Sunday, February 28, 2010

Psalm 91

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
and abides in the shade of the Almighty
Says to the Lord: "My refuge,
my stronghold, my God in whom I trust!"

It is he who will free you from the snare
of the fowler who seeks to destroy you;
He will conceal you with his pinions
and under his wings you will find refuge.

You will not fear the terror of the night
nor the arrow that flies by day,
Nor the plague that prowls in the darkness
nor the scourge that lays waste at noon.

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand fall at your right,
You, it will never approach;
his faithfulness is buckler and shield.

Your eyes have only to look
to see how the wicked are repaid,
You who have said: "Lord, my refuge!"
and have made the Most High your dwelling.

Upon you no evil shall fall,
no plague approach where you dwell.
For you has he commanded his angels,
to keep you in all your ways.

They shall bear you upon their hands
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
On the lion and the viper you will tread
and trample the young lion and the dragon.
Since he clings to me in love, I will free him;
protect him for he knows my name.
When he calls I shall answer: "I am with you."
I will save him in distress and give him glory.
With length of life I will content him;
I shall let him see my saving power.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pray

"I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time—waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God—it changes me."
~C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Spirit of Repentance

“Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And leaving everything behind he rose and followed him.”
~Luke 5:27

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the self-righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
~Luke 5:31-32

“As Lent goes on, you will look for ways to maintain your spirit of repentance. Keep in mind each day that you are trying to change, to improve your discipleship and friendship with Jesus.

You may say, ‘I don’t commit deliberate sins.’ I hope not, because even a small deliberate sin is an awful thing when we recall that it is a deliberate action against the God who loves us. For most serious Christians it is not a matter of deliberate sins but of sins of weakness, committed when we are distracted or fatigued.

But these half-baked sins, if I may call them that, reveal a great deal about our underlying motives and attitudes. If they persist, they show what we think is really important, what resentments we still hold on to, how lackadaisical we can be in our love for God and our zeal for Christ. No human actions are completely random; everything we do has a cause, or rather a layer of different causes.

Coming to some realization of these attitudes and unconscious causes of our actions is what self-knowledge is all about. It is stupid to say, ‘Well, that’s how I am. People will have to accept me for what I am.’ The only one who can say that with real conviction is God Himself. The rest of us have to look at ourselves and change.

To change in order to bring our lives into agreement with the Gospel teaching is a clear admission that we need God’s help to follow Christ, not just by desire and words but also by deeds. As we begin Lent, let us try to acquire this mind-set. I am going to know myself and change. Why? Because He says, ‘Follow me.’ Back when the first disciples followed Him they heard Him say, ‘The time has come and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news’ (Mk 1:15).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, to those who knew You, You were very forgiving but very challenging. You wanted those who knew You to think and act as much as possible according to Your example. ‘Follow Me,’ You said. Lord, give me the grace to see and know what I must really do every day in order to follow You. Amen.”
~Benedict Groeschel

Monday, February 22, 2010

Followership

"You may have noticed by now that the qualities that make effective followers are, confusingly enough, pretty much the same qualities found in some effective leaders. This is no mere coincidence of course. But the confusion underscores an important point. If a person has initiative, self-control, commitment, talent, honesty, credibility, and courage, we say, 'Here is a leader!' By definition, a follower cannot exhibit the qualities of leadership. It violates our stereotype.

But our stereotype is ungenerous and wrong. Followership is not a person but a role, and what distinguishes followers from leaders is not intelligence or character but the role they play..."
~Robert Kelley

Sunday, February 21, 2010

It’s Not All About You

My wife shared the following with me. I thought it was good and wanted to post it here:

“Lying on my desk are two advertisements–one for a national stationary supplier, the other for a large chain of retail stores. The headline for both ads reads:

It’s all about you.

The philosophy behind those ad campaigns is almost as old as the human race. In effect, that’s exactly what the Serpent said to Eve: ‘It’s all about you.’ It’s a campaign he has been running effectively ever since.

One writer observed that ‘to most people the greatest persons in the universe are themselves. Their lives are made up of endless variations on the word me.’

