Friday, July 03, 2015

Friday Favorites - Lowell & Dixie 60th Anniversary

We had a good time with family last night celebrating my parents' 60th wedding anniversary. We're all thankful that they were feeling good enough to enjoy this big event. The last four months have been difficult for them, and the challenge is going to continue in the months ahead. We'll be taking things a day at a time. Thanks to everyone for your prayers. Keep 'em coming.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Thursday Thinking - Belief and Secularism

Marilynne Robinson, one of my favorite novelists, is also a thoughtful and articulate essayist. Last week, The Christian Century posted a piece by her titled, "Sacred Inwardness: Why 'Secularism' Has No Meaning." What follows is a brief excerpt. If this grabs your interest, I hope you will go to the CC website and read the entire article.

We presume to know more than we can know. In periods and places where religious doubt is criminalized, unquestioning faith is likely to appear universal. Where religious faith is treated as naive and intellectually indefensible, few will confess to it. Where it truly is naive and intellectually indefensible, those who can’t identify with it are often treated as having actually rejected faith, and may believe this of themselves.

So let us call this inability to know the state of our fellow’s soul a veil dropped down between his or her sacred inwardness and the coercive intrusions to which the religious and the anti-religious are equally tempted. If the fate of souls is at the center of the cosmic drama, is it difficult to imagine that it will unfold, so to speak, in a place set apart, a holy of holies—that is, a human consciousness? Where better might an encounter with God take place? If God is attentive to us individually, as Jesus’ saying about the fall of a sparrow certainly implies, then would his history with us be the same in every case, articulable and verifiable, manifest in behaviors that square with expectations? Would it be something we should be ready to talk about to pollsters or journalists?

Perhaps the real lack of faith in modern society comes down to a lack of reverence for humankind, for those around us, about whom we might consider it providential that we can know nothing—in these great matters that sometimes involve feigning or concealment, that are beyond ordinary thought and conventional experience, and that can in any case be minutely incremental, since God really does have all the time in the world. Perhaps it is a gross presumption to try to imagine a God’s eye view of things, but I can only think these encounters, every one unique, must be extraordinarily beautiful. If it is hard for us to believe that the God who searches us and knows us also loves us, perhaps we should learn to be better humanists.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Wednesday Words - The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

"The Summer Day" by Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems: Volume 1,
© Copyright 1992 by Mary Oliver.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tuesday Tome - Two Books by Rowan Williams

Two little Rowan Williams books are in a batch of recent arrivals. I'm impressed with the way Williams takes big subjects and presents them in an approachable and pastoral way.

Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief
Publisher's description...
What does it mean to believe in God? Can God possibly be almighty in the midst of so much evil and disaster? How am I to understand the meaning of Jesus Christ's ministry and resurrection? To what purpose is the church called? And what does it really mean to follow Christ in today's broken world? Tying together the answers to all of these questions and addressing perplexities such as the possibility of miracles and how to read the Bible, Rowan Williams demonstrates that each of the basic tenets of Christian faith flows from one fundamental belief: that God is completely worthy of our trust. With vast knowledge of Christian history and theology and characteristically elegant prose, Rowan Williams is a superb and compassionate guide through the richness and depth of Christian faith.

Why Study the Past?: The Quest for the Historical Church
Publisher's description...
The well-worn saying about being condemned to repeat the history we do not know applies to church history as much as to any other kind. But how are Christians supposed to discern what lessons from history need to be learned?

In this small but thoughtful volume, respected theologian and churchman Rowan Williams opens up a theological approach to history, an approach that is both nonpartisan and relevant to the church's present needs. As he reflects on how we consider the past in general, Williams suggests that how we consider church history in particular remains important not so much for winning arguments as for clarifying who we are as time-bound human beings. Good history is a moral affair, he advises, because it opens up a point of reference that is distinct from us yet not wholly alien. The past can then enable us to think with more varied and resourceful analogies about our identity in the often confusing present.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Monday Music - I Press On

I press on to take hold of that
For which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
I press on to take hold of that
For which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

I press on through thick & thin
I press on every day
I press on through the lose & win
For I know He's the Way

I press on to take hold of that
For which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

"I Press On" by Dave Burkum from Fireside: Worship & Scripture Songs,
© Copyright 2006 by Dave Burkum. Listen / Download / Purchase

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday Supplication - Able to Love

O God, you have called us to love you with heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Help us to remember, as Jesus said, that everything you’ve commanded us to do is summed up in loving you and loving others. Give us the grace and hearts we need to be people who are truly able to love.

