Friday, December 28, 2012

Evangelion


The root meaning of the term evangelion [gospel] would today best be translated "revolution." Originally it is not a religious or a personal term at all, but a secular one: "good news." But evangelion is not just any welcome piece of information, it is news which impinges upon the fate of the community. "Good news" is the report brought by a runner to a Greek city, that a distant battle has been won, preserving their freedom; or that a son has been born to the king, assuring a generation of political stability. "Gospel" is good news having seriously to do with the people's welfare.... whatever it is that God is about to do, it will be good news for the poor, bad news for the proud and the rich; it will be change, including changed economic and social relations.
John Howard Yoder

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Discretion

From the additional notes to Charkes Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, Psalm 112:

Verse 5. Discretion. There is a story, concerning divers ancient Fathers, that they came to St. Anthony, enquiring of him, what virtue did by a direct line lead to perfection, that so a man might shun the snares of Satan. He bade every one of them speak his opinion; one said, watching and sobriety; another said, fasting and discipline; a third said, humble prayer; a fourth said, poverty and obedience; and another, piety and works of mercy; but when every one had spoken his mind, his answer was, That all these were excellent graces indeed, but discretion was the chief of them all. And so beyond doubt it is; being the very Auriga virtutum, the guide of all virtuous and religious actions, the moderator and orderer of all the affections; for whatsoever is done with it is virtue, and what without it is vice. An ounce of discretion is said to be worth a pound of learning. As zeal without knowledge is blind, so knowledge without discretion is lame, like a sword in a madman's hand, able to do much, apt to do nothing. Tolle hanc et virtus vitium erit. He that will fast must fast with discretion, he must so mortify that he does not kill his flesh; he that gives alms to the poor, must do it with discretion, Omnipetenti non omnia petenti—to every one that doth ask, but not everything that he doth ask; so likewise pray with discretion, observing place and time; place, lest he be reputed a hypocrite; time, lest he be accounted a heretic. Thus it is that discretion is to be made the guide of all religious performances.—Quoted by John Spencer, 1658

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Delighting in his service

From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David: psalm 112

Verse 1. In his commandments. When we cheerfully practice all that the Lord requireth of us, love sweetens all things, and it becomes our meat and drink to do his will. The thing commanded is excellent, but it is sweeter because commanded by him—"his commandments." A man is never thoroughly converted till he delighteth in God and his service, and his heart is overpowered by the sweetness of divine love. A slavish kind of religiousness, when we had rather not do than do our work, is no fruit of grace, and cannot evidence a sincere love.—Thomas Manton.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The true fear of God is filial love

From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David on Psalm 112

Verse 1. Praise ye the LORD. This exhortation is never given too often; the Lord always deserves praise, we ought always to render it, we are frequently forgetful of it, and it is always well to be stirred up to it. The exhortation is addressed to all thoughtful persons who observe the way and manner of life of men that fear the Lord. If there be any virtue, if there be any praise, the Lord should have all the glory of it, for we are his workmanship. Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord. According to the last verse of Psalm 111, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; this man, therefore, has begun to be wise, and wisdom has brought him present happiness, and secured him eternal felicity. Jehovah is so great that he is to be feared and had in reverence of all them that are round about him, and he is at the same time so infinitely good that the fear is sweetened into filial love, and becomes a delightful emotion, by no means engendering bondage. There is a slavish fear which is accursed; but that godly fear which leads to delight in the service of God is infinitely blessed. Jehovah is to be praised both for inspiring men with godly fear and for the blessedness which they enjoy in consequence thereof. We ought to bless God for blessing any man, and especially for setting the seal of his approbation upon the godly. His favour towards the God fearing displays his character and encourages gracious feelings in others, therefore let him be praised. That delighteth greatly in his commandments. The man not only studies the divine precepts and endeavours to observe them, but rejoices to do so: holiness is his happiness, devotion is his delight, truth is his treasure. He rejoices in the precepts of godliness, yea, and delights greatly in them. We have known hypocrites rejoice in the doctrines, but never in the commandments. Ungodly men may in some measure obey the commandments out of fear, but only a gracious man will observe them with delight. Cheerful obedience is the only acceptable obedience; he who obeys reluctantly is disobedient at heart, but he who takes pleasure in the command is truly loyal. If through divine grace we find ourselves described in these two sentences, let us give all the praise to God, for he hath wrought all our works in us, and the dispositions out of which they spring. Let self righteous men praise themselves, but he who has been made righteous by grace renders all the praise to the Lord.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Transforming violence


Given the levels of violence in the world today, it is hard to imagine a world in which the energies fueling militarism have been transformed into peace-building energies. Yet it is also true that it is impossible to work for something one can't even imagine. That is why the prophetic voice proclaiming the earthly peaceable kingdom is so important in each religious tradition, even though the details of the prophecy may vary. The religious imagination has suffered in the secular atmosphere of the twentieth century. Even the basic hope for a better future is jeered at as being "unrealistic." Yet that prophecy and that hope are the most precious resource of humankind, and the very capacity to imagine the other and better is ... our most completely human capacity.

Elise Boulding"Cultures of Peace and Communities of Faith" in Transforming Violence

The whole heart


From Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, additional notes on Psalm 111:

Verse 1. With my whole heart. We see the stress here laid upon a whole heart, and the want of which is the great canker of all vital godliness. Men are ever attempting to unite what the word of God has declared to be incapable of union—the love of the world and of God—to give half their heart to the world, and the other half to God. Just see the energy, the entireness of every thought and feeling and effort which a man throws into a work in which he is deeply interested; the very phrase we use to describe such an one is, that "he gives his whole mind to it." Attempt to persuade him to divert his energies and divide his time with some other pursuit, and he would wonder at the folly and the ignorance that could suggest such a method of success. "Just take a hint from Satan, "says some one; "see how he plies his powers on the individual, as if there were but that one, and as if he had nothing else to do but to ruin that one soul." It was a holy resolution of the Psalmist that he would praise God; and a wise one to add, "with thy whole heart."And we have the result of this determination in the following verses of the psalm.—Barton Bouchier.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Violence is immoral

Violence as a way of achieving ... justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends by defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. A voice echoes through time saying to every potential Peter, "Put up your sword." History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations that failed to follow this command.

Martin Luther King, Jr.Stride Toward Freedom

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Willingness

From Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, on Psalm 110. 

Verse 3. Thy people shall be willing. Willing to do what? They shall be willing while others are unwilling. The simple term "willing, "is very expressive. It denotes the beautiful condition of creatures who suffer themselves to be wrought upon, and moved, according to the will of God. They suffer God to work in them to will and to do. They are willing to die unto all sin, they are willing to crucify the old man, or self, in order that the new man, or Christ, may be formed in them. They are willing to be weaned from their own thoughts and purposes, that the thoughts and purposes of God may be fulfilled in them. They are willing to be transferred from nature's steps of human descent to God's steps of human ascent. Or, to abide by the simplicity of our text, God is Will, and they are "willing." God will beautify them with salvation, because there is nothing in them to hinder his working. They will be wise, they will be good, they will be lovely, they will be like God, for they are "willing"; and there proceeds from God a mighty spirit, the whole tendency of which is to make his creatures like himself. John Pulsford, in"Quiet Hours," 1857.

