Saturday, January 30, 2010

Apocalypse


I hope now to stir your minds to remember
Things others have taught you
I am merely repeating
That which you were mocked for believing
“What sort of light is cast from devouring hope?”
Not in this dissipated world
But a vision more substantial

Consider the light then given from life
Ever present, now made immanent
Ended in their polluted water
But clean water still carries the life it always did
Filth must forget to survive
Remembering makes for fresh rain
Or better, fire

Everyone is hung up about waiting
But time is an easy thing to waste
There is no time for evil
All the time in the world for good
This is not because what you do does not matter
But because it does
Only death should die!

There is a fire we have not yet known
But will sooner than dawn breaks from night
We call it vengeance in our ignorance
But the maiden knew no hate
Rather burned brightly
The sun still envies the mercy seat
Stepping before us on to the new day

So, be quickened and run
Chase the stars across their crystal spheres
Refresh your brother
Carry your sister
In all things give thanks to your father
Know your neighbor
Open your mouth in faith and love

Spotless, blameless, peaceful even in suffering
Just as with him we can be
Even if it is hard to understand
But you need not twist
Or be crushed by weight beyond your strength
Even a strong man knows to use a lever
So a cross is given to move the world

Keep the memory close at hand
How they were lost to their own trickery
Their hearts slept the watch
What fools the wise who know not the hour
The far country has been brought near
This land stands conquered
And will end before our labors are done

The doors of the house
Built from the wood of the fig tree
They will not stand the four winds
Nor will the clouds of glory be kept out
Great the thunder, mighty the quake
Mountains cast into churning seas
The unapproachable approaches!

Please, lest this be counted for evil
And time be lost for me to speak
Do not settle for your delusions
Refuse the devils at the window
Admit the disease receive the cure
The great physician does not disappoint
And you may yet know what you were made for

— David Dickens, Nothing Hypothetical

Of all David's poems, this has to be one of the best. I invite you to visit his blog at the link after his name. What Walt Whitman said of his own poetry, I can confidently say of David Dickens'…

Shut not your doors to me proud libraries,
For that which was lacking on all your well-fill’d shelves,
yet needed most, I bring,
Forth from the war emerging, a book I have made,
The words of my book nothing, the drift of it every thing,
A book separate, not link’d with the rest
nor felt by the intellect,
But you ye untold latencies will thrill to every page.

— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, Book I - Inscriptions, Shut not your doors

Friday, January 29, 2010

A different kind of Chapter 11

Definition: Chapter 11
A bankruptcy option in which a trustee is appointed to reorganize the bankrupt firm. Although the existing claims of security holders are likely to be reduced or replaced with different claims, it is expected that the firm will continue operating.

What was bankrupt?
The old law and religion.

Were the existing claims of the security holders reduced or replaced?
Both. If they continue to grumble and not accept what the appointed Trustee offers them, their claims are reduced. If they fully accept the reorganization of the firm, their claims are replaced with something better.

What firm is it that is expected to keep operating?
The business of the Trustee's Father, the One who said, "My Father continues working, and so do I."

Who is the Trustee?
The God-Man, Jesus Christ.

Here is His version of Chapter 11...

Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen. It was for their faith that our ancestors were commended.

It is by faith that we understand that the world was created by One Word from God, so that no apparent cause can account for the things we can see.

It was because of his faith that Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain, and for that he was declared to be righteous when God made acknowledgment of his offerings. Though he is dead, he still speaks by faith.

It was because of his faith that Enoch was taken up and did not have to experience death: he was not to be found because God had taken him. This was because before his assumption it is attested that he had pleased God. Now it is impossible to please God without faith, since anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who try to find Him.

It was through his faith that Noah, when he had been warned by God of something that had never been seen before, felt a holy fear and built an ark to save his family. By his faith the world was convicted, and he was able to claim the righteousness which is the reward of faith.

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed the call to set out for a country that was the inheritance given to him and his descendants, and that he set out without knowing where he was going. By faith he arrived, as a foreigner, in the Promised Land, and lived there as if in a strange country, with Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. They lived there in tents while he looked forward to a city founded, designed and built by God.

It was equally by faith that Sarah, in spite of being past the age, was made able to conceive, because she believed that He who made the promise would be faithful to it. Because of this, there came from one man, and one who was already as good as dead himself, more descendants than could be counted, as many as the stars of heaven or the grains of sand on the seashore.

All these died in faith, before receiving any of the things that had been promised, but they saw them in the far distance and welcomed them, recognising that they were only strangers and nomads on earth. People who use such terms about themselves make it quite plain that they are in search of their real homeland. They can hardly have meant the country they came from, since they had the opportunity to go back to it; but in fact they were longing for a better homeland, their heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, since He has founded the city for them.

It was by faith that Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He offered to sacrifice his only son even though the promises had been made to him, and he had been told: It is through Isaac that your name will be carried on. He was confident that God had the power even to raise the dead; and so, figuratively speaking, he was given back Isaac from the dead.

It was by faith that this same Isaac gave his blessing to Jacob and Esau for the distant future. By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph's sons, leaning on the end of his stick as though bowing to pray. It was by faith that, when he was about to die, Joseph recalled the Exodus of the Israelites and made the arrangements for his own burial.

It was by faith that Moses, when he was born, was hidden by his parents for three months; they defied the royal edict when they saw he was such a fine child. It was by faith that, when he grew to manhood, Moses refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter, and chose to be ill-treated in company with God's people rather than to enjoy for a time the pleasures of sin. He considered that the insults offered to the Anointed were something more precious than all the treasures of Egypt, because he had his eyes fixed on the reward. It was by faith that he left Egypt and was not afraid of the king's anger; he held to his purpose like a man who could see the Invisible. It was by faith that he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood to prevent the Destroyer from touching any of the first-born sons of Israel. It was by faith they crossed the Red Sea as easily as dry land, while the Egyptians, trying to do the same, were drowned.

It was through faith that the walls of Jericho fell down when the people had been round them for seven days. It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute welcomed the spies and so was not killed with the unbelievers.

Is there any need to say more? There is not time for me to give an account of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, or of David, Samuel and the prophets. These were men who through faith conquered kingdoms, did what is right and earned the promises. They could keep a lion's mouth shut, put out blazing fires and emerge unscathed from battle. They were weak people who were given strength, to be brave in war and drive back foreign invaders. Some came back to their wives from the dead, by resurrection; and others submitted to torture, refusing release so that they would rise again to a better life. Some had to bear being pilloried and flogged, or even chained up in prison. They were stoned, or sawn in half, or beheaded; they were homeless, and dressed in the skins of sheep and goats; they were penniless and given nothing but ill-treatment. They were too good for the world and they went out to live in deserts and mountains and in caves and ravines. These are all heroes of faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since
God had made provision for us to have something better, and they were not to reach perfection except with us.

