Thursday, April 30, 2009

Love, the only way.

A very close friend of mine who teaches religion at a seminary told me not long ago, and I paraphrase, "Personal religion or expressing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is a sign of pure arrogance."  He speaks with absolute venom when the idea of having a personal God who loves each one of us individually.   The more we talk about it, the more angry he gets.  

Now I love this guy and we have a good relationship.  We respect each other's views and agree to disagree.
I won't hazard to guess as to why he comes to this conclusion, other than he's had a great deal of disillusion with evangelical Christianity.  He attended a conservative seminary and got his masters and doctorate at a noted liberal seminary.  But his mind was made up long before he got his advanced degrees.  

Now why do I bring him up?  Out of love for the man and to protect his identity, I won't reveal his name.  But I mention this because this is the prevailing view of many people.  He is also one who is a product of the description of the hazards I began to bring up a couple of posts ago regarding those who linger, sit and absorb the thought of a world that denies God as shown in Psalm One.

I'll return to Psalm One soon, but today, I was praying and listening to the Morning Prayers of the Divine Liturgy as presented on the Divine Office website.  The hymn sung in preparation was the great old hymn, "Jesus,  Joy of Man's Desire" sung by the great singer Mary Mancini.  It was a magnificent rendition.
The words are a slight update of Bach's "Jesu, Thou Joy of Man's desiring."  The translation I post here is simply in more modern terms.  Plus, I'm trying not to break any copywrite laws.  The words go, 

Jesus, joy of man's desiring,
Holy Wisdom, Love most bright;
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light.
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
With the fire of life impassioned,
Striving still to truth unknown,
Soaring, dying round Thy throne.
Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.
Theirs is beauty's fairest pleasure;
Theirs is wisdom's holiest treasure.
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown.

I don't know about you, but this sure looks like a personal communication/prayer.  How more personal can you get, than "Jesus, joy of man's desiring"?  Jesus, you are my joy, my wisdom, my love.  Jesus I'm drawn to you, my soul aspires, longs, thirsts for you.  I feel like soaring like an eagle whenever I worship you.
Sounds like a personal expression of love to one who loves us.  Read those words, embrace them, and then tell me if that is not a personal expression of love.  Drink of joy from deathless springs.  What a picture of total intoxication with one who is love.  And then those final words, "Thou dost ever lead Thine own in the love of joys unknown."

I'm sorry folks, but this great hymn by Johann Sebastian Bach expresses in a grand manner the entire story of a compassionate loving God, who from Genesis to Revelation has stepped out of Heaven to enter into our world to establish personal and national relationships with the people he loved dearly, culminating in the greatest act of love on Calvary.  How can you not respond with the words of Bach.  
O  Abba, Jesus, Holy Spirit, I love you from the well springs of my being.  May we as your children learn to love you and others as you have loved us.
Amen!!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Baby Blues Theology

One of the best comic strips on the web is Baby Blues  written by Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott.  It's strip about a  family and its normal daily hassles.  All of us can see ourselves in the story lines.   Today, April 29th in my paper for instance, Baby Blue and momma are together.  If I mess up the names forgive me, but the strip is still new to me.  I just find it highly entertaining.  Anyhoooo, mom is apparently changing the linens in baby's crib.  Baby, walks up behind mom and says, "Mom, I can't find the pencil sharpener."  The next scene is a series of questions and answers. 
Mom:  "Did you look in the pencil drawer?"
Baby:  "No."
Mom:  "Did you look in the art supply box?"
Baby:  "No."
Mom:  "Did you look on my office shelf?"
Baby:  "No."

Next scene:
Mom:  "Well then...."
Baby:  "I said I CAN'T find it.  I didn't say I TRIED to find it."  

What a great line.  "I CAN'T find it.  I didn't say I TRIED to find it."

