Archive for January, 2009

February 1, 2009
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
A Light to Enlighten the Nations
Eucharistic prayers from different provinces of the Anglican Communion on each Sunday of the Epiphany season as a reminder that God reveals himself to the whole world in his Son, Jesus Christ.  This week: Prayers from the Church in India
This Week’s Lessons
Beginning with the leading of a star to the manger in Bethlehem and the voice of God announcing the Beloved Son on the banks of the Jordan River, Epiphany is a season of revelation.  As Jesus begins his ministry, his words and actions continue to “peel back the layers” of who he is and what God is up to. 
Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 111 (Anglican Chant: H. Walford Davies)
He makes his marvelous works to be remembered;
the LORD is gracious and full of compassion. (v. 4)
Luke 4:31-37
This Week’s Hymns
436 Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates (Truro)
The use of this hymn today is suggested by Luke 4:32, “They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority.”  As Jesus teaches, heals, and casts out demons, the people begin to wonder about who he is—though it should be noted that the demons know immediately—and this hymn answers the question.  The original German text, “Macht hoch die Tur,” was written by the Lutheran pastor Georg Weissel (1590-1635).  The familiar and elegant English version is reminiscent of the stirring final verses of Psalm 24: “Lift up your heads, O gates; lift them high, O everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in.  Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of Glory.”  The translator is the indefatigable Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), by whose efforts so many 17th century German texts made their way into 19th century English hymnals. 
The regal tune ‘Truro’ is named for the ancient cathedral city in Cornwall, the county on the peninsula that forms the southwest tip of Great Britain.  Its composer is unknown, and it was first published in London in 1789 with the words “Now to the Lord a noble song,” a hymn by Isaac Watts that has since fallen into disuse. 
567 Thine arm, O Lord, in days of old (St. Matthew)
We could easily sing this hymn every week through the whole season because it is pretty much a full summary of chapters 4-8 in Luke put into rhyme and set to music.  Particularly germane to this week’s lessons is the opening line, “Thine arm, O Lord, in days of old was strong to heal and save” as well as the reference in stanza 2 to the frenzied spirits calmed.  And it isn’t any wonder that the text of the hymn so closely follows the text of the Bible when one considers the credentials of its author, Edward Hayes Plumptre.  Educated at University College, Oxford in the 1840’s, he became quite a scholar and held teaching appointments and both Oxford and Cambridge but he continued to be active in pariah ministry until the end of his life. (more…)

cs-lewisThis sermon was first delivered by C.S. Lewis at St Mary the Virgin, Oxford England in 1942. Curiously enough, I was invited to preach at this church on Matt 27.45-56 in 2006. I can tell you, my sermon was pretty pathetic compared to this one! Lewis’ now famous sermon is well worth a careful read and meditation. Be sure to click through to read it all.

If you asked twenty good men to-day what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in teh Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.

“The Weight of Glory”, Sermon preached by C.S. Lewis on June 8, 1942. Read it all here

From CNN: High Stakes in Bad Times

Posted: January 29, 2009 by limabean03 in Current Issues

The principal reason I post things like this is to help motivate us to pray and look into what we can do right now to alleviate the suffering of others during this time. The stakes, as you can see, are much higher than unemployment.

By Paul Vercammen
CNN LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) — Elizabeth Gore, with a voice soaked in motherly calm, counsels her suicidal caller.

“You don’t want to live if you can’t find a job; I think we need to send you to an emergency room,” Gore suggests through her headset.

Gore is among the counselors at the County Mental Heath ACCESS call-in center. Counselors there reckon with Los Angeles County’s unemployment rate of 9.5 percent, among the worst in the nation.

“Well, it’s a big deal when you tell me that you don’t want to live if you don’t find something,” Gore stresses to her caller. “Do you realize what you’re telling me? I am not trying to preach, but that’s kind of frightening.”

“Lot’s of people don’t have jobs,” Gore continues with her caller. “You’ve applied for 200 jobs and only got one call back?”

“Well don’t get too dismayed and too discouraged,” Gore says. “We are going to get you some kind of counseling first.”

Gore hangs in there with her caller like a bent nail. The suicidal woman agrees to go to a psychological evaluation set up by Gore, at a nearby clinic.

read the rest here

There’s nothing here that Leslie Newbiggin didn’t say fifty years ago. But Keller has an easy manner about him that makes him compelling to his audiences. If you’ve never been introduced to the points below the the religious dogmatism of relativism, then you should slow down and take it in.

