Archive for the ‘faith’ Category

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The Most Dangerous Sunday of the Year

May 10, 2013

I was always a sensitive boy. I remember sitting on the bench outside my dad’s church on Mother’s Day, wishing each mother blessings on the way in, and proffering the provided roses. I was so excited about my job, that I accidentally wished a childless woman a happy Mother’s Day, and had to be gently reminded by her that she wasn’t a mother. I can’t imagine how that must have felt, knowing as she did that my heart was joyful and longing to bless, yet having an overly enthused eight year old remind her that she would not have her own eight year old.

This childlike sensitivity grew into an appreciation for the fairer sex bordering on awe when puberty taught me that women were all of a sudden fascinating. I had far more female friends than guys, I just found their company more interesting, less competitive. At this point I had 5 brothers and sisters, and I loved having my big, chaotic family. I dreamed of the day where I’d have one of my own. Time passed, and this sensitive and timid young man grew more and more desperate for family. Like Abraham, I tried to take the reigns of my life into my own hands. Thankfully(I think), this didn’t result in a child in what would have been a disastrous relationship, and I came back to my Savior, a bit humbler and more ready to have my big family on his terms.

So I waited.

Then I met Amy. She was a pastor’s kid, just like me, and she knew all the words to the Vegi Tales “Lip Song”, just like I did. It was a perfect match. 12 months after “Hi, I’m Seth!” I was saying “Hello, Mrs. Greenwald!” We had great plans. Anytime anyone asked about kids, I told them that Amy and I were divided on the subject, I wanted 6, while she only wanted 4. After a few months, we decided that a year would be sufficent between marriage and baby, so we quit birth control, and waited.

And waited.

And waited. On month, she was at 42 days. We were so stoked! We ran out to Cracker Barrel and bought two of the “Mother and Child” Willow figurines, and had them gift wrapped, one for her mother and one for mine, our way of announcing our good news. The very next day, we got our own bit of bad news. No pregnancy.

Amy and I were married on August 9th, 2003. Some things have changed, true. Neither of us give a hoot about 6 or 4. We’d be beside ourselves over 1. Some things haven’t changed, though. No children. We have watched my younger brother get married and have a son. Twice. My older sister got married 3 years or so after we did, and promptly had a honeymoon baby. Two years after that, she had another son. Last fall we celebrated my mother’s retirement from being our teacher for 25 years of homeschooling, and as a gift, my older sister gave her a pregnancy test showing positive. Number 3 is on its way. About a month after that, my younger sister called me out of the blue, letting me know that she had gotten pregnant. Her fiancĂ© is a single dad, so she is sort of having twins. 7 nephews and nieces is an amazing part of our lives, and we love each of them fiercely. But when I learned of my older sister’s third, I quietly walked around a room divider and even more quietly wept my heart out of my chest and onto the floor.

Amy and I have bitterly joked with each other that we should have given in to the incredible temptation to come together before we were married, because at least that way we’d have gotten pregnant. But as it stands, we will be at church on Sunday, holding our breath praying that the pastor doesn’t make a big deal about motherhood. We can’t even skip, because we are on the music team. We will be there before and after the service, trying in vain to not hear the clueless happy couples with their beautiful offspring congratulating each other on their ability to procreate. We will be leaving as quickly as humanly possible.

I speak from experience when I say that the issue runs far deeper than Mother’s Day, that’s only when it is closest to the surface. People in general, and the church in particular, don’t think about the brokenness that surrounds family relationships, other than the highly visible ones such as divorce. Barren couples aren’t even on the radar of the majority of people. Lonely singles don’t make a blip. The widow who’s children don’t call her sits in her pew, praying for health and traveling mercies, the two requests that are acceptable to make publicly. Believers don’t know how to share each others burdens. When true pain and very real wounds are shown, people shut down. At best, the leaders say “Thanks for being vulnerable”, which is code for “Moving on, now.” At worst, they call everyone over and pray over the empty womb, claiming a pregnancy within the year. There is an awful lot of talk of carrying burdens, and little lifting. Sometimes we need less words, and more hugs. Cry with us. Get angry with us. Don’t just shuffle your feet and look like you’d rather be anywhere else.

To me, Mother’s Day is too fraught with pain to be a valuable holiday. Father’s Day too, although Mother’s Day hurts more, for some reason. The heart of eight year old me must still be in there somewhere. I wish we would take many moments throughout the year to make our mother’s feel special, and render this one day obsolete.

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The Intersection of Grace and Effort

February 16, 2010

I don’t know if you knew this, but I sin. A lot. I have for quite some time now. And if you are anything like me, you probably do to. And if you are anything like me, there are sins in your life that you have fought for a very long time, years perhaps. Knowing that I am a new creation has somehow seemed to have little effect. My efforts to fight sin have been woefully pitiful, at best. I have seen my strength fail more times than I can count. I know that my salvation is not based on my own actions, but I how can I be a Christian and sin so much? Shouldn’t I try to not sin?

This struggle leaves us with two options. Try and fail, or don’t try and wait for God to change you. I have been alternating between these for 28 years. But there is another way.

John 10:28 says that Jesus gives his people eternal life, “and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” We are secure in Christ, apart from what we do. Yet Philippians 2:12 tells to “work our your salvation with fear and trembling.” How do these work together? The often stated doctrine of ‘once saved, always saved’ does NOT mean that we are free from a requirement of constant effort in order to be saved (even though this is true). We are called to constant effort, after all. What it means is that that effort is guaranteed to succeed! How? Because Philippians 2 doesn’t stop there. The next verse says that “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure”. God is the initiator of the desire and the ability to ‘try’! He is also the sustainer of that very same effort.

Those of us familiar with Reformed theology have no problem acknowledging that when God initiates salvation, he gives us a new nature and a new will, so that we can choose to cry out to him in faith and repentance. We understand that this is an act of God as well as a real choice on our part, both at the same time. Similarly, God working in us, turning our hearts away from sin and giving us strength to resist temptation, does not negate the fact that it is a real effort on our part! It is simply an effort that is backed and secured by the perfect effort of Jesus Christ.

The Christian life will be a sweaty, bloody affair. We will have broken bones and healed scars. We will have fatigue and adrenaline rushes. We will cry out in our effort, straining with every fiber of our being to cling to Christ. And our efforts will succeed. If it is God doing the work in our hearts, how can it fail?