Add To Your Knowledge – Self-Control

I could write a lot about self-control.

I have certainly been considering it carefully in the last few days and even in preparation for this blog entry I had a whole lot to write about the matter. Things like a proposal that the enemy of self-control is self-indulgence. Things like how self-control isn’t about willpower or doing anything myself, but actually being Spirit-led to keep the self in check. Things like how self-control might be viewed as a negative thing when strung along with words like ‘moderation’, ‘temperance’, ‘self-restraint’ and ‘self-denial’ – but that’s probably saying more about the condition of our heart than it is about the nature of those terms.

Lots more that I could write about self-control. Maybe one day I will share some of those things, but it was great to come across a video by a preacher called Josh Harris who put together a wonderful scenario connecting the issue of self-control and what can get in the way of it.

I hope you’ll enjoy it and come from it challenged and reinvigorated to see self-control for what it is – the means by which we really can make the most of the time we have to enjoy true eternal riches applied in every day life and not slip into desperate spiritual poverty.

This way, we won’t be ineffective and unproductive in knowing Jesus – who to know is life eternal.

For His Name’s Sake

Shalom

C. L. J. Dryden

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Add To Your Goodness – Knowledge

Ahhhhhhh knowledge. Good things said about it. Bad things said about it. It’s worth knowing what kind of knowledge Peter is talking about here. Thankfully, Peter starts and finishes this letter with exactly the kind of knowledge he’s talking about.

I loved the accumulation of information back in the day. In fact to be fair, I still enjoy it. You gain a lot of information about something and it’s not unreasonable to think you the something. Life has taught me in the context of critical relationships, that the accumulation of information about someone isn’t really going to do much to improve that relationship. It’s not the accumulation of information, it’s the wise use of all you have to invest in the relationship that makes a difference. Intimacy is found in that desire and pursuit of wanting to love Him for who He reveals Himself to be. That is not a mental pursuit alone. It’s not just about the emotions and feelings. This is a whole-being completely captivated with the desire to truly know the other.

Peter’s invitation at the beginning and ending of the letter is that we grow in knowing Him. So it makes sense in the light of the foundation of faith and the pursuit of moral excellence that this is sourced in a desire to know Him. We connect by faith, we reflect in His virtue and then we pursue Him through knowledge. That kind of knowledge that is about the desire to truly relate to this beautiful Saviour full of grace for us to grow in.

For His Name’s Sake

Shalom

C. L. J. Dryden

Add To Your Faith – Goodness

In pursuit of moral excellence.

Courtesy of Lucas Favre @ Unsplash.com

I have come across either in reading or in conversation the issue of virtues and vices. I hear it mentioned casually that everyone needs to have their vice. Their little bit of naughtiness as a release. Their own little foible or flaw that they indulge in. They know they shouldn’t, but it’s so irresistible and ironically it feels so good.

Where does that come from? I suspect it might be sourced in our declaration of independence from God in the act of disobedience that lead to the human condition that is fundamentally flawed. There is certainly a knowledge of the good. There is definitely an acknowledgement of the preference for the good. There is clearly an understanding of a sense of upset when wrong takes place. For all that, however, in establishing the good, there is also a concession that we don’t pursue it, we cannot live up to it and perhaps a resignation to just do the best we can muddling from virtue to vice. It’s as if having the knowledge of good and evil has only oriented our hearts away from the pursuit of the good.

Peter’s encouragement in his letter is to add to our faith goodness. The connection we have to God in Christ by faith should allow us to be in pursuit of goodness, of virtue or moral excellence. That still sounds radical and it is. Not just to accept our tendency to sin and indulge in that which is patently not good, but actually make it our point of duty to express the good in every aspect of our lives. It’s more than just being honest, it’s about actively pursuing what is right, true, good, pure and the best in every given situation.

Writing that out sounds exhausting. It sounds like we’re not allowed to make mistakes and have slip-ups. It will sound like that if we’re viewing it that way. Yet even that illuminates something about our natural inclinations without Christ. If we’re asking the question about where the line is of what’s allowed and what’s not, that rarely suggests that we are concerned about crossing, it does suggest that we have a tendency of veering close to the line. The pursuit of moral excellence is not even focused on the line because it’s face is not towards the dark, it’s towards the source of all that is good. If we are faced in that direction, our question is never what we can get away with, our desire is what will be pleasing and delightful in the sight of God.

