The Dancing Puritan

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Only Christ Can Satisfy


Lori and I were returning home from a day of Christmas shopping. We had just finished dinner at a popular soup and salad restaurant and I was stuffed to capacity. Our once-a-year shopping day is looked forward to by both of us. Most of our Christmas shopping is done in one day (with a little help from Amazon). We had been in the van about five minutes after dinner when suddenly I had sharp pain on the left side of my chest. It got my attention. For a moment I felt like Fred Sanford and thought, "This is the big one." Interestingly, my breathing was fine, so I had some level of confidence that I was not having a heart attack. Lori unwrapped a peppermint and gave it to me. Amazingly, after just a couple of minutes the pain subsided. It was indigestion after all and the probability increased that I would live to shop another day.

The sharp pain was not heart related but it did remind me that one day my heart will fail. Ultimately everyone dies of heart failure. The chest pain was a stark reminder that physical life cannot be counted on. But it is not just physical life that can't be trusted. Look around. A rich businessman. who once had a strong financial standing, lost his wealth. A family down the street, who once was the picture of happiness, now has a "prodigal son." You know the stories.

I spent the past two years digging into the book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is a honest book about the vanity of life. Vanity does not mean worthlessness, it refers to the fleeting nature of all things "under the sun." Even the best things of life are fleeting. They cannot be captured and brought to the chest in a permanent way. They leave. They blow through our hands like a puff of wind. They are here today, gone tomorrow.

Solomon knew it. He tried everything. He built houses, planted vineyards, gardens, and parks. He surrounded himself with people who answered to his every command. He collected silver and gold and was renowned around the world. He collected musicians, music, wine, and women (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11). His conclusion: Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun (2:11).

The problem for Solomon was not that he possessed silver and gold. The problem was that the good life possessed him. He knew that gifts were to be enjoyed as from God. He learned that good gifts make terrible gods. It is a lesson that all of us need to learn. Anything or anyone can be worshipped.

It is challenging to grow older and to see the remnants of youth fading away. The world is strewn with men my age who are constantly grasping for their glory years (which probably were not as glorious as they are now romanticized to be). Such men often do foolish things. Sometimes they abandon the "wife of their youth" in search for that pretty-little-thing across town. In their vain attempt to show themselves strong they become pitiful in their attempts to be young again. You have seen them. You have felt sorry for them and for those who have felt the impact of their wind chasing. Hollywood is an example. It is plastered across grocery store magazine covers. Hollywood is a lie. Take a look behind the face lifts and multiple marriages that are draped in fine clothes and flashy smiles.You don't have to look very hard to see the utter emptiness of life without God.

Our family went to the local mall the day after Christmas to exchange imperfect gifts. The parking lot was beyond capacity. Christmas Day brought gifts that were not quite right so we rushed to the stores to make them right, knowing full well that the replacements will soon be broken or out of style. The problem is not with shoes, shirts, tech, and movies. The problem is much deeper. Once again, millions of people tried to capture the wind on Christmas morning. They looked to the gifts and overlooked the baby. They didn't know or they failed to remember that all things were created through him and for him (Colossians 1:16). The wind is refreshing but it cannot be captured. It is time to stop chasing the wind and find the meaning of life in the one whom "the fullness of God was pleased to dwell." (1:19). Let the next chest pain, sick child, lost business venture, and even your next success remind you of what really matters.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Shadow Chasing and Christmas



Many of us are chasing shadows and never feel the warm breath that pushes forth from living lungs. It is easy to miss the truth in the midst of consuming shadows. But it is there, in the eyes and behind the eyes of those who are being remade in the image of God.

That the mansion is broken-down is obvious by its warts, failures, and blemishes. Rather than dealing with the brokenness it is easier to look away, to chase after shadows, and never really embrace truth, purity, and reality. 

Christmas decorations are storytellers. For the person whose heart strays from God, decorations are a vain attempt to dress up a mirage, to hope against hope that a shadow will bring warmth. However, like a virtual fireplace, a mirage lacks oxygen. For the person who loves God decorations are flowers planted in good soil, they indicate reality, a deep reality with a beating heart.

Think about Christmas shopping. Do you shop from real hope? Or do you hope in your shopping? What about your decorating? Do you decorate from hope or do you look for hope in the decorations? Does the decorated tree cheer your heart? It might, for a moment. Or does the cheer in your heart result in a beautifully decorated tree?

Lost by those who get tangled up in heated debates about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the Christmas holiday, is a real understanding of joy.

C.S. Lewis wrote a letter on August 19th, 1945 to a Mrs. Ellis. This letter was recently discovered in a secondhand book. In this letter Lewis describes his view of joy:
It shocks one awake when the other (pleasure) puts one to sleep. My private table is one second of joy is worth 12 hours of Pleasure. I think you really quite agree with me. (From The Guardian).
Did you catch it? Lewis wrote, "one second of joy is worth 12 hours of Pleasure." That’s it, you know. Pleasure is the shadow that many a lost soul is chasing, except it is a bit more tangible than a shadow. Pleasure can be brought to the breast and held for a moment but it will ultimately bring drowsiness and sleep. In the end pleasure is a shadow that flees so that it can refuel and be chased again. Every captured moment of pleasure always runs out of gass.  If you look for pleasure to cheer your heart, then your heart will feel cheered for a moment but soon the cheer seeps out like a punctured balloon, and you are left flat. 

The problem is in seeking pleasure rather than joy. Joy is weighty, substantive, and real.

Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory: "You and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness." We are often enchanted by worldliness and imagine that shadow-collecting, with all of its pleasures, is what we were made for.

What were we made for?
For by him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16). 
The "him" above is Christ. We were created by and for Christ. It’s all about Christ. He is the source of our joy. When we know him, and find our joy in him alone, then we can rejoice in him and enjoy his good gifts to us without thinking that we deserve better than we are getting. Grace abounds because God sent his Son to rescue sinners. From that base-line truth we can look into the eyes of our tired spouse, challenging children, and difficult boss and engage them with love and hope. Why? Because we have seen, touched, tasted, and embraced the reality. We can also look at a world drowning in Christmas chaos and decorate a tree from joy and not for joy.

