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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Nostalgia and Name Brands

This post is purely nostalgic. I hate to admit that my nostalgia even tips towards something as foolish as a name brand. Nostalgic for places? Sure. Nostalgic for good times with people crucial to your life? Sure. Nostalgic for when your kids were little and loved to snuggle you endlessly? Sure. But nostalgic for commerce? Ooooo, seems a little shallow. Nonetheless, I am a child of the advertising age. I may have grown up with only two TV channels, but it was during the time that advertising came into its own and started convincing us that we were not buying just a product ... we were buying a lifestyle. It turns out, in a way, that we were. Those products became so intertwined with stages in our lives, that to think of one makes us recall the other.

I just read an article predicting 10 name brands that will go out of existence in the next year. This isn't rocket science; they've been known to be wrong. But the odds are pretty high that these name brands will disappear forever, either through complete bankruptcy or absorption into another company who won't maintain the identity of the brand name. Three of those named really stirred up memories.

According to the article, some time in the next year Sears is expected to disappear. That's a name brand that became familiar early in my life, back in the days when every child eagerly awaited their issue of the "Christmas Wish Book" catalog in the mail. I don't think anything under my Christmas tree ever came from there. We were pretty poor and most things were handmade or handed-down at Christmas.  But oh ... how I loved to look through it and imagine myself playing with that kitchen set, that doll, that Davy Crockett rifle. (I was an eclectic child.)  My husband, who grew up in northern NH where stores were few and far between, remembers actually picking out a list of longed for items from the catalog and having his parents choose a gift or two from it. Mail order was a vital part of the economy of the North Country even in those days.  But alas, time marched on and the catalog disappeared. Then the Sears stores became the "anchor" for something new called "shopping malls."  I counted on them to carry sturdy clothes for my children and well-made basics for me.  How many "Winnie the Pooh" blanket sleepers I bought and relied upon to keep my children warm in our drafty old house!  And I can recall one particular hooded red winter jacket that was so indestructible it was used by Beth a few years, then by all three Francis girls... and it still looked brand new!

Another brand expected to disappear soon is A&W restaurants. They're mostly gone already, but still, the idea of never driving past one again makes me a little nostalgic. When I think of A&W drive-ins, I think of my teenaged years in Newport, NH (1963-1968). I even knew the kids of the owner of our local A&W; one was in my class. I remember she gave the required "Explain How to Do Something" oral speech in English class by demonstrating how to make extruded french fries. We thought that was pretty remarkable! No peeling or slicing required! :)  And the absolutely coolest thing that could happen to you in those days was to be seen at the A&W with a cool guy in a cool car. Hats off to all the cool guys with cool cars who took me there!

The third brand expected to disappear this year transports me back to my late college years and the decade following. If they're right, Saab will be driving into the sunset soon. But in the early 70's those who could afford to do so chose Saab or Volvo. Mustangs were still cool, but Saabs and Volvos let the world know you had become an adult... even better, a cool adult.  Put a ski rack on the back and you were good to go!  And then one day you put one of those new safety innovations, a child seat for the car, in it and knew your children were doubly safe. Very responsible ... yet still very cool.

So goodbye Sears, A&W and Saab. I'm not cool any more, and apparently neither are you.  But surprisingly, you became so intertwined with my life, you came to represent my childhood, my teen years, my young adulthood and my young motherhood.  If you're a young person and just can't identify with my silly nostalgia, stop a minute and imagine Apple, amazon and Starbucks going out of business... it might happen some day.  After all, My Space was also on that list.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Why We Need Books In a High Tech World

The following is excerpted from a post by columnist Johann Hari reviewing a book by David Ulin. Though both men are referring to literature in general, I believe these issues have an even larger impact upon a believer's ability to read & study their Bible, and are therefore worthy of our consideration. If nothing else, it will be an interesting self-guided test to see if you can read through these few paragraphs, maintaining concentration and reading comprehension until the end. [If you have difficulty, consider turning off your smartphone, closing your laptop, unplugging the TV ... and spending concentrated time reading Scripture. Do it for two weeks and notice how your hunger and thirst for God has increased!]

In his gorgeous little book The Lost Art of Reading -- Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time,  critic David Ulin admits to a strange feeling. All his life, he had taken reading as for granted as eating -- but then, a few years ago, he "became aware, in an apartment full of books, that I could no longer find within myself the quiet necessary to read." He would sit down to do it at night, as he always had, and read a few paragraphs, then find his mind was wandering, imploring him to check his email, or Twitter, or Facebook. "What I'm struggling with," he writes, "is the encroachment of the buzz, the sense that there's something out there that merits my attention, when in fact it's mostly a series of disconnected riffs, quick takes and fragments, that add up to the anxiety of the age."

To read, you need to slow down. You need mental silence except for the words. That's getting harder to find.  In the age of the internet, physical paper books are a technology we need more, not less... Here's the function that the book -- the paper book that doesn't beep or flash or link or let you watch a thousand videos all at once -- does for you that nothing else will. It gives you the capacity for deep, linear concentration. As Ulin puts it: "Reading is an act of resistance in a landscape of distraction... It requires us to pace ourselves. It returns us to a reckoning with time. In the midst of a book, we have no choice but to be patient, to take each thing in its moment, to let the narrative prevail. We regain the world by withdrawing from it just a little, by stepping back from the noise."

A book has a different relationship to time than a TV show or a Facebook update. It says that something was worth taking from the endless torrent of data and laying down on an object that will still look the same a hundred years from now. The French writer Jean-Phillipe De Tonnac says "the true function of books is to safeguard the things that forgetfulness constantly threatens to destroy." It's precisely because it is not immediate -- because it doesn't know what happened five minutes ago in Kazakhstan, or in Charlie Sheen's apartment -- that the book matters.

That's why we need books, and why I believe they will survive. Because most humans have a desire to engage in deep thought and deep concentration. Those muscles are necessary for deep feeling and deep engagement. Most humans don't just want mental snacks forever; they also want meals.

The idea of keeping yourself on a digital diet will, I suspect, become mainstream soon. Just as I've learned not to stock my fridge with tempting carbs, I've learned to limit my exposure to the web -- and to love it in the limited window I allow myself. I have installed the program 'Freedom' on my laptop: it will disconnect you from the web for however long you tell it to. It's the Ritalin I need for my web-induced ADHD. I make sure I activate it so I can dive into the more permanent world of the printed page for at least two hours a day, or I find myself with a sense of endless online connection that leaves you oddly disconnected from yourself. T.S. Eliot called books "the still point of the turning world." He was right. It turns out, in the age of super-speed broadband we need dead trees to have living minds.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Summer Ideas: Teaching Your Kids to Serve

Here we are at the beginning of summer! The kids are out of school... no lunches to make, no early morning car drives, no after school activities, no homework to supervise, no sudden announcements of school projects "due tomorrow". I think I hear a collected sigh of relief. But as you plan your summer vacations, trips to the beach and overnights with friends, take time to think about creating opportunities for your children to serve others this summer. Erin Davis at the True Woman blog writes, "... summer also offers a unique opportunity to do ministry together as a family. A whole lot of free time offers a whole lot of opportunities to reach out to others and minister side by side. If your kids can get a taste of the value of serving like Jesus did, they’ll be learning an important lesson." She offers the following ideas, with a few of my own additions in italics. I'm sure you can add to the list!

Help with Vacation Bible School
Many churches host VBS during the summer. Instead of just sending your kids off to attend, grab your pre-teens and teens and get involved yourself with serving. If your church doesn’t have a VBS, look for ways to serve in another church, or launch a Backyard Bible Club for a few kids in your neighborhood. [Have your kids help bake cookies to serve at VBS, help prepare room decorations, distribute invitations in your neighborhood, put up signs in your community, pray those who attend will have hearts open to the gospel.]

Plan a local short-term missions trip
You don’t have to be a missionary to take a missions trip. Simply think of a group of people who have a need, and find a way to meet that need while sharing the love of Jesus. You can go for a day, a weekend, or a week. Here are a few missions trips my family have done:
  • Clean up a playground in a low-income housing area, and then offer a free hot meal to the residents (hot dogs and chips work great!).
  • Find an area of your state that has been impacted by a natural disaster, and get plugged in with a relief organization such as the Red Cross or Samaritan’s Purse. 
  • Ask your pastor for a list of widows or shut-ins, and call and offer to do lawn work for free during the hottest days of summer.
  • Call that same list of widows and shut-ins and offer to bring them fresh produce from your garden. They likely don’t have the oomph to garden themselves, but would love to share in the bounty of your back yard. 
  • Call your local pregnancy care center and offer to come and sort supplies for moms in need. 
  • Volunteer together at your local Food Pantry & Clothes Closet. Have your kids organize a neighborhood or church food drive of non-perishables to donate. Follow up your efforts with prayer.  
This list is just the tip of the iceberg. The possibilities are endless!  

