Charles Spurgeon on Pride

An excerpt from a sermon delivered on August 17, 1856 by Charles Spurgeon at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark on the topic of “Pride and Humility”. I find paraphrasing a useful exercise for me, so I have done some editing, removing “thy” and “thou”s from the text, as well as some liberty in the substitution of archaic words and phrases. Nevertheless:

In the first place, pride is a groundless thing. It stands on the sands; or worse than that, it puts its foot on the billows which yield beneath its tread; or worse still, it stands on bubbles, which soon must burst beneath its feet. Of all things pride has the worst foothold; it has no solid rock on earth on which to place itself. We have reasons for almost everything, but we have no reasons for pride.  Read more of this post

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Defining Life In Amongst The Chaos

ImageLife is chaos.

We began in chaos. If we were to subscribe to evolutionary theory, we were a few atoms forced together by chance from a million others emanating from a cosmic bang producing hydrogen atoms. From the combinations forming from the random contact of atoms, compounds happened. These compounds multiplied, and continuously bumping around, mistakes happened, and mostly, we reached a dead end and most compounds decayed away. But some flaws worked in our favour and we changed somewhat to slightly different structures and the better compounds overtook and dominated over the older versions of the compounds. From the diversity of compounds became life. Life started off as simple, then complex life forms. Life is merely bumping into each other, and making more offspring, and moving further and further along the evolutionary cycle.

If we were to subscribe to creationism, we were conceived as very good beings from the dust of the earth. Yet, we are fundamentally tainted by the chaos, that is, power and the ability to sin against one another and against a Holy God. Through the fruit eaten in the Garden of Eden we have been forced to live a life without the direct providential care of God, and we are returned to working the earth for little fruit. It is the chaos we find, when we find our relationships strained because we have rejected the life of God for much less.

We are highly flawed beings, whatever theory we subscribe to. Read more of this post

The Transient World of the Aeroplane

ImageThere is a certain feeling of claustrophobia that sets in when sitting in a plane. 

Sitting in a plane at 2.30 am and knowing that there is another 8 hours of suspension in the air–typing on your smartphone to try and pass the time. There is a feeling that this is only a transitory world, and at that, a mind-numbing purgatory. Yet, the knowledge of this temporary existence reminds you of the depravity of the human body.

Next to you, is the solitary snorer on the plane, the problem is the only time he seems to snore is when you’re about to nod off and fall asleep. Behind you, there is the man who insists on playing Angry Birds on full volume–he can afford an iPad but not headphones apparently. With the symphonic cackle of birds and short-breathed groaning like the sound you make when repeatedly told your pet cat died, conspiring to cause me grief, frustration is becoming an appropriate word.

Moreover, there is a brooding helplessness knowing your brother is asleep next to you in the aisle seat. There is zero chance of escaping down to the toilet. I don’t even need to go to the toilet–it’s evidence of how much I worry perhaps. The fear of never being able to get out in the situation that I need to go to the toilet, even if only to vainly stare into the mirror for a few seconds. Feeling taken from all sides, in a seat that is too small for me, there is a sense of being trapped by adversity and this world is too small. Sitting in the plane, I feel very big in a small world.

The fear of my cramped feet terrifies me, it’s not so much that they are cramped–I slouch down to fit my feet neatly under the seat in front of me–but that if they were cramped. I’m not a claustrophobic person, but any person in a plane should seem to be prone to many fears not previously known coming to the surface of my conciousness. In the previous world, where we were on holiday–that is quickly forgotten as we take on our depraved state hoisted in the air–so quickly things change that nothing in the previous could have prepared us for. Helpless is the feeling when I spend too long thinking about the present–it seems to make us forget of the future where we would finally make it home.

Forgetting the destination, the existential longing for freedom begins to amount to a lot less. People become contented with walking down the aisle as their form of heaven, people think that a glass could contain all the waters of the world, and the food is from the banquet tables of kings. The thirst and the hunger become contented with crumbs and shadows of beauty and wonder. There is much frustration, but there is a hope that this world is only temporary. I feel that many people seem to want to embrace this world of flight with buying seats with more leg-room and seats that bend backwards flat, with greater choice in meals, with greater entertainment systems. Yet, I feel they are only strawmen as we approach in for landing in this new world.

Stepping off the plane the present worries are lost and the kingdom in the air is forgotten. In the scale of this world outside of this aircraft, the petty trials and temptations are lost–almost ridiculous in a way that they are quickly forgotten. We are home and rest is finally found. Heaven is this world we emerge into, the past will be forgotten, as we emerge into resplendent glory and infinite freedom in Christ.

“Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” Psalms 27v.14

Keeping Christmas in Perspective

I feel sometimes people fight all the wrong battles. 

People arguing about Happy Holidays over Merry Christmas especially. They have grown so overblown that it become irrelevant from its true rooting in Christ’s birth. Merry Christmas is in the larger scheme of things only a small part of what Christmas is. Is Christ diminished if we do not wish people Merry Christmas, or is Christ more manifested in other places? In other words, is this the Gospel? I am convinced if we continue to fight these meaningless battles, and all we are seen fighting is over these things, it begins to define us. And I am sure the Devil would be glad to see us fight over these little things instead of fighting for the sake of the Gospel.

People often say that the Devil is so successful because people don’t believe he exists, but equally dangerous is to believe he exists but not to destroy the work of the Gospel.

I think people fight for too little if they are fighting to maintain a Christmas story, without looking at the larger picture. The Christmas story  can sometimes be so deeply entrenched in tradition that we can almost become lethargic in how we carry it on. Then perhaps, it becomes almost acceptable for non-believers to treat Christianity as nothing more than tradition of a time long ago. People often complain that Christianity is not relevant enough, and this is true because we aren’t living and engaging actively with the complete story of Christmas.

Christmas is more than just a merry time and a feel-good nativity story, it is more than a woman giving birth to a child in a manger.

 

“If you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
” Isaiah 58:10 (English Standard Version)

Have been diminished the power of Christmas that it is merely a time of the year, but a daily reality and sanctification?

The Cross Is The Perfect Statement

“The cross is the perfect statement both of God’s wrath against sin and of the depth of his love and mercy in the recovery of the damaged creation and its damagers.  God’s mercy, patience, and love must be fully preached in the church.  But they are not credible unless they are presented in tension with God’s infinite power, complete and sovereign control of the universe, holiness, and righteousness.  

And where God’s righteousness is clearly presented, compassionate warnings of his holy anger against sin must be given, and warnings also of the certainty of divine judgment in endless alienation from God which will be unimaginably worse than the literal descriptions of hell.  It is no wonder that the world and the church are not awakened when our leadership is either singing a lullaby concerning these matters or presenting them in a caricature which is so grotesque that it is unbelievable.

The tension between God’s holy righteousness and his compassionate mercy cannot be legitimately resolved by remolding his character into an image of pure benevolence as the church did in the nineteenth century.  There is only one way that this contradiction can be removed: through the cross of Christ which reveals the severity of God’s anger against sin and the depth of his compassion in paying its penalty through the vicarious sacrifice of his Son. 

In systems which resolve this tension by softening the character of God, Christ and his work become an addendum, and spiritual darkness becomes complete because the true God has been abandoned for the worship of a magnified image of human tolerance.” (1)

I think at every moment there is a tendency to rush towards one or the other. The cross is love poured out; the cross is wrath poured out. Binaries fight out in our mind, and we become ingrained on one side of the expanse. We have tried to create a dialogue between the two extremes, but it is impossible. And it is impossible except through what we have known. Then, we remember that Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient for the sins of the whole world–great enough to cover the great expanse, and wash our doubts away.

Enough for my haughty heart, enough for my lifeless soul.

Great enough to cover my lack of love, and my lack of righteousness.

Is the cross meaningful if you remove the wrath of God away from it? Is the cross meaningful if you remove the love of God away from it?

(1) (Lovelace, Richard. Dynamics for Spiritual Life, 84-85) the irony is that both those buildings could readily be defined as modernist.

The Purity in Silence

Why do we fear silence so much? 

As part of my university studies, I have to do readings, a lot of them I might add. I mean, I read a lot for recreation: Dickens, Hardy, Wilde, and Wharton are among my favourites — but to be forced to read a book on architectural theory is somewhat dull to me. There is this one book I am reading though, from a French author called Henri Bosco that gave me the idea for this weblog.

“There is nothing like silence to suggest a sense of unlimited space. Sounds lend color to space, and confer a sort of sound body upon it. But absence of sound leaves it quite pure and, in the silence, we are seized with the sensation of something vast and deep and boundless. It took complete hold of me and, for several moments, I was overwhelmed by the grandeur of this shadowy peace.” — Henri Bosco in “Malicroix”

One thing that really mystifies me is in church service that I have sat through, people always have to fill the Holy Communion with the noise of some sort. Whether it be the voice of a soloist, or the gentle strumming of a guitar. There is this almost fear of silence in the church service that might cause the rapture to occur or something like that. Yet, I think that Bosco has something insightful in what he expounds on about silence. There is something unlimited and so solitary within silence that takes and surrounds us.

