Friday, December 27, 2013

No display

The Lord did not come to make a display. He came to heal and to teach suffering men. For one who wanted to make a display the thing would have been just to appear and dazzle the beholders. But for Him Who came to heal and to teach the way was not merely to dwell here, but to put Himself at the disposal of those who needed Him, and to be manifested according as they could bear it, not vitiating the value of the Divine appearing by exceeding their capacity to receive it.

Athanasius of Alexandria (298-372)
On the Incarnation

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Advent of justice

Throughout the biblical story those who will be welcomed into the city are those who can make that city a place of healing and refuge, rather than a place where injustice and falsehood prevail. The implications provide a challenge to all of us who live in the modern city. If we are not working to walk righteously in our cities, to provide homes for the homeless, food for the hungry, water for the thirsty, and justice for those who are oppressed -- in short, if we are not making our cities places of safety and fertile plenty -- are we truly preparing for the coming of a savior who will welcome us into the city by the gates?

Sylvia KeesmaatThe Advent of Justice

Monday, December 23, 2013

Wink on prayer

Biblical prayer is impertinent, persistent, shameless, indecorous. It is more like haggling in an outdoor bazaar that the polite monologues of the church.

Walter Wink - original source unknown, but it's quoted in a number of books, such as Philip Yancey's Prayer: does it make any difference? 


Saturday, December 21, 2013


Silence helps facilitate the internal transforming power of God. As we enter into silence, we create space in which God can work. Silence allows us to become better lovers of others as we experience the love of God within us. Richard Foster puts it this way: "Like Jesus, we must go away from people so that we can be truly present when we are with people." Silence develops the spirit of patience within us. It equips us with clarity and purpose as we engage in acts of service and mission within the world.

Mae Elise CannonJust Spirituality

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Beauty and grace

It's all a matter of keeping my eyes open. Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will sense them. The least we can do is try to be there ... so that creation need not play to an empty house.

Annie DillardPilgrim at Tinker Creek

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

God Himself come here to test us

Sometimes, as I sit and watch a child struggle to do just the right job of representing God's face, His features, the shape of His head, the cast of His countenance, I think back to my days of working in Dorothy Day's Catholic Worker soup kitchen. One afternoon, after several of us had struggled with a "wino," a "Bowery bum," an angry, cursing, truculent man of fifty or so, with long gray hair, a full, scraggly beard, a huge scar on his right cheek, a mouth with virtually no teeth, and bloodshot eyes, one of which had a horrible tic, she told us, "For all we know he might be God Himself come here to test us, so let us treat him as an honored guest and look at his face as if it is the most beautiful one we can imagine."

Robert ColesThe Spiritual Life of Children

Quicken me

Charles Spurgeon, writing in his The Treasury of David, comments on the second half of Psalm 119, verse 154: quicken me according to your word.

Quicken me. We had this prayer in the last section, and we shall have it again and again in this. It is a desire which cannot be too often felt and expressed. As the soul is the centre of everything, so to be quickened is the central blessing. It means more love, more grace, more faith, more courage, more strength, and if we get these we can hold up our heads before our adversaries. God alone can give this quickening; but to the Lord and giver of life the work is easy enough, and he delights to perform it.

According to thy word. David had found such a blessing among the promised things, or at least he perceived that it was according to the general tenor of God's word that tried believers should be quickened and brought up again from the dust of the earth; therefore he pleads the word, and desires the Lord to act to him according to the usual run of that word. What a mighty plea is this— "according to thy word." No gun in all our arsenals can match it.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Being comforted

Psalm 119: 153. — Consider mine affliction. These prayers of David are penned with such heavenly wisdom that they are convenient for the state of the whole church, and every member thereof. The church is the bush that burns with fire, but cannot be consumed; every member thereof bears a part of the cross of Christ; they are never without some affliction, for which they have need to pray with David, "Behold mine affliction."
We know that in afflictions it is some comfort to us to have our crosses known to those of whom we are assured that they love us: it mitigates our dolour when they mourn with us, albeit they be not able to help us. But the Christian has a more solid comfort; to wit, that in all his troubles the Lord beholds him; like a king, rejoicing to see his own servant wrestle with the enemy. He looks on with a merciful eye, pitying the infirmity of his own, when he sees it; and with a powerful hand ready to help them. But because many a time the cloud of our corruption comes between the Lord and us, and lets us not see his helping hand, nor his loving face looking upon us, we have need to pray at such times with David, "Behold mine affliction." — William Cowper.

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

1 Corinthians 4 seems apt to this:

Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. [I love the way this line seems to revolve in on itself...]

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The nature of God

...if Christianity has any distinctive meaning at all, it is that we can affirm or deny certain things about God, that we are not in a state of utter ignorance about His heart and nature, that we find in the character and work of Jesus Christ a reflection of the character and work and large purpose of God. We get at the fundamental qualities of His moral nature. We get no satisfaction about the metaphysics of the divine, but we do get satisfaction about the morality, the character, of the divine. 

Let me premise also that when we speak about God's fundamental qualities we must be careful. All the qualities that go to make up His nature are, in a sense, fundamental qualities. They are all necessary. They are not there in such a way that they might as easily, or as well, be anywhere else. He does not live and move under our intellectual limitations. He is the foundation of all things, and His every aspect is an essential part of Him. There is in Him nothing transitory, careless, ornamental merely. "He is all centre, and no circumference."* Wherever He is, and He is everywhere, He is essential; nor can you say of Him that this quality or that is more of His essence than another. You cannot say His strength is a more fundamental quality of Him than His wisdom. His strength is wisdom. His wisdom is strength, both to Him and to us. Whatever He is, is eternal - is fundamental.

From P T Forsyth's sermon, Mercy the True and Only Justice, 1877, republished in Jason Goroncy's Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History, page 76

*Goroncy suggests that this is a reference to James Martineau's description of the universe in his book, Endeavours after the Christian Life.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Starting-point

In approaching this subject let us be clear about our starting-point. It is the Church and its moral faith. The truth of Christianity cannot be proved to the man in the street till he come off the street by owning its power. In our modern psychology we start from the primacy of the will, and we bring everything to the test of man’s practical and ethical life. And so, here also we start ethically from the holiness of God as the supreme interest in the Christian revelation. The standpoint taken by the Church is that which I believe to be the position of the New Testament. That book represents a grand holiness movement; but it is one which is more concerned with God’s holiness than ours, and lets ours grow of itself by dwelling on His. Christianity is concerned with God’s holiness before all else; which issues to man as love, acts upon sin as grace, and exercises grace through judgment. The idea of God’s holiness is inseparable from the idea of judgement as the mode by which grace goes into action.  And by judgement is meant not merely the self-judgment which holy grace and love stir in man, but the acceptance by Christ of God’s judgment on man’s behalf and its conversion in him to our blessing by faith.
By the atonement, therefore, is meant that action of Christ’s death which has a prime regard to God’s holiness, has it for its first charge, and finds man’s reconciliation impossible except as that holiness is divinely satisfied once for all on the cross. Such an atonement is the key to the incarnation. We must take that view of Christ which does most justice to the holiness of God. this starting-point of the supreme holiness of God’s love, rather than its pity, sympathy, or affection, is the watershed between the Gospel and the theological liberalism which makes religion no more than the crown of humanity and the metropolitan province of the world. My point of departure is that Christ’s first concern and revelation was not simply the forgiving love of God, but the holiness of such love.
P T Forsyth, in the Introduction to The Cruciality of the Cross, pages 4-6

Friday, December 06, 2013

Sabbath reflection

Sabbath reflection and observance can be a primary source of cultural renewal because it serves as the antidote to our misperception and destructiveness. Sabbath practices correct and refine our vision so we can see once again -- as God saw at the conclusion of each day's creative work -- how everything that is made is very good. Just as the Sabbath day is set apart and made holy, so can the thanksgiving and praise that are nurtured and promoted in Sabbath time and place become the basis for sanctifying the world and naming it holy.