Serve lemonade
Encourage your children to set up a lemonade stand to raise funds for people in need. Even young children will enjoy creating and decorating a lemonade stand, making lemonade and treats, and collecting money from “customers.” (I would recommend calling friends and neighbors and encouraging them to stop by). Then, give your child a few options of organizations and let them go with you to deliver their hard-earned money.

Adopt a family
Not every momma gets to stay at home with her kids in the summer. This can be especially true for single moms. That means some kids are left to fend for themselves while their parents work. If you know a family in this situation, offer to take the kids during the day for the summer, and be sure to specify that you don’t expect any payment in return. Will it be a sacrifice? You betcha! But God’s Word urges us to look after each other in practical ways like this. Be intentional about looking for a family that you can help by being generous with your time.
Create a Prayer Wall at Home
Find a blank wall to turn into a wall of prayer. Teach your kids the importance of praying for others rather than focusing on their own desires and needs. On one side of the wall, have kids tape prayers for those in need and on the other side, ask the children to write down something for which they are thankful. Teach children to pray as a way of praising God and relying on Him when things seem hopeless. (Idea from eHow)

Summers provide a unique opportunity for families who have the time and flexibility to break free from routine. Using that window to serve others in Jesus’ name is one of the  best uses of your family’s time.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Edwards on Spiritual Pride

 Another challenging quote from Jonathan Edwards. All believers must guard their hearts against spiritual pride and be quick to repent whenever sin is discovered there. As usual, Edwards words it so well...

“Spiritual pride is the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of Christianity.  It is the chief inlet of smoke from the bottomless pit, to darken the mind and mislead the judgment.  It is the main source of all the mischief the devil introduces, to clog and hinder a work of God.

Spiritual pride tends to speak of other persons’ sins with bitterness or with laughter and levity and an air of contempt.  But pure Christian humility rather tends either to be silent about these problems or to speak of them with grief and pity.  Spiritual pride is very apt to suspect others, but a humble Christian is most guarded about himself.  He is as suspicious of nothing in the world as he is of his own heart.  The proud person is apt to find fault with other believers, that they are low in grace, and to be much in observing how cold and dead they are and to be quick to note their deficiencies.  But the humble Christian has so much to do at home and sees so much evil in his own heart and is so concerned about it, that he is not apt to be very busy with other hearts.  He is apt to esteem others better than himself.”

[Jonathan Edwards, Works (Edinburgh, 1979), I:398-400. Style updated.]

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Furnace of Affliction

“In affliction, God makes himself known to his people. In the Word we hear of God, but in affliction we see him. Prosperity is the nurse of atheism….In prosperity we pray and hardly take notice of the answers. But in affliction we can press God for the return of our prayers. God is never worse than his word. Affliction is a furnace to try the faith of God’s people and to see God’s faithfulness in his promises.” – Thomas Case

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Look at Herodium

Shmuel Browns offers an excellent article on Herodium in the April edition of Popular Archaeology, in honor of its excavator, Ehud Netzer, who died last autumn as the result of a fall at the site. Herodium is one of the fortresses built by Herod the Great. (Masada was another such fortress.)  He also built "Lower Herodium" at the foot of the man-made hill. The site is located just outside Bethlehem, on the edge of the Judean wilderness.  It offers spectacular ruins and views from the top.  According to Josephus, Herod built the fortress to commemorate his victory over the Parthians early in his reign. It was destroyed by the Romans in 71 AD.

