Friday, September 30, 2011

Book List

As many of you know, reading is important to me. It is a way that I can learn from some of the most educated and experienced people, both living and dead. I especially like reading older books; the fact that they are still around shows that there is something worth preserving (and hopefully worth learning) from them. And so my Book List page has been an important section of this blog for quite some time now, but recently I have struggled to know exactly how it should look or how I (and you) should be able to interact with it. Today I think I may have found a solution.
There is a website that manages the books you've read, want to read, and are currently reading and will allow me to publish reviews to this blog as well as maintaining a page of all of these types of books for me. I have set this page up and labeled it "New Booklist (Beta)". If you would check that out and let me know what you think of it, that would be awesome!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Unemployment, Priorities, and the Habits I've Formed

It's 2 months that I've been unemployed.  It's weird, I think this may be the longest I've ever gone without any specific responsibilities.  I've always either been in school or working, but for the past 2 months I've kinda been floating in a sense.  It seems like I've done nothing but at the same time like I've been non-stop busy.  Looking back over the past 2 months there's actually quite an array of things I've accomplished, but there's also been a lot of wasted time.
What struck me today, though, is the habits that I've formed.
In such a short period of time I've developed certain ways I go to bed, certain ways I wake up, certain ways I eat, certain ways I communicate with my family.  And they are unique, different from when I was working full-time.  Somewhat because time constraints are different and life goals are different and even my energy level and activity level are different.
What's even more interesting than the habits that I've formed (and how quickly I've formed them without even being consciously aware of them) is how hard it is to change them now.  I've come to realize some of them in the past week that are probably not the best habits to have (such as staying up til midnight every night on my computer instead of just going to sleep at 11 when I get tired...)

I've noticed that habits tend to form quickly around major life-style changes, so I typically set out with very specific habits that I want to form and very specific ways that I want to mold myself.
Part of the problem this time around was:
1) I did not know how long the state of unemployment would last, so it was hard to know what type of long-term habits to set up
2) My activities were very different from week to week (even day to day...) so habits I did try to start rarely lasted more than a week
3) I really had no long-term goals for this period of unemployment other than getting married, getting a job, and getting an apartment (not necessarily in that order...) so it led to a lot of unplanned time (which tends to lead to poor habits).  A note on this: I did have a lot of short-term things that I wanted to accomplish but I burned through most of that list in the first month.

So, why do I bore you with this long recounting of the past 2 months of my life as well as an assessment of my current state?
For one reason alone: Hopefully reading this has made you think a little about your life, about your goals, about your time management.  What types of habits do you have?  Are you living with habits from a previous "segment" of your life that are currently just bogging you down?  Do you know why you do those things you do?  Like that candy bar you're eating, or that hour you spent this morning trying to wake up, or the nap this afternoon, or the hour on facebook.  Do you do these things because of an accumulation of poor choices along the way?  Perhaps its time to get rid of some of the baggage, perhaps its time to reevaluate, perhaps its time to consider whether you've made habits for the things that are important in life.  Your children, your spouse, your spiritual development, sharing God's work in your life with others.

Sometimes we have to shake ourselves up a bit when life has settled in too much.  Sometimes we have to reevaluate and reassess why it is that we do the things we do.  And sometimes we have to make hard, real, and drastic choices to simply be different, to just not do the things that we've done and rather do something else.  To take off the old self and put on the new.  To conform our image not to our impulses and desires but rather to the image of Christ.

Friday, September 23, 2011

But God, I Don't Love That About You!

