The Substance of Faith

The Substance of Faith

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Independence Day with Alexis de Tocqueville

Several years ago I decided to read some of the longer classic books.  One was Democracy in America, written by a French politician who toured the US and later summarized his observations of the American experiment for his readers in continental Europe.   Alexis de Tocqueville had keen insights into the American psyche.  Some of the things he wrote are instructive for pondering our history and the future of our culture. Many observations about us are as true today as they were in 1835.    On this Independence Day – enjoy.  All page numbers refer to the 1969 version published by Anchor Books.

  • In order to enjoy the benefits of society, one must shoulder its obligations. p. 14
  • Patriotism and religion are the only things in the world which will make the whole body of citizens go persistently forward toward the same goal. p. 94.
  • How can tyranny be resisted in country where each individual is weak and where no common interest unites individuals? p. 96
  • It has subsequently been found that by making justice both more sure and milder, it has also been made more effective. p. 105
  • The great cause of the superiority of the federal Constitution lies in the actual character of the lawgivers. p. 152
  • I admit that I do not feel toward freedom of the press that complete an instantaneous love which one accords to things by their nature supremely good. I love it more from considering the evil it prevents than on account of the good it does. p. 180
  • Consequently, when I refuse to obey an unjust law, I by no means deny the majority’s right to give orders; I only appeal from the sovereignty of the people to the sovereignty of the human race. p.255
  • If freedom is ever lost in America, that will be due to the omnipotence of the majority driving the minorities to desperation and forcing them to appeal to physical force. p. 260
  • The majority in the United States takes over the business of supplying the individual with the quantity of ready-made opinions and so relieves him of the necessity of forming his own. p 435.
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Quotations on Easter

Christian writer Barbara Johnson says that we’re Easter people, living in a Good Friday world.

Anne Lamott, in Plan B – Further Thoughts on Faith, p. 140

A careful reading of the entire new Testament suggests that the resurrection experience involved both Jesus and his followers, took place not only on the single day later known as Easter but continuously, and consisted of the presence of the risen Jesus among his followers through the Holy Spirit.

Luke Timothy Johnson, in The Creed, p. 12

The truth of the resurrection is not simply that Jesus is no longer among the dead, but that he now shares the life and power of God.

Luke Timothy Johnson, in The Creed, p. 178

Life on the other side of Easter is not easy and we are tempted, and in fact we succumb to our temptation, to go back to where we were, and to what we were, and to what we were doing before Easter came along and interrupted us with its power, its glory, and its transformation.

Peter Gomes, in Sermons: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living, p. 79

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Quotes on Generosity and Giving – 2015

  • …. the true demand of religion will never be a demand for correct behavior or correct belief; but for generosity, as the controlling factor in every relation between man and God and man and man.               Evelyn Underhill, in The School of Charity, p. 11

 

  • If money talks , what does it say about our faith?        Peter Gomes in Strength for the Journey, p. 10

 

  • When a friend of Alexander the Great asked of him ten talents, he tendered to him fifty, and when reply was made that ten was sufficient, “True,” said he, “ten are sufficianet for you to receive, but not for me to give.”      Phillips Brooks in Lectures on Preaching, p. 31.

 

  • Those who cannot give cannot believe others can give and distrust all gifts.    Peter Kreeft in Back to Virtue, p. 115

 

  • What are you afraid of? Of leaving that which will soon leave you?What are you afraid of? Of following too much goodness, finding a too- loving God, of being drawn by an attraction which is stronger than self or the charms of this poor world?What are you afraid of? Of becoming too humble, too attached, too pure, too true, too reasonable, too grateful to your Father which is in heaven. I pray you, be afraid of nothing so much as of this false fear—this foolish, worldly wisdom which hesitates between God and self, between vice and virtue, between gratitude and ingratitude, between life and death.    Francois Fenelon, in  The Royal Way of the Cross, p. 5

See  Also:

Quotes on Giving and Generosity – 2014

Quotes on Giving and Generosity – 2013

 

 

 

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Seven Deadly Sins – Sloth (Acedia)

Anger.   Of course it is a deadly sin.   News stories about road rage and disgruntled workers shooting former coworkers remind us of the deep anger which permeates society.  Envy has destroyed many relationships and on a national level can lead to war.  Surely it is a deadly sin.   But Sloth?  Really?  Are our neighbors sinning because they enjoy extra time in the Jacuzzi?  Are our children sinning when they procrastinate?  Am I sinning by mindlessly decompressing in front of my iPad?  Is sloth that bad?

