Sunday, September 27, 2009

Monday Meanderings

Well, let me begin this Monday with some serious questions:


Do you think this child should be alive?











How about this one? Would you have told its mother it should not be allowed to live, that her life would be fuller without it?

Would you approach her now and say children like hers should not be born?





Well, few people would likely be that rude. But if they were truthful, that is the attitude in the heart of a very high percentage of people these days. How can I say a thing like that? Well, if our choices are truly indicative of what we really believe, then, judging by their choices, somewhere around 90% of adults of childbearing age believe such children should not be allowed to live. These babies have Down Syndrome. If you think eugenics died with the Third Reich, think again. It is alive and well in the hearts of anyone not willing to love and nurture those who are weaker, those with special needs. How is a world of people not willing to love and care for the delicate and fragile among us a better world for anyone?

Take a moment to read Al Mohler's thoughts on the disappearance of Down Syndrome people.

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I'll begin with a quote from my husband: "Trust me, you really don't want to know all of what big rig drivers do while behind the wheel!"

Okay, point taken. But how do you feel about the idea of the driver of that big 18-wheeler passing you on the highway sending a text message? They don't seem to have a problem with it.


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Take a moment, if you will, to listen to the words of Jesus Christ:

"Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin..." Mark 3:28

In my experience, that passage is one that strikes fear in the hearts of Christians and non-Christians alike. I doubt there's a Christian pastor who's ever lived who hasn't been approached on several occasions by men and women terrified at the prospect that they may have committed the "unpardonable sin".

There's a move afoot, however, to put a stop to that sort of thing. And it's not what you might be thinking. If you haven't heard about it already, let me announce to you "International Blasphemy Day". Al Mohler, once again, has the story, and a fine Christian response to it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Christian's response to Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, begins at sundown this Sunday. In observation of this holy day thousands of Orthodox Jews will purchase chickens, wave them over their heads three times, praying for their sins to be transferred to the birds. They will then witness the slaughter of the bird on their behalf. According to New York Rabbi Shea Hecht, pictured at left, "The main part of the service is handing the chicken to the slaughterer and watching the chicken being slaughtered. Because that is where you have an emotional moment, where you say, 'Oops, you know what? That could have been me."

I'm a notorious animal lover, one who cried for hours after her two pet laying-hens were killed by a dog. But let me assure you, my motivation in addressing this story today is not my compassion for chickens, it is for the subjects of the article that brought this story to my attention. My heart is not breaking for the birds, though I abhor cruelty to animals. My heart breaks for the Jews. The article ends with these words:
Come Saturday, the sidewalk in front of his yeshiva will be packed with believers. It will be loud; it will be bloody. And 4,000 chickens will pay the price of atonement.
There is an even greater tragedy than the death of the animals. It is in the false hope it gives each one who sacrifices. "For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins...." Can chickens take away the sin of man?

The continuation of the sacrificing of animals after the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ was made is exactly the practice the writer of the biblical letter to the Hebrews was trying to prevent. Shortly after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, there were Hebrew Christians who were being tempted to go back to the old ritual of animal sacrifice, ostensibly in order to avoid persecution from Orthodox Jews. They likely reasoned that it wouldn't hurt anything, that is was a good old tradition, and one, after all, that God Himself had instituted. Perhaps they even thought it would be a good reminder for them of the high cost of sin. The inspired writer to the Hebrew Christians, understood their thinking, but had a stern warning for them, he wrote:
"Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not only into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins....

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

'Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, 'Behold, I have come to do your will, O God.
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'

When he said above, 'You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings' (these are offered according to the law) then he added, 'Behold, I have come to do your will.' He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

'This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
and write them on their minds,'

then he adds,

'I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.'

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin." Hebrews 9:22-10:18
In fact, if we reject "the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is through His flesh" (Heb.10:20) and...
"...if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishments, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, 'Vengeance is mine; I will repay.' and again, 'The Lord will judge his people.' It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Hebrews 10:26-31
God has offered His eternal and only begotten Son as atonement for the sins of the world, and His blood to wash away sin, once for all time. The sacrificial offering of the blood of the perfectly holy Son of God, has once and for all rendered the offering of animals profane. What an offense it is to "spurn the Son of God" - to reject the Holy offering of God in preference for the blood of bulls and goats...and chickens.
"But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God." Hebrews 9:11-14

"Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful." Hebrews 10: 19-23
Christ is the perfect sacrifice. Christ is the perfect High Priest. A perfect and eternal way to God has been opened for us through His perfect Atonement for our sins. Let us not seek access to God any longer through works of our own, or through sacrifices God has now declared unfit. Let us enter the Holy place boldly trusting in nothing but Christ, our sacrificial Lamb.

And as for the Jews who reject God's sacrifice. Let us not dare be puffed up in our attitude toward them, as though we brought ourselves to believe, as though our faith comes from ourselves and makes us somehow superior, as though it were not God's grace alone which saves us, but the use of our own wisdom. We are all born sinners, rejecting from our earliest days the authority and wisdom of God. If we recognize the truth of the gospel, it is only because Christ has given us eyes that see. I will let the apostle Paul, himself a Jew, explain what the proper attitude of Christians toward the Jews should be:
"Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,
'The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob';
'and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.'
"As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

"Oh, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" Romans 11:25-33

It's Saturday!

I think one of the things that makes humans distinct, is our love of a happy ending. Thank God that even in our world of sin, He still provides us with little joyous endings day in and day out. In our day and age, in many cases, science is a means to many of them. Here's a heartwarming science story:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday Meanderings

Calvin, on the atrocity of abortion.
"For the fetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mother, is already a human being, and it is a monstrous crime to rob it of the life which it has not yet begun to enjoy. If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light." - John Calvin - Commentary, Exodus 21:22.
The womb is meant to be a place of nurture, safety, and love. If we would be horrified to think of one murdered while kneeling in prayer, seeking refuge in the arms of God, we should be at least as horrified to think of violence against one so helpless as an infant yet growing in the womb. We are to value life just as God does.

Have you ever happened upon this command in Scripture?:
"You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk." Exodus 23:19b
Why not? Because that's not what the milk is for! We are not to use what was meant by God for a creature's loving nurture as an instrument of that creature's death. Likewise, the womb was ordained by God to be a place where life is nurtured. We have no right to turn it into a place of violence.

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"You've heard of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but a tooth for an eye is the trade a Mississippi woman made in Miami to regain her eyesight after years of blindness."
This is an overflow from and overfull Saturday Science post. An amazing story that will likely lead you to ponder what your own vision is worth to you. To what extreme would you go to be able to see? When your imagination is exhausted from considering all that went into giving this woman her physical sight, I hope you'll take a few minutes more to ponder and even greater kind of blindness - blindness of the heart. This blindness consists in the failure to see the beauty of the good news of Jesus Christ:
"...if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." 2 Cor. 4:3-6
Is the thought of Jesus' willing and joyful sacrificial atonement for sinners something that brings you joy. Is Christ the supreme treasure of your life, outshining every other blessing you've ever known? If not, pray for God to open your eyes to the beauty of Christ.

