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Sweet Will of God

Posted By on October 31, 2016

by Teri Ong

 

The senior missionary and founder of Camp-of-the Woods, Garland Cofield, had two sons and two daughters quite near to me in age. All of the family members were good musicians. But Father wanted Daughters to learn to play violin. At the age of 17, I had already been playing for over 12 years. It was natural that I would be asked to give lessons since I was going to be there for the whole summer.camp-woods5

They had a “copy of a Stradivarius” – $59.95 straight out of the Sears and Roebuck catalog by way of Japan. The bow bowed more side to side than it did top to bottom. I could barely make the tin strings sound respectable, and they could not at all. They were both more than a little vexed that their brothers, both accomplished guitar players, did better the first time than they did after a month of lessons and guided practice.

Music was a principal occupation every evening at camp. When campers were present, the evening service began with an extended time of singing gospel songs accompanied by whatever assortment of instrumentalists were present. We could almost always count on bass guitar, a couple acoustic guitars, accordion, piano, sometimes a wind instrument or two, and violin or mandolin (depending on my mood). If campers were not present, the lodge would attract players and singers from the camp staff, and we would play and sing “favorites” until “lights out.”

As the summer progressed, we had a stream of visitors that would come for occasional evenings. They would always join in the music. One special visitor was a bush pilot named Ed. He came frequently that summer to see a special lady on the staff named Gail. He would land his float plane on the lake and taxi up to the dock that was only yards from the lodge. What made him extra special was that he also played the violin, and he carried a good one in his plane. Not only did he play the violin, he played it well. It was a special treat to play with him.

During lulls in the singing, various musicians would sometimes play instrumental numbers. Often “Mr. C” would request particular players or hymns. When Ed was there, he always asked us to play together. Usually, we would pick a familiar hymn from the ample supply in the hymnal. Since I played the piano for congregational singing in my home church and had been raised with the old hymns, it was hard for Ed to pick one that I didn’t know.

But one evening he asked if we could play one that was not in the hymnal I was most familiar with.

“What about this one?” he asked. “Sweet Will of God?”

“Sure. How many verses?”

“Let’s play all of them. You take harmony.”

We started in on one of the sweetest melodies I had ever heard. It was only after we were done playing that I read the equally wonderful words.

 

My stubborn will at last hath yielded;

I would be Thine and Thine alone;

And this the prayer my lips are bringing,

‘Lord, let in me Thy will be done.’

Sweet will of God, still fold me closer,

Till I am wholly lost in Thee;

Sweet will of God, still fold me closer,

Till I am wholly lost in Thee.   (Mrs. C.H. Morris)

 

We played it more than once over the course of that summer season.

By the next summer, Ed had married Gail and I think he and his new wife only dropped in once during the summer of ‘73. After the summer of ‘73, I went to Tennessee Temple College where I  continued to study music and played in the Chattanooga Symphony. God was using many circumstances, some intensely thrilling and some intensely painful, to work His sweet will in my life throughout my freshman sojourn.

Sometime during the winter of that school year, my heart skipped a beat when the assistant pastor who read the prayer requests asked us to remember a Christian bush pilot who was lost in a blizzard in northern Ontario. There were too many camp connections in that church for me not to feel uneasy. The Cofields had been commissioned by that church.  Mr. Cofield’s sister and her husband were leaders there. Two of my three roommates had connections to Camp-of-the-Woods.  Jim Cofield was an officer in the freshman class at TTC. I knew at once in my heart that the lost pilot was Ed. I looked for Jim at the end of prayer meeting.

“Is it Ed?”

Jim nodded.

I wiped away tears that had been waiting to flow.“Let me know if you hear more.”

He nodded again.

 

Later we learned that Ed had had a hard landing on a frozen lake in a blizzard. He had gotten out of the plane, but was too injured to take many survival measures or to try to get help. He was able to get into a sleeping bag to provide some warmth as he lay there on the ice. He had lost one mitt in the process. Miraculously, he survived and was found, but one hand and one foot were beyond saving.

I saw Ed and Gail twice more in the next few years, contented and blessed with a growing family. Once was at camp and once was at my brother’s wedding to a girl he had met at camp. On the first occasion, Ed asked me to play a hymn – solo this time.

 

And this the prayer my lips are bringing,

‘Lord, let in me Thy will be done.’

Sweet will of God, still fold me closer,

Till I am wholly lost in Thee…

Like Me– Like Him

Posted By on October 17, 2016

by Teri Ongmomb-day_8

 

What are clouds like?

The clouds piled up heavy – like a double scoop of steaming hot mashed potatoes.

The clouds wrapped the frosty landscape in a layer of cotton wool.

The cloud looked like a tooth extracted under the influence of laughing gas.

 

Describe the morning glories.

The morning glories shivered in the morning air and bundled up in leaves, knotting their hoodies with vine-y laces.10-10-14_4

The tendrils of vine hung casually over the shoulder of the fence, festive like a native girl with bright blossoms tucked in each curl and behind both ears.

The morning glories cast their eyes downwards to protect themselves from the glaring noonday sun.

 

What are your impressions of the sunset?

