December 2008


Strong’s Dictionary of New Testament Words defines the Greek word translated grace as, “The merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases  them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues”.

Hmm. So grace is “God’s holy influence upon souls”. I’d always thought of grace as a mostly one-sided thing, something offered from God to us and received by us humbly and with gratitude. But the Greek word implies a far more powerful and interactive process – the whole process of grace as the influence of God working in us to change us. It implies steadiness – “keeps, strengthens”, progression – “increases them in faith”, and specific results in souls – “kindles them to exercise of virtues”.

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Sola Scriputra refers to the belief that Scripture alone should be the rule of the church’s life; that it is the infallible word of God and is, to quote The Cambridge Declaration, “the sole source of written divine revelation, which alone can bind the conscience. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behaviour must be measured”.

A friend referred me to a good article today.

Continuous Conversion – “. . . unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” —Matthew 18:3

Have begun reading Lord Teach Us to Pray by 19th C Scottish Presbyterian Alexander Whyte, who was apparently quite famous as a preacher and writer in his own time.  Found it online at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

An ejaculation, a sigh, a sob, a tear, a smile, a psalm, is far greater to God than all the oblations, and incense, and new moons, and Sabbaths, and calling of assemblies, and solemn meetings of Jerusalem, because repentance and faith and love and trust are in that sob and in that psalm. And the magnificence of all true prayer—its nobility, its royalty, its absolute divinity—all stand in this, that it is the greatest kind of act and office that man, or angel, can ever enter on and perform. Earth is at its very best; and heaven is at its very highest, when men and angels magnify their office of prayer and of praise before the throne of God.

I. The magnificence of God is the source and the measure of the magnificence of prayer. “Think magnificently of God,” said Paternus to his son. Now that counsel is the sum and substance of this whole matter. For the heaven and the earth; the sun and the moon and the stars; the whole opening universe of our day; the Scriptures of truth, with all that they contain; the Church of Christ, with all her services and all her saints—all are set before us to teach us and to compel us indeed to “think magnificently of God.” And they have all fulfilled the office of their creation when they have all combined to make us think magnificently of their Maker. Consider the heavens, the work of His fingers, the moon and the stars, which He hath ordained: consider the intellectual heavens also, angels and 6 archangels, cherubim and seraphim: consider mankind also, made in the image of God: consider Jesus Christ, the express image of His person: consider a past eternity and a coming eternity, and the revelation thereof that is made to us in the Word of God, and in the hearts of His people—and I defy you to think otherwise than magnificently of God. And, then, after all that, I equally defy you to forget, or neglect, or restrain prayer. Once you begin to think aright of Him Who is the Hearer of prayer; and Who waits, in all His magnificence, to be gracious to you—I absolutely defy you to live any longer the life you now live. “First of all, my child,” said Paternus to his son, “think magnificently of God. Magnify His providence: adore His power: frequent His service; and pray to Him frequently and instantly. Bear Him always in your mind: teach your thoughts to reverence Him in every place, for there is no place where He is not. Therefore, my child, fear and worship, and love God; first, and last, think magnificently of God.”

That’s the marvelous thing about online works – you don’t have to laboriously type it up but can simply copy and paste 🙂

Suffering is a topic which has grown increasingly to interest/trouble me over the past few years. Why suffering, and why Christian suffering? I want to know why there’s so much suffering in the world, and also why Christians suffer, so much. I know some of the answers already, theoretically. But it’s not enough – I need to confront this, and face it and wrestle with it until I’ve wrested out some peace, or at least a more grounded faith about it.

Hence I asked for two books about it for Christmas – C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain, and John J. Murray’s Behind a Frowning Providence. Two very different books, and authors – one from a Christian apologist whom I’m hoping at least deals with suffering as an overall problem faced by the world(within a Christian context of course) and one from a well-known writer who deals with things from a strictly Biblical standpoint. The former hasn’t arrived yet, so I’ve begun the latter and am finding it both satisfying and lacking. Murray deals with suffering in a straightfoward, pratical, Biblically-focused way; and this is at once his strength and his weakness. Strength, because his points and arguments derive directly from the Bible and are therefore both convincing and clearly truthful.  Weakness, because there’s none of the eloquence or rhetoric or wide vision characteristisc of C.S. Lewis in his other book, A Grief Observed.  But Murray is answering some of my questions, and this little booklet will definitely need to be read and studied over more. Beginning in, I was plagued by a nagging sense of dissatisfaction, and then I realized that it’s because I was subconsciously hoping/expecting that he would deal with suffering on a wider level – but why should he? He is dealing with it as it applies to Christians, and that’s enough for him. For now, it’s enough for me too. After all, it’s probably the fundamental question I’m asking, even as I wonder about the fate/state of the world.

