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Archive for July, 2008

You know about Water Aerobics and Step Aerobics (made easy, nonetheless, though I would beg to differ with semantics of “easy” on this video). What about Chair Aerobics? Gospel Aerobics? Swedish Dance Aerobics? And one that I might actually be able to keep up with, Senior Fitball Aerobics.

I actually have a very strong aversion to anything with the word “aerobic” in it. But this morning, my brain went down a funny path and ended up with a bizarre picture of “Rock Aerobics”.

I’ll warn you, if rabbit trails drive you nuts, this is probably not a post you should read.

Growing up, my Mom had an old painting that hung on the wall by our dining room table. It wasn’t the painting, but the words below it that impressed me:

Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”

I liked the sound of the word Hitherto. I liked the way the whole phrase sounded. This painting has come back to my mind through the years for a variety of reasons.

To this point in time, God has been faithful to me. I suppose it can sound funny, as if there is some doubt about whether or not God will continue to be faithful a moment beyond “this point in time”. But, for me, the past is the most certainly known thing there is. And there is both a comfort and a confidence in recognizing and specially acknowledging the faithfulness of God, hitherto.

The future can freak me out a little bit if I think about it too hard. But the past. That I can see clearly, and usually calmly. I’ve walked through some pretty hideous things. I’m still walking through some pretty hard things. I have questions, struggles and doubts. But up to this very point, I’m still comfortable affirming the faithfulness of God in my life. That makes the future a little less uncertain.

I don’t have to know the future or justify ahead of time how the faithfulness of God is going to look. All I know is today, I can look back on things, and I can look right up to this very point, and I can still say, “Thus far (the NIV’s version of Hitherto) the Lord has helped me.”

All of that has nothing to do with rock aerobics. It’s just that the main direction I wanted to go with this post had to do with that verse, and that verse reminds me of that painting my Mom had and makes me wish I had a nice work of art with those words on it, in my house.

This morning I was looking up all the occurrences of the Hebrew word ezer for a friend of mine who is going to be teaching a Bible study. I’m not a Hebrew scholar, so I feel a bit nervous trying to talk about something I don’t know a lot about in such a public place. But here goes, a rabbit trailer’s thoughts on ezer.

One of the Bible studies my friend is teaching is on the life of Eve. In Genesis 2, God notices that it is not good for Adam to be alone and decides to create an ezer, often translated helpmate, for Adam. So, as my friend and I talked about all the other uses of ezer in the Old Testament, we got to wondering where on earth the idea started that ezer/helpmeet meant someone who defines their life by the one they are helping. Most of the uses of the word ezer refer to God as helper.

In most contexts, when we talk of helping someone, we are thinking of someone who is disadvantaged in some way, and the one helping has an advantage–an ability to help the other where they are in need. Being a helper is not usually about defining myself and all that I do exclusively in terms of what the other person needs. God helps us, for sure. But that looks very different from how I hear people talk about a wife helping her husband. And, that’s still not the point of my post.

Looking up ezer got me to notice the meaning of a couple of other words, names, actually, that have ezer in them. Eliezer, God is my help. And Ebenezer, stone of help.

Ebenezer is what Samuel named the place where he placed a stone memorial commemorating the help of the Lord. I Samuel 7:12:

Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us.

So, while I was talking to my friend and making the connection between ezer and Ebenezer, she began to sing a line from the hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”:

Here I raise mine Ebenezer…

And that line suddenly struck me as very funny. I’m thinking it is referring to “raise” as in “build” or “construct”, but when I hear “raise” my mind goes first to a picture of lifting something up. Like raising a banner or a flag. I’m guessing if I stopped to picture anything when I’ve sung that line, it must have been along the lines of the hand motions that go to: “Joy is a flag flown high from the castle of my heart…So raise it high in the sky….”

If you don’t know those motions, at the point where you sing “raise it high” everybody starts lifting their arms up and down and then waving them from side to side. Like an exercise class.

Only, now that I stop and think about what an Ebenezer is, if we’re all raising an Ebenezer, it’s going to be a big old rock that’s being lifted up and down. And that brought to mind a picture of a Rock Aerobics class, to the tune of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”.

So, there you have it. Whether you wanted it or not. A glimpse into how my brain works and jumps all around (Ha, brain aerobics are actually the only kind I, personally, can tolerate.)

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Every weekend I say good-bye to my children, as they leave to spend the next couple of days with their father.

Before they leave, I say a blessing over each of them:

You are my child, my joy and my treasure,
And in my heart, I’ll hold you forever.
In every word spoken, in every deed done,
Remember my love and the love of God’s Son.

and then, together, we sing these words:

God be with you till we meet again;
By His counsels guide, uphold you,
With His sheep securely fold you;
God be with you till we meet again.

God be with you till we meet again;
‘Neath His wings protecting, hide you,
Daily manna still provide you;
God be with you till we meet again.
(words by Jeremiah E. Rankin; music by William G. Tomer)

It has become a ritual that the kids are very protective about making sure we fit in before they leave. The first few times, we talked in detail about what the words meant. I seriously doubt they consciously pay attention to the actual words anymore or focus on the meaning while we sing. This is, I suppose, why some people do not like ritual or tradition. Repetition can become mindless and the assumption is that mindless equals meaningless.

For me, however, whether or not my children clue into what is being said on any given day, it is very important that they have heard these words each week. The words are there, and by sheer repetition, I believe they have become a part of my children’s lives and minds and hearts.

There are many things which happen in shared life which are not rituals or traditions which, hopefully, fill out and support the heart behind these words. There are many things, I also know, which seem to argue against the words (I have a 13 year old son. At this point and time, even my expecting him to help with the dishes is interpreted by him as contradictory to my loving him.)

Words of blessing and a song of prayer are emptiness if they are all there is to a relationship. When there is more to a relationship, though, I think ritual can be a beautiful thing. But, even when love is present and shown in more ways, I believe that there will be times that my children will not be able to see or remember or notice all the rest of the things that are there, announcing my love to and for them.

And in that time and place, I hope that these words will come back to my children in good ways as some kind of assurance or affirmation. If they can’t cling to these words as absolutely true in the face of things which make them question my love, perhaps the relentlessness of rituals that can’t be forgotten will at least add an element of doubt to the questions which seem to scream with certainty at them of the untrustworthiness of their Mom’s love.

And in any case, whether or not my children are able to take or hold on to anything specific from these rituals, the song itself gives me words each week to express a cry and prayer from my heart. There are so many details and specifics which weigh on me and grieve me and cause me concern. This song beautifully and concisely brings together my heart’s cry and puts words to my deep prayer. That they are the same words each week does not make them less meaningful to me. It feels like these words are able to hold all the nuances of meaning, however different the actual situation may be each time I pray and sing them.

At the moments when it is hardest for me to find my own words of prayer, I am grateful for this song which expresses so much of my longing, hopes and trust in the Lord for my children, in such simple words.

My children have left early this week, and my heart is extra heavy for them for a variety of reasons. May God be with them till we meet again.

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Can Do

Some time ago, I asked people to contribute their favorite (or least favorite, most likely) verses taken out of context. I don’t know what I expected. Probably to laugh about how hideously some Scriptures are distorted.

I didn’t expect how badly it would hurt to consider the fact that these misquotes are used in really awful ways that cause real hurt to real people. Instead of following that post up in the way I had originally intended, I ended up writing “When Hope Wears Mourning,” which was an expression of some of the cries of my heart in response to the comments from the previous post as well as some of my own suffering at the time.

Recently, I was reminded of that post I never did get around to writing, while listening to a sermon from Philippians 4.

When I think of verses taken out of context and stretched to teach things that seem not to be implied in the text, I think of Philippians 4:13:

I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”

I wrote that original post asking for examples of Scriptures that are taken out of context because I had seen an example of this in an article about an up and coming basketball player. I don’t remember the guy’s name. But I do remember that he is apparently quite amazing, he is a Christian, and he is giving God all the credit for his amazingness. And that he publicly displays his gratitude by emblazoning the reference “Phil. 4:13” on his tennis shoes.

Now, I don’t have anything against someone publicly acknowledging God. But I do have a problem with some of the things that seem to be implied by slapping Philippians 4:13 on a competent basketball player’s shoes.

If I write Philippians 4:13 on MY tennis shoes, and confidently go out proclaiming I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, is there any chance at all that I can become an up and coming amazing basketball player?

And yet I hear in the recesses of my memory, echoes of the Donut Man singing that verse and boisterously asking kids, “HOW many things?” “ALL things!” they shout in response. “SOME things?” “ALL things!” “A few things?” “ALL things!”

Oh really, I want to ask?

This is more than just skepticism about hyperbole. It’s also about looking at the context. What kinds of “all things” might Paul be talking about here? Yes, I know, “all” shouldn’t have to be qualified, but still, Paul has just listed a variety of things he “can do”. And the fact that he “can do” each (and all) of them seems to be tied into having learned to be content in all circumstances.

Paul CAN DO being hungry. Just like he CAN DO being well fed. He CAN DO being in need. Just like he CAN DO having plenty.  He CAN DO being content whatever the circumstances.

I don’t feel comfortable going out confidently proclaiming that whatever it is I’m not sure I can do, I really CAN DO, if I just believe and quote Philippians 4:13 loud enough, frequently enough and cheerfully enough (or write it boldly enough across my sneakers).

But I do feel comfortable, as I read all of Philippians 4, believing that Christ can strengthen me to face every circumstance with contentment.  Whether it is all things or any thing, I do believe that through Him who gives me strength, I CAN DO contentment.

I do believe that I can trust God in similar ways to how Paul did. I do believe that living life with a trusting-God heart is possible (and if you have read my blog long, you will know that I do not believe a trusting heart is the same thing as a heart that asks no questions or a heart that does not doubt. ) I do believe that in the context of a heart that trusts God, the strength to live life with contentment, whatever the circumstances is a CAN DO kind of thing.

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Two Types of Readers

I divide all readers into two classes: Those who read to remember and those who read to forget. –William Phelps

Do you agree? Disagree? I think I sometimes read to remember and sometimes read to forget. Sometimes I read for both reasons at the same time.

What are some of the reasons you read? What kinds of things do you read for each of those (or for other) reasons?

What are you reading this summer?

(more…)

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