Pulsford was a prolific 19th century devotional writer; many of his books are available free online

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Indoctrination


For those who stubbornly seek freedom around the world, there can be no more urgent task than to come to understand the mechanisms and practices of indoctrination. These are easy to perceive in the totalitarian societies, much less so in the propaganda system to which we are subjected and in which all too often we serve as unwilling or unwitting instruments.

Noam Chomsky"The Responsibility of Intellectuals" in The Chomsky Reader

Putting His enemies under His footstool

From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, Psalm 110:

Verse 1. Make thine enemies thy footstool! This expression, that the conquest of Christ's enemies shall be but as the removing of a stool into its place, notes unto us two things: first, the easiness of God's victory over the enemies of Christ. They are before him as nothing, less than nothing, the drop of a bucket, the dust of the balance, a very little thing...Secondly, as this putting of Christ's enemies like a stool under the feet notes easiness, so also it notes order or beauty too. When Christ's enemies shall be under his foot, then there shall be a right order in things; then it shall indeed appear that God is a God of order, and therefore the day wherein that shall be done, is called "the times of the restitution of all things, "Ac 3:21. 

The putting of Christ's enemies under his feet is an act of justice; and of all others, justice is the most orderly virtue, that which keepeth beauty upon the face of a people, as consisting itself in symmetry and proportion. This putting of Christ's enemies as a stool under his feet, also denotes unto us two things in reference to Christ: first, his rest, and secondly, his triumph. To stand, in the Scripture phrase, denotes ministry, and to sit, rest; and there is no posture so easy as to sit with a stool under one's feet. Till Christ's enemies then be all under his feet, he is not fully in his rest. 

Furthermore, this "footstool" under Christ's feet, in reference to his enemies, denotes unto us four things. First, the extreme shame and confusion which they shall everlastingly suffer, the utter abasing and bringing down of all that exalteth itself against Christ. Secondly, hereby is noted the burden which wicked men must bear: the footstool beareth the weight of the body, so must the enemies of Christ bear the weight of his heavy and everlasting wrath upon their souls. Thirdly, herein is noted the relation which the just recompense of God bears unto the sins of ungodly men. Thus will Christ deal with his enemies at the last day. Here they trample upon Christ in his word, in his ways, in his members; they make the saints bow down for them to go over, and make them as the pavements on the ground; they tread under foot the blood of the covenant, and the sanctuary of the Lord, and put Christ to shame; but there their own measure shall be returned into their bosoms, they shall be constrained to confess as Adonibezek, "As I have done, so God hath requited me." 

Lastly, herein we may note the great power and wisdom of Christ in turning the malice and mischief of his enemies unto his own use and advantage; and so ordering wicked men that though they intend nothing but extirpation and ruin to his kingdom, yet they shall be useful unto him, and, against their own wills, serviceable to those glorious ends, in the accomplishing whereof he shall be admired by all those that believe. As in a great house there is necessary use of vessels of dishonour, destined unto sordid and mean, but yet daily, services: so in the great house of God, wicked men are his utensils and household instruments, as footstools and staves, and vessels wherein there is no pleasure, though of them there may be good use. 

Condensed from Edward Reynolds.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The world of 'I'


We might now say: Newspapers will be lost because technology will force us to acquire information in new ways. In that case, who will tell us what it means to live as citizens of Seattle or Denver or Ann Arbor? The truth is we no longer want to live in Seattle or Denver or Ann Arbor. Our inclination has led us to invent a digital cosmopolitanism that begins and ends with “I.” Careening down Geary Boulevard on the 38 bus, I can talk to my my dear Auntie in Delhi or I can view snapshots of my cousin’s wedding in Recife or I can listen to girl punk from Glasgow. The cost of my cyber-urban experience is disconnection from body, from presence, from city.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

The News


Nine tenths of the news, as printed in the papers, is pseudo-news, manufactured events. Some days ten tenths. The ritual morning trance, in which one scans columns of newsprint, creates a peculiar form of generalized pseudo-attention to a pseudo-reality. This experience is taken seriously. It is one's daily immersion in "reality." One's orientation to the rest of the world. One's way of reassuring himself that he has not fallen behind. That he is still there. That he still counts! My own experience has been that renunciation of this self-hypnosis, of this participation in the unquiet universal trance, is no sacrifice of reality at all. To "fall behind" in this sense is to get out of the big cloud of dust that everybody is kicking up, to breathe and to see a little more clearly.

Thomas MertonFaith and Violence (1984)

At the right hand of the poor


From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, Psalm 109.  

Verse 31. He shall stand at the right hand of the poor. This expression implies, first, that he appears there as a friend. How cheering, how comforting it is to have a friend to stand by us when we are in trouble! Such a friend is Jesus. In the hour of necessity he comes as a friend to stand by the right hand of the poor creature whose soul is condemned by guilt and accusation. But he stands in a far higher relation than that of a friend; he stands, too, as surety and a deliverer. He goes, as it were, into the court; and when the prisoner stands at the bar, he comes forward and stands at his right hand as his surety and bondsman; he brings out of his bosom the acquittance of the debt, signed and sealed with his own blood, he produces it to the eyes of the court, and claims and demands the acquittal and absolution of the prisoner at whose right hand he stands. He stands there, then, that the prisoner may be freely pardoned, and completely justified from those accusations that condemn his soul. O sweet standing! O blessed appearance!—Joseph C. Philpot (1802-1869).*

Verse 31. He shall stand at the right hand of the poor. One of the oldest Rabbinical commentaries has a very beautiful gloss on this passage. "Whenever a poor man stands at thy door, the Holy One, blessed be His Name, stands at his right hand. If thou givest him alms, know that thou shalt receive a reward from Him who standeth at his right hand."—Alfred Edersheim, in "Sketches of the Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ," 1876.

* The link to Philpot is in Italian, but Google will happily translate it into a reasonable English for you. 

God's name


From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, Psalm 109.  

