Shopping For A Mentor?

How much shopping do you do on a regular basis? Where do you shop?

Recently I needed to make a small household repair. I went to two major retailers and neither of them had the part I was searching for so I returned home and shopped online.

Shopping has changed a lot over the centuries. Obviously, the invention of the automobile permitted access to a greater range of options and technological changes continue to inundate us with options. Try searching for a journal to purchase today and tomorrow, I predict, you’ll have ‘journals for sale’ in your social media feeds.

Have you ever shopped for a mentor? I recall, years ago, praying that God would give me the opportunity to work with two seasoned pastoral leaders whom I had heard preach and had met briefly afterwards. God answered that prayer and both of these men left their impact on my life.

Thomas á Kempis joined a monastic community at the age of 26. He spent his time between devotional exercises, composition and copying. He copied the Bible no fewer than four times. In its teachings, he was widely read and his works abound in Biblical quotations.

In this blog, I’m reproducing his 8th chapter of Book I. He entitles this section ‘Shunning Over-Familiarity.’ My assignment for you is to assess how ‘biblical’ this instruction is as you read it. Remember the bible urges us to ‘Test everything. Hold on to what is good.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:21) In the next post, I’ll seek to make my own assessment. Though written in paragraphs, I’ve separated each sentence into a new line of text.  As you read these statements, remember he’s living in a monastery, writing, I believe, instruction for other men in how to live a holy life. (I’ve added the word ‘evaluation’ should you opt to print this out)

Do not open your heart to every man, but discuss your affairs with one who is wise and who fears God.

Evaluation –

Do not keep company with young people and strangers.

Evaluation –

Do not fawn upon the rich, and do not be fond of mingling with the great.

Evaluation –

Associate with the humble and the simple, with the devout and virtuous, and with them speak of edifying things.

Evaluation –

Be not intimate with any woman, but generally commend all good women to God.  

Evaluation –

Seek only the intimacy of God and of His angels, and avoid the notice of men.   

Evaluation –

We ought to have charity for all men but familiarity with all is not expedient.

Evaluation –

Sometimes it happens that a person enjoys a good reputation among those who do not know him, but at the same time is held in slight regard by those who do.

Evaluation –

Frequently we think we are pleasing others by our presence and we begin rather to displease them by the faults they find in us.

Evaluation –

In your evaluations write out other references that God brings to mind that either affirm or challenge the statement made.

Letting The Message About Christ Fill Your Lives

What happens when you let the message about Christ fill your lives?  What impact does the word of God have on your mind, your will, your emotions as you meditate upon it? I wonder how Thomas á Kempis would answer these questions. Isn’t this what he is doing as he pens these chapters? Hasn’t he allowed the word of God to percolate into every fibre of his being? Isn’t he seeking, with God’s help, to allow the message about Christ to fill his life and overflow from his life to others?

In Jeremiah 17:5 we read

This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
    who rely on human strength
    and turn their hearts away from the Lord.”

Read and reread that text and then read what á Kempis wrote in the seventh chapter of his classic work. What has the Spirit of God taught him about trust and confidence? What dangers has he been alerted to as he prayerfully pondered this and other texts?

He writes thus…..

Vain is the man who puts his trust in men, in created things.    

Do not be ashamed to serve others for the love of Jesus Christ and to seem poor in this world.

Do not be self-sufficient but place your trust in God.

Do what lies in your power and God will aid your good will.

Put no trust in your own learning nor in the cunning of any man, but rather in the grace of God Who helps the humble and humbles the proud.    

If you have wealth, do not glory in it, nor in friends because they are powerful, but in God Who gives all things and Who desires above all to give Himself.

Do not boast of personal stature or of physical beauty, qualities which are marred and destroyed by a little sickness.

Do not take pride in your talent or ability, lest you displease God to Whom belongs all the natural gifts that you have.

Do not think yourself better than others lest, perhaps, you be accounted worse before God Who knows what is in man.

Do not take pride in your good deeds, for God’s judgments differ from those of men and what pleases them often displeases Him.

If there is good in you, see more good in others, so that you may remain humble.

It does no harm to esteem yourself less than anyone else, but it is very harmful to think yourself better than even one.

The humble live in continuous peace,  while in the hearts of the proud are envy and frequent anger.

May we this day take even one verse and allow it to impact us from the inside out! Remember ‘the entrance of God’s word gives light.’

Resistance Is…

A former colleague, quite enamoured with the Star Trek analogies, often said, ‘Resistance is futile!’ You have to be a ‘fan’ to know the reference to the Borg, a fictional alien group that appears throughout the series. (I corrected this from ‘Star Wars’ to ‘Star Trek’ after the comment of a careful reader!)

According to Thomas á Kempis, when it comes to temptation, ‘resistance is necessary.’ Notice how he writes of mortification–putting to death evil desires which unless conquered will destroy our lives in so many ways.

When a man desires a thing too much, he at once becomes ill at ease. A   proud and avaricious man never rests, whereas he who is poor and humble of heart lives in a world of peace. An unmortified man is quickly tempted and overcome in small, trifling evils; his spirit is weak, in a   measure carnal and inclined to sensual things; he can hardly abstain from earthly desires. Hence it makes him sad to forego them; he is quick to anger if reproved. Yet if he satisfies his desires, remorse of conscience overwhelms him because he followed his passions and they did not lead to the peace he sought.     True peace of heart, then, is found in resisting passions, not in satisfying them. There is no peace in the carnal man, in the man given to vain attractions, but there is peace in the fervent and spiritual man.

So how are you ‘handling’ your desires? Are you controlling them or are they controlling you?

Recall the warning Jesus issued to his closest followers, ‘Watch and pray. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.’  The root of their failure was not heeding such a warning. They were more ‘attuned’ to their own thoughts than to the thoughts of Christ.

Thomas á Kempis is reflecting the Apostle Paul’s warning to the Colossian church in chapter 3 of that edifying letter.

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming.You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds.

The battle begins in the strategy room. Long before the first shots are fired wise soldiers of Christ declare their loyalty and seek their Commander’s counsel.

Reading The Bible Profitably

There are all kinds of ways to read the Bible.  There are a multitude of plans to guide you through the sixty-six books of this inspired, inerrant, infallible text.

Think of the multitude of translations that have been launched in a variety of languages since á Kempis penned The Imitation of Christ. What percentage of even the general populace had enough education to access the truth in their mother tongue? What would bible reading be like in an era when the religious authorities, for the most part, restricted access to those who were trained and part of the ‘official’ church’s leadership? Try to imagine the revolutionary instruction penned in this next chapter of this religious classic, even if only monks were reading his instruction!

Reading the Holy Scripture

TRUTH, not eloquence, is to be sought in reading the Holy Scriptures; and every part must be read in the spirit in which it was written. For in the Scriptures we ought to seek profit rather than polished diction.

Likewise, we ought to read simple and devout books as willingly as learned and profound ones. We ought not to be swayed by the authority of the writer, whether he be a great literary light or an insignificant person, but by the love of simple truth. We ought not to ask who is speaking, but mark what is said. Men pass away, but the truth of the Lord remains forever. God speaks to us in many ways without regard for persons.

Our curiosity often impedes our reading of the Scriptures, when we wish to understand and mull over what we ought simply to read and pass by.

If you would profit from it, therefore, read with humility, simplicity, and faith, and never seek a reputation for being learned. Seek willingly and listen attentively to the words of the saints; do not be displeased with the sayings of the ancients, for they were not made without purpose.

Some reflections….

  1. Read every part in the spirit in which it was written. We need to know the difference between poetry and prophecy, parables and narrative as we read. Genre, or the type of literature, needs to be identified and greatly assists false interpretation if understood.
  2. We all have our favourite books of the Bible, but remember all of the sixty-six books are God’s word. Having a reading plan in both testaments and a plan to engage and study through even the most difficult passages presses us to consider ‘the whole counsel of God.’ (Acts 20)
  3. What a range of linguistic ability God used. Ordinary fishermen, like Peter and John, pen books beside more scholarly saints like Dr. Luke or the author of the book of Hebrews.
  4. It is useful to mark our Bibles, but let our Bibles mark us. Don’t get lost in observation, colouring your pages with various colours to indicate themes you are tracking. Engage with the Scriptures. Read prayerfully, before, during and after you read through the text.
  5. Watch out for ‘rabbit trails’ of study. Stay focused on the text at hand. Cross-references are worth pursuing but why not stay ‘camped out’ in one book of the Bible with repeated readings. Try this approach with a short book, e.g. 2 or 3 John, and, with a notebook, record your observations, interpretations and applications.
  6. I think his exhortation of reading with humility, simplicity and faith needs to be pressed on all of us.