About every other week, I confront popular pluralist notions that have become a large part of the way Americans think. For example, pluralists contend that no one religion can know the fullness of spiritual truth, therefore all religions are valid. But while it is good to acknowledge our limitations, this statement is itself a strong assertion about the nature of spiritual truth. A common analogy is often cited to get the point across which I am sure you have heard — several blind men trying to describe an elephant. One feels the tail and reports that an elephant is thin like a snake. Another feels a leg and claims it is thick like a tree. Another touches its side and reports the elephant is a wall. This is supposed to represent how the various religions only understand part of God, while no one can truly see the whole picture. To claim full knowledge of God, pluralists contend, is arrogance. When I occasionally describe this parable, and I can almost see the people nodding their heads in agreement.

But then I remind the hearers that the only way this parable makes any sense, however, is if the person telling the story has seen the whole elephant. Therefore, the minute one says, ‘All religions only see part of the truth,’ you are claiming the very knowledge you say no one else has. And they are demonstrating the same spiritual arrogance they so often accuse Christians of. In other words, to say all is relative, is itself a truth statement but dangerous because it uses smoke and mirrors to make itself sound more tolerant than the rest. Most folks who hold this view think they are more enlightened than those who hold to absolutes when in fact they are really just as strong in their belief system as everyone else. I do not think most of these folks are purposefully using trickery or bad motives. This is because they seem to have even convinced themselves of the “truth” of their position, even though they claim “truth” does not exist or at least can’t be known. Ironic isn’t it? The position is intellectually inconsistent.

In its pure form Pluralism is a fact. It’s not an opinion or a belief or a religion. In other words, not every one believes the same things. We live in a society that’s very diverse, not just ethnically, but also religiously. But when pluralism starts to become a philosophy, when it starts to become a religious dogma, then it becomes a different animal. And that’s what I want to call relativism — or religious relativism, philosophical pluralism. It goes by different names but that is the dogmatic religious assertion that all religions are basically the same, that no one knows the truth about God. And no one can know the ultimate truth about God in a way that invalidates other peoples’ religious opinions and the belief that it’s arrogant to say that you have the truth religiously and it is arrogant to try to persuade other people to believe what you believe religiously. That’s relativism, philosophical pluralism. And I would say that’s the default belief of most people you run into in our city.– whether they’re religious or not, most people think about religion that way.

Here is what I want to urge on you and try to unpack in several ways. And that is that relativism is itself a religious belief. It is a dogma. Relativism is. It has affirmations and denials and a missionary force. One of the affirmations of relativism is that God is ultimately unknowable. No one can know the truth about God. But how do one know that to be true? This assumes an ultimate understanding of spiritual reality. All religions are ultimately the same. All religions are following a path to God. It doesn’t matter how you believe, it matters how you live. Do you see this? Those are religious statements. Those are matters of religious beliefs, dogma. Doctrines! If people say, “No, I’m not religious. I’m saying you can’t know. I’m saying, Nobody can know the truth about God. I’m not claiming that I’ve got a corner on it.” But if you look at it closely, the statements of religious relativism are every bit as dogmatic as the statements of the Koran or the Bible. It’s a religious dogma.

read the rest here

Curiously enough, he held his first interview as President with Arab T.V. network Al-Arabiya. Our President conducted a strong interview. Personally, I think conducting his first public interview with an Arab T.V. network was a brilliant and concilliatory move. The interview is fascinating for several reasons, especially the Arab perspective on America. During portions of the interview, I found Obama’s naive optimism bleeding through a bit. Rather than criticize him for this, I think we would do well to remember that ideas have legs, and naive optimism will travel. Obama is a great rhetorician, and rhetoric has been the cause of the rise and fall of nations and has birthed none too few mighty political movements. I pray his optimism trickles down to some talented, motivated folks on the ground who can make a difference both home and abroad. Pray that the Lord will make it so.

I’m really starting to dig this guy…

We are Christians because we hold Christianity to be true. But other men hold Christianity to be false. Who is right? That question can be settled only by an examination and comparison of the reasons adduced on both sides. It is true, one of the grounds for our belief is an inward experience that we cannot share—the great experience begun by conviction of sin and conversion and continued by communion with God—an experience which other men do not possess, and upon which, therefore, we cannot directly base an argument. But if our position is correct, we ought at least to be able to show the other man that his reasons may be inconclusive. And that involves careful study of both sides of the question. Furthermore, the field of Christianity is the world. The Christian cannot be satisfied so long as any human activity is either opposed to Christianity or out of all connection with Christianity. Christianity must pervade not merely all nations, but also all of human thought. The Christian, therefore, cannot be indifferent to any branch of earnest human endeavor. It must all be brought into some relation to the gospel. It must be studied either in order to be demonstrated as false, or else in order to be made useful in advancing the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom must be advanced not merely extensively, but also intensively. The Church must seek to conquer not merely every man for Christ, but also the whole of man. We are accustomed to encourage ourselves in our discouragements by the thought of the time when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. No less inspiring is the other aspect of that same great consummation. That will also be a time when doubts have disappeared, when every contradiction has been removed, when all of science converges to one great conviction, when all of art is devoted to one great end, when all of human thinking is permeated by the refining, ennobling influence of Jesus, when every thought has been brought into subjection to the obedience of Christ.

read it all here

It’s worth taking the time to real the whole chapter carefully.  Below is one of the most influential minds of Western civilization recounting his conversion to Christianity.  All of Augustine’s powerful intellect is mustered alongside some equally powerful emotions rendered by the Grace of God.  As Augustine recounted his conversion I repeatedly felt tears well up at the glorious mercies of our Lord Jesus. 