When our hearts are inclined to Christ, we will have the desire to see Him living a life of moral excellence in every sphere – to friends and foe alike. We will want to see that and follow in His path. We follow Him in the Spirit, we won’t succumb to the work of the flesh that often leads us to accept moral mediocrity and then to depravity.

I am well aware that it’s not easy or always possible to live a sin-free life, to always be focused on Christ and be in pursuit of moral excellence. I am ever aware of my failings and flaws before God and before people. The love of Christ, however, never allows me to wallow in what I did. The point of grace has always been about seeing His goodness lift me to know He is able to keep me falling and keep on the path in pursuit of moral excellence.

The failing doesn’t define us. The focus should. The focus that says God has given us everything we need to live a godly life. In Christ we are connected to the one who has excelled in the good in the most authentic expression of humanity ever. He gives us the confidence and hope with each new day’s mercies that we can live in moral excellence.

It is all the more needed when we hear, see and experience the effects of fallen humanity in so many areas of our lives. Institutions hiding ugliness that is practiced as the norm. Relationships covering infidelities and disrespect. Us in our own lives struggling with those desires to yield to those vices that don’t serve us or our loved ones, but we find irresistible. The darkness is not the answer when we have those urges. Walking in the light is.

There’s a distinct invitation in following Jesus to see what life is like in the light on the individual and relational basis. That walk is one done in pursuit of moral excellence.

When we add that pursuit to our faith, we help in the process of being productive and effective in our relationship with Jesus.

For His Name’s Sake

Shalom

C. L. J. Dryden

It’s Praiseworthy

There’s quite a lot of things that get praise.

Someone sings a song on television and it gets praise. Someone scores a goal and it gets praise. Someone draws a picture and it gets praise. Someone makes a meal and it gets praise. You name it and it gets praise for it. A lot of media and popular culture is based on the praise someone or something gains, however short-lived that praise is.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes that praise is more than deserved.

Yet contemplating on the concept of something being praiseworthy can nudge me to something more. Something praiseworthy is something that lifts me and also something that lifts my awareness of something of higher value.

Of the many things that are indeed praiseworthy, there is nothing that causes me to soar and climb higher than beholding the amazing love that created all things. Seeing that love displayed in pursuit of a creature that rejected and rebelled against its Creator.  Seeing that love rescue people from oppressive slavery and express relentless faithful love despite time and again getting faithless adultery in response. Seeing that love come in human form and show what humanity was really about. Seeing that love heal, restore, teach and build those who were once rebels now becoming sons. Seeing that love on a cross to score the greatest victory in all creation. Seeing that love rise triumphantly conquering death and sin and inviting others to follow in the way of love – true godly love – that sets people free to serve each other as the ruler of this love is established on earth as it always has been in heaven.

That – and that alone above all things is worthy of everlasting praise.

For His Name’s Sake

Shalom

C. L. J. Dryden

 

It’s Excellent

It’s Excellent: Opening

I was sharing with someone I have the honour of tutoring that there two ways to approach learning. Learning to pass or learning to love.

For some it’s easier and more constructive to set up an environment for learners to learn to pass and where exceptional students are found stretching them further where possible. For this to function as in a lot of areas of life, it requires standards to be in place.

When you learn to pass, you reach the standard and don’t do much to pass it. When you learn to love – by which I mean you love what you’re learning – the standard can sometimes be easily surpassed.

It’s about the joy of getting the rudimentary aspects and then seeing what can be done on top of that to develop an understanding and dynamic engagement with the subject matter. Whether that’s Maths or English, Psychotherapy or Drama, Social Care or Music. Before you know it, you realise the love of learning was never meant to be confined to academia – it is meant to impact life as we know it in that sphere of interest. That’s how the learning can become a vocation – a true calling to accomplish throughout life. It’s not a career, it’s not a job, it’s more than a pastime and money is never the primary object. Welcome to the world of excellence.

