Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pretty Amazing Grace?

A couple of reasons why Neil Diamond's "Pretty Amazing Grace" isn't going to replace John Newton's original:

I was an empty vessel
You filled me up inside
and with amazing grace restored my pride

Is "pride restoration" the purpose of God's grace? I thought that God's grace humbled us.

You forgave my insensitivity
and my attempt to then mislead You

"Forgave my insensitivity"? "Attempt to mislead you"? Whatever happened to sin and rebellion against the Creator?

look in a mirror I see Your reflection
open a book You live on every page

Maybe if it said open THE book, but this looks very pantheistic.

Came to You with empty pockets first
when I returned I was rich man

I guess that they will be singing this at Joel Osteen's church.

Just to get the "bad taste" out of our mouths, let's all join together in singing a real hymn about the grace of God:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment - Conclusion

We come to the end of another month, and to the end of another Puritan classic, Jeremiah Burroughs' The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. I can conclude in no better way than to recount Burroughs' "Twelve Step Program" on how the believer may obtain contentment, found on pages 216-228:

1. All the rules and helps in the world will do us little good unless we get a good temper within our hearts.

2. If you would get a contented life, do not grasp too much of the world, do not take in more of the business of the world than God calls you to.

3. Be sure of your call to every business you go about.

4. What has just been said is especially true if I add: That I walk by rule in the work that I am called to. I am called to such a business, but I must manage this work that I am called to by rule. I must walk by the Word, order myself in this business according to God's mind as far as I am able.

5. Exercise much faith; that is the way for contentedness. After you have done with all the considerations that reason may suggest to you, if you find that these do not do it, Oh, then, call for the grace of faith.

6. Labor to be spiritually minded.

7. Do not promise yourselves too much beforehand; do not reckon on too great things.

8. Labor to get your hearts mortified to the world, dead to the world.

9. Let not men and women pore too much upon their afflictions: that is, busy their thoughts too much to look down into their afflictions.

10. I beseech you to observe this, though you should forget many of the others: Make a good interpretation of God's ways towards you.

11. Do not so much regard the fancies of other men, as what indeed you feel yourselves. For the reason of our discontentment many times is rather from the fancies of other men than from what we find we lack ourselves.

12. Be not inordinately taken up with the comforts of this world when you have them. When you have them, do not take too much satisfaction in them.

Burroughs follows this by predicting the success of the "name-it-claim-it" preachers of our day: My brethren, to conclude this point, if I were to tell you that I could show you a way never to be in want of anything, I do not doubt but then we should have much flocking to such a sermon, when a man should undertake to manifest to people how they should never be in want any more. (pg. 227)

How much better when we remember: But what I have been preaching to you now comes to as much. It countervails this, and is in effect all one. Is it not almost all one, never to be in want, or never to be without contentment? That man or woman who is never without a contented spirit, truly can never be said to want much. Oh, the Word holds forth a way full of comfort and peace to the people of God even in this world. You may live happy lives in the midst of all the storms and tempests in the world. There is an ark that you may come into, and no men in the world may live such comfortable, cheerful and contented lives as the saints of God. Oh, that we had learned this lesson. (ibid)

Lord, teach us this lesson, that we may say, ...I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (Philippians 4:11b, ESV)

Squishy on Doctrine --> Bad in Practice

R. Albert Mohler reminds us today that being "Squishy" on Doctrine leads to bad practice:

Pagan Quakers - A Sign of the Times

Monday, April 28, 2008

Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment - Prepare for Change

I have adopted a new motto, partially due to my reading of Jeremiah Burrough's The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, and partially due to the fact that events in my life have shown me that fretting, worrying, and complaining are fruitless. Here it is:

Semper Gumby

That is it, two short little words, meaning "Always flexible". Both Scripture and real life experience show that change occurs without warning, and that any attempt to cling to the status quo is a fool's errand.

