Monday, September 15, 2014

Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards

This week's devotional classic is composed of excerpts from Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards.  Edwards (1703-1758) was a leader in the 18th century "Great Awakening."  He was a pastor and missionary and was named president of Princeton University just a few weeks before his death.  His book Christian Affections was an affirmation of the importance of the passions (referred to as "affections in his writings) in life that cause an individual's will to act.

In this timeless devotional work, Edwards emphasizes the need for enthusiasm in our Christianity and uses Bible passages such as Romans 12:11 (fervent in spirit), Deuteronomy 10:12 and 30:6 (all your heart and all your soul), Luke 24:32 (Holy Ghost is like "fire" and "burns within"), various Psalms which the writer says the soul "pants after" God and "hungers and thirsts after righteousness." The primary Bible passage for this devotional is Deuteronomy 10:12-22 in which we are told what the Lord requires of us (including loving God with our whole hearts and whole souls.

Edwards says, "...wherever true religion is, there is a will that moves that person to spiritual exercises,"  He mentions such Biblical metaphors as "running the race", wrestling with God", "striving for the prize", and "fighting with strong enemies."

A key quote from this study: "It is people's affections that keep them busy.  If we were to take away their affections, the world would be motionless and dead...It is the affection we call covetousness that moves a person to seek worldly profits; it is the affection we call ambition that moves a person to pursue worldly glory; it is the affection we call lust that moves a person to pursue sensual delights.  Just as worldly affections are the spring of worldly actions, so the religious affections are the spring of religious actions."

The remainder of this devotion attempts to make clear that throughout the Bible true religion is developed though the affections of holy fear, hope, love, hatred, desire, joy, sorrow, gratitude, compassion and zeal.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard

Dallas Willard (1935-2013) was a philosopher, teacher, and writer with over 30 publications.  The excerpt for this week's study is taken from an appendix to his book The Spirit of the Disciplines and deals with the problem of "undisciplined disciples."

Here are some quotes from this devotional classic:

"So far as visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship clearly is optional - Churches are filled with 'undisciplined disciples'...Most problems in contemporary churches can be explained by the fact that members have not yet decided to follow Christ."

"...we omit the making of disciples or enrolling people as Christ's students when we should let all else wait for that.  We also omit the step of taking our converts through training that will bring them ever increasingly to do what Jesus directed."

The most interesting and challenging part of this devotional lesson for me was Willard's discussion of the cost of nondiscipleship.  "...nondiscipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God's overriding governance for good,,hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil.  In short, it costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring."


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

The first weekly devotional classic in my current study (see previous post) is Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis.  C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) is one of the most important Christian thinkers of the twentieth century.  At age 33 Lewis was "surprised by joy" (his description of his conversion to Christianity.)

I read the entire book Mere Christianity several years ago, but the material in this excerpt seemed new and fresh to me.  Here Lewis discussed the question, Is Christianity hard or easy?   Here are two of the most meaningful quotes from this great piece of literature.

"It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder - in fact it is impossible.  It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird; it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg.  We are like these eggs at present.  And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary egg.  We must be hatched or go bad."

"The church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs.  If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time."

According the C. S. Lewis the road that appears the easiest to us is actually the hardest (example: the student who waits until the end of the semester to cram for a test.)  He further points out that the pursuit of personal happiness by being morally good just ends in frustration.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

My Current Spiritual Work - Introduction

I have been reading and studying Devotional Classics edited by Richard J. and James Bryan Smith. The book is subtitled Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups and contains 52 (intended to be studied one per week for a year) selected devotional writings from great thinkers and writers from the past.  The readings include works ranging from the year 331 to 1935.

The editors of this book begin by defining "devotional writings" as "writings that aim at the transformation of the human to touch the heart, to address the will, to mold the for radical character formation...instill holy habits."  Then they define "classics" as writings from which "many people over a sustained period of time have drawn strength from its insights and witness to its value."  So these weekly studies use of kind of writing that"has stood the test of time and that seeks to form the soul before God."

