Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sabbath

Sabbath was made for humankind, and for the creatures with whom we share the world. And for people, animals and land (which is not an inert substance but a wondrously complex living system of fellow creatures), sabbath is not just realistic but so absolutely necessary that to ignore it is itself unrealistic. Faithful observance of the sabbath may or may not require that we idle a factory or a store one day a week, but it unreservedly requires that image bearers, and every creature that can only flourish when image bearers are properly exercising their dominion, be allowed to rest. Not to do so is idolatry -- and idolatry, no matter how promising it seems at the beginning, is the ultimate and greatest unrealism.

Andy CrouchPlaying God

Pope Francis on answers and politics

'I don't have all the answers; I don't have all the questions. I always think of new questions, and there are always new questions coming forward. But the answers have to be thought out according to the different situations, and you also have to wait for them. I confess that, because of my disposition, the first answer that comes to me is usually wrong. When I'm facing a situation, the first solution I think of is what not to do. Because of this I have learned not to trust my first reaction. When I'm calmer, after passing through the crucible of solitude, I come closer to understanding what has to be done...You can do a great deal of harm with the decisions you make. One can be very unfair.' 

'Getting involved in politics is a Christian duty', Pope Francis told an audience of young students in June 2013 in Rome. 'We Christians cannot be like Pilate and wash our hands clean of things. We need to get involved in politics because it's one of the highest expressions of charity. It takes the common into consideration. Lay Christians must work in politics. That's no easy task you might say. But it isn't an easy task become a priest either! Politics is dirty but the reason it has become dirty is that Christians didn't get deeply enough involved in the evangelical spirit. It's easy to find excuses for this...but what do I do? Working for the common good is a Christian duty.'
From Pope Francis:untying the knots, by Paul Vallely, pages 131 and 139 respectively. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Redeeming the world

We partner with God in the redemption of the world. This is not just an issue of theology or spirituality; it is an issue of a thoroughly reorienting missiology. It will provide God's people with a new sense of purpose, a divine connection to daily actions. We need to grasp the fact that in God's economy our actions do have an eternal impact. We do extend the kingdom of God in daily affairs and activities and actions done in the name of Jesus. We live in an unredeemed world. But out of each human life that is given over to God and committed to his creation, a seed of redemption falls into the world, and the harvest is God's!

Michael Frost and Alan HirschThe Shaping of Things to Come

Monday, January 27, 2014

Listening

The most difficult and decisive part of prayer is acquiring this ability to listen. Listening is no passive affair; a space when we happen not to be doing or speaking. Inactivity and superficial silence do not necessarily mean that we are in a position to listen. Listening is a conscious, willed action, requiring alertness and vigilance, by which our whole attention is focused and controlled. Listening is in this sense a difficult thing. And it is decisive because it is the beginning of our entry into a personal and unique relationship with God, in which we hear the call of our own special responsibilities for which God has intended us. Listening is the aspect of silence in which we received the commission of God.

Mother Mary Clare, in Encountering the Depths, pg 33. 


Thursday, January 23, 2014

The value of small

Don't despise the small but significant symbolic act. We live still in this modernist dream which says, "Unless you can change the whole thing, it's not even worth trying." That's not what Jesus did. Jesus did small but significant symbolic acts, each one of which was freighted with kingdom meaning. God probably doesn't want you to reorganize everything overnight -- learn to be symbol-makers and storytellers for the kingdom. Learn to model genuine humanness in your worship and your stewardship and your relationships -- the Church's task vis-a-vis the world is to model true humanness as a sign, as an invitation.
N.T. WrightThe Challenge of Jesus

Re-imagining

What I see behind my eyes changes what I see in front of them; my imagination shapes my perception so that I must look not once but twice at the world to see it whole. Walking down the street, I see a wild-looking character sitting on the steps of the library. His gray hair is matted. His dense beard covers the slogan on his grimy T-shirt. His small darting eyes are as volatile as a hawk's. I look once and think "drifter." I look twice and think "John the Baptist," and in that imaginative act my relationship to the man is changed.
Barbara Brown TaylorThe Preaching Life

