Wednesday, October 23, 2013

On Crutches, or, A Vindication of Real Life

Over the past month, the two major crutches of my recent life have suddenly been thrust out from under me, and I have found myself standing uncomfortably alone. Truly, the removal of these crutches are really an occasion for celebration but, I must admit, you my blog readers are more oft to see the reflections that follow my celebrations. This is one of those more often than not instances (which is not to say I have not done my share of celebrating). 

The first crutch to kick the bucket list was GAPS. I thoroughly enjoyed being on it, and it genuinely helped make me well. In fact, if I could come up with an excuse to stay on the diet, believe me, I would; but the fact is that my body has kicked into all high functioning gears, and I am ready to get on with improved health. There is simply no means left to justify my staying on the diet. 
Now, if you know me well, you might understand why my fledgling legs feel a wee bit woozy. After all, three years of this plus two years of this could well nigh turn anyone's suddenly-free food life into a roller coaster ride without the rollers coaster rails. It could feel like free fall. Restrictions were my safety net for not getting fat, not losing discipline, not growing up into a hoodlum, and not doing a host of similar silly "not"ables. But this crutch has been duly kicked.

The second crutch to meet its forkless fork in the road was college. Although I "graduated" in April and finished classes in July (neither of which markers I saw fit to blog about ~ cue facesmack), it was only in recent weeks that all that bothersome paperwork filled itself out. Again, although definitely a huge cause for merrymaking, this development has left this girl rather weak in the knees. You see, college was something to do, or, more importantly, something I could tell others I do. Just as it seems that every good woman is on some diet plan, it seems that every good girl is on money-producing or credit-crunching schedule, and it ought to be some sort of program that can, in a very few seconds, satisfactorily answer the ever-vague but ever-present "What are you up to?" question. College used to be my smart-sounding, accredited answer, but, alas, that crutch has sailed...or floated ~ you get the drift.

So this is me sorting through my crutchless existence and vindicating Real Life instead.

First, on Real Life: it has been short-changed for "stuff." Instead of measuring our days by the life we live, we ~ or at least I ~ tend to measure our days by the things we do, the places we go, the lists we cross, the trophies we gain, the money we earn.... In short, the stuff we accomplish. Again, at least for me, life is so much more easily viewed in what I did and what I can say I do. But giving up college has rather smacked me in the face with this sorry reality. Now there is nothing particular for me to tell that others I do, and it is up to my personal integrity in Christ to make sure I am doing something worthwhile, even if that something is not expressible in a twenty-second sound bite. As I was fumbling through all these thoughts in my head, my ever wise brother mentioned that I needed to learn something: Real, Rich Life is not composed of crossed off lists of stuff, but the simple things God does through us with others as we grow into better vessels of His grace. "And, Jenn, most of the times the things God will call you to do as a wife, mother, daughter, sister will be things nobody sees." How true! And how humbling. Keeping a house clean, sharing warm meals, having the time and sanity to offer someone love, counselling a brother (and, obviously, being counselled by him), helping out a friend ~ these are the stuff of Real Life, so often neglected because never worth the telling.

Living Real Life does not have to involve a high-paying job or a ministry ready to go on the back of a book cover or even attaining perfect health. Living Real Life simply involves living, and living well (see 1 Peter 1:3-9, below).

Now I am not saying we should not work and be lazy and just take in "life" as "life" sweeps us along. Proverbs 21 is quite clear in that respect: "The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor. All day long he craves and craves..." (verses 25-26). But are our works the sum total of our lives, or is His Life the reason for our working? Basically, are we living by grace? If Real Life is passing me by as an offering on the altar of "stuff," then mayhaps I am not.

It was so easy to rely on my crutches of stuff ~ college and diet restrictions (although very good and beneficial things in their own right)~ as an alternative to grace, as insurance against my provenly unsteady gait. But, the problem is, crutches are for cripples.

And Christians are anything but crippled. We do not need a Crutch because we have Christ, the Christ who is our life and our righteousness. Remember Proverbs 21? The rest of verse 26 offers the contrast, "but the righteous gives and does not hold back." Even better, this righteous giving finds its foundation in verse 21. "Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honour." Whoever pursues righteousness (and we know may only find righteousness in Christ) will find life, Real Life. It's all about grace.

Here's to grace, then, which has the lovely quality of being portable, flexible, innovative, and always applicable. So whether you are working an intense job, rendering the kitchen deliciously fragrant, or reading that classic you've always wanted to eat in one sitting, Christ's grace, as a Christian, ought to go before you.

For this is the stuff of a gracious, hopeful, crutchless Life:"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith-more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire-may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls."~1 Peter 1:3-9

Monday, October 21, 2013

Christ's Righteousness in Our Stead

Today's post is a guest post, written by one of my quickly-growing-closer friends, Robert Traill. Of course, it would be that Jenn's friend has been dead for 300 years, but that is of no matter in regards to the sweet truth he speaks. This is the third sermon in a series of six on Galatians 2:21 which has truly blessed and refreshed this girl's heart over the past week. I would give it a better introduction, but it speaks for itself, I assure you. 

Do Not Seek Righteousness by the Law

“I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” ~Gal. 2:21.

When I first entered on these words, I told you what the scope of the apostle was in this epistle: he is here brining forth arguments against that error that the Galatian churches were plagued with; and arguments for that truth of the gospel that he had planted amongst them, and taught them. The truth was this, That the righteousness of a sinner for justification was only in Christ. The error of the Galatians lay in this, That something of the righteousness of the law was to be mixed therewith. My text contains two arguments against this error, drawn from a common natural head of arguing against error, by the absurdities that necessarily flow from it. Now there are two grand absurdities that flow from this doctrine of the law in point of justification, 1st, That it frustrates the grace of God; 2dly, That it makes Christ’s death to be in vain: and two more abominable things cannot be well thought of; and people have great need to fear, and to take heed of any doctrine that hath any tendency to either of them. The first of these the apostle expresses in his own person: “I do not frustrate the grace of God.” And here he speaks as a believer, and not as a minister nor an apostle; so he discourses from ver. 16, speaking of himself and the rest of the godly, like ordinary believers, that betook themselves to this way of relief by Christ’s righteousness alone. I propose four observations to speak to.

1st, That the grace of God shines gloriously in the justifying of a sinner through the righteousness of Christ: and this I have spoke to.

2dly, That frustrating the grace of God is a great and horrible sin; for so it is expressed by the apostle, “I do not frustrate the grace of God.” As if he should have said, “B1essed be God, I am not in that road; I am not one that frustrates the grace of God; I am saved by it.” How the grace of God is frustrated, and how great the sin is, I spoke to the last day. The revelation of the grace of God, and the tender of it, and the urging of it, may be frustrated, and is, by many: but the grace itself, in its powerful conveyance by the Holy Ghost on the hearts of men, always reaches its end. The grace of God is irresistible in its thorough powerful application: this I also spoke to; and would only add a word or two further about the greatness of this sin of seeking righteousness by the law, and thereby frustrating the grace of God.

1. This is a sin that but few in the world can commit. The greatest part of them that go to hell cannot commit this sin; they never frustrated the grace of God. Indeed all that are finally guilty of it go to hell; but all that go to hell are not guilty of this sin. The greatest part of the world never frustrated the grace of God, for they never heard of it; and, therefore, our Lord pronounces a woe against Capernaum, against Chorazin and Bethsaida, and tells them that they were in a worse case than Sodom and Gomorrah, than Tyre and Sidon, (Matt. 11:21), because the grace of God was never offered them as it was to the others. Sirs, let me tell you, the worst quarters in hell are for those persons that are nearest to Christ, and yet not in him by faith: of all sinners such drop deepest into the pit.

2. The devils are not guilty of this sin. There is not a devil in hell, nor out of it, that is so guilty of this sin of frustrating the grace of God, as thousands of professors in London are. The devils are haters of the grace of God; but the grace of God was never tendered to them: they only hate the grace of God as it is tendered to men, and envy it; but the grace of God was never offered to the devils. The way of preserving the holy angels, and the way of justice to the damned spirits, proclaim greatly the wonderful privilege that we have in the gospel. The holy angels are kept, and they received grace, for the election of grace fell on them: they are called the elect angels. When that great apostasy was in the upper house, all the reprobate angels fell of their own accord, and all the elect angels stood: and that election of grace towards angels ran through Jesus Christ, who was to be their preserving head. There is something that looks like this in the word of God.
But recovering grace to angels was never given; the angels that stood had preserving grace given them, to keep them in their first station; but the angels that fell had no recovering grace given them, “Christ took not on him,” saith the apostle, “the nature of angels, but was born of the seed of Abraham.” And thence it came to pass, that the devils themselves are not guilty of this sin of frustrating the grace of God. Surely then people had need to take great heed that they be not guilty of a worse sin than that which the devils can commit. There is no creature that hath frustrated the grace of God, but that creature that hath the offer of the grace of God.

3. Frustrating the grace of God is a sin that none that are in hell are guilty of. All that are finally guilty of it on earth are sent to hell, but none that are in hell are guilty of it; for when once that last sentence is executed upon them, the door of grace and mercy is for ever shut upon them. So that it is the gospel-sinner only who can frustrate the grace of God, who is guilty of that sin; and that but a small part of the world are guilty of it; that the devils in hell are not guilty of it, that all the damned in hell are not guilty of it, though they rage, and roar, and blaspheme; and ail sorts of wickedness we may well conclude to be in their miserable state: but frustrating the grace of God is a sin not to be found in hell, because grace enters not there. So much shall serve for this second point of doctrine, That it is a horrible sin to frustrate the grace of God. I come now to speak to the next doctrine.

3dly, To seek righteousness by the works of the law, is to frustrate the grace of God: for this is the scope of the apostle’s argument. It is to shew that there is no righteousness to be had by the law; and this is one argument that he proves it by, “I do not,” saith he, “frustrate the grace of God.” It is, as if he should have said, “If I sought righteousness by the works of the law, I should frustrate the grace of God; but I do not seek righteousness by the law, for I am dead to the law, and therefore I do not frustrate the grace of God.” There are two things under this doctrine that I would speak to — 1st, What is it to seek righteousness by the law? 2dly, How doth it appear that seeking righteousness by the works of the law is frustrating the grace of God? For they that are guilty of this sin of seeking righteousness by the works of the law, they are very loath to take in this, that they frustrate the grace of God: they will say, that they give all respect to the grace Of God; even the self-righteous Pharisee could claim to have the grace of God, (Luke 18:11), “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men;” “I thank God, that I am so good as I am;” when he was a poor, vain, self-conceited man all the while.

1. What is it to seek righteousness by the works of the law? By law here I mean the holy spotless law of God. The law of man hath nothing to do in the point of righteousness before God. This seeking of righteousness by the law is righteousness in God’s sight; the apostle states the matter so. No man is justified by the law in the sight of God. That a man is justified by the law in the sight of men, nobody can deny. We should be very careful to justify ourselves in the sight of men by the law, and our conformity to it; but this righteousness here spoken of is righteousness in the sight of God, and righteousness by the law of God; and it stands in three things.

1st, Righteousness by the law is that which obtains a man’s acceptance with God. That is righteousness by the law that procures a man’s acceptance with God; upon the account of which he stands before God as a righteous man, and is dealt with accordingly. Now, he that seeks righteousness by the law in this sense, is one who dreams, that by doing and obeying what the law requires, he may work out that for which he may stand righteous and accepted in God’s sight. And that is one way this sin is committed.

2dly, In this righteousness before God by the works of the law, there is an expectation of impunity for all that is past in transgressing the law. And we find that this must necessarily be the righteousness of a holy man, who stands in a state of acceptance with God; but the righteousness of a man who hath been once a sinner must be by having that which may bring him into a state of impunity and safety of all the transgressions that he hath been guilty of before. Now, men are guilty of seeking righteousness by the works of the law this second way, when they do, or think to do, that for which God will forgive all their transgressions, and forget all that they have done: and of this the Pharisee made no question: though he was a sinner, yet he comes and prays, and expects acceptation in God’s sight, and the forgiveness of his sins, upon the account of the good that he had done.

3dly, In this righteousness by the works of the law there is a title to eternal life. He that, by what he doth, expects to have a right conferred upon him to eternal life, is a man that seeks righteousness by the law: “Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” said the poor young legalist, (Matt. 19:16). I would gladly have eternal life, and would gladly have a right to it: Master, tell me what good thing shall I do to get it. These are the three ways by which men seek righteousness by the law:—To do that whereby a man may obtain acceptance before God: To do that for which he may obtain pardon and impunity from God: To do that for which he may have a right conferred on him to eternal life. But, you will say, this is so gross Popery, that there is no Protestant guilty of it. Alas! alas! every natural man is guilty of it; and it is only the almighty power of the Spirit of God that can erase it out of their hearts. I will offer you some plain proofs of this.

1. How many are there, when their hearts are examined, must acknowledge that their eyes are altogether on the precepts of the law, and not a thought on the promises of the gospel? How many poor creatures are there that begin to be thoughtful about their salvation, insomuch that they make people that are about them, who are ignorant and charitable, think that they are hopeful Christians. But try these people this way, and you will find that all the exercise of their religion is about the precepts of the law, and they have no exercise at all about the promises of the gospel, he that minds only the precepts, is only a doer; and he that minds not the promise, he is no believer: for the precept is the rule of practice; but it is the promise that is the foundation of faith. Now, how can that man be reckoned a believer, that hath no heart-exercise about the promises?

2. A great many people are mightily taken up about their own works, and but very little about Christ’s. Our righteousness doth not stand in our own works; but stands in Christ’s works, what Christ did, and suffered for us in his life, and death, and resurrection; therein stands our righteousness. Now, how many poor creatures are there that reckon it a great matter, and glory mightily in their own doings: if they pray, and hear, and read, and can but make any sort of reformation in their conversation, how big do these things appear in their eyes! But Christ’s life and death, and all his great performances for our salvation, are mean and low, and of small esteem with them. And do not these sort of people seek righteousness by the law? Aye surely.

3. They look for eternal life, but they look for it as a reward of works, and not as an inheritance given by gift and grace; and all servants and slaves must do so, and all natural men are slaves, they are children of the bondwoman, (Gal. 4:31); they work for fear of punishment, and in hopes of the crown: they work for wages; the wages they love, and would have, but the work they hate. Whereas the believer acts just the contrary; he loves the work, and he expects the wages as the gift of grace from the blessed Father he serves. The apostle makes a great distinction between these two; “Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ, (Gal. 4:7). Every man that is for righteousness by the works of the law is a servant; he looks upon God as his master, and the law as his master’s will, and he sets about obeying with all his might. Now, is not this a good servant? Yes. But all such servants go to hell: you must be children, for none but children are saved. And, indeed, there are none true servants to him, but they that are children: they are but slaves, and are cast out, that do not serve with their love, and expect the inheritance only as a gift of grace. So much for that first thing, What it is to seek righteousness by the works of the law.

