Monday, October 23, 2006

Some Poetry

Ceal and I spent a delightful weekend in Knoxville with the Southern Appalachian Young Friends (SAYF). The theme of the retreat was "Creativity" and explored how the working of the Spirit is manifested in our creativity. One workshop was devoted to writing with an emphasis on haikus, and I thought I would share the things I wrote. The first is closer to a sonnet than a haiku:

The Spirit whispers softly in my soul
the still, small voice that spoke to men of old
but when it speaks I do not always hear
amidst my roaring selfishness and fear

In silent worship, gathered to His call
the loving spirit covers over all
and in the quiet is my soul's release
to float in streams of everlasting peace

Oh God, I know there's nothing I can do
but let my soul be drawn in love to you
there's nothing in this world I need to know
to follow you is simply to let go

And here are the haikus:

Whispered messages
into the souls in worship
some hear, some do not

A smile and a hug
can fill the soul with more joy
than words ever can

Walking in the light
God will open in you streams
of living water

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Gospel Ministry

I have been going through Samual Bownas' "A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister" again lately. I am trying to record it as an audio book so I can listen to it while I am driving (I plan to make it available for download, if anyone can stand the sound of my voice). The book is quite wonderful, and I learn more and more as I go through it again. In this passage, Bownas talks about speaking as led by the Spirit, trying to stay close to what you are given to say:

I advise to an inward waiting upon thy gift, to feel the moving thereof in thy own mind, which will by a gentle illumination clear thy understanding and judgment, whereby thou wilt clearly see thy place and service in the Church; and if thou findest it thy place to minister to others, be willing to do thy Master's will, and stand up in the meekness of the spirit which moveth on thy mind, and speak the word thereof according to the present opening that is before thee, regarding strictly on the one hand, by speaking too fast and too loud, thou do not over-run thy natural strength, gift and opening, which, if thou happens to get into it will bring thee into confusion, and thou wilt not know when to conclude, and so mayest shut up thy own way in the minds of thy brethren, and bring thyself under a just censure; therefore whenever it happens so with thee, sit down; for by endeavouring to mend it, thou mayest make it the worse. So on the other hand, be not too low, nor too slow in thy speech, so as to lose the matter that way; but carefully keep to thy opening, avoiding both the extremes. Stand up in a calm and quiet frame of mind, as free as possible from either a fear or care how thou shalt come off; but follow thy guide in all circumspection and humility, beginning, going on, and concluding in thy gift. Thus wilt thou experience, what the wise man said to be true, “A man's gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men.”
-- Samuel Bownas, "A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister"

In another passage, he warns against superfluous words and gestures (holding one's arms out wide, or gazing upwards). I don't see these gestures much, but it sure seems like people throw in a lot of extra words. Someone might give a long description of how they came by a particular book, as well as a professional history of the author, before quoting a short passage. It is one thing when details seem extraneous at first but then tie in at the end, it is another to provide details that have nothing to do with what one is trying to say.

Bownas also warns against "borrowing", using things we have read or heard as a substitute for what is given by the Spirit. I love the manna metaphor used here:

But the danger of borrowing may lie as near, respecting the scriptures of the Old and New Testament, with any other books that may affect our minds, as what we have heard delivered in the openings of life. For it is no more lawful for us to preach what we have read, because we have read it, than it is for us to preach what we have heard, because we have heard it. Nay, I may further add (what thou wilt find by experience true in due time) that it is not lawful for thee to repeat thy own experience, and former openings, merely in thy own strength of memory and will; for if thou dost treasure up and furnish thyself this way, thou wilt be greatly disappointed, and thy doctrine will be like the manna kept out of season; worms bred in it, and it stank. Now a spiritual minister is, and ought every day to be, like blank paper, when he comes into the assembly of the Lord's people, not depending on any former openings or experience, either of his own or others, that he hath heard or read; but his only and sole dependence must be on the gift of the spirit, to give, and bring to his understanding matter suitable to the present state of the assembly before him.

A couple of lines from Proverbs 30 came to me this morning while reflecting on Bownas:

Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar. (Proverbs 30:5-6, KJV)

I have often heard verse 6 quoted in reference to biblical translation and accuracy. I had never before considered it with respect to vocal ministry, and now that I do, they really shine for me - that I should strive towards speaking only those pure words from God, not adding my own.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Faith in the face of tragedy

It has been difficult to even read about the tragedy at the Amish school in Pennsylvania. I saw this quote from Sam Stolzfus, a 63-year-old Amish woodworker:

We think it was God's plan and we're going to have to pick up the pieces and keep going. A funeral to us is a much more important thing than the day of birth because we believe in the hereafter. The children are better off than their survivors.

That last sentence reminded me of Isaiah 57:1, which says:

The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come. (KJV)

Monday, October 2, 2006

Blown by the Spirit

The wind blows where it wishes
and you hear the sound of it
but cannot tell where it comes from
cannot tell where it goes
so is everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)
-- from Robert Evans' Scripture Songs

As I have been reflecting on this verse, I think of a leaf in the wind. It is totally at the whim of the breeze and moves in response to the slightest change. When we first feel that holy wind stirring within us, most of us try to cling to where we are and what we are. It is when we are able to let go completely and let ourselves be taken by that wind that we are truly able to live our life in the Spirit of Christ - to let ourselves be not only born of the Spirit, but to be borne by the Spirit.