Which Hero?

One of the books on my nightstand right now is from the Christian Encounters Series by Thomas Nelson, a biography of St. Francis of Assisi. I am a slow reader to begin with, but every once in awhile, I find a book so challenging to me that it really takes a long time to work through it (ask Tozer–I took me about eight months to read The Knowledge of the Holy). This is one of them.

Quite frankly, I didn’t know much about St. Francis when I chose this book for the Booksneeze blogger book review program (which, if you’re not a part of, you need to be. Go on…I’ll wait while you sign up. What could be better than free books? Click the link.) I chose this book because St. Francis holds the remarkable distinction of being the hero of my hero. Big deal, right? Well, it is a big deal to me. I have few heroes–so few that I can count them on one hand. There just are not many people (dead or alive) who have risen to “hero” status for me. Maybe I’m hard to please. I like to think that I have exceptional standards. ;)

Nonetheless, St. Francis of Assisi was Rich Mullins’ hero. Rich, not nearly as well known as he should have been, penned some of Christian music’s greatest songs, to include “Sing Your Praise to the Lord”–made popular by Amy Grant–and “Awesome God”–yes, that chorus you sing in church. Rich was so much more than an amazing songwriter and musician, but this blog is not about what makes Rich my hero.

As I was reading yesterday about St. Francis’ choice to pursue poverty (an enormous choice; we are to understand that his father was a successful businessman–a business that St. Francis was to grow into), I remembered something I’d read several years ago in The World As I Remember It: Through the Eyes of a Ragamuffin, which collected posthumously several  of Rich’s previously published writings:

Before I got into this music business, I was determined to live a life of dire and grinding poverty. I remember my uncle saying, ‘Wow, you are so proud of being poor–what’s so great? You would do a lot better to be a little more industrious, a little more frugal. If you’re really concerned about the poor, becoming poor isn’t going to help them, it’s just going to ease your own conscience. If you’re really concerned about the poor, go out and make a fortune and spend it on them.’ (p. 140)

So who was right? Was St. Francis right in choosing to live a life of poverty, claiming that it would free us to know God more intimately? Or was Rich’s uncle right in saying that we would do better to give generously to alleviate poverty? Neither are easy options, to be sure, but is one more true or more right than the other?

And more importantly…if St. Francis was right, would anyone in America today have the guts to give it all up?

And even more importantly…would I?

Delight Yourself in the Lord

Yes, that’s what David wrote in Psalm 37:4.

Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

I’ve always been amazed at how often we quote this verse, and, coincidentally, how loathe we are to quote other verses from this beautiful acrostic poem of David’s. For instance, how many times have we quoted verse 8?

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret–it leads only to evil.

Or verse 16, one of my personal favorites (it reminds me that riches are truly not counted in dollars).

Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked.

I would say that it’s funny how drawn we are to the verse that talks about God giving us what we want rather than the verses that talk about doing what is right or being blessed in having “little,” except that it’s really not funny at all. It’s rather sad, actually.

And it’s frustrating to me personally. I write this not because I am frustrated with other Christians, but because I am frustrated with myself. How I long for God to give me all that I desire! And how I cry when He doesn’t! In some ways, I fear I am still incredibly childish. And when God doesn’t give me what I desire, my reaction is not usually, “God must have something better for me!” No, no…I usually suffer through my own tantrum before I realize that God is patiently waiting for me to remember that He has a good plan for my life–a better plan, it’s worth noting, than any I could put together.

But I’m learning. That’s the key, right?

But man. I can’t help but wonder if David knew, deep down, that self-focused, frustrated, depressed young women like me would latch onto this verse (verse 4) and want it to mean something it doesn’t. If David didn’t, God certainly did, for He compelled David’s poetic hand to clarify (or confound…it’s hard to tell which) the following verses–same chapter, verses 23-25:

If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; [24] though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand. [25] I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.

So how do we move from seeking our own desires to seeking that Christ would delight in us? I think the answer is right back in verse 4: Delight yourself in the Lord. When our desires fall in line behind that delight, that desire for God, then I think we are in a place where God not only delights in delighting us, but where He can begin to change any desire that is unaligned with His plan for our lives.

And oh, is that a difficult place to be if you don’t continue delighting in Him! The truth is, He may ask us to give some things up. He may change our goals, our passions. He may bring something into your life that is entirely not what you wanted or expected.

Oh, I pray that He does. I pray that He changes my desires–makes them His own. I want my life to reflect my beautiful Savior in some small way. I want to hear those words, “well done, good and faithful servant.” I want to know that deep joy and satisfaction of seeing His face in the New Jerusalem and realizing that everything–all the struggle, all the frustration, all the obstacles and challenges and changes, all the burdens–was worth it.

In the meantime, we grow. Seed by seed. Root by root. We dig in, we feed on God’s Word, we drink deep of His Spirit, we turn our faces to His Son, and we push through the dirt until He brings our desires to fruition. Suddenly, we forget that we desired anything other than His own being.

So don’t stop. The reward is near. Keep on. Push through the dirt, spread your arms, and bloom.

What is Necessary

As some of you may know, I have a sick addiction to quotes. When I read a magazine, I watch for little snippets of wisdom to cut from the pages and store away in my quote box(es). When I read a book, I do so with pen in hand, ready to underline words of inspiration and challenge. I love, love, love quotes.

