It’s A Hard Knock Life!

Most of my musical friends and family will automatically think of ‘Annie’ when they see the title for this post. The infamous musical is a joy to hear with its portrayal of a spunky redhead.  But that’s not why I selected the title.

I am exploring Thomas á Kempis as he sets before the reader the example set by the Holy Fathers (as he describes them), the monks whose role in church history is quite significant in their preservation of scripture and their pursuit of an ascetic life as a demonstration of their devotion to God.

Have you ever met a ‘holy hermit?’ I don’t think I have, except in the lectures and books of church historians. Thomas seeks to paint for us a picture of their devotion in their desert living.  He writes…

[My reflective comments will follow in regular font, while the quotes from The Imitation of Christ will appear in blue italics.

“How strict and detached were the lives the holy hermits led in the desert!”

This was their environment for growth. This was their strategy in dealing with the allurement of the world. We may consider them extreme, but how are we resisting conformity to the pattern of this age?

What long and grave temptations they suffered!

The temptation is a life-long reality, isn’t it? When we fail to resist the devil we sin against God and against others.

How often were they beset by the enemy!

When the devil finished tempting Jesus in the wilderness, he left him ‘for a more opportune time.’ Haven’t you found that are seasons of attack?

What frequent and ardent prayers they offered to God!

‘The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man…’  This King James Version rendition of James 5:16 reminds us that we must be righteous and that we must pursue God fervently.

What rigorous fasts they observed!

When was the last time you fasted? For what purpose? Repentance? Guidance? Spiritual empowerment?

How great their zeal and their love for spiritual perfection!

How easy it is to become complacent in my walk with God. The pursuit of righteousness is indeed a pursuit.  Hebrews 12:14 is still in the Bible, isn’t it? ‘Pursue peace with all men and holiness, without which no one will see God.’

How brave the fight they waged to master their evil habits!

John Owen’s ‘Mortification of Sin’ should not be optional reading. What strategies has God led you to pursue in your walk with him?

What pursuit and straightforward purpose they showed towards God!

This ‘one thing’ I do. How singular am I in my devotion to Jesus Christ? Have I been cheating on Him by flirting with the world?

By day they laboured and by night they spent themselves in long prayers.

Long prayers aren’t the issue, but how are we spending our time? Having been saved by faith, (Ephesians 2:8-9), we pursue good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Even at work, they did not cease from mental prayer.

Pray without ceasing. Are we obedient to this command given to the Thessalonian church by the Apostle Paul? Watch and pray.

They used all their time profitably; every hour seemed too short for serving God, and in the great sweetness of contemplation, they forget even their bodily needs.

This reminds me of the call of Jesus Christ, ‘If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow…’ Or consider the testimony of the  Apostle Paul, ‘I beat my body and make it my slave…’ Perhaps in a casual moment, these followers of Jesus Christ from an earlier century would declare – ‘Christianity? It’s a hard knock life!’

May God awaken our sleepy hearts, call us to repentance and restore to us the joy of our salvation!  Sola Deo Gloria!

 

Friend of God

In the kingdom of God, friendships matter. Proverbs, the first covenant’s book of practical wisdom, is filled with clear instruction about the priority and place of friendships.

“A friend loves at all times.”

“There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

“Wounds from a friend can be trusted,…”

In James, the new covenant’s book of practical wisdom, we move far beyond human friendships to our relationship with the world system or with God. The Spirit of God guides this leader to probe into the fights and quarrels that exist too often between believers. We have strong desires. We pursue illicit goals with illegitimate means. We pray with wrong motives and basically are called out as being self-centred.

Though ‘married’ to God, we are committing adultery. We’re acting as though we’re single, unattached to him and we are flirting with the world.  What starts as a ‘casual glance’ soon becomes a full-blown ‘affair–‘at least spiritually speaking.

Hear these words of warning.

“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”

We can’t have it both ways. We can’t be deeply in love with God and with the world. We have a choice to make.  Choose friendship with the world and we move into ‘enemy status’ with God. Choose friendship with God and we move into ‘enemy status’ with the world.

It takes the grace of God and the Spirit of God and the word of God to enable us to maintain our relationship with God. God preserves us. He warns us. He corrects us and calls us to guard our friendship with Him.

May we heed His warnings!

