trying to say one way is wrong and another is right. I think the differences are confusing, so writing about it might help clarify the issue.

I recently read a book by a mother who believes taking care of yourself means turning inward to face your problems, accept them, and then to love yourself. The book is called Breathing Room, and the author, Leeanna Tankersley, encourages her readers to give themselves a little space to breathe. This will give you that chance to change the toxic, negative thoughts swirling around your brain, it will give your soul a chance to reach for Christ, and it will allow you to see yourself so that you can better love yourself.

Reading Tankersley’s book made me realize how differently I have been taught. In my neck of the Christian world, turning outward, to worship God and to serve others, is the solution to any problem. Am I depressed, full of swirling, negative thoughts, feeling like I’m really (really!) going crazy? Then pray, trust God to get you through the low times, do something for someone else, keep busy doing good works. We take care of ourselves by making sure our priorities are inline with God’s priorities. And wasn’t Jesus always doing things for others, even when He was tired and hounded by people? Turning inward is what got me into trouble, not what will get me out of it.

I tried to reconcile these two viewpoints because Tankersley’s book made a lot of sense to me. I want to believe it is right, but what I have been taught does not allow me to. So what if we first face the problem, recognize it is there. Then we pray about it and trust God to provide the door out. Then (and this is where I am feeling an ah-ha! moment), depending on our personality we either go out and keep busy or we clear out some personal time to do something that will focus our minds on a good thing. Like reading a good book, writing poetry, attending an art show. I think I’ve hit on the key. Some people heal better by being around other people. Others heal better in a room alone. Once that healing is going in the right direction, then your works of gratitude can begin again. Is it selfish to be the second type of person? I don’t know. It sounds like it to me, but maybe it is more selfish to let yourself become something bad.

I think it is important to add that no matter what we mothers do, we are still mothers, and we will make sure our children are being cared for. I don’t think many mothers could disagree on that.

If you want to chime in on this issue, please comment and tell me your version of taking care of yourself.

A Wrinkle In Time

Don’t try to comprehend with your mind. Your minds are very limited. Use your intuition.

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle, 1962

Here is where my Christian faith and my love for good literature are battling it out. It’s not in humanist books that exalt man above all else. I know better. It’s not in science fiction books that promote evolution and the Big Bang theory and such things which I firmly believe are not true. My biggest faith/literature battles occur in books by Madeleine L’Engle, who claims to be Christian, and often uses Christian imagery, quotes from the Bible, and characters of faith.

I love the way L’Engle writes. She is so personal, delving into the intimacies of life, and her characters reflect on life in deep, thoughtful ways. She writes with such authority to what goes on inside a person’s mind. The quote above gets at that, I think. She seems to understand things about her characters that she couldn’t have known just by observing real people.

However, there is something about her imagery that goes beyond Christianity and into the wavy, mystical forces of the New Age. Even A Wrinkle In Time, a children’s story, brings us to a place of light and darkness which does not ring true to the Light of God and the Darkness of Hell. I have trouble explaining it, and that is why this is such a battleground. I can’t say to L’Engle, “No, you’re wrong and here’s why.” And I can’t say to myself, “There’s nothing to worry about. She’s on God’s side.” My intuition tells me to take caution because L’Engle’s fiction might influence my faith.

Two Lines from Tennyson

Our wills are ours, we know not how;

Our wills are ours, to make them thine.

— from “In Memorium” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1849

When I call myself “strong-willed,” I think I mean stubborn. But from Tennyson’s humble wisdom, I am willing to change my definition. A strong will is a will that looks to God and His Word and asks, “Is this right?” A strong will is one that tucks away all the snippy comments I want to vent, and instead prays for wisdom. A strong will is weak in other people’s eyes, but it doesn’t care because it is more interested in what God will think.