gratitude & hoopla: January 2006

gratitude & hoopla

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton


Tozer's 7 Tests

I said yesterday that we need to be careful about prophecy. I wrote, "We must be more careful, more skeptical, more questioning, more discerning, and more mistrustful of ourselves. Most of all, we must elevate the written Word of God above all other words."

Now, the last thing I want to do is throw a wet blanket over the Holy Spirit's fire (indeed, Paul adivses Timothy to fan it into flame, not douse it). Yet I have run into more than one case lately in which a believer who felt a "yes" in his spirit should certainly have waited and sought solid confirmation before acting. We should beware of false prophets (as the Bible routinely reminds us), but also of false "prophecies" engendered in our own hearts. Mind you, I am not here to downplay or deride feelings as if they were of no value, but we should be hard on ourselves, for we are prone to syndromes of self-deception.

As if on cue, Dan at Cerulean Sanctum has provided an extremely useful and timely link to How to Try the Spirits by A. W. Tozer. Regarding the heart, Tozer writes, "The heart of man is like a musical instrument and may be played upon by the Holy Spirit, by an evil spirit or by the spirit of man himself. Religious emotions are very much the same, no matter who the player may be. Many enjoyable feelings may be aroused within the soul by low or even idolatrous worship."

Tozer provides 7 ways to test the spirits. Herewith, Tozer's seven tests in nutshell form. But I highly recommend that you follow the link and read the entire chapter.

1) How does the religious experience "affect our relation to God, our concept of God and our attitude toward Him?"
"God acts only for His glory and whatever comes from Him must be to His own high honor. Any doctrine, any experience that serves to magnify Him is likely to be inspired by Him. Conversely, anything that veils His glory or makes Him appear less wonderful is sure to be of the flesh or the devil."
2) "How does this new experience affect my attitude toward the Lord Jesus Christ?"
"Christless Christianity sounds contradictory but it exists as a real phenomenon in our day. Much that is being done in Christ's name is false to Christ in that it is conceived by the flesh, incorporates fleshly methods, and seeks fleshly ends. Christ is mentioned from time to time in the same way and for the same reason that a self-seeking politician mentions Lincoln and the flag, to provide a sacred front for carnal activities and to deceive the simplehearted listeners. This giveaway is that Christ is not central: He is not all and in all."
3) "How does it affect my attitude toward the Holy Scriptures?"
"Did this new experience, this new view of truth, spring out of the Word of God itself or was it the result of some stimulus that lay outside the Bible? Tender-hearted Christians often become victims of strong psychological pressure applied intentionally or innocently by someone's personal testimony, or by a colorful story told by a fervent preacher who may speak with prophetic finality but who has not checked his story with the facts nor tested the soundness of his conclusions by the Word of God."
4) Hoe does it affect the "self-life"?
"A good rule is this: If this experience has served to humble me and make me little and vile in my own eyes it is of God; but if it has given me a feeling of self-satisfaction it is false and should be dismissed as emanating from self or the devil. Nothing that comes from God will minister to my pride or self-congratulation. If I am tempted to be complacent and to feel superior because I have had a remarkable vision or an advanced spiritual experience, I should go at once to my knees and repent of the whole thing. I have fallen a victim to the enemy."
5) "Our relation to and our attitude toward our fellow Christians is another accurate test of religious experience."
As we grow in grace we grow in love toward all God's people. "Every one that loveth him that begot loveth him also that is begotten of him" (I John 5:1) . This means simply that if we love God we will love His children. All true Christian experience will deepen our love for other Christians. Therefore we conclude that whatever tends to separate us in person or in heart from our fellow Christians is not of God, but is of the flesh or of the devil. And conversely, whatever causes us to love the children of God is likely to be of God. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35).
6) Note also how the spiritual experience affects our relation to and our attitude toward the world.
Any real work of God in our heart will tend to unfit us for the world's fellowship.... It may be stated unequivocally that any spirit that permits compromise with the world is a false spirit. Any religious movement that imitates the world in any of its manifestations is false to the cross of Christ and on the side of the devil and this regardless of how much purring its leaders may do about 'accepting Chris' or 'letting God run your business.'"
7) "The last test of the genuineness of Christian experience is what it does to our attitude toward sin."
"The man of honest heart will find no difficulty here. He has but to check his own bent to discover whether he is concerned about sin in his life more or less since the supposed work of grace was done. Anything that weakens his hatred of sin may be identified immediately as false to the Scriptures, to the Saviour and to his own soul. Whatever makes holiness more attractive and sin more intolerable may be accepted as genuine."