2. I am now to shew you, that seeking righteousness by the works of the law, is to frustrate the grace of God: and I would shew it — first in point of doctrine — and then in point of practice.1st, As to point of doctrine. In the matter of righteousness before God, the law and the gospel are perfectly opposite, and they are only so in this point. The law and the gospel agree sweetly together in all things else; but in this point of the righteousness of a man before God, the law and the gospel are quite opposite one to another. The gospel comes to bring in another salvation than the law thought of; and the law destroys the salvation of the gospel. The law and gospel, in point of righteousness before God, are exactly opposite; “And if by grace, then it is no more by works, otherwise grace is no more grace; but if it be of works, then it is no more of grace, for otherwise works were no more works,” (Rom. 11:6). Grace and works, in the point of righteousness before God, are perfectly opposite; “You are saved by grace,” saith the apostle, “not of works, lest any man should boast,” (Eph. 2:8, 9).2dly, Let us bring this matter into practice, and you will find that all men express this in their attitude; both the self-righteous man, and he that is not so. Not only is it asserted in point of doctrine, that works and grace are thus inconsistent, but we always find it, even in the spirit and temper, both of the one and of the other.

1. He that seeks righteousness by the law, is a man that never saw his need of grace: and you may be well assured that that man will frustrate the grace of God, who never saw his utter need of it. He was never so far emptied, but he expects and imagines that he shall be able to work out a righteousness for himself, and so is not brought under any conviction of his utter need of the grace of God; whereas he that is for the grace of God in Christ alone, is a man that hath a great need of the grace of God, and sees himself undone without it.

2. This self-righteous man sees no glory in the grace of God shining through the righteousness of Christ; there is no excellency in it to him. Every natural man is in this mind; he sees a great deal of glory in his own doings: in a beautiful conversation, in brave gifts, and in a shining walk before men; he sees a great deal of beauty and glory here. Every natural man thinks there is a great deal of glory in his own performances. The self-righteous Pharisee came boasting in his own performances; “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican: I fast twice a week, and I give tithes of all that I possess,” (Luke 18:11, 12). These were great things in the man’s esteem, and so they are in the eyes of every natural man. But for that righteousness that is lodged in Christ, that is wrought out by a man without him, by one that came down from heaven, and is gone up thither again; that hath all this righteousness seated in him, and gives it forth to us by mere grace; no natural man thinks any thing of this. But the believer is a man that hath an high esteem of the righteousness of Christ. How doth the apostle Paul speak of this? “I count all things but dung, that I may win Christ; and be found in him, not having on mine own righteousness,” (Phil. 3:8, 9).

3. Every natural man is averse from the grace of God, and therefore he must needs frustrate the grace of God. He is averse from it: but every believer is just of another mind. Sirs, if all men’s hearts were known to us, as they are to God, here is one thing that would determine every man’s state, What way do you best like to go to heaven in? “I would gladly be very holy,” saith the poor man, “that I may be very happy when I die.” Saith the believer, “I would gladly be clothed with Christ’s righteousness, and get eternal life as the gift of his grace; and I know that by being in Christ I shall be sanctified.” But no believer seeks sanctification as his righteousness, and title to glory: it is a preparation for glory, and the way that leads to glory, to all them that are saved according to that blessed method, “Whom he justified, them he also glorified,” (Rom. 8:30); and by glorification there, both sanctification and eternal life are well understood by most. — So much for the third doctrine, That seeking righteousness by the works of the law frustrates the grace of God.

I would now speak a few words to the fourth doctrine, and then make some application of both together.

Doctrine 4. No true believer in Jesus Christ can frustrate the grace of God. The apostle is here speaking of it in the account that he is giving of the grace of God working in him: “I through the law,” saith he, “am dead to the law, that I might live to God;” and “I live by Christ, and by faith in him, and, therefore, I do not frustrate the grace of God.” He is not speaking of the great attainment that some few Christians arrive at; but he is speaking of that which is common to the state of all Christians: “I do not frustrate the grace of God.” Before I come to the proof of this, I would lay down a few cautions, to prevent mistakes.

1st, It must be allowed that a great many who have been made Christians have been long enemies to the grace of God; and there is not a greater instance of this than the good man that speaks in my text, the apostle Paul. He was a great heart-enemy to Jesus Christ; and he was an enemy to Christ, if I may so say, with a good conscience, according to the real light that the poor man’s blinded conscience had: “I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth,” (Acts 26:9). “I never heard a name that I hated so much as the name of this Jesus of Nazareth; and I hated it from the heart, and my conscience prompted me to it.” When our Lord met him by the way, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” little did the poor man think Christ died for him, and should be a blessed fountain of life to him. A believer may be a great enemy to the grace of God, before the grace of God makes him a believer.

2dly, It may not be denied but that a true believer may take in doctrines contrary to the grace of Christ in their tendency, though he perceive it not. I should be loath to think that all these Galatians, that are here so sharply reproved by the apostle Paul, were rotten-hearted people; there might be many sincere people amongst them, imposed upon by the cunning of them that lay in wait to deceive. There may be, through darkness, perplexed heads in many honest hearts, about several points concerning the grace of God, It is not for us to measure, anybody’s state according to the principles that they profess, unless they be very bad.

3dly, It is not to be denied but that in a fit of temptation, even a true believer may abuse the grace of God; he may turn it into wantonness, and may grow light and vain, because of his mistaking the nature of the grace of God. Several have done so, and God knows how to tame them that do so; and the severest fatherly rebukes of the law are upon them that wax wanton because of his kindness. These things being premised, I would briefly shew how it is that a good man cannot frustrate the grace of God.

1. Because good men are all grace’s captives. Every believer, as a believer, and when he is made a believer, is made a captive of the grace of God. How are men saved, think you? We cannot see which way they are saved; the word goeth forth, and people hear it; but we do not know who gets good, and when they get good by it. I will tell you when men are saved; when the grace of God comes and lays hold of them, and claps hold of a poor sinner —"This man shall be my captive, and I will save him.” All believers are captives to the grace of God, and, therefore, they cannot frustrate the grace of God; they are all subdued by this grace, and made “willing in the day of his power.” (Psalm 110:3).

2. No believer can frustrate the grace of God, because he is dead to the law, as the apostle’s word is in the context, (Gal. 2:19). And there are two things needful to make a man dead to the law; — to know the law; and to know himself: and whosoever knows both these, is a man dead to the law. He that knows the purity, and the spotlessness of the law of God, and he that knows his own heart, and its vileness, this man will naturally draw this conclusion, “Surely this law can never do me any good. I can never fulfil it, and it can never save me; if there be not another way of salvation than by the law, I am gone for evermore.” “I through the law am dead to the law,” saith the apostle; “I need no more, to make me despair of life by the law, than to see the law: it commands what I cannot do, it threatens what I cannot avoid nor bear; and therefore, I am dead to the law, that I might live to God;” — “my life must come in another way than by the law.”

So much shall serve for the opening of these truths. It would now follow to make some Application; which I shall do in two things, respecting all the doctrines that I have raised from this former part of the verse. By these doctrines here delivered by the apostle, you are called to try the spirits, to try the doctrines you hear, and you are called to try your own state; for every doctrine that is contrary to the grace of God is a doctrine that Christians should hate. And your eternal state is to be determined by these things — What are your heart-thoughts of the law of God? What are your heart-thoughts of the righteousness of Christ? And what are your heart-thoughts of the grace of God? And every one that knows truly what his inward sense of these things is, may soon come to some conclusion concerning his spiritual state: but I shall speak more fully to these things the next opportunity.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

IL CP Gathering Day Six and a Little Bit More

There is not much to say for the last day of the Gathering from my perspective since the Raimundo clan left that morning. It mainly consisted of packing and goodbyes and grabbing food from the fridge to stuff it in my cooler as best I could. Vacuums and brooms and Windex flying about inside while shovels and tractors thudded and whirred outside. Getting last minute hugs and farewells and “call me not maybe!” amidst all the cleaning commotion. You see, the Harrison Homestead was in that indescribable state that totters between being College Hangout Central and Nice Celebration Open House. Thankfully, all the CPers provided extra hands to work under the good leadership of the Harrison and Gaines parents.

