Monday, August 31, 2009

Father to son

Overheard in the listening gallery…

Church can be a game, but Christ is real, and the Bible is worth reading, studying and putting into practice even more than any book of engineering or business. And yes, God does have expectations of us, to live a life pleasing to Him, but no, we don't have to follow rules set up by other people. Finally, Christianity is not a self-help program that you can outgrow once you've "made it," which is what it seems a lot of churches imply. You're smarter than that, so what's keeping you in the bondage of the flesh?

Why don't you hit on Somebody who can really satisfy the longings of your heart, and not waste your life running after temporary fixes? You have only one life to spend. Why not use it to buy eternal life? which starts today, not after you're dead.

You didn't have a choice to be born, but you do have a choice to be born again, and if you choose that option, then death will be a door to your heart's desire, not a crashing down of a coffin lid.

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
Revelation 2:7 NIV

Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Revelation 2:20 NIV

To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.
Revelation 2:17 NIV

To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—'He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery'— just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star. Revelation 2:26-28 NIV

He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. Revelation 3:5 NIV

Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. Revelation 3:12 NIV

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.
Revelation 3:21 NIV

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Truth can be stolen, but never sold…

…and here I am stealing the truth again, though by the author's request, I have to let you know who he is, and I cannot change a word of it, but I don't want to, anyway.
And since I believe what the bible says, "Remember who your teachers were," I am glad to post the author's name. As for selling the truth, well, you know where I come out on that. "You received without charge; give without charge." Now then, here is a message from pastor Zac Poonen of Christian Fellowship Church in Bangalore, India, which I want to pass on to you, blog brethren. As you're reading it, I'm sure you'll remember church leaders, pastors, priests, bishops, and others past and present who have had the authority of Christ, and some who haven't. As Jesus says, "To everyone who has will be given more, but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away" (Luke 19:26 JB). This is the conclusion of the parable of the Talents, but may it be true of those in the Body of Christ who wield false authority. May Christ save us from them!

Demonstrating True Spiritual Authority
Zac Poonen

The multitudes were amazed at Jesus’ preaching, because they saw a difference between the way He taught and the way the Pharisees had taught them for so many years. The Pharisees had a lot of knowledge. Jesus had even more knowledge than they had. But it was His authority that impressed His hearers, not His knowledge (Matthew 7:29). If we have knowledge but no spiritual authority in our ministry, we will be like the Pharisees. God backed up the words that Jesus spoke. This is what it means to speak with spiritual authority.

Jesus told His disciples in John 15:26, 27 that the Holy Spirit would bear witness along with them. This meant that whenever they preached, the Holy Spirit would back up what they said. That’s certainly how I want my ministry to be at all times. As I bear witness to Jesus, the Holy Spirit must also bear witness to what I say. He must speak to the hearts of my listeners saying, "Listen to that. That’s from God". Then I’ll be speaking with Divine authority. But if I merely give a very accurate testimony about Jesus, and the Holy Spirit doesn’t back up what I say, I won’t be called a heretic, because my doctrines are all evangelical. But I will still be ministering death, and not life.

One of the greatest needs in the church today is for a demonstration of spiritual authority in the ministry of its leaders. Spiritual authority is very different from religious authority. What we commonly see in Christendom today is religious authority, where strong leaders dominate their flock.

It’s easy, when we preach God’s word to have power over people. People appreciate our ministry because it helps them. Then it becomes easy for us to become like little gods to our admirers. We must always live in fear of that. We must never take advantage of the authority we have over others through our gift. We must never try to run other people’s lives. If we find them clinging to us, we must gently cast them on the Lord – for their own good and their spiritual growth. Our calling is to build the Body of Christ and not our own little empires. This is the way of spiritual authority.

Paul had such spiritual authority given him by God that he could even deliver a person in the church at Corinth to Satan for the destruction of his flesh so that the man could be saved (1 Cor.5:5). The man was saved later and came back to the church in repentance. Paul was the founding father of that church and such fathers have a spiritual authority that no one else can exercise. Those apostles had Divine authority given them by the Lord to build people up.

This is the type of loving authority that we need too. We see many manifestations of such spiritual authority in the life of the apostle Paul, that are a tremendous challenge to us. When the disciples observed Jesus for 3½ years, they saw that He was totally different from the leaders and preachers they had seen in their synagogues. They had never met anyone who lived like Him or who spoke like Him. He had authority in His life and in His ministry. Until they met Jesus, they had thought that spiritual ministry was what they had seen in their priests and their bishops in the synagogues. And if they had never met Jesus, they would have made those priests and bishops their role models.

But now they had a new role Model they could follow. What our young people need are better role models to follow. It is our responsibility to be those role models, as men with spiritual authority.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A voice crying in the wilderness

I found this left as a comment on Fr Stephens blog, and it just sort of grabbed me. It's written by an African Christian, but I cannot tell from what nation. It may seem to some that the comment is critical of the Church, but to me it's not the comment that is critical, but the Word of God. Regardless of traditions ancient or modern in the churches, the Word of God is still among us to winnow the chaff from the wheat, and the Church just happens to be the threshing floor. Here's the comment…

On the contrary, I think we’ve succeeded in making Christianity very complex. It now means many things to many people. Jesus Himself simplified it – restoration of the relationship between God and man. Check out John 17:3, "This is eternal life, that they might KNOW thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." If Christianity is Jesus’ creation, we must appreciate why He stepped out of glory to our realm. He said in John 6:38-40, "For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day."

