Sunday, October 31, 2010
Insist that people stop teaching strange doctrines and taking notice of myths and endless geneologies; these things are only likely to raise irrelevant doubts instead of furthering the designs of God which are revealed in faith.
1 Timothy 1:3b-4
The only purpose of this instruction is that there should be love, coming out of a pure heart, and clear conscience, and a sincere faith. There are some people who have gone off the straight course and taken a path that leads to empty speculation.
1 Timothy 1:5-6
Here is a saying that you can rely on and nobody should doubt: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
1 Timothy 1:15
Fight like a good soldier with faith and a good conscience for your weapons. Some people have put conscience aside and wrecked their faith in consequence.
1 Timothy 1:18b-19
There should be prayers offered for everyone—petitions, intercessions and thanksgiving—and especially for kings and others in authority, so that we may be able to live religious and reverent lives in peace and quiet. To do this is right and will please God our Savior: He wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-4
The Spirit has explicitly said that during the last times there will be some who will desert the faith and choose to listen to deceitful spirits and doctrines that come from devils; and the cause of this is the lies told by hypocrites whose consciences are branded as though with a red-hot iron.
1 Timothy 4:1-2
Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself spiritually. Physical exercises are useful enough, but the usefulness of spirituality is unlimited, since it holds out the reward of life here and now, and of the future life as well.
1 Timothy 4:7-8
The point of all our toiling and battling is that we have put our trust in the living God, and He is the Savior of the whole human race, but particularly of all believers.
1 Timothy 4:10
Be an example to all the believers in the way you speak and behave, and in your love, your faith, and your purity. Make use of the time by reading to the people, preaching and teaching.
1 Timothy 4:12-13
Take great care about what you do and what you teach; always do this, and in this way you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.
1 Timothy 4:16
Anyone who does not look after his own relations, especially if they are living with him, has rejected the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
1 Timothy 5:8
Never make yourself an accomplice in anybody else’s sin. Keep yourself pure.
1 Timothy 5:22b
Anyone who teaches anything different and does not keep to the sound teaching which is that of our Lord Jesus Christ, the doctrine which is in accordance with true religion, is simply ignorant and must be full of self-conceit, with a craze for questioning everything and arguing about words. All that can come of this is jealousy, contention, abuse and wicked mistrust of one another, and unending disputes by people who are neither rational nor informed and imagine that religion is a way of making money.
1 Timothy 6:3-5
We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. As long as we have food and clothing, let us be content with that. People who long to be rich are a prey to temptation. They get trapped into all sorts of foolish and dangerous ambitions which eventually plunge them into ruin and destruction. The love of money is the root of all evils, and there are some who pursuing it have wandered away from the faith.
1 Timothy 6:7-10a
Aim to be saintly and religious, filled with faith and love, patient and gentle.
1 Timothy 6:11
Warn those who are rich in this world’s goods that they are not to look down on other people and not to set their hopes on money which is untrustworthy, but on God who out of His riches gives us all we need for our happiness. Tell them that they are to do good and be rich in good works, to be generous and willing to share.
1 Timothy 6:17-18
Have nothing to do with the pointless philosophical discussions and antagonistic beliefs of the “knowledge” which is no knowledge at all.
1 Timothy 6:20
God’s gift is not a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1:7
You are never to be ashamed of witnessing to the Lord.
2 Timothy 1:8a
God has saved us and called us to be holy, not because of anything we ourselves have done, but for His own purpose and by His own grace.
2 Timothy 1:9
Keep as your pattern the sound teaching, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. You have been trusted to look after something precious. Guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
2 Timothy 1:13-14
Accept the strength that comes from the grace of Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 2:1
You have heard everything. Hand it on to reliable people so that they in turn will be able to teach others.
2 Timothy 2:2
Put up with your share of difficulties like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 2:3
Remember the Good News: Jesus Christ risen from the dead.
2 Timothy 2:8
If we have died with Him, then we shall live with Him.
If we hold firm, then we shall reign with Him.
If we disown Him, then He will disown us.
We may be unfaithful, but He is always Faithful, for He cannot disown
His own self.
2 Timothy 2:11b-13
There is to be no wrangling about words: all that this ever achieves is the destruction of those who are listening.
2 Timothy 2:14
Have nothing to do with pointless philosophical discussions. They only lead further and further away from the true religion. Talk of this kind corrodes like gangrene.
2 Timothy 2:16-17
God’s solid foundation stone is still in position, and this is the inscription on it: “The Lord knows those who are His own,” and “All who call on the Name of the Lord must avoid sin.”
2 Timothy 2:19
Instead of giving in to your impulses, fasten your attention on holiness, faith, love, and peace, in union with all those who call on the Lord with pure minds.
2 Timothy 2:22
Avoid futile and silly speculations, understanding that they only give rise to quarrels. A servant of the Lord is not to engage in quarrels but has to be kind to everyone, a good teacher, and patient. He has to be gentle when he corrects people who dispute what he says, never forgetting that God may give them a change of mind so that they recognise the truth and come to their senses, once out of the trap where the devil caught them and kept them enslaved.