Seeking pleasure outside of the boundary of Scripture is grabbing for the wind. Yes, there is a refreshing puff of air that brings giddiness for a moment but the thrill will soon pass. Moses knew that, rejected the "fleeting pleasures of sin," and chose Christ.

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. (Hebrews 11: 24-28) 


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving and Contentment



Are you in the school of contentment? The Apostle Paul suffered much in his ministry. He was imprisoned, beaten multiple times, stoned, shipwrecked, and faced a variety of dangers. Sometimes he was hungry and thirsty. Paul also carried on his grace-strengthened-back the pressures of caring for the churches (2 Corinthians 11:16-28).  Yet, even with his troubles, he was able to say:

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to aboutnd. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger and abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13).

Jeremiah Burroughs (1599–1646) was a faithful preacher of the gospel and a prolific writer. He suffered much in his ministry. A wonderful book that came from his pen is The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. One of the chapters is titled, "Aggravations of the Sin of Murmuring." In the first heading of this chapter Burroughs writes, "To murmur when we enjoy an abundance of mercy; the greater and more abundant the mercy that we enjoy, the greater and viler is the sin of murmuring."  He encourages his readers to call to mind the great mercies of God and weigh those mercies beside one's sufferings. He then offers an objection and an answer:

Objection: 

"You will say, yes, but you do not know what our afflictions are; our afflictions are such as you do not conceive of because you do not feel them."

Answer:
Though I cannot know what your afflictions are, yet I know what your mercies are, and I know that they are so great that I am sure there can be no afflictions in the world as great as the mercies that you have. If it were only this mercy that you have this day of grace and salvation continued to you: it is a greater mercy than any affliction. That you have the grace and salvation that you are not now in hell, is a greater mercy. That you have the sound of the Gospel still in your ears, that you have the use of your reason: this is a greater mercy than your afflictions . . . .

Burroughs continues on with this line of Biblical reasoning and quotes passages from both the Old and New Testaments. It is important to note that Burroughs did not write from a bed of ease but he personally experienced much suffering in his ministry.

What about you?

Giving thanks to God is not dependent on one's personal comfort and earthly satisfaction. Just as Paul learned contentment  in both times of plenty and times of poverty, he also learned to be thankful. A person who has found his contentment in Christ will necessarily be a thankful person. When Paul writes, "I can do all things through him who strengthens me" he is saying that he can do all things with contentment through Christ. He was confident that regardless of his circumstances that he could be content, because of Jesus. Since that was true of Paul, it should be true of you.

Pay attention in the School of Contentment and learn to be increasingly thankful.

The above is adapted from Family Worship for the Thanksgiving Season by Ray Rhodes.

The section on Jermiah Burroughs is from The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment published by The Banner of Truth.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Saving Christmas





David Shannon
Thanks to the generosity of a good friend, my family and I got to see Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas. My friend appears in the movie credits but I will not drop his name (because you might expect him to give you such a present). Check him out here! So in the spirit of full disclosure, I know a couple of people who had a part in SC. Sadly, they did not pay me to write this analysis. One of my friends, David Shannon (a.k.a. known as The Chocolate Knox) has an important role (I am really hoping that the folks in charge will commission a David Shannon bobble head). I should also mention that a few years ago I wrote a Christmas book. You can get it here. I am an advocate of celebrating Christmas. So enough already of full disclosure. 

Overwhelmingly, the reports about SC have been negative. Here is an excerpt from one brutal review:
Doing nothing but preaching to the converted—literally and badly to boot—"Saving Christmas" is a terrible movie regardless of one's eschatological mindset. And while it may not be the worst Christmas-related movie ever (a title I believe is still held by the vile "Christmas with the Kranks"), it certainly does the genre no favors.  Peter Sobczynski: Ebert

Ok, Ebert and his guys are the experts, I suppose. I don't make my living reviewing movies so, what do I know? Well, I think that I know more than Sobezynski, at least about Saving Christmas. Here is my fresh-out-of-the-movie-theatre instant analysis.

1. I don't have a technical name for what kind of movie SC is but I know what it is not. SC is not really a traditional Christmas movie (like Christmas Vacation, Its a Wonderful Life, or White Christmas). It is not precisely a documentary such as Ken Burns might have produced. It is not exactly a docudrama. SC is a message movie rooted in history, engaging the culture, and seeking to be Biblical. Understanding what the movie is not will help you to enjoy it more. Remember that SC is not Citizen Kane. I actually fell asleep on CK but with SC, not only was I awake, I got teary-eyed once or twice and I laughed out loud several times.

2. The overall production and acting are very good (I don't care what almost everyone else says). I have read so many bad comments about SC ("worst movie of 2014") that I cannot remember who said what. One reviewer said that SC looked like it was filmed with a video camera (the sort that you might use to film your children opening their Christmas presents). I am no expert on movie technology and production but I do have a few folks around me who are quite savvy on such matters. The filming, acting, and overall production is not bad and actually is a perfect fit for SC. Remember point #1!

3. Theologically the movie is pretty much on target on essential issues. Cameron craftily weaves a clear presentation of the gospel into SC. The theological outlook on Christmas (and life) in SC is mostly on target. I recently wrapped up a yearlong sermon series at my church from the book of Ecclesiastes. Since the theme of Ecclesiastes is joy, I titled the series: "Occupied with Joy" (based on Ecclesiastes 5:20). Ecclesiastes is a reminder that God has given us one life to be lived "under the sun" and he is most glorified when we live joyfully to his glory. Reflecting on my 52 years under the sun, I have too often been a killjoy. However, God is not the cosmic killjoy. God is generous and is honored when his people rejoice in him. His generosity is most wonderfully displayed in the sending of his Son. The reason for writing that "the movie is pretty much on target" is because I think that, while the movie argued persuasively for  the importance of living for God's glory and enjoying Him forever, it could have done a better job dealing with the problem of sin. Towards the end of the movie Cameron makes an argument in support of giving Christmas gifts on the basis that Jesus became a material being (flesh and blood). I think Cameron is attempting to refute an ancient (but still present) heresy that teaches spirit is good but matter is evil. What SC does not seem to sufficiently take into account is our temptation to turn material things (or even family traditions) into a golden calf. We need often to hear the command: "Worship God."

