Sips from Ancient Wells

“There is no time yours but the present time, no day yours but the present day; therefore, do not please and feed yourselves with hopes of time to come; that you will repent, but not yet; and lay hold on mercy, but not yet; and give yourselves up to the Lord next week, next month, next year; for that [same] God who has promised you mercy and favor upon the day of your return [to him], has not promised to prolong your lives till that day comes.” — Thomas Brooks

Sips from Ancient Wells

True grace will enable a man to step over the world’s crown to take up Christ’s cross; to prefer the cross of Christ above the glory of the world. Godfrey, first king of Jerusalem, refused to be crowned with a crown of gold, saying that it was not becoming of a Christian there to wear a crown of gold where Christ had worn a crown of thorns”. Thomas Brooks, from Smooth Stones taken from Old Brooks, pg. 46

Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert – a short review

A few weeks ago, I completed a book titled The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, in it’s entirety. I had begun reading this book when it first hit the market, but never finished it. I loaned my copy to a friend, for her to read, and frankly, allowed the book to ‘fall off my radar’. After a number of months, my friend actually bought me a brand new copy – which happened to be the ‘Expanded Edition’ – because she had marked my copy up so much – so with a new copy in my possession, I placed it at the top of my reading list, and launched in, with a view to complete it. Doing so was quite a journey. I was moved profoundly.

Rosaria-Champagne-ButterfieldSecret Thoughts, as the title implies, recounts the unlikely conversion of the books author, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, to Jesus Christ. She saw her conversion as ‘unlikely’ because, as she relates: ” When I was 28 years old, I boldly declared myself lesbian. I was at the finish of a PhD in English Literature and Cultural Studies. I was teaching associate in one of the first and strongest women’s studies departments in the nation. I was being recruited by universities to take faculty and administrative roles in advancing radical leftist ideologies. I genuinely believed I was helping to make the world a better place.”

At age 36, she continues, I was one of the few tenured women at a large research university, a rising administrator, and a community activist. I had become one of the ‘tenured activists’. She goes on to say how by all standards, she had made it – but how that same year, Christ claimed her as His own (Secret Thoughts, page x).

How did this happen, you may ask? Chapter one, ‘Conversion and the Gospel of Peace’, answers this question in quite a bit of detail – and it in itself is a powerful testimony about the overarching and providential working of God’s grace as it is fleshed out in someones life. I was moved profoundly by this chapter, writing on a blank half page in the book, “This is perhaps the most honest chapter I have ever read about someone’s conversion and the questions a true encounter with Jesus surfaces – and I find I desire this level of honesty and this type experience of God – although I have supposedly walked with Him for years – it’s the raw honesty that speaks to me.” 

The account of Rosaria Butterfield’s conversion to Christ is definitely NOT all her book is about, however. Chapters two and three speak just as honestly and profoundly about repentance, sexuality, sanctification, public worship, and family life. About repentance, she observes, “In this crucible of confusion…I learned the first rule of repentance: that repentance requires greater intimacy with God than with our sin” (page 21).

About sanctification she writes, after quoting Paul’s profound statement about forgetting what lay behind him in his life and reaching forward to those things that lay ahead (Phil. 3: 13), how “this forgetting was a painful process. Like grief, the cost of relief is the you that you used to be. Surviving means sacrificing something of you.” (page 41). She then goes on to share what her faith and following of Jesus cost her practically and personally – when she dared come out, as a follower of Jesus, in a most public fashion (page 41-50).

MIS86-2.gifRegarding sexuality, she observes, “What good christians don’t realize is that sexual sin is not recreational sex gone overboard. Sexual sin is predatory. It won’t be ‘healed’ by redeeming the context or the genders. Sexual sin must simply be killed. What is left of your sexuality after this annihilation is up to God. But healing, to the sexual sinner, is death: nothing more and nothing less” (page 83). And in another place she asks and answers, “How did the Lord heal me? he way that he always heals: the word of God got to be bigger inside me than I” (page 25).

On worship, one insight, found on page 92, explains: “The more God-centered our worship practice, the more mercy centered our life. Worship sour rehearsal for how to live today and how to glorify God in heaven. It is not merely a Sunday morning exercise meant to make us feel good.” And after stating the pressure the Regulative Principle places on real issues, she continues, “Either Jesus comes to worship with us and the Holy Spirit fuels and fills us and God is honored, or we have, simply, painfully, nothing at all.” (page 92).  

For many, the first chapter alone will be worth the price of the book – but to stop with chapter one is to see this book far short! I found chapters two through five and the Expanded Edition Features to be equally insightful, compelling and encouraging. Fully half the book, from The Home Front, which begins on page 95, and Homeschooling and Middle Age, which ends on page 148, addresses family life, the home and adoption of children in need – and I was often brought to tears, and/or compelled to lift up praise and prayer to God as I reads those portions.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert is a book I highly recommend to every follower of Jesus – and especially in our present day. But, it will prove to be an excellent read for Christian and non Christian alike, for that matter. I ended my reading journey feeling the book came to an end too abruptly. But then, one mark of a solid piece of literature, in my opinion, is that one doesn’t want it to end. To my joy though, it seems the story will continue in the sequel – Openness Unhindered – Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.    

Sips from Ancient Wells

images-24Much of a Christians spiritual strength lies in secret prayer, as Samson’s did in his hair. Nothing disarms Satan and disarms sin like this. Secret prayers are the pillars of smoke wherein the soul ascends to God out of the wilderness of this world. Secret prayer is Jacob’s ladder, where you have God descending into the soul, and the soul sweetly ascending to God. Secret meals are very fattening, and secret duties are very soul enriching.”  Thomas Brooks 

Sips from Ancient wells

“Sin turns all God’s grace into wantonness; it is the dare of His justice, the rape of His mercy, the jeer of His patience, the slight of His power, the contempt of His love…Take heed of giving yourself the liberty of committing one sin, for that will lead to another; till, by an ill custom, it becomes natural.” 

Dying Sayings of John Bunyan

Sips from Ancient Wells

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“Have a special care to sanctify the Lord’s day; for in the way you keep it, so it will be, with you, all the week long. Make the Lord’s Day the market for your soul; let the whole day be spent in prayer, repetitions, meditations; lay aside the affairs of the other part of the week; let the sermon you heard be converted into prayer: Shall God allow you six days, and will you not afford Him, one?” from John Bunyan’s Dying Sayings 

An Encouragement to Christian Women to Action after Obergefell

images-18As I scanned articles on the First Things web site (a periodical hailed, by the way, to be america’s most influential journal of religion and public life), I came across a little  gem I found refreshing. Titled ‘Renewing My Plea: Humanae Vitae after Obergefell‘, author Luma Simms issues a call to women to resist the present downward moral spiral of our culture – and specifically SCOTUS – not politically but rather, by ‘rising up and using their feminine genius”. What does she mean?

Here’s an excerpt from her article: “The culture that now finds itself in a post-Obergefell mishmash—whereby marriage is whatever anyone wants, for as long as everyone involved thinks it’s still fun for them—blossomed out of no-fault divorce. Every act of faith within this sphere, then, is an act of resistance to the SCOTUS decision and to the culture that bred it. At the heart of this resistance are mastery over concupiscence, a deeper understanding of the spousal meaning of the body, and a grasp of sacramental marriage.”

Further, she suggests: Women must stand athwart current feminism, yelling “No!” to contraception. And “No!” to abortion.“No!” to sex outside of marriage. “No!” to men who want to “try things out” by cohabiting. “No!” to the temptation to act on same-sex attraction. “Yes!” to sacramental marriage. “Yes!” to an open and fruitful womb. “Yes!” to adoption if the womb is closed. “Yes!” to religious vocations. “Yes!” to spiritual motherhood. “Yes!” to life at home with young children, even if it means less income. “Yes!” to anything and everything that makes the woman fruitful both in and out of the home. “Yes!” to the abundant life that typifies womanhood qua womanhood rather than as “feminine machismo.” 

Simms writes as a Roman Catholic while I’m clearly Protestant. But despite this difference, her article challenges me and convicts me (in a good way) to continue to stand fast and hold the line in upholding the true worth and support of women and motherhood, the sanctity of covenant marriage, the value of celibacy, and the blessing of many children (whether through natural birth of adoption), or both.

In this post-SCOTUS world, many who follow Jesus Christ wonder what to do. For both women and men of faith, Simms journal article reminds us that a significant part of the answer abides closer than we might think; and clearly, ANY woman who purposes to live out the challenge Simms puts forth, will be absolutely, totally, counter-cultural.You can read the full article here.

Cultivate: Growing in Grace through the Psalms #5 (Psalms of Thanksgiving)

Of all people, Jesus followers should be (and often are) people who are filled with thanksgiving – and we have every reason to be so. Let me explain.

As I consider my life I have to admit, I once was lost, in the darkness of self centeredness, in the consequence of evil things done to me, of my own evil done to others and to the personal evil passions and attitudes that my own sinful nature bred; and before a holy God, I was fully worthy of judgement, of punishment, of God’s real wrath on my life. I can safely say I was a rebel to God’s will. AND, left on my own, I had no interest in seeking God, and I had no interest in knowing God. I didn’t want God to rule over my life. I was a slave to sinful passions – just like every other person who is born a descendent of Adam.

BUT, while I was in that state, God was at work in my life – and through a series of providential events, my life somehow intersected with the good news that Jesus Christ had come to save people from themselves and from their sins, and that he had actually given His life as a sacrifice to ransom sinners. I also learned that the forgiveness and the salvation he offered was free of charge – not because it didn’t cost anything, but because Jesus had paid the price for what it cost, Himself. And this meant what He had to offer was a free gift.

