summer pics

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I took some pictures yesterday, some Summer Solstice pictures. There are no pagan feasts or frenzied dances. These are pictures of the Solstice in the mountain, things I saw around outside, which to me speak of summer.

Here’s some:

incense cedar

stellers jay

Summer Solstice sundown

Here’s some more random summer pics.

the dead and the greedy

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In a post below Alaska Dad rightly called me out. He suggests I read the passage in Acts 5 again. Which, fortunately, as I linked to it, I did quite easily.

His comment is entirely right, all the way through. This is, oddly enough, the point of that post. My occasional series of inconvenient Scriptures is meant to spark exactly what Alaska Dad did. I want to make a person pause, look at a passage that is easily glossed over, see there’s something that is rather, well, disturbing about it, and have to dwell on the passage a bit. The common tactic in many circles is to ignore such passages or interpret them away or use them as an attack on the decency of Christian belief. Alaska Dad, however, takes exactly the right route. Read it again, realize what it is saying and what it is not saying, and be willing to acknowledge God does in fact do curious things at times.

I got in trouble, of course, because I rather loosely paraphrased the passage and made the note Peter killed a man. That is jarring, and after reading the comment I realized how that phrase could be construed, which given the lamentable aspects of parts of Christian history it may have been too freely used. Popes did kill people. Religious leaders did order torture and death and encouraged the State to use its authority in passing sentence for religious ends.

As it was noted, this is not what Peter did. Peter didn’t pull out his sword and slice open Ananias and then Sapphira. When I say he killed him, he didn’t kill him, the Spirit of the Lord killed them.

That’s a big difference. Of course, it’s the same thing with other topics. We say Peter healed the lame man and raised the little girl from the dead. He did those things as much as he killed the greedy couple. Meaning he didn’t. He participated in a miracle, binding and loosing as he was given the authority, but it was not his energy which caused either the healing, or the raising, or the killing. It was the Spirit of the Living God who enacted such a thing.

We attribute all sorts of other aspects to Peter but shy away from saying he did this rather negative thing. That’s understandable. But, I said Peter killed those two in the same way I would say Peter healed some others. He did not, nor does any Christian, have inherent power. All power is gained through the presence of the Spirit. Peter could do only that which the Spirit allowed him to do. He was able to speak the deaths of this couple only because he was full of the Spirit, and discerned the reality of the situation even without being told.

The Spirit is the Spirit of life. As the usages early in the Old Testament suggest, and as does the very word in both Greek and Hebrew, the Spirit is the breath of God. The presence of the Spirit brings life, the removal of the Spirit means death. Without the Spirit’s enlivening there is no life.

Most people get away with rejection of God, for a while at least. In this passage, however, we’re given a sign, a sign that God takes his work exceedingly seriously. With Pentecost God gave the gift of the Spirit to those who followed Christ. This was a filling, an empowering, an tapping into the fullness of God for the work of God in this world. The work of God is not a game.

When the Spirit came people spoke in tongues, people were healed, people were raised from the dead. Miracles were performed.

It was not a show.

Like Peter told Simon, the work of the Spirit was not something to be bought, but to be lived. Mocking this, through manipulation or deception, was playing with fire.

Ananias and Sapphira thought to put themselves in front of the Spirit, to play with the fire thinking they could do this without any loss. But, at this crucial point such a thing had to be stopped. And they became a lesson.

You do not lie to the Spirit, for you will be found out. You do not try to deceive the Spirit, for you will be revealed. You do not command the Spirit, order the Spirit, or rule the Spirit. This is the Spirit’s work we are engaged in and how we act, what we do, represents the Spirit to this world.

Peter made a point. Mess around with the Spirit and bad things will happen. Paul said much the same thing, when he was talking about communion. Those who didn’t discern the body rightly got sick and even died. Coincidence? Not according to Paul. People who made the Lord’s Supper into their own time of honor or glory got hit. Don’t mess around, Paul said, and Peter showed.