 

Setting An Example

‘Jesus has set the example, Dauntless was He, young and brave…’

Jesus Christ has set the perfect example in so many ways for those of us who have trusted Him as our Saviour. The Apostle Peter asserts this in the context of dealing with unjust suffering, a reality which impacts most families at various times in their earthly journey.

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, LEAVING YOU AN EXAMPLE, that you should follow in his steps.” Even many who make no profession of faith acknowledge the exemplary life lived by Jesus of Nazareth. Following his example does not earn us grace but provides a pattern of devotion to God.

We have other examples set for us by saints in the pages of Scripture and throughout over 2000 years of church history.  Thomas á Kempis presses the reader to consider ‘The Example Set by the Holy Fathers.’ (Church leaders whose passion for God is clearly reflected in their living and teaching)

He writes,

“Consider the lively examples set us by the saints, who possessed the light of true perfection and religion, and you will see how little, how nearly nothing, we do.”

Comparison with others may become a dangerous activity. Recall the words of Jesus to Peter concerning John – “What is that to you? You must follow me!” Nevertheless, we are challenged and encouraged by biographies, by seeing faith lived out in a variety of cultural contexts.  Others have set examples for us to emulate. Without being overly introspective, I find my own devotion to Christ is challenged through reading edifying biographies.

“The saints and friends of Christ served the Lord…

in hunger and thirst,

in cold and nakedness,

in work and fatigue,

in vigils and fasts,

in prayers and holy meditations,

in persecutions and many afflictions.”

Most of these reflect areas of need. Although the LORD is our provider, He does permit His people to experience need. I have met more than my share of grateful children of the living God whose contentment in their poverty has proven a sharp rebuke.

I weary of preaching and singing which ignores the reality of the needy. Hunger, thirst, cold, and nakedness reflect raw human realities for so many people in our world. Genuine believers, with resources, are called to meet these needs. Don’t forget the parable of the sheep and the goats! ‘I was naked and you clothed me. I was hungry and you fed me. I was in prison…’

Spiritual disciplines like fasting, prayer and meditation are some of the means of grace God has invited us to build into our lives. Church history is replete with examples for us. Read the biographies. Talk to living examples and seek to learn from these patterns.

Persecutions and afflictions remind us that we live in a hostile world. The hymn writer asks all of us, ‘Must I be carried to the skies on flow’ry beds of ease, while others fought to win the prize and sailed through bloody seas?’ ‘Is there no cross for me to face, must I not stem the flood? Is this vile world a friend of grace to help me on to God?’

How have others served the Lord? How may we serve him? None of us really know the impact our obedience or disobedience may have on the lives of others.  Without arrogance, the Apostle Paul urged the Corinthian church to follow his example as he followed the example of Jesus Christ!

If you want a fascinating study, check out the word ‘example’ through the useful BibleGateway website!  Here’s the link

A Change Of Life

‘A change is as good as a rest.’ Really? What does that mean? What kind of change? What kind of rest?

I dare say most of the New Years Resolutions made in December 2017 have long been broken. Many resolve to change something, some habit, some practice that has long been unaddressed. In 2018 I will…

Resolutions and commitment to keep them test the mettle of our lives. Jonathan Edwards (no relation), the infamous pastoral preacher of Northampton made several resolutions. Here is a modernized edition of 70 of them.  70 Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards in Modern Language  The reviser of that blog notes that these resolutions ‘are still a practical and beneficial tool for spiritual cultivation.’ It is stimulating reading to ponder the devotional habits of others who are walking the highway of holiness.

Thomas á Kempis, though committed to monastic living, knew outward attire wouldn’t change the heart.  He writes, “Habit and tonsure (the shaving off of part of a monk’s hair) change a man but little;…”

“It is the change of life, the complete mortification of passions that endow a true religious. He who seeks anything but God alone and the salvation of his soul will find only trouble and grief, and he who does not try to become the least, the servant of all, cannot remain at peace for long. You have come to serve, not to rule. You must understand, too, that you have been called to suffer and to work, not to idle and gossip away your time. Here men are tried as gold in a furnace. Here no man can remain unless he desires with all his heart to humble himself before God.”