Have you ever heard anyone say, "I went to church the other day, but didn't find anything for me"   Or, "I can't find any proof for God in science. " Or maybe someone will complain church bores them or say "I don't go to church because they are nothing but a bunch of hypocrites.  
Others who don't even consider Christianity are constantly looking for more in their life.  More things, more love, more sex, more money.  They are never satisfied.  They always need more.  They always have to have the newest gadget, tv, car or whatever because they lose interest in the old one. 
What about Jesus?  If he is all I need, why aren't I happy in my faith?  Now that the financial system has cracked and crumbled, many people are realizing that what they had based their hopes on have vanished.  
Jesus said, "If you SEEK me, you shall FIND me."  If he is all he claims to be and we aren't finding him, could it be we really aren't looking for him?  
Most people are turned off by poor Christianity.  Christians who constantly fight each other make turn people off.  When the world sees Christians acting just like they do, then our words which preach goodness gets lost in our badness.
Jesus, I think, has another plan.  He said the world will know we are Christians by our love for one another.  And the only way to do that is for us to follow him and allow him to be the chief honcho, our main squeeze, our Mr. Number One, our lover.  
How do we do that?  We can't.  That's why he tells us to seek him.  Seek Jesus and I guarantee, you'll find him and you'll never be the same.  Read about him.  Find a Bible and read about him in the first four books of the New Testament. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Read and reread.  Find a Christian who love Christ and loves others and you'll see Jesus at work in them.  And don't set up any preconceived notions of what to expect.  He'll show up unexpectedly.  
Seek Jesus and be patient.  You'll find him.  I guarantee it.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Life, From An Orthodox Perspective.

Today, I want to point you to a couple of interesting sites that reveal how God is working in lives of our Orthodox brothers and sisters.  We tend to think that our tradition is the only tradition were God is working. But God is no respecter of persons.  His Holy Spirit works where he chooses and where hearts are open to him.  
So enjoy and learn something from these precious people.  You may be surprised how you are uplifted by their words.  

The first is Molly Sabourin's blog site, Close to Home.  She is daughter of John Maddex, former head of Broadcasting for Moody Radio, founder of Ancient Faith Radio, a popular Orthodox internet broadcasting network, and now CEO of Conciliar Media Ministries.  Molly is a columnist for Handmaiden, a podcaster for Ancient Faith Radio and author of "Close to Home: one orthodox mother's quest for patience, peace and perserverence."  You can also view "snapshot's" at her Shapshot of the Day blogsite.   There you'll see an Orthodox mother living her faith with her family.  

By the way, if you've never listened to Ancient Faith Radio, you've missed out on some of the best examples of Orthodox music and teaching you'll find anywhere.  
Enjoy Molly as she shares her faith.  

The second blog is Glory To God for all Things, a blog by Stephen Freeman, an Orthodox Priest from the St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oakridge, Tennessee.  Fr. Stephen is a former Anglican and is quite popular.  Don't get turned off by his rabid pronouncements that the Orthodox church is the only church.  But do get turned on by his joyful exaltation of the person of Jesus Christ.  His series on Christianity in a One-Story Universe are nothing short of brilliant.  You can also find this long series at Ancient Faith Radio go to Itunes and enter his name to access his programs.   Enjoy his blog and also listen to him at Ancient Faith Radio.

Well, that will keep you busy for a day or two.  Have a great Third Week of Easter.  Or if you're are Orthodox, Enjoy your "Thomas" Sunday.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Changes

This will be the first of major changes on my blog.  I will be mouthing off less and adding content to blogs I've read and found interesting.   Hopefully they will be interesting to you as well and you'll want to comment on them  I plan to spotlight people from all representatives of the major faiths to expose you to believers who are active in their faith who love the Lord.  So you'll see Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelicals, Reformed, and other representatives of the faith.  

Hopefully you'll appreciate the changes.  Also, I will be exploring new layouts to make the site more interesting.  So hang in, hang on and post once in a while to let me know I'm not wasting my time.  Ha Ha.

The first blog I want to direct you to is to a new convert to the Catholic faith.  Her article The Freedom To Choose A New Faith by Ashley Samelson talks about the privilege of having the freedom to choose.  You may have seen this in the Wall Street Journal.  

Enjoy and have a great weekend.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Nobody's listening. Part I

Well, after that overwhelming response to the last blog...none...I guess I'll move on.  While nobody's reading or giving a rat's behind what I'm writing, I'll press on and practice.  Maybe someone will stumble on this attempt at journalism and discover something emerging from behind that shiny chrome dome in the picture.  

I asked the huddling masses who have no clue I exist, to read Psalm 1:1 and comment.  Since it appears no one has done either, I guess it doesn't matter what I write.  So here goes.

Happiness seems to be one of the major goals of people today  We all want happiness of some kind.  It seems to be a major need.  The entire entertainment industry exists to fulfill some kind of need in all of us that will make us happy or pleased.  A lot of us want to be envied for something.  We need attention because there is a drive in us to be noticed.  Many of us want prosperity.  The whole "Prosperty Gospel" that has captured a huge portion of the pentecostal house of the church are giving us a "blab it and grab it" mentality that says "I deserve happiness or prosperity".  And we feel fortunate if we are noticed and blessed with abundance.  

