The Mysterious

I’m in the middle of a book on Eastern Orthodoxy. It’s a rather odd experience. It’s a lot like going to a new destination, a new place, a far off place. Rather like my first trip to visit Guatemala, my wife’s native country. I flew a red eye flight from LA to Guatemala city. It was 1992 and I deboarded the airplane down one of those stairways out of a 1950’s movie. Right onto the tarmac and then walked inside the building. It was still rather dark. When I arrived at the office to purchase a tourist visa, it was closed. We all had to stand around waiting for this little Guatemalan man to show up at 6 am. After paying my $10 he issued me what looked like a telephone message 4×4 inch piece of paper. It was almost comical if it weren’t for how exhausted I was. The airport itself felt tired. One part gritty, one part age and two parts just small. Leaving the airport I was hit with the scene of many small children asking for money. They were a pitiful sight: small, unwashed and obviously poor. The smell was of unwashed bodies and a tinge of smoke (I would learn later that all poor families use wood stoves to cook). The car ride to my, soon to be, wife’s parents house was full of sights, smells and sounds I was very unfamiliar with. It’s barely a 30 minute drive. Seemed much longer at the time. My wife has told me she wasn’t sure if I was about to just turn around and get on the next flight back to the states. I didn’t, in fact about 5 years later we would move there and make a home for 5 years. I learned a great deal about my wife and her culture and all its attendant facets. And I’m the richer for it.

The book (my apologies for no book name, it’s sitting on my nightstand at home whilst I type away here in a coffee shop) on Eastern Orthodoxy is written by a fellow who spent a number of years in Russia. He went over when it was still the Soviet state, but it collapsed about a year into his stay. He was there as the Russian Orthodox Church made its roaring comeback. I can nearly taste his experience. They not only speak another language, they think about things in a completely distinct way. The ways of Eastern Orthodoxy is also similarly distinct, odd and strange to the Western trained mind.

It’s a little like getting to know a long lost relative. They talk about some similar things, but with a very different twist. Those of the Eastern Orthodox faith have an amazing reverence for both the Mystery of GOD and the spiritual life, a looking to the Holy Spirit that makes Pentecostals look like babbling kindergarteners. The theological debates they engage in are related to this desire to be united to the Holy Spirit and the merging with the Divine. They are much more comfortable with the Transcendent nature of God. An infinite God is only understandable as He reveals Himself to us. All we know about Him is what He has chosen to reveal, leaving an Infinite amount of knowledge yet unknown to us, a mystery then. That our very frame and structure lack the wherewithal to grasp Him, that language and human thought are insufficient to the task of describing His magnificence. And, they are not very big fans of Logic. He recounted his students rather dismissive treatment of C.S. Lewis. He was “too logical” they said. The reliance on logic is an argument against it’s use for things of GOD.

Now, I will admit I find the western church’s  obsession with logic a tad frustrating at times. As if we could logically argue someone into Faith. God’s Love for us is so intense that He would send His only Begotten Son to live among us puny creations and then Die as a propitiation for our sins, our wrongs against a perfectly Holy and Righteous God is not logical. It’s an intense, burning love for us that defies clear explanation, seeming completely out of proportion. And yet He did. Because we bear His image.

He made us, women and men, in His image. Women, have men ever seemed mysterious (odd, strange, not right in the head) to you? Men, have women ever seemed mysterious to you? We are each made in the image of a mysterious, glorious and living GOD. Our Eastern Orthodox cousins tend to swim in the mysterious nature of God, not wanting or trying to understand it but to experience it. I humbly submit that our “Western Church” could use a healthy dose of this transcendent Truth.

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The Long Game

I’ve been using this phrase for a couple weeks now, maybe longer. The Long Game is this idea of strategic thinking, considering the “down the road” aspect of events. It’s used in American football, it’s used in politics.

I started using the phrase “long game” because I needed to describe life as a parent with teenage/early 20’s children. My wife and I are starting to see some of the payoffs of how we chose to raise our children. We are also seeing some points where, ya know, maybe we didn’t quite get it right. We had played the long game, instilling in our children certain virtues and habits. We had a particular way we wanted to parent. Discipline was short lived and direct to the problem. Sacrificial love was shown as often as possible. We apologized for our mistakes and expected them to do the same. Imperfectly of course, but we knew what our intention was. We wanted children who could control themselves and think about things for themselves and be who God made them to be.