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"Dr. Hugh Ross is an astrophysicist who travels the world challenging students and faculty, churches and professional groups to consider what they believe and why. He's written numerous books on the intersection of faith and science, and he's the founder and president of Reasons to Believe, an organization that keeps tabs on the frontiers of research to share with scientists and non-scientists how new discoveries connect with biblical theology."
His current book is called More Than a Theory. I've not read it yet, but may review it here at some point in the future. You may listen to a radio interview with Ross here where he discusses his ongoing and profitable discourse with skeptics and scientists. I appreciate his courage, his perspective, his commitment to bringing the light of the gospel and the glory of God back into the scientific community, and the respect with which he treats those who disagree with him.

"For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking..." Romans 1:19-21a
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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Poisons, Blights and Parasites - It's Saturday Science

I'm a bit late to my science post today; but don't for a minute let that convince you that I'm not absolutely giddy over today's subject matter!

Up first, here's a fun little article. What are the most poisonous things in the world. Some of these answers might just surprise you.

(I apologize for forgetting who the HT goes to on this one. Feel free to name yourself in the comments.)
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Now, you've likely heard of the Great Famine in Ireland, more commonly known as the Potato Famine. This famine was cause by a devastating blight on potatoes. The poor of the country were almost entirely dependent upon potatoes for food and millions emigrated to other countries in desperation. What you may not be aware of is that the same blight that destroyed Ireland's potatoes in 1740 is still around and it's right here in America, only this time it's main focus is tomatoes.


You may also listen here to a fascinating discussion about this blight, which will help you recognize the dangers and how to put a stop to it in your own gardens, which, for the sake of the greater good, you really must do.

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Finally, take a listen to one of the most fascinating programs I've ever listened to. It's about that irresistible topic - parasites. You will be amazed at the intricacy and interdependence of all life in God's creation. You will have a new respect for the delicate nature of ecosystems and perhaps even a new respect for the teeming ecosystem that is your own body. But first, look at these!:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ch ch changes

In case you've noticed that I've been a bit less than prolific in my blog of late, here's just one of the many reasons:



Here's the before pic of Paul's cave. Well, sort of a before pic. It was like a storage room with Paul's desk in it before the first picture was taken. In between the first and second shot came the part when Paul took a sander to the floor. Thankfully I was at work at the time and did not have to hear or witness that event - just clean up the aftermath. The first roll of red was the scariest part. In between that first roll and the final product were four coats of red. Note to self and all seekers of wisdom: splurge for the primer. Yes, it's almost as expensive as the paint. Do it anyway.



Seeing the white go onto the floor was a thing of beauty! Then came the big gray 1970's bookshelf we found on the side of the road with a "FREE" sign on it. A couple of coats of the same white I used for the trim was all it needed.

We moved the kitchen table in for Paul's computers and moved the card table, disguised by a tablecloth, into the kitchen in it's stead.

Then Paul loaded the shelves with his books. My art supplies are there, waiting for me to get back at it after a decade of artistic inactivity.

It's a real room now, not a cave anymore. Even Ginger approves.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Monday Meanderings

A survivor story from Africa
"In Tracy Kidder's 2003 book, “Mountains Beyond Mountains” told the story of a doctor’s mission to revolutionize healthcare in Haiti. Kidder profiles another extraordinary man in “Strength in What Remains,” the true story of a man, Deo, who survived the ethnic violence between Burundi and Rwanda and managed to find his way to the United States. He was 24 years old and working at a hospital when the horrors began."
Read more of the story and listen to an interview with author Tracy Kidder here.

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"Cordell doesn't look the part of a minister, nor does he want to be one. He's a former body-shop worker who felt God was calling him to missions work."


Read the story of a simple, ordinary man who answered God's call.
(HT to Joshua)

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Laugh, cry, take heed...



Please stop for a moment. Read Matthew 25:14-30. Pray.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

I feel vindicated!

Many thanks to Tim Challies, from whose blog I lifted this quote in its entirety:

"There are two ways in which one can own a book. The first is the property right you establish by paying for it, just as you pay for clothes and furniture. But this act of purchase is only the prelude to possession. Full ownership comes only when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it is by writing in it. An illustration may make the point clear. You buy a beefsteak and transfer it from the butcher’s icebox to your own. But you do not own the beefsteak in the most important sense until you consume it and get it into your bloodstream. I am arguing that books, too, must be absorbed in your blood stream to do you any good.

Confusion about what it means to “own” a book leads people to a false reverence for paper, binding, and type — a respect for the physical thing — the craft of the printer rather than the genius of the author. They forget that it is possible for a man to acquire the idea, to possess the beauty, which a great book contains, without staking his claim by pasting his bookplate inside the cover. Having a fine library doesn’t prove that its owner has a mind enriched by books; it proves nothing more than that he, his father, or his wife, was rich enough to buy them.

There are three kinds of book owners. The first has all the standard sets and best sellers — unread, untouched. (This deluded individual owns woodpulp and ink, not books.) The second has a great many books — a few of them read through, most of them dipped into, but all of them as clean and shiny as the day they were bought. (This person would probably like to make books his own, but is restrained by a false respect for their physical appearance.) The third has a few books or many — every one of them dog-eared and dilapidated, shaken and loosened by continual use, marked and scribbled in from front to back. (This man owns books.) …

But the soul of a book “can” be separate from its body. A book is more like the score of a piece of music than it is like a painting. No great musician confuses a symphony with the printed sheets of music. Arturo Toscanini reveres Brahms, but Toscanini’s score of the G minor Symphony is so thoroughly marked up that no one but the maestro himself can read it. The reason why a great conductor makes notations on his musical scores — marks them up again and again each time he returns to study them—is the reason why you should mark your books. If your respect for magnificent binding or typography gets in the way, buy yourself a cheap edition and pay your respects to the author."

Mortimer Adler, How to Read a Book

I guess I shouldn't be feeling so embarrassed about the condition of my books after all!

Saturday Science

Here's some food for thought for the next time you sit down to a dish of calamari:




Now, take a look at this great article: 10 Technologies We Stole From the Animal Kingdom.

(HT to Betsy)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Memories of 9/11.

I was a driving instructor here in Northern California in those days (yes, the kind that teaches teenagers to drive), but I had Just accepted an occasional job with an interior design company, doing installations in model homes. Accessorizing model homes sounded like great fun. September 11, 2001 was my first day. I was up before dawn - not my normal habit - but we had to drive some 80 miles to the job site and needed an early start.