Hebrews Chapter 11

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Miracles aren’t just magic

In the same line of thought as was expressed in my previous post, quoting the Russian bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, I want to post the following, gut-wrenchingly honest homily on the subject of God's miracles in our lives. After all, though God keeps us alive, as far as this earth is concerned, it isn't 'for keeps.' That life 'for keeps' is waiting for those who believe in Jesus in that place which He has gone to prepare for us. This was not written as a ramble of thoughts detached from a real event, but came out of a young man's dealing with the grief of his mother's untimely death. What he writes here is foundational yet simple, so simple that many people miss it, until it catches up with them.

So, in the space between my last post and this one life has taken some strange twists and turns. The most major twist is the subject of this post. My mother died two weeks ago today.

About 7 years ago a doctor told her that she had cancer. Doctors have a way of saying the most vulgar things. They say phrases like, “It is as we feared.” Or they say, “It’s not what we were hoping for.” In this case the doctor used the swear-word, “Ocular Melanoma”. The doctor said that if it spread past her eye that she would have no more than 6 months to live. Again…that was 7 years ago. The cancer spread to her lungs, her liver, and her brain. But she had 7 good years. I never saw my mother “dying.” She lived every day of her life. And up until the last couple of weeks she was able to do whatever she wanted to.

We prayed for miracles. We prayed for healing. And we saw it. We saw it for 7 years. The thing I never considered until recently was the fact that miracles aren’t permanent. And I think that’s why so many people don’t believe that miracles have happened when they do. We expect miracles to be permanent. We want healing that doesn’t end up with us just getting sick again. But miracles aren’t just magic tricks from a god in a box. Miracles are always referred to as “signs.” They point us to something else. People who are healed…even people who are raised from the dead…they get sick and they die. The miracle is not about that person in that situation. The miracle is about a God who is making all things new. It is a glimpse at a future in which the God who created the universe will wipe every tear away, and there will be no more suffering, or pain, or death.

So I can say that my mother was healed miraculously for 7 years. And I can say that on January 5, 2010 at 10:15 in the evening, while family and friends gathered around her singing “Blessed Assurance”, she was healed permanently. The God of the universe reached down and scooped her up in his arms. He wiped her tears away and said, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

In the weeks leading up to her passing there were a lot of beautiful conversations. Hard, painful conversations, but beautiful as well. All of us will one day face the end of our days on earth. I hope that all of us can live a life with as much purpose, and die a death with as much meaning as Wanda Mills. She is not here, but she is not gone.

It is easy to give in to the sadness and the rage. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t. But like Job, we can sit in the ashes of our life when things look the most dark and say, “I will put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, I will not speak again.” A friend once said he was jealous of atheists because as a believer in God we have to see meaning in everything. And I agree with him sometimes, but not this time. I love it that I don’t have to be happy about things that happen like this. But I also trust that there is a God who set the Earth on its foundations. Who dug the oceans and filled them with water. Who hung the stars in the sky. Who set the planets spinning in their orbits. Who orders all of existence so that even the bad things fit into the plan. And who put skin on. Who became flesh and blood so that he could scream along side of us in our pain. A God who can look at us no matter what sort of suffering we are in and say, “me too.” And who lived a perfect life, and died the death we deserved. And who now holds the keys to death and hell.

I am eternally grateful for a God who will say, “[I] will wipe every tear from [your] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away…Look! I am making everything new!”

— Andrew Mills, from his blog Metanoia

You keep me alive

God desires and seeks the salvation of all. And He is always saving all who wish to be saved from drowning in the sea of life and sin. But He does not always save in a boat or a convenient, well-equipped harbor. He promised to save the Holy Apostle Paul and all his fellow-travelers, and He did save them. But the Apostle and his fellow-passengers were not saved in the ship, which was wrecked; they were saved with great difficulty, some by swimming and others on boards and various bits of the ship's wreckage.


Though I live surrounded by trouble,
You keep my alive—to my enemies’ fury!
You stretch Your hand out and save me,
Your right hand will do everything for me.
Yahweh, Your love is everlasting,
do not abandon us whom you gave made.
Psalm 138:7-8 Jerusalem Bible

Psalms for the 28th Day
132 133 134 135 136 137 138

Monday, January 25, 2010

Torah Or

Light of Torah—ikon of the Word
before He came.

If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true. There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true. You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved. He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light.

But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me. And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.

I do not receive honor from men. But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?

Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you—Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”

John 5:31-47 New KJV (Orthodox Study Bible)

Dreaming of Heaven

No matter where we go, in place or in time, across all cultures, we find that all human beings have one thing in common, without exception. We all have this idea that somehow, things are not as they should be, that there is something flawed about all we do, all we experience, in this world. There is always present this feeling of wanting to be home, but just when we think we’ve found home, it too turns out to be just another way station on the caravan of souls going… somewhere.

This idea, or feeling (because it seems to transcend mere thought and seems to issue from another part of our being, the heart maybe) can almost be described as what defines mankind and sets us off from other creatures. Though there are animals that build and organize, it seems that they always follow the same logic, and their creations never deviate very much from an instinctual standard. Could this idea of ours also be something of the same sort, an instinctual standard that is inseparably part of us, the very thing we were created to do?

In any case, we have this idea, but we cannot fulfill it. We are living in a world that is already perfect, yet somehow we find ourselves unable to be happy here. Some part of us keeps dreaming of heaven.

The one true American fairy tale, The Wizard of Oz, in its film version exceeded the scope and content of the original children’s books, becoming in the process another heavily endowed myth of our dreaming of heaven.

Every religion and philosophy the world over has arisen out of mankind’s dreaming of heaven. It comes even before the discovery of God, and is probably what has pushed us into that search for Him. If there is a heaven, there must be a God. Does that make sense? Well, maybe not to all. Buddhism doesn’t need a God, but in some of its forms, it still wants, looks for, and promises heaven. It’s interesting that a similar experience can provoke at least two different responses.

Once there was a rich and cloistered prince who left the palace and walked through the world. He saw there four things that impressed him: a sick man, a poor man, a beggar and a corpse. All of these are things that he knew were intrinsically wrong, and the books about him say that “he was filled with infinite sorrow.” Ultimately, after much searching and thinking, this man came to the conclusion that none of this was real, and that escape was possible and necessary. This escape, though, was not dreaming of heaven. It was something more like not dreaming at all. Why was this? Because this man considered that what he experienced in the world was itself just a bad dream. He created a path of escape from dreaming. This man was Gautama, called the Buddha.

