To Imitate the Strains I Love

THE REDBREAST AND THE SPARROW

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As a Redbreast was singing on a tree by the side of a rural cottage, a Sparrow, perched upon the thatch, took occasion thus to reprimand him: “And dost thou,” said he, “with thy dull autumnal note, presume to emulate the birds of spring? Can thy weak warblings pretend to vie with the sprightly accent of the thrush and the blackbird, with the various melody of the lark or nightingale, whom other birds, far thy superiors, have been long content to admire in silence.” “Judge with candor, at least,” replied the Robin, “nor impute those efforts to ambition solely which may sometimes flow from love of the art. I reverence, indeed, but by no means envy the birds whose fame has stood the test of ages. Their songs have charmed both hill and dale, but their season is past and their throats are silent. I feel not, however, the ambition to surpass or equal them; my efforts are of a much humbler nature; and I may surely hope for pardon, while I endeavor to cheer those forsaken valleys by an attempt to imitate the strains I love.”

Long before I had the desire to write well I had the desire to sing well. I wanted desperately to sing with an enchanting, ethereal, soprano voice that soothed, uplifted, and inspired all who heard. No other activity made my heart swell like singing.

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I received many compliments on my voice as a child. Certain it was a gift, I sang confidently and with gusto whenever asked. But when I grew a little older I came into contact with girls who sang better than me. Girls in my church’s children’s choir. Women on the radio. As I began to understand music theory and vocal control my own inadequacies were revealed to me as I’d never seen them before. Suddenly my “gift” seemed a lot less extraordinary.

I looked around me at all the world’s talent and a tightness crept into my throat. I became cripplingly self-conscious about my voice. I demurred when someone asked me to sing and squeaked an off-key tune if I gave in. Compliments unnerved me because I felt them to be either ignorant of the true talent there is in the world or else to be insincere, the kind of compliments people feel obliged to give when someone has presented some trinket they’ve made. I cycled through emotions of jealousy, discontent, shame, and a “why-bother?” attitude. I had swallowed without knowing, the lie that the gift that is not great is no gift at all.

The reproofs of the Sparrow are not unknown to us. We are spurred on by ourselves and our self-centered culture to gain a step ahead of the rest whenever we can. We are bombarded by comparisons on social media–an unspoken, sometimes even spoken, contest for who is the prettiest, the hottest, the sexiest, the smartest, the wittiest, the most pious, the coolest, the nerdiest, the craziest, the most sold-out for God. And it’s a contest, no matter how hard we try, that we are always losing. It doesn’t matter how much you are these things, there’s always somebody out there who possesses them more.

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Reading “The Hidden Art of Homemaking” by Edith Schaeffer helped open my eyes to the beauty hidden in small gifts, expressed in unassuming ways.

“…be satisfied” she writes, “with the fact that although your art or talent may never be accepted by the world as anything ‘great’, and may never be your career, it can be used to enrich your day by day life: enrich it for you, and for the people with whom you live.” (pg. 48)

“Even as the edelweiss which grows unseen by human eyes beside some distant mountain rock, or the violet under a fern at the edge of the wood, is unappreciated by any human being because it remains unseen, yet still has purpose because the living God sees and appreciates each blade of grass and each flower as well as every sparrow; so the lovingly prepared meal which may not seem to find any response or appreciation from any human being is being shared by Him in a very real way.” (pg. 127)

“…one does not need a degree, nor even a tremendous talent, to enjoy and bring enjoyment to others through gardening.” (pg. 85)

“If you feel you have an unrecognized talent for writing, or if you simply love to write and want to do it, my advice is write. But write without ambitious pride, which makes you feel it is a ‘waste’ to write what will never be published.” (pg. 136)

Pursue excellence, be the very best you can be, but remember our standard is not notoriety, power, or wealth. Our standard is not entrance into the Guinness Book of World Records. We can and should admire those of spectacular gifting but not to covet them. Let efforts of excellence be not for “ambition solely” but “flow from love of the art.”

My daddy didn’t have to be born with the eloquence of Apollos to become a Pastor. He doesn’t have to be the next Martin Luther or Charles Spurgeon to craft sermons every week to feed the sheep entrusted to his care, sermons rooted deep in the springs of the Word, enriched by his study in the stream of historical orthodoxy and by his love and understanding of metaphor and story, weaving a message I am on the edge of my seat every week to hear and drink from that fountain of grace.