Whenever I read the New Testament, I’m at loss as to what to make of the Christianity of this generation. While knowledge of all sorts of things has increased, the conduct of most people who profess Jesus Christ as Lord gives cause for serious concern. I’m not being judgmental. The light that’s in most of us is so dark that the devil’s just smiling [on his way] to the bank everyday. We make merchandise of men by preaching a perverted gospel that presents God as a means to our ends. Where Jesus emphasized relationship with the Father, we push for self-actualisation. We substitute the gospel with motivational chats that encourage men to pursue gain instead of godliness. We should cry out to God to deliver us from our whoredom instead of wasting our time arguing about irrelevancies.

This is certainly a voice crying in the wilderness!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I needed to hear this just now

Myself, I have nothing to say right now, pushing my way through some dense forest, to find the source of that Light up ahead, because I know Who is waiting for me there. But I heard my friend speaking these words from his heart, and they strengthened me. I needed to hear this just now. Perhaps this poem will speak comfort to you as well. It is entitled…

Two Sorrows

Regret not that sorrow coming from heavenly places
Such as this bears the fruit of repentance and life

But resist at every turn the sorrow of the world
Within it is the seed of despair and the bloom of death

The Father’s hand preserves all things in Christ
Such a preservation as this calls joyous, sorrow

Each hair counted even when cut
Each foot washed though filthy
Each wound cleansed of corruption
Each sight cured in blindness
Each hand held though frail
Each heart healed with tears

Is it better for us to live deaf from our sins all our days
Or be given words that stab our lungs and steal our breath?

Blessed is the sister that gives such words kindly
Cursed is the brother whose weak tongue fails him

He who has from the days of Cain comforted sinners downcast
Will send myrrh-bearers with their fragrant oils to your door

— David Dickens, Nothing Hypothetical

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Free or bound?

I sometimes visit Pedestrian Infidel, one of many blogs published by those who have come out of Islam. The latest post on this blog is simply a copy of a CBN news video that documents the growing numbers of Christian believers rising up behind the lines of militant Islam. While the jihadists are threatening us in the Christian West, behind their backs a new Christian East is arising. At some point, they had better turn around, and look. It was an interesting video. I commented once, thanking the blogger for hosting it. Then I read a series of comments from a non-Christian antagonist of Islam, who lambasted the Christian members of anti-Islamic blogs.
The following is my response to his comments.

Hey brother Surind Raj,

Allow to followers of Jesus the same liberty of self-expression that you wish for yourself with your principles and opinions.

The ironic thing here is that you seem to be offended by what you consider the "religion" of Christianity, which in your eyes is just another variety of what Islam is, when in actual fact, your attitude betrays your adherence to secularism in a religious way.

Religions always try to bind people rather than to free them. The man Jesus Christ came into a world bound by religion, yet He Himself was unbound, and He came to unbind others.

Look to yourself, brother, and make sure that you are not one of those He came to unbind, because if you are, if you are bound by anything, then it is your religion, and Jesus Christ is the end of religion.

There may be people who say they follow Jesus when in fact they serve another master: He frees, but they bind. In the end the words He spoke will be applied to them, "No man can serve two masters…"

A moment ago I wrote, "the man Jesus Christ came…" because it is not my duty to declare a truth in your face that you are not ready to accept, nor is it my right, nor does Jesus ask me to do this, nor does He Himself do this.

But my testimony about Jesus Christ is like that of Peter. I call Him not "the man Jesus Christ" but "the God-Man" or "the Son of the living God," that is, "the Christ."

He didn't force me to believe in Him, just as He didn't force Peter, just as He doesn't force you, and neither do I.

But for every man that has come into the world, everything in his life will narrow to that singularity where he must face this question:

"Who do you say that I am?"
—Mark 8:29

Words of encouragement…

…to suffering brothers and sisters, is the title of a post on the blog of brother Hilarius, his latest one, in which he has been inspired to string together some scripture passages, in the best Orthodox tradition, like a church father. Reading it edified me very much, and so I want to share this post with any of my readers who may not have visited Forty Days in the Desert before.

To read this testimony and encouragement, click
What a great way to end this day. Glory to God!

The saved and the unsaved

O God of spirits and of all flesh, Who has trampled down death, and abolished the power of the devil, granting life to Your world; do You, O Lord, give rest to the souls of Your departed servants in a place of light, a place of refreshment, a place of repose, where there is no pain, sorrow or sighing. As a good and gracious God, forgive every sin they may have committed in thought, word or deed, for there is no man living who does not sin. You alone are without sin, Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your word is Truth. For You are the resurrection, and the life, and the repose of Your departed servants, O Christ our God, and to You we give glory, with your eternal Father, and Your all holy, good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
from the Greek Orthodox Memorial Service

The subject of memorial services for the dead, our prayers to God on behalf of those who have reposed, is a difficult one to explain to Christian brethren outside of canonical Orthodoxy. Roman Catholics will just assume, without asking us, that we are praying for our dead to be released from purgatory, a place that for the Orthodox does not exist. Protestants will just be bewildered, asking, "Why pray for them, since they're either already saved and don't need our prayers, or already lost, and our prayers can't help them."

A contemporary church father, Michael Pomazansky, has written in his Orthodox Dogmatic Theology the following explanation.

In praying for the dead, the Church intercedes for the just as for the living, not in its own name, but in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:13-14), and by the power of His Sacrifice on the Cross, which was offered for the deliverance of all.

These fervent prayers help the seeds of new life which our departed ones have taken with them—if these seeds have been unable to open up sufficiently here on earth—to gradually open up and develop under the influence of prayers and with the mercy of God…

Similarly, powerless would be prayers for the dead who have died in impiety and without repentance, who have quenched in themselves the Spirit of Christ
(1 Thessalonians 5:19). It is precisely concerning such sinners that one must remember the words of the Savior in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus: that there is no deliverance for them from the deepest parts of hell, and no transference for them into the bosom of Abraham (Luke 16:26). And, indeed, such people usually do not leave behind them on earth people who might pray sincerely for them to God; likewise, they have not acquired for themselves friends in heaven among the saints…

Of course, on the earth it is not known to what lot each has been subjected after his death. But the prayer of love can never be profitless. If our dead ones who are dear to us have been vouchsafed the Kingdom of Heaven, they reply to prayer for them with an answering prayer. And if our prayers are powerless to help them, in any case they are not harmful to us, according to the word of the Psalmist:
“My prayer shall return to my bosom” (Psalm 34:16), and according to the word of the Savior: “Let your peace return to you” (Matthew 10:13).