2 Timothy 2:23-26
You may be quite sure that in the last days there are going to be some difficult times. People will be self-centred and grasping, boastful, arrogant, and rude, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, irreligious, heartless and unappeasable. They will be slanderers, profligates, savages, and enemies of everything that is good. They will be treacherous and reckless and demented by pride, preferring their own pleasure to God. They will keep up the outward appearance of religion but will have rejected the inner power of it. Have nothing to do with people like that.
2 Timothy 3:1-5
Anybody who tries to live in devotion to Christ is certain to be attacked.
2 Timothy 3:12
You must keep to what you have been taught and know to be true. Remember who your teachers were.
2 Timothy 3:14
All Scripture is inspired by God and can profitably be used for teaching, for refuting error, for guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be holy.
2 Timothy 3:16
Before God and before Christ Jesus who is to be Judge of the living and the dead, in the name of his Appearing and of his Kingdom: Proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Refute falsehood, correct error, call to obedience. Do all with patience and the intention of teaching. Be careful always to choose the right course. Be brave under trials. Make the preaching of the Good News your life’s work in thoroughgoing service.
2 Timothy 4:1-2, 5
Bring those whom God has chosen to faith and to the knowledge of the truth that leads to true religion, and give them the hope of the eternal life that was promised long ago by God, who does not lie.
Have a firm grasp of the unchanging message of the tradition.
To all who are pure themselves, everything is pure; but to those who have been corrupted and lack faith, nothing can be pure.
Preach the behavior which goes with healthy doctrine.
In everything you do, make yourself an example of working for good.
When you are teaching be an example in your sincerity and earnestness, and in keeping all that you say so wholesome that nobody can make objections to it.
There must be no petty thieving. Show complete honesty at all times.
God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race, and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everthing that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions. We must be self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world while we are waiting for the blessing which will come with the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Christ Jesus. He sacrificed himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people so that it could be His very own and would have no ambition except to do good.
Be ready to do good at every opportunity.
Be courteous and polite to all kinds of people. Remember, there was a time when we too were ignorant, disobedient, and misled and enslaved by different passions and luxuries.
If a man disputes what you teach, then after a first and a second warning, have no more to do with him.
Faith will give rise to a sense of fellowship that will show you all the good things that we are able to do for Christ.
All texts are taken from the Jerusalem Bible (1966).
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Can't help but wonder what's happening
to my companions.
Are they lost or are they found,
Have they counted the cost and taken a run down
Of all the earthly principles
they're gonna have to abandon?
The lyrics are from a Bob Dylan song, Slow Train, that I sing sometimes, especially when I'm feeling sorry for myself, alone, or just 'mad at the world.' The words aren't exactly as he wrote them, but the way I sing them. Today has been a slow, uneventful day, a rest day.
I finished re-reading a book I started weeks ago. Then I picked up a new book that Fr Leo Schefe (photo, right) brought me when he stayed with us for a couple of nights this week.
It's called In the Face of Surrender, and it's by Pastor-Martyr Richard Wurmbrand, the same modern saint that I have written about in this blog. I just picked it up, and the book opened at this chapter, and I want to share it…
Great love for Christ is one of the quickest ways to ascend to a mastery of life. One such master is Bishop Victor Belikh, a Ukrainian Christian whom I met in Kishinev. He had spent twenty-four years in Communist jails. The first twenty he passed in solitary confinement without ever knowing anything about his family and friends. He was allowed no family visits and no correspondence.
I did not feel worthy to stand before such a man. What an honor Jesus gave me to be called "a brother in faith" by such a man, to have become a member of a family that breeds such exemplary humans! But more than that, the possibility is given to each of us to become such conquerors of life. This is not only the grace of God but also assiduous work on your own character. It is as if at birth we are given a block of marble, a hammer, a chisel, and are told, "You can hew out of this the image of an emperor."
Jesus does not wish to be the only most holy Person, but the first among many brothers and sisters of the same kind.
We are all called to be holy.
Men put into Belikh's situiation are rare, but many men in deportation, in labor camps, in places devastated by war and revolution, even many poor in rich countries, have no shelter from the cold. But there is another kind of cold. It is often icy cold in well-to-do homes. Love has grown cold. There is no longer a smile or pleasant gesture for those who were once loved. Spouses, parents, children, friends have become alienated from each other.
In Jesus' time there was no electricity. The smallest light had to be kept burning. There were not even matches to kindle a fire. One had to be very thrifty. Jesus says about himself that "He will not quench a smoking flax." When I was in jail, we blew again and again on what seemed no more than the remembrance of a fire that had gone out, and we succeeded in bringing it to life again.
If everyone around you is icy, don't despair. Ice can be made to melt if the fire of Jesus' love burns in your heart.
So you’ve sinned. You’re afraid, so you hide out. You don’t want your sin to be discovered. You don’t want anyone to know. Least of all Him, even though you don’t acknowledge Him, you don’t want to think of Him, you don’t want others to think that you think of Him.
Join the crowd. It’s certainly not lonely here. There’s so many of us, so many law-breakers, so many who have broken them, broken them all. Yet among us there is not even one who is lawless, not even one who is clothed in shame and guilt. Here, take a look.
Friday, October 29, 2010
We know that God loves you and that you have been chosen because when we brought the Good News to you, it came to you not only as words, but as power, and as the Holy Spirit, and as utter conviction.
