Saturday, December 31, 2011

Passing Thoughts from a Curmugeon

It's been almost a year since my last posting. I can't believe had kept my mouth shut for that long. But thanks to a kind friend who has encouraged me to start up again, I decided to attempt this project one more time. I'll not post frequently, because, since I'm still a working man, my time is limited.
I've done a lot of observing this last year. Both in my personal life and in the life of Christianity in general. Today, I want to pass on some random thoughts that have crossed my mind in recent months. It is no secret that Christianity is in crisis. Evangelical has lost much of it's meaning for many people. I dare say, most of those people in the average church haven't a clue as to what I'm talking about. As the old fable goes, many of us are a bunch of frogs, swimming happily in our little pond, not realizing our little pond is a pool of water in a pot being slowly warmed to a boil.
What is my clue? Just sit in the average church today. Where are the Bibles? In the pew rack or in the laps of hungry people anxious to hear what the Lord is saying through the word to us. Worse yet, how many pastors are preaching from an open Bible? How many sermons have you heard that make only passing references to a text to support the thesis of the sermon? How many sermons are drawn more from psychology or science or current events rather than from a careful study of scripture and how that scripture is then applied to life?
You see, I contend we've lost our authority when the Bible ceases to be the central focus of our lives, both in public worship and private worship. How many of us even crack open our Bibles during the week? Why don't we? The Bible has become just another book. An old fashioned reading that seemingly has no authority to speak to our daily lives. The Book has lost it's authority over us. We have become the judge of the value of the book.
What do I mean? We have become the authority that determines the value of the stories, events, and history represented in the Bible. How many of us even read the Old Testament?
Our personal authority grid has told us the blood and guts passages are no longer relevant to the 21st century thinking mind. We have become the gods who determine the value of what is in the Bible. We have become professing Christians who are actually practical atheists. Our practice defines our true belief.
Now before you become offended, mind you, I'm speaking to myself too. I've become quite offended at myself over this many times. So let me be the proverbial pea under the mattress. The stone in your shoe.
Let's just begin with this observation. There are a lot of churches where the Bible is never seen in the hands of those who attend. Why? It's not the important focus of the church or individual Christian. We aren't challenged to think.
On the other hand, how many churches have you attended where the Bible is in the lap of everyone with a pencil and notepad in the other hand ready to grasp at anything the pastor has to say from the word? Which is better? With the Bible or without?
I'm going to surprise you on this one. I learned a phrase many years ago in my line of business. The phrase is, "It Depends." Take first my last scenario. The Bible and notetakers. You see this a lot in many of the conservative churches like the Southern Baptist or Reformed Churches. I think it is a great practice. But in many, and I suspect most cases, what is happening is that the teaching from the pastor's notes passes directly to the note pads of the listener without ever passing through the mind. And so the result is, we get Jr. pastors. We get hero worshippers. We get people who are passionate about their pastor and their shelves are lined with his books or whatever he recommends. The result is a form of idolatry. Or, as Paul puts it, some are of Apollos, some of Cephas, some of Paul. In our day, we have some of R.C. Sproul, some are of Sinclair Ferguson, Some are of J.I. Packer, some are of John MacArthur.
On the other hand, considering the first scenario, where people come to many of the churches today that we may call, "seeker sensitive" or evangelical or big box churches, people are drawn to the music or the pastor is dynamic and preaches a message that appeals to daily living, but the Bible is only an addendum to the messages. The result is often the same as the previous group I covered. Some are of John Ortberg, some are of Greg Laurie, or some are of Zachary Tims, or some are of Rick Warren or whomever. The result is the same. We often end up idolaters. The Bible isn't even considered and the only people who have any influence on is us our pastor. And, often in these latter cases, the service is simply a diversion from daily activities.
Now, I know I'm speaking in generalities, but my point is this. We have to take responsibility for our faith. But authority comes from God. The Bible will have no authority over our lives until we recognize who is the author. Pastor's sermons are only as good as the authority in which they are preached. I'm not talking about the pastor. A sermon has authority when the Holy Spirit delivers it through the Scriptures, via the pastor to the ear of the listener. That authority is based upon the power of God. The pastor has none of that authority until he is possessed by the Spirit of God to deliver the sermon in the authority of the Holy Spirit. And the Bible will only have authority in our lives when we submit to the Holy Spirit who takes the Word and ministers to us according to His power.
I guess what I'm saying with my rambling thoughts is this. Start thinking about what you believe. What has authority in your life? Does the Bible have a prominent place in your daily activities? Do you pray though your Bible on a daily basis? Have you set up a plan to read the Bible through this next year?
Does this make you a greater saint? No. If anything you sense a greater frustration if you think all that work will make you better. God has already done that work for you though the substitutionary work of Christ on the Cross. He makes you a saint by his death, burial and resurrection. Repentance, (which is a change of mind and direction) is an act of obedience according to the faith provided to us by Christ in the cross that brings about changes within us on a daily basis. Allowing the Bible to become the authority in our lives is an act of obedience. Put Christ and his word first and you'll understand authority.
We'll those are some of the scattered thoughts that have been pestering me lately. I hope they pester you too.

