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Posts Tagged ‘Paul’

My favorite Bible story these days is about Saul of Tarsus.  He’s the villain of the story. And the hero, though rather a passive one.

 

The Christian Church is just getting started.  People are learning to pray together and preach the gospel boldly and see some miracles happen.  But Saul has been trained to be a Pharisee, and they know the rules, and the gospel of Jesus Christ is not so big on rules.  Plus Jesus claimed to be God, something Saul didn’t approve of.  He knew the chief priests were on his side, so he decided to do something about it.  Executing Stephen for blasphemy had seemed to him to be a huge success; now the Christians were on the run, and with a bit more pressure, the whole blasphemous sect might be a thing of the past.  After acquiring official sanction from the Jewish leaders, he started hunting down the Christians.

 

But I think he knew better.  He’d studied the Scriptures.  He’d probably been around enough to at least hear of – if not personally witness some of Jesus’ miracles.  There was part of him that wanted God to be pleased with him.  He really believed in God.  A testimony like Stephen’s as he was dying doesn’t go without effect.  So he was zealous, and he was pushing forward in something that seemed godly to him, something he thought would be especially pleasing to God, something that, unfortunately for Saul, wasn’t God’s idea.  I suspect that there was some pretty intense spiritual warfare assembled, to discourage Saul from the calling God had yet to communicate to him.

 

And my favorite part is coming up here.  God was merciful to Saul.  Not only merciful; He had big plans for Saul.  Even Saul tracking down God’s elect to imprison them or worse wasn’t enough to keep God from accomplishing the ministry He intended through Saul.  In the Bible we see God doing lots of different things to people displeasing Him.  Sometimes He sends them prophets.  Sometimes He just has the earth open up and swallow them.  Or they die more natural deaths.  He spoke personally to Moses about His displeasure.  A lot of people in rebellion against God just continue on their wicked path, accumulating judgment for themselves.  Here we see that God took some drastic measures to bring Saul to Himself.

 

Saul is on the road between cities.  He has a few companions to help him with the Christian round-up.  But a light stops them in their path.  A loud noise frightens all of them.  Saul is literally blinded by the light, but he hears words.  “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?  It is hard for you to kick against the goads!”  Basically the God of the universe is speaking to him from heaven, and he’s using his name.  That’s pretty special.  Then he asks him a question – one of the gentlest things He could do.  It also implies that maybe if Saul had stopped to think about it before, he could have figured out that he was persecuting the Son of God.  Finally one of my favorite lines, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”  From what I can tell, God had been prodding Saul in one direction, and by chasing down Christians, by resisting the gospel of Jesus Christ, he had been resisting that guidance.  But God still nails him on it!  There seems to be so much firm tenderness in that sentence, that I just can’t get over it!

 

And the end of the story is that Saul was convinced.  (I don’t know what it would have taken if being blinded by a heavenly flash and hearing the voice of God out loud didn’t work to wake Saul up!)  A few days later God persuades one of His other vessels, the prophet Ananias, to heal Saul’s blindness and to see that he receives the Holy Spirit.  Thus begins the ministry of the Apostle Paul (his Greek name he soon started to go by).

 

Isn’t that a fantastic story?

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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A lot of Christians talk about the will of God.  Whether they are talking about a “call” for their lives, or direction for day to day choices, a lot of people are curious how they can know God’s will.  Part of the mystery is that whatever process we use for determining the will of God doesn’t seem to work.

We pray, sometimes using a specific method or for a scheduled amount of time.  We submit ourselves, “Thy will be done.”  We seek counsel.  We study.  And then a choice comes, and we listen closely.  Nothing.

We throw out a fleece, like Gideon, and still get nothing.  We put God in a box, making deals with Him, and however it works out we take it as confirmation that we should do whatever we want.  “God, if you want us to build that new sanctuary, supply the 1.2 million dollars for the down payment.”  Only $750,000 comes in, and we decide that God wants us to step out on faith. “I mean, it’s a big thing for God to bring in so much money for the project.”  Or we say, “God, if you don’t want me to do this, close the doors; stop me.”  And months later, we look back thinking, “The devil sure was resisting me in my service to God.  Look at all the persecution I went through!”  Which is the correct view?  Should we make deals with God?  Which voice is limiting Him?

