Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Romanos Frank Gorny - Feb 8, 1951 - October 27, 2016

Dear readers of Cost of Discipleship,

My name is Jacob Gorny, and I am Romanos' eldest son. I am afraid I have an awful bit of news to share with all of you.

Last Thursday, when I returned from my business trip in San Antonio, I returned to my dad's house to find he had taken a mid-morning nap and never awoke.

I am sure you understand the shock that our family is experiencing - he was in great physical and spiritual health, and having lost his wife and my mother on July 8, 2016, his passing into sleep has been a tremendous tragedy for his four sons.

While I'm sure many of you cannot attend his funeral, I wanted to share the announcement with you:

My brother John Gorny, who is serving as executor for my dad's estate, has included a donation link for those who are willing and able to do so.

Every contributor (whether via his blogs, facebook, etc.) will receive a printed copy of my father's writing that I am personally going to edit and prepare from the source materials I have been able to recover from his archives. I would expect this to be available in Summer 2017 (he had a lot of writing).

Again, I am truly sorry to have to share this news with all of you. He was a very dear man to me throughout the years - he had many great plans and things he hoped to do in his life - but the Lord designates a time and season for all things. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Yet that which is true is permanent, that which is false can never be permanent. Sky and earth may pass away, but the word of the Lord endures forever, and the promise of resurrection and ascension is ahead of all of us waiting to be experienced.

It is my prayer that you will take five minutes of silence on November 4th - wherever you may be - and direct your attention/meditation to the memory you have of this man, and offer a prayer to the Lord on his behalf. May he pray for all of us here in this plane of existence. May he enjoy reunion with his wife Anastasia in the ascended life. May his memory be eternal. Amen

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

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,

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.

Human lives matter

Human lives matter.
We’re all the same color in the womb.

Nothing would be impossible

In barely a fortnight, fourteen days, we in these United States who believe the truth that human life begins at conception, and that to abort an unborn child for any reason other than the probable death of child or mother is infanticide, that is, murder—remember the Sixth Commandment (LXX)—have another chance to overturn the Godless legalisation and slaughter of millions of innocents. Whether you like the man who is running for U.S. President or not, if you elect him, he will have the power to appoint new Supreme Court judges—I can't bring myself to call them 'justices'—who will reverse the law allowing this carnage. If you are a Christian, there should be no question whom to vote for, but even Christians still have free choice and can oppose God to His face. The Church has only as much respect in society as she deserves, not according to her faith, which the world cannot comprehend, but according to her works, as Christ Himself teaches, ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven’ (Matthew 5:16).

It’s no wonder that the world does not follow the teachings of the Church. Except for when the world is masquerading as the Church for its own reasons, it is happy to ignore what the Church has to say at best, and at worst, it likes to entertain itself by mocking it.

The Church, however, has no teachings, even when it says it does because it’s full of its own authority, and it’s that false authority that the world loves to mock. The world incites the Church to claim an authority it does not have, so that the world can mock it,
‘See, you’re no better than us!’

The Church has no teachings and no authority of its own: it has only what Christ has given it, what Christ has handed over to it, as a steward receives from his Lord what is not his, but what is entrusted to him. What has been entrusted to the Church is teachings and authority, from Christ the Only Teacher of mankind, the Only Authority, of whom God the Father says, ‘You are My Son’  (Psalm 2:7).

There is a difference between the perceived truth and the actual truth which even members and leaders of the Church sometimes fail to discern. Discernment, διακρισις, dhiákrisis, is here the key word. So often what the Church has is not discernment, but judgment, κρισις, krísis. When the Church exercises the former, the world fears and respects her, when the latter, she is made a laughingstock.

In 1983 the Sunday in January that falls closest to the day on which the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions were handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, January 22, 1973—was declared national ‘Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.’ Over the past 43 years, 58.5 million American lives have been taken through abortion. For some, this data is hard to take in, and they ask, ‘How long will God forbear with our generation?’

Declarations are human things, the works of those who take on their shoulders the mantle of the King of kings of kings, relying on His promises to be with them, but as rulers not as servants. The world knows when we are playing the game that it plays, even when we are dressed up in that robe.

Only Christ can wear that robe, and when He reigns from the tree, He has already taken it off, and reigns naked, not only mocked but also rejected by the world which does not know what it is doing, does not know what He has accomplished from that throne of suffering, on which as King of Glory, He reigns.

Reigns, not rules. Discerns, not judges.

There is a Kingdom that, as Christ says, is not of this world. That Kingdom in time claims no rights, no power, not even the power to save from death. Christ says, ‘Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father who would promptly send more than twelve legions of angels to My defense?’ (Matthew 26:53).

The scourge and crime of abortion is to be opposed, to be sure, but how? With what weapon that the world cannot turn against us, or that we will not snap in two on a rock? The world brings its epileptic son to the disciples for healing, and they cannot heal him. Yet Jesus shrives the boy with a word.

‘Faithless and perverse generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to Me!’ (Matthew 17:17) Christ is speaking not only to the wounded and demon-infested world, but to the disciples as well, who come to Him privately and ask,

‘Why were we unable to cast it out?’ He answered, ‘Because you have little faith. I tell you solemnly, if your faith were the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it would move; nothing would be impossible to you’ (Matthew 17:20).

And some manuscripts add, ‘As for this kind [of devil], it is cast out only by prayer and fasting.’

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Why the Lord came

The Lord came, not to do something easy, but to do something true. He came to bring truth and life. By His obedience unto death, He rent from top to bottom the veil of corruption and rebellion that separated us from God, and He opened to us the entrance to the Holy of Holies of freedom and unity. He did not come to unite men among themselves by making light of their differences. He did not come to exhort us to mere "peaceful coexistence." He came to unite us, through Himself, with His Father and our Father. "For through Him we have access in one Spirit to the Father." (Ephesians 2:18)

He did not aim to leave behind Him a group of individuals working well together, for even sinners do this: they cooperate with sinners (cf. Matthew 5:47). He came to give us rebirth and to bring a new unity, one which is trinitarian; to bring a peace which passes all understanding, His own: "My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you." (John 14:27)

…He came to give Himself, to distribute His flesh: "Take, eat My Body which is broken." He came to give His Spirit: "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22). So He created the little flock of the twelve, the Church. He brought to the world the dynamic force and health of the Trinity, the leaven of the Kingdom which will leaven the three measures which represent the whole of creation (Luke 13:21).

