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Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween?

This year our six year old announced that he wanted to be a devil for Halloween.  We must have looked at him in horror, because he innocently responded, "Not the real devil, just the fake red one."  


Christians of all stripes have mixed feelings about Halloween, and much has been writing on both sides of the issues.  Rather than rehash previous comments, I have collected my favorite links on the topics.


John Sanidopoulos at Mystagogy can fill your bag with more trick or treat goodies than anyone else:  The Truth About HalloweenOrthodoxy and Halloween: Separating Fact from Fiction, and the Halloween Resource Page

Here's some other interesting posts from the Evangelical world and one of my favorite online stops, the Sci-Fi Christian:  Doing Theology with the Bride of FrankensteinToward a Theology of Trick or Treating, part 1, and part 2

If you have never read it, I do think Bram Stoker's Dracula is an incredibly Christian novel, and Aaron Taylor has a great post on another recent Dracula novel entitled the Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.  The post and the book are excellent.  


My favorite Halloween idea comes from Ortho-blogger Silouan Thompson:  Orthodox Trick or Treat.  Please let us know if you try his idea!





Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Silent Harp That Without Voice Gave out Melodies The Pearl 1:2

Hymn 1, Section 2 of St. Ephrem's The Pearl (see here for 1:1)


It was greater to me than the ark,
For I was astonished there at:
I saw therein folds without shadow to them
Because it was a daughter of light,
Types vocal without tongues,
Utterances of mystery without lips,
A silent harp that without voice gave out melodies.

The trumpet falters and the thunder mutters;
Be not thou daring then;
Leave things hidden, take things revealed.
Thou hast seen in the clear sky a second shower;
The clefts of thine ears,
As from the clouds,
They are filled with interpretations.

And as that manna which alone filled the people,
In the place of pleasant meats,
With its pleasantnesses,
So does this pearl fill me in the place of books,
And the reading thereof,
And the explanations thereof.

And when I asked if there were yet other mysteries,
It had no mouth for me that I might hear from,
Neither any ears wherewith it might hear me.
O Thou thing without senses, whence I have gained new senses!

Friday, October 28, 2011

God Behaving Badly (part 1)

How do you reconcile the longsuffering, loving, faithful, merciful God of the Old Testament with the fire and brimstone God of the New Testament?

Did the question cause a double-take? This question is usually thought of in reverse, and is asked by Evangelical Bible professor Dr. David Lamb, the author of God Behaving Badly, in order to make you rethink your perception of God in the Old Testament.  

I stumbled upon this book while doing research for our class on Joshua. A class-member asked about the nature of the violence in the book of Joshua and how we reconcile it with the New Testament. This is an important question, and one being posed by the current crop of aggressive atheists as a wedge designed to shatter and disrupt the faith of modern Christians.  

The following are a list of thoughts that have been helpful to me as our class has wrestled with these issues.

1.  This issue would not be a concern prior to the coming of Christ.  This is important to consider.  Prior to Christ, the moral objection to use violence against world barbarism would seem foolish.  The only realistic means to advance your tribes culture in the ancient world was to destroy another tribe.  The rule was kill or be killed, and pre-emptive strikes were not aggressive behavior; they were seen as defensive moves to further establish the security of your people and culture. 

Christ changed the morality of the world.  After Christianity assumed its dominance in the Roman empire, theological reflection on the nature of war, defense, and battle challenged the age old approach to conquest.  Ironically these “new” atheists are operating within a Christian moral framework, and their attacks would have been unfathomable prior to Christ.  

2. The overwhelming picture of God in the OT is one of love, mercy, and faithfulness to his people.  He is longsuffering, and goes to great lengths to demonstrate love to His people and all nations.  The cartoon above taps into a common mistaken perception about the God of the Old Testament. 

Yet this misperception is not new to our century.  Early in the life of the Church, one of the first heresies was by a man name Marcion.  Marcion taught that Jesus and the God of the Old Testament were different, Jesus being the God of love who overcame the wrathful God of the Old.  Marcion rejected the OT as Scripture, as well as some Gospels and anything but his edited version of Paul’s writing. 

Story after story in the Old Testament portrays God intent on blessing mankind.  The choosing of Abraham blessed the whole world and not only a small ethnic tribe of Middle Eastern people.  Abraham’s descendants would be numerous, but they were to be a light that would draw all people to God. 