You know our weaknesses and you understand our limitations. Thank you for the forgiveness, hope, and redemption you give.  In the same way, help us to forgive, to encourage, and to bless others. You are gracious and merciful to us, and we ask you to make us gracious and merciful to others.

Thank you, O God, that we can come to you with our requests and needs. Thank you that you can be found, that your door is open, and that you are generous. Grant us sensitivity toward the needs of others around us. Help us to be available, approachable, and generous.

Through Christ, we pray. Amen.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Friday Favorites - James Taylor: Before This World

Cheri gave me the new James Taylor CD for my birthday. It's a beautiful collection of new songs that did not disappoint. What a treat!  Click on the player window above to hear one of my favorite tracks. Click here to listen to the whole album.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Thursday Thinking - How the Spirit Changes Us

How long has it been since you gave some serious thought to the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in your life? Here is a thoughtful excerpt from Greg Boyd's book, Seeing Is Believing, recently posted on the RENEW BLOG.

How the Holy Spirit Changes Us

The Bible is full of stories of people who experienced the presence of God. If we are to experience something similar today, we must, through the Spirit, cultivate the spiritual capacity of an inner life to see and hear spiritual things. Paul wrote:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:17-18)
This Spirit-inspired “seeing” of Jesus changes our being. As we see his glory, we are transformed into his likeness “from one degree of glory to another.” This is, in essence, how the fruit of the Spirit is produced in our lives. When we cease from striving in our own effort and yield to the Holy Spirit, and when our faith ceases to be merely intellectual and rather becomes experiential and concrete, our lives begin to reflect Christ’s image.

It is what we see, not how hard we strive, that determines what we become.

This “seeing” is of a spiritual sort. Paul uses the Greek word katoptrizo, which literally means “to look at a reflection.” This reflection is in our minds. According to the teaching of Paul that follows the passage quoted above, believers have an ability to see in the mind. The “image of God,” the “face of Jesus Christ,” enlightens the mind of the believer. The mind of the believer can be “controlled by the Spirit” (Rom 8:6).

The place where the Spirit produces a reflection of “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6) is in the regenerate mind of the believer. It is through this spiritual mental vision that we are “transformed by the renewing of [our] minds” (Rom 12:2) and set free from the pattern of this world.
While all believers have this capacity, however, we don’t necessarily use it. Though we are regenerate and have a new nature, we still struggle to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). We yet have aspects of our minds veiled and thus experience ourselves as though we were not all God says we are in Christ. Our tendency to trust our own efforts to bring about transformation plays into this ongoing veiling of our minds.

We need to recover our sense of dependency on the Spirit of God rather than our own effort and recover the use of the imagination in our relationship with God to experience the transformation of which Paul spoke. We need to learn how to “fix our eyes on Jesus” and “set [our] minds on things that are above.”

We become what we imaginatively see. If all we imaginatively see are the vivid re-presentations that have been instilled in us by the pattern of this world, we will be conformed to the pattern of this world. But if we learn to imaginatively see “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 4:6), we will be transformed “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18).

—Adapted from Seeing Is Believing, pages 86-94.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wednesday Words - For Marriage

Happy 60th Wedding Anniversary to my dad and mom, Lowell and Dixie. Your friendship, partnership, and love have blessed so many people. Cheri and I love you and we're praying that you have a sweet day!

Proverbs 31:10, 11, 23, 25
A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her
    and lacks nothing of value.
Her husband is respected at the city gate,
    where he takes his seat among the elders of the land..
She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.

Here is a blessing for you on this special day...

As spring unfolds the dream of the earth,
May you bring each other’s hearts to birth.

As the ocean finds calm in view of land,
May you love the gaze of each other’s mind.

As the wind arises free and wild,
May nothing negative control your lives.