God, in a sense, plays the long game. OT Scripture uses this term “longsuffering” and “lovingkindness”. It’s also where the word Grace comes from in the New Testament. He is willing to wait it out with us. He is merciful, not wanting any to perish (2 Peter 3:9).

But, there is another thing. Our children are also children of Adam and Eve. They have sin, just as assuredly as my wife and I do. We have this tendency to think of children as these innocent little things until the world manages to crush that innocence. As every parent of a toddler knows, things can be too quiet and that’s when you worry. Those sweet innocent children will lie straight to your face when they think that lie might get them a cookie.

Nowadays it’s a lot more difficult to know exactly what is going on in my children’s lives. School and sports and girlfriends take up time away from home. Soon my oldest will being moving out. It will be a sad, sad day. His mother will cry, sob more like. But, it is the way things go. I remember leaving home. My mother cried, my father looked a touch concerned. I understand that look know. The world cares not a whit about little old you. You’d like to think it does, but if one is naive to the depths of human depravity, it will be a very rude awakening indeed.

I pray that my wife and I have properly prepared our children to go out into the world. Interestingly, that is the phrasing used by Jesus as He sends the disciples: “out into the world”. That they “may be in it, but not of it.” (John 17) Mind you, He has them stay in Jerusalem until God the Father send the Holy Spirit upon them.

The entirety of creation points towards the creator. He made the sun and the moon, the galaxies, stars that are billions of light years away. The possessor of unimaginable power decided to use the word “father”, in what we refer to as The Lord’s Prayer (more accurately the prayer the Lord Jesus taught the disciples when they asked Him how to pray), as the way to address Him. Not “Our God, master of light and all power”or “Supreme God, guarded by Cherubim and Seraphim who cover their faces and feet because of your Glory” or “Indescribable Entity which exists outside time and space who made all that is” or “Holy, Holy, Holy, God of ineffable power and might”.

As a father myself now for two decades, I’m starting to truly understand why. He is “raising us” like a human father raises his children. He instructs, He corrects, He disciplines and He rejoices over successes. Our God dearly loves us, intimately. He extends grace to us. He cares for those who rebel against Him. He pours out blessings on those who curse Him.

He chases down the wayward. He knows our predispositions, our weaknesses and pitfalls. He wishes to make us whole again. We are broken and battered creatures. Crawling from lust to lust, from unkindness to unkindness and depravity to depravity. He is never surprised by any of it, always knowing exactly what to do, unlike us poor, damaged mortal fathers.

Thank God He sent the Son to be our sacrifice on the cross, to take away our sins and give to all who believe on Him the right to become children of God (John 1:12).

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Christian Refugees 

Stuart Varney on the genocide occurring against Christians in the Middle East.  Which further proves my point I think. 

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Refugees 

My fellow Christians who are also Americans: we will not be able to care for any refugees if we, as citizens of this country and therefore have the rights of a sovereign, continue to allow the wholesale importation of Muslims. Where Islam grows, Christians and Jews are eventually targeted and killed.

For my friends at Church of the Resurrection, that’s what our Nigerian brothers warned. Boko Haram rapes and murders our brothers and sisters in Africa. I think of a proverb, though I realize the direct context is regarding sexual purity, “can one carry fire close to the chest and not be burned?”  

We should be advocating on behalf of Christian refugees. Bring those who would be thankful for the freedoms rather than those who will find it an insult to Islam. We are to be partial to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are to Love one another as He loved us. 

Let us indeed help the Muslim refugees, but in facilities closer to their home so they can return when the current fighting ceases. Let us never forget that they are unsaved, that they need the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. We could be importing our own persecution. 

Jeremiah 13:23 ►
Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may you also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.

Also one of Aesop’s fables:

 The Scorpion and the Frog
  A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.”
The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown,but has just enough time to gasp “Why?” 

Replies the scorpion: “Its my nature…”

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MIA

I’ve been taking an OT survey class online. This meant rereading a lot of the OT and reading certain books I’ve always glazed over (kings and chronicals and minor prophets). It has been time consuming alongside a wife, full time job, and two children. But it has been very profitable for my soul. 