The mission of Israel at its creation under Moses was to bring light to the Gentiles, drawing the peoples of the world into its commonwealth, a commonwealth set apart to demonstrate a relationship with their God that was unique among the world, saving them from the darkness of death-inducing paganism. 

Gentiles assimilate into Israel throughout the OT.  They throw off the shackles of their former faith and culture to become one with the people of God.  As Israel exits Egypt, they bring Egyptians with them.  In the wilderness they pick up groups and individuals along the way.  Under Joshua's, Gentiles are brought into Israel, and protected like their own people.  This story continues, not en masse, like we see in the Church of Acts, but the purpose as a light on mission to the world marches slowly through the pages of the OT. 

God through Moses commands the people to protect the resident alien, and treat them with the same care they would the widow and orphan.  A foreigner would be in the same desperate straits as the child and widow, abandoned through tragedy, yet their abandonment would come at their decision to leave family and clan to join with the people of God.  Israel was responsible to care for them.  

more to come...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Forge 10-25-2011

Throughout the week, I stumble upon what I think are pretty interesting and beneficial articles.  Some just make you scratch your head, and others really add practical value.  I have never really found a good way to share the info.  

Welcome to the Forge.  In keeping with a "Sword in the Fire" theme, I have borrowed a term from the old blacksmith shop, using it to describe this mix of material that a reader might could melt down into something useful.  

Here's this weeks links:  

Check out this article Original Martyrdom Account of St. Peter the Aleut at the Orthodox history site.  


As I have gotten older, and watched my kids get closer to adulthood, leadership and becoming a godly man, are becoming more important in my life and in how I instruct my kids.  This site is always good, and here's a recent post:  Old Fashioned Leadership


I stumbled on this site through a Google alert I set up.  Dead Sea Scrolls and the "Rest of the Bible"  It is an account of the books of the Apocrypha and what was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.  It hints that there may have been Hebrew originals for some of these books.  


Finally, add this site to your reader Good Books for Young Souls.  I recently won a set of children's books here, and often forward article to my oldest son.  If you have children, this blogger is always giving great reading suggestions for children. 


Enjoy!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ephrem the Syrian - The Pearl


Over the next several Sundays I will be posting St. Ephrem the Syrian's The Pearl.  

Here's a brief bio on Ephrem:


Ephrem (or Ephren or Ephraim or Ephrain) of Edessa was a teacher, poet, orator, and defender of the Faith. (To English-speakers, the most familiar form of his name will be "Ephraim." It is the name of the younger son of Joseph, son of Jacob (see Genesis 41:52), and is thus the name of one of the largest of the twelve tribes of Israel.) Edessa (now Urfa), a city in modern Turkey about 100 kilometers from Antioch (now Antakya), was a an early center for the spread of Christian teaching in the East. It is said that in 325 he accompanied his bishop, James of Nisibis, to the Council of Nicea. Certainly his writings are an eloquent defense of the Nicene faith in the Deity of Jesus Christ. He countered the Gnostics' practice of spreading their message through popular songs by composing Christian songs and hymns of his own, with great effect. He is known to the Syrian church as "the harp of the Holy Spirit."

Ephrem retired to a cave outside Edessa, where he lived in great simplicity and devoted himself to writing. He frequently went into the city to preach. During a famine in 372-3 he worked distributing food to the hungry, and organizing a sort of ambulance service for the sick. He worked long hours at this, and became exhausted and sick, and so died. (from here)

For other info regarding his life please click here:  St. Ephrem (from the OCA website) or Logismoi - St. Ephrem or Mystagogy - St. Ephrem

St. Ephrem wrote poetry and hymns, using the the beauty and rhythm of language to embed the faith into the ears of our hearts, like a song that will not leave you alone, bringing grace to your heart rather than the distraction of the world.  

The Pearl takes it names from Jesus' parable of the pearl of great price, which becomes a image for the gospel and the faith that will save mankind.  

St. Ephrem the Syrian - The Pearl

HYMN I.