This is the only time, I believe, we see something like this happening. Healings went on for a long time in the Church, but I don’t recall there being any more specific death bringing. The Spirit made a point, and as we see in the book of Daniel, God gives a lesson then expects everyone to follow the lesson. Nebuchadnezzar was sent into craziness to teach him humility. He was pulled back after a long while and restored. God didn’t like his arrogance and taught him a lesson. Once he learned it God made things right. His son was also arrogant. Instead ofl being taught his own lesson, however, he was thrashed, for not listening to the lesson God taught his father.

We may not see death being dealt in our churches, for surely there are few who are discerning enough to rightly wield that “gift”, but we are responsible for looking at Ananias and Sapphira. Only we gloss over it. We forget the book of Acts. We make this inconvenient Scripture disappear in our personal canons.

Its presence, its sheer and total inconvenience to our general theology, however should make us do just the opposite. We need to take notice. We have to look at this and see that in its curiosity and confusing qualities it is telling us something extremely important about God and his work in this world.

It is altogether inconvenient. Folks getting bumped off because they shaved a little off the top of their property sales. This kind of deceit happens all the time in our churches these day, without anyone getting killed, so clearly Acts is doing something odd or out of whack.

Only it’s not. It’s telling us something deep and profound, urging us to listen because we will be judged by how we listened. There are a lot of things in the Church, sins and mistakes, which are counseled against and lead to problems. What was it that killed a man and a woman?

That, particularly, is something we really, really need to avoid at all costs.

When faced with inconvenient Scripture we can ignore it, rationalize it, or let it speak to us, shaping our own theologies where they may not be in alignment with God’s revelation or work.

The latter is the safest bet. That’s why I’m going to be honest when it comes to the Holy Spirit.

Summer Solstice

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At this very moment the sun is exactly over the Tropic of Cancer, thus marking the Summer Solstice. It is the longest day of the year. It is the first day of summer.

Hooray! It’s summer! Go out and do something summery!

I have a few more thoughts on the summer solstice over at my daily journal.

awful inconvenient

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What is it I often hear? Jesus was against violence. Jesus wanted peace. The early Christians were pacifists, accepting, generous to those who stumbled.

This seems the case. Except for this bit in Acts 5:1-10.

A man and his wife sold some land and only gave some of the money from the sale to the church. Well they told everyone they were giving all the money to the church, and in doing that getting a little cash along to keep with the ecclesial praise.

Peter kills the man. Then when his wife comes by he kills her too. Why? Because they lied to the Holy Spirit. Because when they sold their land they only gave some of the money, and exaggerated their own generosity.

So they were executed, slain in the Spirit so to speak.

Aack.

That’s awful inconvenient for my rosy picture of the early church and their aversion to violence.

Hooray for Ghana!

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There, a little World Cup enthusiasm for the day.

World’s largest marine protected area

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created by that world class environmentalist, GWB.

all about blogging

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Alan Jacobs has typed up a very worth reading article on blogs.

Sums my sentiments up precisely. Or close enough.

I think there is still the wonderful opportunity to find really intelligent, interesting, insightful people out there. They just aren’t generally the folks who make their living from blogging.

So, I disagree a bit with his final conclusion. I think a caveat should be added. The internet is a den of all the various vices, where each can be found and fostered and coddled. Each vice has its own favorite kind of website which may bring popularity but also destroys the soul. Blogging is where the vice of vainglory has made its home. “Look at me! Look at me!” can easily become the harsh, shrill call in each post.

That is when blogging becomes not about thought anymore but about something else. Dr. Jacobs encountered this vice in full and sees it as plaguing the entire medium. I don’t think it does.

For me at least I’ve had periods of flirting with it, and I think those are the worst seasons of anything I’ve written, both for me as a writer and for anyone reading. Now I just write because I enjoy it. I read other people who write because they enjoy it. I do that and find people who do not always share a great deal of information, but do have quite good thoughts.

Dr. Jacobs, methinks, needs to, like the Church, get away from the big voices and standard fare to listen to what those outside the spotlight have to say. Like in the Church, listening to those voices can often be a lot more fruitful than listening to what comes from the pulpits of the approved.

one more bit from Basil

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It is, at all events, possible for us to arrive to a certain extent at intelligent apprehension of the sublimity of His nature and of His unapproachable power, by looking at the meaning of His title, and at the magnitude of His operations, and by His good gifts bestowed on us or rather on all creation. He is called Spirit, as “God is a Spirit,” and “the breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the Lord.” He is called holy, as the Father is holy, and the Son is holy, for to the creature holiness was brought in from without, but to the Spirit holiness is the fulfilment of nature, and it is for this reason that He is described not as being sanctified, but as sanctifying. He is called good, as the Father is good, and He who was begotten of the Good is good, and to the Spirit His goodness is essence.