My mama didn’t have to have to be uniquely innovative or revolutionary in her methods of education to homeschool me and my five siblings. She didn’t (and doesn’t) have to be the next Charlotte Mason or Susan Wise Bauer to give me and my siblings a rich childhood full of memories of cardboard igloos and log cabins in the dining room, hotel-room forts where we did our school in between a move, spontaneous raccoon dissections, endless read-alouds and field trips, a love of stories, a love of discussion, a love of learning, a love of God.

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I don’t have to be the next Norman Rockwell to illustrate fun taxonomy flash cards to help my siblings and I learn about the marvelous creatures God has made.

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I don’t have to be the next Rachel Ray to give my mom a break from cooking now and then or labor alongside her to prepare a meal that is both flavorful and nutritious, a facilitator of memories and meaningful conversation.

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I don’t have to be the next Carol Klein to cultivate a small butterfly garden to delight my younger siblings and my family’s guests.

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I don’t have to be the next Martha Stewart to upcycle glass bottles and jars into works of art to make a sick friend smile.

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I don’t have to be the next Shakespeare or Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald to write reviews and stoems that are beautiful and useful to my friends and family.

I don’t have to be the next Robin Williams to kindle a love for stories in my younger siblings by reading aloud to them with the couple of voices and accents I have taught myself over the years.

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I don’t have to be the next Shin’ichi Suzuki to teach children the basics of piano and instill in them a love for music.

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I don’t have to be the next Steve McCurry to capture through film the little joys that make up my family’s memories and the life of our church–moments, that if I waited for greater talent to come along wouldn’t be captured at all.

I don’t have to be the next Alison Krauss to sing a lullaby to sooth a crying infant or help teach my younger siblings to sing praises to their Creator or join my voice in harmony with my church congregation.

I don’t have to be the best the world has known and neither do you. We just have to find a way to use the measure of gifting God has given each of us. Stop trying to determine how great your gift is and instead, use it greatly. Even a small gift is still a gift, a gift to give as well as receive. Will you join me in saying with the Robin of Aesop’s Fable, “I feel not…the ambition to surpass or equal [the great singers]; my efforts are of a much humbler nature…I endeavor to cheer…forsaken valleys by an attempt to imitate the strains I love.”

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Miss the previous posts? Catch up here:

An Introduction to Aesop’s Fables

The Man and the Lion – Revisionism and Reductionism

The Snail and the Statue – The Injudicious Eye

Wisdom, Virtue, and Reputation – The Guardians of Reputation

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The Guardians of Reputation

This is the fourth post in a five-part series on Aesop’s Fables. You can read this post independently from the others or you can read the introduction here for more background on the history and use of Aesop’s Fables and catch up on the other two fables I examined here and here.

GENIUS, VIRTUE AND REPUTATION

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Genius, Virtue, and Reputation, three great friends, agreed to travel over the island of Great Britain, to see whatever might be worthy of observation. But as some misfortune, said they, may happen to separate us, let us consider, before we set out, by what means we may find each other again. “Should it be my ill fate,” said Genius, “to be severed from my friends—heaven forbid!—you may find me kneeling in devotion before the tomb of Shakespeare; or rapt in some grove where Milton talked with angels; or musing in the grottos where Pope caught inspiration.” Virtue, with a sigh, acknowledged, that her friends were not very numerous; “but were I to lose you,” she cried, “with whom I at present so happily united, I should choose to take sanctuary in the temples or religion, in the palaces of royalty, or in the stately domes of ministers of state; but as it may be my ill fortune to be there denied admittance, inquire for some cottage where contentment has a bower, and there you will certainly find me.” “Ah, my dear friends,” said Reputation very earnestly, “you, I perceive, when missing may recovered; but take care I entreat you, always to keep sight of me, for if I am once lost, I am never to be retrieved.”

There are few things that can be so irreparably lost as reputation

I have no need to recite to you specific examples of great leaders who have irreparably lost their reputations. Regardless of your social circles, you can supply names just fine on your own. But take note here what the parable quoted above states is the surest–indeed, the only–safeguard against a loss of reputation.

It’s three-fold:

(1) genius which we could also call “wisdom”
(2) virtue
(3) and (implicitly) community

The loss of these three naturally leads to a loss of reputation. Virtue and Wisdom–companions of Reputation–must keep careful watch over him because isolation from them will prove his ruin.

When we understand the true nature of fallen man we will come to understand that isolation is one of the greatest dangers a man can face. Isolation can be physical, authoritative, emotional, theological or spiritual. The dangers of an unaccountable government are ingrained in the minds of my fellow Americans due to our history with fighting against a despotic monarch whose power was unrestrained but do we also see the dangers of theological or spiritual isolation where a man decides for himself–arbitrarily and independent of scripture or any church body or tradition–what is right and wrong, what is sound teaching and what is not?

