Sunday, December 20, 2009

Love: Selflessness

"Love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude." - 1 Cor 13:4-5

This is a heavy verse. There's quite a lot to chew and reflect on in it. One of the things that leaves me in awe of the Love described to us in 1 Cor. 13 is that it is inexhaustible, not only in its description, but in its real-life application. Such Love searches our hearts and minds - a depth that we cannot reach (being unable to save and purify ourselves) - and sets us into a Higher Love - a fullness that we can never use up and are always growing deeper into (the wonder of having an Eternal God).
Matthew Henry and John Piper do well to point out the evils of the human heart (and what we often try to pass around as "love" in our lives) in contrast to the selfless Love of Christ.

III. Charity suppresses envy: It envieth not; it is not grieved at the good of others; neither at their gifts nor at their good qualities, their honours not their estates. If we love our neighbour we shall be so far from envying his welfare, or being displeased with it, that we shall share in it and rejoice at it. His bliss and sanctification will be an addition to ours, instead of impairing or lessening it. This is the proper effect of kindness and benevolence: envy is the effect of ill-will. The prosperity of those to whom we wish well can never grieve us; and the mind which is bent on doing good to all can never with ill to any.

IV. Charity subdues pride and vain-glory; It vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, is not bloated with self-conceit, does not swell upon its acquisitions, nor arrogate to itself that honour, or power, or respect, which does not belong to it. It is not insolent, apt to despise others, or trample on them, or treat them with contempt and scorn. Those who are animated with a principle of true brotherly love will in honour prefer one another, Rom. xii. 10. They will do nothing out of a spirit of contention or vain-glory, but in lowliness of mind will esteem others better than themselves, Phil. ii. 3. True love will give us an esteem of our brethren, and raise our value for them; and this will limit our esteem of ourselves, and prevent the tumours of self-conceit and arrogance. These ill qualities can never grow out of tender affection for the brethren, nor a diffusive benevolence. The word rendered in our translation vaunteth itself bears other significations; nor is the proper meaning, as I can find, settled; but in every sense and meaning true charity stands in opposition to it. The Syriac renders it, non tumultuatur--does not raise tumults and disturbances. Charity calms the angry passions, instead of raising them. Others render it, Non perperàm et perversè agit--It does not act insidiously with any, seek to ensnare them, nor tease them with needless importunities and addresses. It is not forward, nor stubborn and untractable, nor apt to be cross and contradictory. Some understand it of dissembling and flattery, when a fair face is put on, and fine words are said, without any regard to truth, or intention of good. Charity abhors such falsehood and flattery. Nothing is commonly more pernicious, nor more apt to cross the purposes of true love and good will.

V. Charity is careful not to pass the bounds of decency; ouk aschemonei--it behaveth not unseemly; it does nothing indecorous, nothing that in the common account of men is base or vile. It does nothing out of place or time; but behaves towards all men as becomes their rank and ours, with reverence and respect to superiors, with kindness and condescension to inferiors, with courtesy and good-will towards all men. It is not for breaking order, confounding ranks bringing all men on a level; but for keeping up the distinction God has made between men, and acting decently in its own station, and minding its own business, without taking upon it to mend, or censure, or despise, the conduct of others. Charity will do nothing that misbecomes it.
- Matthew Henry

"...we have developed strategies for minimizing our failures and maximizing our successes. We tend to draw attention to the one and cover over the other. There are crude ways of doing this like overt bragging and boasting and developing a certain cocky swagger or talking with a kind of devil-may-care conceit or an in-your-face kind of arrogance.

In fact, in America we have turned the vice of bragging into a virtue of entertainment.

But there are also more subtle, refined, acceptable ways of expressing our pride—like bringing the conversation back again and again to ourselves and what we've done, or even more subtly by constantly talking about our woundedness or our sadness, and about how badly things have gone for us. Self-pity and boasting are both forms of pride: one is pride in the heart of the weak, and the other is pride in the heart of the strong.

Now Paul says, "Love does not brag and is not arrogant." That is, it does not speak much about itself and is not puffed up with its achievements or too concerned about its hurts.
Love is other-directed, not self-consumed.
Which means that a massive craving in our hearts must die, if we are going to love. We're not puffed up because we decide to be. We are puffed up by fallen sinful human nature. This comes from deep within who we are as corrupt human beings. If love is humble and other-directed, love is death.
The glory-loving, self-exalting, attention-seeking, whining, pouting, self-pitying me has to die.

This is why Jesus said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and die it remains alone"—alone in its self-absorbed, self-asserting, self-enhancing prison—"but if it dies, it bears much fruit"—the fruit of love and all the people that will see Christ in that love."
- John Piper

I will leave the last words to Amy Carmichael....

If I myself dominate myself, if my thoughts revolve round myself, if I am so occupied with myself I rarely have “a heart at leisure from itself,” then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If, when I am able to discover something which has baffled others, I forget Him who revealeth the deep and secret things, and knoweth what is in the darkness and showeth it to us; if I forget that it was He who granted that ray of light to His most unworthy servant, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I want to be known as the doer of something that has proved the right thing, or as the one who suggested that it should be done, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If the praise of man elates me and his blame depresses me; if I cannot rest under misunderstanding without defending myself; if I love to be loved more than to love, to be served more than to serve, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

Oh Father, save us from empty, self-filled loving. Fill us with Your Divine Love that rises above and beyond us.

Matthew Henry's Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13

Dying as a Means of Loving, Part 2 - John Piper

If - Amy Carmichael

Friday, December 18, 2009

Crushing Grief

I shall return to my study on Love soon enough. I am preparing my next post, but, in the meantime, I have only this to offer...a little bit of my heart....

Does anything hurt or grieve a heart more than to know that a dearly loved one has returned to Egypt, following after the lusts of their own flesh, and unwilling to receive correction and wisdom? But greater is the grief in one's self for causing that dear one to stumble in such a way.
One recalls that much-awaited day when, after many agonizing prayers, a dear friend received the life of Christ. All was joy. All was joy. New life and hope burst forth!
But the shadow of self came and disrupted the growth of that new life. Through the indulging of self-interests and desires, the one who had prayed (one who had supposedly been further along in growth of wisdom), turned the other from continuing its reach to the Son. Like one, who after much waiting and watering over a seed, becomes impatient after seeing the flower in its first stage of budding and selfishly plucks it before it had the chance to truly blossom.
One is burdened to think that nothing could redeem this sin of turning a brother away from the Lord, which in turn led the brother to sin horribly, cruelly betraying the trust of many, and thrusting a dagger into the very heart of the one who had, in the past, watered it and loved it so.

Such grief is crushing to the human heart.

It is a weight that refuses to be lifted until it can be known that the lost soul will not utterly forsake the Lord, that the lost soul will be redeemed for the sake of His holy name.

In truth, I would give anything to return to a time when that soul was in my life...before sin separated us from each other...when that soul was listening to my words, regarding them with great interest. What I would give to have only spoken of the grace found walking daily in repentance and the life of Christ. What I would give to have only spoken truths of the Gospel to that soul. What I would give to have only spoken Biblical truths about dying to self and living to Christ. What I would give to have continued watering that soul with Scripture and gracious words filled with our Father's wisdom. What I would give to have never turned that soul from God to look upon me as their Greatest Good.
If I could have seen then as I see now...if I could have known then as I know now...I would have never dared to entertain that soul with such fleshly things...I would never have been so selfish. That bud was not for me. It was not mine. How could I have ever tread upon the glory of the Lord?

"...there are some among us who heart-break is that they have no sure and certain hope about their dearest, who have passed beyond reach of human love and influence. May I offer this which comes to me in the form of a question: Does to be out of reach of our love and influence mean to be out of reach of His who said, "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me?" ?"
- Amy Carmichael

Here I am, resting in the hope that He who began a good work in that soul will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:6).

Forgive me, Father.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Love: Long-Suffering

Love is patient and kind… – 1 Cor 13:4

I. It is long suffering--makrothymei. It can endure evil, injury, and provocation, without being filled with resentment, indignation, or revenge. It makes the mind firm, gives it power over the angry passions, and furnishes it with a persevering patience, that shall rather wait and wish for the reformation of a brother than fly out in resentment of his conduct. It will put up with many slights and neglects from the person it loves, and wait long to see the kindly effects of such patience on him.

II. It is kind--chresteuetai. It is benign, bountiful; it is courteous and obliging. The law of kindness is in her lips; her heart is large, and her hand open. She is ready to show favours and to do good. She seeks to be useful; and not only seizes on opportunities of doing good, but searches for them. This is her general character. She is patient under injuries, and apt and inclined to do all the good offices in her power. And under these two generals all the particulars of the character may be reduced.

Those paragraphs are taken from Matthew Henry's commentary.
There is a great deal of weight in these words; they hang heavily upon my heart. How many times in the day are we given the opportunity to love like that? I mean, to truly love like that with all our heart, mind, and soul? There are days that come with such opportunities - moment by moment. We call them "bad days." We call them "stressful." We call them "exhausting," "taxing," "awful," and the list goes on. Oh that we would bless the struggles, the annoyances, the frustrations, and those difficult souls that prick our hearts, reminding us that we must bear! If there is one thing I have most been learning in these past few months it is this:

"It makes the mind firm, gives it power over the angry passions, and furnishes it with a persevering patience, that shall rather wait and wish for the reformation of a brother than fly out in resentment of his conduct."

All my days seems marked with this reminder from Love. It presses me to repentance. My heart would ache from the hurt of past lovers and, in that pain, become weak and listless. But the Spirit of Him who is in me is greater than the one in the world (1 John 4:4) - it pushes me forward, it silences my flesh and urges me forward to gird my soul with His kind of stronger love for my fellow brethren, to pray in earnest over their souls!

Lord, let such love permeate all that I am!

"...wherever there is love there is pain—love suffers long (makrothumei) . . . endures all things, bears all things.” This is realism and therefore comforting. If two people, or two thousand people, are in a relationship of love, all will be hurt. And all will need to “suffer long” and endure and bear. It struck us as amazing that this was so prominent in Paul’s treatment of love. So we prayed hard that we would be good lovers in this way (giving less and taking less offense)."
- John Piper

If I have not the patience of my Saviour with souls who grow slowly; if I know little of travail (a sharp and painful thing) till Christ be fully formed in them, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I have not compassion on my fellow servant even as my Lord had pity on me, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If, in dealing with one who does not respond, I weary of the strain, and slip from under the burden, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If my attitude be one of fear, not faith, about one who has disappointed me; if I say, “Just what I expected,” if a fall occurs, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I take offence easily, if I am content to continue in a cool unfriendliness, though friendship be possible, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If a sudden jar can cause me to speak an impatient, unloving word, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I feel I injured when another lays to my charge things that I know not, forgetting that my Sinless Saviour trod this path to the end, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I say, “Yes, I forgive, but I cannot forget,” as though the God, who twice a day washes all the sands on all the shores of all the world, could not wash such memories from my mind, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If monotony tries me, and I cannot stand drudgery; if stupid people fret me and the little ruffles set me on edge; if I make much of the trifles of life, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If the love that “alone maketh light of every heavy thing, and beareth evenly every uneven thing” is not my heart’s desire, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
- Amy Carmichael

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible

What Love Does and Does Not Do - John Piper

If - Amy Carmichael

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Full Glory of Love

Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken

- Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

Many are well-acquainted with these words. They fall over us in a splendid sigh that is filled with hopes for such a love to prove so true. Love: The great marvel of souls. It is either zealously sought after or vehemently rejected. Either way, all souls have, in some way, been affected and touched by the idea, desire, or feeling of Love. Time after time, we think we have grasped it. We convince ourselves that we finally know it, that we truly understand it. It is so beautiful that we believe that it can transcend all time. To the romantic, Love is the ultimate God - self-sufficient and eternal. And then somewhere along the ecstasy of such a journey, it dies. It always dies. Even for those whom it has proven true, through many years or many trials, there comes a moment when it ceases to be.

Recall the scene in the film, Sense & Sensibility, when Marianne staggers over the hill facing Allenham (the estate of her lover and betrayer, Sir Willoughby) and recites Sonnet 116 in remembrance of what she and Willoughby once shared in "true Love." The tears streaming from her eyes are mingled with the icy rain falling around her. She stands there, unfeeling of the harsh elements that she finds herself in. In the love that she knew, there only awaited death. To her, there was nothing of value, worth, or meaning outside of that love. She was ready to die for it; to die a death that simply amounted to nothing. Instead of becoming a conqueror through love, she became conquered by love.
So it is with many of us. Never are we victorious. We are merely victims of that which we faithfully follow and call love. And like fools being led to the slaughter, we would rather meet that same piercing defeat again and again than ever dare to consider that maybe that "Love" is not truly Love. That, perhaps, our understanding, vision, and ideas of love are distorted, artificial, and empty. That true Love is not meant for base fools such as ourselves, who fondle cheap trifles and fanciful ideals that fall short of eternal worth.
And then our gaze is drawn ever upward, held captive, and fixed upon one whom we despise to think of as the fulfillment of the purest, truest Love.

Calvary, the word pierces even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit.
It is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. It searches our love for our beloved. It discovers the quality of that love.
An Indian refiner puts his glistening gold into a small earthen crucible.
He blows up the fire, the grey scum floats to the surface of the gold.
The grey scum of selfishness in our human love will float to the surface of our soul and be discovered by us, if we are willing to allow the Refiner to blow up His fire.
There is a rooted possessiveness about much of human affection. “My loved one for myself” - that is the underlying thought of much that looks so beautiful.
God’s thought was different.
The love that our Lord asks for us is different.
His Father’s love was a giving love.
- Amy Carmichael

On the evening of His betrayal He did not desire for us the less costly lover, the natural love which shrinks from a hard way for a beloved one, and never contemplates anything approaching shame.
Human love with its loopholes of escape from the supreme demand was not in His mind, It was Divine love that He desired should be in us, the love wherewith He Himself was loved, Divine love with all its agonizing possibilities - but with great certainty of eternal joy.
We have lowered the standard. That which should be usual has become so unusual that we are surprised and stirred, and write books about these bright particular stars in our firmament who have shone mightily in loving. Such lives should be the rule, the others the exception. Have we in our refusal of the Crucifix refused also the Cross? We do refuse the Crucifix. The sign of our faith, as Westcott said long ago, is an empty Cross, an empty tomb; He is not here, He is risen. But it is strangely possible to decorate that empty Cross, to smother it in flowers, even (but surely this borders on blasphemy) to use the symbol as an ornament. And yet the great law stands: “Whosoever doth not bear his Cross, and come after Me, cannot be disciple.”
We who follow the Crucified are not here to make a pleasant thing of life; we are called to suffering for the sake of a suffering, sinful world. The Lord forgive us our shameful evasions and hesitations.
His brow was crowned with thorns; do we seek rose-buds for our crowning?
His hands were pierced with nails; are our hands ringed with jewels?
His feet were bare and bound; do our feet walk delicately?
What do we know of travail? Of tears that scald before we fall? of heart-break?
Of being scorned?
God forgive us our love of ease.
God forgive us that so often we turn our faces from a life that is even remotely like His.
Forgive us that we all but worship comfort, the delight of the presence of loved ones, possessions, treasure on earth.
Far, far from our prayers too often is any thought of prayer for a love which will lead us to give one whom we love to follow our Lord to Gethsemane, to Calvary - perhaps because we have never been there ourselves.
Lord, we kneel beside Thee now, with hands folded between Thy hands as a child’s are folded in its mother’s. We would follow the words of Thy prayer, dimly understanding their meaning, but wanting to understand….
"That the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26)
- Amy Carmichael

The natural loves are not self-sufficient. Something else, at first vaguely described as "decency and common sense," but later revealed as goodness, and finally as the whole Christian life in one particular relation, must come to the help of the mere feeling if the feeling is to be kept sweet.
To say this is not to belittle the natural loves but to indicate where their real glory lies. It is no disparagement to a garden to say that it will not fence and weed itself, nor prune its own fruit trees, nor roll and cuts its owns lawns. A garden is a good thing but that is not the sort of goodness it has. It will remain a garden, as distinct from a wilderness, only if someone does all these things to it. Its real glory is of quite a different kind. The very fact that it needs constant weeding and pruning bears witness to that glory. It teems with life. It glows with colour and smells like heaven and puts forward at every hour of a summer day beauties which man could never have created and could not even, on his own resources, have imagined. If you want to see the difference between its contribution and the gardener's, put the commonest weed it grows side by side with his hoes, rakes, shears, and packet of weed killer; you have put beauty, energy and fecundity beside dead, sterile things. Just so, our "decency and common sense" show grey and deathlike beside the geniality of love. And when the garden is in its full glory the gardener's contributions to that glory will still have been in a sense paltry compared with those of nature. Without life springing from the earth, without rain, light and heat descending from the sky, he could do nothing. When he has done all, he has merely encouraged here and discouraged there, powers and beauties that have a different source. But his share, though small, is indispensable and laborious. When God planted a garden He set man over it and set the man under Himself. When He planted the garden of our nature and caused the flowering, fruiting loves to grow there, He set our will to "dress" them. Compared with them it is dry and cold. And unless His grace comes down, like the rain and the sunshine, we shall use this tool to little purpose. But its laborious - and largely negative - services are indispensable. If they were needed when the garden was still Paradisal, how much more now when the soil has gone sour and the worst weeds seem to thrive on it best? But heaven forbid we should work in the spirit of prigs and Stoics. While we hack and prune we know very well that what we are hacking and pruning is big with a splendour and vitality which our rational will could never of itself have supplied. To liberate that splendour, to let it become fully what it is trying to be, to have tall trees instead of scrubby tangles, and sweet apples instead of crabs, is part of our purpose.

The loves prove that they are unworthy to take the place of God by the fact that they cannot even remain themselves and do what they promise to do without God's help....Even for their own sakes the loves must submit to be second things if they are to remain the things they want to be. In this yoke lies their true freedom; they "are taller when they bow." For when God rules in a human heart, though He may sometimes have to remove certain of its native authorities altogether, He often continues others in their offices and, by subjecting their authority to His, gives it for the first time a firm basis.

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
Christ did not teach and suffer that we might become, even in the natural loves, more careful of our own happiness. If a man is not uncalculating towards the earthly beloveds whom he has seen, he is none the more likely to be so towards God whom he has not. We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.

We are all receiving Charity. There is something in each of us that cannot be naturally loved. It is no one's fault if they do not so love it. Only the lovable can be naturally loved. You might as well ask people to like the taste of rotten bread or the sound of a mechanical drill. We can be forgiven, and pitied, and loved in spite of it, with Charity; no other way. All who have good parents, wives, husbands, or children, may be sure that at some times - and perhaps at all times in respect of some one particular trait or habit - they are receiving Charity, are loved not because they are lovable but because Love Himself is in those who love them.
Thus God, admitted to the human heart, transforms not only Gift-Love but Need-Love; not only our Need-love of Him, but our Need-love of one another. This is of course not the only thing that can happen. He may come on what seems to us a more dreadful mission and demand that a natural love be totally renounced. A high and terrible vocation, like Abraham's, may constrain a man to turn his back on his own people and his father's house. Eros, directed to a forbidden object, may have to be sacrifice. In such instances, the process, though hard to endure, is easy to understand. What we are more likely to overlook is the necessity for a transformation even when the natural love is allowed to continue.
In such a case the Divine Love does not substitute itself for the natural - as if we had to throw away our silver to make room for the gold. The natural loves are summoned to become modes of Charity while also remaining the natural loves they were.
One sees here at once a sort of echo rhyme or corollary to the Incarnation itself. And this need not surprise us, for the Author of both is the same. As Christ is Perfect God and perfect Man, the natural loves are called to become Charity and also perfect natural loves. As God becomes Man "Not by conversion of the Godhead into the flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God." so here; Charity does not dwindle into merely natural love but natural love is taken up into, made the tuned and obedient instrument of, Love Himself.”

And yet, I believe, the necessity for the conversion is inexorable; at least, if our natural loves are to enter the heavenly life. That they can enter it most of us in fact believe. We may hope that the resurrection of the body means also the resurrection of what may be called our “greater body”; the general fabric of our earthly life with its affections and relationships. But only on a condition; not a condition arbitrarily laid down by God, but one necessarily inherent in the character of Heaven: nothing can enter there which cannot become heavenly. “Flesh and blood,” mere nature, cannot inherit that Kingdom. Man can ascend to Heaven only because the Christ, who died and ascended to Heaven, is “formed in him.” Must we not suppose that the same is true of a man’s loves? Only those into which Love Himself has entered will ascend to Love Himself. And these can be raised with Him only if they have, in some degree and fashion, shared His death; if the natural element in them has submitted – year after year, or in some sudden agony – to transmutation. The fashioned of this world passes away. The very name of nature implies the transitory. Natural loves can hope for eternity only in so far as they have allowed themselves to be taken into the eternity of Charity; have at least allowed the process to begin here on earth, before the night comes when no man can work. And the process will always involve a kind of death. There is no escape. In my love for wife or friend the only eternal element is the transforming presence of Love Himself. By that presence, if at all, the other elements may hope, as our physical bodies hope, to be raised from the dead. For this only is holy in them, this only is the Lord.
- C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Dearest Lord, transform our feeble hearts. Transform these lowly, natural loves.
That which you have justified, Lord, glorify!
Purify these loves and make them victorious through Thy Divine Love!
May our loves on earth be seated beneath Thee, reflections of Thy Glory!
Through Him, who loved us, we are more than conquerors in all things.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Simplicity, Names, Love

"There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort." - Jane Austen

I awoke this morning with a fresh resolve to bake something! It has been awhile since I have had a free day to myself, especially to bake a treat. I decided to try a delicious Dutch Apple Bread recipe (as seen in my photo above). Thanks to Mia for the wonderful recipe! It was so delicious!! I enjoyed it during afternoon tea with my sister whilst reading chapters 20 and 21 in Sense and Sensibility. I believe it's my third or fourth time reading S&S and I find myself more captivated by the story this time than ever before! Oh, it was glorious to be at home all day long! I am not ungrateful for my college studies, but it's just very exhausting to be at school six days a week. My heart longs for simple living. School just complicates everything.

I have been reflecting on my name recently. It's been frustrating to me that my parents meant to name me Erika with a K but never got around to changing it on my birth certificate so on official documents it is always Erica with a C. According to the state, I'm Erica, not Erika. You wouldn't think that one letter could make such a huge issue, but it surely does. I have always much preferred Erika for it's roughness in appearance. Does it not suggest a bold independence and romantic, warrior-like personality? Whereas, a C gives a softer appearance of a submissive, calm, and gentle soul. I usually prefer to sign my name as Erika wherever I go, but when it comes to signing documents I am forced to keep with the C. To most people, I am Erica - shy, sweet, quiet. To those who are my family and closest friends, I am Erika - much too passionate, excessively romantic, and terribly independent (not for my best, I assure you). If it has ever confused anyone as to why I go by both names, depending on the situation, now you all know why. Most of the time I am forced to with the C when I am signing for something. It gets me irritated every time; why couldn't my parents just have done it right from the beginning? haha! I could very well just change it now, but you know what a taxing process these supposedly simple tasks are. Having to change one letter in my name just doesn't seem worth the effort...but it would comfort me knowing that I can sign it as EriKa whenever and wherever I want. Nevertheless, I cannot help but think of there being a more divine purpose for this small mistake in my name. It has made me consider keeping the C and accept it as the way I was meant to be named (along with cultivating the type of personality it suggests - more submissive and gentle-hearted) and yet I cannot help but prefer Erika. Do you not see what a dilemma this has become?!
I realize I think too much on these little issues. Anyway, for the sake of fun, I placed a search on my name and came up with a bunch of fascinating results:
Erika is Old Norse for "ever powerful" or "ruler of the people."
It is of Old Norse origin, and its meaning is "forever or alone, ruler".
The Scandinavian form of the name means Ruler of All.
The English form of the name means Brave Ruler.
The Germanic origin means Honorable Ruler.
The Latin origin is known in English as the plant Heather.
Erika is also the name of a yellow German flower.
Erica has 28 variant forms of the name.

A brief analysis of the name (this made me laugh; this is me in a nutshell):
Your name of Erica makes you very idealistic and generous, with the strong desire to uplift humanity leading you into situations where you can express your desire to serve others.

You want to assume responsibilities and to look after people; however, you can become too involved in other people's problems and tend to worry.

Your name gives you a natural desire to express along artistic and musical lines.

You desire a settled home and family life, and are expressive and attentive to your loved ones.

Although the name Erica creates the urge to be reliable and responsible, we emphasize that it causes an emotional intensity that is hard to control.

This name, when combined with the last name, can frustrate happiness, contentment, and success, as well as cause health weaknesses in the nervous system, worry, and mental tension.

Emphasis on emotional intensity. haha...oh dear!

I have taken up a weighty topic in my Biblical studies as of late: Love. The vastness of it is gloriously humbling. I shall continue my discipleship posts with any noteworthy reflections or quotations that I come upon, but I find myself pulled to search out True Love - to know it, to live it, to give it. I was very stupid once to think I knew it. It took a sin, a betrayal, and then the power of the Cross to open my eyes to reality. I have only ever seen a distorted, self-seeking reflection of it. And I myself lived that way for a time. Only after my heart had been pierced and shattered did I realize my great ignorance. It was only then that I came to the Lord in desperation, "Father, make me a student of Thy Love. I need it! I must know it or I shall never truly live!" And ever since that day that I cried from a place of deep, unimaginable pain, by the grace of God, I have awoken everyday to the fresh resolve: Lord, teach me Your Love. I am, most humbly, a student of His Love.

But man's love for God, from the very nature of the case, must always be very largely, and must often be entirely, a Need-Love. This is obvious when we implore forgiveness for our sins or support in our tribulations. But in the long run it is perhaps even more apparent in our growing - for it ought to be growing - awareness that our whole being by its very nature is one vast need; incomplete, preparatory, empty yet cluttered, crying out for Him who can untie things that are now knotted together and tie up things that are still dangling loose.- C.S. Lewis

"There are times when something comes into our lives which is charged with love in such a way that it seems to open the Eternal to us for a moment, or at least some of the Eternal Things, and the greatest of these is love.
It may be a small and intimate touch upon us or our affairs, light as the touch of the dawn-wind on the leaves of the tree, something not to be captured and told to another in words. But we know that it is our Lord. And then perhaps the room where we are, with its furniture and books and flowers, seems less “present” than His Presence, and the heart is drawn into that sweetness of which the old hymn sings.

The love of Jesus, what it is
None but His loved ones know.

Or is it the dear human love about us that bathes us as in summer seas and rests us through and through. Can we ever cease to wonder at the love of our companions? And then suddenly we recognize our Lord in them. It is His love they lavish upon us. O Love of God made manifest in Thy lovers, we worship Thee.
Or (not often, perhaps, for dimness seems to be more wholesome for us here, but sometimes, because our Lord is very merciful) it is given to us to look up through the blue air and see the love of God. And yet, after all, how little we see! “That ye may be able to comprehend what is the breadth and length and depth and height and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge” – the words are too great for us. What do we comprehend, what do we know? Confounded and abased, we enter into the Rock and hide us in the dust before the glory of the Majesty of love – the love whose symbol is the Cross.
And a question pierces then: What do I know of Calvary love?

Some of my sources for study:
Studying Love (part one)
Studying Love (part two)
The Greatest of These Is Love (A sermon series by John Piper)
If - Amy Carmichael
The Four Loves - C.S. Lewis

Monday, November 9, 2009

Simple Woman's Daybook

Outside my window...another sunny day, except this time it's nice and chilly out!
I am thinking...about a Bible school that I was recently accepted by for a 10-week course next summer (in Windsor, CO). I am overwhelmed with so many emotions - excitement for being accepted, joy for being able to meet some of the other participants online and getting to know them, and yet discouraged because money has proven to be a problem and I realize how much I need to have faith that God will provide for this path in my life.
I am thankful for...this wonderful past weekend that I had spent with friends.
I am wearing...a flowy, long white skirt and a dress-like top filled with ornate, flower designs.
I am creating...nothing at the moment. I have a list of things I would like to create, but I haven't the time at the present.
I am school today: Choir, voice rehearsal with piano accompanist, and Digital Audio Workstation class.
I am reading…Deuteronomy and Morning & Evening by Charles Spurgeon.
I am hoping...that the Lord's power will be made perfect in my weaknesses.
I am hearing...monks singing Latin chants.
One of my favorite things...simple days.
A few plans for the rest of the week: Many of my plans are school-related. It's not very exciting to report.
Here is picture thought I am sharing...This is what I wish I could do all day today:

Thanks to the 'Simple Woman'

Saturday, October 31, 2009

We Are What We Think About

It matters a good deal that your book-food should be strong meat. We are what we think about. Think about trivial things or weak things and somehow one loses fibre and becomes flabby in spirit. Soldiers need to be strong.
Soldiers have not time for everything. ‘I have no time for anything outside my profession.’ a young officer said once, and in measure that is true. We can’t be entangled in the affairs of this life if we are to be real soldiers. By its affairs I mean its chatter and its ways of thinking and deciding questions, its whole aspect and trend.
The fight to which we have been called is not an easy fight. We are touching the very centre of the devil’s power and kingdom, and he hates us intensely and fights hard against us. We have no chance at all of winning in this fight unless we are disciplined soldiers, utterly out-and-out and uncompromising, and men and women or prayer.
So first, give much time to quietness. We have to get our help for the most part direct from our God. We are here to help, not to be helped, and we must each one of us learn to walk with God alone and feed on His word so as to be nourished. Don’t only read and pray; listen. And don’t evade the slightest whisper of guidance that comes. God makes you very sensitive, and very obedient.
Fill up the crevices of time with the things that matter most. This will cost something, but it is worth it. ‘See ye My face.’ ‘My heart said unto Thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.’ No one is of much use who does not truly want to learn what it means to pray and listen and definitely choose the life that is hid with Christ in God.

- Amy Carmicheal, Candles in the Book

In light of the modern age, we need to apply this type of living and thinking to how much time we spend on the internet, texting, gaming, movies, music, etc. Our entire life does reflect the focus of our hearts and minds. If we are always set upon weak, temporal things, that is what we will reflect.
Lord, humble us to receive Your grace and reflect Your holiness and glory.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Wise Words on True Discipleship

In continuation with my posts on Biblical discipleship, I've gathered some quotations by a highly respected Scottish minister - Oswald Chambers. These are from his various writings and address topics such as obedience and the problem of self. May we be attentive to such wise words...

"Our Lord begins where we would never begin - at the point of human destitution. The greatest blessing a person ever gets from God is the realization that if he or she is going to enter into His kingdom it must be through the door of destitution. Naturally we do not want to begin there, that is why the appeal of Jesus is of no use until we come face-to-face with realities; then the only One worth listening to is the Lord. We learn to welcome the patience of Jesus only when we get to the point of human destitution. It is not that God will not do anything for us until we get there, but that He cannot. God can do nothing for me if I am sufficient for myself. When we come to the place of destitution spiritually, we find the Lord waiting and saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink." There are hundreds at the place of destitution, and they don't know what they want. If I have been obeying the command of Jesus to go and make disciples, I know what they want; they want Him. We are so interested in our own spiritual riches that souls that are white to harvest are all around us, and we don't reap one for Him."

"As long as self-interest is there and has to be suppressed, the Holy Spirit will reveal that something else has to go. I may be under conscious apprehension for discipleship, and I go through the form of being willing to give up my right to myself, but the Holy Spirit reveals that I have never really done it. "I will spend myself for Jesus, I will do everything He asks me to do"- but not one thing - and it is the only thing I can do, namely, give up my right to myself to Him. There is only one crisis, and the majority of us have never been through it; we are brought up to it and kick back every time, until God by His engineering brings us right to the one issue: Deny forever your right to yourself. It is a stubborn detachment, yielding bit by bit not because the character is noble but because it is despicably proud."

"One of the subtlest snares is the idea that we are here to live a holy life of our own, with our eyes fixed on our own whiteness. No, we are here to carry out God's will as Jesus carried it out. Jesus carried out the will of God as the Savior of the world; we are to carry out His will as saints. Jesus Christ was a vicarious sufferer for the sin of the world, and we have to be vicarious sufferers, filling up "that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ." Have we ever realized that through the atonement we can take on ourselves a vicarious attitude before God, a vicarious penitence, knowing "the fellowship of His sufferings?""

"Any man would have known with His coming that it was wrong to take life; the law is written in him. Any man would have known that immorality was wrong. But no man apart from Jesus Christ would believe that "my right to myself" is the very essence of sin. When we realize what Jesus means when He says, in effect, "If you would be My disciple, give up your right to yourself to Me," we begin to understand that "the carnal mind is enmity against God." "I will not give up my right to myself; I will serve God as I choose." Jesus Christ came to remove this disposition of self-realization."

"We like to hear about deliverance from hell and forgiveness of sins, but this comes a bit too close, this demands too much, and we back out. "From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more" (John 6:66), they went back from following Jesus and never became actual disciples. If I do become a disciple my career may have to be ruined - am I prepared for it? Is He worth it? "If anyone desires to come after Me." - "If" means, you don't need to unless you like, but you won't be of any account to Me in this life unless you do. Wherever Christian experience is proving unsatisfactory it is because the Holy Spirit is still battling around this one point, my right to myself, and until that is deliberately given over by me to Jesus Christ I will never have the relationship to Him He asks for."

It is much easier to do something than to trust in God, we mistake panic for inspiration. That is why there are so few fellow workers with God and so many workers for Him. We would rather work for God than believe in Him."

"Compromising Christians spread their disease quicker than any other kind. One backslider exerts an influence over the community that is tenfold worse than the influence of a hundred sinners who have never been saved."

"(Spiritual growth) is a question of obedience… turn away for one second from obedience, and instantly darkness and death are at work."

"Faith is the heroic effort of your life. You fling yourself in reckless confidence on God. God has ventured all in Jesus Christ to save us. Now he wants us to venture our all in a life that can face anything it has to face without wavering....Again and again, you will get up to what Jesus Christ wants, and every time, you turn back when it comes to that point until you abandon resolutely....Jesus Christ demands that you risk everything you hold by common sense--and leap into what He says....Christ demands of the man who trust Him the same reckless spirit....that is daring enough to step out of the crowd and bank his faith on the character of God."

Beauty in My Week

Thanks to Lady Ophelia for this blog idea. I just recently stumbled across these gorgeous paintings. I love the elegance and array of colors. The one below with the two Venetian women reminds me of my sister and me (I'd be the one jamming out on the mandolin, haha!).

Monday, October 19, 2009

Simple Woman's Daybook

Outside my window... another sunny day. Temperatures are back up in the 90s. *pouts* Autumn, please come!
I am thinking...of so many things; the Lord’s direction in my life, my desire to be a missionary and to be part of a ministry that brings ethnic/acoustic Biblical music to those in need, and wanting so much to work on homemaking skills and yet conflicted by being at school full-time, which I also know I need to acquire skills in music/recording for my long-term goals. *big sigh* I have a big to-do list in my mind.
I am thankful for...sleep!!
I am wearing...a turquoise and brown blouse with a silky light brown skirt complete with frills on the edges.
I am creating... a b-day gift idea for my mom.
I am fellowship with sisters this evening!
I am reading…Deuteronomy and poetry by Christina Rossetti. Usually I am reading 3 – 4 books at a time, but it’s difficult to keep up with that while in school.
I am be productive this week in my musical studies.
I am hearing...a gorgeous instrumental track by Jocelyn Pook called Her Gentle Spirit.
One of my favorite things...being at home.
A few plans for the rest of the week: Having a theological debate on Saturday and a prayer meeting on Sunday.
Here is picture thought I am sharing... I am always inspired by the artwork of missionary, Lilias Trotter. This piece is from her book, Parables of the Cross.

Thanks to the 'Simple Woman'

Friday, October 16, 2009

Beauty in My Week...

Thanks to Lady Ophelia for sharing this wonderful idea of incorporating femininity and beauty in blog posts every week. I chose to do a classic-American-beauty theme for this week. You might recognize some of these actresses.

Being a full-time college student, you don't see true feminine beauty in your week. I guess being in a heavily male-populated area of study (audio production) doesn't help with that...*Sigh* But it is a rarity to meet young women who enjoy modest skirts, dresses, blouses, ribbons, hats, lace, etc. There's hardly any grace, style, or femininity in anything ladies wear today. It's either they try to see how much skin they can show or they go for dumpy comfort (aka wearing pajamas or gym/workout clothes to class). And, naturally, their attitude and personality reflects the way they dress. There's no elegance even in the way they hold themselves or relate/speak to fellow classmates.
Here's to upholding old-fashioned beauty!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Stones & Sea

I just recently discovered this song and found that it speaks very deeply of my own heart's experience.

Stones & Sea
Song written by - David Bird, Sarah Lacy, Richard Lacy of Eden's Bridge.

In the beginning,
I was counting the stones on the seashore,
Looking for the precious ones.
Among the stones, I found many pretty things
While the sea rolled on beside me all the time.

Time moved on.
I had collected many stones 'til I tired of them,
And I think they tired of me.
Some were lovely, but I was never satisfied,
And the sea rolled on beside me all the time.

And the wind rose, east and cold.
Whisp'ring sweetly to my soul.
And it said "Look you fool,
You are missing precious things:
Raise your eyes and look towards the sea."

So I looked:
It was as if I saw the sea for the first time,
And it's power captured me.
All the time I had wasted seeking stones,
I had missed the rolling glory of the sea.

And the sea
Devoured a mighty swathe of heart, overwhelmed me
In a way I couldn't know,
And the price for the love of greater things
Was surrender to the great and cruel sea.

And it stole me, and I feared the aching sea,
It consumed me, drowned my mind.
The wind said "Look, you fool,
No matter what you do,
You can't contain the ocean like a stone."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Reading Ecclesiastes With the Gospel in Mind

Here is an excerpt from a commentary on Ecclesiastes by Temper Longman which I find to be crucial for one's mindset when going in to study this weighty book. Keep in mind that the author of Ecclesiastes is being referred to as Qohelet because his title is a translation of the Hebrew word qohelet which literally means "one who assembles" or "assembler."

"The book of Ecclesiastes must in the final analysis be understood by the modern reader in the light of the full context of the canon. For the Christian that context includes the NT."
"Ecclesiastes is never quoted in the NT, but there is an allusion to the message of the book in Romans 8:18-21:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

The world translated “frustration” (mataiotes) is the word used in the Septuagint to translate the motto word of Ecclesiastes, “meaningless” (hebel). While Qohelet sounds nonorthodox in the light of the rest of the canon, he presents a true assessment of the world apart from the light of God’s redeeming love. His perspective on the world and life is restricted; he describes it as life “under the sun” that is, apart from heavenly realities, apart from God. In other words, his hopelessness is the result of the curse of the fall without recourse to God’s redemption.
Qohelet sounds modern because he so vividly captures the despair of a world without God. The difference, though, is that the modern world believes that God does not exist; Qohelet believed that God existed but questioned his love and concern (4:16-5:7). As a result, nothing had meaning for Qohelet, not wealth, wisdom, charity. After all, death brought everything to an end. Qohelet is preoccupied with death throughout the book (2:12-16; 3:18-22; 12:1-7) because he sees nothing beyond that point.
On one level, therefore, Qohelet is exactly right. The world (“under the sun”) without God is meaningless. Death ends it all, so he alternated between “hating life” (2:17) and taking what meager enjoyment God hands out (2:24-26).
As we have seen above, the message of the book is found in the simple instruction in the last few verses, not in Qohelet’s speech. Nonetheless, we may still admit that Qohelet has rightly described the horror of a world under curse and apart from God. What he did not have was hope.
As we turn to the NT, we see that Jesus Christ is the one who redeems us from vanity, the meaninglessness under which Qohelet suffered. Jesus redeemed us from Qohelet’s meaningless world by subjecting himself to it. Jesus is the son of God, but nonetheless, he experienced the vanity of the world so he could free us from it. As he hung on the cross, his own father deserted him (Matt 27: 45-46). At this point, he experienced the frustration of the world under curse in a way that Qohelet could not even imagine. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal 3:13).
As a result, Christians can experience deep significance precisely in those areas where Qohelet felt most oppressed. Jesus has restored meaning to wisdom, labor, love, and life. After all, facing death, Jesus conquered the biggest fear facing Qohelet. He showed that for believers death is not the end of all meaning, but the entrance into the very presence of God."

- The Book of Ecclesiastes by Tremper Longman

Don't EVER let go of the Gospel when reading a book like Ecclesiastes. Without the Gospel, this book shouldn't even be studied or analyzed. It is very possible to formulate errors in your study and understanding of this book, your worldview, etc unless you are firmly committed to a canonical-Christocentric approach. May He renew our minds whenever we read this book, giving us a passion and a vision for His glory in such a serious and heavy book.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Simple Woman's Daybook

Outside my is finally a lovely day in Arizona! Currently 73 degrees. Yay!
I am thinking...that my praying needs to be more pressed and more earnest concerning a dear, lost friend. Lord, be victorious!
I am thankful...that the recording session I engineered this past weekend went so well. Thank the Lord for bearing me up daily!
I am wearing... a light green skirt with golden trim and a t-shirt with gold and brown designs.
I am creating... a 1200-word paper on “the state of the modern church." I've been procrastinating, though.
I am school in an hour.
I am reading...Mimosa by Amy Carmichael and 1 John.
I am make it to this next weekend in one piece and finish my essay.
I am hearing... my brother playing games and a beautiful song by My Brightest Diamond.
One of my favorite evening of rest and reflection with my Bible and my Lord.
A few plans for the rest of the week: Fellowship with sisters tonight, hopefully a driving lesson with my dad during the week, and lots of reading.
Here is picture thought I am sharing... I want to be here right now:

Thanks to the 'Simple Woman.'

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Psalm 119: The Instructional Psalm for the Life of a Set-Apart Disciple

The Psalms teach us how to think, live, feel, and pray. Our emotions are shaped and guided by them and they direct us into a pure and holy lifestyle. In the words of John Piper, “the purpose of the Psalms is to be shaped by God.” They renew our minds.
As I've been reading through Psalm 119 this past month, it dawned on me that this particular Psalm speaks boldly of a set-apart disciple. This disciple has nothing to do with trifles. His mind is undeniably focused. Walking obedient in the way of the Lord is his life.
Psalm 119 begins very simply by describing those who walk in the law of the Lord as "blessed." If we turn back to Psalm 1:1, we will find a description of a how a "blessed" man does not walk. We need to keep turning ourselves back to Psalm 1 as we read through Psalm 119 because the two are very intimately tied together.


"How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word."- Psalm 119:9
When a disciple is meditating on His word day and night and seeks Him through earnest prayer, a change begins to take place. God begins to grant this disciple "spiritual taste buds" for eternal, holy things. The disciple is suddenly no longer content with earthly pleasures. Such things will not suffice. He begins to see beyond the trifles of this world. His whole world of thinking, feeling, and living is purified as the Holy Spirit cleanses him. The way he communicates in his relationships and the way he organizes his lifestyle all speak loudly of the Holy Spirit's purifying work in his life. He no longer deals with things in a fleshly, self-seeking manner. All his life is taken up by his heart's sole desire to seek and glorify the Lord in all that he does.


“Delight comes from significant beholding, searching, and lingering.”
- John Piper
What do you delight in? What do you spend most of your time thinking about? Who do you spend most of your time with? Where and to whom is the gaze of your heart turned?
A disciple's sole delight is in God alone. We take note of this by reading how much this "blessed" man of Psalm 119 is very much in love with the Lord and His way.
Psalm 110:24, 35, 47-48, 162-164. Psalm 1:2.
The Lord's words are like honey to his mouth (119:103) and he pants for them (119:131). He considers them wonderful, therefore, his soul keeps them (119:129).
There is some serious delighting going on in this Psalm. And this is where our lesson lies: a true disciple seeks not earthly loves or pursuits, but all his/her energy, time, and heart is invested in the Lord.