So the theme behind all entertainment, marketing, even the news media goes out of it's way to provide us with that "something" that will fit our needs, whatever they may be, and make a buck while they're at it.  But is that how to find happiness.  I mean, is happiness found in a society that chooses to ignore the existence of a God?  

Psalm 1:1 says Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked (NIV)  Now don't get hung up on the term wicked.  That is simply the way of saying someone who has chosen to eliminate God as a part of daily living.  So, the psalmist is singing to us, (yes, he sings... these Psalms were meant to me sung) 
and he tells us happiness comes from a source other than a society that puts no value or ignores God.

Maybe first I should define what he means by happiness.  The New Living Translation translates happiness as joy.  Many translations use the word, blessed.  The Amplified offers several choices including prosperous.  Put all of the translations together and you come up with a general overall meaning of an inner joy or happiness that brings immense satisfaction and contentment.

So the Psalmist says this happiness is not found in the advice, counsel, suggestions, hints, negative input from sources that exclude the possibility of God, much less a personal God.  And when you read this verse you notice a steady progression from a superficial level of unbelief to absolute rejection of God.  I'll get into that in later blogs.  

But for now, consider.  What influences you most?  What and who are those people who shape your world view?  Who do you listen to in the media?  Does your outlook reflect a conservative view because that is who you gravitate to in your listening habits.  Or, do you find yourself going to the other extreme and adopting countering views of the left?  I'm not say either is right or wrong.  But what I am saying is, whether they are right left, up or down, if God is not a part of the equation in their thinking, then the Psalmist is saying, you can't find any level of happiness in ideology.

Nor can you find happiness in entertainment if that is something you are involved in.  Again, the entertainment may be wholesome and fun and totally engaging.  And there may be a level of happiness in it.  But the psalmist is saying, if my lifestyle, my dress, my sexual habits, my tastes are determined by an entertainment industry that does not even faintly consider a living God in it's mix, then true happiness cannot be found there.  Again, I'm not saying the industry is bad.  I've got friend and relatives in the industry.
What I am saying is, if the word view is one where God is eliminated from consideration, then true long lasting happiness that carries us to eternity is not found there.  

So in this first level of influence, do you listen and take the advice of those who aren't interested in God and leave him out of the equation?  Or do you follow the Psalmists advice and include God and listen to his advice given through the Psalmist to go to the source.  In this case, he says the source is the law.  Vs. 2 says happiness is in the law, the teachings, the guidelines of God.  Now in the New Testament, Jesus the radical comes along and says, he's the fulfillment, the completion of the law.  All the law and it's requirements are wrapped up in him.  

In Christ, the new law is Love God, Love People, Serve the World.  That is where happiness lies.  Jesus Christ.  So listen to him and his instructions and let him show you how to live in a world that ignores him.  He's a good teacher and is God.  The world ignored him too and killed him.  But death didn't end the story.  In his resurrection he killed death.  So that by his life, in his power, I can find true meaning and purpose.  Now that makes me happy.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Looky Loo Commentaries

O.K. It's your turn folks. Time for the Looky Loo commentaries. (this buys me time as my week is very busy) All you Looky Loos now have your chance to share your thoughts on a particular subject. The scripture passage I want you to comment on is Psalm 1. In particular, Psalm 1:1 As a little help, you can also see parallel passages at Biblos.org.

So all my Looky Loo friends, chime in. I'd like to see your thoughts. Later in the week, when I can squeeze in the time, I'll share mine. This is a great instructive passage. As for now...I've got a Bible study to prepare for.

God Bless

Monday, April 20, 2009

Blessed Pascha

A blessed Holy Pascha to my Orthodox friends. For my Protestant friends, the Orthodox church celebrates Easter on the Julian calendar. This year Easter for the Orthodox community was celebrated yesterday. All of us who share in the resurrection joy of our savior, Pasch blessings to you all.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Mercy, Mercy


This second Sunday in the Easter season is a special Sunday for many Catholics as well as many Protestants who have discovered some of the richness of the traditions within the Catholic faith.  Protestant Scot McKnight  author of Praying with the Church highlights this often in his books.  It was on April 2, 2005 that the great John Paul II died.  But what was remarkable about his death, was it occurred just as the Roman Catholic Church was celebrating the Vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday.  He had given his life to a mission of Divine Mercy, led the canonization of Sister Faustina Kowalska, 1905-1938, a polish nun who had succumbed at a young age to the ravages of tuberculosis.  She was beatified in 1993 and canonized as a saint by the church in 2000.  This began the feast of the Divine Mercy which has grown in popularity at an astonishing rate.  