Verse 21. For thy name's sake. It does not say, For my name, that it may be vindicated from, reproach and shame: but for Thy name; as if he would say, whatever I may be, O Lord, and whatever may befall me, have respect to Thy name, have regard to it only. I am not worthy, that I should seek Thy help, but Thy name is worthy which thou mayest vindicate from contempt. We learn here with what passion for the glory of the divine name they ought to be animated, who are peculiarly consecrated to the name of God. He does not say, "Because my case is good", but because thy mercy is good. Note this also, he does not simply say, Because thou art good, or because thou art merciful; but because thy mercy is good. He had experienced a certain special goodness in the Divine mercy; i.e., such timeliness, kind readiness in all afflictions, and help for every kind of affliction prepared and provided. On this he rests hope and confidence, in this takes refuge. All those are truly happy who have had experience of this mercy, and can depend on it with firm hope and confidence.—Wolfgang Musculus.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Consumerism and the soul


The effect of consumerism on the planet is mirrored precisely in its effect on the soul, that finding true joy means passing up momentary pleasure, and that joy, deep bubbling joy, is the only really subversive force felt in our society. The only way to make people doubt, even for a minute, the inevitability of their course in life is to show them they are being cheated of the truest happiness.

Bill McKibben"Returning God to the Center" in The Consuming Passion

Consumer Christianity


The habits we learn as consumers in the market economy tend to carry over to other dimensions of life. Thus we are conditioned to approach religion as a commodity, as just another consumer good alongside toothpaste and vacation homes. Think, for instance, of the commonplace practice of "church shopping." This is to say, capitalism encourages a shallow, decontextualized engagement with religious beliefs. Like the vast array of exotic cultural products from around the world that appear side by side on the shelves of the import franchise at the mall, in a consumer culture, beliefs tend to become free-floating cultural objects. These objects do not require anything of me; they entail no particular commitment or engagement. They do not bind me to any particular people or community.... Reduced to a religious commodity, Christian beliefs can be held in the midst of a political economy that runs counter to those beliefs without any tension at all.

Daniel Bell, Jr.The Economy of Desire

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fixed duty


From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David; notes on Psalm 108. 

Verse 1. Meditation is a fixed duty. It is not a cursory work. Man's thoughts naturally labour with a great inconsistency; but meditation chains them, and fastens them upon some spiritual object. The soul when it meditates lays a command on itself, that the thoughts which are otherwise flitting and feathery should fix upon its object; and so this duty is very advantageous. As we know a garden which is watered with sudden showers is more uncertain in its fruit than when it is refreshed with a constant stream; so when our thoughts are sometimes on good things, and then run off; when they only take a glance of a holy object, and then flit away, there is not so much fruit brought into the soul. In meditation, then, there must be a fixing of the heart upon the object, a steeping the thoughts, as holy David: "O God, my heart is fixed." We must view the holy object presented by meditation, as a limner who views some curious piece, and carefully heeds every shade, every line and colour; as the Virgin Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. Indeed; meditation is not only the busying the thoughts, but the centring of them; not only the employing of them, but the staking them down upon some spiritual affair. When the soul, meditating upon something divine, saith as the disciples in the transfiguration (Mt 17:4), "It is good to be here."—John Wells, in the "Practical Sabbatarian," 1668.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Jesus bestows too much feedom...


What gives most trouble to Christians of all epochs is neither lack of faith nor excess of criticism; it is Jesus himself, who bestows freedom so open-handedly and dangerously on those who do not know what to do with it. The church always gets panic-stricken for fear of the turmoil that he creates when he comes on the scene; and so it takes his freedom under its own management for the protection of the souls entrusted to it, in order to dispense it in homoeopathic doses where it seems necessary. They are allowed to possess this freedom in the form of hopes and feelings, but only in exceptional times may it be turned into action and vehemence, as otherwise it would blow up the church’s structure. The church shares with Caiaphas the opinion that it is better that one man should die for the people — and how it extols such a sacrificial death afterwards! — than that the whole nation should perish.  Jesus’ gift is taboo to it, and his demand illusory. That is official Christianity’s drama right through all creeds and denominations — or perhaps one should say, drama and comedy. For the truth is that he is unwelcome, not only to Gentiles and Jews, but to each of us, and that his presence results in the death of the old Adam in devout people. How can the church have continuity if it gives him a free hand? All the heretics put together cause less trouble on the earth than he does when, instead of remaining an icon, he comes to life and delivers us over to the fire that he came to light.

Ernst Käsemann, “Freedom under the Word”, in Jesus Means Freedom (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969), pp. 149-50.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

True wisdom

From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, Psalm 107

Verse 43. Will observe these things, etc. Will carefully note and remark what is here said of the fall and recovery of mankind, of our state by nature and by grace. True wisdom consists in observing these two things, what we are in ourselves, and what we are in Christ; in a deep sense of our misery by sin, stirring us up to seek our remedy in the Redeemer. This is wisdom. And whosoever is thus wise unto salvation shall understand the lovingkindness of the Lord; shall be able to apply what he understands of it to his own private use and benefit.

The verb in the original rendered "shall understand", is in the conjugation called Hithpael, which signifies to act upon itself. Whosoever observes those things properly finds his own interest in them. He makes the understanding of them useful to himself. He does not study them as a science or theory, but as interesting points in which he is nearly concerned, and which he therefore tries to bring home for his own private advantage. When he hears of the mercies of the Lord Jesus recorded in this psalm he desires to partake of them. When he hears of the great deliverances vouchsafed to sinful ruined man, he studies to have his own share in them. What is said of these persons who wandered out of the way in the wilderness, and fell into the bondage of sin, and were afflicted with its diseases, and troubled like a stormy sea, with its continual tempests; all this he knows was his own case, and therefore what follows of their flourishing state after Christ delivered them may be his also if he cry unto the Lord, as they did, for help.

And he never ceases praying and seeking, until the blessed Jesus brings him to the haven of the church, where he would be. And if he find the church diminished and brought low, he is not discouraged; but relies on the promises of his God, who will set him on high out of the reach of public calamity, when he comes to destroy an infidel church. He observes what is said on this psalm concerning those things; and he knows it to be true, by his own experience. And therefore the lovingkindness of the Lord here recorded is to him a subject of exceeding great joy, because he has tasted of it. Whoso is wise will bring his knowledge of this psalm home to his own heart, and he shall understand the lovingkindness of the Lord, he shall be able to apply what he understands to his own benefit, and shall therefore be continually praising the Lord for his goodness, and declaring the wonders which he hath done for the salvation of men.—William Romaine.