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

God's safekeeping

I will lift up mine eyes, etc. In thy agony of a troubled conscience always look upwards unto a gracious God to keep thy soul steady; for looking downward on thyself thou shalt find nothing but what will increase thy fear, infinite sins, good deeds few, and imperfect: it is not thy faith, but God's faithfulness thou must rely upon; casting thine eyes downwards on thyself, to behold the great distance betwixt what you deserve and what thou desirest, is enough to make thee giddy, stagger, and reel into despair. Ever therefore lift up thine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh thy help, never viewing the deep dale of thy own unworthiness, but to abate thy pride when tempted to presumption.—Thomas Fuller (1608-1661), in "The Cause and Cure of a Wounded Conscience."
Quoted in Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, on Psalm 121: 1

Fuller was regarded as a witty writer, and a good selection of pithy quotes are available here.


Our own path

One of the hardest but one of the most absolutely necessary things is to follow our own particular line of development, side by side with souls who have quite a different one; often one opposed to our own. It is natural for youth to hesitate between an attitude which it fears may be presumptuous and a candid admission of inferiority to everything around it. But this hesitation must cease or we shall never grow up. We must be ourselves and not try to get inside someone else’s skin. David could have done nothing in the armour of Saul; he refused it and ran to fetch his sling and some pebbles from the brook. Ii was with these he slew Goliath, the symbol of the devil as the Holy Fathers taught. Still less must we look for approval and appreciation as a sign that we are on the right path. There are not so many good judges as all that, and the judgement of common opinion is far from being common sense. Good judges are so rare that St Fran├žois de Sales could declare, ‘It is said that only one in a thousand is a true spiritual director. I say only one in ten thousand!’ We must therefore free ourselves absolutely of this anxious desire to be at one with other souls, however virtuous or wise they may be; just as we must never expect them to see through our eyes. We must follow our own light as though we were alone in the world, save as regards charity to others. In purely private matters, we must never be deflected from our own path.

Henri de Tourville, in Letters of Direction, pages 34-5, translated by Lucy Menzies

Doing theology in the everyday

Each of us has a theological work to do. We may think we haven’t but we can’t help it, because every time we make a decision, or refuse to make one, we are showing whether we are with Jesus or against hi. We are saying something about what we think Christianity is. There never has been a time when even the most passive could really allow a Church to make all their moral decisions for them, because the decision to obey is itself a moral decision and can have as many varied motives, from cowardice to true humility, as any other decision. Nor are the most emancipated present-day believers making their moral decisions in a vacuum. The cloud of witnesses from all ages and places surrounds them. They choose with the Church, or against it, in some sense of other, and there are many senses. So also our decisions form part of the tradition, and create the material from which others draw in making their decisions, and all these decisions depend on the kind of notions we have about what God is doing, to us and around us.

Our practical decisions display theological premises, whether we like it or not. To say ‘I’m not interested in theology,’ is to display an ignorance as gross as that betrayed by people who smugly disclaim interest in politics, not knowing that every day is crammed with political acts, from greeting certain people and not others in the street, to posting letters, or buying a newspaper. Each of these acts springs from a given political doctrine, however unperceived it may be. A person may not even know the meaning of the word theology, but there is scarcely a conscious act which does not express a theological position of some kind, and even unconscious motivations often grow from the theological views of our forbears.



Rosemary Haughton, in The Knife Edge of Experience, pages 31-2.
Quoted on pages 241-2 of The Lion Christian Meditation Collection

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Jerusalem Gate

G K Chesterton in full flight writing in The New Jerusalem (pages 54/5), published in 1920. Chesterton is describing the gates of the city of the earthly Jerusalem at this point. Note that this was written after the horrors of the First World War and before the horrors that Germany inflicted on the world through Hitler and the Second World War.

...he who walks round the walls of this city...will come suddenly upon an exception which will surprise him like an earthquake. It looks indeed rather like something done by an earthquake;  an earthquake with a half-witted sense of humour. 

Immediately at the side of one of these humble and human gateways there is a great gap in the wall, with a wide road running through it. There is something of unreason in the sight which affects the eye as well as the reason....It suggests the old joke about the man who made a small hole for the kitten as well as a large hole for the cat.  Everybody has read about it by this time;  but the immediate impression of it is not merely an effect of reading or even of reasoning.  It looks lop-sided; like something done by a one-eyed giant.  But it was done by the last prince of the great Prussian Imperial system, in what was probably the proudest moment in all his life of pride.

