Avatar, Utopia, and the Kingdom of God

A friend of mine recently sent an email to several people with a news article that I tracked down to AOL Health.  It is entitled, “Does Watching Avatar Lead To Depression”, written by Deborah Huso.  My friend asked us to consider these questions as we read the article, “What strikes your mind as you read it? What does it say to you about Christianity (the religion) as we know it, the current level of Kingdom influence in our world, and about what we should be doing?”

Here is the article that was posted on the AOL Health page in its entirety:

Does Watching “Avatar” Lead to Depression

By Deborah Huso

Hundreds of fans of James Cameron’s hit film “Avatar,” which has raked in $1.4 billion, are reporting symptoms of depression as well as suicidal thoughts after seeing the movie. The film is set in the future when the Earth’s resources have been depleted and a corporation is looking to mine the natural resources of a planet called, Pandora, which is portrayed as a world of beauty, with inhabitants that are close to nature and all creatures are connected. Many attribute their depression to the fact that the utopian world shown in the movie is unattainable here on earth and makes life seem meaningless.

One fan, who calls herself “Outsider,” wrote on Avatar-Forums.com, after seeing the film for the third time, “I thought the third time would help. It did not. I have slipped deeper into the depression than ever before. Now I am back at home and I am going to die. This depression will kill me.”

Crazy as it may sound at first, feeling blue after engaging in some form of escapism, whether it’s an especially touching movie or a great book, isn’t unusual. But if it’s impacting your ability to function, you could be taking escapism to the extreme. Escapism on that level can be a symptom of all kinds of problems from anxiety disorder to clinical depression.

“If a person has such an inordinate attraction to fantasy material and is prevented access to it, frustration, stress, anxiety or depression might possibly result,” said Frank Farley, Ph.D., a professor of educational psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia. “Modeling or identifying with media depictions is not unknown,” he added. “Yet most people make the distinction of reality versus fantasy.”

“Virtual life is not real life and it never will be, but this is the pinnacle of what we can build in a virtual presentation so far,” Dr. Stephan Quentzel, psychiatrist and Medical Director for the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York told CNN. “It has taken the best of our technology to create this virtual world and real life will never be as utopian as it seems onscreen. It makes real life seem more imperfect,” he said.

But even as some moviegoers despair over the human condition after seeing Cameron’s film, not all of “Avatar‘s” fans are singing the blues. Many have seen the movie as inspirational. Another fan, “One of the People,” commented last week, “Sometimes I get to thinking that it sucks that our planet can’t be like Pandora, that we have to be so vain and greedy, but at the end of the day all I’m trying to do is feel better with myself and “Avatar” has helped me do that. I may have had the ‘depression‘ for a day, but all it did was make me want to improve myself.”

The same fan later wrote:”I have also experienced a positive outcome. I feel inspired to do a great variety of things and make my life more meaningful. Whenever I need motivation, I just think about Pandora and Neytiri and Voila!”

I read several good responses to those questions, and felt compelled to respond as well.  Before I post further, though, I would like to invite you to respond with your own thoughts.

What strikes your mind as you read it? What does it say to you about Christianity (the religion) as we know it, the current level of Kingdom influence in our world, and about what we should be doing?
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Spend the Day with God (Baxter)

How to Spend the Day With God (Richard Baxter)

A holy life is inclined to be made easier when we know the usual sequence and method of our duties – with everything falling into its proper place. Therefore, I shall give some brief directions for spending the day in a holy manner.

Sleep

Measure the time of your sleep appropriately so that you do not waste your precious morning hours sluggishly in your bed. Let the time of your sleep be matched to your health and labour, and not to slothful pleasure.

First Thoughts

Let God have your first awaking thoughts; lift up your hearts to Him reverently and thankfully for the rest enjoyed the night before and cast yourself upon Him for the day which follows.

Familiarize yourself so consistently to this that your conscience may check you when common thoughts shall first intrude. Think of the mercy of a night’s rest and of how many that have spent that night in Hell; how many in prison; how many in cold, hard lodgings; how many suffering from agonizing pains and sickness, weary of their beds and of their lives.

