Monday, May 27, 2013

Dogma is the Drama

"The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man—and the dogma is the drama. It is the dogma that is the drama—not beautiful phrases, nor comforting sentiments, nor vague aspirations to loving-kindness and uplift, nor the promise of something nice after death—but the terrifying assertion that the same God who made the world, lived in the world and passed through the grave and gate of death. Show that to a heathen, and they may not believe it; but at least they may realize that here is something that a man might be glad to believe.”

~Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Five Things I'm Thankful For Friday

I am not the man I ought to be, I am not the man I wish to be, and I am not the man I hope to be, but by the grace of God, I am not the man I used to be.

~paraphrase of quote from former slave trader and lyricist of Amazing Grace, John Newton

Here are five things I'm thankful for this week:

1. Sanctification.  Philippians 1:6 says, "I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you wil bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."  At this very moment, God is at work sanctifying me-- he making me over in His image, transforming me from the inside out.  It's often a painful process as I come face to face with my sin and how it manifests itself in my life, but I'm encouraged too, because God promises that He will change me, and that the end result will be so much better than anything I could possibly imagine.  I can trust that He will do as He's promised, which gives me the strength to persevere.

2. God's Providence.  Theologian and professor D.A. Carson writes, "I do think, though, that it is one of the common features of those who become intimate with Jesus that they think of themselves not as those who love him particularly well those who are particularly well loved by him.  Thus, John, the writer of this Gospel, refers to himself as 'the disciple whom Jesus loved.'"  I wouldn't say that I'm near as confident as John was when he called himself that, but I do feel loved by Jesus.  Ultimately, his love for me is demonstrated by his dying to save me, but I also feel loved by the food he places in my hands, the clothes he places on my back, the shelter he builds over my head, and the friends he blesses me with.  Specifically, I'm thankful that I'm working and making money; I'm thankful to live with the Parks family; I'm thankful for my friends at United Christian Church of Dubai and Redeemer Church of Dubai.  I'm thankful to be sandwiched between two households of people who love God and strive to honor him.  I'm thankful that God has me here at this moment in time for his purposes.

3. People who Speak Truth into my Life.  I'm thankful for the friends I have who love me enough to call me on my sin when they see it.  They see my pride and my unrepentant heart and they lovingly confront me about it.  They also correct the lies that I preach to myself by injecting the truth into my life.  When I am tempted to despair, they remind me of God's faithfulness.  This week, those people were Brinton, Mack and Leeann, Romana, and Krishan.  I'm thankful that they challenge me and help me along the path of sanctification (see #1).

4. The Service of Men in the Church.  Today at church we took communion (which I'm also thankful for-- what a blessing it is to receive that sacrament).  The elders and deacons of the church (all men) gathered at the front of the church to collect the bread and grape juice so that they could distribute it to our sizable congregation.  It just so worked out that on the aisle where I was sitting that the trays were passed by Brian Parks and Mack Stiles.  I've had the honor of staying with both the Parks and Stiles families during my times in Dubai, and I've been blessed beyond measure by these Godly men.  They've housed me, fed me, discipled me, and loved me.  I've seen them love their wives and their children and it has been a powerful experience.  Watching them serve the church by distributing the elements that represent Jesus's body and blood brought tears to my eyes.  Brian and Mack represent many godly men both at this church and at other churches worldwide-- men who strive to follow Paul's injunction, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself of for her."  Their example, as well as the other godly men that God has placed in my life, is an inspiration.  I thank God for them and pray that He continues to bless and sustain them.

5. Nature.  Again this week I was blown away by the rugged beauty of this region.  On Monday, I flew to Amman, Jordan for a shoot, and on Tuesday, I did another dhow cruise in Musandam, Oman.  I saw mountains and goats and blue skies and fish and various gulfs and rolling fields.  It is a delight unto my eyes and I am thankful for my creator God who delights in such beauty. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Five Things I'm Thankful For Friday

"I pray because I can't help myself.  I pray because I'm helpless.  I pray because the need flows out of me all the time-- waking and sleeping.  It doesn't change God... it changes me."

~C.S. Lewis

This week I'm thankful for:

1. Reminders of What's Important.  A friend from back home chided me about my own inward-focused self, or less flatteringly, my selfishness.  At a class in church this morning, we discussed a book called When People are Big and God is Small which focuses on this very thing.  Specifically, we talked about how we can grow to "Need other people less and love other people more.  Out of obedience to Christ, and as a response to his love toward you, pursue others in love."  Sometimes I think I'm the most selfish person I know.  I'm thankful that there are people in my life who love me enough to tell me the truth about myself, and I'm thankful that I have God who is ceaselessly refining me in order to make me more like Himself.  I'm also thankful that he continues to open my eyes to my sin so that I can confess it and repent.