What is true has a way of sounding trite;  and what is trite has a way of sounding false. We shall now probably weary the world with calling the Germans barbaric, just as we very recently wearied the world with calling them cultured and progressive and scientific. But the thing is true though we say it a thousand times. And anyone who wishes to understand the sense in which it is true has only to contemplate that fantasy and fallacy in stone; a gate with an open road beside it.

The quality I mean, however, is not merely in that particular contrast; as of a front door standing by itself in an open field.  It is also in the origin, the occasion and the whole story of the thing. 

There is above all this supreme stamp of the barbarian; the sacrifice of the permanent to the temporary. When the walls of the Holy City were overthrown for the glory of the German Emperor, it was hardly even for that everlasting glory which has been the vision and the temptation of great men.  It was for the glory of a single day. It was something rather in the nature of a holiday than anything that could be even in the most vainglorious sense a heritage.  It did not in the ordinary sense make a monument or even a trophy. It destroyed a monument to make a procession. We might almost say that it destroyed a trophy to make a triumph. 

There is the true barbaric touch in this oblivion of what Jerusalem would look like a century after, or a year after, or even the day after. It is this which distinguishes the savage tribe on the march after the victory from the civilized army establishing a government, even if it be a tyranny. Hence the very effect of it, like the effect of the whole Prussian adventure in history, remains something negative and even nihilistic.

The Christians made the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Moslems made the Mosque of Omar; but this is what the most scientific culture made at the end of the great century of science. It made an enormous hole...under all the changing skies of day and night; with the shadows that gather under the narrow Gate of Humility; and beside it, blank as daybreak and abrupt as an abyss, the broad road that has led already to destruction.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Delivered

We begin and end with a faith, not in Jesus simply but in His world work, not simply in His person but in His person’s office, in Him as God’s Son Christ and Redeemer, for good and all, the Conqueror and of a world worse even than we now see, the slow Regenerator of the administration of his purchased property. We begin with the faith in which our own soul calls Him its Saviour from what seems an infinite and hopeless evil. He delivers us from a sin whose guilt lies on our small soul with a pressure from the reservoir of all the high wickedness of the world. It is not from our moral lapses nor from our individual taint that we are delivered, but from world sin, sin in dominion, sin solidary* if not hereditary, yea, from sin which integrates us into a Satanic Kingdom.
 
From The Justification of God, pages 30-1, by P T Forsyth
 
* solidary: characterized by or manifesting community of interests and responsibilities [A word often used by Forsyth, though not in general use elsewhere that I know of.]

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Food

The pleasure of hiding in plain sight was just one of the benefits I picked up from working as a cook. I learned solidarity, the kind that only comes through shared bodily experience, sweating and lifting and hauling side by side with others. I learned from watching customers that the rituals of even the plainest or most cynically prepared dinner could carry unconscious messages of love and comfort. And at the end of a rush, when I sat down with the kitchen staff and waiters, I learned how central food is to creating human community, what eating together around a table can do. As a wise bishop would tell me, years and years later, in words I couldn't possibly have grasped back then, "There's a hunger beyond food that's expressed in food, and that's why feeding is always a kind of miracle."
Sara MilesTake This Bread

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Love, meaningless without judgement

The holiness of God is a deeper revelation in the cross than His love; for it is what gives His love divine value. And it is meaningless without judgement. The one thing He could not do was simply to wipe the slate and write off the loss. He must either inflict punishment or assume it. And He chose the latter course, as honouring the law while saving the guilty. He took His own judgement. It was a course that produced more than all the effect of punishment, and in a better, holier way. It was vindicative and not vindictive. It re-established the holiness; it did not just confound the sinner. Expiation, therefore, is the very opposite of exacting punishment; it is assuming it. Nor is it exacting the last farthing in any quantitative sense. That is not required in a full, true, and sufficient satisfaction. The holy law is satisfied by an adequacy short of equivalency, by due confession of it and not by exaction; by due confession which fully gauges the whole moral situation, as neither sin nor love alone could do; by practical confession in an experience as holy to God as it was sympathetic to man; and by practical confession of God's holiness far more than man's guilt. What a holy God requires is the due confession of His holiness before even the confession of sin.
 
