Help for a Grieving Spouse

Recently, a friend of mine who’s a pastor in New England lost his wife after a long battle with cancer. Now a widower with two small children under age seven, I wanted to give him something to help him process his grief. I sent him A Grief Sanctified: Through Sorrow to Eternal Hope by J.I. Packer.

9781581344400Here’s the publisher’s description:

Their love story is not one of fairy tales. It is one of faithfulness from the beginning through to its tragic ending.

Richard and Margaret Baxter had been married only nineteen years before she died at age forty-five. A prominent pastor and prolific author, Baxter sought consolation and relief the only true way he knew- in Scripture with his discipline of writing. Within days he produced a lover’s tribute to his mate and a pastor’s celebration of God’s grace. It is spiritual storytelling at its best, made all the more poignant by the author’s unveiling of his grief.

J. I. Packer has added his own astute reflections along with his edited version of this exquisite memoir that considers six of life’s realities-love, faith, death, grief, hope, and patience. He guides you in comparing and contrasting the world’s and the Bible’s ideals on coping with these tides of life. The powerful combination of Packer’s insights and Baxter’s grief gives you a beacon if you are searching for God, a pathfinder for your relationships, and a lifeline if you are grieving.

Whatever the circumstances of the reader, the book is a beautiful love story.

Learn more about Packer’s A Grief Sanctified here.

Ten Do’s and Don’ts When Reading the Bible

Tis the season for figuring out which Bible reading plan to use¹.

But have you considered how to read the Bible?

Puritan Richard Baxter, in his encyclopedic Christian Directory, gives ten “Directions for Profitable Reading the Holy Scriptures.” I’ve modernized Baxter’s 17th century prose for the modern ear while attempting to be faithful to his overall intent. I’ve also retitled Baxter’s “directions” as Ten Do’s and Don’ts When Reading the Bible:

  1. Read It Reverently — When you come to the Bible, don’t have an evil, unbelieving heart. Instead, open the Bible with holy reverence, since it is God’s special book. Don’t read it as a common book, with a common and irreverent heart. Rather, read it with both the fear and love of God, who is the Bible’s author.
  2. Read It Obediently — Remember that the Bible is God’s very laws which you must both live and be judged by. Therefore, read it resolved to obey whatever it commands, even though your own sinful self, all of humanity, and the devil himself contradict it.
  3. Read It Lovingly — Remember that the Bible is the Lord’s will and testament, his own special covenant containing his full and gracious promises. Therefore, read it with love and great delight! Value it a thousand times more than the best letter or e-mail you’ve ever received! Value it more than the most expensive thing you own! If the law was sweeter than honey for David, better to him than countless riches, and was his delight and meditation throughout the day, how much more precious and sweeter should the Gospel be to us!
  4. Read It Humbly — Remember that the Bible contains unseen things and the greatest mysteries. Therefore, don’t come to it like an arrogant judge! Instead, come to the Bible humbly, as a learner or disciple. And if anything in the Bible seems difficult or improbable, suspect your limited, finite understanding, and not God’s sacred Word.
  5. Read It Wisely — Remember that the Bible is a universal law and doctrine written for all different types of people, from the smartest intellect to those more mentally challenged. Therefore, the Bible speaks in both plain and simple language as well as lofty and difficult language. Sometimes it will seem rude and offensive. Sometimes it will seem rather plain and boring. Sometimes it will read like an unsolvable mystery. Either way, adore God’s wisdom that he would bring the Bible to us as his creatures in such diverse language.
  6. Don’t Read It Carnally  Don’t read the Bible with a carnal, worldly mind.
  7. Let Scripture Interpret Scripture — Compare one part of Scripture with another part. Expound the darkest, most confusing portions of the Bible with the plainest parts. When in doubt, interpret Scripture with Scripture.
  8. Read It Prayerfully — Your understanding of the Bible isn’t as strong as you think! Humble yourself, asking God for light. Before and after you read the Bible, pray that the Holy Spirit (the Bible’s author), would expound it to you, keeping you from unbelief and error, leading you into its truths.
  9. Read It With Guides  Read the Bible with the best guides and expositors. They will keep you from error.
  10. Read It Engagingly — When you read the Bible and get tripped up over any difficulty, write it down. Perhaps bring it to your pastor or to a trusted brother or sister in Christ who has a solid grasp of the Bible. If some things in the Bible still remain dark and difficult, remember your imperfections and limitations. And don’t stay stuck! Instead, wait on God for more light to better understand the Bible. With a thankful heart, make use of all the rest of Scripture that you do plainly understand.