Think of how many souls were that night called from their bodies terrifyingly to appear before God and think how quickly days and nights are rolling on! How speedily your last night and day will come! Observe that which is lacking in the preparedness of your soul for such a time and seek it without delay.

Prayer

Let prayer by yourself alone (or with your partner) take place before the collective prayer of the family. If possible let it be first, before any work of the day.

Family Worship

Let family worship be performed consistently and at a time when it is most likely for the family to be free of interruptions.

Ultimate Purpose

Remember your ultimate purpose, and when you set yourself to your day’s work or approach any activity in the world, let holiness to the Lord be written upon your hearts in all that you do.

Do no activity which you cannot entitle God to, and truly say that he set you about it, and do nothing in the world for any other ultimate purpose than to please, glorify and enjoy Him. “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” – 1 Corinthians 10:31.

Diligence in Your Calling

Follow the tasks of your calling carefully and diligently. Thus:

(a) You will show that you are not sluggish and servants to your flesh (as those that cannot deny it ease), and you will further the putting to death of all the fleshly lusts and desires that are fed by ease and idleness.

(b) You will keep out idle thoughts from your mind, that swarm in the minds of idle persons.

(c) You will not lose precious time, something that idle persons are daily guilty of.

(d) You will be in a way of obedience to God when the slothful are in constant sins of omission.

(e) You may have more time to spend in holy duties if you follow your occupation diligently. Idle persons have no time for praying and reading because they lose time by loitering at their work.

(f) You may expect God’s blessing and comfortable provision for both yourself and your families.

(g) it may also encourage the health of your body which will increase its competence for the service of your soul.

Temptations and Things That Corrupt

Be thoroughly acquainted with your temptations and the things that may corrupt you – and watch against them all day long. You should watch especially the most dangerous of the things that corrupt, and those temptations that either your company or business will unavoidably lay before you.

Watch against the master sins of unbelief: hypocrisy, selfishness, pride, flesh pleasing and the excessive love of earthly things. Take care against being drawn into earthly mindedness and excessive cares, or covetous designs for rising in the world, under the pretence of diligence in your calling.

If you are to trade or deal with others, be vigilant against selfishness and all that smacks of injustice or uncharitableness. In all your dealings with others, watch against the temptation of empty and idle talking. Watch also against those persons who would tempt you to anger. Maintain that modesty and cleanness of speech that the laws of purity require. If you converse with flatterers, be on your guard against swelling pride.

If you converse with those that despise and injure you, strengthen yourself against impatient, revengeful pride.

At first these things will be very difficult, while sin has any strength in you, but once you have grasped a continual awareness of the poisonous danger of any one of these sins, your heart will readily and easily avoid them.

Meditation

When alone in your occupations, improve the time in practical and beneficial meditations. Meditate upon the infinite goodness and perfections of God; Christ and redemption; Heaven and how unworthy you are of going there and how you deserve eternal misery in Hell.

The Only Motive

Whatever you are doing, in company or alone, do it all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Otherwise, it is unacceptable to God.

Redeeming The Time

Place a high value upon your time; be more careful of not losing it than you would of losing your money. Do not let worthless recreations, idle talk, unprofitable company, or sleep rob you of your precious time.

Be more careful to escape that person, action or course of life that would rob you of your time than you would be to escape thieves and robbers.

Make sure that you are not merely never idle, but rather that you are using your time in the most profitable way that you can and do not prefer a less profitable way before one of greater profit.

Eating and Drinking

Eat and drink with moderation and thankfulness for health, not for unprofitable pleasure. Never please your appetite in food or drink when it is prone to be detrimental to your health.

Remember the sin of Sodom: “Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food and abundance of idleness” – Ezekiel 16:49.

The Apostle Paul wept when he mentioned those “whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame — who set their minds on earthly things, being enemies to the cross of Christ” – Philippians 3:18-19. O then do not live according to the flesh lest you die (Romans 8:13).

