Thursday, July 28, 2011

Book Review: "Your Mind Matters" by John Stott

Your Mind Matters (1972) by John R. W. Stott  This book offers an excellent balance between knowledge and emotion as well as knowledge and action, while at the same time perfectly explaining the need for Christians to grow in knowledge and to use their minds to the glory of God.  Too often the church has tried to bypass the mind in evangelism, worship, and discipleship; we have made appeals to the emotions rather than to the reason, and therefore transformation is short-lived, radical, and shallow.  This book shows why the Bible stresses that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds.  It gives reasons why we as Christians need to use our minds, and then practical ways and places to use our minds.  I would highly recommend this book to any believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

God's Place in My Life

Yesterday I put up a facebook status that brought on a bit of debate.  My status was "Rule # 1 of life: Don't get attached too tightly to anything but God. He has a way of taking everything else away in one way or another." and in the course of debate I was sent a link to this blog post which was excellent and I would highly recommend reading.  Anyways, through the course of this all, I decided that I wanted to write down some of the thoughts that I'm having in connection to all of this.  If you would like to read the discussion which took place on my facebook status I have included the important parts at the end of this post.

First, I have this horrible tendency to overemphasize surrender and humility so that it can seem like I do not believe in enjoying things around us or seeing any good in ourselves, which are both not true, but it can come across that way.  So, if I go there in this post, I’m sorry, you’ll have to forgive me and overlook those things that I say.

Now, for the real content of my thoughts.  You know, I used to struggle to understand how we are to love God with ALL of our heart, soul, mind and strength but still love our neighbor as ourselves.  If we love our neighbor aren’t we taking some of our love away from God and thereby not loving Him with our complete self?
In the same way, I have struggled many times to understand how I can find my complete and entire satisfaction and joy from God alone without leaving everything behind (which is not possible short of suicide) to live off of God and nothing else.  How I am to be willing to leave everything behind to follow Him, even family and friends, home and job, dreams and desires; but still live with all of these things?
What God has taught me in both of these areas is that it is a matter of a changed perspective, not necessarily a change of habits (although changing the way we view the world will always change the way we live in it).  What I’ve come to see is that I can (and only should) love others as an extension of my love for God.  You see, when I love others out of my own love, they receive a broken, incomplete, selfish love (because that is all that I am capable of), but when I love them because I love God, and I love God because He first loved me, suddenly I am loving them with God’s love which is whole, pure, and perfect (although I am not always a perfect conduit of it).  I actually have a greater ability to love others when I love God with my WHOLE being, when everything I do and say is out of love for God I suddenly am liberated to love others with a much greater love.
In the same way, when I recognize that all the things of this life, all the good that I see and receive, are from God I am liberated to fully enjoy them.  When we enjoy something for its own value or worth it is an incomplete joy and pleasure that we experience, because we must always enjoy them with a fear that we will lose them.  However, when we recognize that our full and complete joy comes from God, and that should this thing before us that we find such pleasure in disappear God will remain, then we are actually free to enjoy everything around us without the fear of losing it, because we know that should we lose it there is One who is exponentially more glorious who will supply all of our needs.

And this is where the whole idea of attachment comes in.  When we become so attached to something that we are not willing to give it up we are no longer loving it out of a love for God and enjoying it out of thanksgiving, instead we are using it to try to replace God in our life and it is competing with Him for first place in our soul.  If we surrender it to Him and make Him alone God in our heart, then we would be willing to echo with Job “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord” but since we have made that thing as important or more important than God we suddenly say “But God, I can’t live without that!”.

I’ve been there.  There was a time that my relationship with God was suffering.  I could not sense His Spirit, I could not hear His voice, I struggled through worship services and times of hearing the Word or reading it on my own.  And so I took some time and said, “God, what is it, I will do anything to be brought back into communion and full fellowship with you” and He said “This, give this up”.  I said back “I’ll do anything but that”.  At that point I knew that I was not taking joy in that thing for Christ’s sake but rather for my own.  I was not seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness but my own satisfaction and dreams.  And slowly over the next 4 months He worked in my heart as I ran the other way until finally, after 4 months of running, I was willing to submit and say “Not my will, but thine be done”.  What I learned from that is that it is good to enjoy things, it is good to love things, it is good to desire things; but when we start putting those things over God it becomes a problem.  Not because God needs attention and gets mad and comes and destroys things when we give that attention to something other than Him, but because we were created to worship God and God alone, because I cannot be entirely satisfied by things of this world (I have tried) and I cannot love with my own strength and power, so it is ONLY when I am in submission (yes, it’s a difficult word, but I’ve come to the place where I WANT to submit to the creator and controller of the universe) and surrender that I can truly live and taste the joy of that life.

For the praise and glory of my God and Father, through the work of His Son which restores us to Himself, and the patience of the Spirit in teaching our hearts, I pray that He will open the eyes of your heart to taste and see that He is good.