Prayer in crisis

From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, Psalm 107

Verse 28. Then they cry. Tempestuous storms and deadly dangers have brought those upon their knees, that would never had bent in a calm: "Then they cry." If any one would know at what time the sailors take up the duty of prayer, let me say it is when death stares them in the face. If ever you see the heavens veiled in sable blackness, the clouds flying, and the winds roaring under them; you may conclude that some of them (though God knows but few) are at prayer, yea, hard at it with their God. But never believe it that there is any prayer amongst them when the skies are calm, the winds down, and the seas smooth. David tells you not of their praying in good and comfortable weather, but that it is in time of storms, for I believe that neither he nor I ever saw many of them on that strain. . . . God hears oftener from an afflicted people, than he either does or can from a people that are at ease, quiet, and out of danger. Then they cry. The prodigal son was very high, and resolved never to return till brought low by pinching and nipping afflictions, then his father had some tidings of him. Hagar was proud in Abraham's house, but humbled in the wilderness. Jonah was asleep in the ship, but awake and at prayer in the whale's belly, Jon 2:1. Manasses lived in Jerusalem like a libertine, but when bound in chains at Babel, his heart was turned to the Lord, 2Ch 33:11-12. Corporal diseases forced many under the gospel to come to Christ, whereas others that enjoyed bodily health would not acknowledge him. One would think that the Lord would abhor to hear those prayers that are made only out of the fear of danger, and not out of the love, reality, and sincerity of the heart. If there had not been so many miseries of blindness, lameness, palsies, fevers, etc., in the days of Christ, there would not have been that flocking after him.—Daniel Pell.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Daily life


Even as we grow more keenly aware of the fragility of our existence and begin to believe that each moment of what Karl Rahner terms our "dying life" is a gift of unfathomable beauty, it is too much for us to bear. If we were constantly enraptured by gratitude and awe, we wouldn't get much done. It's easier and far more efficient to go about our daily tasks as though we were the sun around which the earth is spinning, and devote our attention not to divine mysteries but to whatever comes along: deadlines, e-mail, rush-hour traffic. And all this is oddly comforting.

Kathleen NorrisAcedia & Me

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Value

There is something morally repulsive about modern activistic theories which deny contemplation and recognise nothing but struggle.  For them not a single moment has value in itself, but is only a means for what follows.

Nicholas Berdyaev, quoted in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, by Eugene Peterson, at the heading of chapter four.


Redemption


Redemption shows that God's power to redeem and restore is stronger than our ability to alienate and break down. But redemption is not always the strategy that we would choose if it were up to us. Often what we seek is a return to innocence. We want to forget about the past and start over. Psychologically, we repress painful memories. Relationally, we cut ourselves off from people who remind us of our past. And culturally, we ignore our history in favour of what is new and current.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

His mercy endures forever


From the additional notes in Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, ,Psalm 107:

Verse 1. His mercy endureth for ever. St. Paul assures us, that the covenant of grace, which is the fountain of all mercy, was made before the foundation of the world, and this he repeats in several of his epistles. The Psalmist teaches the same doctrine, and frequently calls upon us to thank God, because his mercy is for ever and ever—because his mercy is everlasting—and in the text, because "his mercy endureth for ever; "the word "endureth" is inserted by the translators, for there is no verb in the original neither in strictness of speech could there be any; because there was no time when this mercy was not exercised, neither will there be any time when the exercise of it will fail. It was begun before all worlds, when the covenant of grace was made, and it will continue to the ages of eternity, after this world is destroyed. So that mercy was, and is, and will be, "for ever", and sinful miserable man may always find relief in this eternal mercy, whenever the sense of his misery disposes him to seek for it. And does not this motive loudly call upon us to "give thanks"? Because there is mercy with God—mercy to pity the miserable—and even to relieve them—although they do not deserve it: for mercy is all free grace and unmerited love. Oh! How adorable, then, and gracious is this attribute! How sweet is it and full of consolation to the guilty.—William Romaine (1714-1795), in "A Practical Comment on the Hundred and Seventh Psalm."

Thursday, November 15, 2012

God the economist


As God's economist, Jesus reveals a way of being in the world both economic and spiritual. Economically, he signals that redistribution of resources in the direction of those in need of them should be a normal and even central concern for a person growing in spiritual maturity. Why? Precisely for theological reasons: our lack of final ownership of our resources is rooted in our lack of ownership of the God who ultimately creates all. God is not at our disposal. As the trusted mystery, God is the uncontrollable. As the gracious Creator on whom our goods depend, our goods participate in God's uncontrollability. As in the encounter with that power on which we all depend, we can only render ourselves faithful stewards of our gifts.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Nevertheless

From The additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David: Psalm 106:

Verse 8. Nevertheless he saved them. If God should not shew mercy to his people with a nevertheless, how should the glory of his mercy appear? If a physician should only cure a man that hath the headache or the toothache; one that hath taken cold, or some small disease; it would not argue any great skill and excellency in the physician. But when a man is nigh unto death, hath one foot in the grave, or is, in the eye of reason, past all recovery; if then the physician cure him, it argues much the skill and excellency of that physician. So now, if God should only cure, and save a people that were less evil and wicked; or that were good indeed, where should the excellence of mercy appear? But when a people shall be drawing near to death, lying bed ridden, as it were, and the Lord out of his free love, for his own name's sake, shall rise, and cure such an unworthy people, this sets out the glory of his mercy. It is said in the verse precedent, "They rebelled at the sea, even at the Red Sea", or, as in the Hebrew, "even in the Red Sea; "when the waters stood like walls on both sides of them; when they saw those walls of waters that never people saw before, and saw the power, the infinite power of God leading them through on dry land; then did they rebel, at the sea, even in the sea; and yet for all this the Lord saved them with a notwithstanding all this. And I say, shall the Lord put forth so much of grace upon a people, that were under the law; and not put forth much more of his grace upon those that are under the gospel?—William Bridge.

As many of these writers point out, Psalm 106's great theme is Nevertheless.  It applies not only to God's actions, however, but also man's.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

A Name in every case

Verse 8. For his name's sake. Improve his name in every case; for he hath a name suiting every want, every need. Do you need wonders to be wrought for you? His name is Wonderful; look to him so to do, for his name's sake. Do you need counsel and direction? His name is the Counsellor: cast yourself on him and his name for this. Have you mighty enemies to debate with? His name is the Mighty God; seek that he may exert his power for his name's sake. Do you need his fatherly pity? His name is the everlasting Father; "As a Father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." Plead his pity, for his name's sake. Do you need peace external, internal, or eternal? His name is the Prince of Peace; seek for his name's sake, that he may create peace. O sirs, his name is JEHOVAH ROPHI, the Lord, the healer and physician; seek, for his name's sake, that he may heal all your diseases. Do you need pardon? His name is JEHOVAH TSlDKENU, the Lord our righteousness: seek, for his name's sake, that he may be merciful to your unrighteousness. Do you need defence and protection? His name is JEHOVAH NISSI, the Lord your banner; seek, for his name's sake, that his banner of love and grace may be spread over you. Do you need provision in extreme want? His name is JEHOVAH JIREH, in the mount of the Lord it shall be seen, the Lord will provide. Do you need his presence? His name is JEHOVAH SHAMMAH, the Lord is there: IMMANUEL, God with us: look to him to be with you, for his name's sake. Do you need audience of prayer? His name is the Hearer of prayer. Do you need strength? His name is the Strength of Israel. Do you need comfort? His name is the Consolation of Israel. Do you need shelter? His name is the City of Refuge. Have you nothing and need all His name is All in all. Sit down and devise names to your wants and needs, and you will find he hath a name suitable thereunto; for your supply, he hath wisdom to guide you; and power to keep you; mercy to pity you; truth to shield you; holiness to sanctify you; righteousness to justify you; grace to adorn you; and glory to crown you. Trust in his name, who saves for his name's sake. Ralph Erskine, 1685-1752.

