A Prayer for Entering the Unknown Waters of This Year

Posted January 1, 2014 by Karen Butler
Categories: Celebrating Jesus in the Holidays

Tags: , ,

O Lord,

Length of days does not profit me
except the days are passed
in your presence, in your service, to your glory.
Give me a grace that
precedes, follows, guides, sustains

SANCTIFICATION
sanctifies, aids every hour
that I may not be
one moment
apart from you,
but may rely on your Spirit

to supply every thought
speak in every word
direct every step
prosper every work
build up every bit of faith

and give me a desire
to show forth your praise
testify your love
advance
your kingdom.

I launch my  ship
on the unknown waters of this year
with you, O Father, as my harbour
you, O Son, at my helm
you O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.

Guide me to heaven
with all preparedness
my lamp burning
my ear open to your calls
my heart full of love, my soul free.

Give me grace
to sanctify me,
your comforts to cheer
your wisdom to watch
your right hand to guide

Sunsetyour counsel to instruct
your law to judge
your presence to stabilize.
May your fear be my awe
your triumphs my joy.

(adapted from The Valley of Vision)

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Why I Didn’t Kill Myself on Christmas Day

Posted December 27, 2013 by Karen Butler
Categories: Celebrating Jesus in the Holidays, Comfort for the Anxious and Depressed, The Nervous Breakdown

Tags: , , , , , ,

Christmas 2013 007Christian radio nearly put me over the edge, however. Driving down to Ocean Beach at midnight, full of despair, and wanting to hear a voice of reason that would give me one single piece of evidence that the world would not be better off without me. Because apparently by the mess I had made of things, it would be. And I was tired, so tired of trying and failing, and I listlessly turned on the radio for reassurance, and quickly turned off the program, a garish and chirpy ‘breaking news’  retelling of the events in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. Oh dear. Sometimes Christian culture can be so tone deaf.

When  fatigue is great and resistance to lies is low, and especially during the holidays’ midnight hours, the church can do better than this. Tullian Tchividjian does it right, in his post “Christmas For The Weary And Heavy Laden.” I am a battle hardened veteran of the Christmas wars upon the soul, and so I have learned through many of these skirmishes  the duty which calls me back from the brink –my responsibility for the children who remain in my home, and my allegiance  to my Lord.  God arrested in midflight his AWOL soldier, offered amnesty, and we went back to the front lines, together. As Tullian writes,

Christmas is the beachhead of God’s campaign against sin and sadness. It is the coming of light, life, and love into the occupied territory of darkness, death, and hate. Christmas is a war fought by a Peaceful Prince whose battle plan is to defeat death by dying, fear by forgiveness and slavery by salvation.

And that is why I did not kill myself at midnight on Christmas Day this year, as I sat on the sand at Ocean Beach at midnight, as I stared at that “great wink of eternity”, as I listened to those “silver snowy sentences”, those waves alluring me the way they had Hart Crane eighty years ago in Caribbean Sea, when the poet looked too long at the Southern Cross  and “slid on that backward vision, (his) mind was churned to spittle,whispering hell.” So that tormented soul  pitched himself forward from that ship into what he thought was oblivion.

Ocean Beach

I looked to another Cross with an upward vision, and my mind cleared of this churning. This Cross called me to die to my need for respect. It told me to die to laying down the law. It told me I am not my own, that I have been bought with a price. The One who gave his life upon it speaks in a still small voice, not an evil whisper.  My Lord  says, “Come”,  so I come, I am so weary and carry heavy burdens, and he says, “I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your soul.” He is no liar, and I find that rest.  I turn away from those dangerous midnight riptides, and drive back home.

Because he has rescued me from death, and has so transformed my life, when my Lord says “Go”, then I go where he sends me. I go to tell the world of this glorious being, Jesus, who came down to Earth from heaven two thousand years ago, a little baby who came to die a terrible death for these kinds of terrible days I have been enduring. He rose up from the dead, and now lives in me, and so I know the plans he has for my life are for good and not for evil. The plans he has for you, oh weary reader, are very good too! He will help you put your life back in order, if you trust him. And tell someone you trust about your struggles, someone who will not, because of fear, immediately place a psychiatric hold on you.

I needed to set my life back in order. I asked forgiveness of those I frightened when I drove off, then slept off some exhaustion. And, dear Reader, sleep therapy is proving to be the most promising treatment for depression. In the morning I rose early and was given a necessary and encouraging rebuke in the “Daily Light on the Daily Path.” I reprinted the evening’s reading, and then the morning, in the hopes it will encourage you as well.


He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”—“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”—He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.—“Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen

Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.

Knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.—As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.—“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”—“As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”

For you stand firm in your faith.

“We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”

For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.


Another way I fight fear and forgive, is to  put Josh Garrells  on continuous play during this trying season — especially this song:

A Sign for You

Posted December 21, 2013 by Karen Butler
Categories: Poetry

Tags: , , , , ,

Christmas 2003: The Nativity

Here is the newest iteration of my Christmas poem. Someday I will perfect it. I feel vindicated by Sinclair Ferguson, who writes here, Jesus did not come to add to our comforts. He did not come to help those who were already helping themselves or to fill life with more pleasant experiences. He came on a deliverance mission, to save sinners, and to do so He had to destroy the works of the Devil…There is, therefore, an element in the Gospel narratives that stresses that the coming of Jesus is a disturbing event of the deepest proportions.”

It was not an angelic chorus
he first heard, but his mother’s anguished cry.
His first breaths were
scented with dung,
first sight, some smears of blood.
So soon, to feel the earth rumble
with trampling horse’s hooves,
So soon to taste tears, and with Rachel, to lament.

Those smelly vagrants who visited,
those first to wonder at heaven’s exile —
saw an infant bound in cloths
laid in an animal’s trough,
nestled in a hollow
made in a cold stone, resting
like a corpse in a sarcophagus —
no radiant beams marked this advent.

Today we outfit the parents with halos,
snuggle a fat baby in a cosy blanket,
and sprinkle the scene with pretty angels
spangled in gold. We tell the story
voiced with British accents
for suburban flat screens, drenched in sentiment.
We strip the message of any darkness,
but it was for orphans and lepers and hookers,

it was for the night shift workers
He was anointed.
He came for haters of Christmas,
and of Him. Creation was still groaning
at His birth–because a dragon waited to devour Him!
That bright star leads  to a tomb.
The sign for you, yet still
is  cloth strips and hollowed-out stone.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Secure the Perimeters.

Posted December 10, 2013 by Karen Butler
Categories: Celebrating Jesus in the Holidays, Evangelistic Graces

Tags: , , ,

A Little Golden Book storybook edition of the ...(A reprise of last years’ Advent call to worship, with some emendations)

Yes, I sound like a bit of a Grinch. But you would be too, if on CyberMonday you sat at the Credit Union filling out twenty-nine forms, one for each separate purchase made on Black Friday by some blackguard who boosted your Visa Debit card. And all the while, “Frosty the Snowman” is playing on the Muzak machine. That was me last Monday. I wanted to bang my head against the wall because I couldn’t plug my ears and write down my sixteen digit account number twenty nine times simultaneously.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, all right. And already I am exhausted by its it’s din and demands.  I’ve  begun to envy the man in the red suit–he only has to check his lists twice. So rather than continuing to be a Debbi Downer at this party that gives my children such joy, I  got out the Advent wreath. I defiantly hung up the handmade Advent banner, a relic of my Martha Stewarty days. Santa may be lurking on the outskirts of town,  but Jesus dwells in my  little house. I will welcome this season that remembers Immanuel’s  imminence. That is what celebrating Advent means — to anticipate and cherish the promises of the Incarnation and Return of Christ.

It is a centering tradition that is well-made for this restless season, and it is my favorite activity, next to gathering stuff to fill shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child. Both activities are an antidote to the toxic wastes of Xmas, with all of its orgiastic gluttony and greed. I urge you  to also celebrate Advent as a family. It can be done simply, you don’t need to craft an ornate banner, you just need to raise one. Download John Pipers devotional for free here, and make your own war against Frosty the Zeitgeist.

Last night we set up our own perimeters. We lit the first Advent candle on the wreath, and read our devotional and hung the first motifs on our gorgeous  banner.  One of my sons got out his violin to accompany us on “O Come All Ye Faithful”, and that provided the key for our Rat Terrier to croon along with the rest of her pack . We sounded so terrible we were all convulsing in laughter at the chaotic mess of it– a typical Butler family scene — but we made a  hilarious and joyous noise unto the Lord, and if Jesus liked our worship half as much as we did, he was edified, indeed.

If you want to make your own heirloom banner,  this  book by Ann Hibbard  has a pattern for one — and in this Google preview, you can read some practical tips on avoiding the pitfalls of Xmas. Ann has written a devotional with Scriptures and interesting questions that all manner of ages can discuss, with hymns to sing everyday, all this to accompany the hanging of ornaments on the banner. In the appendix of the book you will find the directions for both an Advent wreath and banner, and also some suggestions for celebrating Epiphany as well. When I made my own banner I gilded the lily–  instead of the suggested felt, I used a pre-quilted fabric, and green velvet for the tree. The tree’s ornaments I copied and outlined with metallic and glittery fabric paint.   I’ll post a picture of it here soon.

