Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Holy is Your Name, all around the bloomin' heather

I have always loved Wild Mountain Thyme and considered it one of the beautiful melodies all time. Just in case the song's not familiar to you, here it is:

Now isn't that a nice song? But what I've just discovered is that there is a worship song put to that same melody. It' wonderful.

Nicely done.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Reading (and writing, and blogging) the red letters

I've been slowly reading the Sermon on the Mount. The emphasis here should be placed on the word "slowly." I'll take a brief passage, write it out in a journal that I bought just for this purpose, and then just think about it, recall it, mull it over, for the next few days. In the course of that process, I might be reminded of other Scriptural texts on the same theme and write out one or two of those as well.

The conviction that lies behind this procedure (well, one of them) is that we Christians don't think about and talk about the things that Jesus thought about and talked about. Not enough, anyway. We tend to put the focus on other things, and then--maybe--draw on a saying or two of Jesus for support. In our sermonizing--this is my experience anyway--we would much rather begin with Paul and may or may not let Jesus in on the conversation. Or we might begin with Calvin (or Jonathan Edwards, or Martin Luther, or C. S. Lewis, or whomever) then draw upon Paul, and maybe throw in a quotation of one of the Davidic psalms, but never ever get to the teaching of Jesus.

It was my decision, in response to this lack of focus on the words of Jesus, to correct for it in my own Bible reading by starting with the words of Jesus. Not excluding, mind you, any of the rest of the Bible, but beginning with the "red letters" and letting the focus be where Jesus put it, rather than relegating Jesus to a secondary or tertiary reference at best.

That's the idea. That's how I have organized my Bible reading lately. It's a slow process, and if I keep it up, it may take me the rest of my life to get to the last red letters in the New Testament.

In terms of my secondary reading, Bible commentaries and that sort of thing, I will, of course, be looking for authors that mirror the teaching of Jesus. If Jesus, for example, seems to put a very high value on peacemaking, I want to hear what modern commentators have to say on the subject. And I'm hoping for this emphasis to fuel my future blogging and sharing here (for example, yesterday's daily prayer from Scotty Smith). I want to commend and share that which puts the emphasis where Jesus put it (this, by the way, will correspond quite closely to the fruit of the Spirit, since the Spirit of Jesus naturally cherishes and promotes that which Jesus cherished and promoted).

That's all. But expect to hear more on the subject in the coming posts.

Now here's a song:

Saturday, July 8, 2017

A few thoughts on the Holy Spirit (and those "spiritual" Facebook quizes)

Over the years I've heard a lot of stuff attributed to the Holy Spirit. You can get away with saying almost anything about the Spirit, in some charismatic circles, because after all the Spirit is wild and the Spirit is bigger than our reason, etc. Therefore--this is how the thinking goes--the wilder and more irrational your claim, the more likely it is to be the Spirit's work.

Secondly, the wilder and more irrational your claim, the more impressed people will be about your own spirituality. This is especially so for those professional speakers who use the term prophet in their promotional material.

My opinion: here's the one thing you need to know about the Spirit, and it will keep you from being misled by a lot of spiritual chicaneries: the Holy Spirit's whole purpose is to make much of Jesus. If the so-called "Spirit" that the speaker on the platform is claiming to be filled with makes much of the speaker, instead of making much of Jesus, you should just walk away quickly.

But here's a reason that those speakers are so in demand: they tend to make much of us, as well. They pick out a person in the audience (I mean, congregation!), ask for her name and maybe a few other personal details, and then after a few moments of communion with the "spirit" they say something like, "Well, Jane, I feel like the Spirit is saying to me that you are a great woman of God and that God is going to use you in a mighty way in the coming year. . . . "

Jane practically swoons in excitement. The crowd is wowed! Isn't the Spirit marvelous! Everybody loves being told exactly what they wanted to hear! Paul said something about "itching ears" that addresses this phenomenon. You can look it up!

So: if Jesus has been marginalized, then it's not the Holy Spirit. If Jesus is made little of, but the speaker is made much of, or the people in the audience are made much of, then it is not the Holy Spirit. The church does not exist to make much of individuals, but to make much of Jesus. And yet individuals love, naturally, to hear themselves extolled, their virtues praised, etc. If you make much of me, I may like you and come back for more, even give money to your mission, but none of this is the least bit the Spirit's doing.