But what exactly are these pleasures and pursuits of the flesh that I keep mentioning? Anything that your heart seeks rest, enjoyment, and pleasure in. The simplest way to discern where your heart lies is to ask yourself, "When I am tired and exhausted - what/whom do I seek comfort in" or "When I am frustrated and troubled - what/whom do I go to for answers and rest?" It could be things as innocent and simple as watching movies, shopping, playing video games, music, internet, playing with the latest iPhone, texting away, food, particular people in our lives, etc. This list takes in anything or anyone that we're tied to and seek satisfaction in.
I can sense the rising protest already. Does this seem extreme? Is this too hard?
Some of us are called to rule these things out of our lives completely while others are not. The point is that many of us have become slaves to our movies, iPhones, texting, computers, games, music, clothes, hobbies, etc. These are the things that turn our head and take up our time. A disciple of the Word does not live this way. You can't be a disciple AND be tied to this world's toys. We are to be DISCIPLINED in every area of our lives. If you are not disciplined in this area than you are a slave to your flesh.
When we set out to stay our hearts on God and truly walk in His ways, we begin to taste the joys of being yielded to the Spirit and not the flesh. We are suddenly no longer slaves to the mindless pleasures and pursuits of our flesh which are always unsatisfying and leave our hearts empty and minds dull. When we run in the way of His commandments, he sets our hearts free (119:32) to live for eternal pleasures and be no longer slaves to trivial, fleshly toys and pursuits.


A disciple prays like the "blessed" man of Psalm 119.
"Teach me, O Lord..."
"give me understanding..."
"lead me..."
"Incline my heart..."
"turn my eyes..."
"confirm to your servant..."
"Turn away reproach..."
(Psalm 119:33-39)
"deal bountifully with your servant..."
"open my eyes...."
"give me life..."
"strengthen me..."

His prayers are saturated with Biblical thinking and God-centered delighting. We know this because he spends time in meditation and memorization of the word - "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you" (verse 11).
What are we storing in our hearts and minds? The lyrics to the latest album in our music collection? The lines to our favorite tv shows? The list of things we could be storing in ourselves is exhaustive. True disciples of Christ reflect Him while the rest of us just reflect our latest obsessions.

“We are not going to live if we’re not meditating and saturating ourselves in the Psalms day and night. If our souls aren’t being filled and replenished daily with the Word than we’ll just be brittle and frail and chaff-like (Psalm 1:4)."
“Form the habit of living in the Psalms so much that the world of your thinking and the world of your feeling would be transformed into full-blooded Biblical thinking and feeling.”
- John Piper

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Whole Life

The violinist in the orchestra has submitted first to the instructor. He obeys the rules laid down by him and handles his instrument accordingly. He submits then to the music as written by the composer, paying attention to the markings for dynamics as well as to notes, rests, and timing. Finally, he submits to the conductor. The conductor tells him, by word or gesture, what he wants, and the violinist does just that.
Is there any image of freedom and joy more exhilarating than a full orchestra, everybody sawing, tootling, pounding, strumming, blowing, clashing, and hammering away for all they are worth, under the direction of the immense energy and discipline of a man who knows every note of every instrument in every concerto and knows how to elicit that note exactly so that it will contribute most fully to the glory of the work as a whole
? – Elisabeth Elliot

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a disciplined life wholly devoted to Christ is only for missionaries and those in full-time ministry. We are each called to different paths and lead very different lifestyles. But we have the same calling in Christ. This is the beauty of being a disciple of our Lord: many walks of life, but one vision, one goal! A disciple’s life is orderly and obedient, but never inflexible and rigid. Inflexibility suggests that one is working by the flesh and without the joy of faith. Christ is at work in us, making such an obedient, disciplined life possible.

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

The life of a disciple of God is not burdensome, nor is it an empty existence. As Elizabeth Elliot once wrote, “A holy life is a whole life. The words whole and holy derive from the same root.”

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “He that heareth my Word and doeth it, he it is that loveth me.” “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” “His commandments are not grievous.”
God is working grace for us through discipline. His commands are His enabling.

If Christ seldom makes offers without demands, He also seldom makes demands without offers. He offers His strength to enable us to meet His demands. - John Stott

Every moment that we go to Him, laboring in our prayers for others, for His glory to be shown, for His will to be done, for Him to be victorious over sin in our lives, God will be triumphant.
Every time we turn away from earthly pleasures to comfort and satisfy us and throw ourselves on Him to save our souls from complacency, God will be triumphant.
Every time we wrestle in our prayers and days of fasting, asking for His power and grace to help us live this life, to be equipped with the wisdom and knowledge of His word, God will be triumphant.
Your body may be spent as a disciple, for the road is not an easy one, but your inner man will be multiplied. His grace will always be sufficient.
I end this post on some simple illustrations of discipline and obedience given by Elisabeth Elliot in a book written to her daughter.

“...I can see a sailboat skimming silently along the horizon. It is a beautiful image of freedom. But the freedom of the sailboat to move so swiftly and beautiful is the result of obedient to laws. The builder of the boat had to know the proper ratio of beam to keel and mast. The one who sails the boat obeys the rules of sailing. A ship tacking against the wind moves deviously, but when she runs with a string tide or a following wind she takes to herself the power of tide and wind and they become her own. She is doing the thing she was made for. She is free not by disobeying the rules but by obeying them.
Modern highways are often called freeways, but how much freedom of movement would there be if each driver were encouraged to choose any lane, any speed, any direction that happened to his fancy at the moment?
I noticed on Boston Common a sign saying, “Please,” which the public was expected to understand was short for “Please keep off the grass.” Almost everybody had obeyed that sign and that’s why there was still some grass….This choice (of allowing the grass to grow) meant a restriction, a willingness to limit themselves to the walks. It meant not doing what they wanted to do in order to have something they wanted more.
You and I have talked about college students’ idea of freedom in dormitories. They don’t want lights-out rules or coming-in rules or quiet rules. Consequently this freedom of theirs to keep the lights on till all hours, to stay out most of the night, and to play records at 3 A.M. means that there’s no freedom to sleep, there’s not even the freedom to study, which means that students are no longer free to be students, the very thing they’ve come to college and paid fifteen thousand dollars to be.”

Drop Thy still dews of quietness
Till all our strivings cease
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace

- John Greenleaf Whittier

I'll continue this thread of posts on discipline next week. My next post will focus more on how a set-apart disciple lives, thinks, and prays.

Books Cited and other such recommended sources:
Elliot, Elisabeth. Discipline: The Glad Surrender.
Elliot, Elisabeth. Let Me Be a Woman.
Piper, John. The Anatomy of Legalism and the Discipline of Prayer.
Piper, John. Daniel's Defiance of Darius in Prayer.
Piper, John. Taylor, Justin. A God Entranced Vision of All Things. Chapter 5: Pursuing a Passion for God Through Spiritual Disciplines: Learning from Jonathan Edwards by Donald S. Whitney.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

“train yourself in godliness” – 1 Tim 4:7

“strive to enter by the narrow gate” – Luke 13:24
“take up your cross daily” – Luke 9:23
“work out your salvation with fear and trembling” – Phil 2:13
“I pommel my body and subdue it” – 1 Cor 9:27
“If your right eye offends you pluck it out” – Matt 5:29
“strive together with me in your prayers” – Rom 15:30

The "training in godliness" and the working out of our salvation is a way of living that has been almost lost. To our modern generation, it is a thing of the past. But to a disciple of the Lord, such a life is precious. A disciple seeks to acquire a Biblical understanding of spiritual disciplines.

