Tuesday, December 12, 2017

To Hunger

Sanctification is that process by which the Holy Spirit conforms the believer’s heart and mind to the standard of Jesus Christ. It happens in every Christian (which is why they call them “Christians” after all). Christians are being made Christ-like in a gradual process that continues throughout the believer’s life and is only completed in the life to come.

I wanted to say all that -- a pretty standard definition of the term “sanctification”-- to get it out of the way before saying this:sometimes it seems an awful long way from reality in me.

And I suppose this can also be said: that it seems so far from reality in me has been something that just hasn’t mattered much to me of late.

That’s a sorry fact. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that Matthew 5:6, the fourth beatitude, is one of the highest and purest descriptions of the Christian life that can be found in the Bible.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

David had this hunger, for sure. You see it in his prayer to God in Psalm 51:
Create in me a clean heart, O God, / and renew a right spirit within me. 
The Christian walk will always involve this coming to grips with one's own uncleanness. We must from time to time stand in the place where Jesus stood, when Jesus said to him, "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man." Mt. 16:23

Monday, December 11, 2017

Spiritual blogging . . . again

I’ve been thinking for some time now that I might have a go at rejuvenating this blog by getting back to some consistent posting on spiritual themes. I have been a long time away. It’s been some years now that I’ve been blogging only intermittently and with little purpose. Even the occasional false starts that I’ve made in the past leave me feeling a little reluctant about expecting much from this new start.

But here I am, and I do have a reason, I think, to return to this format. I have been thinking and praying a lot about my own spiritual condition of late. I spend far less time praying, reading the Scriptures, or engaging in spiritual conversation than I once did. A kind of sluggishness (Hebrews 6:12) has set in, or (to reference another Hebrews passage) an inattentiveness (2:1).

No need to go into the reasons for this here, but it is something that I want to counteract here and now. Time to start schooching back upward on this slippery slope.

How? Well it seems to me that the starting place is sincere prayer (something like this, perhaps). Another good idea is simply to get back to reading my Bible. I’ve been trying to do that lately, with an emphasis on the life and ministry of Jesus. And a third helpful thing, for me, is to keep a journal; to write down my thoughts and reactions along the way.

And finally, there is the blogging. This is simply another way to attend. Another way to help myself to think on the things of God.

That’s the idea anyway. So here’s what you can expect at this blog in the coming posts. Brief considerations of passages of Scripture. Prayers. Occasional honest self-assessment, and links to helpful posts from other bloggers (like this one, for example).

I’ll try to post no less than three times per week (but more if I really get rolling). As time goes on I’ll be compiling a blogroll of similarly-inclined Internet scribblers. And if you’re reading this, drop a note in the comment just to let me know.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

For the Love of Songs

I love songs. I think it's kind of amazing that we have this storehouse of music to draw from, thousands of songs to listen to, play, re-interpret, sing around campfires or on front porches with friends. Gospel songs, country songs, love songs and murder ballads, handed on from generation to generation. Call it the Great American Songbook, with its various chapters titled, Show Tunes, Cowboy Songs, Train Songs, Story Songs, The Blues, etc.

To me this is a chunk of our history every bit as inspiring as Mount Rushmore, say, because it is living history, continually expanding and deepening. It can make me feel downright patriotic! It is one of the great achievements of the American people, a kind of national self-portrait in song.

As a kid I learned to love songs as songs (as opposed to songs as vehicles by which to admire your favorite rock star). In school we sang Steven Foster and Woody Guthrie tunes and their lyrics seemed like fine poetry to me. Then of course there were the pop songs on the radio, one after the other, little 3-minute gems that take up permanent residence in your mind, so that even just one note can bring the whole song back.

In the rock era, two attitudes developed, which actually caused many in my generation to ignore or demean this precious resource. First, we baby boomers developed the notion that the good was to be found exclusively in the new. If it's old, it's probably bad.  Radio stations played "the latest hits," and that's all. Of course not everyone had this attitude (as the folk revival of the 60s demonstrates) but it was widely prevalent. The second nefarious idea that was adopted by many in my generation was the notion that you weren't a great musician unless you wrote all or most of your own music. Maybe this started with Dylan or the Beatles, but the idea is just plain silly. My favorite musicians love the "songbook" and are frequently adding its gems to their repertoire. To me, the musical possibilities provided in the pages of the "songbook" are positively inspiring, and to ignore it is not to prove your genius but to reveal your ignorance.

