Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Sadness of a Book Never Read

MY WIFE, GAIL, AND I WERE BROWSING IN AN OLD bookstore one day looking for those special titles among second-hand books that are such a delight when found. Gail found a copy of a biography of Daniel Webster that had been published in the 1840s. It looked interesting, and since we are lovers of biographies, she purchased the book.

The cover of the book appeared worn enough to convey the notion that it had been well read. One could imagine that it had been a prized edition in the library of several generations of a New England family. Perhaps it had been loaned out on a number of occasions and brought enlightenment to a dozen different readers.

Not so! When Gail began to leaf through the old book, she discovered that the printer had failed to properly cut the pages, and many of them could not be opened until one took a blade and cut them apart. The uncut pages were clear evidence that the book had never been read! It looked on the outside as if it had been constantly used. But if it had, it was only in gracing a library shelf, or playing doorstop, or providing height to a small child so that he could sit and reach the table while he ate. The book may have been used, but it certainly had never been read.

The Christian who is not growing intellectually is like a book whose many pages remain unopened and unread. Like the book, he may be of some value, but not nearly as much as if he had chosen to sharpen and develop his mind.

As a body grows flabby when it is not exposed to physical labour or challenging exercise, so the mind weakens, gets out of shape, when it is not given proper training. I'd never really given much thought to thinking as a discipline until I read an old book (1928) by a French writer, Ernest Dimnet, called The Art of Thinking. I love these lines of his. When you read them, remember ... they are almost seventy-five years old.

Enter Thinker. We have all seen him standing amidst the surprised, incredulous and often silly group of non-thinkers. Sometimes he is a very simple man, the roadside mechanic slowly walking out of his garage. Round the car two or three men, hot with ineffective guessing, are still talking excitedly when the taciturn man appears; for an hour they have talked, tried and failed. They stop and not another word is heard. The intelligent eyes of the artisan, helped by his seeming infallible hands, go over the organs of the machine; meanwhile we know that his mind is going over dozens of hypotheses which to us are only riddles. Soon the trouble is found. Sometimes the man smiles. At what? At whom? I often wonder. At any rate we have felt the presence of a brain.

Dimnet has other examples, but I love this one best of all. How clever! A mechanic as a thinker. I would never have thought of it as an example. But it is wonderful. And I can picture all the other "know-it-alls" standing around, quiet in their incredulity. "We have felt the presence of a brain, " he said. No harm reading a masterful sentence twice.

"The thinker," Dimnet later wrote,

... is pre-eminently a [person] who sees where others do not. The novelty of what he says, its character as a sort of revelation, the charm that attaches to it, all come from the fact that he sees. He seems to be head and shoulders above the crowd, or to be walking on the ridgeway while others trudge at the bottom. Independence is the word which describes the moral aspect of this capacity for vision. l

In his best days, this was what Solomon must have been. A man who looked into things seeking meaning. One who could put ideas together and come up with sensible conclusions. One who loved the stuff of creation and wasn't afraid to search out the knowledge of it.

[Solomon] spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon's wisdom. (1 Kings 4:32-34)

How do we encourage the development of people like this? People of substance who speak thoughtfully. Who do not capitulate to shallow ideas. Who are not intellectually lazy, living under the dominance of other, more strident minds. Who are able to search the nooks and crannies of possibilities and summon deep judgement. Who are not captive to ideologies that leave no room for independent conclusions or actions.

Extracted from Gordon MacDonald's Ordering Your Private World.

Saying no to good things

Sometimes I find such choices hard to make, simply because I like people to approve of me. When a person learns to say no to good things, he runs the risk of making enemies and gaining critics; and who needs more of those? So I find it hard to say no.

I have discovered that most people whose lives are leadership centred face the same challenge. But my father's counsel is foolproof: If we are to command our time, we will have to bite the bullet and say a firm but courteous no to opportunities that are merely good but not best.

Once again that demands, as it did in the ministry of our Lord, a sense of our mission. What are we called to do? What do we do best with our time? What are the necessities without which we cannot get along? Everything else has to be considered negotiable, discretionary, not necessary.

