read-and-discussWe’ve just entered summer in the southern hemisphere, which means that we’re real close to summer break.

The spring in my step since our last homeschool reading list update was diverted, so this Spring reading list is belated.

Here’s some of what we’ve recently been reading:

For homeschool:

1. The Wombles Go Round the World (Elisabeth Beresford, Bloomsbury Publishing)

Not long ago I initiated a quick introduction to stop motion animation. One of the ways I did this was to show our Homeschoolers some short videos of The Wombles. I grew up watching the episodes after school.

They’re unique, quirky and imperfect. To see what I mean check out their official YouTube channel. The Wombles are recyclers. They reuse things humans discard. It’s this cultural attribute that also makes the Wombles a helpful teaching tool in lessons on creation care.

To our surprise, on a recent visit to the local library, we discovered that they had a novel featuring them.

The Wombles go round the World, is an exciting story, which happens to include a visit to Australia, strange food like bracken bun and acorn juice. In two air balloons, Orinoco (who is always hungry, like Garfield) and Bungo, head off in one direction; Wellington and Tomsk go in another. The novel captures the same unique, quirky imperfection found in the stop motion series.

2. The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction (William Doyle, Oxford University Press)

Doyle’s work on introducing the French Revolution and the reign of terror which followed it, is outstanding. I was a little unsure of introducing these introductions, given the University level of reading. However, our two teens tackled the topic with interest and relative ease.

The highlight for me was hearing them refer back to the book when discussing characters in a movie. They also showed a passionate understanding of the paradox where inequalities and injustices were created by those who fought for justice and equality. It’s inspired me to pursue more topics and pad that with free lectures from Universities such as Yale online.

3. Viking Longboats

Unfortunately I forgot to record the author and the publisher for this one. Overall, Vikings Longboats is a fun and information read. It has well drawn illustrations positioned around well researched information. What we found particularly exciting was reading a history book that includes a positive presentation of the Vikings conversion to Christianity.

As a rule I limit borrowing of library books to four during the term. They can borrow any book from the junior fiction section, as long as the final four includes one non-fiction choice.

We borrow, on average, 24 books at one time, so I see it as an important lesson in decision-making. Finding good reasons for our choices is practicing discernment and responsibility.  Vikings Longboats was one of those fine picks.

4. The Book of Exodus with John Calvin’s Commentary

Throughout the past few months we have worked our way through the book of Exodus. Each of our homeschoolers has the New Living Translation and takes turns reading a chapter out loud. We’ve followed directly on in our reading from Genesis. It’s drumming home God’s reminder about who He is.

For instance, if God was selling an idea of Himself, he’s P.R work needs adjusting, but that’s not what both Genesis and Exodus does. Both books speak of God’s revealing of himself to humanity as God. Christians, therefore, don’t worship a human idea of God, but the true God who makes Himself known to us. Faith acknowledges this truth, reason follows it.

To balance out things, I use the English Standard Version. For this time round I decided to work with John Calvin’s Exodus commentary. I wanted to see how Calvin handled the topic; where he went with the issues of tyranny and liberation.

As of today we just passed chapter 36 and are heading towards completing this journey just in time for the beginning of the holidays. The result is that I’m no less a fan of Calvin. It’s also helped me to introduce our homeschoolers to another key historical figure from the Protestant reformation, in a real and relevant way.

5. The Works of Banjo Patterson (Banjo Patterson, Wordsworth Editions)

As part of our Australian history curriculum focus this year, we’ve added the Works of Banjo Patterson. He was an Australian poet, probably best known for penning the unofficial Aussie anthem, ‘Waltzing Matilda’. The Works are part of getting to know a richer part of Australian history from the early 20th Century and how that has impacted Australian culture.

What I’m reading:

1. The Theology of Schleiermacher: A condensed presentation of his chief work (George Cross, 1911)

I’ve written a little about this new reading project here: Reading Schleiermacher In Context: Moravian Theology & The Twilight Of The Enlightenment

2. Endangered Gospel (John Nugent, 2016 Wipf & Stock Pub.)

Nugent’s book is good. He brings up a discussion about what it means to be Church in a society flooded with secular humanist social justice and charities. He’s main point so far: ‘When Jesus said, love others. He meant love other Christians, not those in the world.’ That’s me paraphrasing him, but it conveys the guts of his thesis.

He dances around the issue of replacing of Jesus as the Gospel, with either the moralist gospel, on the right, or the social gospel, on the left. I was hoping that he’d be blunter about that. Stating it as it is, but unfortunately what straight talk there is, is skewed by what seems to be a quest by Nugent to avoid the politics. Not something I think can be evaded when it comes to a topic he’s writing about. [I’ve got a blog post pending on this one]

For Aussie kids, summer means pool time, practicing sun safety with slip, slop, slap, shirt; cooking, long lunches in the shade and some well earn’t down time.