I was rereading something I posted last February on the topic of God's mercy and justice being seemingly contradictory.  Its interesting because I came to the point that I realized that I didn't love something about God, I didn't love his wrath and his justice.  It made me think of a passage from Rob Bell's book "Love Wins".  Here's what Rob said and then an excerpt from what I said.
...A loving heavenly father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with them would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter who would ensure that they had no escape from an endless future of agony.  If there was an earthly father who was like that, we would call the authorities...If God can switch gears like that, switch entire modes of being that quickly, that raises a thousand questions about whether a being like this could ever be trusted, let alone be good...And that is the secret deep in the heart of many people, especially Christians: they don't love God.  They can't, because the God they've been presented with and taught about can't be loved.  That God is terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable.
Let's be very clear, then: we do not need to be rescued from God.  God is the one who rescues us from death, sin, and destruction.  God is the rescuer.  This is crucial for our peace, because we shape our God, and then our God shapes us.
First, I would like to note that Bell sees God as "changing gears" from loving to wrathful, which means that he struggles to see God's love in His wrath.  I wonder how Rob views verses that speak of God crushing His own son, his perfect, sinless son who deserved none of the wrath He received... Can that God be trusted?  Although, since to Rob "love demands freedom" I guess if Jesus freely chose to take that penalty for sin it was loving for God to give it to Him.  What if God isn't changing gears, though, what if the plan all along has been the punishment of sin with forgiveness offered through Jesus in this lifetime?  If that has always been the plan, and if that is who God is, then he's not changing gears and it would seem to me that if we don't love him that's our problem, not his.  Please understand, these are just my thoughts, I'm not saying they're right or wrong, but its just an interesting dilemma.  What I DO know, though, is that I don't want my understanding of God to be based upon what is comfortable or makes me or others feel good or even what seems to make the most sense (based on my perspective), rather I want my view of God to be based upon God's revelation of himself to me through his Word, both written, lived out (in Jesus), and communicated to my heart (through the Spirit).

Anyways, here's some stuff from my post when I was struggling through this in the beginning of the year:
And do you know what my conclusion was?  God, I get it, I see it, like, I can't even describe to you, the reader, how clear all of this was in my eyes, but I said to God, I don't like it.  In fact, I realized that this is a piece of God that I don't love.  I don't love his wrath or his jealousy.  I don't!

And so my prayer is, Father, teach me to love you as you are.  Teach me to see your manifold wisdom in choosing some for life and others for death.  Teach me to see your love in you wrath and your mercy in your justice.  Teach me to see you for who you are, to be amazed, and to love and worship you, because I know you are worthy.  I don't want to just know the answers, I want to love the answers, and more than that, I want to love the one behind the answers.
I want to be clear.  I respect Rob Bell, I understand his points and I know he's trying to be Scriptural, I agree with him that too often we've painted God as an angry god and portrayed Jesus as rescuing us from God, and I also understand and agree that we shape our god and our god shapes us, however I don't think that the answer then is to think of what type of god would give us the most peace and then shape God to be that, I think that the answer is to try to get rid of all of our preconceived notions about God and truly encounter Him through His Word, through service, and through life and only then will we experience true peace and joy and come to a more complete knowledge of who He is.

To His honor and glory; may His name be praised forever and ever.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Sin Within Us

I'm reading the book "When Sinners Say 'I Do'" by Dave Harvey.  We're going through it at a men's breakfast I've been attending, so yesterday I read the first two chapters.  He quotes John MacArthur at one point, and what he said really stuck out to me.
Christians are rapidly losing sight of sin as the root of all human woes.  And many Christians are explicitly denying that their own sin can be the cause of their personal anguish.  More and more are attempting to explain the human dilemma in wholly unbiblical terms: temperament, addiction, dysfunctional families, the child within, codependency, and a host of other irresponsible escape mechanisms promoted by secular psychology.
How often we do this!  How often I do this.
Rather than humbly recognizing that we are sinful and taking responsibility for our actions, we instead point out that it was them who made us angry, or that we were tired from work, or that we've never been truly loved so how can we show love, or our personality just makes us that way, or we were "in a bad mood".  We've been told over and over by the world that we are basically good, and many times we've bought into it, so rather than seeing ourselves as God sees us, broken and in need of a Savior, we see ourselves as slighted by everyone and everything, we see ourselves as deserving of better but receiving less.