These passages were brought to my attention in Fr Milovan's blog, Again and Again. To read them in the context of his original post, click HERE.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Good News for Muslims

While the West, particularly the European Union, is being inundated and infiltrated by Muslims who are not becoming Europeans but creating a threatening presence in their host countries, behind the lines of Islamic jihad against the West is arising another kind of army and Presence in the lands of Islam—followers of Jesus Christ among whom He lives and moves as Lord, God and Savior.

I do not have a television set and have not watched TV in years, except by accident when I'm sitting in a waiting room at Les Schwab having new tires put on my car. For this reason I don't watch the news either, whether secular or Christian. This evening I visited the blog of an Arab brother who goes by the name of Avenging Apostate, and he has a very encouraging video there. You can visit his blog and see the video by clicking HERE. Or you can link to the video directly by licking HERE.

The video is from CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network), and so it is going to have a certain slant and emphasis, and for some this might be annoying. But the Good News is getting out to the Muslims, and that is a good thing, as holy apostle Paul writes, "It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice." (Philippians 1:15-18 NIV)

When pain turns to joy

It is a funny thing about life, an irony and a paradox, that what begins in pain often ends up in joy, and conversely, what starts out in happiness sometimes ends up in sorrow. Of course, this is not true in every situation, but it’s true in enough of them to convince me.

Here are some examples of when pain turns to joy. What brought this idea to mind is something very simple, very mundane.

Last week I had an accident. I pulled a very heavy machine toward me and it dropped right on my bare feet, scraping them and cutting across one of them, drawing blood. (This did not happen at work, but at home.) Of course I attended to the wounds immediately, but the pain was very intense at first, and then moderate for a few days. I had to wear some soft moccasins on my feet when going out, even at work, because to wear my usual shoes (sandals) would have rubbed against the wounds and caused continuous pain. Finally, about three days ago, the wounds were sufficiently healed for me to wear sandals with socks as a cushion.
This morning, however, I slipped on my sandals over bare feet and came to work. There was a vestige of pain, but it was a pleasant sort of feeling, and my feet were full of energy allowing me to walk and run with the usual spring in my steps. It just felt so good to be able to walk and run again in those sandals, and the small pain of the scars added to the joy of walking. Don’t say I didn’t warn you: this was a very simple, very mundane example.

Another experience which many can share involves physical exercise.
I work out a couple of times a week on a bowflex machine. Once in a while, I really work some muscles hard, and they can feel very, very sore for up to three days. But there comes a certain point where the pain in the muscles changes its quality somehow, and though one still feels sore, the muscles are now ready for another workout or just everyday use, and it feels so good to use them again. Why? Because they feel more solid, stronger, and it raises the spirit to know that the body has been improved. When pain turns to joy…

A final example is the common occurrence of being sick, be it the flu, or a cold, or a sore throat, or an ear infection, whatever. The sickness goes on and on, and while it’s happening, one wants to either just die and be done with it, or somehow make it hurry up and finish. Well, regardless of how long it takes to recover—and it’s usually always too long—there’s a point at which we still are sick, but something has changed, we can tell we’ve turned a corner. Now, though the pain or symptom remains, it is somehow under control and is gradually weakening, and our joy grows, knowing that we are soon to become well. When we do become fully strong and well again, there might be a small hint of the pain left, yet it makes the joy of being well again even greater.

So much for my humble musings.
The Word of God itself has a far better example than any of mine.

A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.
John 16:21 NIV

Yes, when pain turns to joy…

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Greeks from rocks

The last week of August, 1968, forty-one years ago, my Mom and Dad dropped me off with my few belongings at Blackburn College, in Carlinville, Illinois. It was as hot that first day as it is today in Portland, high 90’s, except that it was also horribly humid. The Illinois summer, what can one expect? My room was number 22, on the second floor of North Hall. My roommate hadn’t arrived yet. That first night, I shut the door to my room without locking it (no one locked any doors back then) and lay down on the little bed and tried to sleep. Too hot. I suddenly had to use the washroom, and so I went to the door to find the lavatory. The door wouldn’t budge! It had swollen shut, and did not come unstuck till the early morning when it cooled down. Luckily, it was only ‘number one’ and I had an empty pop bottle and an open window.

That first week I made my first new friends in four years, all of them strange to me, from all over the country, as well as the local counties. Right across the hall was a flamboyant and effeminate and very round young man who latched on to me as his best friend. I don’t even remember his name, though, because he didn’t even last the first semester, but dropped out. My room mate turned out to be a local farm boy with the interests of a deranged cowboy—drinking, cussing, consorting with wild girls—and there was I, quiet, reserved, studious, listening to classical music on my little stereo phonograph, and to Gregorian chant, which I had just discovered. The room mate situation didn’t last long. I found myself the sole occupant of a room for two after only a couple of weeks. Aaah… peace at last!

College years were a time of discovery for me. I quickly found out the students who had similar interests to mine. What were they? Well, really there was only one—God. I was a religious enthusiast but not yet a Christian. To me, Christ was God, but I was still interested in other spiritual paths. It was while discussing spiritual paths with my friends in the student union, Buddhism, Hinduism, the Occult, Theosophy, Atlantis and what not, that I met Andrew, a young man about my age, who was from somewhere “back East” and who was the only son of his widowed mother. He didn’t look like the type to hang around with us, but he did. I don’t have a photo of him, but I do have one of me and some of my friends gathered for my birthday in my dorm room.

