Prayer, meditation, temptation

Luther famously said that to be a real theologian takes oratio, meditatio, and tentatio. The first two are clear enough: prayer and meditation (on God’s Word). But tentatio is not so easily translated from the Latin. It can mean “trial, test, attack, temptation.” What does THAT have to do with spiritual formation?

John Kleinig, in his book Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today–a book that would make a great Christmas present for any serious Christian–explores this.

Luther proposed an evangelical pattern of spirituality as reception rather than self-promotion. This involves three things: prayer, meditation, and temptation. All three revolve around ongoing, faithful attention to God’s Word.

The order of the list is significant, for unlike that traditional pattern of devotion, the spiritual life begins and ends here on earth. These three terms describe the life of faith as a cycle that begins with prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit, concentrates on the reception of the Holy Spirit through meditation on God’s Word, and results in spiritual attack.

This, in turn, leads a person back to further prayer and intensified meditation. Luther, therefore, does not envisage the spiritual life as a process of self-development, but as a process of reception from a triune God. This process of reception turns proud, self-sufficient individuals into humble beggars before God.” (Page 16)

We’ll be talking more about such “attack” in subsequent posts. But do you know what he’s talking about? Some people see temptation as a sign of spiritual failure, but notice how Luther and Kleinig see it, if it drives us to deeper prayer and meditation, as part of the Christian life and of Christian growth.

Be thankful we still have God’s Word

In our Bible class, we are studying Genesis by way of Luther’s commentary, the equivalent, as our pastor said, of taking a class on the subject at the University of Wittenberg, the commentary consisting essentially of Dr. Luther’s lecture notes. Sunday we were looking at the state of the world just before the Flood. Luther noted that one of the things that happened was that the people had become so rebellious, so blind, so hardened, that God withdrew His Word. Luther said that it is one of God’s most terrible judgments, when He withholds His Word.

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord God , “when I will send a famine on the land– not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11).

The phenomenon of the loss of God’s Word takes place a number of times in Scripture and in church history. God’s own people end up forgetting it, whereupon some Reformer, such as Josiah, re-discovers it. The same thing happens today in congregations, church bodies, nations, cultures, and civilizations. There are places today where once the Word of God rang out and did not return void, but now it cannot be found. This is not just about Bible literacy, but the decline of preaching, the loss of the Law and the Gospel, the eclipse of the Holy Spirit, and indifference to Christ and the Redemption that He has won.

On this Thanksgiving, if you have a pastor who still proclaims God’s Word and if you belong to a congregation that still holds to that Word, express your gratitude.

Bill Cosby & the Bible

Bill Cosby was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor last night, a much-deserved tribute for a true humorist in the Mark Twain tradition. Notice that Cosby doesn’t tell funny jokes. He tells funny stories. How did he learn how to tell them so well? He tells The Washington Post:

Where does the gift come from? For Bill Cosby, it begins in a housing project in North Philadelphia. He's 6, maybe 7 years old. He's sitting at the knee of his father's father, hoping for a quarter. But first he has to listen.

Samuel Russell Cosby Sr. read the Bible, and told his grandson the stories. Young William didn't exactly listen — "To this day, I don't know the names he said" — but he sure enough heard. The details of the stories, of course, weren't as important as the way his grandfather told them — his tone, his pace, the look on his face. It was how you told it, not what.

All of it stuck with the kid. A couple of decades later, when he was honing his own brilliant stories on a nightclub stage, Cosby would hear it again in his own voice.

"You learned storytelling from a man like this," Cosby says. He's on the phone from Los Angeles, and he's in career-reminiscence mode. He'll be in Washington on Monday night to receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center. There's a big to-do in his honor, with celebrity presenters (Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Carl Reiner). It's basically a comedy Hall of Fame induction ceremony. So Cosby, 72, is reflecting.

"So [granddad] says, 'This is from the book of something, and then he'd start telling it. Telling it." Not preaching, just telling. "Somehow it pertained to my life, some wonderful lesson."

Little Cos absorbed it, but he was mostly focused on the quarter. Granddad kept his change in a sock, which he kept tucked into his belt. If the boy sat still and listened long enough, his grandfather would pull a coin from his sock-purse.

"He'd say, 'Take this quarter, put it in the bank. Save it. Don't go wasting it on ice cream!' "

So the boy diligently squirreled away Grandpa's quarters and then one day he . . .

"What?! Are you drunk?" Cosby sputters. "I went and got some ice cream! It was five cents a dip in those days. With a sugar cone."

Once again we see the influence of the Bible on a deep structure, cultural level. (Yes, I know it isn’t the purpose of the Bible to teach storytelling but to convey Law & Gospel! That’s not the point right now. Just as Luther’s translation of the Bible had the additional cultural effect of standardizing the German language, and just as the King James translation can be heard in the background of much of English and American literature, and just as the Bible’s portrayal of time as having a beginning, a turning point, and an end shaped our culture’s sense of time, its great stories and a grandpa’s impulse to tell them to his grandson shaped Bill Cosby’s comedy.)

Moses and America

Bruce Feiler points out that Moses is depicted all over the place in our nation’s capital–at the Supreme Court, the House of Representatives, the Library of Congress, the National Archives–virtually every president has invoked him, and his story has been drawn upon in America at nearly every point in its history:

Moses is the patron saint of Washington — and a potent spiritual force in nearly every great transformation in American history, from the nation’s founding to the Civil War to the civil rights movement.

