Ordinary

After the blur of fear and alien landscape of the early pandemic, 2022 has been blessed in its ordinariness for the van Loons. My job with the preschoolers at the large local baptist church is full tilt, camp and tours have begun again at the Durant house museum where I volunteer, Dan works mostly from home, but is teaching flute indoors again, and Will is involved with Young Life and after school clubs. Our church and small group are meeting in person and continue to challenge us to follow Jesus.  Mom van Loon slips readily between her home here and extended visits with daughter Georgina in Texas. Grandkids are playing here weekly after their nature walk with a Fox Valley home school group. We went on a delightful three night 40th anniversary trip. We got grayer, had a disappointing state election and lost a few teeth. (And, yes, we finally all succumbed to COVID, but with no apparent long term effects and falling squarely between Will’s birthday and our anniversary so it interfered with neither.) 

Approaching Advent then, I wondered, “What sort of reflection on this year and the Lord’s story?” For Mary and Joseph too, much of life was ordinary. Yes, there were crisis moments–a near divorce, birth in an overcrowded and unfamiliar town, the angels warning to flee to Egypt in the middle of the night. (These sound more like what those in Ukraine or Burkina Faso are experiencing, not us in Batavia!) There were the beautiful and holy moments too–angelic appearances, the magnificat, the shepherds’ amazing news, the prophecy of Simeon in the temple, the awe inspiring worship of the Magi. These we may have tastes of in our lives, but in smaller measure. Even for the holy family however, in between those moments were a lot of days of cooking, building, baking bread, paying taxes, sweeping, worshiping at the synagogue on Sabbath–days not recorded in scripture other than with a “it came to pass” or “Jesus grew…” And on each of these mundane days, the miracle of God visiting this planet in absolute humility was no less real. 

How do we respond to a God who loves us so much that He wanted/wants to invade our mundane, broken world? Our individual and communal ordinariness?

With wonder and gratitude, with awe! 

“That is why, behind all our fun and games at Christmastime, we should not try to escape a sense of awe, almost a sense of fright, at what God has done. We must never allow anything to blind us to the true significance of what happened at Bethlehem so long ago. Nothing can alter the fact that we live on a visited planet. We shall be celebrating no beautiful myth, no lovely piece of traditional folklore, but a solemn fact. God has been here once historically, but as millions will testify, he will come again with the same devastating humility into any human heart ready to receive him.”

–J. B. Phillips “The Dangers of Advent” from
Watch for the Light: Readings for Christmas and Advent 

We are wishing you, then, a wonder-full Christmas and a new year alive with awe and gratitude–a gratitude for what the Lord has done that moves us to love, serve and proclaim to those around us, even in the ordinary.

With much love,

Maribeth, Dan and Willem

HERE IS A LINK to an album of the best days of this ordinary year, winter, spring, summer and fall–hikes and picnics, meals and birthdays, places and people, all loved. (We don’t have photos of laundry washed, beds made or time in front of the computer, but you get the idea.) If you click on a photo, you will see the caption. (Sorry for all the clicking required.)

*An excellent book on inviting God into daily life is, The Liturgy of the Ordinary, by Trish Harrison Warren (IVP)

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Under the pillow

This week I had a tooth pulled. It had been a bit of sensitive but the dentist assured me there was no decay. Two days later while eating a french fry(!) all at the table heard a loud crack and the problem became more obvious. The dentist hoped to save the tooth, but after pulling out half, scheduled an extraction for the following day. Back at home, with a temporary filling, I rued the upcoming pull and the decisions on how to proceed from there. The tooth looked fine and felt okay now too. I put my head under a couch pillow. “I don’t want to deal with this!”

My friends who’ve heard the word “cancer” from their physicians must feel this a thousand times more. They face true loss: of energy, comfort, time, finances, sleep, their very hair and possibly their life, to treat something that at the moment may not be presenting any symptoms at all. All they have to go on is the word of these physicians about the problem and it’s cure. Head under the pillow time for sure!

On another level it is a picture of all us. The wrongness inside of us may occasionally pinch our consciences like a cracked tooth when you bite down, but other times we think, “I’m fine.” Or maybe we have even tried to address that inner cavity with some sort of temporary filling that we are hoping will last. Our great physician shakes His head. This needs a radical cure, one that will require us to trust His knowledge and obey His directictives if we are to see life. How often, believer in Jesus or not, our preference is to head for that pillow rather than deal with the messiness inside us and in our relationships. Fellow patient, let’s be brave and realistic. His promises are true, and His prescriptions are effective. Faith, repentance, humility, obedience. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever want to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Matt. 16:24-25

“Without Fear of the Future..”

