Saturday, June 30, 2012

Trampling down death by death

Ours is a culture of criticism. So pervasive and universal is this culture that, even when we know that criticism is a bad thing, we seldom notice ourselves criticizing others. We only notice and feel their criticisms of us and so quickly retaliate, in a moment hoping to swallow theirs, or drown it out, purge the air of it, so that our illusions about ourselves can be preserved.

Not everyone, in fact probably very few, will agree with me when I wrote ‘criticism is a bad thing,’ that is, if they even noticed. Sometimes we forego the chance to criticize a lesser fault in others, so we can bring an even greater one to light. The former will include the latter anyway, we reason. But as I say, probably most people don’t think that criticism is all that bad.

Well, I do. I know there are ideas expressed this way with admiration, ‘he has a fine, critical mind,’ meaning that this person can be relied upon to make wise choices, to have solid opinions, and generally to be a better than average human being. Criticism as a profession even has a vaunted respectability, ‘biblical criticism’ and ‘higher criticism’ being examples.

But criticism, though it can be euphemistically termed ‘constructive criticism,’ only rarely lives up to the name. Most people who criticize others in the form of giving advice, making observations of other’s habits, customs, work performance, or general behavior, or just plain malicious lampooning, especially in the public and political arena, are not being constructive.

No, they want to fulfill the irresistible urge to tear down the man standing next to them, or his friends or relatives, so that without exerting any further effort of their own, they can stand taller. Yes, ‘bigger, stronger, faster’ has a divine right, even a responsibility, to criticize and thereby instruct and correct the less luckily endowed. The ‘white man’s burden’ is now everyone’s.

So what do you do if you find yourself engaged in a marriage or partnership, living in a family or neighborhood, working in a company, or fellowshipping in a church where criticism under its many disguises—humor, sage advice, even love—forms the basis of every personal encounter? Well, the best thing to do, I think, is to keep your mouth shut. Don’t dare defend.

Christ has something very interesting to say about this, ‘Offer the wicked man no resistance’ (Matthew 5:39). ‘But,’ you protest, ‘these aren’t wicked people. They’re just kidding around. It’s just friendly banter.’ Well, yes, perhaps they aren’t wicked people, but the words that come out of their mouths, whether in jest or seriously, are verbal volleys aimed to maim.

The world is not ‘Christian’ and so we can’t expect our neighbor to treat us, to speak to us, with the respect, even the awe, that is proper to ‘man created in the Image.’ True, but I am here addressing at least those who call themselves Christians, or at least think they are following Christ. I speak to myself as well as to you. What fires do we fan when we criticize others? What bridges burn?

The culture of criticism may be universal, but we can stand apart from it. How? Again, by not defending, not ourselves nor others. By not returning the jibe. By staying silent, or by changing the subject. By seeking peace, by promoting dignity—again, even if only by remaining silent. If we are Christians, how are we known as such?
‘By your love,’
says Jesus, in whose presence all criticisms pale.

It is a hard struggle to leave the culture of criticism behind. It can be a lonely struggle at first, but gradually others appear near you who likewise have laid down their arms. Paradise, yes, even the Tree of Life, still exists on this same earth that criticism has corrupted. It is invisible to most of us, but as we seek peace, pursue it, yield ourselves to mercy, giving it, receiving it, unseen becomes seen.

We do indeed find ourselves ‘surrounded by an immense cloud of witnesses,’ all heading with us to the City not-made-with-hands,’ where He whom we did not recognize as He came among us we begin to discern. We see where our brother ends and where Christ begins, and we finally come Home. Home, yes, home at last, and even this earth is refreshed to be the dwelling place of the Most-High.

Yes, ‘trampling down death by death,
and to those in the tombs, bestowing life.’

In the heart of every man

Religions and churches can be bought and sold,
but our faith is not for sale.

Ideologies and dogma can be written up and down,
but the substance of faith is things unseen.

Conversion is not the exchange of one currency for another,
as Christ proves by overturning the tables
of the money changers in the Temple.

Sacrifice is not the purchase of a victim
by the work of our hands,
but the purchase of our lives by the death of the Victor.

No one can attain the truth by the acquisition of knowledge,
but the truth walking in a man is unmistakable.

When you have staked all you own in a game of dice and lost,
and then stake yourself and lose again,
what is there left to lose?
Nothing more stands between you and the Kingdom
except the battle against your self.
Will you listen to the Lord,
and slay what was never real
to obtain what can never be lost?

These truths are lodged in the heart of every man
as the hook is caught in the fish’s mouth,
yet both try to pull away,
to break free.

Though the line is strong,
it can still be snapped.
Will you be caught by hook,
or trapped with many in a net?

Compared with the good news of Christ,
all other stories are like the braying of an ass,
but even an ass can speak the truth.

Yet how beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace,
who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’

Friday, June 29, 2012

Fire

Shamelessly, but thankfully, copied verbatim (no changes) from a message received today from Christian Fellowship Church, Bangalore, India…

Real Fire and False Fire
by Pastor Zac Poonen

When we look at Jesus’ life, we don’t think only of His death at Calvary, but also of His whole life where He presented Himself to the Father fully saying, “A body Thou hast prepared for Me…..and I have come to do Thy will O God (in this body)” (Heb.10:5,7). Jesus never once did His own will in His body but only the Father’s. This is what it means to offer oneself as a burnt offering to God. This is what Paul exhorts us also to do in Romans 12:1. “Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice to God….that you may prove what the will of God is” – exactly as Jesus did. This burnt offering was presented to God and burnt completely. The Bible says this was “a soothing aroma to the Lord” (Lev.1:17) – meaning something that God was very pleased with – “This is My Beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.” (Matt.3:17). Paul said that his life’s ambition too was to “please the Lord” (2 Cor.5:9).

When we present our bodies to the Lord, it is very easy to say, “Lord, I give my body totally to You.” But we don’t know whether we have offered it all, until we “cut it up”. We could be deceiving ourselves. What does it mean to cut it up and offer it piece by piece – as was done with the burnt offering? It means that we offer our bodily parts piece by piece to God.

We say, “Lord, here are my eyes. I have used them for the devil and for myself for the past many years, looking at and reading many things that offend You. But I am laying my eyes on the altar now. Never again do I want to use these eyes to look at or read anything that Jesus would not look at or read. I never want to sin with these eyes any more.”

We go next to the tongue and say, “Lord, here is my tongue. I have used this tongue for the devil and for myself for so many years, speaking whatever I liked, telling lies for my own gain, getting angry at people and gossiping and backbiting against others and accusing them. But I never want to do all that any more. Here is my tongue Lord. It is yours from this moment onwards – totally and completely.”

We go next to our hands and our feet and our bodily passions, one by one, and say the same thing: “Lord, here are the members of my body and my bodily passions, with which I have sinned and hurt You. Never again do I want to use these to please myself or to satisfy my lusts. They are all Yours.”

