Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Be Still My Soul

There are a lot of people who tend to think that hymns are "old fashioned" and therefore don't sing them. I am the opposite! I absolutely love hymns. They may use "old fashioned" language, but the message/theme/content in them is so applicable and relatable, that no matter how it's written down, it feels completely timeless. Now and again on this blog I'm going to share the lyrics of some of my favourite hymns... starting with this one, Be Still My Soul, written by a woman named Katharina von Schlegel in 1752:


Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and bless├Ęd we shall meet at last.

Be still, my soul: begin the song of praise
On earth, believing, to Thy Lord on high;
Acknowledge Him in all thy words and ways,
So shall He view thee with a well pleased eye.
Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pedestals

This seemed like an appropriate follow-up to yesterday's post. :) It was written by Elisabeth Elliot...

Pedestals

A student asked me whether I thought it was a problem that we tend to place missionaries on pedestals. My answer was that indeed we do, but servants of the Lord ought to be models of the truth they proclaim. Paul was bold enough to say, "Be followers of me" (l Cor 4:16).
At the same time let us always remember that the "excellency of the power" (2 Cor 4:7 AV) is never ours but God's. It is foolish to imagine that the missionary, or whoever the hero is, is sinless. God uses sinners--there is no one else to use.
Pedestals are for statues. Usually statues commemorate people who have done something admirable. Is the deed worth imitating? Does it draw me out of myself, set my sights higher? Let me remember the Source of all strength ("The Lord is the strength of my life," says Ps 27:1 AV) and, cheered by the image of a human being in whom that strength was shown, follow his example.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

They Walk Today With Christ Above

Today I decided to share some quotes again. These were all taken from the journals and letters of the five missionaries who gave their lives so many years ago, as they were attempting to share the Good News to the Waodani Indians. I have no doubt that everyone knows the story of these men. The following quotes are great, as they show the depth of their love for their Saviour, and their absolute willingness to share that love and message with others, no matter the cost.


“Throughout all our personality we are God’s, and since God has made our whole selves, there is great joy in realizing who is our Creator. This realization is to permeate every area and level of life. In appreciation of beauty, mountains, music, poetry, knowledge, people, science – even in the tang of an apple – God is there, to reflect the joy of His presence in the believer who will realize God’s purposes in all things.”
- Pete Fleming


“In all honesty before the Lord I say that no one or nothing beyond Himself and the Word has any bearing upon what I’ve decided to do. I have one desire now – to live a life of reckless abandon for the Lord, putting all my energy and strength into it… I’m taking the Lord at His word, and I’m trusting Him to prove His Word. It’s kind of like putting all your eggs in one basket, but we’ve already put our trust in Him for salvation, so why not do it as far as our life is concerned? If there’s nothing to this business of eternal life we might as well lose everything in one crack and throw our present life away with our life hereafter. But if there is something to it, then everything else the Lord says must hold true likewise.”
- Ed McCully


“God Himself laid down the law when He built the universe. He knew when He made it what the price was going to be. God didn’t hold back His only Son, but gave Him up to pay the price for our failure and sin. Missionaries constantly face expendability. Jesus said, ‘There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my sake and the Gospel’s but shall receive an hundred fold now in this time and in the world to come eternal life.’”
- Nate Saint


“With God’s help I hope and pray for the faith and strength to glorify our Father through my daily living as a witness and follower of Christ. Searching the Scriptures is my greatest source of hope and inspiration, having yet to learn the full power of prayer. I used to say, ‘This is a great world.’ With this new faith, this feeling has increased a thousandfold and I fairly ache within from happiness and rejoicing in sharing God’s manifold blessing which He gives to this world with Infinite mercy and grace… I want to be a witness for Him and live following Him every second of my life.”
- Roger Youderian


“I will be led and taught of the Holy Spirit. God desires full development, use and activity of our faculties. The Holy Spirit can and will guide me in direct proportion to the time and effort I will expend to know and do the will of God. I must read the Bible to know God’s will. At every point I will obey and do… I will die to self. I will begin to ask God to put me in a service of constant circumstances where to live Christ I must die to self. I will be alive unto God. That I may learn to love Him with my heart, mind, soul, and body.”
- Roger Youderian


“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
- Jim Elliot


“If God would grant us the vision, the word sacrifice would disappear from our lips and thoughts; we would hate the things that seem so dear to us; our lives would suddenly be too short, we would despise time-robbing distractions and charge the enemy with all our energies in the name of Christ… Lord, God, speak to my own heart and give me to know Thy Holy will and the joy of walking in it. Amen.”
- Nate Saint


“Oh, the fullness, pleasure, sheer excitement of knowing God on earth! I care not if I never raise my voice again for Him, if only I may love Him, please Him… O Jesus, Master and Center and End of all, how long before that Glory is thing which has so long waited Thee? Now there is no thought of Thee among men; then there shall be thought for nothing else. Now other men are praised; then none shall care for any other’s merits. Hasten, hasten, Glory of Heaven, take Thy crown, subdue Thy Kingdom, enthrall Thy creatures.”
- Jim Elliot


“There is a seeking of honest love
Drawn from a soul storm-tossed,
A seeking for the gain of Christ,
To bless the blinded, the beaten, the lost.

Those who sought found Heavenly Love
And were filled with joy diving,
They walk today with Christ above…"
- Roger Youderian (the last line eluded him, and he never did get to finish it)


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Dying to be Faithful

I always feel a great burden to pray for the Persecuted Church... for our brothers and sisters who endure things we can't even imagine, for the sake of the gospel and their committment and love for the Lord. A recent booklet I received gave an outline of the beginning of the persecution of Christians, and had some very interesting facts and information throughout it. I thought it would be a good source to share. It's hard to imagine that persecution like this ever existed - the thought of a human being doing these things to another human being is sickening. But it all did happen, and it still happens today. Please check out the Voice of the Martyrs website for information about the Persecuted Church today. :)


Dying to Be Faithful

“Come fire, cross, battling with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs, crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the devil – only let me get to Jesus Christ!”
Hardly the stuff of Sunday morning conversation in the 21st century. Ignatius, a bishop in Antioch, wrote these words in a letter to the Roman church in the early second century. He had been arrested for being a Christian and knew that a grisly death probably lay before him. Yet he looked forward to it almost joyfully. Why?
Ignatius and many other believers in his time were dealing with dilemmas most American (/Canadian) Christians will never have to face: “Should I go to the local executioner and volunteer to die for my faith, or should I try to avoid being arrested at all costs? Is it okay to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods just once, if it means staying alive? Does martyrdom bring me closer to the sufferings of Christ? Are martyrs more special than the rest of us?” Questions like these shaped early Christianity.

Despite what many people imagine, the early church was not constantly on the run from wild beasts, torture chambers, and fiery deaths. For the first three centuries of its existence, Christianity was an illegal religion in the Roman Empire. But at first it was only a tiny sect, hardly worth the notice of the emperors.
This began to change with the emperor Nero. In A.D. 64, a fire destroyed 10 of the 14 city wards in Rome. Though Nero probably wasn’t playing fiddle at the time, as the legend goes, he was unspeakably cruel and perhaps even insane. To deflect public suspicion that he had ordered the fire to be set, Nero blamed the Christians.
The historian Tacitus (who called Christianity a “deadly superstition”) said Nero had believers killed in a kind of circus in his public gardens: “Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to flames. These served to illuminate the night when daylight failed.” The apostles Peter and Paul probably died during this time.
Fortunately, torturing Christians for amusement wasn’t the usual practice among Roman authorities. Persecution happened from time to time in various places, but there were also periods of relative peace and toleration. Some officials tried to make sure Christians were treated fairly.
But the suspicions Nero aroused damaged the Christians’ reputation. Public hostility towards Christians grew. Rumors spread about their secret practices. They were seen as superstitious, anti-social, and disloyal to the emperor. They undermined Roman society, in which pagan religion played a crucial role. They became scapegoats. The early Christian writer Tertullian complained, “If the Tiber floods the city, or the Nile refuses to rise, or the sky withholds its rains, if there is an earthquake, famine, or pestilence, at once the cry is raised: ‘Christians to the lions!’”

Around the year 155, persecution broke out against the Christians in Smyrna in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). Believers were being fed to the wild beasts in the arena and burned alive. The crowd began to call for the Christians’ leader, so the authorities brought in Polycarp.
Polycarp had been a disciple of the apostle John and was a revered elderly leader of the church. The proconsul pled with him: “Curse Christ and I will release you.” Polycarp’s reply is classic: “Eighty-six years I have served Him. He has never done me wrong. How then can I blaspheme my king who has saved me?”
The church in Smyrna wrote an account of Polycarp’s death and sent it to believers throughout the region. This was the first Christian martyr story, and it influenced how Christians thought about martyrdom ever afterward.
“If you suffer as a Christian,” the apostle Peter had said, “do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Peter 4:16). Indeed, in the first centuries of the church, Christians often suffered not for any particular accusations but because they bore the name. When pagan sacrifices were demanded of them, martyrs responded (like Polycarp) with a simple statement: “I am a Christian.”

This was no time for lukewarm, half-hearted believers. Becoming a Christian was deadly serious. Two of the most famous martyrs of the early church, young women named Perpetua and Felicitas, were new converts during a period when conversion to Judaism or Christianity was against the law.
Christians held those who stood firm in the face of death in the highest honour, because they were literally imitating Christ’s death. Churches celebrated these deaths annually as the martyrs’ “birthdays.” Some believed that martyrs went straight to heaven, while the rest of the church had to wait until the final resurrection. And some Christians wanted so badly to achieve this highest honour that they deliberately sought death. When the future theologian Origen was a boy, he was so eager to be martyred that his mother hid his clothes in order to keep him from going to the authorities. It worked. He wouldn’t turn himself in naked.

It’s difficult for us to understand this attitude today when we read about the horrific sufferings some martyrs underwent. In 177 in Lyons, Gaul (modern France), the Christian community faced mob beatings and prison conditions so horrible that many died before they could be thrown to the beasts. Some were chained to a hot-iron seat where their flesh was burned – making them literally a human barbecue.
Blandina, a young female slave, inspired others with her courage: “After the scourging, after the wild beasts, after the roasting seat, she was finally enclosed in a net, and thrown before a bull. And having been tossed about by the animal, but feeling none of the things which were happening to her, on account of her hope and firm hold upon what had been entrusted to her and her communion with Christ, she also was sacrificed.”
Unlike Blandina, those who volunteered for martyrdom were often the very ones to buckle under pressure, bringing shame upon the church. And as the persecutions grew more intense, many Christians surrendered their Scriptures and sacrificed to the pagan gods.
So the martyr stories had to get a across a very important message: Don’t go seeking wild beasts and torture chairs! But if you are forced to suffer for your faith, here is how to act and what to say – be like these brothers and sisters in Christ who did not give in when persecuted, but trusted God.
And Christians leaders like Clement of Alexandria reminded believers that it is not only those who literally die for their faith who are “martyrs/” The word means “witness,” and being a faithful witness to the gospel is something every Christian is called to do, in every circumstance.


Additional Notes:

  • During the “Great Persecution” from A.D. 303 to 313 under the emperors Diocletian and Galerius, around 3000-3500 Christians were killed.

  • The official end of persecutions finally came when the emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313. This did not establish Christianity as the state religion, but simply made it legal to practice Christianity (as it was legal to practice other religions in the empire).
  • It is estimated that more Christians have died for their faith in the last century than in all of the previous centuries put together.


“Now may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal high priest himself, the Son of God Jesus Christ, build you up in faith and truth and in all gentleness and in all freedom from anger and forbearance and steadfastness and patient endurance and purity, and may he give to you a share and a place among his saints, and to us with you, and to all those under heaven who will yet believe in our Lord and God Jesus Christ and in his Father who raised him from the dead.”
- Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Sweetness of the Word...

The Sweetness of the Word in the School of Affliction

God often brings his people into great depths before deliverance comes so that his glorious attributes may be the more displayed and magnified. We can never know God as we ought without temptations. … In the school of affliction and temptation, there it is the Lord generally showeth the soul its own impotency and insufficiency to bear trials honourably without divine grace and assistance… In this school of affliction it is that the soul is taught to suck sweetness out of the Word of God. Now they are taught to know the Word more practically and feel it more powerfully. Now it can say with David, thy law is my delight; and had it not been so, I had perished in my affliction (see Psalm 119:92).
… We may preach and hear many a good sermon, and in those sermons many a gracious promise be mentioned, yet we may not have had those tastes and relishes of the sweetness of the Word and promises as in a time of temptation. So that what the soul hath often read, now he can feel and experience that it was good for them they have been afflicted.
… The design of God by all your temptations is to take you off from living a life of sense, which we are very prone to do, and live a life of faith.
… In deep afflictions we come to see the profit of prayer.

(Hercules Collins)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Words of Light

Hercules Collins (c. 1646-1702) is a name I've mentioned in this blog before, and I have two more little bits of his work that I'd like to share. Today's is about the Scriptures, and I thought it was wonderful to read as it was yet another reminder of the absolute timeless wonders of the Bible. :)

Words of Light

In the sacred Scriptures [there is] a salve for every sore and a remedy for every malady, and direction for every condition and consolation for every one under temptation, which should engage our love more and more to that Word which is a lantern to our feet that we stumble not upon the dark mountains, a compass to steer by for avoiding rocks and sands till we come to our eternal rest, and a cordial to comfort our drooping spirits, which unless his law be our delight, we shall perish in our affliction.
When a Word comes from God, it sets the soul at liberty, [and] fills it with comfort. It breaks all its fetters and irons, and brings the soul out of prison. Have not some been so discomposed under temptations that they could not tell how to pray, or hear, or mind any family-business, until the Word of God came and delivered them from all their fears? And now they can say with David, “Thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling” (Psalm 116:8).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What's On Your Mind?

Below is one of the readings from Kay Arthur's daily devotional Lord, I Give You This Day. :)

What’s on your mind today? Is your thought life dominated by images you’ve seen on the internet, songs you’ve heard on the radio, or items that caught your eye in a catalog? How much of your thought life centers on God and His Word?
Remember the admonition of Romans 12:2: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
When you dwell on things that are not of God or that are against God, you are giving the enemy ground on which he can erect a stronghold or a fortress. This is why the apostle Paul says, “We are destroying speculations [or imaginations] and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5). If Paul had not destroyed the thoughts that were contrary to the Word of God, they could have become the means of destroying him.
Paul goes on to say, “We are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” In other words, whenever a thought came to Paul’s mind, he evaluated it to see if it was pleasing to Christ and in accord with the Word of God.Will you allow the enemy to set up camp in your mind by dwelling on unwholesome or defeating thoughts? Or will you follow the example of Paul and take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Pearly Gates

Well, I've finished posting on Real Christianity! Those 7 posts took us through the whole book and all of my favourite quotes/excerpts. :) I figured I'd start this week off with yet another post of lyrics from Red Mountain Music. This one is from their Heaven E.P. and is yet another favourite of mine:

Pearly Gates

Love divine – so great and wondrous,
Deep and mighty, pure, sublime;
Coming from the heart of Jesus
Just the same through tests of time.

He the pearly gates will open,
So that I may enter in;
For he purchased my redemption
And forgave me all my sin.

Like a dove when hunted, frightened,
As a wounded fawn was I;
Broken hearted, yet he healed me,
He will heed the sinner’s cry.

Love divine – so great and wondrous,
All my sins he then forgave!
I will sing his praise forever,
For his blood, his pow’r to save.

In life’s eventide, at twilight
At his door I’ll knock and wait;
By the precious love of Jesus
I shall enter heaven’s gate.

He the pearly gates will open,
So that I may enter in;
For he purchased my redemption
And forgave me all my sin.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Real Christianity - Pt.7

Chapter 7
PRACTICAL HINTS ABOUT AUTHENTIC FAITH

Section One: Faith That is Not Faith

  • We need to see our true state as God sees it. Because of His perfect purity and His ability to know us better than we know ourselves, it is likely that He sees problems and failures that we are barely conscious of – if we recognize them at all.

  • What if this person had to appear before Christ at this very moment with the full impact and offensive nature of every sin he or she has ever committed revealed in His presence? When I imagine such a scene, it helps me come to grips with the true state of my spiritual life. It is always sobering.

  • If we are going to have an accurate assessment of ourselves, we need to focus on that area of our life in which we are the most susceptible. The writer of the Hebrews refers to this as “the sin that so easily entangles” (Heb. 12:1). …We need to evaluate those areas of our life that are more likely to reveal our true nature.

  • When men or women come into a state of authentic faith, they should look back on the actions of their pre-Christian days with a sense of shame and sorrow.

  • Remember, we are fallen beings, born in sin, and by nature depraved. Christian faith does not begin with the premise of innocence or goodness of heart. That is optimistic humanism, not authentic faith. Christianity proclaims the need for forgiveness and transformation. We are not what we were meant to be.