Some people claim to know the will of God.  They get a sign.  They have dreams.  A quiet voice whispers to them.  How can we trust these mystical revelations, when the Bible has so many examples of people being influenced by other powers in the spiritual realm?

Why did the life of a prophet seem so much simpler?  How did he hear God’s voice?  When the early church gathered to pray, what did it look and sound like for the Spirit to say, “Set apart Paul and Barnabas”?  Men in the early church could not be stopped by chains or prisons or even stonings.  We see in these instances the disciples pressing forward, confident that God desires them out on the streets and in the courtyard, preaching the gospel.  What does it mean when Paul said that He tried to go to Bithynia (Acts 16:7) but the Spirit prevented Him?  If Paul wanted to bring the gospel somewhere, but God wouldn’t let him, he was obviously not just trusting that his desires were from God.  So how did Paul know?

But keep reading, because in 2 easy paragraphs, I’m going to solve the problem of the will of God!…  No, I’m not making that claim.  I think part of our problem is that we don’t want to walk by faith.  We want to know every step way in advance.  We want a list of do’s and don’t’s.  When we wait to hear from God, we get impatient and conclude that we won’t hear from Him.  God gave us brains.  Maybe we should work it out.  Or maybe God doesn’t care what we decide.

Some people really do take finding the will of God that far.  Should you give $50 to feed the poor, or $50 to send a missionary, or invest the $50?  None of those uses are sinful.  All can be good and God-honoring.  So it doesn’t matter which you choose.  God will bless you anyway.  God has a will for the big things, but the little things are up to us.  (People have to decide where to draw the line between big things and little things:  Prophecy must be a big thing.  Jesus coming to die for us had to happen.  Sometimes big things are whom we marry or where we go to school.  For other people, they consider those life-changing decisions to be some of the little ones where God leaves us to decide on our own.)  In any case, it takes a lot of study and extreme moral clarity to make sure that one of the options we’re considering is not sinful.  We’re left to make a score sheet for each choice.  And how do you add in factors like selfishness or vanity, good stewardship or discernment?  What is wisdom anyway?

Or maybe we should stop worrying about the will of God.  God’s in control, so everything that happens is what is meant to happen.  We’re not going to change that, so why stress?  Que sera, sera.  There’s an easy way to figure out God’s will: hindsight.

Here’s what I believe.  God is in control, and no one will change His plan.  His plan covers the details, even the details of how we decide and that we sought to please Him in our decisions.  His plan includes His guidance and revelation.  Wisdom is not knowing the tally sheet for all the different options.  It is a dependence on God’s perspective, even when His way doesn’t seem to be practical or likely to work out.  Part of having a relationship with God is waiting on Him.  He is faithful to provide the guidance we need, and merciful enough that, if we are seeking Him and asking for His help, our feet will not stumble; our lives won’t be ruined by our God-submitted choice.

Some things are clearly revealed as the will of God.  He desires our sanctification.  He desires us to be thankful and to pray to Him.  He tells husbands to love their wives, and disciples to preach the word.  To trespass those instructions would be sinful.  So the possibilities are narrowed down.

Duty is another way to make our decisions easier, by limiting our options.  We make a commitment (according to the will of God), and follow through.  A father may wonder whether to take a job in New Jersey or Texas, but he knows he must provide for his family.  A conference speaker may get to choose his topic or his wording, but he’s obligated to speak.  A mom must change a diaper.  My friend volunteered at an orphanage.  Once she was there, she had to do what she was told.  Her duty made the will of God for her simpler.  When Paul decided to heed his vision and go to Macedonia, he didn’t have to ask God:  “Should I move my left foot?  Now right?  What about my right foot?”

