Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Two Powerful Songs You May Never Have Heard

It's been a while since I have done posts that are pure recommendations, so here goes.

Yesterday, I learned that my book The Rest of the Bible had been quoted by one of my favorite online writers, Joel J Miller.  He was writing on the Two Songs of the Three Holy Youths in the Fiery Furnace, which is found only in the LXX Old Testament.

If you don't currently read his work, you need to subscribe to Joel J. Miller's posts on Patheos.  I will give you the link in a minute.

I have been following Joel for some time.  He's an Orthodox Christian who maintained his own blog, where he wrote great essays only too infrequently.

Recently he was picked up Patheos, and online repository for religion writing.  Since then his posts have become more regular and consistently good.  

Joel is the Vice President of Acquisitions and Editorial in the Non Fiction Trade Group at Thomas Nelson.  He is also the author of 5 books, and his recent Lifted by Angels has been highlighted through an interview on Ancient Faith Live.  Hopefully our church book club will add it to the list of 2013 books.

Add Joel to your list of online destinations.  Here's the link

Theron Mathis

Monday, December 10, 2012

Do You Know the Christmas Carol, "God Will Come From Teman?"

The carols of Christmas have begun as we prepare for the birth of Christ.  Joyous old hymns celebrating “The First Noel”, honoring a “Silent Night”, and hearing angels beckon “Come All You Faithful” pulse through speakers of our local marketplace. 
Orthodox songs are absent in popular American life, so we may be less familiar with the words and meanings.  Leading up to the Nativity, several hymns repeat each service, bringing to us the theology of the Church and helping us understand the fullness of the Incarnation. 
No service of the Christmas season is more full of wonder and theology than the Royal Hours preceding the celebration of the Nativity of Christ. 
Hymns explaining the mystery of God becoming Man through the womb of a Virgin are scattered among litanies, Psalms, and Readings of Scripture.  Yet throughout this service a strange phrase is repeated:  click here for the rest
Theron Mathis

Monday, November 12, 2012

How To Survive Political Disappointment

Wednesday, November 7, many Christians awoke to disappointing election results.  If not in the presidential race, then probably somewhere else---governor, senator, representative, school board, county coroner. 
To appreciate the mood, here is a sampling of some of my favorite mournful and joyful Tweets: 

                          - read the rest here. 

Theron Mathis

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Thank You and A Free Gift

Thank you to all the readers of The Rest of the Bible!  

It's been a little over a year, since the print and ebook publication, and I continue to be encouraged by the response.

There is very little in print regarding those "extra" Old Testament books, and this book fit that need.

If you have ever wondered about the content of Tobit, the Maccabees, Judith, etc, but never had the time to dig and read, this book will give you an overview of each book as well as discussing how Christian throughout history have used and understand these stories.

Thank you as well to those who commented on Amazon.

Here are a sample of the reviews.

It is about time someone took to giving a good outline and reading companion to these books. So often they are overlooked because sadly most bibles do not include them. This is not only a readable book for those interested but in my mind opens up a world of 'forgotten' Scripture to the modern eyes.
A simple but brilliant idea for a book. I don't know what else to say, buy it and read it. This guy does a great job and he really knows his church history. These books should be a part of EVERY Bible, not just Catholic & some Orthodox Bibles.
Mathis's cliff note style helps one quickly understand the gist of message for each book which further encourages us to read these books.
I went from the Mathis book to read Tobit, Judith and 2 Maccabees and was not disappointed. They are truly very readable, uplifting books as the Mathis book promised. I can see where the early church would use them as preparatory texts. 
 As a gift to readers and future readers, I have put together a study guide for this book.

Our parish used the text in book club, and many of the study questions came out of that discussion.

As well as study questions, several other articles regarding the Readables and further resources for deeper study are included.

To get your free gift, send me an email at, and I will forward on the study guide.

Thanks again and God Bless.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Scarcity and Abundance

In Adult Sunday School, we are reading St. John’s account of the feeding of the 5000.  This miracle of Jesus never fails to impress.  Five thousand men plus their families have come to Him to hear His teaching and perhaps get a glimmer of the miraculous because, for many in the crowd, there have been rumors of miracles: rumors that people were healed, blind could see, life was transformed into something new.  Who wouldn’t want to be present for something like this?
This would be especially appealing after your life has been spent occupied and controlled by a foreign power, yet the promise of God to your family and religious leaders is that God has given you this land, you will be strong, you will be great, your kingdom will never end...
read the rest here

Theron Mathis

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Bible Landscaping Secrets

A couple years ago my main water line burst.  The fix was not a pretty sight.  Half my front yard was excavated leaving a landscaping nightmare.  Years later after much work and settling, the yard is beginning to recover.

not my yard, but a close second

Turning the earth from the bottom up brought up sizable prehistoric rocks into the front yard.  My first priority to restore any green grass was to remove these large rocks. 