I am drawn to the words C. S. Lewis wrote in Letters to an American Lady about the importance of these choices:

Don't be too easily convinced that God really wants you to do all sorts of work you needn't do. Each must do his duty "in that state of life to which God has called him." Remember that a belief in the virtues of doing for doing's sake is characteristically feminine, characteristically American, and characteristically modern: so that three veils may divide you from the correct view! There can be intemperance in work just as in drink. What feels like zeal may be only fidgets or even the flattering of one's self importance ... By doing what "one's station and its duties" does not demand, one can make oneself less fit for the duties it does demand and so commit some injustice. Just you give Mary a little chance as well as Martha.

Extracted from Gordon Macdonald's Ordering Your Private World.

Reflection and Meditation

Reflection and meditation demand a certain amount of imagination. We read the first psalm, for example, and picture a tree planted by a river. What is true about that tremendous tree to which the writer likens the man or woman who walks after God? In Psalm 19 we let our minds sweep across the universe and imagine the celestial bodies and their incredible message. When we read the passages describing Jesus' ministry, our reflecting minds place ourselves right into the story. We see the Saviour heal, hear Him teach, and respond to His directives. In meditation we latch on to phrases from the prophets, perhaps memorizing small portions, and we allow the words to trickle down over the structures of our inner being as we repeat them over and over again. From such exercises come new and wonderful conclusions. The word of God is entering our private worlds. And because we have fixed our attention upon His word, we can be sure the Holy Spirit will guide our meditations.

C. S. Lewis, writing to an American friend, spoke of reflective exercises:

We all go through periods of dryness in our prayers, don't we? I doubt whether they are necessarily a bad symptom. I sometimes suspect that what we feel to be our best prayers are really our worst; that what we are enjoying is the satisfaction of apparent success, as in executing a dance or reciting a poem. Do our prayers sometimes go wrong because we insist on trying to talk to God when He wants to talk with us? Joy tells me that once, years ago, she was haunted one morning by a feeling that God wanted something of her, a persistent pressure like the nag of a neglected duty. And till mid-morning she kept on wondering what it was. But the moment she stopped worrying, the answer came through as plain as a spoken voice. It was "I don't want you to do anything. I want to give you something"; and immediately her heart was peace and delight. St. Augustine says, "God gives where He finds empty hands." A man whose hands are full of parcels can't receive a gift. Perhaps these parcels are not always sins or earthly cares, but sometimes our own fussy attempts to worship Him in our way. Incidentally, what most often interrupts my own prayers is not great distractions but tiny ones - things one will have to do or avoid in the course of the next hour.

Here is a good example of the exercise of reflection and meditation. God speaks; we listen, and the message is entered within the heart. The need for outer props is lessened; the inner garden is further cultivated. The man or woman of spiritual discipline is growing strong in the private world.

Extracted from Gordon Macdonald's Ordering Your Private World.

Bringing Order to Our Private World

A well-known Christian personality of the past century, Eric Liddell, the Olympic champion runner who was the hero of the movie Chariots of Fire, had a remarkably different experience in a prison in North China during World War II. His biographer speaks of the high esteem with which Liddell was held in the Weinsen Camp. And what was the secret of his extraordinary leadership power, his joy, and his integrity in the midst of enormous hardship? The biographer quotes a woman who was in the camp at the time and, with her husband, knew Liddell well:

What was his secret? Once I asked him, but I really knew already, for my husband was in his dormitory and shared the secret with him. Every morning about 6 a.m., with curtains tightly drawn to keep in the shining of our peanut-oil lamp, lest the prowling sentries would think someone was trying to escape, he used to climb out of his top bunk, past the sleeping forms of his dormitory mates. Then, at the small Chinese table, the two men would sit close together with the light just enough to illumine their Bibles and notebooks. Silently they read, prayed, thought about what should be done. Eric was a man of prayer not only at set times - though he did not like to miss a prayer meeting or communion service when such could be arranged. He talked to God all the time, naturally, as one can who enters the "School of Prayer" to learn this way of inner discipline. He seemed to have no weighty mental problems: his life was grounded in God, in faith, and in trust.[italics added]

To bring order to our private worlds is to cultivate the garden as Liddell did. From such exercises, according to the writer of Proverbs (4:23), comes a heart out of which flows life-giving energy.