THE INFALLIBILITY OF THE WORD OF GOD

The Bible describes itself as the very words of God. In 2 Timothy 3:16 the apostle Paul writes that “All Scripture is inspired [or “breathed-out”] by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

Keith Mathison writes “…a claim to greater authority than that of Scripture is a claim to greater authority than that of God. Such a claim is nothing short of blasphemy.” (pg. 47) [1]

Man is not free to create his own moral code and do “whatever is right in his own eyes.” He is subject to the transcendent, eternal, law of God–a reflection of God’s unchanging character.

For further reading on the infallibility of Scripture I recommend:
Why We Believe the Bible by John Piper

But if the Word of God is our final authority, our only sure, certain and infallible guide, why do we need anything or anyone else to help us discern truth? If we all just read our Bibles and our Bibles alone, wouldn’t we naturally come to the same conclusions? And yet, as many Bible scholars have pointed out, that already begs the question, “which Bible?” “with or without the apocrypha?”. Many resort to: “Well we should just love Jesus.” –but which “Jesus”? The Mormon “Jesus”? The Jehovah’s Witness “Jesus”? They all read the same Bible as we do yet come to vastly different conclusions about the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Thus, there are necessarily three Divinely instituted guardians of the Truth:

(1) THE CHURCH

“Protestant evangelicals have often made it clear, when discussing the doctrine of sola fide, that justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. We are justified by faith alone, but a faith that does not produce spiritual fruit is a dead faith that cannot save. Similarly, our final authority is Scripture alone, but not a Scripture that is alone…Scripture is certainly sufficient, but it is only sufficient for certain things. It cannot read itself. It cannot preach itself. It cannot interpret itself. That is the duty and responsibility of the church.” (Keith Mathison, pg. 43) [1]

“…authority has been given to the church in order that she may preserve the unity of the faith and reject the errors of heretics….Any person who has been a Christian for more than a few days is aware that there are numerous competing interpretations of Scripture. There are disagreements and debates on virtually every major issue. How are these disputes to be resolved? If we adopt the individualistic doctrine of [“no authority but the Bible”], it is not possible to settle any debate because the final authority is each individual. Each individual decides for himself and by himself which arguments are stronger. If the next person judges differently, who determines which of them is correct? …this…has led to endless division in the church.” (Keith Mathison, pg. 50-51) [1]

In our highly individualistic, post-modern times, we are urged to “be Bereans” but what exactly does it mean to “be a Berean”? Yes, “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11) but where and how did they examine the Scriptures? Your layman church member did not have private access to the Scriptures. They had to go to the synagogues to read the Old Testament scrolls and this would have been a topic of public and communal discussion. It is for this that they are called, “more noble than those in Thessalonica” who in contrast, rejected the public exposition of the Word of God (Acts 17:2). [3]

1 Timothy 3:15 tells us that the church is “the pillar and ground of the truth,” NOT individuals. Covenanting with a local church body and submitting to its teaching and leadership protects individual believers from the dangers of their own isolated, private interpretation (1 Peter 1:20), supplying the communal companionship of wisdom and virtue.

For further reading I recommend:
Keith Mathison’s essay Sola Scriptura

(2) CHURCH ASSOCIATIONS

But it is not a single, local church, that is entrusted with guarding and interpreting the truth revealed in the Bible. “Just as no man is an island, so also no church is an island.” Dr. Renihan writes in his contributive essay in “Denominations or Associations?” (pg. 94).

“Imagine…a church that has ‘no creed but the Bible,’ where the minister one week is convinced that baptism should be restricted only to professing believers and the next week changes his mind and thinks babies can be baptized too. Can he be held to account? There would seem to be no way of doing this; in practice, whatever he thinks is the truth on any given matter at any given moment–that is the position of his church. This is surely a recipe for chaos in that it places the congregation completely at the mercy of whatever the current opinion of the pastor might be. He has, in theory, unlimited power, and the Bible would seem to mean whatever he decides that it means.” –Carl Truman, pg. 162-163 [2]

Whole churches, as well as individuals, have distorted truth and promoted error throughout two-thousand years of church history.

In Chapter 2 of “Denominations or Associations?”, Mr. Earl Blackburn walks through numerous passages of scripture that demonstrate communication and cooperation between churches, such as when the epistles were being circulated, that presupposed an existing and organized relationship between the autonomous churches–how else could these things be accomplished?

