12/01/2016

FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS


The last few days, Brazil has seen moments of suffering and pain on several fronts. On the way to the South American championship, the rising Chapecoense team, along with journalists and others who accompanied them, was wiped out in an airplane crash. While Brazilians were reeling with grief over the death of their idols, in the silence of the night, Congress passed laws with tremendous consequences for the future: one curtailing the action of justices in investigating and judging dishonest politicians, thus guaranteeing that the attitude and actions of “I`ll do as I pleases” continue in this Wild West; and the other, permitting, “no questions asked” abortions until end of first three months of gestation.

In Ohio, USA, once again gunshots felled college students, spreading terror and confirming that no one is safe anywhere! All over the world we hear of tragedies—some refugees drowning, dumped at sea, situations so terrible that they are unthinkable, on their way to “freedom”—and we would rather not hear any more about it. We also hear of people who, in compassion, take in refugees and are permanently hurt by them, as has happened repeatedly in Germany and other European countries, by Muslim “refugees” who rape and kill their benefactors whom they deem “infidels”.

The Cuban dictator’s ashes are being carried around the beautiful island country that he ruled with terror and deprivation since he ousted Batista (another dictator) in 1959. I remember as a fifth grader, my classmate telling me that her father, an officer in the US Army, was hopeful that the new revolutionaries would make Cuba paradise on earth—but he got suspicious of their intentions when seeing evidences of their Godlessness.

Recently I watched three historical movies, and though I realize that fiction permeates the stories we read or watch, have to admit that history moves my present, giving both hope and confirming some despair at prospects of future grief. Over the past year, several of God’s servants whom we knew and loved were “promoted” to heaven, and their families and churches still feel pain, though they know the Lord and trust in Him. Recently a beloved pastor-teacher who taught me and Lau since the beginning of our ministry, Dr. Russell Shedd, died.

Also recently, I heard a person I love express hope in the midst of a hopeless situation in which I can do nothing but pray for her, and remembered the many times in the history of the world, in the history of God`s people, and in my personal history, in which God intervened in direct answer to prayer. A sovereign God always knows what is, what was and what shall be—YWEH is the I AM from beginning to end, even if without a beginning and in ever in eternity. Both in historical past and more recently, we have witnessed God’s presence in midst of trials. One must return to the Word of God whenever always and recently perturb our present time. Jeremiah had his fill of persecution, suffering and affliction. He said:
My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is,
So I say, “My endurance has perished;
So has my hope from the Lord.
Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!”
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
BUT this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end,
They are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness.
The Lord is my portion, says my soul,
Therefore I will hope in Him.”
                                   (Lamentations 3:17-24)

God is sovereign in time and eternity, but whether in recent or distant past, or soon or someday future, we have opportunities to do, for our own good, and the good of our fellow human, what is required of us: fear and love God, walk in His way s, serve him with all our heart and soul, keep His commandments and statutes (Deuteronomy 10:12-13). That is why, over the ages, heroes rise. I was thinking of two women heroes, one a prophetess-judge,  the other a foreign princess married to a heathen despot king. Both dared change history even if it killed them. Read the narrative of the situation after Deborah had been judging Israel under her palm tree for twenty years:
Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help, for he had 900 chariots of iron ad he oppressed the people of Israel cruelly for twenty years. Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time… “Up! For this is the day which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the Lord go out before you?”(Judges 4:14)

When Mordecai informed his niece of the political situation in Persia, he challenged her to act:
For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this? ... “if I perish, I perish.” 
                                                      (Esther 4:14-16.)

The beloved story of Purim follows, where a beautiful woman, immersed and guided by the prayers of her people, dares enter the king`s quarters and puts herself at his mercy. The God of history had placed her in a strategic place at a strategic time, and she was willing to change the situation even if it killed her. It was for such a time as that!

We are spectators in this wonderful, wicked, willful world, but we live in it, we breathe here and are part of what we watch, what we hear, what we see. There are many things in which our hands are tied and we are merely weak witnesses. But if there is something we can do to change situations where we are, none of us is immune, none can say, “there is nothing I can do!” 

What is required of us, God`s servants? Only “that they be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). To a Great and faithful God, we are small and our abilities are few and weak. Where have you been recently? Where are you now? Where will you be ten years from now? Francis Schaeffer reminded us that there are no little people. The Koheleth wrote: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10)—for the Christian, it is not a question of “no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol”, but “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”. So: “Arise and be doing, the Lord shall be with ye!” We are in this world for times such as this!

                                                                                                                                                Elizabeth Gomes

10/13/2016

WHERE ARE WE FROM? WHO ARE WE? WHERE ARE WE GOING?

Paul Gauguin, Where are we from?... 1897, Boston Museun of Arts
Thinking of friends of all ages and walks of life, many creeds and stages of belief and unbelief, people I have met or enjoy from afar through books and writings, songs, sermons and speeches on almost everything this planet has to offer. Many of my facebook friends are ministers and missionaries from all corners of the earth, while others are professionals in every walk of life: musicians and composers and poets, medical doctors and dentists, accountants, teachers and lawyers, social workers, civil servants and physical therapists, athletes, computer nerds and psychologists. My good friends are often just plain moms—multi-tasked wives and mothers who do everything under the sun to ensure their family’s well-being. As for where, I have friends in Africa, Chile and Cambodia, Japan, Jakarta and India, Israel and Australia, Korea, the USA and Brazil and Hungary, France and German. The friends whose activity strike the chords of my heart more than any other (despite the strong second place of musicians and poets) are those who, like me, are translators, writers, editors and other communicators involved in producing in printed form the results of their life and thoughts. Time and again, they make me think through the questions in the title of this blog: Where are we from? Who are we? Where are we going?

