Friday, February 22, 2008

Laugh Right

A man that cannot laugh at himself has not earned the right to laugh at anybody else.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Weird Saints

Have you ever considered just how weird the preeminent saints of the Bible were? As I read through the Bible, this is one thing that jumps out at me. We live in a time when being relevant seems to be the chief virtue. Thus, we have the pierced youth leader and the cool in every way attitude of the youth in the church. And what is strange is that all the fifty-somethings in the Church seem to support this view and do not know what to do about it.

Relevance seems to breathe cool. The problem, though, is that cool is by its very nature, antiChrist. Cool vies for the applause of men but does not have as its object, the applause of God.

How does this play into weird saints? Simply this, that the saints of the Bible that are most strikingly weird, and I am thinking particularly of John the Baptist and Jesus, Himself, did not give a hoot about what men thought of them.

John the Baptist wore a camel's coat, a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts. Now, this may be cool today, say, if he was on Survivor. But it was not cool in his day. He was extremely strange.

Jesus did and said a lot of weird things, as well. Eat my flesh, drink my blood? That one was not framed up to start the rush of an altar call.

In the last 28 years as a Christian, I have heard a lot of lip service about being a freak for Jesus. But as I look around at the Christian Church today, I see a lot of freaks but they aren't for Jesus. The freaky Evangelical Church looks extremely worldly. They look just like the world. To a great degree, they act just like the world. Can barely tell the difference.

Is that relevant? Maybe. Is it weird, like John the Baptist or Jesus?


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Classical Ed-Ain't it Great?!

As we were driving to school this morning, we heard a report on the radio that in the near future, we should expect to be seeing armed security guards, some even with automatic weapons, on our commuter and passenger trains.

I made the offhand comment, "Liberty and freedom for all."

My 14 year old son, Zachary, immediately chimed in with an apt quote. Zach quoted Benjamin Franklin, who said, "Any nation that would trade freedom for security deserves neither."

And I'm glad that they do teach them something in these schools.

Weight of Glory-Jamie Soles New Album Review

Weight of Glory- 2007
By Jamie Soles

Reviewed by Virgil Hurt

This is a longish review. Can’t help it. Soles gives you lots of songs and then packs a pile of meaning into every line of them. Get the CD. Listen to it haphazardly once or twice and enjoy the music and then listen to it again and again, carefully, thinking about the stories and The Story of God.

The Weight of Glory, begins with a flourish and that eternal Weight of Glory is immediately upon the listener, as he opens with Cain. Cain has killed his brother, and right at the beginning of the story of man, the plight of mankind is ever before us. This song is a departure from Soles’ other children’s music, at least in the tenor of the musical sound. While the children are likely to enjoy the music and the lyrics, it is not expressly children’s music. Perhaps this is a bit of a twist from Sole’s other music, at least the one I am most familiar with, That’s The Way My Story Goes. On that CD, I think it would be safe to classify the record as a children’s CD, but it is immensely enjoyable for adults as well.

Soles’ music is very enjoyable and he is a master at producing meaningful lyrics. His plan is to tell the story of the Bible. He often does this by telling Bible stories that are not taught in Sunday school. Or, he simply tells them from a novel perspective. With both methods, we get the story of the Bible AND we have to think about it. The ability to think is a much needed, and largely missing virtue, in Christian music today.

Consider Soles’ last stanza in the opening song, with God speaking to Cain.

Don’t despair, there is still tomorrow
I still care, though you’ve chosen sorrow.
But vengeance wears a wreath of pain.
And you shall bear it as the mark of Cain.

Cain, here, becomes a good representative of God’s people, even those who systematically and regularly reject Him. God is willing and able to punish, and He will do so. But we have the sense of reluctance in God to do this. He is patient and long-suffering, desiring his people to come to repentance. And thus, the Weight of Glory, it looms before all men, both the good and the bad, the just and the unjust.

