The Dancing Puritan

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