You observed the sort of life we lived when we were with you, which was for your instruction, and you were led to become imitators of us and of the Lord, and it was with the joy of the Holy Spirit that you took to the Gospel.
1 Thessalonians 1:4-6
As soon as you heard the message we brought you as God’s message, you accepted it for what it really is, God’s message and not some human thinking, and it is still a living power among you who believe it.
1 Thessalonians 2:13
What God wants is for you all to be holy.
He wants you to keep away from fornication, and each one of you to know how to use the body that belongs to him in a way that is holy and honorable, not giving way to selfish lust like the pagans who do not know God.
He wants nobody at all ever to sin by taking advantage of a brother in these matters.
We have been called by God to be holy, not to be immoral.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-7
Give encouragement to each other and keep strengthening each other.
1 Thessalonians 5:11
Be considerate to those who are working among you and are above you in the Lord as your teachers. Have the greatest respect and affection for them because of their work.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
Be at peace among yourselves.
Warn the idlers.
Give courage to those who are apprehensive.
Care for the weak and be patient with everyone.
Make sure that people do not try to take revenge.
You must all think of what is best for each other and for the community.
Be happy at all times.
Pray constantly, and for all things give thanks to God.
This is what God expects you to do in Christ Jesus.
Never try to suppress the Spirit or treat the gift of prophecy with contempt.
Think before you do anything.
Hold on to what is good and avoid every form of evil.
1 Thessalonians 5:14-22
God chose you from the beginning to be saved by the sanctifying Spirit and by faith in the truth.
2 Thessalonians 2:13b
Stand firm, and keep the traditions we taught you whether by word of mouth or by letter.
2 Thessalonians 2:15
Pray that the Lord’s message may spread quickly and be received with honor.
2 Thessalonians 3:1
Keep away from any of the brothers who refuses to work or to live according to the tradition.
2 Thessalonians 3:6
Never grow tired of doing what is right.
If anyone refuses to obey, have nothing to do with him, so that he will feel that he is in the wrong, though you are not to regard him as an enemy, but as a brother in need of correction.
2 Thessalonians 3:13-15
All texts are taken from the Jerusalem Bible (1966).
He does not preach Church,
he preaches Christ.
In this he follows His Master, who in the gospels does not seek converts, but seeks that which is lost.
Never do we find that Jesus in His earthly ministry went after people. Never do we see Him arguing a philosophical point to win over an opponent. Never does He proselytize, but He does have words for those who do.
Ουαι υμιν γραμματεις και φαρισαιοι υποκριται οτι περιαγετε την θαλασσαν και την ξηραν ποιησαι ενα προσηλυτον και οταν γενηται ποιειτε αυτον υιον γεεννης διπλοτερον υμων.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert,
and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.
Matthew 23:15 NIV
What do we find instead? Two disciples of a Jewish prophet, John the Forerunner, are directed by him, pointing to Jesus walking by and saying, “That is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
What did the two disciples do? They followed after Jesus. Why? Because they believed the word of the prophet. How did they approach Jesus? They asked, “Rabbi, where do you live?” How does Jesus respond? He says, “Come, and see!”
The encounter with the Truth is gentle. There is no compulsion exerted from the outside. Everything is accomplished inwardly. All movement is internal first, in the heart. Then, it is manifested by the feet, running after the Lord.
This is why the follower of Jesus does not argue semantically to win over an opponent. He does not preach Apollos. He doesn’t preach Paul. He doesn’t preach himself. No, he preaches Christ, and Him crucified, and risen from the dead.
People want to draw us into arguments, wrangling over words, but it is precisely this tactic that the evil one used when he wanted to entrap Christ. To every argument, Jesus responded not with human reason, but with the plain words of scripture.
The Word of God does not need to defend Himself.
He simply is what He is.
In the same way, brethren, all who follow Jesus, all who believe and stand on the Word, who preach, like the angel of the last days, the eternal gospel, just preach Christ, to yourself by submitting all your thoughts to the Word of God, to others by proving on the battlefield of your body that you follow Christ the Victor over sin, and to all those whom the Lord places in your path by your courtesy and generosity, and by always having a spirit of welcome, for men have welcomed angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2).
Ostentatious vanity has been de rigueur in the last half of the 20th century, now going into the 21st. The age of circuses is here to stay for the time being and has found new venues to put up the tents. There is no modesty, nor is there privacy. There is no shame.
From the moment a baby is born, it's a show. If you have lots of babies on the same day, it's a series on TLC. Divorcing? There's a show for that. Dysfunctional, abusive parents? A show. Maybe several on different channels. You want to glorify gluttony? Sloth? Greed? Malignant Narcissism? All of the Seven Deadlies! There are shows for each and every one of them, and watching them will teach you the only virtue that there is left: Tolerance.
Why, they'll send out talent scouts to look for new celebrities to be in shows dedicated to every form of excess and perversity! There is nothing that can't be feted, promoted, sold and bought by the drooling masses. Even Death has a show.
Consider Diana, Princess of Wales.
