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


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 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


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


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.