At eighty years of age, bedridden with a stroke that impaired his speech and paralyzed his writing hand, E. Stanley Jones would ask himself: Can I handle this crisis? His answer: Absolutely. "The innermost strands are the strongest. I need no outer props to hold up my faith."

Extracted from Gordon Macdonald's Ordering Your Private World.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Irrational Entailments

The same soul-searching debate gnaws away at the con­science of the nation on the issue of abortion, pulling us apart. This contradiction was illustrated when I participated in an open-line talk program at one of America's fine and renowned universities.

The host of the program was a confessed, mix-it-up-type atheist. From the moment the telephone lines were opened, the callers vented their hostility, unblushingly using slurs and epithets. Finally, in a surprising call, a woman who had be­come quite outraged brought up the issue of abortion, which had not been one of the subjects under discussion even by extrapolation. Yet she raised it and charged that Christians used the issue of abortion as a smoke screen for their ultimate goal of controlling society. Her whole point of emphasis, on which she wanted a comment from me, was that the freedom to abort was her moral right. Although the main subject we had been originally discussing was the existence of God, I decided to respond to her challenge.

It was interesting, I pointed out, that on virtually every campus where I debated the issue of God's existence, some individual challenged God's goodness by pointing out all the evil in this world, especially the gratuitous evil that seems purely the result of a whim. "A plane crashes, and thirty die while twenty live ... what, sort of God is that? If God is good, why does He arbitrarily allow some to live and destine others to die?" The implication was, of course, that since God is so arbitrary in His actions He must be evil.

"My question to you, madam, is this," I said. "When you arrogate the right to yourself to choose who may live in your womb and who may die, you call it your moral right. But when God exercises the same right, you call Him evil. Can you explain that contradiction to me?" The response was nothing but anger and verbal frustration on the other end of the line. It was the torment of contradiction desperately seek­ing escape. We apply our beliefs selectively and judge by different standards. This is the sad result of living with flagrant contradiction that exacts a heavy toll, ultimately breeding justification of even the most irrational opinions and actions.

Think, for example, of the rationale behind the defense of abortion. The comment is often made that we do not know when life begins and therefore may abort at will. How irrational can that argument get? If my two-year-old son were missing on a friend's farm, would I go plunging a pitchfork into haystacks looking for him, because I do not know whether he is lost in a haystack? The death of reason has resulted in such loss of the sanctity of life because plu­ralism has bred irrationality, which is the steppingstone to the unconscionable. It is the equivalent of plunging the pitchfork into the womb because we do not know if life is there.

Extracted from Ravi Zacharias’ Deliver Us From Evil.

Pornography & Art

In 1970s a leading entrepreneur who peddled hardcore pornography was brought to trail in a southern city of the United States. Most intriguingly, in the process of jury selection one of the questions posed of potential jurors by the defense attorney was whether or not they were members of a church. An affirmative answer to that value-laden question generally disqualified any juror in the eyes of the defense be­cause "religious people have a prejudice against pornography." One can imagine how long it took in the South to find a jury so "uninfected" by the church that it could be "objective" on the matter of hard-core pornography.

But this was not the lowest point of it all-and it is here that the brains behind secularization manipulate the mind in matters that threaten decency. During the process of the trial the defense attorney resorted to a clever, indeed, intimidating line of questioning that disoriented and confused any wit­nesses against his client. The strategy ran as follows.

"Have you ever been into an art gallery?"

"Yes," would come the answer.

"Have you ever paid to go into an art gallery?"

"Yes," the witness would say again.

"Have you ever paid to go into an art gallery where there were paintings by the great masters of art?"

"Yes," once more the witness would repeat.

"Have you ever paid to go into an art gallery where there were paintings of unclothed people by the great masters?"

"Yes, I have," would come the hesitant reply as the witness would suddenly recognize that the predator was ready for the kill and there was no place to hide.

"Could you tell this jury," the derisive voice would thun­der forth, "why you call what you paid to go and see ‘art,’ yet what my client sells you brand ‘pornography’?"