In fact, as a type A personality, I envy  (oops, a deadly sin). people who can relax and not worry  Maybe the productive people in our society could use a dose of sloth in order to chill out.  Few educated, productive individuals see sloth as a personal problem affecting them, and calling it a sin?  Forget about it.  No one asks a pastor, “I need help. Can you recommend a good book on sloth?”

The Road to Welfare

In our society we see sloth applying to a class of people: the chronically unemployed, the stereotyped deadbeat welfare recipient, the mythical people we hear about who are on disability when they could work.   But those of us who work, those of us with calendars filled with obligations – well, there is no way that sloth is an issue in our lives, and it is certainly not a sin we commit.

Not so fast.  A problem in our understanding of sloth is one of translation.  What we call sloth was called acedia (in Latin) and connoted much more than laziness.  A full recipe for acedia includes 1/2 a cup of laziness, but also contains an equal part of apathy.  A-pathos – without emotion – it  means we don’t care.  Thus, when we mix apathy with laziness, it means we don’t care that we don’t care.  The acedia problem becomes more difficult to root out.  An individual suffering from acedia finds herself in an unfulfilling job in a job, but doesn’t care enough to look for another.  A married couple with acedia finds their relationship barren, but continues to go through the motions because change is too much effort.

But apathy and laziness are only part of the complete recipe.  We must also add a stick of boredom and stir thoroughly.  Here is James Gleick’s portrayal of boredom:

You are bored doing nothing, so you go for a drive. You are bored, just driving, so you turn on the radio. You are bored just driving and listening to the radio, so you make a call on the cellular phone. You realize that you are now driving, listening to the radio, and talking on the phone, and you are still bored. Then you reflect that it would be nice if you had time, occasionally, just to do nothing. Perhaps you have a kind of sense organ that can adjust to the slowness, after being blinded by the speed. The void is not so dark after all. With the phone not ringing, the television switched off, the computer rebooting, the newspaper out of reach, even the window shade down, you are alone with yourself. The neurons don’t stop firing. Your thoughts come through like distant radio signals finding a hole in the static.  (James Gleick, in  Faster, p. 268)

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Now for the final ingredient in the mixing bowl of acedia: two cups of distraction.  At this time of year, our primary distraction is football.  We pretend it matters so much because it really matters so little.  But it does distract us from real life, meaningful relationships, or involvement in causes that could make a difference.  Did you know the word “sport” comes from the Latin disport, which means to distract?  The latest mass shooting pales in importance next to  Tom Brady’s availability for a fantasy football league.  God bless you, Tom Brady. Thanks to deflategate, I don’t have to think about those victims.  Or my soul. But sports is only one distraction.

Even our crammed schedules are distractions:  5:00 am – Crossfit; 7:30 am – take kids to school; 7:45 am -work, where I multitask all day; 4:30 pm – take kids to French and fencing lessons, while on a conference call in the car; 5:00 pm – gourmet cooking class; 6:30 pm – drive through Chik-fil-a while on the way to scouts….. And so it goes.

The distracted life is a wasted life and not only do we not care, but we are glad.  Secretly, we love our busy-ness because it distracts us from the need to look for God working in the world or to think about how we might invest in the work of the Kingdom.

In the end we have the perfect recipe for purposeless, unfulfilling, unredeeming “life.” We waste our lives on things that don’t matter.  We ignore the greater calling of life, lest it demand something of us.  Yet, we are bored with it all and not care.  As ancient Christians pointed out: we despair of it, but we don’t care enough to repent of it.