2. Prayer.  Of late, God has increasingly been showing me the power of prayer in changing my own heart and attitudes.  I am often malcontent and my heart is envious and angry and lustful.  I struggle with all these sins.  And yet, I am learning that when I go before God with my hard heart and confess to Him, he changes me.  I can't explain the transformation, but a gentleness and softness appears in that place where its very opposite stood before.  I'm thankful for the power of prayer to change the attitudes of my heart.

3. My Brothers in Christ.  Tonight I got to spend the evening in the company of three fellows who all love God.  We had a picnic by the sea as the sun set, and our conversation was entirely edifying.  I'm thankful for the example they set in their servitude to the Lord and their desire to honor Him.  I'm thankful for their love towards others and their humility.  I pray that He will sustain them, go before them, and lead them in the paths of righteousness.

4. Birds.  I don't why but I've been noticing the birds lately-- they keep crossing my path.  This afternoon I noticed beautiful green tropical-looking birds adorning my neighbor's home and then tonight at the beach I watched a trio scamper across the wet sand.  All week long they've popped up in my field of view as little gifts of nature.

5. God's Provision in My Life. I sometimes sight of this fact, but at this very moment, God has me exactly where He wants me.  I am blessed beyond measure to have a roof over my head, food in my belly, the promise of future paychecks, a church that preaches the Gospel, a Christian family to live with who model the Gospel, and people who love me and pray for me.  Selfish sinner that I am, I often lose sight of these facts, but God continues to lead home on the path the leads to Him; he clothes me and feeds me.  I am blessed beyond measure. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Five Things I'm Thankful For Friday

This week I'm thankful for the simple things:

1. I'm thankful that my parents thought learning to swim was an important skill.  I say this because 1. Swimming is one of the chief joys of my life and 2. I think the ability to swim is something that most people who can do it take for granted.  True story: There are lots of nationalities that don't place much importance on learning to swim.  One Indian friend went to the US and ended up at a summer camp where kids were confidently jumping off a pier and swimming in the mountain lake.  Said friend, seeing how easy swimming appeared to be, dived into the frigid waters, and immediately plunged like a rock to the bottom.  Luckily, a lifeguard was on duty to drag him to safety.  Swimming is not something one just knows how to do.  Thank you M & D for taking me to weekly lessons at the YWCA.  I never made it above guppy level, but that's good enough for me.

2.  I'm thankful for my sense of smell.  Dubai is a panoply of smells.  Some are not so pleasant (the dumpsters that seemingly grace every street) while others are quite heavenly (the occasional scent of jasmine that wafts through the air.). Life is meant to be smelled (and touched and seen and tasted).

3.  I'm thankful for being busy.  Work has really been good lately which is great because I generally really enjoy working, presumably it means I'm making money (can't say for sure until I actually get paid), and because it keeps me occupied so that I stay in the moment and don't dwell on things that make me sad (as I am wont to do).

4.  I'm thankful for technology.  My iPad is just about my favorite-ist thing ever.  I use it to message people back home, navigate my way around Dubai, read my Bible, listen to NPR, learn German, memorize poetry... the list goes on and on.  I also love watching movies on my laptop, and using gmail chat to talk to loved ones back home.  I'm thankful for my camera which helps me capture my memories... I'm thankful for it all.  It's made traveling (and keeping in touch) much easier since the days when I first set off by myself for foreign climes in 2003.

5.  I'm thankful for my parents and their commitment to another.  This week my parents celebrated 42 years of marriage together!  I'm proud of them and thankful to have been able to grow up in a stable home with parents who stuck it out for the long haul.  Happy Anniversary, M & D!  Here's to many more!
 photo parents_zps525c3917.jpg
Now and Then: My Parents

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Five Things I'm Thankful For Friday

A few of the things I'm thankful for this week are:

1.  The Weather.  It's been overcast and even a little rainy (which is rare for this region) which has made getting around town and being outside an utter delight.  Shockingly, I've heard English friends complaining about it (it's too much like back home for them), but the alternative is a blazing hot sun accompanied by humidity.  I'll take the the clouds any day.

2.  The Psalms.  We've been studying a new Psalm each week in our small group in preparation for the week's sermon at church.  This week we studied Psalm 73 which deals with being envious of those around us who seem to prosper in spite of wickedness, or perhaps even because of it.  Asaph, the writer of the Psalm, is frustrated by these

3.  The Journey.  It sounds a bit cliche to say, but I'm increasingly thinking of life in terms of walking down a path in a particular direction.  Sometimes I get off the path, or make the wrong turn, or even just stop dead in my tracks, but always I return, or rather, God graciously brings me back.  The Bible often refers to our journey through life as a matter of choosing a path.  (Proverbs 4:14-15 says "Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil.  Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on."). What's neat is that I'm at a stage in my life where I can look and reflect upon where I've come from.  I can see how God has been working in my life and how he continues to work.

