All posts by Eli Stewart

Waiting- Mary Gautreaux

 Luke 2: 22- 36 NIV 22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”, 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,     you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,     and the glory of your people Israel.” 33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

It is so hard to wait.

How humorous it is, then, that waiting seems to be what most of life consists of. Waiting for the semester to be over, waiting for that phone call, waiting in line – again, waiting for life to really begin. The happy bursts in life of beginnings and endings are sometimes drowned in the tedium of seemingly endless bouts of waiting.

The Bible is clear that this problem is not new or modern. Abraham and Sarah longed for a child, and everyone knows they had a little trouble waiting. Joseph waited for years in prison. David faced many long nights of waiting and wondering while Saul pursed him to kill him. The prophets and the whole nation of Israel longed and waited for the Messiah, their Deliverer.

Waiting is nothing new. Waiting for direction from God in your life, waiting for a spouse, waiting for a child, waiting for the weekend, for retirement, for….

When the endless cycle of things we wait for is listed out this way, there comes a compelling question – what is it, exactly, that we are waiting for? There is a real sense of, “This surely isn’t all there is to life,” or, “there must be something just ahead that will make everything right.” It seems that we humans are hard-wired to have that feeling within us, to have a deep-within longing – a longing for things to be made right and perfect – for things to be the way they are supposed to be!

We are celebrating Christmas, and this season leading up to Christmas Day is called advent – which means the coming (from Latin “to come”). The dictionary defines advent as the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.

We celebrate, together, with every follower of Christ all over the planet, the arrival of JESUS! Fully man, fully God – the savior and redeemer of the world.

In the passage from Luke we read that two precious, godly people had been waiting all their lives to see the Messiah. They had the scriptures that they read and heard in the temple, the promises of God to hold on to – yet they had not seen. Simeon had the revelation given of the Spirit inside his heart. Still, he had not seen – but he believed and waited and watched!

Then one day, he did see. Can you imagine how he felt? All of those years of waiting and watching, and into the temple court comes this puzzled and exhausted looking young couple with their newborn baby.

Imagine how Simeon felt! Here He was – the Messiah!! Every promise kept, every hope fulfilled – every fear and doubt dashed.

Today, you and I find ourselves alive during another long season of waiting. It seems so long since Jesus has been here, and we begin to wonder if He ever will return. Yet there is one major difference during this period of waiting – Jesus really did come the first time! Try as the secularists might to erase this fact, the entire world calendar divides among Before Christ, and In the Year of Our Lord. Our faith is historically validated, and millions and millions of saints can testify to Jesus’ reality.

How then should we wait?

1. We can wait with confidence – John 14: 1- 4 1

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”

-Jesus is coming back! Not IF, but WHEN! We don’t have to wonder or be afraid that He has forgotten or changed His mind.

-Part of this is waiting in confidence is waiting with contentment. We can trust that as we walk with Him in obedience that we are right where the Lord wants us – this is His plan, and He is the one using us to build HIS Kingdom!

2. We can wait with purpose – Titus 2: 11-14 11

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

-Even though the world is constantly blaring its false version of what life is about, WE KNOW it is really about Jesus! Everything else is just fluff. Nothing compares to helping people know Jesus and make Him known.

3. We can wait with eagerness – Philippians 3: 20-21

20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

-Just like every student counts down the days to the end of the semester, or like a bride and groom mark off every day on the calendar leading up to their wedding, we can eagerly look and point others to look for His coming. Keeping our eyes scanning for His coming keeps everything her in its proper perspective.

– He is in control. World events and politics do not make God anxious. Jesus will return in the fullness of time.

As you celebrate Christmas this year, may your home be filled with the joy and peace of Jesus Christ. May your heart be comforted and encouraged as we wait by the reality that He came once as a newborn, and He will come again as King.

PODCAST: Eli Stewart- What Is Man That You Are Mindful Of Him

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When reading Psalm 8:3-4 ” When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? “

A few questions should rise up:

1.) What is man that YOU are mindful of him?

2.) What is MAN that You are mindful of HIM?

These two bring another question: Why does God tolerate so much collateral damage?

The Disciplined Life- Prayer

Did you know that ODG’s could also be girls?

One of our favorite authors is the delightful and prolific writer of fiction and nonfiction (also the brilliant editor of her husband Peter Marshall’s sermons) Catherine Marshall. She has a lot to say to us about what it means to really know and walk with the Lord, and one of my favorite books is her Adventures in Prayer.

Prayer is something that Christians talk about all the time. We tell each other we will pray and ask one another to pray, we pray over our food, we pray before sporting events, we pray when things seem to be going wrong – but what is prayer, and why is it such a big deal?

Simply stated, prayer is important because God desires to have fellowship with us…

and wants us to learn to trust Him as the source of everything we need. He is all good, all-powerful and all-knowing, and through prayer we begin to develop the habit of looking to Him in all situations. In Luke 11: 9-13, we read Jesus’ words, “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Prayer, in essence, is a conversation between you and God.

You speak to Him, pour you heart and cares out to Him, bring your needs and desires to Him – and the most beautiful thing is that God will also speak to you! Prayer is a spiritual discipline. It is a healthy part of every Christian’s day. It is not just something that we do at a worship service or at the dinner table, but a discipline that we can put into practice anytime and any place. In fact, in I Thessalonians 5: 16-18, Paul exhorts believers to, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
More than just a conversation, prayer is a conduit through which the wisdom, blessings and power of God can flow in and through your life. Prayer is not to be just an afterthought or a life preserver in times of trouble, it can actually become our sustenance. But to get there, we must begin somewhere. If you are new to prayer, or would like to further develop this discipline in your life, Adventures in Prayer is a great place to start. Please read the following excerpt…

“Admittance to the School of prayer is by an entrance test with only two questions. The first one is: Are you in real need? The second is: Do you admit that you are helpless to handle that need?
Whatever I have learned about prayer has come as the result of times when I could answer a resounding yes to both questions. Looking back over my life, those times of need stand out like mountain peaks rather than, as one might suppose, valleys of despond. Peaks — because each time I learned something important about God — how real he is and how gloriously able to answer prayer.
In childhood one of those times of learning came through my desperate fear of the dark. In my teens, there was the dire need of funds for college. What I learned then I share in “The Prayer that Helps Your Dreams Come True.”

At twenty-seven the need was a serious illness. There the mountain-peak learning was “The Prayer of Relinquishment.”