Such a life is acedia and such a life is sin, precisely because of its waste and because it is self centered and ignores God.  Sloth is not just a sin of an imagined lazy member of of the welfare class; rather it is the sin of all who waste their lives on loves that are too small and causes that are not worthy of our devotion, but serve to protect us from having to respond to the impulse of the Spirit to love God with all our hearts, all our souls, and with all our might.  The fact we don’t care enough to do anything about it is just a further indictment that the sins ours.

 

Here are a few quotes that related to acedia:

The word “boredom” does not exist in any ancient language.  It first appears in the 17th century.  No one knows its origin.

Peter Kreft in Christianity for Modern Pagans, p. 187

 

The Church name the sixth Deadly Sin as Sloth.  It is the sin which believes nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, and only remains alive because there is nothing it would die for.

Dorothy Sayers in Creed or Chaos?, p. 108

The religion that costs nothing, that demands no hard sacrifices of other things, that does not lift the life out of low-level motives, is worth little and makes little difference to the life. The type of religion on the other hand, which costs the all, which makes the cross the central fact that dominates the life as its one driving power, becomes an incalculable force and turns many to salvation.

Rufus Jones in  The World Within, p. 43

From The Seven Deadly Sins, Wilson Angus, editor:

The malice of sloth lies not merely in the neglect of duty, but in the refusal of joy.  It is allied to despair.  p. 58.

Fiction and non-fiction alike are full of characters who fail to do what they should because of the effort involved.  p. 19

Sloth is the background radiation of the day.  It is the easy listening station of the culture.  It is everywhere and no longer noticed.  p. 20

 

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Quotes on Selfishness…..Not that we need any encouragement

From izquotes.com

 

  • Cancer cells are cells turned selfish.  They refuse to serve the rest of the body as normal cells do, but make the rest serve them so they can eat their own way to their death and cause the death of the organization upon which they feed.                                                                                               E. Stanley Jones in The Reconstruction of the Church, p. 183

 

  • Humility involves a Copernican revolution of the soul, the realization that the universe does not revolve around us.                                                                John Ortberg in The Life You’ve Always Wanted, p. 102

 

  • We are in love with ourselves at present.  We are in love with all the things that make us up. And we are not prepared to slay ourselves in order that some new person might be born.                                                                                Emmet Fox in Power Through Constructive Thinking, p. 148

 

  • Half of the world is on the wrong scent in the pursuit of happiness.  They think it is having and getting, and in being served by others.  It consists in giving and serving others.                                                                                                Henry Drummond

 

  • The pursuit of the self is the pursuit of sorrow.                                                             David Wesley Soper

 

  • Did Jesus say, “For this I came into the world that everyone might do whatever he or she likes?”                                                                                  George MacDonald in Proving the Unseen, p. 38
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Hans Kung on the Kingdom of God – and a prayer

Google gives me information about the content which people read on The Substance of Faith.  The most commonly searched subject that brings people here is “the substance of faith.”  I edited the ABOUT page to provide additional information in order to be helpful to anyone looking for help on that search. Google hides other helpful information because they want me to pay for it.

For instance, I know that the second most read page is Quotes on the Lord’s Prayer – Thy Kingdom come, but I don’t know why.  Are you searching for quotes on the Lord’s Prayer, or are you searching for help with “the kingdom of God?”  No matter.  Below is my favorite quote about the kingdom.  I find it inspiring and it will serve either purpose.  And at the bottom is a prayer I wrote to go with a sermon I preached on the phrase “Thy Kingdom come.”  I hope both the quote and prayer are helpful.

What kind of kingdom will this be?

It will be a kingdom where, in accordance with Jesus’ prayer, God’s name is truly hallowed, his will is done on earth, men will have everything in abundance, all sin will be forgiven and all evil overcome.

It will be a kingdom where, in accordance with Jesus’ promises, the poor, the hungry, those who weep and those who are downtrodden will finally come into their own; where pain, suffering, and death will have an end.

It will be a kingdom that cannot be described, but only made known in metaphors: as the new covenant, the seed springing up, the ripe harvest, the great banquet, the royal feast.