May we come to see ourselves as God sees us.  May we lay aside our pride and come to see that we are sinful beings, that we are rotten to our core, and that we desperately need God to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review: "Love Wins" (2011) by Rob Bell

As promised I am writing a review of the book "Love Wins" by Rob Bell.  I don't think of myself as a good book reviewer...because I tend to focus in on what the book meant to me and what stuck out to me rather than treating the book as a whole and giving it an unbiased presentation and review, so I apologize for that.  However, if you are reading this you probably already know my style of presentation and know that you'll receive here more of my opinion which you are to weed through rather than irrevocable truth which you can stand on (for that I would have to refer you to Scripture).  So please bear with my wholly nonacademic, unstructured, and probably improper review of the book at hand.

First, I feel a need to defend Rob Bell, if for no other reason than the fact that he has been somewhat unfairly and unjustly (in my estimation) attacked from so many angles for the writing and publication of this book.  There are some who have called for a boycott of everything associated with Bell, removing his videos and writings from church libraries and even personal libraries, because of what was written in this book.  In fact, some of my readers may have done such things (as I have), but I have come to the conclusion that if we are going to throw out the whole of Bell's work based on this one book then we should also throw out the whole of C.S. Lewis' work based upon his book "The Great Divorce" and the whole of Martin Luther's work based upon his anti-semitic views which were so strong as to actually aid Hitler's work in the Holocaust.  No human perfectly understand the truth, but every Christian should be seeking the truth through the Word of God, and as such we should expect truly godly persons to, at times, say and even teach things which are in error, because it is only then that they are being honest as to what they believe and even honestly searching Scripture to understand what it teaches.  Basically, what I am trying to say is, the fact that Rob Bell is searching out the meaning of heaven and hell in light of Scripture, publishing something that is contrary to commonly held beliefs because he believes it is what God teaches in His Word even though he knows that it will severely taint his reputation and ministry, does not, in my opinion, lessen his place within the Christian tradition, but rather raises him to the level of such men as Luther, Huss, Calvin, C.S. Lewis, and others.  In fact, the Protestant tradition is based upon men who were willing to say what their consciences compelled them to believe based upon Scripture rather than what was commonly held to be true.  This does not validate the content of the book, but rather the person of the author, and I hope that it helps you to see why I have a great respect for Rob Bell and for his willingness to print such a controversial book even though I wholly disagree with a great deal of what he says.

Now, onto the book itself.
Some observations (this is the "unbiased" section where I simply try to give an honest evaluation of the book as a whole. The next section will contain my opinions of the content):
1) Rob Bell is a rock star turned pastor.  This book follows suit.  It is not, as you may expect a book challenging current beliefs about heaven and hell to be, an academic, heavy read, rather it is best read as fast as you can and definitely not with a highlighter and pen in hand.  Read first, think later.
2) Following the previous observation, Love Wins is not a compilation of research or a synthesis of information, rather it is a man presenting his opinions about eternity.  Obviously his opinion is informed by many sources and has been developed over many years, but you will not find citations for his thoughts or even a bibliography at the end of the book (although there is a "Further Reading" section at the end, containing a grand total of 7 books).  In my estimation, this is a great weakness in the book, I can't even begin to try to figure out where Bell got his ideas from in order to further consider or study them.
3) Rob Bell is a man well versed in Scripture.  One thing that you will find throughout the whole book is Scripture reference after Scripture reference.  Although the majority of them seem to come from the Gospels and the prophets (I didn't keep tally) he does have a great number of references from every section of the Bible.  This, in my opinion, is a great plus to the book.
4) Rob definitely seems to have been hurt by the evangelical community at some point in the past and has obviously ministered to a great number of people who have been.  Consequently, there are times in the book where he'll challenge the "common conception" about God or the after life, however I question whether there is really anyone who believes these things which Bell argues against or whether they are just straw men that he has created in order to beat down.