It’s true. In spite of all the talk about poor self-image, our instinctive reaction to life is self-centered: How does this affect me? Will this make me happy? Why did this have to happen to me? What does she/he think about me? It’s my turn. Where’s my share? Nobody cares about my ideas. She/He hurt my feelings. I’ve got to have some time for me. I need my space. She/He is not sensitive to my needs.

It’s not enough for us to be the center of our own universe. We want to be the center of everyone else’s universe as well–including God’s. When others don’t bow down before us and devote themselves to promoting our happiness and meeting our needs, we get hurt and start looking for alternate ways to fulfill our egocentric agenda.

You’d think the church would be the one place where things would revolve around God rather than man. But not necessarily so. In his book Finding God, Dr. Larry Crabb offers a penetrating analysis of the extent to which the evangelical church has given in to this deception:

‘Helping people to feel loved and worthwhile has become the central mission of the church. We are learning not to worship God in self-denial and costly service, but to embrace our inner child, heal our memories, overcome addictions, lift our depressions, improve our self-images, establish self-preserving boundaries, substitute self-love for self-hatred, and replace shame with an affirming acceptance of who we are.

Recovery from pain is absorbing an increasing share of the church’s energy. And that is alarming…

We have become committed to relieving the pain behind our problems rather than using our pain to wrestle more passionately with the character and purpose of God. Feeling better has become more important than finding God…

As a result, we happily camp on biblical ideas that help us feel loved and accepted, and we pass over Scripture that calls us to higher ground. We twist wonderful truths about God’s acceptance, His redeeming love, and our new identity in Christ into a basis for honoring ourselves rather than seeing those truths for what they are: the stunning revelation of a God gracious enough to love people who hated Him, a God worthy to be honored above everyone, and everything else.

…We have rearranged things so that God is now worthy of honor because He has honored us. ‘Worthy is the Lamb,’ we cry, not in response to His amazing grace, but because He has recovered what we value most: the ability to like ourselves. We now matter more than God.

The apostle Paul understood that God does not exist for us, but that we exist for Him:

‘By Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy.’
Colossians 1: 16-18

Why was Paul able to sing hymns to God in the middle of the night from the belly of a Roman dungeon? How could he stay faithful and ‘rejoice always,’ while being stoned, shipwrecked, lied about, and rejected by friends and enemies alike? How could he ‘rejoice always’ when he was hungry and tired? His secret was that he had settled the issue of why he was living. He was not living to please himself or to get his needs fulfilled. From the point of his conversion on the road to Damascus, he had one burning passion: to live for the glory and the pleasure of God. All that mattered to him was knowing Christ and making Him known to others.

‘I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.’
Acts 20:24

The bottom line for Paul was: ‘To live is Christ.’ Once that was settled, nothing else mattered much.”
~Nancy DeMoss

Saturday, February 20, 2010

May Faith Looks Up To Thee - Part 2

The following stories are related to the hymn I posted yesterday:

“Ray Palmer wrote these lyrics upon receiving a vision of Christ shortly after his graduation from Yale University, while working as a tutor at a New York school. However, he kept them to himself until meeting Lowell Mason on a street in Boston, Massachusetts. When Mason asked him to write something for a new hymnal, Palmer dug out his old notes and produced these lyrics, written two years earlier. After taking the lyrics home and reading them, Mason composed this tune. Several days later he saw Palmer again and said:

'You may live many years and do many good things, but I think you will be best known to posterity as the author of My Faith Looks Up to Thee.'

An interesting story connected with this hymn:

Mrs. Layyah Barakat, a native of Syria, was educated in Beirut and then taught for a time in Egypt. Driven out in 1882 by the insurrection of Arabi Pasha, she, with her husband and child, came to America by way of Malta and Marseilles. Her history is a strange illustration of God’s providential care, as they were without any direction or friends in Philadelphia when they landed. But the Lord took them into His own keeping, and brought them to those who had known of her in Syria. While in this country she frequently addressed large audiences, to whom her deep earnestness and broken but piquant English proved unusually attractive. Among other incidents she related that she had been permitted to see the conversion of her whole family, who were Maronites of Mount Lebanon. Her mother, sixty-two years of age, had been taught ‘My Faith Looks Up to Thee’ in Arabic. They would sit on the house roof and repeat it together; and when the news came back to Syria that the daughter was safe in America, the mother could send her no better proof of her faith and love than in the beautiful words of this hymn, assuring her that her faith still looked up to Christ.”
~Taken from Cyberhymnal.org

Friday, February 19, 2010

My Faith Looks Up To Thee

My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine!
Now hear me while I pray, take all my guilt away,
O let me from this day be wholly Thine!