It will, therefore, be a kingdom—wholly as the prophets foretold—of absolute righteousness, of unsurpassable freedom, of dauntless love, of universal reconciliation, of everlasting peace.  In this sense, therefore, it will be the time of salvation, of fulfillment, of consummation, of God’s presence: the absolute future. –From On Being A Christian by Hans Küng, p. 21

A Prayer for the Kingdom of God:

O God, we openly acknowledge  that we believe in your son’s miracles. We believe that the lame walked, that the blind were granted sight, and that hardened hearts were softened by his word.  We pray that you would work a miracle in our hearts, too. Work a miracle and change our will to desire nothing but your will. Change these cold hearts of ours into flaming torches of desire for you. If there is complacency within us, remove it as far as east is from west. Destroy the apathy that slows our hands from doing what our hearts know to be just. Move us by Your Spirit to participate in the work of your kingdom so that the lonely might be visited, that the fallen might be raised, that those who seek might find, and that the world might know that you are a good and great God. We pray these things for we know that if you will empower our living to do them, then our prayers would be answered and that your kingdom will come in us.  All we ask is to labor in the kingdom. And to know the blessing of your pleasure as we work. Remind us that you are indeed king and that we are your servants. May our obedience be perfect in this day. In the name of Christ we ask it. Amen.

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Christ and Our Thoughts

One of the ways I develop sermon ideas is to create a file folder where I collect notes to myself, items torn out of magazines, or quotations. Newer folders are digital and contain links.  Scraps of paper and index cards fill the oldest folders.

Years ago I wrote “Christ and Our Thoughts” on a folder that has never become a sermon.  This week the folder has finally proved useful, with Sunday’s sermon addressing how we love God with all our mind (Mark 12:30).  The quotes below have proven helpful for the sermon.  Not all of them will make it into the sermon, but they all show wisdom about cultivating the way we think about life and God.

  • What a wee little part of a person’s life are in his acts and his words! His real life is lead in his head and is none to none but himself.                                                                                                  Mark Twain

 

  • We fail in our thinking before we fail in our behavior.                     Douglas Rumsford in Soulshaping, p. 99

 

  • Life consists of what a man is thinking of all day.                           Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

  • The only fault lies in our accepting it  (temptation), cultivating it, and taking pleasure in it.  I quote Luther saying that we cannot prevent the birds from flying over our head, but we can prevent them from building their nests in our hair.                                      Paul Tournier in Guilt and Grace, p.44

 

  • The soul attracts that which it secretly harbors; that which it loves, and also that which it fears. It reaches the height of its cherished aspirations. It falls to the level of its unchastened desires – and circumstances are the means by which the soul receives its own.Every thought seed sown or allowed to fall into the mind, and to take root there, produces its own, blossoming sooner or later into act, and bearing its own fruitage of opportunity and circumstance. Good thoughts bear good fruit, bad thoughts bad fruit.                                                                                                      James Allen in As a Man Thinketh

 

  • Paul tells us that we are transformed by the renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:2).  The mind is renewed by applying it to those things that will transform it.  Remember, the mind will always take on an order conforming to the order on which it concentrates.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline, p. 62f
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Quotes on Gratitude and Thanksgiving – 2014

  • Gratitude is always a “could” and never a “should.”  The difference between you should practice gratitude and you could practice gratitude is comparable to the difference between you must eat ice cream and you may eat ice cream.  If you somehow become obligated to eat large quantities of your favorite flavor of ice cream every day, you would soon detest it.  Gratitude freely chosen is an experience, fundamentally different from gratitude simulated to satisfy someone else or to take care of your guilt.    Timothy Miller in How to Want What You Have, p. 166

 

  • The giving of thanks is not just an activity to be taken up at certain times and set aside for others.  It is a whole way of life.    Fleming Rutledge in The Bible and the New York Times, p. 22

 

  • And yet, if we wait for every beggar to have his horse, we shall never be grateful for a ride.  If we wait for every person to be fed, we shall never be grateful for our daily bread.  If we wait for every peasant in the world to have a roof , we shall never be grateful for the roof that covers us while we sleep.  If we wait until no one ever dies, we shall never feel grateful for life.    Lewis Smedes in A Pretty Good Person, p. 21
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Quotes on Generosity and Giving – 2014

Photo By bosela - Courtesy Morgue

Photo By bosela – Courtesy Morguefile.com

Here are some of my favorites for the Stewardship Season.   Be sure to check the Archives for more on Generosity and Gratitude.

 

  • Greed has two opposites: (1) contentment, voluntary poverty, and (2) liberality, generosity, having mercy on others.                    Peter Kreft in Back to Virtue, p. 110

 

  • Both the cars Oprah Winfrey gives away on her show and the overseas schools established in her name serve to attract viewers and further her business interests, in addition to helping others….Call it narcithropy rather than philanthropy, giving something today usually comes with getting something, whether access, influence, or recognition.              James Gilmore and Joseph Pine in Authenticity, p. 27

 

  • Affluent kids are less altruistic than kids with fewer financial resources and they become even more so as they get older.               Madeline Levine in The Price of Privilege, p. 174

 

  • Every time I move step in the direction of generosity, I know I am moving from fear to love.              Henri Nouwen  Quoted by Thomas Jeavons in Growing Givers” Hearts, p. 27

 

  • A Man there was, though some did count him mad, The more he cast away, the more he had.        John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress

 

  • What I always say to people is that if you take the standard of (giving) 10 percent and say God required it of the poorest people in Old Testament Israel, and now that we’re under the grace of Jesus and we have the indwelling Holy Spirit and we live in this incredibly affluent culture, do you think he would expect less of us?                  Douglas LeBlanc in Tithing – Test Me in This, p. 64

 

  • Paul Harvey reported that a woman called the Butterball Turkey Company consumer hotline and asked about the advisability of cooking a turkey that had been in her freezer for 23 years.  The customer service representative told her it might be okay to eat if the freezer had maintained a below zero temperature the entire time.  But, even so, the flavor would have deteriorated so much that it wouldn’t be very tasty.  Said the caller, That’s okay, we’ll just donate it to the church.                                      Homiletics, July, 1997

 

 

 

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Quotes on Preaching

  • Once when Laurence Chaderton, Master of Immanuel College, Cambridge, the town’s preacher for a half a century, had preached for only two hours, the disappointed congregation cried out, ‘For God’s sake, man, go on.  We beg you, go on.'”                                                                      Daniel Boorstin in The Creators, p. 313

 

  • In many respects, an ignorant clergy, however pous it may be, is worse than none at all.  The more the empty head glows and burns, the more hollow and thin and dry it grows. “The knowledge of the priest, said St, Francis DeSalles, “is the eighth sacrament of the Church.”                 Phillips Brooks in Lectures on Preaching, p. 45

 

  • Just as the world came forth from the Holy, our words either create or kill.  There are no neutral words or stories.  There are words and stories that glorify, evil, war, violence, hatred, nationalism, racism, oppression, injustice, or insensitivity toward the suffering of others; such words must be shunner and exiled.  There are stories worth telling over and over again and stories that should be heard put into the air, and it is in the telling that the difference is learned.                          Megan McKenna in Send My Roots Rain, p. 283

 

  • Much of our preaching is like delivering lectures on medicine to sick people.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Phillips Brooks,  source unknown

 

  • When people asked Wesley why thousands came to hear him preach, he responded, “I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.”                                                                                                                                                                  Leonard Sweet in Quantum Spirituality, p. 82  ( I used this quote in a sermon once and people laughed.  Perhaps one has to preach to understand.)

 

  • The purpose of preaching is not to make people see reasons, but visions.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Halford Luccock from  In The Minister’s Workshop, p. 112   (Worth finding and buying, despite its age.)

 

  • In practice, many preachers have tried to resolve the dilemma by resorting to language that substitutes explanation for experience.  They teach from the pulpit, explaining that grace means this and salvation means that, that people of faith have traditionally done this but not that.  They clarify biblical texts, distilling their main points and suggesting appropriate congregational responses to them.  In doing so they do valuable work, orienting their listeners to the wisdom of the church, but the result is often beliefs and not belief – mental assent to the information that has been given them and not a vital experience of the living God.                                                                                                                                    Gail O’Day and Thomas Long in Listening to the Word, p. 209
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