Monthly Archives: September 2013

Clamming up Instead of Rising up

My mom’s birthday was today. I don’t know if it was the fact that it is her birthday, or just some other thoughts I’ve had lately about womanhood and motherhood, but something put it in me that I should be thanking and praising her more.

“Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” I saw this verse in new light today. This isn’t just the pro-activeness of the mother’s virtues that somehow causes “you are blessed” to burble out of her children like fizz in an elementary classroom volcano. No, this rising up is the initiation of the kids, in response to their mother’s virtue. They rise up, call people’s attention with the clink of a glass, “Ahem, ahem, ladies and gentlemen,” and speak of the virtuous facets of their mother.

Except I wasn’t quite that bold. The restaurant was noisy and full of people. I don’t make speeches very well in front of my family. So, into the gift I gave her, I slipped a card on which I had put some scribblings of what I hoped were thoughtful praises. She opened it and read it, that permanent, sweet smile on her face that always shows up when there is the least bit of a reason to be glad. The table was silent as they watched her read. After glancing over her shoulder, my dad explained to everyone else that I had “written her an essay.” That awkwardness that always arises when someone reads in front of you something you wrote, suddenly bubbled and boiled over, and I slurped on my straw for good measure. Unfortunately, the Lord saw fit to place no water in my straw except for some ill-begotten droplets, which went immediately into my lungs, which gave me the lucky role of hacking and coughing and spewing and barking until every droplet rued the day it ended up in my straw. I’ve never been good at filling a silence. My mom got to the end of the card, and thanked me for it with shining violet eyes.

I don’t know if it said everything I wanted it to say. It probably didn’t. I don’t know if it said anything that she needed to hear. It might have. I do know that it’s been much too long since I’ve tried to tell her thank you. And I do hope, and will intentionally try, to not clam up so much when I should be rising up.

Satisfied, Satisfied, Christ Has Satisfied

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A new editing project has been fed my way, so it will be another week before I can really dig into more research on John Calvin’s marriage. This editing project is a workbook accompaniment to a video series on mentorship and success. The audience is Christian students who are ready to launch out into the world and are trying to choose a path. What I love about this project is the focus it has on seeking God first, because many of the more specific particulars of our future will be added to us once we have sought God. (“Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you.”)

This also fits perfectly with a chapter I just read in C. S. Lewis’s book on the Psalms. I don’t have it here with me; I’m in the library and could probably find it here if I really wanted to, but let me try to sum it up from memory. Lewis speaks of a thirst for God as if we are a parched land that soaks up water because water is the one solution to all its other problems. He talks about the rambunctious, indecently raucous praise of God that the Psalmist indulges in. This is the God of feasting, noisemaking, dancing, party poppers, and uncontrollable laughter. This is the God we seek and desire, not as a stuffy, starched-collar ascetic, but as a child who just woke up on Christmas morning and saw that it had snowed and that his parents were downstairs all rosy and jolly and full of love.

And, to round up everything I’ve read still further under one blanket topic, I recently came across a video post by Steve DeWitt called, Dealing with Disappointment When You’re Single. His main point was that he had “done” all that could be done, as a righteous man, to prepare for marriage. He was a pastor, he had prayed for his wife since he was 18, he truly wanted to be content while at the same time wanting to be married. Many married people tried to encourage him, like Job’s friends tried to encourage Job– not really helpful, not very truthful– with all their solutions. Finally the reigning glory and the thought that overcame his loneliness was that God had provided Jesus Christ for his salvation, and with Him, has He not freely provided him all things? Rather than it being a promise that he would get married, Steve took it as a promise that God was ultimately the satisfaction of all desires. Whether He provided marriage or not, He would, and did, satisfy.

This was a blessing to me. It is not wrong to want marriage and to look for it, but in the cosmic order of things, Jesus Christ Himself has been provided for my satisfaction and happiness. Nothing else will give it.

And just so I wouldn’t forget the lesson, one more reminder was given to me—this time in a sermon by Barry Cooper on Ecclesiastes 2. Believe it or not, the topic was on the Search for Satisfaction, and verse by verse Barry listed every reason that Solomon had to be satisfied… and yet he wasn’t. “One of the things that spoils our pleasures is our hunger to get out of them more than they can give. They weren’t designed to bring ultimate satisfaction. They were designed to point to Someone who can. …The problem is that we are far too easily pleased.”

Solid joys and lasting pleasure,

None but Zion’s children know.

John Calvin’s Personality – “I assure you that by nature I am shy and timid.”

Many people have categorized John Calvin as a particularly severe and judgmental man.  Their insights are based not so much on the many eyewitness accounts or on Calvin’s own perception of himself, but on the multitude of misconceptions about his theology. This is crazy. Why not go to the people who knew him to find out what he was really like? And it wouldn’t hurt to look at what he thought of himself, too.

