Honors and tributes

Today, I post in my honor of my dad, Gerald W. Casey, and also in tribute to my mom’s father, Andy T. Ritchie, Jr.  Both men died in November:  Ritchie, 25 years ago, and Casey, one year ago today.¹  Having been strongly influenced by his father-in-law, my dad would have wanted to be present for a special event last month.

In recognition of Ritchie’s influence on many Harding students, the university named an endowed chair in his honor.  Here is the invitation to the ceremony:

And here is the program for the event:

The ceremony was an effective length, I thought, and it was carried out nicely.

Some might question the label “Endowed Chair for Discipleship and Church Planting.”  While the term “discipleship” has acquired more meanings and significance since the 50s and 60s, and while the term “church planting” is perhaps not entirely descriptive of Granddaddy’s activities, he expended much energy in personal, relational evangelism² with individuals.  He also led summer campaigns, worked in multiple Christian camps, and preached and led worship in song for evangelistic “meetings.”  His influence resulted in devoted discipleship, and, by multiplication and extension, his work resulted in the planting of churches.  Harding President Bruce McLarty commented, “I began to learn of who this was that I had seen by listening to people who told of the impact he had on their souls—and what he taught them about the presence of God and the holiness of God and the worship of God.”

Below is the bio that appeared in the program:

Granddaddy’s influence was experienced on the Harding campus in group devotionals and leadership in chapel; classes in New Testament, the Psalms, Prophets, and Christian worship; and for a short time, in the chorus.  His book Thou Shalt Worship the Lord Thy God was used in college courses and enjoyed a berth on many shelves.  Also notable, but presumably not directly pertinent to the naming of this university chair, are my grandfather’s teachings and examples in congregational and private worship.

For those who might wish to view the event, I happily share the link to a video provided by Harding University.  Toward the end of the video, in conjunction with biographical photos, my grandfather’s voice is heard saying a few things about worship.  Today I am grateful for the memories of Andy T. Ritchie, Jr., and Gerald Casey.

¹ In the early morning hours of November 28, 2017, just a few hours after he had arrived in the hospice wing of Unity hospital in Searcy, my dad died.  Mom had been with him just a few hours earlier, and his brother all his children, and one of his grandchildren had been with him during Thanksgiving week just prior.

² I recently learned that Granddaddy had a habit of asking for the names of students who were not known to be Christians.  He would seek them out in personal conversation.

³ I observed, in briefly reviewing a copy of the official document last week, that the word “Endowed” was replaced by “Distinguished.”

Moffatt translation

I haven’t experienced all that much of James Moffatt’s translation (1922), but I have an heirloom printed copy and refer to it once in a while.  I suppose half of this volume’s value is that it was my granddaddy’s, but it seems that every time I come to Moffatt for comparison, he offers something uniquely helpful and communicative—almost like Phillips’s The New Testament in Modern English (1958), albeit a few decades before, and without as much picturesque expansion as Phillips.

Moffatt does a fine job with Philemon 6, for instance–where “participation” and “loyal faith” add apt elements before their time:

I pray that by their participation in your loyal faith they may have a vivid sense of how much good we Christians can attain.

Moffatt misses a verbal tie with the singular word “good,” as do most later translations, but I note that he stands out by capturing the delay in the dropping of the name Onesimus in v13 — just like the original.

There is a nicely provocative rendering of Romans 12:1-2, as well:

Well then, my brothers, I appeal to you by all the mercy of God to dedicate your bodies as a living sacrifice, consecrated and acceptable to God; that is your cult, a spiritual rite.  Instead of being moulded to this world, have your mind renewed, and so be transformed in nature, able to make out what the will of God is, namely, what is good and acceptable to him and perfect.

There can be benefits to a one-man (non-committee) translation.  I’m also drawn to Schonfield’s Authentic New Testament (also 1958, and my copy of this one is also from Granddaddy Ritchie’s library), but Schonfield’s seems more iconoclastic.  Apparently, some copyright issues keep Logos/Faithlife from getting the rights to publish a Moffatt digital edition, but it would be nice to have it in my e-collection, so I hope they’ll pursue it.  In the meantime, it can be accessed here.

The above is an edited, expanded version of a comment I made in a Logos community forum I happened to find.  My actual comment is here.

Allegiance: Boltz, Camp, & Mullins (part 1 of 2)

I think it was during my late teen years that the notion of the Christian believer’s foremost allegiance began to stick with me.  More than once during those years, I read every word of my grandfather’s paper on the Christian and government.¹  In the sub-context of stating a Christ-based unwillingness to serve in the military (but also revealing a broader philosophical stance which I also affirm), Granddaddy wrote, “I will try to be submissive insofar as this submission does not compromise my basic allegiance to Christ.”  Such thinking has been a part of my theological chassis for some time.  Many welders have strengthened the undercarriage, so the allegiance frame is pretty unlikely to break at this point.