What it means for us homeschoolers, though, is a change of gears. Like a lot of home education, we might slow down in our learning, but we don’t completely stop.

Our homeschool reading this year has been exciting and we’ve been more deliberate in our reading choices. With the upcoming summer reading competition at our local library, we’re gearing up for a bonzer reading season!

monk-with-back-drop

Alone.

The assembly lines stand abandoned.
.     Support stations silenced.

The floor is covered in bleak layers of ash.

The unbroken quiet, broken by drips of quickening sorrow.

This place was once full of sighs and hand-me-downs
.    Now even they’re all gone.

The walls still show signs of attendance.
Yet, no manner of violent remonstration,
.     rage or fomented frustration,
can remove the grey from this calloused remembrance.

.     Even if their inhabitants failed to provide subsistence
This ground held promise.
.     Now that’s all spent-slash-squandered.

The leftovers were nothing; nothing worth noting.

Like scattered mines,
.     Each empty barrel and bin are filled with charges of antecedent chagrins;
Shadows of a generation that never gave thought to the world of tomorrow.

Upwards the frame is shattered, its roof left mangled;
.      bright orange lines of rust stains run down what’s left of each pillar.
Tear-shaped lines of yesteryear move even the most thoughtless of listeners.

Then rising unnoticed, begins the slow ascent of the impossible and the peculiar.

Engravings marked by an outward light,
.             pierce through the silted darkness.

Then hands reach down and dust off,
.           grace-breathed Petroglyphs of the once familiar.

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(©RL2016)

bell-spirit-motivationGetting from yawn to, “yes, we can!” isn’t an impossibility. Neither does it require a master’s degree in astrophysics or child psychology.

The overcoming of lag in the school day requires prayer, creativity and effort. Overcoming lag begins by looking at what is possible. It utilises possibility in order to break through the feeling that this period of ‘’yawning’’ is an unnavigable barrier.

With a compass built of prayer, creativity and effort; that which is impossible can points us towards that which is possible. Prayer leads us in humility out from a navigational bearing that keeps us dangerously over focused on ourselves, and our situation.

That new bearing directs our learning. It helps lead us out of an unproductive quagmire.

The parent-teacher who is creative and teachable will have little trouble with this tactical manoeuvre. The only downsides are the side effects of having been slowly caught up in the lag themselves.

With this lag comes a muggy swamp like feeling that is as embracing as fog.

We can end up feeling like we’re part of the scene in Rocky IV, where Rocky Balboa reflecting on how to respond to the loss of Apollo Creed, is met by Robert Tepper singing in the background,

…there’s no easy way out. There’s not short cut home.”

This may seem overly dramatic, but most teachers or Homeschool parents at some stage throughout the school year, would consider it a close analogy to how the lag-of-the-long-big-“yawn” can feel.

Teaching through this can also feel akin to the scene in The Neverending Story where Atreyu battles through the ‘Swamp of Sadness’. With The Nothing pursuing him, Atreyu loses his horse, Artax, and exhausted, almost gives up, tempted to succumb to the swamp himself.

Like Balboa’s prayer, renewed determination, effort and courage, that which was viewed as impossible once more becomes the possible. It may be that “…there’s no easy way out. There’s not short cut home,” but it doesn’t mean that getting from yawning, to “yes, we can!” is unachievable.

Like Atreyu, the brave who are aware of the swamp are ready to counter its effects. The compass of prayer, creativity and effort, along with the ability to discern the possible out of the impossible, finds a way through the fog.

Prayer should accompany creativity and effort because “to pray well is the better half of study”[i]

The act of prayer is an act of faith. Every sigh and every groan directed towards the ears of God lands on the heart of God.

As Friedrich Schleiermacher noted,

“Don’t listen to those who teach that, before you approach God, you must have your mind composed and your heart at peace; that it is unseemly to appear before Him in this agitated state, while the dread of pain and disappointment, the clinging to some good thing which you are on the point of losing, still tosses your heart to and fro, and leaves no room for submission to the Holy will of God. If you waited until submission had won the victory, you would feel neither the need nor the inclination for such a prayer, and the privilege of offering it would be useless to you […] such disquietude should not keep us back from God.[ii]

Paul in his own letter to the church in Rome made it clear that our sighs and groans aren’t wasted on God.

‘The [Holy] Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words.’[iii]

In his famous letter to the Ephesians, when Paul calls on Christians with the metaphor, to put on the whole armour of God, he follows on with the instruction to also pray like breathing.[iv] Such is the importance of prayer in the conflict of everyday life.

We’re motivated towards Holy transformation, because the God who is Holy, graciously transforms our motivation.