From behind the house, the wheelbarrow made its appearance and I bribed a couple of my children to help dad move rocks out of the front yard.  Of course, for them it was not about moving rocks but looking for ancient fossils and possible dinosaur discoveries.  

Soon the big rocks were gone, but lo and behold there were still rocks.  Hidden among the large stones were others of lesser size, still preventing a lush landscape of enviable green grass from taking root.  

So these smaller stones were hauled away along with a "dinosaur tooth" or two.  

Now the work of planting grass could begin.  As I gathered the tools to prep the soil, more rocks had moved in, unfortunately they were smaller than the last batch.  

Eventually enough rocks and fossils were removed for grass to grow, but even today I am constantly finding insidious little rocks pushing through the dirt.  

I was reminded of this story while studying to teach John 3 in our Adult Church school class.  

In John 3, Jesus talks to Nicodemus about exposing himself to the light as part of life in the kingdom of God:

"But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen..."
Light has a way of revealing defects, and like my upturned front lawn, we first see the big boulders, those things that are not only obvious to us, but even those around us.  

Once cleared, the light reveals more that wasn't noticed until the large defects were removed.  And the task continues as more and more sins are revealed and excavated from our life.  

This is why the saints, who seem beyond sin in our eyes, bemoan their own defects.  We don't feel like such large sinners because we only see one or two of the big rocks.  But they never leave the light, having cleared the boulders, they see fields of small pebbles.  

"For everyone who does what is hateful, hates The Light and does not come to The Light, lest his works should be convicted."

Theron Mathis

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Elderly Apostle John Chases Down Young Prodigal

In studying the Gospel of John, I stumbled upon a wonderful story of the Apostle John as an old man, and in memory of his repose today in the city of Ephesus the retelling seems appropriate.

John unlike many of the apostles seemed to have never married, being tasked with the care of the Virgin Mary.  Upon her repose, he left Jerusalem and traveled into Asia Minor, where he became the overseer of the churches there making his residence in the city of Ephesus.  During this time, he was exiled and tortured, but eventually made his way back to his beloved city as an old man.

John's life was inflamed by the love of God, and the story below demonstrates the zeal and passion that love had upon his life.
6. “Listen to a tale, which is not a mere tale, but a narrative concerning John the apostle, which has been handed down and treasured up in memory.
For when, after the tyrant’s death, he returned from the isle of Patmos to Ephesus, he went away upon their invitation to the neighboring territories of the Gentiles, to appoint bishops in some places, in other places to set in order whole churches, elsewhere to choose to the ministry some one of those that were pointed out by the Spirit. 
7. When he had come to one of the cities not far away (the name of which is given by some), and had consoled the brethren in other matters, he finally turned to the bishop that had been appointed, and seeing a youth of powerful physique, of pleasing appearance, and of ardent temperament, he said, ‘This one I commit to thee in all earnestness in the presence of the Church and with Christ as witness.’ And when the bishop had accepted the charge and had promised all, he repeated the same injunction with an appeal to the same witnesses, and then departed for Ephesus.
8. But the presbyter taking home the youth committed to him, reared, kept, cherished, and finally baptized him. After this he relaxed his stricter care and watchfulness, with the idea that in putting upon him the seal of the Lord he had given him a perfect protection.
9. But some youths of his own age, idle and dissolute, and accustomed to evil practices, corrupted him when he was thus prematurely freed from restraint. At first they enticed him by costly entertainments; then, when they went forth at night for robbery, they took him with them, and finally they demanded that he should unite with them in some greater crime. 10. He gradually became accustomed to such practices, and on account of the positiveness of his character, leaving the right path, and taking the bit in his teeth like a hard-mouthed and powerful  horse, he rushed the more violently down into the depths.
11. And finally despairing of salvation in God, he no longer meditated what was insignificant, but having committed some great crime, since he was now lost once for all, he expected to suffer a like fate with the rest. Taking them, therefore, and forming a band of robbers, he became a bold bandit-chief, the most violent, most bloody, most cruel of them all.  
12. Time passed, and some necessity having arisen, they sent for John. But he, when he had set in order the other matters on account of which he had come, said, ‘Come, O bishop, restore us the deposit which both I and Christ committed to thee, the church, over which thou presidest, being witness.’
13. But the bishop was at first confounded, thinking that he was falsely charged in regard to money which he had not received, and he could neither believe the accusation respecting what he had not, nor could he disbelieve John. But when he said, ‘I demand the young man and the soul of the brother,’ the old man, groaning deeply and at the same time bursting into tears, said, ‘He is dead.’ ‘How and what kind of death?’ ‘He is dead to God,’ he said; ‘for he turned wicked and abandoned, and at last a robber. And now, instead of the church, he haunts the mountain with a band like himself.' 
14. But the Apostle rent his clothes, and beating his head with great lamentation, he said, ‘A fine guard I left for a brother’s soul! But let a horse be brought me, and let some one show me the way.’ He rode away from the church just as he was, and coming to the place, he was taken prisoner by the robbers’ outpost. 
15. He, however, neither fled nor made entreaty, but cried out, ‘For this did I come; lead me to your captain.’ 16. The latter, meanwhile, was waiting, armed as he was. But when he recognized John approaching, he turned in shame to flee.  
17. But John, forgetting his age, pursued him with all his might, crying out, ‘Why, my son, dost thou flee from me, thine own father, unarmed, aged? Pity me, my son; fear not; thou hast still hope of life. I will give account to Christ for thee. If need be, I will willingly endure thy death as the Lord suffered death for us. For thee will I give up my life. Stand, believe; Christ hath sent me.’ 
18. And he, when he heard, first stopped and looked down; then he threw away his arms, and then trembled and wept bitterly. And when the old man approached, he embraced him, making confession with lamentations as he was able, baptizing himself a second time with tears, and concealing only his right hand. 
19. But John, pledging himself, and assuring him on oath that he would find forgiveness with the Saviour, besought him, fell upon his knees, kissed his right hand itself as if now purified by repentance, and led him back to the church. And making intercession for him with copious prayers, and struggling together with him in continual fastings, and subduing his mind by various utterances, he did not depart, as they say, until he had restored him to the church, furnishing a great example of true repentance and a great proof of regeneration, a trophy of a visible resurrection.”  - from Church History by Eusebius