In another story, there was a poor man who left his workshop and walked through the world. He saw there the brokenness of people, experiencing the rigor and hardship of their lives, joined them in their alternating sorrows and joys, tasted with them the bitterness of their exile from home, their dreaming of heaven. He shared with them this strange, inescapable feeling that things were not right in the world. He was born into a religion that tried its best to give men a system of rules which, if they lived by them, promised to make their lives in this world right, so that they wouldn’t need to dream of heaven. This religion even had a God who gave the rules and tried His best to get the people to follow them. Though they had the rules, and the belief that following them would set the world right, they didn’t follow them just the same. They didn’t, but the poor man did, and by following and fulfilling the rules to the uttermost, he opened a path of escape from dreaming of heaven, by opening a path of entering into heaven. This man was Jesus, called the Christ.

We all have the same experience as these two men, as have all men in all ages and cultures. Every time we think we’ve found home, somewhere to be comfortable, where everything is “as it should be,” something or someone spoils it. In the film The Matrix, Morpheus tells Neo, “It’s that feeling you have had all your life. That feeling that something is wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad, driving you to me.” Morpheus in Greek mythology is the god of dreaming. Dreaming of heaven. The Wachowski brothers sure packed a lot of truth into that first film.

Here, if nowhere else, is the common experience that unites everyone, the knowledge that all is not well with us and with our world. Religions and philosophies offer answers and explanations, hoping to strengthen our dreaming of heaven to the point where maybe the dreaming will be enough for us, and sometimes just trying to get us to not dream at all. But where did the need to dream originate? Who told us that all is not well? And people dream only of things that they have seen and experienced somewhere, even though the dreaming sometimes distorts them beyond recognition.

The answer to all this, does it come from the prince turned enlightened one, or from the carpenter nailed to a tree?
To dream or not to dream, that is the question.
And if we must dream, who will wake us up?

The reward of virtue is to see Your face,
and on waking, to gaze my fill on Your likeness.

Psalm 17:15 Jerusalem Bible

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bad alliances

If you make yourself a friend of the world,
you cannot be God’s friend.

The father of the prodigal son was a pious and God-loving man, because only such a man could have allowed his sons their full freedom and still receive one of them back with love and honor (and unself-conscious forgiveness) after he had abused his freedom and defiled himself.
The boy was ‘brought up right.’

A good marriage and family life does not come about by magic. It begins with mutual faith. It grows and is sustained by mutual faith and faithfulness. And it continues blessed and good right to the end only as long as the first faith and trust is preserved inviolable.

What can destroy it? Wanton breaking of the commandments, adultery, bearing false witness, theft and covetousness—all of which stem from forgetting who is the Lord: “I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”

I have passed on to my sons what my dad passed on to me, “If you are looking for a good wife, you don’t go looking for one in bars. You go to church and find one.” Though I did not exactly follow his instructions—he told me this after I was married—I followed a slightly different route, which is maybe even better: Pray to the Lord to send you a wife, and then watch closely whom He sends to you, just as you watch for friends that He sends you, and one of these will be your wife. It goes without saying—or does it?—that you are living a life of discipleship when you make this prayer.

How simple all of life is, especially family life and our circle of relationships, when we follow the commandments! Jesus says, “If you love Me, you will follow my commandments.” That’s what I’m talking about, not some rigorous set of rules whether biblical or self-improvement-minded, neither of which will ever succeed in really making anyone better. “Branch out for a time they may, but when you look for them they will be gone, vanished like their vain hopes.” Christ is at once the source of all righteousness, the way to it, and the achievement of it. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” says Jesus (John 14:6).

Even being raised in a pious family, a son does not become a Christian by magic. As soon as he reaches the age of independent decision, his parents’ faith no longer speaks for him the moment he makes the conscious choice to take the world for his friend, instead of God. Even after making that choice, he can repent, and God our heavenly Father, can and will take him back. But just as the father of the prodigal son did not restrain that son from the choices he made, neither does God, or the parents, restrain him or constrain him. They may advise, they may teach, they certainly must pray for him to turn away from his friendship with the world, but they cannot force him to give it up. He must want a better friendship.

So it is, that a man who has taken the world for his friend no longer thinks of God, except of the punishment that he will receive after everything he does is done and his life is over—if there is a God.

Instead of memories of a youth spent in innocent fun and friendships, he finds memories only of riotous relationships, infidelities, the waste of his virginity and that of one he might have truly loved and been wedded to, and years of profound loss: spoiled friendships, missed opportunities, time and money wasted, and all for what? Now the mercy of God can only drive him to even more miserable states, to where he, like the prodigal son feeding unclean animals (pigs) and not even being given their slop for food, finds himself at another point of decision: To utterly despair, or to return to his Father.

Rather than flee from house to house, or from town to town, to escape his brown girls and their offspring, like John of Puritania this son needs to turn around and start traveling Home, facing East. The road back will look very different than that same road looked when he made the world his friend and followed it to the place of bondage. By making God, in Christ, his Friend, the road will turn into something very, very narrow, but he won’t mind that, because he will hear his Friend going ahead of him, saying, “Follow Me.”

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Patriarch Irinej of Serbia, Many Years!

His Holiness Irinej, Archbishop of Pec, Metropolitan of Belgrade and Karlovac and Patriarch of Serbia, was enthroned today at the Cathedral Church in Belgrade.

Christ among us, not an ideology

…the Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or—if they think there is not—at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think that God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.

And let me make it quite clear that when Christians say the Christ-life is in them, they do not mean simply something mental or moral. When they speak of being "in Christ" or of Christ being "in them," this is not simply a way of saying that they are thinking about Christ or copying Him. They mean that Christ is actually operating through them; that the whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts—that we are His fingers and muscles, the cells of His body. And perhaps that explains one or two things. It explains why this new life is spread not only by purely mental acts like belief, but by bodily acts like baptism and Holy Communion. It is not merely the spreading of an idea; it is more like evolution—a biological or super-biological fact. There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.

— C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 2, What Christians Believe, Chapter 5, The Practical Conclusion

Thursday, January 21, 2010

House Church

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


— William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming (1919)

These lines, written in the aftermath of the Great War (1914-1918) could very well have been written as the prologue to the new age in which we live, an age even closer to the Day than any that have passed before. This is probably when the ‘Church Age’ actually ended, though we didn’t notice it at the time. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, living as they always have on the edge of their seats waiting for the Second Coming, declared that it had come, only it was a ‘spiritual’ event in the heavens, whose manifestation would not yet be revealed for some time—so much for false prophecy!

