Friday, May 26, 2006
"Cast thy burden upon the Lord"
"Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee. - Psalm 55:22
Care, even though exercised upon legitimate objects, if carried to excess, has in it the nature of sin. The precept to avoid anxious care is earnestly inculcated by our Saviour, again and again; it is reiterated by the apostles; and it is one which cannot be neglected without involving transgression: for the very essence of anxious care is the imagining that we are wiser than God, and the thrusting ourselves into his place to do for him that which he has undertaken to do for us. We attempt to think of that which we fancy he will forget; we labour to take upon ourselves our weary burden, as if he were unable or unwilling to take it for us. Now this disobedience to his plain precept, this unbelief in his Word, this presumption in intruding upon his province, is all sinful. Yet more than this, anxious care often leads to acts of sin. He who cannot calmly leave his affairs in God’s hand, but will carry his own burden, is very likely to be tempted to use wrong means to help himself. This sin leads to a forsaking of God as our counsellor, and resorting instead to human wisdom. This is going to the "broken cistern" instead of to the "fountain;" a sin which was laid against Israel of old. Anxiety makes us doubt God’s lovingkindness, and thus our love to him grows cold; we feel mistrust, and thus grieve the Spirit of God, so that our prayers become hindered, our consistent example marred, and our life one of self-seeking. Thus want of confidence in God leads us to wander far from him; but if through simple faith in his promise, we cast each burden as it comes upon him, and are "careful for nothing" because he undertakes to care for us, it will keep us close to him, and strengthen us against much temptation. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee." - Charles Spurgeon
Saturday, May 20, 2006
A graciously timed interruption
While mowing the lawn this afternoon, I ran over a branch that caused the belt that drives the lawn mower's self-propel mechanism, causing it to run somewhat amok. I recalled that such a problem is caused by the branch somehow causing the drive belt to come loose from the blade pulley, so I flipped the lawn mower to try to reseat the belt. My efforts to do so by hand were fruitless, so I went inside the house to seek out an appropriate tool. As I was doing so, my phone began to ring. It was my mom. In itself the purpose for her call was positive, but yet I found myself resenting the timing: after all, I had a non-functional lawn mower flipped over on its side out in the middle of the lawn, and I wanted to get it fixed. After a few moments, I asked her if I could talk with Mr. Fix-It aka my dad. He gave me some useful advice, then turned the call back to my mom. After I was done with her, he had another thought regarding my problem, and spoke to me again. He reminded me to remove the spark plug wire before trying to do anything more with the belt and pulley lest the engine start.
As my dad's words sank in, I began to realize that my mom's ill-timed phone call could not have been a better-timed mercy from the Lord. Had I not spoken with my dad, I would have (in my ignorance of mechanical things such as lawn mowers) continued to work on the belt and pulley with the spark plug connected. Had the motor started, at least one of my limbs would likely have been turned into mincemeat. Through this "ill-timed interruption", God spared me from very serious physical injury.
As I write, I'm very thankful that this gracious providence happened today--at a time when I rightly understand it as an undeserved mercy from God--instead of in my charismatic days, when I would have understood it to be a confirmation of my wonderful spiritual gifts and my special hotline to heaven. A sounder understanding of Scripture has allowed me to give the praise and thanks to the One to Whom it belongs.
After I finished mowing the lawn--with my body physically safe and sound, and the lawn mower operating flawlessly--I called my mom again to ask her forgiveness for how I often inwardly grumble when she calls and to offer my sincere thanks for calling at the time she did. I went on to explain that her call, far from being an untimely interruption, was in fact a wonderful mercy from God. In so doing, I hope I was able to give the glory to Whom it belongs.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Recycling spoiled leftovers
In the world of popular music, if I am to judge by the stuff I overhear as I go about my daily routine, matters have gotten extremely dire. The cutting-edge stuff would seem to be hip-hop, but my brother was listening to that music in the late 1970's when it was simply called rap, so this cutting-edge music has been around for at least a quarter of a century. As for rock music, I continue to hear a great deal that is practically indistinguishable from the stuff that was being performed in the latter half of the 70's. In fact, I've heard quite a few records that are nearly note-for-note recreations of records that were popular thirty years ago. In virtually every case, the re-recording comes off as lifeless and flat compared with the original (many of which were derivative even at the time), leaving me to ask "Why did they even bother to re-record this thing?" The modern music I'm hearing today strikes me as being just plain dull and tired, saying the same thing that's been said better by those who have gone before. Why bother indeed?
It is largely on account of this mindless recycling in music and movies that I've made a conscious choice to go back to the stuff that was made by performers who were (in their day) on the cutting edge. Why bother with bland remakes and clones when I can enjoy the style as it was performed when it was fresh and new? Admittedly, the technology of the past wasn't as good as that of today, so I often have to put up with black and white photography and monophonic sound, but so what?
