Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Pantry vs. the Seminary

Before the start of a new semester at DTS, I found myself in a bit of a juggling dilemma. We'd spent much of our Christmas break out of town and upon returning, the house was in a December 26 time warp. It was now January and most of my friends had long retired the old Christmas stockings, but we'd come home to vestiges of wrapping paper on the floor and a dried out tree in need of undecking. Not to mention the post-vacation laundry assault and the never-ending battle I always seem to lose against counter space clutter. I had a moment (that actually lasted about four days) of seriously contemplating dropping out of seminary, which I attend part-time, to focus like a worker ant on my house. The catalyst for this was actually an incident involving my husband and my pantry.

Imagine, if you will, a junk drawer that is accessible by foot. A place where soup sits alongside cereal and onion flakes, and chocolate baking chips buddy up to stewed tomatoes and third-grade cotton-ball crafts. Where ketchup bottles are scattered about, pocking nearly every shelf like a polka dot sweater. Where expiration dates pre-date Pauline epistles. Where there's the ever present danger of things like kidney beans--the canned ones--getting edged out by jars of mixed nuts and landing on someone's foot (or head).

So there stands poor Todd one day, at the threshold of the abomination and desolation that is my pantry.

"Uh, got any mocha coffee in there, 'ya think?" he attempted.

"Oh, dear," I cautiously began, "Could be behind the Rice Krispy treats. Or the cling peaches? If not there, than check behind the Grape Nuts. Or the paper towels. Or beside the ketchup, maybe?"

"Which ketchup?" he asked, eyeing enough condiment bottles to accommodate a new heaven and a new earth.

Todd paused briefly, then shut the pantry door, subordinating his lust for a cool Starbucks and avoiding avoid bodily injury and/or wasted man hours searching.

So began an extended inner battle of the pantry versus the seminary.

In the end, I concluded it's possible to have a livable pantry and also swing a single three-hour course. But it was a bit of a process getting there.

God's Revelation

I've never heard the audible voice of God. I've never had a vision. But God communicates to me and to you in diverse and varied ways.

Theologians speak of two "classifications" of God's revelation: "general" and "special." General revelation is how God reveals Himself as the Creator and "CEO" of all matter. General revelation is not not limited, as we know it, by a specific time or space in history and it is not manifest in words. Instead, it touches our senses. From the beginning, we have been able to look to the sky at the vast expanse of stars or the diversity of life forms on earth and sense that there is a force at work that is far greater than mortal man (Psalm 19), though not all connect the dots to the one, true God (Romans 1: 18-23). From the beginning, man has felt the "tug" of human conscience and has been able to perceive that there is something beyond the mortal consciousness (Romans 2:15), though not all heed this tug (Romans 1:18-23).

Special revelation, then, speaks to the way in which God has revealed Himself at specific and defined times to individual(s). The fullest special revelation comes to us in Scripture. The Bible itself is revelation. It also describes revelationary events (e.g., ancient appearances and utterances of Gods, visions, miracles, prophetic and apostolic communication, historical events, including creation of the Church, and the person and works of Jesus Christ.)

So, there's a lot we can know about God because He has graciously revealed aspects of Himself and His will pretty much all over the place. In our day to day lives, God communicates to us through the Holy Spirit. In my life, typically, by creating a special awareness of something or someone. A person placed upon my heart in need of prayer and support. Scripture that captures the attention and seems to have some sort of illuminating or guiding purpose. Any number of seeming "coincidences" that result in something purposeful for God.

(Is anybody wondering what, pray tell, this has to do with my pantry? I'm getting there, I'm getting there...)

God Whispers

So, I was coming home after running an errand last week and I felt very attuned to the bleak winter landscape. I drove by yard upon yard of yellow, straw-like grass lying dormant and pale in the cold. I sensed in a heart-felt, tuggy kind of way as if I was supposed to pay attention to this. So, I did. At one point, I rounded the corner and, though it was barely above freezing, there was one neighbor who had a lawn full of lush, velvety green grass. It stood in striking contrast to a landscape of yellow. One thriving lawn in a sea of old-photo yellow. Then I noticed his sprinklers were on.

Instantly, I had this green versus yellow grass analogy in my head that had a V8 slap kind of spiritual linkage. I was reminded of a course I took on Leviticus and how the "holiness" required of the Israelites was all about being different or "set apart." God's people were to aspire to a standard of conduct and thought that wasn't arbitrated by the world. It's God's standards to which they were to aspire.

My neighbor with the green grass has a different kind of grass. His grass stays green all winter long, while mine goes dormant and yellow. As Christians, you are like that green grass. You are different. Not because of anything you achieved on your own, but by virtue of the decision you have made to follow Jesus Christ.

But just as my neighbor had his sprinklers raining down on that grass, we are called to be active in our faith. To keep growing in pursuit of Christ. And that requires a tending to or watering of our faith.

I felt strongly that the "watering" of my own spiritual growth would not be accomplished by dedicating myself to the function of throwing out 2,000-year-old cans of corn niblets. While the cleaning of the pantry is vital periodic household task, it's not the reason to bail on the education that builds a ministry.

The Test of Scripture

By this point, I now have a different vibe going and see my decision to bail on seminary as potentially foolish. But at this point, it is still a feeling. And feelings deceive. So I need to check these feelings with Scripture, which is God's most detailed propositional (words) revelation.

Acquire wisdom, acquire understanding; do not forget and do not turn aside from the words I speak. (Proverbs 4:5)

This verse resides in a section that challenged ancient listeners to follow the teachings of God to avoid being deceived and fall into harm. What can I reliably infer from this verse today? That the pursuit of God's truth is as critical to those of us living today as it was when this verse was spoken or written. This is a universal, unchanging principal for me and for you. We are to pursue God. What is the most reliable source of God's revelation in our midst? Scripture. And for me, anyway, the best path to learning about Scripture has been seminary where every semester I am smacked upside the head with some new glint of understanding passed on from an incredible professor and, at the same time, humbled by how little I really know.

This weekend, Todd and the boys rolled up their sleeves and pitched about eight black trash bags of junk we'd accumulated that needed to go. I worked on the pantry while Todd and his little band of helpers raided closets and stripped them of clutter. It was a beautiful team effort that suggested to me that we have underutilized resources in our midst--i.e., the kids.

So, now I have a reasonably respectable pantry (though we never did find the Starbuck's mocha...) and I am back at seminary in a compelling study of angels, demons and sin. The confusion is gone and I'm right where I believe God wants me to be. Thanks to the whisper of God and the affirming truth of Scripture.

Photo of someone else's clean pantry. Click here for Jiggs Images' restrictions on use of this pic.


Jamey said...

Thanks Sarah. I am sure that I will not look at green grass the same way again. The clutter of our lives does seem to get in the way of the big picture. Next time I clean my pantry I will pray through the job! I love you!

Sarah Onderdonk said...

Hi, Jamey!

The clutter is such a problem. It's a distraction, really. I wish I had a better system for dealing with it. I need to be a little less sentimental with respect to all the kid stuff, which I have a hard time parting with. But I'm envisioning YOUR pantry... ketchup bottle and one back-up together... everything neatly labeled... no co-mingling of Campbell's soup with the cereal boxes. Kids craft stuff elsewhere. Am I right???