Like a Weaned Child

November 30, 2011 at 11:35 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, God's Love | 3 Comments

I am passionate about the intellectual aspects of Christianity.  Some of the posts in this blog are indicative of that.  God wants us to worship him with our minds; he wants us to think deep and godly thoughts.  But there is also an emotional, experiential side to the Christian life, which is expressed in things like joy and peace.  Often individuals (and also churches) ignore one aspect or the other.  Those who emphasize the intellectual aspects of Christianity are afraid that emotion will ruin their theology, something I’ve seen happen; while those who emphasize the emotional aspects are afraid that intellectual questions will destroy their joy and excitement, and I’ve seen that happen too.  The biblical truth is that the emotions come from the correct intellectual understanding of who God is and what he has done for us.  A deep understanding of God’s word produces joy and peace.  The Psalms of Ascent are one place where those two aspects of Christianity meet.  The intellectual understanding of these poems bring out emotionally powerful pictures.  That is certainly true in Psalm 131:  “My heart is not proud, O Lord; my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.  But I have stilled and quieted my soul like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” (NIV)  While never departing from the truth, there are times when we theological types need to allow the emotional aspects of our faith to rule; we need to simply enjoy our sovereign, loving God, utterly consumed with who he is.  As consumed and contented as a baby in it’s mother’s lap.

This is an especially good exercise when we see our sin and are feeling beat up with guilt.  Then the truths of the Gospel can minster to our emotions; we need to feel the impact of God’s grace and forgiveness.

When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there, who made an end of all my sin.

Because the sinless Savior died, my sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me.
— Charitie Bancroft

Book Review: Treasures of the Snow

November 19, 2011 at 9:32 am | Posted in Books and Movies | Leave a comment

Ten or twelve years ago, a missionary family that often loaned us books to read to our daughter told us the one book they would read to their children, if they could have only one, was Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John.  Now we too would say that it is one of the best books we’ve read together as a family.  We are Narnia fans and would put many of those books near the top of the list, especially The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and our missionary friends were big Narnia fans as well, but I must agree that this one tops them all.  It’s no wonder it’s still in print 63 years after its first publication.  We’ve just finished our second time reading it aloud together.  We’ve also read two of the author’s other books, and though they were pretty good, this is by far the best of them.

Treasures of the Snow is a story written for preteens and early teenagers.  There is great character development in the narrative, and as we read, we really got into the characters’ lives and problems.  Though the resolution of the story is somewhat simplistic because of the intended audience, even the eventual heroes are not perfect people, as is often found in Christian books, especially children’s stories.  These people are real with life-like problems.  Even the adolescent characters, Annette and Lucien, struggle with laziness, fears, bitterness, hatred and revenge.  Readers of all ages will fall in love with Annette’s father, the soft spoken and hard working Monsieur Burnier; with Annette’s aging grandmother, who sees more and more with her mind though less and less with her eyes; and with the happy-go-lucky young Dani, whose accident becomes the focal point of a huge battle of bitterness and revenge.

Ultimately, that’s what the book is about, bitterness and revenge.  It is a tale that draws the readers in and captivates them for the duration of the story and the lessons it presents.  Even when one thinks all might be forgiven and the story is almost over, Mrs. St John has a surprise in store.  If you have preteens or early teenagers, read this book to them.  Even if you have older teenagers, try to convince them to turn off the phone and read or listen to this story.  You’ll be glad you did.

Philemon and Forgiveness

November 12, 2011 at 9:56 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, God's Love | Leave a comment

Some say the New Testament book called Philemon is about slavery.  It is about a slave who had escaped his master, but more importantly, Philemon is about relationships and reconciliation among Christians.  Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4 ESV)  Philemon and Onesimus are a great illustration of that point.  Onesimus was the slave of a Christian man named Philemon; he probably stole some money from his owner and escaped from slavery.  In God’s providence, Onesimus came into the company of the apostle Paul and through Paul became a follower of Jesus.  Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon to deliver this letter and the one called Colossians.

This little epistle is full of references to Christian relationships.  Paul calls Philemon “a beloved fellow worker” (v1); he compliments him on his “love for all the saints” (v5); then he adds “I have derived much joy and comfort from your love my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (v7); he refers to Philemon’s goodness in this matter (v14); and he calls Onesimus “my very heart” (v12).  Finally, the kicker is when he asks Philemon to receive Onesimus back “no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, as a beloved brother!” (v16)  “Receive him,” Paul says, “as you would receive me.” (v17)

What Paul was asking Philemon was not an easy task.  Philemon may have been bitter because his slave stole from him; he may have thought Onesimus didn’t deserve to be a Christian (none of us do); he may have already made plans for punishment if Onesimus returned.  And now Paul has the audacity to ask forgiveness for this horrid run-a-way.  Yet that is the Jesus way.  May I be one who forgives those who sin against me, no matter how horrid it may seem on my economy.  God has forgiven me far more than I could ever be wronged by others.  Philemon must have been faithful to forgive, otherwise this great little book would not have been passed on to us.  May his tribe increase!

Prison, Prayers and Providence

November 3, 2011 at 9:31 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, God's Love | Leave a comment

I have been reading through Acts and pondered again something I mentioned while preaching through the book.  Paul was held in prison at Caesarea for two years while Governor Felix was hoping to get a bribe from him (24:26-27).  Eventually, that imprisonment would become a total of almost five years, two in Caesarea, two in Rome, and almost one in transit.  When we think of Paul, we may think missionary, church planter, or disciplemaker, but very rarely do we think prisoner.  Yet for five years he sat waiting the outcome of his mockery of a trial.  This took a great understanding of the sovereignty of God.  If I were in his shoes, I would be chomping at the bit for the next preaching opportunity, the next mission trip, the next unreached community, and Paul may have been anxious also, but it never shows.  He understood that God was in control and would bring about his desired results in his time.  God even told Paul that these circumstances would move him to Rome so he might testify there (23:11).

After reading Acts 24 and pondering that thought, I then read Psalm 6.  The following cry, which leads the chapter, sounds like something Paul may have prayed from prison:  “O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.  Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony.  My soul is in anguish.  How long, O LORD, how long? (Psalm 6:1-3 NIV)  I wonder if Paul may have read these words during that five-year period.  But rather than complain, David, who wrote that prayer, goes immediately to the character of God and trusts in him.  The next words are “Turn, O LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love.” (v.4)

It’s easy to complain about circumstances beyond your control, yet God is always in control.  Nothing in your life situation is outside of his eternal plan.  He knows what you are going through, even if it feels like five years of prison or uselessness, and he will bring about his perfect end through those circumstances.  You can trust in his unfailing love.

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