My then-husband dropped me off at the company's office. It was still dark. I waited for everyone to arrive. I wrote my name on a sign-in sheet and clocked in. I stood in a building stacked with carpet and wallpaper samples in the pre-dawn hours, drinking Diet Pepsi and milling around among strangers. There was nowhere to sit except the curb outside, which is where I went and smoked a cigarette, alone.

I overheard a woman's voice from an interior office say a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. My mind reached for a vague recollection that some years prior someone had crashed their little Cessna-type plane into one of those buildings. Well, that's sad, I thought...some poor soul. Within a few minutes all the expected workers had arrived and we were piled into a van. I sat next to a red-haired man I'd never seen before in the back seat of a van full of people I'd never laid eyes on before - the people I referred to for a long time after, as "the people with no souls".

The radio was on in the van. The sun was rising over the Sierra Nevada Range, its first rays peeking through a window moving southbound on Hwy 70, when it began to dawn on me that this plane crash was a bigger deal than I had thought. It was not a Cessna. The air escaped me when they announced a second jumbo jet had crashed into the second tower.This was no freak accident. From that moment on, I realized the world would never be the same.

We were still in the van, heading south, when we heard about the Pentagon. And there was another plane...still flying. Dread clouded my mind. I turned to that fellow on my left and asked him what the date was. "It's the eleventh."

"Nine, one, one," I said, "How strange." The horrible irony was lost on no one, with the exception possibly, of the folks in that van. The world was ending, or so it seemed, and I was in a van with strangers, heading to a first day on a new job. I felt worse than alone. I had no cell phone in those days. My kids were in school by that hour. I had no one to hug or cry with, no one to talk to. I rode in silence, trying not to cry, not wanting to cry in a van full of strangers. Finally, the driver and his front seat companion announced that they'd heard enough and were switching to Bob and Tom. For the rest of the drive we listened to crude humor and rock music. 9/11 didn't exist for Bob and Tom.

I was numb when we arrived at the job. Model homes became vanity in those hours in a van. Decorating, ridiculous. We were putting ribbons around bath towels and fake books in fake libraries. We were setting up teepee beds in Indian themed children's rooms, while real children, real parents, real families were dying. I went through the motions, trapped in an existence that had become surreal. About an hour into the work, a manager came through the unit where I was working: "Hey, I've been talking to some folks at the main office. They've got a TV in there and are all upset. They think you all might be upset and need to go home. So does anyone want to go home? I've asked everyone else in the other units and they just want to stay here and work. What about you?" So, there it was. It was up to me, the stranger on her first day, apparently the only one who wanted to be home with her family. To my regret, I said nothing.

"Fine, we'll stay then."

It was 6:30 in the evening at a Round Table Pizza, sitting with the people with no souls when I finally saw a television. It would be another two hours before I could hold my children and finally weep.

I have seen that red-haired fellow on several occasions since then, but have never struck up a conversation. I'm not sure he remembers me. But I'll never forget him. He was who I sat next to on Sept. 11, 2001. And in all fairness to him, I think it was his first day on that job, too. In all fairness to the rest of them, I'm sure they really did have their own souls to deal with.

A lot changed after that day. It was a few years before I would put my kids on a plane to visit their dad. Instead I drove them the 500 miles for every visit. My then-husband was in law enforcement, so I was privy to all the strange rumors, like local farmers being offered large sums of cash by "middle-eastern" types in exchange for lessons in flying crop-dusters; the calls to inspect backpacks or unusual objects with protruding wires; threats of various kinds at local dams and landmarks. White powder anywhere brought fears of anthrax. Low-flying aircraft unnerved us - even here in the west. It could happen anywhere after all. Cars backfiring or balloons popping had us all jumping out of our skins. And then there were the sniper attacks which left no one feeling safe, even to pump their gas. In those early months an entire nation was openly wounded and defensive. It seemed as if hell had broken loose. In a way, it had.

I'm thankful to God and every human involved in preventing such devastation from reoccurring. Many mistakes and misjudgments have been made, to be sure. But we humans are a race of sinners. We are flawed, and so are all our best intentions. I'm thankful that the world did not end that day. I was not ready to face my Creator and Judge. I'm thankful for every day longer we have on this earth, because each day is another day of mercy and hope extended to sinners like us.

Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."  John 6:36-40

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sojourning in Sodom

I've been reading about heaven. In particular, I've been reading about the characteristics of the blessed ones who dwell there. I've also been busily going about my days here on earth.

Yesterday desperation finally drove Paul and I to make a trek to a certain grocery store in town where prudence demands I shop for certain items. "Desperation," I say, because my husband and I leave there every time feeling as though Sodom is the only place with an affordable bulk food section. I'm sure all but my wealthiest readers have experienced such places. Whenever we leave, one or the other of us will comment: "Life wasn't like this when we were kids." And to some extent that is true. Social custom used to dictate certain behavior patterns of which the last generation (or two) of parents apparently neglected or forgot to inform their children. We called them "manners" or "common courtesy" back in the day. It is always a good hour (or two) before the scent of malice, hopelessness, and death, that clings to us when we leave that place fades away.

We live in dark times, of that there is little doubt. Are they getting darker? I believe so. But last night, when I settled in for some devotional reading I found that times have been dark and getting darker for a very long time. Jonathan Edwards preached these words in colonial America in 1738:
"Is not what we have heard of that blessed world [Heaven] enough to make us weary of this world of pride, and malice, and contention, and perpetual jarring and jangling, a world of confusion, a wilderness of hissing serpents, a tempestuous ocean, where there is no quiet rest, where all are for themselves, and selfishness reigns and governs, and all are striving to exalt themselves, regardless of what becomes of others, and all are eager after worldly good, which is the great object of desire and contention, and where men are continually annoying, and calumniating, and reproaching, and otherwise injuring and abusing one another- a world where justice, and oppression, and cruelty- a world where there is so much treachery, and falsehood, and fickleness, and hypocrisy, and suffering, and death- where there is so little confidence in mankind, and every good man has so many failings, and has so much to render him unlovely and uncomfortable, and where there is so much sorrow and guilt, and sin in every form.

"Truly this is an evil world, and so it is like to be. It is in vain for us to expect that it will be any other than a world of sin, a world of pride and enmity and strife, and so a restless world. And though the times may hereafter be mended, yet these things will always be more or less found in the world so long as it stands. Who, then, would content himself with a portion in such a world? What man, acting wisely and considerately, would concern himself much about laying up in store in such a world as this, and would not rather neglect the world, and let it go to them that would take it, and apply all his heart and strength to lay up treasure in heaven, and to press on to that world of love? What will it signify for us to hoard up great possessions in this world; and how can the thought of having our portion here be pleasing to us, when there is an interest offered us in such a glorious world as heaven is, and especially when,if we have our portion here, we must, when the world has passed away, have our eternal portion in hell, that world of hatred, and of endless wrath of God,, where only devils and damned spirits dwell?

