Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Vain repetitions

"But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking." - Matthew 6:7 KJV
It has come to my attention that this is an all too common attack on the Liturgical churches of the Orthodox, Catholic, and high church Protestants by low church protestants. The liturgy, it is often argued, is a set of vain and empty phrases which do nothing to penetrate the heart. The idea being that this is not true worship, but rather, it falls into our Lords statement to the Pharisees:
     And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 
      “‘This people honors me with their lips,but their heart is far from me;
        7in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’Mark 7:6-7(Esv)

An example of this might be the refrains of "Lord have mercy" or the Confession and Absolution in Lutheran Churches or the Jesus prayer in the Orthodox churches. Because, many have come to the conviction that prayer must be active, spontaneous, and emotion driven or else it is not sincere. There is, sadly, a cult of emotionalism in many, not all, evangelical circles. It is true that many can get swept up in the monotony of acting out traditions. It is also true that the emotional highs of many pop evangelical churches can elicit the same empty recitation of lines and phrases week in and week out. Daily or weekly Bible studies, going to church and worship all have the danger of becoming empty habits. However, this can not and must not stop us from doing those things. Rather, it should cause us to fall before the feet of Christ in humble repentance saying "Help my hardness of heart Oh dearest Lord.".

One of the first things I think is prudent to address is that realistically praise songs are prayers set to music. Which is what has left me baffled by the Pharisee like claims of vain repetition in liturgies because so many of today's contemporary worship songs lack depth and are replete with repetition resulting in repeated prayers that lack full worship for some. I am left perplexed as to why "Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes yes Lord Amen." or a set of "Our God will never leave us" ad infinitum is outside the scope of vain recitation.

At the moment I do not wish to insist that the liturgy is deeper and far more significant than contemporary worship. Rather, I desire that this article be a catalyst for thought and dialogue among people from various traditions. Especially since the context of the Matthew 6 verse is about saying the same thing over and over again thinking that one is more likely to be heard. So, it is the reasoning that says "IF I pray three times a day every day in long and elaborate words then God will care about my problem." Jesus is saying NO! God hears you every time you pray trust him do not think you need to heap up words for your prayer to be heard like it is a magic incantation. 
In fact, it is right after the statement from Matthew 6:7 that Our Lord teaches his disciples how to pray and provides them with the Lord's prayer. My point being that the liturgy is not inherently vain repetition I experience a liturgical service nearly everyday and each time I am amazed by the scripture, and depth of the hymns and praise Our Lord all the more. So, if there is one major take away, I desire you get from this it is be careful to avoid being the Pharisee who claims to read hearts and be better than others. Because in that parable, it is the repentant tax collector who walks away justified before God.
(see Luke 18:9-14)

And may the peace of Christ be with you always.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Assembly line evangelism

"How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:14-15 NIV)

With these words in mind and mulling over them, I must reflect on what the above passage, practically speaking, means. After all, I am sure many have been through the youth camp or the Sunday service where the pastor or speaker as the case may be "challenged" the congregation to "go out and invite a person to church."The implication being something like, you invite your friend; your friend hears the band which excites your friend, then pastor so and so hits home a sermon which convicts your friend, and God seals the deal. This may be one experience or a series of experiences that ultimately end in your friend "Saying the sinner's prayer" and thus, being "saved."
While, I am not here to discourage anyone from inviting their friend to church I am, however, questioning if this is anything like what Scripture is addressing. Is evangelism simply "inviting your friend to church" and using emotion to get them to pray the magic incantation which, by the way, is nowhere in the bible minus a loose reading of Romans 10:9. Instead isn't Jesus' call something more than this. Can evangelism and discipleship ever be separated? I think our Lord clearly makes evangelism something far more profound and deep and which, properly speaking; is intimately tied with Discipleship which is defined in the great commission:

 "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:19-20)
So, if we are going to be "Evangelical" we must go and make the good news known, sure we can and should be connected to the church in this. However, if we are going to do this properly, we must recognize it requires Baptism and teaching. We must not separate the two because in evangelism we must disciple them. We have only begun the process when we tell them about Christ and his finished work.

Our calling is not found in telling someone "Jesus died for you" and stopping there we have failed. It is in discipleship so that they may be able to fulfill Scriptures call for us: "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,". When we disciple people well we produce Christians who can also go and make disciples of all nations.
If, however, we have caught them in shallow emotional zeal and keep them in simplistic church programs so that they can not grow and do not know the fullness of God's word and the "new obedience" we are called to we have made mass produced cheap products and have built our foundation on straw.

"13each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire." (1 Cor 3:13-15) 
Therefore, let our churches study the scripture, teach the fullness of scripture and go and make disciples not just "converts" of all nations. If we want people to come and stay, we must not fall for and preach a commercialized entertainment gospel. In fact, this is how the early church grew rapidly in spite of the persecution the faced. The church, at that time, was not softening the gospel. Rather, they taught people for months, if not years, about the faith under pastoral care with the help of the body of believers who bore witness to the new faith. If we want our faith to survive, I think we could stand to look to the Scriptures and the early church and how they took Jesus' call to make disciples.

