2 Chronicles 28
Ahaz Reigns in Judah2 Chronicles 28 1 Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD, as his father David had done, 2 but he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel. He even made metal images for the Baals, 3 and he made offerings in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom and burned his sons as an offering, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel. 4 And he sacrificed and made offerings on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree.
Judah Defeated5 Therefore the LORD his God gave him into the hand of the king of Syria, who defeated him and took captive a great number of his people and brought them to Damascus. He was also given into the hand of the king of Israel, who struck him with great force. 6 For Pekah the son of Remaliah killed 120,000 from Judah in one day, all of them men of valor, because they had forsaken the LORD, the God of their fathers. 7 And Zichri, a mighty man of Ephraim, killed Maaseiah the king’s son and Azrikam the commander of the palace and Elkanah the next in authority to the king.
8 The men of Israel took captive 200,000 of their relatives, women, sons, and daughters. They also took much spoil from them and brought the spoil to Samaria. 9 But a prophet of the LORD was there, whose name was Oded, and he went out to meet the army that came to Samaria and said to them, “Behold, because the LORD, the God of your fathers, was angry with Judah, he gave them into your hand, but you have killed them in a rage that has reached up to heaven. 10 And now you intend to subjugate the people of Judah and Jerusalem, male and female, as your slaves. Have you not sins of your own against the LORD your God? 11 Now hear me, and send back the captives from your relatives whom you have taken, for the fierce wrath of the LORD is upon you.”
12 Certain chiefs also of the men of Ephraim, Azariah the son of Johanan, Berechiah the son of Meshillemoth, Jehizkiah the son of Shallum, and Amasa the son of Hadlai, stood up against those who were coming from the war 13 and said to them, “You shall not bring the captives in here, for you propose to bring upon us guilt against the LORD in addition to our present sins and guilt. For our guilt is already great, and there is fierce wrath against Israel.” 14 So the armed men left the captives and the spoil before the princes and all the assembly. 15 And the men who have been mentioned by name rose and took the captives, and with the spoil they clothed all who were naked among them. They clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, and anointed them, and carrying all the feeble among them on donkeys, they brought them to their kinsfolk at Jericho, the city of palm trees. Then they returned to Samaria.
16 At that time King Ahaz sent to the king of Assyria for help. 17 For the Edomites had again invaded and defeated Judah and carried away captives. 18 And the Philistines had made raids on the cities in the Shephelah and the Negeb of Judah, and had taken Beth-shemesh, Aijalon, Gederoth, Soco with its villages, Timnah with its villages, and Gimzo with its villages. And they settled there. 19 For the LORD humbled Judah because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had made Judah act sinfully and had been very unfaithful to the LORD. 20 So Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria came against him and afflicted him instead of strengthening him. 21 For Ahaz took a portion from the house of the LORD and the house of the king and of the princes, and gave tribute to the king of Assyria, but it did not help him.
Ahaz’s Idolatry22 In the time of his distress he became yet more faithless to the LORD—this same King Ahaz. 23 For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus that had defeated him and said, “Because the gods of the kings of Syria helped them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me.” But they were the ruin of him and of all Israel. 24 And Ahaz gathered together the vessels of the house of God and cut in pieces the vessels of the house of God, and he shut up the doors of the house of the LORD, and he made himself altars in every corner of Jerusalem. 25 In every city of Judah he made high places to make offerings to other gods, provoking to anger the LORD, the God of his fathers. 26 Now the rest of his acts and all his ways, from first to last, behold, they are written in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel. 27 And Ahaz slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city, in Jerusalem, for they did not bring him into the tombs of the kings of Israel. And Hezekiah his son reigned in his place.
2 Chronicles 29
Hezekiah Reigns in Judah2 Chronicles 29 1 Hezekiah began to reign when he was twenty-five years old, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abijah the daughter of Zechariah. 2 And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done.
Hezekiah Cleanses the Temple3 In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the LORD and repaired them. 4 He brought in the priests and the Levites and assembled them in the square on the east 5 and said to them, “Hear me, Levites! Now consecrate yourselves, and consecrate the house of the LORD, the God of your fathers, and carry out the filth from the Holy Place. 6 For our fathers have been unfaithful and have done what was evil in the sight of the LORD our God. They have forsaken him and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the LORD and turned their backs. 7 They also shut the doors of the vestibule and put out the lamps and have not burned incense or offered burnt offerings in the Holy Place to the God of Israel. 8 Therefore the wrath of the LORD came on Judah and Jerusalem, and he has made them an object of horror, of astonishment, and of hissing, as you see with your own eyes. 9 For behold, our fathers have fallen by the sword, and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this. 10 Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the LORD, the God of Israel, in order that his fierce anger may turn away from us. 11 My sons, do not now be negligent, for the LORD has chosen you to stand in his presence, to minister to him and to be his ministers and make offerings to him.”
12 Then the Levites arose, Mahath the son of Amasai, and Joel the son of Azariah, of the sons of the Kohathites; and of the sons of Merari, Kish the son of Abdi, and Azariah the son of Jehallelel; and of the Gershonites, Joah the son of Zimmah, and Eden the son of Joah; 13 and of the sons of Elizaphan, Shimri and Jeuel; and of the sons of Asaph, Zechariah and Mattaniah; 14 and of the sons of Heman, Jehuel and Shimei; and of the sons of Jeduthun, Shemaiah and Uzziel. 15 They gathered their brothers and consecrated themselves and went in as the king had commanded, by the words of the LORD, to cleanse the house of the LORD. 16 The priests went into the inner part of the house of the LORD to cleanse it, and they brought out all the uncleanness that they found in the temple of the LORD into the court of the house of the LORD. And the Levites took it and carried it out to the brook Kidron. 17 They began to consecrate on the first day of the first month, and on the eighth day of the month they came to the vestibule of the LORD. Then for eight days they consecrated the house of the LORD, and on the sixteenth day of the first month they finished. 18 Then they went in to Hezekiah the king and said, “We have cleansed all the house of the LORD, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the table for the showbread and all its utensils. 19 All the utensils that King Ahaz discarded in his reign when he was faithless, we have made ready and consecrated, and behold, they are before the altar of the LORD.”
Hezekiah Restores Temple Worship20 Then Hezekiah the king rose early and gathered the officials of the city and went up to the house of the LORD. 21 And they brought seven bulls, seven rams, seven lambs, and seven male goats for a sin offering for the kingdom and for the sanctuary and for Judah. And he commanded the priests, the sons of Aaron, to offer them on the altar of the LORD. 22 So they slaughtered the bulls, and the priests received the blood and threw it against the altar. And they slaughtered the rams, and their blood was thrown against the altar. And they slaughtered the lambs, and their blood was thrown against the altar. 23 Then the goats for the sin offering were brought to the king and the assembly, and they laid their hands on them, 24 and the priests slaughtered them and made a sin offering with their blood on the altar, to make atonement for all Israel. For the king commanded that the burnt offering and the sin offering should be made for all Israel.
25 And he stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, harps, and lyres, according to the commandment of David and of Gad the king’s seer and of Nathan the prophet, for the commandment was from the LORD through his prophets. 26 The Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets. 27 Then Hezekiah commanded that the burnt offering be offered on the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song to the LORD began also, and the trumpets, accompanied by the instruments of David king of Israel. 28 The whole assembly worshiped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded. All this continued until the burnt offering was finished. 29 When the offering was finished, the king and all who were present with him bowed themselves and worshiped. 30 And Hezekiah the king and the officials commanded the Levites to sing praises to the LORD with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed down and worshiped.
31 Then Hezekiah said, “You have now consecrated yourselves to the LORD. Come near; bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the house of the LORD.” And the assembly brought sacrifices and thank offerings, and all who were of a willing heart brought burnt offerings. 32 The number of the burnt offerings that the assembly brought was 70 bulls, 100 rams, and 200 lambs; all these were for a burnt offering to the LORD. 33 And the consecrated offerings were 600 bulls and 3,000 sheep. 34 But the priests were too few and could not flay all the burnt offerings, so until other priests had consecrated themselves, their brothers the Levites helped them, until the work was finished—for the Levites were more upright in heart than the priests in consecrating themselves. 35 Besides the great number of burnt offerings, there was the fat of the peace offerings, and there were the drink offerings for the burnt offerings. Thus the service of the house of the LORD was restored. 36 And Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced because God had provided for the people, for the thing came about suddenly.
2 Chronicles 30
Passover Celebrated2 Chronicles 30 1 Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah, and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the LORD at Jerusalem to keep the Passover to the LORD, the God of Israel. 2 For the king and his princes and all the assembly in Jerusalem had taken counsel to keep the Passover in the second month— 3 for they could not keep it at that time because the priests had not consecrated themselves in sufficient number, nor had the people assembled in Jerusalem— 4 and the plan seemed right to the king and all the assembly. 5 So they decreed to make a proclamation throughout all Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, that the people should come and keep the Passover to the LORD, the God of Israel, at Jerusalem, for they had not kept it as often as prescribed. 6 So couriers went throughout all Israel and Judah with letters from the king and his princes, as the king had commanded, saying, “O people of Israel, return to the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that he may turn again to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria. 7 Do not be like your fathers and your brothers, who were faithless to the LORD God of their fathers, so that he made them a desolation, as you see. 8 Do not now be stiff-necked as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the LORD and come to his sanctuary, which he has consecrated forever, and serve the LORD your God, that his fierce anger may turn away from you. 9 For if you return to the LORD, your brothers and your children will find compassion with their captors and return to this land. For the LORD your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.” 10 So the couriers went from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them. 11 However, some men of Asher, of Manasseh, and of Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. 12 The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the LORD.
13 And many people came together in Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the second month, a very great assembly. 14 They set to work and removed the altars that were in Jerusalem, and all the altars for burning incense they took away and threw into the brook Kidron. 15 And they slaughtered the Passover lamb on the fourteenth day of the second month. And the priests and the Levites were ashamed, so that they consecrated themselves and brought burnt offerings into the house of the LORD. 16 They took their accustomed posts according to the Law of Moses the man of God. The priests threw the blood that they received from the hand of the Levites. 17 For there were many in the assembly who had not consecrated themselves. Therefore the Levites had to slaughter the Passover lamb for everyone who was not clean, to consecrate it to the LORD. 18 For a majority of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than as prescribed. For Hezekiah had prayed for them, saying, “May the good LORD pardon everyone 19 who sets his heart to seek God, the LORD, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.” 20 And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people. 21 And the people of Israel who were present at Jerusalem kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with great gladness, and the Levites and the priests praised the LORD day by day, singing with all their might to the LORD. 22 And Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to all the Levites who showed good skill in the service of the LORD. So they ate the food of the festival for seven days, sacrificing peace offerings and giving thanks to the LORD, the God of their fathers.
23 Then the whole assembly agreed together to keep the feast for another seven days. So they kept it for another seven days with gladness. 24 For Hezekiah king of Judah gave the assembly 1,000 bulls and 7,000 sheep for offerings, and the princes gave the assembly 1,000 bulls and 10,000 sheep. And the priests consecrated themselves in great numbers. 25 The whole assembly of Judah, and the priests and the Levites, and the whole assembly that came out of Israel, and the sojourners who came out of the land of Israel, and the sojourners who lived in Judah, rejoiced. 26 So there was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. 27 Then the priests and the Levites arose and blessed the people, and their voice was heard, and their prayer came to his holy habitation in heaven.
2 Chronicles 31
Hezekiah Organizes the Priests2 Chronicles 31 1 Now when all this was finished, all Israel who were present went out to the cities of Judah and broke in pieces the pillars and cut down the Asherim and broke down the high places and the altars throughout all Judah and Benjamin, and in Ephraim and Manasseh, until they had destroyed them all. Then all the people of Israel returned to their cities, every man to his possession.
