Saturday, 29 February 2020

This Is My Father's World

Recently I came across a poem by Joseph Addison (1672-1719), the son of Anglican cathedral dean, Rev. Lancelot Addison. According to historian Diarmaid MacCulloch, Joseph Addison was a “playwright and an undistinguished politician whose serenity was capable of rising above the disappointments of his life: for that considerable virtue he was widely loved.”

As I thought about that MacCulloch quote, and as I read Addison’s poem, I couldn’t help but think of how relevant it is for us today. As I look at some of the political junk being spewed forth by activists and politicians here in my homeland of Canada (though the same could be said of any country’s politics), and the inevitable stresses that come from too much political focus, Addison reminds me of what ultimately matters: our benevolent God who created all things.


Could it be that God, Creator of heaven and earth, is still in control? Could it be that, though the world seems to be determined to ever so rapidly descend into the proverbial ‘hell in a hand basket,’ that God hasn’t been blindsided by it all? Could it still be true that, as Amy Grant sang, This Is My Father's World? I believe it is.

However, Addison’s calm confidence was not just amidst a dysfunctional political machine; it was also coming out of a dysfunctional religious machine: the church. When we look back on church history, Joseph Addison lived in the time immediately after the 16thcentury Protestant Reformation. The church was divided and in turmoil. Some of the things done in this era, under the guise of Christianity, were absolutely atrocious and anything but Christ-like. Perhaps the same could be said of the church in our modern world. Lord have mercy!

It is in this setting that Joseph Addison calmed and encouraged his readers with this poem, which was possibly inspired Psalm 19. May it bless and encourage you as well:

The spacious firmament on high,
With all the blue ethereal sky,
And spangled heavens, a shining frame
Their great Original proclaim.
Th’unwearied sun, from day to day,
Does his Creator’s powers display,
And publishes to every land
The work of an Almighty Hand.

Soon the evening shades prevail
The moon takes up the wondrous tale,
And nightly too the listening earth
Repeats the story of her birth;
While all the stars that round her burn
And all the planets in their turn,
Confirm the tidings as they roll,
And spread the truth from pole to pole.

What though in solemn silence all
Move round the dark terrestrial ball?
What though no real voice nor sound
Amid the radiant orbs be found?
In reason’s ear they all rejoice,
And utter forth a glorious voice,
Forever singing as they shine.
‘The hand that made us is divine.’

Peace and blessings, friends. Be encouraged; God is still in control.

Photo Credit: Josefine Stenudd; Flickr Creative Commons, Maligne Lake, Jasper, Alberta, Canada
Poem Source: Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, p. 786-7.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Christian History: Evangelism's Nemesis?

A while ago my son, a church history major, recommended an outstanding book: Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, by Diarmaid MacCulloch. I'm glad he did.

At 1184 pages, it is a behemoth of a book. The actual text itself, however, is a mere 1016 pages, with the other 168 pages being notes and indexes. I can see this book being a solid reference for all things church history related for years to come. Having said that, and as much as I enjoyed it, I found myself thinking that it may not be right for everyone. Specifically, I would not recommend this book, or others like it, to someone struggling with their faith or considering Christianity's claims for the first time. Why?

As I waded through the book, I was reminded again and again of what an often ugly history we Christians have. Some of the things the church has done, in the name of Christianity, are absolutely revolting! Someone once said, "Until 'Christian' once again means someone who acts like Christ, maybe we should stop using the word." Maybe we should. Taken like that, perhaps the title is a little misleading; unfortunately I don't recall reading much in those thousand pages that was Christ-like.

Sure, we could play judge and jury and say that those people in the pages of the history text were not really Christians, conveniently forgetting what Jesus said in Matthew 7:1 concerning not judging. Maybe they were and maybe they were not; ultimately not our business. They were, however, living their lives and faith under the guise of the church and the Christian umbrella. I don't for a moment think that those early Christians deliberately set out to be un-Christlike. However, actions do speak louder than words, and based upon their actions, many of them appeared to believe that it was perfectly okay to commit the atrocities they did in the name of Christ and to justify their often twisted theologies and those being taught them by the Church. Never mind just the gory events like the Christian Crusaders attacking Islam; why else would one Christian burn another Christian at the stake? Over theology? Even reformer John Calvin justified such inhumane burning in the name of his religion.