The Church Age has ended?
Well, this is a statement that will have a multitude of meanings for people. What I mean by it is, the age when the Christian Church was at its pinnacle of earthly power and influence, had definitely come to an end. For sure, in many places, down to this very day, the Church Age has not come to an end, though these are local instances of it, some related to sectarian or ethnic bases. In general, however, the Church Age is over. That’s why we can no longer speak of England or America as ‘Christian nations.’ The underlying culture is ‘Christian,’ but what is now built on that foundation is anything but Christian.

Hence, we have churches struggling to find ways to perpetuate themselves as institutions, to regain relevance for their version of Christianity. Some have morphed into reflections of the world with only a thin overlay of selective ‘Christian’ ideology, by this hoping to claim their share of the demographic pie. Others, more at a grass roots level and intending fidelity to what the Bible actually teaches, have snubbed authority structures, denominational labels and history, and organized themselves as house churches. ‘After all, that’s what the early Christians did.’ They do well to fellowship and worship in an environment at once familiar and spiritual. This is, in fact, an appropriate format for the Christian koinonia for an age like ours, but wait—there is more!

The visible Church, “as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners” (C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters) is the aggregate result of the fundamental reality of the invisible Church, “an ordinary simple Christian kneels down to say his prayers” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity). What we see and experience when we ‘go to church’ is going to be the net result of what we, and everyone else, have invested of our ‘real’ lives, individually and in our families, in the following of Jesus, and in the worship of our heavenly Father ‘in spirit and in truth.’ The witness and ministry of the Church rests squarely on the foundation of the families and individuals that effectively constitute—the house church.

For that’s the real truth about the ‘house church’: it is the Christian family. Even in the first few generations of believers, though a larger group met together at someone’s house, the family that occupied that house was the house church. Larger and wealthier families had larger houses, and those would later evolve into the building for worship that early began to be called a ‘church.’

If today we see churches in disarray, worship services that are not reverent and focused not on God but on the people, should we be surprised? The Roman Catholics turned the altar away from ‘facing East’ toward the Deity, and towards the people, returning the altar to the dinner table it started out as. The concept isn’t wrong per se, but in so doing that community demonstrated that it too had fallen into confusion about what worship is, what fellowship is, and sacrificed the one for the other. This, however, is not the mind of Christ or of the Church. We meet the Lord in both places, at the altar, and in dining together. Each is distinct and proves that Christ is indeed among us, whenever and wherever we gather (it goes without saying) in His name.

Tampering with communal worship is one of the first signs that the house church isn’t really happening, though the need for it remains. The Christian family, as has been received by Orthodox Christians, is the house church, the basic building block of the temple of the living God. It is within the family that God’s Kingdom is taught and learned to be put first, the Word of God honored and given the highest place, the virtues of order and self-discipline practiced and handed over (with the rest of tradition) from the older to the younger generation, and brotherly love firmly planted in every soul.

If there are no house churches, then a non-liturgical Christian assembly tries to create one in its communal life, but it is out-scaled and the efforts result in useless rounds of novelty that satisfy no one and do not please God, who seeks only the salvation of our souls.
If there are no house churches, then a liturgical Christian community, the Orthodox for example, can devolve from an extended family of house churches that lives, prays, ministers, witnesses and worships in spirit and truth, into a mere mechanical performance of now meaningless and irrelevant rituals, and the need which the house church satisfies remains unfulfilled.

The family as house church thus divides all Christians into the haves and have-nots. “I tell you, 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 Jerusalem Bible). It all comes down to ‘what are you doing at home?’

When my family first came to the Orthodox Church (we had been evangelical Episcopalians), we were presented a copy of the book Making God Real in the Orthodox Christian Home by Fr Anthony Coniaris. We didn’t have to buy a copy. The Church just gave it to us as part of our ‘welcome package,’ because the idea of house church had to be impressed on us, as on any new Orthodox, right from the beginning. It was a priority then. What our new brethren and priests didn’t know about us, was that we were already living that way, even as Episcopalians. Daily prayer and bible reading as a family, daily instruction, observing the fasts, including the children in every spiritual activity according to their age and capacity. The book they gave us merely reinforced what we already were doing—being a house church.

“Staying over at our house,” warned one of my sons to his friends, “is like sleeping in a church.”

Yet, being a house church is not living in a religious and sanctimonious environment. Discipline, due respect and proper ceremony have their places, but being a house church is not the same as the game we used to play when I was a child, or that I even used to play with my sons when they were very small—having processions, practicing liturgical gestures, etc. We always knew we were ‘just pretending,’ but that’s how becoming a real Christian usually starts out. Children play at what they want to be when they grow up, and so we, like children raising other children, played at being followers of Jesus, so that in the end that’s what we would be—all of us.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
Matthew 6:33 New King James Version

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The sumptuous banquet of the Word

Today is the Sunday of Zacchaeus, just one week before the beginning of Triodion, the Orthodox division of chrónos time in which we make our preparations for the journey to Pascha, to the new paradise of the Tree of Life, the cross on which our Savior Jesus Christ hung as a ripe fruit, beckoning us to eat of it, that we might live forever. “I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world” (John 6:51).

The entrance gate to that new paradise is not permanently locked as was the gate to the old, from whence our first forefathers Adam and Eve were expelled for their transgressions, and we for ours. We have been invited, no, commanded, to open that gate and to enter, to seek Him whom our heart loves (cf. Song of Songs, 1:7), and we have been shown how, in the example of Zacchaeus, a man who though rich had come up short in his accounts with the Master, yet who was called to welcome the Lord into his house.

He entered Jericho and was going through the town when a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance; he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man. He was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see Him for the crowd; so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way.

When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him,
‘Zacchaeus, come down! Hurry, because I must stay at your house today!’

And he hurried down and welcomed Him joyfully. They all complained when they saw what was happening. ‘He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house,’ they said. But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’

And Jesus said to him,
‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.’

Luke 19:1-10 Jerusalem Bible

How can anyone who hears this true story not feel his spirit leap within him? Another chance to make good on everything that I have ruined, another chance to welcome back joy into my shattered life. Though I have filled my house with every good thing, it has been through pillaging what was not mine. Though I have exploited the poor, defrauded widows and orphans, He has seen hidden inside me the man that He created, and He is giving me another chance. He is letting me serve Him, letting me dine with Him, in my own house which He now has made His. “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.”