2 And Hezekiah appointed the divisions of the priests and of the Levites, division by division, each according to his service, the priests and the Levites, for burnt offerings and peace offerings, to minister in the gates of the camp of the LORD and to give thanks and praise. 3 The contribution of the king from his own possessions was for the burnt offerings: the burnt offerings of morning and evening, and the burnt offerings for the Sabbaths, the new moons, and the appointed feasts, as it is written in the Law of the LORD. 4 And he commanded the people who lived in Jerusalem to give the portion due to the priests and the Levites, that they might give themselves to the Law of the LORD. 5 As soon as the command was spread abroad, the people of Israel gave in abundance the firstfruits of grain, wine, oil, honey, and of all the produce of the field. And they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything. 6 And the people of Israel and Judah who lived in the cities of Judah also brought in the tithe of cattle and sheep, and the tithe of the dedicated things that had been dedicated to the LORD their God, and laid them in heaps. 7 In the third month they began to pile up the heaps, and finished them in the seventh month. 8 When Hezekiah and the princes came and saw the heaps, they blessed the LORD and his people Israel. 9 And Hezekiah questioned the priests and the Levites about the heaps. 10 Azariah the chief priest, who was of the house of Zadok, answered him, “Since they began to bring the contributions into the house of the LORD, we have eaten and had enough and have plenty left, for the LORD has blessed his people, so that we have this large amount left.”
11 Then Hezekiah commanded them to prepare chambers in the house of the LORD, and they prepared them. 12 And they faithfully brought in the contributions, the tithes, and the dedicated things. The chief officer in charge of them was Conaniah the Levite, with Shimei his brother as second, 13 while Jehiel, Azaziah, Nahath, Asahel, Jerimoth, Jozabad, Eliel, Ismachiah, Mahath, and Benaiah were overseers assisting Conaniah and Shimei his brother, by the appointment of Hezekiah the king and Azariah the chief officer of the house of God. 14 And Kore the son of Imnah the Levite, keeper of the east gate, was over the freewill offerings to God, to apportion the contribution reserved for the LORD and the most holy offerings. 15 Eden, Miniamin, Jeshua, Shemaiah, Amariah, and Shecaniah were faithfully assisting him in the cities of the priests, to distribute the portions to their brothers, old and young alike, by divisions, 16 except those enrolled by genealogy, males from three years old and upward—all who entered the house of the LORD as the duty of each day required—for their service according to their offices, by their divisions. 17 The enrollment of the priests was according to their fathers’ houses; that of the Levites from twenty years old and upward was according to their offices, by their divisions. 18 They were enrolled with all their little children, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, the whole assembly, for they were faithful in keeping themselves holy. 19 And for the sons of Aaron, the priests, who were in the fields of common land belonging to their cities, there were men in the several cities who were designated by name to distribute portions to every male among the priests and to everyone among the Levites who was enrolled.
20 Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and faithful before the LORD his God. 21 And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered.
What I'm Reading
Poet of the Reformation
By Dr. Gene Edward Veith 11/1/2007
Christians have a rich cultural heritage, but these days they are often oblivious to it. I suspect most American Christians have no idea who George Herbert was — other than, perhaps, the first two names of President Bush I (“George Herbert Walker Bush”). Some may recall him from a British Literature class as the author of those poems that were shaped like physical objects (an altar, wings, and so forth). Others may know him as a major literary figure, who sprung poetry loose from its dependence on a few conventional forms to invent a new form for every poem. But few know him as arguably the greatest Christian lyric poet, who writes about his relationship with Christ in a profoundly biblical way and who captures poetically the spiritual dynamics of the Reformation.
Part of the problem may be that Herbert (1593–1633) was an Anglican priest whose imagery draws on liturgy, vestments, and the sacraments. Indeed, high church Anglicans do know him very well, as do many Catholics. But Herbert was writing in a time long before nineteenth-century Anglo-Catholicism, when the Church of England — though on the verge of coming apart — was still very much influenced by the Reformation. And certainly George Herbert lived and breathed the Reformation Gospel.
In the religious poetry of medieval Catholicism as well as later mystical verse, God tends to be imagined as high and lifted up, with the poet striving to reach Him. In The Divine Comedy, Dante imagines himself slogging through hell, laboring up the mountain of Purgatory, and finally — freed from his sinfulness — soaring upward through the sky and all its spheres, until he breaks out into heaven itself and the glorious, beatific vision of God.
In Herbert’s poetry, grounded in the Reformation, the vectors are reversed. The speaker in the poems is not ascending to God. Rather, the speaker has a habit of running away from God, and God descends to him. God in Christ is doing the laboring. God is the actor, breaking into the poet’s life through His Word.
In his poem “The Collar,” the speaker of the poem is rebelling against God. He is a frustrated pastor, angry that he has thrown away his talents and a promising career to minister to people in an obscure country church who do not seem to be responding, who only give him grief. (Herbert was an heir of one of the noblest families in England, a member of parliament, who, upon his religious awakening, left it all to serve in a tiny country parish in Bemerton.) He wants to break out of all of his restrictions and be free from all of this religious stuff: “I struck the board, and cried, No more; / I will abroad. / What? Shall I ever sigh and pine? / My lines and life are free; free as the road, / Loose as the wind.”
He carries on like this for thirty lines or so. Then something happens: “But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild, / At every word, / Methought I heard one calling, Child: / And I replied, My Lord.”
The “word” of God breaks in. Despite all of his rebellion, God calls him, addressing him lovingly as His “child.” The rebellion melts away as the poet acknowledges his “Lord.” The relationship between the Lord and His child is restored.
The title of the poem, once we know the ending, expresses it all: The pastor’s “collar” feels restrictive; but the value of his ministry and his Christian life has to do with the “caller.” The poet has been called by the Gospel, and he has been called into the ministry (the “caller” has given him the distinctive clerical “collar”), and that makes all the difference.
Herbert’s acclaim as a poet is also due to his mastery of poetic form and to his way of relating the form to the content. In this poem, as the emotions grow “more fierce and wild,” so does the form: the rhyme scheme is disordered; the lines are of varied lengths; the rhythm goes wild. But then, when the word of God breaks in with that last stanza, order is restored: the lines rhyme; they have a regular rhythm; the varied line lengths of the earlier stanzas come together into a poetic order. As the poet attains emotional and spiritual harmony, the poem itself becomes harmonious.
Herbert arranged his poems into an ordered whole that he entitled The Temple, with reference to the Old Testament building, the New Testament church, and the human heart as the temple of the Holy Spirit. His first section, “The Church Porch,” consists of maxims of the Law, but this is only a portal to “The Church.” This section consists of a series of poems on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, punctuated by poems of response to what Christ has done. After these poetic emblems of justification, we have a poem on baptism and then a large number of poems on sanctification, the ups and downs of the Christian life.
The series ends with surprisingly upbeat poems on death, concluding with the famous poem “Love,” the third of that title, in which Herbert compares entering into heaven with coming into an inn. He feels dirty and unworthy, but his Host insists on serving him. “‘Know you not,’ says Love, ‘who bore the blame?’” The unworthy guest, feeling that he would be more at home in hell, than at this feast, keeps pulling back. He says to the Divine Love, I need to serve you. No, says Love, you just have to accept what I do for you and sit down for the feast.
I struck the board, and cried, "No more;
I will abroad!
What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free, free as the road,
Loose as the wind, as large as store.
Shall I be still in suit?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
To let me blood, and not restore
What I have lost with cordial fruit?
Sure there was wine
Before my sighs did dry it; there was corn
Before my tears did drown it.
Is the year only lost to me?
Have I no bays to crown it,
No flowers, no garlands gay? All blasted?
Not so, my heart; but there is fruit,
And thou hast hands.
Recover all thy sigh-blown age
On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute
Of what is fit and not. Forsake thy cage,
Thy rope of sands,
Which petty thoughts have made, and made to thee
Good cable, to enforce and draw,
And be thy law,
While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.
Away! take heed;
I will abroad.
Call in thy death's-head there; tie up thy fears;
He that forbears
To suit and serve his need
Deserves his load."
But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild
At every word,
Methought I heard one calling, Child!
And I replied My Lord.
Dr. Gene Edward Veith is provost emeritus and professor of literature emeritus at Patrick Henry College and director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Gene Edward Veith Books | Go to Books Page
Perseverance in the Face of Persecution
By C. FitzSimons Allison 11/1/2007
Gilbert Meilaender is a truly heroic figure. I would like to share my admiration for him with others as an encouragement to persevere in the face of persecution. Meilaender is an internationally known ethicist and one of a group of eminent students belonging to the Ramsey Colloquium, named for the Princeton scholar, Paul Ramsey. These are among the most distinguished scholars of their generation. A careful, pastorally sensitive, contemporary statement regarding the church’s teaching on homosexuality was published by this colloquium. As a result, many of them were harassed and treated with inexcusable persecution on campuses, including Oberlin, the University of Virginia, and Yale.
Meilaender, a professor at Oberlin, seems to have received the worst treatment. In his article “On Bringing One’s Life to a Point” (1994 November edition of First Things), ( I have copied the entire article in the next article section with a link to the original website page. ) he describes his response to the cruel rage and paucity of responsible support with a testimony of unyielding perseverance without anger, self-righteousness, or self-pity. His demeanor and spirit were so devoid of what would be natural and human (in the negative senses of both terms) that it could be only described by one word: graceful.
I only know this man through his writings, but his graceful perseverance and faithfulness could be an example for any of us facing hostility in our own lives. Under pressure he drew on Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, and the psalmists whose testimonies could lead and encourage any of us to a similar grace. In rereading his article after more than a decade, I am newly inspired by an insight he gives from Lewis.
He shows me something I had too long missed. It is the very word understand. To stand under an idea (as did Mark Studdick in Lewis’ novel, That Hideous Strength (Space Trilogy, Book 3)), with the knowledge that ideas are not mere opinions but tough, durable, and objective realities, gives one a perspective that is deeper and less self-righteous than one would have defending one’s own opinion.
Meilaender writes: “The truth I think I understand and for which I must stand up is, in reality, a truth that I stand under and to which I look up. To put the point again in the language of hymnody, in such moments I prefer ‘beneath the cross of Jesus, I long to take my stand,’ to ‘stand up, stand up for Jesus.’”
An even more important grace that comes with persecution is shown in the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Isolation and suffering for what one sees as right is fraught with the temptation of self-righteousness. But in Bonheoffer’s writings and life Meilaender realized that in reading the Psalms, as Bonhoeffer did, we “pray them as our own only in him [Christ], the righteous sufferer who calls on God for vindication.” It is indeed “under the cross” that we are to take our stand.
These stands have always caused division, isolation, loss of friends, and sometimes death. Much of what and whom we have trusted is lost, and we have painfully discovered how relatively unimportant are the lesser things in which we have put our faith. Calvin taught us that our hearts are veritable “idol factories.” The refreshing thing about persecution, suffering, or unpopularity for remaining faithful to the Gospel is the chance to appreciate freedom from our idols. We can sing with more passion and gratitude: “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also…. His kingdom is forever.”
The most subtle and unproductive of idols has to do with righteousness and its shadow, self-righteousness. I have a painful recollection of sitting in my pew halfway listening to a sermon on the book of Amos. My mind wandered to my fellow bishops in the Episcopal Church. I was comparing myself with them and coming out quite favorably when the preacher poured Amos’ plumb line of God’s justice on my pew. My heart tore. I went home and fished out my carpenter’s plumb line and hung it from the second floor over the stairs so that it greets me at the front door. After two and one-half years my wife asked when we could take it down. “When there’s no more problem of self-righteousness,” I replied. It still hangs there.
When Jesus warned us against the yeast of the Pharisees (Matt 16:6, 12), it is an enduring and ever-needed warning. The yeast of self-righteousness is always in the air, and it is always welcome by our self-centered hearts. Like the alcoholic who never says he used to be an alcoholic but only claims that he is a recovering alcoholic, so we victims of Pharisee yeast should never say we used to be self-righteous, only that we are recovering Pharisees.
Danger lies, however, in the very subtlety of recognizing one’s unworthiness. It can inhibit the very nerve of action and fight, as Hamlet observed, “and conscience doth make cowards of us all.” One can wish perhaps that Gilbert Meilaender had fought more aggressively against the wickedness and tyranny of politically correct dogma in the academic world.