The peak of my thirties was the gigantic one of my husband Peter Marshall’s sudden death, along with lesser hills of need: how to rear a son without his father, how to find a career for myself at this point in life and without any specialized training. During that era I was taught “The Claiming Prayer.”
Years later, after my marriage to Leonard LeSourd and the taking on of three young children, it was back to the School of Prayer again. As usual, there was no problem about passing the entrance test; my need was great, my inadequacy obvious. Out of these years came “The Prayer of Helplessness.”
More often, of course, the situation that drove me to my knees was not so intensely personal. The need might be a friend’s – or one I had only read about somewhere in our war-torn and hungry world. But always the criteria held: great needs and insufficient resources of my own with which to meet them. …
Of course, no lifetime and no book, even one many times the length of this one, can do more than skim the surface of a subject so vast and all-encompassing as prayer. In this volume I have nowhere mentioned even the little I know about prayer as adoration – thanksgiving – praise – contemplation – meditation – or simply the lifting of the human heart in silent communion with the Lover of our souls. This is not because I consider such dimensions of prayer unimportant – quite the contrary – but because down through the centuries writers far more qualified than I have left us classics of instruction in their use.
What I have found strangely lacking in my own times of need are guidelines to prayer at its humblest and most basic: prayer as asking. The prayer of a child quite simply running to its father for help. This is what we would discover in an age of perplexity – how do we run to the Father?
The halls and classrooms of the School of Prayer are crowded as never before because our needs press upon us with a new urgency: world-wide economic crises, marriage problems on the rise, a widening generation gap, drug addiction, alcoholism, cancer of almost epidemic frequency. No wonder we rush to school! Our thirst is deep, our eagerness to learn is enormous.
What good news it is that our very inadequacy is the master key swinging wide the door to His adequacy. Forever and forever our thirst and hunger drive us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Who but Jesus could ever have thought of a plan like that!”

-Catherine Marshall

What Christians Believe by C.S. Lewis

What Christians Believe

1. The Rival Conceptions Of God
I have been asked to tell you what Christians believe, and I am going to begin by telling you one thing that Christians do not need to believe. If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view. But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic-there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong: but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.
The first big division of humanity is into the majority, who believe in some kind of God or gods, and the minority who do not. On this point, Christianity lines up with the majority-lines up with ancient Greeks and Romans, modern savages, Stoics, Platonists, Hindus, Mohammedans, etc., against the modern Western European materialist.
Now I go on to the next big division. People who all believe in God can be divided according to the sort of God they believe in. There are two very different ideas on this subject One of them is the idea that He is beyond good and evil. We humans call one thing good and another thing bad. But according to some people that is merely our human point of view. These people would say that the wiser you become the less you would want to call anything good or bad, and the more dearly you would see that everything is good in one way and bad in another, and that nothing could have been different. Consequently, these people think that long before you got anywhere near the divine point of view the distinction would have disappeared altogether. We call a cancer bad, they would say, because it kills a man; but you might just as well call a successful surgeon bad because he kills a cancer. It all depends on the point of view. The other and opposite idea is that God is quite definitely “good” or “righteous.” a God who takes sides, who loves love and hates hatred, who wants us to behave in one way and not in another. The first of these views-the one that thinks God beyond good and evil-is called Pantheism. It was held by the great Prussian philosopher Hagel and, as far as I can understand them, by the Hindus. The other view is held by Jews, Mohammedans and Christians.
And with this big difference between Pantheism and the Christian idea of God, there usually goes another. Pantheists usually believe that God, so to speak, animates the universe as you animate your body: that the universe almost is God, so that if it did not exist He would not exist either, and anything you find in the universe is a part of God. The Christian idea is quite
different. They think God invented and made the universe-like a man making a picture or composing a tune. A painter is not a picture, and he does not die if his picture is destroyed. You may say, “He’s put a lot of himself into it,” but you only mean that all its beauty and interest has come out of his head. His skill is not in the picture in the same way that it is in his head, or even in his hands, expect you see how this difference between Pantheists and Christians hangs together with the other one. If you do not take the distinction between good and bad very seriously, then it is easy to say that anything you find in this world is a part of God. But, of course, if you think some things really bad, and God really good, then you cannot talk like that. You must believe that God is separate from the world and that some of the things we see in it are contrary to His will. Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, “If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realise that this also is God.” The Christian replies, “Don’t talk damned nonsense.” (*)
For Christianity is a fighting religion. It thinks God made the world-that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colours and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God “made up out of His head” as a man makes up a story. But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.
And, of course, that raises a very big question. If a good God made the world why has it gone wrong? And for many years I simply refused to listen to the Christian answers to this question, because I kept on feeling “whatever you say, and however clever your arguments are, isn’t it much simpler and easier to say that the world was not made by any intelligent power? Aren’t all your arguments simply a complicated attempt to avoid the obvious?” But then that threw me back into another difficulty.
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet.
Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too- for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies.

Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist-in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless-I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality -namely my idea of justice-was full of sense.
Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.

[*] One listener complained of the word damned as frivolous swearing. But I mean exactly what I say-nonsense that is damned is under God’s curse, and will (apart from God’s grace) lead those who believe it to eternal death.

2. The Invasion

Very well then, atheism is too simple. And I will tell you another view that is also too simple. It is the view I call Christianity-and-water, the view which simply says there is a good God in Heaven and everything is all right-leaving out all the difficult and terrible doctrines about sin and hell and the devil, and the redemption. Both these are boys’ philosophies.
It is no good asking for a simple religion. After all, real things are not simple. They look simple, but they are not. The table I am sitting at looks simple: but ask a scientist to tell you what it is really made of-all about the atoms and how the light waves rebound from them and hit my eye and what they do to the optic nerve and what it does to my brain-and, of course, you find that what we call “seeing a table” lands you in mysteries and complications which you can hardly get to the end of. A child saying a child’s prayer looks simple. And if you are content to stop there, well and good. But if you are not-and the modern world usually is not-if you want to go on and ask what is really happening- then you must be prepared for something difficult. If we ask for something more than simplicity, it is silly then to complain that the something more is not simple.
Very often, however, this silly procedure is adopted by people who are not silly, but who, consciously or unconsciously, want to destroy Christianity. Such people put up a version of Christianity suitable for a child of six and make that the object of their attack. When you try to explain the Christian doctrine as it is really held by an instructed adult, they then complain that you are making their heads turn round and that it is all too complicated and that if there really were a God they are sure He would have made “religion” simple, because simplicity is so beautiful, etc. You must be on your guard against these people for they will change their ground every minute and only waste your tune. Notice, too, their idea of God “making religion simple”: as if “religion” were something God invented, and not His statement to us of certain quite unalterable facts about His own nature.
Besides being complicated, reality, in my experience, is usually odd. It is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect. For instance, when you have grasped that the earth and the other planets all go round the sun, you would naturally expect that all the planets were made to match-all at equal distances from each other, say, or distances that regularly increased, or all the same size, or else getting bigger or smaller as you go farther from the sun. In fact, you find no rhyme or reason (that we can see) about either the sizes or the distances; and some of them have one moon, one has four, one has two, some have none, and one has a ring.
Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have. So let us leave behind all these boys’ philosophies-these over-simple answers. The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simpler either.
What is the problem? A universe that contains much that is obviously bad and apparently meaningless, but containing creatures like ourselves who know that it is bad and meaningless. There are only two views that face all the facts. One is the Christian view that this is a good world that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been. The other is the view called Dualism. Dualism means the belief that there are two equal and independent powers at the back of everything, one of them good and the other bad, and that this universe is the battlefield in which they fight out an endless war. I personally think that next to Christianity Dualism is the manliest and most sensible creed on the market. But it has a catch in it.
The two powers, or spirits, or gods-the good one and the bad one-are supposed to be quite independent. They both existed from all eternity. Neither of them made the other, neither of them has any more right than the other to call itself God. Each presumably thinks it is good and thinks the other bad. One of them likes hatred and cruelty, the other likes love and mercy, and each backs its own view. Now what do we mean when we call one of them the Good Power and the other the Bad Power? Either we are merely saying that we happen to prefer the one to the otherlike preferring beer to cider-or else we are saying that, whatever the two powers think about it, and whichever we humans, at the moment,, happen to like, one of them is actually wrong, actually mistaken, in regarding itself as good. Now it we mean merely that we happen to prefer the first, then we must give up talking about good and evil at all. For good means what you ought to prefer quite regardless of what you happen to like at any given moment. If “being good” meant simply joining the side you happened to fancy, for no real reason, then good would not deserve to be called good. So we must mean that one of the two powers is actually wrong and the other actually right
But the moment you say that, you are putting into the universe a third thing in addition to the two Powers: some law or standard or rule of good which one of the powers conforms to and the other fails to conform to. But since the two powers are judged by this standard, then this standard, or the Being who made this standard, is farther back and higher up than either of them, and He will be the real God. In fact, what we meant by calling them good and bad turns out to be that one of them is in a right relation to the real ultimate God and the other in a wrong relation to Him.
The same point can be made in a different way. If Dualism is true, then the bad Power must be a being who likes badness for its own sake. But in reality we have no experience of anyone liking badness just because it is bad. The nearest we can get to it is in cruelty. But in real life people are cruel for one of two reasons- either because they are sadists, that is, because they have a sexual perversion which makes cruelty a cause of sensual pleasure to them, or else for the sake of something they are going to get out of it-money, or power, or safety. But pleasure, money, power, and safety are all, as far as they go, good things.