So, through a series of events I don’t have time to relate, I came to a place where I realized I WAS separated from God AND had offended Him greatly – and I saw that, admitted that, and one night, confessed my sins to God and asked Him to forgive me and to save me. Now, after that, something very interesting began to take place. I started discovering that I had come to the place where I cried out to Him, seeking forgiveness, because He, in the most gracious way, had opened my blind spiritual eyes, had given my dead soul life, and had done this so I could understand my need and HIs remedy, to the end that I believed – which reconciled me to God the Father, making me His child.

On the one hand, every person who belongs to Christ has a different story about how becoming God’s child happened in their life. But every person belonging to Christ passed through a similar process as I did, on the other hand. The detail differs from person to person but the result is always the same – new life, in Jesus Christ., by God’s gracious activity, through faith. And this alone, is enough to fill us with thanksgiving.

In addition to this though, there follows grace upon grace and blessing upon blessing – many of which are spiritual, but many of which are physical/temporal. I began to follow Christ Jesus ‘sort of’, in 1970 – 45 years ago; but after straying from Him for five years (1972 to 1977), came back to Him for real, 38 years ago – and as I look back over my life, there are SO many reasons to be thankful!!

We are great sinners, but Christ is a GREAT Savior – and through Him we have forgiveness, but we also come to know the triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

On this backdrop – the backdrop of God, who He is, the benefits He extends to those who love Him, the scripture teaches us that thanksgiving is both fitting, and a proper attitude of Christ’s followers – and we learn about this in many ways from the Word of God.

1) Some offerings during the OT era, for example, were offered as Thank Offerings – or, Offerings of Thanksgiving (Lv. 7: 11ff; 22: 29;
2) Thanksgiving was an attitude Jesus commended (Lk. 17: 15);
3) In several places in the NT letters, the apostles instruct us to do things with Thanksgiving (Phil 4: 6; Col. 2: 7, 4: 2);
4) We learn from other places that Thanksgiving should be an integral part of our praying (1 Tim. 2: 1-2) and that even our food should be received with Thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4: 3-4)
5) And in Revelation 7: 12, we learn how Thanksgiving is an integral part of the worship that takes place before the throne of God and of the Lamb, Jesus Christ.

It seems safe to say that in the same way that God is Love and love characterizes Him, so Jesus’s followers are children of God and members of Christ’s kingdom and thanksgiving should characterize us, toward God and others. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that in the book pf Psalms, we have a number of Psalms that fall into the category of Psalms of Thanksgiving.
I. Thanksgiving Psalms: How would you define a thanksgiving Psalm?

By definition, a Psalm of Thanksgiving is a psalm where the psalmist expresses a deep gratitude and appreciation for God’s grace, love, blessing – sometimes to himself, and sometimes to God’s covenant people.

Many of the Psalms identify as Psalms of Thanksgiving: Psalm 8, 18, 19, 29, 30, 32-34, 36 and 40 are Psalms of Thanksgiving, as are Psalm 40, 41, 60 103-106, 111, 113, 117, 124, 129, 135, 136, 138, 139, 146-148 and 150.

Psalms of Thanksgiving have a few unmistakeable characteristics. They will sometimes start with an exclamation – “Praise the Lord!” (see Psalm 149); Or, the refrain will be a call to praise or thank God for a certain benefit or other (see Psalm 107: 1, 8, 15, 21, 31-32, 43).

Sometimes, a Psalm of Thanksgiving will be FILLED with related calls to praise the Lord (see Psalm 150); and sometimes, they simply list out a number of blessings and benefits which come from God and which he bestows upon those who trust Him (see Psalm 40).

And so, in various forms, Psalms of Thanksgiving offer up praise and thanks to God for Himself, for His benefits and deliverances, for HIs salvation, for HIs blessing.

II. Thanksgiving Psalm considered: I have several personal favorites in this category of Psalm – but tops on my list is Psalm 103. Let’s take some time to consider Psalm 103.

Structure and Focus: Psalm 103 is a medium length Psalm, having 22 verses – and the Psalm follows a clear structure.

1st, the opening and closing verses of the Psalm (vs. 1-5; 20-22) form a crescendo of Blessing of the Lord;

2nd, vs. 6-14 name many of the Lord’s acts and qualities;

3rd, vs. 15 to 19 are a comparison – between man, who is temporary at best, and the Lord and his covenant faithfulness. So, breaking Psalm 103 down, I could outline it like this:

a) Introductory Praise Offering (vs. 1-5)

b) Praiseworthy works and benefits of the Lord (vs. 6-14)

c) Man’s Fading, God’s Abiding (vs. 15-19);

d) Exhortation to Praise the Lord (vs. 20-22)

Analysis: That’s how the Psalm breaks down. In light of this, it is helpful to read the psalm slowly, and then take some time – perhaps ten to fifteen minutes, to list out as many SPECIFIC benefits the Lord extends, specific works the Lord does or acts the Lord performs, or promises the Lord makes, to His people.

For those who take the time to do this exercise, one will find over twenty benefits, and a few promises to believers, in this psalm.

III. Praying the Thanksgiving Psalms: How would one go about praying this or any other Thanksgiving Psalm?