Saying of the Day

Abba Ammonas was asked, “What is the ‘narrow and hard way?'” (Matt. 7:14)

He replied, “The ‘narrow and hard way’ is this, to control your thoughts, and to strip yourself of your own will, for the sake of God. This is also the meaning of the sentence, ‘Lo, we have left everything and followed you.'” (Matt. 19:27)

Sayings. Ammonas. 11

A Devotional Life

Little devotional books are popular in the LCMS. These kinds of books tell a 200-word story with a basic message, one for every day. There are periodicals our publishing house publishes, devotional books, and even some web-based devotional stories.

I always appreciate it when I learn that members read these on a daily basis. I’m glad that they take a few minutes for this devotional time. When I was in college I used one of these…but I also cheated. You see, they usually proscribe a reading of a pericope or chapter, along with the single verse printed at the top of the page. I usually “overlooked” the longer passage, read the single verse, the flash-devotion, said the one-sentence prayer at the end and called it quits. Devotions done! Now on to life.

This obviously is not the intent of those who produce devotional books like this. At minimum, the entire passage is supposed to be read, and the prayers are usually intended as a start for prayer. I know this; I’ve written some of these before (but not for a Lutheran publisher…shh!). But I fear that many people consider that “doing devotions” means reading a little story, saying a prayer and getting on with life. One website puts it this way: “What most people talk about when they talk about devotionals is a book that helps you grow in your relationship with God.” (source)

That’s not exactly how it is supposed to work. Devotion(s) are defined as “An act of religious observance or prayer, especially when private. Often used in the plural.” (American Heritage Dictionary ) Prayer. That’s the action of daily devotions. What Christians do privately, outside of the liturgy is, well, some of what they do inside the liturgy: pray and mediate on Scripture.

For this reason, we Lutherans have hymnals that are designed not just for church use, but also for home use, with short orders of worship, daily reading tables and much of the psalter (book of Psalms). There are other options, like the Brotherhood Prayer Book (an independent Lutheran diurnal I have no experience with) or The Monastic Diurnal (not just for monks…but hard to use, Catholic–or Orthodox if you will, and a treasure for the patient or stubborn!). Apparently Concordia Publishing House refused to be left out of the fray and have designed their own diurnal, the Treasury of Daily Prayer (I don’t know that much about it this one, but ought to check it out). But whatever source you use, the object is not reading stories to warm our hearts, but praying to God, praying with the psalms, and praying with the Church, i.e., praying along with the Church Calendar in the season, the commemorations, and so forth.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with reading inspiring little stories that you may find in all kinds of sources. On the contrary, these are good! But we shouldn’t limit ourselves to them. Christians need to pray the psalms, to mediate on Scripture, and be encouraged in Christian living through short (or long) homilies, exhortations, lives of saints, meditations from Church Fathers, contemporary stories and devotional reading too. All this will feed and nurture faith in ways it is impossible to reckon.

For the Months Ahead

A few weeks ago I posted a review of The Faith of Barack Obama. Thomas Nelson had made a special offer for free review copies for bloggers if they posted a review.

I am pleased to report that Thomas Nelson has expanded this program, and soon I will be regularly reviewing books they publish. Stay tuned for these as they come in. The publisher also wishes to enroll many more bloggers into the program, so if you’re interested, you can find out more here.

In other news, the Sayings of the Desert Fathers project needs to change. The number of sayings that I would like to share is dwindling–some are too long and others are too hard. As the response to this feature has been enthusiastic from a few, and very muted from most, I’ve decided to limit the sayings to one or two a week, and re-commit to more regular writing from me.

Saying of the Day

One day when [Abba John the Dwarf] was sitting in front of the church, the brethren were consulting him about their thoughts. One of te old men who aw it became a prey for jealousy and said to him, “John, your vessel is full of poison.”

Abba John said to him, “That is very true, abba; and you have said that when you only see the outside, but if you were able to see the inside, too, what would you say then?”

Sayings. John the Dwarf. 8

Is There Life after Birth?

This is from Again and Again, the blog of a commentor here.

By Fr. Milovan Katanic

The following story is an allegorical representation of a discussion about life after death between a man who does not believe in God (person A) and a man who believes in God (person B).

Twins are having a conversation in the mother’s womb:

A: Do you believe in life after birth?

B: Of course, there must be something after birth.

A: That is nonsense. There is no life after birth. How would this life look like anyway?

B: I don’t know exactly, but I am convinced that there will be more light and that we will be able to walk and eat with our mouths…

A: That is complete nonsense. You know that it’s impossible to run and eat with your own mouth, that’s why we have the umbilical cord. I’m telling you, after birth there is no life.

B: The umbilical cord is too short. I’m convinced that there is something after birth. Something completely different from what we are living now.

A: But no one has ever returned from there. Life ends after birth. Besides, life is nothing else but existence in a tight and dark environment.

B: Well, I don’t know exactly how life after birth looks like, but we will, in any case, meet our Mommy. Then she will take care of us.

A: Mommy? You believe in Mommy? And where, according to you, would she be?

B: Everywhere around us, of course. Thanks to her, we are alive, without her, we would not exist at all.

A: I don’t believe it. I have never seen Mommy, so it is clear that she doesn’t exist.

B: Yes, it is possible, but sometimes, when we are perfectly still, we can hear her sing and caress our world. You know, I am convinced that life after birth, in fact, is only just the beginning.

Making and Paying Vows

When you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin to you. But if you abstain from vowing, it shall not be sin to you. That which has gone from your lips you shall keep and perform, for you voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth. (Dt. 23:21-23)

Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. (Matt. 5:33-37)

I’ve taken a couple of vows over the course of my life. I vowed to remain faithful to God and to die rather than leave the confession of the Holy Trinity when I was confirmed as a Lutheran. Thank God I did not vow to die rather than leave the Lutheran faith, as our hymnal now requires of confirmands (see here for more reasons)! I took a vow to remain faithful to my wife, to love and cherish her and so forth on July 1, 2000. I took a vow to preach and teach God’s Word according to our Lutheran Confessions on August 13, 2000.

But the revelation to Moses and the revelation of Jesus both affirm: Don’t make vows. Why is that? Because we get in some serious trouble when we break them. We’re setting ourselves up to sin. If we don’t make a vow, we are not bound, and we don’t have to worry about it. If you have a drinking problem, you sin when you get drunk. But if you made a vow before God not to drink, and you get drunk, you’re sinning because you’re drunk, and you’re breaking the vow-another sin. And God will hold you accountable to the promises you make Him.

I love this about God. He’s really on our side in this, hemming us in, protecting us from ourselves and others. He really wants to bless us, to make us succeed in overcoming sin (true Success, not the consumerist idea you see in Christian bookstores). It’s as if our Lord is saying, “I know you want to make me these big promises…but I know how easy it is for you to fail. Don’t be tempted to promise what you can’t do. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Just say “yes” or “no,” just live and don’t bind yourself more than you have to.” He is a good Father.

So what about these vows I made? Were they wrong? By no means! But they are serious as cancer. So are yours.

UPDATE: Missing link placed in paragraph above.