All human existence, all culture, all dreams, all reason for being is questioned in this painting which represents various scenes of how life goes on, from birth and childhood to death. Writing in 1901 about that dreary time Gauguin said, “I wanted to die, and with that state of mind, I painted it in one single stroke. I hurried to sign it and took a formidable dose of arsenic that was probably too much; terrible suffering, but no death came upon me...”

I had never been attracted to Paul Gauguin. Previous impressionists like Van Gogh, Monet, Degas and Renoir gave me an imprint of beauty in little and great things, but Gauguin’s paintings, especially after he abandoned his family and moved to Tahiti to “find himself” and live close to nature, free from the bonds of the present and discover his own truth” were not the kind I would chose for delight. For all his brilliance, Gauguin was a fool who, after he heard of the death of his daughter, declared: “There is no God” (Psalm 14.1). Gauguin was everywhere, in France, Holland, Panama, the Antilles, travelling the world, moving his family to Denmark hoping things would be better there. (In one sense they were: his wife Mette Sophie Gad courageously took on the job of translating to support the family, while he went away to Central America to “live like a savage” and then to Oceania and finally Tahiti, where he invented the world of NoaNoa and among other paintings created his famous Where from? What are we? Where are we going?

His questions are certainly good ones. Our origin and roots mark, influence, denote and give meaning to the next answer: What are we? What and who we are in one sense are in our DNA, while where we were and where we are now are constantly changing. We are who we are (made in the image of One who declared “I am who I am”) but we are not yet what we will be in the future. A naturalistic answer is no real answer, however, because it remains materialistic and allows no space for transcendence.

In a more positive vein, the Brazilian Christian poet, Gioia Junior wrote:
Where am I? I don’t know,
Nor do I know from whence I come
 Where will I later be is a mystery,
— But I know that he lives!
If I know that he lives—my Savior and my King
— I know that with him I have been
 and will forever remain.
If there is a reason to motivate my faith,
This its heart and soul:
My Redeemer lives
And so will I live with him!

Gioia certainly was thinking of another poet surrounded by naysayers who lived in the land of Uz and was covered by myriad questions about life while covered with boils and abandonment: Job, blameless and upright. Upon learning he 
lost all sons and daughters, all his wealth and well-being, he declared: “Naked came I from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1.21). God asked Satan “From where have you come?” to which he answered, “From going to and fro on the earth”. After the inimical dialogue of friends who blame him for the evil he has suffered, Job exclaims:
Oh that my words were written!
Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
Oh that with iron pen and lead
they were engraved in the rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives
And at the last he will stand upon the earth,
And after my skin has been destroyed
Yet in my flesh I shall see God,
Whom I shall see for myself,
And my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me! (Job 19:23-27)

When we experienced a life-threatening accident in the beginning of our ministry in the city of Jaú, I thought I had lost my husband forever and needed to answer my three young children’s doubts as to why their father was killed, hope dawned when my unconscious husband murmured the words to the song Gioia Jr penned and Decio Lauretti put to music: “Onde estou?... O meu Redentor vive, e eu também viverei”.

A living Redeemer who gives purpose and meaning is the central theme of the Gospel, the good news inaugurated by Jesus Christ and preached by his disciples and apostles after his death and resurrection, through the ages, until now, and will be proclaimed until his return. A prisoner writes with flaming pen, in prayer “that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11). As I translate a book about the Basics for Christians and write my own thoughts in lesser words and works, I am impacted by D.A. Carson’s vision of our faith. His questions provoke me to thinking hard about reason and motivation for being, for living, for writing, for doing any and everything under the sun:
What is it in the Christian faith that excites you? What consumes your time? What turn you on?... abortion, pornography, home schooling, women’s ordination (for or against), economic justice, a certain style of worship, the defense of a particular Bible version, and much more... I am not suggesting that we not think about such matters or throw our weight behind some of them. But when such matters devour most of our time and passion, each of us must ask: In what fashion am I confessing the centrality of the gospel?
This is not a subtle plea for a denuded gospel, a merely privatized gospel, a gospel without social ramifications. We wisely reread the accounts of the Evangelical Awakening in England and he Great Awakening in America, and the extraordinary ministries of Howell Harris, George Whitefield, the Wesley brothers and others. Soundly converted men and women saw that life must be lived under God and in a manner pleasing to him. But virtually without exception there men and women put the gospel first... they reveled in it, preached it, cherished Bible reading and exposition that was Christ-centered and gospel centered, and from that base moved out into the broader social agendas. Not to see this priority means we are not more than a generation away from denying the gospel[1].

What motivates me? Where do I come from? Where am I now? Where am I going? My original questions from a naturalist pagan who rejected the wealth of Christianity find answers especially in the iron pen of the apostle Paul, who said that “with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain…(Phil 1.21) and concludes: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own…forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”(Phil 3.12-14).

