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Thomas à Kempis: Spiritual Blindness

Thomas à Kempis (c. 1380–1471)

Thomas à Kempis (c. 1380–1471)

“We must not rely too much upon ourselves, for grace and understanding are often lacking in us. We have but little inborn light, and this we quickly lose through negligence. Often we are not aware that we are so blind in heart. Meanwhile we do wrong, and then do worse in excusing it. At times we are moved by passion, and we think it zeal. We take others to task for small mistakes, and overlook greater ones in ourselves. We are quick enough to feel and brood over the things we suffer from others, but we think nothing of how much others suffer from us. If a man would weigh his own deeds fully and rightly, he would find little cause to pass severe judgment on others.

“The interior man puts the care of himself before all other concerns, and he who attends to himself carefully does not find it hard to hold his tongue about others. You will never be devout of heart unless you are thus silent about the affairs of others and pay particular attention to yourself. If you attend wholly to God and yourself, you will be little disturbed by what you see about you.”

— Thomas à Kempis,  The Imitation of Christ Book 2, Chapter 5.

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John Wesley on the Neglect of Private Prayer

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

I went over to Kingswood, and spake largely to the children, as also on Saturday and Sunday. I found there had been a fresh revival of the work of God among them some months ago: But it was soon at an end, which I impute chiefly to their total neglect of private prayer. Without this, all the other means which they enjoyed could profit them nothing.

 

— John Wesley, Journal: Friday September 4, 1772.

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To Whom Does God Speak? – Amos 1:2

lion22There is a lion roaring, but only the prophet can hear.

I said that the opening editorial note in the book of Amos (1:1) already raises an issue for me. The issue is: Who speaks for God? It may not be the person we thought was authorized to do so.

Which also brings to mind another question: ‘To Whom (if anyone) does God speak?'”

The prophet is the one who sees what others do not. There is an interesting detail in the way Amos 1:1 tells us about this prophecy: Amos spoke what he saw. “The words of Amos… which he saw….” Amos conveyed the sense of what he saw.

But, in Amos 1:2 it is more a matter of what he heard: (more…)

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Chesterton on Miracles

G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

“But my belief that miracles have happened in human history is not a mystical belief at all; I believe in them upon human evidences as I do in the discovery of America. Upon this point there is a simple logical fact that only requires to be stated and cleared up. Somehow or other an extraordinary idea has arisen that the disbelievers in miracles consider them coldly and fairly, while believers in miracles accept them only in connection with some dogma. The fact is quite the other way. The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them. The open, obvious, democratic thing is to believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a miracle, just as you believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a murder. The plain, popular course is to trust the peasant’s word about the ghost exactly as far as you trust the peasant’s word about the landlord. Being a peasant he will probably have a great deal of healthy agnosticism about both. Still you could fill the British Museum with evidence uttered by the peasant, and given in favour of the ghost. If it comes to human testimony there is a choking cataract of human testimony in favour of the supernatural. If you reject it, you can only mean one of two things. You reject the peasant’s story about the ghost either because the man is a peasant or because the story is a ghost story. That is, you either deny the main principle of democracy, or you affirm the main principle of materialism — the abstract impossibility of miracle. You have a perfect right to do so; but in that case you are the dogmatist. It is we Christians who accept all actual evidence — it is you rationalists who refuse actual evidence being constrained to do so by your creed. But I am not constrained by any creed in the matter, and looking impartially into certain miracles of mediaeval and modern times, I have come to the conclusion that they occurred. All argument against these plain facts is always argument in a circle. If I say, ‘Mediaeval documents attest certain miracles as much as they attest certain battles,’ they answer, ‘But mediaevals were superstitious'; if I want to know in what they were superstitious, the only ultimate answer is that they believed in the miracles. If I say ‘a peasant saw a ghost,’ I am told, ‘But peasants are so credulous.’ If I ask, ‘Why credulous?’ the only answer is — that they see ghosts. Iceland is impossible because only stupid sailors have seen it; and the sailors are only stupid because they say they have seen Iceland.”

— G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy. Chapter IX.

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“I Am” Sayings in the New Testament (a list)

IFThis post is primarily just a list — for me to archive — and for those who might be interested. I have also included (at the end) a video presentation by Dr. Andrew Lincoln on the significance of the “I am” passages in the Gospel of John.

In one of the churches I pastored, I led a series of brief Lenten studies on the “I am” sayings in the Gospel of John. In preparation for this, I did a search to find how many sayings like this there really were. I was a bit surprised how many I found.