Each lesson of this book follows this format:  First an introduction to the author, then excerpts from the selected writing by that author, and next comes a related Bible selection. The next four sections of each study are: Reflection Questions, Suggested Exercises, Reflections (by the editors), and finally Going Deeper (lists of related works by the same author.)

Friday, August 30, 2013

Miley Cyrus's message for the Christian

I saw a news report on CNN about Miley Cyrus’s recent performance at the Video Music Awards. Like most other people, I was first shocked and repulsed and then puzzled and saddened. Throughout the days since, I have found myself thinking about the direction our society is traveling and how we have reached this point in our journey. I pondered such questions as these: • What kind of people are we? • What kind of culture have we created (or allowed to develop)? • What kind of adults do we want our children to grow up to be? • Do our children even realize that there was a time when children’s role models were family and friends? (And do adults even realize that they’ve relinquished this privilege to “celebrities”?) • Do our children know that entertainers and other public figures have traditionally been people who were reaping the rewards of hard work and who were mostly admirable people? (And do adults know that this is no longer true?) I came to some very unsettling conclusions – and those conclusions are heart-breaking. • My heart breaks for the little girl who gave us Hannah Montana and became a role model (or at least a virtual friend) to millions of little girls across America. And my heart breaks for that same girl (now a young adult) who doesn’t see herself coming apart at the seams. • My heart breaks for the millions of little girls who have seen their “friend” become a strange adult (?) Do they know that this is not the natural progression into adulthood and that they don’t have to follow suit? • My hearts breaks for the news channels that have left their calling to report the news and have chosen instead to profit from all-day-all-week coverage of a young woman destroying her life. • My heart breaks for the American-Idol culture (the culture our children have grown up in and see as the norm) that promises glitter and gold to children and delivers instead their destruction. • My heart breaks for our entertainment culture that celebrates the breaking of every social taboo and the casting off of every restraint. My heart breaks that they then turn and mock their own disciples. • My heart breaks for our tabloid culture that finds celebrity gossip and embarrassing moments titillating. • My heart breaks for the families of Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Madonna, and all the other women who have chosen to sexualize themselves to achieve fame and fortune. • My heart breaks for our society who sees women as objects - and often fails to see them as valued children of God - as someone’s sisters and daughters. • My heart breaks for women enslaved by this false view of sexual liberation. • My heart breaks for men who have encouraged (or at least accepted) such blatant sexualization of women. • My heart breaks for all our little five-year-old little girls, twirling around and imagining themselves princesses, enjoying innocent delights, and picturing a magical future. My heart breaks when I think of the world each precious child will enter as she matures. • My heart breaks for the broken, messed-up world we call home. At this point in my contemplation, I remember a long-ago bracelet-wearing fad of WWJD – What Would Jesus Do? Yes, what WOULD Jesus do if he lived on Earth in 2013? We have Biblical record of what he did when he encountered moral disaster during his time on Earth. • Jesus lifted the head of a woman of the night and sent her away into the light. • When Jesus saw a woman in a crowd desperately trying to cover her shame, he was immediately attuned to her faint call for help, he turned his attention to the problem, and he healed her. • By his acceptance and grace, Jesus transformed a woman who had been tossed aside by multiple men. There are no simple answers to the questions raised by this issue, but some things are abundantly clear to me. As a Christian I cannot ignore cries for help coming from the young adults who have grown up with these examples of maturity. I must immediately turn my attention to any child or young adult who seeks guidance or a healing touch. Since their cries for help are not usually as obvious as Miley Cyrus’s were, I must be attuned to any word or look that opens a door for guidance. As a Christian adult it is my duty and privilege. Based on an article from The Gospel Coalition Blog and Trevin Wax Raising Godly Children

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Summer Break

Our four youngest grandchildren will attend their orientation sessions for the new school year tomorrow -- and next week is their last week of school-day freedom!  It doesn't seem possible that the summer break is already almost over.  About this same time of the year a few years ago, just as the stores began their "back to school" sales push, a blog called Three-Word Wednesday challenged other bloggers to write "something" using these three words:  endless, ought, and shadow. Reflecting on the shortness of the Summer break, I wrote:


The first of June arrived today
Nipping at the heels of May.
Hoards of children, newly free,
See summer days stretch endlessly...