"We all naturally desire rest and quietness, and if we would obtain it, let us seek that world of peace and love of which we have now heard, where a sweet and blessed rest remaineth for God's people. If we get an interest in that world, then, when we have done with this, we shall leave all our cares, and troubles, and fatigues, and perplexities, and disturbances for ever. We shall rest from these storms that are raging here, and from every toil and labour, in the paradise of God. You that are poor, and think yourself despised by your neighbours and little cared for among men, do not much concern yourselves for this. Do not care much for the friendship of the world; but seek heaven, where there is no such thing as contempt, and where none are despised, but all are highly esteemed and honoured, and dearly beloved by all. You think you have met with many abuses, and much ill-treatment from others, care not for it. Do not hate them for it, but set your heart on heaven, that world of love, and press toward that better country, where all is kindness and holy affection."
It has been almost 300 years since those words were penned, but the struggle, the ache, the yearning is the same. The challenge, too, is the same. What are we to do in this world of darkness, we whose new birth has granted us eyes to see just how dark it truly is? We have been born this time as citizens of a new kingdom, heirs of an inheritance which is located in another country. It is that kingdom our heart yearns for, that country for which we must strain with all the might we've been given. This world is not our home - it is enemy territory. We are to shine as the bright beacons that we are. To that light will come others who are being called out of darkness. From that same light others will recoil. Some will hate the light with a hatred that seeks to extinguish it. This is all to be expected - not railed against. We are to love our enemies, understanding them and remembering that we - before our eyes were opened - were one of them. We are to honor everyone as we travel through their country on our way to the home that awaits us. We are to take our great Gospel and our bright, shining light wherever we go, not striving with the natives or attempting by bullying, flattery, or compromise to win their friendship. Know that if our earnestly proclaimed Gospel and the light of sincere Christian love do not win them, there is nothing more to be done but more of the same until we reach our Homeland. "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life." (Rev. 2:10)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Monday Meanderings

Just for Laughs - one of the funniest bits I've ever seen.

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You'd have to be blind or else very thick not to notice that a lot of reading of the Puritans goes on around here. The Puritans get a lot of bad press in the world at large - only a small fraction of which is justified. Criticisms of legalism, or what I consider an over-emphasis on self-examination, for instance, are in my opinion sometimes justified. I also tend not to care much for the political tone of the American Puritans, and the jeremiad philosophy with which they were inclined to view the New World. But what seems to be the most pervasive misconception is that the Puritans were, well, "puritanical" in their views of sex. Now, compared to modern views of sex, that is not off the mark. But what is not understood is that in their times, their views of sex would have been considered quite liberal. Check out Tim Challies brief article on the subject here.

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Many of the great hymns of church history were written by men and women of some renown. Read here for the story behind this wonderful hymn, for a heartwarming perspective for the everyday Christian.

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

Refrain

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Refrain

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Refrain

(Thanks to John for this link.)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A cheat sheet for contentment

Our lives tend to be very full and there are times, I've found, when a few simple reminders are more effective than an entire book ( assuming you've read the entire book first, of course). I've been through the Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment four times in the last five years and still need steady reminders. The following is the handout each lady received at the close of our study of The Rare Jewel. I think of it as a contentment cheat sheet.

This first list is from a wonderful and very accessible book by Linda Dillow called Calm My Anxious Heart. This simple little list has helped me over and over to overcome discontentment. Whenever you find yourself discontent you will most likely be able to trace it's origin back to one of the following thought patterns. Think of it as a diagnostic tool.
  • Never allow yourself to complain about anything - not even the weather
  • Never picture yourself in any other circumstances or someplace else
  • Never compare your lot with another's
  • Never allow yourself to wish this or that had been otherwise.
  • Never dwell on tomorrow - remember that [tomorrow] is God's, not ours.
The following is a list of Scriptures to have on hand for dealing with the rumblings of discontent in your soul:

"Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs." 1 Tim. 6:6-10

"Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:11-13

"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever." 1 John 2:15-17

"Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." Psalm 73:25-26

"One thing have I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to inquire in his temple." Psalm 27:4

And so I will end my series on contentment with a word of encouragement from John Piper:
"If your godliness has freed you from the desire to be rich and has helped you be content with what you have, then your godliness is tremendously profitable...Godliness that overcomes the craving for material wealth produces great spiritual wealth."

How to attain contentment - concluded

The following is the final installment in Tim Challies' series Reading the Classics Together - The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. I've tried to make each post readable on its own, however I highly encourage your own study of this Puritan classic by Jeremiah Burroughs.
(Chapter 13)

Burroughs here closes his lessons with some final instructions to help us "come to attain this grace of contentment."

1. "All the rules and helps in the world will do us little good unless we get a good temper within our hearts...there is nothing outside us that can keep our hearts in a steady, constant way, but what is within us: grace is within the soul, and it will do this."

In short, apart from the grace of God at work in our hearts, we can never attain true Christian contentment. No matter what rules we set up and try to follow, they cannot change our heart. We need Christ. Without deep love and trust in Him, none of this is possible, and likely none of this would even seem desirable.

2. "If you would get a contented life, do not grasp too much of the world, do not take in more of the business of the world than God calls you to...if a man goes among thorns, when he may take a simpler way, he has no reason to complain that he is pricked with them. You go among thorns - is it your way? Must you of necessity go among them? Then it is another matter. But if you voluntarily choose that way, when you may go another, then you have no cause to complain. If men and women will thrust themselves on things of the world which they do not need, then no wonder that they are pricked. For such is the nature of all things here in this world, that everything has some prick or other in it....those who have least to do in the world, that is, unless God calls them to it,...are likely to meet with many things that will dissatisfy them."

"Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs." 1 Tim. 6:6-10

3. "Be sure of your call to every business you go about."
"Nothing in the world will quiet the heart so much as this: when I meet with any cross, I know I am where God would have me, in my place and calling; I am about the work that God has set me."
4. Here we have an extension of point #3: "That I walk by the rule in the work that I am called to."

"I must walk by the Word, order myself in this business according to God's mind as far as I am able. Now add this to the other, and then the quiet and peace of the soul may be made even perfect in a way....be willing to be serviceable to God yourself and God makes all things in the world your servants, for so they are...There is nothing in the world but, says God, it shall work for your good, and be serviceable to you, if you will be serviceable to me."

In other words, be doing God's work in God's way. Do what He has called you to in a manner that is obedient to the rule of Scripture.

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together
for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28

5. "Exercise much faith..."
"...when reason is at a nonplus, then set faith at work....Exercise faith, not only in the promise that all shall work together for good to them that fear God, but likewise exercise faith in God himself; as well as in his Word, in the attributes of God....Exercise faith by often resigning yourself to God, by giving yourself up to God and his ways. The more you in a believing way surrender up yourself to God, the more quiet and peace you will have."

