Archives For Spiritual discipline
David French is veteran of the 2007 Surge in Iraq. As a guest to some graduating homeschoolers, he gives this reflection on the journey beyond graduation.
Lengthy, but worth a skim read if you have the time.
”Embracing our responsibilities means leading with our actions, not just our words. Your words do not make you good. Your words do not make you virtuous. Your words do not make you admirable.with a . . . hashtag. Yep, a hashtag. Or an Instagram post. Or a Facebook share.Don’t confuse speaking with doing.
There’s no shortage of Christians who wring their hands declaring, for example, that the church doesn’t do enough for widows and orphans, for the least of these. Wringing one’s hands about the church’s deficiencies — even apologizing for them to your secular friends (something that does nothing for the church but everything for you) — doesn’t put food in a single mouth.Think the church doesn’t do enough for widows and orphans? Then care for widows and orphans.
Think your generation doesn’t do enough to serve your fellow man? Then serve your fellow man.”
“Everyone’s going through a refining fire sooner or later, but you’ll be well-preserved, protected from the eternal flames. Be preservatives yourselves. Preserve the peace.”
– The Message[i]
Last night my wife and I rented the second movie in ‘The Hunger Games’ series: ‘Catching Fire’.
For those unfamiliar with the story:
Katniss Everdeen is the protagonist; a disciplined hunter wrestling with the contrasts between a world of poverty and oppression, and the world of the Capitol with its opulence, Epicureanism, control and wealth.
Her battle deteriorates into a personal struggle to come to terms with the brutality of her situation and the hostile environment she finds herself thrust into. One she also hurls herself into it by taking the place of “Prim’’, her sister, who is “reaped” for a reality TV show, designed to control with fear, shame.
Among the terms given to Katniss such as “girl on fire”, we also find in her narrative the themes of martyrdom, discipline, community, family, self-sacrifice, integrity, higher purpose and hope.
There even rests an imperative given to Katniss before entering the arena for the second time to, “remember who the real enemy is.”
All of which are intrinsically theological.
Right away we can see, reflected in ‘The Hunger Games’, Jesus’ statement: ‘’greater love has no one than to lay down their life for another”.
However, it is the subtle and consistent focus on discipline that should catch our attention.
Working through some daily readings today I couldn’t help but reflect on ‘The Hunger Games’ and its relevance to what I was reading.
Landing on some material from Charles Spurgeon I found his connection between grace, salt and fire. Expanding on Mark 9:49 and the synoptic equivalents he refers to salt as a ‘grateful emblem of divine Grace in the soul.’[ii]
Despite the lack of sleep (having also watched Ben Stiller’s: ‘The secret life of Walter Mitty’ – a little slow, but well worth your rental dollars) I saw the themes melt together in answer to my questions about the Mark 9:49 reference and its relevance.
‘For everyone will be salted with fire’
Some things in the economy of grace are measured; for instance our vinegar and gall are given us with such exactness that we never have a single drop too much, but of the salt of grace no stint is made
Unlike an eternal fire (hell), which is the context of Jesus’ discourse, a “trial by fire” is a measured purifying. Think here of the parent who, with a “no”, by hiding the sugar, yet says “yes” by not hiding the salt.
Parents need to lock up the fruit cupboard, and the sweet jars, but there is no need to keep the salt-box under lock and key, for few children will eat too greedily from that. A man may have too much money, or too much honour, but he cannot have too much grace (Spurgeon) [iii]
If we view God’s grace as being like salt and fire, it is highly unlikely we would want to abuse it. E.g.: The parent’s “yes” to salt it is not likely to be abused. This logic starts to feed into questions about discipline, costly grace and cheap grace. Mercy and Judgement; Grace and Law.
Suffice to say that, in the refining fire of struggle the call to “remember who the real enemy is” can be found. Not to far from this is the true Evangels who call from both past and present telling us that rescue is real.
They may seem like unlikely conversation partners, yet put together, the parallels between Katness’s story, Spurgeon’s insight and the biblical witness become clear.
In the midst of the fire, those who are called to be salt are encouraged to “remember who the real enemy is.”
I think its fair to say that ‘The Hunger Games’ remind us that the salt of grace is a purifying force inside the fire of trials.
In the fictional world of ‘The Hunger Games’ Katniss is salt to all that leeches, fire fuelling the cause of hope. A hope of peace and true freedom embodied in the symbol of a “mockingjay” bird.
A challenge to human ideas, pride, fear, power and arrogant pageantry.
For this world, Jesus is.
He does this through His presence in the Holy Spirit and the proclamation of the Evangels, who empowered by grace “remind us about who the real enemy is” and where our true help comes from.
As Spurgeon concluded:
‘Grace kills sin. Like salt kills the leech’[iv].
[i] Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: The Bible in contemporary language (Mk 9:49–50). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
[ii] Spurgeon, C. H. (2006). Morning and evening: Daily readings (Complete and unabridged; New modern edition.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.
[iv] Spurgeon uses the term ‘reptiles’. I have changed this to leeches in order to be more in line with the science. Doing so, in my opinion, does not reduce the veracity Spurgeon was trying to convey by using such a simile. If anything changing the word reinforces his point, while also neutralising any potential criticism about the apparent scientific inaccuracies present.
Since summer the idea of reclaiming a small landscape in our backyard, not only to rejuvenate it, but also to plant some food to help my family eat better, has been of huge interest to me.
So for the past three and half months we have been carefully planning the better use of our space.
There are limitations to this that have been beyond our control. So, we’ve walked alongside them to the best of our ability in order to achieve something of value, sustainability and usability. Part of doing this has included implementing ideas which helped to identify and then redefine the use of areas that seemed too small, or were just under organised.
In truth in a lot of ways it has matured into a homeschool science project. For example: the outcomes of this project, not only directly assists our approach to homeschooling. It also provides an environment where our homeschoolers can study and experience nature, the importance of horticulture and experiment with some of the basic elements within agriculture.
Yesterday we arrived at the final part of that work. Accompanying this was the realisation that, now, it is going to be a matter of letting it grow.
Unfortunately, like most well programmed retail managers I inherited the struggle between active and passive participation i.e: I sometimes wrestle with patience and people pleasing, particularly when positive results are slow to materialise even if an objective has been achieved.
Thankfully, this kind of internal conflict finds a resolution when I acknowledge the value of stepping back and ‘standing firm’ (Eph.6:13).
Stepping back does not mean losing ground or “letting go” or “taking a back-seat”.
To “let it go” implies “abdicating responsibility” or worse, it suggests dropping any duty of care assigned to me.
Nor does stepping back mean that I “release the garden”, or find some woefully poor excuse “under grace” to ignore my commitment to it.
After all, the garden still needs watering, weeding and pruning.
By taking a step back, I am re-evaluating and observing. This prudently precedes firmly standing on a pre-emptive movement towards, not away from further engagement.
Like transforming a garden and small, apparently unusable areas around our house, transforming space becomes a witness to the process of transformative grace.
If I take a perfectionist stand, the process is compromised; the foundation is weak. If I retain my right to do what I want at the insane pace at which I demand, or am pushed to go, the process is sabotaged; the foundation is weakened further. If I deny grace by refusing to recognise God’s role here then the attempt to reach for the objective ends in utter failure; the foundation is abandoned.
Instead, if I exercise an already present grace by inhaling God’s costly claim on my life, I find myself summoned to ‘stand firm’, only after I have done the best I can with what I have already received.
Out of this flows a response to grace. In other words an actualising of gratitude, and in due course joy, contentment and peace.
A garden of abundance, tended, loved, redefined, reconciled, redeemed – life deemed worthy of life, by the giver of life.
‘He knows he must deny himself for the man he needs to be…the burden here is sweet compared to Calvary’
– (Marie Bellet, via Mrs C )
… ‘Pilate said to them, “you have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can. So they made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard’ (Mt.27:65-66)
Reading through some material this morning I was stopped by something Bonhoeffer had written.
In sum, he is discussing life as proclamation of the gospel. The Lenten reflection caused me to think about how fasting can be a sign of proclamation. I.e.: We don’t fast to gain something, we fast in order to give something from the heart, mind and soul, whether symbolically done or not, in response to that which is already given.
From a brief exegetical look at , despite the contrasts, it is possible to see this ‘something already given and our response to it’ as God’s delight and our hearing of the deeds which flow from His delight.
It is possible then to say that God’s delight in us saves us. That is according to the Psalmist and Jesus in John 15:5 God: plants us and prunes us. He fights for us and wrestles with us in order to set us free; as much from ourselves as from those who stand as enemies in hostile opposition against us. Here there is a possible connection to Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32. This appears in the Psalmists confession ‘You are my King, O God; ordain salvation for Jacob!’ (Ps.44:4).
In His delight for us, it is only God, who in Jesus the Christ ‘ordains salvation’[i].
The Psalmist reminds us that this is achieved by ‘His right hand, arm the light of His face and His delight’(Ps.44:3).
‘It hurts body and soul that no day passes without the name of God being doubted and blasphemed.
“Where then is your God?”
I confess God before the world and before all enemies of God when in deepest need I believe in God’s goodness, when in guilt I believe in forgiveness, when in death I believe in life, when in defeat I believe in victory, when in desolation I believe in God’s gracious presence.
Those who have found God in the cross of Jesus Christ know how wonderfully God hides himself in this world and how he is closest when we believe him to be most distant.’[ii]
So as it turns out, one anniversary of thanksgiving meets another. I am not completely sure why the matching dates didn’t connect for us before. I guess since ‘thanksgiving’ is primarily a North American gig, we hadn’t made the connection. This year, however, that great summons of ‘thanksgiving’ to which all Americans are called to respond, grasped this Australian.
That summons reminded me of the best pre-marital advice I have ever received.
Fifteen years ago, a few weeks prior to our wedding day, a Christian widow who had befriended us, stopped me, and in her heavy Scottish accent said:
We have never forgotten her fellowship, her kindness, her friendship, or those words.
..”Sometime later, the Moravian founders added the best known and most enduring symbol of their order: a gold ring decorated in enamel and inscribed with the Greek words that translate “none of us lives for himself” (Anderson, ‘The Lord of the Ring’ 2004:32).
..’whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him’. (Colossians 3:17, ESV)