And the Egyptians Lived Happily Ever After

JMW Turner, The Fifth Plague of Egypt

If anyone’s the evil oppressor in the Bible, it’s the Egyptians, right? So the moral of the Story is that the Egyptians will get what’s coming to them, right?

Thus, after all, saith Isaiah:

The burden of Egypt. Behold, the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it. And I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians: and they shall fight every one against his brother, and every one against his neighbour; city against city, and kingdom against kingdom. … And the Egyptians will I give over into the hand of a cruel lord; and a fierce king shall rule over them, saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts. And the waters shall fail from the sea, and the river shall be wasted and dried up. … In that day shall Egypt be like unto women: and it shall be afraid and fear because of the shaking of the hand of the Lord of hosts, which He shaketh over it. And the land of Judah shall be a terror unto Egypt, every one that maketh mention thereof shall be afraid in himself, because of the counsel of the Lord of hosts, which He hath determined against it.

Isaiah 19.1-2, 4-5, 16-17

But then comes what poets call the volta—the turn:

In that day shall there be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to the Lord. And it shall be for a sign and for a witness unto the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt: for they shall cry unto the Lord because of the oppressors, and He shall send them a saviour, and a great one, and He shall deliver them. And the Lord shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation; yea, they shall vow a vow unto the Lord, and perform it. And the Lord shall smite Egypt: He shall smite and heal it: and they shall return even to the Lord, and He shall be intreated of them, and shall heal them. In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians. In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land: whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel Mine inheritance.

Isaiah 19.19-25

The masters become the slaves. The taskmasters are given over into the hand of a cruel lord. Justice is served. End of Story. Right?

Not quite. “Mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” The Lord shall smite Egypt, yes: The Lord shall smite and heal Egypt. Because the people of Egypt—like the people of every other nation—are the Lord’s and the work of the Lord’s hands.

The Winsomeness of Jesus

Manuscript Study: Sermon on the Mount — Resurrection Philadelphia

Our Master was his own Gospel. Men came to Him one by one attracted by the winsomeness of Jesus. He spake, of course, as never man spake, and He was as never man was, and … he reversed our ordinary experience about our human ideals. The nearer we draw to an individual, as a rule the more plainly we see the flaws and the crevices in his character; but the nearer men drew to Jesus the more His faultless excellence declared itself; they were drawn to Him, they hardly knew why, with a reverence and a devotion unexampled in the history of the world.

RJ Campbell, City Temple Sermons

Haint Blue Sunday

Beautiful old porch swing! | Porch swing, Country porch ...

If my Pappy had known, he’d have sat me down

out on the porch that haint blue Sunday

(not on the swing—in the slatback chair) and said,

“You are not a snail, young man.

You are a human being.

You won’t ever reach Bethlehem

by slouching sluggishly towards it—

you gotta run, son, till you’re good

and dead, and then Bethlehem will come to you.

The carpetbaggers will enter the kingdom

of God before the footdraggers”—

or a walk through the crooked churchyard

where the red cedars and the little ones sleep:

“Son, you are not a woman

or a child. You are a young man,

the heir of a granite yeomanry

which carved a nation out of wilderness

and ate blue fire. Be not afraid—

cowardice is the only eternal sin,

and the only way out is through”—

or kneeling at my bedside

and whispering through my doldrum dreams:

“You are a darling child of God

and you are a darling child of mine

and you are loved clean through”—

But I never did tell him.

There Is No Such Thing as a Waste of Time

Janus and Public-Sector Innovation - The Atlantic

We liked wasting time, but almost nothing was more annoying than having our wasted time wasted on something not worth wasting it on.

Joshua Ferris, Then We Came to the End

And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

Colossians 3.17

Many things feel like a waste of time. My, uh, housemates expect me to do certain chores which in my view are obvious wastes of time. (Which chores, you ask? Ha!) But I had a realization the other day: Nothing is a waste of time unless I allow it to become one.

Why? Because literally anything can be an opportunity to become more Christlike—more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, gentle, faithful, self-controlled—and becoming more Christlike is never a waste of time. Even (and perhaps especially!) life’s annoyances are opportunities to grow, because it is precisely life’s annoyances that teach us patience and every other virtue. Anything that comes our way can refine and strengthen us. So no life experience has to be useless.

For better or for worse, it’s not physically possible to work towards any earthly goal literally all the time. We can’t work out or study for the MCAT or [insert earthly goal here] 24/7. But we can become more like Jesus 24/7 (though of course it’s hardly natural or easy to do so). And the more we look at annoyances, inconveniences, obstacles, trials, and tribulations as opportunities to become more like Jesus, the happier, healthier, and holier we’ll be.

No doubt, the change in mindset from “This is a waste of time” to “This is an opportunity for me to grow and become more like Jesus” is not one I’ve mastered. (The art of living is hard to master!) But it is one I’ve been keeping in mind the past few days, and it’s already started to pay tiny dividends in who I am.

And what could be more valuable than that? If I have love, joy, peace, and all the other virtues—all the other qualities of Jesus—what more could I want or need?

Happy New Year, readers! I’m thankful for all of you. My 2022 thought: There is no such thing as a waste of time.

