Encouragement from Old Letters

This afternoon I had the opportunity to pick up and dust off my copy of “Memoir and Remains of R.M. M’Cheyne.”  M’Cheyne was a Scottish Presbyterian minister, who lived from 1813 to 1843.  He was educated at the University of Edinburgh and at the Divinity Hall of his native city, where he was taught by Thomas Chalmers. He first served as an assistant to John Bonar in the parish of Larbert and Dunipace, near Falkirk, from 1835 to 1838. After this he served as minister of St. Peter’s Church (in Dundee) until his early death at the age of 29 during an epidemic of typhus.  Were it not for his friendship with Horatius Bonar (who is also know for many of his hymns) M’Cheyne’s writings would have been lost.  Fortunately, for us today, the wonderful letters, sermons, and poems of this young pastor have been preserved for us today.  I love this book, it’s one of my favorite biographies, and I find great encouragement and guidance as a Pastor from these memoirs from long ago.

Today, I thought I’d share the following letter from M’Cheyne to one of his church members who had initially written, complaining of the “plagues of the heart.”  I think it shows great pastoral care and compassion, but also demonstrates a lost art of Pastoral Letter writing.  Still, I think his encouragement to “cleave close to Christ” is one that we need to hear again and again.  May your hearts be strengthened as you read.

Passing on to glory

ST PETER’S, March 8, 1843.

MY DEAR FRIEND,—I send a few lines to you in answer to yours. You complain of the plague of your own heart, and so you will till you die. You know little yet of its chambers of imagery. All that is ours is sin. Our wicked heart taints all we say and do; hence the need of continual atonement in the blood of Jesus. It is not one pardoning that will serve the need of our souls. We must have daily, hourly pardons. I believe you are in the furnace, but it is a short one. Soon the Bridegroom will come, and we shall be with Him, and like Him, and God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes. I burst through all the cobwebs of present things, and, his Spirit anointing my eyes, look at Jesus as one beside me. Blessed Elder Brother, with two natures—God and man—ever-living, never-dying, never-changing! I was preaching last Sabbath on Heb. 9:13, 14: “He through the Eternal Spirit offered himself. It was very sweet to myself. In the afternoon I preached on Rev. 2:4, 5: “I have this against thee, that thou hast left thy first love.” I fear many of my people have done so; therefore it was very suitable. Several I see have felt it very deeply. In the evening I preached on Ps. 78:41: “They turned back, and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel,”—on the sinfulness of limiting God. It was a very sweet and solemn day. Meantime, stay your soul on God. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee.” A few more trials, a few more tears, a few more days of darkness, and we shall be for ever with the Lord! “In this tabernacle we groan, being burdened.” All dark things shall yet be cleared up, all sufferings healed, all blanks supplied, and we shall find fulness of joy (not one drop wanting) in the smile and presence of our God. It is one of the laws of Christ’s kingdom, “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” We must not reckon upon a smooth road to glory, but it will be a short one. How glad I am that you have “received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost!” Cleave closely to Jesus, that you may not have to say in a little, “Oh that I had affliction back again to quicken me in prayer, and make me lie at his feet!”

Trials make the promise sweet,
Trials give new life to prayer;
Trials bring me to his feet,
Lay me low, and keep me there.

This land will soon be strangely convulsed, if God prevent not. The plans now preparing for carrying the gospel into every corner of the land are sweet indeed. If I be spared and strengthened, I go to London towards the end of April. My stay must be very short. It is also intended to send me to the General Assembly in May. My poor flock, how I yearn over them! So many of them careless, and judgment at the door! Mr Burns comes to me to-morrow.
I must add no more, as I have work before me. May you experience more and more, that “when He giveth quietness, none can make trouble!”—even as you once experienced the other, “When He hideth his face, who then can behold Him?” Soon we shall see Him as He is; then our trials shall be done. We shall reign with Him, and be entirely like Him. The angels will know us by our very faces to be brothers and sisters of Jesus.
Remember Jesus for us is all our righteousness before a holy God, and Jesus in us is all our strength in an ungodly world. Persevere ever to death; eternal life will make up for all. I was reading to-day, “God hath granted repentance unto life.” Remember Barnabas’s advice, “Cleave to the Lord,”—not to man, but to the Lord. May He perfect all that concerneth you. Do not fear the face of man. Remember how small their anger will appear in eternity. Till then, believe me, your friend in gospel bauds, etc.

McCheyne, Robert Murray, and Andrew A. Bonar. Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne. Edinburgh; London: Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, 1894. Print.

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The Dangers of Professional Christianity

Does anyone know that the liturgical calendar calls the Sunday after Christmas?

Answer – Assistant Pastor’s Sunday.

Okay, it’s not an actual liturgical day – but boy am I glad the Assistant Pastor could fill in for me.

The last time I had taken a full day off from work was when I was on bedrest following a week in the hospital – and even then I started back to work before the Doctor’s recommended timeline.  I was feeling burned out. I just had to make it through Christmas Eve – and Christmas day since it fell on a Sunday – then I could finally get away for a little bit.

I read somewhere that there are a couple of clues to when a Pastor needs to take a break:

  1. When he repeats the same sermon two weeks in a row and the congregation doesn’t notice, and
  2. When he repeats the same sermon two weeks in a row and he doesn’t notice.

I hadn’t gotten to that point, but I was close.  Spending time away from the church – which is difficult for me since I live directly across the street from it – helped me to see how close I had come to a burnout.  From the realistic understanding that the work of the Church is essential, important, and urgent, to the unrealistic expectation that I can do it all myself and in my own strength; I stood little chance of survival.  I was increasingly frustrated with myself, making careless mistakes, growing short-tempered, and becoming an overall “bah-humbug.”  (My apologies to my family for bringing this on during Christmas, too – we always hurt the one’s we love…) Getting away for a week and realizing that the church would go on, even thrive, without me gave me that little jolt I need to get back into the proper perspective.

The time away also helped me to see that while my walk with Christ is essential to  my pastoral ministry, my pastoral ministry may often be a detriment to my walk with Christ.   There are several traps that are easy to fall into as a Pastor, shortcuts that seem to help make discipleship and pastoral ministry go hand in hand, but in reality, destroy both.

Here are just a few examples:

(Warning – there’s some brutally honest self disclosure coming here!)

Substituting Spiritual Studies for Spiritual Life

My workweek usually requires writing two sermons, planning and leading two worship services, writing a Sunday School and a Wednesday night bible study, writing this blog, and the occasional bible studies, devotions, and weddings and funerals – not to mention visitations, meetings, and the administration responsibilities of pastoral care.  Oh, and did I mention I have a wife and 4 kids, too.

It is a joy to be called by a congregation to study, teach, and preach God’s Word, yet there are often times when the tyranny of the urgent, the never ending, relentless onslaught of Sundays overwhelms and incapacitates.  And then sacrifices are made.  The quiet time of study and reflection, listening to God’s Word for me personally is crowded out by the need to find something that I’m supposed to say to my congregation.  The time on my knees in prayer and fellowship with God finds its way to a prayer at the pastor’s desk.  Worship becomes work. Sanctification becomes sanctimony.  What should nourish and feed the Spirit becomes a drain, until you’re left, well, like this:

bilbo

Time away from the pulpit, from the office, from the demands of ministry, help me to find the peace and joy of stopping and dwelling in the presence of God.  Like that break in college when you went home, just for a bit, to be nurtured, strengthened, and rejuvenated for the return to reality – we all need moments when we can return to home base with God, resting and waiting upon Him.  Proverbs 18:10 says, “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” I’m not one to run from my problems, but there are times when all you can do is drop everything and run to the Lord.  Only then can you find the strength and the wisdom to face what’s before you.

Worship as Perpetual Motion

I was sitting in worship in another Presbyterian Church on Sunday, with relative anonymity and no responsibility other than that I was there to worship God.  In that moment it dawned on me that I had gotten to the point where my preparation for worship, and my experience in worship on a Sunday morning had become an act of perpetual motion rather than heartfelt worship.  Like the “white-washed tombs,” I had fallen into a Pharisaical practice of having the name of God on my lips while He was far from my heart.

Okay, so maybe that’s a bit harsh, but maybe you know what I’m talking about.  Sundays came and went as a matter of course; I was going through the motions of worship, occasionally allowing my heart to actually break into what I was doing, but more often than not, that just took too much out of me – so I had to keep it all bottled up for the sake of moving forward.  When all the while, it was holding me back.

John Bunyan once wrote, “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”  Amen. Worship isn’t really worship if you’r heart is a million miles away.  If you’r heart isn’t fixed on God in worship, it isn’t a praise song, no matter how many times you repeat the chorus.

It took getting away from leading worship for a Sunday to get myself back into the right perspective for worship.  I’m only too grateful that God saw fit to show me this and restoration a heart of praise.

Trusting What’s Works Rather Than The One Who Works

Finally, it is all too easy to rely on the tools of the trade, rather than the Hands of the Master.  I have a pretty framed degree from a rather prestigious seminary on my wall – that should account for something, right?  I know my Greek and Hebrew, and can exegete a text forwards and backwards.  I bring a natural comfort to the pulpit, an easy manner in speaking, and that helps me communicate with the congregation.  With all of that going for me, this whole ministry thing should come together pretty well, shouldn’t it.

The temptation in ministry is to rely on my skills, my professional development, my education, my talents, my resources… You see what’s happening there.  If that’s the source of ministry, then all you’ll get is me.  Trust me, no one needs more of me.

Instead, all of this pedigree for ministry is simply rubbish compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus.  How does Paul put in in Philippians:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7–11)

Interestingly, that was my foundation verse when I was in Seminary. Whatever I was confronted with, I would come back to this passage – I want to know Christ above all things, before all things, in all things.  It’s funny, that need never really goes away.

So – a huge thank you to my congregation and elders and assistant Pastor for making time away possible.  A huge thank you to my family and friends for bearing with me as I worked through all of this.  And a huge thank you to my savior, for being eternally patient with this work in progress.

SDG

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Frostbitten Hearts

“And because of lawlessness the love of many will grow cold”
(Matthew 24:12)

Brace yourselves!  The forecast for this coming weekend in the Sioux Falls area is for bitterly cold temperatures, lows around -20, with highs only at 0.  That’s just cold!  Plus, the wind will no doubt be blowing, expected winds of 22mph, so the wind chill will around -50.  At that temp, its not just the nose hairs you have to worry about.  Prolonged exposure to those temperatures can quickly lead to frostbite and breathing the air at 50 below can do serious damage to your lungs.  I don’t know what the word will be on whether or not we’ll have church Sunday morning, but if you don’t have to go out in that cold, don’t.

I read on the mayo clinic that Frostbite can occur rapidly in these conditions.  The risk of frostbite “increases as air temperature falls below 5 F, even with low wind speeds. In wind chill of minus 16.6 F, frostbite can occur on exposed skin in less than 30 minutes.”  With the expected wind chill around -50, frostbite can develop after only 5 minutes of exposure.

The danger of frostbite is that you first lose the sensation of feeling before the damage is done.  You don’t know you have it until it is too late.  If not addressed, frostbite can lead to deep tissue damage, changes in the cartilage between the joints (frostbite arthritis), infection, gangrene, which is the decay and death of tissue resulting from an interruption of blood flow to the affected area.  Frostbite can also lead to hypothermia, where the body’s temperature drops to dangerous levels, cause a malfunction of the heart, nervous system and other organs; eventually leading to complete failure of your heart and respiratory system and to death.  So for goodness sake, stay inside and stay warm.

But as you are warming yourselves by the fire, bundled under the blankets, stop to consider the warmness of your heart.  We know the dangers of prolonged exposure to the cold and biting wind, but the hazards of a cold and bitter heart are just as deadly.  A cold heart that does not love has many of the same characteristics as frostbitten skin:

  • It is hardened: A cold heart does not move or feel for the needs of others,
  • It is infectious: A cold and unloving heart spreads easily, tearing others down and encouraging the same attitude in others,
  • It is gangrenous: A cold heart destroys relationships, crushes spirits, blocks any healthy growth,
  • It is deadly: When Christians harbor coldness in their hearts, when Churches are cold and unloving, it leads to a complete failure of all the vital ministries. Cold hearts kill churches.

Jesus talked about this when He warned His disciples of the coming persecution, saying that “many will fall away and betray one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:10-12).  In Revelation, this is the charge against the church in Ephesus, “but this I have against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4).

A church, a Christian, that does not love does not know love, does not know God (1 John 4:8).  A church, a Christian, whose heart has grown cold and unloving harbors a bitterness and unforgiving attitude that will lead to death.

So what can you do to warm the cold, cold heart?

First, keep close to the source of heat.   Stay in the Word of God.  Look there to read of and know of His great love for you in Jesus Christ.  God’s word is the revelation of His love, and by His Holy Spirit His word brings life, and love, to our hearts.

In the story of the Emmaus Road, the two disciples were walking away from Jerusalem after the crucifixion of Jesus, their hearts heavy and broken because of the death of their savior.  Jesus met them on the road, but they did not recognize Him.  As they walked, He taught them from the scriptures all that was said about the Christ.  After they had broken bread together, and the eyes of the disciples were opened and they saw Jesus, they said to one another, “Did not our hearts burn within us… while he opened to us the Scriptures?  If you want your heart to burn for the Lord once again, turn to His word.

Second, walk in the light of Christ’s presence.  Even when it is bitterly cold outside, the warmth of the sun light pouring into your windows is a source of heat and comfort.  John says,  “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).  Closeness with Christ comes through resting in His completed work for us, in daily fellowship with Him, and in submission to His word.

Finally, kindle the love in your heart by turning to your brother and sister in loving service.  The best cure for a cold heart is love – actual, tangible, expressions of love.  1 Peter 1:22 says, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again.”  That word earnestly means “fervently, sincerely, genuinely,” some translations have even said “love each other with a warm heart.”

Expressions of love have a tendency to grow love, to break the cold and unfeeling heart.  What does this look like?  Send someone a card saying that you have been praying for them or thank them for something they’ve done.  If you’re able, shovel someone’s driveway, or take them a batch of warm brownies.  Invite your neighbor into your home for a cup of coffee and catch up on their life.  An expression of love doesn’t have to be a grand costly gift, but it will change your world, and theirs.

Stay warm this week, and warm your hearts with an earnest love for one another.

SDG

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Save the Paper!!!

“It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set His love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you…”
(Deuteronomy 7:7-8)

This was the reminder every Christmas at Grandma Anderson’s house. Each year, as by brother and sister and I would race to the tree to divide up the presents and tear into them like a pack of hungry monkeys on a banana, the voice would boom from over head, “Save the paper!” That was usually enough to settle us down, so that we would calmly open our gifts in an orderly fashion, careful not to tear the paper unnecessarily.

Grandma grew up in the depression, so saving something like Christmas Wrapping paper made sense. She told stories of putting cardboard inside her shoes when she had worn a hole in them, of growing up on the farm and eating things like cows tongue, and heart, and – for some reason – pickled pig’s feet. Plus, the wrapping paper grandma used felt like it might have at one time been wallpaper, so it had an enduring quality to it, so it made sense to save the paper. It made sense to save the paper. She and grandpa worked hard and saved everything they could, and they had a lot to show for it. They had a beautiful house full of refurbished antiques, and the Christmases there were absolutely incredible.

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-1-51-33-pm

Here’s a picture of their house today. It is now a B&B. I spent a lot of my childhood here, and I think this is where my love for old homes began.

Their penchant for saving things at Christmas didn’t stop at the paper on the gifts. The tree, which itself was held together by generous amounts of wire, tape and prayer was covered by ornaments, tinsel, and a variety of decorations that had been made by my mom and my siblings and I. There was one “ornament” that looked like a glued ball of yarn that had so faded in color and lost its shape we were not really sure it was an ornament after all, but it still went on the tree. Nothing that still retained some semblance of usefulness was ever thrown out. So we would always “Save the Paper!”

Why don’t we save the paper anymore? Wrapping paper is so cheap to purchase, and so thinly made, saving it really doesn’t seem practical. It’s not worth the time and the effort to save something like wrapping paper today. And so it gets discarded after one use, shredded as the last flimsy obstacle to Christmas morning bliss, and never thought of again.

There is no intrinsic value in the paper, and yet I still hear my Grandma say, “Little E, save the paper!” So on Christmas morning, when all the presents have been opened, you’ll know where I sat, for the paper will be neatly piled and preserved, just in case you need it for the coming year.

In Deuteronomy 7, as the people of God are preparing to enter the Promised Land, the Lord gives them a reminder saying, “The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set His love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him to a thousand generations” (Deut 7:6-10).

We are not the gifts in the story. We are not the tree or the decorations. We are the paper. Torn up by sin, thin and worn by abuse, cast aside by the powers of this world which seek evil; good for nothing but kindling for the fire. Yet when we were wasted by the world, still dead in our trespasses and sins, God set His love upon us in Christ (Rom 5:8). When we were lost and without hope, Christ came to save us, to deliver us, and to return us to the fold of God (Luke 15:3-7; 19:10). The cry has gone out from the beginning of creation, “Save those who are perishing,” and because of God’s love and covenant promise in Christ, we have been saved!

This Christmas, know that Christ has come for your salvation. Receive that gift and rejoice. And save the paper while your at it.

SDG

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Why We Need Advent

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God an Savior Jesus Christ…” 
Titus 2:11-13

We desperately need a renewed sense of Advent. No. I don’t mean the kind of Advent that is just a countdown to Christmas. Put away your Advent Calendars; those get the whole meaning of Advent backwards. We don’t need to countdown to Christmas, or any more reminders of how many shopping days are left. The world’s got that taken care of.
If you do need help, here’s Toyboy and Santa:

I grew up with this on TV in Wichita. Toyboy was the greatest!

No, what I mean by Advent, and what was originally meant by Advent, was an expectation of the eminent return of Christ. Christmas celebrates Christ’s birth as foretold by Scripture some 2,000 years ago. Advent is the time to refocus our attention on Jesus’ return, as foretold by Scriptures as well.

Christ is coming back! Have you given that much thought today? If we aren’t watching and waiting, if our greatest hope is not the coming again of our Lord and Savior, then do we really know Him? Are we really living in Him? Are we really living for Him?

We need a renewed longing for the return of Christ.

His return is taking time, but rather than absence making the heart grow fonder, it has instead made our heart go wander. Instead of watching and waiting and being prepared for His coming, we have dug in deep roots here and have become entangled in the business and concerns of this madding world. Instead of laying up our treasures in heaven, we have amassed fortunes here on earth, and thus fight and toil to preserve and protect our dynasties from rust and moth and thief (Matthew 6:20). While we tip our hat to the promise of paradise that awaits us, we live as though this life here and now is all that really matters. We think that justice must be swift, and that we must see the results in our lifetime, or the cosmos will be out of balance for generations to come. We continue to put ourselves in the middle of the garden, where God alone belongs, and we think we are fit to reign and rule in His stead.

This is why we need a renewed sense of Advent. We need to be reminded, regularly, that Christ is returning so that we may live accordingly. Perhaps every day should begin with the question, “If Christ were coming tomorrow, what should I do today?” To live each day in faithful obedience, so that when our master returns he will find us as faithful and wise servants (Matthew 24:45-51). We need to be reminded that the treasures of this world are fading, but at God’s right hand are eternal pleasures (Psalm 16:11). We need to be reminded that vengeance and justice are the Lord’s work (Rom 12:19), that the Lord comes with a sword (Isa 66:16; Rev 19:11-16), and He alone will make all things right. We need Advent, to help us lift our eyes to the heavens where we expect his return.

This is why Titus 2:11-13 so perfectly summarizes the Christian life. We begin with the grace of God that has appeared – the birth of Christ, and His life, death, and resurrection – bringing salvation for all people. This is the gospel, the beginning of new life in Christ. Then passage describes the ongoing sanctifying work of Christ in the lives of believers – the training in righteousness, renouncing ungodliness and worldly passions, learning to live self-controlled and upright lives. But then there is the arc of the story, that which is there from the beginning (Gospel) and the middle (training) and through to the very end; namely, Our Blessed Hope in the Appearing of the Glory of our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ. We are born again into this living hope, the watchful anticipation of His coming glory.

The last words of the book of Revelation remind us of Christ’s promise, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’” And the reply of all the faithful is, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!” Until His return, may the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

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Thanksgiving Proclamation

As we take time this week to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, I thought I would share George Washington’s Thanksgiving proclamation. While Thanksgiving would not become an officially recognized national holiday until established by Lincoln in 1863 (and made law by Congress in 1941), each state celebrated a day of Thanksgiving in various manners since the original proclamation in 1789. In many places, it was set aside as a time of fasting and prayer, a day of service devoted “that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” What follows is the original proclamation of President George Washington declaring Thursday the 26th of November a national day of Thanksgiving in 1789.

Thanksgiving Proclamation

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

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Being Mindful

I won’t deny it, I am a technophile, and I have a particular fondness for the Apple products. I’m currently writing on a MacBook Air (the best laptop I have ever used).  I carry iPad Air 2 wherever I go – its great for reading, writing, watching Netflix, and playing a few games when time permits.  And I have an iPhone, useful not just for calls and messaging, but it is a decent camera, and it has my calendar and tracks my running and diet. All very useful.

Recently, there was an update to the Apple Health App.  This is an app that tracks data from other apps you use to give you a report of your overall health and activity.  In the update, the app breaks down your health information into four categories: Activity (which monitors your physical activity and exercise), Nutrition (which tracks what you report for caloric and nutritional intake); Sleep (helping you maintain a consistent routine for bed and get a good night sleep), and finally, Mindfulness.  It’s this last category that intrigued me.

The Mindfulness data is all about “quieting your mind and relaxing your body.”  Apple describes it thus:

Finding a moment to take a few deep breaths and quiet your mind is a great way to relieve stress and improve your overall health. That’s what mindfulness is all about. Many apps on iPhone, as well as apps like Breathe on Apple Watch, help you decompress and stay centered throughout your day.
Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.

How Zen!

Doesn’t it seem a bit ironic?  It’s important for you to decompress, to unplug, to “center your mind”, and hey, we’ve got an app for that.  Just to write this article today, I’ve had to turn on the “Do Not Disturb” feature on my phone, my iPad, and my computer, just to get an hours worth of uninterrupted time.  The very things that cause distractions are now telling me they want me to focus?!?!?

I get it.  We need time away from the screen, time without an electronic devise in our hands.  We need time to quietly think and regroup.  Surprisingly, we need to be reminded to stop and take a deep breath every now and then.  But is the recommended resources that they suggest that are so bothersome.

So what are they’re recommended ways of “quieting” or “centering”?  They recommend apps like “Headspace” which helps you with guided meditation, or “Grokker” which links videos on meditation, yoga, and healthy cooking. It seems, though, that they’ve gone to great lengths to be sure not to say the word “prayer.”

The problem with all this pseudo-spirituality is its focus.  The focus is always on the self.

I must quiet myself. I must find strength in myself. 

I must find the way to be present in the moment, for I am the center of myself. 

Only when you can quiet yourself can you find the strength in yourself to better yourself.  

The destructive lie of things like zen meditation, yoga, and centering, is that their focus is entirely on the self, even if they dress it up in all sorts of Christianese.

I had a high school student in a youth group point out the fault in this kind of thinking.  He shared with the group one evening. “You know, if you reach far enough down inside yourself, eventually all you’ll get is a handful of _____!” (I can’t write what he said here, but you get the drift).

That’s what we need to remember here.  Jeremiah 17:9 tells us the heart is deceitful, it cannot be trusted.  I know that left to myself, I haven’t the strength to face the trials and tasks ahead of me. I’m just not strong enough.  I’m not smart enough.  And doggonit, Stuart Smalley, all the daily affirmations in the world will never help me overcome my biggest problem – myself.

Instead of centering on myself I need to find my center in Christ. I need to hear the words again and again, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).  God is at the center of the universe, I am not.  I don’t just need to empty myself of all my negative thoughts, I need to be filled with the Spirit of Holiness, and only then will I know peace, only then will I have the strength to face the day.  Yes I need to quiet my mind and my heart regularly, frequently, but not to be stilled by the silence of the moment, but to be filled with the Word of God.

This is what prayer does.  While meditation and centering draws you deeper into yourself, prayer draws us back to God, fixes our hearts on Him and on His righteousness, and helps us to see our lives in the light of His word.  In prayer, we begin to see how our motives, our passions, have gone askew, how we have been self-centered rather than God-centered, and prayer reorients us to Him.  Prayer is finding our strength, our foundation, our peace – not in ourselves – but in our union with Christ Jesus.

So, indeed, be mindful.  Still yourself, not in the quietness of your own mind, but in the presence of the Holy God. Spend a good portion of your day mindful of your need for the strength that only God can provide, and be mindful of the wonderful love of your blessed Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace,

SDG

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