I encourage you all to try this resource: https://www.biblicaltraining.org

It’s what I’m using to take the course, no charge up front, they just ask that you donate to help them keep the lights on. 

Grace and Peace my sisters and brothers. 

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A post, but not

So, rather occupied today. 

May the Lord Bless you and keep you. 

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Well now, what to do?

I posted two posts in the last two days: one about teaching (catechism) and then the other about prayer/scripture. They feel like solid pieces. Which left me thinking: So, how do I follow them up?

One foot in front of the other.

There is an old saying: “Christianity hasn’t been tried and found wanting, it has been tried and found difficult and then abandoned.”

I have days where I agree with this assessment and others where I do not.

It’s easy when I’m “trusting in Christ”. It’s easy when things are going rather well. It’s easy when I’m ignoring a problem.

It’s hard when the Lord is testing me with events around me. It’s hard when the prayer goes unanswered. It’s hard when the knife I put to my own will doesn’t want to go in so easily today.

Writing and talking about catechism and prayer/scripture reading is easy. Encouraging others to do it is fairly easy. Doing it, well, that’s a little tougher. Because it requires engaging my mind, my will and my soul. If all three are not focused on the task, then it is in vain. My affections must be focused on Him. My doctrines must be focused on Him. My practices of life must be focused on Him. But remember, the strength to do all of this comes only from Him, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I’m really trusting in Christ when I dig that knife into my own self will.

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Discipline

Discipline. We Americans have a love/hate relationship with the word. We like it in certain settings. “She is very disciplined”, referring to someone who exercises regularly or keeps a healthy diet. “He is a disciplined investor”, and we are in awe of the person’s ability to accumulate wealth.

However, if I say “Spiritual Disciplines” I will be met with mostly blank stares. Even in church this seems to be a lost art. And truth be told, I am a fairly recent “convert”, as it were, to this most ancient of practices. Our current American culture generally dislikes serious thought. It is obsessed with the “easy answer”, how many times have you heard the phrase “just google it”? Now, there are a multitude of things for which that is a reasonable solution. “How to change the oil in my car?” “What is the nearest Fast Food place?” “Who is the lead singer of ‘Toad the wet sprocket’?” But for serious questions, it is insufficient: “Who should I marry?” “Why does the universe exist?” “What is the best way for a society to organize itself?”. But for spiritual matters it is even seriously more unsuited: “Is there a God?” “Why does God care what I do?”

Even more than serious thought, our culture disdains serious application of Faith. And that is capital F Faith. If one is a modern spiritualist and dabble in Eastern Mysticism and combine it with Environmental Worship, then hey, you are an enlightened human being. But if your religion claims to have the ultimate Truth that are not malleable to the current “hey if it floats your boat” mentality and you base your life on those truths, then you are a closed minded bigot. The modern equivalent of shunning.

Which is why this post follows hot on the heels of my post Catechism: Lessons in Truth. In the book Grounded in the Gospel the authors make a very clear point: one of the greatest arguments for catechism is that the world is ALWAYS catechizing us. It screams: “Buy our car”, “buy our food” “use our services” “greed is good” “make your own heaven on earth” “our product will make you feel better about yourself” “people will like you if you buy our clothes” “whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” “look at naked women, it doesn’t hurt anyone” and it only gets more sordid from there. We are pounded constantly with this chatter.

God knew this would happen. In Deuteronomy He commands “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”  Here of course He is referring to the Law as given to Moses. We have someone even greater to teach us, Yeshua Messiah, Jesus the Christ himself. Deuteronomy is the second most quoted book by Jesus, with Psalms being the first (which if you want to understand the power of His prayer life, this is a primary indicator of its source).

God knows we need instruction. Through the Apostle Paul He commands us to “put on the mind of Christ” and “Put on the full armor of God.” And by the Apostle Peter He warns us “Satan goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he should devour.” Spiritual discipline is necessary because an enemy seeks to harm us. Satan prefers to find us unarmed and unready.