P T Forsyth, in The Cruciality of the Cross, pages 205-6

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The slanderer

From Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David, on Psalm 120:3 - what shall be given to thee? (the person who slanders).

What is the expected guerdon [reward] of slander? It ought to be something great to make it worthwhile to work in so foul an atmosphere and to ruin one's soul. Could a thousand worlds be bribe enough for such villainous deeds? The liar shall have no welcome recompense: he shall meet with his deserts; but what shall they be? What punishment can equal his crime? The Psalmist seems lost to suggest a fitting punishment. It is the worst of offences—this detraction, calumny, and slander. Judgment sharp and crushing would be measured out to it if men were visited for their transgressions. But what punishment could be heavy enough? What form shall the chastisement take? O liar, "what shall be given unto thee?" Or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue? How shalt thou be visited? The law of retaliation can hardly meet the case, since none can slander the slanderer, he is too black to be blackened; neither would any of us blacken him if we could. Wretched being! He fights with weapons which true men cannot touch. Like the cuttlefish, he surrounds himself with an inky blackness into which honest men cannot penetrate. Like the foul skunk, he emits an odour of falsehood which cannot be endured by the true; and therefore he often escapes, unchastised by those whom he has most injured. His crime, in a certain sense, becomes his shield; men do not care to encounter so base a foe. But what will God do with lying tongues? He has uttered his most terrible threats against them, and he will terribly execute them in due time.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The true Host

He has, you see, been willing to take me on as God takes me -- as a risk.  He pays me the supreme tribute of putting himself in my power.  The giver of a cocktail party is a man who hedges his bets and cops out of the dangers of entertaining.  He requires nothing of his guests but their physical presence.  If they turn out to be untempered duds or ill-tempered boors, it is no skin off his nose: They can simply find their own corner of outer darkness and fall apart any way they like.  But when he sits me down at his table, he declares himself willing to let me into his own life.  He puts me into my place; but he also puts me in a position to make or break his party as I will.  It is no small boldness; if you have such friends, treasure them.

Robert Farrar CaponThe Supper of the Lamb

Thursday, January 09, 2014

The wildness of creation

“The creator goes off on one wild, specific tangent after another, or millions simultaneously, with an exuberance that would seem to be unwarranted, and with an abandoned energy sprung from an unfathomable font. What is going on here? The point of the dragonfly's terrible lip, the giant water bug, birdsong, or the beautiful dazzle and flash of sunlighted minnows, is not that it all fits together like clockwork - for it doesn't, particularly, not even inside the goldfish bowl... but that it all flows so freely wild, like the creek, that it all surges in such a free fringed tangle. Freedom is the world's water and weather, the world's nourishment freely given, its soil and sap: and the creator loves pizzazz.”

Annie Dillard (source not supplied)

Doing good work

Good human work honors God's work. Good work uses no thing without respect, both for what it is in itself and for its origin. It uses neither tool nor material that it does not respect and that it does not love. It honors nature as a great mystery and power, as an indispensable teacher, and as the inescapable judge of all work of human hands. It does not disassociate life and work, or pleasure and work, or love and work, or usefulness and beauty. To work without pleasure or affection, to make a product that is not both useful and beautiful, is to dishonor God, nature, the thing that is made, and whomever it is made for. This is blasphemy: to make shoddy work of the work of God. But such blasphemy is not possible when the entire Creation is understood as holy and when the works of God are understood as embodying and thus revealing His spirit.

Wendell Berry"Christianity and the Survival of Creation" in Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Pinning God down

As I read the Old and New Testaments I am struck by the awareness therein of our lives being connected with cosmic powers, angels and archangels, heavenly principalities and powers, and the groaning of creation. It's too radical, too uncontrolled for many of us, so we build churches which are the safest possible places in which to escape God. We pin God down, far more painfully than he was nailed to the cross, so that God is rational and comprehensible and like us, and even more unreal.