So let’s ponder this briefly…

a) A change of life – Where does true change begin? How seriously do we want to change our lives? Think of the question posed by Jesus to the man by the pool for 38 years (John 5) – ‘Do you want to get well?’

b) A complete mortification of passions – ‘Put to death whatever….’ Paul urged the Colossian church. We read the text but we have our ‘protected’ turf, our closets in which all of the junk of our lives is quickly thrown. We need a complete cleanout, a removal of anything and everything that hinders our walk with God.

c) A seeking of God alone – ‘Seek FIRST the kingdom of God and his righteousness’ Jesus urged his followers. God rewards those who diligently seek him.

d) A call to serve – Jesus himself came to serve and not be served. Isn’t that likewise our calling? Let’s watch for service opportunities this day–those small tasks that no one seems to want to care for and get forgotten.

e) A call to suffer – Don’t forget the persecuted church, our brothers and sisters who pay heavily for their commitment to Jesus Christ and illustrate the truth that ‘all who will live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.’ Suffering is not an optional extra, it appears to be an essential, difficult ingredient in the lives of the followers of Jesus Christ.

So what is the secret to a change of life? I think Thomas á Kempis would answer that there must be a combination of the above five components. I wonder how God is changing us day to day that we more accurately bear the image of his Son.

Sola Deo Gloria!

The Unexamined Life

‘An unexamined life is not worth living.’ Socrates’ quote has been examined and cross-examined by a multitude of philosophers and ordinary people.

To Thomas á Kempis, the best place to pursue a careful examination of life was in a monastic community. Coming from a Protestant, evangelical Christian background, I must confess little grasp of the appeal of such a community.  Yes, I appreciate the contributions of thousands of monks throughout church history who copied scripture and preserved sacred writings, but could I choose to adopt their lifestyle, fulfill their vows and live an ascetic life?

Try to grasp his counsel, even if your own experience and convictions vary tremendously from that of his.

‘If you wish peace and concord with others, you must learn to break your will in many things.”

True! Our will is bound. Our will, apart from the grace of God, defies the plan of God and asserts its control over our lives. How shall it be broken? Voluntarily or involuntarily? By your own action or by the providential action of God?

To live in monasteries or religious communities,

to remain there without complaint,

and to persevere faithfully till death is no small matter.

True! How long a commitment was called for in these communities? A commitment of a lifetime, a voluntary subjection of one’s will to the will of the community and to maintain such vows fully until the point of death.

We may never have committed ourselves in such a way, but how devoted are we to God? How willing are we to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Jesus Christ? What has our faith in Christ cost us? What level of perseverance have we manifested in our walk with God?

Blessed indeed is he who there lives a good life and there ends his days in happiness. If you would persevere in seeking perfection, you must consider yourself a pilgrim, an exile on earth.

Where are you and I living our lives? To what degree do we desire happiness and where are we seeking it? ‘Pursue peace with all men and holiness…’ Hebrews 12:14 commands, ‘…without which no one will see God.’ Hardly an optional extra!

This world is NOT my home.  We are pilgrims. We are living in exile. We have no final address here on earth. This is picked up in the pages of the New Testament as the apostles speak of us as ‘strangers in the world,’ ‘aliens’ in a foreign land.  This mindset does not simply belong to a group of monks, but to every devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart.
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move;
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art;
and make me love Thee as I ought to love.

I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
No sudden rending of the veil of clay,
No angel vision, no opening skies;
but take the dimness of my soul away.

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear.
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh,
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Hast Thou not bid me love Thee,  God and King?
All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see the cross, there teach me to cling:
O let me seek Thee, and O let me find!

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;                                                                    The presence of Thy descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.

No Need For Locked Doors

In what way were the disciples of Jesus like the chief priests and Pharisees?

In Matthew 27 the Jewish religious leaders, concerned that the disciples would steal the body of Jesus and then declare that he had risen from the dead, went to Pilate to tighten up security. Pilate granted permission for them to make the tomb ‘as secure as you know how.’

In John 20:19 the disciples gathered together in the upper room and made the room ‘as secure as they knew how’ by locking the doors.

How securely can you seal up a tomb with the Son of God inside? How securely can you lock the doors of a room to keep the Son of God outside? The assignment’s impossibility seems staggering when you read the entire account.

The words ‘fear not’ permeate the gospel accounts. Fear is an immobilizer, an antidote to faith, a dominating emotion that seeps into the heart gradually until it has wrestled control over one’s life.