Jenn Wilkin’s advice on dealing with the red-suited fat man is just the tactic we used to address the Santa question. She is strategic, and does well to establish her family’s boundaries about him. We too didn’t lie about him, and we didn’t ignore him — we dealt with him diplomatically, considering him the ambassador for that neighboring culture of  Xmas. We wanted to give our children the gift of some silly fun, and to relieve them of the burden of being, in Jenn’s words  “an apologist for an adult view of Santa. In other words, we didn’t want to send him into preschool having to conceal from (or reveal to) his friends the terrible secret that Santa was a fraud. By giving him the chance to figure out the secret of Santa on his own, we bought him some anxiety-free time with his peers in which he could share their excitement over Santa without having been deceived by a parent.”

I share her measured and wise approach — except that our children never sat on Santa’s lap, ever. Yuck. That is a kind of scary-clown ritual I have never understood. But our tribe does not do its hunting and gathering in the malls, and grandma never was interested in subjecting the children to such a terrorizing visit either, so it never presented itself as a problem for our family, as it seemed to do for the Wilkins.

So as these Gospel Coalition writers urge, consider skipping the Christmas season.   Celebrate Advent with your family instead. When your heart is filled with those ancient songs, like the Crusader hymn, “o Come o come, Emmanuel; To ransom captive Israel” you will not be a captive yourself  of the spirit of this age. You will not be exhausted by Xmas. You can actually contemplate with excitement the Billy Graham Organizations “25 Ways to Make Advent a Season of Gospel Sharing” and know that you indeed have resources to share, have that answer for the hope that is in you, the promise of Messiah’s return, when all things will be made new.  Because He is renewing you.

Halloween’s Darkness Can Be Scary, But…

Posted November 20, 2013 by Karen Butler
Categories: Evangelistic Graces

Tags: , , , , , ,
Butler Halloween Outreach

Jesus is the Light of the World!

Those who walk with Jesus shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life! Yes, sometimes we can forget, in the immortal words of Larry the Cucumber,  that “God is bigger than the bogeyman.” Halloween is sometimes a Christian bogeyman. Once it used to be mine. We hid our kids inside our churchy Harvest Celebrations, and once we joined some friends who were tiptoeing through Calvin’s Tulips, in  “Reformation Day” festivities.  Then as I grew in faith, I began to agree with this writer at the Gospel Coalition who suggests that, “instead of fleeing the darkness in fear, we should view Halloween as an opportunity to mock the enemy whose power over us has been broken.”

Sharing the Gospel in a winsome way is a wonderful opportunity to mock the enemy on Halloween. As these photos illustrate, I do a variation of “Trunk or Treat”, decorating my car’s outside with all manner of ghastly things — spiders, snakes, dragons,skeletons, witches, ghosts — with a glow-in-the-dark sign saying “The darkness can be scary, but…”

Butler Trunk or Treat Halloween Outreach

I had to coax some kids to open the trunk!

The kids have to navigate past all kinds of warning signs, some have to be cajoled to pop the trunk open, but in a classic bait and switch, they are surprised to see a beautiful glowing, smiling sun shining radiant sunbeams in a rainbow of colors, (Eric Carle style, of layered tissue paper on mylar, so I can backlight it)
And another sign painted in rainbow colors says:

“But Jesus said, “I am the Light of the World!”

Those brave children who have navigated past the terrors on the outside can reach into the trunk to get yummy candy. I try to share my joy, and tell them as much as I can of the good news of Jesus’ power over death in his resurrection. One Halloween, the children and I made an art project of this, creating pop-up cards, with gorgeous blazing suns inside, and the full text of John 8:12 emblazoned all around it in the best italic they could manage. It was very fun to pass those out to trick or treaters.

I would like to get this tract done professionally,with a full Gospel message included on the back, to pass out in bulk. Any graphic artists are welcome to steal this idea — and I would love to see your productions. Post a link below!

Gleaning Some Good Words — “Morning by Morning”, Spurgeon, 8/1

Posted November 10, 2013 by Karen Butler
Categories: C.H. Spurgeon's Poetry Slam

Tags: , , ,

To increase the genetic diversity of U.S. corn...

Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn.”
Ruth 2:2

Downcast and troubled Christian
come and glean today in the broad field of promise.
Here are abundance of precious promises,
which exactly meet your wants.
Take this one: “He will not break the bruised reed,
nor quench the smoking flax.”