What the world needs is the trinitarian flock, regardless of whether it is small or large. Its greatness is to be found in its trinitarian nature. What man thirsts for is eternity, "even a little part of eternity"; and this is what we have here. To have the character of the Trinity is to be eternal.

"This is eternal life, that they know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent." (John 17:3)

— Archimandrite Vasileios

The foolish language of God

The language of the Cross may be illogical to those who are not on the way to salvation, but those of us who are on the way see it as God's power to save. As scripture says: I shall destroy the wisdom of the wise and bring to nothing all the learning of the learned. Where are the philosophers now? Where are the scribes? Where are any of our thinkers today? Do you see now how God has shown up the foolishness of human wisdom? If it was God's wisdom that human wisdom should not know God, it was because God wanted to save those who have faith through the foolishness of the Message that we preach. And so, while the Jews demand miracles and the Greeks look for wisdom, here are we preaching a crucified Christ; to the Jews an obstacle they cannot get over, to the pagans madness, but to those who have been called, whether they are Jews or Greeks, a Christ who is the power and the wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 1:18-24 Jerusalem Bible


One of the first lessons we learn as young adults, if not earlier, and sometimes at great pain, is not to make a decision when we are angry. The decision can be to speak or not to speak, to act or not to act, or even more subtly, to think, that is, to believe, or not to think. With some reflection and further maturity, we come to realize that it isn’t just anger that is taboo territory for decision making, but almost any strong emotional state. Delight or its opposite, repugnance. Love or hate. High spirits or low. Perhaps one can even include faith or doubt, although faith is more, much more than an emotional state, though its evil twin certainly is.

It’s easy to see how and why we shouldn’t act when in strong emotional states, a little harder to see how and why we shouldn’t speak, and even harder to understand the limitations we should impose on our own thoughts when we are ruled by a strong emotion. Aren’t some emotions good? Well, yes, perhaps some are, and there’s relatively few occasions when we are totally emotion-free, maybe none. The decisions we make when we are feeling good (not just feeling well) would seem to be risk-free, but uh-uh, sorry, they are not. My point is not to flaunt the obvious, or to save myself from its implications, but to say, it’s our nature.

Human beings are not God, god, or gods and goddesses (depending on your choice of religion). We are not minerals. Though some of us seem to be vegetables, that is only a metaphor we use to chasten ourselves. We are not spirits either, despite what the poets and theologians tell, but that is almost what we are and possibly what we will become ‘if we make it.’ What we are is, in a word, unstable. We flicker. We are blown to and fro. We blaze up. We die down. We can merge and lose our identity as we move on to consume other fuels. Eventually we go out, either snuffed or, retreating to our coals, glow dimly and then go black.

What does this sound like? You’ve already pictured it in your minds if you’ve read this far. It is, we are, fire. Now, think of a campfire at night. It glows. It doesn’t keep a shape. Every little shift of the wind contorts it. It burns because it has fuel. There’s wood under it. Other fires burning in other places still consume fuel, couldn’t exist without it, coal, oil, gas, it doesn’t matter what. Fire burns, and unless it has fuel, there is no fire. This is just another metaphor, but it does shed some light on our human nature. What I also want to say is, don’t take your human nature, your life really, too terribly seriously. Even most of your decisions.

Just as fire needs that fuel to keep burning, to keep existing, we cannot live, at least not for long, unless we have fuel. It may seem harsh or judgmental to hint that some fuel is better than others to keep the fire alive and burning, but it is still true. Start a handful of steel wool on fire, watch it sparkle as it is consumed, and then see the fire go out, all in a matter of seconds. Tear up a phone book and use its pages as kindling under the grate in your family fireplace. Light it and hope that it will burn long enough to catch the real fuel, alder, maple or oak logs, on fire. No one believes filling his grate with just paper will keep him warm.

It’s no accident in my choice of metaphor that wood is the fuel and paper the kindling. To get your fire going, you may start with paper, but ‘paper Christianity doesn’t have much holding power,’ I mean, it can’t hold its own, keep burning. It goes out after a few minutes. If we think a little bit harder, we can also see what the wood might be. Some of us wear tiny copies of that wood and say we stake our lives on it, but few of us bear it. Yet that wood is the only fuel that will keep us burning, and burning is our nature. ‘There is no higher way above nor safer way below…’ It seems odd to me that we should be made this way, but we are.

As I complete the last months of my sixty-fifth year of life with wretched trepidation, I confess my humanity, my fallenness, my instability, my inability to exist on my own, my need for fuel to keep me going another year. I confess that all my thoughts, words, and actions are flawed, and the decisions I have made and continue to make are somehow outside my control, that I am just a fire blown about by the wind. But I know that the fuel I need to keep burning, because burning is my nature, has been provided. I cannot provide it. Only One can provide it and He has, so that others can be warmed by the heat as I burn, and maybe see by the light.

Come out!

It  amazes me, that people exist who know the difference between right and wrong and yet consistently choose to do what is wrong. They may have started out like the rest of us, burdened with the built-in law of failure, also known as, ‘original sin,’ making the occasional wrong choice, sometimes accidentally, sometimes on purpose, but gradually they felt themselves drawn to ‘the dark side.’

Christ calls this process of step-by-step accommodation to wrong choices, thoughts and actions ‘building your house on sand,’ and He prophesies that such a house can only expect to be swept away in one final, great storm. Still, it is a mystery to me that anyone would choose this way for themselves and not feel bad about it, not feel guilty. Where is their conscience?

Now, here’s another strange thing. We all think we’re good. ‘What?’ you gasp, ‘What are you saying? We are good… at least most of the time, at least when people are watching, at least, at least… at least we try.’ I listen to myself, helplessly, seeing all my pennants of righteousness droop and hang limp as the winds of self-justification die down.

Even Christ, answering His flatterers as a man, admits, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God,’ shattering once and for all the very possibility that we could ever be what God alone is—that is, on our own. ‘Yes, Christ was, and is, good,’ we insist, ‘but He is God. He couldn’t help Himself,’ not realizing that we have just theologized.

Right, He couldn’t help Himself, but He can help us, yes, those people who ‘consistently choose to do what is wrong’ as well as us, who pitter-patter along the path of self-destruction but are too cowardly to join those others who don’t fear to be flaming offenders. This is the rehabilitation that reaches out to us from a real God.

And this is the precise proof that all that the Bible tells us about ourselves is true: Rather than reaching out to the real God our half way (which is actually a half-millionth of His reaching half way to us), we try every other regimen of rehabilitation we can find or invent, from psychotherapy to self-realisation, from Alcoholics Anonymous to… you name it.