The figure of John Bunyan comes to mind as one whose stand for what he saw to be just and right landed him in jail for twelve years, refusing to relinquish his call to preach the Gospel. Whatever courage we might be showing today is reduced to less than insignificance in comparison with Bunyan.
In remaining faithful to Christ, subsequent stands can be occasions of freedom from our idols and a quality of grace we did not before possess.
C. FitzSimons Allison is the retired bishop of South Carolina, who now serves as a pastoral bishop for churches in the Anglican Communion Network, a network of orthodox churches in the Episcopal Church in the United States of America.
C. FitzSimons Allison Books:
- 1 The Rise of Moralism: The Proclamation of the Gospel from Hooker to Baxter
- 2 Guilt, Anger, and God
- 3 The Rise of Moralism: The Proclamation of the Gospel from Hooker to Baxter
- 4 The Cruelty of Heresy: An Affirmation of Christian Orthodoxy
- 5 Trust in an Age of Arrogance:
- 6 Fear, Love, and Worship
- 7 The Cruelty of Heresy: An Affirmation of Christian Orthodoxy
- 8 THE RISE OF MORALISM: The Proclamation of the Gospel from Hooker to Baxter.
On Bringing One's Life To A Point
By Gilbert Meilaender November 1994
In February of 1994, in what was its March issue, First Things published a statement on the homosexual movement signed by twenty-one people, of whom I was one. An excerpt from that statement was published in the Wall Street Journal on February 24. I do not intend here to rehearse the argument of that statement or to defend it. In my own view, it was certainly not perfect, and I see ways we could have made it better. Moreover, I think the Wall Street Journal excerpt was inadequate, losing part of the point of the statement. But I have not changed my mind on the question involved; and a reader, in order to understand what follows, will have to keep that in mind, and, if he or she disagrees with the statement, bracket such disagreement for the moment.
The day the Wall Street Journal excerpt appeared, things began to explode on the campus of Oberlin College, where I teach. Since Oberlin has been described by Newsweek, for example, as a “gay mecca,” perhaps this was not surprising, though I could never have predicted the intensity of the reaction. In order to provide a context for what follows, I must describe briefly here the reaction at Oberlin. But just as I do not seek to rehearse again the argument on the issue, so I also do not intend here to take up the topic of “political correctness.” My experiences provide in many ways a textbook example of that phenomenon, but I am interested in something I regard as ultimately more important.
What happened? Posters went up around the campus, xeroxes of the WSJ piece, with arrows pointing to my name and various statements written on the posters (“rampant homophobia,” “read this and fear”). Over the next few days several more rounds of posters appeared, attacking me, for example, as “super bigot.” It is not too much to say that an uproar had been created. Students expressed outrage that such views were held by someone at Oberlin. They called for a boycott of my classes this fall (since I was on leave during the spring semester of 1994). One student was quoted in the student paper as calling for a march past my home, though I did not expect that to take place and it did not. The student senate voted to reprimand me, and the student paper editorialized against me, charging that I had compromised my “academic objectivity.” Students talked publicly about bringing charges against me through the college’s judicial system, and a student who is cochair of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Union was quoted as saying, “Some people would like him out of here.” Fifty-one members of the faculty (about a quarter of the total) signed a letter criticizing the statement on homosexuality—charging that it engaged in “repugnant stereotyping,” was “intellectually naive,” and provided “sanction for a homophobic agenda.”
For at least the first week, while the uproar was at its height, I felt largely isolated—an experience that is almost paralyzing, since one hardly knows how to respond under such a circumstance. Over time, at least the appearance (though not, in truth, the reality) of some balance was restored when letters providing support of various kinds for me appeared in the next week’s edition of the student paper. (I myself did respond in writing to the letter signed by members of the faculty.) Some defended the right of free speech, some testified to my good character (which I appreciated greatly, though there is something unsettling about having to be defended on such grounds), and a very few expressed substantive agreement with my views. A couple of brave students wrote letters expressing such support. One member of the faculty did so. At this point he remains the only member of the faculty who has publicly expressed agreement with the position adopted by me and other signers of the First Things statement.
Events such as these remind us that, despite torrents of talk about diversity at our elite colleges, they lack anything resembling genuine intellectual diversity. But, although this much summary has been necessary to give the reader some context for the reflections that follow, I repeat that I do not intend here to add another chapter to debates about political correctness. What follows is, as best I can manage, “emotion recollected in tranquility.” Although I have over the years defended in print a number of positions that are relatively unpopular in our society, this experience is unlike any other I have had. And I have found myself reflecting on what it means to bring one’s life to a point—which is, on the one hand, a place of solitude, and, on the other, a moment of significance. (The irony has not escaped my attention that this is not unlike the way gays sometimes speak about the experience of “coming out of the closet.” But to take up here the similarities and differences would draw me back into substantive discussion of the argument, which is not my aim. The reader who disagrees with my normative views is simply going to have to stop reading or prescind from such judgment for a while.)
The experience involved for me an act of recovery—and this in several ways. In the midst of unrelenting public attack, one regains some sense of what counts in one’s life—not what I would like to count, but what does in fact count for me, what matters to the person I have become. In that sense I recovered myself within my deepest commitments.
Thus, for example, I reclaimed the significance of the local community of believers. The Lutheran congregation that I attend (which I attend for the simple reason that it is here in Oberlin) is neither particularly large nor noteworthy. It has the virtues and the vices of many small congregations, and I have to admit that worshiping there seldom stirs my soul deeply. But, as the apostle writes, we are many members with many gifts, but one body in which burdens are mutually borne. The reaction of many people in the congregation (when a local newspaper carried an article about the controversy at the college) was immediate and powerful. They spoke words of support in conversations with me. Several said something like, “I would like to write a letter on your behalf, but I know I probably wouldn’t get it right, so I am praying for you.” Which was, of course, precisely right. And, although I am by temperament a person not eager to be prayed for publicly, when the pastor included me in the special intercessions of the prayer of the church, I found it affecting and appropriate. Many members with many gifts—I am probably better at offering arguments, but they did what they did better than I might have were the tables turned. One body—reminding me how foolish I would be if I thought, finally, that I could offer arguments simply on my own apart from the way of faith and life that the entire body sustains.
There are, however, other ties that are also very important in a person’s life—chief among them, at least for me, the bond of the family. A few years ago I wrote a little piece titled “I Want to Burden my Loved Ones” (FT, October 1991). It was written in fun, but also in all seriousness, arguing—in relation to questions about care for dying patients and advance directives about one’s own care at the point of death—that the impulse to handle these problems autonomously was mistaken, that the family was a context in which we are quite properly burdened by others. And my recent experience—at, remember, a small college in a small town, where anyone’s business is everyone’s business—reminded me of how deeply implicated we are in the lives of our family. One might think that my signature on a document does not involve my wife or children, but life teaches otherwise. The experience intrudes into their own lives in conversations with friends or teachers, and they are, in a sense, forced to make it their own. They didn’t ask for it, but it found them. And if I have burdened them, as I have, perhaps I have also—to the best of my ability—helped them to understand how important it may be to bring one’s life to a point.
I recovered also some of the Psalms that I have never quite known what to do with, Psalms that have been a puzzle for me. Christians use them regularly in worship, but what are we thinking when we do so? A few examples, which could readily be multiplied, may suffice:
Be gracious to me, O Lord! Behold what I suffer from those who hate me, O thou who liftest me up from the gates of death, that I may recount all thy praises, that in the gates of the daughter of Zion I may rejoice in thy deliverance. (9:13–14)
Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of thy wings, from the wicked who despoil me, my deadly enemies who surround me. They close their hearts to pity; with their mouths they speak arrogantly. They track me down; now they surround me; they set their eyes to cast me to the ground. (17:8–11)
Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me. Oh guard my life, and deliver me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in thee (25:19–20). Save me, O God, by thy name, and vindicate me by thy might. Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth. For insolent men have risen against me, ruthless men seek my life; they do not set God before them (54:1–3).
Enough. We get the picture—of one who has attempted in integrity to be faithful to God, who because of that is surrounded by enemies, and who brings that situation before God. I suspect that most Christians are uneasy with making the prayers of such righteous Israelites their own. We are uneasy because such claims to our own integrity are difficult for those who with St. Paul have taken seriously the deep division even within the self that seeks to serve God and have learned to claim Christ as their righteousness. This note of the righteous sufferer is, of course, not the only note sounded in the Psalter. A Lutheran pastor, having heard of the controversy raging at Oberlin, wrote to thank me for the position I had taken and to offer encouragement and support. But she also, very nicely, reminded me not to suppose that this cause was simply my own to assert, and she in turn cited the psalmist (19:13):
Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me; then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
That is, of course, one very important way to deal with Psalms that are puzzling and troubling in their protestations of righteousness. We set them in the context of other Psalms which remind us that we cannot plumb the depths of our own self and must finally hand that self over to God for judgment and safekeeping.
But what do we do with the Psalms themselves—those that assert one’s integrity and ask for deliverance from enemies that surround one? I myself have generally made two moves in dealing with them. The first I learned from C. S. Lewis, who suggests that we place ourselves not with the righteous sufferer but with the evildoers—that, in making such Psalms our own prayers, we remember soberly that we might have brought others to a point where they felt as isolated as the psalmist sometimes feels. The second—and for Christians ultimately more telling—I learned from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who reminds us that we make these prayers our own only when we see Jesus as this righteous sufferer. We pray them as our own only “in him,” the righteous sufferer who calls on God for vindication.
Bonhoeffer’s reading is, I think, the first and the last reading that a Christian ought to give such Psalms—but, I now believe, not the only one. For between those first and last readings may come another that is closer to the psalmist’s own experience, one that enters into the text’s own trajectory (as we like to say these days). For this is, in fact, what it may feel like to try—as best one can—to be faithful. No one should seek such experience, and perhaps we should even be hesitant about assuming that it is our own, but if others persuade us that they do indeed surround us, then we can pray these Psalms as our own, as—perhaps—that righteous Israelite did. Cautious as Christians must inevitably be to make such a move, I am not prepared to say we cannot or ought not.
But, of course, the final reading remains that in which they are the prayer of Jesus, and it did not escape my attention that this entire experience took place during Lent. How casually I tend to read the New Testament texts that speak of sharing in Christ’s sufferings and even most puzzlingly (in Colossians) of completing “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” One could, melodramatically, make too much of such passages—as Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch early in the second century, so famously did in a letter written on the way to his martyrdom: “Let me be fodder for wild beasts—that is how I can get to God. I am God’s wheat and I am being ground by the teeth of wild beasts to make a pure loaf for Christ.” The spirit that could seek such experience is, I confess, alien to my own. But to accept what comes when one has attempted to be faithful, and to make it one’s own by drawing it into an imitatio Christi, seems right to me, and surely Lent exists in part to ask us to take such possibilities seriously in life. We read these Psalms as the prayer of Jesus, accepting—even if not seeking—a share in the sufferings of his Body. Some people said to me at the height of the uproar: “It will pass; a new cause will come along.” Which is true. (Indeed, a little more than a month later the college’s administration was kind enough to provide through one of its personnel decisions a new cause, a new object for hostility, thereby providing me some breathing space.) But the passing of a moment is not the same as taking it up and bringing one’s life to a point around it. When the moment passes, life continues, more or less as it had before. But if we take up the moment, accepting a certain kind of death that it brings, we may be renewed—which is quite different from the simple continuation of life.
Beyond the recovery of such obvious truths, an experience like mine may also uncover some of the deeper meaning of the moral life, meaning that cannot be taught in the classroom. At one point, a couple weeks into the uproar, I had a short conversation with a faculty colleague, a little older than I, whose judgment I respect and whose counsel I have often sought. Although sympathetic to the concerns of the statement I had signed, he could not himself affirm its view, though he could and did offer support from his own perspective. But when we spoke, he commented that the standard upheld in the statement was a very “difficult” and “demanding” one. (He had in mind the larger concerns of the statement, its concern not simply with the homosexual movement but with the results of the sexual revolution more generally in our society. And, in fact, some of the strongest language in the statement—language entirely omitted from the WSJ excerpt—dealt with standards that applied to heterosexuals.) Our standard, he said to me, was such a demanding one that he was reluctant to affirm it. He could not say that he himself had always lived up to it.
That set me to thinking about how we render moral judgment today. Beginning perhaps with the generous thought that we should not “impose” on others standards that we ourselves do not meet, we end with a morality that demands less even of ourselves than we ought. The norms to which I adhere are not those I can keep or do keep; they are those to which I hold myself accountable. I do not see how I could manage that if there were not ways to recognize my accountability—if, that is, I were not part of a community that regularly confesses its sin and seeks to begin anew. Only from such a perspective, I suspect, could I have the courage to set forth an ideal of which I myself may often fall short. The moral life is much more than we can or should teach in a classroom; it involves disciplines such as confession and absolution.
Still more, the moral life involves—how not to put the point too melodramatically?—preparing to die. Thus, Epictetus: “Let others study cases at law, let others practice recitations and syllogisms. You learn to die.” Thus also Socrates, who speaks of pursuing philosophy in the right way as practicing “how to face death easily.” And in death we are, finally, isolated and alone. Others may and should do what Paul Ramsey called “companying” with the dying, they may through the virtue of love actually help to carry our sufferings, but they cannot enter the void with us. Christians believe, of course, that One has kept us company even there, but that belief is experienced as hope, not possession. To learn to die, therefore, we have to learn to be alone.
This we are very reluctant to do—at least I certainly am. We value the ways in which our lives are joined with others in bonds of life, family, property, and reputation (the very bonds to which the second table of the Decalog points). Therefore, it is rather hard to sing sincerely the words of Luther’s great hymn (at least as that hymn was translated before we settled for less poetic translations designed to avoid allegedly sexist language): “And take they our life / Goods, fame, child, and wife, / Let these all be gone, / They yet have nothing won; / The kingdom ours remaineth.” Most of the time, if the truth were known, I probably prefer my good name with my colleagues to such a sentiment. And it is therefore useful—indeed, it is central to the moral life—to bring one’s life to a point, even if that is experienced as a point of solitude and isolation. This also cannot be taught in the ethics classroom, but this is what it means to begin to learn to die.
Once we come to see that our self is at stake in such moments, we will get quite a different slant on the truth we think we understand. It cannot be simply my personal view, my personal cause. For that alone I would scarcely risk or endure isolation. Few “opinions” of mine are likely to mean as much to me as my good name among colleagues. So if it is my cause that is at stake, that good name is likely to trump other considerations. No, the truth we think we understand must have about it an impersonality; it cannot simply be one’s own private view or opinion. The truth I think I understand and for which I must stand up is, in reality, a truth that I stand under and to which I look up. To put the point again in the language of hymnody, in such moments I prefer “Beneath the Cross of Jesus / I long to take my stand” to “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus.”
That the truth we understand must be a truth we stand under is brought out nicely in C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength (Space Trilogy, Book 3) when Mark Studdock gradually learns what an “Idea” is. While Frost attempts to give Mark a “training in objectivity” that will destroy in him any natural moral sense, and while Mark tries desperately to find a way out of the moral void into which he is being drawn, he discovers what it means to understand.
He had never before known what an Idea meant: he had always thought till now that they were things inside one’s own head. But now, when his head was continually attacked and often completely filled with the clinging corruption of the training, this Idea towered up above him-something which obviously existed quite independently of himself and had hard rock surfaces which would not give, surfaces he could cling to.
This too, I fear, is seldom communicated in the classroom, where opinion reigns supreme. But it has important implications for the way we understand argument. During the course of the uproar at Oberlin I discovered to my surprise that the cause I defended had become genuinely an impersonal one—not my own. It was not the sort of thing over which one could become personally irritated or annoyed. Indeed, I have on occasion over the years been far more annoyed by minor criticisms of my writings than by the direct and personal attack I now experienced. For it was impossible to regard the position I defended as my own; indeed, I cannot imagine subjecting myself to such criticism for the sake of anything so minor as an “opinion” of mine. In such moments one needs a truth with hard surfaces to cling to and stand under, and this experience has renewed my fear that the teaching of ethics alone seldom offers such truth.
If trying to stand under the truth means the practice of an ars moriendi, we begin to see what the moral life really requires. I have been reminded of two favorite passages of mine, the first from Peter Geach, the second from C. S. Lewis.
Every man is given sufficient grace to make the right choice, but many reject that grace and are lost. How this choice does come a man’s way, what chances men have and how they take or reject them, we shall not know till the Day of Judgment. In the stories of the Vikings there is recorded that one Viking was named Bairnsfriend because he would not share in the popular sport of tossing infants from spearpoint to spearpoint; let us hope that he took his chance; in such ways the Grace of God may show itself despite the most corrupting environment.
And from C. S. Lewis:
In King Lear (Folger Shakespeare Library) there is a man who is such a minor character that Shakespeare has not given him even a name: he is merely “First Servant.” All the characters around him—Regan, Cornwall, and Edmund-have fine long-term plans. They think they know how the story is going to end, and they are quite wrong. The servant has no such delusions. He has no notion how the play is going to go. But he understands the present scene. He sees an abomination (the blinding of old Gloucester) taking place. He will not stand it. His sword is out and pointed at his master’s breast in a moment: then Regan stabs him dead from behind. That is his whole part: eight lines all told. But if it were real life and not a play, that is the part it would be best to have acted.
Two examples, each quite literally of bringing one’s life to a point. And although our opportunities generally come in far less dramatic ways, we can learn from such examples what is and what is not within our power.
It has occurred to me any number of times that were I deliberately to aim to bring my life to a point, the issue of homosexuality would not have been the issue I would have chosen for the occasion. And, again, had I intended to bring my life to a point—a point of solitude, but also of significance and discovery—I would have done things a little differently. Certainly I would have changed a word here and there!
But, in fact, we do not decide to bring our lives to a point. We are brought. The most important things have always been decided in advance and are not ours to determine. We can seize the occasion and seek to live faithfully, but we are ultimately not makers but responders. Hence, any account of the moral life is inadequate if it does not help us learn how to deal with what may come upon us without our choice—illness, suffering, a child, death. Few of the current approaches to morality do this or even seek to do it. If, therefore, we are not, like Prufrock, to measure out our lives with coffee spoons, we need to reclaim an older wisdom that may help us learn what it means to bring one’s life to a point.
Gilbert Meilaender is Senior Research Professor at Valparaiso University and the Paul Ramsey Fellow at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture. He taught at the University of Virginia (1975-78), at Oberlin College (1978-96), and at Valparaiso University (1996-2014), where he held the Duesenberg Chair in Christian Ethics.
Gilbert Meilaender Books:
- 1 Bioethics: A Primer for Christians, Third Edition
- 2 Should We Live Forever?: The Ethical Ambiguities of Aging
- 3 Neither Beast Nor God: The Dignity of the Human Person (Encounter Broadsides)
- 4 Faith And Faithfulness: Basic Themes in Christian Ethics (Revisions (Paperback))
- 5 Theory and Practice Of Virtue (ND Series in Great B)
- 6 The Taste for the Other: The Social and Ethical Thought of C. S. Lewis
- 7 Friendship: A Study in Theological Ethics (Revisions: A Series of Books on Ethics)
- 8 Things That Count: Essays Moral and Theological
- 9 Bioethics: A Primer for Christians
- 10 The Way That Leads There: Augustinian Reflections on the Christian Life
- 11 Freedom of a Christian, The: Grace, Vocation, and the Meaning of Our Humanity
- 12 Bioethics: A Primer for Christians, Third Edition by Gilbert Meilaender (2013-01-06)
- 13 Body, Soul, and Bioethics
- 14 Love Taking Shape: Sermons on the Christian Life
- 15 Limits of Lovesome Theological Explorat
- 16 Neither Beast Nor God: The Dignity of the Human Person by Gilbert Meilaender (2009-09-29)
- 17 Letters to Ellen by Gilbert Meilaender (1996-01-02)
- 18 The Way That Leads There: Augustinian Reflections on the Christian Life by Gilbert Meilaender (2007-01-02)
By Rev. Scotty Smith 12/1/2007
Having read this incredible collage of articles on God’s kingdom in this Advent season edition of Tabletalk, hopefully you’re beginning to wonder how to “bring home” all this rich theology to your context and community. What are some of the telling and timely implications of a sound and lively theology of the kingdom for us in the body of Christ today? How are we to seek first the kingdom of God and the righteous and redeeming dominion of our wonderful, merciful Savior, Jesus Christ? If we’re not anticipating and working for the revelation of Jesus’ restorative rule over all things, then what are we seeking?
I know of no better way to wrestle with these critical questions of application than to marinate our hearts in a small portion of the final vision that God gave His son and servant, the apostle John. Of the roughly 1189 chapters in the Bible, there are only four that give us a picture of God’s people and God’s world free from the influence of sin and death — the first two, Genesis 1–2, and the last two, Revelation 21–22. How incredibly awesome — the entire unfolding story of redemption is bracketed by four chapters of sinless wonder! Doesn’t it stand to reason that we should become as familiar as possible with these four chapters in order to understand how we are to live presently under the “new-creation” reign of God’s grace through His Son?
If the kingdom of God is God’s people living in God’s world under God’s rule, then, certainly, we must soak in these consuming and consoling portions of God’s Word to understand what life in the kingdom means for us today as we take our place in the history of redemption. What did God’s unbroken people and cosmos look like before the intrusion of sin and death? What will the glorified people of God and the transformed universe look like with the return of Jesus?
For brevity and specificity, let’s consider the first part of John’s last vision — Revelation 21:1–5.
In these first five verses, the exiled prophet of Christ and servant of the church saw the fulfilment of the two main kingdom commitments God has made through the work of His Son, Jesus: first, the redeeming of a pan-national trans-generational family to love and cherish forever, and, second, the restoration through recreation of God’s fallen and broken cosmos.
John’s vision guarantees us that there is no possibility whatsoever that Jesus will not redeem a people from every single race, tribe, and people group. And there is no possibility whatsoever that Jesus will not make a new heaven and new earth out of the first creation, so tragically marred and marked by sin and death. The God that called Abraham to count stars, sand, and dust will make good on His promise to create and bless a covenant family from all families! The God who gave Isaiah a vision of lambs lying down with wolves, and kings bringing their splendor into a New Jerusalem, and a perfect world of justice, shalom, and the unbroken worship of God forever — He did not lie! He will deliver! To read God’s unfolding story of redemption is to realize that the garden of Eden was just a preview of coming attractions! And the more I ponder John’s last vision the more I am smitten with the hope that one day a new people and new world will emerge that will be like the garden of Eden on mega-steroids!
How was this vision meant to affect the lambs of Christ under John’s care? The same way this vision is meant to affect you and me! Far from turning our churches into “Fort God,” or ingrown communities of petty, privatized, and paranoid followers of Jesus, John’s vision of a gathered people and a glorified universe is meant to free every generation of Christians to “love not our own lives unto death.” It is meant to empower us sacrificially and joyfully to serve the One who reigns now by virtue of His resurrection, and who will reign forever by the reality of His eternal glory.
How then shall we live and love? First, let us seek to bring the hope and the first-fruits of the new heaven and new earth into every sphere of life where God has placed us. Second, let us preach the Gospel with great passion and with humble astonishment. Finally, let us extend the tear-wiping hand of God to the places and people all around us that cry for justice and mercy endlessly. Until that final day, we the people of God are called to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God in this day (Micah 6:8). And we who experience the tear-wiping hand of God in our lives are called to extend it to the least and the lost.
Rev. Scotty Smith is founding pastor of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee
Rev. Scotty Smith Books:
The Children’s Crusade
By R.C. Sproul Jr. 12/1/2007
Context is everything. Consider for a moment the text that gives this column its name. My job here is to take whatever theme the editors have come up with for a given issue, and tie it into the call of Jesus to seek first the kingdom of God. Over the past several years, I have been encouraging us to set aside our petty amusements, to put behind us the distractions of vanity fair, to throw off the sloth that luxuriates in the status quo. Like some spiritual drill sergeant I have been trying to get us to wake up and smell the war and to get to the front lines. We have a battle to win, a great enemy to destroy. We are called to an epic struggle that spans the epochs, from the garden of Eden to the Garden City of the New Jerusalem. We have a kingdom to build.
All of which means that I have missed the context. When Jesus told His students to seek first the kingdom of God, He wasn’t dealing with the problem of complacency. He was not seeking to rouse a bunch of couch potatoes into action. Instead, Jesus was calling on those who were caught up in worry and fear, to set such things aside. Instead, Jesus is seeking to calm anxious hearts and minds, to remind those who are His that they are the children of their Father in heaven. It is our Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.
Jesus makes much the same point in the gospel of Mark. We are all too familiar with the story. Jesus was in Judea, and the multitudes gathered around Him as He taught them. Many among the crowd brought their little children to Jesus, but the disciples rebuked them. Jesus, seeing this, we are told, was greatly displeased. Then He uttered these potent words: “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14). We’ve all seen pictures of this glorious event. We see the children gazing up at the Lord with trust in their eyes. We see the joy and delight in the shining face of Jesus. We walk away, our hearts warmed by the tender love of Jesus toward the little children, and once again, completely miss the point. As touching as this scene is, as moved as we might be by the love of Jesus for the children that were there that day, and toward our own children, what we miss is the reason for all this. We miss the wisdom of Jesus who says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (v. 15).
Jesus’ words present both a stern warning and a delightful invitation. The warning is clear enough. If we will not come as children, we will not come at all. There will be those in the end with their dignity intact, their maturity assured, and their eternity spent on weeping and teeth gnashing. Jesus does not say that if we do not come as children we will be least in the kingdom. He does not say that if we do not come as children we will miss out on joy. He does not say that if we do not come as children then we will lose some degree of fellowship with our Father. He says we will not come at all. We will, by no means, enter into the kingdom.
But there is invitation here as well. We enter into the kingdom as helpless as babies. We enter into the kingdom as needy as babies. We enter into the kingdom as ignorant as babies. We enter into the kingdom as worthless as babies. We enter into the kingdom with nothing in our hands, not even a pacifier. We have no contribution to make and no agenda to follow. We come trusting like a baby, resting like a baby, and laughing like a baby. We enter into the kingdom with eyes wide with wonder.
We were taught to pray by Jesus, to our heavenly Father, that His kingdom would come as His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. We will enter into heaven as children. We bring heaven down to earth as we live our lives as children. We bring heaven down by living now as we will then. In the upside-down economy of the kingdom of God, the call to Christian maturity is the call to immaturity. As we age, as we acquire wisdom, we learn more and more that we know less and less. When we are born, we begin the process of aging, growing closer to death. When we are born again, we begin the process of getting younger, growing closer to life.
God, our Father, has called on us to teach our children well. We are to raise them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, teaching them to observe all that Christ has commanded. We are to instruct them in the way that they should go. We are to speak with them of the things of God when they lie down and when they rise up. We do this, we serve them, the children, because they are our spiritual betters. We teach them, because they are our teachers. May God grant us the grace not merely to suffer the children to come, but suffer ourselves to come as children. For of such is the kingdom of God. The King, remember, entered into His kingdom as a babe. And no servant is greater than his master.
R.C. Sproul Jr. has served previously as a pastor, professor, and teacher. He is author of numerous books. Some are listed below.
R.C. Sproul Jr. Books | Go to Books Page
By Don Carson 5/18/2018
Most Christians have listened to testimonies that relate how some man or woman lived a life of fruitlessness and open degradation, or at least of quiet desperation, before becoming a Christian. Genuine faith in the Lord Christ brought about a personal revolution: old habits destroyed, new friends and commitments established, a new direction to give meaning and orientation. Where there was despair, there is now joy; where there was turmoil, there is now peace; where there was anxiety, there is now some measure of serenity. And some of us who were reared in Christian homes have secretly wondered if perhaps it might have been better if we had been converted out of some rotten background.
That is not the psalmist’s view. “For you have been my hope, O Sovereign LORD, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb” (Ps. 71:5-6). “Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds” (71:17). Indeed, because of this background, the psalmist calmly looks over the intervening years and petitions God for persevering grace into old age: “Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone” (71:9). “But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more” (71:14). “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come” (71:18).
Doubtless particular circumstances were used by God to elicit these words from the psalmist’s pen. Nevertheless, the stance itself is invaluable. The most thoughtful of those who are converted later in life wish they had not wasted so many of their early years. Now that they have found the pearl of great price, their only regret is that they did not find it sooner. More importantly, those who are reared in godly Christian homes are steeped in Scripture from their youth. There is plenty in Scripture and in personal experience to disclose to them the perversity of their own hearts; they do not have to be sociopaths to discover what depravity means. They will be sufficiently ashamed of the sins they have committed, despite their backgrounds, that instead of wishing they could have had a worse background (!), they sometimes hang their head in shame that they have done so little with their advantages, and frankly recognize that apart from the grace of God, there is no crime and sin to which they could not sink.
It is best, by far, to be grateful for a godly heritage and to petition God himself for grace that will see you through old age.
Don Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and co-founder (with Tim Keller) of The Gospel Coalition. He has authored numerous books, and recently edited The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures (Eerdmans, 2016).Don Carson Books | Go to Books Page
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 51Create In Me A Clean Heart
51 To The Choirmaster. A Psalm Of David, When Nathan The Prophet Went To Him, After He Had Gone In To Bathsheba.
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
The Institutes of the Christian Religion
Translated by Henry Beveridge
10. Now seeing that in the sacred assembly all things ought to be done
decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40), there is nothing in which this
ought to be more carefully observed than in settling government,
irregularity in any respect being nowhere more perilous. Wherefore,
lest restless and turbulent men should presumptuously push themselves
forward to teach or rule (an event which actually was to happen), it
was expressly provided that no one should assume a public office in the
Church without a call (Heb. 5:4; Jer. 17:16). Therefore, if any one
would be deemed a true minister of the Church, he must first be duly
called; and, secondly, he must answer to his calling; that is,
undertake and execute the office assigned to him. This may often be
observed in Paul, who, when he would approve his apostleship, almost
always alleges a call, together with his fidelity in discharging the
office. If so great a minister of Christ dares not arrogate to himself
authority to be heard in the Church, unless as having been appointed to
it by the command of his Lord, and faithfully performing what has been
intrusted to him, how great the effrontery for any man, devoid of one
or both of them, to demand for himself such honour. But as we have
already touched on the necessity of executing the office, let us now
treat only of the call.
11. The subject is comprehended under four heads--viz. who are to be appointed ministers, in what way, by whom, and with what rite or initiatory ceremony. I am speaking of the external and formal call which relates to the public order of the Church, while I say nothing of that secret call of which every minister is conscious before God, but has not the Church as a witness of it; I mean, the good testimony of our heart, that we undertake the offered office neither from ambition nor avarice, nor any other selfish feeling, but a sincere fear of God and desire to edify the Church. This, as I have said, is indeed necessary for every one of us, if we would approve our ministry to God. Still, however, a man may have been duly called by the Church, though he may have accepted with a bad conscience, provided his wickedness is not manifest. It is usual also to say, that private men are called to the ministry when they seem fit and apt to discharge it; that is, because learning, conjoined with piety and the other endowments of a good pastor, is a kind of preparation for the office. For those whom the Lord has destined for this great office he previously provides with the armour which is requisite for the discharge of it, that they may not come empty and unprepared. Hence Paul, in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, when treating of the offices, first enumerates the gifts in which those who performed the offices ought to excel. But as this is the first of the four heads which I mentioned, let us now proceed to it.
12. What persons should be elected bishops is treated at length by Paul in two passages (Tit. 1:7; 1 Tim. 3:1). The substance is, that none are to be chosen save those who are of sound doctrine and holy lives, and not notorious for any defect which might destroy their authority and bring disgrace on the ministry. The description of deacons and elders is entirely similar (see chapter 4 sec. 10-13). We must always take care that they are not unfit for or unequal to the burden imposed upon them; in other words, that they are provided with the means which will be necessary to fulfil their office. Thus our Saviour, when about to send his apostles, provided them with the arms and instruments which were indispensably requisite.  And Paul, after portraying the character of a good and genuine bishop, admonishes Timothy not to contaminate himself by choosing an improper person for the office. The expression, in what way, I use not in reference to the rite of choosing, but only to the religious fear which is to be observed in election. Hence the fastings and prayers which Luke narrates that the faithful employed when they elected presbyters (Acts 14:23). For, understanding that the business was the most serious in which they could engage, they did not venture to act without the greatest reverence and solicitude. But above all, they were earnest in prayer, imploring from God the spirit of wisdom and discernment.
13. The third division which we have adopted is, by whom ministers are to be chosen. A certain rule on this head cannot be obtained from the appointment of the apostles, which was somewhat different from the common call of others. As theirs was an extraordinary ministry, in order to render it conspicuous by some more distinguished mark, those who were to discharge it behoved to be called and appointed by the mouth of the Lord himself. It was not, therefore, by any human election, but at the sole command of God and Christ, that they prepared themselves for the work. Hence, when the apostles were desirous to substitute another in the place of Judas, they did not venture to nominate any one certainly, but brought forward two, that the Lord might declare by lot which of them he wished to succeed (Acts 1:23). In this way we ought to understand Paul's declaration, that he was made an apostle, "not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father" (Gal. 1:1). The former--viz. not of men--he had in common with all the pious ministers of the word, for no one could duly perform the office unless called by God. The other was proper and peculiar to him. And while he glories in it, he boasts that he had not only what pertains to a true and lawful pastor, but he also brings forward the insignia of his apostleship. For when there were some among the Galatians who, seeking to disparage his authority, represented him as some ordinary disciple, substituted in place of the primary apostles, he, in order to maintain unimpaired the dignity of his ministry, against which he knew that these attempts were made, felt it necessary to show that he was in no respect inferior to the other apostles. Accordingly, he affirms that he was not chosen by the judgment of men, like some ordinary bishop, but by the mouth and manifest oracle of the Lord himself.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library / Public Domain
Institutes of the Christian Religion
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
5/1/2009 Complacent Repentance
I love to hear stories about our faithful forefathers in ages past, and while it may be mere legend, I have heard that the great nineteenth-century British pastor Charles Spurgeon posted a sign on the door of his study. Each time he passed through the door of his study he could not avoid seeing the sign, which read: “Perhaps today.” It was his way of reminding himself that Jesus could return any day. So Spurgeon lived, prayed, and preached — eagerly and expectantly.
Whether or not Spurgeon had a favorite passage of Scripture I do not know, and although I haven’t yet felt the overwhelming inclination to have a “life verse,” I will admit that I do have a favorite prayer from the pages of sacred Scripture. The short prayer is found at the end of the book of Revelation. It is John’s prayer after he hears Jesus’ promise: “Surely I am coming quickly,” to which John responds, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20). I echo this prayer constantly, for there is not a day that passes that I do not long to be present with the Lord and completely free from the world, the flesh, and the Devil.
Nevertheless, we must not think that John’s prayer is a petition of desperation. It is first and foremost a prayer of eager longing and future hope. Such a prayer does not emerge from sin-calloused hearts and self-consumed minds but from Spirit-enflamed hearts and Spirit-renewed minds that have been awakened by the voice of the same Spirit who summoned the seven churches of Revelation, calling Christians to repent, endure to the end, and return to their first love.
Two thousand years later, we still need to hear precisely this same message. The church at the beginning of the twenty-first century is not eager to repent because we are not eager for the return of Christ. What is more, the church is not eager for the return of Christ because we are not eager to repent. Pastors barely mention the return of Christ. Those who speak about the second coming are labeled fanatics, and those who would dare pray for Christ’s return are considered theologically unrefined or eschatologically unenlightened. From the full revelation of God, we can be comforted that one day we will no longer see through a glass darkly but will dwell with Him finally and fully, coram Deo, before His face, and at His throne, having finally conquered the world, the flesh, and the Devil (Rev. 3:21).
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Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., a visiting lecturer at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is editor of John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology.
Ligonier coram Deo (definition)
by Bill Federer
On May 18, 1920, in a small town in Poland, Karol Wojtyla was born. He became a chemical worker during World War II, risked punishment from the communists by becoming a priest and in 1978, became Pope John Paul II. Speaking seven languages, and traveling more than any other pontiff, he survived an assassination attempt in 1981 by a Turkish national. Greeted by Bill Clinton as he arrived in Denver, Pope John Paul said: "In spite of divisions among Christians, 'all those justified by faith through baptism are incorporated into Christ… brothers and sisters in the Lord.' "
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
God's promises are like the stars;
the darker the night
the brighter they shine.
--- David Nicholas
The Little Book About God
In nature we see where God has been.
In our fellow man,
we see where He is still at work.
--- Robert Brault www.robertbrault.com
My God, what is a heart,
that thou shouldst it so eye, and woo,
Pouring upon it all thy art,
As if thou hadst nothing else to do?
Teach me thy love to know,
that his new light, which now I see,
May both the work and the workman show;
Then by a sunbeam I will climb to thee.
--- George Herbert
Herbert: The Complete English Works (Everyman's Library)
Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.
--- Rabbi H. Schachtel
The real enjoyment of living
... from here, there and everywhere
Thomas A Kempis
Book Four - An Invitation To Holy Communion
The Tenth Chapter / Do Not Lightly Forego Holy Communion
THE VOICE OF CHRIST
YOU must often return to the source of grace and divine mercy, to the fountain of goodness and perfect purity, if you wish to be free from passion and vice, if you desire to be made stronger and more watchful against all the temptations and deceits of the devil.
The enemy, knowing the great good and the healing power of Holy Communion, tries as much as he can by every manner and means to hinder and keep away the faithful and the devout. Indeed, there are some who suffer the worst assaults of Satan when disposing themselves to prepare for Holy Communion. As it is written in Job, this wicked spirit comes among the sons of God to trouble them by his wonted malice, to make them unduly fearful and perplexed, that thus he may lessen their devotion or attack their faith to such an extent that they perhaps either forego Communion altogether or receive with little fervor.
No attention, however, must be paid to his cunning wiles, no matter how base and horrible—all his suggestions must be cast back upon his head. The wretch is to be despised and scorned. Holy Communion must not be passed by because of any assaults from him or because of the commotion he may arouse.
Oftentimes, also, too great solicitude for devotion and anxiety about confession hinder a person. Do as wise men do. Cast off anxiety and scruple, for it impedes the grace of God and destroys devotion of the mind.
Do not remain away from Holy Communion because of a small trouble or vexation but go at once to confession and willingly forgive all others their offenses. If you have offended anyone, humbly seek pardon and God will readily forgive you.
What good is it to delay confession for a long time or to put off Holy Communion? Cleanse yourself at once, spit out the poison quickly. Make haste to apply the remedy and you will find it better than if you had waited a long time. If you put it off today because of one thing, perhaps tomorrow a greater will occur to you, and thus you will stay away from Communion for a long time and become even more unfit.
Shake off this heaviness and sloth as quickly as you can, for there is no gain in much anxiety, in enduring long hours of trouble, and in depriving yourself of the divine Mysteries because of these daily disturbances. Yes, it is very hurtful to defer Holy Communion long, for it usually brings on a lazy spiritual sleep.
How sad that some dissolute and lax persons are willing to postpone confession and likewise wish to defer Holy Communion, lest they be forced to keep a stricter watch over themselves! Alas, how little love and devotion have they who so easily put off Holy Communion!
How happy and acceptable to God is he who so lives, and keeps his conscience so pure, as to be ready and well disposed to communicate, even every day if he were permitted, and if he could do so unnoticed.
If, now and then, a man abstains by the grace of humility or for a legitimate reason, his reverence is commendable, but if laziness takes hold of him, he must arouse himself and do everything in his power, for the Lord will quicken his desire because of the good intention to which He particularly looks. When he is indeed unable to come, he will always have the good will and pious intention to communicate and thus he will not lose the fruit of the Sacrament.
Any devout person may at any hour on any day receive Christ in spiritual communion profitably and without hindrance. Yet on certain days and times appointed he ought to receive with affectionate reverence the Body of his Redeemer in this Sacrament, seeking the praise and honor of God rather than his own consolation.
For as often as he devoutly calls to mind the mystery and passion of the Incarnate Christ, and is inflamed with love for Him, he communicates mystically and is invisibly refreshed.
He who prepares himself only when festivals approach or custom demands, will often find himself unprepared. Blessed is he who offers himself a sacrifice to the Lord as often as he celebrates or communicates.
Be neither too slow nor too fast in celebrating but follow the good custom common to those among whom you are. You ought not to cause others inconvenience or trouble, but observe the accepted rule as laid down by superiors, and look to the benefit of others rather than to your own devotion or inclination.
The Imitation Of Christ
Thanks to Meir Yona
WAR PREFACE FOOTNOTES
1 [ I have already observed more than once, that this History of the Jewish War was Josephus's first work, and published about A.D. 75, when he was but thirty-eight years of age; and that when he wrote it, he was not thoroughly acquainted with several circumstances of history from the days of Antiochus Epiphanes, with which it begins, till near his own times, contained in the first and former part of the second book, and so committed many involuntary errors therein. That he published his Antiquities eighteen years afterward, in the thirteenth year of Domitian, A.D. 93, when he was much more completely acquainted with those ancient times, and after he had perused those most authentic histories, the First Book of Maccabees, and the Chronicles of the Priesthood of John Hyrcanus, etc. That accordingly he then reviewed those parts of this work, and gave the public a more faithful, complete, and accurate account of the facts therein related; and honestly corrected the errors he had before run into.]
2 [ Who these Upper Barbarians, remote from the sea, were, Josephus himself will inform us, sect. 2, viz. the Parthians and Babylonians, and remotest Arabians [of the Jews among them]; besides the Jews beyond Euphrates, and the Adiabeni, or Assyrians. Whence we also learn that these Parthians, Babylonians, the remotest Arabians, [or at least the Jews among them,] as also the Jews beyond Euphrates, and the Adiabeni, or Assyrians, understood Josephus's Hebrew, or rather Chaldaic, books of The Jewish War, before they were put into the Greek language.]
3 [ That these calamities of the Jews, who were our Savior's murderers, were to be the greatest that had ever been seen the beginning of the world, our Savior had directly foretold, Matthew 24:21; Mark 13:19; Luke 21:23, 24; and that they proved to be such accordingly, Josephus is here a most authentic witness.]
4 [ Titus.]
5 [ These seven, or rather five, degrees of purity, or purification, are enumerated hereafter, B. V. ch. 5. sect. 6. The Rabbins make ten degrees of them, as Reland there informs us.]
by D.H. Stern
7 Fine speech is unbecoming to a boor,
and even less lying lips to a leader.
8 A bribe works like a charm,
in the view of him who gives it ---
wherever it turns, it succeeds.
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
Behold the fowls of the air …
consider the lilies of the field. --- Matthew 6:26, 28.
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they simply are! Think of the sea, the air, the sun, the stars and the moon—all these are, and what a ministration they exert. So often we mar God’s designed influence through us by our self-conscious effort to be consistent and useful. Jesus says that there is only one way to develop spiritually, and that is by concentration on God. ‘Do not bother about being of use to others, believe on Me’—pay attention to the Source, and out of you will flow rivers of living water. We cannot get at the springs of our natural life by common sense, and Jesus is teaching that growth in spiritual life does not depend on our watching it, but on concentration on our Father in heaven. Our heavenly Father knows the circumstances we are in, and if we keep concentrated on Him we will grow spiritually as the lilies.
The people who influence us most are not those who buttonhole us and talk to us, but those who live their lives like the stars in heaven and the lilies in the field, perfectly simply and unaffectedly. Those are the lives that mould us.
If you want to be of use to God, get rightly related to Jesus Christ and He will make you of use unconsciously every minute you live.
My Utmost for His Highest
the Poetry of RS Thomas
Beasts rearing from green slime—
an illiterate country, unable to read
its own name. Stones moved into position
on the hills’ sides; snakes laid their eggs
in their cold shadow. The earth suffered
the sky’s shrapnel, bled yellow
into the enraged sea. At night heavily
over the heaving forests the moon
sagged. The ancestors of the tigers
brightened their claws. Such sounds
as there were came from the strong
torn by the stronger. The dawn tilted
an unpolished mirror for the runt mind
to look at itself in without recognition.
I shall not be here,
and the way things are going
now won’t want to be.
Wheels go no faster
than what pulls them. That land
visible over the sea
in clear weather, they say
we will get there some time
soon and take possession
of it. What then? More acres
to cultivate and no markets
for the crops.
are not what they were,
smirking at the auspices
of the entrails. Some think
there will be a revival.
I don’t believe it. This
plucked music has come
to stay. The natural breathing
of the pipes was to
a different god. Imagine
depending on the intestines
of a polecat for accompaniment
to one’s worship! I have
attended at the sacrifice
of the language that is the liturgy
the priests like, and felt
the draught that was God
leaving. I think some day
there will be nothing left
but to go back to the place
I came from and wrap
myself in the memory
of how I was young
once and under the covenant
of that God not given to folly.
They were bearded
like the sea they came
from; rang stone bells
for their stone hearers.
Their cells fitted them
like a coffin.
Out of them their prayers
flowers where weeds
grew. Their dry bread
broke like a bone.
Wine in the cup
was a blood-stained mirror
for sinners to look
into with one eye
closed, and see themselves forgiven.
I was my lord’s bard,
telling again sweetly
what had been done bloodily.
We lived in a valley;
he had no lady.
Fame was our horizon.
In the spring of the year
the wind brought the news
of a woman’s beauty.
Her eyes were still stones
in her smooth-running hair.
Her voice was the birds’ envy.
We made a brave foray;
the engagement was furious.
We came back alone.
Sing me, my lord said,
the things nearer home:
my falcons, my horse.
I did so, he listened.
My harp was of fire;
the notes bounced like sparks
off his spirit’s anvil.
To-morrow, he promised,
we will ride forth again.
And the brittle gardens
of Dinorwig, deep
in the fallen petals of
their slate flowers: such the autumn
of a people! Whose spring
is it sleeps in a glass
bulb, ready to astonish us
with its brilliance? Bring
on the dancing girls
of the future, the swaying
pylons with their metal
hair bickering towards England.
Selected Poems, 1946-68
A personal ad in the newspaper reads: "Professional woman, 32, never-married, non-smoker, 5'2", seeking man for romantic candlelight dinners, walks on the beach at sunset, cruises under a full moon, fireworks and violins every time we kiss." It's a dream that many of us have at one time or another, encouraged and sustained by romance novels and movies. In life, however, it is very rare that such dreams become reality. We have to wonder if the idyllic, impossible expectations that we have for love and romance don't somehow contribute to the terrible disappointments, unhappy marriages, and high divorce rates that are so common today.
Imagine another personal ad: "Man seeking woman willing to put up with: my sometimes forgetting to put the toilet seat down; Sundays in front of the TV watching football; occasional burping out loud; leaving wet towels on the bathroom floor; and my being able to walk by a sink full of dirty dishes without washing them." One cannot imagine many people being attracted to that description. The irony is, however, that it is much closer to everyday reality than the first one is.
The anonymous author of our maxim reminds us that true love is not dependent upon the superficial things that popular culture always associates it with. We do not fall in love because of moonlight or violins. We fall in love with a real person, one with imperfections, faults, and weaknesses. If we are blessed with such a love, then we are able, together, to overcome the obstacles and problems that beset every relationship. A man and a woman in love are somehow able to manage even when poverty gives them a little more room than "the edge of a sword"; they are able to survive if they are in the precarious predicament of "lying on the razor-sharp edge of a blade." For two people for whom love has died, the seductive atmosphere of a roaring fireplace or of a tropical island is not enough to rekindle romance. For two people who care deeply for one another, even the edge of a sword is enough space—so long as they are together.
