Thursday, January 25, 2007

Welcoming the World with Open Arms

Fr. Stephen Freeman writes this concerning the Church transforming (I’d say “sanctifying”) the world. Just substitute “Lutheran” for “Orthodox” and, say, “Sacrament” or “Lutheran Vestments” for “Icon” and see what you get:

My oldest daughter spent a year in Siberia. There she faithfully attended the Orthodox Church. She had a friend who was Orthodox who invited her to go to Church one Sunday. The Church, however, was not Orthodox, but a recent American plant, using the “mega church” model. Being in Russia, and being culturally sensitive, this new Church met in a movie theater, but had large icons around the room. Russians expect them.

My daughter said to her friend, “But you are Orthodox? Why do you want to go to a protestant Church?”

“What’s the difference,” her friend replied. “They both have icons, only the American Church has rock and roll!” This, again, is not the transfiguration of the world, but the morphing of the Church into a rock concert.…

Monday, January 15, 2007

Love...True Love...

“For he who loveth rejoices not so much in commanding, as in being commanded, although to command is sweet: but love changes the nature of things and present herself with all blessings in her hands, gentler than any mother, weathier than any queen, and makes difficulties light and easy, causing our virtues to be facile, but vice very bitter to us.” (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on First Corinthians, Homily XXXII.12, NPNF, vol. 12)

Or as William Goldman described it:

Grandpa: [voiceover] Nothing gave Buttercup as much pleasure as ordering Westley around.
Buttercup: Farm boy, polish my horse’s saddle. I want to see my face shining in it by morning.
Westley: As you wish.
Grandpa: [voiceover] “As you wish” was all he ever said to her.
Buttercup: Farm boy, fill these with water - please.
Westley: As you wish.
Grandpa: [voiceover] That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying “As you wish”, what he meant was, “I love you.” And even more amazing was the day she realized she truly loved him back. (from The Princess Bride)

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Lasting Forever versus Living Forever

Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names.

Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.

This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah.

Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling.

But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. (Psalm 49:11-15 KJV)

Last night my wife and I were found ourselves playing the game, “What if we won the Powerball?” This is a rare game in our house; I can count on one hand the number of times we;ve played it. Excessive riches are not high priorities for us, hence my job. Normaleweise, we are simply happy to be able to pay our bills. But we played the game last night, and the easiest decision was how much we needed. We decided anything over $2-3 million (invested to give yearly income) would be given away.
Then today I read Psalm 49 as part of my morning devotions. Why are so many consummed with riches, with gain, with a legacy? Why climb the corporate ladder? Why the competition to outdo the neighbors? Often we justify ourselves by saying, “God has given me such-and-such talents, so I had better make use of them.” That is a faithful approach by itself, but when it covers the sins of greed and pride it falls flat.

The Psalmist reveals the “hidden thought of the heart.” Death. That is what the rich fear. “Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever.” It sounds quite foolish. Of course the greedy know that they will die. Of course they know that no amount of cash reserves will allow them to avoid the Grim Reaper. That’s just plain common sense. It’s insanity to think otherwise.

But when you know that the grave is coming, that the years pass by faster and faster, that the days of generating wealth are (relatively) few, that you only have a limited supply of time, talent and capital, it makes these days precious. Death is coming when it all ends. The other shoe: better be as comfortable as possible until the little box receives me. If there is nothing after this, then it appears wise to accumulate now for yourself and later for your children. Perhaps it will last forever, our heart murmurs. Perhaps I might last forever….
Death is the problem. However, Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned–” (NIV). This seems to say that sin is the root issue, and death follows sin. Protestants often take it this way. But the King James preserves a slightly different wording. It says, “Romans 5:12 and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” This participial phrase retains some wiggle room. In fact, the KJV’s “for that” translates the Greek eh ho, which can mean “on account, because” or “as a result.” In fact, the Patristic understanding was the latter. In fact, we are dying, and this leads to sin. We are dying, and so we wish to accumulate riches, as if to avoid what will come, as the Pslamist testifies.

“But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me.” This is the antidote. This is the faith. Sin confines and enslaves, but the Great Enemy, the Last Enemy is Death. “For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:25-26 KJV).
The soul cries out for life, and thanks be to God, we have the life of our Redeemer, who has destroyed the power of death, who has broken the doors of Hades and frees the prisoners from the dungeon.

The life to come is the antidote for overcoming the passions of greed and pride, of power and lust for flesh or cash. We are pilgrims here (1 Pet. 2:11; Heb. 11:13 ) and our eyes are not set on an earthly inheritance, on the mansions that may await the rich here, but on the prize of eternal life, gained for us by the suffering and death of the Second Adam, Christ our Lord.

Thus our Lord’s saying about the rich man. When one becomes entangled in the affairs of this life, our eyes are taken off the “author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2), our pilgrimage ends prematurely and our faith is wrecked.

Lord, give us our daily bread and lead us to use our income wisely!

Friday, January 5, 2007

New Year's ToDos

I’ve been reading From Where I Sit– Michael Hyatt’s blog. He is the President and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, and an interesting figure: from his blog you might imagine that he is more business minded than spiritually minded. After all, he’s been posting numerous articles on setting goals and organizing your priorities and disciplines (his former blog was called Working Smart). However, he’s also an ordained Deacon in the Antiochian Orthodox Church, according to his bio. The juxtaposition of these two is interesting.

Lutheran Pastors sometimes have a phobia of Covey, Agendas, DayPlanners, Palm Pilots and all things that smack of business organization. While at the seminary, students who were assigned to take the Personal Growth Class in Organization gnashed their teeth, jumped through the hoop, and perhaps later, quietly admitted that there were some good ideas there.

Some of the disdain for planning, personal goals, 7 habits and the like stems from the fact that these tools are children of the business and world and almost every pastor made the decision to flee corporate life or never enter it in the first place. Add to this the fact that the CEO model of Evangelical pastoral practice is often at odds with Lutheran pastoral practice and theology. Business tools and business-speak are not welcome among us.

Furthermore, some Lutherans make a theological argument against planning personal and business goals. It goes like this: God is the author and perfecter of our faith. We can do nothing to contribute to our justification, and neither does our personal sanctification have anything to do with our being remitted our sins. Justification is divine monergism–God’s Work Alone.

But what ends up happening is that this divine monergism becomes imported not only into matters of sanctification, which is false and wrong, but also into church life…and all of life. How can you set goals to increase church size, we say, for it is God who creates and sustains faith? How can you set goals for the future at all, for God’s will for our future is hidden, and all the blessings ultimately derive from His gracious right hand?

Needless to say, this is not good theology. It leads to an aversion of sanctification, as McCain has noted numerous times on his blog. It’s more of a parody of Lutheran theology than anything.

It also makes many of us disorganized, inefficient and lazy, present company included.

Mr. Hyatt becomes all the more interesting then. A successful man, at the top of the business world, extolling the value, and power of setting personal and business goals, and the ordered and disciplined life, while at the same time serving as clergy in a very spiritual, even mystical Church. In fact, Orthodox Christians often joke about the inefficiency, illogical practice and life in their Church.

So for the first time in years, thanks to Michael Hyatt, I’ve set goals for this New Year–not resolutions, per se, but personal and professional goals I will accomplish with the help of God. It seems a little “corporate” and “name-it, claim-it” to my inner Lutheran brain, but I’m doing it anyway.