May the peace of Christ be with you.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Immenent and transcendent

I gaze in rapt attention at the dome with Christ's Icon towering above me set within a circle of the Holy Apostles calling to mind the testimony of our faith as the Choir chants: 
"Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice." (Psalm 141:2)

This was one of my first Vespers in the Orthodox church and, though I am not Orthodox, the Icons and the hymn from the Psalm gave a profound sense of presence. It was, as if, the transcendent- God- has met the infinite- humanity- in a Divine symphony of which each of us has our own part. And though I write months after this first vesper I am struck by this concept. For so long, before coming to the Liturgical churches, I had been indoctrinated to view God as immanent and transcendent but primarily in a symbolic, or otherwise emotional, conceptual way; always there but never ready to be fully grasped, experienced.

That is to say; God is near in a bodiless manner that he is a loving father who, as stated in John 14 and 16, lives in and among us through the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. It was in reaching the Liturgical churches- Orthodox, Catholic, Luther, and Anglican- that I saw that it need not be that God is either present in a vague cognitive or emotional sense or He is a two-dimensional image which would obviously be Idolatry. The distinction set up and against the Liturgical, and sacramental theology is one that either God is spiritually in our midst though not in a manner that can be fully grasped without emotional sensations or cognitive acknowledgment. Otherwise, we worship "the created." This is simply and demonstratively not the case rather, Sacred Scripture teaches:

"6But as it is, Christb has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second."  (Hebrews)

These verses remind us that we have a new and better covenant. This new and better covenant connects the believer with God in unfathomable ways, as he quickens us to repent, love God and our neighbor. He gives us a new heart, and we commune with the Trinity in Christ, and with the Church in the Sacrament of the Altar (the Lord's supper). On top of all this God was pleased to use the waters of baptism  as the Sacred Scriptures say:   

"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin." Romans 6:3-6
"As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)

This passage shows us the Trinity's connection with the Baptismal waters which, by itself holds no power, but it is in the example of Jesus' own baptism that the waters of baptism were made significant (see 1 Peter 3:20-21). So, when we were, or are as the case may be, baptized we are reminded of the Trinity "In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." which should bring our mind first to the great commission and then to Jesus' own Baptism. 
And it is in this unfathomable imminence with God. Through the Liturgy, we are reminded that we are on family in Christ and we praise him with the Angel as stated in the Eucharistic prayer of the Book of Common Prayer (Anglican church):

"Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and  Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who forever  sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name:"
In the Beauty of the Liturgy, we encounter God and are reminded that God is the God of the living not the dead and we encounter his all powerful imminence along with the church triumphant and the angels. Each part of the Liturgical worship is filled with Scriptures and balanced reminders of God and our relationship with him. 

Because our God is not the distant God of the Deists rather, we have a faith where the Physical and Heavenly meet as a divine Orchestra taking place within the worship of the Christians. The Christians "rites" exist in such a way that we encounter the Trinity profoundly as we read the word and live out the faith together.
In fact, Jesus told Nicodemus; "If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?" We are brought back to this passage because it is a reminder that the Physical points to the Spiritual and the incarnation; which reverberates through the new covenant. This truth manifests in our worship reminding us that because God loves us he does, in fact, work within and among the finite for he is "good and a lover of mankind."


May the peace of Christ be with you.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Consuming Christ

Growing up in low church Charismatic Evangelicalism I remember always thinking that when Jesus said:
“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom,” (The Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26).
That he was, logically, speaking entirely symbolically. I mean, how could he as God possibly mean this literally? It was not until my exodus from the church and my subsequent dive out of the shallow waters of modern Christianity into the deep ocean of the historic faith when I saw that, historically speaking, Christians out side of heterodox/heretical splinter groups universally confessed that at the very least they were participating in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 10:16). I could not for the life of me sink my teeth into this doctrine at first. How could God inhabit the material? How could Jesus be consumed?
I spoke with many many patient people about this doctrine because, as much as it terrified me it intrigued me. After months of chewing the meat of this doctrine, so to speak, I had an epiphany as I sat on the couch at a friends house. The words of 1 Corinthians 10:16–18 screamed at me and I, unlike many others, never had a deep connection to the argument in the bread of life discourse (John 6), though great men - such as Scott Hahn - have found that to be their life passage. The words of the 1 Corinthians passage clicked that one night specifically; “Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?” We truly participate in Christ just as the Jews truly participated in the sacrifice on the Altar. It is through this that we find God in a profound way. If Scripture said it, so I shall believe it. A further reading, though not Scripture, that proved to be the nail in the coffin for my Baptist mind set (I joined a Baptist church after leaving the charismatic one) was this quote from St. Ignatius of Antioch:
“Consider how contrary to the mind of God are the heterodox…They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans. 6:2–7:1).
Note, the above is not the whole quote because much of the quote does not fit most Christians who hold to the Symbolic view in today’s age. In fact, as a general rule, most Christians who hold to the symbolic view of the Eucharist are considerably more orthodox than the people whom St. Ignatius was writing about. As to “abstaining from prayer” as I understand it is the prayer as it relates to the Eucharist.
Now, to address a common argument against Real Presence . People will often then say, generally in response to the bread of life discourse; “well, Jesus also said ‘I am the vine’ or ‘I am the door’”. On first appearance this argument is the death blow to Real Presence but, upon further examination, it really is hardly a well thought out refutation. Rather, one need only look at the structure of the sentence to dismantle the argument and “properly divide the word of truth” (para). One can quickly note that Jesus, in these examples, is not claiming that those things are him but that you can use these physical realities to better comprehend the Spiritual realities. As Jesus told Nicodemus; “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12).
Jesus was explaining to him that the Physical can often demonstrate truths about the Spiritual and or clarify things that are hard to comprehend, though they still remain difficult to understand. While this passage is not connected, directly, to the passages above it is part of the hermeneutic-interpretive method that I am setting forth for you today. In the passages where Jesus is explaining that he is a door, vine, or what have you he is stating that even the material world points to himself, this point will come up in another article I plan to write in the near future, whereas when speaking of the bread he says “This is”. The language and grammar used on top of the fact of what the church has historically confessed should be enough to note errors in the symbolic view which, realistically, is a form of thought borrowed from Gnosticism which creates heavy distinctions between Physical and Spiritual and claims, more or less, that God would not and could not take on flesh. The doctrine of the Eucharist is, therefore, heavily incarnational.