Prevailing Sins

If any temptation prevails against you and you fall into any sins in addition to habitual failures, immediately lament it and confess it to God; repent quickly whatever the cost. It will certainly cost you more if you continue in sin and remain unrepentant.

Do not make light of your habitual failures, but confess them and daily strive against them, taking care not to aggravate them by unrepentance and contempt.

Relationships

Remember every day the special duties of various relationships: whether as husbands, wives, children, masters, servants, pastors, people, magistrates, subjects.

Remember every relationship has its special duty and its advantage for the doing of some good. God requires your faithfulness in this matter as well as in any other duty.

Closing the Day

Before returning to sleep, it is wise and necessary to review the actions and mercies of the day past, so that you may be thankful for all the special mercies and humbled for all your sins.

This is necessary in order that you might renew your repentance as well as your resolve for obedience, and in order that you may examine yourself to see whether your soul grew better or worse, whether sin goes down and grace goes up and whether you are better prepared for suffering, death and eternity.

May these directions be engraved upon your mind and be made the daily practice of your life.

If sincerely adhered to, these will be conducive to the holiness, fruitfulness and quietness of your life and add to you a comfortable and peaceful death.

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Is TV Really So Bad (Joel Beeke)

Is TV Really So Bad?

by Dr Joel R. Beeke

We are living in a sin-sick, morally degenerate, and pleasure-mad world. Our society continually demands entertainment, amusements, and pastimes at an ever-increasing level.

What is the goal of this “continual-entertainment” spirit? To keep modern man happily busy.

In a certain sense, entertainment does succeed in its goal. It keeps thousands and millions busy.

The very words themselves reveal this fact. The word amusement comes originally from the French and literally means “to stare at fixedly so as to prevent musing or thinking.”  The word pastime speaks for itself. It means to kill or use up time as a thing of little value; to pass time away. The root of the word entertainment means to divert. Thus it implies something which takes us away or diverts us from the normal, real world of everyday life.

In other words, entertainment, amusements, pastimes are things which keep us busy – busy avoiding the realities of life and truth as they are set down in God’s Holy Word. They keep us busy avoiding thinking about eternity, hell, heaven, sin, God, Christ, salvation, our own selves, and especially our need for a new heart.

But if entertainment succeeds in its first goal of making man busy it fails miserably in its second: happily busy. Never has there been so much restlessness, dissatisfaction, and yes, unhappiness – in spite of the millions who immerse themselves in modern-day entertainment. Despite our freedom from poverty, our multiplication of opportunities in nearly every walk and aspect of life, plus our continual drinking in of entertainment – no age has been as unhappy as modern man.

Entertainment can never give enough – it always leaves an empty feeling behind. The more it is practiced and relied on, the emptier it becomes.

It has turned our society into an object of pity, for we are victims of our own system. Society goes full cycle, from being pleasure-hungry to pleasure-mania to pleasure-boredom.

But do you know what is even worse? Not only the world, but also the church has begun sliding down the slippery slope of entertainment which can only end in sin, and disastrous results.

Satan does not stop with liberal churches only. He comes also among us. We who believe that the truth is still preached among us – who know so well that the Word of God says, “Abstain from all appearance of evil,” who read continually, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” – are also beginning to fall victim to the idolatrous god of entertainment.

Step-by-step some are beginning to look for new things (in the church and outside of the church) with which we entertain and keep ourselves busy. Step-by-step the old-fashioned, plain gospel message with its emphasis on the necessity of conversion, is being increasingly de-emphasised. Less and less time is being spent praying together as a family, reading religious books together with children, talking together in family circles about spiritual matters.

Are we not all guilty? Do we not all fall short in experiencing the reality of the seriousness of life, death, the judgment day, and eternity? Today we have a carefree, laughing society, but you never read in the Bible that Jesus took life lightly. Rather, especially referring to our day, He said: “Watch, and pray, and again I say unto you watch!”

But by nature we don’t watch. By nature our question is, “How far can I go and still not sin?” instead of, “How far can I flee from sin and avoid the very appearance of evil?”

