My memory

Sometimes my memory works like the proverbial steel trap. When it comes to utterly useless trivia, I’m your guy. I can remember the author who introduced me to certain words – and sometimes even the very book! (Examples: P.G. Wodehouse, who had an immense vocabulary, introduced me to fug, opprobrious, bootless, inimitable (in a title), and many others. Farley Mowat introduced me to tyro, among others.) What does it matter, really, where I learned those words? Or what a nictitating membrane is? Or that an eft is an juvenile newt?

On the other hand, I have a terrible time remembering names. Sometimes I even forget the names of people I’ve known for a long time, but haven’t seen in a while. (And no, this isn’t an artifact of my being in my 40’s — I have had this problem since I was in college, at least.) New names? I’m terrible with new names.

I also have a hard time remembering to adjust the seat and mirrors for my wife after I drive her car, while she always remembers to adjust the seat after she drives my truck. There are lots of other things I don’t remember for her, which I should.

And finally, I forget the lessons I’ve learned in life. Lessons which were painful and hard to learn. Lessons which taught me humility. Lessons which taught me about the incredible mercy and grace of God.  Yet God still remembers to be merciful and gracious to me.  (No small part of that grace involves my very longsuffering wife!)

Why is that? Why do I remember unimportant trivia, and forget important things?

Does anyone else have this problem?

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Speaking peace to myself, part 2

Rule #2 (rule #1) is definitely something I need to be careful of:

When men measure out peace to themselves upon the conclusions that their convictions and rational principles will carry them out unto, this is a false peace, and will not abide.

To explain this rule, Owen basically says that if you are wounded by a sin and subsequently convicted concerning that sin – and if you have in the past dealt with that same sin and have been healed of its wound, it is possible to simply search out the relevant passages of scripture, the appropriate promise to apply, and make yourself a nice little bandage. But God was never in the process – you never allowed the Holy Spirit to work. He gives an example of someone backsliding in some sin, and then claiming Hosea 14:4 “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him.” (NKJV) The person never considers whether or not the Spirit is applying this passage in his heart and subsequently… speaks peace to himself.

Isn’t this what we’re supposed to do? Search scripture for verses relevant to our situation and then apply them? Owen responds to the inevitable question “…how shall we know when we go alone ourselves, and when the Spirit also doth accompany us?” He gives the following answers:

  1. God will quickly let you know. Your “peace” will not last. Moreover, the first time you’re tempted again in this sin, all your logic, all your reasoning by which you’ve spoken peace to yourself, will vanish.
  2. Speaking peace to yourself in this way is usually done without waiting, a grace which God calls us to exercise when we are under conviction concerning sin (Psalm 130).
  3. Though you might ease your conscience and mind for a while, speaking peace to yourself in this way will not “sweeten your heart”: “When God speaks, there is not only truth in his words, that may answer the conviction of our understandings, but also they do good; they bring that which is sweet, and good, and desirable to the will and affections; by them the ‘soul returns unto its rest,'” Ps. 116:7.
  4. Worst of all, speaking peace to yourself in this way does you no good with respect to killing this sin in your life! Your heart has not been weaned from the sin, and, in reality, your false peace is just setting you up to fall again the next time you’re tempted.

It’s so obvious that I’ve done this many, many times… It’s good — and quite convicting — to read such a clear description of the process by which I’ve reasoned my way to some sort of “peace” in the past.

Lord, let me patiently wait for true peace which only comes from You!

Reviving the NOBC

Is anyone interested in reviving the NOBC, only in an online format? Since the original group is somewhat geographically dispersed these days (and since those in the diaspora are also currently students), I would suggest something like a 2-month reading window followed by discussion for a week or so. Does that sound feasible?

By the way – it looks like our name got hijacked by quite a few groups (do a Google search).

Who’s in so far (8/25/07):

  • Justin
  • Danny
  • Jeff
  • Christian
  • Tato
  • me
  • Matt
  • Chris

Note: As of 8/25/07, the new NOBC is up and running!

Speaking peace to myself

Owen talks about the danger of speaking peace to yourself rather than receiving peace from God. The first rule he lays out in chapter 13 of “Mortification” for determining if God is speaking peace to you, or if you’re speaking peace to yourself, is if the “peace” you attain is accompanied by “the greatest detestation imaginable of that sin” (emphasis in the original). He goes on to say:

When men are wounded by sin, disquieted and perplexed, and knowing that there is no remedy for them but only in the mercies of God, through the blood of Christ, do therefore look to him, and to the promises of the covenant in him, and thereupon quiet their hearts that it shall be well with them, and that God will be exalted, that he may be gracious to them [LEN: sounds pretty good so far, doesn’t it? Sounds like you should be OK with your heart in this state…], and yet their souls are not wrought to the greatest detestation of the sin or sins upon the account whereof they are disquieted, — this is to heal themselves, and not to be healed of God. This is but a great and strong wind, that the Lord is nigh unto, but the Lord is not in the wind. When men do truly “look upon Christ whom they have pierced,” without which there is no healing or peace, they will “mourn,” Zech. xii. 10; they will mourn for him, even upon this account, and detest the sin that pierced him.

I have certainly gone up to the point of detesting my sin — both for what it is and for the fact that it contributed to nailing Christ to the cross — many times only to fall short of detesting my sin… and then I spoke peace to myself. Of course, there have been many occasions where I wasn’t even disquieted or perplexed by my sin. I never even felt the wound. (There’s something that comes up a number of times in the book: the wounds that our sins impart upon us. But that’s a topic for another post.)

I have grown in this area recently, but I do have a long way to go. I pray that my heart will be ever softened to the impact of my sin on Jesus, who bore that sin on the cross in my place. I want to feel the wind of peace from the Lord that will lift me on eagle’s wings.

(Part 2.)

My latest find…

I just came across a Bible study site which I’ve never seen before: P-R-E-C-E-P-T A-U-S-T-I-N (no, I don’t know what’s up with the caps or the hyphens). It’s a bit low on presentation style, but it more than makes up for that in what is available. Look up a verse, and you’ll get: a huge listing of commentaries, many of which I haven’t seen online before (Vincent, F B Myer, Robertson, etc.); links to Spurgeon’s, Piper’s, and MacArthur’s sermons (among others) which reference the verse; links to language tools; etc. I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.

Owen

Other than a smattering of Bunyan and Edwards in high school, I haven’t read very many Puritan authors. (And I’m certain that I didn’t really appreciate what I read at that time!) A couple of months ago, I started reading John Owen’s Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers. Wow! This book is incredible! It was immediately obvious that Owen knew the Bible in a way that is far beyond my meager knowledge. The entire 86 pages (in its original format) is a treatment of 1/2 of one verse, Romans 8:13 “but if, by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” The first chapter dissects the verse itself; the rest of the book is devoted to how one lives out what the verse says to do. It’s a challenging book to read, and not just because it was written 350 years ago. Don’t read this book if you are not willing to be challenged in your assessment of your Christian walk, how well you know your Bible, how much you love God, and, in particular, how much you love your pet sins over God. Just how destructive is it to your spiritual life to hang on to that sin? How dangerous is it to indulge in those “little” sins which “hurt nobody” and nobody sees? (Well, not quite nobody!)

That question again…

The older I get, the smaller the world becomes. Nothing new, I know. When I was a child, I used to be amazed at the number of people who knew my parents. No matter where we were in Southern California, it seemed, we could run into people who knew them. Now, of course, I know people all over the world because of work, friends moving away, and the ordinary course of life. Thus I find myself connected to recent horrifying events: an unstable student killing so many professors and fellow students at Virginia Tech earlier this year; the collapse of the 35W bridge over the Mississippi in Minneapolis on Wednesday.

God, in His mercy, did not choose to take home any of my friends in the Twin Cities area who live and work by, drive over, and cycle under the 35W bridge, or my friend from high school who now teaches at VT.

Yet… He did choose to take home the teenage son of a missionary sent out from our church. Joshua died while he and his mom, Shelly, a paramedic by training, were teaching a search and rescue class. Shelly attempted to revive Joshua for over 3 hours. My friend Danny wrote a moving post about Joshua here.

Why did God choose to take Joshua home? To allow so many to perish as a result of the collapse of the 35W bridge, or at the hands of a deranged gunman at VT? Do we have the right to demand an explanation from God for these tragedies? How could He possibly allow these things to happen?

I believe that the short answer is this: He allowed these things to happen for His glory. This is a hard truth, even for those not directly affected by these horrible events. It is a troubling, even scary thought. On the other hand, it is a thought that is addressed by the Bible.

Job is the guy one thinks of when one thinks of calamities recorded in the Bible. Here was a guy who did everything right – and he got slammed! But in the end, what was his conclusion? That he needed to repent! How crazy is that? After a lot of nonsense from his “friends” in previous chapters, and even some pretty-good sounding words from Job, God spoke and gave Job some perspective. And Job’s response was to acknowledge that God is sovereign, and that He can turn even evil events around for His good purpose… For some such events, we may never know His full plan this side of heaven. Like I said – it’s a hard truth.

Postscript: Here’s how one pastor reassured his daughter when putting her to bed Wednesday night. (Note the part about the fact that the word “bridge” does not appear in the Bible. Overlay that with the fact that pontiff means “bridge builder”…)