two party politics

            The two party system

America has been a two party system for a long time. But, many Americans assume that this has just always been the case, that it is - in fact- exactly what the founding fathers had intended for our great nation.

Yet, this is not at all the case; rather, our founding fathers were terrified of this concept. In fact, back in England the parliament of the time was largely a two party system, not too much unlike our system today. That system was primarily the Tories and the Whigs. According to the the two parties had; “their view of what government should do and how strong it should be. Tories wanted rule by a strong king. Whigs wanted ordinary people to have more rights and gain more control of their government. In time, as Parliament took greater control, the Whigs and Tories developed into organized parties.” These two parties and their stance probably sound fairly familiar to modern Americans!

Now, we must consider whether or not this was what the American Democratic Republic was really meant to be. I will posit that the answer is, in fact, a resounding no. One of the early American giants, - John Adams- wrote:

“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”

The concern the founding fathers had was that if two major political parties existed then our constitution would be in danger as “political parties become arranged under its leader”. The focus would then become an extremely polarized interpretation- of the constitution, as well as an extremely polarized nation. Which, again, was a problem they recognized from England!

Upon initial consideration it appears that two parties are the best option because, as we all know, choice can also be problematic. I personally really like that more restaurants have the “coca cola freestyle” but, it is also problematic because among all the carbonated goodness it becomes more difficult to know what to choose. And this is a fairly simple example to say nothing of ten million political parties vying for your undying emotion; all of whom cannot realistically get far.

Those of us more familiar with foreign politics will also recognize that some countries face problems of stalled progress because they have so many different political parties and people become so fed up with each one each new election that they just keep voting new ones into office and not much can ever be accomplished as a result.

 America does, technically, have more than two political parties. But, the other two parties exist as a monopoly over the system. Which is why I think we need to change the system because, as monopolies do economically, so the two party system does politically. A monopoly constricts creativity and ingenuity because competition forces new ideas to constantly be put forward. Which is why I believe Americans deserve more options.

The two party system also creates issues in how we understand our rights as Americans. I am a book worm and watching politics today I am struck by how much Americans are like the Animals in “Animal farm”, - a book by George Orwell, - for those of you who are not familiar I do not mean this as dehumanizing people. What I mean by this is in this allegorical story the animals run the farmer out of the farm and a leader rises up. This leader as this leader, and his crew, ultimately convince the farm animals that the “head animals” have more rights than the rest leading to one quote “all animals are equal some are just more equal than others”. It finally reaches the point that the animals can no longer “read” the “constitution” they wrote and are reliant on the “elite” to more or less tell them what each thing means and its practicality. While I do not think we have reached this point I am concerned that as America becomes more polarized this becomes more and more possible.
With all of this in mind, though I cannot say exactly how we can do this, I am, however, convinced that Americans deserve more than our two party sy

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Electoral reform a thought on Politics

So, I finally decided to do one on politics since I find it interesting here are my thoughts on the issue of how we vote in America

Contrary to what many think we don’t live in a democracy America is actually a Democratic Republic! This is significant because our founding fathers knew how dangerous it was when democracies crumbled. In fact, we can look at more recent examples of when democracies with limited checks failed. For example, Hitler’s rise to power. He was democratically elected because of a majority that was angry at other nations for how Germany was unfairly targeted post WWI and voted for the most corrupt leader in history. Our current system was put in place with the hope of guarding against majority mob rule lording their strength over a poor minority. 

So, I will be making suggestions for what we can do to balance our horribly flawed system that so many feel unrepresented by, a system in which neither party seems really concerned at helping to heal the scars our nation holds. It is not the destruction of the Electoral college, but a systematic reform which allows every American citizen a fair shot at having their voices heard.

I propose a system in which each state would split their vote so that any party receiving at least 25% of the popular vote would take one fourth of the State. So, if Illinois, which boasts 21 electoral votes, were to have a Republican win 25% of the votes they would receive 5 of the Electoral votes.

This would be significant because it would force both parties to cooperate with each state because they can’t just rely on that state voting like it always has. Rather, it now stands a chance of losing a substantial amount of ground and their candidate might just have more trouble making 270.