And you will never know what we were watching...
As we pulled out of the driveway, dog holes were being filled and floors were being put back to their proper sparkly colour. But despite all the cleaning, we managed to get some good adieu photographs. 
A few of the remaining girls
Quite the merry old bunch, eh?
From there, we drove the five hours it takes to get to the Nix home, where Mumsie and Josh dropped me off for the weekend. Between Scattegories and Scrabble, Brielle and Evelyn, sleeping and waking, tea and coffee, books and laughter, church and conversation, classical and Owl City, spending time with Aaron and Anna was the perfect way to close the week. See, their home is peaceful. And loving. And so very welcoming. God blessed me by putting me there!

He also blessed me by letting Brielle warm up to me after an hour’s uncertainty. Perhaps that had something to do with me holding her sister in my arms, me talking to her mum in a very friendly way, and me crawling on top of her counters to put dishes away. But it might have had more to do with my many bags which she quickly set to opening and closing, and with the ever-beloved cheddar that I brought her. What matters is that by the end of the visit, we were playing on the floor like old chums. Brielle and Evelyn are so cute and easy-going, and I think it flows from the security they feel in their God-centred, God-loving little home. Praise God for families like that!

Brielle was napping when I finally thought to pull out the camera, but we did get pictures of darling Evelyn. 

A precious lassie, indeed.
I loved how Anna was so intensely interested and loving over her little girl.
Tata for now!
So that was my week! God showed great kindness in all sorts of ways by letting me enjoy His time as I did, and all that I can do is thank Him for it!
One thing I learned throughout the week is that it is the little things that count:

  • The sunrise over a red, white-trimmed chicken coop and endless golden fields every morning.
  • The hum of an ice cream maker.
  • The many colours a name can take. 
  • Red disposable cups and their accompanying penmanships. 
  • The many smiles a laugh can bring. 
  • Boys clearing away branches for girls.
  • A Bible open and read in the middle of chaos.
  • “Forbidden Friendship” playing on a perfect Autumn day. 
  • Earnest prayers yearning for God and His will alone. 
  • A wonderful woman calling me “chickadee” every new day.
  • A hug from a friend when you least expect it. 
  • A shelf full of books that says, “Yes, this is home.”
  • A church that sings and preaches and prays ~ worships ~ through and for and because of its Saviour.
  • The soothing smell of cinnamon and chocolate.
  • A couple holding hands all the way home. 
  • Babies grinning because they are safe.
  • Old friends reuniting around the word and new friends being found because of it.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

IL CP Gathering Day Five


Friday. The Raimundo’s last full day at the Illinois CP Gathering. I think we woke up to a semi-early ~ or regular, rather ~ start and broke our fast with a nice spread of make-your-own oatmeal with homemade muffins. 

I could not believe the week had flown by so quickly! Master Jacob and Mrs. Harrison and all the gang just felt like family, like friends who were gathered around Christ. I suppose that is what we were, and I suppose that is how we were supposed to feel, but the thought that soon Josh and I would be packing up and leaving seemed...strange. So life goes, however, and it is always for the best. 

Still, we had a full day left, and beautiful mornings with a house full of friends is neither the time nor place for strangeness ~ at least, not the dismal sort of strangeness. So, up I picked myself and cracked a few jokes (scratch that: listened to other people crack a few jokes) about our general perky slowness in the morningtime and Drew’s general non-brainness at that bright hour. Apparently espresso and coffee cover a multitude of sleepless nights. So the usual camaraderie and pleasant goofiness carried us through the first few hours of day: Eli’s astonishingly smirky smile, Master Jacob’s irresistibly charming way of forgetting names, a few short people witticisms (or lack thereof), and gorgeous piano playing thanks to the likes of a one Connor Rhoden and a two Kaitlyn Semones, amongst others. A few hugs from Emily and Essie, a number of knowing ironic glances from Megan, lovely sweet quiet chuckles with Cassie, and huge grins and laughs with Naomi. Yeah, this place felt like home....

Don't you hear The Piano Guys' Phillip Phillips cover playing now?
But today was not the day for that, again. Today was the day for a lovely hike out in the autumn colours beautifying the shores of the Mississippi, and hopefully it was a day for some solid talks with strangers, as God provided. 
And, besides, there were sandwiches to pack, which is always interesting, especially if you had run out of bread the day before. Thankfully, the always-ready-with-a-magical-touch Mrs. Harrison had run off to the grocery store and purchased food for the hungry. Along with our needed bread, she also fulfilled what various college kid requests we had  scrawled all over her shopping list. Mrs. Harrison purchased a box full of Life for Susanna, 100 Grand candy bars to put towards Naomi’s scholarship, a pack of pens to improve my penmanship, and, amongst other things, a box of Austin somthingorothers so that the graduate could find himself again. Yes. Have I mentioned that Mrs. Harrison is amazing? Sometimes broken records are worth it and right, and this is one of those times. Anyway. Once we had decided for the upteenth time that we were or were not wearing our Gathering shirts to the hike (we ended up not), and once said shirts were all duly and drolly signed in a swarm of colours (or just Christmas blushes if we are talking about Essie), then we grabbed our lunches and stormed the white van yet again to go to Alton and Pere Marquette. 

If Alton is anything, it is most certainly not 45 minutes away from the quaint yellow Harrison homestead. About an hour and 45 minutes after setting out to our hiking destination, we finally arrived and settled in for a lovely picnic lunch in front of a breathtaking stone lodge complete with pond and associated wild life. The leaves were just beginning to don their seasonal colours, and, boy, was the Mississippi gorgeous. I was genuinely delighted to be there, especially after Essie fanned my excitement by blowing bubbles out of our moving vehicle to the stirring sounds of John Powell’s How to Train Your Dragon soundtrack. CPers are brilliant, I know.
Everyone's favourite awkward homeschooler picture.
Lunch eaten, we separated into our interviewing teams of three to hit our first targets. Uh, as in, cautiously walk up to the first person we felt okay approaching and asking them a question. That. 
Let’s just say that Joshua, Emily’s, and my first two tries did not go over too smoothly. “Hi, Sir, my name is ____ and I was wondering if you would be willing to answer a question for our college research program?” “Sure!” “Is it alright if we record you as you answer?” “Sure, why not?” “What will happen to you when you die?” Laser stares from the guy and Medusa glares from the girl. “Oh. That question. Go away.”

Well, I guess God did not want us talking with that couple for the day! It all turned out well in the end, though. Between the six CP interviewing teams, we held a pretty impressive number of rather decent conversations with many people. But the numbers are not what matters. What matters is that we acted from the strength and grace God gives us to encourage others to think about truth. What matters is that we left fear behind and said hello. What matters is that a stricken soldier was slammed with the thought that living for the ultimate thrill might not be his salvation and an agnostic intellectual was confronted with the notion that Something steady might be out there after all ~ and that maybe perhaps somehow in ways we will never know, God was doing something in these souls. Maybe. That’s up to Him. The point for me was that, just like I surprised myself with how hyper and kiddie I could be at the City Museum the day before, I surprised myself with how confident a timid girl like me can be when she sincerely steps out in God’s strength. ‘Cause for me talking at all, and talking to a stranger at that, is like facing giants. 
So, if I can pry a person’s heart by asking challenging albeit simple questions like Why? and How? and What?, then you can as well, and I encourage you as a Christian to give it a thoughtful whirl. 
For those who like scenery...

...and for those who like people.