The Spirit's work is to see that Jesus is all in all, beginning in the hearts and minds of believers, and extending out finally to all creation. So, you know, that spiritual quiz you found on Facebook that confirmed you as a Daniel or an Elijah (depending on how you answered a half-dozen "spiritual" questions about yourself), which you then posted to Facebook with great enthusiasm and many smiley emojis . . . you're being made much of in that transaction (and the quiz-designers themselves know that's exactly what makes their quiz attract frequent clicks), but Jesus is nowhere in the picture. The quiz just gave you an excuse to make much of yourself on Facebook, that's all. Conclusion: the Spirit had nothing to do with that quiz. Sorry. And you're probably not much like Daniel, either.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

3 Things Saturday

  • God's redemptive purpose for each of his children is to redeem and transform their whole being: hearts and minds redemption. The thing is, sometimes I lean in, and sometimes I lean away. Sometimes I seek, sometimes I hide. But I believe that the redemptive process, our sanctification, means that with time I do more seeking and less hiding, more leaning in, less leaning away.
  • We American Christians don't make a big deal about peace (I mean here peace as opposed to war). Nobody but those apparently loony pacifists espouses a consistent ethic of peacemaking. We Christians don't preach about it, march in the streets for it, or write countless books on the subject, investigating with nuance and intelligence the struggles and difficulties of peacemaking in this world. But why not? How can Christianity in America have developed a culture which is more likely to bolster the apologetic for war than labor for peace? On this issue, in my opinion, we have a long way to go to get to Christlikeness.
  • A recent string band discovery for me: The Slocan Ramblers. They're really good on a lot of old-time standards, but I also really like their lovely version of Abide with Me:

Friday, June 30, 2017

Songs of Place: Cumberland Gap

Let's do another song of place. Wikipedia has a nice backgrounder on this old folk song, whih has been recorded numerous times. The Cumberland Gap itself plays a significant part in several aspects of American history, and the song seems to draw on some of these memories. Every version selects from a somewhat different set of lyrics, but here's a nice early recording by Frank Hutchinson.

But while we're at it we might as well include Jason Isbell's remarakble song of the same name:

Monday, June 26, 2017

Sinclair Ferguson on Emotional Intelligence

From Sinclair Ferguson's Devoted to God:
[T]hinking through the logic of the gospel corrects, cleanses, recalibrates, transforms, and sancitifies us emotionally as well as intellectually. It leads us to responding as whole people to the situations in which we find ourselves. Instead of being captivated emotionally, our emotions are mastered by the gospel and begin to express its truth and power. We thus develop an integrated and healthy emotional life. This is the true and valuable 'emotional intelligence' the gospel produces.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Red Letter Quiet Time

I mentioned not long ago that I was focusing on the red letters in my personal Bible time lately. That is, the words of Jesus, as recorded in the four Gospels.

This does not mean to the exclusion of everything else. But it means that, when I crack open the Bible in my quiet time, I start with Jesus' own words. They are the focal point of my meditation, journaling, and prayer.

This is an experiment. I've noticed that in church we hear an awful lot from Paul. It's as if we only see Jesus through the eyes of Paul, or perhaps we only see Paul, and Jesus is hardly in view at all.

I suspect that a consistent focus on the teaching of Jesus will lead to a different set of concerns, a different emphasis, than a similarly consistent focus on the teaching of Paul would. I am not suggesting that they are at odds, Paul and Jesus, but that they have different concerns, different emphases. In my experience, those who keep the focus on Paul's letter will tend to emphasize the doctrine of atonement and salvation by faith alone through Christ alone. But those who dwell on Jesus are more likely to focus on things like love, mercy, forgiveness, and justice.

As I say, this has been a kind of experiment for me, but I've enjoyed the process and I do sense that it's already been beneficial. This is the way it works. You start with a "red-letter" passage, a quotation of Jesus (I started with the beatitudes). Copy it out in a notebook which you have dedicated to this purpose. This is to slow you down, to get you thinking about the words and concepts. Copy the words out slowly in your neatest hand.

That might be all you have time for. But maybe tomorrow you'll have a little more time, so you copy it out again. but now the passage has now been simmering in your head for about 24 hours. The thinking of Jesus will have provoked some questions, some responsive thoughts of your own. So you write this all down, and you also seek other passages in the Scriptures that might help you. These secondary passages are not limited to the red letters. They might come from anywhere in the Word.

You might stick with this same passage for days, or it might remind you of something else that Jesus said, and you might on the next day copy that out. Every day you're copying out the words of Jesus. His focus is becoming your focus. His concerns, your concerns.

Here's a guarantee. The words of Jesus will challenge you. It is not in your nature to think like Jesus. This is something you acquire from sustained exposure.

Application--that's the difficult part, always--may require some painful dismantling of your self-image. You will be inclined to cry out for help. Prayer is an integral part of this process, since we are not simply meditating on the words of a long-dead historical figure, but on the word of the living Christ, the risen King.

What will be the upshot of this sustained conversation with Jesus over the course of weeks and months? I believe only good can come of it. The Christian walk is a walk of gradual transformation into the likeness of Jesus. I'm hoping this routine of reading and meditation will be a significant help in that direction.