1 John 4:1-6

1john_title1 John 4

1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

In Charles Williams’ novel, War in Heaven, a Mr. Batesby recounts a conversation he had with a gentleman about Christianity and the Church to the Archdeacon. The problem is that Mr. Batesby did not seem to realize quite how alarming the conversation he was recounting to the Archdeacon truly was.

“I met Mr. Persimmons in the village to-day,” Mr. Batesby said to the Archdeacon. “He asked after you very pleasantly…He isn’t exactly a Christian, unfortunately, but he has a great admiration for the Church. He thinks it’s doing a wonderful work— especially in education. He takes a great interest in education; he calls it the star of the future. He thinks morals are more important than dogma, and of course I agree with him.”

“Did you say ‘of course I agree’ or ‘of course I agreed’?” the Archdeacon asked. “Or both?”

“I mean I thought the same thing,” Mr. Batesby explained. He had noticed a certain denseness in the Archdeacon on other occasions. “Conduct is much the biggest thing in life, I feel. ‘He can’t be wrong whose life is for the best; we needs must love the higher when we see Him.’ And he gave me five pounds towards the Sunday School Fund.”

“There isn’t,” the Archdeacon said, slightly roused, “a Sunday School Fund at Fardles…I think we had better return the money,” the Archdeacon said. “If he isn’t a Christian——”

“Oh, but he is,” Mr. Batesby protested. “In effect, that is. He thinks Christ was the second greatest man the earth has produced.”

“Who was the first?” the Archdeacon asked.

Mr. Batesby paused again for a moment. “Do you know, I forgot to ask?” he said. “But it shows a sympathetic spirit, doesn’t it? After all, the second greatest——! That goes a long way. Little children, love one another— if five pounds helps us to teach them that in the schools. I’m sure mine want a complete new set of Bible pictures.”[1]

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Mark 6:30-44

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 6

30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. 35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

In 1961, Noel Stookey of “Peter, Paul, and Mary,” read a little newspaper article about a picnic that went terribly wrong and handed the article to a young singer friend of his.

…on June 19, 1961, Stookey sat in the Gaslight reading the New York Herald Tribune, which contained an article about a Father’s Day boat cruise up the Hudson River to Bear Mountain that had gone awry due to counterfeit tickets and overcrowding. Stookey showed the story to a recent acquaintance, a 20­year­old singer named Bobby Dylan who had arrived in New York from Minnesota the previous winter. “I remember handing him an article on the Bear Mountain thing,” Stookey said, “and he brought a song back the next day. Astounding.” The song was “Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Disaster Blues,” which Dylan wrote in the style of his idol, Woody Guthrie.[1]

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Exodus 25

tabernacle_04_01_02Exodus 25

1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me. 3 And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, 4 blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats’ hair, 5 tanned rams’ skins, goatskins, acacia wood, 6 oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, 7 onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. 8 And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. 9 Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it. 10 “They shall make an ark of acacia wood. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, a cubit and a half its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. 11 You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make on it a molding of gold around it. 12 You shall cast four rings of gold for it and put them on its four feet, two rings on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. 13 You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 14 And you shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark by them. 15 The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it. 16 And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you. 17 “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold. Two cubits and a half shall be its length, and a cubit and a half its breadth. 18 And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. 21 And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. 22 There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel. 23 “You shall make a table of acacia wood. Two cubits shall be its length, a cubit its breadth, and a cubit and a half its height. 24 You shall overlay it with pure gold and make a molding of gold around it. 25 And you shall make a rim around it a handbreadth wide, and a molding of gold around the rim. 26 And you shall make for it four rings of gold, and fasten the rings to the four corners at its four legs. 27 Close to the frame the rings shall lie, as holders for the poles to carry the table. 28 You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold, and the table shall be carried with these. 29 And you shall make its plates and dishes for incense, and its flagons and bowls with which to pour drink offerings; you shall make them of pure gold. 30 And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me regularly. 31 “You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand shall be made of hammered work: its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. 32 And there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; 33 three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on one branch, and three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. 34 And on the lampstand itself there shall be four cups made like almond blossoms, with their calyxes and flowers, 35 and a calyx of one piece with it under each pair of the six branches going out from the lampstand. 36 Their calyxes and their branches shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it a single piece of hammered work of pure gold. 37 You shall make seven lamps for it. And the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it. 38 Its tongs and their trays shall be of pure gold. 39 It shall be made, with all these utensils, out of a talent of pure gold. 40 And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.