Some years later, when I heard Ray Boltz’s² rather unique song “I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb,” it added a “contemporary Christian” bit of support to my thinking.  A Christian should have one primary allegiance, I knew, and that allegiance should obviously not be to the flag of a country, but Boltz had stated it well in the positive:  Jesus the Lamb was the One to Whom loyalty is due.  I wonder now whether Boltz was responding creatively (either consciously or subconsciously), knowing something was amiss in the popularity of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” which was then more than ten years old and had become the anthem of the U.S. military, beginning in the Gulf War era.

Image result for rich mullins songs album

Also sometime during the 1990s, I had come to the songs of the late Rich Mullins.  Just a couple of days ago, I happened to put one of Mullins’s CDs in my player, as I seem to every couple of months.  The song “If I Stand” has often moved me, through years, filling up my eyes, and it did so again.  It is not the word “allegiance” first that struck me, but a synonym:

There’s a loyalty that’s deeper than mere sentiment.

Nationalistic patriotism in most people (not all, I understand) has most often struck me as mere sentiment.  One or two good friends have challenged my concept of patriotism, and I do acknowledge that it can be a neutral or even good thing even in the believer’s life.  Still, Mullins’s sentence has stuck with me through the years.  Whatever the inner sentiment of a national patriot, surely loyalty must outlast and outshine the sentiment.  And it is the same for a believer:  it’s not that there is no sentiment; it’s that allegiance to the King must be real and transcendent.

In the song “If I Stand,” Mullins and co-writer Cudworth continued,

The stuff of earth competes for the allegiance I owe only to the giver of all good things.

In internalizing these thoughts sporadically for more than two decades, my own allegiance has been both (a) shown to be the weak thing that it is and (b) impelled forward.  Five songs later on the disc, Mullins offered “My One Thing,” showing once again that he desired to embody a surpassing allegiance:

You’re my one thing!
Save me from those things that might distract me.
Please take them away and purify my heart.
I don’t want to lose the eternal for the things that are passing,
‘Cause what will I have when the world is gone,
If it isn’t for the love that goes on and on with my one thing!

In 2015, I was introduced by Richard Hughes to the writing of Lee CamImage result for lee camp mere discipleshipp.  First poring over Camp’s Mere Discipleship, I was impressed by his depth and his on-target courage to speak into the fray of modern Christendom, not to mention his skill with written expression.  In the course of this book, Camp depicted worship as allegiance, and I have yet to dive into that connection, but something compels to do so.  Allegiance is a rather massive, compelling ideal.

In part two, I will mention a (relatively) new book by Matthew Bates—Salvation by Allegiance Alone.  I’ll also say some things related to faith and allegiance in Paul’s (old) letter to the Galatians.  Allegiance is a concept with substantial, longstanding history.

¹ Andy T. Ritchie, Jr.’s paper is in the public domain and is reproduced in my book Subjects of the Kingdom. 

² Only in writing this post have I learned that Boltz’s allegiance to his own desires later eclipsed his allegiance to Christ and to his wife.

Of sym-phonies (sic)

Although written for instruments of the wind band, Igor Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments is a very interesting, non-“band-y” composition.  You can listen here.  At a glance, an uninitiated person might think the Russian-born composer just didn’t use the right form of the word, but he was actually intentional, thinking etymologically about the components of the word “symphony”:  he titled the work based on his conception of together-sounds (sym-phonies).  Of this innovative work, the composer wrote this:

[The Symphonies of Wind Instruments] is not meant “to please” an audience or rouse its passions.  I had hoped, however, that it would appeal to those in whom a purely musical receptivity outweighed the desire to satisfy emotional cravings.

Unrelated to Stravinsky’s work, two decades after it was written, my grandfather wrote several devotional articles for the Christian Leader journal.  The article below seems appropriate to share on this, the 107th anniversary of his birth.  Note how he describes in some detail the together-sounds he was hearing, and how he relates that to what happens when we come together under a “Conductor” to “play our parts well.”

Life Is Like a Symphony

By Andy T. Ritchie, Jr.

I am listening to a symphony concert.  Perhaps it is impolite to be writing while at a musicale; but, if possible, I want to preserve my feelings of this moment for my future inspiration and for the possible good that they might do others.

Somehow, the longer I live, the more every beautiful thing I see or hear reminds me of God.  My soul is deeply moved now by hearing this rich music.  To me it represents life.  The composer transforms into melody and harmony the thoughts of his mind and the feelings of his heart.  I am in a fine position to observe the conductor of this particular orchestra, and in my judgment he is one of the finest I have ever seen.  He plays upon his men as he would upon the keyboard of an instrument.  In the music there are the throbbing and mellow tones of the violins and other stringed instruments.  There are the noisy brasses.  There are the reeds and woodwinds, the quivering, liquid tones of the flutes, and the monotonous noise of the percussion.  Sometimes I hear the indescribable strains of harp music.  The violins cry, then they sing.  I feel and hear a storm.  Once, since this program started, I have felt that the music would literally lift me from my seat—and I have been humbled almost as by a prayer.