From Burroughs:

Every Christian should say: 'Have I wealth now? I should prepare for poverty. Have I health now? I should prepare for sickness. Have I liberty? Let me prepare myself for imprisonment. How do I know what God may call me to? Have I comfort and peace now in my conscience, does God shine upon me? While I have this let me prepare for God's withdrawing from me. Am I delivered from temptations? Let me prepare now for the time of temptations.' If you would do so, the change of your condition would not be so grievous to you. (pg. 203)

Semper Gumby

Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment - Calling

Though you have only a mean calling in this world, and so are not regarded as a man of use in the world, yet if you are a Christian, God has called you to a higher calling; your general calling is a high calling, though your particular calling is but low and mean.* There is a place for that in the chapter before my text, Philippians 3:14: 'I press towards the mark', says the Apostle, 'for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.' So every Christian has a high calling of God in Christ Jesus: God has called him to the highest thing to which he has called any creature he has made. The angels in Heaven have not a higher calling than you have. You who perhaps spend your time in a poor business, in the meanest calling, if you are a dung-raker, to rake channels, or to clean places of filth, or any other thing in the world that is the meanest that can be conceived of, your general calling as a Christian advances you higher than any particular calling can advance any man in the world.
[*The Puritans taught that believers have a twofold calling: their particular calling, which was to their daily occupation and work; and their general calling, to be Christians.]
(pgs. 196-197)

I thank God that I am not a "dung-raker", yet even if I was, as a child of God I have a higher calling than that of any world leader, celebrity, or dignitary. How can I, a child of the King, murmur or complain when I have a calling higher than the angels?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Bill and Bob's Excellent Afghan Adventure: Back In The USA

Bill and Bob's Excellent Afghan Adventure: Back In The USA

While the rest of us are at the mall, some are actually at war.

Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment - Murmuring

It has been a few days since I have posted here, mainly because I have been struggling with Chapters 8, 9, & 10. This section of Jeremiah Burroughs' The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment deals with the evils and aggravations of murmuring, and I have been convicted, challenged, and changed as a result. Let me quote one small portion, and then provide some personal commentary and application.

God expects that every day you should spend some time in blessing his name for what mercy he has granted to you. There is not one of you in the lowest condition but you have an abundance of mercies to bless God for, but discontentedness makes them nothing. I remember an excellent saying that Luther has: 'This is the rhetoric of the Spirit of God' he said, 'to extenuate evil things, and to amplify good things: if a cross comes to make the cross but little, but if there is a mercy to make the mercy great.' Thus, if there is a cross, where the Spirit of God prevails in the heart, the man or woman will wonder that it is no greater, and will bless God that though there is such a cross, yet that it is no greater, and will bless God that though there is such a cross, yet that it is no more: that is the work of the Spirit of God; and if there is a mercy, he wonders at God's goodness, that God granted so great a mercy. (pg. 155)

How often these past couple of days have I found myself guilty of a murmuring spirit, primarily as it relates to my secular work. Complaining about the dictates of absent management, changes in policy, lack of direction, etc. all may appear justifiable, yet I have become convinced that they are a grevious sin against God. You might actually have "the pointy haired boss" as your supervisor, but that doesn't allow one to murmur and complain. Let me elaborate further with the following contrast:

I live in the most free, most prosperous society ever to grace the planet. I have a well-paying job with good working conditions, performing tasks that are both challenging and satisfying. By any standards I am rich in material blessings. I have a loving wife who has been my faithful companion for almost 30 years. I have two wonderful children who love me, and four grandchildren who adore me. I have the great privilege of being the under-shepherd for a small flock of God's children. I have good health. God has blessed me with His gifts and His blessings in almost every way. Any complaints coming from me in any area are a great wickedness.