  • To stay the course in a world like ours and a culture like ours, you have to decide that you will take all human opinion for exactly what it is worth. You will not hold it higher than it deserves, nor be afraid when it turns against you and attempts to discourage you from your commitment. … You can’t walk the fence. Such a balancing act will always lead to conflict as you try to please God and the world around you.

  • When your heart wants to please God in all things, the very mundane tasks of daily living become acts of worship. You don’t become religious; you become authentic. This is the attitude that becomes the purifying agent that changes everything. … To keep this frame of mind, it is essential that you keep your mind on Christ. Prayer will become like breathing for you. Conscience will become sensitive to your faulty desires. Seek to be useful. Avoid idleness.

  • [Authentic Christians] aren’t looking for a boundary line to push to the limits. They are far away, seeking to get as close as possible to Christ.

  • Old habits die hard, even when the Spirit is at work. … When we live a committed life for Christ, we will have a degree of struggle that will require discipline and tough obedience till the end. Remember, we are at war.

  • Faith is not something you try. It is a reality you cast yourself upon without reserve.

Section Two: Some Advice to Those Who Believe

  • There are no shortcuts to authentic spirituality. It takes all we have to give and is the main task to which we are called. We are instructed to grow in grace and add virtue to virtue. We are to bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit living in us and through us.

  • If you are serious about being a follower of Jesus Christ, keep a close watch over your behaviour and your heart. Strive to learn how to overcome the obstacles you tackle on your way to spiritual maturity. Learn from those who have successfully gone before you. Read good books by men and women who have lived the faith they profess. Study your own life. Learn where you are vulnerable.

Section Three: Brief Comments to Various Kinds of Skeptics

  • Can the skeptics say, with all honesty, that they have carefully examined the evidence of the faith? Have they thought all this through with the seriousness and diligence required of such an important subject?

  • The decline of authentic faith is not the result of careful study of the writers who argue against Christianity. It is far more the product of the progress of luxury and the decline of morality. When skeptical writers do address the subject, it is usually from the point of view of sarcasm and negative wit. Their prejudices find fruitful soil in the weak minds of their readers and the faulty thinking of cultural Christians.

Section Four: Advice for Those Who Possess Authentic Faith

  • Unbelief and evil are growing right here at home. Something must be done to combat this growing trend. If change is to come, it must start with true Christians living out their faith. …By your life and words you must put to silence the voices of ignorant critics of the faith. Be bold to proclaim the name of Christ in this time when many who call themselves Christian are ashamed to speak the name.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Real Christianity - Pt.6

Chapter 5
ARGUMENTS FOR TRUE CHRISTIANITY
The Superiority of Authentic Christian Faith, Evidence of Its Divine Origin

  • The actions and thinking most emphasized in the Bible as the goal of spiritual living are reverence and love of God; love, kindness and meekness toward our fellow human beings; a proper priority regarding the possessions and events of this life as compared to eternal things; and a healthy practice of self-denial and humility.

  • Authentic faith is not interested in being able to put on a virtuous mask. It demands truth in the inner person. The person of faith stands in the presence of the One who searched our hearts. The true believer attempts to live in an atmosphere of benevolence and works to avoid any action or thought that would distort or diffuse its purity.

  • Because of Christ, we have the means available, not only to be forgiven, but also to be cleansed and renewed in our inner being. By the inner presence of Christ by means of the Holy Spirit, we are made capable of striving to attain real progress in our efforts to live the true Christian life. As we take advantage of the means God has provided to tackle this pursuit, we can have confidence that He will help us succeed.

Chapter 6
THE CURRENT STATE OF CHRISTIANITY
How We Got Here, the Political Importance of This Condition, Ideas About These Facts

  • When we are inquiring about the true spiritual state of a society, we should not be deceived by superficial appearances.

  • Authentic faith has always thrived under persecution. During such times, it is not easy to be a Christian. There are no lukewarm believers or half-hearted followers of Christ in times of great difficulty. … The greater the difficulty, the closer it drives us to Christ.

  • Soon, all that will be left is a weak and impotent version of Christianity in which no one talks about their personal faith and religion itself is viewed as the sign of a weak mind. Unbelief itself will become fashionable.

  • We see in such cases (of cultural drift) that manners have been corrupted, morality has sunk into depravity, indulgence is out of control and, above all, faith has been discredited and unbelief has become fashionable. When a culture reaches this point, it becomes so out of touch with truth that masses of people deny outright the existence of God. God’s will for the nation has been abandoned and man has been made God.

  • The reality is that all other systems are rooted in human selfishness. They are conceived in selfishness, grow in selfishness and, ultimately, perish because of selfishness. Rich or poor, though the outward forms may vary, the root is the same. Self is put at the center of the person’s life and all energy is expended in attempting to fulfill the self’s desires and ego-centered aspirations. It is these attitudes that create a culture in which people don’t care and can’t love and in which leaders don’t lead and the general population won’t follow.

  • Contentment is a product of recognizing that the way things are is not the way that they should be and that one day they will be as God intended. The amount of energy put into the pursuit of worldly wealth, power and fame is not worth the ultimate value of the pursuit. The great benefit of authentic faith is that it produces a state of inner peace that gives much greater satisfaction than the most expensive pleasure can provide. It is not limited by any social, economic or racial barrier.

  • History teaches that many of the most advanced civilizations the world has known were also societies that contained the most shocking degree of moral decay. The same can be said for some of our modern neighbours. Although they appear polished and refined on the outside, the state of moral toxicity of their societies is alarming.

