Saturday, August 25, 2012

Christian - Start Crying

"Attend to my cry,
For I am brought very low;
Deliver me from my persecutors,
For they are stronger than I."
Psalm 142:6

Oh my soul.  The longer I live this Christian life, the more convinced I become that my greatest enemies are not OUTSIDE but INSIDE.  Satan may tempt and the world may allure, but no fiend has so prevailing and devilish an influence in my life than my indwelling sins.  They are "my persecutors" to use the words of David in this Psalm. They may not have the LAST word on my eternal estate, but they indeed have a LOUD word with respect to my current condition.  I am ready to confess with the psalmist, from the sore and sad experience of my soul, that "they are stronger than I."

One thing that this verse tells me is the need we have as Christians for crying.  The way to glory is through the veil of tears - and these tears first and foremost must be tears over my own sin.  Such crying is a Christian grace - and I confess that far too often my heart is hardened against so good an affection as that.  Godly sorrow works repentance...not the other way around.  Dry eyes are no indication of spiritual health.  David wept.  Jeremiah wept.  Even Christ - though not for His own sin - nevertheless wept in the face of sin and its sorrowful consequences. 

This verse also tells me the dangers of becoming comfortable with my sin.  David knew that his persecutors had brought him "very low."  But far too often, I fear, my sin has not had the same effect upon my heart.  It might make me angry, bothered, and inconvenienced and out of sorts.  But low? Very low?  Somehow I have rationalized my sinful thoughts, words and deeds so that they hardly interrupt me, let alone bring me very low

This verse tells me that God delights to deliver us from our sins.  David prayed "deliver me!"  And it is especially delightful to the Lord when we confess that we are too weak to deal with them on our own:  "they are stronger than I."  God sent a Deliverer - Jesus Christ.  He heard David's cry and the cry of others who, through grace, know that in themselves "dwells no good thing."  He will hear our cry as well.  Christian - start crying. 


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Spiritual Bankruptcy

"Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any, came from behind and touched the border of His garment  and immediately her flow of blood stopped." 
Luke 8:43-44

O my soul.  In these words, "spent all her livelihood," I think we find the true secret to spiritual health and healing.  There is a world of difference between those who come to Christ lacking something, and those who come to Christ having nothing.  Many are looking for a spiritual experience to supplement their otherwise worldly lives.  Many look for religion to satisfy some felt need for connection with a higher power.  But oh how few come to Christ admitting and acknowledging that they are utterly and entirely bankrupt, having nothing left at all and seeking everything from the Savior of sinners?  What is needed today more than anything is a revival of spiritual bankruptcy.  What is needed today is an utter collapse of our economy of self-worth.  What is needed today is a great depression of our spiritual pride that only looks to Jesus for a little help, a little advice, a little comfort...rather than falling before Him knowing that He is our only hope for we have "spent all" and have nothing left.

And you, O my soul, have as much to repent of as the most worldly and Godless ones in our society.  Do you think that somehow, having come to Christ, that you have any riches, any resources, any accomplishments that are valuable apart from Him?  O for a more humble heart that properly perceives my utter dependence upon my Savior for any good!  O for a more present awareness of my bankruptcy apart from Him who is my Bread of life, my Living fountain of water. 

O my soul, let no day pass you by in which you are not - as this poor sick woman - reaching out to lay hold of your Savior as your only hope.  The moment I think I am well, and have no need for His healing, is the moment in which my spiritual decline begins.  But O what encouragement is found a bit further in the text, when Jesus said concerning her touch "I perceive power going out from Me."  Power.  Power to fight the war with sin, both within and without.  Power to live for Him who died for me.  Power to be bold in speaking up on His behalf.  Power to endure the trials and troubles of this life that so often overwhelm the soul.  Christian, that is the same power He offers today - but only upon the terms of our spiritual poverty.  And thus the believer is truly the one who has nothing, but possesses all things. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Finishing a DISAPPOINTING book

We are quitters by nature.  As a rule, when a thing ceases to please us, we cease to pursue it.  We see this in virtually every area of our culture.  When that dream job loses its luster, we tend to move on to something else, usually every 3-5 years.  When a church or pastor no longer meets our felt needs, we simply stop going, or "shop" for a different church.  When a spouse ceases to please us, many "check out" of the marriage either emotionally or permanently, typically in about 8 years or so. 

Books seem to be no exception to our custom to quit.  I suspect I have started many more books than I have finished, and likely you have done the same.  But although there may occasionally be a valid reason to stop a book once started, I have come to believe this is typically a mistake.  Giving up on a book simply because it proves to be LESS than expected is, in my opinion, a bad habit that needs to be broken.  Ray Bradbury, author of the classic Fahrenheit 451 once said "You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them."  Regularly quitting the books we begin is not much better than not reading at all.   And so, having just encountered this situation once again, allow me to share the sorts of things that now help me push through an author's work, even when it is somewhat disappointing.


1)   Remind yourself why you chose the book in the first place.  Did the subject matter intrigue you?  Did the author inspire you?  Was it a friend who recommended it?  Think about the circumstances that originally aroused you to purchase and/or start reading the book.  Re-kindle those beginning thoughts on the furnace of your heart.  

2)  Give some particular thought to the author's qualifications and the reputation of those who have recommended the book.  Has the author been places, done things, experienced life, obtained degrees that you have not?  Then he or she undoubtedly has a perspective on the subject of the book that is unique to them.  It should not, in some senses, surprise us that a book ends up being different than we expected.  Let a humble recognition of the author's accomplishments and experiences persuade you to keep going even when you find yourself, for some reason, unimpressed. 

3)  Consider that jewels of wisdom are sometimes found in the dark mines of difficult reading.  Samson found honey in the carcass of a lion.  Readers often find sweet delicacies buried in an otherwise boring paragraph.  A single quote that crystallizes some truth in your mind, changes your approach to certain aspects of life or even provides just a few moments of needed encouragement may well repay the hours spent slogging through the dry desert of unfruitful pages.

4)  Find an outlet.  When tempted to give up on a book, consider that maybe the contents (though not especially helpful to you) may be helpful to others.  Share it.  Talk about the book with a friend, post a quote online or include it in an email to a friend, write a brief summary or review of a chapter recently read.  It has often been my experience that the very act of articulating an author's point helps to increase our appreciation for it.

5)  Remember that reading profitably involves some hard work.  When a book you are reading is disappointing, take it as a challenge to strengthen your reading and application skills.  The resolve that is developed while working through a difficult or unsatisfying book will pay rich rewards, either in this book, or possibly the next.  Effective reading involves thinking, and real thinking is hard work.  Napoleon Hill once put it this way "Effort only fully releases its reward after a person refuses to quit." 

6)  Make a plan and include a reward.  When reading an engrossing page-turning story, no other plan or incentive is needed beyond the pure joy of the book itself.  But when you are knee-deep in a difficult book, it may be helpful to set a plan for daily reading and a reward for finishing.  Can you commit to 20 pages per day until it is done?  Can you hold off on buying or borrowing another book until this one is done?  Such things may help you keep you marching through the hard terrain of a disappointing book.

So...these are my thoughts on getting through a difficult or disappointing book.  In the middle of a hard book?  Keep going!  Afraid to start another book from fear of quitting?  Push ahead!  Dare to read again!  Allow me to leave you with the memorable words of Douglas MacArthur:  "Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul."