Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Illuminate

The precepts of the Lord are right,
making the heart glad;
the command of the Lord is radiant,
making the eyes light up.

They are more desirable than gold—
than an abundance of pure gold;
and sweeter than honey
dripping from a honeycomb.

Psalm 19:8, 10, CSB

Holy Father,

I am helpless to perceive and respond to Your Word in this way unless You enlighten my understanding and affections. It is not enough for me to recognize the truth, inspiration, and authority of Your Word, or even its perfection. I want and need to love it, to delight in it, to desire it, to know how beautiful it is.

Transform my spiritual taste buds, Lord, that I may relish the sweetness of Your Word. Open my eyes to perceive the radiant rightness of Your precepts, that they might gladden my heart and brighten my eyes like the sight of a dearly loved friend. O Lord, let me taste and see Your goodness in Your Word. Illuminate it unto me until it makes my heart glad and my eyes light up, as it rightfully deserves to do. In the name of the living Word, Jesus, I ask these things. Amen.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Spurgeon on the Christian Life {Book Review}


N.B. This blogger received a complimentary PDF of this book from Crossway in exchange for an honest review. Except where noted, all references are page numbers from that edition of the book.

Introduction to Charles Spurgeon

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) was an English Baptist pastor in the Reformed theological camp. Both his Baptist and Reformed convictions grew out of his study of the Scriptures and not allegiance to a human teacher or theological system. Although some reading this may not recognize his name, his renown and the reach of his writings were arguably as broad in his time as the late Billy Graham’s in mine.  Unlike Graham, Spurgeon served as a pastor throughout his ministry. He never ceased to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, but he did so in the context of his pastorate. By today’s standards, we would say he pastored a megachurch, typically preaching to more than ten thousand souls on a Sunday and also marrying,  burying, and providing other pastoral care during the week.
Spurgeon was likely the most prolific writer of theological and devotional material in Christian history. His sermons alone comprise as many words as the 27 volumes of the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica[i], and he did not write sermons only. “On just one rainy day during a holiday in France, for example, he managed to write out a month’s worth of daily meditations” (Michael Reeves, Spurgeon on the Christian Life, 160).
In the book under review, Michael Reeves notes, “On top of his preaching and pastoral ministry, he established and oversaw a host of ministries, including the Pastors’ College, the Stockwell Orphanage, seventeen almshouses for poor and elderly women, the Colportage Association, and a day school for children. He was involved in the planting of 187 churches (94 in London or nearby, 43 in the southeast, 19 in the north of England)” (159).
Moreover, he (or Christ through him) bore all this fruit in the midst of great physical and emotional suffering:
Aged twenty-two, as pastor of a large church and with twin babies at home to look after, he was preaching to thousands in the Surrey Gardens Music Hall when pranksters yelled “fire,” starting a panic to exit the building which killed seven and left twenty-eight severely injured. His mind was never the same again. His wife, Susannah, wrote, “My beloved’s anguish was so deep and violent, that reason seemed to totter in her throne, and we sometimes feared that he would never preach again.”
Then, from the age of thirty-three, physical pain became a large and constant feature of life for him. He suffered from a burning kidney inflammation called Bright’s Disease, as well as gout, rheumatism, and neuritis. The pain was such that it soon kept him from preaching for one third of the time (163).
His beloved wife also suffered from chronic illness for much of their marriage.
Is this not a man worth knowing in his words, since we cannot now in person?

Character of This Book

Spurgeon on the Christian Life by theology professor Dr. Michael Reeves is one of the latest volumes in Crossway’s Theologians on the Christian Life series. The introduction to this book explains the gap in recent Christian publishing which the series seeks to fill. In the editors’ words,
Yet, for all our abundance of resources, we also lack something. We tend to lack the perspectives from the past, perspectives from a different time and place than our own. To put the matter differently, we have so many riches in our current horizon that we tend not to look to the horizons of the past.

That is unfortunate, especially when it comes to learning about and practicing discipleship. It’s like owning a mansion and choosing to live in only one room. This series invites you to explore the other rooms (11).
This book is not biography, but you will know Spurgeon better by the last page. Nor is it critical analysis, although the author does explain his disagreement with Spurgeon on some points. Instead, it provides an overview of the major themes in Spurgeon’s writings and ministry with an emphasis on Spurgeon’s own words.  As such, it makes an excellent, approachable introduction to Spurgeon, and the endnotes would be a great launch pad for further exploration. For myself, as I had already gotten to know a few of Spurgeon’s books, it broadened my exposure to his other writings and better fleshed out ideas I’d picked up from the things already read. Spurgeon’s Christ-exalting pastoral heart makes this book a blessing to read even if one chooses not to read more.

Selected Quotes

Although Spurgeon did not pursue a university or divinity school degree, his private reading and study and God’s  particular gifting made him a master of communication. I highlighted too many quotes to share here, but I offer a few for your consideration.
  • The most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity. And, whilst humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently consolatary. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrows? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of grief and sorrow; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead (45-46).
  • Christ said, “Feed My sheep . . . Feed My lambs.” Some preachers, however, put the food so high that neither lambs nor sheep can reach it. They seem to have read the text, “Feed My giraffes.” (77).
  • Aspire to be understood rather than to be admired. Seek not to produce a wondering but an instructed audience (81).
  • Prayer with the heart is the heart of prayer: the cry of our soul is the soul of our cry (147).
  • You know, dear brothers and sisters, how a little act of kindness will cheer us when we are very low in spirit. If we are despised and rejected of men, if we are deserted and defamed by those who ought to have dealt differently with us, even a tender look from a child will help to remove our depression. In times of loneliness, it is something even to have a dog with you, to lick your hand, and show you such kindness as is possible from him (166-167).
  • You will find sin, self, Satan, and the world to be hard masters; but if you wear the livery of Christ, you will find him so meek and lowly of heart that you will find rest unto your souls. He is the most magnanimous of captains. There never was his like among the choicest of princes. He is always to be found in the thickest part of the battle. When the wind blows cold he always takes the bleak side of the hill. The heaviest end of the cross lies ever on his shoulders. If he bids us carry a burden, he carries it also. If there is anything that is gracious, generous, kind, and tender, yea lavish and superabundant in love, you always find it in him. These forty years and more have I served him, blessed be his name! and I have had nothing but love from him. I would be glad to continue yet another forty years in the same dear service here below if so it pleased him. His service is life, peace, joy. Oh, that you would enter on it at once! God help you to enlist under the banner of Jesus even this day! Amen (74-75, Spurgeon’s last words from his pulpit, June 7, 1891).

Recommendation

I enjoyed reading this book and found it added much to my appreciation of Spurgeon. My 7 pages of small-print highlights will provide food for further reflection, and I do want to continue learning more of Spurgeon’s life and writings. More importantly, the time spent with Spurgeon in this book made me want to love and exalt the Jesus we share that much more. My favorite chapters were in the last section of the book, the chapters on prayer, on suffering, and on final glory.

Reformed and/or Baptist readers should find much encouragement, insight, and kinship of spirit here.  A representative sampling of Spurgeon’s writings could not exclude his belief in predestination, the human inability to want to choose Christ apart from grace, and penal substitutionary atonement, so all those are included here. Readers who do not hold those views may not enjoy the book as much but will come away with a better understanding of why people like Spurgeon do hold and treasure what have been called "the doctrines of grace."

Contrary to the tolerant cultural trend in our day, Spurgeon was quite outspoken about false teaching and forms of Christianity which he believed to be contrary to Scripture. While this does not constitute a large portion of this book, some readers will disagree with his convictions and the zeal with which he expresses them. Then again, perhaps that is why we find it hard to read old books and why we need them and books like this one which guide us through the old writings.

To purchase:

Amazon (affiliate link): https://amzn.to/2H37qRt


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Sheepish {A Prayer-Poem}


The road ahead is beset
With many dangers, toils, and snares,
A minefield without a map.
Other travelers send back postcards
From similar pathways,
But none have traversed just this way.
Fear threatens—
What shall I do?
I cannot retreat,
Ought not stay put,
Must advance,
But where next to step?

You interrupt, reminding of the old truth,
The map to every terrain,
The guide through every dark ravine:
“The LORD is my Shepherd.
He leads me along the right paths
For His name’s sake.
Even when I go through the darkest valley”—
And this one is—
“I fear no danger,
For You Are With Me.”

I don’t need a map:
I have a Shepherd.
I don’t need a lantern:
I have a Leader.
I don’t need to fear the minefield:
I have a Guide.
No fear:
You are.

Forgive me, Lord.
I am an unwise and silly sheep;
I had forgotten that,
Even after these 31 years.
Yet I am Your sheep.
Don’t let me stray from Your side.
Let Your rod defend me,
Your staff draw me close,
Nudge me away from dangers
I am too unwise and ignorant to recognize.
Keep Your promise:
Lead me along the right paths,
Not because I deserve it,
But for Your name’s sake.
Glorify Yourself in how well You lead me
Through this dim and winding valley.
Trouble is near;
Be Thou nearer, my Shepherd and my God.


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Bluebonnet Detour

Yesterday before my Bible study time with Mom, my camera and I took a detour to the section of walking/biking trail where the city has planted fields of bluebonnets, the wildflowers chosen as the Texas state flower. They were past their peak but still beautiful. Enjoy!








And why are you anxious about clothing?
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow:
they neither toil nor spin,
yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these
(Matthew 6:28-29). 



Thursday, April 5, 2018

All Grace, Abounding Grace

And God is able to make all grace abound to you,
so that having all sufficiency 
in all things
at all times,
you may abound in every good work.
2 Cor. 9:8, ESV


One of the most helpful repeated ideas I've heard from John Piper is his prayer acronym APTAT, which he calls "practical help for praying for help." To sum it up, the letters stand for the following:
  • A - Admit your weakness and helplessness apart from Christ, in life in general or in a specific challenge.
  • P - Pray for God's help.
  • T - Trust a specific promise from God's Word that applies to that circumstance or to your life as a child of God.
  • A - Act in obedient faith, expecting God to keep His promises and answer your prayers.
  • T - Thank Him for coming through for you.
One of Piper's favorite promises (and mine) which has met his need and calmed his soul in a wide variety of situations is Isaiah 41:10:
fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Here are a few of my favorites as well:
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you (Isaiah 43:2).
************ 
Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
as long as I live (Psalm 23:6, CSB).
************ 
We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
************

...he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5b-6).



Another promise has been my frequent spiritual address of late, and that promise is 2 Corinthians 9:8:
And God is able to make all grace abound to you,
so that having all sufficiency 
in all things
at all times,
you may abound in every good work.



As some of you already know, context is key in the interpretation of Scripture. The context of this promise in the Bible's second letter to the church at Corinth is giving. Paul holds up the example of the beleaguered and poor Christians of Macedonia, who "gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the [Jerusalem] saints" (2 Cor. 8:3-4). He challenges the Corinthian church to follow their lead and the pattern of Christ Himself and to give cheerfully and bountifully. In case they might feel that they have no financial margin for such a gift, Paul assures them with the above promise. God supplies the gifts for the good works He appoints.

The most obvious application of this promise is likewise in our giving. When a material need in the kingdom of God presents itselfwhether that be a loved one struggling to make ends meet, a missionary in need of support, disaster relief, a refugee crisis, or a ministry which feeds me day after day and needs sustenance to carry on—if I sense the Spirit calling me to give, but the numbers just don't work out, this is a perfect promise to pray and trust. "He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness" (2 Cor. 9:10). The ministries of people like George Mueller, Hudson Taylor, and Edith and Francis Schaeffer were built on God's faithfulness to this promise. If the Lord wants me to contribute to meeting this need, He will provide something to give; if not, despite my best and most prayerful efforts, I can pray that He raises up others and trust that prayer is the "good work" He intends for me right then.

In addition, the evidence in the text implies that this promise exceeds mere material grace for monetary good works. Paul goes out of his way to pile up adjectives of completion: all, all, all, all, every. He adds to that words of plenty: abound, sufficiency, abound. "All grace," "all sufficiency," "all things," "all times, "every good work"—if Paul takes such pains to emphasize the breadth of God's generous enabling, why would we limit the application to financial giving?

Be encouraged, dear Crumbles. If you, like me, wake up most mornings with no need of anyone to convince you to admit your helplessness and pray for God's help, here is a promise to trust. Whether you are overwhelmed with your own financial need, the pressures of shepherding a struggling child, seemingly intractable health problems, caregiving demands, temptation that seems impossible to resist for one more day, conflict and stresses at work, or marital difficulties, God is able. He is able to make all grace abound to you in your need. He is able to supply you with all sufficiency in all those things at all times. He is able to make you abound in every good work, and that includes the daily and mundane every bit as much as the lofty and exotic. He does not stint in His grace to us so that we might not lack in the overflow of His grace to others. He will give what we need to do what He wills as we rely on and abide in Him.

Courage, dear hearts!

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Wounds That Plead for Me

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. (Luke 24:36-40).

Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? (Romans 8:33-35).


"Another reason Jesus wears his wounds [even in His resurrection body] is that when he intercedes, he may employ them as powerful advocates. When he rises up to pray for his people, he need not speak a word. He may simply lift his hands before his Father's face. He makes bare his side and points to his feet. These are the orators with which he pleads with God--these wounds."
~C. H. Spurgeon

Friday, March 30, 2018

Christ Crucified

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Isaiah 53:4-6



"Faith finds that Christ has made full payment to the justice of God having poured out his blood to death upon the cross. All of his previous acts of humiliation were but preparatory to this. He was born to die; he was sent into the world as a lamb bound with the bonds of an irreversible decree as a sacrifice. Without this, all he had done would have been labour undone. There is no redemption but by his blood. Christ did not redeem and save poor souls by sitting in majesty on his heavenly throne, but by hanging on the shameful cross, under the tormenting hand of man's fury and God's just wrath. And therefore, the poor soul that would have pardon of sin, is directed to place its faith not only on Christ, but on a bleeding Christ, whom God has set forth to be a propitiation* through faith in his blood (Rom. 3:23). Not everyone who assents to the truth of what the Scripture says about Christ truly believes. No, believing implies a union of the soul to Christ with full trust and reliance."

~William Gurnall, Works, 11:3-6



"...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:23-26).

Come to Jesus, dear Crumbles. Cling to Him in faith. Treasure Him as your sufficient Substitute and Sin-Bearer. Only in so doing will you find Good Friday truly good.

--------
*propitiation: to use John Piper's term, a "wrath absorber," soaking up like a sponge, as our substitute, all God's wrath which we fully deserve for our sin and rebellion against Him.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Anointing {A Poem of Surrender}

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me."
Mark 14:3-6



Broken, Rabboni?
The brightness of this alabaster dream
Shattered into fragments at Your feet?
What preciousness deserves so great a price?
This is My body, crushed to give for you.


Emptied, too?
Not one sweet drop remaining for myself?
Bereft of fragrance brightening my days?
What gain can justify such costly waste?
This is My blood, poured out for your forgiveness.


Broken, emptied.
Shattered into fragments at His feet.
Not one drop spared, the fragrance fills the house.
The poverty of all my all is dust
Beneath Your feet, O worthy, precious Lord.
"Your sins have been forgiven; go in peace."

from the archives
                                   

Friday, March 23, 2018

Loved Just As Much












It has been a month of unexpected urgent problems and upheaval for us. I will spare you the long stories, but they have involved plumbing, health problems (both the ongoing issues and weird anomalies we didn't see coming), phone service, work, family, and household administration. Many times I have felt like Brother Thomas (I think) in The Hardest Thing to Do from the Hawk and Dove series by Penelope Wilcock: "There are no 'alleluias' in Lent."

In part of my Scripture reading on one of those mornings when nothing seemed to go right, the Lord reminded me that Job was no less loved by Him in the middle of his bereavement, bankruptcy, and  boils than he was in his restoration and prosperity. Just so, I am no less loved by God when things go wrong than when things go well. "He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how shall He not also with Him graciously give us all things?"

All God gives is grace. The unpleasant and inconvenient things are grace to make me more like Jesus, to expose and undermine my idols, and to train me to trust and not to grumble. That any happy things at all come to me is grace, because all I deserve is God's wrath.

And there have been happy things this last messy month too. My dad had the privilege of baptizing two of my parents' ESL students, and I got to be there to see it! One of you crumbles sent an unexpected and perfectly chosen gift. The Lord gave me enough grace to crochet a baby blanket for a new extended family member. Ebony and I experienced His protection when Amore had to go out of town. The Lord gave enough grace for 2+ days without running water (and my parents provided the grace of hot showers). There have been a couple of unexpected and fun breakthroughs in trying to learn more about my dad's family history. The trees are blooming, and the world is greening. Hugs from church friends and texts of prayer and encouragement from long-distance friends are no small blessings either.

Even if the Lord had withheld those encouragements, He is still better to me than I deserve. I am "blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms" in Christ Jesus. That's the reminder I needed that day from Job. I pray it encourages someone reading this today as well.

Lord, thank you for the stresses and strains that force me to rely on You more fully. Grant me grace to glorify You with trust and praise today. Please fight for us on these matters which trouble me and grant peace in the waiting. Thank You for hearing me because of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Cowboy Up, Christian!

Be watchful,
stand firm in the faith,
act like men,
be strong.
1 Cor. 16:13, ESV



Falling as those commands do in the final chapter of 1 Corinthians, they are not directed to husbands or young men, but to the whole church in Corinth. The Greek word which constitutes the third command is andrizomai. Essentially, it turns the noun "man" into a verb: "to (be a) man."  The ESV and NASB translate, "Act like men." The CSB and NIV say, "Be courageous." The J. B. Phillips paraphrase exhorts, "Live like men." The Message paraphrase says. "Give it all you've got." In English, a soldier would say, "Man up!" A Texan would say, "Cowboy (or -girl) up!"

The ESV Study Bible notes that, in the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, this word frequently occurs in "contexts encouraging people to act with courage and strength in obedience to the Lord and with confidence in his power (see Deut. 31:6-7, 23; Josh. 1:6-7, 9; 10:25; 1 Chron. 28:20; Ps. 27:14)."

Perhaps you, like me, look around at your circumstances and inward at yourself and ask, "How in this mess am I supposed to cowgirl up when I'm shaking in my boots?" To that, I first start speaking truth to myself, "Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is fear walking" (Susan David, in her TED Talk "The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage). Again, "Courage is the resolve to face a fearful threat. And courage is fueled by hope--a hope in something stronger than what we fear" (Jon Bloom, "Be a Human Infusion of Hope", accessed 8:23 AM, CDT, Aug. 17, 2015). Merriam-Webster Online defines courage as "mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty." Courage or "manning up," then, is not the opposite of fear but the resolve to move towards God and His will in spite of our fear.

More importantly, I search the Scriptures listed in that ESV note for principles that would fuel hope and courage in me, even in fearful times:
  • Man up, Christian, because YHWH is with you and will not leave you in the lurch.

    "Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deut. 31:6).

    Then David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished. (1 Chron 28:20).
  • Man up because YHWH keeps His promises.

    Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deu.t 31:7-8).

    And the Lord commissioned Joshua the son of Nun and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you" (Deut. 31:23).
  • Man up because you are obeying God's call and Word.
    "Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go" (Josh. 1:6-7).
  • Man up because today's victory will be tomorrow's courage when the LORD fights for you.

    And Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the Lord will do to all your enemies against whom you fight” (Josh. 10:25).

    Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord! (Ps 27:14).

We serve a God who delights to turn Very Small Animals like Piglet and me into mighty warriors for His kingdom. The roots of such courage lie not in our strength but in the character of our God. May He grant us grace to put boots on our fear and walk forward anyway. May He keep reminding us of these and similar truths to preach to ourselves when fear tries to bully us into backing down from obedient faith. Courage, dear hearts!

"Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
With blessings on your head."

~William Cowper
(a poet who himself struggled with disabling anxiety and depression),

Monday, March 12, 2018

On Burdens


Dear child of God:

That burden Satan sent to break you,
God in love will use to make you
More like Christ. Take heart!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Hyacinth: A Poem {Guest Post}


My kind and lovely friend Courtney from Growing Is Beautiful shared the following poem on Instagram this week and has given me permission to repost it here for your encouragement and blessing.

Peeking up from the soil
while the world is
still cold and dark,
some might say
you are brave
and strong.
But I wonder
if it's only this:
you know who you are
and that you were made
for exactly this reason--
to soften the bitter edge of winter
with the glorious fragrance of Hope,
reminding every weary soul
that all is not lost.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Glad Tidings at Midnight

First full moon of March 2018


"Faith helps us bear afflictions in the hope of a favorable outcome.
Faith can prophesy glad tidings at midnight
and see quietness and pleasantness out of affliction
as we lie under the burden of dark strokes of God's providence....
Divine providence has two faces:
that which is visible and seems to be against us;
aye, but there is that which is not seen, and there is love, sweetness, and kindness.
Sense judges only the outside of God's dispensations,
but faith looks within the veil.
There are secret and invisible things that God makes known to waiting souls.
True faith can pick love out of God's angry speeches
and draw gracious conclusions from the darkest events.
When there is no apparent comfort,
and there is not a drop of oil in the cruse,
nor a dust of meal in the barrel,
hope can hang upon a small thread.
Wait,
trust,
and look for the favour from God."

~Thomas Manton, By Faith (formatting mine)

Saturday, March 3, 2018

If You Are an eBook Reader and Care About Learning

As longtime readers know, I love books. My husband and family can tell you that "love" is not overstating the case. For decades, I carried a big purse or backpack almost everywhere to accommodate the books I might need to read while waiting at the store, at the train station, for a sister after school,... If I didn't have a satchel of books, I always had at least one.

Then 2010 happened and I developed sudden-onset chest pain caused by autoimmune inflammation of the connective tissue in my ribs and sternum. By the time we found a medication strategy to manage that better, I had developed lumbar and sciatic pain. And so on and so forth until today, when I still have multiple areas of daily chronic pain that make my old habit impossible.

While I still enjoy physical, ink-and-paper books most of all, I can only read them when they are on a bookstand at eye level. Consequently, I was an early adopter of the Kindle e-reader and upgraded to the even lighter Kindle Voyage with built-in light before our 2015 Alaska cruise. My Voyage (code name Dawn Treader) goes with me almost everywhere, and Amore and I both appreciate that it allows me to read myself to sleep at night without a book light burning all night or until I wake up to turn over. When we travel, I can take hundreds of books with me, including a half-dozen study Bibles and some commentaries, and it doesn't break anyone's back or incur an extra luggage fee.

That's the good part.

Here's the not-so-good: I do all right reading fiction or even biography on my Kindle, but I have found it difficult to digest and retain non-narrative nonfiction content on the smaller screen without an easy way to flip forward and back to scan the chapter headings and so forth. I highlight sections and sentences, but the best way I had found to review themwais to use Bookcision to export Kindle highlights for a book I wanted to review or found especially quotable. The series of excerpts here from The Shepherd Psalm last year utilized that app for me to review, select, copy, and paste into blog posts. That still requires intentional effort and time, and it is a book-by-book process.

Enter Readwise. My husband saw an article about this new app (so new it's still in the beta version) and said it sounded like my kind of thing. Although I was skeptical that it would be that much different from Bookcision, I decided to give it a try.

Y'all. It is sooo good.

It was easy to import all my Kindle highlights (although I do need to go back to the Readwise dashboard periodically to sync new ones). One can also import iBook highlights, clippings from Kindle documents, and manually entered passages (such as from a physical book). The highlights are searchable and taggable with the reader's own custom categories, keywords, and themes, like an organized, digitized commonplace book. One can also mark highlights as favorites. All these features should prove very helpful in future research and writing

One of my favorite features so far, however, is the daily digest email. Every day, Readwise sends me an email with 5 randomly selected highlights from the 7 years' worth books I have added to the app. Perhaps I should say "providentially selected," since these have been the most encouraging thing in my inbox on some days.

This is an excellent feature for more than just a daily dose of encouragement, however. It could be a big difference-maker in my long-term retention of the eBooks I read.

Last summer, I listened to (and took notes on) the audiobook Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. That evidence-based approach to long-term retention of what we learn told me that a lot of what I thought I knew about learning was wrong. It also explained why some strategies I stumbled upon for myself in school proved so helpful. Two of the key strategies were spaced repetition or practice and interleaving.

Spaced repetition is fairly self-explanatory. Learning a subject or technique or piece of music in a single intensive period of practice and mastery only achieves short-term retention. To maintain that learning more permanently, review and repetition are necessary, and they are most effective when some time has elapsed and forgetting has occurred. The Readwise daily digest provides a low-effort way to accomplish this with my eBook consumption. Some of the daily highlights are from books I read in January; others are from 2011. I've definitely had time to forget that content!

Interleaving means switching from one subject or topic to another before mastery of any of them have occurred. In my nephew's baseball practice, for example, he will achieve more long-term mastery of the skills if he practices 15 minutes on his batting swing, 10 minutes on fielding balls, 5 minutes on his throw, etc, and then mixes up the order and proportion the next time. Devoting one entire practice to each skill produces much less mastery over time. In the same way, the Readwise digest emails remind me of information from 5 different books, maybe even 5 different genres of books. Today, for example, included a theology book, an Andrew Murray quote on prayer, a sentence I admired from one of the Hawk and Dove novels, a passage of biography, and a thoughtful book on how to use words well in our present culture.

That diversity also invites me to think back to the context of the quote and why I decided to mark it, which is a kind of self-testing and forced recall (a third Make It Stick strategy for long-term learning). The Readwise team is working on some additional features that will intentionally incorporate the principle of "retrieval practice." In addition, the manageable daily selection of highlights provides a natural opportunity to tag and favorite the quotes for future use.

The Kindle Voyage and Make It Stick links above are affiliate links; i.e., purchases made soon after clicking them will generate a small percentage referral fee to me. Otherwise, I do not reap any material benefit from sharing these thoughts with you. Readwise did not request it and will not compensate me for doing so. I just love learning, really love it. Many of you do too, so I wanted to share this new tool that I truly believe will help us learn more effectively from our eBook explorations.

To my thinking, that is a matter of stewardship. I have spent so many hours of my life reading; if Readwise can help me remember, use, and share the best of that content better, it can help me glorify God and edify His people.

Happy reading, crumbles!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

An Earful of Waxwings {and a Poem}

Winter is, in my opinion, the best time for birdwatching in our area. We are either winter homes or on the migratory path of quite a few species we don't see the rest of the year, and we are far enough south that the usual suspects, the cardinals and mockingbirds and chickadees and house finches and sparrows, don't feel the need to escape for warmer climes.

This year, in addition to the charm of goldfinches, we have enjoyed watching an abundance of cedar waxwings. They seem to relish the berries of the native Yaupon holly, and we have holly shrubs along one side of the house and a medium-sized tree in the front. It made me laugh to discover that the collective noun for a group of waxwings is either an earful or a museum (Madame Tussaud's, perhaps?).

They look so elegant and a bit mysterious with their black burglars' masks and tiny flash of red at the tips of the wings, but they are spooked by the slightest thing and not brave enough to travel alone. We see a dozen waxwings or a hundred (truly), but not just one.

In the poem below the photos, I play around with that idea a bit. Enjoy!











A hundred banditti alight,
Their stolen shards of shattered sunset
Glowing like candles blazing in bare limbs.
Their theft exacts a high price:
A shadow approaches, and they flee,
Fugitives from their own guilty consciences.

Friday, February 23, 2018

He Loves Because

female house finch


God loves you not because you are clever
not because you are good,
but because He is your Father.

(Kindle Location 7,254, Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer)

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Regaining Peace

Bewick's wren


"Each and every time something threatens to steal our peace, we can stop what we are doing and open that raw, painful place to God. Sometimes a brief but honest prayer is all we can manage. As often as possible, we do well to sit with his Word open before us, asking him to reveal himself in our struggle. The more we see, the more we will want. Before we know it, we will find ourselves wanting him even more than we want our problems solved. He himself will be the peace we have been wanting all along. He is faithful to us in this way. It has been said, and truthfully so, that sometimes we don't know God is all we have until God is all we've got" (Kindle Location 435, Lydia Brownback, Contentment).

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Heralds of Weighty Mercies

“For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.”
2 Corinthians 1:5


Orange-crowned warbler

"There is a blessed proportion. The Ruler of Providence bears a pair of scales—in this side he puts his people’s trials, and in that he puts their consolations. When the scale of trial is nearly empty, you will always find the scale of consolation in nearly the same condition; and when the scale of trials is full, you will find the scale of consolation just as heavy. When the black clouds gather most, the light is the more brightly revealed to us. When the night lowers and the tempest is coming on, the Heavenly Captain is always closest to his crew.... Great hearts can only be made by great troubles. The spade of trouble digs the reservoir of comfort deeper, and makes more room for consolation. God comes into our heart—he finds it full—he begins to break our comforts and to make it empty; then there is more room for grace. The humbler a man lies, the more comfort he will always have, because he will be more fitted to receive it.... There is no cry so good as that which comes from the bottom of the mountains; no prayer half so hearty as that which comes up from the depths of the soul, through deep trials and afflictions. Hence they bring us to God, and we are happier; for nearness to God is happiness. Come, troubled believer, fret not over your heavy troubles, for they are the heralds of weighty mercies."
~Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Morning of February 12

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Strength Enough

You, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 2:1, CSB).



'When you are oppressed with the weight of any duty and service in your calling, improve your trust in God's power. Perhaps you find the duty of your calling too heavy for your weak shoulders: lay the heaviest end of your burden on God's shoulder. When at any time you are sick of your work and ready with Jonah to run from it, encourage yourself with that which God said to Gideon; 'Go in this your might', has not God called you? Continue in the work God sets you to, and his strength will be engaged for you....

"In a word, Christian, rely upon your God, and make daily applications to the throne of grace for continual supplies of strength. God is so pleased that you come to him in this way, and the more often the better, and the more you come, the more you are welcome. Such a bountiful heart your God has, that while you are asking for a little peace and joy, he bids you to open your mouth wide and he will fill it. Set your needs all before the Almighty. God has strength enough to give."

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Charming

Words fascinate me in general, but the collective nouns for birds have a particular appeal.

A scold of jays? Yes.
A raft of ducks? Apropos.
A host of sparrows? If our feeders are typical, absolutely.
A drumming of woodpeckers? No joke.
A charm of finches? Indeed.

House finches live year all year, but we only see goldfinches in the winter. They are here en masse right now, and I am loving every minute of it. This morning I counted 10 coming for breakfast at the same time. (They are quite petite, much smaller than house finches or sparrows, but larger than the hummingbirds we see here.)  May the following peeks into our backyard brighten your day.









Friday, January 26, 2018

Help

...he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”
Hebrews 13:5b-6





Medical tasks and upcoming medical events have been overwhelming me lately. In that context, this week's entries in Voices from the Past encourage me to persevere in trusting the Lord. May these words from William Gurnall strengthen your soul to press on as well.

"The dear love God has for his saints engages his power. The believing soul is an object of God's choicest love, even the same love with which he loves his Son (John 17:26).... He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. O, how must God love that creature he has carried so long in the womb of his eternal purpose! God also loves his saints as the purchase of his Son's blood. They cost him dear. He that was willing to expend his Son's blood to gain them will not deny his power to keep them....

"The saints' dependence on God, and expectation from God in all their trials, oblige his power for their succour. Christ's presence in heaven lays a strong engagement on God to bring his whole force and power into the field upon all occasions for his saints' defence. He intercedes for fresh supplies of grace and help for us" (16 January).

"The apostle teaches: 'I will never leave you nor forsake you' (Heb. 13:5). Every believer may boldly say; 'God will help', not 'perhaps he will'. We may boldly assert it before men and devils because the Almighty said it.... No act of faith so strengthens us for duty as our belief that God's almighty power is engaged for our assistance.... The Christian's comfort also increases when we trust in God's almighty power. Many fears like waves roll over us. He who sees himself folded in almighty arms, O how he mounts up before the wind with his sails filled with joy and peace! Let storms arise, this one may sing merrily with the sharpest thorn at his breast" (17 January, quotes from William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour, Volume 1).


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Refining Fire



“Refining fire, go through my heart,
Illuminate my soul;
Scatter thy life through every part, and sanctify the whole.”
F. B. Meyer

Monday, January 1, 2018

Reminders from Spurgeon on the Threshold of the Year

"We rejoice that we will never have to change our confidence, for our God will never be carried into captivity or torn from his throne. Our faith is built on a rock that can never be moved.
Nothing in the past has shaken the foundation of our faith.
Nothing in the present can move it.
Nothing in the future will undermine it.
Whatever may occur in the ages to come, there will always be good reason for believing in Jehovah and his faithful Word.
The great truths he has revealed will never be disproved.
The great promises he has made will never be retracted.
The great purposes he has devised will never be abandoned.
So long as we live, we will always have a refuge, a hope, a confidence, that can never be removed...."

"The Lord is good to us in all tenses and in all ways."


And again:
"God's acts of faithful love in the past help us in three ways in the present:
first, they aid us in prayer to know what God has done for His people in the past;
second, they support our faith because we know God can accomplish anything He wishes;
and third, they provide happiness for His people in the present when we rest in what He has already done for us."

May we raise our Ebenezer over the trials and triumphs of 2017:
"Thus far the Lord has helped us!"
May His unchanging faithfulness give us courage to step boldly into 2018,
trusting that He will help us again.
He is good in all tenses and in all ways.

Courage, dear hearts!