4.  New Revelations.  My favorite verse in the Bible is 2 Corinthians 12:9.  'My grace is sufficient is for you...' was a verse that spoke to me when I was trying really hard to please God so that I could earn His love.  I thought I needed to be perfect- always praying, living an exemplary life, devotedly reading my Bible, and so and on, but that striving left me feeling exhausted (not to mention filled with an abominable self-righteousness) and, in spite of it all, I felt hopelessly distant from God.  God spoke those words to me, and what I understood with that simple statement of His grace being sufficient was something along the lines of, "Elise, I lived the life you should have lived and died the death you should have died."  Or, as succinctly put in the verse of the old hymn, "Cast your deadly 'doing' down/ Down at Jesus' feet;/ Stand in Him, in Him alone,/ Gloriously complete."  My strivings were all for naught, but Christ's death is God's grace.  So, 'grace' meant salvation.  Now, 2 Corinthians 12:9 has taken on a new meaning or me.  Lately my struggle has been in not being satisfied in just God and again His answer is 'My grace is sufficient for you.'  It's a powerful revelation-- He is all I need.  This time, grace means that God fulfills all of my needs. He is enough.

5.  Dolphins.  One of the highlights of the week was getting to play with dolphins for a shoot.  They were amazing-- I decided they were the dogs of the sea.  They're so playful and silly and eager to please.  I'm a very lucky girl.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Memento Mori

Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May, John William Waterhouse
Get up, get up for shame, the Blooming Morne
Upon her wings presents the god unshorne.
                     See how Aurora throwes her faire
                     Fresh-quilted colours through the aire:
                     Get up, sweet-Slug-a-bed, and see
                     The Dew-bespangling Herbe and Tree.
Each Flower has wept, and bow'd toward the East,
Above an houre since; yet you not drest,
                     Nay! not so much as out of bed?
                     When all the Birds have Mattens seyd,
                     And sung their thankful Hymnes: 'tis sin,
                     Nay, profanation to keep in,
When as a thousand Virgins on this day,
Spring, sooner than the Lark, to fetch in May.

Rise; and put on your Foliage, and be seene
To come forth, like the Spring-time, fresh and greene;
                     And sweet as Flora. Take no care
                     For Jewels for your Gowne, or Haire:
                     Feare not; the leaves will strew
                     Gemms in abundance upon you:
Besides, the childhood of the Day has kept,
Against you come, some Orient Pearls unwept:
                     Come, and receive them while the light
                     Hangs on the Dew-locks of the night:
                     And Titan on the Eastern hill
                     Retires himselfe, or else stands still
Till you come forth. Wash, dresse, be briefe in praying:
Few Beads are best, when once we goe a Maying.

Come, my Corinna, come; and comming, marke
How each field turns a street; each street a Parke
                     Made green, and trimm'd with trees: see how
                     Devotion gives each House a Bough,
                     Or Branch: Each Porch, each doore, ere this,
                     An Arke a Tabernacle is
Made up of white-thorn neatly enterwove;
As if here were those cooler shades of love.
                     Can such delights be in the street,
                     And open fields, and we not see't?
                     Come, we'll abroad; and let's obay
                     The Proclamation made for May:
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;
But my Corinna, come, let's goe a Maying.

There's not a budding Boy, or Girle, this day,
But is got up, and gone to bring in May.
                     A deale of Youth, ere this, is come
                     Back, and with White-thorn laden home.
                     Some have dispatcht their Cakes and Creame,
                     Before that we have left to dreame:
And some have wept, and woo'd, and plighted Troth,
And chose their Priest, ere we can cast off sloth:
                     Many a green-gown has been given;
                     Many a kisse, both odde and even:
                     Many a glance too has been sent
                     From out the eye, Loves Firmament:
Many a jest told of the Keyes betraying
This night, and Locks pickt, yet w'are not a Maying.

Come, let us goe, while we are in our prime;
And take the harmlesse follie of the time.
                     We shall grow old apace, and die
                     Before we know our liberty.
                     Our life is short; and our dayes run
                     As fast away as do's the Sunne:
And as a vapour, or a drop of raine
Once lost, can ne'r be found againe:
                     So when or you or I are made
                     A fable, song, or fleeting shade;
                     All love, all liking, all delight
                     Lies drown'd with us in endlesse night.
Then while time serves, and we are but decaying;
Come, my Corinna, come, let's goe a Maying.

~Robert Herrick (1591-1674), Corinna's Going a Maying

   I know, it's a little bit of a longer poem, but it's really quite lovely, and certainly worth the read.  The speaker has gone to fetch Corinna out of bed-- it's spring!  It's May!  Our life is short and our days run as fast away as does the sun.

   I am, of course, posting this because I celebrate May 1st each year as my crowning as May Queen (blogged here and here).  It's a tradition I've honored since I was about sixteen, and all these years later, it's still a day that holds great significance for me.

   I hope you have a lovely May Day.  Take Herrick's advice-- get out of bed, dress quickly, let nature be your adornment, love, live, be merry.  It's a lovely day and we are blessed to be alive.  Carpe Diem.