Andrew hesitantly and meekly entered our discussion one day. He said something like, “What you are all talking about sounds so interesting, but let me tell you about something very, very beautiful.” We turned to him and listened as he began telling us that he was Greek Orthodox, and describing the beauty and mystery of his experiences in church, during what he called the divine liturgy. From the look of awe on his face, alternating with something like a look of love, he described the ceremonies and the prayers in detail.

He finished by saying that he didn’t know much about the kinds of religions we were exploring, but he invited us to experience Orthodoxy when we went back to our home towns on the next break, and see if what he was telling us was true. He said he didn’t know if the other paths were true, but he knew for sure, he said, that Christ lives among His people in the Orthodox Church. I never forgot my friendship with Andrew, even years later.
I remembered his witness up to the time that my family and I were actually reunited to Holy Orthodoxy almost twenty years later, and in the Greek Orthodox Church.

Fast forward to a Sunday service at Aghía Triás in Portland, Oregon, about twenty-two years ago. My wife and I and our four sons were sitting at the back of the church listening to Fr Elías Stephanópoulos (his name is the Greek for ‘Elijah’). Christopher, barely past infancy was sitting on his mother’s knee trying to hold a service book and pretending to read it. Jacob, a young teenager helped me manage his next two younger brothers. He was like a little daddy to them. Fr Elías was preaching, but I don’t remember what the theme was that day, but I do remember this…

Preaching to the empty pews, he pointed at them suddenly and then exhorted, “You Greeks, where are you? You whose places in those pews are vacant, where are you?” Then he seemed to stare right at us, though he didn’t point, and said, “Look at that, people from nations you don’t even know, converts, have come to take your places!” I began to get a bit hot around the collar, maybe blushing. Then he came out with a phrase modeled on something said by his Master Jesus, “Don’t you know that God can make Greeks out of rocks?” That was it for me. Two or three weeks later, we were marching up to the front of the church with our sponsors.
Fr Elías introduced us to the congregation with, “These people have struggled very hard to make their way back home…”

Many years had passed, in fact it was only three or four years ago. Since I had become Orthodox, I had never forgotten Andrew, and I wanted to look him up and thank him for being the first person to tell me that such a thing as Orthodoxy existed. One day, using Zaba Search, I actually found a man who I thought could be him, and it was him! How happy I was to have found him! I emailed him and identified myself and, best of all, he remembered me. I exchanged several emails with him as I told him about my life, what had happened to me, how I had come back to Christ and that I was now a Greek Orthodox. I could not thank him enough, but his response puzzled me at first. He seemed a little bit annoyed.

I questioned him then about his life, what he did for a living, why he was living in Manhattan, if he was married, was his dear mother still alive, and so on. He began to get more and more annoyed with me. He wasn’t married but had had many relationships, some of them with other men. “You mean just really good friends, right?” I asked. Again, very defensively he answered, “It’s really not something I want to go into, if you don’t mind.” Confused, I asked him if he was still a believer in Jesus. Was he still an Orthodox Christian? In an embarrassed tone of voice, he said, “Well, no, you see, I’ve outgrown all that. I mean, it was okay for a child, but…”

Flash back to that sermon of Fr Elías. So it’s true what he asked the empty pews, “Don’t you know that God can make Greeks out of rocks?” What he really meant was, of course, that God can make children of Abraham out of rocks, that is, children of the faith of Abraham.

Lord, while there is still time, help us to repent and seek the light of Your face, for apart from You, we can do nothing good.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Ethiopian Orthodox Songs

While adding some more ikons to my other blog, Ikonostasis, I chanced upon some Ethiopian Orthodox song videos. Actually, it started with just one, and then I found there are dozens of these song videos on YouTube. I would like to share the wonderful spiritual song of our Orthodox Ethiopian brethren with visitors to my blog. Rather than adding the videos directly to the blog, slowing things down, I am just providing the hyperlinks to twelve song videos. Click on any link, and you should be able to view the video.

As my intention is not to entertain but to communicate, please forgive me if I sometimes seem to want to do both. If you happen to live in a locality where there is an Ethiopian or an Eritrean Orthodox church, you can attend a Sunday service and experience this worship music first hand. The Orthodox of Ethiopia have preserved much of the dance, the musical melodies and the instruments of ancient Israel, and when you worship with them, their singing seems to be coming from somewhere deep inside the earth, not deep as in "underground," but deep as in "where paradise still exists."

Here are the hyperlinks:

Hale Luya

Emebet Libel

Ethiopian Orthodox Song (No Title)

Mertnesh Mezmur

Be Bete Mekdesih

God is Great

I sing for Him

The King of Earth and Heaven



You are My Savior

Beregnet Sale Abatachin Muse

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Who Says You Can Say These Things

You speak the sound of thunder in the cloud.
Who says you can say these things?
Out of your book come words that will not move.
Who said you could say them aloud?

There you are in the marketplace,
there in the Hall.
What man gave you such a sword to wield?
Here and there I go for the sake of my will.
Who set you up as high judge over all?

Tell me what you were thinking this morning.
Who told you to lay those words on the page?
What were the instructions whispered to you that
Show the place where truth and words
are joining?

I will answer but first you will answer me—
Who told you to sit on the throne of your own heart?
What visions have you had that narrowed your way?
When you speak on these things, I will answer thee.

— David Dickens, Nothing Hypothetical

God knows

Fr Stephen has put up some excellent and short posts about prayer on his blog, which I recommend to everyone who visits mine. Right at the beginning of his latest post, he has a short story, possibly from the Desert Fathers, which really rang true. For me, it's emblematic of what my experience of Orthodox Christianity has been: down to earth, both feet on the ground, honest before God and man.
A brother asked a hermit, “If I oversleep and miss the time for prayer, I hesitate to keep the rule of prayer. I am embarassed and do not want the brothers to hear me praying.”