Occasionally I get asked about this, so it occurs to me that there may be other people who would also find this list interesting. (more…)

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R.I.P. Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-2014)

Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-2014)

Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-2014)

Wolfhart Pannenberg is one of the first theologians that made any sense to me — and I never really encountered his theological writings until after I graduated from Seminary. I came into Seminary out of a background in the physical sciences. My undergraduate degree was in Chemistry. I attended Asbury Theological Seminary, and I am thankful for the education I received there and for many of the professors that were teaching there at the time.

But, theology didn’t make sense to me. Instead of appealing to common criterion for proof and rationality it seemed forever attempting to avoid them. If if that was the case, how could Christians claim anything that they said was in any sense “true” — or more true or right than anything anyone else said? Furthermore, it appeared to me that the Christian faith did not pay sufficient attention to inductive forms of reasoning. (more…)

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A Prayer for Today (Richard Meux Benson)

prayer&candleComfort, we ask you, most gracious God,
all who are cast down and faint of heart
amidst the sorrows and difficulties of the world;

and grant that,
by the quickening power of the Holy Spirit,
they may be lifted up to you
with hope and courage,
and enabled to go upon their way
rejoicing in Your love;

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Richard Meux Benson (1824-1915)

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The Power of the Redeemer God – Psalm 135:8-12

Psalm 135 begins with praise to God. God is described in His role as Creator — who has power over everything. But, now, in verses 8-12, attention turns to the particular grace shown to the nation of Israel. The great God of Creation has shown particular favor on the nation of Israel.

hebrew-scrollThis is part of the essential message of the Bible: God has made God’s very self known to us through a particular people — through particular events in history — and especially through Jesus Christ. Theologians sometimes refer to the scandal of particularity in the incarnation of Jesus Christ — that a particular person at a particular place and time has become the hope and salvation for all people. (more…)

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The United Methodist “Sharing in Faith” Forum

dialog-cross-sharing-in-faith-582x388Recently I mentioned that back in June, Richard Peck and Tim Tanton contacted me by email, asking if I would write a brief personal essay about my own perspective on sexuality issues. They said they were collecting such essays to be a part of an online forum of sexuality issues which would be hosted on UMC.org.

Well, the Forum is up and it is located here: Sharing in Faith: A Forum on Sexuality and the Church.

At the site it says:

Welcome to “Sharing in Faith,” where United Methodists can share perspectives on human sexuality and better understand one another’s journeys on this issue.

The perspectives are offered in the first person, not with the intent of persuading or dissuading but of helping people understand one another as persons of faith dealing with a challenging issue.

People are invited to share their own experiences on the forum. Some simple suggestions are given.

This is an opportunity to listen and learn from one another.

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Some Thoughts on a Post-Gay-Marriage America

Gay marriage is on its way to being accepted as part of life in the USA. At The Daily Beast Jay Michaelson seems to me to state the situation well: “Same-sex marriage is becoming a national inevitability. A cascade of court opinions, significant public support, not to mention increasingly sympathetic gay couples and increasingly implausible opposition — all these and more point to an emerging national consensus that “gay marriage” is actually a form of “marriage.” It’s not exactly clear when the hump took place — but we definitely seem to be over it.” Here: Were Christians Right About Gay Marriage All Along?

Things are looking different now.

Randy Thomas

Randy Thomas

Randy Thomas, formerly a leader in the ex-gay organization Exodus International, writes about his change of heart over the anti-gay-marriage initiatives in which he was once involved. He hasn’t changed his Side B (“tradionalist”) views on marriage or sexual morality, but he looks back on his involvement in attempts to ban gay marriage with embarrassment. He says: “The night that Prop 8 in California and Amendment 2 in Florida (both banning gay marriage) passed I was jubilant. I truly believed what we had done was right and good. In the following days, and for a while afterwards, I repeated the talking points I had willingly adopted. I truly believed what I was saying. What I didn’t make widely known was how heart-broken I was when I saw the gay community in California take to the streets. Their protests that night and in the days afterwards tugged at me. When I saw their grief-stricken faces my heart twisted in my chest. It was the first time in a long time I remember thinking, “did we do something wrong?” I quickly shoved that thought out of my mind as I joined my fellow religious activists celebrating the marriage “wins.” Yet, the gay community with their protesting and sorrow filled faces would come back to haunt me over the years. Eventually the doubt over what we had done would get louder in my mind and change from a question to a conviction; a conviction that indeed we had done something terribly wrong.” Here: Gay Marriage And Public Policy: Personal Reflection, Apology. (more…)

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Quotes From Some Books I’ve Been Reading

I always have several books going all at the same time. Some I plow through quickly. Some I never finish. Some I lay aside to pick up later.