With Cameron I want us to see Christmas through new eyes. However, we need to remember that in our struggle with sin we will attempt to turn good things (the good gifts of God such as food, drink-- material things) into little gods. We must receive good treasures (including material things) as gifts from God and glorify him by enjoying his provision. Cameron could have dealt with more depth (after all the movie was only about 80 minutes) with the struggle that Christians and non-Christians have with the sins of idolatry and materialism. His reminder that we should not max out our credit cards was insufficient. That being said, material things are not evil. The Apostle Paul writes, "For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer." (I Timothy 4:4) God created trees, Saint Nickolas, and all things. We get to make those things holy via Scripture and prayer.

There is nothing better for a person that that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? Ecclesiastes 2:24
Our problem is not that we enjoy material things too much but that we enjoy material things in an unsanctified way. Christians have the opportunity to seize the season with gusto. You know the way George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), in Its a Wonderful Life, responded to the old man on the porch who is disgusted that Bailey didn't kiss Mary (Donna Reed). George responds: "Well, just come back here, Mister. I'll give her a kiss that'll put hair back on your head!" So whether you kiss your wife or celebrate Christmas, do so in a George Bailey "put hair back on your head" kind of way.

4. The movie is entertaining and David Shannon is fantastic. David Shannon in his first acting role (at least on the big screen, I think) is worth the price of admission. He is a natural talent who seemed to be genuinely having fun. Hopefully I can talk him into doing an interview with us here at the DP. David interviewed me one time. You can see it here!

5. You might want to know that Postmillennialism and Christian Reconstructionism are introduced in a couple of different ways in SC (a song, front matter, and general outlook of the movie). If you don't understand what those terms mean, join the crowd. A lot of us struggle to grasp what is going on in the CR world-view. Advocates of the PM/CR perspective have a positive outlook about the spread of the Kingdom of God prior to the return of Christ. It is the goal of the PM/CR adherent to see Christ exalted in every sphere of life. Certainly no Christian would disagree with that vision. However, one does not have to buy into PM/CR in order to have a Biblically-minded and optimistic world-view. I am a premillennialist (the more historic variety--not dispensational). And it is my conviction that a true Biblical eschatology is always optimistic. Christ does reign, Christ will reign, and Christ does win. As citizens of his kingdom we must bring our heavenly citizenship to bear in every earthly endeavor. If you are a maintenance man then bring the aroma of heaven to your work. Whatever you do should smell more like heaven because you do it.

Though the movie presents an optimistic view of the Kingdom of God, it perhaps assumes too much from those who celebrate Christmas. One not especially versed in the possible meaning of swaddling cloths, the significance of trees in Scripture, or Saint Nicholas (the ancient heavy-weight champion of the world, who reportedly landed a good punch against a heretic who denied the deity of Jesus) are not going to figure out Christmas by the way it is mostly celebrated today. So if Christmas is about making all things right, preaching the gospel and its implications for all of life must be front and center. If you talk to folks about the symbols of Christmas, don't stretch to make the symbols fit (if they don't fit) into Biblical categories. Some of the symbolic connections in SC were probably stretched a bit too far. That being said, I am pro-Christmas trees, pro-Christmas lights, pro-Christmas music, and pro-Christmas symbols. I believe that all lawful things can be enjoyed to the glory of God. I am also confident that none of my readers who deck the halls, the roof, or their car are secretly trying to identify with paganism.

Saving Christmas is a good movie with a great message that is focused on the Lord Jesus Christ. I am not a connoisseur of faith based movies." It would take a team of 10 mules to pull me into a living room or theatre where Heaven is For Real is playing. Many faith based movies are just bad. They are bad in quality, bad in acting, bad in presentation of the message, and they often get the message wrong. Saving Christmas is very different. I think when you walk out of the theatre or eject the disc that you will have a smile on your face and a bit more excitement about celebrating Christmas.  But what do I know? I like Christmas with the Kranks.

The Dancing Puritan gives Saving Christmas 4.5 stars! See it! We think Kirk Cameron is the real deal and is doing good work. Head up to the attic, bring the decorations down, and be all in to Christmas this year. Just make sure that you use your new eyes.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Reading Together Can Change Your Marriage

Have you ever read to and with your spouse?

Early in our marriage Lori and I read The Pursuit of God  by A.W. Tozer together. That experience was a rich time of fellowship and growth. Since then we have read many books individually, but few books together (out-loud).  I am not sure why that is.

I want to read with Lori again. Reading together would be a good use of our time. It would be enjoyable, edifying, and instructive. Reading together would allow us the opportunity to interact as we read, discuss points, laugh, learn new things, be reminded of old things, and find ways to grow together in knowledge, wisdom and friendship.

A few years ago I wrote a book, Family Worship for the Thanksgiving Season. In that book I provided a biographical sketch of Sarah Hale, the lady who worked tirelessly to promote a federally recognized Thanksgiving Day. Sarah was a prolific writer/editor for a ladies magazine and she also wrote numerous books. She flourished as a writer after her husband David died and she was left to support her five children.

Sarah and David had a wonderful marriage.  One fascinating practice that they engaged in was that David read to Sarah each evening.

We commenced soon after our marriage, a system of study and reading, which we pursued while he (David) lived. The hours allotted were from eight o'clock until ten--two hours in twenty-four.  How I enjoyed those hours! In this manner we studied French, Botany--then almost a new science in this country but for which my husband had an uncommon taste; and obtained some knowledge of Mineralogy, Geology, etc., besides pursuing a long and instructive course of reading.  In all of our mental pursuits, it seemed the aim of my husband to enlighten my reason, strengthen my judgment, and give me confidence in my own powers of mind, which he estimated more highly than I did.  I equalled him in imagination, but in no other faculty. Yet the approbation which he bestowed on my talents has been of great encouragement to me in attempting the duties which were to be my portion. To me the period of our union was one of unbroken happiness... (pp 35-36: The Lady of Godey's  by Ruth Finley, 1931)

It may not be possible for you and your spouse to read together for two hours each evening. However, could you not spend some time reading? David and Sarah Hale's marriage was strengthened through those reading times and as a result she was better able to care for their family after David's death. Day after day they employed two hours for "a system of study and reading." Much more was gained through those times than mere intellectual knowledge. The story of David and Sarah Hale is a tender love story, strengthened by spending time together in the worthy pursuit of reading.