Friday, January 14, 2011

O Light That Knew No Dawn

This year I am highlighting great hymns of the church both past and present. Music has always been a part of the church whether it was in the form of chanting the Psalms or in the grand choirs and organs up to the various instruments used today. God speaks to us through music as well as through the scriptures. I've been asked why I'm doing this. It's because in the great hymns you find the source of all love. God is many things. God is Love. God is Light. God is Just. God is Savior. I don't worship his justness, his light, or even his love. I worship God who is love. I worship God who is light. I worship God who is just. I worship God who is mercy. One of the beauties of these hymns is that we encounter the God who is.... If you want love and to love, the source of that love is God. When you seek first God and his kingdom, he then gives of himself in love. And as James reminds us in his epistle, the result is we love. God comes first. The expression of love in us towards others is the result of our union with him.

As St. John of the Cross and St. Theresa of Avila so aptly remind us. All good things come from him who is love and light. The flame we see coming from a log in the fireplace is not the fire. The fire in the log is what produces the flame. And so, as we are filled with Him, we then, in obedience, touch others as he has touched us.

This hymn today speaks not of the love of God but the Light of God, Jesus Christ. Jesus illumines our hearts so that we might know him and in the process we know God. Meditate on this ancient hymn by one of the earliest of writers, Gregory of Nazianzus. It is translated from the Greek and probably was sung in chant form in the early church. Today several tunes can be sung to it. Try singing it to the tune of Rejoice The Lord Is King. The hymn is a statement of profound faith and was part of Gregory's long battles with Arianism, Nestorianism and many other heresies of those times which threatened to destroy the church. Dwell on the meaning of the words. And meet God.

“God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5

O Light That Knew No Dawn by Gregory of Nazianzus (325-390)

O Light that knew no dawn,
That shines to endless day,
All things in earth and Heav’n
Are lustered by Thy ray;
No eye can to Thy throne ascend,
Nor mind Thy brightness comprehend.

Thy grace, O Father, give,
That I might serve in fear;
Above all boons, I pray,
Grant me Thy voice to hear;
From sin Thy child in mercy free,
And let me dwell in light with Thee.

That, cleansed from stain of sin,
I may meet homage give;
And pure in heart, behold
Thy beauty while I live;
Clean hands in holy worship raise,
And Thee, O Christ my Savior, praise.

In supplication meek
To Thee I bend the knee;
O Christ, when Thou shalt come,
In love remember me,
And in Thy kingdom, by Thy grace,
Grant me a humble servant’s place.