The music is impressive in its contrasts.  It is soft and loud, slow and fast, smooth and rugged.  It is like life with its smiles and tears, its storms and sunshine, its laughter and its crying.

Though I have heard many symphony concerts, I am filled with wonder and amazement as I seem, more than ever before, to feel what actually happens when men of different nationalities and talents and with different instruments come together under one master leader and produce such marvelous effects.

In life some of us have somber souls and some have joyous.  Individualities vary as do the characteristic sounds of the many musical instruments.  We are very different—but with our differences we can fit into the great symphony of life and carry our part of its melody and its harmony.  In this orchestra which I am hearing there are many men, many minds, many souls, many instruments; but all are directed by one master conductor.  It is so in life.  All who play their parts well are directed by Jehovah.

As I watch the conductor before me and read the gratitude expressed by the way he looks as his men give their best; and as I see how pleased he is with them, and how he seeks to honor them, I feel very keenly that our Master not only is able to blend our voices and our lives into a beautiful whole; but that He is moved to gratitude when we do our best.  Life is more abundant and God and life seem more real to me than before I came to this concert hall.

Worship materials: books

Several weeks ago,¹ I wrote rather extensively on worship, dealing largely with words and core concepts.  Then on Sunday I shared a bit about songs, articles, and periodicals that have been formative in the worship realm.  Now to a few influential books. . . .

At first blush, it might seem ironic that one reads about worship instead of spending wpid-img_20151024_203516_727.jpgthat reading time worshipping.  Not so.  Taken in balance with experience, dialogue, and scripture study, the reading of books about worship is also important.  Through the years, I have discarded or traded in some books that seemed mute or otherwise less than worthy; others, less likely to be referred to, now reside in a box.  Below are descriptions of some standout books that have had clear influence at points along the way.

Jack R. Taylor:  The Hallelujah Factor (1983)   This little volume came along at just the right time for me, and I always wished I could have experienced what Taylor experienced. He was asked to be interim pastor at a church in Texas and agreed to do so, on the condition that the church would study and practice worship exclusively during his tenure.  This book relates the fruit of such a concentration on worship, and I suspect that many churches, if bold enough to venture forth like this, would realize they hadn’t previously been worshipping much at all.

Matt Redman:  The Unquenchable Worshipper (2001)  Although I only read this once, I feel a fondness and a yearning every time I spy it on my shelf.  I remember thinking that this leader of contemporary worship knew God and understood more deeply most people of this era.

Gene Edwards:  The Divine Romance (1984)   A poorly proofread book by a less-than-polished but highly poetic writer, this is an unusual one.  It is a work of fiction, but one based to a degree on scriptural truth and insight.  It’s not that this book taught me about worship per se, but it uniquely stirred my spiritual imaginings of the One Who is the Object of worship.  One could say that awestruck wonder resides in the background of every page.

Andy T. Ritchie, Jr.:  Thou Shalt Worship the Lord Thy God (1969)  My parents edited and typed the final manuscript of this book authored by my mother’s father.  Their work was accompanied by “a rare kind of empathy,” according to the inscription.  Through the years, I have returned to this book—a section here, a richly poetic prayer there.  At this point, the influence comes largely indirectly—from remembrances of the man who, by so many accounts, allowed deeply adoring words of worship to flow through him as he led and taught.  The brief, written prayers that conclude each chapter of this book are the best of this “genre” that I’ve ever read.

Steven Mosley:  God—A Biography (1988)   How could one resist this title?!  I think I picked it out of a CBD magazine with no knowledge of the author, but I was stimulated to ponder the historical and spiritual realities of God’s activity through Mosley’s writing.  The book alternates the telling of biblical history with other stories in which Mosely observes the work of the great God of All.  All this spurs the reader to worship from a posture of admiring awe.

Max Lucado:  He Chose the Nails (2000)   At an especially fragile time in my life, I sat on a plane and opened my new copy of this Lucado book.  It was my 5th or 6th Lucado book, I think; No Wonder They Call Him the Savior and God Came Near had almost as much impact on me.  These days, I don’t gravitate to Lucado as much (so I didn’t join the “Max Lucado addicts” Facebook group).  However, there were words in this book about my Savior that moved me deeply, leading to joy-filled worship.  Yes, on a plane.  Quietly and with full eyes.

The above captions aren’t necessarily representative of the whole (and neither were the mentions of a few song titles in the last post).  I would also point to the writings of of A.W. Tozer, Twila Paris, Michael Card, Philip Yancey, and others² who have offered various inspirations in their books . . . along with the witness of lives of friends committed to the worship of God.

B. Casey, Sept. 2015

¹ I left the academically important pursuits around worship words/concepts several weeks ago, picking up with a few other aspects before letting this topic rest.  Here are links to some of the earlier posts:

² The influential “others” have not, for one reason or another, included the exemplary-yet-Calvinistic 🙂 theologian J.I. Packer (Knowing God, 1973/93), the late guru Robert Webber (Ancient Future Worship, 2008; Planning Blended Worship, 1998), or any CofC writers who expend significant effort dealing with mechanical instruments vs. the voice.  Although some of these do have something respectable to say, what I’ve read simply didn’t meet me where I was living at the time I encountered the writing.