When Princess Diana died in 1997, grief as pornography came out. The handwritten letters, stuffed bears, photos and candles piled up outside of Buckingham Palace were tribute to a goddess who typified the ostentatious vanity and emptiness of our culture. The urgency of prayers uttered by the mob of hopeless worshipers to this sad and vacuous woman were obscene, and no matter where you turned your head to avert your gaze from the spectacle of Diana worship, there was no escaping it. In death she became a kind of Christ, slain for the redemption of our sin against fashion and beauty. Even after the funeral, which was quite a show, indeed, the obscenity of Diana Death pornography in the book shops continued, with endless amounts of over sized, badly written photo books on display. She was as lucrative in death as she had been in life.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
I trust in one God, Father, Almighty, Poet of heaven and earth…
Symbol of Nicaea
People can be beautiful, well-born, well-connected, well-educated, healthy, prosperous, popular. They can be loved, respected, obeyed and even feared (if that’s their wish). They can have everything that they have ever wanted, dreamed of, desired and adored. In spite of all this, they can still be unhappy, depressed, dissatisfied, and even desperate (cf. Ecclesiastes 2). We’ve seen it in novels and movies, heard it sung in songs, met it firsthand in the people around us and, worst of all, experienced it in ourselves. Whether we are beautiful or not, noble or not, famous or not, sophisticated or not, healthy or not, wealthy or not, loved or not, we still find ourselves unhappy, depressed, dissatisfied, and even desperate at times.
This is no accident, as if the Poet of heaven and earth had failed to write us as perfectly complete poems. His poetry, unlike ours, does not simply get written on a page and then wait for a voice to bring it to life. No, His poems once written are living beings, taking on His life, having voices of their own. Voices and, yes, wills, of their own. The poems of the Poet of heaven and earth are alive with His life, and He writes them not quite ready-made. Why is this? Because He wants to see how His poems will fulfill themselves, what lines they will add to present themselves, complete and, yes, perfect before Him and before the whole Universe.
Given everything we need, we are commanded to be fruitful and multiply (cf. Genesis 1:28). Handing over to us His treasures (cf. Matthew 25:14-30), we are commanded to invest them. He goes away, He steps back, He opens for us a room in time and space from which He withdraws, and He watches from behind our wall (cf. Song of Songs, 2:9), to see what we will do. He watches, not waiting for mistakes to correct and punish, but to see what we will do with what He has bestowed on us, each of us receiving a completely unique nature. He wants to see what we will do with that nature, how we will fill the absence. Will it be with a longing for His presence, or with a lust for nothingness. For only He can fill the place in our lives from which He has withdrawn Himself.
What a love, what a trust the Poet of heaven and earth has, that He writes His poems with such life that they become living themselves, that He writes them unfinished, so that they may finish themselves and return to Him a gift that only they can offer. The Poet of heaven and earth is like a husband who withdraws, giving his bride the freedom to love him because she wants to, not because she must, waiting to see her response when he puts his hand through the notch in her door. “My lover thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him” (Song of Songs, 5:4). Will she get up quickly, and run to open to him? Will she delay, and then have to search for him?
Yes, Father, Almighty, the Poet of heaven and earth, and the Divine Logos, and we His poems, written unfinished, so we can complete ourselves by the Voice of the Spirit, the audience hall the Universe, the angels waiting for the Recitation to begin, wondering, hushed in expectation, what will be heard from us on the Last Day (cf. 1 Peter 1:12), what missing lines will be found, what hidden treasures brought to light?
Δόξα σοι ο Θεος, δόξα σοι τω δείξαντι το φως!
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
How could one be? But each has its merits.
My favorite film about Him is Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth, although when I watch it now, after so many years, it starts to feel a little dated. I love it because its casting was carefully done, the characters closely resembling their appearance on Orthodox ikons.
I also appreciate how parables of Jesus are put into a historical framework. The one thing in the film that bothers me, and it bothered me when I first saw it 30 years ago, is where he has Jesus telling Peter, in the scene of 'the keys of the Kingdom' (cf. Matthew 16:18), not '…and on this rock I will build my church,' but instead,
'…I will build what I must call my church.'
Huh!? As if the Son of God had to do anything! Was this an early sign of the beginnings of the 'embarrassment Christianity' that has led many of today's churches to deconstruct themselves and emerge as religious coffeehouses and dance clubs?
Though I have watched Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ and can see what he was attempting to do, in my opinion he did not really succeed. This movie has many intriguing and memorable scenes, and is possibly very close to scripture, using the prophetic utterances of the holy prophet (cf. Isaiah 52) to configure the form of Christ's torture and execution, but the complete absence of Greek and the substitution of Latin, in combination with Aramaic in the dialogs, made it seem inauthentic to me. Gibson was, in my mind, clearly putting out a fundamentalist Roman Catholic message. His idea of using the languages of the film's time and place, as he does in Apocalypto, is a good one, but only if it is objective and not used as a propaganda tool.
I have another favorite film about Jesus that is my favorite in another way: It uses nothing but the actual words of the Holy Gospel as its script, and that film is The Gospel of John. I always watch the 3 hour version of it.
As soon as the film starts, I always remember why I like this film: Jesus is portrayed with more than the usual dose of humanity. He smiles, He even laughs (though never very loudly or lustily) and shows evidence of every nuance of His inner thoughts as He teaches, praises or rebukes—all shown without (for me) a hint of irreverence or flippancy.
