Persecution — A Gift of God’s Grace?

October 24, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, It's All About God | Leave a comment

I mentioned in my sermon yesterday that suffering for Jesus is a gift of God’s grace.  I’m still trying to get my mind around that idea.  That statement came from Philippians 1:29 where Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit wrote “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.” (NIV)  The word granted in the passage is from the root word charis or grace.  We could translate, “It has been graced to you for Christ sake, . . . to suffer for him.”  Salvation has been graced to us, but suffering?  Now that’s a heavy thought, but if we believe the text of the Bible, that is what we must believe.

We would do good to recall that Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven;” (Matthew 5:10)  “All men will hate you because of me;” (Matthew 10:22)  and “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.” (John 15:20)  Later, Paul would add this thought, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12)  We know these things are true but somehow think that persecution is an acquiescence of God to a sinful world, and his followers get caught in the middle.

Instead, I believe were are to view persecution as a part of God’s grace – a gift he gives for his greater glory.  We confess that Jesus is sovereign over all; therefore he is sovereign over persecution and suffering.  He doesn’t acquiesce anything, he makes persecution and suffering a part of his eternal plan.  He uses it to confirm that his followers are his (Philippians 1:28), to conform them to his image, and to advance his kingdom to others (Philippians 1:12).

No wonder, we are told in Acts, the disciples “left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”  I hope if I ever have to face persecution, I can stand firm with that kind of joy, knowing that suffering persecution is a part of God’s sovereign plan, and he will use it for his greater glory.  I have lived a fairly easy life, with nothing in the way of real persecution for my faith in Jesus, and I may finish my life that way, but I fear for the next generation of believers in our country.  The way things are progressing, they may have to face a persecution we never thought possible here.  May they face it with courage and genuine faith in the sovereignty of Jesus, remembering that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

Flawless Words and Boastful Politicians

October 22, 2011 at 9:53 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts | Leave a comment

The US presidential election is just over one year away, and yet it is already in full swing.  The Republican Party candidates have had numerous debates already.  As conservative Christians, we often look to that party to uphold a biblical world view and morality, and we hope the present administration is voted out as a result.  There are a few Christians who like the social/welfare programs the Democrats support and want them in office instead.  Though I believe the Republican Party is closer philosophically to a biblical world view, and I believe we must vote biblical values, I also know that scripture warns against depending on either side for things that really matter.  As I was reading Psalm 12 today, I was reminded of this thought.

The first two verses offer a clear description of our US culture today:  “Help, LORD, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men.  Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception.”  (Psalm 12:1-2 NIV)  That is followed by David’s prayer about the matter:  “May the LORD cut off all flattering lips and every boastful tongue that says, ‘We will triumph with our tongues; we own our lips – who is our master?’” (vv3-4)  That sounds like politicians from both sides; they all boast of triumph with their lips.  “Choose my plan and we will prosper as a nation,” they say.  David prays instead, “O LORD, you will keep us safe and protect us from such people forever.” (v7)  Put that on your political plate; we should ask God to protect us from candidates in both parties!

Both political parties could claim support from out-of-context verses in this chapter, the Democrats from verse 5 and the Republicans from verse 8, but it is God who must arise on our behalf to protect us from the problems these verses address (vv5, 7).  And in between those things lies this wonderful gem of a reminder, “the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times.”  Christian, trust in God’s flawless Word and His eternal faithfulness, not in the empty promises of politicians, even those who, in some ways, align with biblical truth.  Though all men lie and fail, God’s Word is pure and flawless.

The Wind in the Willows

October 18, 2011 at 10:09 am | Posted in Books and Movies, Worship | Leave a comment

Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.  It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said ‘Bother!’ and ‘O blow!’ and also ‘Hang spring-cleaning!’ and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat.