You and I have a mission of proclamation—not as intellectually stimulating teachers of the Word nor as pastors, but as redeemed human beings who have a true story to tell—maybe like one beggar to another telling where you can find bread, maybe like a person who lived with questions and found them answered in a Person of full integrity and righteousness. Though we recognize the value of writing fiction as parables, we are totally committed to proclaiming truth in whatever genre or style we pen our thoughts. It must be the verifiable, experiential truth of the gospel, undefiled by the dross of false motivations and mixed conceptions (misconceptions), we denounce the lies people go after, and proclaim truth with life and vision. We are reminded (again by Carson) that “When Jesus denounces the religious charlatans of his day, he ends up in grief as he looks over the city (Matthew 23). For our part, we must not become people who denounce but do not weep. Neither may we become people who weep but who never denounce. Too much is at stake both ways”[2]. We weep as we denounce, and denounce with tears, as we observe the questions and answers of a hurting world.
Elizabeth Gomes



[1] D.A Carson, Basics for Believers, Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 1997, p 27
[2]D.A.Carson, Basics for Believers, p. 93.

8/16/2016

TRANSLATING AND COMMUNICATING


I`ve been thinking about friends, what we learn from them, and how we communicate. It used to be that when friends or relatives lived far away, writing letters was important to keep friendship alive. Phones usually were not an option. To phone my boyfriend on Christmas 1965, we set a time when he went to the phone company and we talked for a minute before the static cut our conversation short. A couple of times after I was back in Brazil, we had friends who were ham radio operators make phone patch calls to my mom in the USA, but it was a major operation, and by the time contact was established, we did not know what to say. Since I was a young teen, I had a score of pen pals all over the world, as well as the habit of writing for birthdays and Christmas to my aunts and uncles.
I began to really write letters in the year and a half I was in the States and the love of my life was in Brazil. Writing love letters is an altogether different category, and we have never repeated the feat once we were together for life. Sometimes he wrote morning, noon and evening, and I followed suit. Love letters were life and breath to me and to him. He wrote poems. I became skilled at describing life around me and the dreams and aspirations we shared. We not only became familiarized with each dream and family story, we became legend, myth, plans and reality as we corresponded, putting brains and brawn, heart and soul, into what we wrote. I returned to Brazil in June, got engaged in August and married in December 1966. Some time after we married, Lau declared that we should burn our letters, lest our children or strangers find and read them. Reluctantly I joined him in putting fire them on fire—but not before hand-copying each of the hundred and sixty-so poems he had penned in our correspondence. I typed that collection of poems and had them bound in leather when we had been married about ten years.  We no longer write love letters, though love is present and still growing strong—we have the presence of each other to spur, provoke, inspire, exasperate, and continually learn caring from each other. Sometimes he or I will still write lighthearted rhymes or more ponderous sonnets to each other, but we never phone to the other and rarely write notes. But Lau is the first reader of anything I write, whether about children and grandchildren or Christian life and life on this blemished planet or candid every day actions and reactions.
Back to communicating with friends and fellow-sojourners: I`ve assumed today`s facebook as a tool to keep in touch. Some two thousand or so between old friends from the past, some of their children and grandchildren, and fellow friends who are writers, poets, composers, dentists and designers, pastors and teachers and their wives, missionaries and non-religious activists, plain people complicated by incredible stories—all my facebook friends are real life samplings of diversity in unity. Some of my friends greet each day or evening with “Good morning (evening). Aren’t you going to say good morning to me?”, or publish pictures of beautiful flowers, children and pets, or fine porcelain teacups. I have to admit there isn’t time to reply or “like” each friendly greeting. Can’t play each game they propose to draw me into, or solve each puzzle people post—there’s simply no time to lose. Some  friends make delicious doces and desserts; others post their churrascos and family gatherings, or the beautiful crafts they are making. There are people who post terrible pictures of people dying of cancer or beheaded by jihadists, with the saying: write amen if you believe God can heal them or save them all from ISIS. I pray for the suffering church worldwide, and pray for those I know are facing terrible illness and pain—but typing “amen” is not going to do anything for them. Some people are dying for a good argument, and post philosopher or Christian leader or politician’s declarations, expecting my feedback. Now, I admire great thinkers, love a good discussion, but try to limit myself to subjects that really have changed my life or the lives of people in our world. Do not want to get into arguments about Pentecostalism, Calvinism or Arminianism, (have friends who are serious about God in each and every one of those camps) or denominational differences, though I have firm beliefs and denials and adhere to basic Christian orthodoxy.
What do l like to write? Basically, what I like to read. Words that touch the soul and stimulate the mind, goading to action. To sum it up, I want to translate into understandable, applicable language, in whatever language we are using, what Jay Richards said about C. S. Lewis:
Lewis was the consummate translator. This is an academic achievement every bit as impressive and lasting as any other. Translation of academic subjects into laymen’s terms is akin to hand-copying Van Gogh’s Starry Night with a much more limited  palette of colors than the great Dutch artist used for the original. The original required artistic genius. But a good copy using a limited palette requires genius as well… He once observed: “Any fool can write learned language. The vernacular is the real test.” Many academics, in contrast, disdain the task of translation. They seem to pride themselves on grinding our turgid academic prose that is accessible to few and enjoyable to none… Lewis never settled for such a provincial academic career. On the contrary, he made his own academic life difficult by writing children`s books and Christian apologetics. Most Lewis scholars suspect that this is the one reason he never advanced beyond the title of lecturer during all his years at Oxford University. It was only late in life that Cambridge University had the good sense to hire him and give him a professional title befitting his academic stature… We must distinguish the elite populist from the dabblers or “second hand peddlers of ideas”… who have a disproportionate but mostly undeserved influence on culture. Such pundits offer their opinions on everything from film criticism and science to economics and politics; but their commentary is often superficial because they haven’t first learned those subjects. Rather than translating, they merely opine.[1]
Guess communication via social media has that same superficiality of “second-hand peddlers of ideas”. I hope to get to the sources, and share where living water and bread of life are found for anyone who is really hungry and thirsty. So I read and write on facebook—as a translator of unsearchable riches in everyday language!
Elizabeth Gomes



[1] Jay W. Richards, “Mastering the Vernacular”, in John G. West, The Magician’s Twin: C.S.Lewis on Science, Scientism and Society, Discovery Institute, pp. 182-83.

7/03/2016

COMMUNICATING AWESOME

A few years ago my daughter gave me a T shirt that says “May your life be as awesome as you pretend it is on facebook”. It is one of my favorite everyday shirts because it’s black (doesn’t show dirt very much), the knit is tight and well-made, and I enjoy teasing people about their relationship—and mine—to the social media. I don’t mind being the recipient of other punny, wearable shirts.
More than shirts, I like to observe people’s postings. In spite of terrible grammar in both Portuguese and English, in spite of pathetic or pithy statements to which I can agree or disagree, there’s a lot to learn about people on facebook. My facebook friends are of all stripes and colors, and they communicate accordingly. Some use facebook to share family news and achievements, as a sort of cybernetic brag book. The grandmas and grandpas post their grandchildren’s antics and pictures, smart takes and cute sayings. Besides grandmas, young mothers are notorious for doing the same, I love learning about those adorable kids and how they relate to their pets, siblings, people at church and potty training.
Other friends of mine are childless, but have awesome pets that are pampered to death, with pics of the poor beasts wearing frufrus and double ribboned pony tails in lieu of ears: the smartest animals in the world, and the “mommies”and “daddies” of canine, feline and anyline animals act as if their loved ones won hors concours all the best dog shows in America, North or South.
Some of my facefriends are so needy they post “Will you please say ‘hi” to me, pleeease!|” and if I don´t take the time to type “Hi, So and So, you are my friend. How´s the weather today?” they are offended if I breeze through their inanities without “liking” what they wrote--they take it as a personal offense.
Then there are those who post photos of beheaded and crucified Christians in Iraq and Syria, or cancer patients with horrendous tumors or deformities, and the instruction: “Say amen if you feel sorry for them, or believe God can heal them, or whatever”. I confess that though I believe in prayer and pray for many situ ations of which I am aware through facebook, I am loath to write “amen” or share horror stories.
Yes, sometimes I share tales of persecution of Christians or lopsided politics or even of friend in need of prayer, but I do not share things lightly.
When I started with facebook, I figured it would be an effective instrument for communicating the gospel, giving updates and news about our publications in a non-commercial, non-threatening way, and so I added almost every pastor or missionary friend I knew of—these would be my feedback for our books. But many of the pastors I added see facebook as a fighting ring in which to point out their particular doctrines and why their faith is better than So-and-So´s. Never imagined there would be so much name-calling and “cutting off” friendships in those who lead the body of Christ!
I was delighted to re-discover old friends and some of these speak my language and feel as I feel. Friends from thirty years ago surfaced and renewed sharing. A few who were best friends are no longer “best”, but we do get along fine and I´m always learning from them. Though changed, the friendship still stands.
I have an old friend who shares the “flower of the day” each day, but doesn´t tell e much about what she thinks or does, except as a clinician. Another sends “a kiss of light” to me in everything I say, and still another copies and pastes every thing her friends have shared that day, without discerning whether the sentiment is true or false.  If I fail to comment on some of those posts, she get offended.
A dear person writes mini-sermons on well-known Bible verses and shares good songs, but never reveals what is really going on with her life. The descriptions could go on to each of the almost three thousand “friends” I´ve accumulated or renewed in the three or four years I´ve had internet.
Someone calls them “followers”, but I don´t dare think of my friends as my children, students or disciples! I´ve got a lot of following to do, and they have so much more to teach me! Yes, I want to post truthful, uplifting, thought-provoking ideas, but only as one beggar tells another beggar where to find good free food! In some sense, whatever we do or say should be for God’s glory—but my postings are not a means of evangelism or changing even the world around me.
That takes me to those friends who march to a different drum. I had one friend I loved, who was an extremely religious Roman Catholic and was offended by some other friends, Protestant and Reformed who wrote making fun of her beliefs. If I find a person ridiculing others for their beliefs, I end up considering eliminating them, even if I partially agree with them, because I believe God’s love requires that we love our neighbor as ourselves. I miss my Catholic friend who wanted to love Jesus. Several others post sayings like “May Mary, Joseph and Jesus bless you” or May Mother Earth bless you, and I do not comment. Appreciating that the Lord Jesus does bless, and certain that the mother of Jesus and his earthly father are in heaven, as one day I will be, I don´t have to “set my friend straight”, but just appreciate her good wishes. Things get more complex when a muslim prays that Allah bless, or my anti-religious friend makes fun of some Bible verse I posted. When it comes to gender issues, things get tougher still. As a Christian who believes the Bible, I do not agree with same sex attraction, but have several people in the family who have trouble with, or have embraced, their homossexuality. I love them and respect them as persons—I decry their lifestyle, the same as I also don´t agree with heterosexual fornication or adultery. Or robbing or cheating. As one sinner to another, I have to say: God loves us, but does not love our twistedness. And he can transform us!
Okay, twistedness is a very strong word, and some people tell me they don´t want to be transformed. I don´t shove the Good News down anyone´s throat, but pray that they may be found by Jesus´ righteousness! God is the one who makes straight in the desert a highway for Himself. If it depended on my artistry, I couldn´t draw a straight line for the life of me!
Back to my T-shirt, the wish is “May your life be as awesome as you pretend on facebook”. My life is full of contentment, graced with unexpected blessings and truly at peace with God and with my self. But I wouldn´t say it´s awesome. Though by some estimates, we “deserve” to be treated royally, we—you, I, my dearest and best friends, as well as those I´d just as soon forget—are all quite common. Actually, my life is quite ordinary— even when I experience some extraordinary miracles, it is not spectacular or worthy of note, but by the grace and goodness of an awesome God. He is worthy of awe, the one who surprises me each day with faithfulness and love. And I cannot pretend otherwise! Because He is awesome, my commonness contributes to God’s glory and humankinds good! That is truly and extraordinary privilege, available to all who trust in Him!
There are many questions I´d love to ask my facebook friends about the gaps between when I last saw them and when we re-met on facebook. I´ve discovered they are beautiful and strong, remarkable and worthy men and women whom I admire.Some are the children of my old friends. Sure, I wish I could warn some about avoiding telling it all—they will get hurt in the end.
Admittedly, many people use the social media to pretend what they aren´t—photoshopping their portraits to perfection, copying other people’s good ideas and achievements. The idea is posting selfies,  and sometimes our friends project sexy selves, intellectual provocations and super-heroic deeds. Or do that with their children, boyfriends, grandchildren, spouses, pets, or even great meals! Instead of intending well-being, they pretend what no-one really can deliver. I´d rather take a picture with my beloved in a garden, with wrinkles on my face and shadows all around, showing off that common reality of an eternal soul clothed in humanness.
When Jesus´s disciples saw the transfiguration, all they could think about was building a tabernacle to contain the glory of Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Jesus immediately set their feet on the ground and invited them to deal with a desperate father and demonized son. That put the fear of the Lord back where it belonged!
For me, facebook is a privilege, but not a ministry. I can learn a lot through computer information, but my character  must be formed by the Word of God which filters data that is shared. Many new friends were made through social media, but that cannot substitute real relationships. May my life be real, as I serve an awesome God and my fellow human beings in great and small ways, for each minute of my day, whether on my facebook mural or my fractured, re-made life.