Hypocrisy, n.

Hypocrisy, n.

  1. a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess.
  2. a pretense of having some desirable or publicly approved attitude.

Check out the following words spoken by a grandstanding, “Christian,” political TV character against unknown perpetrators of a bombing tragedy, in its aftermath.  At least in its videographic presentation—and, I think, at its very root—this is a striking example of hypocrisy:

We will be just, and we will be swift, and we will be ruthless. . . .  And Sally_Langstonnow, let us pray.

So said Sally Langston, a character on “Scandal” who

♠ was serving as U.S. Vice President
♠ was billed as the “Christian right” candidate as she ran for the office of President
♠ seemed to be motivated by thoughts of political grandeur instead of by her faith-related mores, which nevertheless troubled her bipolar conscience periodically
♠ had recently stabbed her homosexual husband to death and covered it up

In the coming months, there will doubtless be real-life characters who will exhibit just as stark Christian pretense in the course of political pursuits.  Many of them will possess genuine Christian character and dreams as they begin . . . but those traits will tend to decrease, because politics must increase.

I am always, always wary for those who seek to bring good into any fallen political system.  It is not that these people are bad people — far from it.  Few there are, though, who can continue to honor their God, hold unswervingly to their standards, and still do a decent job in the governmental sphere.  Most will sacrifice something more important in order to serve the earthly citizenry, and they will pull others in with them.  (If you’re an introvert like I am, you might be thinking most about the individual, so this paragraph might resonate because it deals with the individual.  But . . . )

If you’re an extrovert, or if you tend to think more grandly politically or nationalistically, you might be more interested in the good these Christians can do for the masses than in the effects of politics on the individual soul.  I submit to you that the good intended by Christians in politics is very real, but the actual good they can do, very limited — and, more to the point, decidedly temporary.  I’m not convinced that it’s worth it, even from an earthly vantage point.

In a paper my grandfather wrote some six decades ago, he pointed out that the pronouns in Romans 13 betray that 1) the government is the government, and 2) the Christian is the Christian.  In other words, a human government, while it certainly can be used by God, is in Romans 13 referred to in the 3rd person, where as the Christian is addressed in the 2nd person.  Paul addresses Christians and reminds them of responsibilities to them, to it (the government).  This little insight is but one that continues to persuade me that the Christian’s primary concern must be something other than the world’s government; his true allegiance, to something eternal.

Now, I know that the scripture-based delineation between the Christian and government is not always absolute.  For instance,  . . .

I know Cornelius was a centurion, and that there is no indication he left his office.

And I know Paul appealed to Rome (for the sake of Christ, not for the sake of Israel) on political grounds.

And I know that Paul told Timothy to pray for leaders (for the sake of peace, not for the sake of manifest destiny or other kinds of politically based motivations).

I also see unmistakable evidence that Jesus called people to something that transcends politics, government, military machines, and anything else resident in this life.  That something is often called the “Kingdom of God.”

If a Christian sets his sights on political office, he almost certainly has good intentions.  I just don’t believe it’s very likely that a Christian politician can be the Christian s/he could have been if s/he had not become a politician.

Let us dream, and be, and do primarily for the Kingdom of God.  Inasmuch as we attain to those ideals, we will be following in the footsteps of Jesus and of Paul.

Pillow Prayers 8

These “pillow prayers” in a little book I have continue to provide some extravagant, poetic faith-expressions.  I offer them because a) my words aren’t this good, and b) I think some of us, including me, need to have material like this for our own prayers.  Today, I also honor once again the memory of my maternal grandfather.  He was one with a prayer-vocabulary rich with genuine devotion.

Guiding Light, for the first time today, as evening enfolds me, I’m still. Movement keeps adversaries at bay, but I know I must rest. Enemies seem more threatening in the night. My problems rise up and cast Goliath-sized shadows across my pebble-sized faith. Darkness is dispelled in your presence, and one day, night will be noonday bright. You know until then I need lights. . . .

. . .

Word of Life, advise me. My thoughts can spark words that cause harm; I know that was not Your intention.…

I want the wounded to find shelter in my conversation with them.

Thank you for those along life’s journey who have spoken kindly to me. . . .

Regenerate my vocabulary; permeate it with vitality.

– Patsy Clairmont, in Pillow Prayers.  

© 2005 Patsy Clairmont
Published by J. Countryman/Thomas Nelson Book Group


Having had the opportunity to be on the campus of Harding University recently, we wandered through the American Heritage Building.  In the hallway that funnels visitors in from Market Street, some pictures display life at Harding through the decades.  The pictures are great!  Who wouldn’t  want to go to Harding if life is like that?

Among the shots are a few from more distant past, including this one:


This is what it looked like back in the late 40s and 50s when college students at Harding worshipped together in “chapel.”  The leader happens to be my granddaddy, who influenced a lot of people in ways of worship in those days.  Look at the eyes of the people.  If you scanned closely enough, you might detect that a few were looking at the photographer and trying to appear more engaged than they were, but by and large, they are participating, being led, worshipping. . . .