May God give us such zeal not just in youth but even at the end of our life!

Theron Mathis

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What is John's Mission in His Gospel?

I love the Gospel of John. 

If for no other reason, it is different.  Unlike the other three gospels, there is no birth story, no temptation, or no transfiguration. 

In Orthodoxy, we read John in the lectionary during the Easter season.  The Gospel for Easter Sunday is John’s Prologue in Chapter 1. 

This gives a clue as to why the Church thinks John was written.  The newly baptized experiencing their first Liturgy on Easter Sunday begin to read a new Gospel – the Gospel of John.  John himself proclaims his purpose for writing at the end of his book.  He wrote so that the reader would know that Jesus is the Son of God, and by trusting in Him, would have eternal life. 

John is designed to bolster faith, perhaps in the face of heresy, for there were many false teachers who questioned the fullness of Jesus’ humanity and divinity.  Or perhaps, John is trying to protect us not from the heresy of the head, but of the heart.  

In a later book, John chides his own flock in his adopted city of Ephesus never to abandon their first love, because the path of heresy, the desertion of the faith, the denial of Jesus as God, begins at the point of love. 
To lose this personal connection, to open the heart to other affections, will only draw us slowly away from Christ. 

So how does John accomplish this in this Gospel.
  1. He guides us through path of faith.  He tells us story of water, bread, light, and life, reminding us of our baptism, our reception of Communion, the light of the commandments, and the life that comes.  This is our journey from death to life. 
  2.  He shows us signs of Godhead breaking into our life.  John has no miracles.  He has signs, and yes they are miraculous, but they are few (only 7), and they reveal Jesus.
  3. We hear the voice of Jesus.  Jesus himself proclaims His divinity by using the Old Testament name for God – I  AM.  Yet, He does so in relation to our life.  He says, I AM the Living Water, I AM the Bread of Life, I AM the Light of the World.  We need to hear these because they touch us where we are.
  4. We hear the voice of others.   John the Baptist witness, other disciples witness, the Father and the Spirit witness to who Jesus is. 

John proudly proclaims that Jesus is the one with the power to save, the one to transform us, the one who can teach us to love.  

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Orthodox Mega-Church?

I believe in the mega-church. 

Over the last 30 years, American Christianity has seen the rise of the mega-church.  

According to sociologists, the mega-church is defined by having 2000+ members. 

In my backyard, exists the fifth largest church in the US, Southeast Christian Church, with a membership of 30k and average weekly attendance of 20k. 

No doubt this type of church can only exist in the numbers it does today, due to our mobile environment.  You can live 10 – 15 miles from the church, and still be an active participant due to quick and easy transportation.  Historically, you went to church where you lived, and usually within walking distance, and a church could only grow to such numbers in a densely populated area. 