The folk song Lord of the Dance just came to mind as I write this just before midnight. So we do have, in our Christian culture, reminders of this aspect of Christ's humanity.
Then, too, one of the first scenes in the film I just watched comes to mind: the wedding feast at Cana, where Jesus performed His first irrefutable miracle, changing water into wine. Jesus was there with His mother and the disciples—what a merry gathering! And how can we not imagine our Lord sharing in the joy and "jollification" that must have taken place?
We know what human laughter looks and sounds like. How happy the mother of Jesus and the disciples must be to have known, seen and heard the laughter of the eternal and living God of Israel, living bodily in their midst for those thirty-some years, and once more, after He had returned from His descent into Hades, as He met with them on the beach after that catch of 153 fish!
He has taken us out of the power of darkness and created a place for us in the Kingdom of the Son that he loves, and in him we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins.
The mystery is Christ among you, your hope of glory. This is the Christ we proclaim, this is the wisdom in which we thoroughly train everyone and instruct everyone, to make them all perfect in Christ.
Make sure that no one deceives you with specious arguments.
You must live your whole life according to the Christ you have received, Jesus the Lord. You must be rooted in Him and built on Him and held firm by the faith you have been taught, and full of thanksgiving.
Make sure that no one traps you and deprives you of your freedom by some secondhand, empty, rational philosophy based on the principles of this world instead of on Christ.
Since you have been brought back to true life with Christ, you must look for the things that are in heaven where Christ is sitting at God’s right hand. Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth.
You must kill everything in you that belongs only to earthly life: fornication, impurity, guilty passion, evil desires, and especially greed, which is the same thing as worshipping a false god. All this is the sort of behavior that makes God angry.
You must give all these things up: getting angry, being bad-tempered, spitefulness, abusive language and dirty talk, and never tell each other lies.
You have stripped off your old behavior with your old self, and you have put on a new self which will progress toward true knowledge the more it is renewed in the Image of its Creator. In that Image there is no room for distinction. There is only Christ. He is everything, and He is in everything.
You are God’s chosen race, His saints. He loves you. You should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another. Forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you. Now you must do the same. Over all these clothes to keep them together and complete them, put on love. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together as parts of one body. Always be thankful.
Let the message of Christ in all its richness find a home with you. Teach each other and advise each other in all wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God. Never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Wives, give way to your husbands, as you should in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives and treat them with gentleness.
Children, be obedient to your parents always, because that is what will please the Lord.
Parents, never drive your children to resentment or you will make them feel frustrated.
Whatever your work is, put your heart into it as if it were for the Lord and not for men, knowing that the Lord will repay you by making you His heirs. It is Christ the Lord that you are serving.
Be persevering in your prayers and be thankful as you stay awake to pray.
Be tactful with those who are not Christians and be sure you make the best use of your time with them. Talk to them agreeably and with a flavor of wit, and try to fit your answers to the needs of each one.
All texts are taken from the Jerusalem Bible (1966).
Dhóxa en ypsístis Theó,
Kai epi ghís iríni, en anthrópis evdhokía…
Going to and coming from the mailbox, where I dropped off my November election ballot, I sang this ancient Greek chant, not too loudly but naturally, and with gusto. The weather was cool, evening was still light, the wind hadn’t picked up yet to play with the golden autumn leaves, which the gardeners hadn’t any intention of raking up for another week. I sang the chant over and over again—it is about two blocks each way—with the short hymn, ‘Símeron sotiría to kósmo ghégonen’ between each reprise.
Walking abroad and singing aloud, especially Greek chants, is what I like to do if I must walk alone. Sometimes I sing while riding my bike, but then, I sing French songs, like ‘Marima Kabalingué, ma petite amie d'Afrique, a promis de servir Dieu, chaque jour d'un cœur joyeux, désormais sur cette terre, se soumettra pour lui plaire …’
To sing and chant in the open air, just as reading the Word of God aloud in open places, opens my soul, enlarges me so that as small as I am, I can take in the whole world, transfigures me so that as particular as I am, I can scatter myself widely and be all things to all men. What was never mine only, but always the gift of the Most High, I feel my song offers to everything and everyone I pass. I used to stop singing at the approach of strangers, but no longer. If a smile can heal, a kind word encourage, what of a song?
The Good News of Jesus Christ, His victory over sin and death, His resurrection which takes on its true meaning and glory when it is reflected in us, His living images, this is what gives Voice to my heart. This is what puts wind in my sails, what drives me joyfully before it to the uttermost East, as I sing with Noah in the ark, with Moses and Miriam treading the Red Sea ‘with unmoistened foot’, with Paul and his companions taking ship to evangel new lands.
I want to sing notoriously like Patrick of Ireland, ‘I arise in vast might, in vocation of the Trinity, belief in a Threeness, confession of Oneness, towards the Creator!’ and solemnly like Francis of Assisi, ‘Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord, all praise is Yours, all glory, honor and blessings, to You alone, Most High, do they belong, no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.’ Not without good reason says the holy apostle, ‘With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God.’ (Colossians 3:16).
Still I haven’t arrived at what I wanted to say.