And so the Word of God comes to our personal Jericho, and we, having heard of Him, maybe knowing more about Him than we care to admit, run ahead to find a comfortable spot from which to view this parade of His followers, and actually lay our eyes on Him. All we wanted to do was just that—take a look. But what happens to us proves beyond all shadow of a doubt, that His love bestows on us more than we bargained for. Though we thought, ‘I am one of so many, I can hide among the leafy branches above this crowd, and see Him without being noticed,’ He sees us.

The crowd doesn’t see us, no matter what we do, good or bad, whether we try to be visible or invisible. No one ever sees us as we really are. We don’t even see ourselves. Yet we cannot hide from the One who made us, and who is all Eye. Though Jesus had never seen him in this world, He looked up and saw Zacchaeus and called him out by name, just as He calls each of us by name. ‘How do you know me?’ asks another man whom Jesus called by name. For that man, as for Zacchaeus, there was no gradual development into a follower of Christ; it happened in an instant, in a moment of kairós time
(cf. John 1:48).

It always must be this way. Jesus doesn’t wait. He calls us, and we either respond, or not. What must it feel like to be someone who has heard the voice of Jesus, and still turned away?

So Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus Christ into his home, prepared a feast, and dined with the Lord. No one had to tell him what to say or do. “Blessed are you... because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17 NASB), he just said it, and did it. “I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.” Zacchaeus returned to his senses, drawn back to reason by the Son of Man, remembered the covenant, came back to the commandments. Why? Because he heard the voice of Jesus say, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham.”

We too are the sons and daughters, not only of Abraham, but of God our heavenly Father, through Christ our heavenly Brother, Friend, Master and Lord, who says to us, “I shall not call you servants any more, because a servant does not know his master’s business; I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father” (John 15:15 JB) and “You are My friends, if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).

What an opportunity! Jesus calls us by name—even if we don’t know Him, He knows us—to the sumptuous banquet of the Word! With Zacchaeus, let’s return everything that doesn’t belong to us—sin itself—so that we can travel light, as we run the way of His commandments, because He has set us free.

Remember these things

I will show you another work that can establish man firmly on his way from beginning to end. It is to love God with all his heart and intention and to worship Him. God will then give him great strength and joy, and all the works of God will become to him as sweet as honeycomb. So will all labors of the body become light and sweet, along with his meditation, vigil and carrying the Lord's yoke.

However, on account of God's love for man, He unleashes upon him adversities so as not to be conceited, but stand firm in his struggle and proceed further in his growth. Instead of strength he feels languor and feebleness, instead of joy, sadness; instead of sweetness, bitterness. Many similar things befall him who loves God. Nevertheless, he is all the more strengthened in his struggle against them and eventually overcomes them. Once he does so, the Spirit of God stands by him in all things and strengthens him so as never to fear anything evil.

Friday, January 15, 2010

If you were praying...


...for Nancy, who was suffering acutely from her fifth bout with cancer, and who had decided (with her husband’s agreement) to seek relief in assisted suicide, I am reasonably certain that she has passed away. The family's privacy needs must be very extreme, as I haven't found a public death notice, and it was only today that I found out by making some careful personal enquiries, that she may have died last Saturday. May God have mercy on her and her family.

Thank you, brethren, who have been praying for her since I first brought her grievous sickness
to our attention. Now, let's just pray for her husband and son to have courage to carry on.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

In You, Yahweh, I take shelter…


It is impossible to read the Psalms and not come away with more than you have given. The Lord speaks to us through them to the very details of our lives, answering all our concerns, all our prayers even before we ask Him. He is a good and loving God.

Psalm 71, one of the Psalms appointed for the fourteenth day of the month, always stops me in my tracks, especially when I read the words,
“To many I have seemed an enigma…” How true, Lord, how true! This was true when I used to pray this Psalm twenty-five years ago, and it’s still true today, but so is the second half of that verse, “but You are my firm refuge.”

God is faithful. He maintains us in our first call, and in our first love. All we have to do is stay close to Him.


Psalms for the 14th Day
71 72 73 74

Psalm 71
An old man's prayer

In You, Yahweh, I take shelter;
never let me be disgraced.
In Your righteousness rescue me, deliver me,
turn Your ear to me and save me!

Be a sheltering rock for me,
a walled fortress to save me!
For You are my rock, my fortress.
My God, rescue me from the hands of the wicked,
from the clutches of rogue and tyrant!

For You alone are my hope, Lord,
Yahweh, I have trusted You since my youth,
I have relied on You since I was born,
You have been my portion from my mother's womb,
and the constant theme of my praise.

To many I have seemed an enigma,
but You are my firm refuge.
My mouth is full of Your praises,
filled with Your splendour all day long.

Do not reject me, now I am old,
nor desert me, now my strength is failing,
for my enemies are uttering threats,
spies hatching their conspiracy:

‘Hound him down now that God has deserted him,
seize him, there is no one to rescue him!’
God, do not stand aside,
my God, come quickly and help me!

Shame and ruin on those
who attack me;
may insult and disgrace cover those
whose aim is to hurt me!

I promise that, ever hopeful,
I will praise You more and more,
my lips shall proclaim Your righteousness
and power to save, all day long.

I will come in the power of Yahweh
to commemorate Your righteousness, Yours alone.
God, You taught me when I was young,
and I am still proclaiming Your marvels.

Now that I am old and grey,
God, do not desert me;
let me live to tell the rising generation
about Your strength and power,
about Your heavenly righteousness, God.

You have done great things;
who, God, is comparable to You?
You have sent me misery and hardship,
but You will give me life again,
You will pull me up again from the depths of the earth,
prolong my old age, and once more comfort me.

I promise I will thank You on the lyre,
my ever-faithful God,
I will play the harp in Your honour,
Holy One of Israel.

My lips shall sing for joy as I play to You,
and this soul of mine which You have redeemed.
All day long, my tongue
shall be talking of Your righteousness.
Shame and disgrace on those
whose aim is to hurt me!

[Amín!]

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Da’at – דעת

Polytheism is man’s guess at God.

It’s not so much the plurality that is the problem, but the fact that it’s man making God in his image.

A manufactured God is still only an idea, and regardless of how beautiful or how true the stories about the gods are, they don’t lead anywhere, they only entertain.

That’s why even a monotheism that is man’s guess at God is no good, cannot raise us to a higher state of being, cannot save us or bestow life to those in the tombs. All it can do is incite us to efface and destroy the evidences of the common lie, that man can and does make up God or gods in our image. If it buries every polytheism or monotheism that is not itself, perhaps it will not be noticed that it too is a lie. Since human freedom results in abuse of freedom, it seeks to eliminate freedom because it has no power to grant true freedom.