When the Pharisees came to argue with Jesus, seeking proof of his divinity, Mark’s recount tells us that ‘Jesus sighed deeply in His spirit.’[v] This happened even after Jesus had multiplied bread and fish, to feed a large crowd.

These groans and deep sighs proclaim God’s permission to lean on Him. They proclaim God’s gracious move towards real humanity whereby humanity is empowered by God to learn from God. The acceptance of this life by the Spirit is the out working of His received grace. We have permission to believe; permission and strength to revolt against The Nothing; to walk through and rise above the fog.

Getting from “yawn” to, “yes, we can!” isn’t an impossibility. It might mean breaking routine. An earlier than planned library day or morning tea by the river.

It begins with out-of-the-box solutions grounded in the wisdom of God. It begins with creativity, effort and the ability to discern the possible even while being overshadowed by that which is viewed as impossible. It’s enabled by a counter-cultural determination to start with prayer and involve God in the decisions of the day.

It’s the existence of the possibilities unlocked by prayer, creativity and effort, that moves the schoolroom from “yawn”, to “yes, we can!”

This is practicing the art of dialectic. The hope produced by the existence of impossible possibilities. It is the homeschooler as Atreyu and Balboa. It is Paul writing from prison and it’s Schleiermacher refusing to surrender to the expectations of others.

‘The Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Let not your heads be troubled, neither let them be afraid.’

– (John 14:26-27)


Sources:

[i] Commonly attributed to Martin Luther

[ii] Schleiemacher, F. The Power of Prayer in Relation to Outward CircumstancesSelected Sermons (p. 41).

[iii] Romans 8:26, ESV

[iv] Ephesians 6:18, ESV

[v] Mark 8:11, ESV

As the great 19th Century preacher, Charles Spurgeon wrote, ‘Life is a conflict, & thou needest battle music’ [i]. In addition to this, I recently came across a fitting quote from John Calvin in his commentary on Exodus:

calvin-quote

So, with these words in mind, here’s the top November additions to my high rotation, “A-List” on Spotify.

1. ‘Song of Deliverance’, Zac Williams

Zac Williams is more country-rock than cliché CCM. That’s why ‘Song of Deliverance’ stands out. I haven’t had the chance to listen closer to Zac’s other work, but if that reflects the huge effort found here, then it’s worth a closer look. The lyrical content alone, pushes this song above and beyond any mainstream contemporary country. I’m fond of the ‘Chain Breaker’ theme, the slide guitar and the careful placement of the harmonica.

“Get behind me satan; no more fear and no more shame; My debts been paid I am no longer your slave” – Amen..

2. ‘Great Night’, Need To Breathe

As I strongly implied in October’s A-list, outside Lacey Sturm and Toby Mac, Need to Breathe take the standard for Christians in the music industry higher. I’m still listening to ‘Hard Love’ and consider tracks 2,3,7,9,10,11,12. on the album to be some of the best work I’ve heard from a band born in the wilds of the Christian Contemporary Music scene. ‘Great Night’ is a fun song. It has a great riff, has a beat that would pass off as electronic; rides a solid melody and sits on the back of guitar work (that in my biased opinion) makes listening to this like watching a fireworks spectacular. There’s not much more to it than that.

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3.’Lazarus’, Bellarive

Bellarive were a surprise find. There’s something unique in the mix and it’s the uniqueness that gives me reason to add it to the November A-List. I’ve listened to some of their other work, but consider ‘Lazarus’ to be their best. In all fairness, I haven’t had the time to give them the full attention they deserve. The list of qualities in ‘Lazarus’ hinge on its dynamics. Starting with the piano, rising with the lyrics and finishing with the full rock compliment, the song is carried to it’s quiet conclusion with precision. I’m a fan of the video work. What really wins me, though, is the depth of theology at work in the simplicity of the song. I hear myself praying the words and only wish I had room to link all of them.

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“So, take a breath and break the night
Stranger to the Light
Wind of God, dig up the graves
And breathe into the slain”

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4. ‘Lunatics & Slaves’, Sin Shake Sin

Sin Shake Sin drive thoughtfulness. The whole album exploits this artistic edge with pointed lyrics matched by a catchy melody. They aren’t from the CCM scene and I doubt that they’d share the same perspective as many who are. Sin Shake Sin is a band that I’d expect to hear playing as a musical bed for TV shows like Chuck or Suits. There’s a crisp coolness to the blunt challenge in each song that, lyrically anyway, reminds me of Guns n’ Roses. ‘Lunatics & Slaves’ showcases what this band is about and what this band is capable of.