The Dangers of Prophecy

A while back there was a flurry of discussion in the blogosphere concerning cessationism vs. continuationism. In my Christian life I have been a member of two churches. The first, where I was baptized at the age of 35, was firmly cessationist (LCMS). The second, where I now belong, was and is decidedly continuationist (Vineyard). Furthermore, one of the doctrinal reasons for the move was precisely this matter of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

But this post does not represent a new salvo in the cessationist/continuationist debate. I'm not particularly interested in debates. I mention all this simply as background or preface. Lately I've been chewing on the subject of prophecy in my own mind, and I've come to a preliminary conclusion that may set me at odds with the attitudes of some continuationists. I think that many of us in continuationist circles are careless about treating the thoughts and suppositions of our own minds as "prophecy," the very voice of God, and we thereby lead ourselves and others into difficulties and disappointments. We must be more careful, more skeptical, more questioning, more discerning, and more mistrustful of ourselves. Most of all, we must elevate the written Word of God above all other words. We must study the Word with dilligence in order to test thereby all lesser "words." Many have come to grief because they heeded words ("I have a word for you, brother . . .") and not the Word.

Bottom line: we do not know our own Scriptures well enough. This is a dangerous ignorance. Instead, we hasten after words of knowledge, we chase after manifestations, we elevate questionable revelations precisely because the Word of God is not known, loved, and cherished as it should be.

Chesterton said, "When people cease to believe in God, they don't believe in nothing, they believe in anything." We see the truth of this statement in the culture around us every day. I would add, when people cease to honor the Word of God as they should, they will honor any other words instead.

I do believe that God continues to give guidance to men and women today. Of this I have no doubt. For more on this matter, you might read Dan Edelen's wonderful post entitled Hearing God. But the supposition I am testing here and now is this: even if I should never again hear another prophetic word, nevertheless all is well with my soul. Because I have the Scriptures, and they really are, when all is said and done, enough.



David, the Jollyblogger, is reposting some oldies but goodies. In Repentence for the Believer vs. the Unbeliever he writes:
I don't think we can talk about faith building and growing in discipleship apart from repentance. After all, what is Christian growth about? It is about the continual battle with and victory over sin. Christian growth is all about the Romans 7 struggle. It is not about primarily about learning more, doing more and behaving better. It is about winning the war against indwelling sin. And indwelling sin is only conquered through continued application of the gospel, along with faith and repentance.
At Some Thoughts Aron has been posting lengthy quotes from Owen and from Calvin. Rich fare, that. Here's a gem from John Owen:
The humbling of our souls before the Lord Christ, from an apprehension of his divine excellencies--the ascription of glory, honour, praise, with thanksgiving unto him, on the great motive of the work of redemption with the blessed effects thereof--are things wherein the life of faith is continually exercised; nor can we have any evidence of an interest in that blessedness which consists in the eternal assignation of all glory and praise unto him in heaven, if we are not exercised unto this worship of him here on earth.
And Nate at Eight Strings said something a few days back that continues to haunt my thoughts:
Realize that you just don't have "the goods." Believe, live it, love it. You got nothin'. Anything you think you have is actually His. You're not spiritual. You're not rich. You're not talented. God is. The only way to let God's power rest upon you is to know that you are incapable. If you think you earned anything, I guess God's grace is not for you. Don't blame me, I'm just the messenger. (Ps. 14:3, 2Cor 12:9-11)


On Reading

Al Mohler is talking about reading at Together for the Gospel. Hey, my favorite subject! Al lists six pieces of advice for readers, but the one I want to focuse on is the first. Strategize!