Because of the size of these churches, certain advantages began to happen.  First is that growth generates more growth.  One trend-observer said: “You hit a certain size and you can become self-generating. You attract people by your sheer size. People know that you are on TV and that this is that big place...There is a sense of something going on here...and size itself begets more growth.”

To perpetuate this size, the leadership must demonstrate dynamic communication skills and organizational shrewdness that typically has only been found in high-level business environments.  Dynamism must be present to attract and retain members as well as a variety of organized and well-designed programs executed and produced with excellence. 

The sheer numbers of people attending contribute to a crowdsourcing phenomenon.  Crowdsourcing allows problems to be broadcast to an unknown group of solvers in the form of an open call for solutions.  In a church environment, the open call to develop & innovate ministry within and without a congregation allows a greater variety of programs to develop. 

The newest development among mega churches is the multi-site church.  Rather than continuing to grow larger and larger, these churches have decided to replicate themselves at other geographical locations. 

In 1990, there were 10 multi-site churches.  In ’98, there were about 100, and by 2008, over 2000 multi-site churches existed throughout the US. 

This is different from the church plant of old, where a team of members would leave to start a new autonomous church.  In this model, the new church is planted but remains under the authority of the “mother church”.  The head pastor in effect becomes the leader or overseer of the multiple churches.  In another time or place, he would be called a “bishop”.

This is the model of the Orthodox Church. 

The light bulb came on while listening to an interview with Fr. John Braun.  His biggest challenge to North American Orthodox is more to create more parishes, and I think he right. 

I believe it is one way we can compete in the religious marketplace within North America.  

I work in marketing, and we constantly talk about increasing distribution points to increase market share.  We can have slick ads and robust products with competitive prices, but if people can’t get to the product then we never sell anything.  One way we can be successful is create more places to distribute our goods. 

The parish is the distribution point of Orthodoxy. 

In America, the vast majority of people that regularly attend church go to congregations of 100-500 people.  Once a parish hits 300-500 people, it should begin praying about and developing a team of people to start of new parish. 

Sure, there will be fear.  Fear that the starting church will lose too many members.  Fear that the new mission will not succeed.  Unless we try, we will never know.

Money will be a fear, but practically, 10 tithing families should be able to support a priest at their average salary.  That does not seem too daunting. 

Multiple parishes can come together for the Sunday of Orthodoxy, festivals, youth and children’s activities. 

The more parishes we have the smaller dioceses can become, and will give bishops greater contact with their flocks. 

Bishops of North America, prod us to start new missions, equip us with the tools and strategies.  Push us to do more and reach more people! 

Theron Mathis

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

To Be Wise You Must Get Out Of Your Head

For years, I found myself geeking out at the intricacies of theology, the minutiae of textual criticism, the obscurities of history.  It’s one of the reasons I spent years in undergraduate and graduate school reading dusty books and ancient scholars.  Post-college, I continued dipping into various theologies as a pastime – some watch Sports Center, I picked up Lossky.  Finding my way to Orthodoxy did give me an ocean of theology so deep I often felt like I was drowning, but eventually I found my way back to shore only to come back another day. 

... continued here

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The Problem of Orthodox Culture

Over the past months several Orthodox writers have taken up the topic of Orthodox culture and whether we can create one in this country.  Much of the writing flows out the pens of artists, so I am sure that this is a desire longing for an ethos where there is a richness of art seen in places like old Russia with majestic architecture, beautiful music and haunting works of literature. 

I long for this too.

What is the critical mass of people for such a culture to emerge?  Evangelicals have had this mass in America for some time, but only recently is there a serious arts movement bubbling up. 

Rather than a culture of high art, I propose we are looking for community, and this is the base where we must start. The magnet that draws Americans into the Evangelical world, robust Catholic life, and even stranger American movements such as Mormonism is not theology, but community.  This is a place where you can enter and every part of your life is infected by it. 

For these believers, opportunity is given to immerse themselves not only in the worship and in the dogma of their faith, but their life and relationships are intertwined in their “church” life.  Ministry, schools, sports, fellowship, etc. force them to live so closely together a fabric of continuity and group life is maintained and perpetuated. 

In Orthodoxy, our theology demands community.  For many American faiths, truth is disembodied, an ethereal concept or philosophy, perhaps an ideal to attain, but in Orthodoxy, truth must have flesh. 
This “truth made flesh” is where we must begin if culture is to be created.  Our faith can’t be relegated to 2hrs a week of Liturgy where interaction with other persons are minimal.  Even multiple services will fail us unless we learn to live with each other in sacrificial love. 

We must create community, and in our fragmented American suburban society this will take work.  Consistent programming must be created where we can minister together and fellowship with one another.  No longer can we rely on family, ethnic, or neighborhood connections for this to occur naturally.  We are too diverse and scattered. 