May Thy rich grace impart
Strength to my fainting heart, my zeal inspire!
As Thou hast died for me, O may my love to Thee,
Pure warm, and changeless be, a living fire!

While life’s dark maze I tread,
And griefs around me spread, be Thou my Guide;
Bid darkness turn to day, wipe sorrow’s tears away,
Nor let me ever stray from Thee aside.

When ends life’s transient dream,
When death’s cold sullen stream over me roll;
Blest Savior, then in love, fear and distrust remove;
O bear me safe above, a ransomed soul!

~Words: Ray Palmer & Music: Lowell Mason

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy powerful hand.
Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven,
Feed me till I want no more;
Feed me till I want no more.

Open now the crystal fountain,
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through.
Strong Deliverer, strong Deliverer,
Be Thou still my Strength and Shield;
Be Thou still my Strength and Shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of deaths, and hell’s destruction,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises, songs of praises,
I will ever give to Thee;
I will ever give to Thee.

~Words: William Williams & Music: John Hughes

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Old Hymnal

I was looking through an old hymnal (copyright 1951) and found the following on the second page:

Meditation

We have entered the sanctuary that has been dedicated to the service and worship of Almighty God. Our purpose in coming should correspond with the purpose for which this house was erected and dedicated. “Lo, God is here,” and in His presence worship is the only proper exercise. He hallows the place where He dwells, and it is fitting that we should hallow His name in reverent attitudes. God has an appointment to meet us in His house and we shall not miss Him if we make the means of grace a transparency through which we may see His “goings.”

Here the oracles of God are expounded by the servant of God. If the ear of the inner man has been made sensitive by the worshiping mood, we shall hear the heart-moving accents of the Holy Spirit through the lips of the prophet. The Scriptures that were given by inspiration of God will breathe benediction upon us and become “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3: 16, 17).

This is pre-eminently the house of prayer. Here the priesthood of believers is in evidence as nowhere else. Here the collective church prays, and her united worship prepares each individual for divine revelations that we cannot receive when alone. As the whole church engages in adoration, which involves the prostration of creatures in the presence of the Creator, each worshiper experiences the spiritual elevation that comes when man takes his proper place at the feet of his Lord.

The house of prayer is the house of praise. The holy hymnody of the church has power to kindle the spirit of praise and lift the whole being Godward. The songs of Zion give wings to the heart and tune the spirit for communion with heaven. The great creeds of the church were first hymns, and never is the church so joyfully triumphant as when she sings her faith. The worshiping host on earth is most like the worshiping host above when it mounts on pinions of inspired poetry and music into the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

Having thus mounted up with wings as eagles we may come down to “the trivial round” of everyday life and “run and not be weary,” and “walk and not faint.” The common task will take on a sacred glow borrowed from the hours of communion with God and we shall feel that it is good for us that we worshiped with God’s people in His house.
~Hymns of the Living Faith

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Trenchant Poem

"Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
................
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance."

~John Updike

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Better Way

"People get from books the idea that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on `being in love' for ever. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change -not realising that, when they have changed, the glamour will presently go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one. In this department of life, as in every other, thrills come at the beginning and do not last. The sort of thrill a boy has at the first idea of flying will not go on when he has joined the R.A.F. and is really learning to fly. The thrill you feel on first seeing some delightful place dies away when you really go to live there. Does this mean it would be better not to learn to fly and not to live in the beautiful place? By no means. In both cases, if you go through with it, the dying away of the first thrill will be compensated for by a quieter and more lasting kind of interest. What is more (and I can hardly find words to tell you how important I think this), it is just the people who are ready to submit to the loss of the thrill and settle down to the sober interest, who are then most likely to meet new thrills in some quite different direction. The man who has learned to fly and become a good pilot will suddenly discover music; the man who has settled down to live in the beauty spot will discover gardening.