Like me, Al Mohler likes to "strategize" his reading. He talks of maintaining several long-term reading projects. He says that at any given times he is reading in each of the following categories: Theology, Biblical Studies, Church Life, History, Cultural Studies, and Literature. That is, he is pursuing a plan of study in each of these categories all the time! He writes, "I have some project from each of these categories going at all times."

Well, that's setting the bar pretty darn high! Nevertheless, I think it's very good advice. I try to have something going in History, Theology or Biblical Studies (one or the other, but usually not both), devotional or inspirational, and literature, but inevitably one of these categories (at least) seems to fall by the wayside.

I've also returned to an early love, sometimes called imaginative literature or fantasy. Along with my son, Nate, I'm reading George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, which is the first of a 4 book set (thus far). Nate and I are reading the book and blogging about it together at A Blog of Thrones. Not likely to be of any interest to anyone who hasn't read the book (and probably not even to those who have), but it's a way for Nate and I to kind of hang out together around a common interest. BTW, it's a cracking good yarn!

Happy Talk

I love Eight Strings. No, I mean, not just because I know the blogger pretty well (duh), but I just like the blog. In his latest post Nate takes note of an international happiness survey. Turns out that, according to the survey, Americans aren't particularly happy. [Who woulda thunk?] Of course, you don't need a survey to tell you that, but it kind of puts the fact in stark relief. There seems to be no correlation between material prosperity and happiness (or perhaps there's a negative correlation). Nate's advice: "burn everything you own in a pile in the front yard..."

Nate, as far as I know, has not done this yet.


Oden on Grace (3)

I've been reading Thomas C. Oden's The Transforming Power of Grace and now and then posting excerpts here. I am not attempting to recapitulate all of Oden's book here, but to sample his text, choosing those expressions that seem to me to mine the depths of the meaning of Biblical grace.

Part I is called "Grace in Spiritual Formation." Oden speaks of "illuminating grace." This is God acting to illuminate the darkness in which every sinner exists. [Eph 4:18-19] Oden writes:
Neurotic anxiety, self-deception, overdependency, and compulsive behaviors require the grace that first uncovers the depths of the bondage of the will, before one can pray for wholeness. Lacking God's own costly outreaching love for fallen persons, humanity would have remained blinded and trapped in decaying syndromes of the history of sin.... The grace of illumination seeks out and addresses fallen humanity precisely amid its utter inability to behold, discern, or respond to God. [p39]
A little later, Oden describes the way grace works upon three "discrete faculties of human consciousness." It illuminates the intellect, strengthens the will, and guides the senses. [p42]

Grace Illuminates the Intellect
By illumination the Spirit challenges the prejudices, disarms our resistances, reveals our egocentricity for what it is, and enables us to hear the Word. By these means the Spirit cultivates a frame of mind and readiness to hear of which the corrupted will is incapable. In this way the Spirit not only "rids of ignorance," but "invest with knowledge." [p42]
Grace Strengthens the Will
The work of grace encourages the will to desire (and so to do) that truth one is coming to know. The greater good we once thought we ought to do we now want to do. A transformation is taking place in the will. [p43]
Grace Guides the Senses
Love is the key affection that gives contour to all other affections. If what one loves becomes radically redirected toward the love of God, then one's mind, will, emotions, and behavior will be consequently converted and redirected. Among emotions met and influenced by grace are joy and sorrow, desire and aversion, hope and despair. Grace is in the business of refashioning what sinners love. Grace works not only to bring us to "believe what ought to be loved,: wrote Augustine, but also to "love what we have believed." [p44]


"There was Daylight in Your Palms"

That's a line from a wonderful poem called The Sea of Galilee, by Michelle A. Galo of Quasifictional. A thing of beauty, that.

Also check out Michelle's quotes page, which includes this gem from 19th century preacher, Henry Ward Beecher: "Where is human nature so weak as in a bookstore?"