When was the last time you knew of that much engagement and involvement in a single church assembly where you are?

The contemporary church creates spectators, and the traditional liturgical churches, bystanders.

– John Throop, The Clergy Journal, 1996

Nevermind, for the moment, that the above scene doesn’t neatly fit in either of Stroop’s categories.  The generalities stand:  we see an awful lot of un-involved gazing and gawking in contemporary churches; and in most “high church” groups, a different type kind of un-involvement.

You can say it’s the responsibility of the individual to “give,” to “be involved,” to worship . . . no matter what.  And you’ll be right.

You can also say it’s the responsibility of the church leaders to make the assemblies more like the one above.  And you’ll still be right.

Digging in: John 9 (1000)

[This is public blogpost #1000.  In this post, I’m going to attempt to merge concisely some very significant areas–exegesis, religious challenge and reform, and worship.  And then I’m going to take somewhat of a break.  This is a longish blog, but I hope you’ll take the time, because there won’t be any more blogs coming from me anytime soon!]

Digging In:   John 9

One of the Marvelous Happenings in the Life of Jesus

Exegetical Interpretation, Focusing on Christian Challenge/Reform and Worship
With a Timely, Eulogistic Postscript

John 9 has long been a favorite chapter, and it’s not because I memorized it as a child or because it was read at a family funeral.  This chapter is of deep impact on me because the story highlights Jesus in a way that simply won’t let me go.

While it would have been nice, I suppose, to have a true essay worked out, I would need more time for that, “living with” the text for a period of weeks or even months.  I trust that it will be beneficial to see the process of asking questions of the text, not only the reaching of conclusions.

Method  Ideally, I would start with two or more readings of the entire gospel, in different versions — perhaps one with more of a sentence-for-sentence orientation, and another, more of an expansive paraphrase.   Initially, my method was simple:  to read/refresh myself on the whole of chapter 9, and jotting questions I had while reading.  The “first pass” through chapter 9 resulted in the need for a second pass.  Within about an hour and a half total, I had approximately two pages of notes/questions.  (An irresistible 3rd pass is yielding almost as many additional questions and bringing tears to my eyes, but the new material will have to wait.)  For sake of brevity — ha! — I am selecting only a few of these questions to blogshare (to coin a term).

Book-level questions

Bypassing for the moment the typical, academic, background questions that are important but are more stock-in-trade (author, date and place of writing, audience, etc.), I ask such things as these, from a perspective that is mostly “zoomed out” on the entire gospel of John:

    • What special features can be found in John’s vocabulary and literary style?
    • Within the whole gospel, does chapter 9 constitute a bona fide pericope?  Does John use pericopes as, say, Matthew does?
    • What is the relationship of blindness and sin for John?
    • How does God the Father relate to Jesus in the narrative?  Is Jesus called “Son of Man” earlier? later? throughout? often?
    • How does John’s stated purpose (20:30-31) relate, or not, to key aspects found in this passage, such as spiritual blindness, sin, coming to faith, and worship?  How might belief in 9:35-36 be tied to the overall, stated purpose?

Smaller-context questions

Now zooming in more to the immediate context:

    • Where are we in the progression of John’s narrative when we reach the events of chapter 9?  What occurs immediately before, and immediately after?  (The answer to these questions may be singularly significant.)
    • Check 9:1-2 for chiastic structure.  (Note the three mentions of blindness.)
    • Note the various portrayals in this chapter:  disciples, Jews, neighbors, Pharisees, and the man.  (Larger question:  how is each group painted in John overall, as compared to Mark?)
    • What is the relationship of blindness and sin for each of the above people/groups?
    • Could there be a larger inclusio from 9:1-34 (“the Jews’” idea of sin as bookends)?
    • Note the relationship between eyesight and light and works, as in verse 4.
    • Is “Siloam” Aramaic?  Translation relationship to Greek “apostle”?  Any significance to be found in Jewish background there — either with the Siloam pool or with the use of the word in OT texts?  What is John saying by inserting the definition of the word?
    • Chiasm in 9:13-16 vicinity (Pharisees, had been blind, Jesus, mud ==> Sabbath, Pharisees <== mud, Jesus, see, Pharisees/Sabbath). Yes? Investigate.
    • Examine the use of “disciples” in 9:27-28 vs. its use in John overall.
    • How does the Father God figure in to this story?
      • What do “the Jews” and the Pharisees think of Him?  How do they “use” Him? (vv. 16, 24, 29)
      • What does the blind man think of Him?  (9:31, 33)
      • What could be made out of the fact that Jesus mentions God early in the story but not later?
    • Hermeneutically speaking, are questions (such as the above group) significant from both John’s and the first readers’ points of view?  Does John show any bias or agenda that his first-century readers would naturally share, or naturally be resistant to?  How is God potentially working through John to say what needs to be said?  And how do these answers affect my own point of view?
    • What is the significance of the label “Son of Man” in this particular text?  (It seems significant for John in the ultimate responsiveness of the [formerly] blind man.)  (9:35)
    • There appears to be a mirroring mini-chiasm in 9:39:  blind ==> see; see <== blind?  Do “judgment” and “guilt” complete this mini-structure?
    • Note some striking, possibly unusual, recurring, or significant vocabulary words and phrases in NASB:  blind, works of God, displayed, Light of the world, spit, seeing, eyes opened/opened my eyes (vv. 10, 13, 17, 30, 32), mud, miraculous signs, prophet, put out of the synagogue, “give glory to God,” disciples.