  • “a bow that was always tightly strung.” -Wolfgang Musculus, a minister and professor
  • “of a rather timid disposition” -Theodore Beza, personal friend and biographer of Calvin
  • “I assure you that by nature I am shy and timid.” -Calvin
  • “a person rather overmuch attentive, not to say troublesome, in the frequency of my correspondence.” -Calvin
  • “[his preaching was] marked by much grace, strength and simplicity and yet was completely lacking in ostentation.” – Theodore Beza
  • “every day I talk to all those who need to see me, even the youngest and the poorest.” -Calvin
  • “He was constantly filled with a great sense of compassion, as if he could see for himself the distress which overtook the churches and the dreadful massacres perpetrated against the poor believers.” – Beza
  • “His only difficulty was that his body had trouble keeping up with his mind, although at times he tried hard to make it do so.” -Beza, p. 95
  • “even when we thought he was resting, he continued to give himself unstintingly to the work.” -Beza
  • “God had bestowed upon him such a measure of wisdom and discernment that no one was ever any the worse for having followed his advice.” – Beza
  • “He sat supporting his head with one hand, as he often did.” -Beza
  • “You could see from his face how he was rejoicing in the Lord with the whole congregation.” -Beza
  • “Besides a temperament that was by nature prone to anger, there were a number of things that tended to make him irritable and difficult to get on with. These included, for example, his own lively mind, the lack of discretion on the part of many of those around him, and the many varied affairs he had to deal with concerning the church of God. …But he was far from seeking to make excuses for this failing. On the contrary, no one was more aware of it, or more conscious of its importance, than he was himself.” -Beza
  • “…his remarkable affability, which meant that he could meet the very young on their own level when the need arose.” -Beza
  • “gentleness in bearing with the weaknesses and failings of others” -Beza
  • “in what way was he any different from the rest of us, except that he surpassed all of us in humility and went to a lot more trouble than any of us?” -Beza
  • “Some have accused Calvin of being short-tempered. I do not want to make this man out to be an angel. However, I cannot fail to mention the remarkable extent to which God made use of the very forcefulness of his character.” -Beza
    Drawing of John Calvin by one of his students.

    This drawing of John Calvin was done by one of Calvin’s students while Calvin was teaching.

    Was Calvin aloof? Disapproving? So cranial that he had no heart?

    Not at all. He was always accessible and eager to converse. He wrote more letters than any other protestant reformer, and at a guess from what I’ve read so far, I’d say 70% of those or more were to good friends who he retained his entire life, in spite of theological differences. His letters are full of relational content. He apologizes for the lateness of the letter. He inquires about the health of the family. He explains in great detail how he hoped not to offend. He begs a recently widowed friend to come for a visit and a change of pace. He includes greetings from his wife to his friends’ wives. He congratulates a father on the marriage of his daughter, and sends condolences when a man loses his child to the plague. Also, the hospitality of John Calvin’s home was famous in all of protestant Christendom.

    From Calvin’s own admission, it’s true that Calvin had an occasional temper flare-up. The trigger seemed to be when there was a particularly erroneous statement made about essential doctrines of the faith, and none of Calvin’s peers detected it, but instead embraced it without looking into it. That was what angered him. But most of the time he was able to discuss theological differences with gracious and elegant rhetoric, but occasionally the foolishness of others got the better of him. When this happened, nothing worked better to calm him and bring him back into the room after he had stormed out, than the famed “architect of subtleties,” reformer Martin Bucer. This gentle man was especially gifted in peacemaking, and as a good friend of Calvin’s, could always bring peace to the situation.

    We find all kinds of personality synopsis for Calvin on the internet. Some say he was a crazed control-freak who burned up people who didn’t believe the same thing as him. This is far from the truth. Initially, he had to be forcibly put into a position of authority by an older man who needed his help in Geneva. Calvin was well known by the Council of Pastors as well as the Consistory in Geneva (the ruling bodies of the church and state, respectively), as shunning control and deferring to others’ judgment, though he readily gave his advice when they asked. All major decisions that were made in Geneva were made by a ruling body, not by Calvin. The “burning” incident was the heretic Servetus, who Calvin had, for many years, attempted to reconcile, or at least to convince Servetus to stop preaching his heresy. The decision for Servetus to be put to death was not Calvin’s alone, and Calvin begged his fellow pastors to give Servetus a more merciful death. Calvin was the one who visited Servetus in prison, and spent much of the night before his death with him, to try to convince him to come back to the truth. If anything, Calvin was the most merciful Genevan authority involved in this situation. But because his name is tied with everything Geneva, he frequently gets bad-mouthed over this.

    Who was he? A genius, an introvert, a man who could remember and quote everything he read, a good friend, a passionate disposition that occasionally erupted, and very much a human.