As a further attempt at this systemic reform, an area on the ballot should be included where you can vote for your first and second choice for president. For example, perhaps you are a Democrat who doesn’t like Hillary, but you definitely don’t want Trump as President. However, you’re worried, if you vote 3rd party, your vote will not count.  Under this reform, you can vote for Gary Johnson, who now would have a better chance since people will feel their vote is more significant. But, suppose he doesn’t make 25% in your state, you can still vote for Hillary as your second choice.

A further advantage of this system is, if it takes less to take a decent percentage of a state, it encourages more people to vote, creates a higher incentive for independents, for example, to finally go out and cast their vote. Lastly, it gives everybody a bigger voice. This would force both major parties to actually address the tough issues that exist more than they currently do because they cannot rely on taking a state. Perhaps we can see the day when more people have their voice heard without fear of being silenced by the system.

When there's no joy in the Desert

“Come on, buck up and just pray,” or “surely you’re in sin if you feel this way. Either that or you just aren’t focusing on God.” “If you are not joyful, then you are sinning.”

 These words reverberate through chapels and churches, Christian homes and conversations. They are plastered on t-shirts, hung on walls, and peppy phrases are placed on coffee mugs, sometimes called “coffee cup verses”.

But what do these words really mean? And what message are we sending out in our sanitized Christianese? I grew up in a Christian background that, in one way or another, seemed to ignore the reality of mental health through either making illness a god and condition from which there is no escape, or in denying it as anything other than sin and disobedience.

As someone who truly wrestles with self-esteem, in times where I am deep in the valley of brokenness and feel no motivation, the last thing that I need to hear is, “Buck up, what are you doing wrong?” I promise you that in those moments I am praying, I am in the Scriptures, and I am working to resist sin and live out my faith. Yet, despite my best efforts, these moments come.

What happens when the Church tells the broken that it is their fault, and that their attitude just needs to change? I’ll tell you. People become even more broken. And many, as I have witnessed, leave the Church because frankly, the world often - though not always - is more open to them. They have walks to de-stigmatize mental health, like the NAMI walk, they have organizations, counselors, and support groups that try to walk through the storms with the broken. So does the Church, at its best. But sadly, I’ve experienced an evangelicalism that says, “Psychology is demonic,” and claims that taking care of people’s mental health is a “sin”.

 This model does not help the church, indeed, it helps no one. It sets up boundaries to the cross, to healings, that many can never even approach. Rather, Sacred Scripture tells us:
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me,’ (Matthew 25:37–40, ESV).
So, we see that Jesus calls his disciples; that is,you and me, to go minister to the broken, the poor, the outcast, and call them to God for, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin,” (Hebrew 4:15). Jesus understands despair, for he endured it when he went to the cross (see Hebrews 12:1–2), He understands temptations like the passage above, and with both in mind, we are called to proclaim the gospel and be ministers of healing and reconciliation. But, we need to remember that great people of faith, even in the Bible, had moments of brokenness and depression. Consider Job and David, and even Jesus going to the cross. Their sadness and anxiety were not based on sin but based on humanity, for even Jesus took on flesh, and though without sin, he understands our struggles even while calling us to healing. In the case of Job, his depression was not due to sin but due to the fall (see Genesis 3) and due to hard things happening in life.
Even people who are often considered “giants” in Christian history have experienced "dark nights". This includes Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of “The Cost of Discipleship”, as well as Martin Luther who shortly after the Reformation, upon seeing all the pride and division, fell into a deep depression, even thinking that God was nowhere to be found. And, of course, St. John of the Cross who wrote “Dark Nights of the Soul.”
When people are struggling with psychological problems, yes, let us point them to healing and resting in Christ; but, let us also minister to them in their pain, not by telling them it’s their fault, but by bringing them to the Cross and Empty Tomb where healing can come, and that it is in God’s will where they can find rest and abundant grace. I will leave you with one last verse to consider, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)
May the peace of Christ be with you all.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Isn't there room for brokenness?

I hear this statement all the time "But we are the broken ministering to the broken." Having attended an Evangelical Christian university for a year and been involved in two ministry groups on said campus, prior to attending the community college, I heard this constantly. Honestly I even began to believe but recently, with my study into the early church- and indeed seeing more of the breadth of Sacred Scripture- this question has regained significance to me.
       Some might say "Why? Don't we know we are broken people? After all didn't the fall mar us?"
But, this bring up a far more profound question on sin and its origin that I will not detail in this post, never the less, there is another aspect to this. "Is there room for the broken". Of course there is the church is indeed the place where we find grace, in the gospel, sacraments, and community, and we are all sinners in need of his unending grace yet an issue that is at the fore front of my monster fed 1 am typing spree is that we are obssesed with our brokenness, we own it like it is a part of us.

  But here is the thing we are called to transformation by God's work in us (Romans 8), and Jesus said "who the son sets free is free indeed" so how can we be so obsessed with our brokenness and why do we identify with it, especially when this brokenness is sin? But even when it is depression or some other like struggle is Jesus not our sabbath rest? He says that he is the Lord of the Sabbath

    "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 Esv) 

 In the next chapter Jesus declares himself Lord of the Sabbath he is our rest he is the one to whom we bring our brokenness and we share it in the community of the church and in him, though it may be slow there is a renewing work as we trust that "he who has begun a great work in you will carry it to completion" (See Philippians 1:6 for full verse). This is my concern that in much of some segments of evangelicalism we have found so much comfort in "grace" and our brokenness that we do not hear our saviors call to newness of life. And others fall into the error of having no grace for those in need. Neither of these, however, are to be done alone it is true that churches are filled with broken people, and as long as we are all still human, I expect this to remain but we go through this life of brokenness together as a community. 