He is called upright, as “the Lord is upright,” in that He is Himself truth, and is Himself Righteousness, having no divergence nor leaning to one side or to the other, on account of the immutability of His substance. He is called Paraclete, like the Only begotten, as He Himself says,” I will ask the Father, and He will give you another comforter.” Thus names are borne by the Spirit in common with the Father and the Son, and He gets these titles from His natural and close relationship. From what other source could they be derived? Again He is called royal, Spirit of truth, and Spirit of wisdom. “The Spirit of God,” it is said “has made me,” and God filled Bezalel with “the divine Spirit of wisdom and understanding and knowledge.” Such names as these are super-eminent and mighty, but they do not transcend His glory.

And His operations, what are they? For majesty ineffable, and for numbers innumerable. How shall we form a conception of what extends beyond the ages? What were His operations before that creation whereof we can conceive? How great the grace which He conferred on creation? What the power exercised by Him over the ages to come? He existed; He pre-existed; He co-existed with the Father and the Son before the ages.

It follows that, even if you can conceive of anything beyond the ages, you will find the Spirit yet further above and beyond. And if you think of the creation, the powers of the heavens were established by the Spirit, the establishment being understood to refer to disability to fall away from good. For it is from the Spirit that the powers derive their close relationship to God, their inability to change to evil, and their continuance in blessedness. Is it Christ’s advent? The Spirit is forerunner.

Is there the incarnate presence? The Spirit is inseparable. Working of miracles, and gifts of healing are through the Holy Spirit. Demons were driven out by the Spirit of God. The devil was brought to naught by the presence of the Spirit. Remission of Sins was by the gift of the Spirit, for “ye were washed, ye were sanctified, … in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the holy Spirit of our God.”

There is close relationship with God through the Spirit, for “God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father.” The resurrection from the dead is effected by the operation of the Spirit, for “You send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth.” If here creation may be taken to mean the bringing of the departed to life again, how mighty is not the operation of the Spirit, Who is to us the dispenser of the life that follows on the resurrection, and attunes our souls to the spiritual life beyond? Or if here by creation is meant the change to a better condition of those who in this life have fallen into sin, (for it is so understood according to the usage of Scripture, as in the words of Paul “if any man be in Christ he is a new creature”), the renewal which takes place in this life, and the transmutation from our earthly and sensuous life to the heavenly conversation which takes place in us through the Spirit, then our souls are exalted to the highest pitch of admiration. With these thoughts before us are we to be afraid of going beyond due bounds in the extravagance of the honour we pay? Shall we not rather fear lest, even though we seem to give Him the highest names which the thoughts of man can conceive or man’s tongue utter, we let our thoughts about Him fall too low?

It is the Spirit which says, as the Lord says, “Get down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them.” Are these the words of an inferior, or of one in dread? “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work for which I have called them.” Does a slave speak thus? And Isaiah, “The Lord God and His Spirit has sent me,” and “the Spirit came down from the Lord and guided them.” And pray do not again understand by this guidance some humble service, for the Word witnesses that it was the work of God;–“You led your people,” it is said “like a flock,” and “You that leads Joseph like a flock,” and “He led them on safely, so that they did not fear.” Thus when you hear that when the Comforter is come, He will put you in remembrance, and “guide you into all truth.” do not misrepresent the meaning.

More from Basil

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Chapter 9 from On the Holy Spirit:

CHAPTER IX
Definitive conceptions about the Spirit which conform to the teaching of the Scriptures.

Let us now investigate what are our common conceptions concerning the Spirit, as well those which have been gathered by us from Holy Scripture concerning It as those which we have received from the unwritten tradition of the Fathers. First of all we ask, who on hearing the titles of the Spirit is not lifted up in soul, who does not raise his conception to the supreme nature?