The World of Excellence in a Song

When I reflect on the call to think on whatever is excellent, I am drawn to this particular piece of music. In all likelihood it’s probably the first thing I have a recollection of that I would define as excellent. I loved the track for so many reasons and as I got older the number of reasons increased. Sitting here listening to it now, I can say without any hesitation this is excellent.

Why? First of all the lyrical content. Three words of the title at the heart of the song and repeated frequently says also a lot about the standard of excellence – it’s met by people who don’t do a half-hearted job. They are not doing something to just pass off as adequate and acceptable in any given area. This is about commitment – a life commitment to complete something thoroughly. In this context it’s about going all the way in walking with Jesus to do whatever He calls you to do. The journey of discipleship thoroughly enjoyed and thoroughly endured so that the crown of life that awaits can be worn with joy and delightfully thrown at the feet of the Saviour on His return. The lyrics are just inspired. It is excellent.

Then there’s the vocals. I am not the biggest fan of Andrae Crouch as a vocalist, but this song is where he finds his sweet spot and I loved it from beginning to end. There’s nothing about  it I disliked or thought was out of place and when he belts a high note in the bridge of the song, it’s a home run. I have heard a number of cover versions of this song by some pretty decent vocalists who don’t hit it like he hits it on this song. Then I consider the harmonies from the strong males at the beginning to the beautifully blended harmonies taking this commitment thing to the next level at the bridge. The arrangement of the vocals and their role in taking us through the song is masterful and it just sounds like something carefully crafted in the studio so that it could just sound so right – from the dedication and forward thrust to the driving commitment to keep going at the end as it fades. Lead vocals, backing vocals, superbly arranged. It is excellent.

What about the instrumental contribution? Wowsers. I could spend a good hour or so raving about the funky bass driving this song and the electric guitar that plays a riff at the beginning and pops up throughout the song to buzz in the ear with that insistent riff – it’s joy. That bass is something, that electric guitar is something. Later in life I had a brief stint learning and playing the drums and I know this song had a major part in the reason why. Folks might think it’s relatively easy to do it, but then you try it and have to keep the beat as well as the little flourishes here and there and to keep that going is no easy feat at all. The keyboards decorate this piece even more than the icing and cherry does on the world’s second greatest dessert the Cherry Bakewell Tart (we all know a the triple chocolate cake gets top spot). There’s a mood to the piece that those blessed keyboards guide us through with such consummate ease that it might give you the impression it can be done – but then try it for yourself and realise – this is not all that easy at all. Brilliantly done, though. Then they had the thought to slap a string group in there. I mean, the strings on this piece are such a delight to hear with their cut and thrust inserts before giving a more flowing and humming contribution. This entire musical ensemble just sounded beyond music to my ears. It is excellent.

This brief tribute to the song barely scratches the surface of just why this piece of music is excellent. Doesn’t touch on the hours I can imagine spent in the studio recording and editing making sure the parts fitted perfectly and that the final piece would sound like the gorgeous soundfest it does from a decent set of speakers. All those production values, all that talent, all that investment to produce just over five minutes of listening pleasure that turned a little boy onto loving music so long ago.

Excellence Yesterday, Today and Beyond

Over thirty years later, when I think about excellence, sure I think about Daniel and his brilliance in Babylonian court. Yeah I certainly think about how Joseph prospered in whatever state he found himself in because of that commitment to excellence. Yep, I am reminded of the beauty of Esther in the court of Xerxes and how her commitment to a character of similar excellence saved her people and also gave the opportunity for her Uncle Mordecai to likewise play an integral part in playing a positive influence in the political administration.

For sure, I definitely think about the Ark, the Tabernacle and the Temple which are architectural constructs that were never anything less that magnificent in build and purpose at the outset. I don’t have to go long before thinking of the entire ministry of Jesus on the earth and how excellence ran through it with consistency from the way He lead His disciples to the way He organised folks at His teaching, even to how He had the foresight to prepare a brilliant final meal with His disciples before being crucified.