6. "Labour to be spiritually minded. That is, be often in meditation of the things that are above....
"...the reason why we are so troubled with our nakedness, with any wants that we have, is because we converse so little with God, so little with spiritual things; conversing with spiritual things would lift us above the things of the world."

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you." Phil. 4:6-9

7. "Do not promise yourselves too much beforehand; do not reckon on too great things."

"So Paul says, 'If we have but meat and drink and clothing, let us be therewith content.' He did not soar too high aloft. Those who look at high things in the world meet with disappointments, and so they come to be discontented...One who creeps low cannot fall far, but it is those who are on high whose fall bruises them most. That is a good rule; do not promise yourselves great things, neither aim at any great things in the world."
I've got to say, this goes against everything I've ever been taught - ever. It's downright un-American. But am I going to choose the American Dream over the Kingdom of God? My true citizenship is in heaven. It is right for me to seek great eternal rewards, by investing my energies in the kingdom. It is a waste of all I've been given in this life if I invest it in this life. "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?" (Mt. 16:26) And if it is truly so hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, why, oh, why would I devote my energies to enriching myself? And if the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil, why would I risk flirting with that damnable thing? No, "It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant..." (Mt. 20:26) A servant is one who lives to be at the beck and call of others, not to serve oneself. So, let us set our hearts to serve, and we will never be disappointed.

8. "Labor to get your hearts mortified to the world, dead to the world."

"So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." (Rom. 8:12-14)

"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them." (Col. 3:1-7)

"Let afflictions and troubles find you with a mortified heart to the world, and they will not break your bones; those whose bones are broken by crosses and afflictions are those who are alive to the world, who are not dead to the world. But no afflictions or troubles will break the bones of one who has a mortified heart and is dead to the world; that is they will not be very grievous or painful to such a one as is mortified to the world."
9. Do not pore too much upon your afflictions.

In other words, don't stew!
"It is just with them as with a child who has a sore; his finger is always on the sore; so men's and women's thoughts are always on their afflictions. When they awake in the night their thoughts are on their afflictions, and when they converse with others - it may be even when they are praying to God - they are thinking of their afflictions. Oh, no marvel that you live a discontented life, if your thoughts are always poring over such things. You should rather labour to have your thoughts on those things that may comfort you....that may stir up our thankfulness to God for mercies."
10. "Make a good interpretation of God's ways towards you."

For example:
"You should think thus: it may be, God intends only to try me by this, it may be, God saw my heart was too much set on the creature, and so he intends to show me what is in my heart, it may be, that God saw that if my wealth did continue, I should fall into sin, that the better my position were the worse my soul would be, it may be, God intended only to exercise some grace, it may be, God intends to prepare me for some great work which he has for me: thus you should reason."
Now, you may be wondering what grounds we have to put such constructions on events. I would say Scripture expects us to. God has made it clear that the plans He has for His people are good. So this is the way that our faith in God and His promises would lead us to interpret our experiences, especially our troubles.

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil," to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:10-11

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." Romans 8:28-29

So look for the ways in which your circumstances are designed for your good - specifically the ways in which they may work to conform you to into the image of Christ. "...retain good thoughts of God, take heed of judging God to be a hard master, make good interpretations of his ways, and that is a special means to help you to contentment in all one's course."

11. "Do not so much regard the fancies of other men, as what indeed you feel yourselves."

This, I think, is one of the best points in this entire book, and one of the finest considerations to help you regain contentment when you've let it slip away:
"We think poverty to be such a great evil - Why? because it is so esteemed by others, rather than that people feel it so themselves, unless they are in an extremity of poverty....almost all the discontent in the world is rather from the fancies others than from the evil that is on themselves. You may think your wealth to be small and you are thereupon discontented, and it is a grievous affliction to you; but if all men in the world were poorer than you, then you would not be discontented, then you would rejoice in your estates though you had not a penny more than you have....if all the men in the world looked upon you as happy, more happy than themselves, then you would be contented. Oh, do not let your happiness depend upon the fancies of other men."
We are discontent because we are measuring ourselves by others, comparing ourselves to one another and allowing what we see to become the standard for our contentment. We are more concerned about what others think of us than what God thinks of us so let others determine for us what should make us happy.

12. "Be not inordinately taken up with the comforts of this world when you have them."
"It is a certain rule: however inordinate any man or woman is in sorrow when a comfort is taken from them, so were they immoderate in their in their rejoicing in the comfort when they had it...the way for you not to be immoderate in your sorrow for afflictions is not to be immoderate in your love and delights when you have prosperity."
He goes on to speak of dreadful losses, which were much more common to the average person in his day than in ours - losses of children and spouses. In that day no one took for granted that a child would live to adulthood, that a wife would survive childbirth, or that whole households wouldn't be lost to plague. Perhaps the temptation is even greater in our times of relative health and prosperity to invest our souls too deeply in the human gifts God gives us. To sink our entire future's happiness into a husband or a child, in such a manner that we refuse to accept the love of God for us should He take them away, is idolatry. And lest you think I'm speaking to strongly, or out of turn, let me appeal to the authority of Scripture:

"Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Matthew 10:37-39

We've spent several weeks on this study of contentment, and at the end of it I echo the sentiments of Mr. Burroughs:
"I have spent many sermons over this lesson of contentment, but I am afraid that you will be longer in learning it than I have been preaching it; it is a harder thing to learn it than it is to preach or speak of it....this lesson of Christian contentment is as hard, and perhaps you may be many years learning it....But God forbid that it should be said of any of us concerning this lesson, as the Apostle says of widows, in Timothy. That they were ever learning and never came to the knowledge of the truth."
And to this I respond with a hearty AMEN.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

How to attain contentment

The following is the next installment in Tim Challies' series Reading the Classics Together - The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. I'll try to make each post readable on its own, however I highly encourage your own study of this Puritan classic by Jeremiah Burroughs.
(Chapter 12)

Finally, if you've been following along, this is the moment you've been waiting for. We're going to begin some positive instruction. Though I think we've been learning all the way through, Burroughs is finally, in these final two chapters, going to sum up with some practical application. As you move forward in life, I would recommend referring back to these chapters from time to time for review and encouragement.

Having the foundation already laid, I'll be covering a lot of ground, and will only devote a brief amount of space to each point. Each point simply builds on our previous lessons and so this section has the feel of a review, or a summing up.

I. Considerations to content the heart in any afflicted condition:
(By "considerations" he means literally "things to consider" or "things to mediate on".