Then, we are right to be atheists, if it is these gods or that God that we refuse to believe in. Until the revelation of the true and only God, an honest man must be an atheist. If God does not reveal Himself, we have nothing to go on, only speculation.

When God does reveal Himself, we find that all our ideas about Him fall short. We finally see that we have been wrong all along about Him, except for our guess that He must be.

When God reveals Himself, we discover that He is One after all, because His love, His will, and all His acts are one. When God reveals Himself, we experience that He is more than one because He is among us.

Our guesses about Him no longer must be judged as right or wrong, because now we know they were only stories, only ideas that we had made, without power to help or hinder us, to free or enslave us.

The games we played when we were children are finally over.
The real life has begun, we can now be men, we can think and speak and act, as men.

The Real Life has come, the desired of the ages has arrived.
It is only Jesus.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

For no other reason

Commandments.

A new wife willingly submits to her husband in all things as to her lord, and he lays down his life for her in all things, loving her as he loves himself. These are commandments, but why do they do them?
For no other reason, but love.

A son patiently listens to his old father’s advice, given unasked again and again, and continues to abide by his old mother’s household rules, fussy though they seem. This is commandment, but why does he fulfill it?
For no other reason, but love.

I have heard of people—indeed, I have seen them and known them—who go about performing their acts of righteousness without a hint of joy, carrying their burdens as if they were heavy, and bullying others, even trying to impose their unhappy fate on them.

Then, I have met people who, pretending to be amicable and full of joy beneath masks of boastfulness, flaunt their freedom from commandments, and solicit our approval of their immorality by the nice way they greet and treat us.

Last night, I was helping a young married couple move out of their old place to a new townhouse just around the corner. Just as we were loading the last few items into my van, another red vehicle almost identical to mine pulled up in the spot next to us.

A dad who looked about my age hopped out of the driver’s seat, followed by a young couple from the other side, and after a mutual greeting between us, they explained they were moving into the townhouse right next door.

After propping the house door open, the kids started carrying small items in. I assumed this was another young couple, “twenty-somethings,” moving in with the assistance of one of their dads, not an uncommon situation. I’ve done things like this.

The dad waxed very loquacious with me and the mom of the young couple I was helping. “Yeah, I’ve had five kids, and done this moving thing a lot. This is my daughter, one of the five. She’s 23 and all ready to live on her own.”

“Oh, she’s moving in by herself?” we asked. “Well, yeah, but I’m sure her boyfriend will be spending most of his time here,” responded the dad with a little laugh and a mischievous look on his face. Ah, so he knew, he even expected, this. He approved.

This is not going to be a rant about young men and women sleeping together and making love before they are married. This way of “courtship” is now almost universal, even in the case of church-going young adults. It’d be embarrassing to be a 26 year old virgin.

Modern churches, like modern society, being accustomed to a “cart before the horse” mentality—that’s what the automobile age has brought us—little preach or teach biblical morality, or if they do, they practice “safe sex” with their members: “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” It’s better for all concerned.

“Cart before the horse” mentality? Yes.

Communion before (or without) confessing the faith: the means to unity, not the fruit of it.

The “Christmas season,” not the 12 days starting with Christmas and ending with Epiphany, the culmination and satisfaction of the 40 days of fasting leading up to it, but the two months starting practically with Hallowe’en: the means to happiness, but not happiness, or even joy, itself.

Living together, with all that it implies, as a sort of “practice run”—though not a dry run—of the idea of marriage: Like the offer of a “no strings attached” trial of a confidently good product such as the Oreck vacuum cleaner.

“No strings attached” means you can return it with no loss to you, not exactly the same as a “money back guarantee,” but in either case, the offer is simply not unconditional or free.

Virginity is a gift that a man brings a woman, and a woman brings a man. It’s a gift that can only be offered once. There’s no taking it back, either. Why is it we’re not troubled by these uncomfortable words? “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one.” (Ephesians 5:31) Don’t we ever wonder what this means?

Back to the dad helping his daughter move into her new place, with her boyfriend’s help. Friendly people, comfortable to be around, affable. Commandments? What are they? What do you say? They’re things that God (whoever or whatever that is) wants us to do or to refrain from doing? Oh, I see, you mean the “thou shalt not’s”.
Give me a break. We’re not 5 year olds!

Commandments.

The positive ones are like invitations from an impossibly wealthy Benefactor to perform a simple task, so that He can reward you.

The negative ones are like lines that you must not, at all costs, cross. It’s the same Benefactor, but now He’s warning you of imminent disaster.

Think of the lines painted on millions of miles of automobile roads all over the planet. Have you ever noticed that no one, but no one, and especially during rush hour, just drives his car meandering all over the highway in total disregard of the lines? What would happen if he did is too terrible to imagine. We have all witnessed terrifying things on the road, a car veers out of its lane—the driver distracted, drunk, or even having a heart attack or stroke—and in no time at all an often fatal pile up of fast-moving vehicles takes place.

If only we could see that the lines we’re commanded not to cross are like that.

Every action has its consequences, yet because we no longer really believe in “cause and effect” we are like drivers who play hop-scotch on highways during rush hour, dodging in and out of traffic to get where they want to be faster than anyone else. We believe in luck, if we believe in anything. Yet, even luck runs out in the end, for everyone who relies on it.

Why do we follow the commandments? Is it to “gain heaven,” or earn our way into a respectable family? Are our good deeds like bargaining chips which we’ll be able to bring to the table of eternity? Can they pile up like the “excess merits of the saints?”

No, as holy prophet Isaiah sings,

Like a young man marrying a virgin,
so will the One who built you wed you,
and as the Bridegroom
rejoices in His Bride,
so will your God rejoice in you.
Isaiah 62:5 Jerusalem Bible

Someone loves us like that, and we in turn have no desire anymore but to return that love.

Commandments? They are our joy, we fulfill them, we follow them because we follow Him who is our Joy, and all for no other reason, but love.

I run the way of Your commandments,
since You have set me free.
Psalm 119:32 JB

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Breaking bread together


The Lord’s supper.

If there is one thing that characterizes true Christianity in a way that almost no other faith community has, it’s the priority that the followers of Jesus give to eating together.