One of my favorite verses this year has been, “She is clothed with strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future” (Proverbs 31:25). What a vision of godly womanhood — and how unlike our natural response to a future that includes: disease (don’t we know it), aging, loss, destruction within our culture, and disorder, whether in my basement, people’s lives and families, or globally.

Are we not justified in fear of the future?

It makes me marvel again as I consider Mary & Joseph. They lived in a time of pagan domination, the government even ordering them to travel at great expense to be counted and taxed. Mary’s dearest relationship and future with Joseph was put at risk. They both faced disdain for saying “Yes” to God’s plan to bear Jesus. Then Mary was told a sword would pierce her soul (just what one wants to hear at a baby dedication!); Joseph informed that the powers-that-be wanted to kill their son, and they had to flee and live as refugees. Talk about fear and stress!

It didn’t end there — Mary and Joseph managed to lose the son of God for several days when he was 12, Mary was later widowed and a single mom. She saw Jesus’ ministry grow but also saw him face rejection and ultimately die a hideous, shameful death. Yet we know, in God’s counter cultural, topsy-turvy way that this was part, not of chaos, but a good story, one that Mary ultimately got to share with Luke so we could marvel at it today. Talk about being clothed with strength and dignity!

So as we reflect on our joys and sorrows and look toward 2022, let us be so rooted in confidence that Yahweh is able to see and work, even in our darkness, that we too can laugh without fear of the future.

“Behold I bring you good tidings which shall bring great joy to all people. Today is born in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

With love,

Maribeth, Dan, and all us van Loons

2021 recap:

The van Loons celebrated holidays and days at home in early 2021. Dan continued to work most days from home; Will returned to in person learning, at first half day with some work remotely, then later, regular days. Hannah, Josh and the boys were part of our “pod” from the beginning of the pandemic, so we had great times together all year.

Spring brought opening flowers, opening businesses and visits to see both our sons. We spent a few great days exploring Little Rock, AR where Micah and Kayla live in a quaint Victorian neighborhood, then stopped for some time with Jes and Rachel in Carbondale.

The biggest joy of the year was the addition to our family of our new grandson, Isaac L. Carlson. He is now a huge smiler, wiggler and happy eater.

We had another fine addition to our household this year: In June, we packed Dan’s mom’s household goods into a pod and bid her Arizona home goodbye. She is settling in so well (thanks to many who prayed!), is healthy, and has returned to sewing up a storm, eating Snickers and reconnecting with lots of family.

Summer brought it’s own gifts–outdoor concerts, hikes, family reunions, gardening, cherry picking and picnics. Maribeth got to again teach the Bible story at VBS, a pleasurable outlet for her theatrical side.

Fall brought Will’s junior year and his 18th birthday. (As he says, “I can’t believe it! Time pass so fast!”) We enjoyed sharing a cabin, as we nosed in on part of Josh and Hannah’s vacation along lake Michigan, snuck in before the leaves were down. And then, between work, church small group and teaching, prayer meetings and the usual round of house projects and political talk came our anniversary, which we celebrated at a sweet bed and breakfast in Eagle, Wisconsin. Before we knew it, it was Thanksgiving, and we had so much to be grateful for!

A Noisy Quiet Year

As I lay in my flanneled bed, cocooned in the silence of winter without the bright calls of the birds that would wake us in spring, I reflect—It was a noisy quiet year. Yard signs screamed people’s politics or yelled to “mask up” as I rode by on my bike. Glass shattered in nearby Aurora. Statues of leaders people didn’t bother to understand toppled. The internet buzzed, hurricanes howled. Yet people bravely faced a silent enemy to stock shelves, care for the sick and bring groceries to the elderly. Many, like Dan, worked at computers from home or, like me for a season, guided children through online learning. Traffic lessened; organized activities ceased. We all walked, biked, picnicked and smiled beneath our masks. We looked for butterflies and gazed at the stars. We journaled and took photos; we prayed silently and with one voice. 

I believe God is speaking, in some cases shouting to get our attention, through the difficulties. For me it has been more of an invitation to listen during the forced quiet. I hear the carol:

How silently, how silently|
The wondrous gift is given,
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming
But in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive him still
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel.