A quick breakdown of the characters involved: Augustine (narrarator and Bishop of Hippo), Simplicianus (Father of renowned Bishop Ambrose), Ambrose (Bishop of Milan), Victorinus (Famous rhetorician who shocked the Roman world by his conversion to Christianity), Nebridius and Alypius (friends and roommates of Augustine), Pontitianus (a Christian well placed in Roman government), Antony (famous Christian ascetic whose lifestyle appealed to Augustine), Mani (spawned the Manichaean heresy that posited a dark force just as powerful as God), Monica (a faithful Christian and Augustine’s mother). I hope you enjoy this excerpt as much as much as I did…

He finally describes the thirty-second year of his age, the most memorable of his whole life, in which, being instructed by Simplicianus concerning the conversion of others, and the manner of acting, he is, after a severe struggle, renewed in his whole mind, and is converted unto God.

Chapter 1. He, Now Given to Divine Things, and Yet Entangled by the Lusts of Love, Consults Simplicianus in Reference to the Renewing of His Mind.
1. O My God, let me with gratitude remember and confess unto You Your mercies bestowed upon me. Let my bones be steeped in Your love, and let them say, Who is like You, O Lord? You have loosed my bonds, I will offer unto You the sacrifice of thanksgiving. And how You have loosed them I will declare; and all who worship You when they hear these things shall say: Blessed be the Lord in heaven and earth, great and wonderful is His name. Your words had stuck fast into my breast, and I was hedged round about by You on every side. Job 1:10 Of Your eternal life I was now certain, although I had seen it through a glass darkly. 1 Corinthians 13:12 Yet I no longer doubted that there was an incorruptible substance, from which was derived all other substance; nor did I now desire to be more certain of You, but more steadfast in You. As for my temporal life, all things were uncertain, and my heart had to be purged from the old leaven. 1 Corinthians 5:7 The Way, John 14:6 the Saviour Himself, was pleasant unto me, but as yet I disliked to pass through its straightness. And Thou put into my mind, and it seemed good in my eyes, to go unto Simplicianus, who appeared to me a faithful servant of Yours, and Your grace shone in him. I had also heard that from his very youth he had lived most devoted to You. Now he had grown into years, and by reason of so great age, passed in such zealous following of Your ways, he appeared to me likely to have gained much experience; and so in truth he had. Out of which experience I desired him to tell me (setting before him my griefs) which would be the most fitting way for one afflicted as I was to walk in Your way.

2. For the Church I saw to be full, and one went this way, and another that. But it was displeasing to me that I led a secular life; yea, now that my passions had ceased to excite me as of old with hopes of honour and wealth, a very grievous burden it was to undergo so great a servitude. For, compared with Your sweetness, and the beauty of Your house, which I loved, those things delighted me no longer. But still very tenaciously was I held by the love of women; nor did the apostle forbid me to marry, although he exhorted me to something better, especially wishing that all men were as he himself was. 1 Corinthians 7:7 But I, being weak, made choice of the more agreeable place, and because of this alone was tossed up and down in all beside, faint and languishing with withering cares, because in other matters I was compelled, though unwilling, to agree to a married life, to which I was given up and enthralled. I had heard from the mouth of truth that there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake; but, says He, he that is able to receive it, let him receive it. Matthew 19:12 Vain, assuredly, are all men in whom the knowledge of God is not, and who could not, out of the good things which are seen, find out Him who is good. Wisdom 13:1 But I was no longer in that vanity; I had surmounted it, and by the united testimony of Your whole creation had found You, our Creator, and Your Word, God with You, and together with You and the Holy Ghost one God, by whom You created all things. There is yet another kind of impious men, who when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful. Romans 1:21 Into this also had I fallen; but Your right hand held me up, and bore me away, and You placed me where I might recover. For You have said unto man, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; Job 28:28 and desire not to seem wise, Proverbs 3:7 because, Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. Romans 1:22 But I had now found the goodly pearl, which, selling all that I had, Matthew 13:46 I ought to have bought; and I hesitated. (more…)