Yet. what if I lived in the most repressive impoverished of nations? What if I was a miserable beggar sitting in the dust? What if I bereft of any material blessings? What if my wife and children had been taken from me by disease or famine? What if I never knew the blessing of opening God's Word for my own benefit, let alone have the privilege of exegeting it for others? What if my body was wracked by disease? What if I was considered to be one of the poorest of the poor, and most to be pitied? Would I have any grounds for complaint? No, no, and no. I would still be required to bless the name of the living God and pour out my heart in thansgiving to Him for His mercies and blessings. It would be my duty to give Him praise and to humble myself before Him, offering the sacrifice of praise that He deserves. At the very least I would be required to thank Him that I was not in Hell as I deserve.

Oh what a wickedness it is that those of us who have been blessed by God beyond measure should find one word of complaint on our lips or one thread of murmuring in our spirits.

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
(Psalm 103, ESV)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment - Odds 'n Ends

We spent the previous week traveling, but in addition to my Bible I made sure that I had my "Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment" along with me (as well as Tim Keller's "The Reason for God"). During my reading this past week I made note of a few passages of importance, and list them below:

Be still!

Those who are contented are fitted to receive mercy from the Lord. If you want a vessel to take in any liquor, you must hold it still for if the vessel stirs and shakes up and down, you cannot pour in anything, but you will say, 'Hold still', that you may pour it in and not lose any. So if we would be vessels to receive God's mercy, and would have the Lord pour his mercy into us, we must have quiet, still hearts. We must not have hearts hurrying up and down in trouble, discontent and vexing, but still and quiet hearts, if we receive mercy from the Lord. If a child throws and kicks up and down for a thing, you do not give it him when he cries so, but first you will have the child quiet. Even though, perhaps, you intend him to have what he cries for, you will not give it him till he is quiet, and comes, and stands still before you, and is contented without it, and then you will give it him. And truly so does the Lord deal with us, for our dealings with him are just as your froward children's are with you. As soon as you want a thing from God, if you cannot have it you are disquieted at once and all in an uproar, as it were, in your spirits. God intends mercy to you, but he says, 'You shall not have it yet, I will see you quiet first, and then in the quietness of your hearts come to me, and see what I will do with you.' (pg. 124)

Be fixed!

Certainly our contentment does not consist in getting the thing we desire, but in God's fashioning our spirits to our conditions. (pg. 130)

Be satisfied!

So be satisfied and quiet, be contented with your contentment. I lack certain things that others have, but blessed be God, I have a contented heart which others have not. Then, I say, be content with your contentment, for it is a rich portion that the Lord has granted you. (pg. 132)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Rare Jewel Of Christian Contentment - Idleness

Who are the men who are most discontented, but idle persons, persons who have nothing to occupy their minds? Every little thing disquiets and discontents them; but in the case of a man who has business of great weight and consequence, if all things go well with his great business which is in his head, he is not aware of meaner things in the family. On the other hand a man who lies at home and has nothing to do finds fault with everything. So it is with the heart: when the heart of a man has nothing to do, but to be busy about creature-comforts, every little thing troubles him; but when the heart is taken up with the weighty things of eternity, with the great things of eternal life, the things of here below that disquieted it before are things now of no consequence to him in comparison with the other-how things fall out here is not much regarded by him, if the one thing that is necessary is provided for. (pg. 93)

While busyness is not a perfect antidote for discontent, there is much in what Burroughs says in this paragraph. I wonder how much our "retire at 65" (or even 55) mentality has contributed to this general discontent in our society? As John Piper has stated on numerous occasions. there should be no "retirement" for the Christian. Retirement from secular work should provide the means to continue the work of ministry not serve as a conduit for idleness.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment - Heirs

Therefore when you look into the book of God and find any promise there, you may make it your own; just as an heir who rides over a lot of fields and meadows says, This meadow is my inheritance, and this corn field is my inheritance, and then he sees a fine house, and says, This fine house is my inheritance. He looks at them with a different eye from a stranger who rides over those fields. A carnal heart reads the promises, and reads them merely as stories, not that he has any great interest in them. But every time a godly man reads the Scriptures (remember this when you are reading the Scripture) and there meets with a promise, he ought to lay his hand upon it and say, This is part of my inheritance, it is mine, and I am to live upon it.

