Wednesday, October 31, 2012


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


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


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


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)


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


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


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


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...