Comfortable Christianity

Nate at Eight Strings shares his father's tendency (btw, his father would be me) to speak with sometimes impolitic bluntness with regard to the glitzy trappings of contemporary mega-Christianity. Out-of-context example: Nate writes, "I have no problem generalizing here. American Christians are dishonest, materialistic, and judgmental." [But please do read the whole post: Moving Out Of Suburbia.]

My feeling is, this kind of passionate expression of hard truths, though it may ruffle our carefully-preened feathers, is very important. Let the "truths" be tested against Scripture, by all means, but we dare not avoid hearing and facing up to these things simply because the tone makes us uncomfortable. Nate's ultimate point, anyway, is that we are too in love with comfort. The greater culture is entertainment-driven, and all that we as God's truth-bearers seem to be concerned with is that we might be as entertaining as the culture--which winds up meaning we'll be as shallow, as trite, as artificial, and as self-congratulatory as the culture. We do all this in hope that we be found acceptable, that we fit in. We've got the mindset of a teenager trying desperately not to be found dorky. Please oh please say we're cool!


In Addition: Milton at Transforming Sermons quotes Michael Horton writing in the same vein:
Being "countercultural" today often amounts to superficial moralism about sex and suvs, or perhaps creating wholesome novels with Christian heroes, removing offensive language from music lyrics, and encouraging positive values. Beyond that, many of the churches with which I am familiar are captivated by the same obsessions as our culture: religion as individual spirituality, therapy, and sentimentalism. It all serves to keep us turned in on ourselves, like a kid at a carnival instead of a pilgrim en route.
Oh, yes, that is an apt simile indeed!


Oden on Grace (2)

In his introduction to The Transforming Power of Grace, Thomas Oden says that it takes grace to study grace.
Whatever grasp one may know of God's freeing address is enabled by grace. Whatever one may do in response to it is empowered by grace. (p.21)
We who have received grace upon grace do well to enter into the study of God's grace. Oden writes:
The study of grace illumines friendships, relationships, truth-telling, and inward spirituality. Neglect of this central teaching results in forgetfulness of how God accomplishes the salvation of humanity. (p.21)
But here is my favorite quote from the introduction:
The study of grace is the study of the empowerment of freedom. The freedom to which I refer is not political or economic freedom, but the more fundamental human freedom which secondarily expresses itself in political and economic life. The freedom we are most interested in enabling is classically called freedom from bondage to sin, freedom for living a life that is blessed. (p. 21-22)


A Doctrine of Reading

Ah, books. As I read them, I hear the author's voice, and he seems very real to me, very near. If I admire the author, due to previous encounters, I accord him great authority. I listen with eager anticipation. But even if the author is new to me, I desire greatly for him to succeed. I read patiently, hoping to catch a spark, to be "lit up" by the author's words and images. Indeed, the best books engender in me a sense of awe at creation.

If there were time enough, I would always have a bookmark in some history book, another in a great novel, yet another in a work of theological insight, and still another in a little book of poems.

There's an interesting article at By Faith Online, called The Joy of Reading Great Works, by Kathleen Nielson. Nielson says that we should develop a "doctrine of reading."

First, she argues for the acceptance of imaginative literature as something that has the potential to carry life to the reader. She calls it "the artful shaping of human experience in words." Many people have told me over the years that they will not read fiction because they consider it frivolous, being untrue. But great works of fiction have the power to convey the message of redemption with unique effectiveness. Perhaps this is why Jesus so often spoke "fictively" in parables. Nielson goes so far as to say that "on many levels, as we ignore great literature, we are hardening our hearts against the presence of the holy."