This network of churches is what we Baptists call an association of churches.

The Apostle Paul repeatedly wrote to churches to warn them of false prophets and teachers (many of them “pastors”) or of other groups of believers that were pressuring them to surrender “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” as Jude put it. There are rogue churches just as there are rogue members and just as the church is a gatekeeper trusted to mark heretical and unorthodox individuals, so associations are trusted to mark heretical and unorthodox churches. New Testament churches warned other churches, supported other churches, and held other churches accountable.

For further reading I recommend:
Denominations or Associations?
I have written a summary outline of it here
and a review here

(3) TRADITION AND CONFESSIONALISM

But certainly, an entire group of churches can and have erred, what then is the handrail to grasp hold of to prevent a theological tumble off a cliff? It is at this point we need to step back even further and observe that it is not the association of churches in each respective generation that determines and defines the central teachings of the Word of God but the church throughout all the ages, spanning from now back to its first conception. The means of the church for preserving the truth is confessionalism or the summary teaching of the principle truths of scripture as tested, refined, and prioritized throughout church history.

Jaroslav Pelikan wrote, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

Words are central to the Christian faith. God spoke the world into existence (Gen. 1:3), He spoke to His people through the prophets (Heb. 1:1), He called His Son “the Word made flesh” (Jn. 1:14), and He speaks to us today through the Written Word (Heb. 4:12) and the Written Word confessed and explained through preachers (2 Tim. 3:16, 2 Tim. 4:2, Rom. 10:14, etc. etc.).

Christ founded His Church on a confession (Matt. 16:17-18) and the church has been confessing Christ ever since.

The Words of God, by Divine command and Apostolic example, are to be openly confessed, repeated, summarized, and explained. Paul urged Timothy and Titus to uphold “trustworthy” and “sound doctrine” (Titus 1:9; 2:1) and to refute what was contrary to sound doctrine (1 Tim. 1:3-11). With this as our foundation, we must understand Paul’s qualification for Elders to be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2b) as describing not only skill but content and the stipulation “above reproach” as requiring not only moral excellence but doctrinal excellence. [3]

Because, to return to our fable, there is more than one way a man can forfeit his reputation.

Identifying with historic confessions of the faith is the greatest way we can identify with the church–and thus, with Christ. It is our surest safeguard against heresy and heretics both, for order and precision are the terror of agents of chaos whose chief weapon is to distort, dilute, and deny.

To ask “what have the saints confessed, upheld, and defended for two-thousand years?” is to link arms with Virtue and Wisdom.

May you never be parted from them.


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For further reading I recommend:
The Credal Imperative by Carl R. Trueman

Footnotes:
[1] After Darkness Light, a collection of essays; Sola Scriptura by Keith A. Mathison
[2] The Credal Imperative by Carl R. Trueman
[3] I don’t have a proper citation for this observation, but it and many others in this essay are properly credited to my daddy who has studied, sought council from other pastors, and preached on these topics. In keeping with the spirit of this essay, I have sought out the wisdom and virtue of my pastor (who happens to also be my daddy), have listened eagerly to the men of my church’s association teach on these topics, and pulled down from my daddy’s library shelves the careful words of saints gone before me. Nothing in this essay is “new” though it may be new to you, as it has been to me as well over the last couple years. I hope it to be a fair and accurate summary of the writings of those before me that encourages you to deeper study, utilizing the four means God has given.


Read the rest of the series here:

An Introduction to Aesop’s Fables

The Man and the Lion – Revisionism and Reductionism

The Snail and the Statue – The Injudicious Eye

The Redbreast and the Sparrow – To Imitate the Strains I Love

Spiritual Warfare

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Brian Borgman walks through first a balanced perspective on spiritual warfare and the dangers of leaning “too far to one side or another” (denying all demonic influence or attributing everything to Satan) then he walks through each piece of the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-20 and walks you through the possible meanings of each, examining, for example, what the “gospel of peace” means elsewhere in the Bible then applying it to the life of every believer, always pointing you back to Christ’s sanctifying work in you to grow and sustain you.

It’s a short book, available on kindle–I would highly recommend it! It would be an excellent introduction to the topic for a new believer as well as an encouraging reminder to the mature believer.

Knowing God –review

Written in September 2012 when I was 17 years old.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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Knowing about God is not the same as Knowing God, J.I. Packers states at the beginning of his book. The greatest wonder of the universe is that God chooses to know us and reveals himself so that we may know him. God is personally involved and knowable.

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