—Richard Baxter, The Christian Directory, Part II “Christian Economics,” chapter XX “Directions for Profitable Reading the Holy Scriptures.”

¹For years I’ve used D.A. Carson’s For the Love of God, which is based on M’Cheyne’s Bible Reading Plan. I have the regular fits and starts, but keep trudging along.

The Benefits of Christian Meditation

J.I. Packer—

Richard Baxter lived a century after Calvin. He was a chronically sick Puritan, tubercular from his teens and suffering constantly from dyspepsia, kidney stones, headaches, toothaches, swollen limbs, intermittent bleeding at his extremities, and other troubles—all before the days of pain-killing drugs. Yet he was always energetic, outgoing, uncomplaining, and utterly healthy-minded, even though sometimes (and who can wonder?) a trifle short-tempered….

What kept this frail invalid going so single-mindedly and even spectacularly through the years? In The Saints’ Everlasting Rest Baxter tells the secret. From his thirtieth year he practiced a habit that he first formed when he thought he was on his deathbed: for something like half an hour each day he would meditate on the life to come, thereby escalating his sense of the glory that awaited him and reinforcing his motivation to use every ounce of energy and zeal that he found within himself to hasten up the path of worship, service, and holiness toward his goal. This cultivation of hope gave him daily doggedness in hard work for God, despite his debilitating effect of his sick body.

God’s Plans for You, pp. 69-70.

Puritan Advice Regarding Sinful Dreams (Part 3)

(Read Part 1 and Part 2)

Here are Puritan Richard Baxter’s final three (of seven) practical suggestions regarding potential causes and cures for dealing with sinful dreams:

5.   Mind your last waking thoughts: Let your last thoughts before you go to sleep be holy, even quiet and consolatory, thoughts. Your dreams are apt to follow your last thoughts. If you go to sleep with worldliness or vanity in your minds, you can’t expect to be wiser or better when you are asleep than when you are awake. But if you end your day’s thoughts with God, then you’re more likely to dream about these things as well. Conversely, if your thoughts are distrustful, unbelieving and fearful, you’re more likely to dream about those things instead. Frightful and often sinful dreams follow sinful doubts and fears. But if you sweeten your last thoughts with the love of Christ, and remember your former mercies, or think upon eternal joys, or can confidently cast your thoughts and yourselves upon some promise, it will tend to the quietness of your sleep, and to having better dreams. And if you should die before the morning, wouldn’t it be better that your last thoughts be holy?

6. Mind your repentance: When you’ve found any corruption appearing in your dreams, make use of them for the renewing of your repentance and as fuel to better mortify that corruption.

7. Don’t read too much into your dreams: Don’t put greater stress upon your dreams than there is just cause. Don’t conclude more than your waking evidence discovers. Don’t give preference to your dreams above and beyond what you’re like when you’re awake. Moreover, hate the stupidity of those who dissect their dreams, measuring their expectations by them, casting themselves into hopes or fears by them. Diogenes once said, “What folly is it to be careless of your waking thoughts and actions, and inquisitive about your dreams! A person’s happiness or misery lies upon what he does when he’s awake, and not upon what he endures in his sleep.”