Thy grace, O Father, give,
I humbly Thee implore;
And let Thy mercy bless
Thy servant more and more.
All grace and glory be to Thee,
From age to age eternally.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

As Pants The Heart

Worship style wars are nothing new. Here is an old hymn of the church that caused a major crisis in some of the churchmen of jolly old England. In the late seventeenth century there was a tradition that had been held for many years which prohibited congregational singing except for translated psalms. This hymn proved to be controversial because of the heated hunter's chase in line 2. It was drew too much on the imagination which was could cause a person to have an emotional experience of a great thirst. (They'd have apoplexy today) God forbid we allow our emotions to mix with rational thinking.

However, the writers simply drew on the scriptural tradition of Ps. 42 and Isaiah 44:3 which talks about how God will pour water on him who is thirsty. (spiritually dry) Jesus spoke of seeking as one who looks for a gift when he said in John 4
"Open your heart for the gift I am bringing,
While you are seeking me, I will be found."

Read the words of this hymn and meditate upon the words. Go slowly and let them sink into you. What is a hart? It's a small deer. I say that because I know many who are not familiar with old English will not immediately pick that up. If you are young, pause from your point and click habits and sit on these words for a while. You will find them rich in theology.

The authors of the old hymns wrote many verses of which only a few ended up in our hymnals. (Check out our popular doxology. You'll be amazed at how many verses were and have been written for it) At the end, listen to the hymn played on a familiar tune. You'll pick up the hymn right away.

As Pants The Hart
by Nathum Tate (1652-1715) & Nicholas Brady (1659-1726)

1. As pants the hart for cooling streams,
When heated in the chase,
So longs my soul, O God, for thee,
And thy refreshing grace.

2. For thee, my God, the living God,
My thirsty soul doth pine;
O when shall I behold thy face,
Thou Majesty divine!

3. Tears are my constant food, while
thus insulting foes upbraid:
"Deluded wretch! Where's now thy God?
And where his promis'd aid?"

4. I sigh when'er my musing thoughts
those happy days present,
When I with troops of pious friends
thy temple did frequent:

5. When I advanc'd with songs of praise
my solemn vows to pay,
And led the joyful sacred throng,
that kept the festal day.

6. Why restless, why cast down, my soul?
Trust God, and he'll employ
His aid for thee, and change these sighs
to thankful hymns of joy.

7. My soul's cast down, O God, but thinks
on thee and Sion still:
From Jordan's bank, from Hermon's heights,
and Missar's humbler hill.

8. One trouble calls another on,
and bursting o'er my head,
Fall spouting down, till round my soul
a roaring sea is spread.

9. But when thy presence, Lord of life,
has once dispell'd this storm,
To thee I'll midnight anthems sing,
and all my vows perform.

10. God of my strength, how long shall I,
Like one forgotten, mourn?
Forlorn, forsaken, and exposed
To my oppressor's scorn.

11. My heart is pierd'd, as with a sword,
whilst thus my foes upbraid,
"Vain boaster, where is now thy God?
and where his promis'd aid?"

12. Why restless, why cast down, my soul?
Hope still, and thou shalt sing
The praise of him who is thy God,
Thy health's eternal spring.

13. To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
The God whom we adore,
Be glory, as it was, is now,
And shall be evermore. Amen.

14. ***orig 1st verse****

15. Like as the hart
doth breathe and bray,
The well-springs to obtain,
So doth my soul desire alway
With Thee, Lord, to remain.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded by St. Bernard of Clairvaux

O Sacred Head Now Wounded
attributed by St. Bernard of Clairvaux 1090-1153

  1. O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
    Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
    O sacred Head, what glory, what bliss till now was Thine!
    Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call Thee mine.
  2. What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
    Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
    Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
    Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.
  3. What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
    For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
    O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
    Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.
  4. Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
    Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
    Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
    My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Catholic Doctor was known for his preaching. He was called the "honey tongue doctor". He is remember most perhaps for his sermon series "On The Canticles of Canticles. (Song of Songs) We are more familiar perhaps with it called the Song of Solomon. This was a series of 86 sermons on the first two chapters of the book and the first verse of the third chapter. He's famous for this statement,

"You wish me to tell you why and how God should be loved. My answer is that God himself is the reason he is to be loved."

