Thursday, April 17, 2008

This could be any of us

A special thanks to Presbytera Candace for this testimony…

The dye has been cast.
The decision has been made.
I have stepped over the line.
I won't look back, let up, slow down, or back away.
My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future secure.
I'm done with low living, sight walking, small planning, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions or popularity.
I don't have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded.
I now live by faith, lean on His presence, walk with patience, live by prayer and labor with power.
My face is set, my goal is Heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions are few, my Guide is reliable, my mission clear.
I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed.
I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversary, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
I won't give up, shut up, let up, until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and spoken up for the cause of Christ.
I am a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.

—Written in Africa by a man imprisoned for his faith
who was later

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Another sheep leaves the fold…

…though not, we hope, taken by the wolf, while the hireling continues to exploit the flock.

Unhappily I want to put it on record that another of the brethren, an old friend and excellent Byzantine cantor, has decided to depart from Aghía Triás, as have many others whom I have not noticed in this blog. He still isn't sure where he will try to find a new spiritual home. His faith is intact, but the ravages of the hireling have gotten the best of him. I sympathise.

These are things that go unnoticed by church hierarchs as they progress in honor and splendor from parish to parish on their rounds. When we have a true shepherd who takes as his model the Good Shepherd, the flock prospers, from bishop to presbyters to people, and the vineyard flourishes. God grant us patience and strength as we wait for better times. Pray for Aghía Triás and her faithful people.

More straight talk from the fathers

Who are these people?

The one who knows God will follow the Lord's footsteps, bearing the cross of the Saviour.
It is said, "The world is crucified to him and he to the world."
The Lord says, "He who loses his life will save it."
We can "lose our lives" in one of two ways.
First, we can risk our lives just as the Lord did for us.
Secondly, we can separate our lives from the customary things
of this world.
Bearing the cross means to separate our souls from the delights and pleasures of this life.
If you do this, you will find your life again, resting in the hope of what is to come.
Dying to ourselves means being content with the necessities of life.
When we want more than these necessities it is easy to sin.
— Clement of Alexandria

Monday, April 14, 2008

Am I missing something?

I suppose the young man who wrote the paragraph I'm about to quote will tell me, "Yep! You're missing something! You need to have that close, personal relationship with Jesus that I have! Then you can get all the great gifts I get, and find out what an awesome God we serve!" Of course, I'm putting words in his mouth, and maybe he wouldn't one-up-man me like this, but if he did, it wouldn't surprise me. I probably deserve it.

The God who called me, who saved me, whom I meet in the pages of His written Word, in the mysterion of the Eucharist, and in the love of the Brethren, His Body, the God who (Scripture says) is the Holy One who makes His home in the praises of Israel (cf. Psalm 22:3), who lives in a High and Holy place, yet is also with the contrite and humble spirit (cf. Isaiah 57:15)—This is the God whom I approach, at all times, with faith, fear (awe) and love. I call the Father, "Abba" as I make my metanoia before Him, thanking Him for creating me, forgiving me, and redeeming me through the sacrifice of His Only-Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, "by Whom all things were made" (cf. Symbol of Nicaea), "the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world" (cf. 1 Peter 1:20), and for sealing me into His Kingdom by "the Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit" (cf. Orthodox baptismal service). "What great a god as our God, who alone performs wonders!" (Greek hymn, Tis Theos megas). How can anyone address YHWH Sabaoth, the Holy One of Israel, the King of kings of kings (blessed be He!), as "Dude"? But someone does. I will quote only the beginning of his post. Click here to read the whole post.

Hanging with the Most Holy

I am starting to realize (it's being revealed to me?) that to have that close, intimate "Abba" relationship Jesus wants with me, I need to draw closer — to talk and think more closely... not like a bond-servant, but as a friend, as an intimate. John (the apostle) was, perhaps, Jesus's best friend here on earth, (the one that Jesus loved). We need to be like that, too. So what I realized was that the "traditional" way of thinking about and talking about Jesus was limiting me. I should be able to say, "Dude, you are just so awesome! All this stuff you made, cool beyond compare. I just LOVE what you do!" And you know what? I DO feel closer to Him when I start to think and talk like that, because that artificial wall between us that makes me feel "He's TOO great and TOO big for me to talk to completely free and honestly" disappears…

Am I just being stuffy and old-fashioned? Honestly, I don't know. But I've never felt closer to the Lord than when I draw near to Him in faith, fear (awe) and love. He is an awesome God, really awesome, not "awesome" like just about every other thing is "awesome" to some people, "That's awesome, man!"

No. Our God is not like that. Our God is the Almighty, and as we say in Greek, Ο Παντοκρατωρ ζη (o Pándokrator zi, "the Almighty lives"). He is the One who says of Himself, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is, who was, who is to come, the Almighty" (Revelation 1:8).

Yes, someone is missing something
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner!

Thinking about baptism

Thanks to Presbytera Candace for these words from the church fathers…

Noah's Ark marked out by its course the sign of its Preserver. The Cross of its Stearsman and the Wood of its Sailor Who has come to fashion for us a Church in the waters of baptism: with the three-fold name He rescues those who reside in her, and in place of the dove, the Spirit administers her anointing and the mystery of her salvation. Praise to her Savior.
—Ephraim the Syrian

Did you see how baptism is a cross? Learn that even Christ called baptism the cross when He used the name of baptism interchangeably [with that of the cross]. He called your baptism a cross. 'I call my baptism a cross,' he says. Where does He say this? 'I have a baptism to be baptized with, of which you do not know.' And how is it clear that He is speaking of the cross? The sons of Zebedee came up to Him - rather, the mother of the sons of Zebedee, saying 'Command that these my two sons may sit, one at thy right and and one at thy left hand, in thy kingdom.' A mother's request, even if it was an inconsiderate one! How then did Christ answer? 'Can you drink of the cup of which I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?' You see that He called the cross a baptism.
—John Chrysostom, Baptismal Instructions

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sober for God

A famous evangelical, Frankie Shaeffer, has written a number of books as he transitioned out of evangelicalism and into Orthodox Christianity, as have many others making the same journey. I can't say that I've read any of his, but I have read one or two others, most recently One Flew Over the Onion Dome, which isn't so much a book about one person's journey "home" to the Orthodox Church, but rather a somewhat light-hearted look at the experiences of many people coming to canonical Orthodoxy in a number of different jurisdictions (Greek, OCA, Antiochian, etc.). I guess Frankie Shaeffer has a new book out, Crazy for God, which has been reviewed on the blog of my Greek Orthodox community. I took the idea for the title of my post from the title of the church's post, Crazy for God, which is of course, the book's title. I'm just tired of being crazy for God.
Now it's time to just be

What I mean is, even I used to describe myself as being "crazy for God," though I never wrote a book about it. In my case, what I meant was that the pursuit of God was my number One priority, that my whole life revolved around this pursuit. Other people thought of me as excessive and even obsessed, and many still do. That used to worry me a lot, and it altered my behavior to the point where I tried to "fit in" and act as though "nothing was going on."

More than thirty years into it, looking back I see what a mistake that was. On the evening of Yom Kippur of 2005, as I sat alone in my arbor meditating and praying, I had a conversation with the Lord that placed me back on the way of the Cross. I described it in a blog post written a year later. I hoped that things would improve in my daily life and in my relationships with others, but I was ready to accept whatever God would send me. As it turns out, from an earthly point of view, things have gone from bad to worse. This is why I would rather describe my life in Christ as "sober for God." It's a sobering experience to have everything you lived and worked for just melt away in a matter of a couple of years. Everything earthly, that is.

My life in Christ certainly doesn't fit the picture of that happy couple examining their bank account statement in my previous post, Shameless.

I started this post this morning before going to the Divine Liturgy. I'm finishing it in the afternoon. Every Sunday we're handed a bulletin that has an icon on the cover, and usually some mediocre or sanctimonious verbiage on the back, not always related to either the icon, or the Sunday theme. Occasionally a real gem turns up on the back, or at least something that speaks to me where I am right now. Today that happened. I'm going to close this post by just quoting the message on the back of the Orthodox Weekly Bulletin…

The Consequences of Our Commitment to Christ

When we choose to follow Jesus Christ, it should be understood that this will not be a journey free from trials and tribulations. Throughout the history of the Church, a countless number of men and women have suffered greatly for choosing His ways over the ways of the world, which are inherently sinful and evil. The final beatitudes remind us of the possible consequences to our Christian commitment:
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake… Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake."

It should be noted that our Lord never painted a "rosy picture" for His Apostles and disciples concerning what may lie ahead for them. He knew that He had many enemies and, therefore, so would they. "If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you." (John 15:20) Jesus proclaimed that He was the "Light of the world," maintaining that "everyone practicing evil hates the light." Persecution is almost inevitable for Christians striving to live in accordance with the righteousness required by the Gospel, for evil people will always detest those who speak out against their wicked deeds. Therefore, a Christian must be willing to patiently bear insults, mockery, disgrace, slander, defamation of character and yes, even death. Such must be the depth of our devotion to the One Whom we promised to love and serve on the day of our baptism.

But we are mere mortals! How can we endure all the fearful aspects of persecution? By never losing sight of the "prize" at the end of our arduous "race" — the Kingdom of Heaven. Finding a place there will, indeed, be a source of joy beyond our wildest dreams! Remember, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him." (1 Corinthians 2:9)

Saturday, April 12, 2008


In the distant past, I'm ashamed to say that I was taken in by Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) and particularly by Benny Hinn. This man is an ethnic Palestinian Greek Orthodox who left the Orthodox Church to build his own following, and he's in the spiritual succession of such New Age "pentecostal giants" as Kathryn Kuhlman. In spite of the fact that I have done nothing to support this man financially, somehow I'm still on his mailing list. The images below are a photo essay of what this man is perpetrating in the Body of Christ. Hence, the title of this post.

Please click on the images to view them large and read what they say.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Discipleship means the Cross

Why bother blogging?

I've asked myself that question every time I go to my computer and work on my blog or visit others. I also ask myself that question in the presence of God in my prayer room. It seems like a worthless project, sometimes. I've never wanted it to be a way of "hanging out my shingle," though I suppose any time you give your opinion on anything to others, that's what it is. It's not as though I think I am going to save the world or anything, but I hope that something I might express will help someone. I get that help sometimes from reading other people's blogs. But there's a lot of tush talked out there in blogdom, probably even on my blog. If so, brothers, please forgive me. As Peter cried out to Jesus in the film Jesus of Nazareth, "I'm just a stupid man!"

This morning I received a gaggle of short quotes from Presbytera Candace that woke me up and stood me back on my feet. If nothing else, then, at least my blog, Cost of Discipleship, is a place to post reminders of what discipleship consists of, and that primarily is the Cross. As holy apostle Paul wrote, "I want to know nothing other than Christ crucified" (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2). This is what discipleship in this strange world means, as you will see from these sayings of the fathers…

The knowledge of the Cross is concealed in the sufferings of the Cross.
Gregory the Great

The Cross is the door to mysteries. Through this door the intellect makes entrance in to the knowledge of heavenly mysteries. The knowledge of the Cross is concealed in the sufferings of the Cross. And the more our participation in its sufferings, the greater the perception we gain through the Cross. For, as the Apostle says, "As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ."
Isaac of Syria

God does not create a cross for man. No matter how heavy a cross a man may carry in life, it is still just wood, from which man himself made, and it always grows from the soil of his heart.
Ambrose of Optina

The way of God from the beginning of time and from the creation of the human race has been the way of the cross and death. How did you get your idea that everything is just the opposite? You must realize that you are outside the way of God, that you are far from Him, that you do not wish to walk in the steps of the Saints, but want to make some special way for yourself and travel by it without sufferings. The way of God is a daily cross. No one has climbed to heaven by living a life of pleasure.
Ignatios Brianchaninov

A postscript comment:

What is this "knowledge of heavenly mysteries" that Abba Isaac speaks of? Well, all I can say it's not what most religious people think, as can be seen in many religious paintings (not icons). The heavenly mysteries are written on earth in pages of blood, in the martyrs' endurance of suffering to the end, even knowing that all things lead them to the Cross.

If we are not drawing near to the Cross,
we should ask ourselves, why?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Albert and Helen

A while back I discovered a youth ministries blog that comes out of Denver First Church of the Nazarene, and I visit it from time to time. This evening I read an interesting story in their Mid-High Student ministries blog, and I left a comment there. Writing that comment reminded me that I wanted to blog a little about my friends Albert and Helen, who were instrumental in leading me to Christ and back to Orthodoxy.

Helen was my wife's best friend, and they shared a common Ukrainian background, their ancestors even coming from the same region (Bukovina), and having put down roots in the same parts of rural Alberta (Bellis / Smoky Lake). Helen's brother Ihor (the Ukrainian pronunciation of Igor) was and is an Orthodox presbyter, as well as a musician and writer.

The wedding photo shows Albert and Helen being crowned during their marriage blessing, the priests being Fr Lavrenty (left) and Fr Ihor (right), the church being All Saints, Bellis, Alberta (photo above).

In another photo, we see the window in the front door of the house in which Anastasia and I lived with Albert and Helen in the Edmonton "flats" (the river bottom neighborhood, along the North Saskatchewan banks). Numerous windows in their little house were decorated with window paint to emulate stained glass. The designs were like this example, of heavenly beings and things.

The other three photos were taken later, after our first son Jacob was born, and we returned to visit Albert and Helen and their son Damian. You can tell from their wedding photo who is who in the other photos, except for the picture of the two boys.

Our son Jacob is on the left, sitting with Damian, his godbrother on the right. (I am Damian's godfather.)

In another post I think I'll write about my life as a dairy farmer's only farm hand, and post some interesting photos—like me milking a cow into a wine bottle, so I can feed colostrum to a newborn calf!

You'll have to wait for that story!

You can link back to the original blog post on the Nazarene church's ministry page, but this is the title, and how it starts out…

Fire, Pain, Fear, Eternity, HELL
And, let's just say that you're in line with millions of other people, to find your name in The Book Of Life, to determine...whether you'll go to Heaven.....OR Hell. Let's pretend....that DIED. Yep, you DIED. The line is moving along steadily....and you can see the faces of many you knew on earth. Then, all of a sudden you see your best friend Emily.....and instead of hide yourself behind the person in front of you…

Here's my comment…

I visit this blog once in awhile and have sometimes commented, even tho I'm not in your age group or in your community or denomination. I guess I just don't believe in borders and labels.

This story reminded me a lot of the
Chick tracts I used to look at when I was still an unsaved person in my early twenties, living for awhile with some Orthodox Christian friends of my wife's. We had just come to live in town after quitting my job as the hired man on a dairy farm near Wetaskiwin, Alberta, my wife five months pregnant, and without money to even rent a small apartment. Albert and Helen took us in, and let us stay with them that winter until we could get a place of our own, literally days before our first son was born.

This couple was people like us, in our early 20's. They shared Christ with us, reading to us parts of the Bible, and leaving tracts and spiritual books lying around the house. It was the Chick tracts that really got to me. I've never forgotten them, gruesome and graphic as they are.

It wasn't the Chick tracts, though. It wasn't believing in what they conveyed literally and graphically.

What won me to Christ was the patient, consistent witnessing of one poor, young couple to another that they took in and helped get on their feet over the course of four months of dark, icy Alberta winter. They witnessed in words, in deeds, and in love. There was almost nothing argumentative about their witness, except that they insisted and wouldn't budge on issues that I questioned at that time. They simply let me have it my way, but they didn't have an "I'm OK you're OK" attitude. They very definitely and unashamedly defended all the truths of the Christian faith as they came up.

I didn't actually accept Christ for another two years, but those four months I spent with this couple formed in me the very same attitudes they had. That's the way I've witnessed for Christ since I was born again, and joined the Greek Orthodox Church. It is Christ, not the church I belong to, that I witness for, and just the same, I know that having your name in the Lamb's book of life is really all that matters.

Oh, and one more thing matters. Getting your friends and neighbors to have their names written there too.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Mystery Driver

The Bible is not a science or even a history textbook. It reports things sometimes with the same naiveté and unselfconscious enthusiasm as a grandmother telling someone about what her little Danny did this morning. The Bible is about Truth, and especially the practical Truth of "how to enter the Kingdom of God, and live forever". The vehicle of this Truth is human language and the flow of human history, but it's the Driver of the vehicle that matters, not the car or even the scenery, and it's the Destination. Mystery Driver

Mystery Driver

Thinking your thoughts in my head
does it ever get too dense in there for… you… to see
and what do you do with mine
when yours are sitting in the seat where mine… ought… to be
right behind my steering will
Do you really understand this car that… you’ve… hot-wired
Do you find you’ve got the feel
of the brakes, did you hear the motor when… it… backfired?

But Babe, don’t you know that you can’t drive me?
You’ve gotta trust that Mystery Driver
He knows how fast he can take a corner
He ain’t afraid, he’s in charge when he swerves
He’s got a map, that Mystery Driver
and he won’t nap, because he don’t tire
that Mister… … …Oh,
that Mister… … …Ah,
that Mystery Driver
Who can he be?

Bringing your worries instead
can you set them down beside that sha… dow… boaster
and listen to him define
his make and model, how to ride that roll… er… coaster?
He’ll show you his make-up mirror
and how to tune in if and when you want… some… sweet song
and when you need to go nearer
his right will take your left, and then you can… come… ay-long

But Babe, don’t you know that you can’t drive me?
You’ve gotta trust that Mystery Driver
He won’t be passed, but he can and does fly
and he goes fast, if he knows that we won’t die
He’s in control, that Mystery Driver
He knows our goal, but he’ll drive us higher
that Mister… … …Oh,
that Mister… … …Oh,
that Mystery DriverWho can he be?

— Romanós

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Celebrating wrong ideas

A good many people nowadays say, 'I believe in a God, but not in a personal God.' They feel that the mysterious something which is behind all other things must be more than a person.
Now the Christians quite agree. But the Christians are the only people who offer any idea of what a being that is beyond personality could be like. All the other people, though they say that God is beyond personality, really think of Him as something impersonal: that is, as something less than personal. If you are looking for something super-personal, something more than a person, then it is not a question of choosing between the Christian idea and the other ideas. The Christian idea is the only one on the market.

Again, some people think that after this life, or perhaps after several lives, human souls will be 'absorbed' into God. But when they try to explain what they mean, they seem to be thinking of our being absorbed into God as one material thing is absorbed into another. They say it is like a drop of water slipping into the sea. But of course that is the end of the drop. If that is what happens to us, then being absorbed is the same as ceasing to exist. It is only the Christians who have any idea of how human souls can be taken into the life of God and yet remain themselves—in fact, be very much more themselves than they were before.

I warned you that Theology is practical. The whole purpose for which we exist is to be thus taken into the life of God. Wrong ideas about what that life is will make it harder.

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Ch. 24, "The Three-Personal God"

After work today I met my best friend Brock at Common Grounds, a cozy little coffeehouse in the Hawthorne district of Portland. He was there working on some details of a screenplay, sitting at a granite bar in the sunny front window. There was a magazine of some kind at the end of the bar, and I took a look at it. It turned out to be a booklet advertising the Body, Mind & Spirit Expo to be held in Portland, Oregon the weekend of April 19/20, that is, the first day of the Jewish Passover. Hmm, interesting, I thought. Also, the Saturday of Lazarus, and Palm Sunday (of the Greek Orthodox).

"Well, what have we here," I thought to myself, as I took a look at the booklet. On the cover a gloriously happy, liberated-looking woman was throwing herself up into the air in a grassy meadow. Four of the featured guests at this expo were also pictured on the cover, all smiling broadly to advertise their proficiencies… Magic of the Tarot… Move Through Life's Crossroads… The Science of Anti-Aging… and Learn to Talk to Animals.

Turning the booklet over, the back cover had four more smiling savants and their specialties… Attract Your Dreams… Become a Psychic Medium… Expand Your Consciousness… and (what I thought said "Potato Spirit 2012" but which actually said) Portal to Spirit: Transition 2012.

It was a long, boring day at the office, and my eyes must be playing tricks on me, I thought to myself. Was I seeing things?

Well, yes, I'm afraid I was. This expo, with 125 exhibitors and 75 "free lectures", acclaimed as the "Northwest's Largest Holistic Expo," is coming to Portland.

Looking inside the booklet, here are some of the other presentations that were advertised…

Fear & Self Sabotage
Fairy Forum
Fishing Guide to the Stars
Are You Toxic?
Direct Past Life Readings
Bliss 101: The Basics
One-2-One with your Angels
How to Embody Shambala Now
Opening the Conduit
Vibrational Awakening
The New Crystal Temple
Seeing Auras
Why Emotions Hurt
Make the Most of Planet Energy
Finding Your Soul's Purpose

"Duh… Too bad I'm gonna have to miss this great expo," I yawned pathetically, remembering I'll be out of town that weekend. And there was even this great offer… Volunteer at the Expo! with a phone number, 541-482-3722. This event comes out of Ashland, Oregon. It makes you wonder, what really goes on down there. Yeah, too bad we'll be out of town. Brock and I could've volunteered at the event… hand out Chick tracts or something!

All this reminded me of yet another saying of C. S. Lewis…

"…Theology is practical: especially now. In the old days, when there was less education and discussion, perhaps it was possible to get on with a very few simple ideas about God. But it is not so now. Everyone reads, everyone hears things discussed. Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones—bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas. For a great many of the ideas about God which are trotted out as novelties to-day are simply the ones which real Theologians tried centuries ago and rejected. To believe in the popular religion of modern England is retrogression—like believing the earth is flat."

What he said of "modern England" can certainly be said of "modern America." Sorry to have to repeat myself, but "Lord, have mercy on us!" We certainly need it!

Facing facts

Most people are not evil, nor are most people complete fools. We are, however, a very selfish race, and ungrateful. Some of us have met with circumstances in our lives that have halted us in our tracks, making us look at and think about the world around us a little more deeply. There is, after all, a lot to ponder. The deeper we live our personal stories, the more we can begin to understand the stories of others, and empathy grows in us. The human mind seeks patterns in its experience of the world and of the self. There are plenty of patterns out there too, and it seems the more we look for, the more we find. Sometimes we try so hard, we even find patterns that aren’t really there. Hence, the humanist atheist’s criticism of “religion” and God, which sometimes comes close to the truth. So much for the human world and our experiences there.

Still, some of us, as flawed as we are, and as damaged, insist on the reality of a Being we call God. Most of us are also not evil, nor are we complete fools either. We find ourselves to be, in spite of our “belief” in the existence of the Being we call God, very selfish and, yes, ungrateful too, just as selfish and ungrateful as the rest of humanity. That doesn’t stop us from believing and insisting that this God exists, whatever else we do or say about Him. This fact gives the majority of people a very sour taste in their mouths when it comes to the subject of “religion” and God, or as we have it in America, a “Christian” country, the subject of church. Most people are not evil, nor are most people complete fools. They can tell when people are “playing church,” and being sensible (except for a universal blindspot—personal sin) they want no part in the “game,” and can you blame them?

Most people will only play games that they’ve made up and whose rules they’ve accepted, games that are “fun,” and which they think they can win, that is, that’ll put them ahead of others. Hmm, what does that remind me of?

Back to my statement that most people are not evil, at least they don’t think they are. They haven’t yet encountered sin, or else they’ve refused to acknowledge it, being tutored by a world system that actually glorifies it under other names. So not meeting sin in themselves, or hiding from it, thus being unaware of the bad news about themselves, they have no ears for the good news. If they have heard the bad news preached at them somewhere, that only hardens their hearts against the good news even more. “First they tell me I’m broken, so they can fix me, but if you ask me, it’s them that are broken and need fixing! They can keep their Jesus!” I wonder why they would think that?

Can it be true that most people aren’t complete fools? Even if they were able to see their brokenness or whatever they might call it—though sin is its real name—how should they respond if the “repairers of the breach” are easily seen to be just playing a game, pretending to be healers, helpers, heralds of good news, but in fact, only playing?

“Where do you fellowship, brother?” a twinkly, heavily-bearded middle aged man asks a young man sitting in a coffeehouse, wearing a tallit [Jewish prayer scarf] and studying a Hebrew interlinear Old Testament. Without waiting for a response, “Tallit is rabbinical; I follow only Torah.” Then, as the young man begins to respond, and giving some testimony of his life in Christ, the other continues to promote his “messianic synagogue” and boasts of “following the commandments” because Y’shua [Jesus] was a Torah observant Jew. Then he goes on to say that living your life as “a living sacrifice” is impossible unless you know and understand the book of Vayikra [Leviticus] and what sacrifice is all about.

My mind is trailing off into silence and my eyes glazing over, while I wait for this blast of hot wind to pass. Ah, but his wife is a real Jew, who teaches Hebrew, and who was saved and is now a tongue-speaking, born-again believer in Mashiach. “Good,” I mutter softly and nod, while I half-listen patiently. Finally—I knew it was coming—the business card. After all, he’s on his Father’s business. He knows his lines well, though his Hebrew knowledge is spotty at best, enough to corral the biblically illiterate whom he usually meets here.

So why don’t they come to church and be Christians? What’s wrong with the people of the world? We’ve certainly given them enough time and plenty of free literature and televangelism to round them up. Don’t they feel welcome? We say on our church marquees, “Everyone welcome.” Look, we even have a prayer request box in the parking lot, if somebody needs to be prayed for. What more can they want? They don’t even have to tithe, at least not at first. After all, “the church doesn’t need” our money, “we need to give it.” As they say, "You can't outgive God!" And as for expecting miracles, like living a transformed life, well, don't worry… that’ll gradually happen. All they have to do is hang out with us, and they’ll be infected with Christianity. It’ll just rub off on them. See, we’ve made the way to God absolutely appealing, fun and easy. Got nothing to do, no where to hang out? Don’t worry! You can volunteer in one of our great ministry opportunities. What? What did you say? What do you mean “What does all this have to do with Jesus?” Why, it has everything to do with Him! After all, Christ is all things, and in all things, especially at our church! Don’t worry, we’ll put you to wo… I mean, we’ll give you plenty of opportunities for Christian growth. And remember, “grow where you’re planted!” We love you, and Jesus does too!

Christ, our Lord, have mercy on us!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Making the world love us

"I long for a ‘third way’ in the way the church can engage culture, perhaps it is being the kind of polis that the Scripture describes–a holy and loving people."

Not judging the non-Christian society around them, letting their praxis be taken as their logo, uncompromising in matters that cannot be compromised, undemanding in matters indifferent, avoiding argumentation, promoting the bare Word of God without comment, inviting to and helping those abandoned or helpless, intolerant of deliberate immorality, but pardoning and overlooking human weakness, and showing patience and forbearance with all—this is not a third way, as if there were options—this is the way of the true Church, in whatever time, place or denomination it can be found.

"A people who love God, neighbor, and each other. A people who are attractive to the culture because of their holiness, wholeness, and love."

A people who live love but do not preach it in words and proclamations, even so, that Church will only ever be attractive to those who are already part of her without knowing it, as for the rest of the "culture," it will never find the true Church attractive, but will always find fault, always find reason to try to drive it out of the world. If Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith, perfect Man (and to us true God) could not be found attractive by the "culture," how can we poor copies of His nature do anything that will make us attractive to the culture of sin and death? For what else can "culture" be, despite its false beauty, fame and fragrance?