With wringing hands, a confused mind, and a stuttering voice some meager philosophical banter would ensue-but the trap had been sprung. One could be absolutely certain that the worst possible answer in that secular courtroom would have been for an aged woman with hat and gloves and a cross hanging from her neck to have said, "Well, the Bible says that the body is the temple of God... :" The defense at­torney could have rested his case with no further comment.

How irrational. How repressive. How irrelevant to the secularized consciousness is the invocation of a religious be­lief when establishing social moral boundaries and imposing them upon the ever-shifting soil of "community standards." But we may well ask from which side the imposition and ir­rationality really comes.

Extracted from Ravi Zacharias’ Deliver Us From Evil.

Mocking the Sacred

The sequence that followed became predictable. The open mocking of the sacred by the modem critic culminated a long process of desacralizing life itself. First the world was de­nuded of transcendence, then the Scriptures were rendered irrelevant, and finally humankind was made nothing more than matter. In the name of progress and of supposed sensi­tivity to other systems of thought, much has been done to bully the Christian believer. The ravages of a diminished view of Scripture have gained even greater momentum, to the point of complete absurdity.

Few instances better illustrate this than one of the recent translations of the Bible. Referring to the Oxford University Press's release of a "culturally sensitive" version of the Bible, the religious editor of Newsweek recently quipped that the King James Bible "never looked so good before." These are his poignant comments:

Readers who find the Bible sexist, racist, elitist and insensitive to the physically challenged, take heart. Oxford University press's new "inclusive language version" of the New Testament and Psalms has cleaned up God's act. In this version, God is no longer "Father" and Jesus is no longer *Son.' The hierarchical title of "Lord" is excised as an archaic way to address God. Nor does God (male pronouns for the deity have been abolished) rule a "kingdom"; as the editors explain, the word has a 'blatantly androcentric and patriarchal character." . . . Even God's meta­phorical "right hand" has been amputated out of deference to the left-handed. Some examples:

  • In the majestic opening of John's Gospel, “the glory he has from the Father as the only Son of the Father" becomes "the glory as of a parent's only child.”(John 1:14)
  • The Lord's prayer now begins like this: “Father-­Mother, hallowed be your name. May your dominion come.”(Luke 11:2)
  • Jesus' own self-understanding as God's only son is generalized to: "No one knows the Child except the Father-Mother, and no one knows the Father-Mother except the Child ... (Matthew 11:27)
  • Avoiding another traditional phrase, "Son of Man," the Oxford text reads: "Then they will see the Human One' coming in clouds with great power and glory." (Mark 13:26)

The editors do not claim that Jesus spoke in gender-neutral language. But they obviously think he should have. The changes they have made are not merely cosmetic. They represent a fun­damental reinterpretation of what the New Testament says-and how it says it. The King James Bible never looked so good.

Truly noteworthy about such blatant ridicule is that it seems reserved only for the Christian. One is tempted to ask whether Oxford University Press would have dared to tamper with or so implicitly demean the Koran in this way.

Extracted from Ravi Zacharias’ Deliver Us From Evil.

the Church of The Holy Sepulcher

At first blush one may not realize how pitiful such a plun­der of the message of Christ is when accomplished at the hands of those to whom it was entrusted. Somehow, a slow bleed and loss of philosophical strength does not seem as real to people as a sudden amputation. One of Christendom's most revered buildings serves as a very painful illustration of how tragic such self-mutilation can be to the cause of Christ when the carriers of such division are within it. I refer to the Church of The Holy Sepulcher as it functions today in the city of Jerusalem. Let me quote the words of the English writer Arthur Leonard Griffith.

At the center of the old city [Jerusalem] stands the Church of The Holy Sepulcher, reputedly on the sight of the original Calvary and the original Garden of The Resurrection. It stands, but only be­cause ugly steel scaffolding permanently supports the walls in­side and out. This church is one of the dirtiest, most depressing buildings in all Christendom. It should be torn down and re­built. This is not possible, however, because the Church of The Holy Sepulcher belongs jointly to the Abyssinians, Armenians, Copts, Greeks, Syrians and Roman Catholics, and their priests will hardly speak to one another, let alone cooperate in a joint enterprise of rebuilding. Each communion preserves its own sepa­rate chapel, and conducts its own ceremonies; and to make the situation ludicrous, the keys of the church have been entrusted to a family of Muslims who in order to answer the call of Allah five times daily, have turned the entrance into a Muslim Mosque. Nowhere in all the world can you find a more tragic symbol of the mutilation of Christ's body than the Church of The Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

The only difference between the Church of The Holy Sepulcher and the self-defacing influence of those who at­tacked scriptural authority in Western Christendom is that the keys of the kingdom were handed over to secular powers as the voice of God in the Scriptures was silenced by those to whom it was entrusted.