1. Think about "the greatness of the mercies that we have, and the meanness of the things that we lack."
"For the most part, the things for the want of which people are discontented and murmur are such things as reprobates have, or may have. Why should you be troubled so much for the want of something which a man or woman may have and yet be a reprobate?"
"But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith - that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead." Philippians 3:7-11

2. "Consider that God is beforehand with us with his mercies."
"I remember reading of a good man who had lived to fifty years of age and enjoyed his health for eight and forty years exceedingly well, and lived in prosperity, but the last two years his body was exceedingly diseased, he had the strangury [a disorder of the urinary tract causing slow, painful urination], and was in great pain. But he reasoned that case with himself thus: 'Oh Lord, you might have made all my life a life of torment and pain, but you have let me have eight and forty years in health. I will praise your mercies for what I have had and will praise your justice for what I now feel.'...We should bless God for what we have had, and not think that we are worse because we have had thus and thus."
3. Consider "the abundance of mercies that God bestows and we enjoy."

Here Burroughs quotes Luther as saying, "The sea of God's mercies should swallow up all our particular afflictions."
"If you pour a pailful of water on the floor of your house, it makes a great show, but if you throw it into the sea, there is no sign of it. So afflictions considered in themselves, we think are very great, but let them be considered with the sea of God's mercies we enjoy, and then they are not so much, they are nothing in comparison."
4. "Consider the way of God towards all creatures."
"...seeing God has so ordered things with all creatures, that there is a mixture of conditions, why should we think it much that there should be a vicissitude of conditions with us, sometimes in a way of prosperity, and sometimes in a way of affliction?"
Reflect awhile on Ecclesiates 3:1-11.

Consider also God's speech to Job, of His sovereignty over the conditions of His creatures. When Job considered these things he experienced a dramatic change in perspective. Listen to his response:
"I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, 'Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, 'I will question you and you shall answer Me.' I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes." Job 42:2-6

5. Consider that "creatures suffer for us; why should we not be willing to suffer, to be serviceable to God?"
"Certainly, there is not as great a distance between other creatures and mankind, as there is between mankind and God...What an abundance of alterations the creature undergoes to be made useful to me, to preserve me! Then, if God will do so with me for his use, as he subjects the creatures to me for my use, why should I not rest contented? If God will take away my wealth, and make me poor, if God will take away life, hack me to pieces, put me in prison - whatever he does, yet I shall not suffer more for God than the creature does for me."
Take a moment to read Romans 8:18-23. Truly creation groans because of mankind - as a result of our sins - not willingly. It should not then seem so out of order to us that we should find ourselves at times groaning as well.

6. Consider how little time we have in this world.
"...we have not long to live, it may be over before our days are at an end. But supposing it should not, death will put an end to all, all afflictions and troubles will soon be at an end by death."
"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

7. "Consider the condition that others have been in, who have been our betters."

He lists Jacob, Moses, Elijah, Elisha, and Jeremiah, and says, "it would be endless to name the particulars of the great sufferings of the people of God." He then refers to Luther, who died with nothing for his family to inherit. Then Musculus - a once notable reformer of whom I doubt many of us have heard, "Yet [he] was forced to dig in the common ditch to get bread for his family."
"But, above all, set Christ before us, who professes that the birds of the air had nests, and the foxes had holes, yet the Son of man had no place to hide his head, such a low condition was he in."
8. Consider "before your conversion, before God wrought upon your souls, you were contented with the world without grace, though you had no interest in God nor Christ; why cannot you now be contented with grace and spiritual things without the world? If you yourselves were contented with the world without grace, there is reason you should be content with grace without the world."

"And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in (E)the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in (R)Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands--remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and (without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ." Eph. 2:1-13
9. Consider all the times when God has given you your desires yet you have not given Him the glory.

"I meet with crosses, but when I had contentment and all things coming in, God got but little or no glory from me, and therefore let that be a means now to quiet me in my discontented thoughts."

10. "Consider all the experience that you have had of God's doing good to you in the want of many comforts."
"God has made former afflictions to be great benefits to you, and that you would not have been without them, or without the good that came by them for a world, such experiences will exceedingly quiet the heart and bring it to contentment. Therefore think thus with yourself: Lord, why may not this affliction work as great a good upon me as afflictions have done before?"
Certainly the apostle Paul would agree: "Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Cor. 12:8-10 Paul recalled his "thorn in the flesh" experience and used it as a lesson to find contentment in the midst of infirmities and hardships, knowing God's strength would be perfected in him as a result.

"...your worst voyages have proved your best. When you have met with the greatest crosses in a voyage, God has been pleased to turn them to a greater good to you, in some other way."

Friday, September 4, 2009

Saturday Science

Ever dream of traveling in space? Ever loved miniature golf? Well, how 'bout golfing with an astronaut! Here's a fun little clip about just that thing.




Weather vs. Climate

If global warming is a topic of interest to you, I recommend this lecture from Susan Solomon, acclaimed "scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration" in which she gives a general overview of "the evidence of changes in the Earth's climate and the causes of those changes" both recent and ancient. I found this to be a clear presentation of the findings of the worldwide scientific community, which also addresses common questions regarding causes of change.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The excuses of a discontented heart - concluded

The following is the next installment in Tim Challies' series Reading the Classics Together - The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. I'll try to make each post readable on its own, however I highly encourage your own study of this Puritan classic by Jeremiah Burroughs.
(Chapter 11, part two)

IV. One that is discontent may say, "I think I could be content with God's hand so far as I see the hand of God in a thing.... I can bear that I should be in God's hands, but not in the hands of men."

1. "Though they are men who bring this cross to you, yet they are God's instruments."

Consider for a moment the story of Joseph and read Genesis 50:15-21.

"The heart of a man plans his way,
but the LORD establishes his steps." Prov. 16:9

"Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand." Prov. 19:21

"The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
The counsel of the LORD stands forever,
the plans of his heart to all generations." Psalm 33:10-11

What we can learn from the passages above, and many others like them, is that God is ultimately sovereign even over the doings of men. His purposes are always accomplished. He is sovereign over the plans of men and uses them to His own ends.

2. "If this is your trouble that men do wrong to you, you ought rather to turn your hearts to pity them, than to murmur..."

"For it is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed." 1 Peter 2: 19-24.

As Burroughs puts it: "...it is better to bear wrong than to do wrong..."

3. "Though you meet with hard dealings from men, yet you meet with nothing but kind, good and righteous dealings from God." Men may be have evil intentions toward you, but God's purposes for you are always good. And His purposes always prevail.

V. One that is discontent may say, 'Oh, but the affliction that comes upon me is an affliction which I never looked for, I never thought I would meet with such an affliction, and that is what I cannot bear.'

1. "It is your weakness and folly that you did not look for it and expect it."
"...no affliction should come unexpectedly to a Christian."

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you." 1 Peter 5:8-10

2. "Is it unexpected? Then the less provision you made for it before it came, the more careful should you be to sanctify God's name in it, now it is come. It is in this case of afflictions as in mercies; many times mercy comes unexpected..."
"I have many mercies that I never looked for, as well as afflictions that I never looked for: why should not the one rejoice me as much as the other disturbs me?"'