Puritan Advice Regarding Sinful Dreams (Part 2)

[Read Part 1)

Here are Puritan Richard Baxter’s first four (of seven) practical suggestions regarding potential causes and cures for dealing with sinful dreams:

  1. Watch your diet: Avoid those bodily distempers  as much as you can which cause sinful dreams, especially fulness of diet. A full stomach causes troublesome and lustful dreams, and has its ill effects by night and by day.
  2. Watch your mind: Endeavor the cure of those sinful distempers of the mind which cause sinful dreams. The cure of a worldly mind is the best way to cure worldly, covetous dreams. And the cure of a lustful heart is the best way to cure lustful dreams, and the same goes with the rest. Cleanse the fountain, and the waters will be sweeter day and night.
  3. Watch your day: Don’t let your thoughts, tongue, or actions run sinfully upon that in the day, which you would not dream sinfully of in the night. Our dreams are apt to follow our foregoing thoughts, words, and deeds. If you think most frequently and affectionately of that which is good, you will dream of that which is good. If you think of lustful, filthy objects, or speak of them, or meddle with them, you will dream of them. And so of covetous and ambitious dreams. If you don’t endeavor to sin while awake you aren’t likely much to entertain sinning in your sleep.
  4. Pray before you sleep: Commend yourselves to God by prayer before you take your rest, and ask him to set a guard upon your fantasy when you cannot guard it. Cast the cure upon him, and fly to him for help by faith and prayer in the sense of your insufficiency.

See also: “Puritan Advice Regarding Sinful Dreams” (Part 3)

Puritan Advice Regarding Sinful Dreams (Part 1)

My dreams are shot in graphic HD.

A couple of nights ago I had a sinfully charged sexually provocative dream, the kind that blunts your morning and sticks with you during the day. It was the kind of dream that makes you think, “now where in the world did that come from?” Try as I might, I simply couldn’t shake it off. (And just so you don’t mistake me for some throwback Victorian prude allergic to sex, I’m a happily married man of 20 years with five children who enjoys the gifts of my wife, marriage and, yes, sex. Just to be clear.)

Later in the evening as I was lying in bed thinking about the day, I remembered something I read in Richard Baxter’s Christian Directory. (I previously wrote an introduction to the book here). In Part 1 (Christian Ethics), chapter 8, “Directions for the Government Against the Passions” part 7 “Directions Against Sinful Dreams,” Baxter provides seven practical “directions,” i.e. strong suggestions, for how to deal with sinful dreams.

In part one of this three-part post, I’ll focus on Baxter’s introduction and potential causes for sinful dreams. Part two will address directives 1-4, concluding with part three, directives 5-7.  Where necessary, I’ll modify Baxter’s 17th century langauge for present day readability.

Even if your imagination–conscious or not–isn’t as actively vivid as mine, Baxter provides surprisingly wise counsel about how to better manage and understand your dreams in a God-glorifying way.

Baxter begins:

“Dreams are neither good or sinful simply in themselves, because they are not rational and voluntary, nor in our power; but they are often made sinful by some other voluntary act: they may be made sinful by participation and consequently the acts that make them sinful, are either such as go before, or such as follows after:

1. Before the dream: The antecedent causes are any sinful act which disturbs the body, or any sin which inclines the fantasy and mind, or the omission of what was necessary to prevent them.

2. After the dream: The causes which afterwards make them objectively sinful are the ill uses that people make of them, i.e. as when they take their dreams to be divine revelations, or trust to them, or are frightened by them as ominous, or as prophetical and make them the ground of their actions, and seduce themselves by the phantasms of their own brains.”

Next: Part 2 of “Puritan Advice Regarding Sinful Dreams”

Puritan Help for 21st Century Conflict (Part 3)

See Puritan Help for 21st Century Conflict (Part 2). The following excerpts on how to cultivate peace and deal with conflict are from Richard Baxter’s A Christian Directory.

9. Buy Peace

Buy peace at the price of any thing which is not better than it.

You must often part with your right for peace, and to put up wrongs in word or deed. Money must not be thought  too dear to buy it, when the loss of it will be worse than the loss of money….

He is no friend of peace, that will no have it except when it is cheap.

10.  Watch Your Criticism

Avoid censoriousness [i.e. the tendency to be overly critical] which is the judging of people or matters that you have no call to meddle with, and the making of matters worse than sufficient proof will warrant you.

Censorious persons are the great dividers of the church, and everywhere adversaries to peace while they open their mouths wide against their neighbors, to make the worst of all that they say and do, and  thus sow the seeds of discord amongst all.