About a month ago, I was cleaning my desk (an ever-evolving project that I can’t seem to conquer) and I stumbled upon a St. Francis of Assisi quote that I don’t remember ever seeing before.

Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.

It has buried its roots deep within my heart, twisting through forgotten chambers and digging ever deeper, the question echoing, “what is necessary?”

What is necessary?

What is necessary?

What is necessary?

That is a good question. I haven’t the answer for my own life. Not yet, anyway. I will. I promise you, I will find the answer.

What is necessary in your own life? And how do you (hope to) see it becoming the possible, and eventually, the impossible? Please share! I long for the inspiration.

ETA: What is necessary is stepping outside tonight for a glimpse (or eyeful) of the Perseid Meteor Shower!

Collective Salvation, part II

So what is collective salvation?

If you’re like me, you’ve spent the last two weeks scouring the internet trying to find a clear definition of this elusive doctrine. And, if you’re like me, you’ve been largely unsuccessful. It seems obvious, though, right? If individual salvation simply means that my salvation is dependent upon my individual faith in Christ, then collective salvation must mean that my salvation is dependent upon the collective faith of the community, right?

I don’t think this is what it means, though. I don’t think it really has anything to do with a doctrine about salvation or faith or (dare I say it?) Christ. It denies the very foundations of the Christian faith: that core idea that we all have sinned, and the penalty for that sin is spiritual (and, might I add, eternal) death; that Christ took the punishment of our sin and conquered death so that we might live; that being one of the community (of Jews, of God’s chosen) is insufficient to save our spiritual selves; that salvation is by grace and through faith–a free gift of God Himself.

See, collective salvation isn’t really about salvation at all. It isn’t about faith.  Oh, they may say it is. But look at what Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger said about Liberation Theology (the parent of the collective salvation doctrine) :

Many liberation theologians continue to use a great deal of the Church’s classical ascetical and dogmatic language while changing its signification.

So don’t be confused when they tell you it’s about salvation. It’s not. It’s not about faith or hope or Christ or salvation. It’s not even about the community that makes it “collective.” It’s about social, economic, and political power. It’s the stripping of individual rights and responsibilities, sins and redemptions, choices, opinions, desires.

How long will it be before someone who is ungreen will be seen as a threat to our collective survival? Does it not become the job of the government-savior to convert me to green for the sake of the community, of the state, of the country, of the world? It has to. It has to become someone’s job, or it would still depend upon my individual conscience.

But that’s just it. Suddenly, I can’t trust my own gut to move me to charity or compassion. Suddenly, I can’t trust my own gut to tell me it’s wrong to lie, cheat, or steal. Suddenly, I can’t trust my own gut to decide whether I should stop and help the man whose car just went off the road in front of me.

No, collective salvation requires a conscience on behalf of the community. And believe you me, the collective conscience will trump your individual conscience every time. Our government will make sure of it.

Folks, don’t buy into this. Don’t be enticed by the pretty idea of saving everyone. Salvation is not my job, not your job, not the community’s job, and certainly not the government’s job. It is the work of Jesus the Messiah. Any other “salvation” will fall short in the end.

Is it our responsibility as Christians to love our neighbor? To show compassion? To help the poor and needy? Absolutely. It is a matter of our faith, though, and we answer to God for those choices–not to the government.

Wow. It just hit me: If there is no individual conscience, no individual salvation, then there can also be no individual worth or need. Everything will become a matter of community. Everything will be weighed on its health pertaining to the community (or to the perception thereof). Isn’t this the end game, after all?

If you’re still looking for answers, begin with Ratzinger’s notes on Liberation Theology. Let me know what else you find, folks. I’m trying really hard to understand these issues, myself, and I welcome the dialogue and–where necessary–correction.

Pax Domini.

Semmie.

Book Review: Venom and Song by Batson & Hopper

Venom and Song by Wayne Thomas Batson & Christopher Hopper

Being the second book in The Berinfell Prophecies, Venom and Song is the continuing adventure of seven teenagers who are thrust into the warring world of Allyra. These young Elf Lords, each possessing a unique gift, must learn to use their gifts individually and as a team if they are to defeat the Spider King.

Though I had not read the first book, I had no trouble settling into Venom and Song.  Batson and Hopper are a refreshing option in Christian literature, dealing effectively with the issues of individual and corporate strengths (and weaknesses) in any community, but particularly as paralleled with the Body of Christ. With each character so uniquely gifted, and with such a variance of personalities, every reader may find a “kindred spirit” in one of the Elf Lords.

Surprisingly, and quite unlike much of Christian literature, these characters are in no way immune from injury, personal struggles, feelings of insecurity and fear. I saw myself many times in the pages of this book, and was encouraged by the realization that even an Elf Lord who makes a mistake is still an Elf Lord.

I enjoyed this book so much, in fact, that when family visited recently, I began reading it to my pre-teen nephew before he went to sleep at night. I knew he would love it, but what surprised me was when his 17-year-old brother turned off his computer, put his headphones away, and propped himself up on his pillow to listen as I read.  It proved the point to me—that this generation of young people is hungry for good literature, and is willing for that good literature to explore Christian themes.

This young adult book is a great read for any lover of fantasy, and I would recommend it to any friend.

For more information about this book, please visit the Thomas Nelson product page for Venom and Song.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program.