Not that any or all of our efforts are camouflages rather than cures, but that without Him they are poor, paltry, pathetic playing at problems instead of facing them, and no wonder. Without Christ’s help, we cannot even lift a finger to help ourselves. There can be no ifs, ands, or buts in the matter. We just have to do it. What is it that we have to do?

No matter how deep the pit is into which we have fallen, we must believe that Christ is there, that He has entered our personal Hades and cleared it like a threshing floor of its dead, yes, of our dead, all those things in us, about us, with us, that have made our lives so intolerably heavy that we’ve sunken even through solid rock, yes, He is even with us there.

He says, ‘If only you will hear My voice, for I am with you, if only you would hear My voice, for I have begotten you, I have redeemed you, I have prepared a place for you, I am calling you as I called My beloved friend Lazarus. If only you would hear My voice, and follow Me, for Mine are the ways of escape from destruction and death.’

Blessed are those who run when He calls, but it is always our choice where to run. He is mercy to those who run to Him, and judgment to those who run away. If we have fallen, then even that will be counted a blessing, for it is He who lifts us up, who raises us up with Him, if only we will hear His voice, and follow Him who says, ‘Come out!’

Always free choice

For all that people will do to manipulate and twist the biblical texts to fit their own ideas, the comfort is that the Bible is, was, and always will be, exactly what it is, mean what it says, and keep being a home for the homeless, a comfort for the comfortless, and food for the hungry. Why? Because it is the door behind which Jesus Christ Himself stands waiting for us to either open and welcome Him or open and crucify Him. Which will it be? He will not force us to open the door. He will not force us to welcome Him. And He does not defend Himself to us any more than He defended Himself to those who crucified Him the first time. It is always free choice. The Bible tells us more about ourselves than it tells us about God, but at least it tells us as much as we need to know about Him, so we can decide what we will do. It’s always a matter of choice. Our choice.

Because They do

This post was original published on August 21, 2015, over one year ago. Where do we find ourselves now?

Pre-election America brings out the best and the worst about us and shows it to the world. Pre-presidential election America, that is. No one really cares much about the other elections, but the year leading up to the next presidential election is full of entertainment for the masses, aggravation for the intelligent, and hope for the believers. The believers? Yes, that’s people like myself, who still believe in the promise of America, in spite of it all. Call us naïve, but we are the eternal émigrés, people constantly on the move, west, always west, always seeking the paradise in the west. We can’t help ourselves.

For me, it runs in the family. My paternal grandfather, Casimir, left his native Poland—it was from the Prussian province of Posen—and traveled west across Brandenburg, stopping awhile in Hanover, and then taking ship at the free city of Hamburg, for the land of the farthest west, America. That was in 1902, when he was 22 years old. Oddly, that was my age when I left my birth place in Illinois and immigrated to Canada, destination Edmonton, in the west. I didn’t stay there long, where I first landed. Neither did grandpa. He went from Florida to Illinois before he settled down. Me, I didn’t stop till I reached Oregon.

People are all creatures of belief, even when they are deniers. They may deny that they believe in God, or in the goodness of humanity, or in politics, history, or art, but their actions always give them away. The worst of us believe in the worst things, and even when we say there’s no such thing as a real right or wrong, we still find ourselves condemning, or at least distancing ourselves from, people whom we think believe, and do, bad things. The goodness and badness are both relative. Hitler and the Nazis believed in their cause, racial purity, and thought themselves good. The horror of their actions didn’t bother them.

The American political spectrum ranges from persons who look like they are capable of Hitleresque, or at least Napoleonic, excesses, all the way to persons who speak and act almost as if politics didn’t, or shouldn’t, exist at all. It is the latter group that I tend to identify with. Face it, government, at least all good government, boils down to people living together in peace and safety with as little interference by the collective authority as possible. The primitive communists had this right. In the end, government itself should disappear. Why shouldn’t it? Civilized behavior overtakes the world, fear is eliminated.

Unfortunately, it’s obvious we’re not there yet, nowhere in the world, not even in Switzerland. Not bringing ‘religion’ into the mix because it’s proven to be incapable of helping us in the long run, it’s still true that Christ is not finished with humanity, hasn’t given up on us. No, not yet, not from His glorious throne in the heavens, where we have banished Him. Yes, Christ isn’t finished with us. He still has a lot to say. He’s sent Someone into the world that will finish the work He became a man to do. The gospels, stripped of religion, are still the most persuasive and effective cure for mankind ever written. Just read them.

But don’t stop there. Don’t stop to smell the roses, or the incense, in the pursuit of the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness. Give in to what you say you want—life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, especially the last, because it is, without a doubt, identical to the gospel pursuit of the Kingdom—don’t just say you want it and then go back to sleep and dream while others do everything in their power to keep it from you. Our political system may separate church and state, but on an entirely different level the two cannot be separate if we are who we say we are, if we live the gospel, not just talk about it.

Christ is still the most relevant and the most powerful person in human history, especially when we don’t just stand around worshiping Him and pleading, ‘Lord, have mercy,’ especially when we don’t leave His words at the altar and pulpit but take them with us. They are the keys that open every door, and open doors that no one can shut. Christ Himself calls them ‘the keys of the Kingdom,’ gives them personally and permanently to us, again, not for religion, but for transformation, for salvation of the whole human race, starting with us, right now, where we live. His words make every citizen king.

Not only America, but the entire world, is to become what the idea of America is only the shadow of. This is not a theocratic police state. Leave it to fundamentalist religion to scare us into fearing a sadistic god of hell-fire and damnation. But the God-man Jesus Christ has hulled the kernel of freedom from its religious shell by His mighty words, just as He has liberated the dead from hell by His glorious resurrection. Yet it is still up to us to hear His words and do them, for then the Kingdom of God cannot but follow, just as the dead in Hades must trust Him to lead them out, or else forever remain bound. Yes, trust, obey.

This year, it seems, we are very close to having hit bottom in a free fall that has been anything but free. The presidential election a year from this November can be just another replay of the same, bogus political soap-opera that has captured the American Dream and boxed it up for resale to the highest bidder, leaving us exitless, passengers on a sinking ship. Is that too many metaphors in one sentence? Yes, I’m afraid this has been a very poor piece of writing, and probably confusing too. Is my ‘message’ religious or political? I mean, am I advocating being a better Christian, or just voting as one? Well, yes, and no.

