For The Week Ahead

The “Saying of the Day” series is going on Fall hiatus, at least for two weeks. I have a number of other items to attend to, including some vacation time, so these posts will be gone until October 13 or thereabouts.

I hope to have a few substantial posts this week and next, but if not, rest assured that I am madly working on siding, door installation and other home improvement projects. Some of them will be fun.

Do Not Seek to Avoid

Fr. Stephen Freeman’s latest post asks:

This may seem an entirely innocuous question. But I ask it in earnest. What do you want from God? On the level of the trite, we may want more of what we already have, but have it in abundance. We may want less of what we have, only have it in a healthy manner (relationships come to mind).

What is more difficult, for the heart, and for the spiritual life in general is to say: β€œI want God, and more of Him.” This is the statement of someone who has tasted of the heavenly gift and cannot be satisfied with less. It is rare.

Though it is rare, it is the common confession of the saints.

What do you want? Is there some degree to which you want God? With what degree of desire do you approach the Holy Cup? Do you want God?

Do I want God even though it may kill me?

Do I want God even though the β€œme” that I am may be swallowed up in something larger?

Do I want God even though it may cause me deep and life-long grief?

There are many of things we may want from God – but it is God Himself our heart desires. And though the cost of that may appear to be everything – as it should be – do we want anything less? Anything less is to dwell outside of the Kingdom.

What do you want from God?

What struck me most about this is those “negative” things will happen whether we seek God or not. We will have deep and life-long grief in our lives, Christian or non-Christian, weak or strong. Grief will come. The “me that I am” will be swallowed up in something larger, whether it is torment or blessing. We will die, whether we seek God or flee Him.

Christianity does not keep us from suffering. Sometimes we suffer more. But it is certain that Christianity will not keep disease and death at bay. Even with the miraculous recovery, the holy healing that could come, the grave awaits eventually.

No, we cannot escape these things, and so we should not fear asking God for Himself, seeking the Kingdom and His Righteousness. For in this we gain everything, even while we loose the present.

Saying of the Day

It was said of Abba Poemen that he dwelt at Scetis with his two brothers, and the younger one was a nuisance to them. So he said to the other brother, “This lad is making us powerless, let us get up and go away from here.” So they went away and left him. When he saw that they did not come back for a long time, the young brother realized that they were going far away and he began to run after them, crying out. Abba Poemen said, “Let us wait for our brother, for he is worn out.”

When he reached them he bowed to them and said, “Where are you going? Are you leaving me on my own?”

The old man said to him, “It is because you are a worry to us that we are going away.”

He said to them, “Yes, yes, let us go together wherever you wish.”

The old man, seeing his lack of malice, said to his brother, “Brother, let us go back, for he is not doing this on purpose but it is the devil who is doing it.” So they turned back and went home again.

Sayings. Poemen. 180.

The Faith of Barack Obama: A Review

Thanks to Mr. Michael Hyatt, President and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, I received a copy of The Faith of Barack Obamaby Stephen Mansfield on the promise to write a review.

It’s a slim book–only 147 pages plus endnotes. It’s divided into six chapters, the first is biographical, outlining Obama’s childhood and discussing the “Is Obama really a Muslim” question. Mansfield makes a presuasive argument that the years Obama spent in Indonesia were not formative for his religious faith. On the contrary, Mansfield, relying on Obama’s books, The Audacity of Hope and Dreams from My Father, makes a convincing case that Obama was raised respecting religion without actually having a faith of his own (p. 16). The following chapters deal with Obama’s connection to Trinity in Chicago (Chapter 2); his expression of the black liberation theology in his books and speeches (Chapter 3); a slight chapter entitled “Altars of State” (the endnotes call this chapter “Our Civic Religion”), outlining how religion plays out in past and present presidential politics, a throw-away chapter about the faith of Hillary Clinton, John McCain and President Bush, and a concluding chapter which essentially repeats points made above.

All this is to say, while Mansfield’s book is well-written and an easy read it is thin. The author does convincingly demonstrate that Obama is no “Muslim Manchurian Candidate.” But what comes rapidly to the fore is that Obama’s faith itself is slight, is thin, is little more than a tinge of liberal Protestantism seasoned with the black church experience. Obama doesn’t seem to believe in doctrine. His prayer life is depicted more as interior dialogue with himself rather than seeking communion or conversation with God. Mansfield harps on Obama’s insistence that doubt plays a large part in religious experience and punctuates with quotes from the candidate that equate all major religions. It’s no wonder the book is short and thin on substantive analysis: there’s little there to analyse.

Toward the end of the book, Mansfield seems to grasp this, casting the this election in larger terms. He writes of the immense role religion has played in public life and policy for the past few election cycles, and argues it is at its peak now. Thus the faith that Obama has of immense importance. Mansfield that the electorate has “before them an opportunity that may, if they choose, be embraced as the path to a new history. It is an opportunity to heal, to take the historic wounds and generational conflicts that political debates are shoving to the fore and respond them in the spirit of the great healers, in the manner of those who whish to fashion a future rather [sic] a short-term political victory…. Indeed, it may well prove that this is the longer-term importance of this thrashing time in our history, just as it may well prove that this is the more important meaning of Barack Obama’s presence in our history at this moment.” (p. 132, 133).

But removing the overblown conclusion, the inclusion of nearly an entire chapter on the history of Rev. Wright’s church and content of his sermons, the entire chapter dedicated to the faith of the other presidential contenders (at the time it was written), and what you have is a lengthy magazine article. Maybe a two-parter, but an article nonetheless. Again, it’s not the author’s fault so much as it is the subject. The book was bound to be written and Mansfield’s approach and prose is fine. What’s lacking is the subject.

Saying of the Day

Abba John, who had been exiled by the Emperor Marcian, said, “We went to Syria one day to see Abba Poemen and we wanted to ask about purity of the heart. But the old man did not know Greek and no interpreter could be found. So, seeing our embarrassment, the old man began to speak Greek, saying, ‘The nature of water is soft, that of stone is hard; but if a bottle is hung above the stone, allowing the water to fall drop by drop, it wears away the stone. So it is with the word of God; it is soft and our heart is hard, but the man who hears the word of God often, opens his heart to the fear of God.'”

Sayings. Poemen. 183

Saying of the Day

Athanasius, Archbishop of Alexandria, of holy memory, begged Abba Pambo to come down from the desert to Alexandria. He went down, and seeing an actress he began to weep. Those who were present asked him the reason for his tears, and he said, “Two things make me weep: one, the loss of this woman; and the other, that I am no so concerned to please God as she is to please wicked men.”

Sayings. Pambo. 4

Cool Photo Template

I’ve been teaching myself some basic web design the last few months and set up my congregation’s web page. It’s so low-tech I’ve decided this was intentional. It reminds me of the good old days: 1995.

But the photo gallery is pretty sweet. Take a look over there and click on a few links to the galleries. Using Google’s Picasa, I simply saved existing pictures as an html file, using a template I downloaded from this site, and uploaded that file to the web server.

It’s pretty cool.

Judgment and Repentance

It is certain that on the Last Day we will be judged on what we have done. “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done” (Rev. 20:12 ESV; see also Matt. 25:35).

It is certain that our salvation depends not upon our keeping the Law, but upon the grace of God who gives us faith (Eph 2:8-10). Salvation cannot be earned or merited. Salvation–having eternal life in the Body of Christ is something outside of us that must be granted to us. Christ came to make the dead live, after all, and the dead cannot make themselves alive. Salvation is a gift.

So how do we reconcile these two views which appear to contradict one another? The one is the image of being judged, of being weighed, while the other shows that we never deserve it based on our own works or abilities.

They are not contradictory. Faith is a gift, but it must show fruit. Making alive is the work of Christ, but alive people do living things, not things of death. As James says, “Faith without works is dead.” (Jam. 2:26)

This may be one of the greatest differences between Protestants and the Orthodox and Catholics. Protestants tend to ignore the judgment seat of Christ that weighs our works. When they think of the Last Judgment at all, they think of forensic justification, that our deeds will not be counted at all, that Christ will recognize Himself in us, as it were, and the subject of what we actually did in this life will never be mentioned.

It seems to me that Catholic and Orthodox Christians alike focus on Christ as our Judge. He says He is, after all (Matt. 25:31ff). And they recognize that He will judge our actions. When they consider their spiritual lives, they think of that Judgment seat of Christ. They think of their souls being laid open before Him. This vision alone should preserve all people from any sense of works-righteousness. This thought alone should keep every one of us from ever trusting in our own good works or holiness. Thinking of every thought, word and deed open and visible to our God, what could we possibly hope in besides the mercy of God?

Notice, I did not write that the leading Protestant views and the Catholic views (as I understand it) are incompatible. Both things are true. God does remove our sins as far as the east from the west. (Psa. 103:12) But He does “come to judge the living and the dead” and the works we have done. Both of these views must be kept together. Faith is not faith if it does not repent of our wicked deeds and strive to please God. Judgment will be…harsh…if we trust that we are basically good folks and trust in our niceness and generosity instead of throwing ourselves on the undeserved mercy of God.

Our Christian life, however empowered by the Holy Spirit, is not on autopilot. Christ commands that we be active in this life of the fruits of repentance, by taking up our cross, by seeking the kingdom, by hearing the word of God and doing it. The violent (that is, the forceful) bear it away. (Matt. 11:12)