Youtube is an invaluable tool for song-lovers like me. You look up a song, and you get to choose from dozens of versions. Sometimes I like to sample several renditions of the same song, discovering a wide range of interpretive possibilities. This morning I got interested in looking up the music of John Loudermilk. He died a couple of years back at the age of 82. He wrote the songs "Tobacco Road," "Indian Reservation," "Now You Can Tell Me Goodbye," and "Abilene," among others.

"Tobacco Road," for one, has entered the songbook. It's one of those tunes that seems ageless, like a mountain or a river, a permanent part of the landscape (or songscape), so it comes as it of surprise to find out it was only written in 1960. These songs about growing up in constricted circumstances are legion, but Tobacco Road is the example without equal, the granddaddy of them all. I recall most readily the Eric Burden version and also Edgar Winter's memorable take, but of course the covers of this song are countless. Here's the 1964 version from The Nashville Teens:

Another favorite Loudermilk piece is the country song, Abilene. I listened to Bobby Bare's version this morning. Loudermilk's classic tune falls into that category of songs where the singer is not where he wants to be. He's far from home and longing to go back. In this case, back to Abilene.

That's all for now. I'm headed out today to go to a bluegrass festival and soak in some old songs. In the meantime, be sure to listen to some old songs today!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Song of Place: Louisiana Man

A couple of months back I established a daily habit of sharing a song on Facebook. I'm trying to share songs that feature admirable writing, or examples of American folk, blues and country music history.

Well, I'm up to the Daily Song #78. I have to admit it's not something that has generated much interest, but my goal now is to share 365 songs. Who knows after that?

I'm looking for songs that feature great storytelling, songs that evoke a time and place and a way of life, like this one:

Monday, September 11, 2017

Reading Report

Day 7 of my foolhardy attempt to write 20 posts in 20 days.

I'm coming to the end of a couple of books, and also starting a new one. The two I'm almost done with:

  • The War that Killed Achilles, by Caroline Alexander. This is a remarkable book. Not something I was planning to read, I noticed it while browsing the shelves at the library, read the first paragraph (just like my mother taught me to do) and decided to bring it home. I've read the Iliad a couple of times, but it's been quite a few years. I'm far from being an expert, but Caroline Alexander seems a really insightful writer. I'm liking this book much more than I expected to, actually.
  • The Perfect Pass: American Genius and the Reinvention of Football, by S. C. Gwynne. Although I read a fair amount of sports history, I seldom read books about football. The last one was probably, oh, let me see, a biography of Bart Starr, read when I was about 12 years old and an avid Green Bay Packers fan. Anyway, this is another one of those books I happened upon while browsing the shelves at the library (something everyone should do). Entertaining and interesting, I actually learned a few things, though I've been a football fan for about 5 decades now. A fun read.
Then there's the one I just started:
  • And then there's the new one, just begun. I thought I needed a good tense thriller. Back at the library, I happened upon the books of John Lawton. He writes historical thrillers set in the the WWII era. The one I chose to read first is called Second Violin. This is from the Inspector Troy series. I'm maybe 50 pages in and it has absolutely captured me. I need to hurry up and finish those first two so I can devote myself to this one. Can't wait to get back to it!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

4 things

  1. This is the sixth post in my attempt to write 20 posts in a row (thereby re-establishing the habit of frequent blogging, I hope). The last post elicited an interesting response from Dan Edelen on Facebook, which I'm grateful for.
  2. With Irma now battering southern Florida, I greatly appreciate this prayer from Scotty Smith.
  3. Back to mercy: I accept as a given that Jesus' call upon his followers is to be freaks of mercy: let mercy so mark your way that it is one of the lasting impressions you leave with anyone who meets you. I accept, in other words, that it is a radical call (by our lights, anyway). I accept that few of us have mined its depths. Least of all me. [see these recent posts on mercy]
  4. Christians in America have always assumed that the Christian "we" and the American "we" are the same "we." That's Stanley Hauerwas, who is wise. [Listen here].