Extracted from Ravi Zacharias’ Deliver Us From Evil.

Death of Another Salesman

Accompanying this devastating attack upon the Scriptures came a scramble for power. Inaugural addresses at seminaries and universities become predictable - the conservatives protesting that the Scriptures were being plundered, and the liberals hailing the victory over superstition. Not accidentally, therefore, as the decade of the sixties dawned and the culture began to convulse against authority, Christian Century published a poem by Thomas C. Arthur entitled, “Death of Another Salesman”

Sooner or later the preacher

Wakes up to the fact

That he can't save everybody.

He may even think

That after all,

There is such a division

As the Elect.

If he goes on thinking

He may come to realize

That the "Elect" are inclined

To agree with him.

If by some chance

He contemplates still further,

He may find

That some of the damned

Have a point.

Then he may wonder

If anyone at all can be saved!

He might even count himself

Among the great mass of the Lost.

He will then flounder about,

Snatching at slivers of truth.

He may even discover

That he can't swim.

Extracted from Ravi Zacharias’ Deliver Us From Evil.

This part right here in the middle still be­longs to me

STORIES HAVE a way of making the rounds, especially if they have a good punch line. One such story told and retold in India describes a rich man who sought to buy up an entire village. The man walked from house to house, offering a dis­proportionately large sum of money to each householder in exchange for his property. Delighted at the prospect of such a large profit, all readily entered into the sale except for one determined old man who owned a small shack right in the center of the village. No sum of money would change his mind, and he responded to each increment offered with the calm rejoinder; "I'm not interested in selling."

Frustrated, the rich man finally had to be content to buy the whole village except for this tiny piece of real estate in the middle. The old man relished his symbolic victory. Every time the rich man had a visitor in the village, the old man stepped out of his little hut and, wagging his bony finger, tauntingly declared, "If he tells you he owns this whole village, don't believe him; this part right here in the middle still be­longs to me."

There is a sad, yet striking similarity in this story to the church and her solace when conceding the cultural domi­nance of secularism over what was once religious terrain. The analogy is even heightened, for the transference of dominion has not been just of land but also of ideas. Retreating from the world, many Christians seek cover inside their church buildings, wagging their fingers at the "secular ownership" of the social landscape and receiving petty satisfaction in saying, "This little part still belongs to us." This is the way the dust has settled after the storms of conflict and the winds of change have raged over which central ideas should govern our culture.

Extracted from Ravi Zacharias’ Deliver Us From Evil.

What is American's purpose?

The late Russell Kirk, the much-respected scholar, an­swered this question after years of research. As he brought his lengthy and well-argued case to an end in the closing pages of his book The Roots of American Order, he drew heavily from a lesser known American author, Orestes Brownson. (It should be added that Brownson's critically acclaimed book The American Republic, alongside his other writings, caused Lord Acton to remark that Brownson was probably the most penetrating American thinker of his day. That is a remarkable compliment, bearing in mind that he was a contemporary of writers like Melville, Emerson, and Hawthorne.) Blending his thoughts with those of Brownson, Kirk said:

The United States was not brought into being to accomplish the work of socialism. For every living nation, Brownson wrote in The American Republic, "has an idea given it by providence to realize, and whose realization is its special work, mission, or destiny." The Jews were chosen to preserve traditions, and so that Messiah might arise; the Greeks were chosen for the realizing of art, science, and philosophy, the Romans were chosen for the de­veloping of the state, law, and jurisprudence. And the Americans, too, have been appointed to a providential mission, continuing the work of Greece and Rome, but accomplishing yet more. The American Republic is to reconcile liberty with laws.