Why don't you give it a try? Choose an interesting book. Read a section with your spouse each morning or evening. Engage one another in conversation as you read. Laugh together when the book is funny. Pray when you are convicted. Make a note of principles that you learn and seek to put them into practice in your marriage.

I think reading together with your spouse can help your marriage. What do you think?

Ray Rhodes is president of Nourished in the Word Ministries. He is married to Lori (27 years) and they have six children, one son-in-law, and two grandchildren. Ray is a conference and retreat speaker, pastor of Grace Community Church of North Georgia, and author of numerous books on marriage and family. Ray was recently interviewed by Adam McManus on the Generations with Vision radio show. You can listen here: Interview. To learn more about Ray send him a message here: Nourished in the Word.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Think and Give Thanks

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The goodness of God is abundantly clear! 
He did not leave himself without a witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness. (Acts 14:17).
With such clarity, how should you respond to the benevolence of God?

George Washington, wrote in his Thanksgiving Proclamation, of the "duty of all nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God." A presidential proclamation is an advisement. It is a recommendation from the Commander in Chief. President Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863 began a string of such proclamations that continue today, but it was not binding.

Sarah Hale (1788-1879) is the person most instrumental in our present Thanksgiving Day. She worked tirelessly through her writings to promote an official day set apart for thanksgiving. Though she was pleased with Lincoln's proclamation (1863) it was not enough. She wanted a binding declaration from Congress. She thought that the fourth Thursday in November should be established as a federal holiday. She made her argument from Washington's proclamation. Washington believed that it was a nation's duty to "acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God." Sarah Hale would not live to see Congress officially establish the fourth Thursday in November as an official holiday. However, the seeds that she planted resulted in the official holiday.

Resolved by the Senate and the House of Representatives Of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
That the last Thursday of November in each year after the Year 1941 be known as Thanksgiving Day, and is hereby Made a legal public holiday to all intents and purposes and In the same manner as the 1st day of January, the 22nd day of February, the 30th day of May, the 4th day of July, the First Monday of September, the 11th day of November, and Christmas Day is now made by law public holidays. 
Passed the House of Representatives October 6, 1941.
The Senate amended this on December 9th, 1941 to read the "fourth" instead of the last Thursday of November (Penny Coleman, Thanksgiving: The True Story).

Sarah Hale should get a lot of credit for her work in the Presidential proclamations from Lincoln onward and the ultimate establishment of the act of Congress in 1941 that established our national Thanksgiving Day.

It is indeed the duty of nations and individuals to give thanks to God. The Bible commands thanksgiving as the will of God (2 Thessalonians 2:13, I Thessalonians 5:18). Christians are to be thankful people regardless of what the nation does on the fourth Thursday of November.  It is not a matter of biblical spirituality whether you celebrate a national holiday or not (Colossians 2:16-17).

Regardless of whether you celebrate Thanksgiving Day, it is the solemn duty of all Christians to give thanks. It's a matter of the heart bathed in awareness of how kind God has been in sending his Son--not a matter of any particular day.

Material above is adapted from Family Worship for the Thanksgiving Season. Order a copy at www.booksthatnourish.com

Friday, October 17, 2014

Use the Pen: Guest Post by Charles Spurgeon

This column is taken from the April 1871 Edition of The Sword and The Trowel
Use the Pen
An Exhortation Charles Spurgeon
YOUNG ministers would do well to remember that for purposes of teaching there are two fields of usefulness open to them, and that both deserve to be cultivated. The utterance of truth with the living voice is their main business, and for many reasons this deserves their chief attention; but the publishing of the same truth by means of the press is barely second in importance, and should be used to the full measure of each man’s ability. It is a surprising thought that what is written to-day in our study may in a few weeks be read beyond the Alleghanies, and before long may lift up its voice at the Antipodes. And as space is thus overleaped, so also is time; for if the world should last another five hundred years, the author of an immortal sentence will continue still to speak from the glowing page. The press performs marvels. So noble an agency, so far reaching, so potent, so available, ought not to lie idle. Every man who addresses his fellow creatures with the voice should try his hand at pen and paper, if only for his own sake; it will correct his style, give it more accuracy, more condensation; probably, therefore, more weight. The possibility of doing good to the souls of men is a grand incentive which needs no other to supplement it, and such a possibility beyond all question exists when warmhearted thought is expressed in telling language, and scattered broadcast in type among the masses. Young men, look to your goosequills, your Gillets, or your Waverleys, and see if you cannot write for Jesus.

What, in the name of reason, can move an Editor to perpetrate such a paragraph as the above, when we are already bored and pestered with the immeasurable effusions of hundreds of scribblers, who are only spoilers of good foolscap?” We admit the naturalness of the question, and we feel its force: feel it all the more because we have just now been for some hours up to our neck in a stagnant pool of printed dulness, and have almost caught a literary cramp. Look at that volume of poetry. We cannot review it; we have tried till we do not mean to try again; we fear it would worry us into a fresh attack of our ever-ready enemy—the gout. “Our brain is tired, our heart is sick.” The poems are just an everlasting ding-dong, ding-dong of commonplaces and pretty phrases, all meaning nothing at all. Do you see that volume of sermons? The good man who issues them declares that he did it in deference to the wish of his hearers (a very common excuse, by the way). He might well have prayed, “Save me from my friends.” The discourses are no doubt pious, and well intended, but to print them was a blunder of the first magnitude. There is a book on Romanism, and another on Matrimony. We have read them both, and expect some day or other to be rewarded for our patient perseverance, but as yet it is numbered among those good deeds which bring no present profit to him who performs them. But indeed the list of volumes over which we have done penance is too long for rehearsal. We shudder at the recollection. We frequently wonder how we survive our sufferings in the review department; sifting a waggon load of chaff to find one solitary grain of wheat is nothing to the labour in vain which is allotted us by many authors. We pride ourselves upon our extreme gentleness in criticism, but we should soon lose all repute among our readers for this amiable virtue if we did criticise in print all the books sent to us; a considerable number of them it would be cruelty to notice, and in mercy to the authors we pass by their offspring, and say nothing where nothing good could be said. [N.B. Those gentlemen whose books are not yet noticed in our magazine will please not to write and scold us next post. Let them hope that their productions are so good that we are too fascinated to begin as yet to criticise; at any rate, let no author wear a cap unless he finds it to be a correct fit.]

