Romans 8 and Christmas Dinner

In the last couple of weeks I have been thinking a lot about the Bible’s teaching about how we, as Christians are called to live.  I have spent a good bit of time looking at Romans 5-8.  At the core of this passage is our inability to be good or to do anything truly right on our own. Thankfully, God is at work… he forgives us, covers our sins, gives us a new nature, a new heart, a new source of power. This is completed work, though we often try to live as if we are in control and have the abilities in ourselves. When we try to do things from our own strength we will see failure as is described in Romans 7… the harder we try, the worse it is.

Romans 8:6 says “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set of the spirit is life and peace”.  So what is the mind set on the flesh.  Is it planning to do bad things?  No, it’s much more. It’s reasoning from our own perspective, trying to control, trying to justify ourselves, trying to do life without God. It’s charting our own course, trying to fix things, make things ok.  Doing this always ends up in a mess.

I have a couple of friends who have really been struggling with some hard issues.  They need to understand life in the spirit rather than the flesh.  I recently finished reading Becoming a True Spiritual Community by Larry Crabb which talked about how the community can embrace and love someone working through this.  Crabb talks about living in the downstairs (flesh) or upstairs (spirit).  Crabb’s book really encouraged me to come along side these friends.  I have been looking through the rest of our books, trying to find something that would be good for my friends to read, something that would help them to move from a “Yes, I have read Romans 5-8 100s of times” to understanding what they have read.  I know that just a book can’t make that happen, only God can, but often books can be used by God to break through.  Of the books we own, I found that The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee seemed to be the best, so I re-read it, to be sure it would be good for my friends as well as to grow my understanding.  I found The Normal Christian Life even better than when I first read it. I wonder if the first time I read it I was doing the “Check.  This is a doctrine I know” rather than letting it really challenge me and grow my understanding. I think it is the single best book I have read about Romans 5-8.

Since I have been thinking about “life in the spirit -vs- flesh” so much,  I thought I was understanding it pretty well.  Christmas day came.  This is our first Christmas without Libby.  I was intent on doing as much as I could to keep up family traditions, to make the day as normal as I could for Helen.  Almost from the start of the day we were off track. Helen woke up late.  She decided to skip open stockings and go strait to breakfast. We did make waffles for breakfast, but she didn’t want anything else. After opening presents she was still tired and wanted to take a nap.  By the time Helen was up from her nap I was feeling pretty stressed. The minor issue was that while our tradition of going to the Redwood was still possible, but it was going to have to be Henry Cowell, not the preferred Muir Woods.

The more difficult issue was that I was only going to have 1-1.5 hours to prepare a complicated dinner than I have never made before. I had been worrying about making this dinner for several days. We have a standard Christmas menu that Libby developed over the last 26 years.  Most of the recipes come from the Silver Palate Cookbook.  Not the most complicated recipes, but not simple: orange carrot soup, blueberry chicken, green beans with cashews & parsley, fresh bread, scallop potatoes, chocolate mousse.  Ack!  I couldn’t find the recipe for scallop potatoes, so I had to scramble and find something. Cook’s Illustrated came to my rescue with their 2005 holiday scallop potato recipe.  All of these recipes take a fair bit of labor.  I felt pressure to get to the cooking, but I really wanted to go to the redwoods.  So I push us out the door.  We got in the car and I stepped on the gas hard… maybe speeding the journey by a minute.

On the drive I thought I had calmed down.  Helen and I started to talk about the week, what we were thinking about, what we had been doing. I was talking with Helen about some of the things I was seeing in Romans, and how I wanted to share them with a couple of friends who didn’t seem to be understanding how it worked.  They were still laboring under “the law” described in Romans 7… trying to fix things that they weren’t capable of fixing.

Well… about half way through the drive Helen told me during the day I have gone from “Bad Dad” to “Worse Dad”.  Ouch! As we talked it became clear “bad dad” cared more about executing all the family traditions than he did how his precious daughter was feeling. “Worse dad” was getting angry at his daughter for standing between him and successful execution of his plans.  Ugh!!  Here I was, talking about how important the perspective in Romans was, while completely missing the point in my own life.  Rather than “the law” being something from the Bible, it was my list of expectations for Christmas.

Thankfully, there was time to recover. Helen and I laughed about it. We had a great walk and talk among the redwoods.  While we were walking and then on the return drive I completely forgot about the need to make dinner, I wasn’t feeling any pressure.

Once we got home I got to work.  The food prep went faster than it should have. We ended up having dinner on time. The meal turned out well.  Helen (and I) thought the the scalloped potatoes were better than any we had made before.. but how could they not be good with 3 cups of heavy cream. The only problem was that I forgot to half the chocolate mousse recipe.  This turned out to be a blessing.  I was able to take mousse for eight over to the Taylors, have enough for Helen and I, some of her friends, and another family of five. Christmas wasn’t the happiest day ever, but we were able to be content, and celebrate the birth of the most important person who ever lived.  Thank you God.

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