At the very heart and center of our modern entertainment spirit stands TELEVISION. This is an obvious fact. Television sets are in the homes of 97% of Americans today and 91% of all television time is dedicated solely to the purpose of entertainment. Entertainment-addiction and television-addiction cannot be separated from each other.

Our society has become TELE-HOLIC. On a night when wives do not leave home, 95 out of 100 will spend it watching TV and 85% of their husbands will do likewise. Among teenagers, 80% will follow their parents’ example, and 75% of children will also spend their evening drinking in the sin shown on TV.

There are people, however, who do not believe that television becomes an object of slavery in the home, and for that reason we have to consider the power of it in the homes where it is allowed. I shall seek to show you from plain facts that a television owner usually becomes addicted to TV with respect to (A) TIME, (B) SIN, and (C) CONTROL.

(A) TIME. The average TV viewer spends 5½ hours per day watching TV. By the time an average American youth becomes sixty-five years old, he will have spent fourteen years of his life watching TV (compared to one year spent in church, Sunday School, and catechism if he comes faithfully to all). In the U.S.A. children three to five years old spend fifty-four hours every week watching TV, which is 64% of their time awake. When the average graduate from high school receives his diploma at seventeen years of age, he will have spent 11,000 hours of his life in school, but 22,000 hours watching TV. Every time an adult sits down to watch TV, he/she averages 3½ hours of watching time before turning the TV off. Children are glued to TV for an average of 2½ hours per sitting. With the exception of sleeping, the average American will spend more time in his life watching TV than anything else – yes even more than working. Do we not have a tele-holic society with respect to our precious, God-given time?

(B) SIN. TV is a flood of sin. It numbs its watchers against all ten commandments.

First commandment:  Anything we put above God becomes an idol. Modern man has become addicted to putting TV before God.

Second commandment:   If not in reality, in practice TV has become a graven image in the hearts of most of its watchers.

Third commandment:  TV causes its hearers to become addicted to hearing the name of the Lord used in vain. Profanity is used so often that it becomes an inoffensive thing. Few TV watchers realize that every time they willingly watch and hear such things, all those sins are reckoned to them on account of their willing participation.

Fourth commandment:  Even the Sabbath Day is not holy enough for TV watchers to keep it turned off, or, if a small percentage may still do so for conscience’s sake, desire and craving for it usually remains even on the Lord’s Day.

Fifth commandment:  TV does anything but honor father and mother. It continually degrades fatherhood and motherhood, and even frequently glorifies the disobedience of children. Family life, respect for authority, and obedience to government are repeatedly violated on program after program.

Sixth commandment:  Instead of “thou shalt not kill,” one study reached the conclusion that by the time a child is fourteen at least 18,000 violent assaults and murders take place before his eyes. Another study confirmed that the average child between five and thirteen years of age soaks in 1,300 murders each year, so that violence, assaults, and murders no longer speak the message of sin or its consequences. Murders, hatred, violent actions and words assume  the role of normal behavior. The average child’s program contains thirty-eight acts of violence per hour (adult program: twenty). A New York City judge who spent his life in courts judging juvenile delinquents and teenage criminals has plainly said that those who investigated the situation know that TV is a prime cause of crime. Another judge said: “Parents, one hour of TV can teach your children more crime, rebellion, smart-aleck freshness, and sex than you can counteract in months if you work at it.”

The trouble with violence on TV is that it does not show the real consequences of violence. The guilt that is left behind in the soul of the murderer, the bereaved family, the orphaned children, the filled hospitals, and the solemn graveyards are not shown. Especially in children’s programs violence is often totally unreal. Their heroes are often crushed or blown into pieces and moments later reappear unscathed. TV is artificial violence glorified instead of showing real violence in all of its ugly and terrible long-term consequences. Is it a wonder then that there have been thousands of examples of tragedies nationwide when children have “played TV together”?