If I am honest with myself, in truth, maybe I'm no better. After all, did Jesus not equate an angry spirit as being akin to committing murder? (Matthew 5: 21-22). God have mercy!

The main reason that I would not recommend a Christian history text to the non-Chrisitian, or one wresting with their faith, is because of the personal struggle that I imagine would likely ensue. Why would the non-believer want what the church is selling when they see the piles of junk in our family trees? Why would they even consider Christianity's claims for their own life after reading her history? Think about it. It doesn't exactly yell out the love of Jesus or John 3:16. Even I struggled with parts of our faith's historical past! Fact is, it's not pretty.

Does church history and apologetics clash? Where apologetics is used an an evangelistic tool, I cannot help but think that it does. It's not exactly an evangelism proof text. If all I ever were to read was church history, I cannot help but wonder if I would even be a Christian today. Odds are not good. If I had one negative from this book's subject matter, that would probably be it. Still, it needn't end there; Christian history can, and must be, be learned from. However that is a subject for another post.

Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years is an incredible book that likely won't be surpassed any time soon. MacCulloch does an excellent job in tackling a massive subject that has a history of adherents around the world. I do highly recommend it for church history buffs. If you were only to read one Christian history book, you couldn't do better than this one.

I also came away thinking that it would be fascinating to take one of Diarmaid MacCulloch's classes at Oxford University. Perhaps I'll have to add that to my bucket list one day. In the mean time, I'm looking forward to delving into another of his books that just arrived this week: Silence: A Christian History.

Peace and Blessings, friends. God is good.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

I Don't Need to Have My Clothes Stolen … Again

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" (Genesis 3:1)

I read an interesting little story recently, alleged to be a 19th century legend, presumably based on the 1896 painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme entitled, Truth Coming Out of Her Well. I thought it had a profound lesson in it, just as relevant for today as when it was first told, and thus worth sharing.

According to this legend, it is said that Truth and Lie met one day. Lie said to Truth, “It’s a marvelous day today!” Truth looked up at the sky and sighed, for the day really was quite beautiful. They spent a lot of time together that day.

As they talked and wandered about, they happened to find themselves beside a well. “The water is very nice,” Lie said to Truth. “Let’s take a bath together.” Truth, still a little suspicious of her new friend, reluctantly tests the water. It was indeed very nice.

Truth and Lie undressed and started bathing together. Suddenly Lie climbs out of the water, puts on Truth’s clothes, and promptly runs away. Truth, now furious, jumps out of the water, and runs here and there trying desperately to find Lie to get her clothes back. The world, seeing Truth naked, turned its gaze away from Truth with contempt and rage.

Humiliated, poor Truth returns to the well, climbs back in to hide her shame, and disappears forever. Meanwhile, Lie travels the World, dressed as Truth, and satisfying the needs and desires of society. The world, it would seem, has no more desire to see the naked Truth.

Truth Coming Out of Her Well

It's hard not to see a lesson in that story.

In fact, there could be a plethora of applications and lessons in Truth Coming Out of Her Well. The first thought that came to my mind, however, is the preoccupation and obsession that many Christians [Truth] seem to have with politics [Lie]. One need not look far to see that. Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." (Matthew 6:24)

We don't need to test the waters; take my word for it. You cannot serve both God [Truth] and money [Lie]. In my way of thinking, money and politics are often two sides of the same coin.

If there is one thing that will quickly unravel my personal peace it is a discussion involving politics. Yes, I've been caught up in the cesspool of political discussions more often than I care to admit, and every time I did, I could almost feel my blood pressure begin to rise. Certainly my peace was robbed just as much as when Truth had her clothes stolen by Lie.

Personally I prefer to counter this problem by spending more time in my Quiet Place. Instead of following Lie, I'd rather spend time with the quiet naked Truth of Jesus, something the world strangely seems to have no desire to see. Lie (be it politics or something else) will continue to run around in the stolen clothes of Truth if we let it get too close.

Lately I have been trying very hard not to let Lie get too close by spending more time with Truth. I don't need to have my clothes stolen … again.

Peace and Blessings, friends. God is good.

"Be still, and know that I am God."
(Psalm 46:10)

Serpent in the garden photo source: Flickr Creative Commons
'Truth Coming Out of Her Well' source: Jean-Léon Gérôme; Wikipedia