51g94tKvIFL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Tim Otto writes about the significance of the controversy in the Church over same-gender sex: “The conflict around same-sex relationships can either cause further division within the church, or, by faith, we can see the struggle as our teacher. By bringing up questions about family, social relations, church unity, and politics, this debate can help us think well and live more deeply into the dream God has for us and the world. It can help us, as God’s little flock, receive the kingdom that God is offering with so much pleasure. And if that happens, it will mean more gospel, more good news for everyone.” From: Oriented to Faith: Transforming the Conflict over Gay Relationships.

Michael J. Quicke on preaching: “Preaching’s awesome task is about evoking an alternative community that lives for a different agenda — for God, for the wider community, and for the world. Preaching needs to be experienced as prophetic, transformational, incarnational, and diverse. Catalytic, life-changing preaching accomplishes deep outcomes in God’s purposes.” From: 360-Degree Preaching: Hearing, Speaking, and Living the Word.
(more…)

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Who Speaks for God? – Amos 1:1

Amos0615The very opening words of the book of the prophet Amos raise a question for us. The question is this: Who Speaks for God?

The scholars often remind us that the prophets were people who spoke for God. Thus, they were primarily forth-tellers, not primarily fore-tellers. It is a point that needs to be repeated often. The word prophet does not mean “someone who predicts things.” It really means “someone who speaks the Word of God.” The prophets enabled the people to hear what God was saying to them at their own particular place and time in history.

For some reason, in the popular mind, prophesy has become connected with prediction. When popular preachers speak of what they call “Bible Prophesy” they are most often referring to Bible Apocalyptic: like the highly symbolic material in the book of Daniel or the book of Revelation. But, this is not the heart of prophesy.

The heart of prophesy is: “Thus says the LORD.” (more…)

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A Prayer for Today

“Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.” — Exodus 3:1,2.

prayer&candle

Your voice burns within the depths of our being,
O God of our ancestors,
and draws us into your presence and service.
Hear the cries of your people
and speak a word of comfort,
that we may proclaim to all the earth
the glory of your name. Amen.

 

 

Found here.

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Albert Outler on Wesley’s Sermon ‘Christian Perfection’

Albert C. Outler (1908-1989)

Albert C. Outler (1908-1989)

Some comments from Albert Outler about John Wesley’s sermon on “Christian Perfection” — and the fears it arouses:

If, for Wesley, salvation was the total restoration of the deformed image of God in us, and if its fullness was the recovery of our negative power not to sin and our positive power to love God supremely, this denotes that furthest reach of grace and triumph in this life that Wesley chose to call ‘Christian Perfection.’

Just as justification and regeneration are thresholds for the Christian life in earnest (‘what God does for us’), so also sanctification is ‘what God does in us’, to mature and fulfill the human potential according to his primal design.  Few Christians  had ever denied some such prospect, in statu gloriae; few . . . ever envisioned it as a realistic possibility in this life. . . .  Thus, Wesley’s encouragement to his people to ‘go on to perfection’ and to ‘expect to be made perfect in love in this life’ aroused lively fears that this would foster more of the self-righteous perfectionism already made objectionable by earlier pietists.

— Albert Outler (Ed). “An Introductory Comment” to Sermon 40: “Christian Perfection”. Works (Bic Ed) Vol 2, p. 97. (c) 1985.

John Wesley’s sermon on “Christian Perfection” (Sermon #40) was written in 1741.

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

Wesley says in his Journal:

I think it was the latter end of the year 1740, that I had a conversation with Dr. Gibson, then Bishop of London, at Whitehall. He asked me what I meant by perfection. I told him without any disguise or reserve. When I ceased speaking, he said: ‘Mr. Wesley, if this be all you mean, publish it to all the world.’ I answered, ‘My lord, I will'; and accordingly wrote and published the sermon on ‘Christian Perfection.’

You can read Wesley’s sermon here: “Christian Perfection” (Sermon #40).

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The Power of the Creator God – Psalm 135:7,8

If we are to follow God, if we are to trust God, we must have some assurance about God’s character. It is only natural that Bible often spends time with this issue. If we are to trust in God we need some assurance also of God’s power. Is God able to uphold us through the difficulties of life? To me, these are the issues addressed in Psalm 135:7,8.

lightening-and-rainWhich brings me back to the circumstances that made Psalm 135 so vivid to me in the first place. I started reading and meditating on this psalm on a stormy morning. There was a thunderstorm raging outside. And, it is clear that the Psalmist saw the power of God in the thunderstorm. It was not an unruly, threatening natural event — somehow the thunderstorm was also under the sovereign power of God.

So there is no need to ultimately fear what would otherwise seem powerful, unruly or chaotic — all the powers of this world are under God’s overruling power. They reflect the power of God — for God is the Creator of all that is. (more…)

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