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5. ‘Heroes’, Zayde WØlf

Surprisingly, some of the best music of recent years comes from the video game and TV/movie soundtrack scene. Assassins Creed, Halo and Skyrim stand out as quintessential examples of this. ‘Ezio’s Theme’ or ‘Past to Present‘ have engraved a standard that is tough to beat. ‘Heroes’ meets this. The song has a strong presence. Like Lazarus, the real strength of ‘Heroes’ is in its dynamics. From quiet to loud; verse to chorus each line is complimented with inspiring lyrics that follow a clear theme. In addition, the cinematic soundtrack feel that echoes a Hans Zimmer, Steve Jablonsky-esk orchestra and electronic baritone minor adds some real weight.

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Sources:

[i] Spurgeon, C.H. 1883, Flowers From a Puritan’s Garden

[ii] Calvin. J Commentary on Exodus

Note: Thoughts expressed here are my own. I did not receive payment of any kind to review or post these songs.

friedrich-schleiermacherReading the sermons of Friedrich Schleiermacher from two hundred years ago doesn’t happen without its challenges. It’s particularly challenging when it involves a dated English translation from a Prussian great-grandson of the enlightenment age, who was also a Pastor, romantic and continental theologian.

I’ve resigned myself to pursue this based on the fact that when these challenges are measured on the scales of hedonic calculus, the benefit out ways the cost.

I’m familiar with Schleiermacher, not so familiar with his work. I know of him. Have been drenched in Karl Barth’s quirky disappearing fondness for him as a teacher of neo-Protestantism, and joined in Barth’s reprimand of the pietism and liberalism which framed Schleiermacher’s theology.

Schleiermacher was raised in the Moravian church. Like most Christian movements, Moravianism, as nurtured into existence by Count Nicolaus Zinzendorf, was founded on solid biblical ground. It then moved towards extremes, finally finding its unique place in the Church Universal through much needed reform.

What stood out about the Moravians was their love of music, Christology and missiology. Their heavy focus on finding Jesus Christ at the centre of Church doctrine and a zeal for missions was equal to the zeal of a long existing list of Catholic missionaries.

Christology was also where the early Moravians almost found themselves shipwrecked. The excesses and early charismatic enthusiasms manifested themselves in their worship which bordered on the absurd. Such as the over-the-top mysticism infused language about Christ’s atoning blood.

“For seven years these Brethren took leave of their senses, and allowed their feelings to lead them on in the paths of insensate folly […] Since the year 1734,” he [Count Zinzendorf] said, “the atoning sacrifice of Jesus became our only testimony and our one means of salvation.” But now he carried this doctrine to excess. Again the cause was his use of the Lot. As long as Zinzendorf used his own mental powers, he was able to make his “Blood and Wounds Theology” a power for good; but as soon as he bade good-bye to his intellect he made his doctrine a laughing-stock and a scandal’[i]

Though the excesses of Moravian theology ended, Moravian theology didn’t. They humbly learnt from these mistakes and moved forward:

‘On this subject the historians have mostly been in the wrong. Some have suppressed the facts. This is dishonest. Others have exaggerated, and spoken as if the excesses lasted for two or three generations. This is wicked. The sober truth is exactly as described in these pages. The best judgment was passed by the godly Bishop Spangenherg. “At that time,” he said, “the spirit of Christ did not rule in our hearts; and that was the real cause of all our foolery.” Full well the Brethren realized their mistake, and honestly they took its lessons to heart. They learned to place more trust in the Bible, and less in their own unbridled feelings. They learned afresh the value of discipline, and of an organised system of government. They became more guarded in their language, more Scriptural in their doctrine, and more practical in their preaching.’[ii]

Further filling out the situation of Schleiermacher’s relationship with Moravian theology, Joseph Hutton tells us,

‘Though he differed from the Brethren [Moravians] in theology, he felt himself at one with them in religion.’[iii]

Schleiermacher left Moravian orthodoxy behind.

‘He called himself a “Moravian of the higher order”; and by that phrase he probably meant that he had the Brethren’s faith in Christ, but rejected their orthodox theology.’[iv]

Having a clearer view of Schleiermacher’s context eases the challenges of reading his work. He had a ‘scientific frame of mind, and also a passionate devotion to Christ […] The great object of Schleiermacher’s life was to reconcile science and religion.’[v]

Hutton points out, ‘of all the religious leaders in Germany, Schleiermacher was the greatest since Luther.’[vi]

In the reading I’ve done so far, it’s Moravian theology, this scientific frame of mind and his desire to reconcile science and religion that provides the key for hearing Schleiermacher in his context.

I’m curious about what we can learn from Schleiermacher. Curious about how much influence the Moravian Church had on his theology.  Keen to see how that early learning impacted his future learning and I’m interested in seeing, with a Barth’s crisp caution in mind, what Schleiermacher has to say to the socio-political and theological milieu today.


Sources:

[i] Hutton. J.E, 2014, History of the Moravian Church Heraklion Press. Kindle Edition. (pp.190 & p.189)

[ii] Ibid, p. 195.