Of course God is helping us just as much to accomplish what we know He wants us to do as He helps us find out what He wants us to do.  It is easy to be relieved at knowing we are where God wants us, and forget to excel, forget to walk in the Spirit as we obey.  We think God sent us on an errand and now our own intelligence and strength will get it done.  There’s danger in duty, the danger of empty legalism.  But there is peace, too, in knowing what one ought to do: what must be done.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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“And we urge you, brethren,

to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.

Be at peace among yourselves. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the faint-hearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.

See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it. Brethren, pray for us.

Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss.”

1 Thessalonians 5:12-26

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A while back I was at a Bible study where, if I were to summarize the point, we studied the justification for cussing.  It was one of the most frustrating Bible studies I have ever attended.  How can one take the clear statement of Paul in Ephesians 5 and make it mean nothing – or the very opposite?  Positions in the group ranged from situational ethicists to ultra-conservative to Christian libertarianism to utter liberality (without much Christian consideration). 

Hardest to refute, for me, at the time was the question of definition.  Who defines which words are profane, and which jokes are coarse?  And if the majority culture decides, what does that do to Christian absolutism – let alone the call not to be like the world?  I believe that the cultural inacceptability of certain words and topics is a remnant of a spiritual life in this civilization, not part of the ‘rudiments of the world’ to which Christians should not be conformed.  It is obvious, at least, that profanity is usually associated with non-Christian cultures. 

The Pyromaniacs give a refutation of this point at their blog, using the thrust and context of Paul’s words in Ephesians 5.  Phil Johnson says that cussing is the emblem of the godless brotherhood.  In lieu of real Christian community, their weak substitute for love is this commonality built on treating sacred things lightly and good things badly and modest things crassly.  Of such things they talk.  For such talk they laugh.  Paul was discouraging us from settling.  I prefer the edification of a loving assembly that urges me to align my perspective with God’s.  Not that we cannot make jokes!  We were made to laugh!  But laughter is crude that pokes fun at that which God has called serious.  Lightness in conversation leads to lightness in living. 

I’ve said enough for one post.  Read Team Pyro’s blog on cussing.  I tell you, it’s good.  And read my next post.  Comment, too.  I am interested in discussion.  Rules here are that comments may not contain any foul language. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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The hero stays long enough to be sure the citizens are safe and able to continue their lives. He goes on to the next needy village, in each town met with both opposition and a grateful following. Without asking for anything in return, he does whatever it takes and risks his life to save the common people from enslavement and despair.

After some time of absence, his enemies begin to creep back in. First one citizen at a time and then groups at once, these wicked men reassert their power. With subtle trickery they ensnare the people, weighing them down with tasks and restrictions. When a brave man remembers the hero, the bad guys devise a new plan. They defame the hero. “He was a liar,” they say. “Didn’t he just come here to get power?” “He is not who he says he is, and has no authority to talk to you.” “You’re smart people. Does it make sense? He told you to change everything you’d ever believed in, your whole way of life. And now he’s not here. We’re going to stand by you and help you.”

It’s a classic tale of good guys versus bad guys, and the innocent bystanders used as pawns by the bad guys. Of course the hero is trying to rescue them, to grant them freedom from their self-serving oppressors. We have a showdown of sorts, some harsh words calling each other out. The little people hang in the balance, uncertain which man has their best interest at heart. Which man is telling the truth?

In such an epic tale of good versus evil, how do we decide? Who do we root for? Who do we follow? How do we determine which man is good?

The story at the beginning is the background of the book of Galatians. Paul is our hero, bringing the good news about salvation through Jesus to the province of Galatia. Wherever he went, he met opposition, whether it was from the Jews who didn’t embrace Jesus or from the pagans who felt threatened by a religion that worshiped God without temples, rituals, and idols. He also freed a bunch of people from the purposeless lives and oppressive requirements of their old religions. Paul taught the people about grace, about a God who wants to dwell with us – not in a castle on a hill, but right with us, even inside us. After establishing the believers and teaching them for a while, he moved to the next city, running a circuit around the Mediterranean.

