Thursday, December 30, 2010

Old and new leaves, transitioning 2010 into 2011

We're "turning over a new leaf" in 2011, brushing aside the old foliage of the past year. Many of us make resolutions at this time of year. Some make elaborate plans to improve themselves. Others have simpler goals: 
  • "Be happier." 
  • "Lose the fat." 
  • "Exercise faithfully." 
  • "Read through the Bible." 
  • "Find a spouse."
  • "Attend church regularly." 
  • "Teach my children manners."
  • "Make friends at the office."
  • "Volunteer more."
  • Etc. We're shooting for big, general - and random - goals without planning details to reach them. Our resolutions are more sighs and wishes than strategic focus.
I usually land somewhere between well-articulated goals and sloppy evaluations. I take out my journal the last week of the year to reflect on what went right and what went askew. Then I think about what might be important in the new year.

Once again, I accomplished a few things I am happy about, but did a few things wrong. Being honest about what we did well is harder for some people than self-critique. Others only want to look back positively, reluctant to be honest enough to admit, "I was a flop at..." or, "I should have done better at..."

This year, I intend to compare journals of the past ten years, asking questions to expose three patterns:
  1. Are there successes and giftings that could be developed further in 2011?
  2. What do I resolve year after year that NEEDS a change in attitude or behavior? Can such a transformation be activated by spiritual growth or does it depend on other disciplines?
  3. What dreams are unrealized or unfulfilled? Am I hanging on to worthless ideals when God has changed my life's direction? Or are those dreams still worth pursuing? If so, how can I move step-by-step toward them?
I don't know how honest we can be with ourselves. We see through a glass dimly, not only when looking at God and others, but also when examining ourselves. Some day, scripture promises we will know as we are known. On that day, we will be stunned by our blindness, surprised by God's grace, and terrified by the extent of His mercy. 
In the meantime, I'm planning a few hours of solitude to meditation on scripture and reflect on my own journey. I want to move toward God's desires and opportunities in the coming days and months.

How will you bring 2010 to a close and walk into 2011?

Read more:
*Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV

*We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. 1 John 2:3-6 NIV

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day 2010

"Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ..."

I woke up this Christmas morning thinking about the splendor of the world he made. The wet deck outside our bedroom attested to nighttime rain. The wind whipped through the 20' fir boughs beyond. I could hear the clanging of my new wind chimes (hear them at audio via the link), hanging by the enclosed atrium W built this fall.

It's a quiet Christmas, begun by a long walk with the dogs. In the kitchen to complete clean-up of Christmas Eve celebrations, I was overcome with God's provisions. We often thank God for Jesus Christ our Lord, born as a baby, dying for our sins on the cross. 

This morning I thought about the years between Jesus' birth and death. Mary cooking breakfast and Joseph headed to his work, Jesus at his heels. The years of routines, like annual temple visits, synagogue lessons, and scripture memorization. Sitting around the table with relatives. Doing chores so the family could eat. 

How blessed we are to have traditions and wealth - food, clothing, shelter in abundance - from God's hands. Our living room is still upside down while we wait for our daughter to wake. The built-in vacuum howls under the guest room: better let her sleep in after the excitement of 25 guests. Our family came for lunch and an adoption celebration (for a nephew, photo above). W's family joined us for turkey dinner. 

A few months ago, I met a lovely Swiss couple walking in the neighborhood. We were tickled to have them, 2-yr-old Maurin, and baby Giana-Maria at our tables. Maurin pounded the piano's bass notes as we sang carols (boom boom, our own little drummer boy!) Dominic and Regina played a few carols on their trombones, to the delight of all. We made it all the way through the first verse of Stille Nacht and got lost in the words on the second verse.

The grandmas had brought their offerings of cake and cookies, while our dear daughters-in-love brought home-baked fudge and pumpkin cheesecake. I'd prepped most of the food the day before, and the tables were in place from Monday's NU faculty event. The day ran smoothly.

Sure, our sofas are still in the atrium, the last load of dishes in in the dishwasher, pots and turkey roaster are drying in the oven. I'm not quite through the post-celebration reordering, though W already put away two extra tables and the stacking chairs. 

We have no plans but "rest" and "gratefulness" today. I'm staggered by the things our culture takes for granted. We have more than enough... of everything. 

