Unsolicited Peace

20 01 2009

I have been blessed with peace in my life recently, but not the peace I wanted.  It’s a peace I’ve been blessed with before, however it is somewhat precarious because I sometimes find myself forgetting, ignoring, or fighting with it.  To better understand, here’s a short history of my (short) adult life:

2002 – Got laid off, got married, moved to Seattle, started junior year of college, got job flipping burgers
2003 – Tons of schoolwork, lots of burgers flipped, we got pregnant
2004 – Graduated college, moved to Kent, Daniel born, got job at a bank call center
2005 – Raising Daniel, changed departments at work, we got pregnant
2006 – Moved to Fife, Jonathan born
2007 – Raising boys, work moved to Tacoma, we moved to Tacoma, labored on fixing up new house
2008 – We got pregnant, wrangling boys, Megan born

It would be an understatement to say we’ve been busy the last seven years.  So when 2009 came around, Michelle and I were excited at the prospect of a down year.  My tenure at work earned me a boost in vacation days, and we were finally going to have a year where we weren’t anticipating moving or having a baby!  The Allen Family ship was sailing out of chaotic waters towards peace on the horizon.

Then there was an emergency meeting at work.

I was joking with my manager going into the meeting: “hey, are you giving references? yuk, yuk, yuk!”  The message at the meeting was, in a nutshell, “You guys are awesome, times are bad, we’re closing this call center… Sorry”  I turned to my manager, “no seriously, are you giving references?”

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A story of prayer

9 01 2009

Since the last time I wrote, some time has passed and many diapers have been filled.  Sometimes I think my new daughter is an undercover agent for Huggies.

On December 17th, our daughter Megan Elizabeth was born, and our lives changed again.  I have many thoughts, emotions, and anecdotes about the labor, birth, and life with the baby, but I will leave most of that to my wife.  I wanted to share here a special interaction I had with God during the birth of my new little girl.

Coming into December, my wife was getting more and more uncomfortable everyday, and the doctor scheduled an induction for December 17th.  We were looking forward to the day, but with each day came more and more ominous reports from the weather folk of a horrible storm coming.  The storm was going to bring feet of snow to all of western Washington and everyone should take necessary precautions.  This did not help my wife’s state.  This could be bad in a lot of ways; my Mom (who was going to watch our boys) might not be able to get to us, my Mom might not be able to bring the kids to the hospital to see their sister, Michelle’s family might not be able to come.  Really the biggest and most important concern was getting Michelle and baby safely to and from the hospital.  I neglected to take that “Emergency Childbirth” class in college, though I am trained in CPR… which probably wouldn’t have come in handy.

I tried not to think about it and just resolved to wait and see.  Then, on Sunday the 14th, I woke up slowly and started praying as I sometimes do in the morning.  As I was laying there, verses started coming to mind such as James 1:6-8, Matthew 17:20, Hebrews 4:16, and especially James 5:16b:

“…the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much”

Right then I started praying for God to hold the storm back for us.   Read the rest of this entry »

Isaiah 45 – Blinded by Sovereignty

17 12 2008

A month ago I happened to read Isaiah 45 and was really struck by it.  I was going to post about, then the hiatus came, then I forgot about it…

But then Ryan preached a great sermon on God’s sovereignty, and then wrote that examination on God and “fairness”, so I figured I should get in on the party.

There’s a lot in this passage I wanted to touch on, but instead of listing the entire chapter, I think I will humbly request that you read the whole chapter first.  Don’t forget to come back when you’re done!

So, do you feel puny and in awe of our great Creator?!  If not, let’s look at a few parts of what the prophet was writing here.