Seventh commandment:  How can the TV viewer remain pure with respect to the seventh commandment when seven out of eight references to sexual acts on TV take place between those who are not married? How can he remain pure when the TV viewer sees on an average of three times every hour sexual misconduct between unmarried adults? How can he remain moral when countless circumstances, conversations, immodest dress, actions, and behavior all point to the excitement and acceptability of sinning against the seventh commandment in a false and unrealistic way?

Eighth commandment:  Can an hour be found that goes by when TV actors do not unashamedly steal before their audience? It is not wonder that thousands of thefts in real life have been patterned after TV plots and heroes.

Ninth commandment:  Lying against a neighbor becomes a normal, acceptable, and even expected form of behavior on television shows.

Tenth commandment:  Covet is a desirable word for TV viewers. Constantly they are reminded through advertisements of a stream of unending luxuries which they are told they shall never be happy without. There is always something they must have which they don’t have. The programs themselves are not an exception. For one man to covet another man’s wife (or vice versa) is the main theme of entire shows.

From beginning to end TV glorifies sin. On TV the only thing that is “sin” is morality. TV applauds sin, approves of sin, and forces its watchers to minimise sin through tens of thousands of countless repetitions. Over and over again the traditional family life is despised as old-fashioned: fatherhood is replaced with heroism via pathways of sin; motherhood is rejected as demeaning; obedience from children is laughed at as being too boring to be entertaining.

TV has become a catalogue of sin, and all studies reveal it is getting worse. It has become the devil’s classroom. The devil is smart enough to throw in a little religion too, and occasionally even a little morality, to pacify consciences enough not to throw it out. Does not TV make a tele-holic society with respect to sin when it feeds lust, perverts morals, presents impurity as love, pictures murder as thrilling, exalts nakedness and indecency as beauty, and seeks to legitimize all kinds of sin against every command of God?

(C) CONTROL Here the addiction becomes even more serious. Thousands of family fights take place regularly because no agreement can be reached on which show to indulge in. In American homes 35% of mealtimes are spent in front of the TV set. Nightly thousands of parents realize the programs that will come on are demoralizing and harmful for their children but yet are so hungry themselves to drink in the sin which they contain that they often let their children watch it too, having no power to control it.

People who say they can control TV are usually speaking idealistically, not realistically:

(1) Our natural hearts love sin, our ears listen for sin, our eyes look for sin. That is just the problem with TV. It is not the box itself that is the problem, but it is our hearts. TV shows what the heart of man wants to see. We have enough “TVs” already in our hearts without buying one for our home. It is our “TV hearts” that are inclined to TV sets. We do not stand above a TV watcher – just the opposite. We desire to come so low that we confess we would not trust our own heart with such an instrument.

(2) Who is able to keep sin from flashing before them on the screen at any moment, whether it be through the program being watched or through advertisement?

(3) Is a person who has owned a TV set for some time, and consequently become hardened to many sins, really qualified to know what is necessary to “control”?

Man does not control TV. TV controls him. Only one study of many will prove this point. Approximately four years ago in St. Catharines, Ontario, the newspaper headlines read one day: $500 paid for disposing of TV. The article went on to say that a study was done in Detroit in which the goal was to find out to what degree people are controlled by TV. Two hundred fifty families were scientifically selected from various races and classes to be offered $500 if they would live without their TV set for one month. After thirty days they could take it back in, and receive $500 free. Out of 250, only fifty families agreed to do it. How many families “made it” through this trial of thirty days? Eight! The other forty-two forfeited their $500 sometime during the month – one family took their TV back in on the 29th day. The eight who made it through were interviewed extensively. All said it brought their family closer together without TV. Six fathers said they first learned to know their children. One father said: “The day that I disposed of our TV  was the first day in twenty-five years that no one was killed in our living room, no sirens screamed, no shots rang out, no artificial merriment told us when to laugh, and no one slashed anyone else.” And what was the final result of these eight families of whom seven said their family life was considerably more rewarding without TV? The last line of the article tells us: “All eight families took TV back in.”