** 1. **

On a certain day a pearl did I take up, my brethren;
I saw in it mysteries pertaining to the Kingdom;
Semblances and types of the Majesty;It became a fountain, and I drank out of it mysteries of the Son.
I put it, my brethren, upon the palm of my hand,That I might examine it:I went to look at it on one side,And it proved faces on all sides.
I found out that the Son was incomprehensible,Since He is wholly Light.
In its brightness I beheld the Bright One Who cannot be clouded,And in its pureness a great mystery,Even the Body of Our Lord which is well-refined:
In its undivideness I saw the TruthWhich is undivided.It was so that I saw there its pure conception,The Church, and the Son within her.
The cloud was the likeness of her that bare Him,And her type the heaven,Since there shone forth from her His gracious Shining.
I saw therein his Trophies, and His victories, and His crowns.I saw His helpful and overflowing graces,And His hidden things with His revealed things.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Shatner, Queen, & Dostoevsky

This video has no relation to anything I normally blog about.  It's a culmination of the lack of time for a real thoughtful post, mindless internet suffering, and the unexplainable phenomena that is William Shatner.  

I can't understand it, but he cracks me up.  Here is a guy who totally re-invented himself as a caricature of himself.  Apparently he has a new album, and here is video release of his version of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, which is equally entertaining in a strange way.  

I guess I never paid attention to the words before, but there is a little Dostoevsky Crime and Punishment element to the story, without any redemption.  



Ok, enough distractions, next time expect something a little more serious and practical.  


ht: The Sci Fi Christian

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Song of Glory to the Savior

I bow down to Thee, O Master; I bless Thee, O Good One; I beseech Thee, O Holy One; I fall down before Thee, O Lover of mankind; and I glorify Thee, O Christ; for Thou, O Only-begotten Master of all, O Only Sinless One, wast, for the sake of me, an unworthy sinner, given up to death on the cross in order to free the soul of a sinner from the bondage of sin.


And how shall I repay Thee, O Master?  Glory to Thee, O Lover of mankind!  Glory to Thee, O Merciful One!  Glory to Thee, O Longsuffering One!  Glory to Thee, Who forgivest every fall into sin!


Glory to Thee, Who didst descend to save our souls!  Glory to Thee, Who didst take flesh in the womb of the Virgin!  Glory to Thee, Who didst suffer bondage!  Glory to Thee, Who didst accept scourging!  Glory to Thee, Who wast made an object of humiliation!  Glory to Thee, Who wast crucified!  Glory to Thee, Who wast buried!  


Glory to Thee, Who didst rise from the dead!  Glory to Thee, of Whom the prophets spoke! Glory to Thee, in Whom we have believed.  Glory to Thee, Who didst sit with glory at the right hand of the Father and Who art coming again with hosts of angels to judge every soul that has scorned They holy passion.  


In that anxious and dreadful hour when the heavenly powers are roused, when all the angels, archangels, seraphim, and cherubim will stand with fear and trembling before They glory, when the foundations of the earth will be shaken, and when all that breathes will be terrified by the incomparable greatness of They glory--in that hour mayest Thou take me under They wing and may my soul be delivered from the terrible fire and from the gnashing of teeth, from outer darkness and eternal lamentation, that I may bless Thee and say; Glory to Him Who has desired to save a sinner according to the great compassion of His mercy!


- St. Ephraim the Syrian

Friday, October 14, 2011

Communion and the Sales Process

I am in sales and have been for most of my adult life.  Anyone who has worked in sales within an organization has been through sales training.  

Most training can be boiled down to having an outcome in mind; probing the customer so that you can tailor your product to his needs; offering solutions to the needs; handling objections; and closing the sale.  

To get really good at this takes a lot of practice.  The practice can take shape in real interactions or coached role plays.  While painful and tedious, role-playing can be extremely effective and eventually you find that you are constantly role-playing in your head.  

As you enter an interaction, you begin framing the conversation and trying to shape your questions and comments toward a certain outcome, imagining scenarios and objections that you can counter, moving the customer to your end goal.  

While this works great for sales, it is horrible for relationships, at least relationships that are  deep enough to be called communion.  Communion suggests intimacy and openness, not measured responses or scripted questions and answers.  

The bleed over of the sales talk into real relationship is subtle and dangerous.  Rather than real conversation, talks become about generating your own outcome, degrading communion into a transaction.  