Take, for instance, the movie musical. If you think that its heyday was in the 1960s, you're sadly mistaken. Fine films such as Mary Poppins and The Music Man were in fact the last gasp of a dying genre. Instead, I suggest that you go back to the 1930s. Don't go too far back, though: the very earliest musicals were almost entirely turkeys. (Check out the recent DVD reissue of The Broadway Melody of 1929 if you doubt me.) In fact, movie musicals came to life in 1933, thanks in large part to the all-time classic 42nd Street. Featuring the often awe-inspiring choreography of Busby Berkeley, this is the first musical in which the camera was set free to move. Berkeley used this new-found freedom to great advantage. Numbers such as Young and Healthy, replete with tightly structured dances and frequent camera movements, must have amazed audiences of their day. For my money, this is the birth of the movie musical. Although many fine musicals followed (from MGM, RKO, Fox, and other studios) through the 30s, 40s, and 50s, for my money there's nothing like a classic musical of the 30s for freshness and invention. Give me 42nd Street or an Astaire/Rogers classic such as Swing Time over The Sound of Music any day.
Let's also consider the matter of rock 'n roll. Lest you think that I am a hater of that genre, you've quite mistaken me. Although rock has suffered from tedious, derivative performances ever since its earliest days, I would argue that many performers produced vibrant and creative work at the beginning, especially from the early 50s through the early 70s. However, I've chosen to not collect that era of music, concentrating instead on the various musics that helped to give birth to rock: jazz, country, blues, and more. Much of this music, especially in the years immediately following WWII, is full of energy, drive, and good humor. In country, there was a whole genre now known as "hillbilly boogie" that anticipated the style later known as rockabilly, whereas rhythm and blues--one of the most direct forebears of rock 'n roll--featured an energetic style known as "jump blues." For my money, much of this pre-rock music has infinitely more life and creativity than I hear in the popular music of today. Sure, the sound quality isn't always hi-fi, and it's never in stereo, but I'll take life over technical perfection, thank you.
In case you think my criticism of the popular arts has been harsh, it gets worse. In my opinion, the very worst stuff you can see or hear is the supposedly "Christian" music and movies that are cranked out as watered-down, allegedly "positive" imitations of whatever happened to be trendy in the secular world two years ago. Actually, I'm glad that this stuff is being promoted as being "positive" rather than "Christian", because with the new terminology the blessed name of our Savior is being spared further shame. People, let's face it: the music and movies that are being cranked out by the world are bad enough, both morally and artistically. How do we honor Christ by producing fourth-rate copies of what started out as third-rate imitations?
My friend, if I've helped you to think about today's dire lack of artistic excellence, I urge you to do something about it. First, start by doing some research. Whether you're interested in cinema or music, pick up some books that document the history of that art. As you read, you'll learn about the people who produced the stuff that's stood the test of time. These are the people whose work is being copied by everyone else! As you learn about these folks, seek out their work and find out why they were so good at what they did. As you go about your research, be warned that you may become just as weary of garbage as I have become. Watch your step! :-)
Friday, May 12, 2006
In technology I trust (???)
Take, for instance, this past week. As the week began, all was peaceful and quiet here at Stately Dave Manor, or so it seemed. If only I'd heeded the harbinger of online doom that had arrived in my email inbox a couple of weeks before. My ISP, I was told, was planning major upgrades for the next few weeks. They expected the upgrades to pass without notice, but in case a glitch did occur, all I'd have to do was to reboot my cable modem, router, and PCs. It all sounded relatively painless in the email, but this rose-colored report fell well short of describing the pain that was going to ensue. The outages were numerous and lengthy, and rebooting modem, router, and PC seemed to avail nothing. This went on for the good part of the week, with the ISP all the while claiming that only 5% of their customers were affected by glitches. Strange, then, that 100% of my friends and acquaintances who use the same ISP complained of exactly the same glitches. For me at least, this was a relatively minor annoyance, since I continued to have a working Internet connection at my office and I rarely have to work from home, but yet it was only the beginning of my technological woes.
The next part of my story took place early in the week. Blessed with a fairly sizable income tax refund, I went out and ordered a new clothes washer. In order to be at home for the installation of the new washer, I took a vacation day from work. Little did I suspect that that day was to be the day that my water service was to be cut over to a new water main, but so it was, and thus my water was completely shut off at the time that the delivery guys installed my new washer. As icing on this less-than-tasty cake, a substantial amount of rust was introduced into the plumbing when the water finally was turned back on, and some of this managed to stain the first load of laundry I ran through my brand-new washer. Subsequent treatments have partially, but not completely, restored that set of garments to their original appearance, thus leaving me with an enduring reminder of that day's fairly disruptive events.
Finally, to wrap up the week, what could be more exciting than a power outage? Yes, that's right, and my local utility was happy to serve one up for me in spite of the utter lack of inclement weather. To make things more interesting, this outage wasn't a total blackout: it was merely a brownout. Would that it had been a blackout, because in that case I wouldn't have enjoyed the uncertainty that comes along with wondering which of my appliances and gadgets may have been damaged while trying to operate on substandard voltage. In the end, God was merciful to me: by unplugging my critical devices and then switching off the main circuit breaker, I was able to take everything offline during the remainder of the brownout. In fact, I actually went out to eat and shop in hopes that my neighborhood would be brought back to normal by the time I returned. In God's providence, that was indeed how it turned out. Also, I'm pleased to report that all of my electronics seem to be fully functional.
Actually, all of these very brief outages--although seemingly piled up on top of each other--showed both God's mercy and His sanctifying hand. Through the minor annoyance and deprivation I suffered during these glitches, I was reminded of just how transient the comforts I take for granted truly are, not to mention how much I've come to rely on them. What a useful reminder this trio of glitches has been to me!
Monday, May 01, 2006
The fatal attraction of emotionalism
Up front, let me say that our emotions are not bad in and of themselves. They are good and right in their proper place. This is confirmed by the fact that Jesus Himself exhibited emotions: sorrow, compassion, righteous anger, etc.. His example makes it clear that we too can channel our emotions in a righteous direction so long as we keep them in check.
Our problem, then, is not the existence of our emotions, but rather our sinful tendency to allow them to rule our lives. Whether our emotions are pleasant or unpleasant, we tend to rely on them to set the course for our day-to-day lives. It doesn't help that the world system does everything in its power to encourage this self-destructive tendency. We are constantly told to "follow your heart", as though how we felt would infallibly tell us whatever was best for us.
Especially when we pursue relationships with other people, we allow our feelings to tell us what to do. For instance, the gal whom I ought to marry is the one towards whom I have the strongest emotional attraction, notwithstanding any rational or practical considerations that may occur to me. If I really, really "love" someone, I'll do whatever it takes to win her hand, never mind that doing so might lead both of us in a very, very bad direction. Given this kind of unreasoning foolish reliance on emotions, I suppose it's no wonder that at least 50% of marriages end in divorce, because sooner or later even the strongest feelings diminish, leaving you and I to ask ourselves, "What in the world was I thinking?" Answer: I wasn't thinking because I was too busy feeling.
It has been my observation that the vast majority of those who get ensnared by the charismatic movement got into it on account of what it did for their emotions. You see, charismaticism--more than any other branch of professed Christianity--promises a fervently emotional experience with God. In many cases, it provides just what it promises, but no wonder: our emotions are easily stirred, thus posing little difficulty for a supposedly anointed leader to stir them up. Although it's self-evident that no Holy Ghost power is required to get our emotions going--a halfway decent movie or novel can do the same trick--the special bait on charismaticism's hook is that it purports that the emotional "high" it provides is direct from the hand of Almighty God. Thus, when charismaticism lets you down, you are left feeling as though God Himself has let you down. No wonder so many ex-charismatics leave the Christian faith altogether!
My friend, our emotions are powerful to be sure. We can't turn them off no matter how hard we try, but yet we must not allow them to rule over us. In the charismatic movement, many of us allowed our emotions to sit in the driver's seat, and can testify that the once-exciting ride led us to near spiritual ruin. Let us make no mistake: our emotions cannot be trusted, and we must learn to rule over them. This is no easy task. In fact, our addiction to our emotions is so strong that we cannot help but be ruled by them unless God sovereignly grants us the grace to order our steps according to Scripture instead of emotions. With His enabling grace, the impossible becomes possible: instead of struggling along on the sinking sand of our ever-changing emotions, we can learn sober-mindedness and self-discipline in the Holy Spirit as He speaks to us through the Scriptures.
If you find yourself caught up in a swirling tide of emotions--whether "positive" or "negative"--I urge you to cry out to the Lord for grace and mercy, and to search the Scriptures, for only in them will you find the way of Truth. You cannot prosper spiritually so long as you allow feelings to rule your life!!! If you find that anything or any person tends to draw you back in to emotionalism, ask the Lord to give you wisdom and to grant you a means of escape.
The sinful tendency of every man and woman is to be ruled by his emotions, and charismaticism serves only to grant the supposed stamp of God's approval onto our wicked tendency towards emotional drunkenness. My friend, I urge you to seek the Lord and ask Him to teach you through the Scriptures how you might practice the virtue of sober-mindedness, for that blessed virtue is the antidote to the emotions that Satan so often uses us to lead us astray from the right way. Although a way of escape from emotionalism can seem impossible--feelings can be overpowering in strength--God is well able to make the impossible possible.