The Joy of Obedience

Image by Jimmy Lau from Pixabay

Everything acts according to its nature. Maple trees put down roots, grow pointed leaves that turn red in autumn, and drop their leaves every year because that is what they were made to do. Kittens play, eat numerous times a day, and purr in your lap because that is their nature. People also act according to their nature. Without Christ, they do as they please because sin thwarts their ability to live a righteous life. However, those of us in Christ have regenerated hearts and have the ability, by the power of the Spirit of God, to act according to our new natures, obeying God with gratitude and joy.

Have you ever watched a small child play with a shape sorter? She tries to put a cube into a round hole and gets frustrated. Then she tries to put the star in the square hole, and that doesn’t work either. But when she finds the sphere that fits the hole, she crows with joy because she matched the right shape with the right hole.

So it is with us. Our joy comes in matching our nature with our actions. When we act against our new nature in Christ, we only find sorrow and disappointment. We are no longer content with the things of this world because they don’t fulfill our needs. We are made for eternal things now.

In the letter to the Colossians, Paul tells us to put off the old man and instead follow our new nature in Christ:

But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, (Colossians 3:8-10).

Is Paul just being a killjoy here? No, he is stating the truth–we have new natures and our only joy will be in following who we are in Christ. Our old nature enjoyed the fleeting pleasures of this world and wanted its own way, but those things don’t fit our new nature. It’s like taking a shower and putting on the dirty clothes we shed before getting clean. Donald Grey Barnhouse wrote,

We are told to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and to make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof (Rom. 13:14). In other words, our old Adamic nature is compared to a dirty garment which we are to lay aside as we would lay aside any soiled clothing, and we are to put on the new man as we would put on clean, fresh linen.

Barnhouse, D. G. (1963). God’s Heirs: Romans 8:1–39 (p. 18). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Do you want to feel joy in your life? Find it in obeying Christ. I once heard a pastor say that we often have at least one thing that we should be doing and aren’t or that we shouldn’t be doing and are. Think of that thing, and do it or stop doing it. At first, it may be hard and maybe you won’t feel happy about it. Eventually, however, joy will bubble up in your heart as a result of the Holy Spirit working, and in Him, you will find fullness of joy.

Measuring my life by loss

Ugo Bassi

Measure thy life by loss instead of gain;
Not by the wine drunk, but the wine poured forth
For love’s strength standeth in love’s sacrifice;
And whoso suffers most hath most to give.

–Ugo Bassi, Sermon in the Hospital

I first read this quote many years ago in one of Elisabeth Elliot’s newsletters and had to rethink how I looked at my life. How could I measure my life by loss, by wine poured forth? Shouldn’t I count my blessings? Wasn’t it a pessimistic way of looking at light to measure my life by loss? Weren’t we supposed to rejoice always?

As I mulled over the idea and referred back to Scripture, I discerned what Ugo Bassi and Elisabeth Elliot were saying. The seed that falls to the ground and dies is the one that bears much fruit (John 12:24). It is the Christian who hates his life who keeps his life. The person who takes up his cross to follow Christ is the one who finds life (Matthew 16:25). Dying on the cross led to Christ’s resurrection from which He gives us new life.

The natural world requires a seed to be planted in the earth and die as a seed to produce a plant. The spiritual life requires the same dying to self so we may live. Paul writes in his epistles that we must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:10). Elsewhere, he says we have died and our life is hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:9).

The more I read Scripture and studied the lives of Christians who came before me, the more I understood this principle of death out of life. It isn’t until we allow the old man to die with the sins and desires and idols we pursue instead of God that we truly begin to live. John Owen talked of mortification. Mortification comes from the Latin word, mors, mortis, which means death. It is in the dying that there is life. It is in the pouring out of our lives as drink offerings we find purpose and meaning.

Wanting to delve further into this idea, I found the original text of the Sermon in the Hospital by Ugo Bassi, where I read:

But if, impatient, thou let slip thy cross,
Thou will not find it in this world again,
Nor in another; here, and here alone
Is given thee to suffer for God’s sake.
In other worlds we shall more perfectly
Serve Him and love Him, praise Him, work for Him
Grow near and nearer Him with all delight;
But then we shall not any more be called
To suffer, which is our appointment here.

Canst thou not suffer then one hour, — or two?
If He should call thee from thy cross to-day,
Saying, It is finished ! — that hard cross of thine
From which thou prayest for deliverance,
Thinkest thou not some passion of regret
Would overcome thee? Thou wouldst say, “So soon?
Let me go back, and suffer yet awhile
More patiently ; — I have not yet praised God.”
And He might answer to thee, — ” Never more.
All pain is done with.” Whensoe’er it comes,
That summons that we look for, it will seem
Soon, yea too soon. Let us take heed in time
That God may now be glorified in us;
And while we suffer, let us set our souls
To suffer perfectly : since this alone,
The suffering, which is this world’s special grace,
May here be perfected and left behind.

This world is the place where we have the opportunity, the privilege to share in the sufferings of Christ. Once we are in heaven with Him, there will be no more suffering, no more tears, and no more sorrow. This time on earth is our only opportunity to show the world we follow our Master, that we can experience difficulty and loss, hardship and pain while holding onto joy. It is only in this life we can die, take up our cross, and follow Jesus into the valley of the shadow of death while continuing to trust Him, have confidence in His unfailing love, and rest in His sovereign goodness.

Will you be a witness to the goodness of God amid hardship and pain? Will you trust that He knows what is best, that the circumstances you are facing aren’t a surprise to Him, that He will bring good out of whatever difficulty and evil in your life? Will you let the Lord refine you like silver until you reflect the image of Christ and are holy as He is holy?

Then one day when you are in the throne room of heaven, you will hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master.”

 

 

Lights So Lovely

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We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it. – Madeleine L’Engle

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life. John 8:12

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Matthew 5:14

We live in a confusing and tragic time. Natural disasters, political chaos, and horrific tragedies surround us. As Christians, we hold the treasure of the gospel, the good news that brings hope and light into our dark world.

However, the best way to share that treasure effectively is to shine as lights, reflecting the light of Christ, in our communities and in the lives of the people we know . Jesus told us that we were the light of the world. The apostle Paul said that we hold the treasure of the gospel in earthen vessels. The Bible tells us over and over again about the patience, the kindness, the gentleness that God has for His children. How can we, as His representatives and with His Spirit within us, be any less patient, kind, and gentle with those around us?

If we are shining as lights, if we are loving and kind, if we are sacrificial in our care for one another, the people in our lives will come to us to find out the secret of why and how we can live that way? While there may be those who choose darkness, there are also many whom God is calling, those drawn to His light and love and joy.

It is important that we live our lives with love and gladness and joy and service because the world is watching us. Why do we choose to give up our own rights for others? Why do we love the unlovely? Why do we sacrifice our own time/money/power to help others? Why do we give up our own wills to serve others?

The Christians in ancient Rome drew the attention of even the emperor because they rescued and raised the children, who had been left to die in the streets and on the hillsides. Christians fed the hungry, they cared for the sick, they clothed the naked. They weren’t powerful politically. Most of them were rather poor, especially once the persecutions started. But, in the end, Christianity overcame all the pagan gods because of love, just as God’s love overcomes all of our own defenses and rushes in and sweeps away our preconceptions, our false ideals, our barriers.

For who can defend against pure love? Who can hide forever from the light? One of the things that confused the Jews most was that Jesus did not come as a conquering king, riding a white horse, and expelling the Romans from the Promised Land. Instead, He came to serve and to die so that He might save His people from their sins. His love conquered their hearts. His love conquers our hearts. And His love will conquer the hearts of all those whom God has called.

John Donne said it well in his poem:

BATTER my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee,’and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to’another due,
Labour to’admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearely’I love you,’and would be loved faine,
But am betroth’d unto your enemie:
Divorce mee,’untie, or breake that knot againe;
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you’enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

It is the love of God which batters his heart, enthralls and ravishes him. The love of God will do the same to and for us. Christ said a servant is not greater than his master. Thus, we should not expect to share the gospel except by the means He used.

Jesus never allowed for sin or idols in people’s lives, but He always spoke to them in the context of loving them. He loved the rich young ruler when He said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” He had compassion on the Samaritan women at the well when He shared with her that He could give her living water and He spared the woman caught in adultery with the admonition to repent.

I think if people around us are offended, it ought to be because of their rejection of the gospel message itself, not the delivery. In the song Could You Believe, Twila Paris wrote:

Could you believe if I really was like Him
If I lived all the words that I said
If for a change I would kneel down before you
And serve you instead
Could you believe?

Let us be the sweet aroma of Christ to our neighbors and friends. Let us serve them with gladness and joy. Let us shine so brightly and beautifully that “that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it” as Madeleine L’Engle said.

Do you live this kind of life? I am aware of my continual failures, of my sinful selfishness and self-absorption. But the desire of my heart is to live for Christ and so I am compelled, I am persuaded that this way of life is the means by which we can spread the good news abroad of Jesus and His love. Won’t you join me in living in such a way that the watching world says, “I want what they have.”

The Farmer’s Market


Having a rare Saturday off work today, I decided to go over to our local Farmer’s Market.  I wanted some vegetables for dinner and some local honey for allergy prevention.

What a great place!  There were rows of vegetables and fruits, flowers and plants, nut butters, honey, and so much more.  I had a strict budget which I kept, with much difficulty, until I came upon a plant stall.  At this point, I lost my heart to a gorgeous coneflower.  The farmer and I had a great chat about my growing adventures this year (which I must share with you all one of these days), and he gave me some good advice for encouraging the white coneflower plant I already have, which has struggled this summer.

Then I saw some cockscomb.  I had fallen in love with this flower while at Monticello last week and was thrilled to buy some for my dining room table.  After I bought it, the farmer showed me where the seeds were located (100’s of them) and told me to save them and plant them in my garden next summer.  How fun is that?

It was a lovely, cool morning, and I came home laden with vegetables, fruit, and flowers.  What a great way to spend a Saturday morning!

Experiments with sourdough

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I plan to teach a class on baking bread from a starter at my library this Fall.  While I have often done this in the past, I always “cheated” and used yeast in my original starter to get it going. I’ve used the traditional liquidy kind of starter and the old dough method, but this time I decided to try to create my own starter with flour, water, and time.

I did a bit of research (my favorite thing to do) and found this recipe on the King Arthur Flour site. I also read a blog post with more details here.  I bought some whole grain rye flour and a gallon of distilled water and set to work.

The first batch was a complete failure.  After four days, I forgot to feed it and came down to find it moldy and stinky.  So, I threw it away.

My second try, on the other hand, was a success.  I didn’t forget to feed it and after five days, I had lovely big air bubbles in it. By day six, it was overflowing my crock after only four hours so today I made my first batch of bread (view the photo above).

I admit that this was a “cheat” in that I used this recipe which included a small amount of additional yeast.  However, as you can see, the loaves came out beautifully. They have a nice even crumb with a great brown crust.

Next week, when I have more time, I plan to try out this recipe which requires no extra yeast.

Has anyone else experimented with starters and successfully baked bread with no extra yeast added?  I’d love to hear from you.

 

Planning for Senior Year

As you may be able to see from the pile of books above, we will be covering many subjects, including 20th century history and literature.  The chemistry book has not yet arrived, and the precalculus book is already being used for the dual enrollment class.

My planning is made so much easier by the wonderful book selections and schedules at Ambleside Online.  For the past 10+ years I have been hanging out over on that website, reading, learning, and borrowing their lists, schedules, and ideas.  This past summer I had the great privilege of meeting two of the creators of Ambleside Online, Lynn Bruce and Karen Glass, and their conversations were even more helpful and fabulous as I could have imagined after looking through all that the AO Advisory has done over the years.

Another main resource for me has been the ClassEd email group of which I’ve been a part since 2000.  These ladies (and gentlemen from time to time) have shared curricula suggestions, teaching tips, lesson plans, and prayed for my family for many years.  I know that we could never have done all that we did without their wisdom and support.  It really struck home how much they have supported us over the years when the husband of one of the long-time members of ClassEd mentioned how their family had prayed for our family for many years.  What a sweet fellowship we have begun on earth to be continued into eternity.

Along with Honors Chemistry and Precalculus/Calculus at our local community college, we will studying Latin, Bible, Art and Music appreciation, Shakespeare, and 20th century history and literature.  This is my third time through 20th century history in our homeschool, and while there are some bleak books written the past century, there are also some great books, which I look forward to discussing with my youngest son.  Some of the titles we will be reading: A History of the Twentieth Century, Testament of Youth , The Men Behind Hitler, The Hiding Place, Call to Conscience, The Hungarian Revolt, Economics in One Lesson, The Great Gatsby, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Chosen, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Sophie’s World, and Heart of Darkness.

We will also be continuing our reading through some of the Great Books together.  We have finished The Iliad and The Odyssey, The Aeneid, The Divine Comedy and Paradise Lost.  Last year we started Les Miserables and will finish it this fall after which we will read Crime and Punishment.  This will be my first time reading Dostoevsky and I’m a bit intimidated but still looking forward to it.

Also, after attending an excellent workshop on T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets this past summer, I’m adding T.S. Eliot to our poetry studies.  I’ve been given several titles to read in preparation of teaching Eliot’s poetry so that I at least have a glimmer as to what he is saying in his poems.  We will also read the poetry of the World War I poets and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

As I mentioned in my last post, I want to finish strong with my youngest son.  If we read and study these books, I believe that we will run our last lap of our homeschool journey well.

I’d love to hear about anyone else’s plans for this next year.  Please do share in the comments.

First Sunday of Advent (a day late)

  
The First Sunday in Advent is Hope. The hope of light in darkness, of joy in sorrow, of life in death, of a Savior to take away the sins of the world.  

The Collect.

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.   – Book of Common Prayer