Elizabeth Gomes

10/01/2015

FOR SEASONS OF BEAUTY AND TENSION



 
It was my birthday, and among many gifts received, three were remarkable and rare: a letter from a dear aunt (letters are so much more personal than email or phone calls) and two video renditions of Vivaldi’s four seasons: one a full orchestra in formal splendor, the other an a capela sextet. Both of the musical presentations lifted my spirit while pulling my heartstrings as they reminded of the beauty of the earth and wonder of the skies. Vivaldi is not known for being conducive to worship, nor is my aunt known for Christian piety (though she’s got an enormous blend of zest for life and common sense), but they made my day and caused me to say “Thank you, God”.

Yesterday I read an article for ministers about the tension between pastoral excellence and a life of scholarship, and it struck a full ring of keys. I am not a pastor, nor am I a scholar, but as a Christian who enjoys thinking and cannot but write, the pull of ordinary, everyday, intellectual integrity, and hunger for beauty and excellence, while present and constantly remaining barefoot, true, and coherent in what I think with what I do.

Used to think such tensions were part of adolescence, later conceded that they came with being a woman but would dwindle with maturity. Now I’ve had to admit that “golden years” may bring increasing pains of aging, dwindling mobility and white hair, but maturity is still elusive – I may be getting old  but am far from being wiser or more settled. Oh, I’m okay with my spouse whom I love more than ever, and with myself though there are areas I can’t begin to plumb. We’ve carved out a good life and reached many of the goals of our youth.   But there is so much more I want to understand, be, develop, do, produce, expand… I have time on my hands because no job and no kids at home allow me to “do whatever I want”. My husband’s health has improved to no longer need to care 24 hours a day—he is returning to thinking and doing many creative, productive tasks that don’t require my help.

But I have no time for getting one single thing done as planned. Writing deadlines are seldom reached – well, I write in the dead of night and cross lines every day between writing ordinary, even superficial stuff, with deep insights into God’s Word and people’s worth. This Garland blog, for example, has been dormant for months – and I can’t get my keyboard unstuck. My proposed second novel has been waiting with question marks from chapter eighteen on, for the last eighteen months. The planned book on changes in life from the Biblical lens of Paul’s letter to Philippians is still in the planning. Nothing’s changed since before Lau was hospitalized. Joyous to be home, I get some weeding done, scatter seeds in my garden, but procrastinate the dreaded total revamping of my back yard. Hands and back ache too much! Walk through the orchard and verify that macadamia and persimmon will be producing, got lemons galore, got tired of so many chestnuts and still am hopeful for our peaches, passion fruit and jaboticaba. Planned to sit down and put my collection of recipes and home-cooked stories on paper for publishing by February—not 2016, but last February. It is still simmering in my imagination, though I’ve enjoyed scores of Nigella and Jamie Oliver and Barefoot Contessa and Bel Gil and Rita Lobo on TV these past months. Get real, Beth! Gonna have to speak to the Rock in the desert for the water to flow?!

Yes, must speak to the Rock, drawing near and keeping my eyes focused on Him, listening to Him more than to the sounds of multiple screaming tidbits of demands that that burst like soap bubbles as soon as you attend to them. Wanted to study more, prime my thought-patterns for sharing with friends who seem hungry for the Word (which I profess to aim to communicate). Only managed to publish one article in academic paper, two years (or was it three?) after I researched and wrote it. Get some likes on my facebook communiqués, but even dumb blonds’ posts (pardon the pun) get liked on facebook. In what is my life making a difference?