I have been privileged to witness excellence in my brother and his music and writing. I’ve observed excellence in my wife’s commitment to prayer, intercession and helping others. I’ve watched excellence flow from brothers and sisters doing things from setting up halls with the chairs to writing correspondence to hospitality to serving those on the margins of society.

All of those element and more I think of when I think about excellence. I also think about this song, though and how it was my first introduction to that concept and how since then it propels and stimulates me to employ excellence in what I do.

When it comes to the call of God on my life, I’m not looking to learn to pass, I’m looking to learn to love, because it’s right there that I know I will excel.

For His Name’s Sake

Shalom

C. L. J. Dryden

It’s Right

One of the things I love to hear is people say, “That’s right.”

Why do I love it?

When things are not right, when there is that little bit that kinda spoils it. When there is that element that just makes the something off-putting, it is not a pleasant experience.

To dwell on that which is right is often an exercise in enjoying that which is worthy of applause, satisfaction and admiration. Even if that which is right leaves you in an awkward position (because you are in the wrong) there can still be an acceptance that at least the right way has been established.

Many think they know what is right, only to be shown how wrong they were, but far better to experience that and have a turnaround than to keep on going in a direction that will end in misery.

One of the reasons I love following Jesus is because He not only shows what right is, He lives it out Himself. His way of living it continues to fascinate and challenge exactly because it turns a lot of the norm that were accepted as right on its head and says that there is a way to know the right and rejoice in it for the change it makes to those formerly in the wrong.

To consider His way of life is to consider what’s right and think on those things helps us not to be left with what is wrong, but be able to join in the chorus of saints throughout the ages who look at the wonders of God in Christ Jesus and say,

“That’s right.”

For His Name’s Sake

Shalom

C. L. J. Dryden

It’s True

 

True. I love the Greek meaning of the word looking at it being unconcealed – nothing hidden – it is as plain as day. It reminds me of the state of humanity before the fall – naked and not ashamed.

My upbringing had a lot to do with making a big deal of what was true. On reflection I think we were right to have a pursuit of the true. It’s sad, however, that looking for the true was left on its own – not the truth in love, or truth, justice and mercy. The true  was left on its own as though it could be and as a result what was true became more about point-scoring than actually revelling in the unconcealed. Knowing what was true was enough for its own sake, as a way’ of getting one up on those who didn’t see it your way.

Since those days I have been around environments where what is true isn’t valued as highly as preferable alternatives like what the mood of the day is, what’s the going trend, what’s the breeze of teaching that’s passing by and what’s the culture picking up as a favourable stance to take. As a result some mistake grace for an allowance and active tolerance of falsehood. Nothing could be further from the truth. A good purpose of grace is giving the environment in which the quest for the true can take place.

Really embracing what is true and especially if the foundations are based on what is true then that will lead to the one who personifies the True and announced Himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life. Reaffirming again that to look for what is true is not just about statements of facts but living engagement with the bigger picture that those facts point towards.

Even in some of the circles I hang around in, it’s easy to relax that quest for what is true overall to just stick to what’s been the going thing for a while. It is very convenient to just go with the flow and not upset the rhythm some people have developed on various issues. Yet at this time in my life, more than ever before, I don’t just want to be lead by my gut or my conscience, or even long held convictions – I want something even deeper than that which is found in that life-giving relationship with the One who embodies what is True.

If that means not going with the flow, as long as I remain with Him, I will find contentment. If it means not making progress as others would perceive it, as long as I remain with Him, I will find contentment. I know what the alternative is like, I know what it is to be a man-pleaser and jump through the hoops life has presented and all the time dying a little inside, because I knew for all the good intent behind some of those flows, it just didn’t match up to what was true.

I am not as uptight on this matter as I have been before. Another aspect of grace is that it leaves me desirous to engage other people in exploring issues, but not getting distraught if they don’t end up believing what I believe. That grace and patience is as much about growing and learning through the experiences and developing more grace and patience as it is for the hope that people will explore for themselves the importance of what is true.

One thing is for certain, the quest for the true is worthwhile – it would be tragic to let time pass by in other pursuits only to end up missing the point because the aim just wasn’t true.

(Photo: Unsplash)

For His Name’s Sake

Shalom

C. L. J. Dryden