Our deepest relationships for ourselves and especially our children must be among those of our parish and the surrounding Orthodox community.  Our life must be made up of the people of our faith, and we should live with each other in the shadow of the church’s dome. 

For me culture is a problem of community and until we develop community within our own parishes and our neighboring parishes (regardless of jurisdiction) a recognizable Orthodox culture will not be seen in this land.  

What do you think?

For other blogs on this topic see the following links:

  • Melinda Johnson on No Orthodox Culture & Fracture Lines in Orthodox Culture
  • Dn Stephen Hayes of Khanya on Orthodoxy and culture
  • Jonathan Kotinek of Fixing a Hole on Orthodox Synchroblog – Orthodoxy and Culture
  • Katherine Hyde of God Haunted Fiction on Literature and Orthodox Culture

  • Theron Mathis

    Wednesday, August 15, 2012

    Heading Off to the School of Christ

    It’s that time of year again.  Tomorrow, my wife and I will help gather supplies into a well-worn book bag, and shuffle our eldest out the door to a new school.  Then one week later, the little ones will be ushered out of the house with notebooks, pencils, and a bagged lunch in hand. 
    School days, I love them.  For me, they bring up great memories, full of excitement at the newness waiting for me inside those classroom doors.  I think I could spend the rest of my life as a student, if it was only feasible to the wallet and the mortgage. 
    ....check out the rest at the Sounding.

    Sunday, July 22, 2012

    A Dark Night Rises in My Heart

    Here's a quick post I did for OCN in response to the tragedy in Colorado.  Make sure to read the others.  There are some really good reflections here.  I struggled with this one.

    How a Dark Night Rises in My Heart

    Friday, July 20, 2012

    Why Should I Use the Words of Others When I Pray?

    For years, I would come to God throughout the day and proscribed times to offer up prayers and commune with Him.  While at times, I found a form to follow when praying, it was always a rough formula based on the Lord's Prayer or some other scheme that tried to include all types of prayers such as Praise, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.  

    Not that these extemporaneous offerings were bad, but I noticed I would always same the same thing.  Novelty in prayer only lasts so long.  Perhaps my creativity is lacking, but look at the blessing before meals as example.  How many ways can you ask for God's blessing and offer Him thanks without eventually settling down into a certain rhythm?

    Eventually I needed more form and certainty in what I was saying.  My prayers could easily devolve into selfishness and egotism, and saying those words daily was not shaping me into the likeness of Christ, but into a parody of myself.  

    The solution was the words of others--written prayers.  Christians for centuries and Jews prior (Jesus included) have relied upon written prayers to form the bones and structure of their prayers.  

    The usage of such prayers and committing to a rule brings control over scattered words, diminishes egocentric offerings, and provides training in prayer.  

    Prayer can be scattered and wandering, a prayer of thanks offered here, a confession there, and perhaps a little supplication to finish off this session. 

    The words of a prayerbook provide a form and guide that will encompass all those necessary items, and prevent wandering. 

    Using words forged in the fires of holiness for millennia will dampen our ego.  They force us to realize that our thoughts and creations are not necessarily mature and wise as we enter into a communion of prayer with voices throughout history.  This is not just a solo prayer, but the prayer of a body of believers connected in a relationship with the Holy Trinity. 

    We are being trained in prayer by those words of saintly men and women.  Then when we are traveling in the car, waiting in a lobby, trapped in conflict, those short extemporaneous offerings suddenly are richer and deeper, full of greater wisdom, from time spent making holy words our own. 

    Just as we fill our bodies with nutritious foods to be healthy and fill our minds with positive, healthy input to think rightly, we must fill our mouths and hearts with prayers proven in the forges of holy fire, so we too will catch a spark of sanctity. 

    If reading prayers seems awkward, start with the Psalms.  Don’t read as if you are studying, read as if they are your words. 

    What’s been your experience with praying with the words of others? 

    Monday, July 16, 2012

    Why We Should Bring the World into the Church

    Below you will find a link to my latest post on OCN's Blog the Sounding.

    Why We Should Bring the World into the Church

    Wednesday, June 27, 2012

    How Do We Commune with Memories That Bring Life?

    I grew up in the Deep South, and it was common for people to talk about the Civil War as if it was a current event rather than an event well deep into our nation's history.  Granted for some old timers, it had not been that long ago, and they and certainly their parents had felt its influence.

    The memory of this war produced a wide range of effects.  A person could have nostalgia for a romantic version of the South that never existed, and others a sense of inferiority with a need to prove their worth to a larger nation.  

    I am not wise enough to know the place of such memory, nor how they should affect our present.  In fact, as a nation we are not alone in this behavior.  Other older nations can often hold onto and live in the presence of memories centuries old.  