When I went to the Moody Write to Publish conference in 1988, my room mate was an eight-plus lady who had published years ago and then bemoaned her article about “how to date and get a husband” being rejected by a Christian woman’s magazine. I was forty, at my prime writing period, and was bemused at this lady’s not having a clue as to why such things occur. Lord, keep me from being that way today! Keep me renewed in writing every day—even when I reach Edith Scheaffer or Elizabeth Eliot’s old age (well, now both my mentor writers are in God’s presence living what eye has not seen nor has ear heard!) and I’m still in my sixties.

The pull between having, ambition to be well-pleasing to God, with excellence as goal – and being an ordinary, barefoot, clean-faced older student/writer is a see-saw — or roller coaster—for the young and daring. How dare mature ladies like me venture on such a tilt-a-whirl?

My consolation is that such tensions are common to many human beings like me (“common to man” is the biblical expression). The great Reformers, Calvin and Luther both had bouts of doubt and deep frustration. The greatest writer-pastor-apologist  in Christian history wrote:

I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… I know that nothing good dwells in me… I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Romans 7:15-25

And yet to those at Philippi, Paul wrote:

I press on to make it my own, because Jesus Christ has made me  his own… forgetting what lies behind and straining forth to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14

Garden trivia and writers’ block, living in a home that always needs fixing and fixing furniture and décor one day at a time all remind me of the exquisite beauty of Four Seasons and the common grace of a great letter from Aunt Cindy, because though we wage an inner war that spills outward, we run a race that Jesus has already won for us. Hands on in working! Hands raised in praise. God is not through with me yet.
 
Elizabeth Gomes

5/23/2015

INTERRUPTIONS, IMPEDIMENTS AND UNEXPECTED SURPRISES




On the lookout for stories that change lives? One need look no further than the incredible true tales narrated by Dr. Luke in two books of the New Testament: the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles. In both books dedicated to a “person who loved God“ (Theophilus) he shared “a narrative of the things accomplished among us” (Luke 1.1) and continued the sequel with what happened after Jesus ascended and the Holy Spirit was given to the church, from the first days through the apostle Paul’s journeys throughout the known world.

The book of Acts is a fascinating, action-packed backdrop for Paul’s epistles, and since the letter to the Philippians is the subject of my next book, I wondered how the church at Philippi got started. Like many wondrous things that happen in life, this church began with an impediment and a change of plans. Paul had spent some time in Antioch teaching and preaching, and after sharp disagreement with his old mentor Barnabas over letting Mark go with them or not, chose Silas and departed for his second missionary journey, still in Asia Minor, through Syria and Cilicia, the Derbe and Lystra (where Timothy was added to the missionary team), and then Phrygia, Galatia and Mysia. The plan was to go to Bithynia—but their well-though-out plan was interrupted by a huge impediment: “The Spírit of Jesus did not allow them”. So they passed by Mysia and went on to Troas—where a vision came to Paul: “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” Here Luke continues the narrative as “we” instead of “they”: “Immediately we sought to go on to Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them”.

From Troas to Samothrace, Neapolis and Philippi, about eight miles inland--  “a leading city of the district of Macedonia”—founded over two centuries before Christ  by Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, and after Rome conquered Persia, a Roman colony. Their first stay in Europe.

Remaining in the city some days, on the Sabbath Paul and his companions sought a place of worship. There was no synagogue, but there would be a gathering of the faithful “by the riverside”. Since the time of Ezra, Jews in Diaspora would gather to worship by the river in whatever city they lived, (Ezra 8:15; Psalm 137:1). Not even enough men for a minyan—but there were some women who worshipped God. Lydia was an expat from Thyatira (near Tarsus from  whence Paul had been born). Convert number one in Philippi: Lydia, a businesswoman who dealt with an expensive product: purple dyed fabric, cloth and clothes fit for royals. Today she might be comparable to a director of the House of Dior or Givenchy. Whether she was a Jew or Gentile, she was “a worshipper of God” whose heart was opened to “pay attention to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16.14). After being baptized with her entire household, she “urged us saying, If you have judged me faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay”. So the first convert became hostess for at least Paul and Silas, Luke and Timothy.

The second narrative “as we were going to the place of prayer” tells of an irritating and constant interruption.  Every time they went to the prayer meeting, a demonized slave girl went after them, calling out loudly: “These men are servants of the most high God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation!” What she said was absolutely true, but annoyed Paul because the affirmation was instigated by an evil spirit of divination (Leviticus 19:31: “Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out and so make yourselves unclean…”). Fed up, Paul turned to her and commanded the spirit to come out of her in the name of Jesus Christ. The girl was freed from the evil one, but those who owned and used her “gifts” were furious because “their hope of gain was gone”.  Convert number two in Philippi: an unnamed, tormented slave girl who lost her devious ability to read the future by the power of Jesus Christ.

This conversion resulted in “the owners” seizing Paul and Silas, dragging them to the marketplace before the rulers, and accusing them of being Jews (anti-Semitism laid bare) and “disturbing the city”, advocating “customs that we Romans cannot accept or practice”. Adding insult to injury, the rabble joined in attacking them, and the magistrate tore the garments off them and ordered them beaten with rods. After inflicting a severe beating on the messengers of salvation, they threw them into prison, telling the jailer to guard well the disturbers of the peace.