Does that suit your case?
A reed, helpless, insignificant,
and weak, a bruised reed, out of which
no music can come;
weaker than weakness itself;
a reed, and that reed bruised,
yet, he will not break you;
but on the contrary, will restore
and strengthen you. You are like the smoking
fire: no light, no warmth, can come from you;
but he will not quench you; he will blow with his sweet
breath of mercy till he fans you to a flame.

Would you glean another ear?
“Come to me all you that are weary
and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Public relations of high-fructose corn syrup

Take another ear of corn:
“Fear not, you worm Jacob,
I will help you, says the Lord and your Redeemer,
the Holy One of Israel.”  How can you fear
with such a wonderful
assurance as this?
You may gather ten thousand
such golden ears as these!

“I have blotted out your sins like a cloud,
and like a thick cloud your transgressions.”
Or this, “Though your sins be as scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they be red like crimson,
they shall be as wool.”  Or this,
“The Spirit and the Bride say,
Come, and let him that is thirsty
come, and whosoever will
let him take the water of life freely.”

Maize for popcorn, cultivated in Hungary, prod...

Poor timid believer!
Gather them up,
make them your own,
for Jesus bids you take them.
Be not afraid, only believe!
Grasp these sweet promises,
thresh them out by meditation
and feed on them with joy.

Moving the Ancient Boundary Stones Whilst Burying Some Talents

Posted August 14, 2013 by Karen Butler
Categories: Pilloried for the Pill at TGC

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

There is a cost to holding inside yourself a good thing the Lord has given you to share with others.  What was meant to foster flourishing life and prosperity to the world and even nourish your own soul  brings inward putrification instead. It also makes  a flickering flame of your Spirit. You were meant to fan some flames, and instead you become yourself that smoking flax, that growing darkness. This irony is great.

English: Cover of Birth Control Review magazine

We must beware of refusing the Lord. Like the ‘child-free’ Christians who have buried in their consciences the Creation Mandate of Genesis 3,  who are alluded to in Kathleen Nielson’s essay at the Gospel Coalition.  Who have buried in their consciences a clear word of the Lord, as Paul writes in Romans 12:1-2 , urging us to “offer up our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to the Lord” — and I don’t think Paul made an emendation anywhere excising the reproductive organs from this appeal –and  we refuse this spiritual service to the one who paid the ultimate price for our souls at great cost to ourselves, and risk a growing darkness  in our lives.  We  also conform ourselves to the pattern of this world.  Child-frees say it is a hard God  who demands them to bear children when circumstances are so limited — and such a hard master is not the kind of God they serve! They picture childbearing the way Margaret Atwood does, in “The Handmid’s Tale.”

But the God I serve does not rule such a dystopian kingdom. Yes, the Lord gives to each of his servants a different measure of talents and gifts –and in a corresponding way, a differing number of children — and  some of his servants who grieve that they are unable to bear children, he sometimes grows their their families by adoption, and to these I am not speaking  at all — if you decide not to adopt, Romans 14 certainly applies to you. If God gives you liberty then in your childless state to devote yourselves completely to missions or even serving children in the worst of circumstances, be free! Matthew Henry says of these kinds of servants’ and thir freedom,”Hast thou faith? It is meant of knowledge and clearness as to our Christian liberty. Enjoy the comfort of it, but do not trouble others by a wrong use of it.” Those servants  so disappointed by their childless state should not morph themselves into the unbiblical category of ‘Childfree’ — there would be less confusion and consternation when that connubial state is rightly condemned as unscriptural.

These newly branded ‘Childfree’s’ face the prospect of bearing children in difficult circumstances —  a world that is in turmoil,  a bad economy, their own history of mental illness … so they dispense with the whole business  out of fear, and they put an end to their fertility. But fear is not faith, and whatever is not of faith is sin. (Again, if you have faith that your circumstances are excusing you from this kind of investment in childrearing, such as the risk of death to a mother, Romans 14:23 certainly applies to you! And we are not  to judge another’s servant.)  Even in the most difficult cases of childbearing, it is best to believe this business is the Lord’s prerogative, it is the Master who gives, or takes away or closes the womb — we must not constrain it ourselves.  It is not our place to decide where we invest,  and the manner of  business we do for Him. He says “go” and we go.

But increasingly, Christian couples are simply selfishly refusing to invest at all in the messy business of  childbearing. They are burying their talents with a clean conscience. They call themselves “child-free Christians.” And since  Jesus himself was child-free, so they too are freeing themselves from any encumbrance to full ‘missional’ living. They reason that they are just following in the footsteps of the Master! Another way they  rationalize their disobedience is by twisting the plain meaning of Malachi 2:15,

“Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?
And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves
in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your
youth.