Tele-holism. Knowing it does more harm than good, and still keeping it – that is slavery.
Dear friend, I urge you to dispose of TV today on the following grounds:

(1) It is against the word of God. In Psalm 119 the Lord commands us to turn our eyes from vanity. The entire Bible speaks against television because of its unending list of evils.

(2) The sinfulness of television damages your own soul. Every secular and/or religious study has revealed TV’s over-all effects. Since you know that we are fallen children of Adam and Eve, corrupt, and prone to backsliding, why do you unnecessarily feed your own corrupt nature with still more corruption through this instrument of sin?

(3) Studies on television reveal that TV also hinders the God-given treasure of family life and communion. This alone should be reason enough to dispose of TV immediately.

(4) By keeping television you are stepping on and fighting against your own conscience.

(5) You are wasting precious God-given time for which you will have to give an account one day. Would it not be far better that you take the time spent watching TV to read Scripture or good books, or listen to sermon tapes?

Do yourself a favor: for the Word of God’s sake, the church’s sake, your own soul’s sake, your family’s sake, your conscience’s sake, dispose of your television today. Do it permanently before you become its lifelong slave.

Finally, may it become the prayer of all of us with David: “I will set no evil thing before my eyes. Turn Thou my eyes from beholding vanity.”
(Pilgrim’s Gate; Condensed)

(This article from Fair Dinkum, Free Autralian Magazine, issue 52. All statistics are taken from studies conducted between 1979 and 1999.)

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Baxter, Time-Wasters, and the New Year

Ah, the New Year. . . time for resolutions!  Time to redeem “the time”.  Time for all those promises we’ve been failing to keep already, to make them anew and to hope again, even if it’s just for a few short days.

Do I sound too pessimistic?  I certainly don’t mean to, but I know too well the way things go and the waywardness of man.  Lord, would you help me this year, to promise less and deliver more. . . and to be more delivered by the promise!

I thought I would post here a list I found on another blog today (Puritan Fellowship).  It seemed fitting going into the new year.  Here are some thieves that the Puritan Richard Baxter warned the believers of his today to guard against.  Interestingly, there is one for every hour on the clock.  I think this list is just as applicable today as the day in which Baxter wrote it.

Thief I: One of the greatest time-wasting sins consists of idleness or sloth.

Thief II: The next thief or time-waster is excess of sleep.

Thief III: The next thief or time-waster is an inordinate adorning of the body.

Thief IV: Another time-wasting thief is unnecessary pomp and curiosity in retinue, attendance, house furniture, provision and entertainments, together with excess of compliment and ceremony, and servitude to the humors and expectations of time-wasters.

Thief V: Another time-wasting sin is needless and tedious feastings, gluttony, and tippling. (Tippling – drinking)

Thief VI: Another time-waster is idle talk.

Thief VII: Another thief which by the aforesaid means would steal your time, is vain and sinful company.

Thief VIII: Another notorious time-wasting thief, is needless, inordinate sports and games, which are stigmatized by the offenders themselves, with the infamous name of pastimes, and masked with deceitful title of recreations;

Thief IX: Another time-wasting thief is excess of worldly cares and business.

Thief X: Another time-waster is vain ungoverned and sinful thoughts.

Thief XI: Another dangerous time-waster sin is the reading of vain books, play-books, romances, and feigned histories; and also unprofitable studies, undertaken but for vain-glory, or the pleasing of a carnal or curious mind.

Thief XII: But the master-thief that robs men of their time is an unsancitified, ungodly heart; for this loseth time whatever men are doing; because they never intend the glory of God.

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Goldsworthy on Wisdom and Decision-making

A good word on wisdom and our part in it by Graeme Goldsworthy:

“Proverbs, and the wisdom literature in general, counter the idea that being spiritual means handing all decisions over to the leading of the Lord. The opposite is true. Proverbs reveals that God does not make all people’s decisions for them, but rather expects them to use his gift of reason to interpret the circumstances and events of life within the framework of revelation that he has given. Yet when they have exercised their responsibility in decision-making, they can look back and see that the sovereign God has guided.”