Musings  Some musings and commentary stem from these types of questions!

I.  In terms of challenge to the status quo and religious power structures it seems to me that there are battles presented in this chapter — a battle of people and cliques, a battle of systems, and ultimately, a battle of and for the Kingdom.  Clearly, the Jews and the Pharisees are the “conservatives” here, resisting challenge and change — while the simple facts of the blind man’s story necessitate, on the other hand, that traditional viewpoints are challenged.

Although the connection of blindness and sin might be an easy target for preachers of sermons, one should not dive into a topical sermon that uses a snippet of John 9 without first knowing a good deal about the context(s) here.  We could not, in other words, legitimately draw any conclusions about the equation of spiritual blindness and sin without knowing more of how John the inspired writer uses and develops those ideas (or doesn’t) within the literary context.  Just as significant would be some cultural insights — related, for example, to blindness, begging, synagogue norms, Pharisees, and more.  This area, like so many others, requires more investigation.

It has long seemed to me that the parents in this story are presented as weak and sniveling.  (Textual clues gained in further investigation could bolster or counter this impression.)  Out of fear, they deflect attention and responsibility.  On the other hand, the “Pharisees” and “Jews” groups are not “weak,” but they are in some sense blind and foolish.  Note, for example, that they pronounce a cloudy half-truth regarding Jesus and the Sabbath in v. 16, and they resort to name-calling in v. 34.  The Jews in power are more interested in protecting their system than in avowing the obvious wonder that has just occurred at the hands of Jesus.  From their standpoint, 1) Jesus is a threat, and 2) the now-seeing man — although formerly negligible — may now be a threat, too.

Something that struck me 25 years ago, and still strikes me today (and here, I hope I’m not just coddling my earlier reading) is this:  the Pharisees could not even see, much less accept, the God-glorifying miracle that had obviously occurred because they were too invested in protecting their empire.  John presents unadorned facts in v. 7 (that the man “returned seeing”) and in v. 9 (that he kept saying “I am the one”).  Waxing prophetic, I would assert that the implications of the Pharisees’ stubbornness here are momentous for institutional Christendom, and for various cliques and sects.  Could the Pharisees legitimately be seen to represent some of the entrenched “clergy” of later eras?  The implicit warning echoes through the centuries:  Watch out that you’re not building your own structures, and pay attention to the work of God, or else you may be found blindly rejecting Him.

In contrast to the Pharisees and the parents stands the blind man.  I would imagine that a Jewish person reading or hearing John’s gospel would find intense irony here:  the blind man appears as largely a positive example, although he would previously have been a worthless drain on society — a mere opportunity to be seen giving alms!  Initially, the man is trusting and obedient.  He also makes an ostensibly false assumption:  that “God does not hear sinners.”  No, he doesn’t quite “get” everything about Jesus yet (no one could), but he is open, and he is coming to faith.  (Who wouldn’t be experiencing new things after having been given sight?!)  Not only can he see the ground in front of him for the first time in his life, but he is beginning to see who and what Jesus is.  An encouraging message surfaces:  that one can travel the road of discipleship, progressively coming to see more truth.

II. In terms of worship … the response seems so beautifully unfeigned and unaffected — the man simply worships, when confronted with the truths that Jesus is 1) from God and 2) able to work miracles.  (Let alone, for now, the question of the meaning of “Son of Man.”)  The antecedent worship word here is proskuneo, which

  • is not inherently a “religious” thing to do
  • means “kissing toward” as an act of homage, and implies bowing down
  • has nothing directly to do with so-called whole-life worship
  • is rather the simple act of response — by one who recognizes greatness far beyond oneself

Letting alone the so-called worship wars of our times, and jettisoning any historical connections related to liturgy/”services,” or checking off items on a list on Sunday mornings, or any other corruptions of biblical worship ideals, we see worship, pure and simple, in this text.  We see that an unconstrained person, when he observes the reality of Jesus, worships.

And that is a beautiful precedent that both instructs and compels.  Lord, may we.

~ ~ ~


It worked out to honor my grandfather, Andy T. Ritchie Jr., by publishing my blogpost #1000 on this, the 104th anniversary of his birth.  (I even set the posting time as 19:09 CDT, the year of his birth, but this part is useless trivia.) 