A person is related to himself.
Text / Rav Yosef said: "If the husband brought witnesses that she was adulterous, and her father brought witnesses that his witnesses conspired, the husband's witnesses are slain, and no money is paid. If the husband returns with witnesses that the father's witnesses conspired, the father's witnesses are slain; they pay money to this one and capital punishment to them." Rav Yosef also said: " 'So-and-so sodomized him,' he and another combine to slay him. 'It was consensual,' he is evil, and the Torah says: 'You shall not join […] a malicious witness [Exodus 23:1]." Rava said: "A person is related to himself, and a person cannot incriminate himself."
Context / The tractate Sanhedrin deals with matters of testimony. For capital cases, two corroborating witnesses are needed, based on the verse from Deuteronomy 17:6: "A person shall be put to death only on the testimony of two or more witnesses." But what if the witnesses conspire to give false testimony? Such witnesses are called edim zommemim, "scheming witnesses." The Torah requires the conspiring witnesses to receive the punishment they sought to inflict, in this case, death. "If a man appears against another to testify maliciously and gives false testimony against him, the two parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests or magistrates in authority at the time, and the magistrates shall make a thorough investigation. If the man who testified is a false witness, if he has testified falsely against his fellow, you shall do to him as he schemed to do to his fellow. Thus you will sweep out evil from your midst; others will hear and be afraid, and such evil things will not again be done in your midst. Nor must you show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot." (Deuteronomy 19:16–21)
A husband brings charges of adultery against his wife, with accompanying witnesses. This case differs from the biblical ordeal of Sotah where the husband has only suspicions, but no witnesses. A second set of witnesses is brought by the wife's father; they charge the husband's witnesses with conspiracy and falsehood. The husband's false witnesses receive the death penalty, the punishment that would have been imposed upon the wife had their (false) testimony been accepted. In this case, the wife does not receive the usual compensation of the money listed in her ketubbah, or marriage agreement. Thus, "no money is paid" to the wife, because this would be a second punishment for the same crime.
However, what happens if a third set of witnesses is brought by the husband? They testify that the wife's father's set of witnesses, the second set, were lying. Thus, we have a first set of witnesses charging adultery, a second set testifying that the first set conspired to lie, and a third set asserting that the second set is itself lying! In such a scenario, the conspiring second set is sentenced to death and pays the wife money for her ketubbah. Each of these is considered a separate punishment, one for a wrong committed against the first set of witnesses (falsely accusing them of lying), one for a wrong against the wife (falsely accusing her of adultery).
Homosexual rape ("So-and-so sodomized him") is also a capital crime and, thus, requires two witnesses. In this instance, the victim-accuser and a second witness together become a set to testify against the accused. This is the meaning of "he (the accuser) and another (an independent witness) combine." The language "So-and-so sodomized him" may simply be the Talmud's polite way of saying "So-and-so sodomized me." The accuser uses the third person to depersonalize a painful charge.
But what if the accused answers: "This was not rape, but a consensual act!"? In this case, we apply Rava's rule against self-incrimination. Since homosexual acts, whether consensual or forced, are themselves prohibited by traditional Jewish law, the accused's answer—"It was not forced but by mutual consent"—is ipso facto invalid. In so testifying, he is admitting to a wrongdoing. Just as one may not testify either for or against a relative in court, one may not testify against himself in a court, for "a person is related to himself, and a person cannot incriminate himself." Later commentators will limit this principle to capital crimes, while in financial matters, one can self-incriminate. Nonetheless, the testimony "It was consensual" is invalid.
The verse from Exodus—"You shall not join […] a malicious witness"—is creatively misquoted by the Gemara. The full verse from Exodus 23 (in translation) is:
You must not carry false rumors; you shall not join hands with the guilty to act as a malicious witness.
The Gemara has left out parts of the verse: "You shall not join [hands with the guilty to act as] a malicious witness" (Exodus 23:1). Rashi, knowing that the Gemara has used the term "and the Torah says" without giving the exact verse, comments succinctly in an apparent apologetic: "As it is written, 'You shall not join hands etc.' "
Swimming in the Sea of Talmud: Lessons for Everyday Living
David's stunning victory over Goliath brought its reward. David was taken into the household of Saul. There David had already established a reputation as the sweet singer of Israel, for his musical talents had soothed Saul, who was subject to demonic oppression (1 Samuel 16:14–15, 23). Saul's question to Abner after David killed Goliath, "Whose son is that young man?" doesn't suggest that Saul did not know his young harpist. Saul's question concerned David's family line, as David's answer reveals: "I am the son of your servant Jesse of Bethlehem" (1 Samuel 17:58).
But now David was given military command. Already jealous because of the people's praise of David for his victory over Goliath, Saul tried to kill David
(1 Samuel 18:10–11).
But as a commander, David had a continuing series of stunning successes (1 Samuel 18:12–16). Finally Saul devised a plot to have David killed by the Philistines. Saul sent David into enemy territory, promising his daughter Michal would become David's wife if he succeeded. David carried out the "impossible" mission, and a disgruntled Saul fulfilled his part of the bargain.
1 Samuel 19 and 20 tell of David's growing friendship with Jonathan, Saul's son. Jonathan knew God intended David to be king. The generous Jonathan gladly accepted God's will, and allied himself with David against his father. Finally the situation deteriorated so much that David was forced to flee for his life.
This was a time of intense strain for David. He knew great swings of emotion, as his situation alternated between times of public adulation, and periods when he lived as a fugitive. Psalm 59 tells us of David's feelings during this period, as he swings from fear to anger to hope. The psalm begins:
Deliver me from my enemies, O my God;
protect me from those who rise up against me.
Deliver me from those evildoers
and save me from bloodthirsty men.
--- Psalm 59:1–2
Soon David's anger was aroused by the injustice of it all.
Arise to help me; look on my plight.
O Lord God Almighty,
the God of Israel, rouse Yourself
to punish all the nations;
show no mercy to wicked traitors.
--- Psalm 59:4–5
It seemed incomprehensible to David that God would let his enemies do such things to him. In fact, David was rather upset at the Lord for permitting it!
However, David found the strength to endure the growing pressure by reminding himself of who the Lord is, and by reaffirming his trust in God.
I will sing of Your strength …
for You are my fortress,
my refuge in times of trouble.
O my Strength,
I will sing praise to You;
You, O God, are my fortress, my loving God.
--- Psalm 59:16–17
David had been anointed king by Samuel. But Saul ruled. David was not ready yet: he had to undergo further testing. Like his descendant, Jesus, David had to learn "obedience from what He suffered" (Hebrews 5:8).
God uses stress in this way in all our lives. He does not rebuke our feelings of frustration or fear, or even anger. But God wants us to learn to bring our feelings and needs to Him, and to let the times of testing do their character-building work.
The Teacher's Commentary
Judaism in the Land of Israel
The one God had entered into a covenant with Abraham, the ancestor of the Jews and, later, with his descendants, the people of Israel. The covenant remained valid and binding; it not only defined a relationship between YHWH and his people but also took the concrete form of stipulating the way of life that the descendants of Abraham were to follow in order to remain in covenantal fellowship with him. The most specific form of that definition was the Law of Moses, which therefore had to be obeyed and interpreted as new situations arose. Among the laws that regulated the covenantal behavior of Jewish people, several stood out as particularly important and known to non-Jews: an aniconic worship of the one God and rejection of all other deities and idols associated with them, Sabbath observance, circumcision, food laws, festivals, and separation from others because of the theological danger of intermarriage and impurity.
The history of the covenantal relationship that obtained between God and Israel took on special importance as evidence of divine election and guidance and as a source of lessons to be learned about the consequences of obedience or disobedience. Covenant violation was regarded as the root cause for catastrophes such as the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple; the wise could learn from such instances and act accordingly. Amid disaster, Jews entertained hopes for a restoration of grander times; one such hope was for a messianic leader from David’s line.
With the loss of the center—Jerusalem and the Temple—in 70 C.E. and carnage and loss throughout the land, an era in Jewish history ended and a new one began. Of necessity, the leadership of the nation changed, with no Jewish political leader and no class of priests in influential positions, but so rich was the heritage of Judaism that other aspects of it came to the fore as it moved into the age of the Tannaim and their work. Even the brutal Roman quashing of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132–135 C.E.), another disaster for the land and its populace, did not prevent the Jewish people from surviving, from continuing to believe in the one God, and from adhering to the covenant and the way of life entailed in it.
The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism
One day Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for?” --- Ruth 3:1.
Two words in the chapter call for detailed explanation. (The Book of Ruth (A Devotional Commentary) ) The first [is] menuchah. Naomi said to Ruth, “My daughter, should I not try to find a home [or place of rest, safety] for you, where you will be well provided for?”
The position of an unmarried woman in the ancient world was both perilous and unhappy. Only in the house of a husband was a woman sure of safety, respect, honor. And consequently the Hebrews spoke of the husband’s home as the woman’s menuchah, or place of rest, her secure haven from servitude, neglect, and license.
In like manner, they regarded a hereditary possession of land as the menuchah, or rest, of a nation. Thus Moses said to the children of Israel, “You have not yet reached the resting place [menuchah] and the inheritance the LORD your God is giving you” (Deut. 12:9); they had no haven of repose and freedom, no settled and well-defended inheritance.
King Solomon was the first Hebrew chieftain who could bless God for the gift of complete “rest” to his people. He could thankfully acknowledge that the land had become the secure inheritance of the Hebrew race. And hence, at the opening of the temple, he said, “Praise be to the LORD, who has given rest [menuchah] to his people Israel just as he promised” (1 Kings 8:56).
The prophets rose to a still higher conception of and use of the word. For them, God was the true rest, or menuchah, of humankind. And hence they predicted that when God came, in the person of the Messiah, Paradise would return and the whole world would enter into its true menuchah, its final and glorious “rest.” When the Messiah came, he invited the weary and burdened to come to him, on the express ground that he was their rest, that in and with him they would find such a haven of freedom and honorable repose as the Hebrew wife found in her husband’s home, such a rest as the Hebrew race found in the Promised Land when it was wholly their own—no, such a rest as the prophets had taught them to look and hope for only in God.
Naomi sets herself, with courage and hope, to find a menuchah, a haven of rest and honor, for the daughter who had clung to her with a love so rare.
--- Samuel Cox
Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers
He Just Persisted May 18
We often rush when we should plod, forgetting that we usually accomplish more by persisting than by hurrying. Sheldon Jackson was born on May 18, 1834 in the Mohawk Valley of New York. When he was four his parents dedicated him to God’s service, and his ambition from youth was to be a missionary.
After graduating from Princeton Theological Seminary, he joined the thousands trekking to the American West. Most were searching for gold, land, and open skies. Wagon trains were leaving St. Louis daily. The golden spike tied East to West in 1866 as the Union Pacific Railway opened. Boom towns arose. Cowboys and mining camps, rowdy saloons and gunfighters filled the frontier. Jackson was everywhere, searching for souls with the fervor of a prairie fire. He once organized seven churches in 15 days.
He stood just over five feet tall, but his size, he said, allowed him to sleep anywhere. His bed was a stagecoach floor, a saloon loft, a hollow log, a teepee, a canoe. Someone described him as “short, bewhiskered, bespectacled, but a giant.” And his field was immense. He served as superintendent of Presbyterian missions from New Mexico to Minnesota.
When the United States purchased Alaska, he headed there at once, and the North soon became his passion. He explored the dangerous, uncharted fog-hidden coasts of the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean. He established schools for the young and placed missionaries in the hamlets. He evangelized, established churches, and brought Bibles to the Eskimos. He worried that explorers and exploiters were slaughtering whales and seals, depriving Eskimos of their natural food supplies. So, braving criticism and ridicule, Sheldon raised $2,000 and brought reindeer from Siberia. Soon great herds were providing transportation, food, clothing, and livelihood for the people.
Sheldon made 26 trips to Alaska, and during 50 years of ministry he traveled a million miles through the West and North. He oversaw the establishing of 886 churches. Few men have ever so planted the Christian faith over such a wide area. His secret? His friends simply explained, “He never hurried. He just persisted.”