Graeme Goldsworthy, in the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (IVP 2000), p. 210. See also Gospel and Wisdom in the Goldsworthy Trilogy.

(I borrowed this from Tony Reinke’s site.)

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Obedience, Worship, and Sacrifice

I am reading Dale Ralph Davis’s commentary on 1 Samuel right now, and have found it to be a terrific read.  He has a keen insight regarding the problem with Saul in 1 Samuel 15.  We’ve actually seen the trouble with Saul brewing since his impatience in chapter 13 drove him to offer the burnt offering himself instead of waiting on Samuel (1 Samuel 13:8-14).  At that time, Samuel told Saul that his kingdom would not continue and that God would seek out a man after His own heart.  So what exactly was the problem with Saul’s heart?  Did he not offer sacrifice?

In chapter 15, Samuel gives Saul clear instruction to wipe out the Amalekites — to completely wipe them out:

1    And Samuel said to Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the LORD.
2    Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt.
3    Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'”

As we read just a few verses later, though, this is not at all what Saul did.  Departing from the command of the Lord, Saul spared Agag and chose to keep the best of the plunder for himself and his people.

7    And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt.
8    And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword.
9    But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction.

Samuel sharply rebukes Saul, and demands an explanation.  Notice how Saul tries to justify himself, indicating that partial obedience to what the Lord commanded is sufficient, and then making excuses for his transgressions.

12    And Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning. And it was told Samuel, “Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself and turned and passed on and went down to Gilgal.”
13    And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the LORD. I have performed the commandment of the LORD.”
14    And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?”
15    Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the LORD your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.”
16    Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the LORD said to me this night.” And he said to him, “Speak.”
17    And Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel.
18    And the LORD sent you on a mission and said, ‘Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’
19    Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the LORD?”
20    And Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the LORD. I have gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction.
21    But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.”
22    And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.
23    For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.”

In his remarks on verse 22 regarding sacrifice and obedience, Dale Ralph Davis writes:

Samuel negates sacrifice not absolutely but relatively; he is saying that formal worship cannot be substituted for obedient life, external devotions for internal submission.  Your Gloria Patri, Apostles’ Creed, Christian luncheons, and all-star Bible conferences – none of these matter unless you are keeping Christ’s commandments (1 John 2:3-4).  The Berleburg Bible caught Samuel’s reasoning: “In sacrifices a man offers only the strange flesh of irrational animals, whereas in obedience he offers his own will, which is rational or spiritual worship.” (Dale Ralph Davis: commentary on 1 Samuel 15, page 158)

Surely, David learned this lesson, for we hear the echoes of it in his cries of repentance in Psalm 51 (verses 10-19:

10    Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
11    Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12    Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13    Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
14    Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15    O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
16    For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17    The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
18    Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19    then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

And again, we hear the same from the Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans (verses 12:1-2):

1    I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
2    Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

In the gospel of Mark (Mark 3:32-35), Jesus speaks of the great blessing that rests upon those who have abandoned the world and denied themselves to learn from Him and live according to His word.  They who do the will of God, it is them who are blessed:

32    And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.”
33    And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”
34    And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!
35    For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

In John 14:15, our Lord Jesus reiterates, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

The Apostle John also stresses the necessity of obedience to the will of God as well in his first epistle (1 John 2:15-17), contrasted with obeying the flesh and its passions (see also 1 Peter 2:11 and Romans 6:12-14):

15    Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
16    For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.
17    And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

And James, the brother of Jesus adds (James 1:22-25):

Jas 1:22  But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
Jas 1:23  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.
Jas 1:24  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.
Jas 1:25  But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

Again, I really appreciate how the Berleburg Bible states this so simply and succinctly: “In sacrifices a man offers only the strange flesh of irrational animals, whereas in obedience he offers his own will, which is rational or spiritual worship.”