Yes, be a better Christian, by all means, ‘seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness’—yes, His, not ours. How can you vote as a Christian if you are not following Christ, hearing His words, and putting them into practice? No, don’t vote as a Christian if that means reasserting Christian power politics on a nation that must certainly by now be sick of ‘great awakening’ pride. Beyond yes and no, beyond even the next election, we are finally at a place where we can see the failure of human politics and religion to put anything right. Only Truth, only Christ who is truth in Person, as always is calling.

To respond to that Truth, to not compromise with what our conscience knows is right, but to hold it inviolable, and to think, speak, and act on it, no matter what others say or do, that is as always ‘the winning ticket.’ Now, take that to the primaries, and to the polls come that far November. Meanwhile, live and work as if the world depended on you, and as if God Himself commanded, because They do.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Presidentially rambling

When the Voters’ Pamphlet arrived in the mail this week—I got two of them, lucky boy!—I sat down and seriously pored over one of them. I pulled my worn and tattered precinct card out of my wallet to see which electoral districts I am in, and then began looking for the slate of candidates I could vote for.

Of course, the first pages of candidates were for the candidates for United States President. I have already voted, in principle, and so I knew that there would be nothing in print that was going to change my mind. Sometimes one just knows what’s behind a candidate, regardless of what they try to project.

Click to zoom
All of the candidates for President and Vice-President had written statements. My pamphlet shows six candidates total, two Republican, two Democrat, one Green, and one Libertarian. I don’t know why the Greens and Libertarians aren’t running candidates for Vice-President. What if one of them were to win?

Nonsense! Jill Stein is just flexing her feminist muscle garbed in Pacific Green proclaiming ‘Power to the People’ and other out-of-date clichés. Gary Johnson’s statement claims he is best known for resisting temptation (to solve every problem by throwing money at it), but I remember him for ‘What is Aleppo?’

Truly, I am very sorry for the hams who think they can wiggle their tails backwards into the big chair in the Oval Office, but then, they’ve seen it done before, and everyone should live in hope. The Democratic candidates pushed the same old polite rhetoric on the theme ‘Americans are stronger together.’

A nice truism, but hardly a flag pole around which we can gather for morning prayer. ‘Hillary and I have a plan,’ was the Democratic VP candidate’s intro to an assortment of recycled and partly rehabilitated old political promises which everyone’s heard the last eight years and already forgiven and forgotten.

The Trump and the Pence—sounds like a team for British currency reform!—their two statements, running as Republicans, read almost like a political version of the Nicene Creed, full of ‘Trump believes’ and ‘we need, we must, we will,’ possibly echoing in first person plural Caesar’s ‘veni, vidi, vici.’

It seemed that the Republican presidential and VPal statements, using Trump’s famous ‘Make America Great Again’ as a flag pole—yes, I think we could pray around this one! kumbaya!—spoke of our country’s brokenness and offered a down-to-earth therapy to fix it that would appeal to many voters.

In  contrast, the Democratic statements cheered on the great accomplishments of the incumbent (Democratic) presidency with promises to protect and extend them, starting from a vantage point of an already great America that under our continued management can only become greater. Ahem, yes.

Enough has been batted back and forth about this probably ugliest presidential contest in America’s long history, and everyone who knows me or has the psychic powers of my best friend’s cat already can tell who I’m voting for in this contest, so I only want to make one other observation, my main one.

Perusing the pages of candidates (there is also a hefty section on ballot measures), what struck me as very odd was that many of the offices up for grabs did not have at least two candidates running. Where I live is a blue city in a red state, and the reds almost never win, because we’re all rednecks and cowherds.

No, that’s not why. It’s because enough of us aren’t willing to take on the blue party machine. Admittedly, when people egg your house or threaten you on the street for sporting a Trump sign on your lawn or your laundry, who wants to put their life at risk? No, that’s not the real reason.

And I am not limiting this just to why Republican or local parties aren’t running opposite Democratic candidates. True, one Democratic senator running for reelection has four opponents, but a very high profile Democratic US representative is opposed by a sole fringe party candidate with wild ideas.

Many local offices have but a single, generally Democratic, candidate. I think this is symptomatic of a non-engaged public. Reading the statements of most of the candidates of all parties what I found was a rhetorical casserole of political jargon that might’ve been written by political candidacy helper software.

Where can I buy a copy? Maybe I can drum up a polite plate of promissory pieties that can get me into office, never mind which party, they’re all pretty much the same at the lower level. But here and there, I found a candidate whose statement was written as if by a person really awake, really determined.

Too bad, none of those were people I could vote for, but it still warmed my heart to see that they had the courage to have ideas of their own and run with them. They are, I fervently hope, the first signs of the recovery of our institutions and the restoration of our national spirit, which is one of integrity.

I have integrated some visuals in this essay, strips of pictures of all our presidents, showing their terms of office in years, in days served, and which ones expired or were assassinated in office. Looking at each President singly and at the whole lineage as it continued, I became aware of the devolution of the Office.

The earlier presidents look like men of honor, dignity, truthfulness, faith. If I had lived in their time, perhaps I would read other things from their portraits. As the terms succeed each other, well-known portraits gradually become more ’modern’ like the men they represent, a little less virtuous at times.

Somewhere along the way, the presidents begin to look like what I would call career politicians. This seems absent in most of the earlier presidents, who look instead like patriotic citizens putting their personal and family lives on hold, so they can serve their country. Perhaps this is just an illusion.

Even among the modern presidents, I see faces that remind me of the heroes of the past, men whose leadership really was a kind of painful self-sacrifice, no matter what it appeared to their contemporaries or to later historians. I wonder what impression you will have of these presidential portraits.

Abraham Lincoln
Meanwhile, the election looms near, and it will be a wonder if it doesn’t end up in some kind of crisis.

Will there continue to be a United States,
e pluribus unum, or will the political centrifuge that has started its revolutions blow apart this ‘one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’?

Cold War games

So  we won the Cold War, right? Godless international communism was dealt a serious blow when the Soviet Union’s puppet states, Poland, Hungary, Romania in 1989, and Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and East Germany in 1990, caved in, and one by one the Soviet republics themselves started breaking away, leaving a massive rump, Russia alone, as the ‘Soviet Union.’ Then that resolved itself into a new, non-communist entity, the Russian Federation. We won the Cold War, right? Think again.

Communism is not, and never was, an exclusive property of the Soviet Union, even though from 1917 to the end of World War II, only the former Russian Empire, and the Great Khanate of Outer Mongolia (and for a short period a lesser Khanate of Tannu Tuva) were communist states. There always was a ‘spectre,’ as The Communist Manifesto of 1848 calls it, behind the visible communism that takes over countries. As it was losing its hold on Russia, it was increasing its hold on America and Western Europe.