This will make you contented; it is a mysterious way of getting contentment. And there are several other promises that bring contentment (Psalm 34:10, 37:6; Isaiah 58:10). (pg. 83)

Let us look at those "several other promises" that Burroughs lists but does not elaborate upon:

The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the LORD shall not want any good thing. - Psalm 34:10 (ESV)

He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. - Psalm 37:6 (ESV)

...and if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in darkness, and thine obscurity be as the noonday: - Isaiah 58:10 (ESV)

Note that all of these promises are conditional: seek the Lord and not want any good thing; commit your way to the Lord (see v.5) and He will bring forth your righteousness; care for the poor and see your light rise. Burroughs' heir, riding over his estate, had an obligation to all those in his realm, due to the fact that everything that a 17th Century English lord did would impact those living within his precincts. If he was a wise and just lord then his people would prosper. If he was foolish and profligate then they would suffer.

In the same way, we who are "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:17) recognize that all that we say and do impacts all those around us. As we lay claim to the promises of Scripture we do so with an understanding that these blessings are not to be squandered in satisfaction of our desires, but rather enjoyed for the benefit of our family, friends, and "neighbors" (see Luke 10: 29 ff). Assuming that we even claim the promises of our inheritance. Far too often we allow them to lie dormant and unclaimed for want of discovery.

From Psalm 19 (ESV):

7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

As an heir of God, recognize that you have a responsibility to be a good steward of your inheritance. Let us dig deep in God's Word and draw out that which is richer than all the gold on this planet. May the "great reward" be not only ours, but also that of those with whom we interact during this earthly pilgrimage.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

False Prophet?

Reporting on the recent American Airlines cancellations, the AP reports the following:

One passenger, Bishop Bernard Jordan, a Harlem minister, was in a first-class line trying to catch a flight to Atlanta where he was scheduled to preach at 7 p.m. “
It would have been good to know in advance,” said Bishop Jordan, who has 4 million flight miles with American and flies to Atlanta every other week. “I would have booked with another airline.”

If you are not familiar with Bishop Bernard Jordan, he is a self-proclaimed "master prophet" who produces the most ludicrous stream of jibberish, fleecing naive suckers in his quest for fame and fortune. Wouldn't you think that this "master prophet" would have already "known in advance" that his flight would be cancelled?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment - Not my will...

...but Thine be done.

This is the excellence of grace: grace does not only subject the will to God, but it melts the will into God's will, so that they are now but one will. What a sweet satisfaction the soul must have in this condition, when all is made over to God. You will say, This is hard! I will express it a little more: A gracious heart must needs have satisfaction in this way, because godliness teaches him this, to see that his good is more in God than in himself. The good of my life and comforts and my happiness and my glory and my riches are more in God than in myself. We may perhaps speak more of that, when we come to the lessons that are to be learned. It is by this that a gracious heart gets contentment; he melts his will into God's, for he says, 'If God has glory, I have glory; God's glory is my glory, and therefore God's will is mine; if God has riches, then I have riches; if God is magnified, then I am magnified; if God is satisfied, then I am satisfied; God's wisdom and holiness is mine, and therefore his will must needs be mine, and my will must needs be his.' This is the art of a Christian's contentment: he melts his will into the will of God, and makes over his will to God: 'Oh Lord, thou shalt choose our inheritance for us' (Psalm 47:4). (pg. 54)

If we could just learn the lesson that God's will is more profitable to us than our desires, lusts, and obstinacy. Let our prayer be: "If God is satisfied, then I am satisfied."