“We are the creatures of a great master Designer, and His ordering of our lives is sure and certain, yet many people live without any visible order or peace or serenity. The way we live ought to manifest the truth of what we believe. A messy life speaks of a messy – an incoherent – faith.” - Elisabeth Elliot

Discipline - By Faith Alone

Before one can move forward with how a disciple lives, there is an issue that must be addressed. Many object to discipline in the Christian life with a slew of reasons that are usually along the lines of...
“I already go to church on sunday. I attend and participate in a weekly Bible study; I read my Bible and pray often enough – how much more disciplined should I be? Isn’t this enough?”
“That’s legalistic talk! I read and pray when I desire to because there’s no sense trying to be spiritual when my heart isn’t in it – and God wants our whole hearts when we’re seeking Him, doesn’t He?”

Firstly, we must remember that those who do not love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength cannot willingly submit all to Him in glad surrender. The true saint knows that the Lord’s commands are His enabling. When Christ call us to be His disciples, he makes that possible through His grace.
Secondly, a disciple does not seek comfort or gain. Not even the slightest bit. This is what the missionary, Amy Carmichael, called “Calvary Love.” A love that thinks nothing of self but looks upward to the Master, completely and is utterly taken up by that which is eternal. Love never asks, “Is this enough?” "How much must I give?” Calvary Love gives all.
Thirdly, legalism is such an abused word today. Those who use it in objection to a life of discipline use it in ignorance. It would help to acquire a Biblical mindset about what is and what is not legalism.

“….legalism is the pursuit of the law with some other engine than faith, on some other steam than the Spirit. What is the engine of legalism? Paul calls it “works,” (Romans 9:32) and he calls the fuel of this engine “flesh” (Gal 3:3). “Works” is the opposite of “faith” and “flesh” is the opposite of “Spirit.” So legalism is not whether you strive to obey the commands of God, but which engine and which fuel you run on.
Thus the power of legalism comes from ourselves (flesh). This is crucial because the aim of legalism is to trade with God value for value. And so the engine of works must have something self-wrought to offer God in the deal. “To the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor but as what is due” (Romans 4:4). Legalism deals in debt-payments and magnifies its worth to God.”
In contrast, “the power of the “obedience of faith” does not come from ourselves but from God (the Spirit). The aim of the obedience of faith is to receive everything from God as a free gift of grace. And so the engine of faith must have nothing self-wrought in its dealing with God. “By the grace of God I am what I am … I labored harder than any of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). The obedience of faith deals in beneficiary delights and magnifies the grace of God.
Discipline is not legalism. Hard work is not legalism. Acting against carnal impulses is not legalism. They may be. But they may also be the torque of the engine of faith running on the fuel of the Spirit to the glory of the grace of God in a self-centered and undisciplined world” (Piper).
“Legalism is not attacking the American church today in the form of spiritual discipline. Not by a long shot! That is not our besetting danger. I think the most distinctive form of legalism (not the only one) in our day is almost exactly the opposite, with two sides to the coin.
One side is a fear of anything remotely resembling the biblical concept of discipline implied in phrases like “train yourself in godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7) or “strive to enter by the narrow gate” (Luke 13:24) or “take up your cross daily” (Luke 9:23) or “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:13) or “I pommel my body and subdue it” (1 Corinthians 9:27) or “If your right eye offends you pluck it out” (Matthew 5:29) or “strive together with me in your prayers” (Romans 15:30). That whole reality of Christian discipline, that has marked the greatest saints for 1900 years, is feared today in the new legalism.
The other side of the coin is the emergence today of what you might call psychologically correct speech. If you don’t use a certain language to describe morality and ethics and duty and God’s commandments that is “psychologically correct”, then you are defective as a Christian people helper. In place of the old list of taboos there is now a new list of taboos: words like “ought” and “should” and “must” dare not (read: should not) be used. And warnings like “those who do such things shall not enter the kingdom of God ” (Galatians 5:21), and “if you live according to the flesh you will die” (Romans 8:13) are banned. They are simply not “psychologically correct” ways of dealing with reality.
….I urge you to consider whether some of our weakness in the cushy, self-indulgent, meet-my-need American Christianity is owing not mainly to our bondage to lifeless lists of dos and don’ts, but to our loss of biblical discipline” (Piper).

“The call of Christ is to die not to live. You must by the grace of God make a decision – that Lord I want approval from You and no one else. So much Christian work originates in the flesh and carnality.
“Lord, I only want Your approval.”
I know those are strong words – unless you are sensitive to the Lord, you can easily misunderstand. We have a problem in American, in our church – we misunderstand obedience for legalism and bondage.” - K.P. Yohannan

Encountering God Through Spiritual Discipline

Spiritual discipline encompasses meditation, memorization, and study of the Word, prayer, fasting, and private worship. We should daily seek solitude in order to meet God and to saturate our minds and hearts in Scripture.

“And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone…” – Matt 14:23
And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. – Mark 1:35

“seeking God-focused solitude is a Christ-like habit…when we rightly practice the spiritual discipline of solitude, we not only conform to Christ’s example, we encounter him” (Whitney, pg 118).

A disciple understands the need to be a good steward of his time for without it there are no other disciplines. Perhaps this is why the practice of spiritual disciplines is so uncommon these days. Our time is so misused by our carnal pursuits. With modern technological advances, we don’t need to be productive or patient anymore. Everything is given to us with speed and comfort. In addition, we’re constantly distracted and kept busy by our society. Our world keeps us constantly moving and constantly longing for this and that. Sadly, this is a mindset that children are being raised on and they’ve taken it into their adult life. To be at rest, to be still, and to be productive and fruitful are no longer values and characteristics bred into our children.
It’s all about play.
Much of Christianity plays through life because we see no need for discipline. We dress up our toys and pursuits with “Christian” morality and attempt to justify our carnal fetishes by claiming they’re “innocent” and “safe.” Most of us dare not recall the Apostle Paul’s words, "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is constructive” (1 Cor 10:23).
Even worse, there are those in their 20s, some pushing 30s, who live and breathe on this kind of self-indulgent, childish, and spontaneous lifestyle as an escape from the daily pressures and stresses of their jobs. These are what Alex and Brett Harris, authors of Do Hard Things, call “kidults.” Adults who live and think like 5 year olds. Kidults rely on earthly pleasures (movies, TV, games, food, music). They turn to these things when they are tired and weak and depend upon their obsessions to supply them.
Until this generation realizes just how sad and horrifying this kind of living is and comes to understand how imperative it is to redeem the time, we will continue to play through this life as if it was our own. We must recall the words of Jesus:

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” - Mark 8:34-37.

Father, save us from carnal Christianity! Teach us how to live Mark 8:34-37!
A true disciple acknowledges every day as a gift and seeks to use it for the glory of God.
As disciples, we are called to a higher living, although many may not see it.
It is the way of the Cross.
It is the way in which all our rights are surrendered into the hands of our Lord
It is the way in which we die to self and live to Christ EVERY DAY.
It is the way in which we submit every day and its decisions, pursuits, etc to God in prayer.
It is way in which we no longer give into our addictions of luxury, comfort, and fun, but are relinquished (soul, heart, mind, and strength) to God for His divine purposes.
It is the life poured out in service to others, to be our Lord’s hands and feet.
It is the way of Calvary Love.
It is the way that Christ went.

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. - Matt 10:24

A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. – Luke 6:40

Books and Links Cited and Recommended:
Elliot, Elisabeth. Let Me Be a Woman.
Carmichael, Amy. If.
Piper, John. The Anatomy of Legalism and the Discipline of Prayer.
Piper, John. Daniel's Defiance of Darius in Prayer.
Piper, John. Taylor, Justin. A God Entranced Vision of All Things. Chapter 5: Pursuing a Passion for God Through Spiritual Disciplines: Learning from Jonathan Edwards by Donald S. Whitney.