A conversation of communion should not be a game of chess, thinking of every potential move the opponent may make, cornering them to yield to your will; but communion is an act of surrender, exposing your weaknesses and desires, giving an opportunity for attack, trusting for a loving embrace.


Now to practice what I preach.  

Monday, October 10, 2011

Book Review: Dostoevsky

I have been a fan of Dostoevsky for some time having read the Idiot, Demons, Crime & Punishment, and the Brothers Karamazov; but outside of brief snippets of his life I knew little about the man.  


So I was full of anticipation when I fell upon a new biography of Dostoevsky by Dr. Peter Leithart. Dr. Leithart is a pastor and professor of theology and literature in Idaho, and does a wonderful job in this short summary of the life of one's of the world's greatest novelists.  


The book is written in such a way that it feels like one of Dostoevsky's own novel.  He paints Dostoevsky in several flashbacks as the famous author sits with a friend near the end of his life.  Dostoevsky himself was a master of generating psychological tension and struggle, and Leithart does the same, letting us into the heart of the writer as he struggles with the crosses of his life.  


Dostoevsky does not appear to us as a perfect man, but one who offered his own flaws as a sacrifice to God, transforming him into a prophet for Russia and all of modernity.  For his own sufferings gave him a vision that allowed him to see Christ in the heart of his fellow man, and the necessity of Christ for his mother Russia.  


Early on he appears as a different man.  Leithart tells us that he read Job as a child and throughout his life for "when he read it, he received the seed of God into his heart.  Every time he read it...he felt he was gulping down a flood of grace."  As one who struggles with Job as an adult, I stand in awe of this experience.  


Russia was in the throes of change, and much of the changes he saw eventually led to the Bolshevik revolution bringing the terrors of communism upon the people of Russia.  During his life he saw this developing, and he cried out against these movements like a prophet crying out in the wilderness.  Russia teetered on the brink of Christ and Atheism, and it was difficult to tell which way it would fall.  


For Dostoevsky, the answer to Russia's struggle with modernity was Christ, and to deny him would bring certain death.  Russia unlike the West could not sterilize Christ and survive; it was Christ or hell.  


He came to these conclusions because he experienced Christ through his interactions with the peasants and commoners of Russia, his near-execution and imprisonment in Siberia, his persecution at the hands of the avant-garde literati, and his own physical maladies.  


Modernity wanted the kingdom of God with Christ.  They wanted the Resurrection, the Kingdom of God, the lion lying down with the lamb, but not the Crucifixion.  For even with Christ, the kingdom would not be fully realized until the end of the world.  This life would always be a struggle with Christ, but to deny the struggle would make all things meaningless and empty.  


Of the Russian intellectuals he poured out wisdom disguised as criticism: 


"They were unwilling to sacrifice themselves in a Christlike fashion for the sake of others.  Sacrifice everything, even your grandeur and your great ideas, for the general good; stoop down, as low as the level of a child. "

"True religion is suffering, striving, reaching for something that will only be fulfilled in a future life.  Politics has to be carried out in the shadow of this same afterlife.  Take away that struggle and you take away humanity."
"Christ does not seek friends.  He seeks disciples.  They want peasant values without peasant religion, and as always they want their good deeds without Christ."
"If you distort the truth of Christ by identifying it with the aims of this world, you instantly lose the meaning of Christianity...Instead of the true ideal of Christ, a new tower of Babel is constructed."


For me this book challenged my own faith, and did what I had hoped, letting me into the heart of a favorite novelist by revealing new depths to the characters and stories I have enjoyed throughout the years.  


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com  book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255  : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Prayer before the Gospel

Illumine our hearts, O Master who lovest mankind, with the pure light of Thy divine knowledge; 


and open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Thy gospel teachings; 


implant in us also the fear of Thy blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing unto Thee: 


for Thou art the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we give glory, together with Thy Father who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life giving Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Out of the Water into the Battle

One of the best activities I get to be involved with is our Adult Sunday School class.  It has been pretty significant in stemming the tide of darkness in my own life, keeping me accountable, and forcing me into the Bible like a miner bringing back precious resources for his fellow man.  

I am convinced that the process of study and presenting has done more for my own life than that of the members of the class, because the act of distilling truth into a form that can be communicated drives me to think clearer and apply what I have to speak.

