Friday, September 4, 2015

A Voice from the Past - John of Damascus

For Providence often permits the just man to encounter misfortune in order that he may reveal to others the virtue that lies concealed within him, as was the case with Job. At other times it allows something strange to be done in order that something great and marvellous might be accomplished through the seemingly strange  act, as when the salvation of men was brought about through the Cross. In another way it allows the pious man to suffer sore trials in order that he may not depart from a right conscience nor lapse into pride on account of the power and grace granted to him, as was the case with Paul.

John of Damascus, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book II, Chapter XXIX, (translated by Rev. S. D. F. Salmond, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, T & T Clark  and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, Second Series, Vol. IX, p. 41)

Can tribulation be a benefit to the person honestly attempting to follow  Christ? How?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

John of Damascus - Defender of the Traditional

We like to fit people and things into nice neat little boxes. We want them to be either totally for us or totally against us. Church history has a way of knocking down our nice clear boundaries and leaving us scratching our heads. There are many things that are admirable about John of Damascus. He was a Christian and willing to be known as a Christian in a Muslim country. He seems to have left a lucrative position as a servant of the caliph to become a monk and study theology. (I am not in favor of monasticism as an institution, but many who entered it had a genuine desire to follow God.) He was a key writer on theology and opposed the errors of his time, particularly the idea that Jesus was not fully human as well as fully God but was some sort of a mixture. He also had a strong view of grace, that salvation is from God and not something we deserve.

But John was also a strong supporter of the idea of serving (I would say worshiping) images. Nor was this a mere incidental part of his belief. This is the theological position he first wrote to defend. He claimed that the iconoclasts' view that images should be neither made nor served was based on a denial of the humanity of Christ. I suspect that underlying this was a strong respect for the traditional, whether good or bad. John of Damascus has not encouraged me to change my views on the service of images. I still cannot agree with the position. But it has made me more reluctant to dismiss someone simply because there is something I do not agree with him on. And I believe this is a good thing.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Helping the Hurting

How do we help those who are hurting? And why are we often afraid to? I am convinced one of the reasons we often hesitate is that it hurts. When we sympathize with those who hurt, we suffer with them (Romans 12:15; 1 Corinthians 12:26,27; 2 Corinthians 11:26,29). As C. S. Lewis points out in his book "The Four Loves," if you love someone, even an animal, you risk being hurt. But the alternative is to have an heart of impenetrable stone, which is the exact opposite of what God is and what He wants us to be. We are called to be people who really care (Galatians 6:2; Romans 15:1-3; Hebrews 12:12,13). Therefore, to be willing to help the hurting, we need to trust God to work in us to make us able to reach out to people (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:28,29). Then we will be imitators of Christ, who gave His life to save us (Philippians 2:3-11; 2 Corinthians 8:9; 1 John 3:16). But this can often be hard to do. It is easier to keep people at arms' length and mumble a few cliches. But it is what God commands.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Frenzy of Activity

We live in a culture that seems to thrive on being busy. The idea is that if we simply try harder, we will accomplish our goals. This concept creeps its way into the church.We think that if we simply work hard enough, we will accomplish the work of God. And that if we come up with enough clever strategies or impressive programs, we will be successful. And that if we follow the right methods and procedures, our congregations will grow in numbers; and that is the main goal. This is often based on the idea of promoting the organization, rather than promoting God's purposes. And the power of God and the character of the congregation can be seen as unimportant. But Scripture would direct us to rely on the power of God (Colossians 1:28,29; Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 3:6,7). And the chief goal of this power is to change people from the inside (Galatians 5:16-23; 2 Peter 1: 3-9; Matthew 22:35-40).

Now this approach to running a church organization ends up loading people down with heavy burdens, which they are simply unable to bear. And it judges people based on the extent of outward activity. It often does this to Christians who are new in their faith and have not yet developed the spiritual foundation in their lives to stand up to this pressure. It sets people up for burnout and discouragement. It results in a Christianity which is superficial and external. The result is churches that send their time flogging dead horses. Trying to nag immature Christians into doing things they do not have the character to support. Also, when people with this mindset encounter people with the comfortable church mindset there is a major collision. It does not help that the frenzied doers are often leaders (they are after all more motivated), and the seekers of comfort are often those under the leaders. I am convinced that many of the conflicts in the present church are a result of these attitudes clashing.

Now I am not against activity. But I am convinced that activity should flow from the inner character of the person. When we try to promote activity for activity's sake, we are trusting in ourselves. But we need to trust in God  and His power (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalm 127:1,2; 37:3-6). And we need to see that what is important is what is in our hearts and not our external activities (1 Samuel 16:7; Romans 2:16; Matthew 23:25-28).

Monday, August 31, 2015

A Touch of Humor - The Storage Room

Why do people keep coming up with more and more quick fixes? Can anything be done about it?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Old Erich Proverb - There

God is there for the broken, the helpless, and the hurting; His people should be there too.

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Voice from the Past - Leo the Great

There the blood of the spotless Lamb blotted out the consequences of the ancient trespass; there the whole tyranny of the devil's hatred was crushed, and humiliation triumphed gloriously over the lifting up of pride: for so swift was the effect of Faith that of the robbers crucified with Christ, the one who believed in Christ as the Son of GOD entered paradise justified.

Leo the Great, 400-460 AD, Sermons, Sermon LV, III (translated by Rev. Charles Lett Feltoe, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, Second Series, Vol. XII, p. 168)

How can humility triumph over pride? How should we live in view of this?