  • What can account for this corruption? The apostle Paul made the observation that the Roman Empire had sunk into the mire of moral depravity because it had rejected the knowledge of God. Let this serve as a warning.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Real Christianity - Pt.5

Section Four: Faulty Thinking About “Good” Lives and “Good” Deeds as Substitutes for Authentic Faith

  • Goodness is no substitute for devotion. In its culturally defined forms, goodness can exist where love of God and passion for His glory do not. There is this mistaken notion that somehow God has a set of scales and our efforts in the areas we see as good need to balance our former actions that were bad. If the good outweighs the bad, we assume we are righteous. This is not the gospel.

  • Once your life has been invaded by the divine presence, He is able to change you from the inside out. The very fact that you struggle to be a person who reflects Christ’s character is a sign that your faith is authentic. Don’t give up. Don’t become weary of attempting to be the man or woman God calls you to be. Keep a sharp eye on your behaviour and never attempt to take the easy way out. … Let the Bible be your mirror. … Keep a careful eye on the world around you. Try to see it through the eyes of faith. The need is immense; the danger is imminent. This understanding should move us to compassion and action.

  • The acts of true faith flow from a heart devoted to God that continually is governed by the desire to know and do His will so that, ultimately, He will be glorified.

  • Above all, guard against the temptation to conform your mind to the level that would justify your behaviour. Keep your standards high!
Section Five: Other Problems with Cultural Christianity
  • In the Bible, actions are evaluated by a much more rigid standard. You will never read of a “little” sin. There are no “white” lies.

  • Because there is so little reverence for or sense of the holiness of God, we have no basis on which to take sin seriously. It is the understanding of the greatness of God that creates in the human heart the desire to please Him in all things and tries not to offend Him in anything.

  • God has a kingdom and Satan has a kingdom. Every person living on the earth belongs to one of these two kingdoms.

  • It seems we have forgotten that our work as Christians is to attempt to live according to the pattern Christ gave us and under the influence and enabling of the Holy Spirit. If this is not the primary task of the Christian, then what is?

  • It has been asked whether certain kinds of entertainment are appropriate for Christians. What would our response be if in every case we evaluated our decisions about our leisure pursuits by asking if our choices would demonstrate our love for God? Is there any way that we would engage in immoral or inappropriate kinds of activities when we are attempting to honour God and serve Him? When actions we would never allow in our normal interactions of daily life are part of some form of entertainment, something is wrong. The very values we seek to influence in a positive direction are intimately woven into the fabric of much of what passes for entertainment today. Much of the content of popular entertainment contains elements the Bible expressly forbids. Somehow, when it comes in the form of entertainment, we find it less offensive. In reality it is all the more dangerous.

  • The standard we are called to measure our giving against is the giving nature of God Himself. Jesus told us that we are to be perfect, as the Father is perfect. When that becomes our criteria and our measuring rod, it reduces all of us to a healthy humility. This kind of thinking is virtually unknown among cultural Christians.

Section Six: The Big Problem with Faulty Thinking About Christian Theology
  • The great distinction between Christianity and cultural religion is that cultural religion believes all these things can be obtained by our own efforts. True Christianity is looking for something much greater. True Christians look to God to restore the image of God to their soul but know that this is not something they are able to accomplish. All their hopes of attaining this rest on total reliance on the Holy Spirit who comes to indwell them when they open their lives to Jesus Christ. Notice the critical order here. Our change of behaviour does not PRECEDE our reconciliation to God and somehow become the CAUSE of God’s favour; it follows our coming into a relationship with God and is its EFFECT! It is by FAITH IN CHRIST only that a man or woman is made right in the sight of God; is delivered from God’s judgement and the hold of Satan; is adopted into the family of God; becomes an heir of God and a joint heir with Christ, entitled to all the privileges that belong to this high relation; is partially renewed to the image of the Creator in this life; and is totally renewed to the perfect likeness of Christ in the life to come, when we will experience God’s eternal glory and love, forever.

  • Having entered into this relationship, the true Christian then seeks to grow in his or her spiritual life by studying the Bible in order to understand the doctrines of the faith. In studying and contemplating the life of Christ, the true Christian attempts to model his or her behaviour after that of Jesus. It is the neglect of study of the Bible and reflection on the life of Christ that is at the heart of the practical errors of the majority of confessing Christians.

  • When we think we can atone for our sin by becoming good, it is like a slap in the face of Christ.
    If we are going to walk worthy of Christ, we have to practice one central discipline. As the writer of Hebrews exhorts, we are to fix our eyes on Jesus. We are to run our race LOOKING UNTO JESUS as our motivation.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Real Christianity - Pt.4

Chapter 4
TRUE STANDARDS OF CHRISTIAN BEHAVIOUR

Section One: How Belief Influences Behaviour
  • Those who hold to the biblical doctrines of the work of Christ as the basis of acceptance tend also to take the Bible’s instructions concerning righteous living more seriously. Those who have created a system of their own tend to water down what is required in the practice of their faith. … If he or she is not guilty of some gross violation of the accepted cultural morality, no one questions whether or not that person is indeed a Christian. The word “Christian” implies no more than a sort of general assent to Christianity and a degree of morality in life that is little different from the good Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist.

  • The plain teaching of the apostles demanded a strict standard of Christian morality and behaviour. Christian character is to be a reflection of living in a relationship with a holy God. This character is first and foremost a product of understanding and embracing the finished work of Christ on our behalf and of unreservedly devoting ourselves to God. … God has called us to be sworn enemies of sin. We are to wage war against it and strive to give it no opportunity in our lives.