The world we have now is not the Cold War world, divided between the Soviet Union, Red China, and their allies on the left, and the United States, Western Europe and their allies on the right. No, something amazing has happened. The spectre of communism is a notorious shape shifter. It is also very much a social climber. Run-down Russia and its sovietized satellites were not a rich enough prize. Glittering America, the land whose streets were paved with gold, and its rehabilitated allies were better.

So while the Cold War was going on at the surface, enemy states facing each other and threatening each other’s very existence, the spectre of communism was quietly subverting the social, the educational, and finally the political infrastructures of America, Canada, Western Europe, and their allies all over the world. The spectre has given us the slip, you might say, and the tables have been turned. ‘Who’s communist now?’ never mind the dictionary and schoolbook definitions of communism, but really.

In the grossly un-American, un-Canadian, un-British, and un-European governments that are running those countries into the ground culturally, socially, and even economically, we have the seeds of those countries’ destruction. Meanwhile, Russia, and many of the states of the former Soviet Union, are poised to regain their national identities and their historic dignity. We in the West who are ignorant of the history and culture of Russia are unable to see what is happening in a positive light.

From the frontispiece
of the book Catacomb Saints
We were caught for so long in the Cold War mentality that we seem to be unable to give it up. Growing up in that era, we always felt that the reason we opposed and contained Russia, the Soviet Union, was precisely because it was communist, because it wanted to take over the entire world and make communists out of all of us. That’s what we were told, anyhow. So, what is now the reason we are making ourselves Russia’s enemy? Their communism is over. They’re free. Ours is just beginning.

We should be rejoicing with Russia in that they are now free to be themselves, to be Russia, not some monster mega-nation whose goal is to gobble up the rest of the world. Instead, we oppose them on every front. Without understanding the history of the Russias—yes, it’s a plural—we cannot properly assess their recent moves, in Crimea, for example. Ukraine, a Soviet-era construct predicated on a linguistic basis, is one of the Russias. Crimea is a Tatar homeland mostly inhabited by ‘Great’ Russians.

Ukraine, formerly called ‘Little Russia’ is the spiritual center and the bread basket of the Russias. Though ‘little’ it is what makes ‘Great Russia’ great, in much the same way as Scotland is the ‘great’ in Great Britain. It’s hard for us in North America to even imagine the British Empire without the Scots, a distinct people and culture which has contributed more to the Anglosphere than its size would expect. The same is true of the Russian Empire. It’s hard to imagine it without Ukraine and its plenteous contributions.

Maybe it’s part of the ignorance of America and the West about the history of Russia. Maybe it’s the fact that we feel we have won the Cold War and now have everyone, including Russia, deservedly under our thumb. Maybe it’s because our leaders really are the slaves of the spectre of communism, even though they are not its legal heirs. But we are clearly on the wrong side in almost every struggle for safety, liberty and justice in the world. And why wouldn’t we be? We’re on the wrong side even to ourselves!

Face facts, spectre-haunted houses of Congress and Parliament, and White House, and less guarded commanderies of (false) European Union. Russia is not the enemy. It doesn’t need your land, your people, or your resources. You are on the wrong side in Syria. Stop trying to revive the Cold War. Stop trying to shift the blame for your failures onto somebody else. You have no one but yourselves to blame if you open your doors to your real enemies, while closing them on your potential allies and friends.

No, we didn’t exactly win the Cold War. A generation ago we had leaders who knew what Truth is, what Freedom is, what Conscience is, yes, even who God is, and in the face of those leaders and the people they mustered, the spectre of communism was revealed even to its dupes how powerless it is, powerless to bring positive change, powerless to produce anything real, and so its prison gates were busted open, and the prisoners released. Where have we seen this pattern of liberation before?

Christ is risen from the dead,
trampling down death by death, 
and to those in the tombs bestowing life.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Rescued by wedding guests

Whenever I return to a stint of reading the early fathers, that is, those before and just after the peace of the Church wrought by Constantine, I’m always struck by their modernity and the freshness that leaps out at me as I read. It makes me wonder just what ‘modern’ means.

I’ve read somewhere that the beginning of ‘modern’ times occurred in different centuries in different places. Some say in Europe they began in AD 1300 with Dante, others that Francis of Assisi is the first ‘modern’ man in the West: it all depends on when the writer thinks the medieval age ended. In the Far East, modern times are said to have begun during the Northern Sung dynasty, around the year AD 1000, and the criteria are such things as the appearance of printing, paper money, and machinery.

In my view, what I mean as ‘modern’ has to do with machinery definitely, but even more with the frank and unafraid willingness to question everything to get at the root of truth. This is something that I think we lost during the ‘Church Age’ in the West, when other priorities were substituted for it. The religiosity of medieval Christianity did not even make room for real questions to be asked, hence, the stagnation that took centuries to overcome.

Back to my topic, the written testimonies of the early Christians.

Eusebius’ History of the Church was my leisure reading matter this morning. His text reads as fluently and frankly as if it were written just yesterday, and the events he recounts are both easy to picture and believe as accurate. What a far cry from the miracle stories of Christian piety, always avid to believe anything as long as it’s monstrous—like St Nicholas of Myra reassembling and revivifying the bodies of some boys who had been hacked to pieces and concealed in barrels of pickles—or was it wine?

I read for a long while about the Church Father Origen of Alexandria who escaped being canonized as Saint Origen for some of his eccentricities of belief or at least of expression. One of his funnier speculations was that our resurrection bodies would be perfect spheres, but he also speculated on pre-existence of the soul and other ideas bordering on pagan philosophy. This speculation, in spite of his sufferings in the Decian persecution, earned him the indignity of being a suspect of heresy. Looking at him through the ‘modern’ approach that one finds in Eusebius’ history, I’d say that Origen deserves better from his ‘carping critics’ as Eusebius calls them. I guess Origen will just have to be classed with Martin Luther, who also falls under the axe of true piety, as he cries out,Let the saints canonize themselves!’

Now, for the real topic, a story that I found both exciting and interesting, written in History of the Church, Book 6, Chapter 40, entitled What happened to Dionysius. The account itself was written in a letter by Dionysius, and it is quoted in the book.