We can never overestimate the gift of our great God condescending into our world, entering the cacophony of earth from the harmonies of heaven. In a time much like today, amid the tension of zealots, hellenized Jews, Roman occupiers and distrust of leaders, while the shepherds were quietly doing their job, the angel announced the coming of the Savior and his cohorts shouted God’s praise. 

Family news:

Not only a year of noisy quiet, but of death and life. We personally suffered the loss of Dan’s dad in late August to cancer, and since then know of nine other older ones who have passed, one from Covid but others from heart disease, Alzheimer’s, a car accident, and my beloved friend Betty from a stroke. We were so thankful that on the eve of the Covid shutdowns in March we had a happy visit with Dan’s parents. In August Dan made plans to fly out again, little knowing that he would be there to help Mom through Dad’s last hours. Only God’s providence could orchestrate that! 

We received great news of new life — Hannah and Josh’s third baby due in March 2021!

Like many, I took advantage of reduced outside employment to do projects at home, updating, with the help of a skilled, friend Will’s bedroom and our bathrooms.

We had a lovely visit to see Jes and Rachel in southern Illinois. They cooked for us, we hiked, and Dan, Jes and Rachel even fished together!

The summer was filled with the outdoors after Will’s summer school hours: camping, bike rides, picnics, a bit of swimming and lots of grandparent time.

Not even a virus could keep us from celebrating our 38th anniversary, which included a stay at “Bird Haven” Airbnb, the amazing Japanese garden in Rockford, and having the small, interesting Rockford Art Museum all to ourselves.

As I write this letter I anticipate seeing Micah for the first time since we helped him pack up and move to a charming Victorian house in Little Rock, AR this summer where Kayla began law school. He finally has a kitchen big enough to handle his expanding cooking prowess!

So as I go to marinate a roast for his visit, we van Loons wish you deep joy this Christmas. May each of you, dear ones, have a 2021 that finds your ear tuned to the Father’s voice .

With love,

Maribeth, Dan & Willem

Masks and Meat

We had guests this week, for a socially distanced backyard picnic. When my friend entered the house she wore a mask and requested I do the same. During our conversation about family, she reflected that her daughter in law had been attending an outdoor Bible study, but was probably not going to go back because when they discussed going inside for inclement weather, one participant refused the request to wear a mask, citing an infringement of her civil rights.

Facebook posts have revealed surprisingly intense reactions to others’ choices about masking. It reminded me strongly of the conundrum in the early church. Is it right to eat meat offered to idols? Yawn, we think, what a dumb thing to get worked up about. However, I can picture the arguments, both compelling:

“That meat has been offered to a pagan deity. How can I in conscience satisfy my hunger in a way that insults the One God? ” “Yes, and what about demonic influence? How can believers think this is okay?”

On the other side, “We know that those idols are nothing – there is only one God. Jesus has freed us from all that superstition. We need to walk in our new life, not be enslaved to rules from worldly thinking.”

Paul gives clear advice for these legitimate differences of perspective in his letter to the Romans. Try reading these verses with masking substituting for not eating meat and see how it applies.

The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Paul broadens his application to observance of days, but then continues to hammer at the principle.

10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister[a]? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
 every tongue will acknowledge God.’”[b]

12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.  …..

19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification…. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

So then, let’s use our liberty responsibly. Not only may it slow the virus, it may build the body and stretch our love muscles.

 

Covid lessons

If it isn’t politics directly, it seems there is always something stirring people up, even my mostly level headed group of family and friends. Covid 19, being such a game changer and focus of media and life, more than usual. The Lord is always wanting us to learn from the things that disquiet us. Even in our blindness, I usually assume that each one has gotten a hold of part of the elephant and we do best to listen to all. Here is my attempt to describe the beast:

  1. Using discernment means looking at what mainstream policy is, heeding the CDC, but also recognizing that the scientific community can be more ruthless about silencing minority views that the medieval church. People are right in trying to listen to other credible sources with different takes on the data, but it is unwise to become blind to the nastiness of this virus, both in its effect on the lungs and its pre-symptomatic spread. Using inflammatory terms t like “hoax” and “conspiracy theories” while vivid, can make people feel devalued.
  2. World view and politics affect public policy. Some will place a higher value on the ability of individuals to make informed decisions, others that more rigid control insures the best community outcome. We do want policy that is as much as possible consistent. Right now, it seems to me that it favors big businesses and punishes the small, when they too could be practicing the same social distance and hygiene requirements. Churches as well need to learn to meet wisely.
  3. We also need to take into consideration the secondary effects of policy so that the “cure” is not worse than the risk of disease.  No point in healthy suicides. As far as Illinois goes, I am certainly glad Gov. P. reopened the state parks to walkers and such, for example., but especially given that evidence points to strong sunlight inactivating the virus on surfaces, why not camp or playgrounds?
  4. The data is changing continually and it is easy to get into a mode of thinking because of what was recommended initially. Praise God, the morbidity rate for this virus is not nearly what they thought it might be. Nor are hospitals in our area being overwhelmed. Mandates need to be flexible for different areas and as things change. I think people are rightly leery of a one-size-fits-all approach and of the way government has encroached on basic liberties. Huge outlays of government capital (and no one is talking about who will foot the bill ultimately) should not take the place of people running their businesses.
  5. Despite the reassurances about shelter in place, given the nature of this bug, we cannot avoid exposure to it. However, we should use prudence to not expose ourselves or our neighbors to it in unnecessary quantities and we must be sensitive to those whose immune systems are naturally compromised.
  6. Ultimately, we must look to the immune systems God has provided us with. What builds them up? What weakens them? If prolonged isolation, particularly in states that have told people not to go outside (thankfully, not in Illinois) hinders the immune system, than that should be factored in to what is a wise approach. The public should be encouraged even more vigorously to eat, drink, sleep, supplement and exercise in ways that will help us when we do encounter this virus. In this battle, as in many, we cannot be passive or cower in fear – we will have to face the enemy and prevail.
  7. I have stopped saying “Stay safe” to people in passing. We can’t be safe, and saying that to ourselves is really telling ourselves a lie. I  think a better mantra would be “Be wise.” That is what the Lord has told us after all. For each of us that may look a little different. We each have different tolerances for risk, different levels of health and different ways we need to be sacrificing to best love our neighbors. 

Christmas 2019: Gifts

Christmas. For most of us that word brings to mind gifts, whether ones we’ve wrapped this year, a sigh over shopping yet to be done, or memories of childhood anticipation.

Gift giving and I have a weird history. As a child, many gifts—even costly ones—I accepted carelessly. Once I pouted because my Godfather gave me a lovely gold mirror set (which I have to this day) when I had my heart set on a hot pink plastic one seen in a catalog. Then as a young adult I became minimal, only wanting what I needed and hating every sort of extravagance. There were hungry and needy people in the world who would be better served by these resources, I reasoned. I cried when given a new dress, was distraught over a solid gold chain…generally was pretty annoying to the people who loved me. What I didn’t see until I was much older was that giving isn’t just about the gift meeting a need, it is about the giver and the process—that gift giving can be part of an increasing cycle of love. Jesus demonstrated this so beautifully when the woman broke the expensive perfume on his feet. Others scolded her for wasting what could have gone to the poor, but Jesus, instead focused on her act of giving. Her love was both expressed and increased by that act of sacrifice, and crowned with the blessing Jesus gave her – “what this woman has done will be remembered….”

As I look for gifts to give this year, I relish the chance it gives me to really think about the people I love, what they need and what will bless them. My heart warms to them in the process. I am also learning to receive better, now knowing that the gift may outlive the giver and will be a constant reminder of their affection, and that the sacrifice they made to choose, make or buy, wrap and give, perhaps grew their love for me as well.

May your Christmas, and yea, your gift giving, be part of that beautiful love cycle. And, as we are offered the ultimate gift sacrificially paid for by God, that of new life through faith in Christ, let us be good receivers, completing the circle with a rich, lifelong “Thank you.

2019 flew by, but not without delivering many gifts along the way:

Will had a really special year filled with dancing, parts in two short plays, finishing middle school, special Olympics, starting high school, wonderful times with family, old friends and new Best Buddies. He was also baptized and turned 16!

Dan got an office redo at beloved IVP, saw ten years with Old Fezziwig’s Band and continues to love being Grandad and serving the babies at church.

Aside from enjoying being the Chief Domestic Officer, Maribeth taught Sunday School and VBS, worked her several part time jobs, hosted Bible study, tea party and prayer groups and served at the Durant House Museum.

The greatest surprise gift of the year was when Josh got a job with Kendall County, necessitating a move from Racine to Illinois this summer. We helped with the selling and settling that goes with such a move, but are delighted to have kids and grandkids half hour away, meaning more hours together!