To know that we have salvation, grace, and peace from God as well? I am simply overwhelmed with thanksgiving to our Savior on this Christmas morning.

Read more:
*Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:4-7 NKJV

*For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 NIV

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

There'll be no Christmas...

Just saw on the news that Iraqi believers are canceling Christmas celebrations. (Security forces patrol churches in Iraq, photo left.) The "peaceful" religion of Islam is once again systematically targeting Christians for annihilation. Horrible attacks on Iraqi churches and Christ-followers are propelling believers out of the country or into keeping a low profile. I am smokin' mad.

I think people should choose how to worship, though I am a devout Christian who believes in Jesus as only Savior. God lets us choose our life journey though not every path leads to him. When we offer his Good News to others, we must let them decide whether to accept or reject it.

The USA and Canada were unashamedly and openly Christian in the past. Christmas and Easter were national celebrations. Today, Christians have to fight the courts to hold Christian events in civic places, ostensibly because such might offend someone from another religion or an atheist with a clever lawyer.

Though the US Constitution was not signed only by devout Christians, it created room for the peaceful coexistence of personal faith, institutional practice, and government. Separation of Church and State meant government was forbidden to obstruct the practice of Christianity, as well as other faiths. That forbidding of Government interference in the religiosity of its citizens has been eroded as legislators impose laws barricading public and private faith from civic life.

What sheer stupidity to be so "politically correct" that we allow the open practice of faith to be eaten away, one law at a time, a little here and there, by those who take offence to Christianity. Let those bothered by Judeo-Christian morality who want Islamic rules go live under a Muslim government. Let those who want no Christian celebrations move to an atheistic country and enjoy anarchy or communist-style controls. Want amoral government? Go to a place where every favor is dependent on a bribe, every political position determined by nepotism and corruption. But please don't impose such trials on North America in the name of civil liberties!

Care for the poor and needy, opportunities for holistic creativity and enterprise, and communities that watch out for their neighbors are biblical plumb-lines that created our national conscience and social standards for centuries. Sadly, we Christians haven't lived up to our core values.

Yet how has anyone benefited by rejecting Christian morality and the Ten Commandments as societal foundations? In real life, are our bosses more dedicated to the well-being of their employees? Are our neighbors and their children more trustworthy? Are our coworkers more honest and hard-working? Would we leave our kids alone with adult acquaintances? If not, what has eroded our feelings of peace and safety more than our undermining of biblical morality?

Within a generation, we may have an entire rewriting of what it means to worship. In places like Iraq, Muslims are killing, maiming, and impoverishing my Christian brothers and sisters. And Iraq may be the signpost of the future if the so-called "religion of peace" takes over in the West. Growing anti-Christian sentiments in my home country deeply offend me as a one-sided attack against the benefits of truly Christian holiness, goodness, and righteousness.

Where Islam dominates, there is a sharp difference between Muslim and non-Muslim, male and female, servant and employer. What a direct contrast to Christian egalitarianism. The biblical statement of "there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free," carries beyond the Church's walls into a healthy society.