I speak as in the presence of God, who knows whether I am lying. I did not act on my own judgement or without God when I made my escape; but even before that, when Decius announced his persecution, Sabinus then and there dispatched a frumentarius to hunt me out, and I stayed at home for four days waiting for him to arrive. But though he went round searching every spot—roads, rivers, fields—where he guessed I was hiding or walking, he was smitten with blindness and did not find the house; he never imagined that when an object of persecution I should stay at home! It was only after four days, when God commanded me to go elsewhere, and by a miracle made it possible, that I set out along with the boys and many of the brethren. That this was indeed a work of divine providence was proved by what followed, when perhaps we were of use to some.

Let me interject two observations:

Dionysius tells, almost casually as if it were nothing remarkable, that God commanded him to go elsewhere. These early Christians like us had, and knew they had, direct access to God, without having to resort to a chain of command as later develops in the Church, eventually making it unimaginable in the Dark Ages that anyone but a perfect saint could actually talk to God and get His personal attention, as does Dionysius. This, to me, is a sign of modernity.

The other thing I want to notice is his use of the word miracle. As he continues to tell his story, the miraculous aspect reveals itself to be the acknowledgment that God was personally and intimately directing the flow of events. This too strikes me as modern, that is, frank and honest, not given to exaggeration or tale-spinning.

Now, to finish the story, Dionysius continues…

About sunset, my companions and I were caught by the soldiers and taken to Taposiris; but by the purpose of God it happened that Timothy was absent and was not caught. When he arrived later, he found the house empty except for a guard of servants, and learnt that we had been captured without hope of release…

And how was God’s wonderful mercy shown? You shall hear the truth. As Timothy fled distracted, he was met by one of the villagers on his way to attend a wedding-feast—which in those parts meant an all-night celebration—who asked why he was in such a hurry. He told the truth without hesitation, whereupon the other went in and informed the guests as they reclined at table. With one accord, as if at a signal, they all sprang to their feet, came as fast as their legs could carry them, and burst in where we were with such terrifying shouts that the soldiers guarding us instantly took to their heels. Then, they stood over us, as we lay on bare mattresses.

At first, God knows, I thought they were bandits who had come to plunder and steal, so I stayed on the bed. I had nothing on but a linen shirt; my other clothes that were lying near I held out to them. But they told me to get up and make a bolt for it. Then I realised what they had come for, and called out, begging and beseeching them to go away and let us be. If they wanted to do me a good turn, they had better forestall my captors and cut off my head themselves. While I shouted like this, they pulled me up by force, as my companions who shared all my adventures know. I let myself fall on my back to the floor, but they grasped me by hands and feet and dragged me out, followed by those who witnessed the whole scene, Gaius, Faustus, Peter, and Paul, who picked me up and carried me out of the village, set me on a donkey bareback, and led me away.

Now, in conclusion I ask you, brethren, isn’t this a great story? Doesn’t it ring true, and even entertain us in a way that doesn’t offend true piety, by the candid artlessness of the author? Here we have an example of what a Christian was like in the third century, before the beginning of the Church Age. There’s a lot here to be learned, and also to help us examine ourselves, to make sure that the faith that we have is the same as that of these early Christians. Reading books like these makes me think that what we have known as the ‘modern’ age has not so much to do with an era of chrónos time, but rather with moments of kairós time scattered through human history.

If this be true, what of those who call the present ‘post-modern’? Must we, like Dionysius, have to be yanked out of our resignation by Christ’s wedding guests, flung bareback on an ass, and set free?

Even of the Sabbath

Thinking about a close friend of mine, a fallen-away Episcopalian and somewhat impoverished member of a local ‘old money’ family, whose libertine lifestyle was, at least in middle age, rather more philosophical than physical, his attitude toward sexual morality was that, except for a very restricted class of offenses, there really wasn’t any—sexual morality, that is.

In our youth, he would have hidden his real lifestyle from me (perhaps), because our friendship was still in its early stages, still very much on the surface. From his viewpoint, I was a somewhat fawning young Episcopalian, with new convert zeal (I had only joined the Church a few years prior), and he would probably not have wanted to offend my (as he thought) pious sensibilities.

By early middle age we had gotten to know and love each other quite well. At that point, we were co-workers talking amateur ethics and theology, as well as aesthetics, history, science, and politics in our off hours. Our shared Anglican past (by then I had joined the Orthodox Church) gave us many common points of interest and, though temperamentally different, much sympathy for each other.

I didn’t quite believe him when he told me that he’d been with a few hundred women in his time. I mean, unless it were assembly-line whore-mongering (which would’ve been beneath his sensitive nature), it was an impossibility, and he never confessed to living in a large free-love commune. What I did see was the tail end of one disappointing relationship and the start of another.

Does it seem that I meant ‘and the start of another’ disappointing relationship? Well, that’s not what I meant, but in fact that is how it turned out. The second relationship of his which I did see was with a woman he’d known most of his life, and whom he had rescued from a very harsh and abusive relationship with another mutual friend. I think it might’ve been a marriage.

If it were a marriage, then, because of their circle of like-minded lapsed Catholic and Episcopal intellectuals, it would’ve been a marriage just to satisfy some other motive, because the woman and her husband had never had an intention to start a family. They were socialites and left-wing party hoppers. Alcoholism and drug abuse incinerated their ‘marriage.’ My friend came to the rescue.

They didn’t immediately get married after her divorce, my friend and this woman, but just set up house together. They became ‘a couple.’ It didn’t bother them that they weren’t married. Their sex life was no one’s business but their own. Both had flawed personalities, even what could be termed personality disorders, mental and emotional dispositions that made their lives actually very unhappy.

Neither had ever been involved in a real marriage themselves and so had no experience of what it takes. Each of them had always used niceness to get through all of life’s roadblocks on the way to their own personal happiness—as individuals. When they spoke of each other’s happiness and how much they wanted it, what they meant was, happiness on their terms, not on the other’s.

My object is not to single out unmarried sex, or childless marriages, both of which I do believe are moral issues, nor to point out the sinfulness of one or both, but simply to give an example of ‘life beyond the (possibility of) moral laws.’ I do believe that the moral laws are Divine in origin, but only those we call the Ten Commandments. All others, even in the Bible, are adaptations, some good, some bad.

These friends—now both my friends, as they are a couple, and I believe they did get married (though I accidentally missed the wedding)—would not admit to living beyond the moral laws, only that they follow a different standard of morality. To be sure, by Christ’s standard in His sermon on the Day of Judgment, they would probably be among the sheep who enter paradise on His right.

‘Whatsoever you do to the least of these, that you do unto Me,’ is the line that sticks with me, and I know of at least one instance where this couple would be directed to the right. A mutual friend of ours, a young lawyer from another ‘old money’ family, married and started to live the lifestyle of his class. One day he was diagnosed with a disease that would eventually incapacitate him.