It is only as we cut each piece and lay them on the altar one by one, that we discover whether we really are offering our body totally to God or not. When the offering is cut into pieces and laid out on the altar fully, then you can say, “Now, Lord, let Your fire fall on the sacrifice and consume it.” We read in Leviticus 9:24 how the fire of God fell upon the burnt offering and consumed it. That fire is a picture of the baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire that comes to consume our sacrifice and to set our bodies on fire for God. But the fire never fell until every last piece of the burnt offering was placed
on the altar.

What do Christians do when they don’t want to pay the price of yielding their bodies as a burnt offering and yet want to get the fire? They manufacture a false fire – a counterfeit one. And that is what we see in Leviticus 10:1,2: “Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron took firepans and put fire in them and offered strange fire before the Lord which He had not commanded them.” When we don’t have the real fire of God, and we want to be a part of those who have the real fire, the danger is that we can imitate what they have so as to be able to say, “Yes, we also got the fire. We also spoke in tongues!” God was so angry with Nadab and Abihu for imitating the real fire that He sent down another fire from His presence – this time not to consume the burnt offering but to consume these two hypocrites!

It is dangerous to imitate the real thing in spiritual matters. Yet, multitudes of Christians are doing this these days. They are being coached by preachers to speak in tongues, to work up their emotions and to experience psychosomatic “healings” (imagining that these are the same as being healed “in the Name of Jesus.”).

Those who have obtained the real fire from God have paid a price for it. They laid everything on the altar of God - their money, their eyes, their tongue, their hands, their all. They examined their lives and made sure that every piece of the burnt offering was on the altar; and God sent His fire on them. You watch the life of such a man, and you wish you had the same powerful anointing. But you are not willing to pay the same price for it and you still want to show others that you are anointed. It is then that you can do what Nadab and Abihu did - produce strange fire, work up your emotions,
manufacture “tongues,” etc. Since more than 95% of believers don’t have spiritual discernment, you may be able to fool them that you have the real fire. But you know better than anyone else that what you have is self-produced and not from God. Beware! If God were to judge Christendom today in the way He judged Nadab and Abihu, I am sure that a lot of Christians would die.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Open our eyes

O God,
how can we whose minds are so unstable
keep our eyes focused on You,
so that we can do
what we see You doing
every day
and all around us?


For You fill our world
at every moment
with creatures
just like us,
falling into need and sin,
or arising out of it
following the call of life
that You’ve planted in us,
though we might not know it.

Your Word has been strewn among us,
seeking that fertile humus in which it can sprout,
grow and eventually bear fruit,
so that it does not return to You void.

Open our eyes, Lord,
to see the world as You see it,
at every moment, in every place
hearts crying out for mercy,
to receive it, but also to bestow it.

Show us, Father,
that we are not alone,
and that to show mercy
can be as humble as yielding to another’s infirmity,
to overlook our brother’s ignorance,
to forgive one who injures or insults us
before, or even without, being asked.

Help us to see
that mercy has no size limit,
large or small, visible or hidden.
It is an arrow that never fails to hit its mark.
That to stand confidently before Your seat of mercy
is to be merciful wherever we are,
just as You are merciful.

And to always pray
what we hear Jesus praying every day,
Father, forgive them,
for they do not know what they are doing.’

x

מִזְמוֹר קיט

Psalms for the 26th Day (English)
119: 105-176 (Nûn~Tav)
Psalms for the 26th Day (Hebrew)
119: 97-176 (Mém~Tav)

Psalms, the heart of the scriptures and of the soul of man, the cry of the soul of kings, and of priests, painting them prophets—what a blessing to have this gateway to the throne room of the Most High!

I reach for my copy of Tehillim, the Hebrew psalm book, on this cool, cloudy morning. All my windows have been open all night, and the sun hasn't warmed the air yet. The air is still, and the sound of birds opening their songs is all to be heard.

“26th Day of the Month” proclaims the header.
The reading begins at verse 97, so I have to turn back a few pages to find the psalm number, to call it out in Hebrew…
Mizmor Qoph Yod Tét, Psalm 119
Then, I return to my place, and see, what a perfect verse to begin the day!

מָה-אָהַבְתִּי תוֹרָתֶךָ: כָּל-הַיּוֹם, הִיא שִׂיחָתִי
Máh ahávti toratèkha, kol hayyóm hi sichatí…
O how I love Your Torah! All day long it is my conversation…

I try to complete the reading, but as I take it into me, verse by verse, my spirit takes seláh, pause, my eyes close and I am lost in wonder, as the Word reminds me of all God's wonderful works. I never quite reach my destination, the end of the psalm. But the day is freshened by this beginning. I will return to it later in the day, and by nightfall, the whole psalm portion will have been read and prayed. God is good.

In the English 30-day psalm cycle, Psalm 119 begins at the end of the 24th day, taking in the first four stanzas, numbered by the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph, Bét, Gímel, Dálet. Then, stanzas through Mém follow as the psalm portion for the 25th day. And on the 26th Day, the remainder of Psalm 119, beginning at stanza Nûn, verse 105 by our reckoning, is to be read and prayed.

Psalm 119 has become for me a kind of favorite, almost a statement and rehearsal of my personal faith and life in Christ, and also something akin to an owner's manual—I am the apparatus, He is the Owner, but in the case of this apparatus, the apparatus needs to read the instructions, not the Owner!

In my original Jerusalem Bible, the book will almost always automatically fall open at the page where Psalm 119 for the 26th day is marked, so it probably has been read more than any other page in the book. I almost always start any bible reading by reciting verse 105, “Now Your Word is a lamp to my feet, a light on my path.” I find the minor difference between the English and the Hebrew psalm portion for this day interesting: The Hebrew starts with, “O how I love Your Torah…” while the English commences with, “Now Your Word is a lamp to my feet…” Really, two ways of saying the same thing, how valuable, how indispensable, is God's Torah, God's Word, in the life of the disciple!

Tehillim, praises, Psalms, songs, truly the heart of the scriptures and of the soul of man!

Now I know why they used to be included in every edition of the New Testament, though nowadays it is possible to find them omitted. Not only do they present in condensed form the main truths of the Old Testament, providing the prophetic background for the New, but they also teach the disciple to pray, and form his inner man. You can read the New Testament alone all you want, but without prayer, it is impossible to enter into the life described there, you remain a spectator or philosopher only. Psalm 119 concludes,

Tav
Yahweh, may my cry approach Your Presence;
let Your Word endow me with perception!
May my entreaty reach Your Presence;
rescue me as You have promised.
May my lips proclaim Your praise,
since You teach me Your statutes.
May my tongue recite Your promise,
since all Your commandments are righteous.
May Your hand be there to help me,
since I have chosen Your precepts.
I long for You, Yahweh, my Saviour,
Your Law is my delight.
Long may my soul live to praise You,
long be Your rulings my help!
I am wandering like a lost sheep:
Come and look for Your servant.

No, I have never forgotten Your commandments.