The badness consists in pursuing them by the wrong method, or in the wrong way, or too much. I do not mean, of course, that the people who do this are not desperately wicked. I do mean that wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way. You can be good for the mere sake of goodness: you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness. You can do a kind action when you are not feeling kind and when it gives you no pleasure, simply because kindness is right; but no one ever did a cruel action simply because cruelty is wrong-only because cruelty was pleasant or useful to him. In other words badness cannot succeed even in being bad in the same way in which goodness is good. Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled. We called sadism a sexual perversion; but you must first have the idea of a normal sexuality before you can talk of its being perverted; and you can see which is the perversion, because you can explain the perverted from the normal, and cannot explain the normal from the perverted. It follows that this Bad Power, who is supposed to be on an equal footing with the Good Power, and to love badness in the same way as the Good Power loves goodness, is a mere bogy. In order to be bad he must have good things to want and then to pursue in the wrong way: he must have impulses which were originally good in order to be able to pervert them. But if he is bad he cannot supply himself either with good things to desire or with good impulses to pervert. He must be getting both from the Good Power. And if so, then he is not independent. He is part of the Good Power’s world: he was made either by the Good Power or by some power above them both.
Put it more simply still. To be bad, he must exist and have intelligence and will. But existence, intelligence and will are in themselves good. Therefore he must be getting them from the Good Power: even to be bad he must borrow or steal from his opponent. And do you now begin to see why Christianity has always said that the devil is a fallen angel? That is not a mere story for the children. It is a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable evil to carry on are powers given it by goodness. All the things which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things-re solution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself. That is why Dualism, in a strict sense, will not work.
But I freely admit that real Christianity (as distinct from Christianity-and-water) goes much nearer to Dualism than people think. One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe-a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin. The difference is that Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.
Enemy-occupied territory-that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going. He does it by playing on our conceit and laziness and intellectual snobbery. I know someone will ask me, “Do you really mean, at this time of day, to reintroduce our old friend the devil-hoofs and horns and all?” Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do not know. And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns. But in other respects my answer is “Yes, I do.” I do not claim to know anything about his personal appearance. If anybody really wants to know him better I would say
to that person, “Don’t worry. If you really want to, you will Whether you’ll like it when you do is another question.”

3. The Shocking Alternative

Christians, then, believe that an evil power has made himself for the present the Prince of this World. And, of course, that raises problems. Is this state of affairs in accordance with God’s will or not? If it is, He is a strange God, you will say: and if it is not, how can anything happen contrary to the will of a being with absolute power?
But anyone who has been in authority knows how a thing can be in accordance with your will in one way and not in another. It may be quite sensible for a mother to say to the children, “I’m not going to go and make you tidy the schoolroom every night. You’ve got to learn to keep it tidy on your own.” Then she goes up one night and finds the Teddy bear and the ink and the French Grammar all lying in the grate. That is against her will. She would prefer the children to be tidy. But on the other hand, it is her will which has left the children free to be untidy. The same thing arises in any regiment, or trade union, or school. You make a thing voluntary and then half the people do not do it. That is not what you willed, but your will has made it possible.
It is probably the same in the universe. God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata-of creatures that worked like machines-would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.
Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk. Perhaps we feel inclined to disagree with Him. But there is a difficulty about disagreeing with God. He is the source from which all your reasoning power comes: you could not be right and He wrong any more than a stream can rise higher than its own source. When you are arguing against Him you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all: it is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on. If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will-that is, for making a live world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings-then we may take it it is worth paying.
When we have understood about free will, we shall see how silly it is to ask, as somebody once asked me: “Why did God make a creature of such rotten stuff that it went wrong?” The better stuff a creature is made of-the cleverer and stronger and freer it is-then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong. A cow cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a child better and worse still; an ordinary man, still more so; a man of genius, still more so; a superhuman spirit best-or worst-of all.
How did the Dark Power go wrong? Here, no doubt, we ask a question to which human beings cannot give an answer with any certainty. A reasonable (and traditional) guess, based on our own experiences of going wrong, can, however, be offered. The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting Yourself first-wanting to be the centre-wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race. Some people think the fall of man had something to do with sex, but that is a mistake. (The story in the Book of Genesis rather suggests that some corruption in our sexual nature followed the fall and was its result, not its cause.) What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could “be like gods”-could set up on their own as if they had created themselves-be their own masters-invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human hi story-money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery-the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.
The reason why it can never succeed is this. God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on gasoline, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended-civilisations are built up-excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start up all right and runs a Jew yards, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans.
And what did God do? First of all He left us conscience, the sense of right and wrong: and all through history there have been people trying (some of them very hard) to obey it. None of them ever quite succeeded. Secondly, He sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men. Thirdly, He selected one particular people and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was -that there was only one of Him and that He cared about right conduct. Those people were the Jews, and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process.
Then comes the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time. Now let us get this clear. Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of God, or one with God: there would be nothing very odd about it. But this man, since He was a Jew, could not mean that kind of God. God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world Who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else. And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.
One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to. I mean the claim to forgive sins: any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself. You tread on my toe and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history.
Yet (and this is the strange, significant thing) even His enemies, when they read the Gospels, do not usually get the impression of silliness and conceit. Still less do unprejudiced readers. Christ says that He is “humble and meek” and we believe Him; not noticing that, if He were merely a man, humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute to some of His sayings.
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic-on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg-or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