So, while I don't think the phrase is entirely wrong we must be careful when saying it because though we come broken we are constantly renewed "the old has died the new has come.." and in baptism we died and are brought back to life (Romans 6). This brokenness that is part of being human should NOT define us lest we should be guilty of what Dietritch Bonhoeffer warned about 

        “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession...Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” (Cost of Discipleship).

      This is to say when we say "I am broken" as an excuse and or as a comfort the question becomes "Am I using this to my own harm in 'justifying the sin but not the sinner'". Realistically God's radical grace is made manifest in that he works through us broken people but that, though we come to him broken, he is constantly transforming us, as we adhere to his will, and pruning us (John 15 and 2 Timothy 2:20-21). We come to him broken striving to, by his grace, live for him as he -God- does the heavy lifting of transforming us though broken we may come to him we have Christ in us as the hope of glory (see Colossians 1:26-27). In Short while I would say "yes there is room for brokenness" I would say but we should not take comfort in that as a "destination" but as a journey into God's healing hand of transformation though we will likely never be perfect until the final day God is our rest and let us rest assured that, as stated before, he is our Sabbath rest and we have Christ in us as the hope of Glory. 

    I will end with one last quote keeping in mind that God meets us in our brokenness "He loves us as we are, but He loves us too much to leave us that way". 

“Are you a sinner? Do not become discouraged, and come to Church to put forward repentance. Have you sinned? Then tell God, ‘I have sinned.’ What manner of toil is this, what prescribed course of life, what affliction? What manner of difficulty is it to make one statement, ‘I have sinned’? Perhaps if you do not call yourself a sinner, you do not have the devil as an accuser? Anticipate this and snatch the honor away from him, because it is his purpose to accuse. Therefore, why do you not prevent him, and why do you not tell your sin and wipe it out, since you know that you have such an accuser who cannot remain silent? Have you sinned? Come to Church. Tell God, ‘I have sinned.’ I do not demand anything else of you than this. Holy Scripture states, ‘Be the first one to tell of your transgressions, so you may be justified.’ Admit the sin to annul it. This requires neither labor nor a circuit of words, nor monetary expenditure, nor anything else whatsoever such as these. Say one word, think carefully about the sin and say, ‘I have sinned.'”+ St. John Chrysostom, On Repentance and Almsgiving, Homily 2
May the peace of Christ be with you. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Why I hate most Modern Christian Art

“Be-reshit bara Elohim Et Ha sha- mayim Ve’et ha’eretz,” (Genesis 1:1).
Most of my readers probably have this verse memorized in English, and it is one of the few that I have memorized in Hebrew. But what does this verse have to do with my rant today? Well, as the advertisements for new, hip Christian movies boisterously bounded off the walls, and Christian small groups danced at the creative genius of the new gospel movie, my mind was consumed with the indignation of voices echoing inside my mind. I wanted to scream, “Silence! When did we start selling the gospel?”

Now, before one says, “But you can not judge what you have not watched,” I will say I have seen countless Christian movies, and it pains me to say that even though we worship a God of creation- as demonstrated in Genesis — we seem hell-bound on selling a beautifully packaged gospel, free from any real burdens and profound depth. We paint an imaginary world that is alien to the world that we live in, and decry the attempts of atheist directors’ detail of boisterously uneducated Christians as we paint atheists the same way wantonly.

God is a God of creation, a God of beauty, so much so that the Earth testifies about Him (Romans 1). Jesus even declares, while he is being praised as “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” that if the crowd were only quiet enough, they could hear even the rocks praise him. So, this leads to the first part of my annoyance with Christian Art: the theology of it.

If art is worship, our worship should be beautiful; and if our God is Holy, our art should be Holy, not the same old blatantly, poorly done, theft of the art from the unregenerate. You have to realize that when “our art” is a rehashed Christian universalist version of “Groundhog’s Day” or a cheesy Jesus-infused Romantic comedy, we have a problem. Because not only are we being lazy, we are also not fully worshiping God for who He is. Now, I am not saying that our art has to be Scripture-heavy. One of my favorite bands is Twenty One Pilots, and I have quickly realized that their songs, “A Car, a Torch, and a Death”, “Taxi Cab”, “Addict with a Pen”, and “March to the Sea” proclaim more gospel truth than many contemporary “Christian” songs. These songs come from a band of two Christian kids writing music for everyone and naturally lacing their music with the gospel. Art doesn’t “become Christian” simply because we put Jeremiah 29:11 on it. It becomes Christian when we proclaim the gospel unaltered and without the theft of non-Christian property. In fact, I’m 99% sure that this is technically theft, which is a sin, think about it like this: Martin Luther once said, “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”

Our art becomes Christian when we do all things for His glory. The gospel is shared when we live it out. And our art should be the best we can do, because we proclaim a living God. We don’t need to paint trees to say “Jesus,” because Nature announces Him without our help (Romans 1).
My second and last reason, for now, is that modern Christian Art creates a commercialized gospel by which we can make a profit from preaching Christ crucified, and that should be obviously wrong, as it also encourages faulty work, because the more we produce, the more money we make. Think about it like this. Bach, arguably one of the greatest classical composers ever known died with an entire library of theological books. The Christian artist infuses their art with the faith when they are, as C.S. Lewis once described himself, theologians first when they are creative as God is creative, and when it is not about money, but rather about God and when their entire life is enraptured by the redeeming work of Christ.