The hermit gave him this advice: “If you sleep late, get up and shut your door and windows. Then pray your psalms. Both day and night belong to God. You will glorify God whatever time it is.”

“You will glorify God whatever time it is.”
This sounds like the kind of thing we're used to hearing from basic bible-believing folks—evangelicals some of them are called—people who don't put much store in ceremony of time and place but think you can worship God in a room that's a church on Sunday and a basketball court the other six days of the week. Yet here it is, an Orthodox saying, an expression of the faith of the fathers.

Where does this idea originate? I mean, the idea that prayer is prayer, even if you "miss church" on occasion. Even the ideas that prayer (and yes, even worship) can "happen" to us anywhere?

Well, what has been handed over to me, is that this idea is found in the Bible, in many places, but especially in Psalm 139.

Yahweh, you examine me and know me,
you know if I am standing or sitting,
you read my thoughts from far away,
whether I walk or lie down, you are watching,
you know every detail of my conduct.

The word is not even on my tongue,
Yahweh, before you know all about it;
close behind and close in front you fence me round.
shielding me with your hand.

Such knowledge is beyond my understanding,
a height to which my mind cannot attain.
Where could I go to escape your Spirit?
Where could I flee from your presence?

If I climb the heavens, you are there,
there too, if I lie in Sheol.
If I flew to the point of sunrise,
or westward across the sea,
your hand would still be guiding me,
your right hand holding me.

If I asked darkness to cover me,
and light to become night about me,
that darkness would not be dark to you,
night would be as light as day.

It was you
who created my inmost self,
and put me together in my mother's womb;
for all these mysteries I thank you:
for the wonder of myself, for the wonder of your works.

You know me through and through,
from having watched my bones take shape
when I was being formed in secret,
knitted together in the limbo of the womb.

You had scrutinized my every action,
all were recorded in your book,
my days listed and determined,
even before the first of them occurred.

how hard it is to grasp your thoughts!
How impossible to count them!
I could no more count them than I could the sand,
and suppose I could, you would still be with me.

What a great God we serve! What a loving God, who knows everything about us, so much so, that He is ready to forgive us our failings before we fall, and when we do, how eager He is to restore us in our own eyes to worthiness in His! I have little more to add to what Fr Stephen wrote, and even less to add to what the Word of God teaches in its pages, only to say, especially of the Bible:
“Take up and read!”

Fr Stephen's posts can be read by clicking the links below:
The Experience of Prayer
The Time for Prayer

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Prayer at the close of day

This prayer to the Holy Spirit was posted today in Fr Stephen's blog, Glory to God for All Things, and although I have many prayer books, I don't think I've ever seen this prayer in any of them. I think it is quite good and would like to share it with my readers who may not regularly visit Fr Stephen's blog. It's a prayer but at the same time a self-examination, something which can be hard to do in one's own words. I am laying the text out in a format that for me is easier to read, but otherwise the prayer is exactly as it appears at the source. I've also borrowed the graphic.

O Lord, the Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth:
Have compassion and mercy on me, Thy sinful servant!

Absolve me, who am unworthy.
Forgive all the sins I have committed this day
both in my humanity and my inhumanity,
behaving worse than beasts in sins voluntary and involuntary,
known and unknown, from my youth,
from evil suggestions, haste and despondency.

If I have sworn by Thy name
or blasphemed it in thought;
if I have reproached anyone or become angered by something;
or slandered or saddened anyone in my anger;
or have lied, or slept unnecessarily;
or a beggar has come to me and I have despised him;
or have saddened my brother or quarreled with him;
or have judged someone;
or have allowed myself to become haughty, proud or angry;
or, when standing in prayer, my mind has been shaken
by the wickedness of this world;
or have entertained depraved thoughts;
or have over-eaten, over-drunk or laughed mindlessly;
or have had evil thoughts
or seen the beauty of someone
and been wounded by it in my heart;
or have spoken inappropriately;
or have laughed at my brother’s sins
when my own transgressions are countless;
or have been indifferent to prayer;
or have done any other evil that I can not remember—
for I have done all this and more:

Have mercy, O Master, my Creator, on me,
Thy despondent and unworthy servant!

Absolve, remit and forgive me, in Thy goodness
and love for mankind that I, who am prodigal, sinful and wretched,
may lie down in peace and find sleep and rest.

May I worship, hymn and praise Thy most honorable name,
with the Father and His only-begotten Son,
now and ever and unto ages of ages.


A word for today

Remember this, my dear brothers: be quick to listen but slow to speak and slow to rouse your temper; God's righteousness is never served by man's anger; so do away with all the impurities and bad habits that are still left in you—accept and submit to the Word which has been planted in you and can save your souls.

But you must do what the Word tells you, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves. To listen to the Word and not obey is like looking at your own features in a mirror and then, after a quick look, going off and immediately forgetting what you looked like. But the man who looks steadily at the prefect law of freedom and makes that his habit—not listening and then forgetting, but actively putting it into practice—will be happy in all that he does.

Nobody must imagine that he is religious while he still goes on deceiving himself and not keeping control over his tongue; anyone who does this has the wrong idea of religion. Pure, unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.

James 1:19-27 Jerusalem Bible

Food is for the hungry

Whenever I go to read and pray the psalms for the day and take up my old Jerusalem Bible with its now frayed leather cover and weakened binding, the Book naturally falls open at page 788, the psalm appointed for Day 26, beginning at Psalm 119, verse 105, the verses beginning with the Hebrew letter Nun. My eyes fall immediately on that beloved verse, “Now your word is a lamp to my feet, a light on my path,” and wherever else I go in my reading or in the world, that faithful Word goes ahead of me, showing the way.

That is how I relate to the Word of God, the Holy Bible. I take to heart what Augustine of Hippo wrote, which I read for the first time in the year that I came to the Lord, “The way in to the Holy Scriptures is low and humble, but inside the vault is high, and veiled in mysteries” (Confessions, III, 5). This is how I approach the Bible, this is the way I regard it, this is how I have made it my home, and this is how I have let it shape me. This November, it will be thirty-four years that I have served the Lord with this light on my path.

Others have risen up, during that time, and come to know the Lord and His holy scriptures better than me, and I do not envy them. They have gone to college and finished, to seminary and finished, have traveled the world, seen sights, studied under the great names of the theological schools, experts in biblical research and hermeneutics, and I—well, I don’t even know for sure what hermeneutics really means. I am a mere ‘am ha-aretz.’ Yes, I confess it, in my innermost mind I am just ‘a man of the earth,’ as that Hebrew term implies.

I study the scriptures in Hebrew and Greek, but I have no papers and no letters after my names, and as if to prove my ignorance, I can’t scale the heights of theological discussion with the robed scholars, can’t understand when they tell me, the psalms are written by a king, in the person of a king, and for kings, and they can only be truly understood within that context.
For me, the psalms are my entrance into the presence of Him I love, and entering therein, I find my peace.

Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You who shut up the Kingdom of Heaven in men’s faces, neither going in yourselves nor allowing others to go in who want to.
Matthew 23:13 JB

It’s something like this. There is a very good restaurant, an excellent restaurant, its dishes are beyond the delights of ordinary men. Outside, posted on the door, are the menus. Gathered in front of the door are the scribes, those who pride themselves on their learning. (No, not the Pharisees anymore, for there are none left who pride themselves on their following of the commandments, only scribes remain, who pride themselves on their education.)

These scribes are crowded around the door, assiduously studying the menu, line by line, dreaming of the dishes, and arguing among themselves which dishes are better than others, which are the best, which are not to be bothered with. Along comes an ordinary man. He can read, of course, same as anyone, and he tries to take a look at the menu posted on the door, his hunger and his patience vying with one another because he can’t get quite close enough—the scribes are in front of the door as thick as a swarm of bees. His hunger wins, and he grabs hold of the door handle and yanks the door open despite the spectators hanging on the menu, and he goes in. The door slams behind him.

Inside the restaurant, he is given the menu, which he studies in silence, far away from the roar of debate, makes his choices, and soon he is served the meal that satisfies his hunger. After he is refreshed, he pushes his way out through the crowd of scribes at the door, and goes his way. Meanwhile the scribes continue fantasizing, speculating, arguing and boasting in their intellectual combats, and life goes on.

Now, back to the psalms, for Day 8. “Yahweh, do not punish me in Your rage, or reprove me in the heat of anger…” (Psalm 39:1 JB)

Taking the yoke of Jesus upon us

Here follows another excellent short homily by pastor Zac Poonen of Christian Fellowship Church, Bangalore, India. Truth is truth wherever we find it. Glory to God for this bright and faithful word.

We sometimes come to crossroads in our lives, where we have to make decisions with far-reaching consequences. Decisions such as the choice of a career and a life-partner affect our entire future. How are we to decide at such times? We know nothing of the dangers and the hidden pitfalls along each path. We know nothing of the snares Satan has laid for us. And yet - we have to decide which path to take.

It would therefore be not only desirable but necessary for us to have someone beside us at such times whom we can trust fully, who knows the entire future. In the Lord Jesus Christ, we have just such a Person, and He is more than eager to guide us along the safest and best path.

The Bible teaches that God has a specific plan for each of our lives (Ephesians 2:10). He has planned a career for us, chosen a life-partner for us and even planned where we should live and what we should do each day. In every case, His choice must be the best, for He knows us so well and He takes every factor into consideration. It is wisest then to seek His will in all matters - major as well as minor.

It is not only foolish but dangerous to follow the reasoning of our limited intellects and the dictates of our emotions alone. Unless we are gripped by the conviction that God's plan is indeed the best, we are not likely to be in earnest about seeking it.

Many have made shipwreck of their lives by failing to seek the will of God right from their youth. It is indeed "good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth" (Lamentations 3:27). In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus invites us to take His yoke upon us. What does it mean to take the yoke? Oxen that are used to plough fields are kept together by a yoke upon their necks. When a new ox is to be trained to plough, it is yoked together with an experienced ox. The new one is thus compelled to walk in the same direction and at the same speed as the older ox.

This is what it means to take the yoke of Jesus upon us. We shall have to walk with Jesus in the path that pleases Him, never rushing ahead to do anything without His leading, nor lagging behind when He calls to some new step of obedience. Few understand this meaning of the yoke. Fewer still are willing to accept it. The ox is forced by its owner to take the yoke upon its neck. But Jesus invites us. There is no compulsion here. How foolish we are to reject this invitation! We would rather take the heavy yoke of our own self-will with its accompanying frustrations, defeats, and regrets, than the light yoke of Jesus that brings true liberty and deep rest!

"Come to Me and I will give you rest - all of you who work so hard beneath a heavy yoke. Wear My yoke.....and let Me teach you (as the older ox teaches the inexperienced one).... and you shall find rest for your souls; for I give you only light burdens"
(Matthew 11:28-30 TLB).

We read of Enoch that he "walked with God" (Genesis 5:22) - i.e., he did not rush ahead nor lag behind, but walked in God's appointed path as one under the yoke - for three hundred years. As a result, God testified that He was pleased with Enoch's life (Hebrews 11:5). This is the only way that we please God - by living and moving under His yoke, in His perfect will. Only thus shall we be able to stand before Him without regret when He comes again.

Friday, August 7, 2009

A tree is known by its fruit

Despite the darkness and even terror spread by misguided proponents of all religions, God remains who He is, and nothing we do that is evil, even in His name, reflects on Him, but on us. Pity us, poor creatures who, worse than irrational beasts, devour each other like this.
Who a man follows is revealed by his walk.
Who a man listens to is revealed by his talk.

What would you say?

If you had a friend or family member who was going to do something dangerous, that you knew for sure would cause them not just harm but would actually result in their death, wouldn’t you warn them, and in the strongest possible terms? If it weren’t possible to physically restrain them, but only to warn, what would you tell them, how would you say it?

This is something I haven’t tried before, but I’m going to make this post a platform for your self-expression, but the focus will be on only one topic—salvation. I know that this word will mean slightly different things to different people, because not only is there a difference between the expectations taught by different religions—Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism—but even among Christians, the word will have different meanings.

Orthodox Christians, for example, use salvation, sotiría in Greek, to mean the process leading to deification, théosis. I’m not positive, but I think other Christians might mean the same thing by the terms sanctification (a process) and salvation (the goal). Other religions, Buddhism for example, might mean nirvana when they think of salvation.

Since I want to gather the words of my fellow Christians, with no disrespect intended, I want to limit the responses to this post to just this group, to people who believe that “it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth…” and “…salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:10-12 NIV).

Returning to the thought expressed at the beginning of this post, I want to change the circumstances slightly. This great peril that you knew for sure lay ahead is not a physical danger that probably would result in physical death, but rather, a peril that you know for sure will result in eternal death, eternal separation from God. This is the question of which I want to ask you, brothers and sisters, “What would you say?”

Family members, friends, acquaintances, neighbors—any of these might be persons whom you know reject Christ, reject God. If you could without any hindrance or obstacle, and without fear of giving offense, say to them in a brief moment some message of warning or of invitation, calling them back to Christ (for most of the people around us who don’t believe are merely indifferent and fascinated by the world, more than outright rejecting Christ), what would you say?

You may write more than once, and you may have a particular person in mind. I leave it up to you whether you address that person by name or not. One thing about giving a testimony or witnessing is, to really do it, it can never be solely anonymous. Either you give it in person, and you are seen for who you are, or you write it, as I am inviting you, and you sign your name. Since this is an experiment, you may leave your words in the comment anonymous this time.

Remember, this is what you would say if you could. Now, after you’ve written your message to your unsaved (not accepting and following Christ) family member or friend, think about it, pray about it, and ask yourself whether or not you could deliver the message, in person or in writing.

I hope this invitation draws more comments than any other. I am in the same boat as the rest of you; I have family members and friends whom I love, but who don’t want to have anything to do with Christ. I too must face the fact that my silence could be letting them slip into… and my testimony (words and actions both) could be the opening of a door to their hearts, through which they might pass in the end to eternal life.

What would you say?

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
John 3:16 NKJV

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The door of their hearts

An Orthodox pastoral intern at a hospital was trying to minister to a patient who turned out to be a Latter Day Saint and who requested a copy of the Book of Mormon, or a Bible, if the first mentioned could not be found. He began to be troubled by the thought: "Is my getting her this Book of Mormon aiding in the spread of what I believe to be a heresy?" You can read his post by clicking here.

I added my humble two cents to the equation by leaving the comment which follows, in which I tried to broaden out the idea to one of ministering to any non-Christian.

I haven't gone to seminary and I'm not a priest, so please, if this disqualifies me in your mind, don't read the rest of my post. I am aware that for many Orthodox Christians, an unordained, non-seminary trained layman is not qualified to speak about anything having to do with the Bible or the Christian life. Since obviously that thought has never occurred to me, I foolishly continue to do both, in my "real life" and in the blogosphere. Brethren, if I am in error, please pray that I may be delivered from my fault. As for the rest of the visitors to my blog, I only ask your indulgence in putting up with my one-track mind. Here't goes…

[The pastoral intern decided to look for a copy of the book requested, but could not find a copy, and so returned to the patient with a bible instead.]

Right up front, I want to affirm, that you did the right thing, exactly the right thing, and God, our God and her God, came to your help.

Mormons are not Christians in any real sense of the word, but rather a modern form of Gnosticism, but you already know all this as being seminary trained.

If a Hindu was the person to whom you had to minister, that would seem to be a bit more complicated, but actually it is not.

Two things are the same, no matter who it is that we find placed in our path:

I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus, and I do what I see Him doing.
The other person is always a person for whom Christ died, and to whom Christ comes (in me).
Looking upon another person with the kind of love that the Father has when He looks upon them, and having a welcoming and loving spirit, hoping for them the same salvation that you hope for yourself, the other person can sense that.

Having this heart of hospitality that does not stand in defense, in offense, or in argument, but simply in love, even had you found a Book of Mormon and given it to the patient, that were no betrayal of our Orthodox faith, for the Holy Spirit as well as the Word of God, the true Spirit and the true Word are with you, and you would have revealed them in your action, and that would effect a better cure for the woman's probably ignorant heresy than a frontal witness would have.

Christ alive and at work in us, when we love the people and serve them, effects their salvation, not anything we do on our own initiative, even if it is at the behest of a troubled conscience.

If the person that God places in your path is a non-Christian, such as a Hindu or Muslim, or a Jew, or an atheist, the practice is the same, we "love the Lord our God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves," wishing for him or her the same salvation that has come to us, and going forth in that spirit of humility, God can convert hearts.

When I have prayed for and ministered to a Hindu, for example, I search out his heart by the stethoscope of that love I am describing, and find the place in him where he has a cave of need that only Jesus can fill, and then praying to the Only Living One, he senses that there is nothing offending, and he is ministered to by God, the God he doesn't yet know.