The Weight of Glory continues with, Waiting for Me, an interesting story of Joseph rejoicing in God’s providence in providing a wife for him in the land of Egypt. Soles seems to really catch the spirit of Joseph portrayed in the Scriptures. He is really able to rejoice in God’s providence, even in the harsh past that brought him to God’s protection and provision in an ‘interim land’. A great line here as Joseph thinks back about his sojourn to Egypt. “I was seventeen when I left my home, Chained in a line for a land unknown.” Neither the music nor the rest of the lyrics of this song give any indication that Joseph is bitter about these circumstances. It is a joyful song about God’s provision.

In Shiloh, the Weight of Glory is presented as a duty to fulfill God’s plans. The people are in the Promised Land but they have not done all that they said they would do, nor what God had required them to do. They possessed some of the Land but not The Land. But even in this half-way obedience, which we see is disobedience, God calls them to Himself at Shiloh. In this song, Soles captures the sense of rest and relief and beauty that we have in God, His tabernacle and His rest. There is a great last line in this song, “Shiloh, If you love the Lord of Shiloh; your warfare will go well.” That is a sentiment seldom spoken today but one we would be well advised to get our minds around if we are to ever fully possess The Land.

Ahithophel has an eerie eastern sound to it, and I think, appropriately so, as Soles has woven together a couple of Bible stories that produce an unpleasant outcome in the life of David. This song sent me to do some Bible study, as I wondered where he got his source material for the opening stanza.

Ahithophel of Gilo, my counselor;
Your son Eliam, my mighty man;
Your granddaughter Bathsheba, my secret;
I sought not your counsel this time.

Okay, what’s my problem? I did not know that Ahithophel was Bath-sheba’s grandfather, nor that Eliam was also intertwined in the story, as her father and one of David’s mighty men. Remember that Uriah was a mighty man of David, as well. Folks, this is why you should pay attention to those genealogies that you like to skip over. There are many gems to be mined in those places! Soles speculates that Ahithophel deserted David partly due to his taking of Bath-sheba. The Scriptures do not make this clear but we do see these twisted family relationships causing these sorts of problems all the time in the world that we live in.

In Confession of a Fool, Soles offers up a humble look at oneself, as formerly a fool, and asking God to show mercy to those who still offer the confession of a fool, saying in their hearts that there is no God.

Crying is Wisdom in Proverbs 8, calling out to you. This is a beautiful song which calls us to the beauty of Wisdom’s banquet and to despise the bed of the harlot, where fools go, where death is found.

Make sure to look up all the Scripture references and read about the context of these songs. As I listened to What Are You Doing Here?, I turned to 1 Kings 19 and read the story of Elijah, as he was ready to perish from the earth. But God sent an angel and food and drink to save him from death. The music fit the story wonderfully.

The Weight of Glory breaks into the New Covenant with Jesus is Here! The hope and waiting is realized in this song of joyful celebration. “Prophets, priests, and kings, extend their welcoming, proclaiming to all who will hear, ‘Have no fear, Jesus is here!’”

Son is one of my favorite tracks on this album. It is simple, beautiful in poetry and music. The poetry is a string of mostly individual words, not much in the way of sentences. But the words paint the lovely story of Joseph and Mary and more; the story of redemption and hope in this new Son.

Blessed is the Beatitudes. This is not straight Scripture texts but for those of you who have enjoyed learning the Kings of Israel along with Soles, you will enjoy learning the Beatitudes with him, too.

What have I got if I gain everything but I lose You? is the refrain of Soul. It is a man talking to his soul. Great keyboards in this song.

Soles continues with the story of God as he marches through the New Testament, speaking of the life and trials of Christians, working for us the greater Weight of Glory all the time.

This Confidence in Me is about faith in God. This song, like so many songs on this disc, breathes of true humility. Soles is confident and hopeful but this confidence and hope are not derived from himself. He points us to God and His promises to find our confidence there. This is the Good News. This is another beautiful song and a fine way to end the record.

I suppose any decent review ought to give reservations. I have few and they pale in significance to the goodness of this album. It sounds a bit electric, synthesized to me. I prefer a simpler, acoustic, or shall I say, more natural?, sound. The tunes and the lyrics of many of these songs make me think of orchestras and strings and maybe brass, too, and I’d like to hear more of that sort of thing in the accompaniment. Maybe that is just not his sound or it is just too expensive to hire an orchestra.

I might also add that I was a bit unsteady about what I thought of this record on the first listen. I had agreed with Jamie to do a review, so he gave me the album. Thanks! It sort of hit me that I might not like it. And after the first listen, I wasn’t sure. But I have listened to the album several times now and like it very much and am looking forward to spinning it many more times. So, if the music is a bit different than what you expect from hearing Sole’s children’s albums, give it time and a few more spins and you will find that you like this CD very much.

You can purchase Weight of Glory on CD or download it in MP3 format at

Monday, February 11, 2008

Augustine Ain't God

As I have been working through the letters of Augustine, I have been very pleased to see how much truth of the Scriptures was settled so early on in the life of the Church. Some modern Christians try to harken back to those early fathers as if that was the pure Church from which no error emanated. While I think nearness to the apostles can provide clarity on many issues and practices, it by no means is a sure bet on being free from all error.

As Reformed Christians, we beleive in the idea that God will continue to reveal truth to His Church. This is not New Truth. We are not expecting new revelation in terms of a new Word from God. The Canon is complete. God has spoken. But we do intend to have a greater understanding of His Word as the Church marches triumphantly forward.

Reading Augustine has been encouraging for several reasons. One, that he got so much right. Two, the Reformers, and particularly John Calvin, went back to Augustine to find those things that were right that the Church had lost and needed to learn anew. And three, I am encouraged that those things that Augustine and the early church got wrong, are for the most part, clearly seen and articulated by Christ's Church today.

Two examples will suffice at this point.

The early church had a strange reverance for Virgins. Granted, this idea and practice grew out of a reverance for The Virgin Mary. But the veneration of virgins as holy women simply because of their virginity caused a heap of grief in the life of the church for many hundreds of years. It created a wrong view of marriage and sex, even advocating and encouraging celibate marriage relationships, led to the so-called celibate priesthood and eventually worked itself into full blown Mariolotry.

The second example is the early Church's teaching on unbaptized infants. Augustine states, "this one thing I profess as my deliberate conviction, that the opinion which is true (about the creation of souls) does not conflict with the most firm and well grounded artcle in the faith of the Church of Christ, that infant children, even when they are newly born, can be delivered from perdition in no other way than through the grace of Christ's name, which He has given in His sacraments."

He has been arguing that unbaptized babies go to perdition, even unbaptized babies of Christians. Some might call this a high view of the Sacraments. And, indeed it is. But it is also inconsistent with the testimony of Scripture, God's covenantal dealings with His people and Jesus's actions towards infants. I am not sure of the Roman Catholic position on this, currently. But the Universal position of the Protestant Church is that unbaptized children of believers are holy. The Reformed Church, since the time of the Reformation, has been unwilling to pronounce on the fate of unbaptized children of unbelievers. But has offered nothing but hope and solace to parents of children that die in utero or shortly after birth and before Baptism. This is good, right and Biblical.

So, I am thankful for Augustine. He was a truly amazing man and an incredible theologian. But I am also thankful that the Church of Christ has continued to grow in her Biblical and Theological understanding in these last 1600 years. And we look for even greater understanding of God's revelation to us in His Word in the next 1600 years!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Augustine-On Prayer

A famous, pious, wealthy and noble lady named Proba once asked Augustine's advice on prayer. She was bothered by this comment from Paul in Romans, "Rom 8:26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."

She was very concerned about praying the wrong things because 'we know not what we should pray for as we ought. '

Augustine's advice to her may surprise you. He tells her to pray "for a happy life." Of course, he then gives an extended discourse on what really makes a life happy. He says, that "He, therefore, is truly happy who has all that he wishes to have, and wishes to have nothing which he ought not to wish."

We use the Lord's Prayer in our service and I am currently preaching my way through it. A couple of Augustine comments on the Lord's Prayer are particularly apt.

"--if we pray rightly, and as becomes our wants, we say nothing but what is already contained in the Lord's Prayer."

"And if you go over all the words of holy prayers (from Scripture), you will, I believe, find nothing which cannot be comprised and summed up in the petitions of the Lord's Prayer. Wherefore, in praying, we are free to use different words to any extent, but we must ask the same things; in this we have no choice." (emphasis mine)