Monday, June 25, 2012

"Remember who your teachers were…"


In the sidebar of my blog I have this bible verse as a heading, and beneath it a list of (as of today) twenty individuals and two groups of people whom I call ‘my teachers,’ confessing, of course, that Jesus is quite right when He says to us, ‘call no man on earth your teacher, for you have but one Teacher, the Messiah.’ What? Did I not listen to what I just heard the Lord say? ‘Call no man on earth your teacher?’ Well, yes, and I have no excuse. I am guilty. I am an evangelical criminal. Lock me up. Yes, and lock up the holy apostle Paul while you’re at it, because I call him one of my teachers too, and I’m even bold enough to quote him teaching me to ‘remember who my teachers were.’ Yes, we’re all guilty of building our houses on sand by not hearing the words of Jesus, and acting on them. Or are we?

This is not the time or place, nor am I learned enough, to defend either Saint Paul or myself for having ‘teachers’. No, I don’t really believe there is a double standard here, or even any real hypocrisy, but there are people who use this kind of logic to disqualify and condemn their brethren for calling presbyters ‘Father’ or taking exception to the expression ‘save us’ when addressed to anyone but Christ. Truly, these things are, and should be, matters indifferent, things we do not challenge each other about, but let everyone hold their own opinion, yet the Church has come to blows over such things, and still does. We destroy the handiwork of God, that is, our unity in Christ, over a question, not only of food, as the apostle exhorts, but over mere words. Yet, there are those who quote, ‘by your words acquited, and by your words condemned.’ What can I say?

So I remember who my teachers were, as the apostle recommends to his disciple Timothy. The list of names in my sidebar has been growing and would be much, much longer, but for my desire to keep focus. Even twenty names are too many. I could simplify it and just say ‘Church Fathers’ and leave it at that. But then you wouldn’t know from whom I have drawn my testimony and life in Christ, for we are all parts of one another. You wouldn’t know my spiritual mothers among the Fathers, though they are there. And you wouldn’t know that I draw on the testimony and teachings of many saints not included in the Synaxarion. That’s why I have made the list. That is evidence good enough to keep me at arm’s length from zealots of every faction who deal in names, and I am satisfied, because for me ‘there is only one name under heaven by which we are saved.’

As to the names of those I have not included, I owe my salvation and my life in Christ to many more, beginning with my own parents according to the flesh, my father Roman (many years) and my mother Irene (memory eternal), and to the gentle teachers I had in the schools I attended whom I cannot name, except for two of my college professors, Doctor Dana, and John Forbes  (both of blessed memory). My parents were Roman Catholics to begin with, my two professors, the first a Presbyterian minister, the second a Quaker. I should name the great saints that shepherded me as a young Christian adult—they are my teachers too: Philip Holte the cabinetmaker, Bishop Matthew Bigliardi, Episcopal bishop of Western Oregon, Father John Goodyear, pastor at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church (all of blessed memory). And when the Lord led me to Holy Orthodoxy, my teachers and examples are many: Metropolitan Anthony of San Francisco, Father Elias Stephanopoulos (both of blessed memory), as well as the presbyters Ihor Kutash, Michael Courey, James Retelas, Photios Dumont, and others.

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and they are there and have always been there, not to hide us, not to smother us, but to love us and teach us by their love, which is exactly what these servants of God did for me, handing over to me what the Lord had given them, not directly, but through the hands of other servants of God like themselves. All these took to heart, without trumpeting it, the words of Jesus in holy and divine scripture, ‘If any man would follow Me…’ and they laid down their lives for me, bit by bit, as the Lord gave them moment, and I am unashamed to call them all my teachers, while still confessing ‘you have but one Teacher, the Messiah.’ The Lord knows everything about us, who we are, what or whom we believe in, and whose teaching we have received. In the end, it all boils down to this, doesn’t it, ‘My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you’ (John 15:12).

Glory to You, O God, glory to You!

More refreshing than a fragrant rose garden

This wonderful recollection and meditation on ikons is one that I want to remember, and so I am posting it here for myself and to share with visitors to my blog. It is by Aunt Melanie, whose gentle, wise words are also ‘more refreshing than a fragrant rose garden’ to me.

Leafing through the pages of my memory, through the many volumes of years gone by, I was stymied that I could not remember the first icon I ever saw. Was it in a church? Was it in a book? It must have been in an Orthodox Church, because my memory serves up icons in a wondrous grouping—not especially thematic or entirely consistent, not in orderly movement like the Stations of the Cross in the Catholic Church, but nonetheless unified and coherent within a structure and its spaces. In fact, I have seldom seen an icon without one or two others together with it.

What I know, however, despite any gaps of memory, is that icon depictions became deeply fixed in my mind from the first moment of contact. I could gaze into an icon forever if I were not so conscious of my own sin and unworthiness. That is, if I could dare to lift my eyes and ascend into Heaven with the saints just as they seemed to descend onto earth for me. Looking at an icon is not the same as appreciating a painting or becoming engrossed in movie. This may sound extreme (and inexcusable) but, sometimes when I felt too tired or ill to read the Bible, I could always lie in bed and look over at my icon corner and find the essentials of the Bible there.

Throughout my adult life, I have viewed many icons in churches, bookstore catalogues, and even at a museum exhibition. I have seen icons that were poorly painted—some that were mere portraiture, some that resembled storybook illustrations, and some so horribly rendered that they were nightmarish. I have been criticized for preferring not to attend churches in which the icons are simply ugly, as though I were arrogant because I count not accept the spoiled figures and faces as Heavenly. There are certain guidelines for painting icons. If those procedures are grossly violated, then I do not trust that it is really an icon. I do not reject the saint or biblical episode. However, I cannot believe there is deformity in Heaven but only transformation.

Although I cannot say that I really remember it this way, the first icon that seems foremost in my mind is that of the Virgin and Child. It is striking not only maternally, but because Christ is usually presented not as babyish but almost as a miniature adult having proportioned limbs and a young yet mature face. This icon seems to summarize so much of Bible—the Annunciation and Nativity which are intimately connected to the Crucifixion and Resurrection, the prominence of Mary in relationship to Christ, and themes such as humility, meekness, submission, love, sacrifice, and condescension. To me, this type of icon is more powerful than a crashing waterfall and more refreshing than a fragrant rose garden.

Not overcoming

Here is an issue that I have never given much thought to myself, which Aunt Melanie expresses so well. From the world's point of view, this is a ‘so what?’ issue. From the Christian point of view, it is important, as it defines an impediment to life in Christ that even many Christians, especially those involved in the arts, overlook. Life is struggle, and overcoming, or winning, is the goal. Though this victory is not ours by our own power, in cooperation with what God gives us—grace, for that is what it is called, and under that term usually misunderstood—we are meant to win. Aunt Melanie writes…

I was thinking about the status of celebrity in America, and how many people seem to swoon over and almost worship celebrity. There was an actor/singer who died a couple of years ago. Thousands of fans mourned and there were television specials about this individual’s life. A basic theme seemed to be that because the actor/singer was a flawed human, people identified not only with the music but with the lifestyle. This individual was an active drug addict–not even in recovery–and the musical performances involved a certain vulgarity. Also, this individual had enormous wealth and spent millions of dollars on self-indulgent enterprises and objects.