Why did a 3,000-year-old prophet, played down by Jews and Christians for centuries and portrayed in the Bible as a reluctant leader, become such a presence in American public life?

Because, more than any other figure in the ancient world, Moses embodies the American story. He is the champion of oppressed people; he transforms disparate tribes in a forbidding wilderness into a nation of laws; he is the original proponent of freedom and justice for all. . . .

Most striking about Moses’s enduring appeal is that a figure introduced into America by white Protestants proved equally appealing for blacks as well as whites, immigrants as well as the native-born. Moses fits the American story because he embodies the courage to escape hardship and seek a better world. He keeps alive the ministry of hope.

He also encapsulates the American juggling act between freedom and law. Moses represents independence, but as the deliverer of the Ten Commandments, he also represents the discipline of being a people of laws.

This goes beyond the formation of America’s civil religion, in my opinion. It has to do with the way the Bible has not just been influential in this point or that point, but how the Bible has shaped the “deep structure” of our imagination and our thinking. I am especially intrigued with that last point, that Moses is both liberator and law-giver, the embodiment of both freedom and order.

The camel going through the eye of the needle

Pastor Douthwaite had another killer sermon yesterday. See what he does with the “camel through the eye of the needle” text (Mark 10:23-31). An excerpt (with a reference to a woman who had just been baptized earlier in the service):

God did something much more difficult than put a camel through the eye of a needle. That sounds incredible to us, and so many commentators and teachers have tried to soften this teaching of Jesus by claiming that there was a gate into the city of Jerusalem that was named “the eye of the needle” and if your camel had too much stuff on it, you would have to take some off to get through. But it was possible! But let us move past such nonsense to the real point: Jesus meant what He said. Unless and until you can put your big, fat, sinful, camel-self through the eye of a needle, you will never get yourself into the kingdom of heaven. The disciples understood that, that’s why they immediately asked: “Then who can be saved?”

And Jesus says: “All things are possible with God.” Because what had God done? He didn’t put a camel through the eye of a needle, He did something much, much greater: in love, He put His almighty and infinite Son through a virgin’s womb. That His Son, clothed in our flesh and blood, love us to death. That we who are dead in our trespasses and sins and clinging to our false gods, be loved to life. And so Jesus comes to give us what no one and no thing else can: love. True love. Eternal love.

And so in love He is born, and in love He lives. In love He ascends the cross, and in love He dies. In love He takes our sins, and in love He gives us forgiveness and life. For as it was said of the rich young man, so it is true for you: And Jesus, looking at you, loves you. Not because you deserve it, but because that is who your God and Saviour is and what He does: love.

Today you got to see that love in action yet again, as the almighty and infinite Son of God came through the waters of Holy Baptism, and again did something much greater than put a camel through the eye of a needle – He put YuRim through His death and resurrection and gave her the promise of eternal life. He washed away her sins and gave her a new birth and made her His child forever. Not because water can do such great things, but because He can.

And in just a few moments, you get to see this love in action again, as the almighty and infinite Son of God come to you in the bread and wine of His Supper, doing something much greater than putting a camel through the eye of a needle – putting His body into your mouth and pouring His blood over your sin-parched lips, thus giving life to the dead, forgiveness to the sinful, and salvation to the needy. Not because bread and wine can do such great things, but because He can.

Halloween Book Burning

More anti-conservative, Bible-hating conservatism: Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton, North Carolina, is sponsoring a Book burning for Halloween. And what they are burning, like the devil’s own children, are Bibles. Here is a copy of the announcement:

Come to our Halloween book burning. We are burning Satan’s bibles like the NIV, RSV, NKJV, TLB, NASB, NEV, NRSV, ASV, NWT, Good News for Modern Man, The Evidence Bible, The Message Bible, The Green Bible, ect. These are perversions of God’s Word the King James Bible.

We will also be burning Satan’s music such as country , rap , rock , pop, heavy metal, western, soft and easy, southern gospel , contempory Christian , jazz, soul, oldies but goldies, etc.

We will also be burning Satan’s popular books written by heretics like Westcott & Hort , Bruce Metzger, Billy Graham , Rick Warren , Bill Hybels , John McArthur, James Dobson, Charles Swindoll , John Piper, Chuck Colson, Tony Evans, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swagart, Mark Driskol, Franklin Graham , Bill Bright, Tim Lahaye, Paula White, T.D. Jakes, Benny Hinn , Joyce Myers, Brian McLaren, Robert Schuller, Mother Teresa , The Pope , Rob Bell, Erwin McManus, Donald Miller, Shane Claiborne, Brennan Manning, William Young, etc.

We are not burning Bibles written in other languages that are based on the TR. We are not burning the Wycliffe, Tyndale, Geneva or other translations that are based on the TR.

We will be serving Bar-b-Que Chicken, fried chicken, and all the sides.

If you have any books or music to donate, please call us for pick-up. If you like you can drop them off at our church door anytime. Thanks.

Satan’s popular books (by Christians)! Satan’s music (soft and easy) ! Even Satan’s Bibles (defined as those that are not KJV)!

I do think this is a fitting Halloween activity, as these folks are acting like actual devil worshippers honoring his special day: cavorting around their bonfire; sacrificing chickens; blaspheming, desecrating, and destroying God’s Holy Word.

HT: Francis Beckwith at First Things