[iii] Ibid, p. 295.

[iv] Ibid, p. 295.

[v] Ibid, pp. 295 & 294.

[vi] Ibid, p. 294.

Image: source

blog-post-25th-nov-2016-rlWhen it comes to composing music there’s hits, and then there’s misses.

The lesson I’m learning from my own hits and misses is that nothing created is ever completely wasted.

Outside the perfectionist, the only mistakes that really matter in music are the ones that stand out. Those particular kinds of mistakes can break a song and an artist. It’s the ones that break with the rhythm or the melody; the ones that are heard by everyone, not just the person with a trained ear to the ground.

The potential for mistakes like these keep us fine-tuning our craft and tools for the job. They keep is in step with the beat, ensuring that one hundred percent of our attention is given to the composition at hand.

Through humility and a gracious attitude, mistakes can teach us. Through grace they can be made part of a disciplined life. They become fuel; the impetus to get better. Through grace mistakes can even become part of the song, or the beginning of new one.

In God, with God, through God, we are shown how this works. Shown that once humanity drops its facade of isolation, rejects it’s hubris-filled rejecting and grasps the grace that grasps us, nothing created is ever completely wasted. As Joseph said to his brothers,

“You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Gen. 50:20, ESV).

Likewise, Paul tells us, “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Rom.8:28).

Not even the scrappy three-minute melody that had way too much drums in the mix, or the muddy sound of an instrumental overdone with bass or a guitar solo.

Nothing created is ever completely wasted.

Every new melody, every new beat, every new sound is born from the lessons learnt by simply having the courage to put a hand in The Hand that enables us for the task.

“Courage, dear heart,” (C.S. Lewis) for ‘our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Working together with Him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.’(2 Cor. 5:21-6:1, ESV).

Nothing created is ever completely wasted.

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gardenia-2016One of the best ways to review how to identify syllables is with the traditional Japanese form of poetry called haiku.

It’s excellent for revision because it encourages students to work with vowels, adjectives, objectivity and themes.The basic principles of haiku writing makes this an excellent teaching tool.

Traditionally, haiku follows a non-rhyming syllable pattern of 5-7-5. This becomes a stanza of only three lines. The sentences tend to follow a theme, but it’s not necessary to have each sentence follow on from the next. As long as the general idea or topic is packaged well enough as a whole.

For our homeshooling haikus it’s been a lot of trial and error. None of that has been a bad thing. These hits and misses only make us work harder at refining our own personal style.

Each of the homeschoolers have a voice, its just a matter of coaching them to speak with it in writing. We’ve been doing these from time to time over the past couple of years and I’ve grown to value of the simple, reflective and calming process.

Our next project, when I can get to it, is to do some more work with Tanka, which is very similar to Haiku, only it allows for more syllables per line and usually contains five lines instead of three.

Tanka seems easier, given the extra room, however, when working with kids, I’ve found it to be harder to work with, than haiku. My hope is that since we’ve become more familiar with Haiku, Tanka will not be as daunting a task as it was our first time around.

Here’s a few I put together the other day. My themes were Spring and homeschool.
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From the storm emerges

the firm grip of sunlight

Clouds break open

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Dancing petals

Ride waves of air

Wind makes the melody

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Books swing open

The drowsy meet the dawn

And minds awaken

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(RL2016)

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“The Christian faith is a singing faith” – Cliff Barrows

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Notes:

The Cliff Barrows Memorial website: https://cliffbarrowsmemorial.org/

tony_evans_the_urban_alternativeAmerican author and Pastor, Tony Evans of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship gave this response to the recent elections in the United States.

Delivered in a fourteen minute address to his congregation, Evans’ hits home the reality of the responsibility of the Church, both universal and local.

Directing the Church to look towards the Kingship of Jesus Christ, Evans called Christians to practice honor in disagreement; to maintain kindness and seek to provide a reasoned voice in the midst of global and domestic, conflict and uncertainty.

His sermon stands as a noteworthy example, in an otherwise dreary week flooded with politics, overreaction, propaganda and opinion.

Here are five of his top points:

First:

 “So, let’s get something straight about elections.The bible says that God puts up kings and tears kings down. So your vote whoever you voted for is never the final say so. The final so-say is what God either causes or allows.Now, you are to vote. I am to vote. We are to participate, but heaven rules.”

Second:

“Regardless of which way you voted God has created a gap that the church needs to take advantage of. Because how do we expect them to get along out there if we can’t get along in here [the Church].”
 “However you voted, whether democrat of republican, or write in independent, God doesn’t ride the backs of Donkey’s or Elephants. However you voted you are bound to be living like a kingdom man or kingdom woman, for the advancement of the kingdom of God. So our job is to demonstrate what it looks like when  people of God represent the King. Not the president, the King. In how we act, react, talk. When you see some of the things people are saying. Some of the attitude being displayed and then attach God’s name to it! It’s a contradiction.”