Jesus shows us the primary method of being disciplined: prayer and scripture. He prays in the morning before anyone else is up. He prays all night at Gethsemane. Hand in hand with this is knowledge of scripture. He can quote it. Just as God is both Three and One, I am sure that Prayer and Scripture is also a both/and combo. One feeds the other which feeds the other, which feeds the other. Pick one and the other will follow. It takes discipline. It means cutting out the time needed to engage in the practice.

It’s why it’s called Spiritual Discipline.

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Catechism: Lessons in Truth

So, like I said in my Tinker Bell post, I am reading a lot.
The current book is titled “Grounded in the Gospel” a book on teaching the basics of the Gospel. “Building Believers the old fashioned way” is the subtitle of the book,.
I really, really like this book. So much I bought my best friend a copy. And, since I had bought it on kindle, I bought myself a paperback copy too. I plan on using it, marking it up and otherwise.
The book also includes a short chapter on church history. Specifically the first four centuries of the church. I thought I knew some of it. I was wrong. Very, very wrong. It was a needed assault on my worldview. I, like many of my peers, have a truncated view of the world. Not just physically, but chronologically speaking. In a way we do this: creation, Adam, Abraham, David, Jesus, Fall of Rome, Reformation, Enlightenment, American founding, steam engine, world war, and then everything that matters like computers and internet and smartphones.
Four hundred years is a very long time. It seems absurd to even say that, but we have a tendency to treat antiquity with something on the level of polite disdain. As though they were uneducated yokels. I will venture to say that we “modern, western Christians” are more the uneducated yokels than they were.
We say insipid things like “the wrong side of history.” Is history a vinyl record with a B side? We stand on the shoulders of giants, Sir Isaac Newton is reported to have said. He was referring to the massive contribution of science by all those who had gone before him. We have this silly view that things MUST “progress”, or improve. Star Trek and all it’s attendant spin-offs are examples of this thinking. Arthur C Clarke and his “the future is better than anything we have imagined” silly talk is yet another example. Of course, it’s all a result of the theory of evolution. That we came from primordial ooze and now have conscientiousness. All by random chance. And the world came from a big bang, also a something from nothing scenario. An event that violates every known law of physics created the laws of physics after it was established to keep itself running in an orderly fashion after a rather disorderly entrance. But really I digress from my point.
Our church fathers (and mothers, but fathers in the all encompassing sense) endured the kind of persecution we modern westerners routinely ignore on the nightly news in Syria and Iraq (another blog for another time). They were teaching Christ in a time when it could really cost you. If it might cost you your life, would you believe on Christ Jesus? What was necessary to be saved? What were the central tenets of the faith? What does our Lord require of us? How do you live in this world while you wait for release to the next?
Our ancestors thought long and hard about these questions. They endured trials and tortures. They developed methods to teach the new comers. And the new comers learned. And then the new comers became the teachers to the next new comers. And it was serious stuff. Again, because you could suffer for being a follower of Christ.

They developed methods of teaching to aid in building believers, they were called catechisms. We might prefer a more modern word: lessons. The things of faith were taught, repeated and then taught again. Because we need them. God is Holy. The world screams that He is not. God seeks and saves the lost. The world screams he is a kill-joy and mean taskmaster. God the Son humbled himself to come to earth to die in our place on a cross. The world screams Jesus was just a good teacher. We must be taught and retaught Truth. Because the world needs to hear it and we need to believe it, because our lives depend on Him.

What are they you ask. Well, some are simple and some are more in depth. But I’d venture to wager that you know some of them already. The Nicene Creed and Apostles Creed are probably the two easiest examples.

The Nicene Creed:

We believe in one God the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. Of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;  he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

There is a lot of truth in there. It’s also nothing but truth. Distilled, undiluted capital T truth. Now, I’m not saying there isn’t more to be taught but this is essential stuff here. Jesus as misunderstood teacher doesn’t fit in here. Jesus’s miraculous birth is in here. This creed is a great starting point for analyzing the things the world is telling you. If what you are being told doesn’t fit with this creed, then it isn’t truth you are being told. Respond in love however. We are a joyful people because of the great hope that resides within us. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come!

The Roman Catholic Church has developed many catechisms. The Reformation brought us the Westminster Confession of Faith , The Westminster Shorter Catechism , other Church Documents and the 39 Articles of Faith . The whole New Testament is instruction as well. So pick up your bible and be taught by God.

