Monday, March 29, 2010

Personal Disintegration

Early this year I read David F. Wells' book, "The Courage To Be Protestant." One of his themes is that life in the postmodern world has lost its center.

In our postmodern world there is no authority greater than the autonomous self. God is generally considered an anachronistic mythology. You may believe in God as long as you keep that belief to yourself, but you certainly must not offer a worldview that puts your God at the center and claims all other worldviews are false. This is called "totalizing." It is considered oppressive. But as Wells points out, this elimination of an adequate center is taking its toll on people in our society.
Perhaps the most startling consequence of all of this is that our self begins to disintegrate. When the universe loses its center or, to be more precise, when the center is lost to us as something outside us that has the authority to reach into our lives, we ourselves begin to disintegrate. The self that has been made to bear the weight of being the center of all reality, the source of all our meaning, mystery, and morality, finds that it has become empty and fragile...

...And whatever else we wish to say about it, it does seem clear that this is related to our experience of being uprooted, of not belonging, of drifting, of being homeless. It is also related to our being constantly bombarded by images, ideas, demand, products, and options that wear down our inward substance.
(David F. Wells, The Courage To Be Protestant, p.112)

Recently I've had occasion to recall Wells' words on this subject. I keep coming across people who are living illustrations of his point.

Here are prosperous, healthy, young people in their late twenties or early thirties who express complete dismay over the disintegration of their souls. They have pursued whatever they wanted, and have found that it wasn't enough. They've done as they pleased and now they regret many things. They are anxious, unhappy, and frightened. They are asking, "What is wrong with my life?"

On the one hand, I ache for them in their genuine anguish of soul. On the other hand, I delight that I have the solution they need - the adequate center they are longing for. Only God - the God of the Bible - The God Who is There - The God Who has revealed Himself - The Infinite God - Almighty God - Holy God. Only this God is an adequate center for life and for the universe. But He is there and He is willing to be found.

Jesus said, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:28–29)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Devotional Life

A cup of coffee, a quiet house and God.

What more could you want? The sweetest time of the day is my time alone with God.

I can turn my mind away from the busy-ness of life and the sharp thrills of panic over my long lists. I can lay down my futile struggles with tasks and crises that are beyond my puny abilities. I can put aside my sin tainted appetites.

In the Bible I can look into the eyes and hear the voice of Holy God - the infinite Creator - infinitely good - the standard of all perfection. Here I find not only my own condemnation in His just judgment, but also my forgiveness and salvation through His wonderful grace and love.

In prayer I can lay out all of my cares and concerns and conflicts without embarrassment or hesitation. I can cry out to God in desperation. I can search out His answers to my problems. I can confess my shortcomings and petition Him for sustaining grace.

I am reset. I remember that I am not God. I get my proper priorities back in perspective. I relax in the fact that God is sovereign and all of life and existence is ultimately about His glory. I remember that it is not my strength that will accomplish His will, but His strength as He works through me according to His plans. Without Him, I can do nothing of value. With Him, all things are possible.
(Psalms 73:25) Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Soap Chicken & miscellaneous thoughts about faith

Today I won the soap chicken contest in our house.

If we were wealthy and had housekeeping staff, I suppose that everyday we would find a brand new bar of soap in the shower. Since we are not even close to that - we try to use up each bar of soap - right down to the last sliver.

But who will be the person who gives up and replaces the last tiny sliver of soap with a brand new bar? Who remembers to check the soap before they get in? Who can remember the need for soap after they get out?

Today, my dear wife remembered and put new soap in the shower. I was spared the frustration of trying to lather up the bits of soap that have stuck to the soap dish.


I was thinking this morning of the phrase, "...not being mixed with faith in those who heard it." This is found in Hebrews 4:2 in a discourse on God's promise of the rest that is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Jesus said,
(Matthew 11:28–30) Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Jesus promises that those who come to him will have their sins forgiven and receive eternal life in heaven with him. Many people are aware of the promise, but it doesn't do them any good because the word of God is not "...mixed with faith in those who heard it." As a consequence they do not rest their hope on Jesus - but somewhere else.

The alternatives to faith in God's promise are almost infinite. Some refuse to believe in a supernatural God at all - so they believe in something else they have not seen - existence from nothing, life from non-life, spontaneous complexity, macro-evolution.

Others believe in God - but not in the God of the Bible. They have many alternative religious ideas - reincarnation, soul sleep, annihilation, pantheism, universalism, and so on.

Others claim to believe in the God of the Bible, but they reject the idea that salvation is by God's grace and received by faith in Jesus. They insist that there must be some human effort to complete God's work. A certain prayer, many prayers, good works of one kind or another, baptism or other rituals, etc. They may have many of these or few, but they all amount to the same lack of faith in Jesus. They do not trust in what Jesus has already done, but rather they trust in what they have done or are doing. They are not resting in Jesus, but are resting in their particular system.

We are humanists at heart. I always want to know what I can do. Give me buttons to push, and levers to pull, and switches to flip. I am confident when I think that the outcome depends on me. Give me something to DO.

But in the case of biblical Christianity God takes it all out of our hands. God says there is nothing you can do but trust Him. He has made the provision. He has finished the work. He has paid the full price. He took care of everything. You don't deserve it now and you never will deserve it. It is free. It cannot be earned or purchased.

All you can do is believe God, trust God, have faith in God, rely on God, hope in God...
(Ephesians 2:8–9) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Battle of my Bulge

Today was a day of celebration! I reached the goal weight I had set for myself several months ago when I finally (re)started my diet in earnest. So I have (once again) decreased my intake and increased my exercise long enough to shed (again) the 25 pounds I wanted to lose.

It worked! I feel better. The acid reflux that was killing me last summer is completely gone. This weekend everyone thought I had new suits - because I wore suits I couldn't fit into for the past year and a half. Besides that, I have read a couple of good books while I was traveling to better fitness on my treadmill.

But it is a repeat journey for me. I've been fighting this war for the past twenty years. I've learned that there will always be a new battle to face. Well, I'm back on top now - maybe I can keep the enemy on the run this time!

In retrospect, I think moving makes me gain weight. When we moved to New York in the eighties I started gaining weight. When I finally got tired of it, I worked it off by climbing and descending the Empire State Building stairs every morning at 4:30 a.m. (Of course, I did it 22 steps at a time in the unheated back stairs of our apartment. It had a great rhythm - step, step, step, step... and I didn't fall down the stairs and kill myself!)

Then we moved to South Eastern Ohio and I didn't have the stairs. My whole life routine changed. I grew out of my nice Anderson-Little Suits AND GAVE THEM AWAY! WAAAAH! :( But finally, I bought a treadmill and started working my way back. I thought I had it finally beaten once and for all. I bought new suits. I had them sized nice and tight to my new trim waistline. I figured they would serve as early warning devices and keep me on track. It didn't work out quite like that.

Two years ago we moved again. Again, my schedule changed. My routine changed. I was not exercising. I was eating out more than I believed I ever would. And I started growing out of my suits again. (This time, however, I didn't give them away!) I had a few that I could still fit into - barely - and I finally worked out a schedule that allowed me to get back on the treadmill.

So, it is not exciting. So, it makes me sweat. So, it takes enormous effort to stick with it week after week. So what? It is worth it! I'm feeling more fit, my brains are in better shape, my suits fit again (well - some of them) and I'm more disciplined than before.

Twenty years of fighting the battle of the bulge have taught me many important lessons.
  1. Pay attention to diet and exercise, but don't drive everyone crazy about it.
  2. Do what you can do, and don't be obsessed with what you can't do.
  3. Don't be crazy about the diet either - give yourself a break on weekends. Eat a steak dinner here and there and ENJOY it! This is a marathon - not a sprint to anorexia.
  4. When you face an interruption in diet or exercise, minimize it and get back on schedule when you can. (It is a life-long battle and you need to keep things in perspective.)
  5. Do what you do for your own benefit. You can't be successful at this for other people's benefit. You either do it for yourself, or you won't do it at all.
  6. Exercise while you can - the day will come when you can't. I want to keep this meat machine of mine running reasonably well as long as possible.
  7. If possible - exercise your brains while you are exercising your body. Exercise time is a good time to pray, to memorize scripture and (in some cases) to read serious books.
  8. Hold onto the handrail in the staircase so you can catch yourself if you miss a step. (Or make sure you use the safety clip for the treadmill so it will turn off if you fall.)
I do not plan to go to ectomorphic extremes :) But I'm glad I'm back on the treadmill. I hope you are making good progress on your own goals. Keep things in perspective. Live for Jesus.