If you think of this idea in churchly terms, we have the word “eucharist” that defines for the (numerical) majority of Christians the most important aspect of communal worship. The Orthodox have the Divine Liturgy which includes (as part 2 of 2) the Liturgy of the Gifts (another name for the Eucharist). The Roman Catholics have the mass. The “high church” Protestants (for lack of a better term) have the Holy Communion or Eucharist. Almost all other groups calling themselves “Christian” have some form of “breaking bread with one another” that is ceremonially administered and commemorative of the last supper of Jesus with His disciples, which was a modified Passover seder (by most accounts). Only groups like the Salvation Army and the Quakers do not make much of this, and not because they’re not truly Christian, but just because they spiritualize the concept of communion with Jesus and other believers to the degree where outward signs are abolished.

Still, almost no other faith community puts “feeding together” on such a high level as Christianity. At the same time, many or most Christians somehow lose part of the meaning and experience of this “communion” by restricting it to “the Lord’s table” as enacted as part of church services, not making the connexion that any and every act of dining with others can partake of the same real Presence that is experienced in the services.

I just realised this morning, after talking to my best friend, who is away for an indefinite period of time, on the telephone, how much I miss him, and the first image that came to mind was, how much I miss having breakfast, lunch or dinner with him. Though our friendship has many aspects and a wealth of shared experience, learning together, working together on projects, and witnessing for Christ together, it’s sitting down at table together, just he and I, eating, drinking and fellowshipping, that somehow is the apex of our friendship. When we are dining together, I experience Christ in our midst to an incredible degree. He is always with us, but I experience that Presence most when having supper with my friend. It seems like it's always been this way.

Thinking along these lines, I remembered just last night going to dinner with a mother and daughter after the four of us (yes, the daughter’s husband worked too, but had to go to his “real job” at the plumbing store and missed eating with us) had spent all day moving the young couple into their new townhouse. We are all Christians, and we dined together with Christ and had wonderful fellowship with one another, and then ordered some “take out” to share with the young husband when he returned home from work. To eat together satisfied our tired and hungry frames, but we were fed far more than the sum total of what we ate and drank. As Jesus says, “I have food to eat that you do not know about” (John 4:32), and “My food is to do the will of the One who sent Me, and to complete His work” (John 4:34).

How sad it is to have to eat and drink alone!
If food and drink were all that we required to truly feed us, this would be no problem, but it isn’t. When I have to eat alone, often (though not always, and I’ll explain later) it is a quick food break. I grab a sandwich, a drink and a book, sit down, wolf it down, read a few lines, and then I’m up and off to work or wherever, and my stomach is no longer growling, but it’s almost as if I hadn’t eaten at all.

When I am eating with even one other person and we are fellowshipping together as we eat and drink, I almost forget the food and am fed more by the interaction of our minds and spirits than I am by the food. This is when I am with others who are followers of Jesus, and even when we are not talking directly about Him, our conversation is still in His Presence, and He is among us, and our time together is so full of Him, that we feed on that Bread that He gives by which we live forever. The earthly food, as good as it can be, is just a condiment.

There are times, though, when I do relish eating and drinking alone, but at those times it is intentional, and I really am not alone, and neither do I dine alone, “for He is with me. His rod and His staff comfort me” (cf. Psalm 23). When a dear brother or sister is not with me, the Word of God still is, and the Book goes with me wherever I go, and internal Prayer “prepares a table for me, even in the presence of my enemies,” and so I do not dine alone, but with Him “whom the world cannot grasp” (cf. John 1:5).

To all my brethren and friends in Christ I say, I cannot wait to dine with you in person and in the Presence of our risen and living Lord Jesus, and may He grant it to come to pass, both now in this world and in the life of the world to come.

Christ is born! Glorify Him! He is among us!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Who forgives sin?

To suggest to someone that the Christian faith might work better for them in a life crisis than the religion or philosophy they are perceived to hold does nothing but pit one religion against another. It also underscores the American mentality about religions in general, which is quickly becoming the world mentality: Religion is a commodity or product, and as such, religions can be compared and selected based on ROI (return on investment), versatility, customer service, and even by what’s covered in their (limited) warranties. This is especially evident in the world of media and mega-church embodiments of “Christianity.” There are auto rows, where all the car dealers are lined up in one place. There are also, in some places, church rows. Acres and acres of parking and stadium-like worship centers, some boasting as many as six or eight services on a Sunday. (Luckily, their main product, ecstatic, entertaining “worship” is usually available only one day a week. Their God has apparently turned tables on the biblical division of time. Instead of work six days, rest one, it is work one day, rest six.) See also Commoditized Religion, a poem by Jim Swindle.

It is not what “the Christian faith” has to offer a man who has been publicly caught in a private sin that will do him any good. At this level we’re still comparing apples to oranges, still some kind of home remedy. Buddhism is rarely practiced, even in America, but there are many people who, admiring some of its ideas and imitating some of its practices as a leisure activity, consider themselves “Buddhist.”

Just the other day, having a friendly chat with a cashier at a large book store, a French woman who described herself as a “Buddhist,” I experienced a little of the depth of her painful past, and patiently listened as she blamed her unhappy girlhood as a Catholic on the Christian God. She actually opened up the chat, noticing I was buying a book on linguistics, and proudly announced that she had a favorite new word, “isangelous,” and asked me if I knew what it meant.

“Well,” I said, “it sounds like a Greek word, but I can’t tell for sure from the way you’re pronouncing it.” She offered to write it down, and handed it to me on a slip of paper. “Oui,” I said, switching over into her native French, “c’est un mot grec,” and continuing, I told her it was a Greek word meaning “equal to an angel” much as the word, “isapostolos” means “equal to an apostle,” which is a title, I explained, that the Greek church gives to men and women whose life and work in Christ was comparable to the apostles. Then, switching back and forth between French and English we had a friendly dialogue, talking about what an angel is—pas ces bébés à ailes dans les peintures de la Renaissance, “not those flying babies in the Renaissance paintings!”—even talking about Christ, and as I took my leave with a “bon soir,” she said, “Hope to see you again.”

If being forgiven for sin were simply a matter of feeling good about yourself again, then, yes, probably any religion or philosophical or self-help discipline would work, and some might work better than others. The thing about Buddhism, for example, and the Buddha, is that though it expresses itself as a religion, it is fundamentally not about God (there is none) but about the unending struggle throughout space and time of numberless consciousnesses to extinguish their illusion of separateness. To follow Buddha and be a Buddhist, you accept that theory of “how things are” and you integrate yourself into that, hoping for the best, but knowing that your life is still ultimately your responsibility. Even the Buddha can’t change that.

