04 July 2006

On being a good soldier...

Nowadays, many of us consider daily the selfless sacrifices made by those called into military service to preserve the freedoms and way of life with which we are so blessed.  We pay special tribute to the military men and women, as well as their families, serving our country and engaged in the war on terror-to honor them and to show our gratitude for their service.  It is right that we do so.  It gives something back to them and hopefully inspires us to live beyond ourselves and our comforts.

Most Christians are not in the military but there are parallels between serving our country in the military and serving our Lord in the church.  Both appeal to ideals which transcend self and eagerly and willingly serve on the behalf of others.  Both call us to the highest levels of character and integrity so that we can trust in and count on one another.  Both look beyond the cares and comforts of the here and now, patiently endure trials and suffering and confidently face the future.  And just as a soldier is called to duty from the affairs of civilian life, a soldier for Christ is called to duty from the concerns of the world.  In both there is a submission to the authority of another.

Fulfilling the calling of either does not come easily.  It can be difficult, but one way to meet the challenge is by the inspiration of example.  We gain that inspiration by reading...reading contemporary accounts or biographies from history either on the battlefield or the mission field.  Let us take up and read and be inspired to be a good soldier for Christ Jesus.

17 June 2006

...On the preservation of liberty

Our country was founded on the assumption that its continuing existence is dependent upon the character of the citizens.  John Adams wrote, “The preservation of liberty depends upon the intellectual and moral character of the people.  As long as knowledge and virtue are diffused generally among the body of a nation, it is impossible they should be enslaved.” 

Adams had a Biblical view of the world and of human nature.    He knew that history had shown that the tendencies of our fallen nature need constraining.  He knew that constraints-positive and negative-on that nature were part of God’s grace common to all, and that a major positive constraint on sin was the feeding of the character [and minds] of the people through the diffusion of knowledge and virtue.  It was not a secondary matter that the early American Puritans and, later the founders, placed a high value on the education and literacy of the people.  Adams and the other founders knew that true liberty was dependent on an educated population.  The basis of that education is the written word. 

Just as the life of the Church rests upon the Word as its foundation and is dependent on the Biblical literacy of its members, the life of a free nation is dependent upon the literacy of its citizens.  Literacy goes beyond the ability to read.  It requires one to be “well read” and discerning of what is read.  As we celebrate our Nation’s founding in a couple of weeks and ponder the liberty we are graced with by Providence, let us take up our responsibility to nurture our intellectual and moral character.  Let us in the church model that to the world.  Let us take up and read!

24 March 2006

... "Give Careful Thought to Your Ways!"

Such was the command to the nation of Israel through the prophet Haggai (Read 1:3-15). In context, God was convicting the people for their selfish orientation, their apathy toward Him and their vain social and economic priorities. They responded in obedience and “in the fear of the Lord.” The passage applies as much today as it did to Israel after they had grown indifferent to the rebuilding of the temple.

We live in a “Christian-Lite” age, with priorities often self-oriented and divorced from biblical content even among Christians. We tend to worry more about how our faith can meet our “felt-needs,” grow our self-esteem or enhance our image before others, rather than how we can grow in obedience and in glorifying our Lord. In fact, we are often indifferent toward the Bible’s priority to know our God, walk in loving obedience to His decrees and love Him with all our minds—and to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds!”

Haggai reminds us of the importance to grow our minds—to increase our knowledge, thinking and reflection…to grow in wisdom and sharpen our conscience before a holy God—through the provision given and mediated by the Word of God. As the Psalmist prays (Ps 90:12),“So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Let us consider our ways and take up and read!

(First published in Dei Light April 2005)

16 March 2006

...shades of "freedom"

Reading history suggests that some things in the present are not always as they seem or as they are portrayed. One example is the contemporary discourse on “personal freedom” supported by appealing to the basis of our Nation’s founding. Historically, freedom was understood primarily in a corporate context, dependent on a corresponding individual responsibility and accountability to society and exercised primarily through the institutions of family, church and local government. Accountability brings necessary restraints on freedom’s exercise—restraints necessary because of the inclinations of our fallen state as made clear in the Scriptures and demonstrated over and over in history. In contemporary rhetoric, calls for “freedom” are often veiled appeals for additional personal autonomy, the shedding of accountability and, in effect, the removal of those restraints. But history shows that individual autonomy tends not to enhance freedom but endanger it. By nature, we need accountability and restraints on the inclinations of that nature. Those restraints largely come by the means of God-given institutions of family, community, government and, for Christians, the church. So let us grow in our understanding of the subject of freedom through the reading of history. And let that history enhance our discernment and point us not toward personal autonomy but toward growth in personal responsibility and accountability. Let it help us in the strengthening of our God-given institutions—for the preservation and strengthening of true freedom. Let us take up and read!

08 March 2006

Recommended: Bunyan's "Grace Abounding"

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan. Whitaker House, 2002.

This work is the spiritual autobiography of John Bunyan—the English preacher most famous for the allegory Pilgrim’s Progress—written in 1666 well into a 12-year imprisonment for his faith. In Grace Abounding, Bunyan recounts his life beginning with guilt and despair over his sin and ending yet a sinner but with a heart full of thanksgiving and in awe of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. If you have struggled with sin, assurance of faith, anxiety and doubt or even apathy and boredom with the things of God, this account will be a great encouragement. Use it as a mirror and read it to be encouraged and to grow in knowing our amazing God and His abounding grace extended in Christ to us, even “the chief of sinners.”