Andy Thomas Ritchie, Jr., son of Andy T., Sr. and Fannie Mae Cobb Ritchie, was born and raised in the Nashville, Tenn., area.  He married Kathryn Delma Cullum in 1933; the pair had four children — Andy T. III, Edward, Bettye, and Joan.  I am #7 of 10 grandchildren, and there are 29 great-grandchildren.

Granddaddy taught music at David Lipscomb College and Bible and music at Harding College.  (Both later become universities.)  He was a concert singer who recorded an album in addition to his performing on stage and on radio.  He influenced thousands through his

  • personal conversations and correspondence
  • leadership of personal evangelism meetings and “lily pool” hymn sings on the Harding campus
  • direction of the Harding Chorus for several years
  • much-remembered classroom teaching (see here for an external mention)
  • inimitable, compelling leadership of worship  in song, and preaching — in his own congregation, and in other states
  • manner of living life

I think Granddaddy would have appreciated a good deal of what I’ve written on this blog to date, although certainly not all.  He himself wasn’t known for his writing as much as for his leadership in other veins, but he did publish articles in multiple periodicals and wrote a full-length book on worship.  I imagine that, were he alive today, he would also have expressed being inspired by John 9, and would have appreciated my exegetical efforts, along with the highlighting of the challenge of the (Jewish) status quo.  (Therein, certain goals of the Restoration Movement which influenced both of us are also highlighted.)  Granddaddy probably would have appreciated most the emphasis on the worship of God the Son, as seen in this compelling story.

Believe it or not, one of the more memorable aspects of Andy T. Ritchie, Jr., almost eluded mention until the fourth draft of this postscript.  He was severely sight-impaired for the last 20 years of his adult life, having suffered detached retinas related to diabetes, and later became legally blind.  This mention of his blindness, written after the main portion of this post, leads me to include, here, a prayer song I wrote for a family reunion some years ago.  Please take a moment to read at least the words of Lord, I Want To See

Granddaddy entered the land of the eternally living and seeing in 1983.

MWM: a future filled with hope (995)

If you were looking for something about President Obama or the new U.S. budget or same-sex marriage (or healthcare reform, or some hopeless initiative to label GMOs in our food, or Korea, or anything related to the current geopolitical situation to get upset about [or to agree with]), you won’t find it here.  As far as I’m concerned, there can be no transcendent, ultimate hope in a political nation.

Rather, we look to the second coming of Jesus . . . no, we long for that parousia.  We place our firm hope — and this is no wispy wish! — in the future event, knowing by faith that all present joys will be magnified beyond belief, and all temporary struggles will be erased.

Aside:  incidentally, one of the two or three primary “second coming” texts, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, was probably not intended as a focus of Paul’s message.  It is a highly significant text, and not to be ignored, but neither does it constitute the main thrust of a letter that deals more in relationship and in walking/living Christianly.

So, what will the first day be like — that first “day” after Jesus’ return?  (Days may not exist, as such, but they might not have existed during the creation of the world, either.)  What might we imagine in terms of our own presence in that moment of all moments, that event to end all earthly events?  How will it be for me?  I have no idea, really, but I know, by faith, that my spirit’s awareness of God will eclipse all else.

I shared words from this favored song in the past and would like to do so again now, more completely and with commentary:

“Still, Still With Thee” (Harriet B. Stowe)

Still, still with Thee, when purple morning breaketh,
When the bird waketh, and the shadows flee;
Fairer than morning, lovelier than daylight,
Dawns the sweet consciousness, I am with Thee.
Alone with Thee, amid the mystic shadows,
The solemn hush of nature newly born;
Alone with Thee in breathless adoration,
In the calm dew and freshness of the morn.
As in the dawning o’er the waveless ocean
The image of the morning star doth rest,
So in the stillness Thou beholdest only
Thine image in the waters of my breast.
When sinks the soul, subdued by toil, to slumber,
Its closing eye looks up to Thee in prayer;
Sweet the repose beneath the wings o’ershading,
But sweeter still to wake and find Thee there.
So shall it be at last, in that bright morning,
When the soul waketh and life’s shadows flee;
O in that hour, fairer than daylight dawning,
Shall rise the glorious thought, I am with Thee.

One and Two:  The first two stanzas, unified, poetically express the encounter of the eternal in terms of a resplendent, earthly daybreak.  All the beauties of the dawning of a new day while in a natural surroundings are, however, eclipsed by the breathless adoration of our stunningly brilliant God.

ThreeI didn’t previously know this stanza.  Its message is a simpler, more confined, yet remarkably redemptive, one:  The saved person is not even “seen” by God as himself … no, because of having put on Jesus Christ, what the holy, exacting God does see is the image of the spotless Lamb.  If this soteriological truth were not present, all the poetic beauty in the world could not resolve the need for atonement, and this salvation-less situation would require our spiritual death to an eternal existence with God.

Four:  as death appears imminent, and even potentially in the actual experience of dying, the believing soul casts his eyes in faith toward God.  As a foreshadowing of the final rest, for the human who experiences the Lord’s protective peace, a certain rest may come.  Yet a humanly experienced peace is neither satisfying nor absolute.  The waking — the arising to a consciousness of a Presence like no other — this is the completion.