‘On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples ere together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews,…’

The scene is set. Night has fallen. The disciples are unified but unified around the wrong cause, namely, fear! They have locked the doors. At least they’re together…for now. At least they can attempt to process the mixture of doubt and faith filling their hearts on this Resurrection Day.

Should they pray? Should they fast? What lies ahead? Was the world about to end? We can only speculate as to the questions that dominated their hearts and conversations.

In the midst of their uncertainty, Jesus came. He came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!’

He knew where they were.

He knew who they were.

He knew what they needed.

He spoke peace. He was with them.  The sense of relief that rippled through the band of followers must have been palpable. Yes, he had died, but he was alive. Yes, they had their enemies to face, but he was with them, preparing them for all that lay ahead.

He spoke peace but he also solved their perplexity. “…he showed them his hands and side.”

Here was the evidence. Evidence, as Josh McDowell asserts, that demands a verdict. There were the nail prints. There was the wound still evident in his side, reminding all of them of the price that had been paid for their redemption.

As we launch into this post Resurrection period, we too need peace. We need our perplexity solved. And so he comes. Jesus shows up in a variety of ways through the word of God, by the Spirit of God, through the words and actions of the people of God and he speaks peace. He challenges our perplexity and settles our troubled hearts. This is good news. Our hope is renewed. Because HE LIVES, we can face tomorrow.  Because HE LIVES, all fear is gone… In a sense there is no need for locked doors!

Fear turns to joy–not just your ‘regular-sized’ joy but an abundant joy, a ‘super-sized’ joy–the kind of joy the Spirit of God produces.

“The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”

What overjoys you? What makes your heart burst with a thrilling sense of wonder? May your encounter with the living Christ be such a dynamic engagement, that you become overjoyed. May we be granted a joy that fills our own heart and overflows into the hearts and lives of others who clearly face their own fear, who struggle with their own sense of perplexity.

We serve a risen Saviour!

Sola Deo Gloria!

Maximum Security

Security is a key issue that many ponder as part of their work-related responsibility. Jails are categorized, at least in some countries, with a range of minimum to maximum security. Cyber attacks on companies of various sizes have pressed the budget line for security. One’s personal security provides the basis for home alarms, credit protection and a host of other solutions.

Security was an issue for the chief priests and Pharisees after Jesus had died. ‘The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has risen from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”

Curious assessment, isn’t it?

1) Authority – These ‘religious’ leaders are under authority. They ‘think’ they are operating under God’s authority and they are subject to the governing authority of Pilate. They must show respect to the governor, though they have shown no respect to the King of kings and Lord of lords.

2) Assessment – They consider Jesus to be a deceiver. O, they haven’t ‘been deceived’ but they fear the disciples and crowds impacted on Palm Sunday are still hanging on the words of Jesus! They remember at least part of what Jesus said. The issue at hand was the resurrection and if he had predicted a rising on the third day, this must be addressed.

3) Advice – Curious how they advise the governor to act. ‘…give the order…’  We can’t. You can. Help us out!

The governor opts to yield to their counsel. Peace in the nation is valuable–It makes governing so much easier. So he issues instructions to these religious zealots – “Take a guard. Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” 

The only thing limiting your security is your own knowledge. You have authority. You have time. Now act. Secure the tomb as you know how.

But who knew how? How do you secure a tomb when the Son of God lies within it? How do you lock God up? Do you have such knowledge?

We puzzle at their perplexing situation and wonder why so many today make every effort to keep God out of their lives. Whole nations have been built on the shaky premises of atheism.

Karl Marx asserted, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people“.

The ‘scholars’ at Wikipedia interpret his quote this way – Marx believed that religion had certain practical functions in society that were similar to the function of opium in a sick or injured person: it reduced people’s immediate suffering and provided them with pleasant illusions, but it also reduced their energy and their willingness to confront the oppressive, heartless, and soulless reality that capitalism had forced them into.

The ‘pleasant illusions’ of the chief priests, the Pharisees and even Pilate on Saturday after Jesus died is that they could secure the tomb, stop the spread of the teaching and bring this movement to an end.

Good Friday happened. Saturday we watch and wait. Sunday’s coming!

Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Saviour…. Waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord….

Sola Deo Gloria

 

Digging deeper into the depths of Scripture…

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