Chubby Arms that Speak Volumes

Lizzy doesn’t need to say much to get my attention. In fact, she’s mastered the fine art of whining at just the right pitch to get whatever she wants. It’s a gift.

And when she reaches those chubby, little arms up toward me, she doesn’t need to say anything at all.  I know she wants to come up to Mama, for me to pick her up and hold her close.

As someone prone to obsessing over word choices (that whole English instructor thing), it comes as a shock to me that someone can accomplish so much with so few words.

Lizzy’s toddler eloquence shows me that words are of little consequence.  God can get his message across with or without my witticisms.

Even though Jesus demonstrated that he was a skilled speaker, especially when it came to telling stories, his backwoods Galilee accent tainted his words for audiences outside the region.  In The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey explains how God chose to have a rough accent, a speech style so bad that Jerusalem folks often wouldn’t let people from Galilee read Hebrew in the temple.

Imagine Jesus with the worst redneck southern accent you could imagine.  And you begin to get the idea (apologies to my redneck southern readers, but at least you’re in good company).

Jesus’ humble speech patterns show us that the magic isn’t in the words alone but the Spirit of God that empowers them.  If anything, it should encourage us, we who obsess over saying the right thing, in the right way, in the right moment.  God used the worst accent he could find in Israel just to show us what he could do.

For me, this encourages my feeble efforts at sharing God’s love with others. I worry that in the moment where people need to hear wisdom from me, my eloquence will fail, and I won’t know what to say.

Jesus shows us that it doesn’t matter.  Our words aren’t what change people.  Saying things in the right way doesn’t make the difference. But God’s Spirit behind those words, that’s what heals hearts and ministers to broken souls.

This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words (I Corinthians 2:13 NIV).

It’s the Spirit behind the words.

When I’m feeling low, few things cheer me up like when Lizzy smiles and says, “happy,” to me.  All the eloquence in the world wouldn’t have that same impact on me.

So, here I am, raising my chubby, toddler arms up to my Father in heaven.

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You Are What You Memorize

I’ve been noticing something a little unsettling about memorizing scripture.  It seems that whatever verse I happen to be stuck on at the moment, that’s the topic that will be a spiritual pitfall for me at the time.  Let me give you some examples, so you don’t think I’m a total nutcase.

Early in the year, I  hit verse five:  “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be giving to him.”  This was the first verse that I really struggled with.  I couldn’t quite get it down, so I was on it for awhile.  As a result, I spent a lot of time dwelling on its meaning and realizing that I truly didn’t believe this.  I was frustrated about several circumstances in my life, and instead of looking to God for the wisdom and the answers, I struggled to find my own answers.  Basically, at the foundational level, I didn’t believe that God could provide me with the wisdom I sought.

Through the process of trying to memorize the verse, I was forced to confront God’s truth on the matter, again and again, and drill it into my head and into my heart.  I’d like to say that now, I always turn to God’s wisdom instead of running after my own foolish ideas, but that isn’t always the case.  However, it was a good wakeup call.

Here’s the section I’m working on right now, and let me tell you, it’s convicting: 

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does (22-25). 

Guess who, in the process of memorizing this very piece of scripture, would read it and not apply it to herself?  Talk about double meaning.  Here are several verses about the very problem of reading scripture (or listening to it) and not applying it to oneself, and that’s exactly what I was failing to do.  I get a headache just thinking about the whole chicken and the egg aspect of it all.

I have several theories about why this happens when I memorize scripture.  First, and I think foremost, scripture convicts and draws attention to my sin.  It’s living and active, sharper than any double edged sword, so it shouldn’t surprise me that any piece of scripture shows me my foolishness and sets me straight. 

Next, there’s God, who uses scripture as one of his many tools to speak to his children, to train them, to teach them, to transform them.  There are no coincidences with God.  He’s lovingly guiding me to particular verses, and he certainly placed this book on my heart for a reason.  Obviously, it had a lot of messages I needed to learn.

Finally, and this is the kind of twilight zone reason, but God is control of our circumstances.  If he wants us to learn a lesson at a particular time, it’s not beyond his power to coordinate things in our lives to match the scripture we’re reading.  My pastor jokes about this sometimes.  He says that if there’s a sermon he’s preaching, he’s guaranteed to have the week prior to the preaching about it filled with examples.  So, when it’s on topics like suffering and persecution, he’s not so excited to face those particular weeks.  He can expect a double dose of those, to help him prepare.

Let me tell you, this scripture memorization stuff is not for the faint of heart!

Get Smart, the Proverbs Way

I’ve been eagerly anticipating this summer’s new string of movies, and this Sunday’s paper’s listing of all the upcoming blockbusters, only got me more excited for them to hit the theaters. 

In particular, I’m looking forward to the next Narnia edition: Prince Caspian (May 16), the newest Indiana Jones flick (May 22), M. Night Shyamalan’s latest thriller The Happening (June 13), Pixar’s Wall·e (June 27), and the old school TV show spinoff, Get Smart (June 20). 

In watching these trailers and anticipating the movies, I’ve been thinking particularly about the messages these movies are sending to the masses.  These movies are big, blockbuster hits, ones that millions will see in the coming months. 

I’m excited about the Christian worldview that Prince Caspian might offer, if the director is true to the book’s perspective and values.  The Get Smart film has some wonderful potential for presenting a Christian worldview, but it’s probably not going to be the film that gets the most attention for it this summer. 

If you’re not familiar with the premise of the original Get Smart show, let me fill you in.  Two secret agents, 86 and 99, battle against the bad guys.  Agent 86 (Maxwell Smart) is a bumbling fool who relies on his more experienced and wise sidekick, the sexy agent 99 (we never learn her name, as far as I know) to get the job done. 

Mel Brooks created the original show (Man, that guy has his hands in everything funny, it seems!  I just watched the Producers last week and laughed my head off.).  The humor comes from the irony of the fact that a guy named “Smart” is incredibly stupid and inept, but he manages to fight crime successfully, partly due to dumb luck and largely due to a very wise woman at his side. 

Why do we laugh?  We laugh because we recognize truth and its absence, folly. 

The Bible tells us about wise women like agent 99 and their role in supporting men, to make them better then they are by themselves.  It’s not a demeaning role.  It’s an honorable one: companions and equal workers for a noble cause.  We know from Genesis that when God created man, he was alone, and God created woman as his best suited helper (Genesis 2:18). 

Maxwell Smart constantly defies his name by persisting in clumsy stupidity.  It’s funny because we recognize that his actions should lead to death or at least unemployment. “Understanding is a fountain of life to those who have it, but folly brings punishment to fools” (Proverbs 16:22).

Proverbs, that great book on wisdom, tells us the rewards we can expect from wisdom, true “smarts” (not the type that Maxwell Smart exhibits): 

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you. She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendor (6-9).

In true Proverbs 31 fashion, Agent 99 is the wise woman who stands beside her man to offer him help when he needs it: “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue” (26).  Agent 99 just happens to have a fairly difficult assignment, one that I don’t envy.  Anne Hathaway has some pretty big shoes to fill as 99.  Here’s hoping she can keep Smart in line, as her predecessor, Barbara Feldon, did before her.