    These memories do exist and we are wont to continue to live in them.  For not only do the positive memories our life and ancestors shape us, those memories that are less than pleasant often force us to live in communion with the painful and negative.  

    Memory is powerful for it enables us to commune with the past, and then transform us into the likeness we commune with.  

    Knowing this truth, I must admit its power and look for ways to commune with a past that will shape me into the likeness of Christ.  

    Not being wise enough to be the doctor of my own soul, I must submit to something larger, wiser, and older than me, proven to produce results in those who live in Her memories.  

    The Church is this giver of memory that can shape me into the likeness of Christ.  

    Sharing Her memories through the events of Her year, and remembering the lives of Her members, who were transformed within Her, brings a confidence that I too can be transformed in the likeness of Her Head.  

    Imbibing Her memory is not a trip of nostalgia remembering the good old days but a participation in events that have become our own and bring us life.  

    We are shaped by memory--whether good or bad.  Yet in the life of the Church, we can choose to adopt new memories that can make us whole and grant a new life.  

    Monday, June 18, 2012

    9 Ways to Stay Awake During Church: From Sleepy to Sober

    Below you will find a link to my latest post on OCN's Blog the Sounding.

    Originally, I put this together as a ten minute talk for our local youth group.  They got to be my guinea pigs, and no one fell asleep during the talk so I took it as a good sign.

    9 Ways to Stay Awake During Church

    Thursday, June 14, 2012

    Are We Creating a Present for a Positive Future?

    Think back to childhood and dredge up some good memories.  For me, my best memories as a kid have nothing to do without getting things.  In fact, I can't remember many birthday or Christmas gifts, but I do remember moments.  

    I remember being in the front yard shooting cans out of the air with my dad.  I remember the mountain vacations with no TV to entertain, but being left to wander around the cabin and explore with my parents.  We bumped into old-timers with crazy stories, panned for gold, and rafted in whitewater.  

    I rarely remember a lecture or instructions the adults in my life gave (not that they were not important), but I remember experiences:  a Sunday School teacher taking our class on a prison tour, a high school coach letting me hang at his house, or my father shuffling me through plowed fields looking for Indian relics.  

    I am sure the lectures and teaching shaped my soul, but it's the meaningful experiences that let me slip back in time.  

    Memory allows us to commune with the past to shape us for the future.

    This is incredibly important if you have any influence with kids.  If you are a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, teacher, youth worker, etc., are you creating memories?  Will those memories help shape the future?

    I won't stop lecturing my kids, but I wonder if the experiences we have will create anchors for their future life, constantly tugging their soul to the good and true and beautiful no matter where their path leads.  

    How can we be intentional about creating lasting positive memories in the children we influence?

    Theron Mathis

    Tuesday, June 12, 2012

    Journeys of Faith - A Review

    Recently I received a copy of Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanism.  It was written by Robert Plummer, a professor at Southern Seminary in Louisville.

    Journeys presents the stories of conversion from one segment of Christianity to another.  These are not jumps between denominations, but leaps from the Protestant Evangelical world to Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanism with one story in reverse of a cradle Catholic moving into Evangelicalism.

    The book was setup in a wonderful format.  A person presented his story, then another would kindly refute the reasons given for leaving the former tradition, and the story conclude with a rebuttal on the part of the convert.

    The arguments were usually vigorous, but done in a spirit of love, so you didn't feel like you were on a religious O'Reilly show.

    As one who left Evangelicalism, I felt a kinship with most of the stories, but felt the refutations never got to the heart of the convert's dissatisfaction.  The issue of authority and Sola Scriptura continued to crop up in each story, and the response never seemed quite adequate to address this issue.

    This was an enjoyable read, and humanized rather than demonized those who sincerely question their tradition in favor of another.

    While I don't think anyone will be swayed to one side or another, it does open a window to a world that believers in the Evangelical world never consider.

    Plummer did a great job, and provided a starting point for future dialogue, and gave a measure of common ground for all who hold to a robust Trinitarian faith.

    Thursday, May 31, 2012

    Skewer Your Ideas With Humor

    Do you ever stumble into nostalgia that forces your face into an unexpected smile?  The other day, I was rummaging through old files and uncovered old seminary publications.  The finding filled me with a chuckle that grew as I scanned each word.

    Back in my seminary days, partly out of boredom, and partly our of contentionsness, myself and two other friends (who will remain nameless) created a fake newsletter patterned after the official Seminary publication--the Towers.  We entitled ours the Faulty Towers.

    At most we only published 4 issues, and because of cost we didn't even print enough for all the students.  We printed just enough to cause a stir and then effectively distributed them into the right hands to create controversy.  We found a mole working inside the post office who would distribute them into the boxes of random students and select professors.