Five:  there is no more lofty, no more finally fulfilling thought than to be with God forever.  Come, Lord Jesus, and take Your bride home.


[This is an installment in the Monday Worship Music series.  Find other, related posts through this link.]

Eulogizings and ponderings

“Isn’t it amazing how those songs went right along with the sermon?  And the song leader and preacher didn’t even talk beforehand.”

I’m not normally one to get too excited about such apparent confluences of thought.  If I’ve heard the above line 100 times, probably 85 of the instances could be discounted, because, after all, nearly everything in a Christian assembly can be related to love or faith or Jesus.  The actual dovetailing doesn’t end up being all that miraculous most of the time.

Aside:  it’s no sin for worship/song leaders and preachers not to communicate beforehand.  A sermon, if used, can obviously stand on its own; any songs, readings, prayers, and comments need not jibe with the sermon or even with each other.  Worship and edification may stand on their own, without needing to be tied to a message or lesson.

Anyway, after all that preface! …

  1. Recently, I came across a brief Christian Chronicle article that mentioned black¹ evangelist Marshall Keeble’s²  having eulogized a parrot, on request, before laying it to rest for his great-granddaughter.
  2. Not one hour before, I had read a forwarded e-mail with sweet, gentle thoughts about dogs as friends and gifts of God.  
  3. The above two occurrences reminded me that my granddaddy had been prayerfully thankful, following the death of the family’s long-loved collie Frisky, for “the comfort of our animal friends.”  

So, while not attributing the confluence of the dog e-mail, the article about Keeble and the parrot, and the recollection of my granddaddy to the Spirit of God, I thought all this was worth mentioning here.  The fact that I had all three thoughts (some might call them “promptings”) in a brief span might mean nothing to you, but it was quasi-noteworthy my thought-world.  Surely both Keeble and my grandfather were both men of influence, men of inspiration, and men who were willing to recognize many of God’s gifts, including animals.

I have eulogized my grandfather before, and probably will again.  I have never written a word, to my recollection, about Marshall Keeble, but have heard about him often.  He predated my grandfather by a generation but lived 90 years.  My parents once heard Keeble speak.  He was a man of note.  keeble

Called an “Uncle Tom” by some of his black contemporaries because of his willingness to play into white conventions, he is said to have had an infectious, irresistible style of preaching.  Not unexpectedly, he was also conservative in terms of issues and emphases, and was given to relatively narrow, elementary hermeneutics in his scruples and sermons.  Keeble’s preaching resulted in the immersion of thousands — some estimates run as high as 40,000 of these initiating steps in the Christian walk.  To have been Marshall Keeble, especially in his prime in the first half of the 20th century — was to make observable, eternally significant history.

To have been Andy T. or Kathryn Ritchie was not as visible in terms of numbers, but they also made significant history in their Kingdom work, moving on to the “land of the eternally living” in the 1980s.  The likes of Ken Neller, Neva White, Kyle Degge, Judy Barker, and Jeannette Baggett have died within the last year and are also worthy of note in Kingdom service — sometimes in the simplest of gestures, and in other ways touching scores of souls at a time.

Recently I visited a cemetery and thought about what has gone before me.  So many have done so much for the Lord.  While I’m not supportive of every word or opinion voiced by some of those named above, my support clearly isn’t the crux:  God can use a lot of variety in His service.  And who really knows how much has been done in the spirit-realm that was never observed physically?

In remembering the gifts and devotion of those who have worked devotedly for the causes of the Kingdom of God in the past, we may be spurred in the now.


¹ I use the adjective “black” for several reasons:  a) it is more common, and therefore less jarring than the more apt “brown,” b) it is less historically charged than “colored,” c) it is much less awkward than “person of color,” and d) I have no knowledge of whether this man, or even his parents or grandparents, were actually “African-American.”  In fact, I just listened to a sermon archive and heard Keeble proclaim that he wasn’t from Africa.  Neither do I find it necessary to proclaim that I am an Irish-Swiss-English-Welsh-Scottish-German-American.  I guess “mutt” would do just fine for me.

² http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_Keeble

MWM: loving the opportunity

Following a singularly unusual Sunday in which there was no worship in my heart or experience (owing to travel and sickness), I retreat to a book for inspiration to pass along:

Father in heaven, teach us to love to assemble with our fellow  Christians;
And when we assemble, may we not lose ourselves in the crowd,
But may we lose ourselves in Thee and help others to do so.
Help us, too, O Lord, to feed our souls at Thy spiritual table
More often than we feed our bodies with the daily bread which Thou dost provide.
And O Thou God of power and of passionate concern for all mankind,
Give us fellowship with Thy concerned servants,
And the peace and victory made possible when we join with them in adoration of Thee.

– Andy T. Ritchie, Jr. (my grandfather), Thou Shalt Worship the Lord Thy God (1969), p. 42