What I'm left with (this is where you'll find what I think of Bell's conclusions):
1) I think that Love Wins addresses some serious problems within Evangelical Christianity which should be addressed and which are, indeed, problems.  One of these is the common view that we will spend eternity in heaven.  I think that Bell is right that the gospel is not about God destroying the earth and taking us to heaven but rather it is about him restoring the earth and then bringing heaven down to it.  This is one example of a side issue that he addresses in the book that I am actually thankful for and think is good and appropriate.  For these things I applaud Bell and hope that some in the evangelical community listen up and return to the Scriptures to see what they actually teach.
2) One major issue I have with the book Love Wins is Bell's definition of love.  Perhaps the greatest problem is that he never really defines love.  It becomes evident as you read, though, that to Bell love is "the freedom to choose" (page 104 & 113).  In fact he says "Love demands freedom.  It always has, and it always will."  But he never backs this up with anything.  He gives Scripture for just about everything he suggests in his book except for this one (and you could say, this core) assertion, that love is freedom.  I, personally, hold to a different definition of love.  I define love as "seeking the greatest good of another".  Unfortunately, I also don't know where I came up with that definition or why I hold to it.... But if you define love as seeking the other's greatest good rather than the giving the other the freedom to choose it changes the whole argument of the book, which is why I wish Bell would have put more effort into explaining his view of love.
3) Another major issue I have with this book is Bell's treatment of Hell.  Perhaps his greatest argument against the common understanding of Hell is that it is not clearly taught anywhere in Scripture.  And to prove this he lists "every" verse that mentions Hell.  The problem is that there are no Greek or Hebrew words that refer to the Christian understanding of Hell (which he admits).  So congratulations Rob, you have now listed every verse that mentions the Old Testament Jewish view of the afterlife or contains the Greek word that it seems Jesus used to refer to Hell at times, but you've missed every other passage (and there are many) that deals with what the Scripture would present as the Christian view of Hell or that would speak about someone going to such a place!  Basically, Rob builds a case against the Greek word "gehenna" (because it was a literal trash heap outside Jerusalem) saying it is the only word in the New Testament that can be literally translated "Hell", but he misses all the other times that Hell is spoken of by way of another illustration or even through inference.  What bugs me even more about this is that he later criticizes "the church" for picking certain illustrations in the Bible (such as Old Testament sacrifice as a symbol of Jesus' atoning work pg 129) and using them exclusively while forgetting about all of the other illustrations that exist.  However, when it comes to hell, Bell exclusively uses the illustration of gehenna (a trash heap) while ignoring all of the other references which use other words.  So I will use his own words against him on this point "The point, then, isn't to narrow it to one particular metaphor, image, explanation, or mechanism.  To elevate one over the others, to insist that there's a 'correct' or 'right one', is to miss the brilliant, creative work these first Christians were doing when they used these images and metaphors.  They were reading their world, looking for ways to communicate this epic event in ways their listeners could grasp" (pg 129).  Yes Rob, you are absolutely correct, and I would say that Jesus was doing the same thing by speaking of Hell as the trash heap outside Jerusalem.  It doesn't negate the reality of Hell, rather it shows how seriously Jesus took it, so seriously that he would use any appropriate metaphor to communicate to his followers its seriousness.  Ok, there's much more I could say here, but it gets too long...
4) Another concern of mine is Bell's implications towards Satan and the fallen angels.  Bell points out all of the passages that speak of God restoring ALL things and emphasizes that this means that ALL people must eventually be saved.  However, if you follow this interpretation of these passages you must end up at the point where you believe that God will eventually restore the fallen angels as well.  I do not know whether Rob would agree with this or not, however from my perspective it would seem far more difficult to explain away the passages that refer to Satan's eternal consequences than it is the ones which refer to that of humanity.

I would like to end by saying that there are some things which I greatly appreciate about what Rob Bell has to say and even about the message of Love Wins.
1) Rob twice (that I can remember) takes a specific theological view and expands it using Scripture.  So on one occasion he lists all of the illustrations used in Scripture of the atonement and ends up with the sentence "What happened on the cross is like...a defendant going free, a relationship being reconciled, something lost being redeemed, a battle being won, a final sacrifice being offered, so that no one ever has to offer another one again, an enemy being loved."  I've found that some people so stress the judicial action of the cross that they forget that Jesus was also purchasing a people for himself, that he was pouring out love upon his enemies, that he was purchasing back something that was once his own.  And we do this with other things, we may focus on the church as a family but forget that it is also a body, a building, a hospital, a bride.  I love the way that Rob just lists all of the illustrations from Scripture out one after another so you can think about the differences between them and realize how easy it is to get wrapped up in a single illustration rather than seeing the picture that God is trying to draw by using ALL of the illustrations together.
2) I also love his treatment of the story of the prodigal son.  He talks about accepting the gospel as humbly accepting God's version of our life story instead of our own, and how often as Christians we need to again trade in our story of guilt, condemnation, or self-righteousness for God's story of unconditional love, grace, and human insufficiency.