Nielson goes on to say that in "great books we encounter the depth of the fall," but also that the best of these "reflect a redemptive worldview." Here is a wonderful paragraph about how even a work of pre-Christian literature reflects these all-pervasive theme:
Centuries before Christ, writing in a pagan culture, a writer as distant as Homer offers an amazing example of a redemptive worldview. The Odyssey is far from a Christian work, but it communicates that universally understood sense of redemption, even restoration, pictured through the epic tale of a man trying to get home. Homer’s story somehow echoes or reflects the one, big, true story of the universe: a story of redeeming (at great price) what was lost. The sense of home and of hope, of course, stretches the doctrine of redemption to its ultimate end, reaching out to the final restoration and glorification of heaven, that home for which every human being longs, knowingly or not. There is a kind of homesickness with which every person instinctively resonates, because of the truths of creation and fall and redemption which are at the heart of the universe God created and over which He reigns.
Nielson advises that we should carry a good book with us at all times. We should read, she says, with the great story of fall and redemption as our background understanding, our context, and we should also read with a historical perspective, seeing the work in hand as a work "in history," with a place and time and context of its own.

We should read with humility, says Nielson, with the assumption that the author has something to teach us. And finally, we should read with delight. Nielson says, "Such delight takes us back to where we started, because any delight in words is delight in our Creator God who made us word-creatures in his image. There is no other starting point or ending point for a Christian reading literature than to thank our Creator and Redeemer God, and to seek to bring Him glory in our use and enjoyment of words."


Oden on Grace

I'll be quoting from and interacting with Thomas Oden's The Transforming Power of Grace in the next few posts. Oden seems to be motivated at least in part by what he perceives to be a woeful lack of understanding among Christians today. He sees this as a disabling lack, perhaps even the root of many of our problems. We have set aside the grace of God in favor of human wisdom.

From Oden's preface, which is titled "The Root of Christian Spirituality," I have lifted a few telling quotes:
"Neither caregiving, interpersonal meeting, teaching, nor social responsibility can live long by bread alone. The caregiver, friend, teacher, and proactive change agent remain hungry for liberating grace. This book reaches out for hungry listeners." p15

"Grace is God's way of empowering the bound will and healing the suffering spirit." p15
"Grace is the unheard note in the strident chorus of literature on spirituality and moral development. Christian spirituality quietly thrives on grace. The empowerment of the languid human spirit comes by grace. A new will is being offered to the old life trapped in sin." p15-16

"The purpose of caregiving is to make the truth of grace plausible and appropriable in the inner life of the individual. The purpose of preaching is to attest the history of grace effectively at work amid the history of sin." p16

"Much in our cultural environment goes directly against the stream of the Christian teaching of grace. In an era of performance-oriented religion, the rediscovery of grace presents a profoundly subtle challenge. Teaching a religionist grace is like teaching a workaholic to relax. In a fast-paced, lonely culture of self-congratulatory striving, the Good News of grace is like a fresh breeze of relief." p.17

"While some Christians have learned a graceless accommodation to the spirit of the age, others seem to know only how to hurl biblical invectives at its idolatries. Most lack a sense of the history of how the Holy Spirit is ceaselessly, actively, quietly working to elicit communities awakened by grace." p17

"When the Bible is treated as a vending machine and evangelization as a marketing plan, grace is tamed and reduced to routine." p18

"Lacking grace, the task of personal growth turns into a frantic search for innovative strategies. Grace works to find that very person who is desperately searching for a strategy. We have tried to manufacture spiritual growth while missing the very grace that would enable it." p19

"Only that which is enabled by divine grace will endure in the church. All ploys and maneuvers circumventing grace will atrophy." p19


Back to Grace

I think I'm going to read Thomas Oden's The Transforming Power of Grace. Why do I only "think" I will, as opposed to "know so"? Well, because I never know for sure until I'm at least 20 pages into the book.

Anyway, I want to read about grace. That's all. I can't get enough of it. I can't leave it behind, can't get beyond it. Grace, the grace of God, is never obsolete or insufficient. I can't speak of other things, no matter how "spiritual," without remembering grace and seeing these other things in the light of grace.

That's my starting-point. I don't expect to come to the end of this fascination of mine, and grace, after all, engenders gratitude and hoopla! So be it. Next post: a few quotations from Oden's preface. It's a doozy.