This takes us to the jail, scene of conversion number three. Tortured, beaten, falsely accused, Paul and Silas did not mention their privileged citizenship status, and instead, did what they always advised the brethren: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4) —praying and singing hymns to God. The prisoners were listening to them when an earthquake shook the prison foundations and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone`s bonds were unfastened. Freedom for the prisoners meant death to the jailer, so the jailer`s reaction was to attempt to commit suicide instead of undergo the shame of capital punishment by the authorities above him. Paul saw what he was planning to do and intervened: “Don`t kill yourself! We are all here!“ He called for lights, trembling with fear, and fell down before Paul and Silas asking what he must do to be saved. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household.” The hardened prison warden took them in and washed their wounds, and he was baptized with his entire family. Then he brought them to his home and gave them food and “rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God“.

People in leadership positions, such as Lydia and the Warden, were saved and included their entire households in this gift of new life. The slave girl, whose sole identity lay in what she produced for her masters, was saved individually,  receiving a completely new identity—and caused an uproar in town because “These men are disturbing our city”. Each person saved in Philippi became a believer through unique means, as they were unique persons – pious  and wealthy God-worshipper, an impudent, wild, demon-possessed fortuneteller, the civil servant jail warden who went from attempting suicide to aiding and abetting his maximum security prisoners --were each and all saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

After everything that happened, the magistrates sent the police to release the apostles, but Paul spoke up: “They beat us publicly and threw us into prison, though we are Roman citizens, and want us to leave quietly?! No, let them come themselves and take us out.” When the magistrates realized that they had mistreated Roman citizens, they were frightened, and went to Paul and Silas with apologies, asking them to leave the city. The apostles left prison and went to visit Lydia. When they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.

Years later, when Paul wrote to the strongly established Philippian church, commending them for their “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now“ (Philippians 1:5) told them that they had been given the gift of not only believing in Christ but of suffering for his sake, “engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have“(1:30). He goes on to write the most encouraging text for Christians of all ages, social and political situations, of all eras, about the mind of Christ:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father Philippians 2.

2/20/2015

I LOVE THE FACT THAT WE WERE MARRIED YOUNG



What does one have to say about marrying young? First, though older than many of my readers, I think of myself as being young for a longer time – though I have to consider that through living hard and never easy, there are benefits to learning  through hindsight! Yes, I married younger than most people I know today. I was just eighteen and still in school. Forty eight years my husband, Lau still tells me daily that he loves me more today than yesterday, and less than tomorrow.  I repeat the same mantra to him, and mean every word.   When someone looks at our old wedding snapshots (yes, snapshots in black and white—we had no professionally-crafted gorgeous album like the ones young friends share today.)  Our few pictures are unforgettable, as were some of the incidents that surrounded our wedding.

The day before our  wedding, Lau drove three hours plus  to São Paulo to look for the justice of the peace who had forgotten to sign the petition for our civil wedding (in Brazil of those days, one had to have a civil wedding with a justice before celebrating  the religious wedding in church). After trying three or four restaurants, he found the judge and gave him the document, which he signed, and returned to Araras, where we were married.

While my future husband was going through the rat race to get everything ready, one of my childhood friends, who was also engaged and had come to see us tie the knot, asked me, “Do you ever have doubts about whether you should get married or not?” I told her, “If there were any doubt, I’d never get married.  We’re still in school, have no money, have nothing but each other…” Shortly after we returned from our three-day honeymoon, I got a letter from that friend telling us that she had broken their engagement.

One of the reasons many Christians marry young is the pressure of sexual attraction – a very normal fact of life. Non-Christians don’t see that as a problem, because premarital sex is a given. Like almost everything in this post-modern world, non-believers believe they are entitled to sex whenever they “feel it’s right”, and so they often “feel good” about having sex without responsibilities or commitment. Many times over. But Christian young people who want to live according to God’s standards are pressed to bursting because the Bible warns to flee promiscuity and sexual sin, and they want to be true to the Word of God. Or else, they live a double standard, saying they obey biblical principles, while in practice, they live exactly like their non-Christian friends. The world preaches that “safe sex” is using protection to avoid pregnancy, STD’s and AIDS. The Bible teaches that safe sex is married sex with one partner to whom one is committed for life: a triple marriage pact between a man, a woman and the God they serve.

Some couples manage to let God rule their hormones and practice chastity until the Lord gives them the green light after the wedding, but many more flounder and almost drown, repent and start again on the path of sexual purity. But that is just one of the aspects that push people toward early marriage.

They say that the teenage years are the best years of one’s life, but if your life is any way like mine was when I was a teen in the sweet, psychodellic sixties, we take issue. Teen years often suck. My parents were at war, stifled by life and so broken they could not see their daughters’ pain. They finally divorced, but my sister and I were never what we would have been, if only .… (that’s one of the myths often dreamed: the idea that if we’d only had better circumstances, better opportunities, less stress, we could have become president of the USA, or a singing actress, a sports super star, or Bill Gates, or at least queen of the prom).  Keeping balanced between what you dream and how your life plays out is no easy task—plus, you seesaw both academically and socially in school, between dreams of successful , good-money-paying work and realities of delivering pizza or babysitting, in relationships where the all-important  “all or nothing” stand leaves you stranded, often alone, with nothing to it.

In one way, teens today have it worse than ever:  their expectations far exceed their realizations, and the result is general, unbridled frustration. You can be anything.  Just do it. Go for it.  Follow your dream. You deserve it – and discover you are just one among the millions who heard the same clichés and took them to heart as personal prophecies – unfulfilled.

