The Dancing Puritan

Monday, July 29, 2013

Lines

The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!
Psalm 97:1



Each morning the lady puts up the umbrellas and lounge chairs on the sand facing the ocean. She has been doing so long enough to remember the glory days of the hotel where I am staying. She says that it used to be the Cat's Meow. The glory is now diminished but it still serves as a sufficient place to lodge for a few days.

The hotels that face the beach were all carefully placed when they were constructed. Their placement was partly based on the tides of the ocean. Though the water that laps on the beach every day does not  fall in the exact same spot, it is obvious where the water's line generally falls. The lady puts up her umbrellas and chairs at just the right spots based on her years of experience and knowledge of the tides.  She knows the line. Her livelihood is based on the water's edge. Sometimes the line is disrupted by storms but even the storms are calculated and predicted, to a degree. The lady understands.

Lines give definition to everything from haircuts to coastlines. They reflect organization, order, and boundary. Without the lines chaos rules.  How does the tide know where to push the edge of the line and when to withdraw?  It knows because there is a God who establishes lines. He brings order. Without the lines the world crumbles in disorder and falls in disaster. The lines are a reason to rejoice. 

The coastlands can be glad because God has established coastlines. The sunbather can soak in the rays, the swimmer can swim, and even the dolphins can dance all because, The LORD reigns...let the many coastlands be glad! He has given lines as governing principles of His universe.

Look around today for lines.

Friday, July 26, 2013

No Country for Old Men

Yesterday I received my first ever senior-citizen-discount.  I got $1 off of a $5 admission to the Marine Center near Daytona Beach, Florida. For some strange reason it seemed exciting, a sort of distinguishing mark of maturity. On the other hand it was a bit humorous because 51 is not that old, or is it?

Folks often refer to guys my age as middle-age. In reality it is not likely middle but three-quarters age (unless I live to be 102, which is not likely). Of course the truly elderly would smirk if they heard me say that I am a senior-citizen.  The reality is, I have changed.  Yesterday I told the wife-of-my-youth that the world looks different to me now. Something has changed. Either I have changed or the world has changed. The world is basically the same as it has always been. It must be that I see the world differently now and it feels different.

I am not what I once was in all sorts of ways. That is good on some level but in other ways it does not feel so good. I suppose that I am wiser but I still struggle with some of the same sins of my youth. I imagine that I am smarter but knowledge is way to fast for me to keep up with. Added to the fact that knowledge travels at the speed-of-light is the fact that I find myself forgetting things that I once knew (or at least struggling to bring them to mind).

I am tired and weary of various challenges. I know that they are light in comparison with the struggles of others and in view of the eternal weight of glory that awaits me in Christ. Yet they are still my challenges. My mantra of late is, I want to finish well. I want to finish in a fruitful manner. I want the last lap of my four lap course to be the best of all. I am taking some steps to try and cultivate a final lap of fruitfulness.

Yet, increasingly it seems, that this world has little use for old folks. Our world is cozy with the younger crowd and constantly speaks of their hopes and dreams. The young have an energy and in some cases an ambition that is stronger than the waves of the ocean and more refreshing. Yet the young are getting older and it is obvious that the elderly are marginalized and shuffled to the periphery. There is no country for old men. Too many in the old-guy-army have contributed to the cultural mindset. They have left their posts, fallen into gross sin, or have bought in to the mindset that they must live out their days shuffling their feet and feeling sorry for themselves. There is something strikingly unmanly about abandoning one's family as the years go on or in sitting passively as the world goes by.

I wonder. What can an older guy bring to the table?

Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12).
The righteous flourish like a palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him (Psalm 92:12-15). 

It is possible (and expected?) that the godly man will never stop bearing fruit, that he can be ever full of sap and green even in old age. As the godly man ages he should be fruitful until the ax falls and the tree crashes down. And when the tree falls, even then, it makes an impact.

This world is different to me at age 51.5. Nothing seems quite the same. Joys are tempered. Sorrows keep me earth-bound. I suppose perspective is sharpened. Smiles are appreciated but temporary.  Longings intensify for that place where I will see Jesus face-to-face. He will finally grant to me a depth of joy that never fades. What I must remember today is that he is present with me here and now.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Decisions and Fruitfulness

Early Morning Scene from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Why do we make the choices that we do? We usually attribute the best of motives to our decisions. But we are painfully aware that our best thoughts and activities are not as pure as we might imagine.

It is possible to think so much about the end of our days that we fail to shift the gear into drive.  We might contemplate and imagine the future without making an attempt at the present. In the classic book, A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis, he writes of his deceased wife, Her palate for all the joys of sense and intellect and spirit was fresh and unspoiled. Nothing would have been wasted on her. She liked more things and liked them more than anyone I had known. A noble hunger, long unsatisfied, met at last its proper food, and almost instantly the food was snatched away.

As Lewis grieved the loss of his wife he recollected that, while she lived, she enjoyed her life.

Looking back, the image that frightens me is that I have somehow let the minutes, the hours, and the days pass me by without the engagement of life that Lewis describes. I find myself repenting, time and again, of time unredeemed. Without looking back morbidly, it is my desire to use past failures as an impetus for future growth.

The apostle Paul writes, For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me . . . (Philippians 1:21-22).  Paul said, to live is Christ. What that meant for Paul was to live every day in such a way as to cultivate a fruit-producing life. He was not content to just live out his life in trivial pursuits. His passion was Christ and that meant, in part, a life engaged in rigorous and joyful enterprises. He was not interested in running or laboring in vain (2:16).