Extracted from Ravi Zacharias’ Deliver Us From Evil.

Self - sufficient Man

Undaunted, therefore, by the human toll in death and de­struction that spelled caution, the Western dream was most dramatically expressed in the Great Exhibition of 1851. This exposition, for which the historic Crystal Palace was built in London, presaged the scientific triumphs that would define the march of the West into the future.

Hailing this occasion, the Edinburgh Review declared the accumulation of inventive genius under one roof as mankind's opportune moment: "to seize the living scroll of human progress, inscribed with every successive conquest of man's intellect." Historian John Warwick Montgomery insightfully draws attention to the most representative exhibit in the Crystal Palace, the model of a train that laid its own track. This curiosity symbolized the then existent mind-set, not just scientifically but philosophically, as mankind was on the move with built-in durability. In a very real sense a new road was being built to redefine the destination. This would be the classic "City of Man":

The train that laid its own track can be regarded as the arch symbol of the 19th century mind: the horizontal equivalent of pulling oneself to heaven by one's own bootstraps. For a train to have any advantage over an ordinary conveyance, its tracks must be so firmly anchored independent of the train-that the train can build up great speed while safely relying on their -stability A train that lays its own track and takes it up again would have no superiority over a vehicle not running on tracks at all, for its tracks would be no more solidly anchored than the train itself. This was the 19th century: trying to lay its own tracks through technological inventiveness, achieving only pseudo-stability, and blind to the crash that will inevitably destroy all individual and societal engineers who refuse to let Christ provide a stable track for their lives.

The self-contained train was the metaphor of self­-sufficient man. The built-in capacity of power and provision, of overpowering and undergirding, was the envisioned Real­ity ahead. From that day to this, pragmatism has been the handmaiden of secularized living: "We can do it."

Extracted from Ravi Zacharias’ Deliver Us From Evil.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Good Timber by Douglas Malloch

The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing.

The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began.

Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow.

Where thickest lies the forest growth,
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.
This is the common law of life.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How To Journal

When I have spoken in public on "journaling," I have found that people are intensely interested and have many questions. Their initial curiosity tends to centre on technique more than anything else. What does your journal look like? How often do you write in it? What sorts of things do you include? Isn't it really just a diary? Do you let your wife read your journal? Although I am by no means an expert journal keeper, I endeavor to answer as best I can.

For many years my journals were simple spiral-bound notebooks that I purchased at an office-supply store. They were rather unimpressive in appearance. I was able to fill one of them with about three months of writing. Many years later, in the age of personal computers, I began to write my journal to a disk. Now when I finish a month of writing, I print out the pages, accumulate them until I have about two hundred pages and then take them to a place like Staples or Office Depot where they spiral-bind them and give them an attractive cover. I write in my journal almost every day, but I am not overly concerned if an occasional day passes without an entry. I have made it a habit to write in the earliest moments of my time of spiritual exercise, and for me that means the first thing in the morning.

So what might you find in my journal? An account of things that I accomplished in the preceding day, people I met, things I learned, feelings I experienced, and impressions I believe God wanted me to have.

In days past, I wrote of our children as they grew up in our home. The stories of their athletic activities, their first dates, when they got their driver's licenses, the various graduations: they're all there. Our intimate conversations, my dreams and worries about them, my unbounded delight in their growth in character: that's there too. And now the journals say a lot about grandchildren who have come along to bless my life.

As I said before, I include prayers if I feel like writing them down, insights that come from reading the Bible and other spiritual literature, and concerns I have about my own personal behavior. I love to record things I am seeing in the lives of members of my family. I anticipate that someday our children and grandchildren will read through some of these journals, and if I can posthumously affirm them for things I see in their growing lives today, it will be a treasure for them.

All of this is part of listening to God. As I write, I am aware that what I am writing may actually be what God wants to tell me. I dare to presume that His Spirit is often operative in the things I am choosing to think about and record. And it becomes important to search my heart to see what conclusions He may be engendering, what matters He wishes to remind me about, what themes He hopes to stamp upon my private world.