Some years back this letter appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal:

It is about time someone woke up to the fact that all of these big, beautiful churches will not bring in people, only Jesus can do it.

If he were here today, as of course he is in spirit and in our hearts if we are Christians, He would destroy every one of these places, because people should not go to church just for the looks of the church.

Think of all the good use for these thousands upon thousands of dollars, in helping people who really need it – the underfed, the poverty-stricken and those who live in the ghettos. I would rather worship God in a barn, because God isn’t in these big fancy buildings people are putting up. God is here now! He wants us to help the sick, helpless people, and each true Christian will know this in his heart. We need Christ, not big empty churches!

So on Wednesdays, the business meeting nights, go and watch the fights over money to pay for these big buildings.[1]

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1 John 3:11-24

1john_title1 John 3

11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

No idea lends itself more to tautology and sentimentality and rhetorical hyperbole than “love.” We might say that our culture is in love with love. I suppose the notion of love is used so pervasively and so carelessly in our culture simply because it is so unbelievably powerful, and powerful things tend to overwhelm and intoxicate. After all, since “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and since the human heart instinctively yearns for God, it is not all that surprising that the world would, in its blind reaching for God, attempt to deify love itself. This manifests itself in what we just mentioned: love as the end-all and be-all of life. Despite our culture’s sloppy handling of the idea, its obsession with love points to a fundamental truth: we are loved and are made to love.

God is love and the love of God will one day win out. It will not be obscured by the hatred of the devil and the fallen world forever. The love of God will win and the love of God is even now winning where it is truly practiced and proclaimed.

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Mark 6:14-29

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 6

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 17 For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

I have long been a fan of John Chrysostom, the great Bishop of Constantinople. He was born in 349 and died in 407. Chrysostom was an intense guy. He was a powerful and fearless preacher (“Chrysostom” means “Golden Tongue”), an aesthetic who placed high demands on the clergy, and a bold leader who possessed a keen sense of justice.

He had a particularly fascinating relationship with Eudoxia, the Empress who had been declared “Augusta” by her husband. She was, needless to say, a profoundly powerful woman. John’s relationship with Eudoxia was good…until it was not…and it frequently was not.

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Charles Williams’ War in Heaven

portraitGrevel Lindop entitled his 2015 biography of Charles Williams, The Third Inkling.  That’s an apt moniker. The Inklings are dominated in the popular mind by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, but among the Inklings Charles Williams was a revered member. Anyone who has been caught up in the evangelical C.S. Lewis machine (for there is no better word for it) will be familiar with the name Charles Williams, but it is likely that, for most, the name of Williams will be shrouded in mystery.

I recently had the opportunity to read his 1930 novel, War in Heaven.  It was weird and interesting and, I would say, fantastic.  I did not really know what to expect, though I knew that Williams’ work tended to deal with occult matters and Christian themes.  What I found in War in Heaven was a well-written, well-paced, engaging thriller that involved black magic, the Holy Grail, Christian theology, murder, alchemy, and kidnapping.  It was a really engaging book

The story is about the discovery of the Holy Grail in an English country church and the plot of a mysterious group involved in occult practices to steal the grail for their own nefarious purposes.  Opposing them is an Archdeacon who goes on a journey of self-discovery in his efforts to protect the grail, a Duke, and a mysterious gentleman who turns out to be Prester John!  In some ways the book felt somewhat like Lewis’ That Hideous Strength, likely because of the presence of mythological figures in the present day.