According to Pope John Paul II, the feast is "is a perpetual invitation to the Christian world to address, with trust in divine benevolence, the difficulties and trials that await the human race in the coming years."

Faustina's mission was to spread the message of the mercy of Christ to every living human being.  This message was taught through a painting of a vision she had received from Jesus along with what has become known as the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  A prayer that even Protestants have been comfortable praying.  While it begins with the Lords Prayer and the Rosary, many Protestants substitute the Rosary with the Jesus Prayer.  

I won't go into the meaning of the painting or quote the chaplet here as you can find it all over the web.  It would be redundant for me to take up space here.  But what I find comforting about the chaplet is that it is so ecumenical in character and especially appealing to people going through difficult times.  St. Faustina's life is a testimony of the mercy of God that has inspired millions who suffer through physical or emotional sickness, distress of all kinds, poverty or injustice.  Many pray the prayer at the time instructed by her each day at three P.M.  If you have time during that time of the day, obtain a copy of the prayer and pray it with the millions around the globe who also pray the prayer.  

I know this is foreign to us Protestants.  We are not accustomed to praying written prayers.  I've heard people say, "Oh, people just rattle off the words just out of ritual and don't really mean it."  Or, "It's just vain repetition."  Oh??  Do you know what is in the heart of the one praying?  If it is a ritual or meaningless prayer, I'd put the onus on the person praying, not the prayer.  The church has used form prayers since the beginning.  They began with the psalms and scriptures sung and chanted in the synagogues for that's all they knew.  The Psalms have been sung and chanted for centuries, long before Christ and long after his death.
No..it's not empty when your heart is in it.  
I might ask, "Where is your heart when you repeat the Lord's Prayer in your services?"  Is it from your heart or are you thinking of something you saw or heard earlier in the week?  Don't blame the prayer.

Bottom line.  Check out the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  Get to know St. Faustina.  She's was a marvelous person.  Some have accused her of being bi-polar or having some kind of mental illness that led to depression causing her visions.  Read again.  She saw Christ in his perfection and when she saw that she saw her true state as a human and saw how short she was of Christ's perfection.  But, but, that's when she saw his love and mercy.
We can learn from her.  

These Catholics may have some practices that may cause us to stumble, but don't question their faith.  In Faustina's case, it was square on.  She knew who she was, who Christ was and why mercy was so important for us to learn.  
Take this day to join the thousands who honor this saint and learn from her the message of Divine Mercy.

God Bless.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Interruptions

Have you ever tried to get something done and all you get is interruptions?  This is one of those days.  This morning, I'm at home waiting for my Dish network repairman to come and reinstall my dish after it blew off in this last week's windstorm we had here.  So I figured, since I have a few extra hours to be creative before the work was done and before I'd go to work.  Well, you guessed it.  One little thing after another has interrupted my plans.  
Little things mostly, cats demanding attention,  my wife finally getting up...I get up very early so that is normal.  She's retired, I'm not.  Now I'm not saying she's an interruption...well...O.K.  I confess...I was selfishly perturbed when she awoke.  I know, I know...I'm a jerk.  But when I'm concentrating on putting together my brilliant thoughts...clearing my throat...there's this..."Is the heat on?"  or "How's the kitty outside?"  or "Did you make coffee this morning?  You know...silly little interruptions.  Then there is guy outside deciding to use his wind blower to blow the street clean.  

I hate getting interruptions.  Like just now...my infernal email just beeped me letting me know someone was interrupting me.  And you know...I'm not disciplined enough to wait until later to see who interrupted me.  It just hovers over me like a big cloud until I sweep the cloud away to look.  And yes, I looked.  One of my prayer team members was kindly letting me know she would be available this Sunday to pray with anyone who wanted prayer.  Now, I'm feeling guilty for feeling interrupted.  

You get the picture?  How often does this silly little scenario play out in your life?  We are so wrapped up in ourselves that we have no room for others.  The Love God, Love People, Serve the World purpose we have in our church becomes just that, a purpose statement that means my little selfish agendas are interrupted.  Jesus's own words "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your mind and all your soul" and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" is just another impossible command to fulfill.

Excuse me, my wife just interrupted me to take my dirty clothes basket to the laundry room.  I'll be back after the latest interruption.  