It is called “Spirit of God,” “Spirit of truth which proceeds from the Father,” “right Spirit,” “a leading Spirit.” Its proper and peculiar title is “Holy Spirit;” which is a name specially appropriate to everything that is incorporeal, purely immaterial, and indivisible. So our Lord, when teaching the woman who thought God to be an object of local worship that the incorporeal is incomprehensible, said “God is a spirit.” On our hearing, then, of a spirit, it is impossible to form the idea of a nature circumscribed, subject to change and variation, or at all like the creature.

We are compelled to advance in our conceptions to the highest, and to think of an intelligent essence, in power infinite, in magnitude unlimited, unmeasured by times or ages, generous of It’s good gifts, to whom turn all things needing sanctification, after whom reach all things that live in virtue, as being watered by It’s inspiration and helped on toward their natural and proper end; perfecting all other things, but Itself in nothing lacking; living not as needing restoration, but as Supplier of life; not growing by additions; but straightway full, self-established, omnipresent, origin of sanctification, light perceptible to the mind, supplying, as it were, through Itself, illumination to every faculty in the search for truth; by nature un-approachable, apprehended by reason of goodness, filling all things with Its power, but communicated only to the worthy; not shared in one measure, but distributing Its energy according to “the proportion of faith;” in essence simple, in powers various, wholly present in each and being wholly everywhere; impassively divided, shared without loss of ceasing to be entire, after the likeness of the sunbeam, whose kindly light falls on him who enjoys it as though it shone for him alone, yet illumines land and sea and mingles with the air.

So, too, is the Spirit to every one who receives lt, as though given to him alone, and yet It sends forth grace sufficient and full for all mankind, and is enjoyed by all who share It, according to the capacity, not of Its power, but of their nature.

Now the Spirit is not brought into intimate association with the soul by local approximation. How indeed could there be a corporeal approach to the incorporeal? This association results from the withdrawal of the passions which, coming afterwards gradually on the soul from its friendship to the flesh, have alienated it from its close relationship with God. Only then after a man is purified from the shame whose stain he took through his wickedness, and has come back again to his natural beauty, and as it were cleaning the Royal Image and restoring its ancient form, only thus is it possible for him to draw near to the Paraclete.

And He, like the sun, will by the aid of thy purified eye show thee in Himself the image of the invisible, and in the blessed spectacle of the image thou shalt behold the unspeakable beauty of the archetype. Through His aid hearts are lifted up, the weak are held by the hand, and they who are advancing are brought to perfection.

Shining upon those that are cleansed from every spot, He makes them spiritual by fellowship with Himself. Just as when a sunbeam falls on bright and transparent bodies, they themselves become brilliant too, and shed forth a fresh brightness from themselves, so souls wherein the Spirit dwells, illuminated by the Spirit, themselves become spiritual, and send forth their grace to others.

Hence comes foreknowledge of the future, understanding of mysteries, apprehension of what is hidden, distribution of good gifts, the heavenly citizenship, a place in the chorus of angels, joy without end, abiding in God, the being made like to God, and, highest of all, the being made God. Such, then, to instance a few out of many, are the conceptions concerning the Holy Spirit, which we have been taught to hold concerning His greatness, His dignity, and His operations, by the oracles of the Spirit themselves.

Amen

Basil the Great

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Some thoughts from a 4th century spiritual leader:

If we are illumined by divine power, and fix our eyes on the beauty of the image of the invisible God, and through the image are led up to the indescribable beauty of its source, it is because we have been inseparably joined to the Spirit of knowledge. He gives those who love the vision of truth the power which enables them to seee the image, and this power is Himself. He does not reveal it to them from outside sources, but leads them to knowledge personally, “No one knows the Father except the Son,” and “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”

Notice that it does not say through the Spirit but in the Spirit. It also says, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth,” and “in Your light do we see light,” through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, “the true light that enlightens every man that comes into the world.” He reveals the glory of the Only Begotten in Himself, and He gives true worshippers the knowledge of God in Himself. The way to divine knowledge ascends from one Spirit through the one Son to the One Father. Likwise, natural goodness, inherent holiness and royal dignity reaches from the Father through the Only-Begotten to the Spirit.