    The seminary had recently escaped a liberal phase via a conservative takeover, and was slowly embracing the theology of John Calvin.

    Not enamored with Calvin myself, I joined these two other kindred spirits to poke fun at the Calvin hysteria that 15 years later has become the dominant theological persuasion at the institution.

    (For my non-theological readers, Calvinism is an early Protestant reaction to another Protestant theology referred to as Arminianism.  Calvinism essentially emphasizes the Sovereignty of God above all else, squeezing out much real freedom on the part of humanity.)

    In a brief window of time, a good bit of dialogue was created and serious discussions ensued, but I am don't think it had any lasting impact.  However, it taught be a couple truths:

    1.  It's ok to laugh at yourself and your ideas, if nothing else it keeps you humbles.
    2.  Humor has a way of removing emotion from passionate controversies.
    3.  Humor can be effective, if ideas not people are the target.

    I am sure there are other points that can be gleaned from this story.  Today one of my favorite bloggers, who uses humor that pops the balloon of my pride is Pithless Thoughts.

    Oh, and by the way, email me and I would be glad to send you those two long lost issues.

    Keep smiling.

    Wednesday, May 30, 2012

    4 Ways Memory Makes You a Better Person

    This past weekend my sons and I joined our Boy Scout troop on a trip to our local federal cemetery to install flags at the graves of all the veterans.  The ceremony surrounding our effort was short but sober honoring the sacrifice of the men and women who in many cases gave their lives for us.  

    It was an important event for my boys, if nothing else than to remind them that Memorial Day is not merely the unofficial start to summer and the occasion for outdoor grilling, but an important part of whom they are and will become. 

    It is a time of memory, a memory of those gone before whether they are military dead or departed family.  These people shaped our lives, and to forget is to cut off their person from our own lives.  

    Memory is a significant part of humanity and has the ability to change us as we participate in something bigger than ourselves.  Here are four ways memory impact our daily life.

    1.  Memory is an essential component of the image of God in our lives.  Humans are unique in that throughout time we memorialize events and people.  We set up structures and monuments and create rituals and events to perpetuate what is valuable beyond one generation. 
     2.  Memory allows us to make present past events.  An act of memory does not make past reality again, or even bring it to our minds in a historical sense, but it imparts the significance and meaning the past has for our lives.  Through this memorial we re-enter the past not playing the role of journalist, but experiencing the importance of the past for our present.   
    Throughout Scripture, men initiated memorials and God Himself commanded them as signposts of the work of God’s hand and light for future action.  
     3.  Our memory is a shadow of the eternal memory of God.  Our existence and that of the whole world is held by the memory of God.  We only live because He holds us in His eternal memory.  
     4.  Memory lets us enter into communion with those gone before us.  The love we hold for the living does not stop when they depart, and when we recall their lives in our hearts we commune with their lives.  And as our mind’s eye gazes upon their time here on earth, we can be changed into the goodness they imparted to us.  
    Holidays such as Memorial Day are not antiquated relics but provide us the ability to perpetuate what we value and to transform us into better men. 

    What role does memory play in your life?

    Theron Mathis

    Monday, May 21, 2012

    Do We Really Believe in Communion?

    Here's my last post on the OCN's The Sounding Blog:

    Do We Really Believe in Communion?

    Tuesday, May 15, 2012

    Why Reality is Communal

    Reality is communal.  The fabric of creation, the heart of everything, the meaning and purpose of life, the path to transformation, the very code of our DNA is communal.

    If you are a Christian, you believe this.

    God is communal.  He is three in one, eternally, never alone.

    Because we are God's image we can not escape this need for communion and the effect it has on our lives.

    Our molding as persons is linked with who we enter into communion with.

    I wonder why I behave the way I do, when I am in communion with those who behave the same.

    I wonder why I don't act like Christ, when I neglect communion with Him.

    What is communion?  How does it affect your daily life?

    Sunday, May 13, 2012

    The Pearl 7:1 Sharing the Faith of Abraham

    St. Ephrem's The Pearl 7:1

    As in a race saw I the disputers,
    The children of strife,
    To taste fire,
    To see the air,
    To handle the light:
    They were troubled at the gleaming,
    And struggled to make divisions.

    The Son, Who is too subtle for the mind,
    Did they seek to feel:
    And the Holy Ghost
    Who cannot be explored,
    They sought to explore with their questionings.
    The Father, Who never at any time was searched out,
    Have they explained and disputed of.

    The sound form of our faith is from Abraham,
    And our repentance is from Nineveh and the house of Rahab,
    And ours are the expectations of the Prophets,
    Ours of the Apostles.