11. Be Upfront

Neither talk against people behind their backs, nor patiently hearken to them that use it.

If you have anything to say against your neighbor, tell it to him in a friendly manner to his face, that he may be the better for it. If you tell it only to another, to make him odious, to listen to backbiters that defame people secretly, you show that your business is not to do good, but to diminish love and peace.

12. Emphasize the Good

Speak more of the good than of the evil which is in others.

There are none so bad as to have no good in them. Why don’t you mention that which is more useful to the hearer than to hear of someone’s faults?

13. Know Your Neighbor

Don’t be strangers, but instead be lovingly familiar with your neighbors.

Among any honest, well-meaning persons, familiarity is a great reconciler.

It is nearness that must make them friends.

14. (Don’t) Keep Your Distance

Come as near  to them as you can. Don’t run away from them, lest you run towards the opposite extreme.

15. Be Flexible

Don’t be overly stiff in your own opinions, as those that can yield in nothing to another. Nor yet so facile and yielding as to betray or lose the truth.

It greatly pleases a proud person’s mind when you seem to be convinced by him, and to change your mind because of his arguments, or to be much informed and edified by him. But when you deny this honor to his understanding, and contradict him, and stiffly maintain your opinion against him, you displease and lose him.

A wise person should gladly learn of any that can teach him more, and should most easily, more than anyone else, let go of an error. And he will be most thankful to anyone that will increase his knowledge–not only in errors to change one’s mind, but in small and indifferent things to submit to silence, is typical of a modest, peaceable person.

16. Wage War

Impiis me diis ecclesiae paci condulere, was one of the three means which Luther foretold would cast out the gospel. [And if you can translate that into Latin, have at it!]

**Monday’s post: Preparing for Advent

Puritan Help for 21st Century Conflict (Part 2)

For an introduction to the series, read Puritan Help for 21st Century Conflict (Part 1). The following excerpts on how to cultivate peace and deal with conflict are from Richard Baxter’s A Christian Directory.

1.  Humble Yourself

Get your own hearts in a humble frame; and abhor all the motions of pride and self exalting.

His language will be submissive; his patience great; he is content that others go before him; he is not offended that another is preferred. A low mind is pleased in a low condition.

A proud person’s opinion must always go for truth…to be slighted or crossed seems to him an unsufferable wrong.

2.  Don’t Covet, but Be Content

Be not covetous lovers of the world, but be contented with your daily bread.

Ambitious and covetous persons must have so much room, that the world is not wide enough for many of them…[they are like] boys in the winter nights, when the bedclothes are too narrow to cover them; one pulls, and another pulls, and all complain.

3.  Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

You can bear with great faults in yourselves, and never fall out with yourselves for them; but with your neighbors you are quarrelling for those that are less. Do you fall out with another because he has spoken dishonorably or slightly of you, or slandered you, or some way done you wrong? You have done a thousand timers worse than all that against yourselves, and yet can bear too patiently with yourselves!

But all this you do against yourselves (even more than all the devils in hell do) and yet you  are too little offended with yourselves. See here the power of blind self-love! If you loved  your neighbors as yourselves, you would agree as peaceably with your neighbors almost as with yourselves. Love them more, and you will bear more with them, and provoke them less.

4.  Be Gentle and Meek

Compose your minds to Christian gentleness and meekness, and suffer not passion to make you either turbulent and unquiet to others, or impatient and troublesome to yourselves. A gentle and quiet mind hath a gentle, quiet tongue. It can bear as much wrong as another can do….a passionate person is frequently provoking or provoked.

Bid but a neighbor speak some hard speeches of him, or one of his family neglect or cross him, and he is presently like the raging sea, whose waves cast up the mire and dirt.

If you do not in patience possess your souls, they will be at the mercy of everyone that hath a mind to vex you.

He that loses his own peace is likely to break the peace of others.

5.  God Appoints Government [i.e. in families, churches, schools, etc.]

If you will break this vessel, peace will flow out and be quickly spilt.

Take heed therefore of any thing which would dissolve these bonds.