From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, notes on Psalm 106 .

Monday, November 05, 2012

Prayer


Father God, I am greatly prone to forgetting your former mercies and goodness to me over countless days.  I easily swerve from that forgetfulness towards losing my trust in You.  My loss of trust becomes mistrust.  That mistrust soon becomes disbelief in your goodness and mercy, and that disbelief turns to unbelief.  I have only myself to blame.  You don't change.  Help me to remember, and in remembering, trust You in times of difficulty and crisis.     Anonymous

Provoking God

From the additional notes to The Treasury of David, Psalm 106, by Charles Spurgeon.  This note relates to verse 7.

Provoking God imports an affront upon his longsuffering, and his patience. The movings of nature in the breasts of mankind, tell us how keenly, how regretfully, every man resents the abuse of his love; how hardly any prince, but one, can put up an offence against his acts of mercy; and how much more affrontive it is to despise majesty ruling by the golden sceptre of pardon, than by the iron rod of penal law. But now patience is a further and an higher advance of mercy; it is mercy drawn out at length; mercy wrestling with baseness, and striving, if possible, even to weary and outdo ingratitude; and therefore a sin against this is the highest pitch, the utmost improvement, and, as I may so speak, the ne plus ultra of provocation. For when patience shall come to be tired, and even out of breath with pardoning, let all the invention of mankind find something further, either upon which an offender may cast his hope, or against which he can commit a sin. But it was God's patience the ungrateful Israelites sinned against; for they even plied and pursued him with sin upon sin, one offence following and thronging upon the neck of another, the last account still rising highest, and swelling bigger, till the treasures of grace and pardon were so far drained and exhausted, that they provoked God to swear, and what is more, to swear in his wrath and with a full purpose of revenge, that they should never enter into his rest. Robert South.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Prayer and action


Prayer and action... can never be seen as contradictory or mutually exclusive. Prayer without action grows into powerless pietism, and action without prayer degenerates into questionable manipulation. If prayer leads us into a deeper unity with the compassionate Christ, it will always give rise to concrete acts of service. And if concrete acts of service do indeed lead us to a deeper solidarity with the poor, the hungry, the sick, the dying, and the oppressed, they will always give rise to prayer. In prayer we meet Christ, and in him all human suffering. In service we meet people, and in them the suffering Christ.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Questioning


I want to announce the good news that God, the God in whom I believe, never calls anyone to playact or pretend or silence their concerns about what's true. I want to break through mind-forged manacles that render us incapable of seeing truthfully for fear we might let in the wrong information. God is not made angry and insecure by an archaeological dig, a scientific discovery, an ancient manuscript, or a good film about homosexual cowboys. Nor would I imagine God to be made angry or insecure by people with honest doubts concerning his existence. God is not counting on us to keep ourselves stupid, closed off to the complexity of the world we're in.

Not understood: not remembered

From Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, Psalm 106.  

Verse 7. Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt. The Israelites saw the miraculous plagues and ignorantly wondered at them: their design of love, their deep moral and spiritual lessons, and their revelation of the divine power and justice they were unable to perceive. A long sojourn among idolaters had blunted the perceptions of the chosen family, and cruel slavery had ground them down into mental sluggishness. Alas, how many of God's wonders are not understood, or misunderstood by us still.

We fear the sons are no great improvement upon the sires. We inherit from our fathers much sin and little wisdom; they could only leave us what they themselves possessed. We see from this verse that a want of understanding is no excuse for sin, but is itself one count in the indictment against Israel. They remembered not the multitude of thy mercies. The sin of the understanding leads on to the sin of the memory. What is not understood will soon be forgotten. Men feel little interest in preserving husks; if they know nothing of the inner kernel they will take no care of the shells.

It was an aggravation of Israel's sin that when God's mercies were so numerous they yet were able to forget them all. Surely some out of such a multitude of benefits ought to have remained engraven upon their hearts; but if grace does not give us understanding, nature will soon ease out the memory of God's great goodness. But provoked him at the sea, even; at the Red sea. To fall out at starting was a bad sign. Those who did not begin well can hardly be expected to end well. Israel is not quite out of Egypt, and yet she begins to provoke the Lord by doubting his power to deliver, and questioning his faithfulness to his promise. The sea was only called Red, but their sins were scarlet in reality; it was known as the "sea of weeds," but far worse weeds grew in their hearts.


Monday, October 29, 2012

A good setting


God not only created humanity good, God also placed us in a good setting. This setting was both sufficient to meet our material needs and a delightful place characterized by beauty and variety. To not be attached to a particular place (or to be displaced) is portrayed in Scripture as a dreadful consequence of sin, and not a marker of freedom. To experience shalom is not to be delivered from place, but to experience sustenance and delight in a particular place as we wait for the good place that is being prepared for us.

Eric Jacobsen
The Space Between

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Hospitality


Be hospitable to those you don’t know.  Welcome strangers into your midst.  Start a conversation with someone waiting in line with you.  Ask someone new in your community to come over for dinner.

Bill Boerman-Cornell
"Ten ways to be a better Christian community" in catapult magazine

Imagination


I think the only antidote ... is imagination. You have to develop your imagination to the point that permits sympathy to happen. You have to be able to imagine lives that are not yours or the lives of your loved ones or the lives of your neighbours. You have to have at least enough imagination to understand that if you want the benefits of compassion, you must be compassionate. If you want forgiveness you must be forgiving. It's a difficult business, being human.

Wendell Berry
"Heaven in Henry County" in Sojourners

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Community working


Community gets built by working together on things, whether that means joining together as a community to fight a closing school, working side by side in a community garden, joining forces to create a community food pantry, or working together at a fundraiser for a family that needs help paying medical bills, we get to know each other and appreciate each other more if we work together.

Bill Boerman-Cornell
"Ten ways to be a better Christian community" in catapult magazine

Biblical justice

Biblical justice has both an economic and a legal focus. The goal of justice is not only the recovery of the integrity of the legal system; it is also the restoration of the community as a place where all live together in wholeness.

Ronald J. Sider
Just Politics

Being tested

A very long extract, today, from Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, in the additional notes from other authors on Psalm 105. 

Verse 19. Until the time that his word came: the word of the LORD tried him. 

