Month: December 2018

My Spiritual Grandfather

I was spiritually formed at a small Bible School near the Adirondacks called Pinecrest. Its founder was Wade Taylor. I regarded him as a spiritual father. His greatest gift to me was the hope and the truth that God could be personally known. One of his spiritual fathers was John Wright Follette.

Follette was articulate and poetic. I have heard him pray in tongues on an old reel-to-reel tape—even there he sounded articulate! He was one of the great Pentecostal mystics of the twentieth century. In an era when priorities were shifting from the spiritual (knowing God) to sociological pragmatism in many denominations, Follette shone as a beacon of light, standing for the priority of the believer’s personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. He had great wisdom and insight into the Scriptures and into the ways in which God worked in the soul of the believer.

Follette had a salutary influence on Eugene Peterson, the translator of The Message Bible, and author of many books dealing with pastoral theology, the Psalms, and spiritual formation. Peterson was a great help to me when I was working on my doctorate. So I trace my spiritual lineage to Follette both through Wade Taylor and Eugene Peterson.

Follette’s greatest gift to me was that he set me free to be myself. From the beginning of my walk with the Lord, I had this peculiar inclination to write Christmas poetry. I was in a milieu where this kind of thing was not nearly as prized as, say, the spontaneous expressions we witnessed in Pentecostal meetings. And then I stumbled across Follette’s A Christmas Wreath, a collection of his yearly Christmas poems which he wrote for his students and friends throughout his adult life. I thought to myself: “Here is a highly regarded Pentecostal father who writes Christmas poetry! Maybe I’m on the right track after all. Here is another soul who has been captivated by the Incarnation.” Listen to Follette describe the dynamic here:

Every year, I think, “What could I write more,” but when the year comes around, He just drops one into my heart. You see, you are dealing with the Incarnation and that is inexhaustible. I approach it from every angle. I believe if I lived a hundred more years, I would still have a fresh one still dealing with that Mystery—God come down in flesh (J. W. Follette, A Christmas Wreath, ix).

Like Follette, the more I deal with the Incarnation, the more I realize the ways in which I have not written about it yet:

“The winds still whisper in the ancient tree.
A feast is spread where once the heart was bare” (Ibid., 6)

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Rehabilitating Joseph

In my poem, “Joseph Dreams,” (December 7) I try to imagine the Christmas story from Joseph’s perspective. I base my surmising from the plain meaning of the text in Matthew 1:18-25, describing the dilemma Joseph had when he learned that Mary was pregnant and how his dilemma was solved by the angel of the Lord appearing to him in a dream.

It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that Christmas itself as a celebration began to gain weight and significance within Western culture. In the early church and for many centuries thereafter, the main celebration of the year centered around the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus at Eastertide. But during the Middle Ages, Christmas captured the imagination of common people. The Christmas Carol as a genre did not originate so much in the church but in the popular village celebrations of Christmas. It was a grass roots phenomenon, perhaps like how the composing and singing of Psalms in the Old Testament emerged outside of the sacrificial system ordained by Moses.

But as the common folk appropriated the great salvation story of the New Testament, and especially that aspect of it revealed in the Incarnation, various legendary notions began to attach themselves to the Christmas story. The Cherry Tree Carol is a good example. “When Joseph was an old man, an old man was he / He married Virgin Mary, the Queen of Galilee…” The carol pictures Joseph as a jealous old guardian of Mary instead of a man close to her age and a loving husband. In much of the Medieval and Renaissance art work depicting the Nativity, Joseph looks old enough to be Mary’s father.

But there is no warrant from Scripture to believe this. It’s far more likely that Joseph, while he may have been several years older than Mary, was close to her age. Matthew himself records for us that Joseph was righteous—not with the righteousness of the Pharisees which could be punctilious and mean-spirited—but with the classic Old Testament righteousness which was full of goodness and mercy. Even when he found out that Mary was with child, he wanted to treat her as carefully and as considerately as he could (Matt. 1:19). God could not have picked a better foster father for his Son. You could consider my poem, “Joseph Dreams,” as my contribution toward rehabilitating Joseph in the popular imagination.

Posted by Thomas Worth in Background, Insights, 0 comments

Insightful Interview

On Air

Tom Worth reports as follows:

“I visited the Mars Hill Network radio station, perched atop Onondaga Hill where I live. Everyone welcomed me. Dawn Sessler was quite interested in my book and looks forward to interviewing me again when my next book is published.”

Enjoy listening to this five-minute interview!



 

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Thoughts on “Like Walking on Water”

Our Christmas tree this year…

Often when I write a poem, I start with a metaphor; I sniff poetic possibilities in the wind and I follow these and see where they lead. I had been teaching in Mostar Bible Institute, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the fall of 2011. While I was in flight on the way home, this image of Jesus walking on the water came to me as a kind of parable of his Incarnation. So I followed the metaphor, saw where it led, and came up with the poem.

As in the old German carol, Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming, my poem arrived at the same place the carol does: “She bore to men a Savior, when half-spent was the night.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, the great novelist who struggled with malaise, observed, “In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning.” Job, in the middle of his trial, his dark night, described it like this:

“Like a slave longing for the evening shadows,
or a hired man waiting eagerly for his wages,
so I have been allotted months of futility,
and nights of misery have been assigned to me.
When I lie down, I think, ‘How long before I get up?’
The night drags on, and I toss till dawn” (Job 7:2-4).

This is what I love about our Lord Jesus: He comes to us in the middle of the night, during the fourth watch—at three o’clock in the morning. He chose to arrive at the time when we needed him the most. In the middle of the night, when all the negative alternatives seemed so plausible—then he came with new life, new hope, a new future for us all.

Like walking on the water He came to us,
Born to Mary and Joseph long ago
Born our Savior, Christ the Lord,
Coming to us in the fourth watch of the night
And saying, “Take heart! It is I! Do not be afraid!”

Posted by Thomas Worth in Background, Incarnation, Insights, 0 comments

Background to “Meditation on a Theme from Wesley and St. Paul”

Charles Wesley and St. Paul

I wrote this poem with two passages in mind, one from Paul’s letter to the Philippians and the other from a hymn that Charles Wesley wrote. The passage from Paul is the great Carmen Christi (Song of Christ) found in the second chapter. Many scholars believe that Paul is quoting a hymn which the earliest churches sang in their meetings. In the process of encouraging the kind of humility he wanted the Philippians to follow, he refers to the Prime Example. Their attitude should be the same as Jesus Christ,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form… (Philippians 2:6-7, NRSV)

Charles Wesley wrote thousands of hymns, some of which we still sing today. I think his theology is deeper than his brother John’s. John was practical and pastoral in his theology and teaching. But Charles dealt with deep matters that could furnish the text for worship, adoration and thanksgiving. In this case, the third stanza of his hymn, “And Can It Be?” came to mind when I was writing my poem.

He left His Father’s throne above,  So free, so infinite His grace;
Emptied Himself of all but love,  And bled for Adam’s helpless race;
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free; For, O my God, it found out me.

The question is: if the Son of God emptied himself to become a human being, what was left? And the answer is: his identity—he is who he is. He was born with a personality just as you and I are. I believe Charles Wesley hit the nail on the head. The Lord emptied himself but what was left was his personality—the personality of God, which is his love. God is love. Jesus was born into this world, the love of God incarnate.

Posted by Thomas Worth in Background, Incarnation, 1 comment