Madeleine L'EngleThe Irrational Season

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Give me understanding II


Psalm 119: 169
Give we understanding according to thy word.  
Why should the man of God here pray for understanding? Had he not often prayed for it before? Was he a novice in knowledge, being a prophet? Does  not our Saviour Christ reprehend repetitions and babbling in prayer? True it is our Saviour Christ does reprehend that babbling which is without faith and knowledge and a feeling of our wants; but he speaks not against those serious repetitions which proceed from a plentiful knowledge, abundant faith, and lively feeling of our necessities. 
Again, although it cannot be denied but he was a man of God, and had received great grace, yet God gives knowledge to his dearest saints in this life but in part, and the most which we see and know is but little. Besides, when we have knowledge, and knowledge must be brought into practice, we shall find such difficulties, such waywardness, such forgetfulness, such wants, that although we have had with the prophet a very good direction in the general things of the word, which are universal and few, yet we shall find many distractions in our practices, which must be particular and many; and we shall either fail in memory by forgetfulness, or in judgment by blindness, or in affection by dullness. So easily may we slip when we think we may hold our journey on. Richard Greenham

Quoted in Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David.

Give me understanding



Psalm 119: 169 - Give we understanding according to your word
 The especial work of the Holy Spirit in the illumination of our minds unto the understanding of the Scripture is called "understanding." The Psalmist prays "Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law" (verse 34). So the apostle speaks to Timothy: "Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things": 2 Timothy 2:7. Besides his own consideration of what was proposed unto him, which includes the due and diligent use of all outward means, it was moreover necessary that God should give him understanding by an inward effectual work of his Spirit, that he might comprehend the things wherein he was instructed. And the desire hereof, as of that without which there can be no saving knowledge of the word, for advantage by it, the Psalmist expresses emphatically, with great fervency of spirit in verse 144: "The righteousness of thy testimony is everlasting: give me understanding, and I shall live." Without this he knew that he could have no benefit by the everlasting righteousness of the testimonies of God. 
All understanding, indeed, however it be abused by the most, is the work and effect of the Holy Ghost for "the inspiration of the Almighty gives understanding": Job 32:8. So is this spiritual understanding in an especial manner the gift of God. In this "understanding" both the ability of our mind and the due exercise of it is included. This one consideration, that the saints of God have with so much earnestness prayed that God would give them understanding as to his mind and will as revealed in the word, with his reiterated promises that he would so do, is of more weight with me than all the disputes of men to the contrary. No farther argument is necessary to prove that men do not understand the mind of God in the Scripture in a due manner, than their supposal and confidence that so they can do without the communication of a spiritual understanding unto them by the Holy Spirit. This self confidence is directly contrary unto the plain, express testimonies of the word. — John Owen.

Quoted in Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

A single mystery

The formula given in Genesis 2:7 is not man = body + soul; the formula is soul = dust + breath. According to this verse, God did not make a body and put a soul into it, like a letter into an envelope. He formed man of dust; then, by breathing His breath into it, He made the dust live. The dust, formed as man and made to live, did not embody a soul; it became a soul. "Soul" here refers to the whole creature. Humanity is thus presented to us, in Adam, not as a creature of two discrete parts temporarily glued together but as a single mystery.

Wendell Berry"Christianity and the Survival of Creation" in Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community

Friday, January 03, 2014

Confidence



Psalm 119: 167 - My soul keeps your testimonies, and I love them exceedingly
Let not our consciousness of daily failures make us shrink from this strong expression of confidence. It is alleged as an evidence of grace, not as a claim of merit, and therefore the most humble believer need not hesitate to adopt it as the expression of Christian sincerity before God. David aspired to no higher character than that of a poor sinner: but he was conscious of spirituality of obedience, "exceeding love" to the divine word, and an habitual walk under the eye of his God— the evidences of a heart (often mentioned in the Old Testament) "perfect with him." 

Charles Bridges, quoted in Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David. 

Bridges (1794-1869)was a preacher and theologian in the Church of England, and a leader of that denomination's Evangelical Party. As a preacher he was well regarded by his contemporaries, but is remembered today for his literary contributions. He also wrote an exposition on Psalm 119, when he was only 33. The book went through twenty-four editions before his death, is still available and is somewhat shorter - at 534 pages - than Spurgeon's massive tome.