Discussion from facebook:
My Status: Rule # 1 of life: Don't get attached too tightly to anything but God. He has a way of taking everything else away in one way or another.

Me: The first of the 10 commandments - You shall have no other gods before me.
When we struggle to give something up it shows where our priorities (and worship) are going.
It's a matter of surrender. And God likes to find ways to make us surrender...
I strongly believe it should be the goal of every follower of Jesus to surrender everything in their life to God so that they can honestly and clearly say "Take the world but give me Jesus". We should be willing to leave EVERYTHING behind in order to follow His leading.
It's a process.

Someone A: So 'god' is this heavenly troll who cant stand us having good things in our lives that we enjoy and delight in?
Should we all be monks?

Someone B: On the contrary. God is the best thing we can have. And as humans we don't always see that. It takes God breaking us of our idols to bring us to the realization that he is the best thing we can have. It's not that he doesn't want us to have good things, for in fact he does. But it's when those good things become over important that God may break us of those idols.

Someone A: So, you are saying, he is a possessive control-freak who doesnt want anything to be bigger than him. And in doing so, will take immediate and decisive action against anything that does, using brutal force to literally destroy.
Some happy "Rule #1" there. 

1) No, He is not a "possessive control freak", rather He is a loving Father who knows what's best for us. Sometimes a Father uses discipline to grow his children whom he loves, in the same way God sometimes shows us what is best through discipline.
2) God never takes something away from us because He is afraid that it's bigger than Him or because He is trying to take away our joy. Rather, He does it to show us that He IS what is biggest and that our joy and delight ultimately comes from Him.
3) Following on the last thought, God does not take things away from us so that we lose everything permanently, and when I said about Christians being WILLING to leave everything for God I was not talking about a monastic lifestyle, rather as Christians we should recognize that God is the giver of ALL good gifts, but that as God it is also His prerogative to give AND take away (and yes, sometimes for our good He does take things away).
4) Who am I to judge God? If He feels it is for the best and would bring Him the most glory for me to lose all of my earthly possessions and learn to live on Him alone, should I become depressed and angry like Jonah when the vine that gave him shade withered, or should I rejoice with Paul or with Job that I have been counted worthy to suffer for Him? Who am I to judge the heart of God, is it not instead Him who judges my heart and my motives, and who lovingly instructs me to cling to him alone because that IS what is best for me?

No, He's not a troll and He's not a control freak, He's the creator of the universe who is always lovingly pointing us towards Himself, because that is what is best.   

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book Review: "Why Men Hate Going to Church" by David Murrow

Why Men Hate Going to Church (2005) by David Murrow  This is one of those books that I think I will try to go back and read once every 5 years or so because it addresses things so ingrained within the Christian culture, and therefore within my psyche, that it will require repeated exposure and reminders to work them out of my general interactions.  Having said all of that, there are things within this book that I highly disagree with; the book is very reactionary (although the author repeats over and over that this reactionary position should never be maintained by anyone) and therefore tends to be extremist in nature.  However, if the reader is careful to recognize those things which are reactionarily extreme and those which are biblically sound, this book will prove to be extremely helpful in the personal development of any Christian and corporate development of any church.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Life of Virtue

“…the believer needs to know that he is partaker of the divine nature, that he has the very nature and spirit of Christ in him, and that his one calling is to yield himself to a perfect conformity to Christ.  The branch is a perfect likeness of the vine; the only difference is the one is great and strong, and the source of strength; the other little and feeble, ever needing and receiving strength.  Even so the believer is, and is to be, the perfect likeness of Christ.” - Andrew Murray

2 Peter 1:3-11
“ 3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
 5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
 10 Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

“We are not to be satisfied with one virtue, or one class of virtues, but there is to be
            1. A diligent cultivation of our virtues
            2. Progress made from one virtue to another
            3. an accumulation of virtues and graces”
- Barnes

How do I cultivate virtues in my life?  How regularly do I think about my conformity (or lack thereof) to Christ?  How can I better cultivate virtues?

What virtues am I cultivating right now?  What virtues is God cultivating in me?

What virtues have I accumulated in my life?  What virtues would I like to accumulate in the coming year?  What am I doing to maintain the virtues I have already accumulated?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Book Review: "Deerslayer" by James Fenimore Cooper

Deerslayer (1841) by James Fenimore Cooper  This is one of my all-time favorite novels.  The author does a good job of developing the characters just enough to cause you to fall in love with them (or to hate them) but with enough mystery surrounding them to make them still seem like real people.  It is amazing how short a period of time such a large book fills, but this is accounted for by the extensive detail given to scenery and depictions of events as well as extensive conversations which take place for seemingly no reason except character development.  After reading this book you feel that you have spent the past week with the characters, just hanging out and getting to know them.  The themes that carry throughout the book are truth, natural gifts, race, and innocence.  All in all, I would highly recommend this book to anyone.