Occasionally someone asks, "What would an entry in your journal sound like?" I'm not overly comfortable opening up my journal for others to examine. Many of its pages are rather private, you understand. But I did look through my most recent journal writings and came up with this sample for those who are constructively curious.

I find myself dreading the 6 a.m. news each morning because the world is in such terrible shape right now. I think back two years ago when we dared to dream that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict just might be headed toward resolution. But today! I can hardly remember any moment when things have been worse, when the two sides hated each other more. What a terrible, terrible waste of human life. An entire generation of children and young people being raised to hate. Please, Father: divine intervention!

My Bible reading this morning is from Matthew 6. The first half of the chapter focuses on giving and praying. All to be done, basically, in secret. Nothing designed to impress anybody. Clearly, Jesus is disturbed by the tendency then (and now?) to make a big deal out of these religious disciplines so that the effort becomes something intended to impress people more than to align one's heart with God.

"Be careful not to do your `acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them." I've been thinking while reading this about our habit of self-analysis, something a tad different from self-examination. Not only are we tempted to "perform" for others, but we sometimes perform for ourselves. Even as I pray, for example, I sometimes find myself analyzing the quality of my own prayer. Does it sound "saintly" enough? Could I have said it better?

Even as I give or serve, I sometimes find myself watching and critiquing myself, wondering how it comes across to others. Such is the complexity of spiritual life, the garbledness of so much we do. I'm challenged once again to assure that my motives and purposes are examined for unsoundness.

I must be sure that Gail knows how much I appreciate her attentiveness to me over the last few days. We have had some wonderful laughs together. Yesterday we spent a couple of hours cleaning up winter debris in the front field. She raked, and I put the leaves and sticks through the chipper. Now Gail has plenty of stuff for her mulching operation. She was delighted. Not hard to make her happy. This year I'm committed to liking yard work more.

My journal also becomes a repository of quotes and insights that come from my Bible reading and the books. I am going through at the time. If a comment by an author stands out, I like to copy it into the journal (in boldface) so that the very exercise of typing it out stamps it more deeply into my mind. It is a fascinating experience to occasionally page back through a journal from a year or two ago and see all the thoughts that I'd place in there that were influencing me at that moment. Thumbing through my most recent journal I find a stirring excerpt from Peter Alexander's biography of' Alan Paton, the great South African author. Speaking of' the critical moment in Paton's life when he saw with clarity the horror of apartheid and his own sense of call to fight it, Alexander wrote:

Finding a way to reconcile (black nationalists and Afrikaners) was to be the task of Paton's life, and it was during the war that he dedicated himself to it. The prize for success would be the peace of his country; the price of failure he would not even contemplate. The task might prove impossible, but he was going to give his whole heart to it.

My journals are not heavy with merely serious spiritual reflections or intellectual musings. They are also a place where I enjoy recording the light things of life.

The baseball season has started today, and the Red Sox have lost their first game to Toronto. Pedro Martinez was humiliated for 7 or 8 runs and an unthinkable number of hits. The NCAA championship game was played last evening, and Gail and I sat up and watched it. Maryland over Indiana! And, believe it or not, the Patriots have begun early season workouts. Do I have to start worrying about defending the Super Bowl championship this soon? So the world plays while the Middle East heats up and unravels.

The pile of these journals (now in the many dozens) continues to grow. Fearful that they might get lost if there was ever a fire in our home, Gail went out and purchased a fireproof safe so that these volumes that she and I have kept (Gail is also a journaler) will survive a disaster.

Does Gail read my journals? I suppose she has occasionally taken a look. After forty years of marriage, I really couldn't care less. Our relationship is quite intimate enough that there is little in there that would surprise her now.

To those who are concerned about a potential lack of privacy in such matters, I suggest that they simply find a place where the journal could be locked up and kept from those you would rather not have see inside. If confidentiality is important, you should be able to find a way to maintain it. Concern for privacy is not an adequate reason for not attempting a journal.

Journal keeping becomes a habit for most people if they will stick with it for the better part of a year. Most people quit too quickly, never achieving the habit pattern, and that is unfortunate.

I am careful to keep a journal even when I am traveling. It helps me to maintain a record of those I have met, so that when I return again to places where I have visited, I can simply review my previous visit in the journal and pick up relationships where they may have been suspended due to distance.