3 Good Things

1) Gospel Driven Life is a great blog. The latest post, Pastors: we are not political cartoonists, points out the need for preachers to keep the main thing the main thing, emphasizing that which God emphasizes in his Word, not what happen to be our own personal pet issues. I quote:
I know this -- that the dominant theme of the NT is the glory of Christ -- not our duties, not morality, not ethics, not politics, not family, not gender -- but Jesus. He is the center of the NT in the way that the Sun is the center of the solar system -- he is over 95% of its mass. When I speak of Gospel centeredness, I am simply describing the apostolic emphases of the Scriptures.
2) And check out the blog of Chandrakant Chavada, who is from Nadiad, India. You'll read about what God is doing in India. It sounds like the Book of Acts. People are going into communities, standing in public places and preaching to the stones, and God is moving. I'll be adding Chandrakant to my blogroll, because I definitely want to keep up with this.

3) I love A. W. Tozer. But don't read him if you don't feel like being challenged. I was browsing through an online Tozer devotional this morning. In tomorrow's devotion we find this opening prayer:
Our Father, we know that Thou art present with us, but our knowledge is but a figure and shadow of truth and has little of the spiritual savor and inward sweetness such knowledge should afford. This is for us a great loss and the cause of much weakness of heart. Help us to make at once such amendment of life as is necessary before we can experience the true meaning of the words "In thy presence is fullness of joy." Amen.



A friend of mine has begun reading the "Left Behind" series. She says, "Do you know that there are some Christians that don't even believe in the Rapture! I mean, I wanna say to them, "You're a Christian, aren't you? You've got to believe in the Rapture!'"

Was it a teaching moment? Maybe, but I thought it best to keep silent, nodding my head quietly and letting the conversation drift in a new direction. Jared at The Thinklings said it best a while back: The Rapture, a relatively new doctrine, has become the "default position" of most Christians. Yup. By "default position" I suppose he meant something like, a thought process or concept that is activated automatically and accepted without question. Skepticism concerning a default position would be considered, I suppose, a lack of faith! I am convinced that my friend, like many others, has never really thought about the Rapture in a careful way, nor has she searched the Scriptures. The funny thing is, I happen to know that her own pastor does not accept the doctrine.

What all this tells me is that we need to do a better job teaching about the end times. At the very least, people should know that there are options here, multiple understandings, and that the "Left Behind" version is not only a relative upstart in church history, but that its basis in Scripture is tenuous at best.


This & That

Yesterday our church sent off a missionary to Mozambique. Her name is Emelyn Hart, and she will be working with Iris Ministries. Check out the pictures at her website. They will be updated frequently. Also, read more about her ministry here. And if God leads you to do so, please give generously here. She is a very inspiring young woman.


Milton at Transforming Sermons has just marked the first anniversary of his blog. Milton is dedicated to finding and sharing the best writing on discipleship and on preaching that he can possibly find. Two posts per day, five days per week. He's a trooper! And he's an eyes on the prize sort of blogger, keeping the main thing the main thing. I value him highly.


Nate at Eight Strings has declared January "Mandolin Month." And to celebrate, he went to see Mike Marshall and Chris Thile in concert together. That's something like Clapton and B. B. King playing together, I suppose, only in this case both musicians are in their prime. Wish I coulda been there, Nate!


Speaking of Nate, he and I are embarking on a new blogging project. We've both been kind of hankering to read some good fantasy, and were discussing what books are out there, what sounds intriguing, etc. Anyway, Nate got the bright idea that we should both read a fantasy epic (preferably multi-volume, of course) and discuss it together at a joint blog especially created for the purpose.

So that's the plan. The fantasy epic we've decided to read is George R. R. Martin's highly-regarded, "A Song of Ice and Fire." The first book in the series A Game of Thrones. This is an experiment in blogging, one that affords me the sheer joy of connecting with Nate in a new way, and of talking about what I'm reading (which I often do ad nauseum). Call it a two-person blogging reading-group. The blog, by the way, which has as yet only my introductory post, is called A Blog of Thrones.