Third:

“The bible says, honour the king and the King he told them to honour was Nero and he was horrible, but you honour the position even if you disagree with the person.
And just like President Obama was dishonoured in many, many ways and that dishonour should be rejected, any dishonour of the position, even though we must address individual issues with the person, is unbiblical, unchristian and is evil.So do not let anyone hear, coming out of your mouth, dishonour, even though you may express disagreement. You represent the King. You represent Jesus Christ. And do so as an individual in what you say and how you interact, and react. What you train your children to think and to do. You saw some of the violence out there, it’s just unspeakable.
We have the right to protest, but we only have the right to protest to the help of others, not to the hurt of others.

Fourth:

In our community people ought to see when you step out in your job or in your school, or wherever you are, that you are kingdom citizen. A kingdom citizen is a man or woman who is fully committed to Jesus Christ, and their commitment to Christ seeks to bring heavenly principles into earth’s concerns.That’s what we do, we bring heaven to bare on it.”

Fifth:

“We don’t just replicate what everybody else is saying. Presidents come and go, there’s only one King that stays on the throne. So it is absolutely critical during this day of chaos and confusion that you go out of your way, that we go out of our way.
The bible says, Galatians 6:10, “Do good to all man as you have opportunity, especially to the household of faith.” So rather than fuss and cuss, cry and create havoc, let our good works speak for us. Let people see that we represent God’s house. Cause, trust me God’s not going to skip the Church-house to fix the Whitehouse.”

In the interest of full disclosure, this is the first time I’ve heard Evans preach. I know little about his theology, or personal political position. This said, his sermon is, to me, balanced and not overly directed to one side over the other. There is no blame. No lamenting. No evasion of individual responsibility.

This first and foremost is a sermon to his church. It should be remembered that this is not a political speech directed at a wider audience or any particular political personality.


Notes:

PDF transcript up to 14:23 [link]

Image source: Wikipedia, Tony Evans, The Urban Alternative, Creative Commons.

john-martin-the-repentance-of-nineveh-with-borderWhether you’re soaked in the dye of the Left or the Right; politically branded and proud to wear it, or disinclined to bow before either.

No one is outside the sharp insight found within these words:

‘’…He told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.’’ (Lk.18:9)

Prior to this Jesus had just finished speaking of a widow, who persistently came before a judge, pleading her case.

The judge is described as one ‘who neither feared God nor respected man.’ (Lk.18:2). We know little of the widow’s situation other than that, given her persistence, it must have been desperate.  As the parable goes, the judge, more out of irritation than compassion, grants the widow justice.

Jesus doesn’t finish there. Luke records the imperative, “…hear what the unrighteous judge says.” (Lk.18:6)

Jesus then makes it clear that God “will give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night … He will give justice to them speedily.” (Lk.18:7-8)

In a seemingly unrelated conclusion, Jesus poses a question about the future. Leaning on the distinction between the widow’s relentless faith despite her suffering, and what could be described as the judge’s militant atheism, Jesus asks: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”

It’s from here that Luke cements one of the most significant parables taught by Jesus: the Pharisee and the Tax collector.

We’re told that.

‘’two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.”

The Pharisee prays,

“God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; and give tithes of all that I get.” (Lk.18:11-12)

We’re to understand that the Pharisee considers himself more righteous than the tax collector. He is ‘asserting his own righteousness’[i]

To see the relevance of this, we need to go back to Jesus’ question about the future at the end of the last parable:

“When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”

It’s a question that begs another: Do we have more faith in ourselves, than we do in God?

In 21st century terms, the Pharisee would be living out of an attitude that leads to a prayer like this:

“God, I thank you that I am not like that racist, bigoted, homophobic, xenophobic, or intolerant person over there; I’m socially “responsible” and unlike all those haters, and “deplorables.” Which, once again, thank you, I’m not!”

There is a keenness to point out what others are, readiness to shift the focus of sin, a readiness to parade a fashionable, Machiavellian, public show of righteousness.

There is no recognition or confession of the fact that ‘’all have sinned, all have fallen short of the glory of God’’ (Rom.3:23). The sinner is whoever and whatever the 21st Century Pharisee claims not to be and yet, claims others are.

Accordingly, the righteous are those who adhere to the human rules and guidelines set by the modern Pharisee. In modern society this is imposed by the predominantly political and academic elite.

On the surface the 21st century Pharisee gives lip service to God, but underneath has become as God.