Professor Netzer had dedicated much of his life to its excavation.  Several years ago he discovered what is likely to be Herod's desecrated tomb on the side of the hill, half way up.  Herodium's proximity to Jerusalem & Bethlehem make it a "must see" should you happen to visit Israel.  The wonder of this article is the opportunity to get a close look at a few of the artifacts and an artist's recreation of what the original area would have looked like. The illustrations are based on the archaeological discoveries made thus far. I love looking at ruins, but I also enjoy being able to imagine what it once looked like in its prime. Enjoy the article! [If you right-click on most of the pictures in the article, and choose "view image," you'll get a large photo to look at.]

Friday, June 10, 2011

Praying for Your Husband, An Example

Thabiti Anyabwile, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman, recently shared an example of how his wife prays for him. (See her prayer below.) Several things made an impression upon me as I read through her words to him. First, I noticed how her thoughts were centered upon being a force for good in her husband's life. (Prov.31:10-12)  She wasn't dwelling upon his shortcomings, nor upon how he had failed to meet her needs, nor upon how he happened to measure up to other husbands, both real and imaginary. She set her mind upon praying for God's good in his life.

Then I noticed that her prayer was informed by biblical truth. She didn't pray vague generalities. She didn't pray for her will in his life, but for God's will in his life. She took the time needed to study out a topic in God's Word, then formed her prayers around the truths she had learned. (Ps.19:7-8)

Finally, I was struck by the fact that she took the time to write her prayer out. In written form he can now refer back to it as an encouragement in his future sermon preps. Her dialogue with him is biblical, filled with meaty truths for him to consider. Though his own biblical knowledge is prodigious, I imagine, she didn't assume that even he was able to apply everything he knows to the immediate situation at hand. She didn't write out a list of "don't"s, but a list of "do's". She didn't write out a major thesis, but a few short paragraphs. And she ultimately drew his attention to the larger eternal view of what God is doing through him.

What an excellent example of how we should pray for our husbands ... and one another! This is how we love in a manner that glorifies God! (1Pet.4:11)
I’m praying for your sermon preparation and hope you have a fruitful time in the Word and prayer.
I was just looking for a verse to encourage you as you prepare to preach, and found it interesting to look at how “preach” is used in the old and new testaments. In the OT, most often preaching is against a city or rebellion of some sort. In the NT, preaching is often mentioned in the context of preaching the good news, preaching throughout the whole world, preaching to the poor, preaching the kingdom of God, preaching repentance, preaching the gospel, preaching in particular places, preaching Christ (and His unsearchable riches), and preaching to particular people.
So…I pray that you would preach in all these ways, against sin and rebellion toward God, and that you would preach the unsearchable riches of Christ in the gospel, which is good news for all who believe in Him, and which has power to save all those throughout the whole world who repent of their sin and trust in Him. I pray that you would do this boldly and fearlessly, as you should and as the Spirit enables.
Loving you!

[Pastor Anyabwile's blog may be found here.]

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Sargent's "Mrs. Fiske Warren & Her Daughter"

Living near Boston provides access to many of John Singer Sargent's works. One of my favorites is a society portrait of "Mrs. Fiske Warren and Her Daughter", which can be viewed at the Museum of Fine Arts.

Sargent was born to American parents in Florence. He studied art  primarily in France under the teaching of Emile Carolus-Duran. Following the fervor over his controversial portrait, Madam X (originally painted with one strap off her shoulder; repainted with both straps up & now on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY), he relocated to England. Like his parents, Sargent was a world traveler. He spent his adult life traveling back and forth between England/Europe and the US, primarily Boston & NY. Among his friends were notables of the time such as artist Claude Monet, author Henry James and Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner, who commissioned several works from him and purchased his early large scale painting of a Spanish gypsy dancer, El Jaleo, which can be viewed at the Gardner Museum.

Sargent's portraits were in great demand. He preferred other genres, but his portraits proved so popular he was heavily sought after by high society. As a body of work, these paintings are a testament to the "Gilded Age". His style was often a combination of a more traditional treatment of the face & use of color (he was a great admirer of the Spanish painter Velazquez 1599-1660) and the looser style of Sir Thomas Lawrence ("Pinkie") & later Impressionist painters in his representation of the clothing (note his treatment of the chevrons on Mrs. Fiske's gown - click on the photo for a close look). At the height of his career he chose to turn away from portraits and dedicate himself to open air landscapes, watercolors and public art, some of which may be viewed on the ceiling of the rotunda at the Museum of Fine Arts and at the Boston Public Library.