Friday, January 7, 2011

We Walk By Faith

Great hymns are born from great theology. I've decided to share with you this year some of the great poems of the faith. Many became great hymns. I'll pull from the deep history of the church. Spend time reading the words, meditate upon them, contemplate what they mean. Work through some of the old language and discover the richness that is there. Keep a dictionary by your side if necessary. It's worth the effort.
Today, I present to you:

We Walk By Faith
by Henry Alford 1810-1871
(public domain)

1. We walk by faith, an not by sight:
No gracious words we hear
of him who spoke as none e’er spoke,
but we believe him near.

2. We may not touch his hands and side,
nor follow where he trod;
yet in his promise we rejoice,
and cry, “My Lord and God!”

3. Help then, O Lord, our unbelief,
and may our faith abound;
to call on you when you are near.
and seek where you are found:

4. That when our life of faith is done
in realms of clearer light
We may behold you as you are
in full and endless sight.

5. We walk by faith, and not by sight:
No gracious words we hear
of him who spoke as none e’er spoke,
but we believe him near.

Henry Alford, Anglican English theologian, textual critic and great scholar was also a writer and poet. He also wrote many hymns. His list of hymns apart from the one I highlighted included "Forward Be Our Watchword," "Come, Ye Thankful People Come," and Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Eternal Power

Eternal Power
Isaac Watts 1674-1748

Eternal Power, whose high abode
Becomes the grandeur of a God,
Infinite lengths beyond the bounds
Where stars resolve their little rounds!

The lowest step around Thy seat,
Rises too high for Gabriel’s feet;
In vain the favored angel tries
To reach Thine height with wond’ring eyes.

There while the first archangel sings,
He hides his face behind his wings,
And ranks of shining thrones around
Fall worshiping, and spread the ground.

Lord, what shall earth and ashes do?
We would adore our Maker, too;
From sin and dust to Thee we cry,
The Great, the Holy, and the High.

Earth from afar has heard Thy fame,
And worms have learned to lisp Thy Name;
But, O! the glories of Thy mind
Leave all our soaring thoughts behind.

God is in Heaven, and men below;
Be short our tunes, our words be few;
A solemn reverence checks our songs,
And praise sits silent on our tongues.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year 2011

Happy New Year 2011

It's a new year and a time for new beginnings. On this new day, let me list for you some of the things I'm happy about.

1. Big News!! The great Baptist preacher John Piper is back in the saddle after a long leave of absence. I love Piper for I feel he is a man of the word who has a heart for Christ and his Living Word. He has posted his thoughts on the Desiring God website. I encourage you to read it.

2. How can I not forget to start with the Grand Daddy of all parades and games, the Rose Parade in Pasadena and the Rose Bowl Game.

3. My next choice will be a bit controversial. Today, across the world, is the Celebration of the Motherhood of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This is foreign to most of us Protestants, except perhaps those in the more liturgical churches. This is a day in the celebration of the church year. We tend to downplay Mary's role in the Protestant church. I think this is a bit of a mistake as Mary, in the Gospels is described as "Blessed" for all ages. I personally believe we must honor Mary more than we do.

Here is an interesting review of a book from Ignatius Press regarding Mary in Byzantine Doctrine and Devotion. It is an insight into a church we know very little about.

4. Well, that's a short list of the things I'm thankful for today. I could go on and on, but since my readership is slim to none...I'll stop. But not without mentioning my greatest source of pleasure. My wife Shirley is the joy of my life. God has used her to turn a broken Humpty Dumpty into a man. I owe a lot to her. And then, of course, my Savior Jesus Christ, for whom I worship and adore.

That's it for now. I hope you share some of your favorites.

Happy New Year