As identified by John Machen, in his 1923 book ‘Christianity Vs. Liberalism’, the majority of the Left, similar to that of the far-right, follow a faux religion. It’s a revisionism that fits the Bible and Christianity into a political box. The make up of which contains the extremes of modern liberalism, and is upheld by tea-straining theology through the lens of social justice; of feel-good activism and ideologically mandated politics, which is quick to damn anyone they’ve collectively deemed as having fallen short of the faux word of god.

These are built on the imperatives of the progressive, “social Gospel”, that has slowly replaced Jesus Christ as the Gospel, with loyalty to a political ideology, a faux Christ, faux gospel and therefore a faux god.

Evidence for this can be found in the uncontrolled emotional outbursts and reactions to the recent election in the United States.

The Right (extremes excluded), through its own issues with pride and fear, is dragged into this downgrade of the Gospel, (and along with it the downgrade of democracy.) Reacting against the temerity of modern liberalism, the Right builds its own ideological fortifications. Justified by the faux gospel taught by liberalism, the Right stands in a state of constant battle, brought about by the constant bombardment from the Left.

In its final form, though, this monster, this faux god, emerges, having control over both spheres. Still distinct in identity, both Left and Right worship, and conduct themselves under one faux religion. The difference is that one side, through compromise, jettisoned God, for the power it thought it would gain for having done so; whereas the other side, provoked into pushing back, finds itself slowly becoming that which it once fought against.

‘The warfare of the world has entered even into the house of God, and sad indeed is the heart of the man who has come seeking peace.’ (Machen, 1923*)

We come back again to the question previously asked: Do we have more faith in ourselves, than we do in God?

In contrast to the Pharisee, we’re confronted by the awkward timidity of the tax collector. He stands far off. He doesn’t even raise his eyes to heaven (Lk.18:13). He knows the job he has to do each day and wears the cost of it. His job isn’t easy and it’s not going to get easy anytime soon.

His only hope is in God. It isn’t in what he does, his nation gives or what others say he is.

Instead of seeking to out-do the Pharisee in self-praise, the tax collector “beats his chest [a sign of humility & shame][ii], saying, God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

Jesus finishes the parable, saying,

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.”

The bible tells us that ‘none is righteous and the fool jettisons God.’ (Rom.3:10/Psalm 14/Psalm 53)

We are encouraged to be wary of wolves in sheep’s clothing, of false teachers; masked “believers”.

We’re warned that at the coming of the Son of Man, sheep will be separated from goats (Matthew 25). That the political games of deny, evade and blame that give power, will no longer serve to do so.

Both sheep and goats are strong metaphors. For justifiable reasons, whether right or left, liberal or conservative, Christians are summoned to trust and follow the Good Shepherd, not bleat expletives, or eat everything that comes our way.

As for the elect, mentioned in the first parable, we can say that they are, the broken and contrite. They are ‘those who call upon the name of the LORD…’(Rom.10:13 et.al)[iii]  They are, in the words of Karl Barth,

‘Jesus Christ and those He represents’ (CD. 2/2).

In closing, Jesus speaks:

 ‘For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’ (Lk.18:14)

Whether tax collector, Pharisee, liberal, or conservative, no one lives outside the parameters of these words.[iv]

The praise of God outdoes and outlasts the praise of self. May we follow the heartfelt and humble zeal of the tax collector, over-against, the self-righteous fanaticism[v] of the Pharisee.


Notes:

[i] Green, J.B. 1997 NICNT: Luke Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing, [Green also notes, ‘Luke’s purpose is not to condemn a particular group but to warn against a particular way of comporting oneself in light of the present and impending reign of God.’ (NICNT: Luke, p.646)]

[ii]  (Green, p.649)

[iii]  Romans 10:13, ‘For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ See also: Joel 2:32/Acts 2:21/Psalm 145:18 & my personal favourite Psalm 51:17.

[iv] As Green writes: ‘disciples always are in danger of Pharisaic behaviour’ (NICNT: Luke p.646)

[v] Keenness to issue blame, and bestow on themselves credit.

*Machen, J.G. 1923 Christianity & Liberalism: closing remarks

Artwork credit: John Martin, ‘The Repentance of Nineveh’ (19th Century)

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john-martin-paradise-lost-creation-of-light-with-backdrop-border

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The chamber reverberates,

“I’m no good at this.”

These broken sounds match darkened walls.

Thoughts smashed together, move like crashing symbols.

Whispers drip down blood lines,

“…no good at this. We’ve made sure of it.”

Each unchecked word, spin.

Each unchecked word, a win.

So the servants of the serpent mumble.

“Yesss, no good at all.”

Unsurrendered

Villainy employs the surrendered,

And the surrendered seek to make their mark.

But these foundations tremble.

Impossible cracks appear in the dark.

With sporadic veracity,

Light, like lightning, sparks.

Igniting intervention,

Trumpets sound,

As signs abound,

“kommen das Gott von Veritas!”