In his absence, some Jews who infiltrated the Christian church, began to teach and insist that salvation was not only the work of Jesus; men had to add to it. They taught that to be saved and to continue to live a life pleasing to God, every Christian had to keep the Mosaic Law. This law included rituals about diets, hand-washing, illnesses, sacrifices, commerce, as well as moral regulations.

When the Galatians protested that Paul had taught them that nothing good they did was good enough to earn salvation, these false teachers challenged Paul. He isn’t an apostle, they said. He lied to you. He was out for his own gain. And now he has abandoned you. Many were swayed, and returned voluntarily to their oppressed way of life. Some wrote to Paul.

Obviously, we’re on Paul’s side, because he wrote half the New Testament. But put yourself in the Galatians’ shoes. How would you know which person was truthful? Which was the good guy? I mean, the Jewish teachers were all about doing good things. So was Paul.

Galatians 5 is Paul’s explanation for why a Christian is expected to do good things. Based on this chapter, goodness comes from the Holy Spirit at work in every believer. This is why a Christian may be anticipated to do good things: not because he is in need of goodness to get or maintain his standing with God, but because the works are automatic.

Ephesians 2:8-10 puts this whole thing rather concisely: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Friday was one of those days in one of those weeks from one of those months.  My closest friends are out of the country or on their way out.  One will be gone for a whole semester, to the blissfully romantic Oxford, the Oxford in England, full of history and literature, thought and conversation.  In England there is rain, there is beauty, there is architecture, there are accents!  What’s more, she’s going to study worldviews in a small class of 9 Christian young men and young women, doing life with them.  Already she sends home emails reveling in happiness beyond her expectation. 

On Friday I was feeling rather alone and untraveled.  Autumn is here with an air of adventure, and none has knocked on my door.  But God is quite the gracious Giver of good gifts.  He blessed me with hours of conversation in the evening.  Friends gathered and the casual conversation was whether God changed His mind, and the way He ordains intercessors for us against His wrath.  Then we officially talked about jealousy, but we didn’t say much on that topic.  What actually happened led into a discussion on grace and glory, predestination and the rights of God versus the rights and capabilities of man. 

Even though we didn’t delve into jealousy, our text was 1 Corinthians 13:4: “Charity suffereth long and is kind.  Charity envieth not; Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.”  Charity, or LOVE, does not envy.  It is not jealous.  Love is the call of all Christians towards their neighbors.  Jealousy prevents us from entering into their happiness in the way Paul describes in Romans 12.  The simple reminder that love is my call was enough to convict me of my attitude towards my friend.  So I decided to rejoice with her.  (I really am absolutely delighted for her experiences, and excited for their impact!) 

But the grace and the lesson didn’t end.  Deciding to rejoice with her, I was yet challenged by my friend’s confession of happiness.  Her email bubbled over with enthusiasm for life and people, and happiness at being where she was.  Once she even wrote she can’t remember the last time she was so happy.  When was the last time I was simply happy?  What did it look like? 

The privilege and delight of seeing a friendly face can light my face with a smile, and untroubled happiness.  Knowing God is in control and He’ll take care of the details is blessed happiness.  Knowing I am blessed is reason to be happy.  And I am so blessed.  So I set out to be happy. 

Saturday I went to Steeling the Mind Bible Conference, put on by Compass Ministries.  I imagined the happy me, which is much easier to live out when brought to mind!  Should I see a friend, I would be happy.  Should I spend the day with my dad alone, I would be blessed.  Should I get encouragement in my walk with God, I would have assurance that He was heeding my days.  And He was.  He let me know. 

For example, the second-to-last speaker was a woman raised as a Muslim.  One of her many points was that Muslims live in fear, not only of non-Muslims, not only of “monsterous” Jews, but even of each other.  Women obviously fear men, who have essentially absolute power over them.  They also fear the envy of others, by which the jealous party would, they superstitiously believe, put a curse on them: the evil eye.  Envy and fear of envy separated the community, leaving no room to trust anyone.  Jealousy is a serious issue. 

