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Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Art of Divine Contentment: An Exposition of Philippians 4:11 by Thomas Watson. Excerpt 10

The doctrine of contentment is very superlative, and till we have learned this, we have not learned to be Christians.
1. It is a hard lesson. The angels in heaven had not learned it; they were not contented. Though their estate was very glorious, yet they were still soaring aloft, and aimed at something higher; “the angels which kept not their first estate.” They kept not their estate, because they were not contented with their estate. Our first parents, clothed with the white robe of innocency in paradise, had not learned to be content; they had aspiring hearts, and thinking their human nature too low and home-spun, would be crowned with the Deity, and “be as gods.” Though they had the choice of all the trees of the garden, yet none would content them but the tree of knowledge which they supposed would have been as eye-salve to have made them omniscient. O then, if this lesson was so hard to learn in innocency, how hard shall we find it, who are clogged with corruption!


Thomas Watson lived from 1620-1686, in England. He wrote several books which survive. This blog, God willing, will post excerpts from his The Art of Divine Contentment: An Exposition of Philippians 4:11, over a number of weeks, on Sundays. My source for the text is here, and I thank the Christian Classics Ethereal Library for making this text (and many others) available. The previous excerpt is here.
Philippians 4:11 Not that I speak because of lack, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content in it. (World English Bible, public domain.)

Friday, January 12, 2018

Who the Holy Spirit is and what He does



The Holy Spirit
Based on The Holy Spirit: Activating God's Power in Your Life, Billy Graham. He points out that we need Christ for forgiveness of sin, and the Holy Spirit because we want to be good, but can’t do so ourselves. Scripture from World English Bible, public domain.

What He does:
He speaks: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. (Rev. 2:7a) As they served the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Separate Barnabas and Saul for me, for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2)
He intercedes: But the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which can’t be uttered. (Rom. 8:26b)
He testifies: “When the Counselor has come, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will testify about me.” (John 15:26)
He leads: The Spirit said to Philip, “Go near, and join yourself to this chariot.” (Acts 8:29) For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are children of God. (Rom. 8:14)
He commands: When they had gone through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 When they had come opposite Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit didn’t allow them. (Acts 16:6–7)
He guides: However when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth (John 16:13a)
He teaches: We also speak these things, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches . . . (1 Corinthians 2:13)
He appoints: Take heed, therefore, to yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the assembly of the Lord (Acts 20:28a)

What we can do to the Holy Spirit: Lie: 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the price of the land? You haven’t lied to men, but to God. (Acts 5:3, 4b)
Insult: How much worse punishment do you think he will be judged worthy of who has trodden under foot the Son of God, … and has insulted the Spirit of grace? (Heb. 10:29a, c)
Blaspheme: Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. (Matt. 12:31)
Grieve: Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Eph. 4:30)
Receive: Acts 19:2-6

Attributes: He is eternal: how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without defect to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb. 9:14)
He is powerful: The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. (Luke 1:35)
He is omnipresent: Where could I go from your Spirit? Or where could I flee from your presence?” (Ps. 139:7).
He is omniscient: 10b For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the things of a man, except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so, no one knows the things of God, except God’s Spirit. (1 Cor. 2)
He is called God: See Acts 5:3–4, above.
He is Creator: Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and empty. Darkness was on the surface of the deep and God’s Spirit was hovering over the surface of the waters.
Job 3:4 The Spirit of God has made me,
and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.


Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Sunspots 659


Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:


The Arts: (or something) Listverse describes, and shows, 10 beautiful natural  wonders.

Christianity: (and Computing) I don't use YouVersion, the free Bible app, but lots and lots of other people do. Maybe you should.

He Lives on "Jacob's Genetic Engineering." (Commenting on Genesis 30.)


Computing: FiveThirtyEight reports on a new computer chess program, which has used artificial intelligence to train. It seems to  be more aggressive than previous programs, and analyzes fewer possibilities.

Wired tells us what happens to our electronic waste (old phone, TVs, etc.). It's not pretty. Not at all.

Politics: (and computing) Wired reports on Russian trolls that are after Robert Mueller.

Science: FiveThirtyEight reports on personality tests that are better than the famous  (or infamous) Myers-Briggs instrument.

And FiveThirtyEight also reports on the discovery of the largest known prime number.

Sports: (and Health) FiveThirtyEight debunks Tom Brady's fitness books and products.

Thanks for looking!

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, January 07, 2018

The Art of Divine Contentment: An Exposition of Philippians 4:11 by Thomas Watson. Excerpt 10

Watson discusses the doctrine of contentment in depth, at this point, beginning thus:
 
The doctrine of contentment is very superlative, and till we have learned this, we have not learned to be Christians.
1. It is a hard lesson. The angels in heaven had not learned it; they were not contented. Though their estate was very glorious, yet they were still soaring aloft, and aimed at something higher; “the angels which kept not their first estate.” They kept not their estate, because they were not contented with their estate. Our first parents, clothed with the white robe of innocency in paradise, had not learned to be content; they had aspiring hearts, and thinking their human nature too low and home-spun, would be crowned with the Deity, and “be as gods.” Though they had the choice of all the trees of the garden, yet none would content them but the tree of knowledge which they supposed would have been as eye-salve to have made them omniscient. O then, if this lesson was so hard to learn in innocency, how hard shall we find it, who are clogged with corruption!


Thomas Watson lived from 1620-1686, in England. He wrote several books which survive. This blog, God willing, will post excerpts from his The Art of Divine Contentment: An Exposition of Philippians 4:11, over a number of weeks, on Sundays. My source for the text is here, and I thank the Christian Classics Ethereal Library for making this text (and many others) available. The previous excerpt is here.
 
Philippians 4:11 Not that I speak because of lack, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content in it. (World English Bible, public domain.)

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Prisoners for the Lord



Prisoners for the Lord
We are to minister to those imprisoned, whatever the reason they are there.
Luke 4:18a “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim release to the captives,
Matthew 25:34 Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35a for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. 36 I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’
Hebrews 13:3 Remember those who are in bonds*, as bound with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you are also in the body. (*or “in prison.”)
Christians may be jailed, or otherwise suffer, for their beliefs.
Christ's servants, if they come to be prisoners, are his prisoners; and he despises not his prisoners. He thinks never the worse of them for the bad character which the world gives them or the evil treatment that they met with in it. – Matthew Henry’s Commentary, public domain.
“… for most of church history—and in most of the world today—Christians have been severely oppressed, marginalized and killed for their beliefs. (Daniel Hess, “God Has a Great Plan for You (Even If It’s Not What You Had in Mind),” Relevant, January 5, 2018.)
Luke 21:12 But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you up to synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 It will turn out as a testimony for you.
Acts 12:1-16 tells the story of Peter’s miraculous release from prison; 16:16-40 Paul and Silas in the jail at Philippi; Acts 21:12 through Acts 28 tells of Paul’s arrest and transfer to Rome. (See below for full texts.)
Becoming a believer is like being released from prison.
“And Can It Be” and “O Zion, haste” are hymns that speak of salvation in such terms.
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature's night;
Thine eye diffused a quick'ning ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth and followed Thee. ("And Can It Be ...," Charles Wesley, public domain)
Behold how many thousands still are lying
bound in the dark-some prison-house of sin,
with none to tell them of the Savior's dying,
or of the life He died for them to win. ("O Zion, haste ... ," Mary Ann Thomson, public domain.
Following Christ is like willingly being jailed by Him. That seems to be what Paul was saying in these verses, although he probably was also referring to actual imprisonment:
Ephesians 3:1 For this cause I, Paul, am the prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles,
Ephesians 4:1 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called,
Romans 16:7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives and my fellow prisoners, who are notable among the apostles, who were also in Christ before me.
A prisoner of the Lord gives up her freedom. She eats and sleeps as Christ commands. She lives for Christ, and others, not for herself. But she gladly submits to such imprisonment!

Acts 12:1 Now about that time, King Herod stretched out his hands to oppress some of the assembly. 2 He killed James, the brother of John, with the sword. 3 When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This was during the days of unleavened bread. 4 When he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. 5 Peter therefore was kept in the prison, but constant prayer was made by the assembly to God for him. 6 The same night when Herod was about to bring him out, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains. Guards in front of the door kept the prison.
7 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side, and woke him up, saying, “Stand up quickly!” His chains fell off his hands. 8 The angel said to him, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” He did so. He said to him, “Put on your cloak and follow me.” 9 And he went out and followed him. He didn’t know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he saw a vision. 10 When they were past the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened to them by itself. They went out, and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.
11 When Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I truly know that the Lord has sent out his angel and delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from everything the Jewish people were expecting.” 12 Thinking about that, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 13 When Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she didn’t open the gate for joy, but ran in, and reported that Peter was standing in front of the gate.
15 They said to her, “You are crazy!” But she insisted that it was so. They said, “It is his angel.” 16 But Peter continued knocking. When they had opened, they saw him, and were amazed.

Acts 16:16 As we were going to prayer, a certain girl having a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much gain by fortune telling. 17 Following Paul and us, she cried out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us a way of salvation!” 18 She was doing this for many days.
But Paul, becoming greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” It came out that very hour. 19 But when her masters saw that the hope of their gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas, and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. 20 When they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men, being Jews, are agitating our city 21 and advocate customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans.”
22 The multitude rose up together against them and the magistrates tore their clothes from them, then commanded them to be beaten with rods. 23 When they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely, 24 who, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison, and secured their feet in the stocks.
25 But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were loosened. 27 The jailer, being roused out of sleep and seeing the prison doors open, drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, “Don’t harm yourself, for we are all here!”
29 He called for lights, sprang in, fell down trembling before Paul and Silas, 30 brought them out, and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him, and to all who were in his house.
33 He took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes, and was immediately baptized, he and all his household. 34 He brought them up into his house, and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, with all his household, having believed in God.
35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the sergeants, saying, “Let those men go.”
36 The jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go; now therefore come out and go in peace.”
37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly without a trial, men who are Romans, and have cast us into prison! Do they now release us secretly? No, most certainly, but let them come themselves and bring us out!”
38 The sergeants reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, 39 and they came and begged them. When they had brought them out, they asked them to depart from the city. 40 They went out of the prison, and entered into Lydia’s house. When they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them, then departed.
Acts 21:12 When we heard these things, both we and the people of that place begged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

J. R. R. Tolkien: an appreciation

J. R. R. Tolkien was born on January 3, 1892. I'd like to muse about Tolkien, who has had an influence on me, and on many other people, including C. S. Lewis. Tolkien's discussion with Lewis was one of the influences that led Lewis to belief in Christianity, and in Christ.

Tolkien was an expert in English, as spoken and written long ago, and the literature written in that language, especially Beowulf. He had a long and solid academic career, and authored books related to it, and also The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. These latter were the basis of some immensely successful movies. These books had their foundation in characters, settings, situations, and languages invented by Tolkien. After his death, other books, less accessible, were put together from Tolkien's very extensive writings about this fictional universe.

So why appreciate Tolkien?
1) He was a good writer. His characters, plots and settings ring true, although, as he said, he was merely a sub-creator, not a creator. The books are carefully written, so carefully that it was difficult to get Tolkien to finish them to his own standards, and release them for publication.

2) He was a believer. As the use of the term, sub-creator, indicates, Tolkien believed that God was creator, humans merely subordinate to God.

3) His work influenced much of the fantastic literature published in English in the 20th and 21st centuries, as authors variously used his characters, his situations, his weaponry, and his races of beings, elves and dwarves, generally similar to Tolkien's beings. And, of course, some authors tried to emulate his unsought success. Most sword and sorcery fiction is related to Tolkien's fiction. Some of these authors acknowledge their debt to Tolkien. Most don't. Having good fantastic literature enriches those of us who read it. Ursula K. Le Guin, for one, said so:

That [The Lord of the Rings] is told in the language of fantasy is not an accident, or because Tolkien was an escapist, or because he was writing for children. It is a fantasy because fantasy is the natural, the appropriate, language for the recounting of the spiritual journey and the struggle of good and evil in the soul. "The Child and the Shadow," pp. 59-71, in Susan Wood, ed., The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction (New York: Putnam, 1979). Quote is from p. 68.

Le Guin, herself, an important writer of fantastic literature, was influenced by Tolkien.
In the mid-1950s, she read J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, which had an enormous impact on her. But rather than making her want to follow in Tolkien's footsteps, it simply showed her what was possible with the fantasy genre.

4) Tolkien's characters had depth. They weren't cardboard characters. Frodo and Gollum both had conflicts as to what was the right thing to do, and what they wanted to do. So did Sam Gamgee. Boromir sought power for selfish reasons, but redeemed himself at his end. Saruman also sought power for selfish reasons, but didn't redeem himself at his end. Galadriel is, perhaps, Tolkien's most interesting character, although she is not a major character in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. See here for more about her.

Although some of his characters had depth, not all did. Tolkien didn't flesh out Morgoth, Sauron, or any of his orcs.

5) The elves (and the heroic humans) are appealing. Living for thousands of years, in perfect harmony with the natural surroundings, has a certain appeal. And Tolkien's elves didn't seem to grow bored with their long and mostly uneventful lives. And they were willing to hazard all in conflicts with great evil, and many of them lost their lives that way. The hobbits are also appealing. Living simply, not working too hard, eating a lot, not being challenged by changes, living in (mostly) harmony with your extended family sounds good.

6) Tolkien's world portrays the natural world as beautiful, but industrial enterprises as polluting. That, like the idea of very long lives, appeals to many of us.

7) Tolkien's world was not autonomous, and sometimes needed, and got, help from beyond itself. One example of such help was the wizards, Gandalf and Radagast, and probably others, as well as Saruman, before he fell morally. These entities were sent from beyond Middle-Earth, to help the inhabitants. One of them, Gandalf, was even sent back from death. There were more events, and characters, that showed that supernatural powers were interested in Tolkien's world.

8) Tolkien's world included a blessed life beyond death. It also included sacrificial death, such as Gandalf's, and that of Théoden. Death was not necessarily the end of the inhabitants of Tolkien's world.

Did Tolkien get everything right? No. Middle-earth was mostly a male world -- there don't seem to have been any female orcs, and the female ents had vanished from knowledge. There were few female dwarves. The leaders of humans were almost all male. And Tolkien ignored some basic matters. Where did everyone get their food? There's not much to eat in forests, but Elrond, and Galadriel, lived in forests, and weren't supposed to have starved. And the elves of Mirkwood likewise lived in a forest. And how was it possible to feed the denizens of Mordor, who lived in a polluted desert?

But Tolkien's world was not about agriculture. It was about right and wrong, and heroism, and beauty, and supernatural care, and persistence, and friendship.

See here for my main post about The Hobbit, and here, here and here for those on the three books of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Thanks for reading. Read Tolkien.