It’s something like this…
When I am singing in praise of Jesus, whether the song is a Greek chant, a modern hymn or song, whatever it is that my heart wants to offer out of the gladness I feel in knowing and being known by Christ, I can feel and know, not just believe, that every word that God says is true, that His most Holy Scriptures, and all the profound and beautiful lives lived in that House whose door is low and humble but whose roof is high and veiled in mystery, all are true, pure, mighty, eternal, and full of grace.
It was a humble errand I went on, to mail my election ballot, walking down an ordinary street to deposit it in a plain, blue mailbox. I am just everyday people, nobody special. To the world, I am just a number. What the world cannot see is Who is walking with me, what they cannot comprehend is the Source of my joy.
That’s why I sing.
Συ εί ο Θεός ημών ο ποιών θαυμάσια μόνος.
You are the God who alone works wonders.
Wisdom of Solomon 17:19-20, 18:1 Jerusalem Bible
But all this was foreseen, and we were warned, “a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.” Why must it be this way? How much love He has, that the Father sent His Son to us, to become a man like us, to feel the same pain of spoiled joy. He came to live among us, outside the gates of Paradise, and He died, leaving His holy body hanging on the tree, so that partaking of it as thieves, we could someday reenter Paradise, with Him.
Just as the peace He gives us is bestowed in the midst of battle, so is His joy bestowed in the midst of anguish. There is no higher way above, nor humbler way below, the way of the cross.
“If any man will be My disciple,
“But the Prince of Evil, that spiritual enemy of man's salvation, as formerly in Eden, craftily assuming the pretext of profitable counsel, he made man to become a transgressor of the divinely-spoken command. So in the spiritual Eden, the Church of God, he has from time to time beguiled many; and, mixing the deleterious drugs of heresy with the clear streams of orthodox doctrine, gives of the potion to drink to many of the innocent who live unguardedly, not giving earnest heed to the things they have heard (Heb. ii. 10), and to what they have been told by their fathers (Deut. xxxii. 7), in accordance with the Gospel and in agreement with the ancient Doctors; and who, imagining that the preached and written Word of the LORD and the perpetual witness of His Church are not sufficient for their souls' salvation, impiously seek out novelties, as we change the fashion of our garments, embracing a counterfeit of the evangelical doctrine.”
—Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs, 1848 — A Reply to the Epistle of Pope Pius IX, "to the Easterns".
Monday, October 25, 2010
My one hope and trust is that I shall never have to admit defeat, but that now as always I shall have the courage for Christ to be glorified in my body.
Avoid anything in your everyday lives that would be unworthy of the Gospel of Christ.
He has given you the privelege not only of believing in Christ but of suffering for Him as well.
Be united in your convictions and united in your love, with a common purpose and a common mind.
There must be no competition among you, no conceit. Everybody is to be self-effacing. Always consider the other person to be better than yourself, so that nobody thinks of his own interests first, but everybody thinks of other people’s interests instead. In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus.
Work for your salvation in fear and trembling. It is God who puts both the will and the action into you.
Do all that has to be done without complaining or arguing, and then you will be innocent and genuine, perfect children of God among a deceitful and underhand brood, and you will shine in the world like bright stars because you are offering it the Word of Life.
Rejoice in the Lord.
I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For Him I have accepted the loss of everything, and I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ and be given a place in Him. I am no longer trying for perfection by my own efforts, but I want only the perfection that comes through faith in Christ and is from God and based on faith. All I want is to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and to share His sufferings by reproducing the pattern of His death. That is the way I can hope to take my place in the resurrection of the dead. Not that I have become perfect yet: I have not yet won, but I am still running, trying to capture the prize for which Christ Jesus captured me. I am far from thinking that I have already won. All I can say is that I forget the past and I strain ahead for what is still to come. I am racing for the finish, for the prize to which God calls us upward to receive in Christ Jesus. We who are called “perfect” must all think in this way.
Be united in following my rule of life. Take as your models everybody who is already doing this and study them as you used to study us.
For us our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the Savior we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of His glorious body. He will do that by the same power with which He can subdue the whole universe.
Do not give way, but remain faithful in the Lord.
Be happy, always happy in the Lord.
Let your tolerance be evident to everyone.
The Lord is very near. There is no need to worry. If there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving.
Fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honor, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise.
I have learned to manage on whatever I have. I know how to be poor, and I know how to be rich too. I have been through my initiation and now I am ready for anything anywhere: full stomach or empty stomach, poverty or plenty. There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength.
As sticks are thrown into the fire and are unable to resist the power of the fire, but are burned up at once, so too, demons, seeking to wage war against a man who has received the Spirit, are burned up and consumed by the divine power of the fire, provided only that the person always clings to the Lord and has trust and hope in Him. And even if the demons are strong as mighty mountains, they are burned up by prayer, like wax by fire. — Abba Makarios
I must be in a musical mood, because this quote brought to mind one of my favorite songs by Cat Stevens (British singer / songwriter, formerly a nominal Greek Orthodox, now a Muslim cleric, Yusuf Islam). The song is from his album Numbers, A Pythagorean Theorytale, and the title of the song is Drywood. It still amazes me that a man once so close to the spirit of Christ was spiritually abducted and sold into the bondage of Islam. I still hope for his return to Christ. For me his songs always had a Christian meaning. Here's the lyrics…
Click to download the audio file
You've got to learn, to brighten up your ways
Kick out your dull padded life
There's much to know, and no doors in space
They were only mirrors you imagined in your mind
Now that you've got no place to go
And you stand alone
Know that there's just one place to be
And it's in your soul, oh
Like drywood takes to fire the truth will come to you
Like streams that seek the ocean they will find ways through
Like morning meets the moon, my love will guide the way
It's time to wipe your eyes now, and awake.