  • Having made a commitment to Christ, we are to yield ourselves without reserve to the service of our King. We are no longer our own. All that we are belongs to Christ. We are to become instruments set apart for the honour and glory of God. This is the ruling principle that is to guide all we do. Whatever has been the motivating force of our lives before Christ is either to be abandoned or to take a distant second to this. We are to be submitted to the Lordship of Christ. The motto of authentic faith is this: “Do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

  • Living this way has challenges. Not only is Christ in us, but also our old fallen nature is still in us. The Holy Spirit has supernaturally imparted the nature of Christ to us. Our fallen nature has been with us from birth. These two will not live together in harmony. We will experience constant reminders of the conflict of the two, yet we will have a fixed desire and determination to pursue conformity to the character of Christ. It is this resolution that distinguishes authentic faith from cultural Christianity. … When a man or woman possesses authentic faith, the pursuit of holiness is a joy.

  • Authentic faith is motivated toward obedience to the will of God by an understanding of the glory of God, by a sense of trust and hope in Him, with an appreciation and awe for His goodness, in a spirit of joyfulness, and with continual gratitude.

  • The common denominator among those possessing authentic faith is the determination to devote themselves to the service and glory of God. The other common characteristic is an awareness of how inadequate they are to achieve this goal without grace and empowerment.

  • God is not looking for a divided heart. Heavenly treasure is to be our primary pursuit. A lukewarm faith is an affront to all we affirm about him. God is not interested in sharing His glory with any competitor. The Bible is filled with this truth. To place the glory of anything over the glory of God is idolatry. When the supreme love of the heart is directed toward anything other than God, idolatry has taken place. Whatever draws our heart from Him, engrosses our minds or holds the number one spot in our affections is an idol. Only God is to be the object of our supreme worship.

Section Two: The Behaviour of the Cultural Christian

  • True faith is something that so pervades our lives that it affects everything we do. It is a matter of the heart, where its reality becomes our supreme influence. It seeks to root out anything that is contrary to its truth and attempts to bring all the heart’s desires and affections under its control. … [But for many] only certain thoughts, time, resources and influences are under the jurisdiction of faith. The individual remains master of the rest that falls outside this self-constructed box. Faith is for Sunday, such an individual thinks. If I meet my religious obligations, I am free to live my life as I wish. … The space occupied by faith will diminish over time, until it is hardly active at all. … At best, we give our leftovers to God and keep the rest, indulging ourselves in the full and free pursuit of personal pleasure.

  • We work, we play, we work, and we play – but our spirits are neglected in the cycle. When God begins to stir our souls with the anxiety that something is not right, we respond by seeking distraction.

  • Often, it is not possible to identify any one supreme passion that has distracted us from the pursuit of God. The various threads of our lives are so intermingled and diversified that we are not always able to identify where our distraction lies. … Most men and women are ignorant of their true state and oblivious to the things that have replaced God in their lives.

  • If a friend is sick of suffering physically, we are concerned to the extent that we will attempt to prescribe some remedy that might alleviate his or her ailment. But when a friend is spiritually ill, we do very little to help alleviate this illness. We avoid confrontation, hoping that some third party might come along and minister to him or her.

  • Authentic faith works to keep the eternal in focus. This kind of attitude contrasts sharply with that of nominal Christians who are almost entirely preoccupied with the concerns of this world.

Section Three: The Concern About What People Think About Us Compared to the Attitude of Authentic Christianity

  • The desire to be admired by other people, in all its various forms, has come to totally consume most people in our culture.

  • To please God is a wonderful motivator toward that which is good and lovely. The desire to please man is full of dangers. … The state of mind most conductive to our true condition is one of humility and recognition of the extent of our flaws. In order to live in a way that pleases God, we need to aggressively fight against our natural tendencies toward arrogance and self-importance. … God alone is to be exalted. All our glory is to be turned to the glory of God.

  • Pride and self-love are never very far from the heart of all we do. … The acquisition and pursuit of material wealth is never to be our primary motivation.

  • Pursuit of personal recognition…is a dynamic that fills us with vain conceits, vicious passions and the tendency to set our affections on things that steal our hearts away from God. … To fight this battle, people with authentic faith recognize that they must avail themselves of all the resources God provides to resist this love of self that continually encroaches on their sacred space. These resources include a rigorous self-examination to reveal our own flaws. This provides a reality check that reminds us of our need for Christ. … Another check on this tendency is to form friendships with others who are also seeking to please God.

  • The things the world values will one day count for nothing, while all that God values will last forever. … The most effective way to keep all this in balance is to make the pleasure of God our overriding desire.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Real Christianity - Pt.3

Chapter 3
UNDERSTANDING CULTURAL CHRISTIANITY
Faulty Thinking About Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, a Few Comments on the Interaction of Emotions and Faith

Section One: Essential Truths of Authentic Christianity

  • There are certain essential facts about Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, which the Bible teaches, and, historically, the Church embraced. They include:
  1. God loved the world so much that He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem us.
  2. Jesus Christ willingly left the glory of the Father and became a man.
  3. Jesus was despised by many people. He was rejected and experienced sorrow and grief.
  4. Jesus suffered because of our sin.
  5. Jesus went to the cross and took our sins with Him so that through His death we could have eternal life when we repent of our sin and accept what He has done for us.
  6. Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven where He now is in the presence of the Father and intervenes for us.
  7. Because of what Jesus has done, we can come into the presence of God with confidence and get the help we need when we are in trouble.
  8. God gives the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit to those who enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ.
  9. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives that makes us true Christians.
  10. The influence and activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives works to transform us and make us the kind of people God intended us to be.
  11. True believers will be raised from the dead and live forever in God’s presence.
  • These are the basic truths of Christian faith. …Virtually everyone who goes to church has heard these things repeatedly. However, that does not mean that those who know these things intellectually have a deep understanding of their significance or experience their transforming influence in their lives.

  • What does it mean to love God? True love is passionate. “Cold love” and “unfelt gratitude” are contradictions. When we love someone, we like to talk about him or her. Such conversations are rarely without emotion. We want to be with them. We delight in doing things for them. We love to show them how we feel. The mention of their name makes our hearts pound and our faces light up. Authentic faith responds to the work of Jesus Christ in just such a way.