This verse forms the key to the whole meaning of Joseph's mysterious trial, and at the same time illustrates a deep mystery in the spiritual life of man. By "the word of the Lord" that "tried him, "the psalmist evidently refers to the dreams of his future destiny which were sent to Joseph from God; and in saying that they tried him "until his word came, "he evidently means that his faith in those promises was tested by his long imprisonment, until the day of his deliverance dawned. Consider for a moment his position, and you will see the purpose of that trial. A youth educated amidst all the quiet simplicity of the early patriarchal life, he was haunted by dream visions of a mighty destiny. Those visions were mysteriously foretelling his government in Egypt, and the blessings which his wise and just rule would confer on the land; but while unable to comprehend them, he yet believed that they were voices of the future, and promises of God. But the quietude of that shepherd life was not the preparation for the fulfilment of his promised destiny. The education that would form the man who could withstand, firmly, the temptations of Egyptian life with its cities and civilization; the education that would form the ruler whose clear eye should judge between the good and the evil, and discern the course of safety in the hour of a nation's peril—all this was not to be gained under the shadow of his father's tent; it must come through trial, and through trial arising from the very promise of God in which he believed. Hence, a great and startling change crossed his life, that seemed to forbid the fulfilment of that dream promise, and tempted him to doubt its truth. Sold into Egypt as a slave, cast into prison through his fidelity to God, the word of the Lord most powerfully tried his soul. In the gloom of that imprisonment it was most hard to believe in God's faithfulness, when his affliction had risen from his obedience; and most hard to keep the promise clearly before him, when his mighty trouble would perpetually tempt him to regard it as an idle dream. But through the temptation, he gained the strong trust which the pomp and glory of the Egyptian court would have no power to destroy; and when the word of deliverance came, the man came forth, strong through trial, to fulfil his glorious destiny of ruling Egypt in the name of God, and securing for it the blessings of heaven. Thus his trial by the word of the Lord—his temptation to doubt its truth—was a divine discipline preparing him for the fulfilment of the promise. And looking at it in this aspect, this verse presents to us a deep spiritual truth: The promises of God try man, that through the trial he may be prepared for their fulfilment. Our subject then is this: The trial of man by the promises of God. 

This verse suggests three great facts which exhibit the three aspects of that trial.
1. God's promises must try man. Every promise of the Lord is of necessity a trial. Now, this necessity arises from two sources; from man's secret unbelief, and from God's purposes of discipline.
(a) God's word must try man by revealing his secret unbelief. We never know our want of faith till some glorious promise rouses the soul into the attitude of belief; then the coldness and unfaithfulness of the heart are lighted up by that flash of belief, and the promise is a trial. Thus Paul with his profound insight into the facts of spiritual experience, says, "The word of the Lord is sharper than a two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." In illustration of this we may observe that many promises of the Lord come to us, as they came to Joseph, like dream visions of the future. Visions come to the Christian soul, as grand and wonderful as those which came to the Hebrew youth of old; and they, too, are prophecies of what we are destined to be. There comes a time when the voice of God is more clearly heard, and the great inheritance revealed. No dream of the night—no spirit of the dead—has visited us; but like a spirit some truth of God has entered the soul's presence chamber and summoned it to noble aspiration and Christ like endeavour. Then the earnest of the future gleams on life's horizon. The Sabbath of eternity, with all its balm and music, seems near, and rapt with its glory, we are roused to all surrendering zeal. But I appeal to your experience whether it is not true that such revelations of the promise rapidly become times of trial. Then the mocking voice of unbelief tells us that aspiration is vain. The cold cross currents of indifference chill the fiery impulses of the heart. We are in prison like Joseph, by no material bars indeed, but by the invisible bonds of unbelief; and we find it most hard to keep the promise clear and bright, while tempted to believe that our aspirations were merely idle dreams. And there is that arousing, by the promise, of the soul's hidden unbelief, which makes every promise an inevitable trial.

(b) Again: God causes his promises to try nature that he may accomplish his own purposes of discipline. It is a law of our nature that no belief in any unseen thing can ever pass into the active form of strong endeavour to attain it, until we are tempted to disbelieve it. Thus the great idea of an undiscovered land across the wastes of the Atlantic smote the soul of Columbus; but it remained a dreamy faith until by opposition and ridicule he was tempted to regard it as a dream, and then it became heroic endeavour, and the land was found. Thus with all men of genius. They stand in the front of their age, with thoughts which the world cannot understand; but those thoughts are dreams until suffering and scorn try the men, and then they are awakened into effort to realise them. Hence God leads us into circumstances in which we are tempted to doubt his promises, that by temptation he may discipline faith into power. There is a wilderness of temptation in every life, and like Christ, we are often led into it, from the solemn hour when we heard the voice, "Thou art my son; " but like Christ, we come forth strong, through the long, silent wrestling with temptation, to do our Father's will.

2. God sends the Hour of Deliverance: "until the time that his word came." When the discipline was perfected, Joseph came forth ready for his mission. But our deliverance does not always come in this way. Take from the Bible histories the four great methods by which God sends deliverance. Sometimes by death. Thus with Elijah Weariness, loneliness, failure, had wrung from by death the strong man the cry, "Take away my life for I and not better than my fathers." The temptation was becoming too strong, and God sent deliverance in the chariot of fire. Sometimes by transforming the height of trial into the height of blessing. The three youths in Babylon had clenched their nerves for the climax of agony, when the fire became a Paradise. So, now, God makes the climax of trial the herald of spiritual blessedness. By suffering we are loosened from the bonds of time and sense; there is one near to us like the Son of God; and deliverance has come. Sometimes by the glance of love on the falling soul. Thus with Peter. The temptation was mastering him; one glance of that eye, and he went out weeping and delivered. Sometimes by continuing the trial, but increasing the power to endure it. Thus with Paul. After the vision of the third heaven came "the thorn in the flesh, "The temptation made him cry thrice to, God; the trial remained, but here was the deliverance" my grace is sufficient for thee." The suffering lost none of its pressure, but he learned to glory in infirmity; and then came his delivering hour.
3. God makes the Trial by Promise fulfil the Promise itself. In Joseph the temptation to doubt the word of God silently meetened [the word here appears at first to be a misprint, but in fact to make 'meet' is an older usage meaning to make suitable, to make fit, for the task] him for its fulfilment. So with us all. We hope not for an Egyptian kingdom, our dream vision is of a heavenly inheritance, and the palace of a heavenly King. But every temptation resisted, every mocking voice of doubt overcome, is an aid upwards and onwards. Trials, sufferings, struggles, are angels arraying the souls in the white robes of the heavenly world, and crowning it with the crown that fadeth not away. And when the end comes, then it will be seen that the long dreary endeavour to hold fast the dream promise—the firm resolute "no" to the temptation to disbelieve, are all more than recompensed with "the exceeding and eternal weight of glory."—Edward Zuscombe, in "Sermons preached at Kings Lynn." 1867.