Again, anyway. The hike and half-hour long conversations done and over with, we all clambered back into the white van and burgundy Flex for the very last time. Of course, we solemnified the occasion with The Piano Guys and Peter Hollens and goofy Brad Paisley songs. Mhm. CPers are....brilliant. Upon our return to the Harrison Homestead, my eyes scanned the dog-speckled, corn-rimmed yard for a glimpse of Mumsie Pie, whom we were expecting in the late afternoon. There she was! ‘Tis always joyous to reunite with one’s mumsie, is it not? So once the hugs were exchanged, I went inside to hear Mrs. Harrison reassure me that, no, she did not need help in the kitchen but that, yes, creek-stomping was loads of fun and, oh, my stars, I ought to go join in the merriment. So that I did, along with Austin, Drew, Cassie, Naomi, Connor, Emily, Kaitlyn, Ben, Sara Beth, and lil Master Jacob (my apologies if I forgot someone ever so important). Wading through poison ivy and dried branches and swampy mud in a dress and child-sized bumble-bee boots is, by far, one of the best ways to spend an evening. And picking burrs off of said dress while piggy-backing Master Jacob tops it off like barbecue sauce on Essie’s ice cream. It was fantastic. The men proved very gentlemanly to the ladies and everyone laughed, snapped pictures, and climbed over logs and barbed wire right until they exactly wanted to. Then we crashed back to the house. So, maybe we don’t make the best Indians, but I am sure we do a mean Lewis and Clark. 
The Goated Yard
Did I mention pictures? Ha. Pictures and pyramids, more like it, because when we got back to the chickened and goated yard, the gloaming light was striking the cool grass just right, so my genius brother suggested we CPers make a human pyramid before the Subras left and broke up our little group. Good idea!
Before genius brother
After genius brother
After bidding the Subras and Stephen Petersen many a farewell, din din was on! And it was yuuuummy. For the first time that week, I was able to revel in the nightly bonfire and canter between myriad fireside conversations, ranging from horror (okay, dark-turned-light Christian) books to politics and chopped steak. When the s’mores made their shimmering appearance, Jenn Jenn snuck off to the girl’s bedroom to lay herself down quick, for she knew a long and hilarious night lay ahead of her. You see, a certain someone and another certain someone and another other certain someone (ahem, Drew, Josh, and Connor) had begun to spoof “Titanium” at various and sundry times throughout the day. With a little help from Austin, they hit on a grand theme. Which I shall not disclose until the final version is released. 
Evil masterminds
Their debatably innocent minions
Suffice it to say that, until midnight, this spoof took centre stage in the Harrison living room, with Connor doing percussion, Kaitlyn playing a lovely piano accompaniment, and Cassie, Drew, Joshua, and myself chirping out words as well as our parched, cracked, and tired vocal machinery allowed. I have never heard people laugh so loudly and fully. It was a good last thing to hear before bed. 
Because bed came next. A delightful, peaceful, sweet, and earned sleep. And one rather blissfully unaware of leaving this place the following morning. 

Don’t worry. The last post will be short. Really. Honest. 
Photo credit Emily Kemp and Cassandra Rhoden

Friday, October 11, 2013

IL CP Gathering Day Four

Our day yesterday. Wow. 

We did start off the day in the usual way: wake up, get up, make-up, eat up, wash up, pack up. But after lunches were safe in their coolers, Austin gathered us around to discuss some of the tactics we should use when interviewing people on Friday (today). We reviewed the difference between being a sledgehammer versus a crowbar, an approachable and unapproachable way to ask a simple question, which questions can come across as more innocent and welcoming as opposed to queries that seem to doubt the presence of our interviewee’s noggin. Needless to say, the conversation was really rather fun and quite informative. Drew asking questions the wrong way could be a paid attraction, just for laughs. Austin then split us into six groups of three, tried to figure out how we could get enough professional-esque cameras to go around, and then sent us on our way so that each of the groups could privately practice interviewing for today’s performance. Jenn loves role-playing, and the practice went even better than normal because she was teamed up with her brother, Josh, and her friend, Emily. In a stretched-out thirty minutes, we rehearsed being the devil’s advocate. I was an energy-circle-of-life meanie, Josh somehow successfully pulled off the transcendentalist/nihilist nice-guy stance, and Emily performed a solid humanistic social relativist. So so much fun. 
Most of our motley crew

But all good things come to an end, and at Drew’s bellow we slid out from under the willow tree and back into the living room to analyse what each of the groups did and learned during their practice times. That analysis was just as helpful as the talks before the practice! Being able to hear different perspectives, techniques, and suggestions from a group of varied but united people is always a win, don’t you think?

But back to the “up’s”: round up, close up, pile up, drive up the freeway and into St. Louis. And this is where the wow begins. We pulled up to a eleven-story building that sported a bus hanging precariously over the highest ledge, a roof with a ferris-wheel atop it, windows with metal slides shining all the way down, and the coolest work of swirly scrap iron projecting its tendrils all along the front of the building ~ like rusted ivy. Better yet, I saw people ~ people ~ climbing on that ivy! Soon that people could be me!!! I have never been so eager to be a monkey, all zoos aside, and climb to my heart’s content. Rest assured that we were springing into the museum. Oh, yeah. This place was a museum. The City Museum they call it because of the way every piece in and outside of the building is recycled and donated material from St. Louis. A really innovative architect junkie (shoulda been a CPer) designed a place where a city can show off its trash and provide a bewilderingly delightful playground to both kids and the kids’ adults. Brilliant, I know. Ridiculously fun, I attest. Ready to go again? Without a doubt!

First we hit the skateless skate-board park. You know those loopy smooth woody-but-not-wood platforms that you see in 90’s movies? The place where the disturbed teenage of the plot goes to release his frustration with his overbearing parents? Yeah, one of those parks but without the disturbed teenagers and without the skate board. Just you, your team, and your shoes. Running parallel, dashing madly across and up one of loops, swinging like Tarzan across ropes and being reminded once again why you don’t have upper-body strength, going back to the loops and the giant walk-along pencil to stretch your lugs. Coming across a hole in the wall that turns out to be the rabbit-hole into a rat-maze. Scraping up your knees so badly and looking for more ways and places to do the same thing. Looking up and seeing kids crawling above you in an open wire casing. Knowing that you are by golly gonna join them. And then you do join them. Well, there’s another way to scrape your knees! And having a marvellous time. 
I will let other people tell you about the giant hamster wheel. Mhm.

I really could go on and on and on about the City Museum, but I will have to stop because so much more happened than I could ever hope to tell in a fun-sized blog post.  That is why there are picture-takers and G+ photo albums. 

Once we were all lost and found in jungles and caves, we rejoined each other at the museum entrance and pointed our noses to the St. Louis Arch, “a symbol of western exploration and expansion that marks the spot of Lewis and Clark’s departure to chart the unknown.”  There. We took a few pictures, and then a few more pictures, and then the five “one more” pictures, and then followed our stomachs to the Old Spaghetti Factory. 

That restaurant is such a beautiful place! Brick and dark wood and heavy fabrics in light colours with those nifty chandeliers. The smells were lovely pasta smells, cheesy and garlicy and oh, so delicious. The people were nice, too. Jael was lovely company, so bright and happy even though we were all exhausted after our afternoon of kiddishness. Naomi perked up right quick after her Fabulous or Awesome or Whatever It Was Chocolate Oreo Shake. Josh joined her. Apparently the perfect blend of Chick-fil-a’s Cookies n’ Cream shake with the right smidgen of chocolate wonder. Politics and Pasta consumed, Spumoni cleaned off of its silver dishes, and yawns rolling, we went home. 