Summer camps; friends' sleepovers;
Hunting for four-leaf clovers;
Pick-up games in the yard;
Marshmallows nicely charred.

Who was that hurrying by?
I think I recognized July.
She rushed by and left no shadow
While we were playing in the meadow.

August looms; still we caper.
Back-to-school sales fill the paper.
Wonder who'll be in my class?
Not my friend Jenny - she didn't pass.

Hair is cut. Supplies are bought;
School is starting, as it ought.
Here I go. I'm on my way!
A brand new school year starts today!

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Glittering Images by Susan Howatch

Glittering Images is the first in a series of 6 novels written in the 1980s by Susan Howatch. The storylines of these novels revolve around the development of the Anglican church during the 20th century. Although each book "stars" a different character, the same cast of characters inhabits the entire series of novels and each novel is set during a different decade of the century. This first novel in the series takes place in the 1920s and the primary character is Dr. Charles Ashworth, a young widowed clergyman, who is sent by the Archbishop of Canterbury to visit, for a few days, the home of the powerful Bishop of Starbridge, Alexander Jardine. The archbishop fears that beyond the facade presented to the public by Jardine, his charming but inadequate wife, Carrie, and his wife’s dedicated companion, Lyle Christie, there lies potential for explosive scandal. It is Ashworth’s mission to determine, within a very short period of time, whether there is any basis for the archbishop’s concern. The main character struggles throughout the book to learn how to keep his "glittering image" (public persona) from overshadowing his real personality. The author has the most engaging writing style I have read in years. Her use of the language is precise and scholarly but engaging and entertaining. The plot is intricately woven, the characters are carefully and fully developed, and the dialogue is fascinating. I was absolutely fascinated with the characters whose lives revolved around determining the will of God in their lives and striving to fulfill their potential in life. The theme of the novel could be summed up in this quote from the last chapter of the book: “Love and forgiveness, truth and beauty, courage and compassion blazed with a radiance which far outshone the cheap glitter of illusion, and I knew then with an even deeper conviction that in serving God man only fulfilled his need to strive to live in that eternally powerful light. St. Augustine’s famous words echoed in my mind: ‘O God, thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.’” Below are a few of the quotes I copied (either for their pithy, clever wording or for their philosophical impact)so that I could consider them in more detail later. “…Christianity could not be a pallid priggish way of life but a glittering realization of one’s finest possibilities. People can be led to Christianity by infinitely diverse routes, and there was no denying that I had been led by Lang’s worldly success to the creed which rated worldly success unimportant. Beyond the glittering image lay the stark absolute truth.” “Our Lord….wasn’t talking legalistically…He was a life-giving spirit, not a legal code personified! …and one of the outstanding aspects of Christianity is that Christ preached compassion and forgiveness, not an inflexible hardness of heart.” “I knew he was only treading a well-worn theological path: an examination of Christ’s words in the light of conditions prevailing in the first-century Palestine was nowadays considered a thoroughly respectable endeavor in the attempt to look beyond the glittering image of Christ in the Gospels to the historical figure about whom so little was known.” “In my opinion Christ had been a good Jew, not “liberal” in the modern sense of extending a credo to its outer limits in the name of freedom, but “radical” in the original sense of cutting back the credo to its roots to rediscover its true spirit.” ”Isn’t lack of understanding responsible for much of the misery in family relationships? …With understanding, forgiveness becomes possible.” “And at last as (he) talked to me with such painful honesty, the miracle of communication occurred, and I was able to understand the full dimensions of his tragedy. Then forgiveness was easy...” “…as I realized he was probably behaving exactly like his Non-Conformist father, I thought what a mysterious force heredity was, spreading like a stain across the texture of personality.” “The sermon, perfectly constructed, immaculately delivered, unfolded itself like a complex flower opening its petals before the sun. I always found it arresting to see an expert in any field doing his work well, and (he) was an expert in homiletics, selecting his intellectual strands sparingly but weaving them with stark skill into a rapier-sharp exposition of Christian teaching. Finally, reaching his peroration, he knotted the intellectual strands into a single dazzling sentence, heightened the power of his delivery and drove home his