As kindly as moonlight might search the dark,
So gentle may you be when light grows scarce.

As surprised as the silence that music opens,
May your words for each other be touched with reverence.

As warmly as the air draws in the light,
May you welcome each other’s every gift.

As elegant as dream absorbing the night,
May sleep find you clear of anger and hurt.

As twilight harvests all the day’s color,
May love bring you home to each other.

“For Marriage” by John O’Donohue from To Bless the Space Between Us (Doubleday),
© 2008 by John O’Donohue.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tuesday Tome - All the Light We Cannot See

I'm  about two thirds of the way through this novel which just won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It's been alright so far, but I can't say it's really bowled me over. I'm hoping the last third will really start connecting the dots and that the plot starts to gel a bit more. My wife has already read the book and really liked it, so I'm trusting there are good things to come.

by Anthony Doerr

Review from Booklist
A novel to live in, learn from, and feel bereft over when the last page is turned, Doerr’s magnificently drawn story seems at once spacious and tightly composed. It rests, historically, during the occupation of France during WWII, but brief chapters told in alternating voices give the overall—and long—­narrative a swift movement through time and events. We have two main characters, each one on opposite sides in the conflagration that is destroying Europe. Marie-Louise is a sightless girl who lived with her father in Paris before the occupation; he was a master locksmith for the Museum of Natural History. When German forces necessitate abandonment of the city, Marie-Louise’s father, taking with him the museum’s greatest treasure, removes himself and his daughter and eventually arrives at his uncle’s house in the coastal city of Saint-Malo. Young German soldier Werner is sent to Saint-Malo to track Resistance activity there, and eventually, and inevitably, Marie-Louise’s and Werner’s paths cross. It is through their individual and intertwined tales that Doerr masterfully and knowledgeably re-creates the deprived civilian conditions of war-torn France and the strictly controlled lives of the military occupiers.High-Demand Backstory: A multipronged marketing campaign will make the author’s many fans aware of his newest book, and extensive review coverage is bound to enlist many new fans. --Brad Hooper

Monday, June 22, 2015

Monday Music - Turtle on a Fence Pole

I saw a curious sight as I walked last week
Down the Old Mill road along Poplar Creek.
On a fence post top at least four feet high,
Sat a big old turtle watching me pass by.
Front legs, back legs swimming in air;
I said, "Hey big fella, how'd you get up there?"

"What a fine view! Well bless my soul!,"
Said the big box turtle on the old fence pole.
How he got to the top I couldn't tell,
But I think it's safe to say he had a little help.

Once upon a time I heard someone say,
"I'm a self-made man, done it all my way."
I guess he forgot or he didn't care
About all the folks who helped him get up there.
The smarter you get, the more there is to know;
If you think you've arrived, you've got a ways to go.

"What a fine view! Well bless my soul!,"
Said the big box turtle on the old fence pole.
How he got to the top I couldn't tell,
But I think it's safe to say he had a little help.
Just a little help.

Front legs, back legs swimming in air;
I said, "Hey big fella, how'd you get up there?"

"What a fine view! Well bless my soul!,"
Said the big box turtle on the old fence pole.
How he got to the top I couldn't tell,
But I think it's safe to say he had a little help. 

"Turtle on a Fence Pole" by Dave Burkum, © Copyright 2002 by Dave Burkum.
Click Here to Listen / Buy / Download

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sunday Supplication - Strengthen Our Hearts

O God, we acknowledge that every good thing comes from you. Fill us with good thoughts and a love for the things that are right and good. Lead us and strengthen us to do those good things you have in mind for us to do.

O God, each of us has our own struggle to be obedient to you. Help us all to remember that everyone around us has similar struggles. When others sin against us, make us as charitable toward them as you are to us. Help us all to find our way back to you. When any one of us is sinned against, give us understanding and forgiving hearts. Make us willing to forgive because you have forgiven us.

When we become downcast, Father God, strengthen our hearts to hope in you. Give us faith to trust in you and to praise you all our days. Protect us from discouragement, and encourage us by your word, your people, your promises, and all that is beautiful and true.

Through Christ, we pray. Amen.