Since I first wrote about journaling, it has been fascinating to me to see how many people have written books about the subject. One could probably go to any religious bookstore and find several dozen books about keeping a journal. When I have leafed through some of them, I've been disappointed with those who tried to reduce this effort - as in a lot of spiritual disciplines - to systems and gimmickry. But on the other hand, the proliferation of literature on journaling suggests that more and more people are seeking a way to gain perspective and meaning on lives caught up in a torrent of demands, noises, and distractions. If a journal can help to give shape to a quiet period in one's daily life, then let it be so.

Looking back on my thirty-five years of journaling, I can tell you that establishing the discipline was among the most important decisions of my life. I have a record of the faithfulness of God, the greatest and the darkest moments of my life, the story of my family and my friends, the tidbits from innumerable books. The dozens of journals that sit in that safe are wealth to me.

My mind goes back to Howard Rutledge in his prison camp. Every voice was a hostile one; every noise introduced the possibility of something about to go wrong. In such an ugly place, was there a friendly voice, a lovely sound to be heard anywhere? Yes, if you have trained your ears to hear in the inner garden. There the greatest of all sounds may be heard: those belonging to Him who seeks our companionship and growth. In the words of an old and very sentimental hymn:

He speaks, and the sounds of his voice

Is so sweet the birds hush their singing

(C. Austin Miles, “In The Garden”)

Extracted from Gordon MacDonald's Ordering Your Private World

26 Questions for Accountability

I am often asked what sort of things friends in accountability might ask of one another. Having found little if any helpful literature on this subject, I put together a list of twenty-six questions, some of which friends might wish to consider if this personal defence initiative is to be effective.

  1. How is your relationship with God right now?
  2. What have you read in the Bible in the past week?
  3. What has God said to you in this reading?
  4. Where do you find yourself resisting Him these days?
  5. What specific things are you praying for in regard to others?
  6. What specific things are you praying for in regard to yourself?
  7. What are the specific tasks facing you right now that you consider incomplete?
  8. What habits intimidate you?
  9. What have you read in the secular press this week?
  10. What general reading are you doing?
  11. What have you done to play?
  12. How are you with your spouse? Kids?
  13. If I were to ask your spouse about your state of mind, state of spirit, state of energy level, what would the response?
  14. Are you sensing any spiritual attacks from the enemy right now?
  15. If Satan were to try to invalidate you as a person or as a servant of the Lord, how might he do it?
  16. What is the state of your sexual perspective? Tempted? Dealing with fantasies? Entertainment?
  17. Where are you financially right now? (things under control? under anxiety? in great debt?)
  18. Are there any unresolved conflicts in your circle of relationships right now?
  19. When was the last time you spent time with a good friend of your own gender?
  20. What kind of time have you spent with anyone who is a non-Christian this past month?
  21. What challenges do you think you're going to face in the coming week? Month?
  22. What would you say are your fears at this present time?
  23. Are you sleeping well?
  24. What three things are you most thankful for?
  25. Do you like yourself at this point in your pilgrimage?
  26. What are your greatest confusions about your relationship with God?
Never before have I been more convinced that adult Christians need to form personal friendships with those sharing our commitments and values. And yet whenever I have talked about this, people- especially men-have acknowledged that they have no relationship quite as intimate as what I'm describing.

Extracted from Gordon Macdonald's Rebuilding Your Broken World

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Judas Tree by Ruth Etchells

In Hell there grew a Judas Tree
Where Judas hanged and died
Because he could not bear to see
His master crucified
Our Lord descended into Hell
And found his Judas there
For ever haning on the tree
Grown from his own despair
So Jesus cut his Judas down
And took him in his arms
"It was for this I came" he said
"And not to do you harm
My Father gave me twelve good men
And all of them I kept
Though one betrayed and one denied
Some fled and others slept
In three days' time I must return
To make the others glad
But first I had to come to Hell
And share the death you had
My tree will grow in place of yours
Its roots lie here as well
There is no final victory
Without this soul from Hell"
So when we all condemned him
As of every traitor worst
Remember that of all his men
Our Lord forgave him first

D. Ruth Etchells