No evidence suggests today's Islam comes to the West to coexist peacefully with us. Robert E. Webber sounds his warning in his book, "Who Gets to Narrate the World?" Muslims intend to take over, and admit it in their own propaganda and literature. They hope to do so within a generation. How?
  • Muslims encourage big families. Many children mean more votes in Western-style democracies. Within a generation, Muslims may simply outvote Christians in North America and Europe to bring in their own laws and cultures.
  • Muslim solidarity against outsiders (infidels) means many Islamists will vote for radical Muslim agendas if the other choice is a Christian's or other religion's proposal... even if it means losing privileges and freedoms.
  • Muslims entice spiritual seekers with promises of peace and surrender to God. But Islam demands only conformity to a culture and rituals. Unlike Christianity, it does not require transformation of the heart. 
  • Islam attracts people with its simple legalism (5 Pillars of duty) and an equally simple entry formula. Conversion requires no spiritual rebirth, only a simple statement that Allah is the only God and Mohammed is his prophet.
  • American prisoners, the disenfranchised, and immigrants are targeted for conversion to Islam, especially among African Americans and Latinos with backgrounds in Catholicism or other formal traditions.
  • Muslim militants recruit dissatisfied and rebellious youngsters in the West to destroy their own culture in the name of religion. Many acts of terror are now perpetrated by silly young men and women, caught in the webs of extremest lies and loyalties.
  • Worldwide, Muslims are ruthlessly and systematically wiping out Christians and other religious adherents in their own nations. (Try to name one Muslim country that is truly welcoming and peaceful toward Christianity or other faiths.)
  • I have lovely Muslim friends who decry violence, but they are quiet voices in a religion that is increasingly militant because of Islam's core values. "Kill the infidel" is climbing on Islam's to-do list. Radical imams preach from their holy book to encourage their followers to earn spiritual capital by killing anyone outside their particular brand of Islam.
  • The Islamic religion continually and loudly demands freedom to worship in North American neighborhoods. However, one of Islam's core beliefs is that if a mosque is erected, that ground belongs to Muslims forever. There's no converting a mosque into a modern funky dwelling like is done with abandoned churches. A mosque proclaims itself as holy ground from its consecration day onward... and they're not giving it back, ever. EVER.
  • Muslims use Christianity's respect for others, including freedom of speech, to promote their own agendas. They do not offer similar concessions to other faiths in Muslim-controlled countries. For example, Saudi Arabia funds development in poorer countries, they specify that Muslims get the best jobs, have educational privileges, etc.
  • Muslims do not feel obligated to offer the religious respect, accommodation, or political correctness toward Christianity that they expect for themselves in the USA. Threaten to burn a Koran? Worldwide protests from Muslims, so the American government bends over backwards to prevent it. Shred hundreds of Bibles in Saudi Arabia? Burn Bibles on American military bases in Afghanistan? Fine, let the pieces fall, the smoke rise, and ignore any objections from Christians.
Perhaps, just maybe, if we Christians lived up to the claims of Christ, foreign gods would lose their appeal and gain no foothold on our soil.

Read more:
*O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!

Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. Isaiah 40:9-11 KJV

*Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:  “ Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Luke 2:8-14 NKJV

Friday, December 17, 2010

Stepping into the light

I'm tired of Christians skulking around as though they had something to be ashamed of.

No one acts embarrassed when they place a metal or wood statue prominently in their house or office, hoping it provides tranquility. Nobody gets too excited when an acquaintance mentions their trip to a Zen spa or Buddhist retreat, either. Suddenly, it's popular to talk about the "the god within," or "Myself as god." Knowing myself and others as I do, that seems like scary storytelling... and truly creative fiction.

I've been reading historical documents - including politics and culture - from the turn of the C20 century to about 1920. Without apology, politicians, teachers, and community leaders referred to their faith in Jesus Christ as an anchor, their source of wisdom and knowledge, and the basis for justice and a healthy society. The American Presidents extolled Christianity. They prayed for the nation out loud, front and center, without generating scorn and suspicion from the news media, coworkers, or onlookers.

But tell someone today that you're singing in a Christmas production or volunteering at church? It's like you fell off the turnip truck and contracted a red-neck contagion that could wipe out civilization and drive us backward into the Dark Ages.

Silly us. We're hoarding precious treasure that provides meaning and safety, peace and forgiveness, renewal and joy. In other words, we have access to everything people say they're looking for. God's promise to us and for our children is that our Heavenly Father will take care of his own. He sent his only Son to make peace between Creator and creations. He came in power, helplessness, supernaturally and mysteriously became "God with us."

If anyone's asking, my hand's up with an answer to his generous offer: "Pick me! Pick me! I accept! A relationship with you is what I want this season. Thank you for all you've done, God."

Let's proclaim the Good News, stepping into the light and bringing others with us this Christmas.

Read more:
*The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. Isaiah 9:2-3 NIV

*Arise, shine; for your light has come! and the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the LORD will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. 

The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes all around, and see: they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be nursed at your side.

Then you shall see and become radiant, and your heart shall swell with joy; because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you. Isaiah 60:1-5 NKJV

*Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 

On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21 NIV

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Merry Christmas 2010

Merry Christmas 2010, from the Kowalskis:

We are thankful for Jesus Christ and our hope in Him this season. Our family is sharing Christmas Eve, while the kids head out to enjoy Christmas Day with in-laws. We are thrilled to have everyone around – Kirsten came back from North Carolina for the month, too.