What strikes me about this is that the actor/singer’s life was so different from that of Christ–who was tempted but never sinned–and from the lives of the saints. People seemed to prefer an imperfect idol over God. They elevated the status of an active addict and extravagant spender over that of a holy saint or any entertainer who lived a more balanced life. And, this has happened before (I am now thinking of Elvis Presley and John Lennon). People go beyond sympathy for the human condition and struggles–they glorify he who is impaired and that which promotes a non-Christian value system. Because, it justifies their own weaknesses and sinful preferences and gratifications.

The life of Christ or the life of a saint would not allow for willful indulgences. I am not criticizing addicts and I am not dismissing the talent which these individuals have, but I am saying they are not to be idolized just because they can sing a song and because their flaws are appreciated more than the Christian virtues. We appreciate saints for their virtues and as lights along the way. Certain celebrities are worshiped precisely because they shine no light and therefore the fan and consumer is not expected to overcome.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Run for your life




Psalms for the 24th Day
116 117 118 119:1-32

Reading the psalms,
reciting them and breathing them into me, 
fragrant as my bible is right now 
with the smell of basil 
from the feast day of the finding 
of the holy Cross, 
there I found some ρηματα 
(rhémata, living words) 
that nourished my soul, 
reminders of my path.

(You alone, Lord, know my path.)

I have faith, even when I say,
‘I am completely crushed’.
Psalm 116:10

(Lord, You know what I mean when I recite this verse in prayer.
And at times, I do feel completely crushed,
yet there is no place I can be,
or feel myself to be,
where I do not have faith.)

Yahweh, I am Your servant,
Your servant, son of a pious mother,
You undo my fetters.
Psalm 116:15-16

(I can’t undo my fetters.
I can’t do anything to free myself from bondage, Father.
It is You alone who can free me,
because You alone have freed me.
You undo my fetters.)

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

(In my distress I cried out to You,
‘Lord, why have You given me yet another day?’
Your answer was instant,
Your will to me was clear.
You said, ‘I have raised you again to life,
so that you can carry out My commandments.’
Nothing more, nothing more had to be said.
I heard Your voice, Lord, and I am satisfied.
I run the way of Your commandments, 
since You have set me free. 
Glory to You, O God, glory to You!)

Draw me in Your footsteps, let us run.
Song of Solomon 1:4

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Penny for penny, beyond price

This short and simple testimony of Aunt Melanie restates a truth that Christians often take for granted about the Bible. We may venerate the scriptures with our lips, kissing them and praising them with our words, yet if our devotion to the Message stops there, we have not found their real value. Beloved evangelist John writes,  ‘Something which has existed since the beginning, that we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes; that we have watched and touched with our hands: the Word, who is life—this is our subject’ (1 John 1:1). Yes, we know he is talking about Jesus, who is the Word of God in human form, but what he tells also applies to the holy and divine Scriptures. The majority of Christians before the invention of the printing press never read the Bible themselves, and after it became possible to ‘take up and read’ still we find the majority of Christians never, or rarely, reading it. But the Book has value, as Aunt Melanie writes…

The Cheapest Thing I Own
by Aunt Melanie

Although Bibles can be expensive, there are nice Bibles that you can buy on sale for almost nothing. I have a New American Bible, bound in a supple vinyl, which I found on sale for $7.99. I also use a leather-bound King James Version which I found several years ago for $12.99. Penny for penny, I regard my Bibles as the cheapest things I own. You can hardly buy a paperback novel or a good hamburger for that much.

Thanks to the printing press and to literacy among the masses, the Bible provides a connection to God’s community: to the generations which lived during the days of the Old and New Testaments and to everyone since then who found solace in the teachings of Christ. All of these people—their stories and the message—belong to us, and we to them. We worship the same God and we are all members of the same household.

This participation of many different people, sometimes over a period of many years and in more than one place, in the production of a certain writing is a major characteristic of the Bible. With few exceptions, the authors of the Old and New Testament books did not think of themselves as professional writers. They were members of a community which felt itself to be especially chosen as the bearer of God’s promise. Their writing was an expression of the community in action; it was the result of the process of listening to God’s word in history and in the religious experience of the nation, of reflecting on that word, of telling the story, and of handing on the message to later generations of the community. Thus, the writings and the stories they tell are understood to be the property of the entire community, not just the author. It is no matter that the identity of the authors may be blurred; and there is no anxiety about preserving an individual writer’s words intact. The Bible comes from the midst of the community of faith in order to serve the community of faith. 
The New American Bible, “How the Bible Came About,” by Jerome Kodell 

It is the message of the Bible, and not the leather binding and gold embossing, that makes it an amazing bargain no matter how much we may have paid for a fancy Bible in a box. No price can be set on the value of a Bible. Money is strange in that way. Not every penny calculates according to what an item is worth in itself. A painting by Picasso is not worth five million dollars—not to me. If it is worth it to you, then it was money well spent. It has no comparison to the $7.99 which I spent on my vinyl-covered Bible, because the stories and the message of the Bible are outside any monetary, literary, or historical appraisal.

Perhaps that is the way it must be. No fair price can be set on a Bible. The price of a Bible is the crucifixion of Christ. We did not pay that price, Christ did. My Bible, therefore, is the most expensive thing I own.

Friday, June 22, 2012

On wealth and poverty

I also always entreat you, and do not cease entreating you, not only to pay attention here to what I say, but also when you are at home, to persevere continually in reading the divine Scriptures. When I have been with each of you in private, I have not stopped giving you the same advice. Do not let anyone say to me those vain words, worthy of heavy condemnation, ‘I cannot leave the courthouse, I administer the business of the city, I practice a craft, I have a wife, I am raising children, I am in charge of a household, I am a man of the world; reading the Scriptures is not for me, but for those who have been set apart, who have settled on the mountaintops, who keep this way of life continuously.’

What are you saying, man? That attending to the Scriptures is not for you, since you are surrounded by a multitude of cares? Rather it is for you more than for them. They do not need the help of the divine Scriptures as much as those do who are involved in many occupations. The monks, who are released from the clamor of the marketplace and have fixed their huts in the wilderness, who own nothing in common with anyone, but practice wisdom without fear in the calm of the quiet life, as if resting in a harbor, enjoy great security; but we, as if tossing in the midst of the sea, driven by a multitude of sins, always need continuous and ceaseless aid of the Scriptures. They rest far from the battle, and so they do not receive many wounds; but you stand continuously in the front rank, and you receive continual blows. So you need more remedies.

Your wife provokes you, for example, your son grieves you, your servant angers you, your enemy plots against you, your friend envies you, your neighbor curses you, your fellow soldier trips you up, often a law suit threatens you, poverty troubles you, loss of you property gives you grief, prosperity puffs you up, misfortune depresses you, and many causes and compulsions to discouragement and grief, to conceit and desperation surround us on all sides, and a multitude of missiles falls from everywhere. Therefore, we have a continuous need for the full armor of the Scriptures.