Over three thousand years ago, the writer of Ecclesiastes said, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come” and despite all the problems of youth, young days are the days where what we think, dream and decide will have repercussions all the days of our life – and to eternity. My decisions to follow Christ, to study and to work for Him, were made in my youth. Wadislau and I made our decision to love each other, for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, for better or worse, when we couldn’t imagine all the twists and turns life would present. But we had a couple of things in our favor.

We married in the Lord. We didn’t just love each other, think it felt right, hope it would work out, or do the best  we could under the circumstances – from day one, the Lord Jesus (and not our growing/ fleeting/sink or swimming love) was the foundation for our marriage. Whatever our lot, we were in it together and no one would pull us apart.

 Jesus reiterated the creation account of Genesis, saying: Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother, hold fast (King James version says ”cleave”) to his wife, and the two of them shall become one flesh.  So they are no longer two, but one flesh (Matthew 19: 5-6).

The first verb in this affirmation is leave his father and mother. That implies maturity to live independently, no longer under the same roof, financial responsibility or paternal/maternal authority. One has to be mature enough to start a new home – have a job that takes care of basic needs of the couple, and the two join forces and incomes for one good: their home. The home isn’t the house or apartment you buy or rent and set up—home is you and your spouse together, wherever you are.  If we aren’t ready to leave home, we are not ready to marry. Leaving is not abandoning or rebelling, it is leaving well and settled!  If someone leaves his or her parents in anger or bitterness, she or he continues to be influenced by the home of origin and has never “left  home” in fact. It is a matter of growing up emotionally, socially, professionally, financially – undergirded by spiritually.

If the two lovebirds are mature and ready to leave their parents and live independently, the second aspect of Jesus’ admonition is cleave to your spouse.  If you are like we were when I was eighteen and Lau twenty-one, “cleaving and becoming one flesh” was our dream of dreams. Sometimes we forget all it entails: 

besides the obvious and marvelous  working out of a robust sex life – which takes work and practice and doesn’t happen as  a once and for all magic moment – one grows and becomes a loving couple when both invest 100% of all they’ve got.

my spouse is my very best friend – no one else shares our intimacy, our plans or our problems more or better that the two of us. My buddies or mom or whoever do not determine our life together.

we don’t bicker over who earns more or who gets to spend his/her own money on what we want independently. we are one flesh – we decide together what we will do with ourselves, with our money, with our plans. Our goal is “the common good” of the couple. Sometimes one in the partnership is better than the other at administrating, and the other more prodigal at spending, but we have to both agree about what we will do with what we have (or don’t have). Maybe we have to set a limit on what and how we spend – many people sink in a sea of debt before they learn that their money (like their name!) doesn’t belong exclusively to one of them. If I can afford to spend X on lunch money I can’t go out and splurge at a restaurant and expect everything to smooth out miraculously.  Any major financial decision must be weighed by both together!

Becoming one flesh is much more than enjoying sex. Casual sex is a horrid lie because something deep and meaningful can never be casual if it is going to last. And good sex was not made to be forgotten or despised.

Today, most articles about marriage focus on the wedding, and many couples spend way more than they can afford to put on a memorable show, but do not invest anything in their marriage as a leave-cleave-one-flesh one of a kind affair.

 Even if that is not the case, many couples who take too long to get married do so because they want to start out life with all the perks their parents have now – a well-furnished house and maybe money in the bank. One of the advantages of marrying young is that you work together toward your joint goals. Every goal you achieve together draws you closer. That means you work hard and know you won’t immediately have everything you dream of, but both know the cost of things and the value of being together over getting rich.

In the same way, many (if not pregnant when marrying) postpone having kids till they’ve landed their dream job or bought a house. They know they can’t afford having a baby. But one of the reasons God gave us marriage is to have kids! He said “be fruitful and multiply” and children are a blessing from the Lord. Even unfertile couples are blessed by a generous God, and can adopt, or at least help friends with children who struggle by voluntarily babysitting or taking a kid to a ball game so their mom and dad can have a date.  Willing to have kids is a must. Being married means you can be parents – so you’d better prepare for that!  Some of the most wonderful people in the world are products of an unplanned pregnancy, and Christian couples have to plan for the possibility that their love will multiply into a little spit ‘n image of them both, who will grow up to be a person unique and  as  different  as each of you are. So if you are planning to get married, you imply that you will accept the burden and blessing of children with no complaints. That’s part of the package. Of course you will plan, use acceptable birth control – but know that the only one totally in control is the God who made you, and He just might think a kid will temper your life with gladness!

I’ve mentioned matters that are very private and I or any other person, young or old, do not have a right to barge  in or manipulate or tell another human being what they can or cannot do. We are not God. When Lau and I married, we were still in school, yes, but we had left our original homes and were independent and responsible for our own livelihoods. We worked when weren’t in classes – often early morning (at four AM Lau had to get milk freshly milked on a farm!) for the seminary students’ seven AM breakfast. I often was cooking some treat to sell or giving remedial English classes to colleagues until late at night – and we had a commitment to each other and to God (and to those who were going to invest in our missionary support when we graduated) to keep our grades and spirits high. We worked hard! And we stuck together! (And I got pregnant immediately!)

I know life is not the same as it was almost fifty years ago, but neither are we! We often groaned as we became grown, but God in His mercy saw us through and is still working on us. Yes, being old and decrepit does not make us any wiser! What makes Christians—young and old, men and women, well-educated or fairly ignorant—wise is what Proverbs calls “The fear of the Lord”. That is what makes us able to say “I am not afraid of what man (human beings, male or female) can do, for I will trust in Him. Obey Him. Live for Him, whether single or married. That is absolutely the best state in which to live!

Elizabeth Gomes