    Comment:  It sounds like those who try to delve into the intricacies of theology through an attitude of questioning run the risk of becoming heretics.  
    The model of true faith is not these "disputers", but Abraham.  What does St. Ephrem mean by that?

    Thursday, May 10, 2012

    Why Stuff Matters?

    Stuff matters.  Why?

    It is part of our salvation, not meant to be sloughed off like an old snake skin, not a prison to escape, not a weight holding you to the earth.  It is a path to salvation and groans for redemption. 

    It was created by God and called good, provided as a conduit for man to commune with God. 

    God became stuff, and uses stuff to save:  mud to make blind see, handkerchiefs to heal, bones to resurrect, hems of garment to restore, water to wash away leprosy, bronze statues to deliver, rods of wood to bring water from rock, food to sustain, fiber to clothe.

    It is infused with the grace of God for our salvation. 

    What happens if stuff does not matter?

    We neglect and abuse our bodies.  We see others as objects to be used and thrown away.  The earth is exploited because one day it will burn with the rest of the stuff that doesn’t matter. 

    One purpose of man is the redemption of this fallen mess.  

    We must bless all the stuff of this life, for everything matters and can be infused with the grace of God, leading to our salvation and the salvation of our neighbor.  

    Thursday, May 03, 2012

    You Are a Writer (a review)

    I've been following Jeff Goins online for some time now, and I have learned a lot.  

    I love to write, and even though I am a published author and blogger I have never thought of myself as a writer--until I read Jeff.  

    I was fortunate enough to review Jeff's new book You Are a Writer, and am thankful.  It is full of inspirational gems and practical advice.  As a blogger, who has been frustrated by lack of traction and readership, and an author looking for greater visibility and promotion for material that I believe is truly life changing; I can't wait to put into practice Jeff's advice.  

    Here are some inspirational gems, I found laying on the surface of the page:

    "Everything is practice" 
    "The secret to mastering any discipline: As you conquer one, you'll find it easier to tackle another." 
    "Multi-tasking is a myth.  You can either create or react.  But you can't do both.  Choose wisely." 
    "..dangerous territory, when your creativity hijacks your productivity." 
    "The fear of something is always scarier than the thing itself."

    Good stuff!  

    And this isn't just some inspirational piece designed to fill with temporary motivation; there is real practical, gritty, get-your-hands-dirty advice designed to use before you turn the next page.  

    Thank you Jeff.

    To get a copy of this book, check out the link above to Jeff's site or click here for the Amazon link: 

    You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)

    Tuesday, May 01, 2012

    Can I Think My Way to Heaven?

    Can I think my way to heaven?  Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  Yet this question sums up a popular approach to salvation. 

    This question represents a knowledge-based salvation.  The path of salvation is through the mind, and reason becomes the highest form of spiritual attainment.  Apologetics is king in this world.  Logical, reasoned arguments for God’s existence trump all else. 

    The fervent believer confronts science and philosophy and worldly wisdom with a point by point logical, scientific rational defense of God, the Resurrection, Creation, the Virgin Birth, the problem of evil, etc.  Ideas are consumed with consent and commitment, but nothing substantial happens to the believer, yet facts are provided providing a system to make good decisions and give an appearance of holiness. 

    Understanding’s competitor is Union. 

    This is salvation by communion, connection, dipping into the currents of grace so the residue of death is sheared away replaced by a renewed man.  Union is a relationship threatening yourself & existence, compelling you to lie upon an altar expecting death, but trusting for resurrection. 

    Stand these two paths side by side, and the differences become clear. 

    Understanding:     Facts are Important
    Union:                  Action is important

    Understanding:    The Bible is a sourcebook for information
    Union:                  The Bible is a touchstone uniting man with Christ

    Understanding:     Theology is an analytical knowledge of God and the way 
                                 He works in the world.
    Union:                  Theology is uniting with God in prayer.

    Understanding:     Church is a gathering of like minded believers for 
                                  encouragement to learn, teach, and understand
    Union:                  Church is a vehicle drawing you into a deeper communion 
                                 with God

    Understanding:     The Lord’s Supper is designed to remember the facts and 
                                  consequences of Christ’s sacrifice.
    Union:                  The Lord’s Supper is partaking of the life of God and the 
                                 action of the Cross into your being. 

    Understanding:     Baptism is an announcement of a person’s commitment 
                                 to certain beliefs about Christ.
    Union:                  Baptism is becoming submerged into the life of Christ. 

    Understanding:     Evangelism is the persuasion of others to believe a set of facts.
    Union:                  Evangelism is the persuasion of others to join with the God 
                                of the universe to be transformed.

    We live in a knowledge based world crying, "Knowledge is power", but communion is where real transformation lies.  

    Theron Mathis


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