Mrs. Fiske Warren (1868-1961) was born Gretchen Osgood. Raised on Beacon Hill, she was considered "an accomplished actress, singer and poet" from an early age. She studied at Oxford, graduating with  honors (no mean feat for a woman in her time!), and married Frederick Fiske Warren, who commissioned this portrait in 1903. [Their home, The Hutch, at 42 Bolton Road in Harvard, Mass. (near Concord) is on the National Register of Historic Places.]

The sitting for the portrait was done at Fenway Court, the home of Isabella Stewart Gardner (the current Gardner Museum) on the 3rd floor, in the same room where empty frames remind us of the artwork stolen from the Gardner in 1990 (including a Rembrandt and a Vermeer). If you visit the museum today, you will find a photograph of Sargent painting the portrait of Mrs. Warren and her daughter, Rachel. It's rather interesting to see what the subjects actually looked like and then compare them to the painting. Andy Warhol once commented that Sargent "made everybody look glamorous".

If you visit the Boston area you have a splendid opportunity to view both the portrait and the photograph. The Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum are within easy walking distance of each another, with ample parking available at the MFA parking garage. You might also wish to view the Warren home in Harvard, Mass. the next time you happen to be in the Concord area. It's a little piece of art history come to life!

Be sure to check your local library for books displaying Sargent's works. Two works featuring his portraits are John Singer Sargent: Portraits of the 1890s and John Singer Sargent: The Later Portraits.  An inexpensive way to introduce your children to his work is to purchase the following sticker book. If you're homeschooling, be sure to tie-in Sargent when you teach the Gilded Age.

Monday, June 06, 2011

The Best Bible Reading Program Ever ... Really!

Now that it's June, you may have long abandoned that Bible reading program you started back in January. Perfect timing to promote the method I prefer! The Cerulean Sanctum offers a good explanation of it.  This approach has been around in various forms for years. I've tried programs that have you read through multiple books at the same time. I've done several different read-through-in-a-year programs. But this Reading Program is the one I've landed upon because it's the one that has given me the most understanding & brought about the greatest change in my Christian walk. It puts Scripture into your mind...and it stays there! You'll discover you actually begin to remember what you've read... in its context. That is the beauty of repetition!

How To Read the Bible for Life, Not Just a Year

Beyond the artifice behind them, most Bible-reading plans suffer from an imposed superficiality and disjointedness ...  The World's Best Bible-Reading Program, as I see it, moves beyond this piecemeal approach to reading the Scriptures. It has nothing to do with the proud announcement that, "I read through the entire Bible this year!" Instead, it has everything to do with knowing the word of God and putting it into practice. It's not a one-year reading program, but a "rest of your life until they bury you in a pine box" program. The first way of thinking is marketing; the other is transforming.

Here's how the World's Best Bible-Reading Program works:

1.  Find a quiet, undisturbed place to read. Start in the New Testament ... Might as well begin with Matthew.

2.  Read through one entire book in a single sitting. Obviously, the first five books of the NT are going to require some time. But do it. (You're eternal. Live like it!) These books are whole units and are meant to be read as such. We need to experience their coherence. Trust me; the Holy Spirit will bring the entirety of the book to your mind in the future in a way you've never experienced before.

3.  When you've read the book once, don't move on! Read through it again. For the first five books, if you must break them into chunks, go with five or six chapters - whatever maintains the arc of the narrative.

4.  Re-read that one book. Note the way the narrative and themes flow. Commit those stories and themes to memory. Note where they exist in the book.  [Write down your observations.]

5.  Re-read that one book. Pay special attention to the way the Lord is portrayed.  [Write down your observations.]

6.  Re-read that one book. Examine the relational aspects of the book, God to Man, Man to Man, Man to God.  [Write down your observations.]

7.  Re-read that one book. Note the Lord's redeeming and salvific acts within the greater arc of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. [Write down your observations.] This first pass-through of the NT assumes you have a modicum of OT understanding. After reading the OT through, the second pass-through of the NT will clarify things further.

8.  Re-read that one book. This time around, note all the Lord's commands and how we're told to practice them. Consider how they might work practically in your daily activities. [Write down your observations.]

[By this point, you've read the same book seven times. Depending on the length of the book, it may have taken seven days or seven weeks. It doesn't matter. This is about changing your life and relationship with Christ. This is about sixty years of discipleship. It's not about getting through the Bible in a certain length of time.] Now comes the hard (and controversial) part ...

9.  Take everything you've learned in this book and put it into practice. Take a month to do nothing but concertedly meditate on what you've just read by making it real in your own life. It might mean that the only Bible you read this month are the parts of this one book that you still aren't getting and must re-read. Doesn't matter - do it! (If you absolutely have to read something every day that isn't part of this program, consider a few Psalms or a cycle of Proverbs. They're the most suited to broken-up reading patterns since they are collections of wisdom and less unified than a book like Romans.)

10.  After your month, take stock of all that you've learned by reading and practice. Make a mental assessment of the themes of the book and how they apply to your discipleship. If you're confident you've read and practiced this book, move on to the next one.

Once the NT is finished, move on to the OT. (I realize some of the OT books are daunting in length for a single read-through. Make a concerted effort to read them in one sitting. Failing this, some of the OT books are narrative, which allows for breaks in the story. Psalms and Proverbs are easily segmented, as noted above. All prophets must be read in one sitting the first time through. A book as enormous as Isaiah is hard to partition, so consider reading it on a weekend day.)

Repeat these ten steps for the rest of your life.

[Entire post found here.]

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Gifted to Serve as Part of a Body

When it comes to using our God-given gifts within the local body, much confusion can arise. Many expect that if God has gifted them to use a spiritual gift within their local assembly, they should not only be quite proficient at it, they should also enjoy every moment using it. "Therefore," the thinking often continues, "if I am not good at doing [insert spiritual gift], it must not be my gift." Or perhaps, "It's hard and uncomfortable for me to do "x", therefore it must not be my gift."  Allowed to go on over time, this kind of thinking leaves many paralyzed, unsure how to serve as a functioning member of their church, waiting to "discover" what it is they are "good" at. A related expectation is to believe that a person who has been exercising a spiritual gift for many years has always been able to do so at the ability level they currently enjoy.

Should we find ourselves in such a dilemma, it's good to remember the following Scriptural truths.

1) A spiritual gift manifests itself by what God does with it. The amazing thing is not so much your "giftedness" as that God chooses to use you in such a way that He may bring about the change, the encouragement, the understanding in the hearts of those to whom you minister or to meet a need in your church that enables others to use their gifts more effectively. It is not you being so proficient at something that you cause the desired result. [1Cor.12:4-7] Don't take God out of the equation. You are not "the star", He is! The truth is that every believer is gifted by God for service as part of their local body, perhaps in multiple ways. That's true whether you're a brand new believer just starting out or an aged saint who has been serving for years. [There's no "retirement" for a saint, just perhaps "reassignment".] That's encouraging! It means you can be used NOW!

2. There is not one specific, unique way to use a spiritual gift. As I've heard some do, I might say I have "the gift of teaching 5th/6th graders" or "the gift of teaching groups of women" or "the gift of biblical counseling". What I actually have is a teaching gift that can be used in multiple ways ... teaching 5th/6th graders or teaching groups of women or bringing Biblical truth to bear on someone's problem. Today I teach groups of women. Tomorrow I may be teaching the Bible to my nursing home roommate. The implication is that I should not expect I have to use my spiritual gift in any one specific way. This understanding is crucial! The leadership of my church may decide to reassign me at any time to an area they see as a vital need at that particular point in time. Or they may believe the women I teach would be better served by a different teacher or in a different context. The Lord may change my health at any moment making it impossible for me to regularly teach a group Bible study. But I could still exercise my gift by teaching through the medium of letter writing or the Internet or telephone conversations or one-on-one studies with women. And if I was physically unable to do any of those things, I could concentrate on a ministry of prayer. [I actually was "reassigned" to that task for several years due to health problems. It was incredibly satisfying and encouraging to be able to draw near the throne of grace and devote so much time to prayer!]  Amy Carmichael, missionary to India in the late 1800's to mid-1900's, was bedridden at the end of her life, reassigned by God to write edifying books and devote herself to prolonged, deep prayer. I've often used books written by her then to encourage women now!

3. Our spiritual gift should not be our primary focus. Humbly and cooperatively serving God alongside other believers in our local body, under the direction of the leadership God has placed over us is the focus. (Eph.4:11-13; Heb.13:17) A local body of believers is meant to function as a unified whole, working together as one, building up one another in order to do the work of ministry. The modern Christian world has too many divas. Your church does not exist to display your spiritual gift. Your spiritual gift was given to you by God in order for you to serve in the manner He has decided is necessary within the particular local assembly He has placed you in, within the timing He has chosen. Don't take God out of the picture and promote your gifts to superstar status. Don't expect your local assembly to accommodate every idea you might have for using your gift. That's not an attitude that brings any glory to God. At that point, you're serving yourself, not God. (Phil.2:1-2, 14-15)

4. There is a learning curve. Phil.2:12-13 tells us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling ... because it is God who works in us both to do and to will. What a perfect example of "both/and"! Yes, God gives the gift, but you also participate by seeking to use it to the best of your ability. That means your comfort level will change. Your abilities will change. What may be difficult and uncomfortable today, can be accomplished with hardly a second thought once your Bible knowledge has increased, once you've practiced doing it time and time again, once you have matured in your Christian walk. So, yes, even a brand new baby believer is gifted to serve, BUT they are not meant to stop at that level of service. They are to be progressively growing in knowledge and experience. (Heb.5:14) It takes effort and it takes time.

Greek scholar Bill Mounce recently wrote about his first experience preaching as a young believer. I found his reflections most encouraging. It brought to mind my own first experiences teaching. It was terrifying, and admittedly, I wasn't very good at it! But I did it because there was a need and my pastor thought I should apply myself to it. May you also find Mounce's recollection encouraging. Remember everyone had to start somewhere!
"I was terrified. Stand up in front of people! What was God thinking? I still remember that Sunday. I wore this long sleeved gold and white shirt with a gold colored sleeveless sweater. (Does that date this story or what?) I remember preaching, rivers of sweat poured down my back and sides, and being glad that the baggy shirt and sweater combination wouldn’t show how nervous I was. And when I got down I said to myself, “If there is one thing I now know, it is that God has not gifted or called me to speak in public!”
As I stood on the front steps today of Mount Zion Church 38 years later, I know how wrong I was. I love to preach and teach; it is my gifting and calling. But just because you are called and gifted doesn’t mean you don’t have a lot of hard work ahead of you. For me, it was finishing college, a MA and PhD, and then years of teaching in college and seminary, and preaching hundreds and hundreds of sermons.
If you are just starting out, if you think you are called and gifted to pulpit ministry, or a teaching ministry, please understand that the call and gifting are not sufficient. Gifts and calling have to be nurtured, developed, practiced. So be patient. Don’t think you necessarily made a vocational mistake just because you are struggling with term papers, taking finals, or delivering what in your mind was the worse sermon ever preached. These are the fires we get to walk through in order to learn and to grow.
Did you think that being a herald of the king would be easy?"

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Ennion Glass on Exhibit

The Israel Museum just opened a special exhibit of mold-blown glass from the Roman Empire, including many pieces of 1st Century AD Ennion glass from a private collection. I understand this is the largest display of Ennion's work ever available for public viewing.  The Getty offers the following information concerning the artisan, Ennion. If you happen to visit Israel before the end of January 2012, be sure to take advantage of seeing this exhibit! [Click on each photo for a close-up look.]
"Ennion worked as a glassmaker about 1 to 50 A.D. His signature is known from over thirty surviving pieces, and many other works are attributed to him on the basis of style. Ennion created the ground-breaking technique of blowing glass vessels into molds. This new process allowed the vessel and its decoration to be created at the same time and permitted the creation of multiple copies of the same vessel. Ennion's clear, precise designs distinguish his work; he also minimized the visibility of the lines caused by the seams in the mold.
The location of Ennion's workshop is debated, in part because his work is found throughout the Roman Empire. Some scholars believe he worked in Sidon in modern Lebanon, while others assert that he worked in northern Italy. The inscriptions he frequently used as decoration may provide a clue. Though his name may have been Semitic in origin, he signed it in Greek, the language of the eastern Mediterranean, not Italy. The city of Sidon, where he may have worked, had all the raw material for glass-making and extensive trade connections."