By the way, how would you answer this short survey?

a) What book(s) of the Bible are you currently reading?

b) What passages of the Bible are you currently studying?

c) What verses from the Bible are you currently memorizing?

A hymn, penned by Edwin Hodder in 1863, concludes this post

Thy Word is like a garden, Lord, with flowers bright and fair;
And every one who seeks may pluck a lovely cluster there.
Thy Word is like a deep, deep mine; and jewels rich and rare
Are hidden in its mighty depths for every searcher there.

Thy Word is like a starry host: a thousand rays of light
Are seen to guide the traveller and make his pathway bright.
Thy Word is like an armoury, where soldiers may repair;
And find, for life’s long battle day, all needful weapons there.

O may I love Thy precious Word, may I explore the mine,
May I its fragrant flowers glean, may light upon me shine!
O may I find my armour there! Thy Word my trusty sword,
I’ll learn to fight with every foe the battle of the Lord.

Choice Morsels of Gossip = Yum or Yuk??

How does gossip taste to you? How did it taste 3000 years ago? Proverbs 18:8 provides wisdom’s perspective!

A gossip’s words are like choice food that goes down to one’s innermost being. (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

“Rumors are dainty morsels that sink deep into one’s heart.” (New Living Translation)

“Listening to gossip is like eating cheap candy;  do you really want junk like that in your belly?” (The Message)

Thomas á Kempis reflected on the sin of gossip as he penned chapter 4 of The Imitation of Christ.

He writes “…sad to say, we are so weak that we believe and speak evil of others rather than good. Perfect men, however, do not readily believe every talebearer, because they know that human frailty is prone to evil and is likely to appear in speech.”

He continues by noting, “Not to act rashly or to cling obstinately to one’s opinion, not to believe everything people say or to spread abroad the gossip one has heard, is great wisdom.”

My Uncle Forde Edwards often quoted a poem. I’m not sure if he had learned it in the one room public school he attended, or had simply committed it to memory from some other source. Gossip is certainly only one of many sins we may commit with our speech.

‘If you your lips would keep from slips,

5 things I know declare,

OF whom you speak, TO whom you speak

and HOW and WHY and WHERE….’

May we demonstrate ‘great wisdom’ today in the way we use our God-given faculty of speech! If you need a further reminder of God’s standards, read James 3 where he unpacks the power of the tongue!

 

 

How Will You Be Remembered?

I’ve attended and shared in a number of funeral services over my life time.  No two lives are identical and the order of service for each funeral or memorial is remarkably unique.  During the first 2 years of vocational ministry in Northern Ontario, after being called to serve there in 1991, I conducted 30 funerals. One of the local funeral directors asked, in jest, if I did anything else!

I’ve often asked others the question, ‘How will you be remembered?’ In one sense, no one can answer that question accurately. Perhaps the modified, ‘How would you like to be remembered?’ at least permits the individual to affirm values of all types that matter to them

In chapter 3 of Book I, Thomas á  Kempis challenges the pursuit of learning. Like the Greeks and Romans, ‘modern man’ worships wisdom and consumes knowledge. Scholars, of all types, offer their expertise in one of the most worldwide accessible platforms, the Internet. Books, posts and articles continue to pour out at a dizzying rate from our keyboards, but of what eternal value is their content?

Thomas á Kempis asks, ‘Tell me, where now are all the masters and teachers whom you knew so well in life and who were famous for their learning? Others have already taken their places and I know not whether they ever think of their predecessors. During life they seemed to be something; now they are seldom remembered.”

New scholars often correct the work of previous scholars. Take a look for example at the handling of ‘Pluto’ by the astronomers of our world. Is it a planet or not? Pluto is now considered a dwarf planet.