"Shall we receive good from God, and shell we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10)
Return to the gospel. Bring back to mind what we deserved and earned for ourselves, and the price God paid to redeem us from that fate. Any temporal suffering is small by contrast and should be overshadowed by the joy of our redemption.

3. "It may be it is the great because you heart murmurs so."
"Shackles upon a man's legs, if his legs are sore, will pain him more. If the shoulder is sore, the burden is the greater. It is because your heart is so unsound that your affliction is so great to you."

My husband and I did an experiment this summer. The A/C in our car is broken. We cannot afford to fix it and so knew we faced a hot summer of discomfort. We determined not to allow ourselves the luxury of complaining and see what happened. What we found was, we got used to the heat and barely minded it at all. Vocalizing complaints feeds and strengthens inward discontent. Your murmuring makes it worse. Haven't you ever noticed that the more people complain, the more miserable they are and the more they find to complain about? Murmuring is a vicious cycle.

VIII. One that is discontent may then say, "But however you may lessen my affliction, yet I am sure it is far greater than the affliction of others."

1. "It may be it is your discontent that makes it greater, when indeed it is not so in itself."

Have you ever found yourself in a situation, complaining, only to find the person you're complaining to has a much greater problem than you, but is smiling, full of joy, and not complaining at all? Those are the humbling moments you should bring to mind when you find yourself thinking, "Nobody knows my pain".

And when all else fails, consider Job
.

2. "If it were greater than others', why is your eye evil because the eye of God is good?"
(The "evil eye" is the eye of envy, which we studied earlier in this chapter. Remember "Envy stares.") Take a moment to read Matthew 20:1-16 - the parable of the workers in the vineyard.

"Why should you be discontented the more because God is gracious to others?"

3. "Is your affliction greater than others? The in this you have an opportunity to honor God more than others."

Look to the examples of Corrie ten Boom, or Joni Eareckson Tada - or, of course, Job, the apostle Paul, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Think how their patient suffering magnified the glory of God in their lives. So should your suffering do in your life - magnify rather than minimize the glory God receives from you.

4. "If all the sorrows in the world were laid together in a heap, and you had but an equal share of them, your portion would be rather more than it is now for the present. And therefore do not complain that it is more than others', and murmur because of that."

We need to take a step back, out of our little headspace, and view our own suffering in relation to the suffering of the whole of humanity. From that vantage point, our complaints seem so small. This is one reason why it is so beneficial to read of the sufferings of the apostles, martyrs, and other great saints, and even the stories of history's great atrocities. It will also help your perspective to read Deuteronomy 28 in its entirety, and find out, from the mouth of God, what treatment those who disobey Him really deserve.

VIII. A discontented person may think "that if the affliction were any other than it is, then they would be more contented."

1. "Know that we are not to chose our own rod, that God shall beat us with."

If you're anything like me, this statement does not sit well with you on first reading. I'm sure I'm not alone in being unaccustomed to such harsh language. But, as usual, Burroughs is not speaking out of turn. Once again I found the Scripture to be on his side:
"It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." Hebrews 12:7-11
Like it or not, God uses corporal punishment, and we do not get to determine His methods.

2. "It may be that if it were any other than it is, it would not be so suitable for you as this is."

Take a moment to think of the difficulties which afflict or have afflicted you most in your life. Know that God is working in you to make you a "partaker of his holiness". Prayerfully seek to discover how your particular trials are carefully suited to correct your particular areas of sin and weakness. Looking at trials in this way is a sound approach to spiritual growth during suffering.

3. "Know that this is the excellence of grace in a Christian, to be fitted for any condition; not only to say, if it were this or that, but if it were any."

As A.W. Pink puts it in, The Seven Saying of the Saviour on the Cross:
"It is our privilege to enjoy communion with God at all times, irrespective of outward circumstances or conditions. Communion with God is by faith, and is not affected by the things of sight. No matter how unpleasant your outward lot may be...it is your unspeakable privilege to enjoy communion with God. Just as the three Hebrews enjoyed fellowship with the Lord in the midst of the fiery furnace, as Daniel did in the lions' den, as Paul and Silas did in the Philippian jail, as the Saviour did on the Cross, so may you wherever you are!"
4. "Know that the Lord has rewards and crowns for all graces, and for honoring him in all conditions." (See Matthew 19:27-30.)

IX. One that is discontent may say, "Oh, but the condition that God has put me in, makes me unserviceable, and this troubles me."
"It is a good sign of grace for a man to account afflictions as great because he can do the Lord but little service....But yet there may be a temptation in this. To murmur at God's disposal...is many times a temptation to those who are poor, those who are servants and those who are of weak gifts, and must work hard to provide bread for their families. It is many times a grievous burden to them to think: The Lord uses other men in public service and I live in an obscure way, and to what purpose is my life."
This is a sentiment to which I can easily relate, and Burroughs offers several helps to keep folks in this situation from murmuring:

1. Remember that "though your condition is low and mean, yet you are in the Body, you are a member of the Body....It is better to be the meanest in the body, than to be the highest and most important member and cut off from the body..."

Take a moment to be encouraged by 1 Cor. 2: 12-27.

2. Remember, "though you have only a mean calling in this world, and so are not regarded as a man of use in the world; yet if you are a Christian, God has called you to a higher calling. Your general calling is a high calling, though your particular calling is but low and mean."
"You who perhaps spend your time in a poor business, in the meanest calling, if you are a dung-raker, to rake channels, or to clean places of filth, or any other thing in the world that is the meanest that can be conceived of, your general calling as a Christian advances you higher than any particular calling can advance any man in the world."
Those words are music to ears like mine. In addition to selling books, I make part of my living cleaning other people's houses. A few weeks back, I had occasion to look in one of my old high school yearbooks. In the section that was known to us as "senior superlatives", for the sake of humor, they pictured the honorees doing the opposite of what honor was bestowed upon them. In one, the boy and girl voted most likely to succeed were photographed in the janitor's closet of the school holding mops and buckets. Cleaning up after others was the lowest thing these youngsters could imagine doing for a living. And here I am...former honor student... And yet I know God has placed me where I am, and is glorified in what I do. I love my work and look at it as a gift from God.

3. Remember "you are in a high calling...for the Scripture says that the angels come to understand the mystery of the Gospel by the church."

"...and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things. So that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him." Eph. 3:9-12

"Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ was in them indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look." 1 Peter 1:10-12

4. Remember "your calling is low and mean; yet do not be discontented with that, for you have a principle within you...of grace....faith raises your works which are but mean and raises them to be very glorious."
"As Luther speaks of a poor milkmaid who is a believer, and does her work in faith: he compares that action to all the glorious actions of Caesar, and makes it a great deal more eminent and glorious in the eyes of God. Therefore faith raises your works which are but mean, and raises them to be very glorious."
It can be even more glorifying to God to submit to Him in a low position than a high one. To be joyous in a low calling is a far greater evidence of the sufficiency of Christ than to be joyous in a calling which rewards one with great earthly honors. As we learn from the story of Job, no one will be truly convinced of our love for God unless they witness it in the absence of worldly benefits.