In the British Isles, there is rain.  Here the past week we have had rain more days than not.  Friday night it rained.  Saturday night, too.  I’m afraid to sleep for missing some evidence of God’s grace reminding me that “no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.”  But even sleep is a peaceful, cozy gift. 

This morning at church we watched part of Beth Moore’s teaching on the Blessing of Asher.  Asher is a Hebrew word translated either Blessed, or Happy.  Leah named the second son of her handmaid Asher, after years envying Jacob’s love of Rachel and jealousy over his affection.  At last she simply named a son “happy,” content and blessed, going forward straight on the way, fruitful.  And Beth Moore taught us not to be responsible for the happiness of others (or of ourselves!);  happiness is a gift by the grace of God, so we ought to seize our happy moments, with gratitude. 

A friend blessed me with a compliment when I needed the encouragement, and her husband even offered to help diagnose my poor car whose Service Engine Soon light has been on and off for over a year (but I haven’t found a good mechanic to fix it).  My day was really too amazing. 

After church I sat in a meeting of youth leaders, pondering the high school girls small group of which I’m a part.  And I realized that I’ve been running around, forgetting to be God’s vessel, forgetting the blessing it is to share life with these ladies, forgetting that when I walk with God, I will want to and be able to connect with the girls in love.  There doesn’t have to be a formula or a schedule.  If I want to see them, this won’t be a burden.  In my life I’ve observed that happiness (and pain at times, and many other things besides) comes through people, through fellowship, through getting deeper into relationships and community.  Do you realize what release I remembered and reclaimed? 

Finally, on my way to visit my aunt in Greeley, CO (and my grandparents and a few cousins, an uncle and another aunt), I was riding in our big, truck-like van, watching light glint off the ring that reminds me of God’s presence and claim on my life.  So often I ask Him for things, but today I thought of the way characters pray sometimes in biblical dramatization novels by the Thoenes: “Blessed are You, O Adonai, who…”  So I started.  God is blessed for being, for doing, for giving.  Blessed is He for knowing the end from the beginning.  Blessed is He for ordaining good works.  Blessed is He for holding my friends in His strong hands.  Blessed is He for being my sure refuge and comfort.  Blessed is He for the blood He shed, and for reminding me of His faithful covenant through the Lord’s Supper this morning.  Blessed is He for the celebration that the Lord’s Supper is and represents, the community of saints waiting for the Beloved.  Blessed is He for hearing my prayers.  Blessed is He for being Almighty. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Last Friday I had some of my dear friends over to spend the night.  As the girls fell asleep to a movie in my living room, I prayed for them because I had to.  There was no urgent need, but urgent feeling.  The next day as we spoke I felt convicted to get back to praying specifically on a regular basis.  I have been praying, but it has been need-based, and not diligent. 
 
Sunday morning my pastor preached on prayer.  I know this fact, even though I wasn’t there, and that’s enough.  Sunday afternoon there was a youth leaders meeting where the veterans reiterated the essential role prayer plays in making a meeting or ministry successful.  Filled with a sense of the needs, and the knowledge that God wanted me to refocus, I had a marvelous Sunday and Monday filled with intentional prayer.  And then I stayed up late, and slept in and stayed up and slept in.  I’ve been praying, but it hasn’t been the intentional, set aside time I resolved to do. 
 
Wednesday my mom taught the Awana Sparks about the Lord’s Prayer, and in our weekly debriefing of funny things kids said, she shared part of her lesson.  Afterward I read a new article on one of my favorite websites – it was on the Lord’s Prayer, too. 
 
This week I also received in the mail the newest Michael Card album, Hymns.  The first or second song (most listened to if you push play right before you fall asleep each night) is Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.  There is a part of that song I remember a pastor talking about a long time ago.  The author of the hymn wrote “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it… Here’s my heart, o, take and seal it…”  He did wander.  That’s the testimony of his life.  He knew himself.  His heart needed sealed. 
 