Ah, books. I continue to read through America's history via biographies (like Bill of Out of the Bloo, I love a good "backstory"). Each new book in this reading plan picks up about where the previous biography left off. So, for example, the last book I completed in this series was David McCullough's justly famous biography of John Adams. Now, Adams died in 1826, so my next biographical subject must have been born near that time, preferably a little before. I've chosen Brigham Young, who was born in 1801. The book is called The Lion of the Lord, written by Stanley P. Hirshon. Young, by the way, lived to 1877. Who shall come next?


The "Couldn't Have Said it Better Myself" Award

HeyJules gets gratitude and hoopla's first ever "Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself" Award. To win the award you have to be pithy. Really pithy. [Unlike, for example, the name of this award.] And you also have to be, well, right on the money. HeyJules is both of these things in her recent Note to Self. It is, of course, my "note to self" also.


Taking a Break

Not having much to say lately, I think I'll do the natural thing and just stop "saying" for a little while. No More posts for a few days. I'm taking a blogging-break. See you on the flip side!


Spurgeon on the Unity of the Spirit

I've been reading a collection of writings by Charles Spurgeon called Grace and Power. This is actually a single-volume incorporating six shorter works. I'm not saying anything new and novel when I declare that Spurgeon is one of the most inspiring Christian writers that has ever laid pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). I've been using this book as a kind of devotional, reading a few pages each morning, letting Spurgeon guide and inform my meditation.

Like Chesterton or Lewis, Spurgeon is imminently quotable. Yesterday I was reading his thoughts on "the unity of the Spirit." This is a longish passage, difficult to excerpt (because it's all so good), but I wanted to give you a taste of Spurgeon on this subject, especially because it is a matter that we Christian bloggers desperately need to attend to (see this post by Dan Edelen for more on this subject). Anyway, Spurgeon is speaking of the great men of the reformation, and he remarks on their tendency at times to war with one another. He writes:
In those days the courtesies of Christians to one another were generally of the iron glove kind, rather than the naked hand. They were all called to war for the sake of the truth, and they were so intent on their task that they were even suspicious of their fellow soldiers. It may be the same way with us: the very watchfulness of truth, which is so valuable, may make us suspicious where there is no need of suspicion. And our courage may take us where we should not go, like a fiery horse that carries a young warrior beyond where he intended to go, where he may be taken prisoner. We must watch--the best of us must watch--lest we fight the Lord's battles with Satan's weapons and thereby, even from love for God and His truth, violate the unity of the Spirit.
Amen to that!


This & That

Two indispensable bloggers: Milton at Transforming Sermons, Adrian at Adrian's UK Evangelical Blog. Indispensable. I'm inclined to check in on them nearly every day, because their work is always useful and pertinent.


The blogroll. It keeps growing. I tried to shorten it, pare it down to the essentials, but I keep running into bloggers who are saying things so well, I know I'll want to check back frequently. So the blogroll grows. And grows. Latest addition: Wittingshire. Read, scroll, and read some more. There's fine writing here, there's poetry, and there are beautiful pics.


Amy Loves Books
has a take on the Narnia movie that is, in my opinion, spot on. She struggled at first to put it into words, but I'm glad she finally did.


Rev-Ed at Attention Span has posted wisely on the question Is American Culture Compatible with Christianity? He finishes up with a crucial nugget: "We must be Christians first, citizens of our earthly country second. Equating all things American with Christianity is a fatal mistake that the Church cannot afford to make."


I read it somewhere, but can't remember where. "Only Christians can put the Christ back in Christmas." Man, I want to shout that from the housetops. It's just silly to fight a war for Christmas, as if this holiday were some sort of legal requirement of the faith! Silly. Foolish. Dare I say it, un-Christian. I mean, Christmas has become, by and large, a secular celebration. And what else should we expect, after all, from a fallen and "secular" world? In fact, this secular Christmas is celebrated joyfully by people the world over who are simply NOT Jesus-people. Given that, how can we insist they celebrate a Jesus holiday? To them, it's just fine as is. To them, we Christians just sound cranky, belligerent, and distinctly ungenerous when we get on our high "put-Christ-back-in-Christmas" horse. Give it up, silly Christians. WE DO NOT OWN THE CULTURE. Never have. Never will. If you want to put Christ back in Christmas, do it yourself. That's all.