24 February 2006

…On viewing history in time

Among the most productive reading is good history, but how one views history makes a difference. Common in our culture is a cyclical view of history or the thought that history just goes on in a repetitive and random pattern without direction, beginning or end. The cyclical view, pessimistic and without ultimate meaning, recognizes only the here and now (the root meaning of secular) and the passing of time. There is no concept of eternity—past or future. In stark contrast is the Biblical view of history, which is linear recognizing a beginning, end and purpose with direction. History is seen in the context of eternity and an eternal God working out everything according to His purpose—the ordering of time. It is what makes historic events historic. It is easily argued that the most historic event in the course of humanity was the first coming of Christ. We measure the years by it. His coming was foretold consistently over 1500 years. The Old Testament anticipates His coming and the New proclaims it. Christ’s first advent is acknowledged by virtually all civilizations and all major religions. Nobody has impacted the course of history as he. Nobody has been more loved or more hated. It is His coming that reveals the purpose in history. History is “His story.” View history in all its fullness. See its direction and its significance. Know it to face the future—with optimism and purpose. Take up and read!

(First published in December 2005 Dei Light)

19 February 2006

…On recognizing and responding to duty

Duty is a term often associated with military service. But it has much broader application. It applies to citizens of a country. It applies to members of a family. It applies to those in a church body. Duty recognizes obligation and puts others or another before self. As such, fulfilling duty has moral implications. The 19th century British historian Lord John Acton wrote that moral foundations of society are not the satisfying of appetites but the fulfillment of duties. In the working out of our faith, too often we concern ourselves more with the satisfaction of our appetites—appetites for success, for personal fulfillment, for comfort, for happiness, for acceptance or for popularity. But Christ calls us to the fulfillment of duty—to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.” That admonition refers to duty—the duty of one in submission to our Lord. And a duty that is ever mindful of a transcendent God. Reading history and biography can help take our eyes off ourselves, sharpen our senses toward duty and expose our tendency to put first the satisfaction of our appetites. Let us cultivate a sense of duty—duty to others and ultimately to our Lord. To help that cultivation, let us take up and read!

29 January 2006

...On Words of Counsel

Experience shows that we often have a tough time accepting counsel or advice. It offends our pride. We also live in a culture flattered and lured by the subjective. “I did it my way,” goes the song. “If it feels good do it!” “What’s true for you may be different than what’s true for me.” Too often we ride the winds of subjective opinion or the popular. We cry for freedom without responsibility and without restraint. But without objective counsel and restraint, “everyone does what is right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6) These are not words of freedom but words of judgment. We need objective counsel. We need restraints to keep us on the straight and narrow and to dampen the cycles of opinion and fad. “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.” (Proverbs 29:18) A primary source of counsel and restraint is the written word. Written history—history of the world, our country, of nations rising and falling, of leaders good and bad—provides insight and perspective. Biography provides example. The Bible reveals who we are, who God is and what he has done for us, and—for the Christian—is to be our delight (Psalm 1). So let us seek objective truth. Let us set aside our pride and the subjective and be open to counsel and guidance for living. Let us grow in the counsel of a good book and in the Good Book. Let us take up and read!

Recommended: Richard Mayhue's "Practicing Proverbs"

"Practicing Proverbs: Wise Living for Foolish Times," by Richard Mayhue, Christian Focus Publications, 2003

“To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice...” Those words, recorded in the first chapter of Proverbs, introduce the purpose of a book rich in practical application for living. But the treasures of Proverbs remain largely neglected by most Christians. Mayhue’s unique work helps to organize the Book of Proverbs for six life applications: spiritual, personal, family, intellectual, work-place and societal. A brief biography of King Solomon is provided to relate the content to its author. Mayhue also addresses the common questions raised in the reading of Proverbs. The work also has several practical indexes including devotional, life-application, subject and thematic which assist the reader in applying Proverbs to life’s challenges. Use this book for personal study, family devotions, small group study, and for a handy reference when facing questions of discernment. Practicing Proverbs is highly recommended for every home library.

15 January 2006

...On new beginnings

The New Year traditionally brings a sense of being able to start fresh, to renew our manner of living and to rededicate ourselves to the larger things of life. Consider these words from The Valley of Vision entitled A Disciple’s Renewal...
“O my Saviour, Help me. I am so slow to learn, so prone to forget, so weak to climb; I am in the foothills when I should be on the heights; I am pained by my graceless heart, my prayerless days, my poverty of love, my sloth in the heavenly race, my sullied conscience, my wasted hours, my unspent opportunities. I am blind while light shines around me: take the scales from my eyes, grind to dust the evil heart of unbelief. Make it my chiefest joy to study thee, meditate on thee, gaze on thee, sit like Mary at thy feet, lean like John on thy breast, appeal like Peter to thy love, count like Paul all things dung. Give me increase and progress in grace so that there may be more decision in my character, more vigour in my purposes, more elevation in my life, more fervour in my devotion, more constancy in my zeal. As I have a position in the world, keep me from making the world my position; May I never seek in the creature what can be found only in the Creator; Let not faith cease from seeking thee until it vanishes into sight. Ride forth in me, thou King of kings and Lord of lords, that I may live victoriously, and in victory attain my end.”
May God grant us the grace to appropriate this prayer in our lives as we begin anew in 2006. Take up and read!