6.  Watch Your Mouth

Avoid all revengeful and provoking words.

Christianity is so much for peace, that it hates all that is against it.

7.  Think Twice Before Entering a Dispute

Engage not yourselves too forwardly or eagerly in disputes, nor at any time without necessity. And when necessity calls you, set an extraordinary watch upon your passions. Though disputing is lawful, and sometimes necessary to defend the truth, yet it is seldom the way of doing good to those whom you dispute with. It engages people in partiality, and passionate, provoking words…they think they are pleading for the truth, they are militating for the honor of their own understanding.

The servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle to all people.

8.  Mind Your Own Business

Have as little to do with people, in matters which their commodity is concerned in, as you can.

See Puritan Help for 21st Century Conflict (Part 3)

Puritan Help for 21st Century Conflict (Part 1)

In the land of “Minnesota Nice,” October 1, 2013 is a day that betrayed my state’s moniker. Yes, it’s the day the U.S. government shut down because of pointed differences with Obamacare. But it’s also the same day that Osmo Vänskä resigned as beloved conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra, a position he’s held since 2003. Vänskä’s resignation follows a bitter year-long lockout between the Minnesota Orchestra board and musicians. After the board cancelled the highly anticipated Carnegie Hall concerts, Vänskä walked. Both parties fault the other while music lovers fight disillusionment as we witness the jarring dismantling of a prominent orchestra. For the birthplace of Prince, Bob Dylan, the Andrews Sisters and Judy Garland, Vänskä’s departure, even though he’s from Finland, is quite a blow to our Scandinavian psyche.

Which, oddly enough, brings me to Richard Baxter.

Baxter is a Puritan from the 1600’s who wrote a massive (nearly 1000 pages), yet massively helpful, imgres-1book called A Christian Directory. It was re-released in 1990 with a money-Foreword by J.I. Packer, who wrote, “It is the fullest, most thorough, and in this writer’s judgment, most profound treatment of Christian spirituality and standards that has ever been attempted by an English-speaking Evangelical author.” The book’s front cover includes an endorsement by then relatively unknown pastor Tim Keller, who had just planted Redeemer Presbyterian Church, asserting that A Christian Directory is “the greatest manual on Biblical counseling ever produced.” High praise, indeed.

But (you ask), how does Baxter’s A Christian Directory relate to the U.S. government shutdown and the Minnesota Orchestra lockout? Yes, filthy lucre is central to both stories, but both dilemmas can be summed up in one pregnant word:

Conflict.

Conflict, originating from the Latin meaning “to strike together,” even sounds awful to say. Chances are imgresyou’re dealing with conflict right now, whether in your family, job, church, neighborhood, or with a friend. Maybe you’re experiencing conflict in every key relationship imaginable. When that happens, life seems unbearable. Believe me, I know from firsthand experience. I wish I was writing as someone with a great track record for handling conflict in God-glorifying ways. But all too often I don’t. I need help in better dealing  with, anticipating, or even preventing conflict altogether. It’s an area in my life where I need to grow.

Yet conflict is not reserved exclusively for embittered politicians or musicians. We all experience it in various degrees. But whether you’re presently embroiled in conflict, or to better  prepare you to manage, or even avoid unnecessary strife, Richard Baxter’s A Christian Directory can help.

One of the book’s sections, “Christian Politics,” includes chapter 13, “Directions for Keeping Peace with all Men,” containing 16 practical directives on how to keep peace with everyone. It’s surprisingly practical, even for the 21st century.

This post is merely the kickoff to Baxter’s 16 “conflict directives.” Part 2 will cover directives 1-8, while Part 3 will cover directives 9-16. My aim is to bring Baxter’s helpful counsel on how to better, and more biblically, handle conflict for us today. When necessary, I’ll update Baxter’s archaic 1600’s King James English to modern vernacular, as well as incorporate brevity.

Baxter’s A Christian Directory is available for free on Kindle (although, regrettably, it doesn’t contain Packer’s Foreword).

See “Puritan Help for 21st Century Conflict” (Part 2)

See also “Puritan Advice Regarding Sinful Dreams” (Part 1)