Christians, We Are Not God-Experts

Did you know that we Christians are not God-experts? I think it's good to remind ourselves of that from time to time. The Gospel is a wondrous thing, and it truly is a key to understanding the God of all creation, but even to speak of "understanding God" is to venture the slippery slope of pride. You'll remember how God put an end to all that sort of talk in the case of Job and his friends. He addressed them with 62 pertinent questions that they couldn't answer. One gets the impression that he might have gone on asking questions like that forever. Thankfully, Job got the message after #62.

And I might as well add that we're not love-experts either, we Christians. I truly desire that I could boast of our love, but I find I can't do so without many serious reservations. We have failed too often, too willfully, so that such a boast would only ring hollow. We are not so good at loving as we'd like to think. Indeed, we are not so good at it that the "worldlings" are flocking to our meetings. This is a matter not for boasting, but for repentance.

And, by the way, we are not Word-of-God-experts, either. The most learned Bible scholar that has ever lived, though God may have given him deep understanding by human standards, by God's own standard he is but a child learning his abc's. Let us therefore enter into the Word with the humility of a beginner, tasting the wisdom of God and keenly aware that each new particle of knowledge only proves to us how much more there is that we do not understand.

Jill Caratinni
There is something vital in knowing that there is much that we do not know. It keeps us grounded in reality. It keeps us looking to the one who wills to be known. Says the LORD, "Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know." (Jeremiah 33:3)
Christians, in heaven we will be learning forever. To learn now, in this life, to learn well, is to receive a foretaste of our eternal destiny. Let us learn and love in the power and grace of the Spirit, but let all our knowledge be tempered with the heart-cry, "Lord, I understand, but help thou my deep ignorance."


In the Midst of the Smoke and the Talk

Yesterday I saw one of those magazine Bibles. You know, they have titles like "Refuel" or "Remix," etc. Flashy, intended for niche markets, intended not to look like Bibles at all, intended to be cool, to be a source of no embarassment, busy with pictures of models striking poses. On the back of one of these we see a picture of a yound woman, looking very "with it," very hip in every way, and in large print across the page, echoing the words of an old Dire Straits song, "I want my NCV."

Does anyone find this rank appeal to Christian consumerism as dissonant as I do? I thought of all this when I read the following quotation from David Wells (courtesy of Danielle Durant of RZIM):
"Christ is not an agitator. He offers no new, intense experiences. He does not sell anything. He is, and that is all—like a flower on the restaurant table in the midst of the smoke and the talk. This is not what everybody else is promising today. In the advertisements, . . . in the new spiritual movements the message is clear—we have exactly what you have been looking for! Here is the answer to all your questions! […] This simplification turns everyone into nothing more than a shallow consumer. Christ is not for consumption but for worship."
The quotation, by the way, is from Turning to God: Biblical Conversion in the Modern World (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), page 128.



So it's the new year, and I'm sitting here listening to Klezmer music and blogging. Last year at this time I was heading into the last few hours of a 24-hour worship and prayer service. This year, the memorable event of the week was really the debut gig of my son's band (that would be son Tim, the strong and brave) at a local club two nights ago. That was inspiring fun.

I am keenly aware that it is the start of a big new thing that we're calling 2006, and so I need to post stirring and memorable words to fit the occasion. But I've got nothing. Here's the thing. I don't exactly make resolutions, but I do try to remind myself of a few things at this time of year. For example:
1) ". . . you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed." Rom 13:11

"The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." 1 Tim 1:15

3) "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience." Eph 5:6

"By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you." 2 Tim 1:14

"But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God." Acts 20:24

"I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Eph 4:1-3
I really don't know what the future holds: not the next year, not even the next moment. I just want to be ready. Mind on things above, clinging to what is good, feet shod with the gospel of peace, testifying in season and out to the good news of God's grace. Have a Gospel-prospering year!