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John Newton – Prayer for Faith and Grace

I have been listening to a CD by Indelible Grace lately and there is one hymn in particular on there that has struck a particular chord with me. It is a hymn written by John Newton, and it has really ministered to me this past week that I heard it as the Lord has really brought me low this last month or so. I went out searching for the words to it and found this post from almost three years ago to the day on another blogger’s site. As I read through what fellow blogger John Meade wrote on his blog (http://chaosandoldnight.wordpress.com), I thought what he wrote in reflecting on the words of this choice hymn so good that I would just reprint what he wrote in its entirety. I pray that these words may somehow comfort you as they have me, when you walk through the valley.

From John Meade’s post, “Newton on Inward Trials”:

For a while and more recently, I have been thinking about John Newton’s hymn, “I asked the Lord that I might Grow.” Most people know Newton for his hymn, “Amazing Grace,” but few people have ever heard of this hymn. I must confess that I was ignorant of it until Indelible Grace resurrected it in their latest album. This hymn represents the other side of Newton. Allow this hymn to challenge your view of self and God. It seems Newton would conclude that God is not as tame as we would like Him to be, but He is good.

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

’Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“’Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

As one can see, Newton begins the poem with a prayer. He prays a seemingly good prayer, “That I might grow in faith and love and every grace; might more of his salvation know, more earnestly seek his face.” Praying for these virtues and blessings is not wrong in itself, but Newton is about to discover a new insight into how God answers these types of prayers. Newton affirms that God taught him how to pray, and he affirms the truth that God has answered prayer for him in the past. However, God will not always answer our prayers in the way we want, “But it has been in such a way, that almost drove me to despair.” Most times, we struggle with this view of God. Could God really be like this, we might ask? Let’s keep reading.

Notice, he hoped that God would answer his prayer “in some favoured hour.” He hoped that God’s constraining love would subdue his sins and give him rest. Newton is asking for God’s perfect work of complete sanctification to be worked in him. If God grants this prayer to Newton, Newton will still be reliant on God to work in him, but Newton will no longer be mindful of his immediate and total dependence on the Lord for every breath, every good work. Newton will be more prone to boasting if the Lord answers this prayer in exactly the way Newton desires. How does the Lord respond to this prayer?

The middle stanza reads:

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

How many of us have experienced this? Notice that Newton attributes this work to God! God made Newton feel the hidden evils of his heart. Now, one can see why Newton did not perceive God as answering his prayer. God did not answer the prayer immediately, but rather through subjecting Newton’s soul to the angry powers of hell, he begins to answer it.

The next stanza continues in the same vein. Newton, again, attributes these woes and inward torments to the hand of God. Furthermore, Newton perceives the Lord as frustrating his designs in prayer, and finally, God lays him low. How many of us have experienced this action of the Lord? By laying him low, the Lord completely contradicted the way Newton thought he would answer the request.

Newton then comes to the end of his rope, “Why Lord, wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?” The Lord replies, “In this way, I answer prayer for grace and faith.” The Lord continues in the last stanza, “These inward trials I employ, from self and pride to set thee free; and break thy schemes of earthly joy, that thou may’st find thy all in me.” The Lord revealed to Newton the motivations of his heart for requesting what he did. Newton had motivations of selfish pride when he prayed for grace and faith. The Lord showed him exactly how he answers prayers for grace and FAITH. The Lord graciously brought him to the point where he needed to cry out to him in brokenness, asking, “why Lord?”

The Lord truly answered Newton’s prayer for grace and faith, but grace and faith do not equal immediate subdued sin and rest for the Christian. Rather, the Lord answered Newton’s prayer by breaking him and graciously leading him to trust Him. This poem cuts to the heart of many issues in the Christian’s life. All too often we think, if we could just have relief from this one besetting sin, we would be more holy or we would be free to trust God more. Rather than thinking like this, we need to be asking God for broken hearts, hearts that are contrite and humble before him (Ps 51). A corollary to these requests means we need to be completely open to how God will answer these prayers. He is the sovereign Lord, and if he deems necessary, he will employ inward trials to make us more dependent on Him, to make us more like Jesus.

Praise the Lord, that Newton was placed in a position to help us understand these inward trials that the Lord brings in our lives.

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