God will use the tools He wants based on His purposes, not necessarily that person’s merits.
The beginning of the chapter relates how God called out Cyrus the Great to be his instrument to subdue nations for the benefit of Israel.  It is interesting to see God remark that He is calling Cyrus in spite of the fact that Cyrus does not acknowledge God.  It is important to also see God’s purpose in this is so that “men may know there is none besides Me.” (v 6)

God alone creates and distributes righteousness.
Verse 8 was the reason I read this chapter and just thinking about it was filling me with wonderment.  Think about the seeming randomness of nature.  Rain drops falling here and there, flowers and plants growing in variety and uniqueness.  We Christians see these things, but don’t deny that God is controlling all of it.  Yet here, God is comparing that apparent randomness to how He distributes righteousness and salvation.  It may seem random, but He is in control.  He not only is sovereign in it’s distribution, but also in it’s inception! (I, the LORD, have created it)

God has the indisputable right to do as He pleases.
The next five verses show that God is aware of our inability to understand all this and provides His response to human questioning of His methods.  The potter and clay image is even more well known thanks to Paul using it in his own writings and is very powerful.  God’s claim to sovereignty is found in the fact that none of us would be here if it weren’t for Him.  He created us, thus He owns us.

God answers only to Himself.
If you feel you are being repressed by an unfair authority, you would seek the judgment and delivery from someone in higher authority, right?  Well, I think this is the reason God makes so many declarations of His exclusivity in this chapter about His sovereignty.  Consider:

“I am the LORD, and there is no other.”
“I, the LORD, speak the truth; I declare what is right”
“And there is no God apart from me”
“a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but Me”
“I am God, and there is no other”

If we are even going to entertain the evil attitude to question God’s practices, who are we going to complain to?  Does God have a superior who can put Him in His place?  Is there a law above God that we can point to to show Him the err of His ways?  To entertain a question of the “unfairness” of God is to presume that God must answer to something or someone.  Maybe it is the case that we have set up our own ideas of morality and truth as an idol above God…

So I ask again, do you feel puny?  Are you in awe?  If not, you should probably read Isaiah 45 again.  Don’t despair at God’s sovereignty, rejoice in it.  We are sustained every day by it, we are saved by it.


The Fascinating Life of Charles Thomson

11 12 2008

I recently picked up the book “The Bible in Translation” by Bruce M. Metzger, and it is a very interesting read.  It covers a history of the translation of the Bible and while only half way through it, I have learned some very amazing things about the journey God’s words have taken to the versions we have today.

One of the translations mentioned is Charles Thomson’s Bible.  Charles Thomson has the distinction of creating and printing the first translation of the Bible into English in America.  While this may be in itself an interesting factoid, I found the story of his life quite fascinating.

Childhood & Schooling

Charles was a native of Ireland and boarded a boat for the New World with his father and siblings in 1739.  Within sight of their new home, Charles’ father died.  Since their mother had died back in Europe, Charles and his siblings were now orphans.  The ship’s captain seized the family assets and distributed the children to acquaintances in Delaware willing to raise them.  Unwilling to become a blacksmith’s endentured apprentice, Charles ran away.  He fell upon a kind family who were impressed with his desire to learn and study.  Thus began his scholarly pursuits of the classics.

After his education in Pennsylvania, he moved back to Delaware to open his own school.  Eventually he became a Greek and Latin tutor at Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia Academy (later to become the University of Philadelphia).

Thomson also served as a liason for the Native Americans of Delaware seeking to protect them from predatory practices on the part of the settlers.  His reputation for honesty and credibility earned him a special moniker from the Indians: “The Man Who Speaks the Truth”.

The American Revolution

After some lackluster business endeavors, Charles threw himself headlong into politics at the crest of the American Revolution.  He was unanimously selected as the secretary of the Continental Congress and dutifully took notes and minutes as the United States of America were forged.  The first draft of the Declaration of Independance was penned and signed by Charles, and his last act as secretary was to ride from Pennsylvania to Mt. Vernon to notify George Washington of his election to the position of President and escort him to the inaugaration in New York.  Throughout his political career, Charles was regarded as possessing the utmost level of character, honesty, and faithfulness.

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Thanksgiving: Redux

4 12 2008

I want to revisit Thanksgiving for a moment.  The great fall festival of feasting and football is past us now, but I fear that many people missed the whole point of the holiday.  I can tell you that in the context of my job, I spoke to plenty of people who didn’t sound very thankful.  I was reflecting on what I am thankful for and why, and it brought me back to the impetus for federalizing the holiday in the first place.