There are many more things I could say.  As I stated at the beginning, there are many side points that Bell makes in Love Wins which I greatly appreciate and think we would all do well to learn from, however his overall point seems underdeveloped (lacks a good definition for love), unscriptural (completely leaves out most passages dealing with hell and ignores some implications of his new doctrine), and ill-informed (at least judging from the extreme lack of citations or sources).  I appreciate Bell's tenacity, I appreciate his desire to minister to people who have been hurt by the church, I appreciate his ministry, I appreciate his support of those who are questioning and doubting, I appreciate his love for the Lord and his desire to share that love with others, however this book did not seem to me to be a compelling resource for considering the ultimate things of life.

I would like to end with one thought, though.  Rob does portray some glaring problems with the view of heaven and hell currently held by most evangelicals.  They are problems that I myself have seen when considering eternity in light of Scripture.  It is no secret that I still struggle with my current understanding of the atonement, and I am still seeking answers to some of these questions.  So I would encourage you: read this book.  Ask the questions.  And then seek the truth in Scripture.  I purposefully read Love Wins before reading Erasing Hell by Francis Chan or any other book on the topic because I wanted to allow myself to ask the questions.  I think that too often we try to just take the "answers" from those who have already worked these things out through Scripture rather than ourselves digging into the Word and seeing what God is saying there.  If this review leaves you with anything, I hope it is a desire to read Love Wins and see what Rob Bell has to say.  Not reading it with a critical, angry eye, picking out every little thing that contradicts what you believe, but rather reading it with a humble spirit, allowing his corrections to fall upon fertile soil, and then going to Scripture to see what God really says.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Where Are You Most Vulnerable to Satan's Attack?

We have an awesome Men's Ministry at our [old] church.  (I have to start clarifying...because if everything goes as planned this coming Sunday will be our last Sunday there.)  We typically have a monthly 4M (Men, Meat, Message, Movie) night with anywhere from 15-30 guys.  I attended last night's 4M and the message was on the armor of God.  They're having an Advance (because we don't want to be retreating in our Christian life, we should be advancing) in November where they will be talking about individual pieces of the armor of God, so last night was just a generic discussion of the armor, or more specifically of the Christian life as a battle (one of my favorite metaphors for the Christian life, by the way).

Pastor Jeff led the discussion with several questions and most of it was just "hoohaa, I've heard this before, now I actually have to work to try to figure out how to apply it....." type stuff (if you've been in the church for anything close to a long time you probably know what I mean).  However, there was one question that really stuck out to me and grabbed me.  Jeff asked "Where are you most vulnerable to Satan's attack?  Where does he most often strike you and where do you most often fall?"  This is a question I've heard before thought about many times, but he put the question so directly that it really hit me.  I thought of it another way "What thing(s) in my life keep(s) me from obeying direct commands from God?  What ways does Satan tempt me so that when I have a decision for right or for wrong I will choose wrong?"  This is a great question to ask yourself as well.  What is it in your life?  (feel free to comment)

As soon as he asked, I knew my answer.  My biggest area of weakness (and she knows this and I think would be comfortable with me sharing it) is Dana.  And no, its not what you are all now thinking.  Yes, sexual sin is a weakness for any man, especially an engaged one, but that's not my biggest struggle.  My biggest struggle is when there's something that I think/know that God wants me to do but I also think/know (although in my mind I always KNOW it for a fact) that Dana would not be a fan.  I don't have any specific examples, typically they're too embarrassing to share...because when it actually comes around to it and I admit it out loud I realize that Dana wouldn't have cared one way or another and I was actually being very childish.  But it happens with enough regularity that I would consider it my weakest point.  But its not just with Dana, its with others as well.  I just have this tendency to fear what others think (or so I always thought).  But as I tried to articulate this to the men last night, I realized that that's not what it is at all.  Because the fact of the matter is, I don't really give a hoot about what others think of me.  I mean, to a certain extent any one of us likes to be liked, but when people fawn over me or tell me how great I am, it actually irritates me, but when people correct me or say things they dislike about me it is actually invigorating to a certain extent (not in a weird type of "I like to be hated" way, but in the sense that I like when people see that I'm humanly imperfect).