Excerpts:

“Providence is that marvellous working of God by which all the events and happennings in His universe accomplish the purpose He has in mind.”

“People are looking for a problem-free Christianity.”

“C.S. Lewis once referred to sufferings as ‘blockades on the road to hell’. The same sun the melts the ice also hardens the clay. Says Andrew Fuller, ‘Afflictions refine some, they consume others’. The test of a person’s Christianity is what happens in the storm, when the house is battered in the winds of affliction.”

“I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace
Might more of His salvation know
And seek more earnestly His face

2. Twas He who taught me thus to pray
And He I trust has answered prayer
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair

3. I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest

4. Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry powers of Hell
Assault my soul in every part”

-from John Newton’s hymn “I Asked the Lord”

“We might be tempted to ask whether God can build character without suffering. That is a hypothetical question. He has not chosen to do so. ”

“I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When sorrow walked with me.”

-Robert Browning Hamilton

(more…)

Found this poem at The Guardian lately and was completely blown away by its biblical imagery/references and the symbolism of it.

An ill wind, misprint or flaw,
a fault in the workings, trouble on a face,

like the boy’s autistic stare as he stood,
that hurt wonder breaking his logic –

back, he begged. Put it back, and showed
how easily the break might join –

a snapped toy, the greenery foiled,
an apple fallen in the way of things.

And I, turning, saw a garden of windfalls –
root and branch, graft and stock,

from too far back to know the cause –
smashed on the grass, sweetening the soil.

So that, at a loss for all the world,
for damage done at the heart of it,

the knot, the quirk, reverse and fall,
I reached for what I could not mend:

that small hand, not mine, in my own,
and sang, for the rhyme’s sake, ‘We all fall down.’

-Angela Leighton

Yes! We do fall down – all of us, the entire human race and each individual, ever since Adam, our forefather and representative, fell. He fell like an apple from a tree when Eve plucked the apple(note the double layers of imagery in this poem), and we’ve been broken ever since then, unfixable except by God’s grace. Even non-Christian poets like Angela Leighton sense and know that there’s something wrong with the world; she captures the blind, unspoken hurt that is hovering all around and in us, the fact that we’re imperfect, made for something we can’t quite fathom but sense nonetheless – the belittlement of the human race. Why do these things happen? Why is our history a history of apples(i.e. human beings) fallen, “smashed on the grass”? Why are children born autistic? Leighton provides no answer, but she does ask the question, the all-important question – why is the world broken?

Been reading (or rather skimming through) Jonathan Edwards’ Basic Writings lately. During his college years, Edwards made a gradual list of 70 resolutions to guide his life, and vowed to read over them once a week. A few of them stood out to me:

“6. Resolved, To live with all my might, while I do live.

7. Resolved, Never to do any thing, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

28. Resolved, To study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in knowledge of the same.

29. Resolved, Never to count that as a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, not that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.

56. Resolved, Never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

57. Resolved, When I fear misfortunes and adversity, to examine whether I have done my duty, and resolve to do it, and let the event be just as Providence orders it. I will, as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty, and my sin.

65. Resolved, Very much to exercise myself in this, all my long, viz. With the greatest openness, of which I am capable, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him, all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance

70. Let there be something of benevolence in all I speak.”

Elsewhere, in his Diary a bit of practical advice on prayer he recorded for himself stood out –

Sabbath, Nov 15. Determined, when I am indisposed to prayer, always to premeditate what to pray for; and that it is better, that the prayer should be of almost any shortness, than that my mind should be almost continually off what I say. ”

On the other hand, he occasionally says highly amusing things too.

“Jan 1728. I think Christ has recommended rising early in the morning, by his rising from the grave very early.”

Really, Edwards? 🙂 Little things like that underline how vast the gulf is between his century and ours.

Found something I wrote a while ago and decided to post it.

Keep writing, a friend told me lately.
🙂

I’m grateful for friends like these – for those small scraps of words we fling each other, balls of encouragement and acquaintanceship, those small things that keep us going or deepen our lives a little further.

Writing is hard. I wish I had more friends like that – wish that I was a professional writer so that I had more people to push me to do this difficult and always fearful thing. I don’t really know what this post is about. Generally, I have some overall theme – grief, or the hurt of the world, or things going on in my life lately. Not this time. So expect it to be more rambling than usual.

I’ve been thinking lately about many things – joy, grief, the satisfaction we find in God, the abandonment of God…
Marianne Moore once said

“satisfaction is a lowly thing, how pure a thing is joy.”