Some form of Thanksgiving had been a common custom both in the United States as well as many other cultures by the time Abraham Lincoln made it official.  In the middle of the Civil War, Lincoln issued his Thanksgiving decree because he felt that if the citizenry were spiritually adrift, they would not be able to call on the assistance of God in their plight (“the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” James 5:16b).  In his proclamation, Lincoln pointed out the good, accepted the bad, and asked that everyone be thankful for it all.  See if you can relate with me as I try to apply this to myself…

What do I have to complain about?

– I don’t have a whole lot of money right now
– There are some people that have frustrated me as of late
– I’m not particularly satisfied with my current career path
– I could stand to lose some weight
– The wrong guy got elected
– I wish my fantasy football team was doing better right now

Please understand I offer the previous list to make a point.  I have personally complained about these (and other) things either internally or to friends and family.  Normally I would relent from mentioning them here, except I hope for you to find a common ground in what I’m working through.  Do you see any of these things in your life, and more importantly, have you moaned or groaned about them lately?

These are real issues that do or have bothered me.  Lincoln had some real issues that he was facing, too.  His happened to be horrific death and destruction in the country which he was chosen to lead.  In either case, the decision to have a right attitude before God and men does not lie in resolving the issues, but changing how we look at them.

1. Find the good / God’s grace

Every good gift is from above, but so many of those gifts are ignored or taken for granted.  Lincoln pointed to the expansion of the nation, peace abroad and away from the battlefields, and general prosperity.  Let me see if I can find any good in my life:

– We have enough money to meet our needs without major debt
– I have family all around that loves me
– I have a job
– I have no serious health concerns
– Our election cycle did not end in riots or bloodshed, as happens in other parts of the world
– I have a winning record in my fantasy league

I wonder why it is hard for us to dwell on the good gifts that we have.  I would be willing to wager that if we are honest with ourselves, we might find that it is pride.  To acknowledge good gifts from above is to acknowledge that we had nothing to do with everything good in our lives.  God is in control and he delivers his grace in the measures that he chooses.  It is a humbling thing to recognize that we are powerless to better our condition.

2. Accept the bad / God’s mercy

If we stop at the first step, we are merely “Pollyanna’s” who cover up the bad news with any good news we can find.  We still need to address the root cause of our complaining, which happens to be a familiar problem… pride.

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The Glory of The Son

2 12 2008

I might be telling you something you already know, but what’s new, right?

Here it is… are you ready?

Our Savior is glorious!!

He is amazing and breathtaking and beautiful and awesome, and I stand (yet again) freshly amazed at His person.

This latest round of awestruck Savior-marveling joy comes via meditation and study on the first few chapters of the letter (or sermon) to the Hebrews.  From the opening salvo, the author of Hebrews shows us a Savior before whom we can’t help but bow the knee in wonder and amazement.

Listen to this description of our Lord Jesus:

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.”

You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.”

If you’re familiar with the book of Hebrews, you know those lines come from chapter 1 and I’ve quoted the author of Hebrews as he quotes the OT.  But think about the texts from which he is drawing his statements.

The first selection comes from Psalm 45, a psalm praising the king.  However, the line the author is directing towards Christ would have been understood as being spoken of Yahweh, not of the human king.  But the Hebrew’s preacher pulls it into his sermon and places the tag of this statement squarely upon the person of Jesus!

However, I think the second quote is the more staggering of the two. It comes from Psalm 102 and there is no way anyone could have mistaken the statements found there as applying to anyone less than deity (notice the strong contrast in the Psalm between the frailty of the human condition with the eternal stability of God Almighty).  An OT Jew would have read those statements as applying solely to God Himself, yet the author of Hebrews says those are the qualities and characteristics of the Son:

You laid the foundation of the earth”

“the heavens are the work of your hands”

“they will perish, but you will remain”

“You are the same, and your years will have no end”

Staggering, isn’t it?  (If not, go back and read through that again- especially dwelling on the idea of the heavens- the heavens!- being his handiwork!)

As you finish chapter 1 of Hebrews, you might ask yourself the question: who could doubt the deity and exalted status of this glorious Person?  Who could doubt the divinity of Christ when the author of Hebrews makes his case so strongly?

But, as you marvel at this exalted Person, let the shocking nature of chapter 2 hit you like a bucket of cold water in the middle of a deep and blissful dream: this eternal and glorious Person took on our humanity and suffered for us!

Think about this: with the words of supreme exaltation still ringing in our ears, the author of Hebrews turns and says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things” and “he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Do we realize what is being said here?  The One with an eternal throne, the One who made the stars and will outlast them all, that One stepped into my frail and feeble “skin,” He lived in this cesspool of a world, He walked its filthy streets, He witnessed its multiplicity of evils, and He suffered what I suffer.

The eternal One suffered.

The One who outlasts the heavens suffered.

The One who Psalm 102 paints as a contrast to human frailty tasted the full breadth of our frailty!

Doesn’t the question “Why?!” just thunder through your mind and crash into your conscience? Doesn’t it all seems so wrong… the Perfectly Holy One tempted, the Omnipotent One suffering, the Eternal God being made like us?!

It seems so wrong, but yet… so glorious.  As you find the answer to the “Why?!” question (“so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people“) you discover the beauty in what looks like perversion.

So, as I sit meditating on the Person of my Savior… the One who tossed the stars into place with His fingers and yet died the death of criminal, naked and pierced onto a tree… a faithful Son lovely atoning for the sins of a people who rejected Him… who atoned for my sins while I was willfully opposed to Him… I have to confess: I can’t help but be amazed.

What a glorious Savior!

Let There Be Light!

1 12 2008

After 5.3 weeks of darkness (thanks, Bob!), the illumination of Out of the Miry Clay has returned!  Sorry the hiatus was much longer than I planned, but once I set the discipline aside, it wasn’t easy to pick it back up.

However, I think I needed to set it aside for awhile.

Life, as of this last August, became very busy and demanding.  With my mom’s battle with cancer, our church’s possible merger with a neighboring congregation, and a young family that needed me (and whom I very much needed), something far less important than these responsibilities needed to be set aside to allow me to keep up with the increased demands. I enjoy blogging (and hope I can minister a bit in the process of sharing my musings) but it is far down the list of items that I need to focus upon.  So, the writing stopped and the break ensued.

What I discovered during my time off was that the responsibilities and the pressures of life were taking more out of me than I thought.

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I realized the degree to which I had been battling discouragement and spiritual exhaustion.  I had this “realization” as I was driving home in my car and found myself singing and full of joy.  All of a sudden I thought, “where has this guy been?”  Honestly, I’m usually that way: easy going, laughing, singing around the house (and office and car), and enjoying life.  However, that isn’t the way I’ve been for the last couple of months.  Some of you who know me probably realized it.  I know my wonderful wife did.  Unfortunately, I might have been the last person to figure it out.

I just knew I was tired.  I knew I was pushing through, struggling with tasks and responsibilities, struggling to remain faithful as the burdens felt, well, more burdensome.  But now that the darkness has lifted, and life seems a bit more light, I can see what kept me going.

During the last few months, there has been an increased hunger for study and for the Word.  I’ve read several books that have encouraged my spirit and the Word has REALLY buoyed me.  In addition to this, my godly wife (who has been so patient with me and so faithful to her role) has provided a rock not only for me, but for our family.  On top of that, I know many brothers and sisters have been faithfully praying for me. God kept me going by His grace, and His grace took all of these forms!

What a glorious God we have; He keeps us and uses these wonderful means to do it!

My prayer today, as we at Out of the Miry Clay return to active involvement in the blogosphere, is that we too will become one of these “means.”  Our channel might not always be the smoothest, most well thought out, or most profound, but may God use us as a channel of His amazing grace to those who stand in need of it… whether they realize it at the time or not.

It’s good to be back.