So does my heart, because it wanders.  In some ways this week has been beautiful, but it’s only because I’ve spotted God’s grace and messages, not because I’ve had victory in yielding to them.  I know everything about the need to be content, but I just am not content.  My heart isn’t focused.  I’m not diligent with my time or energy, or responsible with my money.  I’m tired. 
 
On Sunday something said at the leader’s meeting reminded me of Galatians 6:9: “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”  Like a breath of keenest fresh air to one suffocating, I needed every ounce of the hope in that verse.  There is conviction in Paul’s words also.  That is what I want to focus on today.  
 
Proverbs 4:20-27, “My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings.
Let them not depart from thine eyes;
keep them in the midst of thine heart.
For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.
Keep thy heart with all diligence;
for out of it are the issues of life.
Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee.
Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.
Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.
Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.
 
The word “keep” in verse 21 is shamar, “keep, give heed” like a shepherd or watchman. The word “keep” in verse 23 is natsar, “guard, watch over.”  So Solomon’s words, inspired of the Holy Spirit, are to be kept.  And my heart is to be kept.  How is this done? 
 
The first thing Solomon mentions after this command is speech.  There is a lot about speech in Ephesians, but this reminds me also of James, whose vivid description of the tongue as the spark that sets a forest on fire opens with “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” 
 
We’ve probably all heard the question, “Who’s being walked?  The dog or the human?”  A man holds a leash with the cord wrapped around his hand several times in the manner of a bull-rider.  The dog strains ahead, eager, easily distracted.  Sometimes the man seems to be pulled along against his will.  Other times the firm hold on the leash restrains and directs the pet.  The image of a bridle in James is that of me being both dog and master, horse and driver.  The bridle doesn’t just restrain; it guides.  It controls and regulates.  This is self-control, one of the fruit of the Spirit, also known as temperance.  Many of the fruit of the Spirit involve a self-command or restraint. 
 
Solomon goes on to talk about our eyes.  Ok, I can’t resist.  One of the best songs kids ever learn is “Oh be careful little eyes,” and actually I think we should make teenagers and adults sing it, too.  Do you remember it?  Oh be careful little tongue what you say, oh be careful little tongue what you say.  For the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little tongue what you say.  Oh be careful little eyes what you see.  Oh be careful little feet where you go.  Tongue, Eyes, Feet.  Ponder your path.  Don’t get distracted.  Keep control of your tongue.  Guard your heart.  Commit to focusing on wisdom and truth and goodness.  “Set your mind on things above.”  
 
Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit of the Spirit.  All the virtues are connected.  Love is a choice.  Joy is something we are commanded to have.  Peace, Philippians tells us, is a result of giving our anxieties to God in prayer.  Patience, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.  Meekness has been described as power under control.  This may be what Mr. Darcy had in mind when he defended his character and his quiet nature by saying, “Where there is real superiority of mind, pride will always be under good regulation.”  While at first impression this seems like another evidence of Mr. Darcy’s arrogance, it has been suggested by those sympathetic to his character that what he was saying was a strong enough mind knew how to keep his pride – his selfish impulses – under control.  His reluctance to speak when he might be tempted to go too far is a sign of his meekness rather than of his pride. 
 
Dennis Prager is a strangely blended Jewish moralist who speaks, writes, and hosts a radio show.  Though his is by no means an absolute authority, he makes a good point by saying that happiness comes from the mind making choices over the instinct for fun or pleasure.  The mind knows better than feelings.  It can make choices based on the long-term.  Essentially he is saying that self-control brings happiness. 
 
Self-control, or temperance, is from the Greek egkrates, “strong, robust; having power over, possessed of (a thing); mastering, controlling, curbing, restraining; controlling one’s self, temperate, continent.”  Strength is active, working both on itself and on progress.  Tolkien describes a curb not only as a limit to where one can go, but as a tool for navigation: a ditch, bank, or curb would enable one to stay on a road in the dark or in a fog.  So limits restrain us, but they also get us to our destination.  Solomon warns against off-roading. 
 