Waldemar and Rosemarie traveled a lot this year. In summer, we spent four weeks in SE Asia to teach and a week in China to enjoy a new view. Between, there were trips to Springfield, Missouri, and Minneapolis (work and study); Las Vegas (computers, W); Montana (W – working on the cabin), etc. W still loves teaching and presented a few papers at conferences. R quit her job in February to focus on studies. SO good to be home and unleash my creativity as my own boss again!

We continue to write and study. We added two small rescue dogs, Spike and Bella, to the household. They keep Rosemarie company and out walking a few miles a day. W’s enclosing the back deck as a sunroom after figuring out it would cost about the same to put in non-rotting deck boards. Go figure! Yes, it continues to pour and be damp and cold in the Northwest. It’s no place to spend the winter.

The kids are busy for the most part and happy. Jeremy and Rebekah live and work nearby in Renton. Kirsten is currently on disability from work, trying to recover her health during an arthritis flare. Prayers always appreciated. Timothy’s in real estate, and he and Melissa are moving to a new apartment just before Christmas. Jonathan’s a senior at university and working part time.

God is good – and we are grateful for dear family and friends. God bless you in 2011.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Educational deceit

"Ignorance is the cause of inequality and bad behavior," my eighth grade teacher told her class. "If everyone in the world would have access to education, people's lives would be transformed. We'd know how to deal with poverty, sickness, injustice...."

So, now many of us know "how." But has that made life better for everyone? 

Have despots and dictators learned kindness along with reading and math? Do the greedy share food and shelter with the needy? Are the financially inept better at managing their money? Have well-educated religious and political leaders of the world relinquished their stranglehold on power to allow equal access to medicine and resources?

Not according to daily headlines. We know more, but knowledge by itself is not transformational.

Apparently 100+ years of education haven't helped us to be moral and good citizens. Another study confirms what most of us know: the human heart needs a revolution more than it needs information.

Jesus the Revolutionary offers the heart rebirth, though such a life is full of risk, mystery, and adventure. Though God's wisdom and transformation is freely accessible, it is not without cost. Gaining abundant life requires absolute surrender of our education and ways of self-knowing. It means relinquishing our worldview and putting our lives under someone else's control. 

That's the rub, isn't it? What are we willing to give up to be utterly renewed and reborn? 

Read more:
*O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1 NIV

*Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. Proverbs 12:1 NLT 
*Jesus:"And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:32 NLT

Friday, December 3, 2010

Church-going liars

 A recent study on church attendance says we're big liars. We say we are in church, but really, we're staying home. Canadians (my tribe) are second only to Americans in "inflating" their attendance.

The study also found that half of Canadian teens "never" go to church, while 25% of adults admit the same. And though many of us claim to be "churched," we avoid going to services. Why?