A messenger you can trust is just as refreshing As cool water in summer. Broken promises are worse than rain clouds That don’t bring rain. Patience and gentle talk can convince a ruler And overcome any problem.
--- Proverbs 25:13-15.
On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - May 18
“In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him.” --- Colossians 2:9, 10.
All the attributes of Christ, as God and man, are at our disposal. All the fulness of the Godhead, whatever that marvellous term may comprehend, is ours to make us complete. He cannot endow us with the attributes of Deity; but he has done all that can be done, for he has made even his divine power and Godhead subservient to our salvation. His omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, immutability and infallibility, are all combined for our defence. Arise, believer, and behold the Lord Jesus yoking the whole of his divine Godhead to the chariot of salvation! How vast his grace, how firm his faithfulness, how unswerving his immutability, how infinite his power, how limitless his knowledge! All these are by the Lord Jesus made the pillars of the temple of salvation; and all, without diminution of their infinity, are covenanted to us as our perpetual inheritance. The fathomless love of the Saviour’s heart is every drop of it ours; every sinew in the arm of might, every jewel in the crown of majesty, the immensity of divine knowledge, and the sternness of divine justice, all are ours, and shall be employed for us. The whole of Christ, in his adorable character as the Son of God, is by himself made over to us most richly to enjoy. His wisdom is our direction, his knowledge our instruction, his power our protection, his justice our surety, his love our comfort, his mercy our solace, and his immutability our trust. He makes no reserve, but opens the recesses of the Mount of God and bids us dig in its mines for the hidden treasures. “All, all, all are yours,” saith he, “be ye satisfied with favour and full of the goodness of the Lord.” Oh! how sweet thus to behold Jesus, and to call upon him with the certain confidence that in seeking the interposition of his love or power, we are but asking for that which he has already faithfully promised.
Evening - May 18
“Afterward.” --- Hebrews 12:11.
How happy are tried Christians, afterwards. No calm more deep than that which succeeds a storm. Who has not rejoiced in clear shinings after rain? Victorious banquets are for well-exercised soldiers. After killing the lion we eat the honey; after climbing the Hill Difficulty, we sit down in the arbour to rest; after traversing the Valley of Humiliation, after fighting with Apollyon, the shining one appears, with the healing branch from the tree of life. Our sorrows, like the passing keels of the vessels upon the sea, leave a silver line of holy light behind them “afterwards.” It is peace, sweet, deep peace, which follows the horrible turmoil which once reigned in our tormented, guilty souls. See, then, the happy estate of a Christian! He has his best things last, and he therefore in this world receives his worst things first. But even his worst things are “afterward” good things, harsh ploughings yielding joyful harvests. Even now he grows rich by his losses, he rises by his falls, he lives by dying, and becomes full by being emptied; if, then, his grievous afflictions yield him so much peaceable fruit in this life, what shall be the full vintage of joy “afterwards” in heaven? If his dark nights are as bright as the world’s days, what shall his days be? If even his starlight is more splendid than the sun, what must his sunlight be? If he can sing in a dungeon, how sweetly will he sing in heaven! If he can praise the Lord in the fires, how will he extol him before the eternal throne! If evil be good to him now, what will the overflowing goodness of God be to him then? Oh, blessed “afterward!” Who would not be a Christian? Who would not bear the present cross for the crown which cometh afterwards? But herein is work for patience, for the rest is not for to-day, nor the triumph for the present, but “afterward.” Wait, O soul, and let patience have her perfect work.
Morning and Evening
SPIRIT OF GOD, DESCEND UPON MY HEART
George Croly, 1780–1860
Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord Almighty. (Zechariah 4:6)
Although it is always thrilling at Christmas to recall the events of our Savior’s birth, or at Easter to celebrate His triumph over death, we must not forget Ascension or Pentecost. If Christ had never ascended to make intercession for us or had never sent the Holy Spirit to indwell and guide us, our relationship with the heavenly Father would be most incomplete.
One of the finest of all hymns for the Pentecost season is “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart.” It was written by Anglican minister George Croly, who was known among his associates as a “fundamentalist in theology, a fierce conservative in politics, and intensely opposed to all forms of liberalism.” The hymn first appeared in 1854 in Croly’s own hymnal, Psalms and Hymns for Public Worship. It was originally titled “Holiness Desired.”
Each stanza contributes an important truth for our spiritual benefit:
Stanza One— A desire to change the focus of one’s life from things temporal to things spiritual.
Spirit of God, descend upon my heart: Wean it from earth, through all its pulses move. Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art, and make me love Thee as I ought to love.
Stanza Two— The total dedication of one’s self to God.
Hast Thou not bid us love Thee, God and King? All, all Thine own—soul, heart and strength and mind. I see Thy cross—there teach my heart to cling: O let me seek Thee, and O let me find.
Stanza Three— A prayerful concern for knowing fully the Spirit’s abiding presence.
Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh; teach me the struggles of the soul to bear—to check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh; teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.
Stanza Four— A most beautiful metaphor of a Spirit-filled life: “my heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.”
Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love, one holy passion filling all my frame: The baptism of the heav’n descended Dove—my heart an altar and Thy love the flame.
For Today: Psalm 51:10, 11; John 15:26; Romans 5:5; 8:1–4; Ephesians 4:29, 30.
Pray even now that the Holy Spirit will give you a greater love and devotion for Christ and will teach and personalize more fully the truths of this hymn. Carry this musical prayer as you go ---
Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions
Martin Luther | (1483-1546)
Sect. XXVIII. — AT your entrance, then, upon the disputation, you promise — ‘that you will go according to the Canonical Scriptures: and that, because Luther is swayed by the authority of no other writer whatever’ —
Very well! I receive your promise! But however, you do not make the promise on this account, because you judge that these same writers are of no service to your subject; but that you might not enter upon a field of labour in vain. For you do not, I know, quite approve of this audacity of mine, or, by what other term soever you choose to designate this my mode of discussion.
For you say — ‘so great a number of the most learned men, approved by the consent of so many ages, has no little weight with you. Among whom were, some of the most extensively acquainted with the sacred writings, and also some of the most holy martyrs, many renowned for miracles, together with the more recent theologians, and so many colleges, councils, bishops, and popes: so that, in a word, on your side of the balance are (you say) learning, genius, multitude, greatness, highness, fortitude, sanctity, miracles, and what not! — But that, on my side, are only a Wycliffe and a Laurentius Valla (although Augustine also, whom you pass by, is wholly on my side), who in comparison with the others, are of no weight whatever; that Luther, therefore, stands alone, a private individual, an upstart, with his followers, in whom there is neither that learning nor that genius, nor multitude, nor magnitude, nor sanctity, nor miracles. ‘For they have not ability enough (you say) to cure a lame horse. They make a show of Scripture, indeed; concerning which, however, they are as much in doubt as those on the other side of the question. They boast of the Spirit also, which however, they never show forth.’ — And many other things, which, from the length of your tongue, you are able to enumerate in great profusion. But these things have no effect upon us, for we say to you, as the wolf did to the nightingale, which he devoured, “You are Sound, and that’s all!” — “They say (you observe,) and upon this only, they would have us believe them.”
I confess, my friend Erasmus, that you may well be swayed by all these. These had such weight with me for upwards of ten years, that I think no other mortal was ever so much under their sway. And I myself thought it incredible that this Troy of ours, which had for so long a time, and through so many wars stood invincible, could ever be taken. And I call God for a record upon my soul, that I should have continued so, and have been under the same influence even unto this day, had not an urging conscience and an evidence of things, forced me into a different path. And you may easily imagine that my heart was not of stone; and that, if it had been of stone, it would at least have been softened in struggling against so many tides, and being dashed to and fro by so many waves, when I was daring that, which, if I accomplished, I saw that the whole authority of those whom you have just enumerated, would be poured down upon my head like an overwhelming flood.
But this is not a time for setting forth a history of my own life or works; nor have I undertaken this discussion for the purpose of commending myself, but that I might exalt the grace of God. What I am, and with what spirit and design I have been led to these things, I leave to Him who knows, that all this is carrying on according to his own Free-will, not according to mine: though even the world itself ought to have found that out already. And certainly, by this Exordium of yours, you throw me into a very offensive situation, out of which, unless I speak in favour of myself, and to the disparagement of so many fathers, I shall not easily extricate myself. But I will do it in a few words. — According to your own judgment of me, then, I stand apart from all such learning, talents, multitude, authority, and every thing else of the kind.
Now, if I were to demand of you these three things, What is the Manifestation of the Spirit? What are Miracles? What is Sanctification? As far as I have known you from your letters and books, you would appear so great a novice and ignoramus that you would not be able to give three syllables of explanation. Or, if I should put it to you closely, and demand of you, which one among all those of whom you boast, you could to a certainty bring forth, either as being or having been a saint, or as having possessed the Spirit, or as having wrought miracles, I apprehend you would have hot work of it, and all in vain. You bring forth many things that have been handed about in common use and in public sermons; but you do not credit, how much of their weight and authority they lose, when they are brought to the judgment of conscience. There is an old proverb, “Many were accounted saints on earth, whose souls are now in hell!”
The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library
W. Phillip Keller | (1920-1997)
9 “You Prepare a Table Before Me . . .”
Another task the attentive shepherd takes on in the summer is to keep an eye out for predators. He will look for signs and spoor of wolves, coyotes, cougars, and bears. If these raid or molest the sheep, he will have to hunt them down or go to great pains to trap them so that his flock can rest in peace.
Often what actually happens is that these crafty ones are up on the rimrock watching every movement the sheep make, hoping for a chance to make a swift, sneaking attack that will stampede the sheep. Then one of the flock is bound to fall easy prey to the attacker’s fierce teeth and claws.
The picture here is full of drama, action, suspense—and possible death. Only the alertness of the sheepman who tends his flock on the tableland in full view of possible enemies can prevent them from falling prey to attack. It is only his preparation for such an eventuality that can possibly save the sheep from being slaughtered and panicked by their predators.
And again we are given a sublime picture of our Savior who knows every wile, every trick, every treachery of our enemy Satan and his companions. Always we are in danger of attack. Scripture sometimes refers to him as “a roaring lion” who goes about seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).
1 Peter 5:8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. ESV
It is rather fashionable in some contemporary Christian circles to discredit Satan. There is a tendency to try and write him off or laugh him off as though he were just a joke. Some deny that such a being as Satan even exists. Yet we see evidence of his merciless attacks and carnage in a society where men and women fall prey to his cunning tactics every day. We see lives torn and marred and seared by his assaults though we may never see him personally.
It reminds me of my encounters with cougars. On several occasions these cunning creatures came in among my sheep at night, working terrible havoc in the flock. Some ewes were killed outright, their blood drained and livers eaten. Others were torn open and badly clawed. In these cases the great cats seemed to chase and play with them in their panic like a house cat would chase a mouse. Some had huge patches of wool torn from their fleeces. In their frightened stampede some had stumbled and broken bones or rushed over rough ground injuring legs and bodies.
Yet despite the damage, despite the dead sheep, despite the injuries and fear instilled in the flock, I never once actually saw a cougar on my range. So cunning and so skillful were their raids that they defy description.
At all times we would be wise to walk a little closer to Christ. This is one sure place of safety. It was always the distant sheep, the roamers, the wanderers that were picked off by the predators in an unsuspecting moment. Generally the attackers are gone before the shepherd is alerted by a cry for help. Some sheep, of course, are utterly dumb with fear under attack; they will not even give a plaintive bleat before their blood is spilled.
The same is true of Christians. Many of us get into deep difficulty beyond ourselves; we are stricken dumb with apprehension, unable even to call or cry out for help; we just crumple under our adversary’s attack.
But Christ is too concerned about us to allow this to happen. Our Shepherd wants to forestall such a calamity. He wants our mountaintop times to be tranquil interludes. And they will be if we just have the common sense to stay near Him where He can protect us. Read His Word each day. Spend some time talking to Him. We should give Him opportunity to converse with us by His Spirit as we contemplate His life and work for us as our Shepherd.
A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23
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