Birthdays also call for gifts and celebration:

Times with family and travel are both huge gifts. Visiting Dan’s folks in Arizona this year brought an unexpected blessing as we stumbled on a moving memorial to the unit my Dad served with in W.W. II, the Bushmasters.

Another especially sweet gift was a few days in Southern Illinois seeing Jes and Rachel and, serendipitously, Micah and Kayla, who were passing through from their home in Dekalb. Giant City State Park was well worth the trip!

Of course, we also like just married couple time. Thanks to sister Maggie and son Micah who watched over Will, we spent our anniversary in Baraboo, Wis. hiking Devil’s Lake, visiting the Circus Museum and quaint shops. We even stayed in a former Ringling Brothers’ mansion!

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (James 1:17) May 2020 give you many gifts and increase your love for the Father!

With much love,

Maribeth, Dan and Willem

Mourning over sin

I have been considering for some time what it means to “mourn over sin,” a familiar phrase from the lenten season. Conviction by the Holy Spirit and mourning over our own transgression are an important part of seeking forgiveness and receiving God’s cleansing, but I have begun to see a wider truth here.

I remember many years ago an incident at church was handled insensitively. It caused a woman from another country who had been visiting our church and dancing with our worship group to feel shamed and unwelcome. She never returned.  My personal attitude  toward the one who lacked understanding, could be, and was for awhile, “Why did she treat her that way? Couldn’t she see the bigger issue here?” Though I still wince a bit when thinking of it, I now believe instead in mourning for the sin of insensitivity and the rigidity that can bring it on. How many times has this same attitude caused me to sin against another? Perhaps my sister at church is equally grieved in retrospect. Instead of pursing my lips against her, I am sad for both my church member, myself and the woman who felt unwelcome. We need to mourn all sin, not just our own, rather than sitting in judgement upon it. This I believe is God’s heart toward sin, for all of it diminishes our joy and thwarts our potential.

This attitude can extend toward those who in other ways trample on God’s instructions, defile his creation or even stand in a place we regard as tragically mistaken on political matters. Yes, we should be angry about sex trafficking, greed, corruption or even those who degrade marriage or God’s church, but we should also mourn for their sin as we would our own. Isaiah, when beholding God in the temple didn’t just say “Woe is me, …I am a man of unclean lips,” but also “I live among a people of unclean lips.”

Mourning for sin I believe, can root out the pride that made the Pharisee differ from the publican in Jesus’ parable. It can make us more aware of the Holy Spirit’s correction. We will long for the experience  of Psalm 32 for both ourselves and others:

“How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven and whose sin is covered!

Picturing Christmas

In the last year or two I’ve been made aware that if we examine Luke’s account in light of ancient middle eastern culture, Jesus’ birth may have looked very different than we imagined. Instead of the traditional solitary, animal filled stable, picture the busy family area of a home with an already taken guest room, squeezing in another relative or two. (“Poor thing, she must be exhausted!”) Shooing the kids out when the time comes, they lay Jesus in the handy manger a step or two down from the family room, in the space where the animals sleep at night. Not quite the birth Mary and Joseph had pictured either! There may have even been a cradle lovingly made back in Nazareth. Yet it was as it should be–right place, time, people to fulfill God’s prophetic promises and purposes.

We don’t just picture the past, but the present and future too. Holding on too firmly to our views and expectations can cause us to miss much. We miss what is in our disappointment over what isn’t, whether in job, family, relationships, politics or church. The people of Jesus’ day who missed his coming were those who could not see past their own ideas of what Messiah would be.

Don’t you find that, like in our photos, there are many things in life that look different than we expected–a blur here, a weird expression there, something caught in the background that you didn’t notice, an unanticipated beauty captured?  I’ve never done much imagining of the future, but it does make me smile to think that I did not picture at 60 making sure my son’s shoes are latched and shirt pulled down each morning before he catches the bus, nor that I’d be hugging and giggling with his whiskery little face each day.

The whiskers remind me that all my sons are grown now. Micah moved in to a house with two other guys early in the year. Thankful for now he is close enough to visit every week, and the boss’s right hand man at Daddio’s.

We have more than one child who is a bit different.

2018 brought wonderful visits with adult children, grandchildren, friends and siblings, some pictured below.

Our Thanksgiving gathering
Reading with the grandkids at the Carlson home.
Picnic by the river with our sons and the all important fishing gear.

It was an “Aunt” year as we vacationed at sister (Aunt Maggie) and Tom’s lovely rebuilt home in Lakewood, Wisconsin. I even got to use Mag’s kayak and Dan, their hammock!