Section Two: Emotions and Faith

  • Only those who have such faith understand that part of the beauty of Christianity is that it integrates all the dimensions of true humanity, bringing appropriate subordination and dependence so that the whole man, using all his faculties, can be transformed by the power of God in such a way that all of who he is can be used to the service and glory of God. God wants our hearts as well as our minds. … God desires that we relate to Him with love, warmth, tenderness and zeal. He hates lukewarm religion, the very thing some current clergy advocate.

  • One way of assessing valid emotion in relationship to faith is to look at the object that has stimulated the emotion. …When emotion is a response to truth or to a clear comprehension of the nature of God and His goodness to us, then emotion is valuable and appropriate.

  • True love is not simply an emotional response. It manifests itself in acts of kindness, generosity and those actions that produce the greatest benefit to the object loved. Therefore, as Jesus said, “Whoever has my commandments and obeys them, he is the one who loves me” (John 14:21). …This is the true test of the value of emotion.

  • Like Paul, the poet Ovid confessed: I see the better and approve it, but I follow the worse. How true this seems for those who seek to follow Christ. We find within ourselves desires that draw us away from Jesus. We act in ways that are contrary to what God has said is for our highest interest. All the factors that should keep us from acting in such ways seem to be hidden when some insignificant object of desire takes stage in our hearts.

  • Emotions can so easily distract us that it becomes imperative that instead of being seduced and distracted by them, we need to attempt to train them to become allies in our quest for a godly life.

  • We know that Jesus is the Son of God. Surely such knowledge alone is adequate to cause us to live holy lives. We know Jesus is the Savior of the world. Is His suffering on our behalf not enough to cause us to rid ourselves of anything that hinders our wholehearted devotion to Him? It would appear not. But if our faith has brought us to the point where we have experienced authentic affection for Jesus, and if our knowledge of His death on the cross has penetrated our minds and made its way to our hearts so that we experience genuine gratitude, then we have a whole new set of resources to motivate us to follow and obey and trust Jesus. Are not these responses to Jesus reasonable? The unreasonable response would be to have no feeling whatsoever about God’s love and mercy and grace.

  • Authentic faith knows of an entirely different set of dynamics that make it possible to experience the unseen. Jesus is not some remote abstract concept. He is a person. He is not “out there” somewhere. It is a thin veil that separates us from Him. He is present. That which obstructs our view does not change the fact that He is here.
    We have a resource that is far greater than the verification of the senses. The Holy Spirit has come to live within us. It is His job to make these things experiential in our lives. The Spirit is our helper. Our inability is our great asset; it creates a humility that becomes dependent on God’s grace working in us.

Section Three: Faulty Thinking About the Holy Spirit

  • A life of spiritual reality requires the enabling influence of the Holy Spirit. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to enlighten our understanding, purify our minds, and work in our lives to help us become conformed to the image of Christ. The Holy Spirit creates authentic faith. … He enters the human personality with His presence in order that Christ might dwell in us. The Holy Spirit brings all that the Father decreed, and all that the Son accomplished, into our experience. It is impossible to have authentic faith apart from the operations of the Spirit.

Section Four: Faulty Thinking About Acceptance with God

  • [People] think that if they don’t sin too much and live a reasonably good life, they will get to heaven. … Often the people who use even some of the right language are not really relying on the redemptive work of Christ or God’s grace as much as on their own efforts to achieve their own ideas of what it takes to live in a proper relationship with God. Their focus is on their own accomplishments, not on Jesus Christ and His sacrifice. When we think like this, it is almost impossible to come to grips with the inadequacy of our own efforts or the impossibility of fully meeting the obligations of God’s Word. We create an illusion that will keep us from acknowledging our own guilt and helplessness. We have not come to terms with our inability before God.
  • Authentic Christianity is a way for the most wayward of men and women to enter into a right relationship with God based solely on the fact that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). They have confused the outcome of getting right with God with the means of getting right with Him. Only when we have come empty-handed to the foot of the cross and cried out for God’s mercy and grace, and been reborn by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, can we even begin to live the life to which God calls us.
  • We see what is required of us: a total dependence on the atonement of Christ and the empowerment to live a life that pleases Him made possible by the workings of the Holy Spirit in our lives; a surrender to Christ, not only as Saviour, but also as Lord of our lives; a resolve to learn from the Bible and to live a life of obedience to Christ’s commandments.
  • Let us apply these things to our own lives. Have we cast ourselves completely on the grace of God and the work of Christ? Do we consider these the only source of hope in life? Are we progressing in our affection for the Lord and taking advantage of all resources provided by Him to deepen our love? I think we should bow humbly before the throne of God in prayer and seek the pardon and grace given to us by Jesus. I think we should ask God to create in us a spirit of true repentance and undivided faith in Jesus Christ. I think we should continually strive in these things so that we are not satisfied until we love Him fully. I think we should pray that we would be filled with joy and peace and hope through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. I think we should diligently study the Bible so that our affection is rooted and rational. As we meditate on the passion of the Lord and as we worship Him in prayer and praise, we should attempt to practice the presence of Jesus continually.
  • It makes no sense to take the name of Christian and not cling to Christ. Jesus is not some magic charm to wear like a piece of jewelry we think will give us good luck. He is the Lord. His name is to be written on our hearts in such a powerful way that it creates within us a profound experience of His peace and a heart that is filled with His praise.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Real Christianity - Pt.2