Home to laugh and talk. Home to sing and sleep. Home to bewail the fact that we only had one more full day left of this being home! And home to rest rest rest until today. Which post comes later. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

IL CP Gathering Day Three

One of the group a million photos

Today we went to the St. Louis Zoo - or brought the zoo to St. Louis, depending on your perspective. Woke up to more goats and hay and wonderful people. The sunrise was hazy and blurred, so that all you could see was colour and bright and no ball-planet-thing. I like it that way. Coffee and raspberries and putting my food in the fridge after a 72-hour stint without cold. Oh, and we were going to the zoo. Yeah, it was promising to be a lovely lovely day. 
We ate a breakfast of yogurt and cereal bars and baked, cheesified eggs with green flecks of broccoli in it (just for prettiness), and then did the whole dispersing-to-get-ready thing. When I was done dispersing, I made my way out to the living room and found a sweet-looking little thing in white sitting on a chair. Keegan? It was Keegan! Jenn was very excited to meet her, and I soon found it was with good reason. The shrimp is a gem, to be sure.
 Well. A tussle to pack lunches. A hustle for the coolers. Where are the water bottles? We have chips!?? And soon the lunch was packed, and we were on our way. 36 points to Austen for successfully backing a fifteen-passenger van out of his driveway, and a few more points for driving all of us crazy kids to the zoo safely. Mr. Weber sat at the very front and provided good conversation with more than a few laughs thrown in, so we had an all in all crazy good but sane drive to the zoo.

Once we had taken a million and one photos at the zoo entrance, we walked along “River’s Edge” to see such animals as anteaters and hippos. Keegan oohed and ahed over everything. And in case you ever wondered, R.O.U.S.s exist. The River’s Edge exhibit thoroughly explored, we went back to the van for lunch and then walked back to the zoo for more animals. The sea lion feeding was first up, and they were really cute performing their tricks and munching on nondescript fish. It was even cuter seeing Master Jacob’s face droop when he discovered he could not feed the sea lions himself, and then droop even more when he realised that sea lions are not wet lions at all, but gigantic otters with whiskers! After a few tricks and hearing them “roar,” however, Master Jacob was completely sold on sea lions. Lemurs and these mini-chinchilla monkeys are cute. Otherwise, you can keep monkeys and apes all for you. 
But instead of telling you about the zoo, I may as well show it to you in pictures. Because I have pictures!!! Thank you, my photographer friends: Emily and Kaitlyn! 

Master Jacob's preferred mode of transportation ~ Andrew McKee got him for most of the trip.

Because we all love elephants!

Lunch with the Fab Four, give or take a few.

An acceptable monkey. One of the few. 

Performing Sea Lions for their food.

All aboard? Yeah, we were a full train, and the conductor said: Oh, please don't tell me you are all homeschoolers!
One thing that is not in the photos, however, was a brief but sincere scare we had with losing Sara Beth. Sometime near the gorillas, our little munchkin separated from the group and found herself wandering amongst the apes et al, while the rest of us sauntered through the avery and up to the big cats. Poor Sara Beth! It was only at the groovy hipster zebras that we noticed she was gone! Austin went back to search for her and placed Drew in charge of the group so we could still travel through the zoo. We spent most of this time in the bird exhibit, partially enjoying the toucans and kookaburras while asking around for Sara Beth. Finally we got the call that she had been found with a bunch of zoo rangers. Poor girl. But she was brave and rejoined our group full of smiles for the rest of the day. 

After a train ride around the park, we piled into our vans for home. Essie played the Getty’s Christmas CD and the Piano Guys, so Josh and I sang at the top of our lungs all the way home (don’t worry, we were sitting in the way way back of the van!). It was a great drive, and so much fun to see half sleepy heads perk up as soon as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” came on over the speakers. 

We eventually found home and food ~ yummy food, indeed ~ and then watched another very good Bill Jack talk. The discussion is prompted proved to be worthy and helpful, and I think we all have a better idea of what we are going to be thinking while we interview people on Friday. 

Before sleeping, all of us played the Character Game, which was a favourite from the VA gathering, and, boy, was it a blast. Anything that combines taboo and charades and insanity has to be fun, no? After valiantly staying up late (so worth it!), we early birds went to bed (or crashed onto various piles of sheets and blankets). Everybody else decided to play the Character Game again! Suffice it to say that the people who played a second hand of it are not yet awake, so I cannot tell you how it went. 

Today we are off to St. Louis! See the arch, go nuts at the city museum, and eat at the famed Spaghetti Factory before coming back home. P.S. The Cards won Game Five!!! Praise God, because I for one was not looking forward to a grumpy St. Louis today. :D

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

IL CP Gathering Day Two

No pictures tonight! But I know innumerable snapshots have been snapped in the last twelve hours, so photos are on their way. Really.

But I am here to write about what we did. 

Today was hangout day. You know those gathering days that start out kinda awkward because you know you are supposed to really like everyone but you have no clue who they are even though you are living with them for a week? But by the end of the day all the clumsy shoe-staring and throat-clearing and need-for-cricket-button is gone, because you realise you really do like everyone? Yep. That was today. 

For some of us girls , the day started bright and early - actually, not bright because it was too early - as we went outside to let the goats out of their pens, the chickens out of their coop, and the dogs out of their cages. Across endless corn fields the sun was rising, ever so boldly as its face burst over the horizon. It was sharp cold outside, and my flip-flopped toes were frozen and I felt so at home. Good start to a good day.

We followed a breakfast of baked oatmeal with a viewing of a Worldview Academy DVD. Bill Jack talked about “The Seven Habits of Highly Suppressive People,” reminding us as Christians that only God through His Word can change the hearts of people who have suppressed the truth (Romans 1). The talk gave us an encouraging and solid context for the studies and interviewing to come. 

When the talk ended, we each dispersed to do various morning necessities such as playing Ultimate, going for walks, and texting, and calling parents. I went for a walk and called my parents. Oh, and my walking buddy was Master Jacob. Yes!

At 10:30, Austin went to pick Naomi up from the airport and then headed to Chipotle, where the rest of the gang met up with them to eat a good Mex lunch. And guess what? Guess???? Okay, fine, you can’t. I ATE! Like, I ate Chipotle’s food, not my food. Carnitas and guacamole never tasted so good. Thank you, GAPS! 

(If you did not understand those last few sentences, it’s okay. Most people wouldn’t. :P)The drive from the Harrison Homestead to Chipotle is about 45 minutes, which provided an ample amount of time to get to know each other in a hot, sweaty vehicle. We talked about music, where we all came from, the merits and demerits of various radio theatre dramas, and purple zebras. Okay, so we did not talk about purple zebras, but you believed me for one teensy second; I know you did. 

When we returned home....what did we do? Oh, yes. Most of the crew went outside to play all sorts of games: Ultimate, soccer, and who knows what else. They did that all. afternoon. I, on the other hand, stayed inside and baked the cookies that Megan, Emily, Naomi, and Cassie whipped up, plus talked with Mrs. Harrison while catching snippets of John Piper’s Finally Alive in between times. It was fun! And one by one, the girls joined me so that soon chocolate chip cookie smell danced around the kitchen and Mexican lasagna warmed in the oven. 

Supper over, we played a group game of Empire ~ or the Family Game ~ depending on who you are. Everybody thought Essie was Seaweed. But she wasn’t. She was Fuzzy. And she won. So, yes, Queen Esther really was Queen Esther tonight. And if I have to sing the Jeopardy Theme Song one more time....well, I would be very good at it after all the practice we CPers got. Suffice it to say that Empire is a very decent ice-breaker game. 
Now comes homemade ice cream and chocolate chips (ice cream sandwiches, anyone?). And bed. 