May the Peace of Christ be with you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday reflection

   It is that time of year, a time of fasting and penitence where we are called to reflect on our faith, and our lives and we prepare to, in a sense continue this journey with Christ up to his passion and, ultimately, his resurrection. As the time fast approaches, and I think of my first year on the Church calander I've been left reflecting on my faith, and on where I am at right now. Life, seems to be a never ending rush as every moment blazes on past us but earlier today in the mists of it all I found myself thinking about the cross that will soon be imposed on my forehead....betwixt my eyes.

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return" we are called to recollect to that ancient story of our ancestors in the garden who, for the promise that they could become "like God" brought sin into the world. And with it death, and we are reminded that all passes away, that each moment is fleeting but among this call to reflection on, deeper still, I think anyway, has grabbed hold of my consciousness.

That cross, that will soon find its place between my eyes, kind of anyway, reminds me of my savior who died for me, who came into the world to make whole. And the cross causes me to think that as I repent, and pray I need to remember to keep my eyes on the "author and perfecter of our faith" which brings me to the point

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us throw of everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perserverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Hebrews 12:1-3

 "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."- Hebrews 4:14-16 

That cross will serve as reminder of Christ and that he is the great high priest and perfecter of our faith, as well as that I am temporal, living only for a moment. So, for those of us who will be going to recieve the ash cross today, let us repent and remember our great high priest, and approach him in humility, and love as we enter this season. Let us keep our eyes fixed on him today and evermore. Taking the time out of the chaos, to reflect on him, and our lives remembering the short time we have.  

I am linking here access to a passage from St. Clements epistle to the Corinthians on repentance:

                            May the Peace of Christ be with you, and may you have a blessed ash Wednesday. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

About me and this Blog

   So, pretty much as soon as I started this up I had people ask me why I named this blog "Crossing the Phoenix" that is a very good question. So, at the suggestion of others I am going to introduce my self, and explain why I came up with this name.

To begin with, I will explain my journey, for those of you who do not know I am a currently a sophomore at a local community college, I intend on transferring somewhere and majoring in Psychology- might be a topic here or there- and or something relating to theology/ministry. But, as of now I'm just working on getting my associates degree. I am almost there too!

                                              FAITH JOURNEY 
I was raised in a nominal Jewish family,had a Bar Mitzvah, and attended Hebrew school Tuesday nights and Sunday morning, a slight conflict since I became a Christian when I was 10, until after my Bar Mitzvah I would have kept going but I had problems with a few people there.

At any rate, shortly after coming to the faith, I started attending Awana at a local baptist church and then after going there for a few months I was invited by a family friend to attend a small Charismatic church the young christian that I was saw no problem with it, though it was a bit awkward at first as I was the only non Hispanic person there (On the plus side I learned a lot of Spanish).  I was attended that church for 7 years when I started to question some of their beliefs, I was invited by a friend to go to his youth group and from there started attending that church -which was the same one I went to for Awana- it was also where I got to know my Girlfriend :-D, at any rate the more I studied the Scripture, the more things I saw as wrong with my old "bible and nothing but the bible" church (Long story that I don't want to cover here). Anyway, I started attending the Baptist church, and started diving into books about the Christian faith written by other Christians, and found my way into considering Calvinism, went to a lutheran church and was introduced the the Liturgy and Sacraments (these will likely come up in posts), and started having deep discussions with other Christians. Before I knew it I started to read the Early church, and see things in Scripture I had never seen before which leads into the name.

                                         Crossing the Phoenix 
So, why the name? Well, in Greek mythology the phoenix was a bird that would die and rise again (did I mention I like history and mythology?) So, it's not hard to see why the phoenix eventually came to represent the resurrection of Christ thus, the blog ultimately says "crossing the resurrection". I chose this title because my blogs will largely focus on Scripture and the Early church and after all our faith is a faith based on the resurrection and our future resurrection. (see 1 Corinthians 15) So, now that you know a bit more I hope you enjoy, learn a bit, and that the facebook page can be a place of open discussion.

                                May the peace of Christ be with you.

P.s.; If you can help a friend of mine out for going to study abroad it'd be appreciated.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sola Scriptura (Part 2) The Early church