I can't find any reference to Edward Zuscombe on the Net, so don't have any more information about this writer.  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Death and the believer


Lots of atheists seem to be certain, recently, that this ought not to be a problem for believers, because – curl of lip – we all believe we’re going to be whisked away to a magic kingdom in the sky instead. Facing the prospect of annihilation squarely is the exclusive achievement of – preen – the brave unbeliever. But I don’t know many actual Christians (as opposed to the conjectural idiots of atheist fantasy) who feel this way, or anything like it. Death’s reality is a given of human experience, for anyone old enough to have shaken off adolescent delusions of immortality. There it is, the black water, not to be cancelled by declarations, by storytelling, of any kind. Whatever sense belief makes of death, it has to incorporate its self-evident reality, not deny it. And again, in my experience, belief makes the problem harder, not easier. Because there death is, real for us as it is for everyone else, and yet (as with every other outrage of the cruel world) we also have to fit it together somehow with the intermittently felt, constantly transmitted assurance that we are loved. I don’t mean to suggest that all believers are in a state of continual anguish about this, but it is a very rare believer who has not had to come to a reckoning with the contradiction involved. On the one hand, the cruel world – the world made cruel by seeing it as created – and on the other one, the sensation of being cherished by its creator.

From Unapologetic, by Francis Spufford. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Remember

Verse 5. Remember. How others may be affected I do not ask. For myself, I confess, that there is no care or sorrow, by which I am so severely harassed, as when I feel myself guilty of ingratitude to my most kind Lord. It not seldom appears to be a fault so inexplicable, that I am alarmed when I read these words, inasmuch as I consider them addressed to myself, and others like me. Remember, O ye forgetful, thoughtless, and ungrateful, the works of God, which he hath done to us, with so many signs and proofs of his goodness. What more could he have done, which he hath not done?—Folengius.

From the additional notes to Psalm 105 in The Treasury of David, by Charles Spurgeon.  

The following entry about Folengius' life seems to have been translated from another language (his books were on the Index of books that Catholics were prohibited from reading for a time):


Jean Baptist F O L E N G I O 
entered into a Benedictine monastery in his native city, 
where his talents and industry obtained for him a high re
putation for proficiency in literature and sacred criticism, 
while the excellence of his disposition rendered him an 
object of general esteem. He was selected to fill the most 
important and distinguished stations in his order, and he 
was afterwards chosen by Pope Paul IV. as visitor of the 

Benedictine foundations in Spain. When he had per
formed this task, he returned to his native country, 
and devoted himself almost wholly to theological studies, 
in the course of which he conceived the hopeless project 
of uniting Catholics and Protestants in one communion. 

After a life spent in the service of his fellow creatures, he 
died in 1559, in his seventieth year. He left behind him 
many theological writings, of which the principal were "Com
mentaries upon the Epistles of St. James, St. Peter, and 
the first Epistle of St. John," published in 1551, in 8vo; 

also a "Commentary upon the Psalms." These works 
must have had more than common merit in respect to libe
rality of sentiment, as they were prohibited by his church. 
His "Commentary on the Psalms" indeed was reprinted 
in 1585, but revised and abridged. Dupin says that he 
"writes purely and nobly," and Thuanus had reason to say, 
"that no man will ever repent the reading of his Commentaries." 


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The theological craft


Commenting on the craft of stonecutting and on the training required to work with stone, Seamus Murphy observes: "With hammer, mallet and chisel we have shaped and fashioned rough boulders. We often curse our material, and often we speak to it kindly - we have come to terms with it in order to master it, and it has a way of dictating to us sometimes - and then the struggle begins. We try to impose ourselves on it, but we know our material and respect it. We will often take a suggestion from it, and our work will be the better for it." In like manner, I think of theology as a craft requiring years of training. Like stonecutters and bricklayers, theologians must come to terms with the material upon which they work. In particular, they must learn to respect the simple complexity of the language of the faith, so that they might reflect the radical character of orthodoxy. I think one of the reasons I was never drawn to liberal Protestant theology was that it felt too much like an attempt to avoid the training required of apprentices. In contrast, Karl Barth's work represented for me an uncompromising demand to submit to a master bricklayer, with the hope that in the process one might learn some of the "tricks of the trade."

Stanley Hauerwas, in his memoir: Hannah's Child (page 37 in the Kindle edition)

Communication


I am not advocating the naive optimism that says all our problems would go away if only we could learn to communicate better. Taking strong convictions seriously means refusing to romanticize away our serious disagreements. In some cases, when we come to understand better what the other side really means to say we will find out that their viewpoint is even worse than we thought at the outset. But that is no reason for refusing to make the effort. If we end up disagreeing after all is said and done, then at least our disagreement will be an honest one.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Arguing with God


Arguing with God is an act of deep faith -- deeper, perhaps, than a passive acceptance of whatever happens as God's will, or a carefully articulated theological rationalization for why things are.

J.S. Randolph Harris
Daily Feast

Remembering

Verse 5. Remember his marvellous works that he hath done. Memory is never better employed than upon such topics. Alas, we are far more ready to recollect foolish and evil things than to retain in our minds the glorious deeds of Jehovah. If we would keep these in remembrance our faith would be stronger, our gratitude warmer, our devotion more fervent, and our love more intense. Shame upon us that we should let slip what it would seem impossible to forget. We ought to need no exhortation to remember such wonders, especially as he has wrought them all on the behalf of his people.

From The Treasury of David by Charles Spurgeon.  Spurgeon's own comments on Psalm 105 verse 5.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Being present

The church, as it exists within the wide range of individual vocations in every sphere of social life (commerce, philanthropy, education, etc.), must be present in the world in ways that work toward the constructive subversion of all frameworks of social life that are incompatible with the shalom for which we were made and to which we are called. As a natural expression of its passion to honour God in all things and to love our neighbour as ourselves, the church and its people will challenge all structures that dishonour God, dehumanize people, and neglect or do harm to the creation.


Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Love keeps it in being


I think that Mozart, two centuries earlier, had succeeded in creating a beautiful and accurate report of an aspect of reality. I think that the reason reality is that way, is in some ultimate sense merciful as well as being a set of physical processes all running along on their own without hope of appeal, all the way up from quantum mechanics to the relative velocity of galaxies by way of ‘blundering, low and horridly cruel’ biology (Darwin), is that the universe is sustained by a continual and infinitely patient act of love. I think that love keeps it in being....

I think that the universe is its own thing, integral, reliable, coherent, not Swiss-cheesed with irrationality or whimsical exceptions, and at the same time is never abandoned, not a single quark, proton, atom, molecule, cell, creature, continent, planet, star, cluster, galaxy, diverging metaversal timeline of it. I think that I don’t have to posit some corny interventionist prod from a meddling sky fairy to account for my merciful ability to notice things a little better, when God is continually present everywhere anyway, undemonstratively underlying all cafes, all cassettes, all composers; when God is ‘the ground of our being’, as St Paul puts it, or as the Qur’an says with a slightly alarming anatomical specificity, when God ‘is as close to you as the veins in your own neck’

Francis Spufford

Significance

There is no substitute for learning to be a Christian by being in the presence of significant lives made significant by being Christian.... Significance suggests importance. It suggests lives that make a difference and that demand acknowledgement. But the lives of significance I began to notice were not significant in any of those ways. Rather, they were lives of quiet serenity, capable of attending with love to the everyday without the need to be recognized as “making a difference.”