The sunset spread out like a smudge of pink chalk on a gray sidewalk.

The clouds suffused with pink like the cheeks of an embarrassed teenager.

The gray underside of the cloud looked like an untrimmed mustache on a farmer’s sunburnt face.

 

What about the pennants in left field?

The pennants atop the stadium flapped almost in unison, like the JV flag corps.

 

Isn’t that moon something!?

The crescent moon, like the finger of God, traced across the black page of the sky.

 

So far this semester, we have been practicing the art of description in our Chambers College writing class. It may take a thousand words to describe one picture, but there is artistry of another kind in choosing the right words to create the picture and the appropriate attendant emotions in the mind and heart of a reader.

Dorothy L. Sayers wouldn’t use “TNT” to name or describe an explosive in a story because the proper chemical name sounded too much like “toorah-loorah-loorah.” She chose instead the word “dynamite,” from the Greek word for power– “dunamos”– because it brought with it the weight of centuries of classical and Biblical allusions.

We need comparisons to be able to understand with as much clarity as possible things that we have never seen or experienced. Since our eyes haven’t seen heaven or hell or God Himself, and since it is God’s purpose for us to walk by faith without seeing spiritual actualities, He communicates about spiritual matters in the language of comparison and allusion.

Scripture teaches us through “shadows” of realities to come ( Heb 8:5, Col 2:17), through types (Rom 5:14, Heb 11:19) and through “likenesses” (Phil 2:4-9).

The most precious likeness is found in our Savior Jesus, who was willing to be made like us.

5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and  being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

 

We can only begin to appreciate what this meant for Him if we contrast the description Isaiah gave us in Isaiah 53 with the description John gave us in Revelation 1. The marvel is that Jesus came down so low to be “like us” so that we could be lifted up to be “like Him.”

What is He like? He said He was a shepherd, bread, wine, a door, the light of the world, the way, the true vine, our brother, our bridegroom. Poets and prophets said He was a rock, a fortress, a lily, a rose. He is the Word of God, the language of Heaven translated for mankind, the communication of the Father made flesh. Just as the Apostle John said of His earthly works, we could say of ways to describe Him, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did [or is], which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)

Okay, so what is He really like?

I can tell you in two words– “incomparable” and “indescribable.”

So if we are to be like Him, what are we supposed to be like?

We can only begin to know now. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3:2

Someday we will know as we are known. Praise God!

Taking the Name of the Lord in Vain

Posted By on January 27, 2016

by Teri Ong

When most people, and I daresay, even most “evangelical” people, consider this one of the Ten Commandments, they think of “swear words” and various forms of God’s name attached to imprecations for damnation. While those abuses of human language are certainly covered by the command, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain” (Ex. 20:7), I believe being a “cheap swearer,” a description used by the poet George Herbert, is just the tip of the legal iceberg.

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines “vain” as “producing no result, useless, having no meaning or likelihood of fulfillment.” Another useful synonym is the word “empty.” Certainly, the flow of curse words and epithets that flow from the average American mouth in the course of a day fit this definition to a tee. Some words are used as noisy and uncouth “filler” words, with no more conscious meaning than guttural “um’s” and “ah’s”. And the practice of using the abbreviation “OMG” in text messages to indicate some minute rise in human emotion is truly vacuous.  But do these things give us a full measure of what God had in His mind when He gave this commandment to Moses?

The rest of the verse in Exodus reads, “for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.” If we look at the rest of the commandments in Exodus 20, we find that God attaches a blessing to the command to “honor your father and mother,” and He blessed the Sabbath day. He also attaches a curse to “You shall not make for yourself an idol… (20:4).” But to all of the rest (which are the ones we know best),

You shall not murder

You shall not commit adultery

You shall not steal

You shall not bear false witness…

You shall not covet… (Ex 20:13-17),

there are no addendums of any kind. There are no special blessings added for keeping the command, and there are no special curses for violating it. So how is it that taking the name of the Lord in vain ranks above murder, adultery, stealing etc., in God’s scheme of curses and blessings? If saying curse words thoughtlessly makes a person a “cheap swearer,” I believe there is a way to violate this command that is very costly, and that is why God makes it a matter of such high rank.

Sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas I heard about a controversy in some city in California. The city was holding its annual “Christmas Parade.” Besides the reality that such parades are for the commercial purpose of drumming up business for local shopping centers, not to honor Christ, the vanity of this particular use of the name of Christ was due to the fact that the planners chose an avowed atheist as the “grand marshal” of the event. The highest honor at the event went a man who denies the existence of God and the deity of Jesus Christ. That is taking the name of the Lord in vain!

I have also been distressed by the way the name “Christian” is thrown around in the public fracas also known as “presidential electioneering.” One of the candidates claims to be a Christian, but says that the most important book for anyone to read is the one he wrote himself. When asked if he had a favorite Bible passage, he said he did. When asked what it was or if he could quote it, he refused on the grounds that it “is too personal.”

“Christian” literally means “little Christ.” Someone who is being a “little Christ” would not refuse to quote Scripture when given the opportunity. Jesus even quoted Scripture to the devil. Regardless of what one thinks of the status of the American press corps, we can answer the “WWJD?” question with some certainty if Jesus were in the place of this candidate. This candidate’s profession of Christ-ianity seems to have “no meaning or likelihood of fulfillment.” It is taking the name of the Lord in vain.Tree_1

The modern aphorism that captures the essence of this command is, “talk is cheap.” It is very easy to say things with our mouths that we have no intention, or even ability, to live out. Taking the name of Christ as an expression of our faith in Him is not something to be done lightly. It is an act even more sacred than a marriage vow, which the Anglican marriage ceremony advises, “is not to be entered into lightly.”

In American culture, it is still usual for a woman to take the name of her husband when they marry. If the married woman commits public indiscretions or crimes, she has not damaged a name that belongs to her alone; she has damaged the name of her husband, which she has taken. If she has taken his name, and is then unfaithful to him in some way, she has taken his name in vain.

Tree_2  As the bride of Christ, it is proper for us to take His name. But if we say we are Christ-ians, our lifestyle should demonstrate that Jesus has produced a result in our life– He has made the dead alive, He has made darkness into light. Our profession should  not be “useless, having no meaning or likelihood of fulfillment.” If we use our mouth to call Him “Lord,” we should follow through and faithfully do the things He tells us. (Luke 6:46)

Sadly, many who use the name “Christ-ian” use it in a meaningless, purposeless, empty way. Some have been duped into thinking all they have to do is use the name like a magic spell to keep them out of hell. Some have misunderstood what the name really means and are at a loss to fill it up with proper meaning. Some others have taken the name for what it will do to make them more acceptable to a Christian audience in the present ag e, but they have no intention of fulfilling its demands. Like the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day, God’s name is a white cloak covering dead men’s bones.

A true confession will result in righteous behavior and in eternal salvation, as the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:9-10: “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”

Notice the importance God puts on His name and on our name in these verses from the book of Revelation.

“I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. (3:8)

“He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name. (3:12)

“…I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” (3:2)

“He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.  (3:5)

“I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith…” (2:13)

“To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.” (2:17)

Obeying the command not to take the name of the Lord in vain isn’t just a matter of not being a cheap swearer; it is truly a matter of life or death. The person of empty words will not go unpunished.Tree

 

Take not His name, who made thy mouth, in vain:

It gets thee nothing, and hath no excuse.

Lust and wine plead a pleasure, avarice gain:

But the cheap swearer through his open sluice

Lets his soul run for nought, as little fearing:

Were I an Epicure, I would [a]bate swearing.

 

When thou dost tell another’s jest, therein

Omit the oaths, which true wit cannot need:

Pick out of tales the mirth, but not the sin.

He pares his apple that will cleanly feed.

Play not away the virtue of that Name,

Which is thy best stake, when griefs make thee tame.

 

The cheapest sins most dearly punished are;

Because to shun them also is so cheap:

For we have wit to mark them, and to spare.

O crumble not away thy soul’s fair heap.

If thou wilt die, the gates of hell are broad:

Pride and full sins have made the way a road.

 

Three stanzas from “The Church Porch” by George Herbert

Slippery Slopes and the New Normal

Posted By on October 21, 2015

In September 2013 Colorado experienced a “hundred year flood.” We’ve had several of them in the 40 years I have lived in Colorado. Usually a storm front will stall or move slowly along a particular river basin, dumping enough rain in one area that the rocky canyon drains more into the river than it can handle. Consequently, the excess water gushes down the canyon in a flash flood. Major catastrophes have arisen in a matter of hours causing great cost in lost property, and sometimes in lost lives. But in 2013, the storm front that stalled wasn’t over one river basin; it was over all of the river basins that drain out of the Front Range from Wyoming on the north to Colorado Springs on the south.

It rained for two or three days over that entire region causing every river that flows east from the continental divide to reach catastrophic flood stage. Whole towns were cut off from emergency services because all the roads in and out were under water or washed away. Power, water, and sewer were knocked out for days or weeks. Homes along all of the canyon were flooded, undermined, or swept away entirely.

Businesses were lost. The very ground on which they had stood was all washed downstream. They could never be rebuilt. Other businesses lost an entire tourist season because people couldn’t get to their favorite mountain havens. And many of those havens had become disaster areas.

Devastation in the mountain canyons was just the beginning of the story. All of the water in those major rivers had to go somewhere, and most of it could not sink into the already saturated ground. River basins drain into other river basins, so that eventually all the rivers run into the sea, as Solomon astutely observed. In our case, they drain into the South Platte basin which runs through several major population centers in Colorado. For days, even after it stopped raining, the flood water surged along the South Platte causing trouble as it went. Highways  and county roads became impassible, and bridges were washed out well into Nebraska.  Thousands of people were displaced as whole low-lying neighborhoods washed away.

One of our church members has a granddaughter who was rescued by a police unit just as her house trailer floated off its moorings. Members of our own extended family had to improvise their wedding day because not everyone could get to the same side of the flood waters which had closed a hundred miles of I-25.

