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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Call for "Coronary Christians"

More memorable words from John Piper, in another of his devotionals, Life As a Vapor:

I am glad for adrenaline; I suspect it gets me through lots of Sundays. But it doesn't do much for Mondays. I am even more thankful for my heart. It just keeps on being a humble, quiet servant - during good days and bad days, happy and sad, high and low, appreciated and unappreciated. It never lets me down... It just keeps humbly lubb-dubbing along.

Coronary Christians are like the heart in the causes they serve. Adrenal Christians are like adrenaline - a spurt of energy, and then fatigue. What the church and the world need today is marathoners, not just sprinters. People who find the pace to finish the (lifelong) race.

Oh, for coronary Christians! Christians committed to great causes, not great comforts. I plead with you to dream a dream that is bigger than you and your families and your churches. Un-deify the American family, and say boldly that our children are not our cause; they are given to us to train for a cause. They are given to us for a short season so that we can train them for the great causes of truth and mercy and justice in a prejudiced, pain-filled, and perishing world.

Oh, Lord, this is our heart's desire.
Forgive us for adrenaline spurts of righteouness.
Forgive us for little sprints of holiness.
Forgive us for short flashes of noble-minded sacrifice.
And build into the fiber of our faith a rugged, resilient,
never-say-die perseverance in the cause of truth and love!
Make us coronary Christians!

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Art of the Book Pile

As we age we discover we have become adept at many esoteric things. One of my gifts is apparently the ability to create good book piles. (And we all know beauty is in the eye of the beholder. My husband does not find them quite as mesmerizing as I do.) I keep several piles around the house. Next to my "study" chair and ottoman is the "Study Pile". There you will find my two basic Greek books... kept within hand's reach for easy access, the books needed for whatever projects I'm working on, Challies' current classic book and a few candidates for future Ladies' Book Clubs. Next to the love seat is a stack of Seminary Journals, an easier to read book for the evenings I'm brain dead and two fat puzzle books (crossword & Suduko) for emergency use. Upstairs beside my bed are the books I read at bedtime, along with my "waiting to be read" stacks. In the Library are some works I am working through more slowly, as well as the overflow stacks of books I've already read, but wish to keep near for reference, lending or rereading. The system seems to work for me, so I thought I'd give you the visual basics of book piles.

Here's a good example of a "project pile". Using table space, however, can be problematic as you may want to actually use the table for eating. [Table surfaces tend to get covered much too easily!]

This is a cardinal sin... NEVER place knick-knacks where books should be. Don't listen to HGTV! This is a waste of perfectly good bookshelf space. It IS acceptable to place small items in front of the books, as long as it doesn't slow down your ability to grab a book quickly. Pictures hung on book shelves over books are also no-nos.

This is what the book pile next to my study chair normally looks like. You can tell it's an "active pile", that serious work is going on here and that it's more than just a dust collector next to my chair. A slightly cluttered pile shows thinking is going on.

This is that same book pile after Tina has cleaned my house. It takes me an entire week to get it back into its "proper" position!
                                                                                                                                                                        And this is how Tina REALLY wants to stack them! Beware of overachievers like this!

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Contemplating Your Navel or Thoughts on Biblical Application

Most of us are familiar with the three primary steps of Bible study: 1. Observation (author, recipient, when written, why written, key words/phrases, literary genre, development of thought, historical background, etc.) 2. Interpretation [meaning to original recipients, taking into account context, history, culture, original language, etc.] 3. Application What are the universal principles & how do they apply in your life? I think I have a better handle now on the points the old Word of Life Quiet Times had in mind when, after each Bible reading they asked, "What does it say?", "What does it mean?", "How does it apply?". To be honest, I never understood what they wanted. What's the difference between the first two questions? Should I answer the first question by copying the verse word-for-word? I just didn't get the point... and it seemed pretty boring. If they had only explained Observation - Interpretation - Application, I might have made real progress in my Bible study!

Recently I've been thinking a lot about the "Application" stage of study. That step is difficult because it takes thought based upon biblical truth, honest evaluation of your life and meditation on both ... chewing on it, turning it over in your mind, examining the ins and outs. In my biblical counseling training days, a lot of time was spent looking at the application sections of the epistles. I remember someone once saying to me, "I just want the Bible to tell me what to do and I'll do it." Really? I find myself feeling a lot more like Paul in Romans 7 when I look at clear Biblical commandments and resolve to obey them ... until the next time I'm tempted, that is. 

In recent years it seems the final step of "Application" has become more akin to the world's fascination with "self-help". The Bible is too often viewed as a guide to making your life function better. What steps do I need to take to have a manageable, fulfilling life? How can the Bible make my marriage better? ... make my children more obedient? All those things are possible, of course, but I think the questions are wrong. These things are BY-PRODUCTS of living a life pleasing to the Lord, not goals within themselves. God did not give us the Bible to make our lives better. He gave us His word as a revelation of HIMSELF! He gave us the Bible that we might know HIM.

So how should we think about the "Application" step in our Bible studies? When Pastor Wragg first came to FBC, he tried to get me to think more about "Implication", before thinking about specific "Application" in my life. I didn't understand what he meant at first, but I think I'm beginning to get a handle on it. When I read God's word now, I look for the "big picture". What is it teaching me about God? For example, when I prepared to teach the Book of Ruth last year, instead of asking myself, "What can I learn about the life of Ruth and/or Naomi?", I continually asked myself, "What can I learn about God and what is the Implication of that in my life?"

So what did I come away with from the Book of Ruth? I learned that God is always good and always faithful to His people, even when circumstances might make it appear that He is not. THAT is the main point of the Book of Ruth, which is why (like John Piper) I chose my title for the Book from an old poem about God's providence, "The Hidden Smile of God".  Once I had determined what God is teaching about Himself in Ruth, I had to spend time thinking about the implication of that truth in my life. From a broad perspective, the "Implication" is that as one of His own, His goodness and providence is present in MY life, just as it was in Ruth and Naomi's. The implication of THAT would then would be: I must trust Him, even in the midst of trials and difficult circumstances. Another implication would be that a trial in my life does not mean I am being punished, but that God in His goodness knows precisely what experiences will make me more like His Son ... which is THE ultimate goodness that can happen in my life! From that point comes more specific, day-to-day personal life "Applications" ... one trial at a time.

I would encourage you to train yourself to think this way as you study God's Word. Step back and see the bigger picture of what God is revealing about Himself. Then contemplate the Implication of those truths in your life. You'll find such an approach results in a change in your "inner man", in your thinking ... which will ultimately be expressed in a lasting change in your outer actions. What a depth of richness there is for those who contemplate God. Don't settle for "self-help". Get your eyes off your navel and onto God!