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The Pinnacle

This was written as a submission for Christianity Today, for the Her.menuetics magazine. They were having a summer writing contest for the women’s magazine. My submission was not picked. Probably because I really couldn’t stay on topic. It was great working on it with my wife and young teenage daughter. That was its own reward. 

So, I’m sure you’ve all noticed that I’m a man, writing about a relevant topic for women. In this postmodern, secular western world, normally such a thing would be considered something offensive, but I hope my sisters in Christ will indulge me a few words. An observer from a distance can add a perspective that those “close in” cannot see with ease.
Marriage is taking a heavy beating lately. You would have to be deliberately not looking to not know. Everywhere around us people are saying “we are evolving on marriage.” Quite frankly I don’t believe any of the evolving talk. They didn’t have any idea what marriage really is to begin with. But, do we as Christians really know what marriage is? I believe we do and a woman is utterly necessary for it to work with a man, and yet only in the power of God, through the atoning work of Christ Jesus and in unison with the Holy Spirit.
We know that in Christ we are all new creations. We had to be reborn of the Spirit because we are fallen. To have fallen means we have fallen from somewhere. That somewhere is at creation where, we were designed.

In Genesis we learn of God’s creation of the race of man: male and female He created us. From a rib of Adam God fashioned Eve. I have always thought of it as God taking the better chromosome, the longer X chromosome and making woman, XX. He took the better half of a man and doubled it. At least that’s how my mother viewed it. Woman was the peak of creation she said, not made from the dust, but from living flesh.
Adam was made “to tend the garden.” Eve was created as a “helpmeet” for Adam. That word is notoriously difficult to translate from the Hebrew. That same word is used other places in the OT to describe an attribute of God. It is most assuredly not a maid like role.
There is something almost Christ like about Eve. Adam was made from the dust, she from his rib; taken out of flesh and refashioned.
Consider this part from the Nicene Creed:
“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.”
She is life from life and likeness from likeness. And Adam names her Eve, because she is the “mother of all the living.” Add in a ‘and in the unity of the Holy Spirit’ and you have a triune relationship. We were made to walk together in unity man and woman with our Lord. And there is something powerful about what Eve added to the equation, in a unique way, that Adam didn’t and couldn’t.
Consider her thought process before sinning: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise”. See that phrase: desired to make one wise. She wanted wisdom. Consider also that wisdom is personified as a woman in Proverbs. Not a coincidence, it simply can’t be.
But then the curse: To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
Let’s leave the minefield of childbearing and go to the second part, the rupture of the union with Adam. Her desire for wisdom was replaced with a desire for her husband. And on top of that, where there had existed a true equality, that also was now cursed: “He will rule over you.”
Again, we are new creations in Christ. Let us consider that Glorious verse in Galatians: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Reconciliation has come to commence reuniting our broken world. As Paul teaches: “be reconciled to one another.”
Which leads me to my point. Marriage is taking a beating. Everywhere it is misunderstood and misused. Eve was created to be in relationship, Adam lacked a suitable mate and God in His infinite wisdom made Eve. She was made to be the perfect mate. She brings a God given dynamic that Adam lacked. What exactly is that dynamic? I have no idea, I’m not a woman. But I will say I think it is how you are able to maneuver relationships and sense when things are off, all like a sixth sense. It’s a spiritual gift. Wives, as one child of God to another, please consider the ministry of your husband and your family. You are supremely valuable in God’s creation, because when He finished making you, He was done.
The apostle Paul used marriage as an allegory to try to explain the mystery of our union with Christ. As the world goes mad around us, our lives, our marriages, our children and our churches will appear to outsiders as different by increasing orders of magnitude as the years go on.

The Lord calls us to be Holy as He is Holy. Our differentness will be a mark on us. Ladies, minister to your husbands. We need you. Not because they are small boys in need of a mother. They are men facing a world increasingly difficult to maneuver without sinning. We will both be called to account for our lives before the Judge of the Universe. I am told to love my wife. I will be called to account for it. And I tremble at the thought. Wives you are called to respect your husband.

So let us be reconciled to each other. And let us let our light shine together in unison with Christ before the world.

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