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    Wednesday
    Aug032016

    Look Unto Me

    In his sermon “Sovereignty and Salvation,” Charles Haddon Spurgeon exhorts his hearers to turn and to trust in God as the source and originator of salvation.

    With flourish, he concludes the sermon:

    ‘Look unto him, and be ye saved;’ and remember that ‘he is God, and beside him there is none else.’ And thou, poor trembler, what sayest thou? Wilt thou begin the year by looking unto him? You know how sinful you are this morning; you know how filthy you are; and yet it is possible that, before you open your pew door, and get into the aisle, you will be as justified as the apostles before the throne of God. It is possible that, ere your foot treads the threshold of your door, you will have lost the burden that has been on your back, and you will go on your way, singing, ‘I am forgiven, I am forgiven; I am a miracle of grace; this day is my spiritual birthday.’ O, that it might be such to many of you, that at last I might say, ‘Here am I, and the children thou hast given me.’ Hear this, convinced sinner! ‘This poor man cried, and the Lord delivered him out of his distresses.’ O, taste and see that the Lord is good! Now believe on him; now cast thy guilty soul upon his righteousness; now plunge thy black soul into the bath of his blood; now put thy naked soul at the door of the wardrobe of his righteousness; now seat thy famished soul at the feast of plenty. Now ‘Look!’ How simple does it seem! And yet it is the hardest thing in the world to bring men to. They never will do it, till constraining grace makes them. Yet there it is, ‘Look!’ Go thou away with that thought. ‘Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.’

    I read this sermon three Sundays ago. Spurgeon’s text is Isaiah 45:22. And his theme is critical. Christianity’s claim on reality is particular as well as peculiar. Humanity is wayward and lost, in need of redemption. God is a God who saves. God’s salvation has come to us in Jesus Christ, which is peculiar. And each person, individually and uniquely, is called to respond to God’s particular and peculiar salvific action, revealed fully in Christ, in faith.

    Many modern people are slow to identify with Spurgeon’s intended hearer: the trembler, the sinful person, the poor and distressed, the guilty, dirty, naked, and famished soul. But for the one who believes, that person is elevated to equal standing with the apostles, deemed righteous, cleansed, clothed, and fed. The experience of redemption involves a dreadful awareness of one’s own spiritual poverty, yet includes a pull toward the goodness and grace that has been revealed in abundance through Christ.

    My Baptist heritage compels me to announce the bad news along with the good. Salvation comes from God, and cannot be obtained under our own power. But the good news is so incredibly good, that not only does God redeem us, but calls into into a relationship of grace whereby we are conformed into the likeness of the Son, Jesus Christ. Through God's saving action, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me."

    Death precedes resurrection. But to enter newness of life we must look, not unto ourselves, but unto the Lord.

    Tuesday
    Aug022016

    Glassmaking and Christian Discipleship

    On the Venetian island of Murano glassmakers have been mastering their craft for over a century. This video from Monocle, which caught my eye last week, features the work of Carlo Moretti. You will have to visit the Monocle website to view the video, as I am unable to embed it here.

    Learning about the craft and artisanship of glassmaking is interesting in and of itself. It involves skill, precision, aesthetic sensibility, and flair. Watching the work of the designers and glass masters is wondrously captivating. The glass they create is beautiful, made for the enjoyment and pleasure of the beholder.

    In watching this report, what sparked my imagination was how glassmaking contains numerous elements found within a healthy understanding of Christian discipleship. Among them, I noted the following:

    • Glassmaking requires a kind of knowledge. Master glassblowers understand the properties of glass, how glass is heated and cooled, and how it is shaped. Faith, though possessing an experiential dimension, is likewise a form of knowledge which must be transmitted from generation to generation. One element is proclamation or exhortation, but embodiment, discipline, and demonstration of the knowledge of Christ are also indispensable.
    • To excel at glassmaking requires training. Thanks to our revivalistic heritage in America, Christianity is often depicted as a matter of deciding. While decision is invariably one part of Christianity, discipleship is the difference between a healthy, robust faith and one which stands withering on the vine. To become a master glassblower, one must learn from the masters. The same is true for disciples of Jesus. We must abide first in him, as is commanded in John 15, but we do so in a fellowship wherein we love one another. Within that fellowship, we discover others who excel in the way of Christ, and can pass on to us the lessons they have learned by abiding in him.
    • The development of new talent is necessary for the craft of glassmaking to take on new life. Christianity is by no means a collection of those who are the most naturally talented, but every Christian is given the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit then equips the church for ministry and enables the people of God for mission. As people profess faith in Christ and take their place within the community, their gifts must be developed and utilized for service.
    • Carlo Moretti sought innovation within the glassmaking craft through a generative partnership with "Breaking the Mold." How often do Christian fellowships ask themselves, "What creative opportunities are we missing? What practices or vital pieces of knowledge have been lost, or are now in the process of being forgotten? How can we be vulnerable to external critique and challenge, and who do we trust to help us reconnect with our heritage while simultaneously urging us to boldly enter our next season as an outpost of the kingdom?" When the church has solid ties with theologians, serving either in the university or seminary, this is a possibility. It is also a possibility when the church humbly listens to the child, widow, orphan, aged, broken, and forgotten.
    • To unleash contemporary design possibilities within glassmaking, "Breaking the Mold" first looked back to the techniques of the past. This is described as a process of excavation. Chiara Onida, one of the designers, explains that they first wanted to respect the traditions of the past, while also introducing novelty and innovation. One of the foremost admonishing found in the Bible is to remember. Faithful expressions of Christianity will be in keeping with what has come before, yet possessing a newness or freshness that bears witness to the work of the Spirit.
    • Onida also describes a feeling of privilege as she experiences being part of a living tradition. Glassmaking has not been limited to the present age. The craft precedes us, and if it is well tended, will outlive us. So it is with Christianity. Others have followed Jesus before us, and others will do so long after we die. God's grand drama of history is still in motion. We have the privilege of appearing in a few scenes.
    • Gillian Dobias, the narrator states, "Formulating modern strategies that honor traditions without being bound to them is key to reinvigorating the glassmaking community on the island that has, in recent years, struggled to survive. And working with new talent to find novel ways of working with this fragile but palpable material is an alchemy well worth investing in." That is the tension, and the opportunity, found in following Christ and inviting others to join along today.

