Saturday, August 25, 2012

History Lessons

I am under a deadline.
My book club meets this coming Thursday and I need to finish reading the current selection so that I can fully participate in the discussion.
There is a second deadline I need to keep in mind, as the copy I am using belongs to the library, which sets due dates.  I have already had that deadline extended and am determined to finish the read within the six weeks that I will have had it in my possession!

The book is not a quick read.  It is interesting, but not quite a page turner.  However, it is a story that I want to see to its end.  All four hundred and seventy-one pages!
It is the biography of Henry Ward Beecher and is entitled, "The Most Famous Man in America," by Debby Applegate.
The most endearing part of the book is the author's loving appreciation for her husband, which she expresses in the acknowledgements.

As for the story itself; I am getting quite the education.
Though the story revolves around the Reverend Beecher, who happens to be brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe, it gives an interesting glimpse into a number of subjects.

The Reverend was raised in the home of a Puritan minister.  His father was very rigid in his religious beliefs.  The man's instinct as a father was to love his children, however, there was a great struggle between that desire and that which he believed was the Christian way.

The first ten years or so of our subject's life was spent in Litchfield, Connecticut.  Ms. Applegate drew a somber picture of what it was like to not only live in a Puritan's home, but in a community that was entrenched in Puritanism.
I live in New England and have often wondered over the New England spirit.  This book has given me a greater understanding of the foundational influence that lies beneath this chunk of the United States.

The story does not confine itself to this area, but follows the Beecher's to Ohio and Indiana and then back East to New York where Reverend Beecher spent the majority of his life ministering to the Plymouth Church congregation in Brooklyn.
I use the word ministering loosely here.
He struggled to walk the talk, as he did not understand that the power and help were both available to him.

The author does not use a minimal approach to the larger picture of the times in which the man lived.
We are given a picture of the expansion of the United States, the political and social climate, as well as the Civil War in full color.

These past few years a number of books have found their way into my hands that have portrayed a clearer, fuller picture of our national heritage, as well as the way that generations have interpreted the Christian faith.

What I have learned regarding my nation, as well as all others, is that politics has always been dirty and power has always tended to corrupt.

As far as how Christianity has been understood through the ages, the difference is found in whether we embrace it as a religion or a relationship.

Jeremiah Chapter Seventeen, verse Nine was true when it was penned and continues to ring true to this day.
"The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?"
Without a vibrant, personal relationship with our God and Savior we will end up stumbling over our flesh.
In all areas of our lives.

The Reverend did, as well as many others.

Something Jesus said, which I had often wondered over, comes to mind.  It is found in the Gospel of Matthew's Seventh verse, the Thirteenth and Fourteenth verses.
"Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it.  For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it."
I heard a speaker once use an analogy of landing a plane to give an understanding to this text.  A pilot cannot land his plane just anywhere he chooses.  He must land on the landing strip.
Likewise there is only one way to our God and that way is Jesus.  And we enter alone, one at a time, thus the way is narrow.

There is more to it for me.
The picture of a narrow gate keeps things simple.  In Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress the extras actually were a hindrance to entering.

How many believe in Jesus for their salvation, but think this great gift comes with a to do list?
Oh, to be sure to be in relationship with Jesus is to be on an adventure with Him.  An adventure that can keep us pretty busy!
The key is the together part.
Jesus and me.
Jesus and you.

A friend shared a copy of a message by a very alive preacher with me that Papa used to refresh me and remind me of that which I know to be true.
The Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of God dwells within me.  Jesus promised He would send His Spirit and He did!
The Spirit and I are meant to enjoy a relationship that grows deeper and deeper.
When I focus on this truth and remember to recognize His Presence I am bowled over by His love.
Every time!

This Spirit is the One who gives me discernment and guides my every step.  I can rely upon Him and walk in the freedom of that trust.

That is the life that we are to find when we enter that narrow gate.
Often we rob ourselves of this joy and power by denying His Presence and thinking we need to conjure up the strength, power and wisdom to live right all by ourselves.

That sadly is the path that Reverend Henry Ward Beecher chose.  He wasn't alone in his generation and equally sad is the fact that so many of each ensuing generation have taken that same path.

Jesus Words in the Tenth chapter of John, the Tenth verse say,
"The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly."
It is a sad thought to think that we would miss out on that life abundant when it is in us the whole time!

David got it and proclaimed in Psalm Thirty-Six,
"For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light."

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