I've come to take you over, there's much for you to do
I've come to take you over, then it's up to you
Be like the light, in the shadows
Throw down your mask and be real
Don't wish to win, and don't mind to lose
That was just a cycle like a squirrel in a wheel
Now that you've got no place to look
And you stand alone
Know that's there's just one place to be
And it is your home, oh
Like fish that seek the water, the truth will come to you
Like leaves upon the soil, they will find ways through
Like flowers seek the sun, my love will guide the way
It's time to wipe your eyes now, and awake.
I've come to take you over, there's much for you to do
I've come to take you over, then it's up to you
You say you're really with me,
but you only follow me around
How much you love me, yes,
But I don't want the kind of love
I have to sit down and count
You think you're free and lucky
but you're stuck behind a prison wall
How well you know yourself
But I see something else within you
That you don't see at all
You may give up your number,
disowning all your wealth
You may sell all the pieces,
but you'll never, never, never give up
Yourself, oh no, no, no.
Like drywood takes to fire the truth will come to you
Like streams that seek the ocean they will find ways through
Like morning meets the night's stars, my love will guide the way
It's time to wipe your eyes now, and awake.
I've come to take you over, there's much for you to do
I've come to take you over, then it's up to you.
— Cat Stevens (Stephen Giorgiou, aka Yusuf Islam)
My approach to life and to other people is very simple. Following the Son of God, Jesus Christ, I try to say and do what I see Him saying and doing. He never argued with those who differed from Him, and so I also try not to argue, though I admit that I sometimes do. For this I can be labeled a hypocrite, but then, much of what is labeled hypocrisy is really just human weakness, both in the accused and in the accuser.
Christ may have called out some of His opponents for their hypocrisy, but that is something I dare not do without His permission. Mostly I just ask questions of people who differ from me, hoping to receive real answers from them and not scripted material they have memorized.
I realise that many who call themselves Christians will respond to the questions or criticisms of others with scripted material and not with the honest truth, but this is how existence is: we cannot go on forever living and speaking in pretence; what we really are and what we really think must come out in the end.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Saturday, October 23, 2010
When we hear the Word of God, when we read it, how does it affect us? Is it something that seems foreign, something we have to strain ourselves to listen to with understanding? Or is it something that draws our interest, something that we can't seem to get enough of, and want to hear more of, when time cuts it short?
We speak of the ikons as being ‘windows into heaven’ and seek to justify their presence in places of worship and in our homes by this reasoning. Yes, windows into heaven they may be in the sense that they visually depict what our lazy, inattentive minds can't stay focused on long enough for eyes of faith to develop and learn to see.
But what ignites faith in us better than reading the Word of God or hearing it read aloud? They tell that ‘pictures are worth a thousand words,’ but I say that this is the Word that is worth a thousand pictures. Truth made us, and He made us in Truth, and Truth is our inmost being, “…and in the night, my inmost self instructs me” (Psalm 16:7 Jerusalem Bible).
I love the saying in the Talmud, “Turn it this way, turn it that way, everything is in it, keep your eyes on it, grow old and aged over it, and from it do not stir, for you have no better portion than it” (Pirkei Avot, 5:22). What are they talking about? Turn what this way, what that way? The Torah, of course! And what do they say the Torah is?
The Torah is the ‘precious implement’ that Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel, used in creating all that exists, and yet, it is also the scrolls of the Book.
What do we say about the Word of God? That He is “God of God, Light of Light, by Him all things were made” (Symbol of Nicæa), that He is “the true light that gives light to every man” (John 1:9), and yet, we too call the Book, ‘the Word of God.’
Christians are those who by definition accept the Bible as holy scripture, but there is anything but agreement among them as to what that means. It hasn't always been so, but with the victory of ‘democracy’ or, as C. S. Lewis pragmatically put it, the ‘I am as good as you’ philosophy, everyone and his dog thinks he has a right to use the Bible however he wants—use it, I emphasize, not believe it.
This is why we find people in church today who think they can ‘correct’ the Word of God by their ‘insightful’ interpretations. Some of them boldly acknowledge that they are agnostics or even atheists, yet they feel they must ‘correct’ those who do confess Christ! This is a new brand of apostasy of epic proportions, but as Hitler said, the greater the lie the easier it is to get people to believe it.
So they lie big.
Yes, they lie, and with a smile, and use civility sometimes to unnerve those whom they seek to shut up, though when they find they can't, they use social brute force. Not only do they ‘use the Torah as a spade to dig with’ but as a weapon as well. In their hands they hold a bible which is no longer the Word of God: like the soul of a dead man, the Word has eluded these corpse-cleaners.
To those who do not accept the Word, Jesus Christ the Divine Logos and Son of God, their bible is a closed book. For them it is not the Book, the only divine scripture on earth, but only another piece of ‘great literature’ for their entertainment. Again I ask, when we hear the Word of God, when we read it, how does it affect us?