His wife stayed with him as long as it did not inconvenience her personal and social life, but when it did, she promptly abandoned him to his fate. My two friends, by then living together (in sin, from the Christian viewpoint) began to tend him in his apartment, so he would not have to be transferred to a nursing home. At the end, it amounted to them doing home hospice care—for free.

This lawyer was someone they’d known almost all their lives. He had been abandoned by his wife. What else could they do? This demonstrates something more than loyalty, perhaps touching on that real moral standard, maybe even going beyond it. In the end, of course, the lawyer died. My friend and his girlfriend got married sometime after. Why? He was heading towards early dementia.

Unless his girlfriend and he were married, she could not properly care for him and, when his dementia possibly slid into Alzheimer’s, she could still be there to care for him. Again, is this natural loyalty, adherence to the moral law, or what? The bottom line here is that, knowingly or unknowingly, these people were following the word of Jesus, ‘How blessed are the merciful…’

I am thinking about laws, about the moral law, the standard that God has created along with creating us, for whom it was made. As long as we are in rebellion against that law, we cannot take our preordained place as ‘lords of the Sabbath,’ as Jesus Christ Himself did. Only by fulfilling the law, letting it teach and regulate us as a society of persons, do we become masters of ourselves, and lords over it.

Then the words of Jesus, spoken in prophecy about Himself first and then about us, be fulfilled, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath’ (Mark 2:27-28 ESV).

Astonished at His teaching

In  the news this morning I read, the United Kingdom has decided to grant pardon to all the men it has on record, whether alive or dead, who were convicted of the crime of sodomy. The article didn’t use that word, but that’s what it meant. Sodomy as a word has fallen out of favor, another ‘N’ word that mustn’t be used around polite, that is, politically correct, society. In fact, I’m tired of the cliché-ridden term ‘politically correct’ and from now on I’m just going to use the word ‘polite’ to mean the same thing, except when describing the behavior of children.

At any rate, my personal views on homosexuality aside, if what was once illegal and punishable is now legal, then that means somebody has the power to reverse long-standing laws, that the laws, in fact are admittedly just something we make up as we go along, and not in the least related to any pre-human, that is, pre-existing, moral standard. If this is true, then I think that the United Kingdom should not be issuing pardons but rather apologies, and the gay men should be issuing the pardons. In fact, the whole human race should be asking gays for forgiveness.

On a less intimate note, but still in the same vein, here in Oregon the production, sale and consumption of marijuana products was, until very recently, against the law. When the law was reversed and contoured to fit within a parameter that would benefit the government, a marijuana establishment suddenly appeared, ready-made, generations deep, and ubiquitous. No one apologized on either side, not the state for prosecuting apparently innocent people, nor the marijuana-enthused for having been breaking the law all along because it was wrong.

Or was it? The law, I mean. Was the law wrong when it made marijuana use illegal, or was it just being dictatorial, autocratic, arbitrary, and just plain power-obsessed? Well, since the law is not a person, but generally, people, civic-minded people acting on behalf of society at large to enact laws for the preservation of social well-being, none of those adjectives cataloged above, applies. Society has a right to defend itself. In true monarchies, an individual is invested with the responsibility to defend it. In republics, that responsibility is shared among many.

What I have noticed about laws, human ones but also those believed to be of Divine origin, is that they are usually framed with the good of human society as their object. They may be framed with the good of the individual, or of nature, or of some other good in mind, but always with social good, that is, the health and welfare of society, as the priority. The best laws balance social good with individual happiness. I am not here going to even mention liberty and equality, as these never make people happy if those people are not genuinely seeking happiness.

But good laws establish harmony and facilitate free functioning of society in such a way that fewer laws are needed as the society matures. Fewer laws, not more, equates to less regulation, not more, and this, because good laws are made that educate the public as well as regulate them. Going back to the Bible, which is, like it or not, the ultimate source of Western jurisprudence, we can see that the laws written therein are established for the good of society, not for the good of the individual, which is pure nonsense unless by ‘good’ you mean ‘happiness.’

Modern man chafes under the notion that God has the right to legislate on such personal matters as what we do with the people whom we sleep with. Once, a very dear friend of mine laughed at me and said, ‘Nonsense, God doesn’t care whom we sleep with!’ when I naively said something that supported the idea of sexual morality. For him, sex was outside the realm of God’s prerogatives. My friend ‘believed’ in God and enjoyed talking about Him as a form of intellectual stimulation, but morality for him was what he thought right, not what God does.

But I believe there is a concrete, a very definite, standard of morality, something on which good laws depend and to which they point us. That invisible yet universally recognized standard is something that came into existence at the same moment that humanity became aware of itself and of God, that threshold immortalized in the story of the creation of Adam and Eve. I am not saying that this standard wasn’t always there, uncreated just as God was always there, Uncreated, but that part of the standard which has to do only with us is co-temporal with us.

After centuries of human progress in every other area of endeavor, as a society we now find ourselves suddenly bereft of a conscience that is in accord with that standard. Individuals still have it. Some people still recognize the voice of the human conscience—which is the same in everyone as it starts out—unaffected by the currents of imaginary ideologies that come against it, but society has once again been subverted by the tyrannical voices that know no moral standard, only their desires, and the pursuit, not of happiness, which they no longer want, but power.

Happily—yes, there are still people who want happiness—society is still part of nature, still part of God’s creation just as the individual is, and like the rest of Nature, it has built-in mechanisms to heal itself, and like any biological being, will always right itself when it goes wrong, in preference to just giving up hope and perishing. Society, as we see around us today, is again becoming self-aware. The enemies of humanity, themselves human only in form, brand those who oppose them ‘populist’ and accuse them of backwardness, but it is these others who stand on rock.

If it is backward to stand on rock rather than sand, let me be backward. I know that I have no happiness unless the society I live in is happy. The same goes for everything else in life. We are truly individuals only by being part of society, so let’s put ourselves back on the road that leads to health and happiness.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at His teaching, for He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
Matthew 7:21-29 ESV

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The peace of Christ

Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The Blood of Jesus whispers peace within.

—Edward Henry Bickersteth
Hymn writer

Peace, that which comes from above and is granted by God alone through Christ is not easy to define, but it definitely does NOT mean something like "all's well" or "peace and quiet" in the usual sense. Peace from God does not necessarily mean that there is no trouble anywhere in our life, nor that we are not faced with problems to which we cannot find a solution.