No Profit Under the Sun

Mansion ruins by SkyCam on DeviantArt

I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity. I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it? I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life. I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits: I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees: I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me: I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts. So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 2.1-11

There Are No Peasants Now

“The faith of the majority of educated people of our day,” Tolstoy observes, “was expressed by the word ‘progress.’ It then appeared to me that this word meant something. I did not as yet understand that, being tormented (like every vital man) by the question how it is best for me to live, in my answer, ‘Live in conformity with progress,’ I was like a man in a boat who when carried along by wind and waves should reply to what for him is the chief and only question, ‘Whither to steer,’ by saying, ‘We are being carried somewhere.'”
There has been no advance beyond this position since Tolstoy’s day.

Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God

Quite the opposite:

Tolstoy began to recover himself at the point where he realized that “I and a few hundred similar people are not the whole of mankind, and that I did not yet know the life of mankind.” He could observe the mass of persons, the peasants, who in the most miserable of conditions found life deeply meaningful and even sweet. They had not heard about “particles and progress.” But this is no longer possible. The peasants now watch TV and constantly consume media. There are no peasants now.

There are, however, godly men and women now—as there have always been and always will be. They are easily found by those who wish to find them.

(Related.)

Jolly Beggars

#lord of the rings from Lord of the Rings Scenery

All those expressions of unworthiness which Christian practice puts into the believer’s mouth seem to the outer world like the degraded and insincere grovellings of a sycophant before a tyrant…. In reality, however, they express the continually renewed, because continually necessary, attempt to negate that misconception of ourselves and of our relation to God which nature, even while we pray, is always recommending to us. No sooner do we believe that God loves us than there is an impulse to believe that He does so, not because He is Love, but because we are intrinsically lovable. … [D]epth beneath depth and subtlety within subtlety, there remains some lingering idea of our own, our very own, attractiveness. It is easy to acknowledge, but almost impossible to realise for long, that we are mirrors whose brightness, if we are bright, is wholly derived from the sun that shines upon us. Surely we must have a little—however little—native luminosity? Surely we can’t be quite creatures?

For this tangled absurdity of a Need … which never fully acknowledges its own neediness, Grace substitutes a full, child-like and delighted acceptance of our Need, a joy in total dependence. We become “jolly beggars”. The good man is sorry for the sins which have increased his Need. He is not entirely sorry for the fresh Need they have produced. … For all the time this illusion to which nature clings as her last treasure, this pretence that we have anything of our own or could for one hour retain by our own strength any goodness that God may pour into us, has kept us from being happy. We have been like bathers who want to keep their feet—or one foot—or one toe—on the bottom, when to lose that foothold would be to surrender themselves to a glorious tumble in the surf. The consequences of parting with our last claim to intrinsic freedom, power, or worth, are real freedom, power and worth, really ours just because God gives them and because we know them to be (in another sense) not “ours”. Anodos has got rid of his shadow.

CS Lewis, The Four Loves

Peak Spirituality

This is the ideal male body. You may not like it, but this is what peak  performance looks like. - Imgflip

Socrates: “It is a disgrace to grow old through sheer carelessness before seeing what manner of man you may become by developing your bodily strength and beauty to their highest limit.”

A lot of people (including me!) have thought long and hard about how to achieve peak physical performance. Everyone’s optimizing for something, and whatever it is—strength, health, beauty, talent, knowledge, GPA, income, status, fame—there’s an app for that, and lots of freely available advice on the Internet (some of which is even good!).

When we try to optimize for things like wealth, health, and beauty, we structure our lives in specific ways that are usually very easy to recognize. Everyone pretty much knows what it looks like to optimize for wealth, health, or beauty; everyone knows lots of people who optimize for those things.

What about spirituality? What would it look like to achieve peak spiritual performance? And lest that question seem too performance-based: What would it look like to achieve optimal closeness to God?

Could we even recognize a life that optimized for such a thing? Could we even know what such a life would look like? And if we could, would we—would I—be genuinely willing to pursue it?

Wonderment and Open Contempt

A Black Friday reflection, perhaps:

The very Nazis look at you with wonderment and an open contempt! For even they are sure that to live for nothing higher than oneself is to lose life; that life, to be called life, can be found only in serving something bigger than one’s personal interests; something that crowds these out of mind and heart, till one forgets about them and lives wholly, and without exception, for that other, worthier thing…. It is long since Aristotle told us that only barbarians have as their ideal the wish to live as they please, and to do what they like. And the New Testament gravely sets us down before the Cross, and bids us gaze, and still gaze, and keep gazing, till the fact has soaked itself into our minds that that, not less than that, is now the standard set us, and that whatever in our lives clashes with that is sin.

AJ Gossip, Experience Worth Hope

None of That Dark Brown Feeling

Fulton Sheen beatification tickets available starting Friday | CIProud.com

Meditation effects far more profound changes in us than resolutions to “do better”; we cannot keep evil thoughts out of our minds unless we put good ones in their place. Supernature, too, abhors a vacuum. In meditation one does not drive sin out of his life; he crowds it out with love of God and neighbor. Our lives do not then depend on the principle of avoiding sin, which is a tiresome job, but on living constantly in the climate of Divine Love. Meditation, in a word, prevents defeat where defeat is final: in the mind. In that silence where God is, false desires steal away. If we meditate before we go to bed, our last thought at night will be our first in the morning. There will be none of that dark brown feeling with which some men face a meaningless day; and in its place will be the joy of beginning another morning of work in Christ’s Name. 

Fulton Sheen