Training in Righteousness
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Tuesday
Sep162014

Lessons from credit card statements

Yesterday, I went through our stash of credit card statements to file them away. When they come in, I put them in a box and eventually file them away in a cabinet when the box gets full. Eventually, we shred them and get rid of them. It took me a long time. After I was finished, I went to my online banking and opted for e-statements instead of paper. Why had I not done this sooner? 

As I went through and filed them in order of date, I was of course naturally drawn to the purchases. These went as far back as 2007, so there were a lot of purchases. There were a few vendors that popped up repeatedly: Amazon, Christian Book Distributors, and Westminster Books being the most frerquent in the last two years. Yes, the majority of the purchases on those cards which I made were books. As I flipped through the statements, I had a momentary flash where I contemplated adding up how much I've spent on books in the past two years, but then thought better of it. To be honest, when I was finished, I didn't feel all that great.

Some of those purchases were good ones, and some of them -- maybe most of them -- were books that I bought because it was the "latest and greatest." Every day, through my social media channels, someone somewhere is telling me I must read this or that book. And I, being the sheep that I am (i.e. dumb) I followed along with a click of my mouse.

I wondered how many of those books I bought because I wanted to read them or because I didn't want to be left out of a conversation. How many of them did I buy because I thought they would fix a problem, or give me profound understanding? How many of them actually did such a thing? I'm willing to bet that if I knew the titles of those books, only a handful would be ones I actually remembered in any detail. 

I left the whole exercise feeling like a real failure as a wife, because I know that there were times when I was not being a good steward of our finances. When we buy a Christian book, we comfort ourselves with the knowledge that it's for our spiritual benefit, and we justify our purchase. I don't think it's accurate to say that people who can't buy as many books as they want will languish spiritually. Some of the most godly people I know aren't really big readers.

I wonder how a woman like me, in Medieval times (assuming she made it past 40) learned spiritual truths? She wouldn't have had her own bible, let alone any commentaries. If she was literate, she could have copied portions of a bible, but in all likelihood, she probably had to memorize anything she wanted to remember. As I mentioned, I probably don't even remember most of what I read. How would I fare today if all of a sudden I had to memorize things I read and found intereseting? We are so spoiled now with digital books that don't take up room on our shelves and are cheaper, that we don't actually have to remember anything we've read. We can just look in our clippings. And while I'm at it, what is the benefit of having to remember less? If we don't have to remember as much, what do we do that extra space in our brains? I hope the answer isn't playing Angry Birds.

I love reading, and I'm not going to be foolish enough to say I'm never buying another book. But I also want to be financially responsible, and use our money wisely. And I want to interact with what I'm reading more fully. If I have to struggle to remember what I've read, then maybe I need to slow down. Maybe I need to savour things longer. We are so blessed to have access to cheap books. The men and women who lived before us certainly did not, and there are Christians in other parts of the world for whom books are a luxury. After yesterday's exercise, I'm going to get another box ready for the Christian Salvage Mission. Hopefully that rather sickening feeling I had yesterday afternoon will remain in my radar, and I'll be a lot more circumspect with regard to book buying.

Monday
Sep152014

No darkness. At all.

In I John 1:5, John proclaims the message: "God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all."

Thus John introduces one of many elements of dualism in his letter: light/dark, truth/lie, sin/righteousness; remain/leave; love/hate.

It begins with who God is: light. There is no darkness. At all. None. Nada. Light is a metaphor for purity and darkness is a metaphor for sin. God is the source of light, truth, and righteousness. By contrast, we are not light. We are created in God's image, and because of that, we must reflect his image, but we are not light. We can only walk in the light because of Christ who was the light of the world (John 1:1-14). 

There are a lot of good practical reasons for avoiding sin. It can create bad consequences, it can hurt other people, it can hurt us. But beyond that, sinning means we have taken a step out of the light. When we sin, we walk in the darkness. No, we don't have to stay there, and as John points out in 1:9, we can have forgiveness and cleasning, but when we make a habit of sinning, we make a habit of stepping outside the light. 

What happens when we step into the darkness? We can't see. When we walk in darkness, the light of God is not there to expose our sins. That is why being in fellowship with God and God's people is so important. It means we are walking in the light. If we spend too much time outside of that light, we won't see our sins, and our thinking will be darkened, too.

There is no better motivation to avoid sin than because it will cause us to step into the darkness and outside of God's fellowship. And in fellowship with God is where we want to be.

Sunday
Sep142014

Lifting Up Our Hearts - 38

Advance Toward the End of Our Course

Grant, Almighty God,
that seeing we are born in a most corrupt way,
in which such a license is taken
to indulge in wickedness
that hardly a spark of virtue appears --

O grant that we may yet continue upright
in the midst of thorns.

And do Thou so constantly keep us
under the guidance of Thy Word
that we may cultivate true piety
and also what is just toward our neighbours.

And as there is in us no power
to preserve ourselves safe,
grant that Thy Son may so protect us
by the power of the Holy Spirit
that we may continue to advance
toward the end of our course,
until we be at length
gathered into that celestial kingdom
He has procured for us
by His own blood. Amen 

Saturday
Sep132014

Two favourites get together

Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer:

Friday
Sep122014

Oh, that I had wings like a dove!

One of the saddest of the lament Psalms is Psalm 55. It opens immediately with a plea:

Give ear to my prayer, O God,
and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy

The sadness is apparent through words like "anguish," (v.4), "terrors," (v.4), and "horror," (v.4)

He longs to fly away:

And I say, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
yes, I would wander far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness;
I would hurry to find shelter from the ranging wind and tempest. 

Can you relate to that? I think we have all felt like that. It is such a vivid picture; to rise from our situation and soar above it, leaving behind the storm, and finding rest in more verdant places.

The worst part is that the cause of the lament is a friend. In v. 12, we learn his identity:

For it is not an enemy who taunts me --
then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me --
then I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man, my equal,
my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to take sweet counsel together;
within God's house, we walked in the throng.

It is a painful thing to have a friend turn his back on us. Perhaps we discover that our friend has revealed a confidence, betrayed a trust, or repeated gossip about us. Perhaps she has just stopped calling, and we rack our brains to know why our friend has seemed to have rejected us. It's one thing to be rejected by a stranger or someone we aren't close to; it's another when it's someone we love. It is at those moments when we must be really careful not to let it consume us.

The solution, of course, comes in v. 16, with another of those beautiful "buts" found in the Psalms: But I call to God, and the Lord will save me.

Ultimately, God is the comfort we will need. It may not be easy, and our sense of justice may want to take action, but if our friend has sinned against us, God's justice will be meted out. There are times when we wil never know what has happened or why, and sometimes, we have to let things drop.

The advice in v. 22 is simple, but the only real solution:

Cast your burdens on the Lord,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
the righteous to be moved.

When friendships fracture, we have to avoid sin ourselves. It may be hard. We may feel bitter. We may want to take matters into our own hands, but that could get very messy. Sometimes, confronting a friend doesn't go well, and we may realize we should have remained silent. We have to remember that Christ knows what it is like to have his friends turn on him. When that happened to him, he cast himself upon the mercy of his Father. And as hard as it may be, that is what we need to do.

When we grieve over lost relationships, we can speak Psalm 55 aloud. It gives us words to express our sorrow. There is just so much we cannot control, and in real life, unlike movies and novels, perfect reconciliation often does not occur. This may sound like a depressing thought. But these situations are the stuff of real life. And the beauty is that God will sustain us. That's really all we need in the moment: to be sustained. He will not let us be moved. It doesn't meant it will be easy, but in the end, we will see how faithful God is, and that's a good thing.