Will and I also took an awesome 15th birthday trip to Florida to visit beloved “Aunt” Connie — a day well used at the Magic Kingdom and a few more exploring Florida’s springs and cool, old attractions like the Weeki Wachee mermaid show.

Disney buddies.

Not too many parents of Middle schoolers hear “I LOVE school!” at breakfast, but we do. Will is branching out in tiny ways — his first crack at Special Olympics for our non-athletic kid, new friends, a special rec dance class, studying to prepare for baptism, a tandem tricycle and way too many episodes of the Muppet Show. He is always planning a new show with someone we know as the “guest star.” He was a star in his own right,  bravely weathering getting his “leaky heart fixed “ on December 10.

Will and his middle school buddy Michael  

I enjoyed the prolonged, but hopeful project of redoing my front garden. God sent help (thanks, Judy!) and spring will bring the final touches. I expanded my museum work to include a Victorian schoolhouse. Just getting my feet wet at Sholes school, but loved my first day of “teaching.”  I’ve added to my list of part time jobs occasional interesting gigs working high-end estate sales for a super gal. Also, a real blessing was joining a book study group at Ginger Creek church on Gary Thomas’ A Lifelong Love. Many spicy conversations at our table! I highly recommend the book and teaching series.

Dan is still loving his work at InterVarsity Press and they seem to like him as well, making him a full salaried guy. His latest personal project is self publishing his many ensemble arrangements for English country dance tunes on Noteflight.

In honor of Illinois’ 200th anniversary we chose Springfield as destination for our 36th anniversary get away. After binge reading about Abe and Mary Lincoln, Dan was thrilled to see the very seat on which they courted. The museums in Springfield are marvelous–well worth a visit.

Dan looks at home at the New Salem cooper’s shop.

Church has been a changing scene this year: change of pastor at Faith Lutheran and many decisions about the church’s future pending. Dan and I joined a new small group at Ginger Creek after our former leaders moved, only to have our new group’s leaders also relocate. (Hmm, was it something we said??) God tugged on our sleeves so now we are hosting the group and looking for ways to live out Jesus’ life together.

We pray, Lord, come into our ordinary, crowded spaces as you did in Bethlehem. Give us eyes to see/picture/cooperate with what You are actually doing in and among us. 

Have a joyful Christmas and new year!

Love,

Maribeth for the van Loons

God Is Not Sentimental

Sometimes a circumstance flashes a truth about God’s nature before us. I am helping clean out at a church I have attended for close to thirty years. A church once of 500 now less than 50 faithful, spiritual, but aging saints. Like the old homeplace, it is rich with memories, but now echoes and is too much to take care of. Emotions run high as we deliberate and strain to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit. This is a promised place and we want to hold on. (“NO, the temple will not be destroyed by the Babylonians! ” the people of Judah cried. )

 

I am deeply sentimental. I surround myself with photos, family heirlooms, well loved books and am not one to waste anything. I think God ought to see it my way. I want to hold on to the dear, the comfortable reminders of my faith – a song, a place, a manner of doing things. But those reminders are not my faith. Like the disciples we often say, “It is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  God calls us to build altars to remember what He has done along the way, but not to build tabernacles around past glory.

 

God is not sentimental. He is willing to part with, and cause us to part with, our homes, our communities and all that we hold dear in order to further His work in and through us. This can be beyond confusing or discomforting, it can move into what appears to be senseless destruction. Was all our labor for naught? All the care and sacrifice to build God’s beautiful temple in Solomon’s day, the most holy place where God Himself could be approached, only to see God himself say the Babylonians would burn it to the ground? What sense can be made of that? Yet there is in Ecclesiastes the wisdom,” There is a time to plant and time to uproot what is planted.” God instructed His people to go and be planted in a new place and watch Him again do wonders. Thus, I am reminded that being sentimental, even about the things of God, can cause me to be blind to what God really wants me to be about in the present.

 

As when news of cancer or widowhood is thrust upon us, or the business suddenly fails, change can provoke fear. Something in me thinks that God may be scattering our little congregation. It wouldn’t be failure, but like the persecution which scattered the believers in Acts, a part of His plan to move His people into new areas of service and blessing. After Peter’s suggestion about building tabernacles on the mount of transfiguration and hearing God’s redirecting voice, “Jesus came to them and touched them and said, ‘Arise, and do not be afraid.’ And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one, except Jesus Himself alone.” May it be so for us.