Next, I will be addressing Sola Scriptura according to the Early Church which, by the way, did not hold to sola scriptura. So, in this post, I will be addressing the views of the Early Church. This is important because Jesus, being the good shepherd, would not leave his flock (the church) with out a shepherd/s as a bulwark against false teaching (See Ephesians 2 and 1 Timothy 3:14-16) and we know that the apostles appointed teachers, and overseers in every city, think of Timothy and Titus (see Titus 1:5 for example) this ultimately gets into a topic I will address in another post but, for now, I think this is all important in understanding why the views of the Early Church on tradition is important, for we have a faith that is handed down and Scripture was not canonized until a few hundred years after the advent of the Church. (You can research this on your own, and check out Athanasius' letter on the subject) -
//Well, according to William A. Webster, Pastor of Grace Bible Church in Battle Ground Washington,”
The sixteenth century Reformation was responsible for restoring to the Church the principle of Sola Scriptura, a principle that had been operative within the Church from the very beginning of the post apostolic age. Initially, the apostles taught orally, but with the close of the apostolic age, all special revelation that God wanted preserved for man was codified in the written Scriptures. Sola Scriptura is the teaching, founded on the Scriptures themselves, that there is only one special revelation from God that man possesses today, the written Scriptures or the Bible. Consequently, the Scriptures are materially sufficient and are by their very nature, as being inspired by God, the ultimate authority for the church. This means that there is no portion of that revelation which has been preserved in the form of oral tradition independent of Scripture. We do not possess any oral teaching of an Apostle today. Only Scripture therefore records for us the apostolic teaching and the final revelation of God."   Further, here are some quotes from Ecfs".

 "When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered using written documents, but vivâ voce: wherefore also Paul declared, "But we speak wisdom among those that are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world." And this wisdom each one of them alleges to be the fiction of his own inventing, forsooth;" - St. 
Irenaeus. So, we see that this saint at the least taught Sola scriptura, see he contradicts the heretics by use of scripture. Meanwhile, the heretics try to argue a sacred tradition that is passed orally as opposed to written down, this would also contradict your understanding of some of the above scriptures you quoted." //

 Hmm…that would almost be convincing if you had not butchered that quote from it's proper context.  Here's the rest of what you are missing from St. Irenaeus."
2.2." But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth. For [they maintain] that the apostles intermingled the things of the law with the words of the Saviour; and that not the apostles alone, but even the Lord Himself, spoke as at one time from the Demiurge, at another from the intermediate place, and yet again from the Pleroma, but that they themselves, indubitably, unsullied, and purely, have knowledge of the hidden mystery: this is, indeed, to blaspheme their Creator after a most impudent manner! It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition." Well there we go tradition that originates with the apostles, and separate from scripture, leaving you undable to say the tradition is scripture, so no the concept of tradition did not originate with gnostics, Manicheans, or another sect.

 //"Well, I know of other Ecf's that taught sola scriptura. It is none other than Gregory of Nyssa.”
"Gregory of Nyssa also enunciated this principle. He stated: The generality of men still fluctuate in their opinions about this, which are as erroneous as they are numerous. As for ourselves, if the Gentile philosophy, which deals methodically with all these points, were really adequate for a demonstration, it would certainly be superfluous to add a discussion on the soul to those speculations. But while the latter proceeded, on the subject of the soul, as far in the direction of supposed consequences as the thinker pleased, we are not entitled to such license, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings.7" again from William A. Webster, Pastor of Grace Bible church in Battle Ground Washington //
 I love that you are looking at what the early church taught that is really, really cool however 1. Do you know that Nyssa also said "the unique generation of the Son, he explained that it was enough that 'we have the tradition descending to us from the fathers, like an inheritance transmitted from the Apostles along the line of holy persons who succeeded them.' And he also said.”

Let our author, then, show this to begin with, that it is in vain that the Church has believed that the Only-begotten Son truly exists, not adopted by a Father falsely so called, but existing according to nature, by generation from Him Who is, not alienated from the essence of Him that begat Him. But so long as his primary proposition remains unproved, it is idle to dwell on those which are secondary. And let no one interrupt me, by saying that what we confess should also be confirmed by constructive reasoning: for it is enough for proof of our statement, that the tradition has come down to us from our fathers, handed on, like some inheritance, by succession from the apostles and the saints who came after them. They, on the other hand, who change their doctrines to this novelty, would need the support of arguments in abundance, if they were about to bring over to their views, not men light as dust, and unstable, but men of weight and steadiness: but so long as their statement is advanced without being established, and without being proved, who is so foolish and so brutish as to account the teaching of the evangelists and apostles, and of those who have successively shone like lights in the churches, of less force than this undemonstrated nonsense?"
 And further, he said "Instead, the sheep stray from nourishing pastures, that is, from the traditions of the fathers, lodge outside the fold, and are dispersed throughout alien pastures. When the fruit of such a teaching brings about this situation, the form of a wolf now hiding under a sheep's skin will show itself.

Let us now examine the teachings of Apollinarius of Syria, to see whether they increase or decrease the flock, gather the dispersed or scatter those who have been gathered, and whether or not they support or manifest hostility towards the teachings of the fathers. . . For who does not know that God appeared to us in the flesh? According to pious tradition, he is incorporeal, invisible, incomposite, both was and is boundless and uncircumscribed, is present everywhere, penetrates all creation and has manifested himself in our human condition."