For recognize, it is written, that you go through the midst of snares and walk on the ramparts of the city. For example, the designs of the flesh attack more fiercely those who live in the midst of the world. A handsome face, a splendid body strikes us in the eyes; a shameful phrase piercing our ears troubles our mind; and often an effeminate song weakens the tension of our soul. But why am I saying this? That which often seems the slightest of all these attacks, the scent of perfume falling from courtesans as they pass somewhere nearby has captured and taken us away as prisoners by a mere accident. And there are many things like these which besiege our souls: we need the divine medicines to heal the wounds which we have received and to protect us from those which we have not yet received but will receive.

We must thoroughly quench the darts of the devil and beat them off by continual reading of the divine Scriptures. For it is not possible, not possible for anyone to be saved without continually taking advantage of spiritual reading. Actually, we must be content, if even with continual use of this therapy, we are barely able to be saved. But when we are struck every day, if we do not use any medical care, what hope do we have of salvation?

Reading the Scriptures is a great means of security against sinning. The ignorance of Scripture is a great cliff and a deep abyss; to know nothing of the divine laws is a great betrayal of salvation. This has given birth to heresies, this has introduced a corrupt way of life, this has put down the things above. For it is impossible, impossible for anyone to depart without benefit if he reads continually with attention.
John Chrysostom, On Wealth and Poverty

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Start from here

Until the righteous King arrives, all is anarchy.

What people or nation on earth will take up the call of Jesus Christ? 
Not by exhibiting harmless religious piety
or doing condescending works of charity,
but by saying what He says, and doing what He does?

Not a single disciple of Jesus waited till he could decide
whether or not he agreed with Christ's words.
Each simply responded to the call, immediately.
Why are we all so incapable of doing this?
Who or what has tied our hands?

Anything can become a cult.
Any man's ideas or teachings can become a cult,
and will become a cult unless reason steps in.
And where does this reason come from?
It comes from Jesus Christ,
because of all the sons of men, His ideas and teachings alone
do not become a cult,
that is, when they are followed,
not just believed.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine
and puts them into practice
is like a wise man who built his house on the rock…
but everyone who hears these words of mine
and does not put them into practice
is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.

Matthew 7:24

So this offends you?
Go ahead, be offended.
It's your choice, but all it does is
betray your weakness and self-doubt.
Not God, nor the man who is sure of God,
can be offended.
Only those who only believe.

I believe very little, but I trust much.
A little good sometimes comes from belief,
but more often a lot of evil.
But from trust, the reverse is true.
A little evil sometimes comes from trust,
but more often a lot of good.
And absolutely true, that only good comes from trust
when the One you trust is
the only One who can be trusted absolutely.
That is, Jesus Christ.

Start with the absolutes


Witnessing Christ to the world is a major goal of the Christian. Wonderful is the testimony of the second mile. The first mile may be obligatory, and often a matter of formality as it restrains us to travel its path. However, to go the second mile displays assurance of love and likeness. Going the first mile is compulsion; going the second mile is dedication and loyalty. Christ went the second mile:
He emptied Hades.


I don’t wish to inaugurate a dialog or try to convince anyone that leaving Christianity because it doesn’t satisfy one’s idea of fairness towards non-Christians is a bad idea; but I think it’s a move that most people make with insufficient—actually, irrelevant—evidence.

Some realities are absolutes, and if you started with them and worked your way backwards, the outcome would be different.

Start with Christ’s own words. He is pretty specific, and He doesn’t throw curses and threats around. His language to us is reasonable but demands personal (1) obedience and (2) faith (or trust). If you want to be a Christian at all, you have to accept what He says. Watch His actions, too, in the Gospels. This is what I would call the first absolute.

The second absolute, again working backwards from Christ Himself, is what the holy apostles wrote, and how the Church lived right from the beginning. Again, you must return to the New Testament as primary source book, but again, you do not find curses and threats being thrown around (though you do find some specific exclusions in some of the language). I would call the apostles (what they wrote, not what later authorities have said about what they wrote) the second absolute.

We are still very far from having to believe that four-fifths of humanity is going to hell because they haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.

The third absolute, I’m afraid, would have to be something you’re not prepared to accept: the faith of the Orthodox which, following the first two absolutes, also does not lump humanity into the saved minority (only themselves) and the wicked and lost majority (everyone else). It’s not quite so easy to get at this third absolute: it’s nothing so easy as reading the Bible; it’s using the first two absolutes as the raw data for producing the third absolute. How? By living according to those first two absolutes. Where is that possible? In the Orthodox community. Why there? Because it hasn’t compromised those first two absolutes. It hasn’t attached human speculation and guesswork to them, or erected systems of anti-contamination and quarantine to them, making it all but impossible to even hear, let alone believe and practice, authentic Christianity.

You have left Christianity, but what if what you thought was Christianity was just a mirage? What if Christianity from Christ’s point of view were absolutely different from what you rejected? What if you found out that you agreed with ‘the unknown God’ and that history really did have a surprise ending, that the Christians you heard tell of an unhappy ending (as if they knew all about it) didn’t really know what they were talking about?

These are just some thoughts I wanted to share with you.
What have you rejected, the real or the counterfeit?
If the former, so be it, but what if it’s the latter?
Even one person was worth dying for, so
maybe even one person is
worth waiting for.

He wasn’t kidding when He said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,’ and if He is who He said He was, then His Father will grant His prayer, not just this one, but all of them.
Start with the absolutes, and think again.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

No matter where it takes us

Orthodoxy is knowing that love has entered the world in the man Jesus Christ, and living in that love no matter where it takes us.

He who loves father or mother more than Me
is not worthy of Me.
And he who loves son or daughter more than Me
is not worthy of Me.
And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me
is not worthy of Me.
He who finds his life will lose it,
and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.

Matthew 10:37-39 NKJV

Orthodoxy is knowing that faith is not belief, but trust so certain that we know there is no loss with Jesus, and are fearless to do whatever He asks. It is knowing that obedience is love and draws us into the very life of God, where Father, Son and Holy Spirit all live together with us in one house. It is seeing with unveiled faces Him whom the world cannot see even through a veil. Yes, Orthodoxy is knowing that Love has entered the world and remains here among us, as long as we obey His teaching, no matter where it takes us.

I tell you the truth,
anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.
He will do even greater things than these,
because I am going to the Father.
And I will do whatever you ask in my name,
so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.
You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
If you love me, you will obey what I command.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever
—the Spirit of truth.
The world cannot accept him,
because it neither sees him nor knows him.
But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
I will not leave you as orphans;
I will come to you.
Before long, the world will not see me anymore,
but you will see me.
Because I live, you also will live.
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father,
and you are in me,
and I am in you.
Whoever has my commands and obeys them,
he is the one who loves me.
He who loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I too will love him and show myself to him.
Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said,
But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us
and not to the world?
Jesus replied,
If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.
My Father will love him, and we will come to him
and make our home with him.