So as I grasped for words last night to explain this, to make sense of why I am so vulnerable in this type of decision making, it all of a sudden hit me.  It's not that I care what they think, its that I care what I think!  Its that, in my mind, I have created my perceived role in the situation and I must live up to that role, otherwise I feel that in some way I have failed.  And for the most part, this is actually a strength of mine!  It causes me to be self-motivated, it actually helps me make difficult decisions that may offend people, it causes me to be relentless in pursuing my calling, but it creates a problem when my view of my role is not God's view of my role, or even worse, when I think that it is my job to be God!  Ultimately, for me, it comes down to a pride thing.  At times I think that I have to do XY and Z, not because I really do, but because in my mind I am the only one who can do it, or because in my mind I need to do it or I will be disappointed in myself.  And now that I realize this, I feel like it is very freeing, very liberating.  Because, before, if I felt like God had something for me to do that interfered with my idea of what I needed to be/do for Dana, I would cave to my preconceived view of my role instead of to God's desire.  And in my mind I justified it by saying that this is what Dana needs.  But now, when such a situation arises I can ask "Is this really what Dana needs, or is this what I think Dana needs but in reality God (and possibly even Dana) see the situation differently?"

I thank God for this question that was asked last night that helped me to realize these things.  I thank God for our Ministry to Men at church that gave the platform for me to think about and voice these thoughts in my head.  And I thank God for Dana and all of the rest of you that put up with me when I try to be God for you instead of submitting to His will and design for our relationships.

Now I would challenge you to ask yourself, "Where am I most vulnerable to Satan's attacks?"...

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Plunge into the Discussion

This is not my review of Rob Bell's book "Love Wins".  For my review click here.

I must say that I heard many bad reports about Rob Bell's most recent book "Love Wins", which is why I got a copy of it.  I am a firm believer in not bashing anything until you've read it, so I decided I would not make any comments, positive or negative, until I have completed the book.
Also, since I am working towards the pastorate I thought that this would be an important book to read as Bell is a very popular pastor and this book has made some waves in the Christian community.  I think that it is important to be up-to-date on current issues and it just so happens that this is one of them.  As such, I am reading this book as I do any book (Christian, secular, fiction, non-fiction), with the premise that the author is not perfect and will therefore say imperfect things and come to imperfect conclusions, but the author is also a thinking, rational human being and as such may say things that inspire honest thought and the pursuit of the truth (whether actually found in their words or by way of the questions it raises in my mind which I then seek to answer through Scripture and thereby come to a fuller understanding of God and His workings in the world).  So I am reading "Love Wins" with two purposes in mind 1) to raise questions in my mind which send me back to Scripture in order to better understand who God is 2) to better understand the issues at hand in order to help others also walk these difficult paths of thought.
I must also say that I have struggled to understand and grasp the concept of the limited atonement for a long time.  It was somewhere around 8 years ago that I asked Pastor Jeff if there were any Scriptural strains of Christian thought that embraced a universal atonement view (he actually referred me to some influential theologians, whom he quotes with some regularity, who do not hold to limited atonement.  I have since forgotten who they were and he does not remember the conversation).  As recently as this year I spent some time again struggling with the idea that God could create people knowing, and even willing, that they would spend eternity in torment.  I understand that sin against a holy God deserves an eternal punishment, I don't have space here to explain why, but I understand that, however there is something that still doesn't sit with me that a holy God would therefore create people knowing they would sin.  In any case, I say all of this to say that I give Rob Bell some props.  He has guts.  Whether he is right or wrong to publish his questions and contemplations, I'll leave that for others to discuss, but I can say that I have struggled through the same questions, have come out with anything but adequate answers, and am typically very cautious as to who I tell that to and how I say it.
So for what it's worth, right or wrong I have a certain level of respect for Rob Bell.  Right or wrong I have a certain level of respect for "Love Wins" (on multiple levels).  Right or wrong I think that it is healthy to ask questions, even when they stray from what is "religiously correct" to ask, so long as we return to Scripture as our guide.
I will finish the book "Love Wins" soon hopefully.  I am about half way through it and already have some thoughts (negative AND positive) swimming around in my head, but as promised, I will not voice them until I have completed the book in its entirety, at which point I will most definitely post my review (as nonacademic and informal as it may be) of Rob Bell's book "Love Wins".

Thoughts on a Flower

Today I was thinking about flowers...yes flowers.  (And yes, this may have something to do with the cold reminding me of an unfinished project which I really should start up again...)  While thinking about flowers, something interesting occurred to me.

Flowers hold a sense of beauty in our minds.  It doesn't matter the type of flower (except for maybe dandelions...) or the time or year, a flower always holds a certain level of beauty.  We use them for decoration, cutting them and placing them around our houses; for cosmetic purposes, placing them in our hair or on our clothing (I only do this in private...); for perfume, taking their scents to make ourselves smell more beautiful.

But as beautiful as flowers are, they actually have a real purpose for their existence.  And that purpose is fruit, reproduction, survival.  The flower gives way to the fruit of the plant, to the seed, and therefore is the plant's way of propagating itself and thus ensuring survival of the species (do plants have species?... Hmmm).  In other words, in nature, the flower isn't where it's at.  The flower precedes the truly [beautiful?] important part of the plant, the seed.

How often do we find this in our lives?  How often do we miss the truly important parts of our days and weeks because we are distracted by the beautiful things that will pass away?  How often do we see only the temporal advantages of something but miss the truly eternal aspects of it that will only come through time?

How great is God to provide us with something as beautiful as a flower, even though it has no obvious (other than attracting bees and butterflies) purposes?  God could have made flowers just as bland as many other parts of the landscape, but He made them different, He made the stand out?  But that doesn't mean they're more important, in fact, in some ways they're less important than some of the more bland parts of the plant, such as the leaves, or the seeds, or even the roots!

I hope that I'm not simply a flower in the chain of human existence.  I hope that I'm not beautiful and smell nice (well, I do hope I smell at least ok most of the time) but provide no eternal consequence, no beneficial development.  I hope that I don't pass away without first planting seeds that will spring up into a harvest of life to those around me and those to come after me.  I hope that God gives me the grace to be as efficient as a leaf, as beautiful as a flower, and as beneficial as a seed (sorry root, I couldn't think of anything nice to say about you....but I hope I have good roots as well).

The End.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Question to my Readers

Last Fall I started keeping track of the books I was reading in a "Book List" tab (if you always read my posts through email or a Reader you may not even know this tab exists!)  Since last October I have read 24 books (hopefully it will be 25 by the end of September, that is my goal) and have faithfully documented when I completed each book as well as writing a short, informal review of the book.  I am running into a dilemma, though, that seems like it would be best resolved by taking a vote from you all, my faithful readers (since you are the ones who will be affected by it).

The dilemma:
At this point my Book List has become quite long, and somewhat unmanageable.  I could continue to add books to it as I read them, but it would become almost pointless (and useless to any of you who may be interested) because of its length.  Also, my purpose in keeping track on that tab was so you could see what I was reading, but also so I could see what I was reading (and make sure I keep reading).  By continuing to add to the same list it becomes harder and harder for me to monitor my reading, thus undermining the purposes of the tab.  I was tempted to simplify the list, getting rid of my reviews, and simply listing the books I have read with the date I completed them, however then I would lose all of the reviews I have written which may be helpful to you as well as me in the future.

Possible solutions (this is what you're voting on):
A)  I can continue on the way that I currently am doing it, simply adding books to the already existing list despite its difficulties.  This isn't necessarily a "solution" per se, but it is an option.  It doesn't interfere with the regular workings/posts of this blog but also allows preservation of the reviews I have written.
B) I could start a new list at the start of 2012, calling it "Current Book List" and then have another tab that is "Archived Book List" where I place all of my older reviews.  This helps me to maintain accountability in my reading, allows you to see what I'm currently reading, and if you so desire allows you to see what I've read and what I thought of it.
C) I could start posting my book reviews as blog posts and with the tag "book review".  This would allow you to search my blog for all previous book reviews, and then I could delete any old ones from the "Book List" tab as I so desired.  Probably I would wipe my "Book List" every year and start fresh with a new list, but my record of previously read books would still remain as actual blog posts.  This seems the least messy and the easiest to maintain, but I'm not sure how you all feel about having my book reviews appearing as posts...

Ok, now its time for you to GET YOUR VOTE ON!!!!!!!!!!!!

Book Review: "Triumphing over Sinful Fear" by John Flavel

Triumphing Over Sinful Fear (1682) by John Flavel  This book is an excellent book that I would highly recommend to any Christian.  Flavel addresses the troublesome thoughts and distractions that we all experience to some degree or another from fear.  Long before the volumes on stress were ever written, John Flavel provided the Christian with a succinct guide to the problems of fears and stresses, the causes of these fears, the effects of these fears, and the remedies for these fears.  This book is short and succinct but also highly motivational and encouraging.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Overcoming the Distractions of Fear

I've been reading through John Flavel's 120 page book "Triumphing over Sinful Fear".  It has been excellent so far; short and succinct but also insightful and motivating.  He identifies three types of fear: natural fear - which everyone feels when confronted with danger; sinful fear - which comes from a lack of faith; and religious fear - which is the appropriate fear of God, not a fear of punishment but rather a desire to not offend or disappoint God because we recognize His great love for us.
He then identifies and describes the effects of sinful fear.  The first effect is distraction of mind in religious duty (a term which encompasses all effects of grace: prayer, love, good works, communion with believers, etc...)
I do not doubt that it is one of the devil's great designs to keep us in continual fear and alarm, and to puzzle our heads and hearts with a thousand difficulties which will probably never come upon us (even if they do, they will never prove as fatal as we imagine).  He does this to unfit us for present duties and to destroy our comfort in them.  If he can distract our thoughts through fears and terrors, he gains three advantages to our unspeakable loss.

1) He severs us from the freedom and sweetness of communion with God in duties.
2) He severs the soul from the support and relief it should draw from God's promises.
3) He severs us from the comfort that is found in our past experiences and the relief that God's faithfulness and goodness imparted in former straits and dangers.

How often have I fallen into the distraction of mind that is the result of sinful fear!  I fear what others will think of me; I fear what I will think of me; I fear my propensity for making wrong decisions; I fear my propensity to not make decisions.  And slowly these fears become so burdensome to my mind and my heart that I can no longer pray, I no longer have peace, I forget the things that God has done for me in the past, I forget the things that He has for me in the future, I lose my ability to sense His peace and joy, I lose my ability to love.

How sad it is when a Christian allows the devil to conquer him through the distraction of fear.  As we sit and analyze every possible way that a situation could go wrong God is waiting for us to step forward and see how He will make it right.

May we, you and I, step forward on the wings of faith.  May we stop analyzing every decision for every possible pitfall but rather to step forward, trusting in the promises of God.  May we take away our distractions by no longer focusing upon the problems, but rather praying for the solutions, with our minds set steadfastly upon God and His promises, our hearts sustained unwaveringly by the Holy Spirit, and our souls nourished continually, not by bread alone, but by the very words that proceed from the mouth of God.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Trusting Christ in Everyday Life

This is a good illustration by Francis Chan, I highly recommend it.  I found it to be extremely convicting, especially as now is a time in our (mine and Dana's) life when we are looking ahead and trying to discern God's path for us.  It is always tempting to take the easy and comfortable road, to just try to have that "normal life" that everyone strives for, instead of recognizing that sometimes God will call us to do radical and extreme, uncomfortable and difficult things.