Do we run after it, or do we run from it?
Psalm 119: 105
Before the world was made He chose us in Christ to be holy and spotless and to live through love in His presence, determining that we should become His adopted sons, through Jesus Christ for His own kind purposes, to make us praise the glory of His grace, His free gift to us in the Beloved in whom, through His blood, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins.
You have heard the message of the Truth and the Good News of your salvation and have believed it, and you have been stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit of the Promise, the pledge of our inheritance which brings freedom for those whom God has taken for His own, to make His glory praised.
May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and perception of what is revealed, to bring you to full knowledge of Him. May He enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope His call holds for you, what rich glories He has promised the saints will inherit and how infinitely great is the power that He has exercised for us believers.
Far above every Sovereignty, Authority, Power, or Domination, or any other name that can be named, not only in this age but also in the age to come, He has put all things under His feet and made Him, as the ruler of everything, the Head of the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him who fills the whole creation.
It is by grace that you have been saved, through faith, not by anything of your own but by a gift from God, not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit.
We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning He had meant us to live it.
You are no longer aliens or foreign visitors. You are citizens like all the saints and part of God’s household. You are part of a building that has the apostles and prophets for its foundations and Christ Jesus Himself for its main cornerstone. As every structure is aligned on Him, all grow into one holy temple in the Lord, and you too, in Him, are being built into a house where God lives, in the Spirit.
Pray, kneeling before the Father.
Lead a life worthy of your vocation.
Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness, and patience.
Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together.
There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, over all, through all, and within all.
If we live by the truth and in love, we shall grow in all ways into Christ who is the Head by whom the whole Body is fitted and joined together, every joint adding its own strength, for each separate part to work according to its function. So the Body grows until it has built itself up, in love.
You must give up your old way of life. You must put aside your old self which gets corrupted by following illusory desires. Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution, so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s way, in the goodness and holiness of the truth.
From now on, there must be no more lies. You must speak the truth to one another, since we are all parts of one another.
Even if you are angry, you must not sin. Never let the sun set on your anger, or else you will give the devil a foothold.
Anyone who was a thief must stop stealing. He should try to find some useful manual work instead and be able to do some good by helping others that are in need.
Guard against foul talk. Let your words be for the improvement of others, as occasion offers, and do good to your listeners. Otherwise you will only be grieving the Holy Spirit of God who has marked you with His seal for you to be set free when the day comes.
Never have grudges against others, or lose your temper, or raise your voice to anybody, or call each other names, or allow any sort of spitefulness.
Be friends with one another, and kind, forgiving each other as readily as God forgave you in Christ.
Try to imitate God, as children of His that He loves, and follow Christ by loving as He loved you, giving Himself up in our place as a fragrant offering and a sacrifice to God.
Among you there must be not even a mention of fornication or impurity in any of its forms, or promiscuity.
There must be no coarseness or salacious talk and jokes. All this is wrong for you. Raise your voices in thanksgiving instead.
You were darkness once, but now you are light in the Lord. Be like children of light, for the effects of the light are seen in complete goodness and right living and truth.
Try to discover what the Lord wants of you, having nothing to do with the futile works of darkness but exposing them by contrast.
Be very careful about the sort of lives you lead. This may be a wicked age, but your lives should redeem it. Do not be thoughtless, but recognise what is the will of the Lord.
Do not drug yourselves with wine. This is simply dissipation. Be filled with the Spirit.
Sing the words and tunes of the psalms and hymns when you are together, and go on singing and chanting to the Lord in your hearts, so that always and everywhere you are giving thanks to God, who is our Father in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Give way to one another in obedience to Christ.
Wives should regard their husbands as they regard the Lord, since as Christ is head of the Church and saves the whole body, so is a husband the head of his wife, and as the Church submits to Christ, so should wives to their husbands, in everything.
Husbands should love their wives just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed Himself for her to make her holy.
Each one of you must love his wife as he loves himself, and let every wife be subject to her husband.
Children, be obedient to your parents in the Lord, that is your duty.
Parents, never drive your children to resentment, but in bringing them up correct them and guide them, as the Lord does.
Slaves, be obedient to the men who are called your masters in this world, with deep respect and sincere loyalty, as you are obedient to Christ, not only when you are under their eye, as if you had only to please men, but because you are slaves of Christ and wholeheartedly do the will of God. Work hard and willingly, but do it for the sake of the Lord and not for the sake of men.
Grow strong in the Lord, with the strength of His power. Put God’s armor on so as to be able to resist the devil’s tactics.
It is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against the Sovereignties and the Powers who originate the darkness in this world, the spiritual army of evil in the heavens.
You must rely on God’s armor or you will not be able to put up any resistance when the worst happens, or have enough resources to hold your ground.
Stand your ground with Truth buckled around your waist, and Integrity for a breastplate, wearing for shoes on your feet the Eagerness to spread the Gospel of Peace, and always carrying the shield of Faith, so that you can use it to put out the burning arrows of the evil one. You must accept Salvation from God to be your helmet, and receive the Word of God from the Spirit to use as a sword.
Pray all the time, asking for what you need, praying in the Spirit on every possible occasion.
All texts are taken from the Jerusalem Bible (1966).