Peter says to add temperance to knowledge, and patience to temperance (2 Peter 1:6).  A pastor is told to be temperate in Titus 1:8.  He is also required to be sober: “curbing one’s desires and impulses, self-controlled, temperate”  Titus 2:5 uses the same word to describe that which a young woman ought to be taught.  It is translated “discreet” in KJV.  Modesty is a consequence of discretion.  Sobriety is the opposite of drunkenness or dissipation, in which control of yourself is loosed.  Dissolution is a word meaning exactly that “cut loose”, and it leads to all sorts of sinful indulgence and decadence.  I need to be moderate. 
 
Paul depicted this virtue in 1 Corinthians 9, in the metaphor of an athlete. 
 
1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all,
but one receiveth the prize?
So run, that ye may obtain. 
And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.
Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. 
I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: 
But I keep under my body,
and bring it into subjection:
lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
 
Every man who strives for the mastery (enters the contest, contends for the prize) is temperate in all things.  Verse 27 says “I keep under my own body,” the word used here is a practice of athletes, to use their bodies roughly to make themselves tough or conditioned.  It comes from a word for the part of the face that turns into a black eye if punched.  Some Christians known as ascetics took this too far; they were so focused on abusing themselves that they forgot to do anything fruitful.  Rather, this is the same word Jesus employs in Luke 18, where He is teaching me to be diligent in prayer. 
 
Luke 18:1-8, “And he spake a parable unto them to this end,
that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; 
Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: 
And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying,
Avenge me of mine adversary. 
And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself,
Though I fear not God, nor regard man; 
Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her,
lest by her continual coming she weary me. 
And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. 
And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him,
though he bear long with them? 
I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.
Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh,
shall he find faith on the earth?”
 
The judge was made weary (kept under, conditioned) by the widow’s persistent appeal. 
 
Back in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul also says that he brings his body under subjection, he makes a slave of it using stern discipline.  One stern discipline, an exercise in self-control and dependence on God, is fasting.  Fasting should never be about indulging my own cravings, whether sensual, for food, for the praise of men, or to soothe my conscience.  Isaiah 58, beginning in verse 3, contains God’s design for fasting. 
 
Isaiah 58:3-11, “Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not?
wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge?
Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure,
and exact all your labours.
Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness:
ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul?
is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
Is not this the fast that I have chosen?
to loose the bands of wickedness,
                            to undo the heavy burdens,
                                                   and to let the oppressed go free,
                                                               and that ye break every yoke?
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry,
and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house?
when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him;
and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning,
and thine health shall spring forth speedily:
and thy righteousness shall go before thee;
the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward. T
hen shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer;
thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.
If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger,
and speaking vanity;
And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul;
then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:
And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought,
and make fat thy bones:
and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water,
whose waters fail not.”
 
In a paradoxical way, while fasting is about denying one’s self, it is for the purpose of releasing bonds and weights.  Fasting is reliance on God, not only for what I don’t have, but also with what I do.  Fasting is always accompanied with prayer.  1 Peter 5:7 says to cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you.  In the Sermon on the Mount, right after Jesus speaks on prayer, He goes into teaching on fasting.  Though food is good, or other things from which you might fast, the exercise of self-denial and sacrifice and dependence and focus on God is good.  All things are lawful, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, but not everything is beneficial.  When I practice what is beneficial, I am stronger for the unexpected temptations when I must deny myself. 
 
I must be ready, then, by exercising self-control, to do good works.  Pray with perseverance and persistence.  Be steadfast.  Stand therefore.  Gird up the loins of your mind, and be sober, that you may be ready in and out of season to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.  Hope is even described in the Bible as an anchor – the image of stability and strength.  Do not be slothful, but fervent in whatever you do.  Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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