John 14:12-23 NIV

Oh so smart

It must be very humbling to have to admit that one of the guiding principles of one’s life came not from the Bible but from a mere movie. And not from a religious movie like The Greatest Story Ever Told or the Ten Commandments, but from a film that maybe few have heard of, and few would consider a ‘religious’ movie, if they had. Of course, that’s because it isn’t a religious movie.

I had never even heard of this film until about seven or eight years ago, when it was suggested to me by an old friend with whom I had worked on and off for twenty years or more. This friend was christened Episcopalian but he rejects that and all churches, and doesn’t even call himself a Christian, but the odd thing is, for the most part he acts like one.

When a childhood friend was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, this friend did not ‘let him slip away’ but instead, as his disease worsened, stepped up the content of his friendship. When the man’s wife, unable to cope with an ‘unusable husband’ abandoned him, got a divorce, and disappeared, this friend I am talking about, well, he did the unthinkable.

By night and day, and every day, he assisted his stricken, abandoned friend, turning his body over in his bed, bathing, feeding, and in general helping him through what would soon be over. Finally—and I don’t know the details, but assume this—the dying man went to a full care facility, because the care he now needed was too constant, and then, according to God’s mercy, he was taken.

Neither my friend, nor the other to whom he was the greatest friend, were or are ‘Christians’, nor sinless, nor perfect, and so ‘religion’ doesn’t know what to do with such people. If pressed to remark, the religious might say anything ranging from pious platitudes, to vague hopes, ‘God have mercy on them,’ all the way to ‘black and white’ pronouncements, ‘no, sorry—unsaved.’

Come Judgment Day, as C. S. Lewis observes, there will be surprises.

Back to the movie that my friend suggested, an old film starring Jimmy Stewart that I’d never seen or heard of before, and ‘black and white,’ but in a different sense, he presented me with a copy and I watched it—once only—and it was enough for me. In this film I encountered in a most unexpected way a truth that is usually missed in religious training, precisely because it’s not religious.

Aside from the plot of this film, these words stood out for me when I first heard them, and they have played out in my life ever since then, every day. ‘Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, “In this world, Elwood, you must be…” she always called me Elwood, “…In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.’

Now, if any of you are avid movie watchers, especially of the classics, you have probably already guessed that the movie I’m talking about is Harvey. In fact, you probably recognized it from the title of the post, and then of course, the still shot was a dead giveaway. Why do we call things like an obvious hint a ‘dead giveaway’? In this case, for me, this film was a live giveaway, the missing piece that finally explained to me what to do about Jesus.

Yes, believe in Him, of course. Yes, follow Him, if you dare. Yes, go to church, read your bible, pray (if you know how), give to charities, volunteer, make sure your honesty is evident to everyone. That’s how I interpreted Christ’s saying, ‘In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’ (Matthew 5:16) But what about what He says just a little later? ‘Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.’ (Matthew 6:1) Jesus doesn’t joke around in the gospels. He must be telling us something, but what?

A missing piece, maybe the most important piece, given by surprise where I’d never thought of looking—in a secular movie. But is it secular? And does ‘secular’ only have the meaning we give it because we’ve decided to be religious? In the mind of Christ, which is accessible to us when we do what He tells us, ‘Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’ (Matthew 11:29) If we take upon us His yoke, what is secular? what profane?

The whole world and everyone in it is ‘what God looks like’ (Father Evely), and ‘salvation is with our brothers’ (the Desert Fathers), because ‘whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto Me’ (Jesus). All the religious training, knowledge, theological truths, bible verses, worst of all, all of our opinions about others and certainty of our own salvation, mean nothing if we work against God’s purposes.

What? Who’s working against God’s purposes? Christ says to us no less than to the Pharisees of His time, ‘You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.’ (Matthew 23:13) And who’s doing that? ‘Surely, not I?’ (Matthew 26:25) Yet, all that Paul says he regards as garbage (Philippians 3, NIV), what we might call his ‘smarts’, he considers trash. What does he consider worthy, then? What does he think is important?

‘…the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.’

(Philippians 3:9)

It is with this kind of certainty, not the certainty of our own salvation, but the certainty of ‘the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith’ that He sends us out, every day, to find Him in the world. ‘Oh so smart or oh so pleasant’? How does that fit in? It’s hard to put into words, which is why I recommend to you, dear reader, to watch the film yourself, for the first time, or if again, then with new eyes.

Then, see what Elwood means by ‘I recommend pleasant’.

Oh, and look a little deeper,
and maybe you’ll see who ‘Harvey’ actually is.

Yes, why?

An excellent meditation on the carefree life, written by Aunt Melanie, appears here at her blog, Repentance and Ascent. It is from the point of view of one who, like me, is now entering the later years of earthly life, but that makes it even more worthy of a hearing by those who are just setting out in youth on the beautiful path of Jesus Christ. We have not lived our lives in Christ in vain, nor have we lost anything by the mistakes we have made, for they instructed us in the ways of Christ better than any successes ever could. This is the advantage of years, as I have said, ‘age is a tower,’ and as a younger brother has observed, ‘the best truths take a lifetime to set in.’ Aunt Melanie closes her essay with these words which sum up her thought so well…

I wonder why there is not more renunciation of the bondage and materialism of our society. Why do people passively accept every new product? Why do people accumulate credit card debts over things which they do not need? Why is there not even an instinctive rejection of the intrusive marketing of more and more products? Why is there not a hunger for freedom, and why is Christ not recognized as the one who provides release from the lies of this world? We live in an era that seems to call out for a revival of spirituality, and yet many people continue to covet that which is outdated almost from the moment it is purchased.

Yes, why?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

To him who overcomes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ephesians 1:17 ~ 2:20

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.

This you can tell from the strength of His power at work in Christ,
when He used it to raise Him from the dead
and to make Him sit at His right hand, in heaven,
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.

And you were dead,
through the crimes and sins in which you used to live

when you were following the way of this world,
obeying the ruler who governs the air,
the spirit who is at work in the rebellious.


We all were among them too in the past,
living sensual lives, ruled entirely by our own physical desires
and our own ideas,
so that by nature
we were as much under God's anger as the rest of the world.


But God loved us with so much love
that He was generous with His mercy:

When we were dead through our sins,
He brought us to life with Christ—

it is through grace that you have been saved—
and raised us up with Him and gave us a place with Him
in heaven, in Christ Jesus.

This was to show for all ages to come,
through His goodness to us in Christ Jesus,
how infinitely rich He is in grace.

Because 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.


Ephesians 1:17 - 2:10 Jerusalem Bible

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The start of Eternity

Here is an excellent essay by Aunt Melanie that I found today at her blog Repentance and Ascent. Though I am quoting it here in its entirety, I recommend you visit her blog for more good testimonies like this one.

Remember The Sabbath And Keep It Holy
Bracker (1924), Source

Working on the Sabbath
by Aunt Melanie

There was a time in America when everything was closed on Sundays. I grew up with that concept of the Sabbath and keeping it holy. Even if it was not kept holy, it was a different kind of day because all the stores were closed. It was a day when people, church-goers and otherwise, would read the newspaper, make fried chicken or lasagna or tamales, suspend the weekday duties and the Saturday busyness, and sense the Resurrection of Christ even through doubts and lapses and other priorities.