All this is a digression, to show that we are not forgetful of the fact that this press-ridden nation already groans beneath tons of nonsense and platitude, and needs no addition to the enormous burden. We frankly own that if another great historical fire should do for modern literature a similar work to that which was so providentially wrought at Alexandria, we should not fret. If we saw the commencement of the blaze we should be in no hurry to arouse Captain Shaw and his men with the brass helmets, but should like to see it burn merrily on, especially if it would consume for ever all the small-beer poetry, the interpretations of prophecy, and—well—well, nineteen books out of twenty, at the least: ninety-nine out of every hundred would be a still more desirable purification.

Yet you began by stirring up young men to write. Where is your consistency?” Our answer is that we did not exhort anybody to write such stuff as commonly is written. On our bended knees we would say to many a man who threatens to commit authorship, “we pray you do no such evil.” But we return to our first paragraph, and say again that the pen is a great means of usefulness, and it ought not to lie idle. Let a man wait till he has something to write, and let him practise himself in composition till he can express his meaning plainly and forcibly, and then let him not bury his talent. Let him revise, and revise again. Let him aim at being interesting, endeavouring to write not for the butter-shop, but for readers; and above all, let him write under the impulse of a holy zeal, burning to accomplish a real and worthy end. The columns of religious magazines and newspapers are always open to such contributions, and if the author has no other broadsheet in which to publish his thoughts, he may be well content with the pages of periodical literature. Whatever may be the faults of our reviews and other periodicals, they are undoubtedly a great institution, and might be made far more influential for the highest ends, if men of greater grace were found among their writers. It is a worthy ambition to endeavour to seize these moulders of the public mind, and make them subservient to true religion. The words of Dr. Porter, in his “Homiletics,” may be most appropriately quoted here:—

“Young men destined to act for God and the church, in this wonderful day, think on this subject. Recollect that religious magazines, and quarterly journals, and tracts of various form, will control the public sentiment of the millions who shall be your contemporaries and your successors on this stage of action for eternity. To whose management shall the vast moral machinery be intrusted, if the educated sons of the church, the rising ministry of the age, will shrink from the labour and responsibility of the mighty enterprise? Learn to use your pen, and love to use it. And in the great contest that is to usher in the triumph of the church, let it not be said that you were too timid or indolent to bear your part.”

Good men there have been and are who could do far more service for God and his church by their pens if they would write less and write better. They flood our second-rate magazines with torrents of very watery matter; their style is slipshod to a slovenly degree; their thoughts are superficial; their illustrations hackneyed; they weary where they mean to win. Let such brethren take time to mend their pens, the world will continue to rotate upon its own axis if we do not see their names next month at the head of an article. Work must be put into papers if they are to last. Easy writing is usually hard reading. The common reader may not observe the absence of honest work in a poem, sermon, or magazine article, but he manifestly feels the influence of it, for he finds the page uninteresting, and either goes to sleep over it or lays it down. Young man, earnest in spirit, if you have any power with the pen, make up your mind to cultivate it. Do your best every time you compose. Never offer to God that which has cost you nothing. Do not believe that good writing is natural to you, and that you need not revise; articles will not leap out of your brain in perfect condition as the fabled Minerva sprang from the head of Jove. Read the great authors, that you may know what English is; you will find it to be a language very rarely written nowadays, and yet the grandest of all human tongues. Write in transparent words, such as bear your meaning upon their forefront, and let them be well chosen, correctly arranged, and attractively ordered. Make up your mind to excel. Aim high, and evermore push on, believing that your best efforts should only be stepping stones to something better. The very best style you can attain will be none too good for the glorious themes upon which you write.

But, remember, there is a more material business than mere excellence of composition. Your manner is important, but your matter is far more so. Tell us something well worth knowing when you write. It is folly to open your mouth merely to show your teeth; have something to say, or speak not at all: ink is better in the bottle than on the paper if you have nothing to communicate. Instruct us, impress us, interest and improve us, or at least try to do so. It is a poor achievement to have concocted a book in which there is neither good nor hurt, a chip in the porridge, a correctly composed nothing; but to have pleaded with men affectionately, or to have taught them efficiently, is a result worthy of a life of effort. Try, brother, not because it is easy, but because it is worth doing. Write until you can write; burn half a ton of paper in the attempt, it will be far better in the flames than at the printer’s; but labour on till you succeed. To be a soul-winner by your books when your bones have mouldered is an ambition worthy of the noblest genius, and even to have brought hearts to Jesus by an ephemeral paper in a halfpenny periodical is an honour which a cherub might envy. Think of the usefulness of such books as “James’ Anxious Enquirer,” and “The Sinner’s Friend.” These are neither of them works of great ability, but they are simple and full of the gospel, and therefore God blesses them. Is it not possible for others of us to produce the like? Let us try, and God helping us, who can tell what we may do.


One concluding word to our young brother. We would not recommend you to try poetry. Write reason before you write rhyme. The usual way is to sacrifice the sense to the jingle: do you adopt the other plan. Do not expect public men to spare time to read your manuscripts: apply to some judicious friend nearer home. Do not be thin-skinned, but accept severe criticism as a genuine kindness. Write legibly if you expect your article to be accepted by an editor: he cannot waste time in deciphering your hieroglyphics. Condense as much as possible, for space is precious, and verbiage is wearisome. Put as much fact as you can into every essay, it is always more interesting than opinion; narratives will be read when sentiments are slighted. Keep the main end in view, but aim at it prudently; do not worry readers with illtimed moralisings and forced reflections. Ask a blessing on what you compose, and never pen a sentence you will on your dying-bed desire to blot. If you attend to these things, we shall not repent of having said to you, “Use the pen.”

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Depression and Psalm 42



Godly people struggle with depression.  In Psalm 42 King David talks to himself: "Why are you cast down, O my soul?" When you see a person talking to himself your first reaction is probably, "That person has a problem." David is that guy. He talks to himself and he has a real problem, he is depressed.

How do we know that David is depressed? He tells us, "My tears have been my food day and night," (3a). For a strong and courageous king to say such a thing raises a red flag about his mental health. He is not even eating right. His diet consists of the tears that fall from his eyes, run down his face, land on his lips, and end up in his mouth.

David indicates his depression when he cries, "My soul is cast down in turmoil" (5). He is overwhelmed, "all your breakers and your waves have gone over me" (7).

What does David want in the midst of his depression? The answer may surprise you.  David wants God (1-2) and he wants congregational worship (4, 5,13). Certainly David wants to feel better, stop crying, find relief for his troubled soul, and to have the pressure lifted. However, his first desire is for God. Just like a thirsty deer wants water, David wants God.

The godly person who is depressed is different from the ungodly person, at this point. Some people just want relief from their sadness, and better circumstances, but they do not want God. In other words, they want relief on their own terms. The godly person, however, wants God.

Why does a godly person want God when he is depressed?

1. God is the living God (2).
2. God is his salvation (6,11).
3. God is his life (8). 
4. God is his rock (9).
5. God is his God (10,11).

The godly person looks to God because God is alive, God is the Savior, God is life, God is strong, and God is God. God is real when everything else seems surreal.

Where do you look and what do you reach for when you are depressed?

1. You should pant for, long for, and thirst for God (1-2). Make God your priority!
2. You should long to worship God with fellow believers at church (4).
3. You should pour out your soul in prayer to God (4,8,9).
4. You should remember who God is, through reading the Bible, and keep on trusting him (5,11).
5. You should talk to yourself (5,11).  Tell yourself to, "Hope in God!"

When you face depression, gauge your responses by David's responses. Do you long for God? Do you want to go to church and worship God with his people? Do you pour out your soul to God in prayer? Do you believe in God? Do you talk to yourself?

Depression is not to be taken lightly. However, the good news for Christians is that you have hope.  God is alive, he is your rock, and he is your salvation. As the hymn-writer put it, "God is not dead, nor does he sleep."

If you are not sure that you are a Christian, then there is also hope for you. You need to take an honest look at yourself. Gauge your responses by David's responses in Psalm 42. If you seldom or never respond to your depression as David did, then perhaps you are not a Christian. What should you do? Run to Jesus. He lived without sinning, died for sinners, was raised again from the dead, and is alive and reigning today. He receives humble sinners who come to him for salvation. He is the Shepherd who will lead you to green pastures and still waters (Psalm 23).

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Case For Family Worship

Are you stuck in the present? After all there are bills to pay and schedules to meet. You may be finding it difficult to think much beyond the next hour. You certainly cannot live anywhere but the present because the past is gone and the future is not yet. However, you might be so stuck in the present that you are missing the bigger picture. That can be true in every area of life including family life.

Much of what we learn about the family in Scripture is from a Hebrew perspective. Hebrew family life was deeply rooted in the past and was purposeful about the future. Where did the Jewish people develop such a multi-generational perspective? Their visionary outlook on family life came directly from God.

Deuteronomy chapter 6 describes Israel’s theology and practice on many fronts, including the family. The Israelites were to know and love God. They were to remember the promises that God had made to their forefathers (3). The fathers imbibed the truth about God and allowed it to burn with the hot iron of conviction upon their hearts so that they could teach their sons and grandsons.

When you engage in family worship you embrace a multi-generational view of family life. Your vision dips into history where you meditate on God’s faithfulness to ages past. Standing on a firm historical foundation you then invest biblical truth in the present generation with the objective of making a godly impact on future generations.

The Hebrew view of family life embraced an age-to-age philosophy. God taught their forefathers. The forefathers passed the faith down to their children. The children passed the faith onward to their children. You must do the same.

Resting on that foundation, consider this biblical framework for family worship.

Visionary Thinking is Essential in Family Worship. Family Worship requires a look back to the lessons of biblical history and then a look forward to our grandchildren. We must learn to think beyond the next bill we have to pay.

Biblical Knowledge and Wisdom is Required in Family Worship. 

And these words that I command you today must be on your heart (Deuteronomy 6: 6). 

The truth that God is one and must be loved, feared, and obeyed first captured the hearts of the fathers who then passed the faith on to their children. J.A. Alexander in his book, Thoughts on Family Worship, wrote:
There is no member of a household whose individual piety is of such importance to all the rest as the father or head. Where the head of a family is lukewarm or worldly, he will send the chill through the whole house.
Diligence is Required When Leading Family Worship (6: 7-8). In leading family worship you are aiming to pierce the hearts of each member of your family with truth about God. When you lead your children to worship God you are seizing opportunities to teach at all times (sitting, walking, bedtime, morning) as well as more structured times of instruction. You look for ways to keep truth about God and the call to love Him constantly before the eyes of your family (8-9).

Blessings are Promised to Those Who Practice Family Worship. God gave promises specific to Israel (Deuteronomy 6: 2-3). The Apostle Paul lifts those promises and applies them to Christian parents and their children (Ephesians 6). You have every reason to be hopeful for the spiritual well-being of your children as you lovingly and joyfully expose them to God.

What are some of the reasons that you should engage in family worship?

In the midst of plenty (or lack) there is the temptation to forget God (Deuteronomy 6:10-12; Proverbs 30:8-9). Family Worship is an important arrow in the quiver of God's truth that you can draw from to hit the bull’s eye of memory. Your aim is to stir up, in every member of your family, an active remembrance of God.

We are constantly tempted to worship other gods (Deuteronomy 6:14-15). Other gods can take the form of a job, technology, sports, popularity, people, or anything else. A god is what we devote an inordinate amount of our time, money, energy, and we invest hope in. We are idol worshippers when we buy into the promises of peace, prosperity, popularity, or whatever the god may be offering. Family Worship is a reminder that God is to be the sole object of our faith and obedience.

We are challenged with the idea that God is not trustworthy (6:16-17). Family Worship provides an opportunity to learn from biblical history that God, who was faithful in ages past, is faithful now, and will be faithful in ages to come.

Family Worship gives us opportunity to declare the gospel (6:20-25). As Hebrew parents recounted how God delivered them from Egyptian slavery to the Promise Land; you have a similar opportunity to recount how you were delivered from slavery to sin, are being delivered daily from the power of sin, and will one day be delivered to heaven where there is no sin.

Is Family Worship worthy of your time? Yes! From age-to-age God’s design is that we declare "the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Psalm 78:4).

Remember the past. Engage the present. Invest in generations to come.

Ray Rhodes is President of Nourished in the Word Ministries and Books That Nourish. He leads family worship conferences and marriage retreats and serves as pastor of Grace Community Church in Dawsonville, GA.. He is married to Lori and they have six daughters. Ray is the author of seven books including three on Family Worship. You can order Ray's books at Books That Nourish

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Peace



I am not sure how I survived before the days of Pandora Radio. With Pandora I can just click on Fernando Ortega and it is like David playing his harp before Saul. The older I get, the more I need soft music, gentle melodies, and that "peaceful easy feeling."

The folks at WinShape seem to intuitively know, that when I show up for one of their retreats, I need my bed and my music soft.  I need fireplaces, mountainsides, flowing streams and a lake with a swan. Martha Berry, in the 1930's, seemed to know what I was going to need when she designed her dairy farm. And when Truett and Jeannette Cathy developed WinShape Retreat from that farm, they provided a treasure for those who long for a pilgrim's refuge along their journey to the Celestial City.

Life is a gift from God with many moving parts. If I want to sit around the table with my family and enjoy the bounty of the earth, God requires me work. If I am to work in the way God intended, I must learn to rest.

As I sit here in my office, I can hear my children and grandchildren upstairs running across the floor. Their little feet carry them to their next adventure. And gracing the room above me is a woman that has captured my imagination and has owned my heart for nearly 28 years. I want to love my family better. They need me to work hard. They need me to know both peace with God and the peace of God. They need for me to labor so passionately that the sweat from my brow soaks my shirt collar. And they need me to receive God's gifts of green pastures and still waters. They need for me to rest.

My heart overflows with thankfulness to God for the folks at WinShape for giving Lori and me a few days of peace and quiet. As I listen to my peaceful music, I am reminded that God offers peace, through Christ, to a noisy, hurting, and restless world.

Friday, October 3, 2014

R E S T

R E S T! What a lovely word. Just look at the letters R E S T on your computer screen. Close your eyes and ponder, for just a minute, --R E S T. Does rest seem out of reach? Do you know that one of the most loving things that you can do for your family, friends, and boss is to learn how to rest? Best of all, God is glorified when His children rest. Someone once said, "The graveyard is full of indispensable men." People who fail to rest often imagine that they are "indispensable." I know.

I didn't realize the degree of my tiredness until Monday September 29th at 4:30 PM. It was like I unwittingly participated in the Ice-Bucket-Challenge. Yes, it was a wake-up-call. I enjoyed a great night of sleep on Sunday night. I know that because my hair was not disheveled on Monday morning. Monday started off with a nice breakfast on the veranda of Normandy Inn at WinShape.

After breakfast I read for a couple of hours before lunch. After lunch I fell into my soft bed and drifted into a deep sleep for several hours (something that I never do). When I woke up, I experienced another awakening. I just kept repeating to my bewildered wife, "I am so very tired." I have been running very hard for three years with rarely a break in the action. Like most people I juggle many responsibilities. It is hard to admit. I don't go around bragging about how busy I am or complaining about how tired that I am. I hope that I am not whining now, and I don't want to sound (or be) self-serving, but the reality is, I am tired and it is my own fault. This post is probably the last thing that you will ever read about my personal tiredness but I felt compelled to mention it this one time.

My awakening on Monday caused me to think, that without that safe-place and soft bed that I was headed for a Humpty Dumpty fall. I know, but have often ignored, that though God designed us for work, he has also given to His children rest. R E S T. Look at that word again just hanging there on your page. Does it seem like an impossible dream?

A familiar face met us as we drove into the parking lot on Sunday evening at 6:15 PM. Bill and Cecelia (Cilli) have been hosting events at the Normandy Inn at WinShape for 13 years. Bill met us at our vehicle and immediately reached for our luggage. Lori and I met Bill and Cilli about six years ago, they are the kind of folks that you never forget. When I think of them Colossians 3:14 comes to mind: "And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony."  Bill and Cilli "put on love" and the Lord uses them as he, through love, "binds everything together in perfect harmony."

Lori and I were at WinShape for their Pastor's R&R. This four night and five day event is a gift to full-time pastors by the Cathy family of Chick-fil-A and the WinShape foundation. Words are insufficient to describe how blessed we feel to have been given such a gift from such a generous family and ministry. Eight other couples from Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, and Georgia came for the same purpose--a few days to, R E S T. At the Pastor's R&R there is no real schedule, except for the fantastic  meals. We were charged to seek the Lord, work on our marriages, and R E S T. And to top it all off we were free to eat all of the Chick-fil-A ice cream that we wanted. I do have to confess that I worked some during my time at WinShape.

On Monday afternoon at 4:30 PM, I realized why I was there. I did not grasp my tiredness, until I rested. God provided. He provided "love which binds everything together in perfect harmony." He provided lively, encouraging, funny, happy, and joyful conversations around the table. He provided beauty--thousands of acres of beauty. He provided relaxing music. He provided quietness. He provided a comfortable room and a soft bed. He provided R E S T.

I am back at work today--a little stronger. I am still very tired from years of failing to rest. I am praying, "I repent, help my lack of repentance." Before me I see mountains of responsibility and I wonder how, on my small shoulders, I will carry the load. I want to be faithful to my Lord and family. Faithfulness, hard work, commitment to duty, and devotion to God, family, others, and work--these are not optional. However, there is something that I often miss as I race from responsibility to responsibility. Perhaps you know what I am talking about.  Do you see it? It is R E S T.  Jesus is our rest. He is our Sabbath. The road to recovery begins with faith in Christ. This means that we must realize that God's mercy "depends not on human will or exertion" (Romans 9:16). To rest we must first of all come to grips with the reality that we are not, in fact, God. Rest is a gift that must be received. Today, think a bit about R E S T.

It is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep (Psalm 127:2).

Ray Rhodes, Jr. is pastor of Grace Community Church of North Georgia, president of Nourished in the Word Ministries, and author of numerous books on marriage and family. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Honoring Your Spouse: The Example of Susannah Spurgeon



Charles Spurgeon's library at his last home

Do you want the best for your spouse?  Love means that you are willing to joyfully sacrifice your own self-interests for the well being of your spouse. There is no other person that is to be as dear to your heart, as the person that you are bound to in covenant love.

Working for the best of your spouse is evident in small and large things. Susannah Spurgeon is a great example for us as we consider what this looks like. Following her honeymoon with Charles they moved into their first home together. As she thought of how to arrange the house, Charles was first on her mind. She believed that “the best room was always felt to belong by right to the one who labored much in the Lord. Never have I regretted this early decision; it is a wise arrangement for a minister’s house, if not for any other.”

Early in their marriage, after moving to their second home, and after the birth of their twins, Susannah writes:
Our children grew apace in the sweet country air, and my whole time and strength was given to advance my dear husband’s welfare and happiness. I deemed it my joy and privilege to be ever at his side, accompanying him on many of his preaching journeys, nursing him in his occasional illnesses, his delighted companion during his holiday trips, always watching over and tending him with the enthusiasm and sympathy which my great love for him inspired. I mention this not to suggest any sort of merit on my part, but simply that I may here record by heartfelt gratitude to God that, for a period of ten blessed years, I was permitted to encircle him with all the comforting care and tender affection which it was in a wife’s power to bestow. Afterwards God ordered it otherwise. He saw fit to reverse our position to each other; and for a long season, suffering instead of service became my daily portion, and the care of comforting a sick wife fell upon my beloved.
Charles Spurgeon also increasingly suffered affliction. He was often away from his wife, to seek healing for his own ailments. She was willing, though it was painful, to give her husband up for his preaching responsibilities or for extended times of separation due to his health issues. She wrote late in life:
 I thank God, that he enabled me to carry out this determination and rejoice that I have no cause to reproach myself with being a drag on the swift wheels of his consecrated life. I do not take any credit to myself for this; it was the Lord’s will concerning me, and he saw to it that I received the necessary training whereby in after years I could cheerfully surrender his chosen servant to the incessant demands of his ministry, his literary work, and the multiplied labors of his exceptionally busy life.
Charles Spurgeon was grateful to God for providing him such a wonderful wife. He wrote a letter of appreciation to Susannah in 1871:
None know how grateful I am to God for you, In all I have ever done for him you have a large share, for in making me so happy you have fitted me for service. Not an ounce of power has ever been lost to the good cause through you. I have served the Lord far more and never less for your sweet companionship.
Quotes above are from The Life of Susannah Spurgeon by Charles Ray

Saturday, September 6, 2014

People, Places, and Beauty: Thoughts on Friendship



I admit it; I am a bit enamored with tables, sofas, coffee, conversation, and beauty, especially when they are all connected. 

I am writing from the Legacy Hotel and Conference Center, located on the campus of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Like many hotel lobbies, there are multiple sitting areas—tables, sofas, and chairs. Most of them are arranged in such a way as to invite community. I am sitting on a small sofa, a round table is in front of me, and there are two other sofas facing the table and in close proximity. They are empty. It is as if they are waiting patiently for several people to ease over and start a conversation. Most people are checking out of the hotel this morning. No one seems to be hearing the call to “come and sit for a while.” And I am feeling the pressure to pack my goods, load my car, and head down the highway. Community awaits me, seven hours away.

Yes, I am drinking a cup of coffee; in fact it is my third or fourth cup. I have spent a couple of hours now reading the Bible, working on tomorrow’s sermon, and writing a book review. Soon I must leave. My week has been a mix of isolation and community. I have always thought myself to be a loner. However, occasionally there is a connection made that stirs up within me a longing for more—more conversation, more interaction, more community.

Last evening a friend and I walked together to the home of mutual friends. I enjoyed the conversation that flowed from our ten-minute walk together. It was good. We are united in various ways but there is one major common denominator—our friends. We walked to their home, together. 

Arriving at their home, we were greeted, as always, with a warm welcome, hugs, and food. The conversation was lively, the laughter robust, the joy obvious, and the experience— savory.

I am not sure exactly what connects the wires in a friendship. But when they do, it is natural—never forced. My friends here are from a different culture—from a world that I am unfamiliar with. How did we become friends? I simply needed to print a paper for my class. A fellow classmate said, “Come over to our house and print the paper.” I was relieved. I needed help that day. I could tell by the warmness of the invitation that the offer of help was sincere. I drove to his home. His wife had coffee and cookies waiting. Soon we were talking, laughing, and enjoying one-another’s-company. It was as if one moment we were just acquaintances and the next we were friends. I can't explain it except to point to the providence of God and the kindness of his people. That was nine months ago. Now, it seems that we have known one another for a lifetime. And with their friendship came another—the gentleman that I walked with last evening.

Am I really a loner? I am not sure anymore. There is something about the table, coffee, and the sofa. They offer promise— hope—that maybe someone will come over and talk for a while. They call the traveller to rest.  They remind me that the world will keep turning even if I sit for a minute, or an hour. And if two or three people stop by, you never know, a surprising friendship might ensue. When it does there is the delightful mixture of a table, several sofas, coffee, friendship, and beauty. I think that now I better understand what C.S. Lewis meant when he wrote in The Four Loves: “Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: "What! You too? I thought that I was the only one.”