This is, I think, one little part of what Christ meant by saying that a thing will not really live unless it first dies. It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go―let it die away―go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow―and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time. But if you decide to make thrills your regular diet and try to prolong them artificially, they will all get weaker and weaker, and fewer and fewer, and you will be a bored, disillusioned old man for the rest of your life. It is because so few people understand this that you find many middle-aged men and women maundering about their lost youth, at the very age when new horizons ought to be appearing and new doors opening all round them. It is much better fun to learn to swim than to go on endlessly (and hopelessly) trying to get back the feeling you had when you first went paddling as a small boy."
~C. S. Lewis

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Worship and Transformation

"Everything in your spiritual life depends on the sort of God you worship. Because the character of the worshiper will always be molded by the character of what he worships: If it is a cruel and revengeful God, the worshiper will be the same, but if it is a loving, tender, forgiving, unselfish God, the worshiper will be transformed slowly, wonderfully, into this likeness."
~Hannah Whitall Smith

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

An Older Perspective

(This quote is more on prayerfully listening to Scripture. With God's leading, Groeschel had helped a young man in a reawakening of his faith by directing him to key Scriptural texts. This quote occurs right after that event.)

"My own reward was an interesting one. The young man wanted to share with me his enthusiasm, his fire, the response of his whole being. I was grateful and rejoiced with him. He seemed to forget, however, that I had long since worked my way through these texts. I now listened to other questions, words, texts. He could not know I had confronted the questions of life and death in the flood-tide of youth. He could hardly be expected to realize the fire which an older person experiences when he reads John 21:17-19:"

"Then He said to him a third time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me?' Peter was upset that He asked him the third time, 'Do you love Me?' and said, 'Lord, You know everything; You know I love You.' Jesus said to him, 'Feed My sheep. I tell you most solemnly, when you were young you put on your own belt and walked where you liked; but when you grow old you will stretch out your hands, and somebody else will put a belt round you and take you where you would rather not go.' In these words He indicated the kind of death by which Peter would give glory to God. After this He said, 'Follow Me.'"
~Benedict Groeschel

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Cost

"Those who complain that they make no progress in the life of prayer because they 'cannot meditate' should examine, not their capacity for meditation, but their capacity for suffering and love. For there is a hard and costly element, a deep seriousness, a crucial choice, in all genuine religion."
~Evelyn Underhill

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Please Accept our Prayer & Praise

"I pray, O God, for all human hearts that today are lifted up to Thee in earnest desire, and for every group of men and women who are met together to praise and magnify Thy name. Whatever be their mode of worship, be graciously pleased to accept their humble offices of prayer and praise, and lead them unto life eternal, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
~John Baillie

(entire prayer: http://apaththrough.blogspot.com/2009/02/prayer-sunday-morning.html)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Come to Life

"We die daily. Happy those who daily come to life as well."
~George MacDonald

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Meditating In Scripture

“A productive method of meditation [on Scripture] is to place yourself at the scriptural event and ask: What does it mean to me? How can I respond to it? If by personal insight you are drawn into the event, the prayer becomes all the more effective because the imaginary elements will symbolically represent particular needs which you have. They may be far away from the actual historical event, but they do link you with it...

After placing ourselves in mind’s eye at a particular Gospel event, we may go on to ponder the reactions of those present at the historical occurrence. This enables us to examine our real feelings, because we are projecting ourselves into the role of a participant or a bystander.

…I have often meditated on the incident of the man with the withered hand and tried to place myself in his situation. He comes into the public life of our Lord early on, in Mark 3:1-6. It is a dramatic moment and one of the earliest recorded conflicts between Christ and His critics. The man is cured on the Sabbath; after witnessing the miracle, Christ’s enemies leave the synagogue plotting to destroy Him.

The man who had been cured was quite ordinary, filled with ordinary thoughts. He no doubt had to contend with all the fears and frustrations of a disadvantaged person. In a simple agrarian society the embarrassment of his affliction was not mitigated by good manners; a handicap was often seen as a sign of God’s displeasure. How did he feel when he was cured by Christ? He was delighted; his parents were vindicated. He showed his restored arm to everyone in the town, which was probably Capernaum. I thought of this man as I sat in the town’s old marketplace, no doubt near the place where it had happened. I could hear him relating the good news, laughing, and clapping his two hands together.