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(Poem: RL2016)

                             (Art: John Martin, 1824. Creation of Light, (Paradise Lost – Book 7)

barth-quote rl2016Grace shows humanity God’s commitment to humanity. This commitment isn’t the result of our empty attempts to placate a bored King who has everything. God’s commitment to us has nothing to do with any human sycophantic transaction. It is a totally aware, pure, turning towards creation by its Creator.

God’s commitment picks humanity up from its failure to fulfill its own commitment towards Himself. Even when rejected, God’s commitment remains unchanged. It cannot be undone. The follow through of grace means that human commitment is fulfilled. God has done it. What is left is the human response to the completed work.

That human commitment fulfilled by God necessitates a turning of the creature back towards the Creator. Hearts and minds are directed back to the memory of His act on our behalf. Humanity is graciously shown the way and firmly commanded to follow.

For Karl Barth, ‘all that [then] remains for me to do is to let my eyes rest on Him, which really means to let my eyes follow Him. This following is my faith. But the great[er] work of faith has already been done by the One whom I follow […] To abide in; to trust in God (Ps.91:1) to believe is to stand in in the communion of saints; who has received, receives and will receive the forgiveness of sins, who hastens towards the resurrection of the flesh and eternal life […] His faith is the victory which has overcome the world.  But that it is this victory does not rest with [the believer], but solely with Him in whom he [may] believe.’ [i]

Human commitment is empowered by God’s grace to be lived out. That humanity is empowered  towards commitment means that whilst God’s act of grace is immutably superimposed, it is not forcefully imposed. We are simply shown the creation and opening of a door where there was none before. God has an exit plan. He spells it out with the letters e.n.l.i.s.t. This is the response to the call of grace: ‘grateful obedience’ (Barth, 2/1 p.229). The commitment of the ‘free man to the free God.’ (Barth, 2/2 p.561) is empowered by God’s revolution; a revolution no man or woman can lie about to control or trump.

This is confronted by God’s act and claim on humanity, to humanity, for humanity vs. humanity’s self-justification and rejection in its counter-claims about God.

“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men and women by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11-12, ESV)

No other can lay claim to being this truth; fact; Christ event: God’s revealing of Himself in Jesus Christ. No other can lay claim to being the source of goodness; ethics, right and wrong. No other can claim to be the sole hope and promise of our future. Come Nero, hashtag riot, Hillary, Trump, unjust law, illness, closet-oppressive utopian idea, rainbow ideology or Hitler,

“The subject of theological ethics is not the Word of God as it is claimed by humanity, but the Word of God as it claims humanity. It is not man as he is going to make something of the Word of God, but the Word of God as it is going to make something of man* […]The grace of God is always this: Jesus Christ. It is from what God has done for us that we must learn to read what God wants with us and of us. We must seek the command of God only where it has itself torn off the veil of all human opinions and theories about the will of God**” [ii]

This is the chief reason for why we Christians call the Gospel, Good News. God lives and He speaks!

‘A Christian is one who knows that God has accepted him in Jesus Christ, that a decision has been made concerning him in Jesus Christ as the eternal Word of God, and that he has been called into covenant with Him by Jesus Christ as the Word of God spoken in time.’ [iii]

Summed up by Barth, in true Barth fashion:

‘We hear the Gospel as we obey it. For Jesus Christ is the basis in which we may believe in God, the Word in which dwell the light and force to move us to this event. He Himself is the Gospel. He himself is the resolve and the execution of the essential will in which God willed to give Himself to us. The grace of God, of the God in whom we may believe, is this. In Jesus Christ the eternal Word became flesh. Without ceasing to be who He is in Himself, God became as one of us.’ [iv]

As Karl Barth repeatedly remarks, God wills to be with us & wills that we should not be without Him:

‘Death could not hold Him [Jesus Christ], & therefore it cannot hold us. In the midst of death we have in Him no future but that of resurrection and eternal life. The grace of God decides and has already decided concerning our human existence. What then does it mean to be human now that this decision has been reached by the grace of God? It means to be one who stands and walks and lives and dies within the fact that God is gracious to us, that He has made us His own.(Gal. 2:19)’ [v]

The human response to the question of God’s grace, is ‘our answer to this Word. It is a free action bound by commitment’ (Barth, 2/2:546 paraphrased).

“Hear O, Israel: The Lord our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” (Deuteronomy, 6:4-5, ESV)

 


Source:

[i] Barth, K. 1942 The Basis of the Divine Claim, CD 2/2 Hendrickson Publishers (p.559)

[ii] Ibid, p.546* & pp.560 & 559**

[iii] Ibid, p.547

[iv] Ibid, pp.557 & 558

[v] Ibid, pp. 558-559

[the words wrapped in parenthesis are my own]