So begins the marvelous adventures of Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad in the children’s classic The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame.  We recently finished reading this century-old novel together as a family, and we loved the escapades of the critters and the colorful, picturesque language.  This little book is full of fun yet good lessons in friendship, faithfulness, hospitality and circumspect behavior.  We were especially anxious to find out what happened to Toad on his wild and trouble-filled romps with a motor car.  Though I’ve complained about wordiness in other contexts, in The Wind and the Willows, the long, wordy sentences were very vivid and awe-inspiring.  The only negative was the difficulty of listening to such long sentences read out loud.  For instance, when Toad is put in prison, the description of where they locked him up is a one-sentence marathon going 231 words, which is roughly equivalent to the two paragraphs of this blog from the beginning to here!

Here is another great example.  When Mole and Ratty are on an outing, they come near the home Mole so quickly deserted in the beginning of the book, and something in the air grabs him.

We others, who have long lost the more subtle of the physical senses, have not even proper terms to express an animal’s intercommunications with his surroundings, living or otherwise, and have only the word ‘smell,’ for instance, to include the whole range of delicate thrills which murmur in the nose of the animal night and day, summoning, warning, inciting, repelling.  It was one of those mysterious fairy calls from out the void that suddenly reached Mole in the darkness, making him tingle through and through with its very familiar appeal, even while yet he could not clearly remember what it was.  He stopped dead in his tracks, his nose searching hither and thither in its efforts to recapture the fine filament, the telegraphic current, that had so strongly moved him.  A moment, and he had caught it again; and with it this time came recollection in its fullest flood.  Home!

In one of the more touching scenes, Mole and Rat are looking for a lost otter child and come across the “Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” a Christ figure and the One who completes their quest by drawing them to the missing child.  The chapter is a great description of what it means to fear God.

Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground.  It was no panic terror—indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy—but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near.  With difficulty he turned to look for his friend, and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and trembling violently.  And still there was utter silence in the populous bird-haunted branches around them; and still the light grew and grew.

Perhaps he would never have dared to raise his eyes, but that, though the piping was now hushed, the call and the summons seemed still dominant and imperious.  He might not refuse, were Death himself waiting to strike him instantly, once he had looked with mortal eye on things rightly kept hidden.  Trembling he obeyed, and raised his humble head; and then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fullness of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humourously, while the bearded mouth broke into a half smile at the corners; saw the rippling muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest, the long supple hand still holding the pan-pipes only just fallen away from the parted lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic ease on the sward; saw, last of all, nestling between his very hooves, sleeping soundly in utter peace and contentment, the little, round, podgy, childish form of the baby otter.  All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.

“Rat!” he found breath to whisper, shaking. “Are you afraid?”

“Afraid?” murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. “Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never!  And yet—and yet—O, Mole, I am afraid!”

Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.

If you are looking for a challenging, yet fun read for your children; if you want to read something together with them, even if they are teens like my daughter, then check out The Wind in the Willows.

Book Review: The Scarlet Letter

October 10, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Posted in Books and Movies | Leave a comment

I recently read an article which tired to demonstrate that those who read exclusively digital material have weaker thinking processes than those who read books.  (I read it on line of course!  Though I couldn’t tell you now where it was!)  The article mentioned that older books were especially good to read, because they required more thought.  I remembered a seminary professor saying that Nineteenth-Century authors seemed to be paid by the pound, because they were so wordy.  My library would seem to support that theory with books like Edersheim’s The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah and A.B. Bruce’s The Training of the Twelve.  The article inspired me to pick up another Nineteenth-Century volume that I’d thought for some time I should read.  It was Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.

The edition I read through was an Oxford Classics edition which included a lengthy introduction by English Professor Brian Harding.  Though the introduction was interesting and helpful, I found myself sorely disappointed that Harding revealed the unknown partner in Hester Prynne’s adultery, which served to take away some of the surprise in the novel itself.

The book was a good, albeit difficult, read.   One difficulty was the antiquated terminology used in places, but the footnotes added by the editor were very helpful in this regard.  However, the seemingly endless descriptions of things that had little or nothing to do with the storyline itself were the greatest negatives of the book.  For instance, in the introductory chapter called “The Custom-House,” Hawthorne takes forty-three pages to tell the supposed history of how he came into the story of the Scarlet Letter.  Though the chapter was interesting, over twelve of those pages were dedicated to describing the men Hawthorne worked with at the Custom House, and, as far as I can tell, those descriptions had absolutely nothing to do with anything else in the book – just Nineteenth-Century wordiness.  Another example is the entire chapter called “The Procession.”  This was eleven pages of irrelevant details that Hawthorne wrote, presumably, to build the tension for the revelation that was to follow.  It too seemed like wasted words.

On the positive side, the book is a great picture of actual guilt, feelings of guilt, shame (both public and private), and the impact those have on our lives.  The parties actually guilty of adultery, the woman known to the community and the man hidden from them, had completely different responses to the sin, the first from shame and the latter from deep hidden guilty feelings.  In this regard, it’s worth wading through the entire book just for the descriptions in “The Interior of a Heart.”  Here’s one description of the guilty man’s troubled thoughts:

He kept vigils, night after night, sometimes in utter darkness; sometimes with a glimmering lamp; and sometimes, viewing his own face in a looking glass, by the most powerful light which he could throw upon it.  He thus typified the constant introspection wherewith he tortured, but could not purify, himself.

How many of us have been there at some point in our lives!  Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

This novel is also remarkable for its presentation of Puritan New England – its attitudes, strengths and hypocrisies.  Though I’m not sure Hawthorne’s interpretation of the Puritans and what they believed is entirely accurate, it seemed overly negative to me, it was a fascinating aspect of the book.

Chris Cooper’s Retirement Blessing

October 2, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I was asked to bring a blessing and invocation at a retirement party for my cousin’s husband.  Here is the typed text of what I shared.  The spoken version came out slightly different, but all the same thoughts were in it.

Welcome!  Thanks for coming.  We’re here to celebrate the career of Dr. Christopher Cooper.  I don’t know much about Dr. Cooper’s career, but I know something about his character.  And every positive thing we hear about his career today will be an outworking of his character.

I met Dr. Cooper, simply Chris to me, 46 or 47 years ago when I was in first or second grade.  I was spending a weekend at my Uncle Walter’s ranch, and the discussion was the boyfriend my cousin Kathie was bringing home from college to meet the family.  For some reason, when he got there, Chris noticed the baby cousin visiting and took a liking to him.  I don’t know why, but he decided to teach that cousin how to play chess.  Now for a first grade geeky student, before geek was a word, that was really cool (probably before cool was a word too!).  But he also taught me some other cool stuff.  The next time I saw Chris, he had a present to give me, and I still have it today.  He taught me how to use a slide rule and gave me one to keep for my own.  Now if you’re under 50, you probably don’t know what a slide rule is.  A slide rule is to a digital calculator what a walkie-talkie is to a smart phone, or what a typewriter is to a computer.  Of course if you’re under 50 you may not know what those are either.  Suffice it to say that a slide rule was state of the art cool – way more cool than playing chess – especially for a geeky first grader who loved math.

One day Jesus’ followers were having an argument about greatness — an I’m better than you kind of discussion.  So Jesus took a little child and had it stand in their midst and said, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the One who sent me.  For he who is least among you all he is the greatest”  Welcoming the insignificant people among us is to be like Jesus; it is in fact true greatness.  Chris Cooper’s life and career, from my small perspective, have been marked by welcoming the insignificant, whether it be the baby geeky cousin, the poor lonesome patient, or the unborn child.  Chris, thanks using for your gifts for insignificant people – that is a picture of godliness and true greatness.

Such is the character of the man we honor today.  I’m too am honored to be a part of the celebration.

Jesus, you told us to welcome the little child.  We’re here to honor and celebrate the career of a man who often did that.  But we also realize any good gifts we have come from you, so we’re here to give you glory as well.  May our evening together honor Chris, glorify you, and encourage the rest of us.  May we delight in each other’s company; may we enjoy a good meal, may we share a few laughs; may we remember the past with fondness;  may we leave here full of your goodness.

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