But first. Well....this was too good to not record and post. 
Master Jacob and I, as I mentioned, went on a walk this morning. Here are snippets of our conversation. So, yes, siblings are amazing. Because you can have conversations like this:

Master Jacob: Look at that dumpster!Jenn: That is quite the dumpster, indeed!Master Jacob: Yeah, it is the beautifulest dumpster ever and the only one I have seen in all my life.Jenn: Really?Master Jacob: Yeah. And look at all the stuff in it! Isn’t that the best junk ever? All this stuff we don’t need anymore. So we put it in this beautiful dumpster...

Or deeper conversations like this:

Master Jacob: Go faster!Jenn: I can’t go faster because you are a big boy, Master Jacob. Master Jacob: But look at my boots! They are so high off the ground!Jenn: Yeah, but you are a big boy. And you are going to get taller really quickly. Remember how we said last night that you were going to be taller than me soon? Because I am not going to grow an inch more. Can you believe that?Master Jacob: Oh, I don’t want to grow any taller, though. Jenn: You don’t? Why? So that you can still get piggy back rides?Master Jacob: Yeah! But I know I still need to grow because God wants me to.Jenn: Yes. Yes, He does want you to grow, Master Jacob.Master Jacob: I think you are going to grow, too, Jenn! Because God wants us to grow. Jenn: You are right. He does want us to grow, but did you know that He can make us grow in other ways, too? We can grow kinder and more obedient-Master Jacob: And more nicer and ‘spectful and more asking to Aunt Julie when we want to do something.Jenn: Right!Master Jacob: And more kind - I mean...I can grow kind of...I mean I can grow to be kind of less mean. Jenn contemplates what the English language does to a poor kid. Master Jacob, recovering himself: Oh, and we can grow more not-hiding-in-a-box when we take something we shouldn’t. Jenn, obviously grinning: Very true, Master Jacob.Master Jacob: Yeah, but I sometimes make mistakes. Jenn: So do I! But did you know that when we confess our mistake - tell God what we did wrong and ask forgiveness for it and ask Him to change us so we don’t make that mistake anymore - then God promises to forgive us! Master Jacob: Jenn, did you know that Jesus died to pay for our mistakes? Jenn: Yes! He died to cover all of our mistakes before God.Master Jacob: And did you know that He rose again, Jenn?Jenn: Yes! He is alive today to help us make less mistakes so we can grow to be more like Him!Master Jacob: that I can grow! Like Aunt Julie says, so that I can grow to be a godly man like Uncle JC. Uncle JC is a godly man, and Aunt Julie says I can grow to be a godly man, too. Jenn: Yes, God wants you to grow into a godly man. Master Jacob: Yeah. Can we go home now? I need to go to the bathroom. Can we go faster?


Monday, October 7, 2013

IL CP Gathering Day One

We just completed the first day of the Illinois CP Gathering! (Well, at least I just completed it. Most everybody else is just settling into their games of Katan and Nertz.) For starters, I must say that the Harrisons have already proven themselves to be a fantastically splendid host family. Despite being in the progress of moving to a farm house, they are providing approximately twenty college kids with excellent food, warm beds, a really cozy home, and that Christian sort of love that is full of truth and warmth and laughs. And great background music. 

We Raimundos arrived to this cute yellow farm house with white trimmings around 3:30pm local time. Already there were my dear friend Megan Weber, and Andrew McKee, the Harrisons (of course), and surprise! the mysterious “reserved spot”: Esther Mielke! It was such a joy seeing Megan again, and meeting Essie face to face. Praise God for Christian friends! Soon after, Austin headed out to the airport to pick up Cassie and Connor Rhoden.

Once Josh and I had bidden Mumsie Pie many farewells, we fell in step with the Harrison farm chores, making buddies with the dogs, goats, pokey bushes, willow trees, and the younger Harrison clan. Elijah is way too cute for 18 months of baby-ness, and Jacob...well, I pulled him around in an old-looking red wagon and got to piggy-back him alongside a corn field. And he can count to 100, losing his place at 99. Multiple times. Yeah. We all love him and his sea-salt chasing ways (seriously, Knepps, I may just have to hide the salt!).
The Jacob. Horrid lighting, I know. He made me retake his picture three times before declaring satisfaction with it. :D
But enough about five-year-old Jacob. Eight-year-old Sarah Beth is a hoot, in the nicest, sweetest, fun-loving, kind sort of way. She showed us how to feed the goats, carry the chickens, and wrestle. Oh, and she was my lying honest buddy in a round of Blue Skies/Bologna Sandwich/Bible School/Liar. Sure, Ben and Drew and Austin Harrison are great, too. ;)

Somewhere during our farm-exploring time, Kaitlyn Semones and her father, and Emily Kemp with her father and Charity Bass (another CPer), arrived to join in the fun of playing cards, catching up, looking for internet, and watching Mr. Harrison be a hero and lugging in assorted bathroom equipment so we girls would have warm water and working toilets in the morning. We were having a beautiful and slightly crazy time of it when Austin finally returned, bringing Cassie and Connor in tow. Joshua had met Connor at a recent CP wedding (okay, so, yeah, Sean and Beka’s wedding was way more than a CP wedding; granted :D) and they had gotten along famously, so he was happy to see Connor again. Of course, seeing Cassie is always a treat for this girl. 

Once their suitcases were duly thrown into the luggage closet, we all trooped inside to have Mrs. Harrison’s yummilicious chilli and corn bread, whilst I got to have hot food again! (Can I just throw in here that Mrs. Harrison has been amazingly gracious to Jenn Jenn and Jenn Jenn’s food. What a blessing another momma figure is!) 

Just as some of us were making the first inroads into Mrs. Harrison’s pumpkin cake and whipped cream, four Subras and a Peterson made their appearance, completing the gang of twenty who were to show up and stay the night. We cleaned off the pumpkin cake while some fairy cleaned off the dishes, and then we all traipsed into the living room to “officially meet each other” and “review the schedule” in light of our wonderful government’s shut down. Once the greeting and talking were done...we went to bed. >.< At least, Essie, Megan, and I went to our rooms. And now we are going to bed. ‘Cause this recap of IL Gathering Day One is over. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Our Living Hope and the Trials We Face

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith-more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire-may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls."
~1 Peter 1:3-9

Although we learned about so many things in the studies during our time in the Dominican Republic, I think our entire team can agree that this passage was iconic of our trip. In it are contained the catchphrases about which we still joke and which will ever remain seriously dear to our hearts. So, to give you a taste of what we were really doing on that Caribbean island, and hopefully to encourage you with the concepts which left us feeling so much richer in our faith, I decided to share with you my edited notes from studies on this text. Ready? Here goes!

First, we discussed the characteristics of this living hope that Peter seems to regard as so very important. Peter hinges the rest of his epistle, intended to establish and inspire his brothers in a time of distress, on the actuality and beauty of the living hope that is ours in the faith. Obviously, it is important for us today to become acquainted with this, our inheritance!

Peter describes our inheritance, our living hope with three characteristics, which should each bring us immeasurable joy and comfort:

  • Imperishable ~ Our inheritance cannot go bad like last week's roast does. It cannot rot; it is something neither moth nor rust can destroy.
  • Undefiled ~ Our inheritance cannot be contaminated; it is pure, of one essence. Purity means purely one thing. There is nothing that mixes with this inheritance to devalue its worth, like what happened when we left the gold standard.
  • Unfading ~ Our inheritance is strong, bright, and stands out. It is a beauty that never will pass away.

        Why did God inspire Peter to use these three words in his portrait of our inheritance? Because this is the only inheritance that can boast of these characteristics, making our inheritance unique among all other possible goods in the world. Think about it! All other hopes and dreams we can cherish here on earth are perishable, contaminated, and fading away. Our living hope, on the other hand, is beautifully wondrous and it is the only one of its kind.
Now, Satan will use all sorts of counterfeits to distract us from it. Here our group camped for a while to talk specifically about relationships. Any relationship that distracts us from our inheritance needs to be reevaluated, changed, perhaps eliminated. All relationships should make you more like Christ. Don’t waste your relationships. See, every aspect of our life must be seen though the lens of this living hope, including and most especially our friendships and loves.

Our Study Group Buddies...minus Patricks :(
(All photos courtesy of Emily Knepper)

But back to the living hope itself. The text goes on to say that our inheritance is reserved in Heaven for us, for it is Christ, our portion, the glorious one. He is our inheritance! When we think of everything we are and everything He is, everything we cannot do and everything He has already done, this highest of all condescensions and deepest of all wisdoms and greatest of salvations grows incredibly precious and undeserved in our eyes. Why oh why would the Son of God give Himself to me as my inheritance? Read on.
“It is reserved in Heaven for you.” Who is "you"? Those whom God has saved, whom He guards for all eternity. That includes me and it might include you. He has the care of our well-being.
        How does He guard? Through His power and mercy. There is no sin that Christ’s sacrifice was not enough to cover. That is power and mercy indeed! To live perfectly, to go to the cross and die, and then resurrect to give us life to live and the means to live it. Not only is He our pattern for practice and author of this great salvation, but He also lives today to give us life and be our sustenance. This is the power and mercy of God.
"By the power of God through faith.” Hebrews 11:1. We see the power, but what is the faith? Faith is the faculty God gives us to believe, so the exercise of faith is belief. Yes, God gives us the faith and grants us the belief, which is how He guards us and our inheritance. See, God does not waste time on people who will get lost, so He does all the work. Saving grace suddenly and beautifully becomes sustaining grace.
        If God gives faith and guards us so we might enjoy this living hope, many people ask, "Why not sin always, then?" One answer is that there is a future aspect of salvation ~ it is after all a living hope. Although we whom God has saved do indeed grasp our living hope right at this very moment, nobody has yet attained it all. Nobody knows yet the fullness of it. Abraham is not fully enjoying his salvation. Hebrews 11:39-40; Revelation 6:10-11. We must all await our resurrected bodies! Because Christ is the perfect human as well as God, Christ cannot relate to someone unless that person has a perfect soul and body. In short, He can only commune with those who are like Him. Since we are not perfect, we cannot commune with Him fully. But one day we will, and we are becoming more like Him now, delving deeper and deeper into communion with Him as the years pass. Thus it is a living hope.
        So, what is our present salvation then? Ephesians 1:12-14. The Holy Spirit is the seal and guarantee of our inheritance. He is the signet ring of the King, the stamp impressed on the legal Will containing our inheritance, and He impresses it on our hearts so that we, like the wax of a seal, start taking on His mould, start looking more like Him. Yes, this Holy Spirit warrants our beautiful inheritance of living hope. There is not a better safe than the one kept by God in Heaven.

        We have established the Who and the How of this living hope, but the Why of it remains unanswered. Why should I be in Heaven? Look at Ephesians 1:5 ~ Because God wanted it out of the pure pleasure of His will. He did not have to save me and does not have to explain why He saved me. That makes Him God. This is not to say that He is a capricious Zeus, for examine the words again: “the counsel of His will." His will accords to His good and beautiful and righteous attributes. For some spectacular reason that only God can understand, but sure does make Him look indescribably awesome, He chose to choose us. And that is Why His children can spend eternity with Him, worshipful of that incomprehensible majesty.
        What choice do we have left but to rejoice in this living hope!? In fact, rejoicing is a command for a Christian. But would it not be natural to rejoice in this living hope that is an imperishable, undefiled, unfading inheritance kept in Heaven by God for me? In this I must rejoice! And, goodness, in this I want to rejoice.
The Study Buddies in action. Oh, yeah.
        In all this rejoicing, though, Peter does not forget to whom he writes. He writes to believers who will suffer here on earth. Yes, we are commanded to rejoice even though we must face trials of various kinds.
          At this point, our study group paused to talk about trials. Trials are not problems. They are realities of life with which our souls must interact in a thinking manner. Our problems arise in our reactions to those trials. We are going to face hard circumstances ~ Jesus promised and warned us of this ~ but the circumstances do not create what we moderns call "problems" or "issues" (basically something bad that we are left with to deal and struggle with for the rest of our lives). No, all our trials are gifts of God for our growth. Do you not love how Christianity does not deny or ignore suffering, but neither does it leave us in despair? Take a glance at these scriptures to prove it.
        Read 1 Peter 1 in the first-person singular.
        James 1:2-4 ~ “Calculate” those trials as joy!
        What is the purpose of my life? Of Him giving me salvation? Romans 8:29-30. To be conformed to the image of His Son. He predestined us to become like Christ! Remember the whole point of this conversation about trials? The point is our living hope, which is Christ, and the sanctification that enables us to one day enjoy Him fully forever. Our life is to become like Christ, because of and for this living hope! Trials make us stop disparaging Christ to instead start reflecting Him by carving away at us in a certain given area. When our sinfulness in one area is resolved, another area appears, and thus we go, looking more and more like our kind Sculptor each time.
          Hence we can count it as joy when we face trials of various kinds: because we want to commune with Christ. Trials are instruments in God’s hands to make us like His Son. What looks like Mt. Everest now, rest assured, will not look like Mt. Everest next year because He strengthens us with each passing difficulty. Again, problems do not exist, except for one: how you interact/react to the trial. Are you reacting to a hardship with sinful bitterness and anger? Or are you interacting with the hardship as though it were a gift from God through which He will sustain you to make you more like His Son?
        That is how we rejoice in trials. Counting them as tools to make me more like Christ. Here are two questions to ask in trials: How do I act Biblically in this situation to glorify God? And how is God using this situation to make me more like Christ? The answers to these questions will give you the right perspective, give you hope, and give you joy.
         After all, look at the analogy Peter sets up in verse 7. God sends us trials like a metalworker fans fire to purify gold, burning away all the impurities that would devalue gold's enticing loveliness. Well, trials purify us so that we have one belief: God, the most enticing of all lovelinesses. What are beliefs in my life that need to be burned away so I can be pure, single-minded? Here are some common false beliefs that our group came up with which would be better burned to make us pure gold: 1) I love this person so much that I cannot live without him or her, 2) I need to make sure people like me, whether by looks or smarts or any other "successes," 3) The notion that Christians need "self-actualisation," that we must complete a list of actions to be fulfilled. These are actually lies from Hell, lures that Satan uses to distract us from our living hope.
        Taking it all together, then, trials make my faith pure so I believe only God, and can be complete in Him. John 15:1-17; Col 2:8-10. After all, in Him dwells the full godhead and He has grafted me (and you?) into His very own vine, and thus in Him I am now fully complete. I am His and He is mine. I lack nothing. Can you see how very wondrous is our inheritance, and how wondrously real our living hope in Christ is? Even pure gold perishes, but our treasure does not pass away, and so our faith is more precious still.

"Lord, you are more precious than silver. 
Lord, you are more costly than gold." 
"What wondrous love is this, O my soul? 
What wondrous love is this, that God who dwells in bliss, 
Should bear the dreadful curse for my soul?" 
"No condemnation now I dread; Jesus and all in Him is mine.
Alive in Him, my living Head, and clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne, and claim the crown through Christ my own."
"Behold our King! Nothing can Compare. Come, let us adore Him!"

        The only way to overcome sin is to find the beauty of Christ over the ugliness of sin. To be totally drawn by attraction to Him. No struggle, just surpassing joy. That is our living hope.