Our family makes frequent trips up the Big Thompson Canyon to Rocky Mountain National Park. We havMountains2015_3e watched with curiosity and interest for two years as various things have been rebuilt (or not!). Some things are almost the same as they were. Some things look better, since people with good insurance were able to start from scratch or make major upgrades. Some places are totally unrecognizable. Some will never be rebuilt because of the expense (like our beloved Viestenz-Smith Mountain Park). Some cannot be rebuilt– like many of the picnic spots in Glen Haven Canyon– because the course of the river has changed too much.

What is my point in belaboring all of this? I am attempting to show how everyone who has lived and played in this area now has to adapt to a “new normal.” Why is this so? Because the “old normal” is gone.

Metaphorically speaking now, our society, our culture has experienced a stalled storm front of moral relativism and atheistic humanism for the past generation. We are well beyond the saturation point. The torrents of self-centeredness and depraved, debauched self-gratification have sent debris-filled waves of destruction down all the steep, rocky canyons of mass media.

Untold numbers of lives have been lost or ruined. Businesses and livelihoods have been destroyed. Homes have been taken out; some are barely standing on crumbled foundations, propped up on shaky and insubstantial pilings.

Mountains2015_4   After the historic Big Thompson flood in the 1970’s, signs were put in the canyons that read, “In case of flash flood, climb to safety.” Generally speaking, that is sound advice. Mountains2015_2But in the 2013 floods, some of the people who had built high up on the hillsides away from the river banks had their homes come crashing down anyway. They had built on “high ground,” but their lofty locations were really slippery slopes of loose dirt, prone to landslides. The Christian community has recently seen many who seemed to be safe on “high ground” brought down by the floods of self-gratification. They didn’t realize that the heights of human wisdom, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency are nothing but slippery scree.  Climbing to safety only works if you’re on the solid Rock.

SMountains2015_1o what are we to do after floods destroy what we have known and loved? We can’t move away until God calls us home. We have to stay and help clear as much rubble as we can, pick up some of the pieces, and provide help and comfort to those who have experienced loss. We may grieve for the “old normal” because the displaced boulders, crumbled foundations and up-rooted trees of the “new normal” aren’t very pretty. But this is where God has called to labor for the time being.

But we can take heart; some day the “new normal” won’t be another version of the old, groaning, sin-tainted earth. It will be “a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away…” (Rev. 21:1)

 

 

 

Hymn 82 by Isaac Watts

Shall the vile race of flesh and blood

Contend with their Creator God?

Shall mortal worms presume to be

More holy, wise, or just, than He?

Behold He puts His trust in none

Of all the spirits round His throne;

Their natures when compared with his

Are neither holy, just, nor wise.

But how much meaner things are they

Who spring from dust and dwell in clay!

Touched by the finger of Thy wrath

We faint and vanish like a moth.

From night to day, and day to night,

We die by thousands in Thy sight;

Buried in dust whole nations lie

Like a forgotten vanity.

Almighty Pow’r! To Thee we bow,

How frail are we, how glorious Thou!

No more the sons of earth shall dare

With an Eternal God compare.

by Teri Ong

A Meditation

Posted By on September 26, 2015

Speed Star 1.1521345  00I am a cloud,
A vapor animated
By the Breath of God.
I rise up new

On currents warmed by the Sun,
Always pushed higher.
White, I reflectSpeed Star 1.1502369  00
Brilliant Light, or gold fired
Past the horizon;
Yet my shadow
May ominously obscure
Or give cooling shelter.
I can produce
Disappointing drought, or floods
cloudOut of my belly.
On wings of Wind,
I’m pushed high and higher still
Til I evaporate
In heavenly air.

 

Teri Ong
August 2015
~Written on the occasion of watching the cloud shows every evening from a cabin in Clark,  Colorado.~

Children of Our Heavenly Father

Posted By on July 29, 2015

by Teri Ong

Speed Star 1.1520352  00

In mid-June we attended the Christian Home Educators of Colorado statewide conference in Denver. We have attended all or part of every conference since 1993. We enjoy being together with a good contingent of “old timers,” some of whom even pre-date our participation. Because we see longevity of relationships as a blessing and gift of God, renewing old friendships is the best part of the conference every year.

One of our longstanding friendships is with the Bloom family, which runs a wonderful used book company called “Books Bloom.” Their business is NOT a second hand curriculum table; it is about what we in education technically call “real books” (No, I’m not being facetious!). And a lot of their books are vintage “real books.” You know which ones they are: they are the morally uplifting stories written in the first half of the last century that were greatly enjoyed by those of us who grew up in the second half of it.Speed Star 1.1530338  00

In a slack time in the vendor hall, several of us were perusing the books in the “Books Bloom” booth. We began discussing the favorite stories of our youth. After awhile Mrs. Bloom observed, “Isn’t it something that in many of our favorite stories, there isn’t much parental presence?”

I thought about my own favorites. Many of them, from the classics such as The Secret Garden and The Chronicles of Narnia to the kiddie pulp fiction favorites such as The Happy Hollisters and The Boxcar Children, fit with her observation. Much of the action in all of them does indeed take place apart from the watchful eyes of grown-ups. In fact, the series I am presently enjoying for the first time (thanks to the recommendation of a friend)– the “Swallows and Amazons” series by Arthur Ransome– is of the same genre.

The four principal characters in the Ransome series are siblings John, Susan, Roger, and Titty Walker. As the series unfolds, the children have many adventures as they sail, camp, hike, and explore during their holidays. Their imaginations are allowed a good workout as they create scenarios, make up names, and draw maps to go with their explorations and “discoveries.” They visit “Rio” and climb “Kachenjunga.” They have encounters with pirates (two sisters with their own sailboat) and do business with “natives,” all without ever leaving the English Lake District. Their mother, of course, is “the best of all natives.”

Their mother allows them a great deal of freedom to come and go as they please. They camp alone on an island, sail their boat around a large lake, cook their own meals, do their own washing up, etc. The prospect of allowing children that much latitude in today’s culture would give the average “helicopter” parent cold sweats. Mrs. Bloom asked us if we thought there ever was a time that was innocent enough for children to be on their own like that.

Speed Star 1.1493363  00  I thought of my own childhood. We lived in a neighborhood on a lake in Minnesota. Our house was half a block from the lake easement that was part of our property rights. Our mother routinely let us swim and fish with our friends and siblings without her presence. I spent hours riding bikes with the boys in the neighborhood who were my classmates. We often walked 3/4 of a mile to the nearest grocery store– on an active railroad track– across a trestle! By the time I was 17, I had a private pilot’s licence and had done solo flights all over the state. One summer, my brother and I tent camped our way from Denver, Colorado to a missionary camp near Dinorwic, Ontario, where we spent the summer as volunteers. I wasn’t allowed to do all of those things because I was perfectly mature in all ways before I did them; rather, each new experience helped me grow up in ways that might have taken much longer, or might not have happened at all, if I had not been allowed and even encouraged to do each new thing on my own.

Why do we like stories of youthful adventure? I believe we like the kind of stories that resonate harmoniously with the Great Story of the universe. And the best of these stories do just that. Let me illustrate with some examples from We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome.

The Walkers are in Ipswich awaiting a visit from their father, on furlough from the Royal Navy. They have met a mature young man who has his own seaworthy sailboat. He is well-thought of by all who know him, and Mrs. Walker gives the children permission to spend a day and a night on his vessel. Generally, Mrs. Walker, “the best of all natives,” makes sure they have all the provisions they need and that accounts are settled with other natives who have helped along the way. She also makes sure there is a line of communications open when they have a need. All is going well until the young man goes ashore to get some gasoline for the engine. The children are safely anchored and responsibly awaiting his return, just as they were told to do. But the young man is struck by a bus and ends up in the hospital with a head injury, unbeknownst to the children (no cell phones in the 1930’s!).

The tide comes in, lifts their boat and its anchor, and in time, the children are swept out to sea. For awhile, they battle to navigate in a dense

Speed Star 1.1487368  00

Speed Star 1.1487368 00

fog, then a fierce storm comes up. This is every parent’s worst nightmare! But the children have been well trained by their sailor dad and their practical-minded mom. They make wise decisions and work out of each jam in a reasoned and sensible way.

As I thought about the parental role in these wonderful stories, it occurred to me that the parents, though not visible and personally micro-managing the details of life for their children, are truly omnipresent in spirit. The Walker children always attempt to honor their parents through their decision making and actions, when things are going well and when unexpected difficulties arise.

In We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea, the children figure out how to manage the larger vessel because they can apply the knowledge they gained from sailing their own smaller boat, and can recall advice and examples of good seamanship that came from their father. Always in the back of John’s mind is the goal of bringing them all with their vessel safe to harbor so that his father will be proud of him. Susan, the oldest sister, works very hard to keep the craft orderly, make sure all aboard have adequate meals on a proper schedule, and get the younger ones to bed on time. She even oversees bathing and toothbrushing. Standards of decency must not be allowed to slip!

There is no alternative plan of action– they must make their way across the Channel to the first landfall. As they handle each crisis that comes up, they are always thinking of what their mother or father would do or would want them to do. Eventually they make their way to Holland and unexpectedly meet up with their father, who is crossing the other direction on his way home. The children know that he wishes circumstances had not been as perilous for them as they were, but they are glad he is pleased with the way they handled themselves. John is especially pleased when his father gives his shoulder a squeeze and says, “You’ll be a seaman yet, my son.” (p. 286)

Our Father God is not always visible in our stories either, yet He is likewise omnipresent.

He has taken care of our provisions and makes sure accounts are settled. He has taught us skills along the way and has given us the best of all examples– Jesus Christ. We have everything we need to navigate through increasingly difficult circumstances. He guides us by His Spirit as we seek to honor Him in our decision making and in our actions. And we, like the youthful John Walker, will be ever so pleased when Father says to us, “You’ll be a Christian yet, my child.”

 

References:

Ransome, Arthur. We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea. London: Jonathan Cape, 1988 printing.

 

Bloom, Jan. Who Should We Then Read? Cokato, Minnesota: Booksbloom, 2001. This is an excellent resource with lists of books, recommendations and warnings, and much biographical information about many popular authors.

 

Pictures of Lake Windermere, England, taken by Teri Ong in May, 2015.

Polar Bears in a Snowstorm

Posted By on March 31, 2015

One of the classes at Chambers College this semester is honing its skills in apologetics and persuasion. The students have been watching and analyzing master debaters on the Supreme Court and from the highest echelons of government and professional life as they tackle the sticky wickets of public policy. They have also watched Christian leaders debate with atheists the existence of God. They have read many sources that should help them sharpen their own thought processes and prepare them to engage their world about their worldview.

A sticking point that has popped up more than once is “the problem of pain.” In a nutshell, it goes something like this: if there is a gracious, loving, merciful, and all-powerful creator God in charge of the universe, how can He allow so much sickness, poverty, war, disaster, injustice, etc., to come upon the people He ostensibly cares for?

Much has been written during all the centuries of human history on this topic. One of the earliest pieces of literature, the book of Job in the Bible, is a lengthy exploration of the range of human suffering and man and God’s respective roles and responses in it. Pain as a consequence of human hubris, pain as a motivation for heroic action, pain as a revealer of character (either for good or evil), pain as an obstacle to overcome: these are all themes in the world’s great stories because they are part of our common experience as human beings.

But no matter what cases, religious or secular, are made for the positive aspects of pain and affliction, some people will not be persuaded that there might be a good or a righteous reason for allowing murder and mayhem to happen in the world of men. (Isn’t it ironic that we regularly find murder and mayhem so entertaining from the safety of an armchair?)

John Horgan, who has deeply considered all of the arguments for and against the existence of God, and who articulates his views in the public arena on a regular basis has said,

“If God is all-powerful, just and loving, why then is existence so painful and unfair for so many people? …I have never encountered a satisfying solution to the problem of evil (although a psychedelic trip more than 30 years ago briefly convinced me that I had solved it).” Horgan here has merged two distinct issues into one, the problem of pain and the problem of evil. Admittedly, the two overlap, but they do not fully coincide. I am going to address pain specifically.

I do not presume to be in his persuasive league; I am not even in his persuasive universe, nor am I likely to even appear on his persuasive radar screen. But these are some thoughts on the subject that come from my experiences in life and in the field of fine arts. If you are one of the handful of people who sometimes read this blog, perhaps these ideas will encourage you or help your neighbor someday.

The real problem of pain is not that it causes us to cast doubt on the existence of a good God; the problem with pain is simply that we do not like pain. If it gets bad enough, we hate it. We especially eschew it for ourselves, but if we have an empathetic side to our nature, we hate it on behalf of others because it comes back on us in the form of reflected pain. The “fact” of pain is a “problem” because we want to get rid of it– all of it– when it is writ small in our life and when it is writ large, but usually we have little power to do so. But perhaps we can get rid of it by using it to coerce a “good God” into proving Himself by removing some of it– especially from ourselves. But as the wise old saint said to a young seeker named Cosmo, “What if God is not interested in you knowing Him in that way?” [in Warlock O’ Glenwarlock by G. MacDonald]

That we can imagine and desire an existence without pain is in itself an argument that we are created for that kind of existence. In the chapter called “Hope” in Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world.” The desire to be “pain-free” is one of those cravings that can only be satisfied outside our present existence. We can have that longing fulfilled in heaven, when it is good for us, but not now, when it would not be good for us.

Right now, however, we still have such an aversion to pain that we become like little children whining, fussing, and throwing tantrums to twist the emotional arm of an uncooperative parent. Parenthood requires the infliction of pain for a child’s health and well-being; think of unpopular eating regimens, “unreasonable” bedtimes, unstylish apparel (like boots and mitts), potentially painful doctor and dentist visits, school! Not to mention various corrective disciplinary measures.

It is not hard to see how this is analogous to our relationship to our Father in heaven. And, just as many of us conspired to run away to escape some unpleasantness at home, humanity makes many attempts to run away from our Heavenly Father for the same reason. In the spirit of the humorous slogan, “When all else fails, ask Grandpa,” Lewis astutely observes,

“What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven– a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.’”
This, however, is not the way of the universe. We do not have a Grandpa in the sky: we have a Father who is trying to help us grow up into the image of our perfect Older Brother.

Growing involves growing pains, and our Father is more, rather than less, loving because He allows us those pains. As Lewis further states, “…since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude my conception of love needs correction.”

A popular metaphor for life in Christian literature is the unfinished piece of artwork, particularly a tapestry. On this earth, we see God’s picture only from the backside, but God sees it on the side that will someday be finished and put on display for all to see for eternity. Indeed, He drew up the plan in eternity past. The finished work has been in the mind of God since before it was even begun, and soon, He will complete the task of working it out in time and space.

I want to take the analogy a little further. Not only do we see the tapestry from the underside, each of our lives is just a tiny square centimeter on a canvas that could fill the skies. (John 21:25) Often, we cannot even understand how our few stitches relate to the square meter around us, which is our generation. Nowadays, it would probably be more meaningful to put this in terms of pixels or DPI. You might say, each of us is only a single line in a very large program.

Any scene that comes before our eyes, natural or virtual, is a combination of light places and dark places. God made our eyes to appreciate the distinctions (remember “rods” and “cones” from third grade science?). The old Italian master painters called this “chiaroscuro,” which comes from the Latin roots from which we derive the English words “clear” and “obscure”, that is, light and dark.

The scene on our metaphoric tapestry is a historical depiction– like the famous Bayeux Tapestry– only it is infinitely bigger and more beautiful. Until it is finished, the Master Artist will necessarily be making more light and dark stitches. By “dark stitches” I do not mean that God is the source of anything evil; that is not possible. (James 1:13) But God regularly redeems difficult circumstances, including the results of evil choices, and uses them for good. (Gen. 50:20)

We have all laughed at the childish joke about the student who turned in a blank piece of white paper in art class. When asked to explain his lack of creativity, the student says that it is a picture of a polar bear in a snowstorm. Sadly, that is the kind of picture many people expect a “good God” to make of them– all lights and no darks. A study recently published in the Journal of Positive Psychology concluded, “…happy people get joy from receiving; people leading meaningful lives get joy from giving to others. ‘Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed, or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desires are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided.’” In other words, polar bears in a snowstorm might think they are happy, but their lives lack meaning.

1SnowA framed and matted “polar bear in a snowstorm” might be good for a quick laugh, but would quickly become dull and unsightly. It is, after all, the visible marks on a page that convey meaning. What is a life of all warmth and no cold, all sun and no clouds, all dry and no rain? We call it a desert– a nice place to visit, but a hard place to live.

Life shouldn’t be a polar bear picture, but neither is it a grizzly bear at midnight– unbroken blackness. Unless we choose to live in a dark cave of sinful choices, we can expect blue skies when the clouds roll on, warm Chinooks as well as cold north winds, flowers after rain, even new channels and dramatic landscapes after floods. As King David said at the end of his earthly life,1night

“And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain.” 2 Sam 23:4
God’s tapestry is the expression of who He is, the fleshing out of all that is in His infinitely wise and creative mind. Each one of us is being crafted in His image. God serves all of His creation. How can we learn to serve if no one needs to be served? He gave up heaven to meet our eternal need. How can we learn to meet needs if no one has any needs? He suffered ultimate pain to demonstrate ultimate love. How can we learn to love sacrificially if no one needs our loving sacrifice? If God Himself had to suffer unjust pain to be experientially perfect (Heb. 5:8), how can we think we are above it?

In heaven, we will no longer be concerned about the knots, crossed threads, and loose ends of the underside of the tapestry. We won’t mind if our square centimeter had a high percentage of dark stitches. We will see them in the context of God’s beautiful design. We will live forever in awe of the completed work and the skill of the Artist, and rejoice that the few, small stitches of our lives are part of it.

I am not being flippant or cavalier in what I am saying. In many ways, this has been one of the hardest years of my life– a multi-front battle involving the deepest emotional struggles of my life, eclipsing even my year of cancer surgery and treatments 27 years ago. I cannot wave away my experience with a magic theological wand. I understand, better now than ever, what Oswald Chambers was trying to communicate in his wartime commentary on the book of Job,

“Always remain true to the facts and to the intuitive certainty that God must be just, and do not try to justify Him too quickly. The ‘juggling trick’ tries to justify God for allowing sin and war. Sin and war are absolutely unjustifiable, and yet the instinct of every Christian is– ‘I know that in the end God will justify Himself.’ Meantime you can justify Him only by a venture of faith which cannot be logically demonstrated.”

How willing was Jesus to die,

That we rebel sinners might live!

The life they could not take away,

How ready was Jesus to give.

They pierced through His hands and His feet,

His body He freely resigned;

The pains of His flesh were so great!

But greater the pangs of His mind!

No nearer we venture to gaze

On sorrow so deep, so profound;

But tread with amazement and praise

And reverence such hallowed ground.

–Joseph Swain, 1761-1796 (vs. 1,2,5)

References:

Chambers, Oswald. Baffled to Fight Better. (Grand Rapids: Discovery House Publishers, 1990 ed.) p. 69.

Horgan, John. “Can Faith and Science Coexist?” February 23, 2015 Scientific American accessed through http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2015/02/23/can-faith-and-science-coexist/

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. (London: Fontana Books, 1960) “Hope”, p. 116-119.

_____ The Inspirational Writings of C. S. Lewis. (New York: Inspirational Press, 1994) “The Business of Heaven” January 10, p. 300.

Smith, Emily Esfahani. “Happiness: It’s Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be” Reader’s Digest, April 2015, p. 37.

Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning

Posted By on February 28, 2015

The lamp is readied, the wick trimmed,

Filled with oil, the chimney placed.

A burning reed transfers the flame,

Lights the lamp and in turn the room.

 

The light shines well, but eyes adjust,

And crave brighter ‘til gloom is past.

Boldly, our hand turns up the wick

To get the full effect we seek.

 

Immediately, flame now bright,

We bask in artificial light;

But see now, black soot in excess

Darks the glass, defeats our purpose.

 

Obscured, the flame reduced in power

Is dimmer than in former hour.

The oil still burns, but smoke is thick

Because it burns with too much wick.

 

So cut the wick and set it low,

Polish the glass and let it glow.

This is the ancient remedy:

Less of my wick and more of Thee.

 

Teri Ong – February 2015

Posted By on January 22, 2015

Being born smack in the middle of the “Boomer” generation, I am realizing more and more every day that all booms go bust eventually. As with every generation before and after ours, we grew up (or not!) together, graduated together, got married together, hadboats cramped cropped children together, watched our children marry and have children together, and now we are superintending the death of our parents together. In some popular media outlets, we are called the “Sandwich” generation, squeezed between cleaning up after grandchildren and cleaning up after infirm parents. But I don’t feel like something plump between two tasty pieces of bread. I feel like a sailboat on which the sail has become so threadbare and tattered it won’t catch enough wind to tack any more, and I am headed for the rocky shores of mortality.

The outline of those shores is coming more into focus as I help my mother’s craft navigate toward them, and I realize I am close behind her. I don’t dread those rocky shores because they are the way into a beautiful land. But the approach is uncertain, sometimes veiled in fogs and mists, sometimes treacherous with stormy winds and hidden currents.

Mom has no more power left; she can only be carried along by whatever wind or current takes her.

expansive boats croppedHere my analogy has to change a little. From her perspective, my role in her life is more like a deck hand polishing the proverbial brass on the sinking ship. And there is a lot of brass to keep up.

I recently read a book on caring for people with dementia. The first part of the book dealt with signs and symptoms, medical aids, advice for care givers, etc. Toward the end of the book, several writers shared their personal stories. Many of them wrote in glowing, sentimental terms. The days, weeks, months, years were “precious,” “sweet,” “healing.”

Mom has been with us for five years now. Her decline was relatively slow at the beginning, faster the last two years, and astonishing in the last two months. And I cannot say the time has been precious, sweet, or healing. It has been tiring, frustrating, and painful, both physically and emotionally. I know it has been that way for her too, as her grip on the earth has been loosed one painful finger hold after another. She is looking forward to the Beautiful Land ahead, but she sometimes loses sight of it, being so close to the rocky shore. The landing there is the last act of faith for a Christian.Speed Star 1.1535338  00

Helping her make it is a duty of love– not of sentimental love, not of touchy-feely love, not of emotional love at all. If I let my feelings take control for one minute, I would abandon ship. A swim in the sea is, after all, more refreshing and enjoyable than the futile pursuit of polished brass.

The blessing of this week has come from reflections (maybe they bounced off the polished brass!) on need-love and gift-love, a concept explored in The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis. Humans are entirely “need-love” and God is entirely “gift-love.” How could it be otherwise? We are totally dependent creatures: He is the only all self-sufficient Creator.

In my relationship with my dying mother, she is all need-love and I am all gift-love. The only thing she can do for me is appreciate what I do for her. The only thing we can do for God is express appreciation for what He does for us.

boats croppeeBut on a practical level, does Mother demonstrate appreciation? I know she loves me. She sometimes says “thank you.” But usually she is resentful that I clean up her messes in front of her, put pills into her hand to take, give her plates of food to eat that she doesn’t feel like eating. She cries because she is so weak and accuses me of not giving her any meat for a whole week. She does not remember all of the meals I served that she would not eat. She cries because she “doesn’t have any friends,” though I and members of my family and church congregation spend time (frequently hours a day) every day with her, even when she has often rebuffed our efforts. She tells all of my friends that I neglect her and leave her to sit all alone with nothing to do but look out the window.

What is the “blessing” in all of this? It has opened my eyes to the many times I have complained and rebuffed the gift-love of my gracious Giver. How often have I cried because I thought I wasn’t getting what I needed? How often have I forgotten His best efforts on my behalf? How often have I complained to others of my sad condition? How often have I been resentful that I couldn’t do or have things my own way?

I hope I learn and remember these crucial life lessons. It might make my approach to the shore a little less rocky. I pray it does.

 

Oh God, that madest earth and sky, the darkness and the day,

Give ear to this Thy family, and help as when we pray!

For wide the waves of bitterness around our vessel roar,

And heavy grows the pilot’s heart to view the rocky shore!

The cross our Master bore for us, for Him we fain would bear,

But mortal strength to weakness turn, and courage to despair!

Then mercy on our failings, Lord! Our sinking strength renew!

And when Thy sorrows visit us, oh send They patience too!

— Reginald Heber

Posted By on October 31, 2014

The wood is dead; the tree is downed,

So worthless lying on the ground.

But Love is a consuming fire

Who lights the log upon its pyre.

The fire blazes bright and hot,

But left alone the flame dies out.

The blazing fire soon burns low;

The flicker of the flame is slow.

When almost all the fuel is spent,

The heat reduced, the light grows faint.

The log is shrunken, cracked and gray,

Almost spent, life’s little day.

What good is smoke in darkest night?

What good to smoulder without light?

So smash and bash with iron rod;

Now lift and poke and move and prod.

Remove the char and break apart,

Expose the fresh and unburned heart.

Fan it up and give it air

‘Til once again the light is there.

The log decrease, the Flame increase,

Ensure the light will never cease,

‘Til there’s nothing left the prod,

And all my heat has risen to God.

– Teri Ong –

Spark2