Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Why Think about Heaven?

A few of my grade school teachers made the comment on my report card, “Paul would be a better student if he would stop daydreaming and pay more attention in class.” Even though those little mental excursions got me in trouble as a youth, I’m still trying to practice the discipline of “getting my head in the clouds.” Why the forward/upward focus? Because that’s where home is. Paul reminds us “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21).

Richard Baxter gives a number of reasons for meditating on heaven in his book, “The Saint’s Everlasting Rest.”

1. Endurance in Suffering.
Baxter was an English puritan pastor and theologian in 17th century England who was chronically sick all his life. He was tubercular from his teens and suffered constantly from kidney stones, headaches and swollen limbs. In 1662, along with two thousand other Puritan clergy, he was banished from his church and persecuted by the British government for the last three decades of his life. Yet he continued to serve the church faithfully and became one of the most prolific spiritual writers in English history. What kept him going? From his thirtieth year he practiced a habit of meditating on the life to come for half an hour every day. Diligent cultivation of hope gave him daily endurance in disciplined hard work for God, despite the debilitating effect each day of his sick body and the overwhelming opposition of man.
Baxter wrote, “Frequent views of glory are the most precious medicines in all afflictions. These medicines, by cheering our spirits, render our sufferings far more easy, enable us to bear them with patience and joy, and so strengthen our resolutions that we forsake not Christ for fear of trouble. If the way be ever so rough, can it be tedious, if it leads to heaven? This is the noble advantage of faith: it can look on the means and the end together. The great reason for our impatience and complaining of God is that we gaze on the evil itself, but fix not our thoughts on what is beyond it. Could we but clearly see heaven as the end of all God’s dealings with us, surely none of his dealings would be grievous.”

2. Encouragement to Others.
Our hope of heaven is meant to be a source of encouragement to one another. Baxter observes, “When a man is in a strange country, how glad he is of the companionship of one from his own nation. How delightful it is to talk of their own country, their acquaintance, and affairs at home. When a worldly man will talk of nothing but the world, and the politician the state of affairs, and a mere scholar of human learning, and a common professor of his duties; the heavenly man will be speaking of heaven, and the strange glory his faith has seen, and our speedy and blessed meeting there. O how refreshing and useful are his expressions! How his words pierce and transform the hearers into other men!”

This practice of “heavenly meditation” is the reasonable response to the immeasurable mercies of God. “It is fitting that our hearts should be on God, when the heart of God is so much on us. If the Lord of glory can stoop so low as to set his heart on sinful dust, I think we should easily be persuaded to set our hearts on Christ and glory, and ascend to him in our daily affections, who so much condescends to us.”

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Book Links

Here's some links to the books that I have referred to in the last two postings:

Overcoming Sin and Temptation, John Owen: Library Thing; AbeBooks

The Saint's Everlasting Rest, Richard Baxter: Library Thing; AbeBooks

So Heavenly Minded; No Earthly Good?

I’ve been thinking lately about the old saying, “You’re so heavenly minded that you’re of no earthly good.” While Scott (scottorrmusic.com) was visiting with us a few weeks ago he sang the Johnny Cash song by this title. It was meaningful to the Scripture text we were reading (Matthew 6:1-18). Jesus confronts the hypocrisy of self-centered religion. Devotional practices that are focused on self are of no good to God or man. Jesus might well have said, “You’re so self-absorbed that you’re of no earthly or heavenly good.” Reflecting on the Johnny Cash song, I think that was the intent of his musical musings.

The Scriptures state quite clearly that there is a redeeming quality to being heavenly minded. The apostle Paul urges us to, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2). Richard Baxter’s book, “The Saint’s Everlasting Rest” has become a devotional classic on this practice. Baxter was an English puritan pastor and theologian in 17th century England. In his book he gives a number of reasons for “bathing thy soul in heaven’s delights.”

1. Protection from Temptation.
“Will a judge be persuaded to rise from the bench, when he is sitting upon a case of life and death, to go and play with children in the streets? No more will a Christian when he is contemplating his eternal rest, give heed to the alluring charms of Satan. A heavenly mind is the freest from sin. He has so deep an insight into the evil of sin that temptations have little power over him. When you have had a fresh, delightful taste of heaven, you will not be so easily persuaded from it. You cannot persuade a child to part with his candies while the taste is in his mouth. Further, while the heart is set on heaven, a man is under God’s protection. If Satan then assaults us, God is more engaged for our defense, and no doubt he will stand by us and say, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9). When a man is in the way of God’s blessing, he is in the less danger of sin’s enticing.”

2. Strength in Our Christian Life.
“The heavenly Christian is the lively Christian. It is our strangeness to heaven that makes us so dull. We run so slowly, and strive so lazily, because we so little focus on the prize. Watch the man who is focused on heaven, and you will see that he is not like other Christians; something of what he has seen above appears in all his behaviour and conversations.”

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Journey of Death

I’ve been reading John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation. Here's some personal reflections.

Our life in Christ calls for a constant vigilance to the work of death. The old English term is “mortification.” It is our duty to daily put sin to death in our life. “Sin sets its strength against every act of holiness and against every degree that we grow to. . . . He who does not kill sin in his way takes no steps toward his journey’s end.” If we are not killing sin it is killing us. The principle of the flesh is always at work in our life. It relentlessly beckons for us to forsake the path of righteousness. If we are not ruthless with the old nature, it will have its way with us. “Where sin, through the neglect of mortification, gets a considerable victory, it breaks the bones of the soul (Psalm 31:10; 51:8), and makes a man weak, sick, and ready to die (Psalm 38:3-5), so that he cannot look up (Psalm 40:12; Isaiah 33:24); and . . . expect anything but to be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin and that his soul should bleed to death (2 John 8).” The sin principle is never satisfied in me. It is like a great yawning hole; ever rumbling to be filled. Give it a taste and it wants everything. “Sin aims always at the utmost. Every time it rises up to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go out to the utmost sin in that kind. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could; every covetous desire would be oppression, every thought of unbelief would be atheism, might it grow to its ultimate outcome. . . . It is like the grave that is never satisfied.” “There is not a day but sin . . . prevails or is prevailed on; and it will be so while we live in this world.”

Thank God there is another principle at work within the life of the Follower of Jesus. That is the Spirit of the Living God and the new nature of Christ (Galatians 5:17). “There is a propensity in the Spirit, or spiritual new nature, to be acting against the flesh . . . It is our participation of the divine nature that gives us an escape from the pollutions that are in the world through lusts . . . If we neglect to make use of what we have received, God may justly hold his hand from giving us more. . . . Not to be daily mortifying sin is to sin against the goodness, kindness, wisdom, grace, and love of God, who has blessed us with a principle of doing it.” I want to be always about the duty of “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1), and “growing in grace” (1 Peter 2:2; 2 Peter 3:18).