Childfree’s quite novel interpretation of this verse is that this Scripture speaks to the division of Israel, not to divorce, and has nothing to do with marriage at all, this clear desire of God for a couple to produce fruit from their coming together as husband and wife. What a danger, to read the word with such darkness of eye! Childfree’s will also argue their point of view using the sovereignty of God, saying the Lord will work out his plan regardless of our choices, and I agree.  He can use another means. But  when you think the Lord demands a hard thing of you, and you refuse his will,  and go and bury your talent, this disobedience comes at a great cost to your soul.  For there is an unalterable principle in the Christian life: When you sow to your flesh, you reap corruption.  When you bury your talent, it is indeed given to another. But you are risking outer darkness.

I felt called to speak against this growing darkness. I said at the TGC website  that the use of birth control in the church seems to have an ‘Overton window of acceptability’ going on a trajectory, moving in an inexorable direction — and it speaks clearly to me that the wrath of God abides on it. Because we have Christianized the ‘a child is a choice’ thinking. Look at the comment thread– this is  baldly stated there. I respond to it, here:

Proposing the use of artificial means of birth control was unthinkable in the Church a century ago and now it is unthinkable not to make use of it! And we see in this thread the normalization of ‘Child-free’ — because Jesus was ‘Child-free’ too, you know! Must be acceptable! What is next for the quote unquote evangelical church is unthinkable. But what is unthinkable is now an outlier in the evangelical church — the window of “children are a choice” is indeed moving like a juggernaut.  Observe a pastor like Chuck Smith, the founder of Calvary Chapel, who believes Jesus will look the other way, citing the case of the woman caught in adultery, in giving counsel to a woman tempted to abort co-joined twins.  Chuck Smith, counseled a distraught woman in a difficult pregnancy that, “in a case like this where the life expectancy is just, you know, is so bleak, and all, that I’m sure that the Lord would not condemn her if she went ahead and had an abortion at this early stage of the development of the fetus.”  This same kind of pragmatic  thinking that Smith later defended as “reasonable” is at the heart of the Christian use of birth control. It accuses the Master who brings or seeks to bring forth life in difficult circumstances of being hard, and unreasonable.

But God has done a work of grace in my life that has perfectly answered nearly every objection to childbearing some made — and believe me, it is all of him, and none of me! I said in a comment about “counting the cost of having children..and what it takes to raise a child “properly”:

I am one with a history of PTSD — because of mental illness in my family of origin, and a medical history of pre-eclampsia and bedrest in pregnancies. And we all live pretty near the poverty line in a tiny house with one bathroom in a city notorious for evil, that has more dogs in it than little children…And then there is this huge thing: https://thenface2face.wordpress.com/2011/12/03/out-of-darkness-light/
Yes, how could I have neglected to mention that postpartum psychotic break of fifteen years ago — from which I am fully recovered? That is a huge blot on the good-parenting record. But to list all the reasons why I am completely incapable of raising children *properly* well, “if every one of them were written down…

And I think the church where we attend agrees with me, that my eight children are amazing to have survived the trauma of having me for a parent! And that they are continuing to follow Jesus and love to serve the church we attend has nothing at all to do with me, or my shoddy parenting skills, it has everything to do with the grace and mercy of my faithful God.

But I am being misunderstood and mis-characterized–and yes, part of that is my own fault. Sadly,  I made a mess of it, and got in the way of the message.   “Pharisee” …Fertility Cult”…oh dear! What a terrible chastisement from the Lord, for my untamed tongue.

I did want to run away and hide my talent. I had some sleepless nights, I had to seek forgiveness and  fall at the foot of the Cross. But once that temptation towards either passivity or self-vindication was done away with, I could be more effective — and soon I was full of joy at obeying the Lord. I did not bury my talent. I spoke what I sensed the Lord wanted me to speak to the people at the Gospel Coalition — that the Lord detests those differing weights the church uses to measure out its use of birth control. The women of TGC are getting together soon to study the book of Nehemiah — will they honestly survey this particular gate, which plainly has broken down and  has been set afire?

It is hard to be an ineffective instrument, and then be spoken ill of. But this morning I had great comfort in the word of God. My heart exults in God my Savior! God is my judge. I could not bury that testimony, that talent the Lord had given me to invest in Kingdom work for the prosperity of another’s soul. He has been so good to me, how could I say that what He was asking me to do was too hard a thing to do?

“But  my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.” (Hebrews 10:38)