Sola Scriptura? Part 1

The phrase sola scriptura is from the Latin: sola having the idea of “alone,” “ground,” “base,” and the word scripture meaning “writings”—referring to the Scriptures. Sola scriptura means that Scripture alone is authoritative for the faith and practice of the Christian. The Bible is complete, authoritative, and true. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16)." (  That sounds all and good but how does that hold up to scripture? -
Now I won't quote it all here; I'll Just reference it I think it further significant that early church doctrine as found in the Bible was on AT LEAST 1 occasion decided at the convening of a council. "Say what? No, it cannot possibly be true!" Acts 15: 1-3 (ESV)

"But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. 3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers."
 So, we see here a dispute very early on in the church, this dispute being, basically, how much of the Laws of Moses must believers follow? Need they be circumcised? Keep Kosher? The high holidays? Frankly, there was not president in scripture, how then would sola scriptura answer this question? One would assume since they are the new Israel they'd keep all the laws of Moses right?
 //"Now wait one darn minute there are things in scripture about this Paul is pretty clear on this issue isn't he? Read Colossians, read Galatians that's all scripture."//
 Yes, we can say Paul seemed pretty clear on the issue, and he got it from….? Thank you further, his writings were epistles (letters) valued because he was known to have been sent by Christ, apostle roughly meaning "sent one", and thus churches valued it as letters written by a man of the church, a disciple of Christ, however in the early years of the church cannon was not yet decided and Paul's letters definitely were not scripture yet. Now, if I may continue so, caught at these cross roads what is the early church in doing? And how are they to decide? That's right they have a council.    Acts 15: 6-11 (ESV)

"The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between them and us, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”  
 Well. Why don't you look at that? Peter taking a stand at a council met to decide doctrine wow that's something! Even scripture has leaders of the church deciding doctrine and where the church stands on issues. Now, it is true that James does go on to speak up and quote scripture, though the scripture doesn't directly have to do with this at all it shows the council's decision was in line with scripture, something prima Scriptura sees no issue with at all. The above, again directly from Scripture does, however, seem to throw a wrench in the sola scriptura argument.
 //"Well, that is interesting, however, what about this

 II Timothy 3:16-17 "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of Godb may becomplete, equipped for every good work." (ESV) "
"So, the council still quoted scripture and this passage seems to say that scripture is all we need"//
 Hmm.. That is interesting and at first seems like a powerful argument until you ask well what scripture? Remember
 Paul was writing to Timothy well before most of the New Testament was written…Paul was likely referring to the Old Testament because that's all there was to scripture at the time minus, perhaps, a handful of letters that were not yet canonized but if it's complete the O.T. doesn't give the full testimony of the life of Christ so what is going on here? And further, as it likely had to be addressing the O.T. yet we know at Galatians that we're no longer bound to much of the Old Testament. If this logical point isn't enough to let is take a moment to consider the context of the above verses.
  "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which can make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."
 Note, and this may be a stretch, that Paul separates what Timothy has learned from having been acquainted from scripture. Now, what was he taught if it's not directly connected to scripture? Well, let's keep this in mind as I quote a few other passages

 "So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter." (ESV) 2 Thessalonians 2:15
 //"Hmm but what about II Peter 1:16-21."
“16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son,[a]with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (ESV)

 "Well, Peter says (essentially) that he's about to die, and wants to leave the Church with something to hang onto, and the reason he wants them to hang onto it is in chapter 2, where false teachers are coming. So, what he says between 16 and 21 is intended to keep the Church from these false teachers.
 And he first makes the case that we (exclusive we) were eyewitnesses, we (exclusive we) heard the voice, and we (exclusive we) saw Christ's glory. So, when we come to verse 19, it seems that he is using another exclusive "we" to associate those eyewitnesses with the prophetic word, and then tells them about "prophecy of Scripture" (scripture being specifically writings) not being of a prophet's own (interpretation is the translation, I think revelation is better, but that's a different discussion), and then says that this prophecy was produced as men spoke from God as the Holy Spirit carried them along

That's it. Peter doesn't mention any verbal traditions or anything the apostles have said but rather only refers them to the writings of those who were eyewitnesses of Christ's ministry (he later includes Paul in chapter 3.)
 So, it seems to me that by prescription, Peter points the church exclusively to these writings as the anchor that will hold them firm, and as such, only these writings should be considered the primary authority for the Church.
 And the reason seems obvious. Traditions can be altered through time. Who knows? It's possible that the traditions about Mary were expanded and modified over time before the Church finally adopted what the final form of the tradition produced. We see this in the Byzantine Text Type, where traditional passages not part of the original are added (John 7:53-8:11, Mark 16:9-20, for example) by scribes with the best of intentions.
 But writings are not so easily altered, and the fact that we have many types and families of the original text, we can discern the original from the various copies that are around, and we can discover what scribes added or altered along the way. (Much to the chagrin of the KJVOs, but that's another story)”//

Of course, scripture is primary and most important, so all is judged based on its authority. The point is that they left and taught people what came after them right? But sure I'll look at your point. How often does Paul say "as it is written" and it sounds like a creed or something yet outside of his quote is nowhere in scripture, add that to the fact that scripture was not canonized for a few hundred years after that? Of course, all tradition must be weighed by scripture for scripture is the highest authority and the only perfect one but I think scripture is pretty clear, often in what it does not say, and in what it does say, as seen above, that there is more that was left to the church.
 For that matter conceder this, his emphasis on being witnesses of. Well, was he not a witness of the resurrection? And were there not people trying to deny the resurrection? Was he not a witness of the crucifix? Were there not people seeking to deny Christ's bolide existence and death? Thus I submit, as we already know based on other scripture there were concerns about such people, which maybe just maybe Peter might have been referencing a bulwark against these deceivers.