4. The Perfect Penitent

We are faced, then, with a frightening alternative. This man we are talking about either was (and is) just what He said or else a lunatic, or something worse. Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God. God has landed on this enemy-occupied world in human form.
And now, what was the purpose of it all? What did He come to do? Well, to teach, of course; but as soon as you look into the New Testament or any other Christian writing you will find they are constantly talking about something different-about His death and His coming to life again. It is obvious that Christians think the chief point of the story lies here. They think the main thing He came to earth to do was to suffer and be killed.
Now before I became a Christian I was under the impression that the first thing Christians had to believe was one particular theory as to what the point of this dying was. According to that theory God wanted to punish men for having deserted and joined the Great Rebel, but Christ volunteered to be punished instead, and so God let us off. Now I admit that even this theory does not seem to me quite so immoral and so silly as it used to; but that is not the point I want to make. What I came to see later on was that neither this theory nor any other is Christianity. The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start Theories as to how it did this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work. I will tell you what I think it is like. All sensible people know that if you are tired and hungry a meal will do you good. But the modern theory of nourishment-all about the vitamins and proteins-is a different thing. People ate their dinners and felt better long before the theory of vitamins was ever heard of: and if the theory of vitamins is some day abandoned they will go on eating their dinners just the same. Theories about Christ’s death are not Christianity: they are explanations about how it works. Christians would not all agree as to how important these theories are. My own church-the Church of England-does not lay down any one of them as the right one. The Church of Rome goes a bit further. But I think they will all agree that the thing itself is infinitely more important than any explanations that theologians have produced. I think they would probably admit that no explanation will ever be quite adequate to the reality. But as I said in the preface to this book, I am only a layman, and at this point we are getting into deep water. I can only tell you, for what it is worth, how I, personally, look at the matter.
On my view the theories are not themselves the thing you are asked to accept. Many of you no doubt have read Jeans or Eddington. What they do when they want to explain the atom, or something of that sort, is to give you a description out of which you can make a mental picture. But then they warn you that this picture is not what the scientists actually believe. What the scientists believe is a mathematical formula. The pictures are there only to help you to understand the formula. They are not really true in the way the formula is; they do not give you the real thing but only something more or less like it. They are only meant to help, and if they do not help you can drop them. The thing itself cannot be pictured, it can only be expressed mathematically. We are in the same boat here. We believe that the death of Christ is just that point in history at which something absolutely unimaginable from outside shows through into our own world. And if we cannot picture even the atoms of which our own world is built, of course we are not going to be able to picture this. Indeed, if we found that we could fully understand it, that very fact would show it was not what it professes to be-the inconceivable, the uncreated, the thing from beyond nature, striking down into nature like lightning. You may ask what good will it be to us if we do not understand it. But that is easily answered. A man can eat his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him. A man can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works: indeed, he certainly would not know how it works until he has accepted it.
We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ’s death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do
help us, not to be confused with the thing itself. All the same, some of these theories are worth looking at.
The one most people have heard is the one I mentioned before -the one about our being let off because Christ had volunteered to bear a punishment instead of us. Now on the face of it that is a very silly theory. If God was prepared to let us off, why on earth did He not do so? And what possible point could there be in punishing an innocent person instead? None at all that I can see, if you are thinking of punishment in the police-court sense. On the other hand, if you think of a debt, there is plenty of point in a person who has some assets paying it on behalf of someone who has not. Or if you take “paying the penalty,” not in the sense of being punished, but in the more general sense of “standing the racket” or “footing the bill,” then, of course, it is a matter of common experience that, when one person has got himself into a hole, the trouble of getting him out usually falls on a kind friend. Now what was the sort of “hole” man had got himself into? He had tried to set up on his own, to behave as if he belonged to himself. In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realising that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor-that is the only way out of a “hole.” This process of surrender-this movement full speed astern-is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death. In fact, it needs a good man to repent. And here comes the catch. Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person-and he would not need it.
Remember, this repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a kind of death, is not something God demands of you before He will take you back and which He could let you off if He chose: it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like. If you ask God to take you back without it, you are really asking Him to let you go back without going back. It cannot hap pen. Very well, then, we must go through with it. But the same badness which makes us need it, makes us unable to do it. Can we do it if God helps us? Yes, but what do we mean when we talk of God helping us? We mean God putting into us a bit of Himself, so to speak. He lends us a little of His reasoning powers and that is how we think: He puts a little of His love into us and that is how we love one another. When you teach a child writing, you hold its hand while it forms the letters: that is, it forms the letters because you are forming them. We love and reason because God loves and reasons and holds our hand while we do it. Now if we had not fallen, that would be all plain sailing. But unfortunately we now need God’s help in order to do something which God, in His own nature, never does at all-to surrender, to suffer, to submit, to die. Nothing in God’s nature corresponds to this process at all. So that the one road for which we now need God’s leadership most of all is a road God, in His own nature, has never walked. God can share only what He has: this thing, in His own nature, He has not.
But supposing God became a man-suppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with God’s nature in one person-then that person could help us. He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and He could do it perfectly because He was
God. You and I can go through this process only if God does it in us; but God can do it only if He becomes man. Our attempts at this dying will succeed only if we men share in God’s dying, just as our thinking can succeed only because it is a drop out of the ocean of His intelligence: but we cannot share God’s dying unless God dies; and He cannot die except by being a man. That is the sense in which He pays our debt, and suffers for us what He Himself need not suffer at all.
I have heard some people complain that if Jesus was God as well as man, then His sufferings and death lose all value in their eyes, “because it must have been so easy for him.” Others may (very rightly) rebuke the ingratitude and ungraciousness of this objection; what staggers me is the misunderstanding it betrays. In one sense, of course, those who make it are right. They have even understated their own case. The perfect submission, the perfect suffering, the perfect death were not only easier to Jesus because He was God, but were possible only because He was God. But surely that is a very odd reason for not accepting them? The teacher is able to form the letters for the child because the teacher is grown-up and knows how to write. That, of course, makes it easier for the teacher, and only because it is easier for him can he help the child. Jf it rejected him because “it’s easy for grown-ups” and waited to learn writing from another child who could not write itself (and so had no “unfair” advantage), it would not get on very quickly. If I am drowning in a rapid river, a man who still has one foot on the bank may give me a hand which saves my life. Ought I to shout back (between my gasps) “No, it’s not fair! You have an advantage! You’re keeping one foot on the bank”? That advantage-call it “unfair” if you like-is the only reason why he can be of any use to me. To what will you look for help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself?
Such is my own way of looking at what Christians call the Atonement. But remember this is only one more picture. Do not mistake it for the thing itself: and if it does not help you, drop it

5. The Practical Conclusion

The perfect surrender and humiliation were undergone by Christ: perfect because He was God, surrender and humiliation because He was man. Now the Christian belief is that if we somehow share the humility and suffering of Christ we shall also share in His conquest for death and find a new life after we have died and in it become perfect, and perfectly happy, creatures. This means something much more than our trying to follow His teaching. People often ask when the next step in evolution-the step to something beyond man-will happen. But on the Christian view, it has happened already. In Christ a new kind of man appeared: and the new kind of life which began in Him is to be put into us. How is this to be done? Now, please remember how we acquired the old, ordinary kind of life. We derived it from others, from our father and mother and all our ancestors, without our consent-and by a very curious process, involving pleasure, pain, and danger. A process you would never have guessed. Most of us spend a good many years in childhood trying to guess it: and some children, when they are first told, do not believe it-and I am not sure that I blame them, for it is very odd. Now the God who arranged that process is the same God who arranges how the new kind of life-the Christ life-is to be spread. We must be prepared for it being odd too. He did not consult us when He invented sex: He has not consulted us either when He invented this.
There are three things that spread the Christ life to us: baptism, belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names-Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper. At least, those are the three ordinary methods. I am not saying there may not be special cases where it is spread without one or more of these. I have not time to go into special cases, and I do not know enough. If you are trying in a few minutes to tell a man how to get to Edinburgh you will tell him the trains: he can, it is true, get there by boat or by a plane, but you will hardly bring that in. And I am not saying anything about which of these three things is the most essential. My Methodist friend would like me to say more about belief and less (in proportion) about the other two. But I am not going into that. Anyone who professes to teach you Christian doctrine will, in fact, tell you to use all three, and that is enough for our present purpose.
I cannot myself see why these things should be the conductors of the new kind of life. But then, if one did not happen to know, I should never have seen any connection between a particular physical pleasure and the appearance of a new human being in the world. We have to take reality as it comes to us: there is no good jabbering about what it ought to be like or what we should have expected it to be like. But though I cannot see why it should be so, I can tell you why I believe it is so. I have explained why I have to believe that Jesus was (and is) God. And it seems plain as a matter of history that He taught His followers that the new life was communicated in this way. In other words, I believe it on His authority. Do not be scared by the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority. I believe there is such a place as New York. I have not seen it myself. I could not prove by abstract reasoning that there must be such a place. I believe it because reliable people have told me so. The ordinary man believes in the Solar System, atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood on authority-because the scientists say so. Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. None of us could prove them by pure logic as you prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on authority. A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life.
Do not think I am setting up baptism and belief and the Holy Communion as things that will do instead of your own attempts to copy Christ. Your natural life is derived from your parents; that does not mean it will stay there if you do nothing about it. You can lose it by neglect, or you can drive it away by committing suicide. You have to feed it and look after it: but always remember you are not making it, you are only keeping up a life you got from someone else. In the same way a Christian can lose the Christ-life which has been put into him, and he has to make efforts to keep it. But even the best Christian that ever lived is not acting on his own steam-he is only nourishing or protecting a life he could never have acquired by his own efforts. And that has practical consequences. As long as the natural life is in your body, it will do a lot towards repairing that body. Cut it, and up to a point it will heal, as a dead body would not. A live body is not one that never gets hurt, but one that can to some extent repair itself. In the same way a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble-because the Christ-life is inside him,
repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ Him self carried out.
That is why the Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or-if they think there is not-at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.
And let me make it quite clear that when Christians say the Christ-life is in them, they do not mean simply something mental or moral. When they speak of being “in Christ” or of Christ being “in them,” this is not simply a way of saying that they are thinking about Christ or copying Him. They mean that Christ is actually operating through them; that the whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts-that we are. His fingers and muscles, the cells of His body. And perhaps that explains one or two things. It explains why this new life is spread not only by purely mental acts like belief, but by bodily acts like baptism and Holy Communion. It is not merely the spreading of an idea; it is more like evolution-a biological or super-biological fact. There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.
Here is another thing that used to puzzle me. Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him, But in the meantime, if you are worried about the people outside, the most unreasonable thing you can do is to remain outside yourself. Christians are Christ’s body, the organism through which He works. Every addition to that body enables Him to do more. If you want to help those outside you must add your own little cell to the body of Christ who alone can help them. Cutting off a man’s fingers would be an odd way of getting him to do more work.
Another possible objection is this. Why is God landing in this enemy-occupied world in disguise and starting a sort of secret society to undermine the devil? Why is He not landing in force, invading it? Is it dial He is not strong enough? Well, Christians think He is going to land in force; we do not know when. But we can guess why He is delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. I do not suppose you and I would have thought much of a Frenchman who waited till the Allies were marching into Germany and then announced he was on our side. God will invade. But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realise what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else-something it never entered your head to conceive-comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise; something so
overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realised it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last for ever. We must take it or leave it.

ODG #7- Oswald Chambers

Oswald Chamber’s devotional “My Utmost For His Highest” is a simple, short daily reading that has an uncanny way of speaking into your life.  I am always surprised by how often something written so long ago still contains the seeds of life that Jesus uses to help me grow.  The following excerpt is from “August 24th.”  The devotional can be found for free online with a simple google search.  Used copies can be found for under a dollar.  It is one of the best devotionals that I have ever read, and one of the few that I continue to read, year after year.

 

August 24


 THE SPIRITUAL SEARCH


 “What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?”
MATTHEW 7:9

    The illustration of prayer that our Lord used here is one of a good child who is asking for something good. We talk about prayer as if God hears us regardless of what our relationship is to Him (see Matthew 5:45). Never say that it is not God’s will to give you what you ask. Don’t faint and give up, but find out the reason you have not received; increase the intensity of your search and examine the evidence. Is your relationship right with your spouse, your children, and your fellow students? Are you a “good child” in those relationships? Do you have to say to the Lord, “I have been irritable and cross, but I still want spiritual blessings”? You cannot receive and will have to do without them until you have the attitude of a “good child.”
We mistake defiance for devotion, arguing with God instead of surrendering. We refuse to look at the evidence that clearly indicates where we are wrong. Have I been asking God to give me money for something I want, while refusing to pay someone what I owe him? Have I been asking God for liberty while I am withholding it from someone who belongs to me? Have I refused to forgive someone, and have I been unkind to that person? Have I been living as God’s child among my relatives and friends? (see Matthew 7:12).
I am a child of God only by being born again, and as His child I am good only as I “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7). For most of us, prayer simply becomes some trivial religious expression, a matter of mystical and emotional fellowship with God. We are all good at producing spiritual fog that blinds our sight. But if we will search out and examine the evidence, we will see very clearly what is wrong—a friendship, an unpaid debt, or an improper attitude. There is no use praying unless we are living as children of God. Then Jesus says, regarding His children, “Everyone who asks receives . . .” (Matthew 7:8).

ODG #6- Peter Marshall

Prayer
Our Father in Heaven, give us the long view of our work and our world.
Help us to see that it is better to fail in a cause that will ultimately succeed than to succeed in a cause that will ultimately fail. ….
May Thy will be done here, and may Thy programme be carried out, above party and personality, beyond time and circumstance, for the good of America and the peace of the world. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

I am growing more and more aware that all too often we preachers aim at nothing and hit it.
From THE REAL THING

Some Things I Know

Every man in public life
every speaker who takes the rostrum
every preacher who mounts the pulpit has certain reticences.

The modern preacher, particularly, hesitates to inject personalities into his preaching.
He is reticent about using illustrations out of his own experience or that of his congregation.

But the apostolic preachers and writers observed no such restraints.
Their sermons were full of their own experiences.

“What we have seen and heard, declare we unto you”, they said.
They never tired of telling what the Lord had done for them . . .
what they had been before . . .
what they were now . . .
and in the simple telling, there was power—sheer power.

This power that had made them different, they said, was available to anyone who would believe.
Sins could be forgiven; Christ could come into human life
to change natures and dispositions . . .
to change moods and temperaments . . .
to banish fear and worry . . .
to remove shame and guilt . . .
to provide a new dynamic, a new purpose in life . . ,
a new joy and a peace that nothing could destroy.

It was exciting news.
People listened to it.
They did not always agree with the apostles, or like what they said. Sometimes there were riots, and bloodshed.
Riots … or regenerations.
Never . . . just apathy or indifference.

We modern Christians are remarkably frank about some things and strangely reticent about others.
The trouble is that we are frank about the things that were
better left unspoken or are too trivial to matter,
and silent about the only things worth discussing and
sharing.

We do not seem to have any great faith these days—
in God and His power …
in His ability to salvage wrecked lives . . .
to change human nature . . .
to take away our mood of futility . . .
to guide our decisions …
We seem to have little faith in the availability of the Holy Spirit—the Helper—in our daily lives.

We have no great convictions
no great passions
no great causes.

Two World Wars have convinced us that there really is not anything worth dying for, and we are not sure that there is anything worth living for.

Perhaps it is because of this desperate need for a new dynamic in human life that, more than ever before, we need the testimony of those who have made spiritual discoveries.
Lately I have had a feeling of compulsion to tell a bit of my own story and the convictions growing out of it.
I do not know why it was laid on my heart to do so I do not need to know.
For did not Christ say, “Go home and tell thy friends what great things the Lord hath done for thee”?

When a person can say, “I know Whom I have believed” …
when he can say: “I know that prayer changes things”, he has done more to instill faith in other hearts than all the arguments since the world began.

What do I know out of the crucible of my own experience ?

I know that Christ is alive,
and personal
and real, and closer than we think.
I have met Him.
I have felt His presence.

I have seen the changes He can make in me . . .
in lifting a mood,
in taking away despair or frustration or hopelessness,
in breaking down my stubborn will,
in melting my pride,
in getting me to do the right thing when I preferred to do the wrong thing.

I know that I now belong to Him.
I am His child.
I know that I am a Christian.

Now upon this point, there need be, and indeed can be no doubt or hesitation.
One either is a Christian—or one is not.
One either is a believer—or one is not.
There is no middle ground of compromise or indecision.

When someone asks you if you are married, there is no hedging or uncertainty.
You either are—or you are not.
You are in no doubt concerning your citizenship.
You either are a citizen of the land in which you live, or you are not
There is no possibility of equivocation.

So, it is not humility or piety to say that you are
“trying to be a Christian” . . .
or that you “hope you are a Christian”.
You either are—or you are not.

Either you have given your life to Christ and asked Him to be your Master, or you are still trying to run your life
Either you have promised to obey Christ in all things or self, ego, is still at the centre and at the helm.
It is one or the other.

I know that Christ has “taken me on”—that I am now His child and His responsibility, and that He will make all the changes necessary in me, now and through eternity, until I am what He wants me to be.

I know that without Him I am absolutely helpless to do what I know I ought to do, to change my own character,
or my habits
or my disposition.
But I also know that He can change them.
He can help me to overcome any weakness or failure by getting to the root of the trouble.

He may dig deep,
and there may have to be some spiritual surgery.
For instance—maybe in looking at ourselves and life, we come to the conclusion that we ought to be different at some point.

We long to be a little kinder to people.
We know that we should be more tolerant,
more understanding,
more interested in other people
and their problems.

Perhaps we have a fiery temper that breaks out like forked lightning, and we say and do things of which we are afterwards ashamed.
So we pray for more grace, for more patience, more understanding.
But that’s not the real trouble.
It lies deeper than that.

What we really need is for Christ to perform some spiritual surgery on us; to cut away the stubborn pride which makes us want to domineer other people and order them about. Secretly we want to be dictators and bullies.
It is this ego which must be cut away.

But although I have never been more aware of my own inadequacies, I have never been so aware of the adequacy of Christ.
He can do with me what I cannot do, and change what I am unable to change—and He will.

The only thing which delays this, is my own unwillingness to be changed.
There is in each of us just enough self-will to make us think as we repeat the Lord’s Prayer:
“Thy will be done—(in other people)
Thy kingdom come—(but not just yet).”

I know that Christ is interested in every detail of my daily life and of yours.
And why not?
If He has numbered the hairs of our heads . . .
if He notes the sparrow’s fall . . .
shall He not care about what we do every day and how we do it?

Most of us simply refuse to believe how practical God is.

He is ready to tell us what to say in an important conversation.
He is ready to help us make the right decision in a difficult choice.
He is ready to guide the hand of the surgeon, and the scissors of the housewife.
He is ready to give new strength to the tired servant standing over the kitchen sink.

. . . .

I know that God is interested in the practical details of our daily lives, for the Bible is filled with assurance and illustrations.
Furthermore, so many people have found these promises to be true—and can say, as I say, that God can be trusted.

I have been out of work because of strikes and depressions.
I know what it is to be unemployed and to look for a job.
I know what it is to be without a home in a strange land.
I know what it is to have no money at all, for I have walked down Broadway, looking for work, with two cents in my pocket.

Yes, I have at times been without many things, but never without the One Who cared.
All through my life, God has supplied all my needs, richly, generously, far beyond anything I could have asked or dreamed. I know that God wants and expects us. His children, to ask Him
for guidance,
for protection
and for help
in a hundred details every day.

I know that He is far more willing to do things for us than we are to ask Him.
And that is the great mystery—why, knowing what we do about God’s power and God’s willingness to help, why we keep on struggling ourselves . . .
trying to work out things our own way, when He could save us all the anxiety, do it better and easier.

I believe our pretended, pathetic self-sufficiency saddens God.
He longs to help us, but we won’t let Him. We refuse to ask Him.

I know that when I take time to talk to God and to obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit—those little nudges on the inside—I feel alive . . .
and life is joyous and a great adventure.
I know that when I neglect these things, I begin to feel tired, and half-dead. I become miserable,
irritable,
full of frustration.

My work becomes complicated and a great burden, instead of a joy.

I know that it is to my immediate self-interest to obey Jesus—both what He has told me to do as it is written in the New Testament, and what He tells me to do day by day through the Holy Spirit.

I have no spectacular story to tell, but I do know that more than once my life has been spared, when others around me have been taken.
I have felt in my own experience the invisible messengers of God, and I believe in the presence and in the ministry of guardian angels.

When the clock strikes for me, I shall go—not one moment early, and not one moment late.
Until then, there is nothing to fear.
I know that the promises of God are true,
for they have been fulfilled in my own life, time and time
again.

Jesus still teaches
and guides
and protects
and heals
and comforts
and still wins our complete trust and our love.

These things I know.
And in my story, Peter Marshall is not glorified, but the Lord. As a matter of fact, as I think back over the evidences of the Lord’s guidance in my own life, I feel ashamed that my faith is not a more radiant, contagious thing.

God’s hand has very evidently been upon me, and I should be a better man because of it.

Surely if God has done so much for me, how much more will he do for you?
If His goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life, will they not also follow you?
Should you not be encouraged to believe that these same things and many more can happen to you?
These days of doubts
and fears
suspicions
and unbeliefs call for a positive faith
and a steady witness.

The situation in which we find ourselves in our national life and as individuals demands a clear note and a confident faith. We need people who are willing to stand up and be counted people who are not afraid to say, “Yes, I am a Christian”.

Yet we Christians have almost lost the art of religious conversation. We have not mastered the art of leaving behind all pious terminology and speaking naturally and spontaneously about the things we most surely believe.
We are not to argue about Christianity; that is the most futile
the most useless
and the most devastating of our temptations.
We cannot prove the things of the spirit by reason . . .
not because they are unreasonable—but because they are beyond reason.

The things of the spirit are matters of perception—not of
proof.
As Paul tells us in his First Corinthians’ letter, “ . . . the things of the spirit of God … are spiritually discerned”.
(1st Corinthians 2:14)

We do not argue, for example, about beauty in music
in art
or in poetry.
We recognize that in these realms, beauty is either appreciated or it is not.

Can you imagine a musician trying to prove by argument that a piece of music is glorious?
Does the poet argue for his sonnet?
Or the artist for his picture?

We cannot prove the inspiration of the Bible by argument,
nor the efficacy of prayer
nor the reality of God’s guidance
nor the power of God to change people’s lives.

No—we must not argue about Christianity.
Christ does not expect us to.

All He asks us to do is to tell what we know, what we have experienced.
He will do the rest.

Why are we so reluctant to tell even our friends, those whom we know best, about Christ and to talk to them about spiritual things . . .
to discuss with them how to find God’s will for their lives . . .
to help them to cultivate a prayer life?
Why are we so reluctant?

Perhaps it is because we are embarrassed to talk about spiritual things.
We are afraid of ridicule.
We do not yet understand how normal a thing it is to know God and to live our daily lives in fellowship with Him.
Many of us lack the fortitude to stand by our convictions. We permit a few secular pagans in our office to silence us entirely.

Most of us, I think, are silenced by reason of the fact that there are some things wrong in our own lives, and if we were to say too much about spiritual things we would be hypocrites, and our friends know it . . . and we know that they know it . . . and so we say nothing.

Therefore, it seems to me that before we can do what Christ asks us to do, we will have to set right some things that are wrong.
And then we will have something to say, and it will be so real to us and so terribly important that nothing else will matter.
We will go to our friends as Jesus told us, and we will tell them what we know of Him . . . what He has done for us . . .
how He answered our prayers about this matter . . • and how we reached a decision that was not only the right one, but the happiest one for all concerned . . .

And we will tell them how we found His guidance
and how our own lives have been changed . . .

There is only one way to learn the art of religious conversation and that is to try it.
You can’t learn to fish by studying a book.
You never swim until you get into the water.

“Go home to thy friends and tell them.”
That’s what Christ wants you to do.
He wants them to know that He is as adequate for life in our day as He was nineteen hundred years ago.

Suppose for a moment—suppose He is counting on you to tell them?

Prayer
God our Father, history and experience have given us so many evidences of Thy guidance to nations and to individuals that we should not doubt Thy power or Thy willingness to direct us. Give us the faith to believe that when God wants us to do or not to do any particular thing, God finds a way of letting us know it.
May we not make it more difficult for Thee to guide us, but be willing to be led of Thee, that Thy will may be done in us and through us for the good of America and all mankind.
This we ask in Jesus’ name. amen.

ODG #4- Charlies G. Finney

This week’s ODG is Charles G. Finney. Finney was a lawyer who had an encounter with God that changed His future. He gave the rest of his life to the winning of the lost to Jesus.  He laid out sermons much like a court case. Of all that could be said about Finney, of the Thousands that gave their hearts to Jesus, at the end of their lives, over 80% were still in love with Jesus, living holy lives for Him and with Him.
In our outreaching we often have WAY LESS HOPE. If JUST ONE would walk with Jesus all their days then THIS would be worth it. There was at least SOMETHING about Finney’s understanding of the GOSPEL that opened the door into LASTING FRIENDSHIP with Jesus.

Charles_g_finney

Ezekiel 18:31Make you a new heart and a new spirit; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?

The word heart has various significations in the scriptures. In a few instances it appears to be synonymous with soul or spirit; sometimes it means the whole mind, and sometimes the understanding, and sometimes the conscience; in some places it seems to mean the constitutional propensities which belong to human nature, whether holy or sinful; sometimes it seems to refer to the social or relative affections; often it expresses all the affections or exercises of the mind; and in many instances it is spoken of as the fountain of our exercises; as “the good man, out of the good treasure of his heart,” etc. In such cases, as the heart is spoken of as the fountain of our moral exercises, it must mean the ruling choice or governing purpose of the mind. This I take to be the meaning of the term in all those passages where it is spoken of as comprehending the whole of divine requirement and human duty. And this is its meaning in the text; and the passage requires sinners to change their governing purpose, or make their leading object of life a new one, such as they have never indulged before.

I. I WILL SHOW WHAT IS NOT MEANT BY THIS COMMAND

It is not intended that a sinner is to make a new soul or spirit; although the word spirit is employed in the text, and although even the word heart sometimes means the soul. Every man has just such a soul as he needs, to love and serve God; and Christians did not receive any new soul when they were converted; therefore a new soul is not necessary, and is not required in the text or in the bible.

It is not intended that a sinner is to make any new faculty of soul or mind.

He needs no new faculty; and the Christian has received none, but only consecrates to God those he had from the commencement of his being.

Neither is he required to make any new moral principle of a permanent character; it, by principle, is meant any thing distinct from and prior to moral exercises; any thing behind the will, and necessary and giving character to volitions. It is not required to make a new taste or disposition; if by those terms is meant any thing distinct from and prior to moral exercises, and necessary and giving character to volitions. This would be, like the other cases mentioned, something pertaining to his nature, which is impossible. A nature cannot be holy. The nature of Adam at his creation was not holy. What is holiness? It is virtue, the moral action of an intelligent being, directed to a right object. It is absurd then to speak of holiness or virtue as pertaining to his nature.

II. I WILL SHOW WHAT IS INTENDED IN THE COMMAND OF THE TEXT

It is, that the sinner should change the governing purpose of his life. A man resolves to be a lawyer. Then he directs all his plans and efforts to effect that object, and passes by or resists every thing which would hinder its attainment; and that, for the time, is his governing purpose. Afterward, he may alter his determination and resolve to be a merchant. Now he directs all his efforts to that object, and so has changed his heart, or governing purpose, in regard to his secular affairs. Sinners, in like manner, have made it their governing purpose to seek their own interest or happiness, and have lived without God in the world. They are required to turn about, and choose the serve of God: and when they do so, they make themselves new hearts in the sense intended in the scriptures. God is infinitely holy; not because his nature is holy, but because his governing purpose is infinitely holy or virtuous. He is immutably holy because his holy governing purpose is infinitely strong. He also knows all things from eternity. He can therefore have no new ideas, and consequently no new motive; from which it follows, that he can never be induced to change his governing purpose.

Adam was made with a nature neither sinful nor holy.

When he began to act, he made it his governing purpose to serve God. He was afterwards induced to change his purpose, through the suggestions of Satan, who told him he would become like God. Wishing to enjoy that distinction, he chose to gratify himself; and in doing this he transgressed a divine command, and became a selfish being or a sinner. Thus we easily solve those knotty questions which have long puzzled theologians “How could Adam, being holy, become a sinner? How could sin enter the universe, in heaven or on earth, when God made all rational creatures in his own likeness?”

Adam changed his heart, or governing purpose, from good to evil. Now suppose that God, when he came to reprove him for his transgression, had bid him repent and make him a new heart, and Adam should say, “I cannot make a new heart.” God might reply, “Why not? You have just done it.

You have changed your heart, or governing purpose, from my service to your own selfish objects. Now change it back again and turn to me.”

Our not varying from a governing purpose depends on the strength and permanency of that purpose. Angels do not transgress and revolt, because of the amazing strength of their purpose to love and serve God. The new purpose of the young convert is a governing purpose, but feeble. He would soon be perfect, if he adhered to his purpose fully, and went on decidedly in the Christian life. But though he never gives up his governing purpose, he pursues it inconsistently; and this accounts for the instability of Christians.

It is apparent that the change now described, effected by the simple volition of the sinner through the influence of motives, is a sufficient change; all that the bible requires. It is all that is necessary to make a sinner a Christian. It is, moreover, all the change that can possibly have a moral character. I grant that it is very different from the change which sinners have been accustomed to expect, according to the instructions they have received. They have waited in perfect stillness, forgetting that they are required to change their own hearts, and expecting God to come suddenly and perform some wonderful work upon their souls, like the man who is going to take for the first time an electric shock. He takes hold of the chain, and waits trembling for a sudden and indescribable shock, to affect him he knows not how. A sinner may wait thus till doom’s day, and never be converted. The sentiment that teaches this waiting, is calculated to send souls to death and hell.

III. THIS IS A REASONABLE COMMAND

1. Because it requires man to use his powers in a reasonable manner. If it is right for God to require men obey, then it is right he should require them to purpose it.

2. Because man actually have the control of their mental and moral powers.

3. Because they are constantly in the habit of controlling their powers, and of changing their purposes and designs every day. And it is strange, that when the motives for a change are infinite, they should have no power to make it.

4. Because it is as easy to purpose right, as to purpose wrong; and one would think, infinitely more so. How comes it then, that men cannot purpose right? The fact is, it would be infinitely impossible not to do it, if men did not resist all the infinite motives to purpose right.

5. Because it is indispensable to their good; it is only, in other words, commanding them to be happy.

REMARKS

1. As Adam did, so have all sinners made themselves wicked hearts, without the concurrence of a divine influence. Children, when they begin to act, make their hearts wicked, by setting out with a purpose of self-gratification. Seeking their own happiness, they soon violate the commands of God and become sinful.

2. The idea of a sinner’s being passive in regeneration, is calculated to destroy souls. It involves the absurdity of his having a passive volition.

3. Every impenitent sinner is infinitely guilty, for not making himself a new heart; for not going the whole length of performing the work himself.

4. To say “I can’t love God and repent,” is to plead one sin for the commission of another.

5. This view illustrates the nature of the sinner’s dependence on the Spirit of God. The only necessity for his aid or influence, lies in the sinner’s pertinacious obstinacy; and when he converts the sinner, he only overcomes that obstinacy.

6. The Spirit uses means in producing conversion. He does not come and take right hold of the heart and perform an operation upon it; but he presents motives by means of the truth; he persuades, and the sinner yields to his persuasion. Many have supposed that he moves, by a direct and immediate act, either upon the motive to give it efficiency, or upon the mind to make it willing. But there is no mystery about it. Every Christian knows how he was induced to change his governing purpose or his heart.

He was convinced and persuaded, and freely gave his own heart to God without compulsion. And I know not which is the greater infidel, he that denies the agency of the Spirit in conversion; or he that believes God has provided means which are not adapted to the end for which they are employed.

7. There is a sense in which a sinner does make a new heart. There is also a sense in which God does it; another, in which a preacher does it; and another, in which the truth or the word of God does it. The bible employs expressions regarding conversion, in these four different ways. It is ascribed to the subject, the sinner himself; he changes his own heart. It is ascribed to the instrument, or the preacher; he converts sinners and saves souls from death. It is ascribed to the means, or the word; men are begotten by the word of truth. It is ascribed to God, or the Spirit; they are born again by the Spirit. A person is walking near Niagara Falls, and sees a man approaching from the opposite direction towards the precipice, who seems to be lost in a reverie. He is advancing directly to the verge of the precipice, unconscious of danger, and heedless of his footsteps. He has just raised his foot to step off, when the other spies his danger and cries out, Stop! He is roused, turns at the critical moment and is saved. People gather round, and the rescued man in great agitation relates the occurrence.

“That man,” says he, “has saved my life.” “But how?” “O he called to me at the very moment I was stepping off, and that word, stop, snatched me from destruction. O if I had not turned that instant, I should have been dashed to pieces. O it was the mercy of God that kept me from a horrid death.” This illustrates the use of those four kinds of expression in the bible, in reference to the conversion of a sinner, with one exception. In the case supposed, there was only the voice of the man who gave the alarm; but in conversion, there is both the voice of the preacher, and the voice of the Spirit; the preacher cries, “Stop,” and the Spirit cries, “Stop,” also.

8. If sinners will not yield to truth, they will inevitably be lost.

9. We see the consistency of using means for the conversion of sinners.

10. It is more probable that sinners will be converted under the voice of the living minister, than afterwards. Some have supposed it will hardly do to urge sinners to repent right on the spot, lest they should some how get a false hope. Better to exhibit the truth, and let them go home to reflect and pray, and there give their hearts to God more deliberately. But how does, the lawyer do, when he resolves to change the hearts of the jury and gain his cause? Does he say, I will make a speech of half an hour or three quarters, state the law, and the facts, and the arguments and dismiss them to their room for calm deliberation? No; he plies all his efforts to change their hearts while he is speaking; and so should ministers, when pleading with sinners.

11. When ministers do not understand this subject, they use means for the conversion of sinners to little or no purpose.

12. If you are expecting any other agency, than that which accompanies the means, you will wait in vain.

13. As you are able to change your own hearts, the great point of responsibility lies right there. To change your own hearts will save you; nothing else can; and on that point is suspended your eternal destiny.