    Those are my observations. Have any to add?

    Monday
    Aug012016

    Tunes: The Bi-Weekly Record

    My friend Scotland Huber distributes an eNewsletter called "The Bi-Weekly Record."

    Here are the archives. You can click and subscribe near the top.

    Scot recently drew my attention to The Cactus Blossoms and their wonderful offering You're Dreaming and woke me up to Weezer's Weezer (White Album).

    Grazie, Scot.

    Singles are OK. Albums are better. The Bi-Weekly Record supplies solid leads.

    Wednesday
    Jul272016

    It's Hard to Check Yourself

    This morning I awoke, brewed coffee, cooked eggs, and sat down to read, pray, and journal.

    I often use The Divine Hours to give structure to my time of prayer, to further saturate my mind with the words of Scripture, and to use well-worn words as I pay attention to God.

    This week, there is an appointed prayer which reads:

    Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know my necessities before I ask and my ignorance in asking: Have compassion on my weakness, and mercifully forgive me those things which for my unworthiness I dare not, and for my blindness I cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ my Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

    Those things we need, God knows before we ask. Yet we sometimes fail to present our needs before God either because of pride or ignorance. Knowing ourselves well enough to discern how and why we do not trust God fully is rooted in an evasive impulse that is hard to pin down, though I am quite certain it has something to do with the human condition.

    Prayers like the one above help us humbly acknowledge that we do not always name or know our needs, yet God provides. In prayer we are wise to confess that because of sin we do not always bring our requests to God as we should, and because of our finitude we do not always share with God our deepest needs. The words unworthiness and ignorance, employed so well above, capture this perfectly. We are human.

    Thankfully, that is not held against us, for it is through the worthiness of Jesus Christ that we receive mercy and forgiveness of sin. Our unworthiness and ignorance are overcome by the one who alone is worthy to receive honor, glory, and praise, the one who came to reveal the wisdom of God. We are redeemed through Christ's cross and resurrection.

    When we do not succeed in checking ourselves, God is merciful. God extends mercy in sending the Holy Spirit, who inwardly convicts us of sin and brings to our awareness ways we are called to walk in holiness. While we are held accountable before God as individuals, we have been gathered collectively to the people of God, who exhort us to live as disciples of Jesus and encourage us to live a life of faithfulness. God calls us into a community to refine us. Not only is God merciful when we do not perceive our own shortcomings, God engages us personally and invites us into community to equip us with a deeper knowledge of ourselves. We are then sent forth to serve Jesus in light of that knowledge, loving God and loving neighbor.

    God's mercy is inexhaustible. God is "compassionate and gracious; slow to anger, abounding in love." Remember your finitude, rest in God, and rejoice in the good news that Christ died for you knowing those things about you which you do not even know about yourself, supplying for your every need, and equipping you for meaningful service.

    Wednesday
    Jul202016

    John Macmurray and The Golden Girls

    On Tuesday evening our family welcomed a few of my former students from University Baptist Church to our home for an evening of pizza and swimming. It was delightful to see Sharla, Sam, Jarrett, Oliver, and Prezlie. I learned about restarting potatoes and heard other stories from youth camp.

    As our time drew to a close the students piled into Oliver's Jeep. All four doors were off. They backed down the drive and cued Andrew Gold's "Thank You for Being a Friend," featured in the opening credits of The Golden Girls.

    They did so as a tribute. During my three years at University I would cue television themes while we played games. "Thank You for Being a Friend" would also make its way into Snapchat messages, sent along whimsically. I do stuff like that.

    In The Self as Agent, philosopher John Macmurray wrote, "All meaningful knowledge is for the sake of action and all meaningful action is for the sake of friendship." I have thought about this quote for years, for Macmurray is right. Meaningful knowledge, which within my vocation includes knowledge of God, virtue, holiness, and wisdom, is meant for applied action in the shared human venture we call friendship. I love to learn and study not simply to gather facts (though this is a byproduct), but toward the end of love and service to my neighbor, whom I hope to call not only neighbor, but friend.

    This idea is also expressed, and more powerfully so, in Jesus' statement found in John 15:15, "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." The meaningful knowledge Jesus possessed--that of his Father's business--was transmitted to his disciples not only so that they might share said knowledge, but also so that Jesus and his disciples might live together in friendship within the bounds of God's venture we know as kingdom.

    Two verses prior in John 15:13, Jesus says, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." Jesus thus demonstrated the full extent of his love on the cross. Further, Jesus invites to us to join him on the path of discipleship. In John 15, he  exhorts his disciples to obey his commands, demonstrating that they are, in fact, his followers. Jesus' school involves dying to self. Christians take up their cross, follow, and give witness to the reality that Christ lives in them. Paul understood this well.

    Knowledge of this kind, in so far as it is meaningful (and it is), rightly results in action, and friendship. As a minister, I am called to demonstrate friendship with God, but also to offer myself in friendship to all people. It is for this very purpose that Christians have been set apart: to serve as heralds of a message and as living evidence of its veracity, that in Christ friendship with God and reconciliation with one another has been made possible.