As I became an adult, few stores remained closed on Sundays. Eventually, I started working every day, as did many of my colleagues as a matter of survival, convenience, unbelief, or sin. No day was the Sabbath for me, or all days were a Sabbath. I always worked, had to, but I always prayed and always thought about God. Nonetheless, everything got tumbled and jumbled. Everything got combined, with chunks of the Sabbath here and there, never entirely neglected and yet never fully respected. Nothing was closed on Sundays, including my heart.

Today, I am writing this essay on the Sabbath. Nothing is closed, but I have closed my life to the unconsecrated influences of the world. I do not judge those who work on Sunday—we need hospitals and firefighters and 24-hour plumbers. I do not judge those who are trying to survive—teachers who are grading papers and accountants at their calculators. I do not judge myself, but trust that God understood my intentions and forgave my priorities and lack of faith.

After all these years, I am again at my desk on the Sabbath—but, this time, not working for money and survival. I write almost as I pray and eat and breathe. It is what I do. It is who I am. Everything is opened. All things are possible. There is a new creation in Christ. Only the past is closed, absolved and no longer operative. Today is here and it is all that I have—the Sabbath, openness to all that is holy and acceptable, a resurrected and living Christ, renewal and transformation, and the start of Eternity.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

We are Yours


O Christ, what a wasteland we have made the fertile fields Your blood has watered! You would walk in us, dispensing blessing, loving all comers, healing all and raising every creature to immortality, yet we bind our own feet, we willingly cripple ourselves like vain concubines of a fickle master. But You, O Christ, are the Lord, our God, the Bridegroom of the Bride, the Faithful and True, You who make her, who make us, spotless, secure, radiant, fruitful, who call us, 'Beloved, My one and only.'

O holy, divine Triad, You have said of us, 'We have a little sister, and her breasts are not yet grown. What shall we do for our sister on the day she is spoken for? If she is a wall, we will build towers of silver on her. If she is a door, we will enclose her with panels of cedar' (Song of Songs 8:8-9).

Remove from us our limpid, wavering love, and bestow on us the love that lasts, the faith that moves mountains, for our breasts are not yet grown. Build towers of silver on us, gleaming with the reflection of Your Light, that we no longer hide ourselves, for the City set on a hill cannot be hid. Open our door, that the cedars Your hand has planted may finally flourish, that we may know and be known. Yes, Lord, save us from ourselves, for we are Yours.

Full freedom

There is a brand of Orthodoxy where following the rubrics seems to be the major focus, the teaching of doctrines and the pushing of morality the emphasis, where what we do to please God takes the place of what God does to release us. Words are mouthed, actions performed, ostensibly to glorify God and the saints, and everything holy stays in the holy place. Outside the doors, life goes on as always, sometimes even a little worse for wear, and perfectionism and scrupulous rigor replace walking in the spirit. This is not the Orthodoxy I received from the saints. Their lives were, for me, an unwritten rubric that infected my life with the goodness they had received from Christ. Their faith, instilled into me (I hope) the trust in the Spirit who is the one sent by Christ from the Father to be with us always, that we never become orphans. And that faith and trust in love has been the certainty that makes full freedom possible.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The beautiful road of love…

…is effortless, and there is neither blemish nor stain in love, but rather the conscience testifies that the soul has boldness towards God. But when there is no love, the soul has no boldness in prayer, and as one defeated and cowardly, it cannot lift its head because it feels remorse for not having loved as God has loved it; it is a transgressor of the commandment of God.

‘If we do not love our brother whom we have seen, how can we love God whom we have not seen?’ (1 John 4:20) He who has true love has God; whoever does not have love does not have God in himself. The Holy Fathers say, ‘If you have seen your brother, you have seen God; your salvation depends on your brother.’

The holy monastic fathers of old walked the path of salvation effortlessly, because they sacrificed everything so that they would not fall away from love. Love was their goal in life. Our path, though, is completely strewn with thorns which sprouted because we lack love. And this is why when we walk, we constantly bleed. The foundations of the house shake when we do not lay the foundation of love well.







Elder Ephraim of the Holy Mountain

Goodness

Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water… Now draw some out…’
Who or what does Jesus Christ represent for us? I mean, I know who He is, we all know who He is, or at least we all have an idea of who He is. Some of us think He is all God, others that He is all man, but sometimes it's hard for us to see and realize what the word Theánthropos, God-man, means, not doctrinally, but theologically, that is, what it means for us. Until we grasp that, I think we either remain religionists or humanists.

Christ came to create a new man in us that is divine. When we try to imagine what Christianity is, we all too often fall into thinking it is either just a religion or just a self-improvement regimen. Both attitudes fall short of—no, actually, they never even come close to—what Christianity is, and who Christ is. We hear the saying, 'God became man, so that man could become God,' but its significance eludes us.

The primal instinct of man, what was planted in us when God created us, is the desire for goodness. Why is this? As the bible tells us in the opening chapters of Genesis, as God created everything, He pronounced it good, each and every day. As creatures of God, we too are created good, and hence our deepest desire is for goodness. That's where we fit, that's our natural environment. Yes, we were made for paradise.

Yet, that is not where we find ourselves. Instead, as soon as we become aware, we find ourselves 'outside the gates' of that goodness that we desire and to which we aspire. It doesn't matter what our nation or our religion is, or even whether we are born into a traditional society or not. Unless we give up almost immediately—and that sometimes happens—most of us try our best to find the good and enter into it.

For the Christian, the revelation is that somehow God has entered into the human arena as one of us, and apart from everything else He may have done, He has become the source of an otherwise unattainable goodness, one that we can, and must, resort to if we hope to ever become good. The very idea that someone or something outside ourselves could be the only source of goodness for us is repugnant at first hearing.

We want to believe that 'we can do it' all on our own, even though all the evidence we can ever find proves the contrary. All our climbing up to goodness is a temporary ascent. The slope is steep and slippery to goodness or, looked at from the opposite direction, the slope of descent into sin and death (for here we must resort to 'traditional' wording) is steep and slippery, broad when sliding down,
narrow when ascending.

But we find we cannot ascend on our own, no matter how hard we try. Again, for the Christian (if he knows his bible), we have Jesus. He is not just the historical figure the world knows about but cannot see. He is the One standing in our midst wherever we find ourselves, or alongside us when we are alone, and we can and do see Him, always, if our eyes are wide open. What eyes? Yes, you're right.
Not those two.

The eye of the heart, which is single, through which we become full of light: those are the eyes by which we see Him. We know this because Jesus says so. But there are others for whom Jesus is not the Christ, that is, not the Messiah. There are Jews who do not accept Him, even though He is a Jew like them. Are they any different? No, they're just like us. They want goodness. They find they cannot buy it even by their devotion.