Not only does the backroom study influence me, but the classroom interaction generates greater benefit for me than the members might suspect.

Currently we are studying the book of Joshua.  My approach is to address the literal happenings of the text, then uncover the types that are hidden reflecting back to us the person of Jesus, using that to reveal action needed in our own life.  Yet the comments in class always enrich me.    

For example, this past week 2 such comments pulled back the veil for me and expanded the text.  We are in the beginning of the book where Joshua is given the instructions on how to cross the Jordan which will launch the campaign to take the inheritance God had promised to them through Abraham 600 years earlier.  


The priest enter the swollen Jordan with the ark of the covenant on their shoulders and the waters part allowing the people to begin the crossing.  Once the people have crossed over, Joshua chooses 12 men from the tribes to go back into the now dry river bed and select 12 stones.  These stones will be erected as a memorial on the banks of the Jordan, reminding them of the work of God in their midst, perpetuating the faith to future generations who inquire at the meaning of this mound of stones.  


Entry into water is always an image of baptism, but I have always seen this as our individual baptism.  One member of class spoke up and related this to Christ's own descent into the Jordan.  Like his namesake Joshua, He passes through the Jordan to begin His battle against the forces of darkness, of which the first great battle will be His temptation by Satan.  As Christians, we also follow Christ (and Joshua) into the Jordan, and arise not to a life of comfort but one of warfare, a warfare against the evil in our own hearts, and the strongholds of darkness into the world.  Brilliant!  


Joshua's 12 stone memorial serves also as a mine of riches.  They are physical monuments to the work of God.  We mimic this action today through iconography, the physical and material acts of worship, and even the commemoration of God's actions in the world through the 12 Great feasts of the Church.  Another member chimed in at this point and struck our hearts with his comments.  Not only do we, like Joshua, establish physical markers of God's work throughout our lives in order to perpetuate the faith in our life and our children's, our own lives should be "living stones" (1 Peter 2:5) that inspire faith.  We should be memorials of God's action in this world, a beachhead on the battleground, displaying the victory of Christ against the darkness.  Again, brilliant!  


Thank you class!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

God is Not One

I had a couple minutes to burn the other day, so I popped into a bookstore to browse.  Walking down the aisles, something excited the heart of this theology nerd.  The book was titled, God is Not One.  My brain began to work through the content's possibilities--perhaps it is a book on the Trinity, explaining its forgotteness in modern Christianity and its implications for faith and life in the Church.  Sounds exciting, hmm?




I reached for it with the anticipation of illumination, hoping for shafts of light to pierce my mind unraveling any misconceptions I may hold, then piecing the threads back into a glorious tapestry of dogma. 


The book was not what I expected, but I was not disappointed.  The subtitle read, "the eight rival religions that run the world--and why their differences matter."


I was intrigued enough to skim further and found something refreshing.  The author asserts that not all religious paths lead to the same place.  Each conception of God and man are uniquely different and this brings each system to different conclusions.  This is important because if we truly believe our faith matters and has eternal consequences we can't discuss it rightly with others unless we admit and take seriously their differences.  



A secular political correctness has subversively eclipsed any dialogue regarding religion in postmodern life.  If all paths lead to the same place, a forceful discussion is meaningless and generates nothing substantial.  


The major reason that the author gives for these divergent views is the starting point of each religion, and the problem they feel the need to address. 


Here's a sampling of his breakdown of various religions:


                     Problem    /  Solution 
Christianity:    Sin           /  Salvation
Judaism:         Exile        /  Return to God
Islam:              Pride       /  Submission 
Buddhism:       Suffering  /  Awakening 
Confucianism:  Chaos      /  Social Order


It seems there is a lot of good in this approach.  Yet, I have a lot of questions.  Does his conception of Christianity do it justice?  I could argue that his framing of Judaism fits the Christian approach.  Is there a different conception between East and West expressions of Christianity?  Is sin the major problem?


I would love to know your thoughts, and if anyone has interacted with this book.  Comment below.  



Monday, October 03, 2011

Top Posts for September 2011

Here are my top five posts for September.  Thanks to all the readers.


Jul 11, 2011

Mar 31, 2011

Sep 6, 2011

Sep 9, 2011, 2 comments

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