Williams’ novel is part “whodunit,” part arcana, part fantasy, and part theological tract.  It is an odd story, and I mean that as a compliment.  If you would like to read an engaging tale that will keep you turning the page and will challenge you to think as well, you can do a lot worse than War in Heaven.

1 John 3

1john_title1 John 3

1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

It is amazing how the mere mention of a family name can conjure images for us. For instance, let me name some family names. As I do so, ask yourself what images, ideas, and thoughts come to mind.



Hatfields and McCoys



I offer these without comment. I do not need to comment in order to make the point: family names, even in our day, carry with them and evoke within us a whole host of feelings, thoughts, opinions, and reactions.

Here is another family name. When I say it, ask yourself what images it evokes: Christian.

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Mark 6:7-13

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 6

7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.

Over the years I have seen some interesting conflicts between individuals erupt in church. While visiting a church in college I watched an elderly man in a business meeting suddenly turn and rebuke an elderly woman organist over what he thought was a snide comment. In another situation I watched a deacon call out by name a man in the church who he thought had a bad attitude.

There is a word for these kinds of situations: awkward. I suppose that maybe sad is a better word, but awkward is what comes first to mind.

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Exodus 24

ideas-landExodus 24

1 Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar. 2 Moses alone shall come near to the Lord, but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.” 3 Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” 4 And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. 6 And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” 8 And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” 9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. 11 And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank. 12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13 So Moses rose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14 And he said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we return to you. And behold, Aaron and Hur are with you. Whoever has a dispute, let him go to them.” 15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

In his book, The Beauty of the Infinite, theologian David Bentley Hart makes the argument that the persuasive power of Christianity rests in the beauty of the person and work of Jesus and in the peace that Jesus gives.

Christ is a persuasion, a form evoking desire, and the whole force of the gospel depends upon the assumption that this persuasion is also peace: that the desire awakened by the shape of Christ and his church is one truly reborn as agape, rather than merely the way in which a lesser force succumbs to a greater, as an episode in the endless epic of power.

He argues that “Christian theology has no stake in the myth of disinterested rationality: the church has no arguments for its faith more convincing than the form of Christ; enjoined by Christ to preach the gospel, Christians must proclaim, exhort, bear witness, persuade – before other forms of reason can be marshaled.” And again:

What Christian thought offers the world is not a set of “rational” arguments that (suppressing certain of their premises) force assent from others by leaving them, like the interlocutors of Socrates, at a loss for words; rather, it stands before the world principally with the story it tells concerning God and creation, the form of Christ, the loveliness of the practice of Christian charity – and the rhetorical richness of its idiom. Making its appeal first to the eye and heart, as the only way it may “command” assent, the church cannot separate truth from rhetoric, or from beauty.[1]

I believe Hart is correct. The beauty, the loveliness, the sheer resplendent glory of Christ and His message, life, and, at her best, Church carry within themselves an inherent evangelistic appeal that transcends cold rationality. Nor is this mere emotionalism, for the beauty of Christ extends to the truth of Christ, buttressing it and undergirding it. What this means is that the Church must remove the ugliness of her own sinfulness, her own pettiness, and her own idols so that the latent beauty of Jesus Christ can shine forth.

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Mark 6:1-6

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 6

1 He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching.

In 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne published his short story, “The Great Stone Face,” the inspiration for which came from “The Old Man of the Mountain” rock formation that was on Cannon Mountain in the White Mountains of New Hampshire before it collapsed in 2003. In Hawthorne’s story, he depicts a beautiful valley in which there was a village. In this village, the people who lived there lived under the shadow of the Great Stone Face, which Hawthorne described as, “a work of Nature in her mood of majestic playfulness, formed on the perpendicular side of a mountain by some immense rocks, which had been thrown together in such a position as, when viewed at a proper distance, precisely to resemble the features of the human countenance.”

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