So we find ourselves all in the same predicament, no matter who we are, what we believe or don't believe about God and the universe. We all want goodness, but can't achieve it, but still try, those of us who haven't given up in despair. To return to my original question, now put a different way, who or what will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves? When we begin to understand the nature of the struggle, what will we do?

Not everyone who says to Jesus, 'Lord, Lord,' even knows what they are saying or who He is. Yet there He stands, there He walks, accessible as ever, to all who call upon Him by name or only in untaught trust, knowing somehow that the desire for goodness in us is no accident, no illusion, is not a psychological by-product of evolution, or an inherited herd mentality. And who or what Jesus Christ represents for us, He is that for all.

Lord, all that I long for is known to You,
my sighing is no secret from You…
(Psalm 38)

Unknown to them for who He is, the world has invited Him to their wedding banquet, and the wine they have been drinking, 'fruit of the vine and the work of human hands,' has run out, yet the feast must go on. He is the only one who changes water into wine, no work of human hands, which He does when we ask, though where the wine comes from, few know. But we know, because we follow his instructions, 'fill the jars with water, and then draw some out…'

Love letter

I love this picture, even though it is an artwork with a deliberate theme—refuge. It is an image of the care of a father for a son. I want to be that kind of father, but I don't think I have succeeded. That is the kind of father I want, and the kind I want to be, like the father who wrote this letter to his son, whom he hadn't seen for a long time. The best father any man can hope to be, is one who tries to love like the Father loves.

Dear Son,
I have been praying for you this morning and asking the Lord to help you, to comfort you and to give you confidence and save you from the evil one, who attacks you to make you think badly of yourself, so that you will hide yourself from the Lord, and from me. Always remember, Son, that our heavenly Father really is our loving Father, that He knows everything we go through, everything we feel, everything we desire or think we desire. He knows our mistakes and He understands them. He knows our weaknesses. He watches us when we do good things, and when we do things that are not good. But He knows and loves us no matter what we do, as long as we keep running to Him for strength, for forgiveness, for understanding, for love.

I am not God, and I am not your heavenly Father. I am just a man like you. But I do what I see Jesus doing, and Jesus does what He sees the Father doing. He comes to us to show us the Father, and to demonstrate the love of the Father. Watch Jesus closely, Son, and follow Him. Follow me, too, and imitate me, as long as you see that I am also following Jesus. Let's follow Him together. Let's keep our eyes on Him, you and me, son and father, both of us children, sons, of our heavenly Father, brothers of our liberator and savior and teacher, Jesus.

Never fear to say to me, ‘I have to confess.’ It doesn't matter what it is that you must confess, because whether I have an answer for you that I can tell you in writing, you know that my arms are holding you, and my heart loving you, and that you are clean to me, from the top of your head to the soles of your feet, clean. Your thoughts, or your deeds, good or bad, are just happenings, they are on the surface, but what you are, and who you are, are always the same, always clean, because Christ has washed you in His own precious Blood, and that washing stays forever. Christ loves you infinitely, and I, as a man, and as your father on earth, love you, welcome you, approve of you, and want you, just as He does.

I know that sometimes you will fall under weakness, that does not change anything. I fall under weakness too. Son, this is the human condition. Do not let weakness define you, but define yourself by the bright brilliance of the light of Christ, whose righteousness is your righteousness, who swallows you up, your strengths and your weaknesses, your successes and your failures, in His limitless love, in His love that has no limits. He is never tired of us, or impatient with us, or angry with us, and not even disappointed in us. Why? Because He sees and knows us as we really are, and He knows that all these limitations and weaknesses and failures of ourselves are going to be removed forever, in fact, in act, in will, even in memory, when this life is over, and when we join Him in the life to come.

It is your faith, Son, that must carry you over the thorny path and get you through all obstacles, even through the ones you yourself place in your path, but also those that the world places there, to catch you, to trip you, to damage you, to annoy you, to frighten you, to disappoint you, all to make you lose your faith, but I am telling you, like the scriptures say, ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.’ Believe the words of holy and divine scripture, and believe the humble words of your father who loves you, yes, your dad who loves you, yes, you know I do, just as I know that you love me, that you love God, that you love Christ, that you love righteousness, even when you out of weakness, fall. That falling is part of learning to walk, Son, beloved Son, you are learning to walk, just as sometimes your blindness is part of learning to see.

Everything we do here in this life is partial, nothing of it is perfect, nothing complete or whole, everything, everything is partial. That is the human condition. Never despair, never give up hope, never deny faith. Never stop loving. Never stop loving, Son, no matter what it looks like from the outside.

I love you, Son, and I keep you with me always, and we will be together very soon. No matter what happens, remember who you are, in Christ, and who you belong to.

Love you, always,
Dad

Confronting sin, confronting the sinner

With every start of a ‘brave new world’ the people of God have to inspect their foundations, make sure that they're still built on the bedrock of Jesus' words, and be ready to follow their Lord wherever He goes. More and more this is apparent, as we see and hear Church leaders and dignitaries mouthing not the Word of God but the ideologies of men, seeking their approval.

The Church Age and the age of Christian Empires is over. We're not in a post-Christian age, though, just a post-Church one. Where the Church as an institution has trouble in reaching the unsaved, the Church as people—you and me—can do what we see the Lord doing. Even today, He is out there, looking for His lost sheep. We can follow Him there, and do what we see Him doing.

‘The Word of God is alive and active.’ Without our help in the form of commentaries and preaching, the plain and simple Word of Truth can convict souls of sin. The problem is, the sinner already has more than half the world preaching at him. Though the preaching is usually coupled with an invitation to accept God and His Word, the emphasis is placed on turning from the sin and living righteously. This the sinner cannot see himself doing. He may have tried it, and failed. Of course, he probably tried to live righteously by his own will power and hoped to achieve righteousness by his own efforts. That's precisely why he failed. Then, maybe even after trying this many times, he simply gave up, gave himself over to the sin, and decided, it's either God's fault, or else the scriptures need to be ‘interpreted’ to include his particular sin as not sinful.

What the sinner has to understand, and what every Christian should understand, is that we cannot be righteous in the way humans think of righteousness. The Word says, ‘all our righteousness is filthy rags’ and ‘the righteousness that comes by faith in the One who justifies the sinner,’ namely Jesus Christ, ‘the Righteous,’ is He in Whom our righteousness subsists. It is the righteousness of Christ that must cover us, not our own.

When the sinner understands this, then he can begin to have hope, and the healing of the soul, and deliverance from the bondage of sin and death, can begin to take place. It's when the sinner is confronted by his sin and the demands of the Law, without understanding this, that he has little or no desire to seek the Lord.
And can you blame him?

‘What I desire is mercy, not sacrifice,’ says the Lord.

Mercy is not to accept the sin, but to accept and welcome the sinner with the good news, Jesus Christ risen from the dead, alive today, our righteousness and our justification, our savior, who saves us from sin and death.

How can we tell the sinner this, by our words or by the fruit of our lives in Christ which we, like trees planted by His Father, bear for others?