5. Remember, "when the Lord comes to reward, he does not examine what work men and women have been exercised in, but what their faithfulness has been."
"God looks to a man's faithfulness, and you may have as great a reward for your faithfulness who are a poor servant in the kitchen all the day, as another who sits upon the throne all day...the Lord does not so much look at the work that is done, as at the faithfulness of our hearts in doing it."
X. Another excuse one may use for remaining discontent is that the condition is so unsettled, that it wouldn't be so bad if it weren't changing all the time.

Have you ever heard such words from your own lips: "If I could just get a chance to catch my breath!" or "It's always something, just when I get used to things the way they are something else comes along"? To this kind of thinking, our author gives three arguments:

1. Remember that man, even at his most settled, is vanity.

"Behold, thou hast made my days as a handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: Verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity."
Psalm 39:5 (KJV)

Consider also James 4:13-17. Scripture warns us that there is really no such thing, in this life, as being settled. Even the most staid, "secure", individuals are but vapor.

2. Remember that it is better for your soul "to live in a continual dependence upon him, and not to know what your condition shall be on the morrow..."

"Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." Matthew 6:31-34

Under this point Burroughs reminds us that the Lord taught us only to pray for our "daily bread". He then gives us the beautiful illustration of the difference between the land of Canaan and the land of Egypt, how in the promised land they would not be able to depend upon the great Nile river and their ability to harness its water. Rather, they would have to live in a more conscious dependence upon God and the rain He would send from heaven. (See Deut. 11:10-12.)
"...when a soul lives in mere dependency upon God, so that sensibly he sees that God has advantage of him every moment, Oh, then such a soul will pay toll and custom, that soul exercises faith, and begs every day his daily bread; but if God hedges that man about with wealth, with prosperity - perhaps an inheritance falls to him, perhaps he has a constant office that brings in so much yearly to him duly paid - he is not so sensible now of his dependence upon God, and he begins now to pay less toll and custom to God than before. God has less service from this man now than before. God sees it better for his people to live in a dependent condition. We are very loath in respect of God to be dependent, we would all be independents in this way, we would be dependent upon ourselves and have no dependence upon the Lord, but God sees it better for us to live in a depending condition."
Oh, how we detest being in the position of having to trust in God!

3. Remember that "though for outward things you are mightily unsettled, yet for the great things of your soul and eternal welfare there you are settled."
"...in the covenant of works God gave man a stock to trade with, but he put it into his hand, so that he might trade, and gain or lose; but in the Covenant of grace, God makes sure: the stock is kept in the hand of Christ, and we must go to him for supply continually, for Christ keeps the stock. Perhaps we may trifle away something in our trading, but God takes care that we never spend the stock. It is as when a man's son goes bankrupt, having squandered away the capital that he gave him before; afterwards he puts his capital into a friend's hand, and says, 'You shall keep the stock and it shall not be at his disposal.' So we are in a more settled condition in respect of our eternal estate than Adam was in innocence. Therefore let that comfort us in all our unsettled conditions in the matters of the world."
See Ephesians 1:11-14

XI. "If I had never been in a better condition then I could bear this affliction, if God had always kept me in such a low condition, I could be content."

No doubt you're familiar with the sentiment, upon seeing someone who is in a bad condition but who seems content with it: "Well", you think to yourself, "of course they're happy like that, they've never known anything different." And that may be true. The blind person doesn't know what it's like to see, and so can't miss it. And so with the deaf, and so with the life-long poor. I would argue, however, that even such people are aware that there are others in different conditions and can find plenty of their own excuses for grumbling. But Burroughs has a few arguments of his own:

1. "For is your eye evil because God has been good to you heretofore?...Has God done you any wrong because he was formerly more good to you than he was to others?"

When you grumble in this manner, you are accusing God of wrongdoing - either in letting you be in a better circumstance before, or in a lesser one now.

2. "Did God give you more prosperity before? It was to prepare you for afflictions.
We should look at all our outward prosperity as a preparation for afflictions. If you had done so, then it would not have been so difficult for you to endure afflictions now."

Instead of complaining, we Christians should be thinking in this way:
"Have I wealth now? I should prepare for poverty. Have I health now? I should prepare for sickness. Have I liberty? Let me prepare myself for imprisonment. How do I know what God may call me to? Have I comfort and peace now in my conscience, does God shine upon me? While I have this let me prepare for God's withdrawing from me. Am I delivered from temptations? Let me prepare now for the time of temptations....In your calm you are to prepare for storms, and the storm will be less."
XII. "Oh, but after I have taken a great deal of pains for this comfort, yet then I am thwarted in it. To be thwarted now after all the labour and pains I have taken, oh, this goes very hard."

In other words, "I've worked and planned so hard for this thing, and now I've been thwarted. How can you expect me to be content after all that?" Burroughs gives three answers to that question:

1. "The greater the cross, the more obedience and submission."
2. "Did you take pains with resolutions that you must have such a thing when you laboured for it? Then know that you did not labour as a Christian...And what did you aim at in your labor? Was it not that you might walk with God in the place where God has set you? A Christian should do so in his outward calling: I am diligent in my outward calling, but it is so that I might obey God in it."
3. "There will be more testimony of your love to God, if so be that you now yield up yourself to God in what cost you dear. 'Shall I offer that to God', said David, 'that cost me nothing?'"

XIII. And now, the final insidious plea for permission to grumble and to be allowed to wallow in discontent. This one sounds quite noble - so stoic: "Though I confess that my affliction is somewhat hard, and I feel some trouble within me, yet I thank God I do not break out in discontented ways to the dishonor of God; I keep it in, although I have much ado with my own heart."

Since beginning our study, and becoming aware of what discontent looks like, have you not found yourself from time to time congratulating yourself in this way? "I keep it in. I still do the work required of me. Nobody's hearing any complaints from me." This is the voice of the Pharisee within. The deceitful heart hopes to be rewarded for its exemplary self-control by being permitted to continue its inward, quiet sinning. It hopes to convince itself that it is permissible to be in sin so long as it doesn't show, and it pretends to be glorifying God by "thanking Him" for the ability to cover it up. "The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed, thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men..." men who's sins are visible on the outside. (See Luke 18:10)

As Burroughs says, "if you do not mortify that inward sullenness, when you are afflicted a little more, it will break forth at last." If you are a child of God, you can be sure that God will not let your sin go undisciplined. He will do what it takes to return you to a place of humility. He will have you holy.