Stanley Hauerwas
Hannah's Child

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Earning God's love


Before we could engage in any effort to earn God's love, it was given to us as gift. We get all worked up because we reckon that we must persuade God to love us. But God already loves and accepts us. God has loved us since the time before eternity. That love is God's gift to us. In fact, everything is a gift. There is nothing to earn. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line we have been inveigled and misled by the culture of achievement. We really can't understand unconditional acceptance. We think there must be a catch somewhere, so we tie ourselves in knots in the effort to impress God. We strive and strain to earn what is already ours. And it wears us out.

Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu
Made for Goodness

Friday, October 05, 2012

The whole being


The followers of Christ are engaged in the world with their whole being. Engagement is not a matter of either speaking or doing; not a matter of either offering a compelling intellectual vision or embodying a set of alternative practices; not a matter of either merely making manifest the richness and depth of interior life or merely working to change the institutions of society; not a matter of either only displaying alternative politics as gathered in Eucharistic celebrations or merely working for change as the dispersed people of God. It is all these things and more. The whole person in all aspects of her life is engaged in fostering human flourishing and serving the common good.

Miroslav Volf
A Public Faith

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Each to each


It is very much in the gift of the community to enrich individual lives, and it is in the gift of the individual to enlarge and enrich community.

Marilynne Robinson
"Imagination and Community" in When I Was a Child I Read Books

Bread

Verse 14. That he may bring forth food out of the earth. The Israelites at the feast of the Passover and before the breaking of bread, were accustomed to say, "Praise be to the Lord our God, thou King of the world, who hath brought forth our bread from the earth": and at each returning harvest we ought to be filled with gratitude, as often as we again receive the valuable gift of bread. It is the most indispensable and necessary means of nourishment, of which we never tire, whilst other food, the sweeter it is, the more easily it surfeits: everybody, the child and the old man, the beggar and the king, like bread.

We remember the unfortunate man, who was cast on the desert isle, famishing with hunger, and who cried at the sight of a handful of gold, "Ah, it is only gold!" He would willingly have exchanged for a handful of bread, this to him, useless material, which in the mind of most men is above all price.

O let us never sin against God, by lightly esteeming bread! Let us gratefully accept the sheaves we gather, and thankfully visit the barns which preserve them; that we may break bread to the hungry, and give to the thirsty from the supplies God has given us. Let us never sit down to table without asking God to bless the gifts we receive from his gracious hand, and never eat bread without thinking of Christ our Lord, who calls himself the living bread, who came down from heaven to give life unto the world. And above all, may we never go to the table of the Lord without enjoying, through the symbols of bread and wine, his body and blood, whereby we receive strength to nourish our spiritual life! Yes, Lord, thou satisfiest both body and soul, with bread from earth and bread from heaven. Praise be to thy holy name, our hearts and mouths shall be full of thy praises for time and eternity!—Fredrich Arndt in "Lights of the Morning", 1861.

From the additional notes accompanying Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

False Prophets


Jeremiah 23:16 carries the meaning that the false prophets, "Gave out the thoughts of their own heart as divine revelation, promising peace and prosperity to all stiff-necked sinners." Were such men popular? Indeed, they were popular among the vast wicked majority of the people. "Here we have the principal earmark of false teaching. False prophets, or teachers, always speak words that quiet the conscience, promise all kinds of good things, and violate with impunity the laws of morality."  In our day, the false teachers know nothing except the grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness of God and absolutely nothing about obedience or holiness. Their doctrine is "Smile, something good is going to happen to you" or, "I'm OK, you're OK!"


Burton Coffman lived to be a 101.  At his 100th birthday celebration, he was reported to be 'still his normal, booming self,' and, though a chair was put on the podium for him to preach from, he insisted on standing...

Friday, September 28, 2012

Culture-making


Culture making is needed in every company, every school and every church.  In every place there are impossibilities that leave even the powerful feeling constrained and drained, and that rob the powerless of the ability to imagine something different and better.  At root, every human cultural enterprise is haunted by the ultimate impossibility, death, which threatens to slam shut the door of human hope.  But God is at work precisely in these places where the impossible seems absolute.  Our calling is to join him in what he is already doing -- to make visible what, in exodus and resurrection, he has already done.

Andy Crouch
Culture Making

Praise

From the additional notes to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, Psalm 103.

Verse 22. Bless the LORD, O my soul. That is to say, "Let thy vocation be that of the seraphim, O my soul, and enter on the life of heaven!"

Why should I praise him? Can my praise be of any advantage to him? No; nor that of all the heavenly hosts. It is infinite condescension in him to bearken unto the praises of his most exalted creatures. Let me bless the Lord, because no function will be more rich in blessings to my soul than this. The admiring contemplation of his excellence is in reality the appropriation thereof: the heart cannot delight in God, without becoming like God. Let me do it, because it is the peculiar privilege of man on this earth to bless the Lord. When he would find any to join him in this, he has to ascend the skies.  [To join the angels in praise.]  Let me do it, because the earth is fully furnished with the materials of praise. The sands, the seas, the flowers, the insects; animals, birds, fields, mountains, rivers, trees, clouds, sun, moon, stars,—all wait for me to translate their attribues and distinctions into praise.

But, above all, the new creation. Let me do it, because of him, through him, and to him, are all the things that pertain to my existence, health, comfort, knowledge, dignity, safety, progress, power, and usefulness. A thousand of his ministers in earth, sea, and sky, are concerned in the production and preparation of every mouthful that I eat. The breath that I am commanded and enabled to modulate in praise, neither comes nor goes without a most surprising exhibition of the condescension, kindness, wisdom, power, and presence of him whom I am to praise. Is it not dastardly to be receiving benefits, without even mentioning the name, or describing the goodness of the giver? Let candidates for heaven bless the Lord. There is no place there for such as have not learned this art. How shall I praise him? Not with fine words. No poetic talent is here necessary: Any language that expresses heart-felt admiration will be accepted. Praise him so far as you know him; and he will make known to you more of his glory. George Bowen, 1873.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Listening


If I am a good listener, I don't interrupt the other or plan my own next speech while pretending to be listening.  I try to hear what is said, but I listen just as hard for what is not said and for what is said between the lines.  I am not in a hurry, for there is no pre-appointed destination for the conversation.  There is no need to get there, for we are already here; and in this present I am able to be fully present to the one who speaks.  The speaker is not an object of be categorized or manipulated, but a subject whose life situation is enough like my own that I can understand it in spite of the differences between us.  If I am a good listener, what we have in common will be more important than what we have in conflict.