But being forgiven for sin is not just about feeling good again. It’s about gratitude to our Owner, to the One who made us, whom we acknowledge as our Creator and even more, our Father, because of a new relationship and a new form of being that has been bestowed on us by Someone who is at one and the same time a man and “beyond being.”

Being forgiven for sin is to hear that Someone speak His Word into our torn and ravaged hearts, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”

Do we do what He says? Can we do it? We try, and yet somehow we fail again. Are we abandoned? Does He leave us in our sins and turn away from us in impatience and disgust? No, He doesn’t. He knows that His work in us, from our point of view, is not the work of an instant, though to Him it is. He worked hard to create us, even harder to redeem us. Do you think after all that, He would turn away from us? No, only we might turn away from Him.

Tell a man who is in bondage to sin not about “the Christian faith,” but about Christ. Tell a woman caught in the act of adultery—or a man caught in it—what the Master says to them, not what you say to them. He is more gracious, more forgiving, more loving than we are. In fact, He is the Only Lover of mankind. The rest of us are just trying to follow Him and do what we see Him doing. Some people said of Him, “How dare he presume to forgive sins! Only God can forgive sin!” True, and we agree with them, but in a different way: No one can forgive like That Man, and that man is Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

All is nothing, except by faith

Last night, the beautiful vesperal liturgy of Theophany was celebrated, followed immediately by the Great Blessing of the Waters. “The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you and were afraid. The Jordan turned back when it saw the fire of the godhead descending in bodily form and entering it.” The priests chanted, the ikon of the life-giving cross was immersed in the font of water, the Holy Spirit was invoked and petitioned to enter the waters, so that they would become for us life-giving and healing. Afterwards, we lined up to receive our first drink of those blessed waters, and to receive a small bottle of the same to take away with us and use to bless our homes. Outwardly, to some, this might seem like a magical vestige of ancient superstitious belief, but holy water is not magic. Whether or not the Holy Spirit literally enters the waters and in some objective sense remains in them for our healing, the water remains water, and the blessing we receive still comes to us by faith. Either all the waters of the earth have received the Lord of Life and have become blessed till the end of time, or none have. As one of my sons said when a three-year old entering a church with me as we past a holy water font, “Dad, all water is holy water!”

We drink the holy water, and use it to bless ourselves, yet we still fall into sin, sometimes right after drinking it. How little faith we have! We say, ‘What are we to eat? What are we to drink? What are we to wear?’ But it is for the pagans to run after these things, not for us. What we chiefly need to run after is not these things. “Seek after the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness before everything else, and all these other things will be given us as well.” Yet not just in terms of these generalities, even the holy water cannot keep us from wrongful desire or malice towards others or even against ourselves. We suffer the old man in us to continue to afflict us, though himself dead, and we are loathe to let him go. Christ have mercy! We trust You, Lord, but help the little faith we have!

A very dear friend of mine sits today with his son and their dying wife and mother, grieving for the end, because her suffering is acute, unbearable to the point where they have opted for euthanasia—not the ‘good death’ we pray for in every liturgy, but what the world calls ‘good death.’ The poison is to arrive today, and this dying sister wants it to be administered right away. She has made her farewells, and after suffering now for the fifth time the reoccurrence of the fatal disease, having no more will or strength to undergo a doubtful remedy, is ready to depart this life. After today, she will not be in this world anymore. We will look for her, and not find her.

We all know that mercy killing is wrong until we find ourselves in that very small room with ourselves, our loved one, and hopefully Christ. It is no longer ‘the whole world’ that we are among, letting its yeas and nays direct our lives and our opinions. No, we are now cornered, our backs against a wall and facing the enemy in our last battle. Yes, the Lord is with us, but do we know that? Do we believe that? In that tiny room, do we know He is there with us? Will He step in and save the day, and make everything right again?

Yes, but maybe not in the way we wanted, or expected.

Not many of the people among whom I live read my blog or even know about it, so I feel safe to ask you, brethren and friends, to pray for Nancy (her real name) as soon as you read my plea, for God’s will to be done, and for the salvation of her soul, if she surrenders her life this day. There is always time for a miracle, if it is God’s will. We don’t know His purposes, but we do know His faithfulness and His loving-kindness. He is the only lover of mankind, and in this as in all things, we turn to him in our weakness for Him to be our strength.

Christ, who is baptized in the Jordan for our transgression this day,
have mercy on us!

The life of Christ, lived in us

An excellent article by Fr Stephen to which I would direct your attention, Having Then Gifts Differing, contains the following passages which speak strongly to my mind and to some of the thoughts that I have been struggling with for years. What he says here also helps me to understand why I was so disturbed by what was going on in my local church recently. Thankfully, that difficult time has passed, and we're already on the road to recovery. I won't explain any further, but let you read these passages, and hopefully use the link to read Fr Stephen's entire post. Those of you who know me personally, or even those who have shared these troubling times with me, will already know why I am encouraged by these words…

The question, “What is my place in the Church?” seems to me to be a question whose origin is to be found more in the culture of our modern economy and its view of the human than it is to be found anywhere within the pages of Holy Scripture.

…“What good thing must I do to be saved?”

This is not a question (in its original meaning) of “what must I do in order to earn my salvation?” There is no question of merit whatsoever. “What must I do to be saved?” is one of the primary questions asked within the pages of the gospel. Christ directs the rich young ruler to the commandments within the Law. When pressed, He answers the young man more directly, “Sell what you have, give to the poor and come and follow me.” The young man goes away sad. Today the young man might say, “But what will be my role within the Church?”

Our role within the Church is to seek our salvation – to follow Christ.

We may indeed have gifts that differ (how can we not?) but our gifting is not about ourselves but about our service to others. And our service to others is not about ourselves (watching ourselves “do ministry”).

All ministry is simply the act of love – whatever form it takes.
And if it is not love, it is not the ministry which Christ gives.

The failure to seek salvation – always and at all times – is a failure which is a distraction. We are too easily distracted by our “ministry,” when that ministry is about our own “role.”
A Reader “sees” himself reading instead of simply praying to read well for the benefit of others. A priest becomes aware of his “place” within the Church rather than simply doing those things which a priest must do.

Of course, we are fallen creatures and our life within the Church is easily corrupted.

But it will be less corrupted if we do not import into that life the false images created by our economy. For the vision offered by our economic life is itself false: “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (Matt. 6:25). Our existence is not defined by our job titles nor our careers. Nor is our life in the Church defined by our job title – even though the title may sound spiritual.

Our life within the Church is lived towards salvation when it is the life of Christ, lived in us. That life is manifest when it is consistently laid aside for others. It is the shape of love at work within us.