Ever Present, Snow, and Grandpa’s Farm in Iowa

ShipOfFools_web_10042015The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Ps 23:1 ESV)

Ever Present

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Time awake. No tomorrow; no yesterday. A continuous present.

Every waking hour is new; Mom is there.

I am happy or alone. Loneliness is being in bed looking out over the covers.

The alligator under my bed comes out at night after the records play.
The alligator chases me around the room and runs away when Dad comes.

§

And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. (Gen 3:21 ESV)

Snow  

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Snow is for jumping in and for making into balls and throwing.

Mom, why do I need a jumpsuit, a knit cap, and mittens?

… Because the porch is cold and it is even colder outside.

But I don’t like mittens. Why can’t I wear gloves like you and Dad?

… These mittens were a gift made for you by your grandmother—see she made attached them together with a string so that you won’t loose them. When you get older, we will get you some gloves—gloves are made from leather and you can’t use them to make snowballs without ruining them. So for now, you need to use mittens!

Mom, I can put my shoes on myself! …

§

Now the LORD said to Abram, Go from your country and your kindred and
your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
(Gen 12:1 ESV)

Grandpa’s Farm in Iowa

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

I’m going to Grandpa’s farm in Iowa.

Wandering up and down the aisles on the California Zephyr. People asked me and I told them—

I’m going to Grandpa’s farm in Iowa.

From Emeryville to Ottumwa. Snow on the Rockies; the deep ravines; the scary dark tunnel. But mostly, I remembered that—

I’m going to Grandpa’s farm in Iowa.

Why did people always lean forward in their seats to ask me—where y’a going?—and smile when I tell them?

Why did I always smile in thinking about it?

Maybe it was the cats. Married student housing did not allow pets. Besides, cats got to have birds and mice and wild stuff to eat…

Maybe it was the mulberry trees. Berry trees are special and especially hard to find in the city. Somehow, I don’t think city folks even know about mulberries—they seem more like blueberry people.

Maybe it was Grandma’s chicken and noodles or the box of chocolate chip cookies in the fridge. Mom fixed some great macaroni and cheese, but store-bought cookies are always dry and crunchy.

I smile thinking on the farm, ‘cause there were pumps to pump; snow drifts to jump in; relatives to visit; Christmas church services to dress up for. Everyday was an adventure on the farm, but the reason I smile is because on the farm I felt special.

I’m going to Grandpa’s farm in Iowa.

[1] http://www.amtrak.com/california-zephyr-train.

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Prayer Day 50: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

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Loving Father. Thank you for forgiving us and accepting us back as sons and daughters. Grant us teachable hearts, discerning minds, and strength for each new day. In the power of your Holy Spirit, reveal to us the stumbling blocks that impede our progress as faithful servants. In Jesus precious name, Amen.

Padre Amoroso, gracias por perdonar y aceptarnos como hijos e hijas de nuevo. Concédenos corazones enseñables, mentes con discernimiento, y fuerza para cada día nuevo. En el poder del Espíritu Santo, muéstranos las piedras de tropiezo que impiden nuestro progreso como siervos fieles. En el precioso nombre de Jesús oramos. Amén.

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Christian Memoir: Looking Back

Cover for Called Along the Way
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Christian Memoir: Looking Back

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the ironies of life is that we are naturally strangers to ourselves. Our desires, motivations, and purposes lie behind a veil that we dare not pull back for fear of what might lie beyond. This fear cloaks our shadow side in mystery. It also limits our potential, our relationships with others, and our relationship with God. Pulling back the veil accordingly offers the hope that we realize our potential, become comfortable in the presence of others, and welcome God more fully into our life. My purpose in composing a Christian memoir is to lift this veil.

Role of Time

We experience life through the experience of time. The Greeks experienced time in two primary dimensions. The first dimension, chronos time (χρόνος), is measured in equal units: seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, and centuries. The second dimension, chairos time (καιρός), is a decision moment or crisis[1]. When we look at our wristwatches or calendar, we experience chronos time. When we crash our car or meet God, we experience chairos time. We normally think and move through chronos time. We normally feel and remember chairos time. This book is organized around chronos time, but the memories that fill it are mostly kairos moments.

I remember my early years in vignettes. These vignettes appear like electronic photographs without a time and date stamp. The stories that I tell about those vignettes are mostly the spin that came later reflecting on them. For this reason, these vignettes are best expressed in poetic form. Here we find kairos moments of a child who has not yet learned the discipline of chronos time. Objective thought, which requires some distance between the object and the thought, is also mostly absent and unlearned. Chairos time is chaotic, messy, embarassing. In a word, it is subjective. If the subject is your dark side, then you expect to find dark things. Honesty in this terriority is aspirational. Poetry helps overcome obvious tensions.

Caveats

One area where I cannot be entirely straightforward is in revealing personal details about the people around me. I can sign onto the journey of self-revelation. I cannot presume that my family and friends share my objectives in this respect. Their roles in this narrative will either be cloaked or absent. Please understand. This autobiography is not an exposé.

Four Big Questions

In my first book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality, I examined four questions in the context of the traditional teaching of the church:

1. Who is God?
2. Who are we?
3. What do we do about it?
4. How do we know?

The objective in that text was especially to explore the first question: Who is God? My second book, Life in Tension, likewise has that focus. This book focuses on the second question: Who are we? While this book focuses on my history, I am, in part, a stand in for the reader. It is my hope that in telling my own story that I will also help you tell yours.

[1] Both words appear in the Greek in this verse: “He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7 ESV)

[2] My thanks to Kreeft (2007) for highlighting these four questions.

REFERENCES

Hiemstra, Stephen W. 2014. A Christian Guide to Spirituality. Centreville: T2Pneuma Publishers LLC.

Kreeft, Peter. 2007. The Philosophy of Jesus. South Bend, IN: Saint Augustine’s Press.

 

Also see:

Preface 

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Prayer Day 49: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

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Disponible en Amazon.com

Heavenly Father, beloved Son, Holy Spirit. We thank you that you do not leave us alone and that you care for us. Inspire our hearts and illumine our minds so that we can be light in a dark and confusing world. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Padre Celestial, Hijo Amado, Espíritu Santo, te agradecemos por no dejarnos sólos y por preocuparte por nosotros. Inspira nuestros corazones e ilumina nuestras mentes para poder ser luz en un mundo oscuro y confuso. En el precioso nombre de Jesús oramos. Amén.

 

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The Road Ahead

Life_in_Tension_webthat I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3:10-11 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In writing about the movements of the spirit in our lives, I have used both the descriptive term, gap, and the subjective term, tension. Our minds observe an arm’s length gap but our hearts feel intimate tension because our lives require commitments—we are vested in the things we do, the places we live, and the people with whom we live. This is true even when we aspire to transform our lives and work with the Holy Spirit to close the gaps. Such is the nature of the sanctification process; such is our journey as Christians.

An important lesson that Jesus confers on his disciples in the Beatitudes takes the form of an attitude about the process—we are to be humble in all that we do. Humility is important for the Christian not merely as an outward expression but also as a character trait at the core of our being. When the onion is peeled to its core, there we find humility. Christian obedience, through persecution and even in death, is possible because we have surrendered our lives to Christ and we know in the depths of our souls that the future lies in Christ. So the onion gets peeled and its core is revealed, and we find at the core what we see on the skin—humility.

Here we also see the importance of Christian hope. We share the shalom of Christ expecting persecution and rejection. But our hope remains because we know the end of the story is with Christ. This is the fruit of the resurrection. A soldier is issued a gun and does not expect to leave the battlefield without firing it—Christ is an honest leader who shares with his disciples the unvarnished truth of persecution. We have been given the shalom of Christ and share it gladly having counted the cost.

Probably the hardest lesson for modern and postmodern people concerns our relationship with God. In our natural selves, we scoff at zeal, distain offering or requesting mercy, and think of holiness as old fashioned. After all, we delude ourselves, we have grace and have no need of law. But Jesus says otherwise. Fulfilling all righteousness is impossible without the Holy Spirit and impossible without trying. So we must place our faith in Christ and emulate his life and death so that we might somehow also attain the resurrection (Phil 3:10-11).

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Prayer Day 48: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Disponible en Amazon.com
Disponible en Amazon.com

Almighty Father. We praise you for who you are and for being worthy of our praise. Draw us to yourself. Reconcile us with our neighbors. May we lay our crowns before you and rest only with you. In the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts; illumine our minds; strengthen our hands in your service. In the Jesus’ name, Amen.

Padre Todopoderoso, te alabamos por lo que eres y por ser digno de nuestra adoración. Atráenos a ti. Reconcílianos con nuestros vecinos. Que podamos poner nuestras coronas delante de ti y descansar sólo contigo. En el poder del Espíritu Santo, abre nuestros corazones; ilumina nuestras mentes; fortalece nuestras manos en Tu servicio. En el nombre de Jesús oramos. Amén.

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Surprising Priorities

Life_in_Tension_webFor we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,

but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Heb 4:15)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When we accept Christ into our lives, we begin the journey from our natural selves to the person that God created us to be. In a real sense, we begin exchanging the acts of the flesh for the fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:19-23). These exchanges are far from hypothetical and are tied to our self-image, understanding of our faith, and our relationships. For example, if we exchange an idolatrous relationship with our work for a faithful relationship with God, we are likely also to see a blossoming of our faith and a change in priorities. Each exchange is painful and may involve losses that must be grieved. God also sees these changes.

Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection provide us an important template for our journey of faith. This is because Jesus also faced tensions with himself, with God, and with others (Phil 3:10-11). In the Beatitudes, each of these tensions is present and articulated. The first three Beatitudes focus on tension with one’s self (humility, mourning, and meakness). The second three Beatitudes focus on tension with God (zeal, mercy, and holiness). The last three Beatitudes focus on tension with others (peacemaking, persecution, and being reviled).

What is most striking about Jesus’ Beatitudes is that they reveal priorities very different from our own. Jesus places a strong emphasis on humility. Humility is seldom the focus of self-help books—we are more likely to find such books focused on assertiveness training or building self-esteem. Another divine priority is mourning. Mourning is the only emotion among the Beatitudes—why does Jesus not highlight love or joy? Still another surprising priority is mercy. Mercy is one of God’s core values—the first one (Exod 34:6). Finally, the ultimate paradox in Jesus’ teaching comes when he admonishes us to treat persecution as a teachable moment: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt 5:44).

Jesus’ priorities are not naturally our own.

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Prayer Day 47: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Disponible en Amazon.com
Disponible en Amazon.com

Gracious Father. Rest with us. Grant us the energy to care. Let us focus a day each week on being your people and modeling your love to those around us. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Padre de gracia, descansa con nosotros. Concédenos la energía para preocuparnos. Permite enfocarnos un día cada semana en ser Tu pueblo y modelar Tu amor a los que nos rodean. En el nombre del Padre, del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo. Amén.

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Living Testimony

Life_in_Tension_web“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them,
nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared
to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope
that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…”
(1 Peter 3:14-15 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The New Testament is full of a allusions to persecution which are mostly edited out when passages are cited in worship services and other uses.

For example, the citation above is normally cited entirely out of context as: “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV). The snipet is entirely upbeat and usually cited as the reason to argue apologetically for the faith. At least three things are missing when this is done. First, there is no recognition of the context of persecution. Second, there is no recognition of Peter’s admonition to speak “with gentleness and respect”. Finally, the verbal defend often highlighted entirely misses the point that the entire letter focuses on “lifestyle evangelism”—living out the faith, not talking about the faith, and only that one phrase mentions a verbal defend.

In fact, one could argue that practicing for a verbal defense is contrary to scripture, because Jesus says:

“And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11-12 ESV)

The tension that we feel with others over our faith is expected because of the work and power of the Holy Spirit manifested in our lives. Notice the order of events in this admonition:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)

It is the power of the Holy Spirit acting in us that leads us to become witnesses.

Because it is the power the Holy Spirit that leads us into this tension, it is neither our propensity to be vocal nor a desire to take risks that leads us to witness for Christ. The opposite is also true. It is neither our shyness in front of people nor our risk aversion that holds us back in witnessing for Christ—in our joy in salvation we want to tell the whole world! However, fear can quelch the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Barthel and Edling (2012, 101) note:

“When individuals in groups are motivated by fear of the opinion of other people (what others personally think about them) more than the fear of God, their hearts grow cold to the Spirit of God. Lacking God-consciousness, there is no restraining the motivation of the heart; only world passions and popularity with crowd control. This is common in church conflicts. Defensiveness, self-righteousness, and pride rule the day when people vien in to the fear of man.”

It is interesting that where we frequently pray for protection the early church prayed for boldness in their witness [1]. The problem facing the church of Laodicea, so common today, seems to have come later. As the Apostle John prophesied:

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:15-16 ESV)

Finney (1982,74-76) lists six consequences of quelching the Holy Spirit in our lives:

  1. Darkness of mind—the truth makes no useful impression.
  2. Coldness towards religion.
  3. Holding various errors in religion.
  4. Disbelief.
  5. Delusion regarding one’s spiritual state.
  6. Attempts to justify wrongdoing.

In this list we observe problems of tension with ourselves, with others, and with God. Fear of others, particularly persecution, leads us to abandon our faith both in God and in ourselves in a kind of downward spiral. Is it any wonder than in our times of timid faith, many are are burdened daily with debilitating anxiety and treated for depression even on sunny days? One wonders if increasing persecution is less about other people than it is about our own weakness and doubt—like a feeding frenzy observed among wounded fish.

Barthel and Edling (2012, 89) observe churches in conflict snapping to their senses when leaders are reminded of the need to remain God-centered and to reframe conflict around well-choice questions for reflection. Of course, this rings a bit like sound pastoral advice for us as individuals as well.

What is your favorite scripture passage?

[1] “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:29-31 ESV)

REFERENCES

Barthel, Tara Klena and David V. Edling. 2012. Redeeming Church Conflicts: Turning Crisis into Compassion and Care. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks.

Finney, Charles. 1982. The Spirit-Filled Life (Orig pub 1845-61). New Kensington: Whitaker House.

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