I wish we were more content in God. To be a Christian is not to be in a state of constant self-examination and recrimination and emotional turmoil. To be a Christian, at its best, it to live clearly and simply – and calmly – in the light of God’s love. There are endless complexities to living life as a Christian. But the love of God – like all loves, while containing all complexities within it, is at heart as simple as a child. Love is one of the simplest emotions. It simply is. We know and see it and rely on it without having to test and try it for what it is. It’s the depth of it we often don’t understand. But if we did – if we understood that, and understood the forgiveness of God, how much better and more joyful our lives as Christians would be!

Have Mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgression. –Psalm 51:1

steadfast love. and abundant mercy which blots out trangression. Love unfaltering, steady as an oak, able to weather a million storms, not because the object of its affection is strong, but because the love itself possesses that degree of strength. The steadfastness of God’s love is a testament to His character. A testament to who He is, not who we are. Steadfast love chooses who it will love – almost by chance, it seems sometimes, so indecipherable are its methods – and then loves forever, whether its object will or no. Similarly, abundant mercy blots out transgressions. We are forgiven for all eternity. Not today, not tomorrow, not this moment – forever. Christ has been teaching me the immensity and the truth of his forgiveness lately. I’ve only touched the brink – but I understand that his forgiveness, his blood, is a living thing which covers me every single day of my life – the only thing that keeps me from the brink, from falling over into hell, where I belong, where the devil would have me. And his blood is a sure thing, because it’s based on a once-for-all sacrifice. A pact sealed and set. I’m glad sometimes that I come from a third-world culture. Here in America promises don’t mean much. Pacts scarcely exist. Even business deals are constantly broken. In the culture I grew up, promises are made with blood and by the oath of family – you swear by your blood or your family or your most precious possession(usually land) – and by golly, you’d better keep that promise. Not all do, of course – but at least the idea is still there.

When God promises it’s an implacable thing.

back to my original thought – to be satisfied with God is one thing. I suspect I will strive the rest of my life for that only. And yet what God promises – and oh the glory – what we will obtain in heaven at least is joy – pure joy. Joy which in its intensity and the purity of this emotion is as far above satisfaction as the sky is above the earth. Joy. Pure, unparalleled happiness. A history professor of mine is constantly mocking the idea of heaven. “A constant Disneyland”, he cries, hopping about like a monkey and pulling mockingly excited faces. “how wonderful!” – sardonically. He underestimates God, and completely fails to have sufficient imagination to comprehend the idea of a place in which only joy exists. Joy is like love – endlessly simple and yet possessed of so many forms and derivations we can never grow tired of it. And he fails to understand – joy in its real form is such an intensely sweet and delicious emotion. In heaven, it will be complete. And it will be simple – in heaven we won’t even need all those extra forms, because it will all be centered around God.

Sometimes I try to imagine a life, a world without God. In the end, I always realize I can’t. I wonder how people who don’t believe in God can handle it. Facing a life and particularly death without God, I’d be filled with such abject despair. The world is full of such darkness already.

For you are good to me. What’s that song? Vineyard – Good to Me. God is good to me. Not all the time -not my definition of good – His rather. But still, oh, so good.

You take me as you find me. I wrote this a while ago as part of a poem. As Vivian once said, I don’t need to be more to be saved. Thank God, he is more powerful than that, and overrides all my protestations of sin and inadequacy and weakness.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; and his mercy endures forever” – Psalm 118.

“I will worship You/for You are great and gentle too/Master who sets me free/Kind Judge who gives mercy/Great God who whispers come/Into your arms I run” – more lyrics

My father once said that people try to separate out salvation – break it down into many bits, parts, particles, acts, stages – a sort of ongoing or ever-changing, undefinable process. Salvation comes in only one shining package, and once given, it’s done – for all eternity. I am saved for all eternity. It is well with my soul.

I don’t remember who said this, but someone once said –

“I really don’t want it all. I just want God in my life.”

That should be enough.

God, let it be enough.

and for some reason I felt compelled to include this last, non-christian quote(not sure why since it doesn’t even really relate…)

“Sometimes it’s easy to feel like you’re the only one in the world who is struggling, who’s frustrated, unsatisfied, barely getting by. That feeling is a lie. And if you just hold on, just find the courage to face it all for another day, someone or something will find you to make it all okay. Because we all need a little help sometimes. Someone to help us hear the music in the world. To remind us that it won’t always be this way. That someone is out there and that someone will find you.”
-Lucas Scott, One Tree Hill

God finds us.

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