Sometimes, then, the Lord begins to help them open
the door of their hearts.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The same, yesterday, today and forever

Today in the orthodox Church it is the Sunday of the Feeding of the 5000. Fr Matthew Tate, of Annunciation Orthodox Church, celebrated liturgy with us today, and spoke a little on the gospel. I could say ‘preached’ but Fr Matthew is a ‘traditional’ Orthodox priest: he doesn’t presume to preach, but just speaks the words that the Lord puts in his mouth, standing aside as it were, to let the Word of God speak for Himself.

Feeding the five thousand wasn’t hard for Christ to do, he said, because of course, the Lord and Creator of the universe can do anything. The twelve disciples, on the other hand, were mere men, and they knew it. When they saw how many people had gathered, five thousand men not counting women and children, they were anxious. Even though they knew Jesus was ‘special,’ they still had to inform Him that the crowd was getting too large and they recommended that He send them away.

Feeding five thousand was certainly something they couldn’t do, and they knew it. They knew they weren’t adequate to the task. They knew they didn’t have the resources. All they had was five loaves and two fish, not even enough, really, to feed themselves. Still, Jesus tells them, ‘Feed them yourselves.’

‘Huh? How are we supposed to do that? We don’t have anywhere near enough,’ was the essence of their reply, just as we often respond when the Lord tells us (not asks us) to do something that we consider impossible for us.

Then, just as He helps us, He helped them through their dilemma, through their crisis of faith. He says, in effect, ‘Okay, what have you got? Bring it over here, to Me,’ then He blesses it and gives it back and says, ‘now just do it!’ What the twelve disciples discovered, just as everyone discovers who does what the Lord commands, is that what is impossible for men is not impossible for God, and that He never asks us to do anything that is impossible. This is the proof of the statement
‘all things are possible, if you only believe.’

The important point of this gospel story, says Fr Matthew, is not so much that Christ could feed the 5000, but that the disciples could, and that the return was enough that each of the twelve could collect the remains in a basket.

Did the disciples do this on their own? Were they adequate to the task before them? On both counts, admittedly not. Fr Matthew says, if we feel adequate to the task, we probably aren’t. It’s when we feel inadequate, that we turn to God in faith, and then go forward to fulfill what He asks of us, or rather what He tells us to do.

After speaking briefly but truthfully in this way, Fr Matthew asked us, “Will you indulge me for a couple of minutes? I want to tell you a little story.” When he asks us that way, we know it will be more than a little story. It will be a testimony. I will try my best to retell it…

About eight or ten years ago, Fr Matthew went to Africa on a mission with some other American priests. The Orthodox Church in Kenya is now four generations deep, and growing rapidly, with almost all native clergy, worshipping in English, Swahili, Greek and native tribal languages. The village they were sent to spoke Nandi, and their services were in Swahili and Nandi.

The mission was expected, and the village constructed mud-and-dung huts for the visitors to stay in. They were expected on a given day, but the Africans expected them to be at least a week later, so when they arrived on time, the mud huts were still wet, and smelled… horrible! So bad was the smell in fact that Fr Matthew, for one, couldn’t hardly sleep all night. He finally fell asleep briefly, only to be awakened to see a black face staring at him through a hole in the wall of the hut that served as a window.

‘Father, it is time to start the liturgy. Get up and celebrate the liturgy for us!’ commanded the short Nandi Orthodox priest who served the village. He wanted to have the ‘white father’ celebrate today. Fr Matthew tried to beg out. ‘I’ve only just arrived from a very long air voyage over 7000 miles, and I have jet lag, plus, I didn’t hardly sleep all night. I don’t speak any Swahili, only English. Can I just stand in the altar with you and watch, at least at first?’

The Nandi father would not let him off, and the two dialogued for a long time until, worn out, Fr Matthew gave in, and got up, got vested and went to the church to celebrate the liturgy. The church was very primitive. The altar was a wooden table with one of its four legs broken, so that the whole thing wobbled. The floor of the sanctuary was pounded earth. The metal ceiling radiated heat down on the priests’ and people’s heads in a sweltering 110° F (over 40° C) oven. Fr Matthew was drenched in sweat. He sang the liturgy in English. The native priests and people sang the responses in Swahili and Nandi. Everyone understood each other. Why? Remember, Pentecost!

They came to the consecration of the Eucharist and then, the priests in the altar served each other communion. While this was going on, Fr Matthew looked out through the ikonostasis to see that over 400 people were out there singing Christian folk songs and dancing, pounding their feet into the dirt floor and raising up such a cloud of dust that even in the altar it was beginning to cling to patches of moisture on their vestments.

Since they were in a part of Kenya where bread is not made or eaten, they had to make communion using an uncut loaf of white bread, almost of ‘Wonder Bread’ consistency, that someone had gone to town and bought specially for the purpose. The communion bread, endlessly cubed into small pieces during the proskomidhí and then added to the chalice of wine and hot water, was enough to commune maybe 100 people at most. What was Fr Matthew to do? There were at least 400 people out there.

As communion began, the African order for receiving communion was followed: first men, then women, children and babies.

After Fr Matthew had finished communing the men, he looked into the chalice and saw that he had used about 90% of the contents, and he still had the women, children and babies to commune! He prayed, ‘Father, help me!’ The women kept coming up, and the children, and he kept feeding them with the Bread of Life from the Cup of Salvation and, when he was down to the last morsel of wine-drenched bread, behold, it was the last baby! There would be no need for the priests to finish off the remains of the Cup after the last communicant had been served, not in this church!

This is a modern day example of the truth that is taught in Christ’s feeding of the five thousand, proving that what was true 2000 years ago is true today.

Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.
Glory to God!