Where the world defiles us with noise whether visually or aurally — daily we are struck with images which we cannot forget, news of earthquakes and the cries of despair, forest fires and the crackling sound of the American Dream. Being barraged with such noise, often leaves us indifferent in our lives. I don’t know, I for one, am absolutely sick of all the earthquake news of the past month. FFH in their song, “Listen” (parts of which I don’t totally agree with) puts it poignantly:

“Voices are everywhere, and they’re screaming at us: use me, buy me, believe me. We’ve got voices all over our culture: chat rooms, commercials, billboards, and bumper stickers, and they all want our immediate attention.”

The song goes on to expound on the personal nature of our relationship with God, compared to the disconnection of ourselves through media. But, anyway, there is so much we can do personally, but so little that would not become part of the “noise” of life. There is a fine fine line between being a voice in the thousands and the audience of one. Within this world, there is only so much we can accomplish without listening to the one voice which matters: God’s voice; After all, whatever we put our hands to is insufficient if it is not according to what God has willed us to do. It seems that silence often takes the backseat over reactions with the best intentions. in Exodus 14:14 it says the following:

“The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

The context being the Israelite nation had just left Egypt, and the Egyptians are suddenly chasing after them. They had just crossed the Red Sea, and they see the Egyptian army coming up close behind them, fear began to inset upon them. But what Moses tells the Israelite nation to be, is silent. There was no call to arms, to shed blood – but God would fight for their nation.

So often today I am like the Israelites – with the best intentions but without silence I don’t understand how small the situation is to God. I pray continually that my eyes would be open to the angels protecting and controlling every situation as in 2 Kings with Elisha and his servant. I pray that I would not become the noise, but I would be silent, so people may see the true expanse of an omnipotent God. I hope to be overwhelmed by the grandeur of this shadowy peace, that I would not forget my own futility and the power of Christ.

“Loneliness and solitude are not two things to be confused, because I spend my solitude with You” – Relient K

Remembering the Anointed One

Since it’s getting to Christmas almost, I thought I should start writing some Christmas themed posts.

“But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.” Mark 14:6 (English Standard Version)

Christmas is the remembrance of the birth of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem. The name, Christmas, being derived from the Christ, a name of Jesus meaning “the anointed one”.

In the Old Testament, anointing was important for many leaders of Israel. David was found by Samuel and immediately anointed, Solomon was anointed by the priest Zadok in his inauguration before whole nation of Israel. “The specific practice of anointing by pouring oil on the head was used as asymbolic act for officially, designating and setting apart a person for a certain, public,leadership function in the community.” (source) All throughout the Old Testament, there were only three groups of people that were anointed: priests, prophets and kings. The Old Testament dictates that anointing someone involves pouring oil over the head of the one concerned, perhaps not unintentionally similar to the act of cleansing. The aim of anointing giving to the one anointed power, strength, or majesty.

In Christmas, we are remembering someone who was anointed by God, his holy oil poured on his head. But mankind only put a crown of thorns on his head, and killed him on a cross. Only once was Jesus anointed on earth, by a poor woman in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus was eating at the house of a leper, his name was Simon. The unnamed woman opened an alabaster flask pouring it over her head. She was no Levite, her anointing meant nothing, at his feet and she wiped them with her tears.

She was one who had sinned all her life, but she came with a great gift, and put it on his feet. To put the bottle of alabaster in context, a denarii was the pay for a day’s wages to a Roman soldier and the bottle was worth 300 denariis. The disciples naturally were vicious towards her, asking why she didn’t sell the bottle and give the money to the poor. But Jesus defends her, that he would not be with them always, but the poor shall be.

“She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. “And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” Mark 14:8-9 (English Standard Version)

This event occurs close to the end of his life, he knew that the end was coming where Judas betray him and hand him over to the authorities. Everything he said was a reference to his coming death, he states that she will be told in memory of him. His humility and shame in dying on the cross, is mirrored clearly her through the undying devotion, and total sacrifice of her heart to Jesus.

And through this birth of Jesus Christ, no longer was anointing for only those who were of the tribe of Levi, or kings of Israel even only those prophets which preached God’s Word. But now, even to the poorest of women and the tax collectors, they could be anointed and even that be received as children of God. Jesus was born so we could be anointed, and be cleansed and restored to our original state. “And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us” (2 Corinthians 1v.21)

*note some other gospels give a different account especially john which gives the woman the name, Mary, who is presumably sister of Lazarus. there is a bit of debate among scholars whether the accounts are related and if the two stories refer to the same event.