Here are some contributing factors I hear about or experience: (I'll put these in the first person, though not all are my experiences.)
  1. What about the Bible? We haven't heard more than a few verses over the past few months. Nothing they talk about afterwards has anything to do with those verses. Mostly, our pastor posts the references on the screens and hopes we read it ourselves. 
  2. Church people assume we know what they're talking about. They use words they've never explained to us. Their ideas of "holiness" and "partaking" and "fellowship" seem weird since we don't know what they mean. Why can't they talk like normal people?
  3. We make the effort to get to church on a Sunday when our neighbors are sleeping in. We expect to make friends with other attendees. But we don't know anyone personally, even after months of attending. No one seems to notice or care if we're there or not. Sure, the greeters shake our hands and smile as we come into the foyer, but my family and I sit with people we don't know. They barely acknowledge our existence. Everyone lets us walk out the door without another personal interaction. (Oh, maybe the greeters wave at us as we leave.)
  4. We're not used to karaoke, but we hum along with the band on the stage. It's a bit uncomfortable, but not a big deal - no one else is singing. Most of us are staring at words on a screen while we enjoy the music and watch the performers. The singers are in their own world, lifting their hands, swaying, talking at us from a distance. What's the point for us?
  5. We've come because of a Christian holiday we remember from another tradition (maybe when we were kids), like Ash Wednesday, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Advent, or Christmas. We remember these times as sacred highlights for Christians, but our church acts as though it's just another Sunday. (Easter and Christmas may be the exception, though some Christmas performances are more like a Broadway musical than religious ceremonies.) 
  6. Where's the mystery? The grace? The supernatural? We're disappointed when God and Jesus are passing ideas in the weekly lecture and musical show. Why bother showing up? The plays, bands, and lecturers are better in theaters and concert venues.
  7. We really want religious instruction. We thought maybe Jesus would inform our journey, messed up as we are.  We were hoping the Bible would get us back on track or at least bring peace. But the speaker reads a few verses or a paragraph from the Bible. Then he or she gives suggestions for family life from pop-psychology or offers ideas for financial success and happiness from self-help books. (We can read that kind of advice anywhere. And let's face it, Oprah has way better self-help guests and gurus on her show than our local church does.) We're starving for biblical content. We wish a thoughtful, life-long student of scripture would show up week after week. Maybe he or she could help us understand what the Bible says about God and Jesus so we could apply his wisdom to our lives.
  8. Our pastor rides a hobby horse. He seems interested in a few of Christ's teachings, but doesn't talk much about the rest of what Jesus said and did. Besides, the people we know from church don't live out what they hear in real life. I know some who lie, steal, cheat... but smile and shake hands with everyone at church as though they're perfect. They disappoint us and we don't want to hang out with them.
  9. We let someone know when we were ill/ having a baby/ having a family crisis/ lost our jobs. No one called or came to visit.
  10. What difference does it make if we show up or stay home? It's easier to sleep in or skip. No one will know the difference. 
A dozen more excuses come to mind.

But let's be honest. In a healthy family, everyone participates rather than acting like spectators. We show up for meals because we're part of the family. The food's not always great (especially if it's our turn to cook). Not everyone is happy or cheery all the time. Along the way, we learn to do chores and lend a hand rather than expecting everyone to focus just on us.

If we go to church, let's participate in a community of faith. Nourish and care for others as well as enjoy the benefits. Ask good questions and find answers in Scripture. Support the community financially, spiritually, and socially as the friendly, generous, and welcoming person who invites strangers into the Family.

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Take a hike

"Take a hike!"

That's not what the professors actually said to me Monday, but that's what I heard. What I had written was not clear or complete enough for their consideration.

"All this work, months and months of writing and reading... and there's no proposal! How can that be?" My thoughts were in chaos when I went to bed that night. "Do I have to start over? I can't go back to the beginning. I can't!" The proposal I've been working on since March had been shredded to bits. I felt trampled by the criticism of seven professors. 

"I cannot write another proposal," I told them. "Four proposals are enough." (The other three had been discarded as the issues were resolved or became irrelevant to me over the past two years.

I'm in the first cohort of a new PhD program, so the kinks aren't quite ironed out, nor are the procedures nailed down. Between flurries of emails from professors, students hear nothing for weeks. It's to be expected: the program is a great fit for our skills and interests, but wading through the emerging rules as the first cohort is both frustrating ("We don't know the answer to that yet,") and rewarding (the first cohort slips past some restrictions laid down for later cohorts). If we were quitters, we'd have already quit. 

"Oh, don't give up. All of us had to go through this, and worse," say Dr. and Dr. L, my hosts. "It's important to understand that in the game of academia hoop-jumping is almost as important as the end product."

This week started slowly. I was discouraged. But the pace has picked up! What fun - my tutorial advisers have lined up, waiting for approval. My research is coming into focus due to excellent interactions with faculty. 

"By the end of next week, we'll have something to hand in," assures my primary adviser. Optimist.

"Take a hike" apparently actually means, "Let's keep climbing, cutting out and redefining until we have it right. The process is steep and arduous, but keep going. We'll get there eventually!" 

I sleep very well at night. Head hits the pillow, lights go out... then, "Is it morning already?!" I guess hiking can wear you out! 

Read more:
*Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Psalm 62:5-8 NIV

*"I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. I soon discovered that God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race... The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief. To increase knowledge only increases sorrow... Ecclesiastes 1:13, 18 NLT

*Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made to us--eternal life. 1 John 2:24-25 NLT