Chapter 2
CURRENT IDEAS ABOUT THE NATURE OF MAN

Section One: Faulty Ideas About the True State of Humanity


  • The majority of Christians overlook, deny, or, at the very least, minimize the problems of what it means to be a fallen human being.
  • The language of Scripture is not for the faint of heart. It teaches that man is an apostate creature, fallen from his original innocence, degraded in his nature, depraved in his thinking, prone toward evil, not good, and impacted by sin to the very core of his being.
  • When the true nature of man is revealed in situations where Christian influence once held sway, depravity becomes even more obvious. … When you consider the biblical teaching concerning superior morality and obedience to the teachings of Christ combined with the truth that one day we will give account for our actions, it is a marvel that we have made so little progress in virtue. … It seems the rule that people are more willing to suffer the negative consequences of vice than take advantage of the blessings of living a life of Christian obedience.
  • Maybe the best testimony concerning depravity comes from those whose commitment to Christ is wholehearted. They can testify how difficult it is to fight against their fallen nature as they attempt to live lives of obedience. They will tell you that by observing their own lives and the way their minds work, they have discovered how corrupt the human heart really is. Every day this conviction grows. They will tell you of how poorly they are able to live out their convictions, how selfish their desires are, and how feeble and halfhearted are their attempts to do the right thing. They will acknowledge and confess that the biblical teaching about the two conflicting natures has proven true in their experience. In the words of Paul, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Rom. 7:18). As someone has said, even the spirituality we do possess is corrupted by our nature. We have nothing to brag about. On the contrary, God must always give us grace to bear with our faults and mercy to forgive our sins.
  • Even though we have the ability to say no to the lower appetite, it has become strong enough to overpower the inclination to do right. This tendency has created a resistance in our fallen nature to know the truth about God. We don’t want to know that there is a God who places moral restraints and ethical expectations on us. The more we sin, the more fixed this reality becomes. We have been locked in handcuffs of wickedness that keep us from doing good and seeking God. The deeper we sink into this folly, the less we understand of the truth and the harder the heart becomes in its ability to respond to God. … Instead of being sick about the true state of our being, we actually think everything is fine with us. This is the way sin works.

Section Two: Faulty Ideas About Evil

  • The doctrine of the existence and activity of the devil is almost universally denied. … The issue of evil personified is… treated like an old fairy tale. We are given the impression that it is a subject any educated man has ceased to believe; like a superstition that belongs with stories about ghosts, witches and other phantoms that are remnants of a less-enlightened time. …Consequently, this is a subject people either ignore or ridicule.
    For those who do believe, this is a serious matter. It makes us realize what a battle we are engaged in. We are flawed within and tempted from without.
  • Sin has consequences. We see those consequences all around us. If all this is true, what can we do? Is there any hope? Is judgment our only destiny? Gratefully, there is hope. When we come to grips with the true state of our condition, we are ready to fully appreciate what God has done to rescue us from ourselves. It is imperative that we take seriously our true condition as fallen human beings. Without this understanding and acknowledgement, we will not have an adequate foundation on which to build an authentic faith.


Section Three: Objections to These Facts

  • With all that has been said, we still have not faced our biggest problem: Pride does not like to be humbled.

  • For those who acknowledge the goodness and justice of God as well as the fallen nature of man, the latter is never an adequate excuse to explain human sin. We are accountable, not excusable. The Bible specifically states that sin cannot be blamed on how God made us.
  • We stand guilty and deserving judgment. Any other teaching dilutes and refutes the true significance of the cross of Christ.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Real Christianity - Pt.1

For the next little while I want to concentrate on a book that I really love, called Real Christianity. The version I’ve read (a couple of times already!) is the revised and updated version by Bob Beltz, but the book was originally written by William Wilberforce. It was published in 1797 under the title A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classes in This Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity (I don’t know why they didn’t keep that title!)
I find it amazing that what he wrote in 1797 – more than 200 years ago – is absolutely and completely applicable for our lives and culture today. This book is packed with truths about living out our faith as Christians, what it means to have authentic faith, the importance of not watering down concepts like sin and evil, etc, etc.
There are a lot of excerpts I want to share from each chapter, so it might take 2 or 3 days to do a whole chapter (because of the different sections). So I hope you enjoy what you read, and I hope it impacts you as it did me!


Intro from Wilberforce:
Faith is a subject of such importance that we should not ignore it because of the distractions or the hectic pace of our lives. Life as we know it, with all its ups and downs, will soon be over. We all will give an accounting to God of how we have lived. Because of this fact, I’m not going to pull any punches in what I write. I hope you will seriously consider what is contained within these pages.



Chapter 1
THE STATE OF CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIANITY
Cultural Christianity, What the Bible Says, the Problem of Ignorance

  • Understanding Christianity is not something that comes without effort. Almost every example in the natural world teaches us this principle.
  • The Bible is one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity… How can you measure the value of the good news of Christ? It is spoken of in the Bible as light in the darkness, freedom from slavery and life from death. Look at how much the Early Church valued the message. They received it with great joy and overflowing gratitude. Surely all these things should help us come to terms with the inexpressible value of true faith. The greatest gift of God is often either rejected outright or treated as if it is of little worth. But if we really began to study the Bible, we would be impressed with the proper value of this gift. It seems ludicrous that we have to exhort people to study the Bible.

  • What we believe determines how we live… Almost all people believe they are living good and moral lives. Yet they measure their lives against some subjective criteria without realizing that vice is often the product of ignorance or error. Such people often lack the ability to distinguish right from wrong or truth from error. This is one reason why the diligent study of the Bible is so important. It is here that God has given us the instruction we need to be able to tell right from wrong and truth from error. Without understanding its principles and precepts, we become victims of our own subjectivity. How profitable is subjectivity if our conscience has been seared, our heart hardened, and our mind blinded to all moral distinctions?
    An authentic faith requires an honesty of mind, the consistent use of the means of knowledge and instruction, the humility that fosters a desire to be instructed, and an unprejudiced conclusion about what this iniquity reveals.