What is Meditation Anyway?

Meditation

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf  does not wither.  In all that he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

Psalm 1

I want to be blessed.

Don’t you?

And it seems the doorway to blessedness hinges on the law of the Lord, or at least knowing it well enough

  • to recognize the difference between God’s counsel and the counsel of the wicked
  • to stand on God’s word instead of the way of sinners, and
  • to rest in God’s grace rather than the seat of the scoffer

According to Psalm 1, the way to attain that kind of knowledge is wrapped up in delight of and meditation upon the law of the Lord.

I think J.I. Packer describes meditation well when he says,

Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, an dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God.

[Meditation’s] purpose is to… let his truth make its full and proper impact on one’s mind and heart…. It is, indeed, often a matter of arguing with oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God’s power and grace.

In this description of meditation, Packer calls us, in  essence, to take our assumptions about how happy we should be, the opportunities we think we should have, our ideas of what church, parenting, marriage, dating, even grocery shopping should look like out of our pockets and see them for what they are through God’s microscope.

Sometimes I find myself clinging to an idea for which I can find ample biblical support, but on closer examination I realize I have bought into a cultural lie.

In the United States today, Christians generally believe we have gifts given to us by the Spirit to use to build up the church.  The Bible teaches this.  It is absolutely true!  But there’s this other pervasive half-truth accompanying this truth.  It is this idea that if I am not able to use my gifts, I should perhaps minister somewhere else.  As if God gave me these gifts and they are all that define my ministry opportunities.  It doesn’t really allow for God to show up and get the glory for working through our weakness.  It doesn’t allow us to grow.  And sometimes we avoid stretching in areas required for all believers because we don’t have a certain “gift.”  Like, people who excuse themselves from having others over to “break bread together” behind the guise of not having the gift of hospitality.  Or avoiding sharing Christ with others boldly since they don’t have the gift of evangelism.

It is only when we, in Packer’s words, “argu[e] with oneself, reason[] oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God’s power and grace” that we can find the half-truth we are using to excuse our laziness, repent, and be saved from another taskmaster.

It is the very act of meditating on the law of the Lord (the whole counsel of scripture) where we find the path to walk in the counsel of God, strength to stand on his word, and rest to sit under his grace.

Is the Image of God in the Chief of Sinners?

Iron.

It is a chemical element (Fe, atomic # 26) on the Periodic Table of the Elements.  It is a metal.  It is the most common element on earth, by mass.

IronThere really isn’t a whole lot special about iron

But there are a lot of special things made from iron.  Some really beautiful things, as a matter of fact.  Iron is often used to make cast-iron furniture, cookware, and railings.  It can be wrought into a variety of shapes and intricate designs.

Grilles du Choeur (Iron Art)

Grilles du Caran (Iron Art)

A lot of ironworks are quite valuable – which means, the items are not valuable because they are made of iron, but have their value in how they’ve been crafted.  In other words, it is not the iron but its use which defines its value.

One of the items in Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” columns pictured a plain bar of iron worth $5.  Made into horseshoes, that iron is worth $50.  Made into needles, it is worth $5,000.  Made into balance springs for Swiss watches, it is worth $500,000.  It is not the material but its use that matters.

Denison Forum on Truth and Culture

What about people?

Technically we are made of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, sulfur, chlorine, and magnesium.  There is nothing particularly special about any of those elements, either.  At least they aren’t  a whole lot more special than iron in the grand scheme of things.  As a matter of fact, the same elements are present in the bodies of animals.

What makes us special, then?  Or perhaps a first question is, are we in fact special?

God made man – and apparently most animal life as well – out of a set of 11-15 of the roughly 112 elements accepted by IUPAC as of May 2013.

There is nothing particularly unique about the materials necessary for life – but there is something different between us – humanity – and animals.

See, God set humans apart by making us in his own image to give him glory.  The Westminster Catechism sums up our purpose as “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  That’ll be true when the elements from which we are made are decomposing in the soil.

Humans are unique in having such a purpose.  God set man over creation for a specific use;  to worship him, to take fill the earth with his image in us, to give him glory, and to show his character to a watching world.

Like iron, it is not the materials he used which set us apart as special, but how we are crafted for use.

See, I can take an iron crow bar and us it to pry things apart, or I can use the same crow bar to bust a window.  It is still a crow bar.  It doesn’t cease to be a crow bar just because I used it for burglary.  Admitting it is a crow bar does not mean I condone the choice to misuse it.  It simply means I recognize a crow bar as a crow bar.  I can still see it could be put back into service as a crow bar, even if it was used to smash a window.

It gets a little trickier with people, though, doesn’t it?

We live in a fallen world and people sometimes mistake themselves for a god, and people sometimes misuse their bodies, their intellect, their heart/emotions, and their worship for wrong things.

I do.

But that doesn’t make me less human – it simply displays the brokenness of humanity.

So often we are no longer doing our job – being image bearers of God, taking dominion over the earth, and multiplying to fill the earth with God’s glory (though I must say the Quillens are doing their part on the multiplying part… lol).  But failing to do our job doesn’t change what we were fundamentally created to do – or who we are ultimately created to be.

All people are created in the image of God, whether they recognize it, distort it, or live up to that amazing truth and honor it… or not.

Do I recognize my identity based on how I am made or sell myself short based what I am made of?

Do I hold humans – the born and the unborn, the young and the old, those who are presently making wise choices and those who are making foolish choices – as special because they are made in the image of God?

Do I honor the image of God in the man asking for money on the street corner?  Or the politician with whom I have sharp disagreement?  What about the terrorist who straps a bomb on a child in a foreign land?  Am I willing to see the image of God in that human?

Whoever that human is for me…

Am I willing to pray for that human to recognize and return to his/her created purpose?

Am I willing to welcome that person into fellowship if they do?

It’s not really different than the question early Christians in Paul’s day had to ask themselves about the Christian-murdering-zealot-turned-preacher they were confronted with in Paul.

It’s not really different than what Christ was asked (and willing) to do to save me.

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

1 Timothy 1:15-16, ESV

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Photo Credit:
Iron by High Contrast (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0-de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons
Grilles du Choeur (Iron Art) by Marylise Doctrinal (Flickr: Grilles du Chœur) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Grilles du Caran (Iron Art) by Archives nationales (France) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Going Green – Saving Green: Laundry Savings

Going Green ~ Saving Green

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1

There’s something amazing to me about God creating the earth – if you read the creation account as if you’ve never heard it before, thinking about it like it’s new information – well, it’s a little bit awe-inspiring. Especially when you then look around and see the limitless creativity and economy he used.  It seems like we are still discovering new creatures, yet sometimes they carry characteristics of others we’ve already come to know and love.

And then to think he put man over it all to protect and nurture it – to take dominion over the creatures – which also implies the need to care for the environment of those creatures.  Man, who was created in his image, is tasked with the care of his special creation.  Pretty cool, huh, when you really stop to think about it?

I probably don’t think about it often enough.

And yet, there are times when I live up to his creative and efficient image in me – when I represent him well in and to his creation.

Sometimes it has been things like cultivating our yard to be beautiful and neat.  Sometimes it’s been things like tenderly caring for a pet until it is restored to health.  And other times it manifests itself in limiting my carbon footprint – reduce, reuse, recycle.

Van de Graaff Electro-Static GeneratorOne little thing we do is minimize our use of dryer sheets/fabric softener.  I did try to give up dryer sheets altogether, but everything stayed so staticky and then my hair constantly looked like I was at the science center touching one of those giant balls at the end of a Van de Graaff generator.

I went back to dryer sheets.

Then I read an article about how dryer sheets could be used multiple times – there’s enough fabric softener on the sheets to be effective for FOUR uses.  I tried that, but it was hard to locate the dryer sheet between loads, plus I could never decide if it was as effective on the fourth load as the first.

Then I decided, if a dryer sheet could be used four times, then it’s reasonable to assume 1/4 of a dryer sheet could be used once.

Eureka!

It works.  🙂

I know, it’s not rocket science, but it’s one little thing that saves us a lot of money and reduces our waste.

I should add, when we moved to Tennessee eight years ago and had to purchase a washer/dryer, we bought high-capacity, high-efficiency, front-loading machines.  Since I can wash/dry up to 17 pairs of jeans in my washer, our loads may be larger than yours.  We did make the shift to using 1/2 dryer sheet when we started making use of the full capacity of our dryer.  With nine people, seven of whom are growing bigger by the minute, we have definitely grown into our washer/dryer!

Which brings me to a second way we’ve saved a lot of money and reduced our carbon footprint is in the washer/dryer combo we use.  The front loading machines utilize significantly less water, detergent, and also minimize drying time.  So, if/when you are in the market for new laundry equipment, I highly recommend HE front-loading machines at whatever capacity makes sense for your size family.

I know there are also folks who make their own laundry soap and find additional savings there.  I haven’t personally delved into homemade soap, because our bulk purchases of laundry soap cost $13-$26 per year (since I run at least 2 loads of laundry per day, six days per week, I spend about $0.02-$0.04 per load on laundry detergent, which is well within reason in my book).

Still, it seems some folks are able to save by making their own laundry detergent, and two sweet friends have shared their recipes with me.  Here are links to the recipes they’ve recommended (I cannot vouch for anything else on these sites, so please, peruse with the same care you would on any new website):

Dry Laundry Detergent

Liquid Laundry Detergent

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Photo Credit:
Electro-Static Generator by Dtjrh2 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Green Piggy by RLHyde – http://www.flickr.com/photos/breatheindigital/ [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

What Christianity is All About

I think there is sometimes a misunderstanding about true Christianity.

Non-Christians often think of Christianity as a crutch or a set of rules to guide behavior or a club of like-minded associates.

The media often suggests Christianity is a set of standards by which to judge others and condemn otherwise acceptable behavior.

Ancient Jews thought of Christians as troublemakers and heretics.

Muslims seem to consider us an enemy.

Even within Christian circles there is debate about what it is to be a Christian:

Can we/must we attain sinlessness this side of heaven?

Can we/must we speak in tongues?

Can we drink alcohol?

Should we sacrifice our children on the altar of public schools or should we sequester them at home to shelter them completely from being in or of the world?  Maybe we should teach them to be white-washed tombs by sending them to private schools? (Yes, I deliberately chose the most caustic, negative view of each, perfectly acceptable, form of schooling.)

Can women wear pants? Bikinis? Teach?

And then what do we do about wealth?  Do we have to give it all away?  Live communally?  Be good stewards and make sure we have enough?  What if you cannot afford food?  What if you have more money than you know what to do with?  What do you do with the beggar on the street corner?

If we cannot even agree, in Christian circles, what this whole Christianity thing is all about, how on earth are we going to be winsome with the gospel?

Perhaps if we agreed to focus more on personal righteousness – both the sanctifying-growing-in-holiness and thankful-for-Christ’s-provision-of-right-standing-with-God kinds of righteousness – than on the do’s and don’ts we construct to define righteousness, others might be able to see what Christianity is all about.

I know, easier said than done, right?  At some point you simply have to have practical actions to accompany your theology.  But sometimes I think we end up bound in slavery to the theology of practical actions rather than freed by knowing God in Christ.  And who, in their right mind, wants to exchange slavery to the idolatry of sin for slavery to the idolatry of rules?

Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Can I get an, “Amen!”?

What Christianity is All About

The Pearl of Peace

Do you know how pearls are made?  If I remember correctly, an oyster responds to the irritation of a grain of sand it cannot get out of its shell by slowly turning it over and over, smoothing its rough edges by laying down a chemical on the surface and, over time, it makes a smooth, beautiful gem.

Irritating thoughts can be like that for me at times.  Sometimes a thought gets into my head and I need to turn it over and over and wrap it in truth and watch how God makes it a beautiful thing.  Perhaps thoughts like these are a pearl of great price, one worth finding, hiding, and purchasing a field over.

Now, you might not find this thought so irritating or the results of my contemplation a beautiful gem, but a friend of mine posted a comment on his Facebook page a couple of months ago, and it’s been spinning around in my head ever since.

He said, “In last night’s episode of Star Trek (original series), the message was: War can be bad, but ill-timed peace can be worse.”

Can you see why that needed to spin around for a bit?

The truth in it is so irritating.  Especially if, like me, you don’t really enjoy conflict.  I tend to want peace and peace to come quickly!

I have to say there is never an ill time for true peace, but sometimes I strive for peace-faking more than peace-making.  And that is exactly what ill-timed peace is all about.

You know what I’m talking about – those moments when, instead of lovingly persevering to reconcile an emotional injury (real or imagined), I shut down, stuff it, and call it “overlooking.”  Then I feel so proud of myself because I responded so “graciously.”

I’m not sure the purpose of overlooking sin is to feed my self-righteousness.

The thing that got me as I ruminated over Robert’s Facebook comment is that ill-timed peace is a lot like pre-marital/extra-marital intimacy.

In the physical relationship, we want to enjoy the pleasures of physical intimacy out of place, out of time, and without the commitment to remain with the person through all the other moments of life.  It is a desire for something good – physical intimacy is good and beautiful – but without the context which makes it truly intimate.  It is based on a desire for one’s own pleasure rather than an extension of love for another person.  It is pursuing the crown without committing to the kingdom.  Eating the icing without the cake (or the steak or salad or anything of substance), and it tends to make us sick.

Ill-timed peace is that same kind of theft and adultery.  It is the same twisted desire to have the benefit without the work, to have the crown and glory of a right relationship without the realm of true peace.  Peace-faking is selfish above all – it is based on a desire for my own pleasure and comfort over the sacrifice needed to live at peace with another person.  Eventually a diet of peace-faking will make me sick, and my relationships will be map-nourished.

I think sometimes I slather my hurt feelings with icing.  Putting icing on a stone doesn’t make it a cupcake; it just disguises the hardness and hides future pain.  If someone tries to take a bite (move in to enjoy fellowship) they will be surprised by what’s under the icing – a hard heart laced with iciness, edginess, and bitterness.  Or, the “cupcake” becomes a surprise weapon I lob it out in the sling-shot of the next argument.  Either way it hurts rather than heals.

So, when I am tempted to think I am “overlooking” an offense, it is important for me to dig a little deeper to look for the roots of peace-faking.

Am I “overlooking” out of a desire for selfish gain?
Am I simply avoiding conflict?
Does the thought of confronting an offense cause me anxiety?
Am I “overlooking” to make myself feel better?  To strengthen my position of self-righteousness?
Do I feel “holier” because I am choosing to “rather be wronged”?
Am I settling for peace-faking?

You know, Jesus came to bring peace; and he never overlooked sin.

He also didn’t condemn sinners.  He didn’t leave us where we were.  He didn’t stockpile his anger for future battle.

His peace looks like restoration and reconciliation.

His peace removes all barriers and penalties that would keep him and his offenders from sweet fellowship.  He offers forgiveness (which includes owning something was wrong, not pretending everything is right) as the only path to peace.

Perhaps my search for peaceful relationships should look a little more like Jesus’ model: seeking to restore and reconcile.  If overlooking an offense leaves a wedge, a root of bitterness, or a bomb ticking in my heart waiting to be triggered by the next offense, I’ve committed peace-faking adultery.  I have stolen the temporary thrill and pleasure of “peace” without committing to peacefulness.

Peacemaking looks like choosing to do good to those who hurt you because your Father asks you to do so.  Peacemaking means sacrificing and dying to self by confronting sin with a desire to restore.  True peacemaking comes alongside those who have sinned and gives them strength to repent by offering grace – the grace of declaring it wrong, hurtful, and… forgiven.

Peacemaking is a pearl of great price.  It is wrought when we deal with irritating offenses by turning them over and over and over to Jesus, bathing them in scripture, forgiveness, and grace.  And at the end of the day, you can take the offense out and look at it in a whole new light – seeing the beautiful gem God made from working it over in righteousness.

Pearl of Peace

You simply don’t get a true pearl of peace without the grain of sand.

To learn about biblical peacmemaking, and to gain skill in living “at peace with everyone, as far as it is up to you” check out Peacemaker’s Ministries.  Years of experience with their materials and practical application in my own conflicts have informed this post and my daily walk before Christ and with others.

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Photo Credit:
Pearl Oyster by Manfred Heyde [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Graphic alterations by cultivategrace.org