But how did he react later when he heard the controversy about Jesus of Nazareth? At first he defended Christ loudly to all comers. But if he was an ordinary man, he started to pull in his horns when he heard about the displeasure of those in power: the scribes, the priests, the Romans. Controversy was not his line. Someone suggested that it was all just a natural phenomenon: others thought it was the work of the devil. My God, the devil! What had he gotten himself into? He took his older brother’s advice, ‘Keep your mouth shut, and don’t go showing your hand to people.’

Then the word went around that Jesus had predicted the destruction of the town. He had told people to drink His blood. He had cured the sick but had condemned the authorities. Many people who had been disciples followed Him no longer. The poor man put his head in his hands and was deeply perplexed. ‘After all,’ he said to himself, ‘if He is a prophet, He can save Himself. He does not need my help.’ And then, he remembered, ‘they killed the prophets, too.’

One afternoon the Roman dispatch-rider brought news. Despite the fact that it was the great Sabbath (he heard the news outside the synagogue), word spread that the prophet was dead. He had been crucified. The thought crossed his mind: ‘My brother was right. Keep your mouth shut.’ Then another thought, ‘Will my hand wither now? I have to go home and keep a constant watch for any signs of withering. Will it start to rot like a leprous hand?’

He started to pray to the Almighty. But suppose the prophet had not come from God? He began to feel sick…

A day or two later―on the Monday after the Sabbath―the news broke. Again, the Romans had it first. They were alarmed. Soldiers were everywhere. In public, everyone kept quiet, but underneath, there was wild curiosity, laughter, and, in the homes of His followers, great rejoicing mixed with confusion and disbelief. The man looked carefully at his hand. It was perfectly all right. No signs of decay. He laughed; he cried. He clapped his hands together. Jesus was a prophet, after all, and had come back from the dead. That will fix them! They’ll all believe now; they’ll have to. He spoke to his brother and suggested: ‘Let’s tell everybody.’ But his brother again said, ‘Keep your mouth shut. Wait.’ So he said nothing. He was still silent when the rebellion came. The Romans razed the town and crucified him with the others. Perhaps he called on the Prophet when they pierced his hands.”
~Benedict Groeschel

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Paradoxes of Christianity

“The real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait. I give one coarse instance of what I mean. Suppose some mathematical creature from the moon were to reckon up the human body; he would at once see that the essential thing about it was that it was duplicate. A man is two men, he on the right exactly resembling him on the left. Having noted that there was an arm on the right and one on the left, a leg on the right and one on the left, he might go further and still find on each side the same number of fingers, the same number of toes, twin eyes, twin ears, twin nostrils, and even twin lobes of the brain. At last he would take it as a law; and then, where he found a heart on one side, would deduce that there was another heart on the other. And just then, where he most felt he was right, he would be wrong.

It is this silent swerving from accuracy by an inch that is the uncanny element in everything. It seems a sort of secret treason in the universe…

… Now, actual insight or inspiration is best tested by whether it guesses these hidden malformations or surprises. If our mathematician from the moon saw the two arms and the two ears, he might deduce the two shoulder-blades and the two halves of the brain. But if he guessed that the man's heart was in the right place, then I should call him something more than a mathematician. Now, this is exactly the claim which I have since come to propound for Christianity. Not merely that it deduces logical truths, but that when it suddenly becomes illogical, it has found, so to speak, an illogical truth. It not only goes right about things, but it goes wrong (if one may say so) exactly where the things go wrong. Its plan suits the secret irregularities, and expects the unexpected. It is simple about the simple truth; but it is stubborn about the subtle truth. It will admit that a man has two hands, it will not admit (though all the Modernists wail to it) the obvious deduction that he has two hearts...

…whenever we feel there is something odd in Christian theology, we shall generally find that there is something odd in the truth.”
~G. K. Chesterton

Monday, February 1, 2010

Death, Thou Shalt Die

"Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those who thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure--then, from thee much more must flow;
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'rt slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And does with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke. Why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more. Death, thou shalt die."
~John Donne