message with the full force of his oratorical sledgehammer.” (explaining why God is at the center of every action in life) “The sun’s not a mere disc in the sky which you can see whenever you bother to look up. The warmth of the sun permeates the world even on a clouded day, and that’s not mere wishful thinking or sensual illusion. You can see the plants reacting to the warmth. It’s real.” “I agree that a lot of men appear to be interested only in money and sex, but I think too that a lot of men would secretly like to believe that there’s more to life than the materialist’s treadmill. However, society forces them to chase worldly success in order to be esteemed, and then they chase women either to forget how unhappy they are chasing success or because they see women as boosting their value in the eyes of the world.” “ Do you think that God’s been unaware of your difficulties and the suffering you must inevitably have endured? And do you think He’s incapable of reaching out at last to bring you face to face with your troubles so that you can surmount them and go on to serve Him far better than you ever served Him in the past? God hasn’t sent this ordeal to destroy you. He’s come to your rescue at last, and here in this village, here in this house, here in this room where you’ve hit rock-bottom, here’s where you new life finally begins.” “But then they never meet the man I keep hidden. They just meet the man on public display. I call him the glittering image because he looks so well in the mirror. But beyond him…stands the angry stranger who appears in the mirror whenever the glittering image goes absent without leave.” “When a traveler’s staggering along with a back-breaking amount of luggage, he doesn’t need someone to pat him on the head and tell him how wonderful he is. He needs someone who’ll offer to share the load…Consider the possibility that life might be less exhausting if you unloaded some of your bags onto my empty trolley...I’m just the porter with the trolley. I’m not here to criticize the quality of your luggage or to order which bag you should put down. My function is simply to offer you the chance to get rid of any bag which you don’t want to carry any more, but the decision to keep or discard each bag must be yours and yours alone.” “ your … difficulties didn’t begin in that final scene…Who got you into financial trouble by luring you into keeping up expensive appearances? Who kept you from seeking help by demanding that no one should know (your problems)? Who seduced you into that disastrous (job) and then insisted that you stayed there? Who came between you and your wife and prevented you from being honest with her? Who initiated this tragedy and then left your real self bearing the burden of all the guilt and shame? You are not the villain of this story – you’re the victim. It is the glittering image who should be locked up in jail.” “You flung a big stone into that particular pond; stand back now until the ripples reach the edge of the pond and you can see what’s been washed up at your feet. I think you may well find that the wait will pay significant benefits later…” “And there’s something wonderful about a Christian, a real Christian, the kind who practices what he preaches. I said, ‘I can’t forgive myself,’ but she said, ‘Christ can….’” “I could cope with his charming mask merely by disliking it, but the pathos beyond defeated me. I felt threatened by it. I was quite prepared to work out an intellectual formula for forgiveness which would put my beleaguered psyche at rest while enabling me to be a good Christian, but I did not want my emotions involved. My instinct was to lash out, push him away.” “I wondered dimly how anyone ever survived their families.” “But that’s marriage, isn’t it? One long compromise.” “…try not to put yourself on the rack by picturing the present. Remember that you could be seeing the wrong picture, and even if it happened to be the right one you’d be able to erase it. But the future is a different matter. You can draw a picture, erase it and draw another…” “It’s dangerous to make a judgment when one can’t know all the facts… and since only God can know all the facts, one can only conclude that it’s best to leave the judgments to God.” “One afternoon I went to the Cathedral to beg God to help me, but I couldn’t pray, I was so cut off. I just knelt there in the chapel and said God, God, God, over and over in my mind – It was as if I’d dialed a number and was listening to the bell ringing – and I didn’t really expect and answer but then the miracle happened because someone picked up the receiver at the other end of the line.” “I had achieved sufficient concentration to wipe the blackboard of my consciousness clean so that God could write upon it if He wished. Then I prayed again…for the grace of God which would transform my weakness into strength, and again the familiar prayer of Christ echoed in my mind: let thy will, not mine, be done….and the chalk began to write at last on the blackboard of my mind. I could hardly bear to read the message, but I knew I was powerless to erase it.”