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment - Contentment by Subtraction

So this is the art of contentment: not to seek to add to our circumstances, but to subtract from our desires. Another author has said, The way to be rich is not by increasing wealth, but by diminishing our desires. Certainly that man or woman is rich, who have their desires satisfied. Now a contented man has his desires satisfied, God satisfies them, that is, all considered, he is satisfied that his circumstances are for the present the best circumstances. (pg. 47)

Our personal experiences demonstrate that having more increases our desire to obtain even more. It is an endless cycle of always grasping and never being satisfied. The Christian does not develop contentment by adding "stuff" but rather by subtracting desires and wishes.

When you boil it all down, we truly have only two rights: We have the right to die, and we have the right to go to hell. Anything more that we might have is the result of God's mercy and His grace.

As demonstrated, somewhat, in today's Dilbert, we need to be in the business of managing expectations, subtracting from our desires so as to enjoy the blessings that God gives us.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment - Content, yet Unsatisfied

From Chapter Two:

It may be said of one who is contented in a Christian way that he is the most contented man in the world, and yet the most unsatisfied man in the world; these two together must needs be mysterious. I say, a contented man, just as he is the most contented, so he is the most unsatisfied man in the world. (pg. 42)

This is a "mystery" that the world will never understand. The believer should be content with the rudest of circumstances, yet not be satisfied with all of the riches of the planet. A Christian should be content with the barest essentials of life, and recognize that even if he had all of the wealth, all of the power, all of the prestige, and all of the fame of this world that none of these are able to satisfy the soul.

Only Christ can satisfy the child of God. At the same time, he or she will be content with whatever state God places them into. I pray that while this may prove mysterious to the world that it will be perfectly natural for you.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment - Chapter One

Christian Contentment Described

A couple of highlights from this first chapter:

I may be convinced that God deals justly in this matter, he is righteous and just and it is right that I should submit to what he has done; O the Lord has done righteously in all ways! But that is not enough! You must say, 'Good is the hand of the Lord.' It was the expression of old Eli: 'Good is the word of the Lord', when it was a sore and hard word. it was a word that threatened very grievous things to Eli and his house, and yet Eli says, 'Good is the word of the Lord.' Perhaps some of you may say, like David, 'It is good that I was afflicted', but you must come to this, 'It is good that I am afflicted.' Not just good when you see the good fruit it has wrought, but to say when you are afflicted, 'It is good that I am afflicted. Whatever the affliction, yet through the mercy of God mine is a good condition.' It is indeed, the top and the height of this art of contentment to come to this pitch and to be able to say, 'Well, my condition and afflictions are so and so, and very grievous and sore; yet through God's mercy, I am in a good condition, and the hand of God is good upon me notwithstanding.' (pg. 34)

This , alone, should shame us when we complain about any affliction that God places upon us.

Burroughs sums up the chapter in the following way:

Contentment is the inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, freely submitting to and taking pleasure in God's disposal in every condition: That is the description, and in it nine distinct things have been opened up which we summarize as follows: First, that contentment is a heart-work within the soul; Secondly, it is the quieting of the heart; Thirdly, it is the frame of the spirit; Fourthly, it is a gracious frame; Fifthly, it is the free working of this gracious frame; Sixthly, there is in it a submission to God, sending the soul under God; Seventhly, there is a taking pleasure in the hand of God; Eighthly, all is traced to God's disposal; Ninthly, in every condition, however hard it be and however long it continue. (pg. 40)

I hope that the very opening of these things may lay your hands upon your hearts on what has been said, I say, that the very telling you what the lesson is may cause you to lay your hands on your hearts and say, 'Lord, I see there is more to Christian contentment than I thought there was, and I have been far from learning this lesson....' (pg. 40)

I can say, personally, that while I may not have placed my hands upon my heart to say it, I concur that "there is more to Christian contentment than I thought there was", often confusing any natural tendency towards contentment and resignation with that spiritual discipline described by Burroughs. Hopefully I will advance in this school, and move beyond the ABC's of this subject, as we continue to read The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment this month.