Eye Apples and Dolly Tea …

Keep me as the apple of your eye … pleads Psalmist David of God (Psalm 17.8)

… he kept him as the apple of his eye, Moses writes of God’s care for His people, Israel (Deuteronomy 32.10).

keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye … the LORD instructs His people (Proverbs 7.2).

School has begun, in our little house in the Northwoods. And, while other schools convoke the new school year with a dance or homecoming football game, we mark the beginning of the academic year with … the dolly tea-party!

It works like this: The girls—led by Lead Teacher, Mommy Amanda—prepare cupcakes and other delectables. Children personalize nameplates and table settings. Preparation lasts several days. It is to be a sumptuous affair.

Daddy Bryan (school principal) inaugurates the event itself by painting the girls’ nails, in the driveway. Then, the boys help one another into black suits and—bringing select stuffed animal guests (the famous Teddy for Daddy, Prancer for Henry, Baby Tiger for Jack, though he’d now prefer you didn’t know about it)—the boys approach the formal front entrance to the house. Girls hands are kissed, and we all sit down to tea. Greta Grace’s Emma and Sara likewise attend—thus, the dolly tea party. After tea and cakes, we all dance. Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, that kind of thing. When the fun has been had, the boys depart till the next year, and lessons begin the next day …

There is history to all this. In the summer of 2013, following a season of great loss for our family, we determined to celebrate what we had been given. We had dollies and stuffed bears, no doubt, but we also had one another and every opportunity to celebrate outrageously, and in ways that young children can understand.

The connection to our home learning goes something like this: if we as parents desire our children to take God, His Word and His world seriously, we’d better understand something of the Father’s great love for His people. A beginning to this life-long study might just be to learn what it means to be dear to one another. And, if that love for one another be so great, then Oh! how much more must be the love of the Father for His children! And, if the hurts and loss known to every family might be so redeemed by parents who drop to their knees to create and discover and play and heal, then how much more must be the riches of our great Creator who gives us all things to enjoy for our present and eternal good and His great glory. So goes the formation of our imaginations in truth.

And so, we’ve begun again … the good, the true, the beautiful. And, it all begins with eye apples and dolly tea!

Original dolly tea, 2013

Goodness … and Swiss chard

Real life conversation between two Westboro eight-year-olds—overheard by parents at older brother, Jack’s, baseball game, some weeks ago:

Dean: You’re kind of small for your age. How old are you, anyway?

Henry: Eight

Dean: Eight! You could be seven, or six … or five, even …

Henry: Uh-huh …

Dean: You need to get some veggies in that belly, like Swiss chard, or something. If you do that, you’ll grow—like—eighteen inches before I see you next. 

Not everyone can live in a place of obvious goodness, where Swiss chard comes up among eight-year-olds in ordinary playground talk. But, this year, we do live in such a place.

Goodness is abundant this time of year in the Northwoods. And, while our farms aren’t as big as our neighbors’ in the southern part of the state, ripeness too visits our fields, forests and gardens. For us, in the moment, this means the time of berry picking—strawberries, blueberries, raspberries—is just about past. Vegetable produce rolls in daily, enough to share, for sure. Apples await. Like the birds who by-pass our feeders for want of need, because of the abundance of food in the wild, we too look at our tables and say, “Wow … that all came from the garden. Praise God for this!

That last thought reminds me of Jeremiah’s word from God, spoken over Israel in light of His judgement, but in anticipation of future salvation:

They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more (31.12, ESV).

Those who rest in Christ know this abundance today, in essence. All who know peace with God through Christ will join Israel in fullness at Christ’s return.

Till that day, we say, Praise God for this! And, we harvest from the fields and forests and gardens, and receive all this as a picture of God’s present and future … Goodness. 

“For” Life

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Sunday at Woodland we participate with Christ-followers around the nation in Sanctity of Life Sunday. Being “for” life means serving Christ and suffering for those in crisis in this world while in the face of an enemy.

Our lesson spans the human story and tells of death and life, in Creation … in Crisis … and in Christ. Death in Ezekiel 28 and the fall of the beautiful being who became Satan, but life in Genesis 2 and the mud-man who received God’s breath of life. Death in our first parents’ grasp for power in the fashion of God’s arch-enemy who desired power of his own, but life in God’s severe mercy in expelling our first parents from the Garden. Then, life in Christ himself, who came to put to death our need to find contrived power apart from God’s rightful rule.

It’s in thinking through our own imitation of Satan’s grasping after power like God’s that we have our connection to Sanctity of Life Sunday.

Ancient peoples were not unlike us. They found need to reap power from their circumstances, to appease whatever forces they thought would deliver. And, the better the sacrifice, the more the power. So goes the reasoning.

For Ancient Near Eastern Moabites, and even wayward Israelites, this meant (the horror of it!) sacrificing their children to Molech, or his Phoenician counterpart, Baal. What god could resist delivering rain or other necessities for such a sacrifice? More sophisticated, later Greeks and Romans abandoned their infants (particularly baby girls) in exchange for the power of stature in society. Consider the candidness of one Roman, Hilarion, in writing to his pregnant wife, “If you are delivered of a child before I come home, if it is a boy, keep it, if a girl, discard it …”

We haven’t come much further, and Ancients weren’t the fools we sometimes think them. For many today, the gods are just different—upward mobility, career advancement, affluence, leisure, education; the “good life”. All forms of power by some estimations. And, for a heart-rending many intent to tap these modern forces, the price of unborn life does not seem to high.

Enter Christ. Legitimate in power, He is Life itself (Jn 1:4, 5:26; 1 Jn 5:12). But, with Him also comes death: His (1 Pet 2:24); in a mysterious way, ours (Gal 2:20); and then, our desire to find power apart from Him (Rm 12:2), and even our shame in having dabbled or plunged into the culture of death (Heb 10:22; 1 Jn 3:20-21). Glory be!

Now, for those of us knowing life in Christ, being “for” life means going back into the crisis. There, filled with the Spirit and armed with the Gospel and prayer, we identity with the powerless—the unborn, but also their mothers, their fathers, their families. We consider that  pro-life is “whole-life” and include the mentally handicapped, the elderly, the refugee, the otherwise healthy children in our Sunday schools, powerless because they are children.

Ours is the blessed task of ministering the Gospel to see the powerless reconnected to the rightly rule of the Father. And, in identifying with the powerless, we suffer with them in the face of an enemy. It’s an old story. It is the story.

Questions for application and group discussion

Find a friend, or a group of friends, and consider the verses listed throughout the post. Then, consider these thought questions:

What persons or things die with the coming of Christ?

How is it possible for holiness and shame to grow side-by-side in the life of a Christian?

How does Satan use shame to debilitate in the life of a Christian? (1 Pet 5:18; Rev 12:2)

Why is it important to separate the (objective) guilt of sin that is forgiven when a person trusts Christ from the (subjective) sense of shame that results? (Heb 10:22; 1 Jn 3:20-21)

Who are the powerless my my/our web of relationships? 

What groups of people are being left out or overlooked in the church family where I/we serve? 

What would it look like for me to join with others in serving these groups and suffering with them?