Norman Wirzba 
Living the Sabbath

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Temperance in appetite

God's intention and design for creation is that all should be well fed. In the brokenness of our world, this is not so; there is a broad gap between God's ideal and the reality of hunger in our world, owing in large part to the human resistance to sharing. The Old Testament insists on lavish generosity: "Open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land"" (Deut 15:11, KJV). When we eat redemptively, we honor God's desire for all to be fed by taking action to close that gap. This awareness does not diminish the reality of pleasure or the importance of gratitude. It can, however, encourage us toward temperance in our appetites.

Rachel Marie StoneEat with Joy

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

The Great Materialist

There is a habit that plagues many so-called spiritual minds: they imagine that matter and spirit are somehow at odds with each other and that the right course for human life is to escape from the world of matter into some finer and purer (and undoubtedly duller) realm. To me, that is a crashing mistake -- and it is, above all, a theological mistake. Because, in fact, it was God who invented dirt, onions and turnip greens; God who invented human beings, with their strange compulsion to cook their food; God who, at the end of each day of creation, pronounced a resounding "Good!" over his own concoctions. And it is God's unrelenting love of all the stuff of this world that keeps it in being at every moment. So, if we are fascinated, even intoxicated, by matter, it is no surprise: we are made in the image of the Ultimate Materialist.

Robert Farrar CaponThe Supper of the Lamb

Holiness is...

A human being is holy, not because he or she triumphs by willpower over chaos and guilt and leads a flawless life, but because that life shows the victory of God’s faithfulness in the midst of disorder and imperfection. The church is holy . .  . not because it is a gathering of the good and the well-behaved, but because it speaks of the triumph of grace in the coming together of strangers and sinners who, miraculously, trust one another enough to join in common repentance and common praise  – to express a deep and elusive unity in Jesus Christ, who is our righteousness and our sanctification. Humanly speaking, holiness is always like this: God’s endurance in the middle of our refusal of him, his capacity to meet every refusal with the gift of himself.

Rowan Williams, Open to Judgement: Sermons and Addresses, page 136.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Praying with the whole heart

Someone wrote on Facebook yesterday that praying to God was like talking to a two-year-old.  I suspect that the reverse is true....anyway, here's Charles Spurgeon commenting on the three phrases in verse 145 of Psalm 119, which is about prayer, as is a great deal of the Psalm.

Verse. 145. — I cried with my whole heart. His prayer was a sincere, plaintive, painful, natural utterance, as of a creature in pain. We cannot tell whether at all times he used his voice when he thus cried; but we are informed of something which is of much greater consequence, he cried with his heart. Heart cries are the essence of prayer. He mentions the unity of his heart in this holy engagement. His whole soul pleaded with God, his entire affections, his united desires all went out towards the living God. It is well when a man can say as much as this of his prayers: it is to be feared that many never cried to God with their whole heart in all their lives. There may be no beauty of elocution about such prayers, no length of expression, no depth of doctrine, nor accuracy of diction; but if the whole heart be in them they will find their way to the heart of God.
Hear me, O Lord. He desires of Jehovah that his cries may not die upon the air, but that God may have respect to them. True supplicants are not satisfied with the exercise itself, they have an end and object in praying, and they look out for it. If God does not hear prayer we pray in vain. The term "hear" is often used in Scripture to express attention and consideration. In one sense God hears every sound that is made on earth, and every desire of every heart; but David meant much more; he desired a kindly, sympathetic hearing, such as a physician gives to his patient when he tells him his pitiful story. He asked that the Lord would draw near, and listen with friendly ear to the voice of his complaint, with the view of pitying him and helping him. Observe, that his wholehearted prayer goes to the Lord alone; he has no second hope or help. "Hear me, O Lord, "is the full range of his petition and expectation.
I will keep thy statutes. He could not expect the Lord to hear him if he did not hear the Lord, neither would it be true that he prayed with his whole heart unless it was manifest that he laboured with all his might to be obedient to the divine will. His object in seeking deliverance was that he might be free to fulfil his religion and carry out every ordinance of the Lord. He would be a free man that he might be at liberty to serve the Lord. Note well that a holy resolution goes well with an importunate [persistent] supplication: David is determined to be holy, his whole heart goes with that resolve as well as with his prayers. He will keep God's statutes in his memory, in his affections, and in his actions. He will not wilfully neglect or violate any one of the divine laws.
From The Treasury of David.