The Universe Today website asserts:

Is Pluto a planet? Does it qualify? For an object to be a planet, it needs to meet these three requirements defined by the IAU:

  • It needs to be in orbit around the Sun – Yes, so maybe Pluto is a planet.
  • It needs to have enough gravity to pull itself into a spherical shape – Pluto…check
  • It needs to have “cleared the neighbourhood” of its orbit – Uh oh. Here’s the rule breaker. According to this, Pluto is not a planet.

Now when primary grade children list the planets in our solar system, to score full marks Pluto must not be included. The ‘discovery’ of Pluto in 1930 has now been ‘undiscovered’ through further research…..or so it seems! Honestly, who gets to make the decision?

So back to our question – How will you be remembered?

My father, who loved and led our congregation to sing a variety of hymns, some times chose this old classic. It speaks to the theme of this post.

Fading away like the stars of the morning,
Losing their light in the glorious sun—
Thus would we pass from the earth and its toiling,
Only remembered by what we have done.

Only remembered, only remembered,
Only remembered by what we have done;
Thus would we pass from the earth and its toiling,
Only remembered by what we have done.

Shall we be missed, though by others succeeded,
Reaping the fields we in springtime have sown?
Yes; but the sowers must pass from their labours,
Ever remembered by what they have done.

Only the truth that in life we have spoken,
Only the seed that on earth we have sown;
These shall pass onward when we are forgotten,
Fruits of the harvest and what we have done.

Oh, when the Saviour shall make up His jewels,
When the bright crowns of rejoicing are won,
Then shall His weary and faithful disciples
All be remembered by what they have done.

—Alternative verse—

Shall we be missed, though by others succeeded,
Reaping the fields we in springtime have sown?
No; for the sowers may pass from their labours,
Only remembered by what they have done.

Our aim in life is not to be remembered but to point with our lives and lips to Jesus Christ, the One who is the same yesterday and today and forever.  We may soon be forgotten but may the fragrance of Christ’s work in our lives remind others of Him!

Self-Mastery

The Oxford Dictionary ‘word of the year’ for 2013 was ‘selfie‘ – (a photograph that one takes of oneself)
I doubt that those who fill their cameras with selfies have a great deal of self-mastery. What do you think?
self-mastery (n)
the ability to take control of one’s life without being blown off course by feelings, urges, circumstances etc
Our self-indulgent culture thrives on self-centredness, does it not? We are urged to follow any feelings, urges or circumstances regardless of the consequences that decisions taken by such selfish creatures create.
I was preaching a few weeks ago on ‘Four Fellows In the Fellowship,’ a sermon rooted in an exposition of Third John. In studying for that sermon and thinking of Diotrephes, one of the ‘major’ characters in this ‘minor’ letter I pondered the word self-centred. In using Dr. Joel Beeke’s practical commentary on 3 John, I discovered this illustration –  When asked to condemn the papacy, Newton retorted, “I have read of many Popes, but the worst Pope I ever encountered was Pope Self.” (3 John Commentary, Dr. Joel Beeke)
One of the greatest evidences of the impact of sin rests in the abundant evidence of self-centred living.
Thomas á Kempis observed in the third chapter of his first book recorded in The Imitation of Christ –
Who is forced to struggle more than he who tries to master himself? This ought to be our purpose, then: to conquer self, to become stronger each day, to advance in virtue.   Every perfection in this life has some imperfection mixed with it and no learning of ours is without some darkness. Humble knowledge of self is a surer path to God than the ardent pursuit of learning.
How would you answer this probing question, ‘Who is forced to struggle more than he who tries to master himself?’
Self-mastery may only be fully achieved through the Spirit of God, the producer of self-control. Out-of-control living shows up in all kinds of behaviour. The menu options are unlimited or so they seem!
How would you complete  this verse: “For to me to live is ___________________?”
How do you conquer self? Have you discovered the secret so evident in the life of John the Baptist as he spoke of Jesus? “HE must increase, I must decrease.” How might we model selfless living?
Romans 12:3, though in the context of one’s self-assessment of spiritual giftedness, certainly reflects the challenge of navigating these waters in a way that honours God.
For by the grace given to me, I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly that he ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of the faith that God has assigned.” (ESV) With God’s grace may we cultivate self-mastery in new ways in 2018!

Digging deeper into the depths of Scripture…

%d bloggers like this: