Thursday, August 23, 2007

A never ending trail

I had hoped to have many trail experiences posted this summer. But such was not to be. Things will change now in a few days. I have accepted a teaching position at Grace Academy in Marysville. I will be teaching three sections of Bible. 9th grade will look at the doctrine of Scripture and Interpretation. 10th grade will study doctrine. 11th grade will study the doctrine of the church and missions.

So, the trail I have been pursuing this summer has been the treadmill. Margaret and I have membership at the local 24 Hour Fitness club. That is a misnomer, because very few of the members could be defined by the word "fitness" unless it was in the sentence, "Most members of our club have little experience with fitness."

So we go there in the morning about 6:45 and leave at 8 for a good hour plus workout. As part of my routine, I spend 10 - 12 minutes on the treadmill. Three of those minutes are running and the rest on a high pitched incline.

Some observations I have made on the treadmill.
1) I am in control of my speed, intensity and time. That is quite different from other trails I have been on. There the course is set before me, the time depends on my ability and the intensity depends on my effort.
2) The scenery could be improved. In our club, there are TV's in front of us to help while away the time. I have read of some clubs that project a trail scene in front of the treadmill to keep customers occupied. Some of our patrons read while they walk - I have tried it, but need glasses and don't like to wear the glasses while I sweat.
3) The mental time is stimulating. This is a great time to reflect, recite verses and pray. Margaret hooks up to a portable cd player and listens to books and music while she does her work.
4) When you get off the machine, you are still at the same place you started - lots of energy invested, but not much progress made. The exercise thing is to be cultivated as a regular habit. It is a good feeling to get the heart rate up to a high level for a period of time in order to keep fit and energized.
5) There is a big payoff in the future for me if I maintain consistency with my physical exercise now. I have already seen great improvement in my posture, my back strength, by endurance and my weight.

So, the trails can be grand and glorious in God's great creation, or continuous belts on electric machines in stuffy gyms. The key is: are you walking, and if so, how is that walk going . . . phycially, spiritually and personally? (No photos on this one because cameras are not allowed in the gym.)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Firey Trials

Fireweed. One of my favorites along the trail. Blooms reddish pink in early summer. Develops a series of reddish pods through the summer and then fuzzy white seeds in late summer and fall. When the flowers are in bloom, a field of them will look like it is on fire. In the fall, when the seeds are flying in the breeze, a field of fireweed will look like it is smoking. Quite a great plant and beauty from our Creator.

Peter talks about fire. Not the brimstone of judgment, but the welcome fire of trials that purify the believer. I Peter 4:12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

1:7 7so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The imagery that Peter uses opens our eyes to the trials of life. The word is a word that signifies the trial of man's fidelity, integrity, virtue, constancy. This integrity, this fidelity is put to the test by that which is called “firey.”

When the smelter worked metal and wanted it pure, he would bring up the temperature in the furnace to the point where the metal was liquefied. At that temperature, the pure metal was consolidated and any dross or slag was removed. The remaining metal was more pure after the fire than it was prior to it.

When Peter welds these two words together, he produces a concept that ignites our imagination. The tests of life, designed by God, are intended to display purity and fidelity that are only His work. In ourselves, there is only dross and slag. In His fruit-producing life in us, there is only purity and goodness.

Some examples of firey trials:

Financial problems can force me to take my eyes off of my self-reliance and to return them to the Lord who has promised to meet all of my needs according to His riches in His time.

Health problems can force me to depend on God for daily strength rather than on myself and my body for daily strength.

Terminal illness can cause me to consider that there is an eternity I am about to face and that I had better get ready for what comes after while there is still time.

Take the trial you are going through. Look for the purifying fire in it. There is some there, for God has described the testing, the purifying, the purging as a welcome time of fire.

If you see some fireweed along the trail, remember God is purifying your life.


Two people whom I know are having an online discussion regarding sanctification. One (Chris Anderson) is proposing what some Puritan authors of old have taught regarding sanctification: fill one's being with the glories of Christ and there will be little room for sin. The other, (Don Johnson) is saying that such an approach borders on mysticism and is not taking into account the struggle against sin that demands the employment of the human will. (I hope I have summarized this correctly).

This text is one of the quotes debated: "So the path forward is not to decrease one’s affections but rather to enlarge them and fill them with ‘heavenly things.’ Here one is not trying to escape the painful realities of this life but rather endeavoring to reframe one’s perspective of life around a much larger canvas that encompasses all of reality. To respond to the distorting nature of sin you must set your affections on the beauty and glory of God, the loveliness of Christ, and the wonder of the gospel: ‘Were our affections filled, taken up, and possessed with these things . . . what access could sin, with its painted pleasures, with its sugared poisons, with its envenomed baits, have unto our souls? Resisting sin, according to this Puritan divine, comes not by deadening your affections but by awakening them to God himself. Do not seek to empty your cup as a way to avoid sin, but rather seek to fill it up with the Spirit of life, so there is no longer room for sin.’ " Find this quote here under the August 1 post.

This discussion interests me because I taught and preached on this topic a while back. I am including a summary of some of the points taught.

"The thoughts and desires that are at the very center of your life are the things that are important to you. They represent your values and commitments. Things you are willing to die for. Your faith in Christ is found here as the single most important thing in your life.
The Bible says, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:24), so it is that which is in the very center of life affects the way you think. Your thoughts affect the way you choose and your choices dictate your behavior. Therefore, in order to change your behavior, God must change your heart. There is only one way that your heart can be changed.
The things you hold dear in your heart, your inner man, are the things that affect your values and thinking. Proverbs 27:3 says that “As he thinks in his heart, so is he.” Your desires and affections affect your thinking. That is why Paul warns believers to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) rather than to be conformed to the world. Since we have a new nature, our thinking is brought to change.
When your thinking changes, then your choices are affected. “I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:8) The delight in the will of God comes because your heart and mind are influenced by the Word of God.
The final element that changes in life based on what is in the heart are the actions. The deeds others see are not just reactions to the circumstances of life. They are responses made to the deep things that you have placed in your life over the years in the form of values, decisions and desires.
There are some practical applications to this illustration. 1) If we simply focus on a person’s actions in order to build change, we may obtain the change, but the heart has not been reached. Lasting change and growth occur when the heart is changed. 2) If we seek to reach the heart of a person, we must take time to develop the kind of relationship that can search the deep things of the heart. 3) When making decisions that seem automatic in your life, they will be based on the years of wisdom or foolishness stored up in your heart. You will respond based on the way you have trained yourself to respond. Therefore, it is necessary that you take time to be careful how you are going to live, how you are going to think and how you are going to choose.

Here is how this is made practical for me. The struggle for sanctification is a warfare. Ephesians 6 is clear about that. Filling my mind with spiritual things, with the excellencies of Christ does crowd out sin.

If I am tempted to have wicked thoughts and vain imaginations, I quote II Corinthians 10:3-5 several times in my mind until the thoughts diminish. Then I fill my mind with the excellencies of Christ by quoting verses that deal with my subject matter so that my mind is renewed. If I am angry and having angry thoughts, I will quote and meditate on the fact that the "anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God (James 1). If I am fighting lust, I will quote Philippians 4:8 and will deliberately bring into my mind things that are good and pure to replace the temptation to think on impurity. If I am struggling with jealousy, I will confess it as sin and work hard to think thoughts of honor regarding the person I am jealous toward. All of this is empowered by the Holy Spirit who is bringing me to perfection in Christ (Colossians 1:28)

When I take trips into the mountains (Don prefers the prairies and God created both) I fill my eyes with the beauty of creation, I fill my mind with praise toward God for what He has done, I meditate on the many benefits He has given me beyond what I can see (see Ephesians 1 for this) I fill my voice with song and give verbal praise and worship to God. All of this activity crowds out sin in my life for the time that I am exercising my will to worship and adore. Now, I will have to fight sin a few minutes later perhaps, when unexpected temptations arise in my mind, but I Corinthians 10:13 comes to play here and I quote it repeatedly and use it as the sword it is intended to be in my fight against sin.

I do not believe that any of this is defined by the word "mysticism." It is practical Christianity that puts into practice what believers have been teaching throughout the centuries. The battle is in the mind (Rom 12:2) and it requires a fully dedicated body (all parts of man - Rom 12:1) to win the battle in league with the omnipotent Holy Spirit, our Comforter.

These are my thoughts from the trail: the trail of sanctification.