I am sure that you join me in not wanting to spin your wheels and live out the rest of your days in vain. In my case I felt the need to find ways to clear out cob-webs that have settled in my brain and to allow fresh winds blow on my heart. One of the steps that I have taken is take up the books and engage in formal studies again. Until recently the last time that I was on a seminary campus as a student was  in 1988. Twenty-five years later here I am again and at one of the busiest and most challenging times of my life.

Why? Why add to my already overwhelmed life the new and heavy responsibilities of doctoral work?  Why not swim to the shore and bask in the sunshine for a few years. The voices inside and some on the outside have called me to slow down and to take a break. Those voices are not without warrant. I hear them and understand them.

I am not a Wesleyan but John Wesley is instructive on some points. It is said that Wesley had a keen sense of being able to hold seemingly contradictory truths in balance (see Paul Chilcote's book: Recapturing the Wesleys' Vision). It is true that the Lord gives rest to his children (Psalm 127). It is also true that laboring beyond the point of fatigue is a mark of Christians.  Rest and work are friends that must never separate. More work may sometimes provide the rest that is needed. Rest enables more productive work.

Long hours of reading books, writing book reviews, research papers, and a doctoral thesis may not be a part of the answer for you.  For me I am finding that such things, though difficult, are bringing refreshment to my life. I am hopeful that such refreshment will help me to live out my days in a fruitful manner.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Messy Repentance

Staggering Mercy

Repentance is often messy.  It is messy because in our humanness our repentance is mixed. In true sorrow of heart we might cry out to God and yet have too low a view of God and too grand a view of our abilities. Perhaps that is why the Puritans spoke of repenting of our repentance.  

The Israelites of old were recipients of great light concerning the character, power, and works of God.  He made himself known to them, provided for all of their needs, led them by day and night, and gave to them abundantly (Psalm 78:1-16). Yet they were cowardly, covenant breakers, stubborn, rebellious and forgetful.  They doubted God, complained against God, and even challenged God (9-20).

The wrath of God was stirred up because His people did not believe in Him (22). The root of sin is always unbelief.  God's wrath was displayed in giving the Israelites what they craved (22-29) and then killing their strongest and bringing down their promising young men (31).

Take a deep breath.  Be quiet for a moment. Get ready for this next statement.  In spite of all this, they still sinned: despite his wonders, they did not believe (32).  God had made himself known to Israel. He had cared for and provided for all of their needs. He led them through dangers, toils and snares. He showed great patience before his wrath was kindled. Then he displayed his wrath. Yet, they still sinned.

The insanity of the sinner is that he thinks that he can constantly receive good things from God's hand, ignore God's existence in any meaningful way, break covenant with God, challenge God with demands, receive God's wrath, and go on sinning. 

God is not mocked. He brought more death and more terror to Israel (32-33). Finally they awakened.  Finally their attention was arrested.  The sinner will keep digging and digging and digging a pit into which he will eventually fall. God will bring trouble to the unrepentant. He is willing to bring hardship, rain terror down, and even kill.  He is not mocked.  He is God.

Repentance

When he killed them, they sought him; they repented and sought God earnestly. They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer. But they flattered him with their mouths; they lied to him with their tongues. Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not faithful to his covenant (34-38).

Here is messy repentance. On the one hand the Israelites sought God earnestly in their repentance. They remembered God. Yet their repentance was mingled with flattery, lying, and a heart that was not steadfast.  Perhaps they imagined that they were more repentant than they were. Perhaps they thought that this time they meant what they said. Perhaps they were too filled with themselves and were not saturated with the greatness, glory, and holiness of God.  Whatever the case, their repentance was messy and not very deep.

Staggering Mercy

Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, an wind that passes and comes not again (38-39).

God displayed staggering mercy to Israel. Even though their repentance was half-hearted, God displayed compassion. Israel's repentance is not an example on how to repent, but it does serve as a powerful backdrop to highlight the astonishing mercy of God to those who will turn to him.

Do not fail to hear the Word of God!  God is holy. God is not mocked. Sin is more awful than you could ever imagine. God is willing and able to display his wrath in powerful demonstrations of terror.  Do not play around with sin. Stop digging a pit that will serve as your grave.  Fear God!

You may wonder if God receive such a sinner as you?  Perhaps you don't feel sorry enough. Perhaps you know that your repentance is half-hearted and mixed with sin. What should you do?  Grieve the lack of purity in your heart. Yet do not delay.  God is merciful to sinners.  Turn to God now. Seek him earnestly. Remember that God is your redeemer and your rock. It may be that God will display great compassion to you, forgive your sin, and restrain his anger.  His mercy is a staggering mercy.

Perhaps you are wondering about the repentance of a friend. Perhaps their repentance seems mixed. Perhaps you question the sincerity of their tears.  Remember God's mercy. Remember that they, like you, are but flesh. Remember that God showed great patience and mercy to Israel in their repentance.  Pray for those who repent.  God is the judge and he discerns the hearts of men. Don't quickly cast away one whose repentance you doubt.

It is no sign that a work is not from the Spirit of God that many who seem to be subjects of it are guilty of great imprudence and irregularities in their conduct. We are to consider that the end for which God pours out his Spirit is to make men holy, and not to make them politicians. Jonathan Edwards in The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God.

Edwards was saying, in essence, that repentance is not always clean-cut. And yet the Spirit of God may be at work in the heart of the one who still displays imprudence and irregularities in their conduct. Let us not be too quick to judge that a person's repentance is so faulty that God is not at work in their repentance. Let us not diminish the staggering mercy of God. But let us also not think that because God is merciful that we might continue in sin.  Grace does not teach us to sin but to deny sin and to pursue God.

Repentance is messy indeed.  Nevertheless you must repent now. God's mercy is staggering. His mercy can reach into the worst of situations, even yours.