It's easier to talk about this peace that comes from God through Christ and is bestowed on us in prayer than it is to actually have it. Why? Because we usually talk about it when we are NOT in any great distress, emergency or need, but after we have been delivered from it. We look back in retrospect and thank God for the deliverance and find words of testimony to give about God's faithfulness.

What is the best definition of and the most convincing testimony to the "peace from above"?
When we are presently in distress, in danger, at risk, beset with problems we see no end of, when we are suffering persecutions, slander, unjust accusations, when no one believes us, when no one cares about us, and we are not sad, not unhappy, not anxious, not disturbed, not reproachful, uncomplaining, unmoved to anger or revenge, still hopeful, still forgiving, still loving our enemies, still seeking God’s Kingdom first and His righteousness, never giving in to despair or abandonment. When we are in THIS place, and can define "the peace of God which passeth all understanding" not only by the word of our confession, but also by our passionlessness, then we have understood and accepted what that peace is. It's the same peace that Jesus knew when He was crucified and when He uttered with His last breath, "It is finished. Into your hands I commend my spirit (for You have redeemed me, God of Truth)." It is the same peace which Jesus gave to His disciples when He said, "My peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give."

This is the peace of Christ.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Never refuse to listen when He speaks

The teaching of the holy apostles…

Take care, brothers, that there is not in anyone of your community a wicked mind, so unbelieving as to turn away from the living God.
Hebrews 3:12

Every day keep encouraging one another so that none of you is hardened by the lure of sin.
Hebrews 3:13

We shall remain coheirs with Christ only if we keep a grasp on our first confidence right to the end.
Hebrews 3:14

The Word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely; it can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow; it can judge the secret emotions and thoughts. No created thing can hide from Him; everything is uncovered and open to the eyes of the One to whom we must give an account of ourselves.
Hebrews 4:12-13

We must never let go of the faith that we have professed.
Hebrews 4:14b

Be confident in approaching the throne of grace. We shall have mercy from Him and find grace when we are in need of help.
Hebrews 4:16

Through the blood of Jesus we have the right to enter the sanctuary by a new way which He has opened for us, a living opening through the curtain, His body.
Hebrews 10:19b-20

Let us be sincere in heart and filled with faith, our minds sprinkled and free from any trace of bad conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us keep firm in the faith we profess, because the One who made the promise is faithful.
Hebrews 10:22-23

Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works.
Hebrews 10:24

Do not stay away from the meetings of the community, as some do, but encourage each other to go; the more so as you see the Day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:25

Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen. It was for faith that our ancestors were commended.
Hebrews 11:1-2

With so many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us, we too, then, should throw off everything that hinders us, especially the sin that clings so easily, and keep running steadily the race we have started.
Hebrews 12:1

Let us not lose sight of Jesus who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection.
Hebrews 12:2

Think of the way He stood such opposition from sinners and then you will not give up for want of courage. In the fight against sin you have not yet had to keep fighting to the point of death.
Hebrews 12:3-4

When the Lord corrects you, do not treat it lightly; but do not get discouraged when He reprimands you. The Lord trains the ones that He loves and He punishes all those that He acknowledges as his sons. Suffering is part of your training; God is treating you as His sons.
Hebrews 12:5b-7a

Always be wanting peace with all people, and the holiness without which no one can ever see the Lord.
Hebrews 12:14

Be careful that no one is deprived of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness should begin to grow and make trouble; this can poison a whole community.
Hebrews 12:15

Be careful that there is no immorality, or that anyone of you does not degrade religion like Esau, who sold his birthright for one single meal.
Hebrews 12:16

What you have come to is nothing known to the senses: not a blazing fire, or a gloom turning to total darkness, or a storm, or trumpeting thunder, or the great voice speaking which made everyone that heard it beg that no more should be said to them.
Hebrews 12:18-19

What you have come to is Mount Zion and the City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church in which everyone is a first-born son and a citizen of heaven. You have come to God Himself, the supreme Judge, and been placed with the spirits of the saints who have been made perfect; and to Jesus the Mediator who brings a new covenant and a blood for purification which pleads more insistently than Abel’s. Make sure that you never refuse to listen when He speaks.
Hebrews 12:22-25a

We have been given possession of an unshakable Kingdom. Let us therefore hold on to the grace that we have been given and use it to worship God in the way that he finds acceptable, in reverence and awe. For our God is a consuming fire.
Hebrews 12:28-29

Continue to love each other like brothers and remember always to welcome strangers, for by doing this some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
Hebrews 13:1-2

Keep in mind those who are in prison as though you were in prison with them; and those who are being badly treated, since you too are in one body.
Hebrews 13:3

Marriage is to be honored by all, and marriages are to be kept undefiled, because fornicators and adulterers will come under God’s judgment.
Hebrews 13:4

Put greed out of your lives and be content with whatever you have.
Hebrews 13:5a

Remember your leaders who preach the Word of God to you and, as you reflect on the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith.
Hebrews 13:7

Jesus Christ is the same today as He was yesterday and as He will be forever. Do not let yourselves be led astray by all sorts of strange doctrines.
Hebrews 13:8-9a

Jesus suffered outside the gate to sanctify the people with His own blood. Let us go to Him outside the camp and share His degradation. For there is no eternal city for us in this life, but we look for one in the life to come. Through Him let us offer God an unending sacrifice of praise, a verbal sacrifice every time we acknowledge His Name.
Hebrews 13:12-15

Keep doing good works and sharing your resources, for these are sacrifices that please God.
Hebrews 13:16

Obey your leaders and do as they tell you, because they must give an account of the way they look after your souls. Make this a joy for them to do and not a grief. You yourselves would be the losers.
Hebrews 13:17

All texts are taken from the Jerusalem Bible (1966).

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Train yourself spiritually

The teaching of holy apostle Paul…

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.
Titus 1:1b-2

Have a firm grasp of the unchanging message of the tradition.
Titus 1:9a

To all who are pure themselves, everything is pure; but to those who have been corrupted and lack faith, nothing can be pure.
Titus 1:15

Preach the behavior which goes with healthy doctrine.
Titus 2:1

In everything you do, make yourself an example of working for good.
Titus 2:7

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.
Titus 2:8

There must be no petty thieving. Show complete honesty at all times.
Titus 2:10a

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.
Titus 2:11-14

Be ready to do good at every opportunity.
Titus 3:1b

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.
Titus 3:2b-3a

If a man disputes what you teach, then after a first and a second warning, have no more to do with him.
Titus 3:10

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.
Philemon 1:6

All texts are taken from the Jerusalem Bible (1966).