See, this is real time folks.  Abba?  Why did you make living this life so hard?  I can't even be patient with these minor little interruptions.  I guess this is what you call the moment of truth.  If I can't trust Abba to give me the patience even in these little interruptions, what's it going to be like when my world crashes around me.

The classroom of faith never ends folks.  We can't do this on our own.  Only our Lord can give us the ability to live his life on the fly.  Abba, Jesus, Holy Spirit...Here I am.  Do your thing in me because I'm a flop on my own.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Coming Up

Coming up soon.  More variety, more history, more of whatever crosses my devious old mind.  A three parter on progression of belief.  Mercy me.  A lesson in Divine Mercy.  Quizzes.  This day in church history.  Great saints and sinners.  Finding that niche that no one else is doing.  Now that's the tough one.  And finding any one who really cares.
Now, just to find time to do it.  If anything is like this week, none of it will get done.  Plus, I need to figure out how to attract more friends.  This whole blog scene is a real challenge.
Invite your friends and let's party in the love of God.

What Do You Think Of Mary?

What do you think of Mary, the mother of Jesus? Is she important in your faith walk? I’d really like to know. I’ll probably revisit this question once my blog gains more viewers. Is she the Blessed Virgin Mary to you? Do you conveniently think of her only at Christmas time? Or at the Passion? We are told by both the Catholic Church and Orthodox, who venerate Mary that we are forbidden to worship her. That may come as a surprise to my Protestant brethren who interpret any bowing before a stature of Mary or kissing a figure of her is worship. I won’t go into detail at this time, but you can find reference to this if you look up on the web for the Roman Catholic Catechism and read for yourself. Do the same in the Orthodox churches. Now, I realize many Catholics themselves, especially in other countries do worship Mary. They are going against the teaching of the church.
My problem with the Catholic Church on Mary is that they assume too much of her and give her attributes that I cannot biblically support. I, along with the Orthodox, do not accept the concept of the Immaculate Conception. By the way, for Protestants are often confused over this doctrine. The Immaculate Conception has nothing to do with Jesus per se. The doctrine states that Mary was conceived without sin in order to fulfill the type represented in the Old Testament of the Ark of the Covenant that was made pure by the presence of the Holy Spirit. I know there are varying interpretations of this, but basically that is what it means.
I also do not accept the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven. I’m not saying it could not have happened. I’m just saying I don’t see where there is enough support for that other than the fact no one has ever found her bones. Remember, bones, relics, are held in enormous esteem by the church, especially the early church. Bodily relics were treasured. Mary was extremely honored by the early Christians. If there were remains of Mary, you can be certain there would be relics of her body scattered in churches around the globe. So, while the fact that no bones have been saved, that doesn’t present a strong enough argument for me to accept the bodily assumption. And the fact she’s pictured in Revelation twelve with a body is not a strong argument.
Be that as it may Mary is one of the women I hold in very high esteem, if not veneration. I even have a small five inch statue of her in my home. I can hear the sudden intake of my friends’ breath. Relax folks. Smooth your Protestant feathers. Mary represents to me a very important reminder. Every time I look at that little statue, I think of Mary standing before the Angel Gabriel, say, “Be it unto me, according to your word.” She reminds me to say yes to Jesus, whenever he calls me to his service. Obedience is a part of living the life of Christ. Mary trusted and obeyed out of a heart of love. She was not coerced, she wasn’t bound to anything. She heard the call and said yes. So when Jesus asks me to do something, she reminds me that yes is the best answer.
Remember the wedding at Cana when Jesus turned water into wine? Mary, after telling Jesus about the lack of wine, hears the words of Jesus to fill the water jars. (Don’t get hung up over is use of “woman”. He was showing her respect. After he spoke to her she simply turned and said, “Do as he says.”
So when I walk past or sit in front of that little statue, I hear her words, “Do as he says.” And I say, “Yes, mother.”
Yes, I said mother. Get over it. Ask yourself, “Was she the mother of Jesus”? Yes. Is Jesus God? Be careful! Your answer will identify you with truth or an ancient heresy. Yes, of course Jesus was God. She was the mother of Jesus who is God. That’s what the whole argument was over at the Third Ecumenical Council held in Ephesus in 431. By calling Mary the Theotokos, the mother of God, the council set forth the doctrine of the Trinity. It was a very important statement that Protestants and Catholics alike share to this day. But is she our mother? Think about it.
Who is Jesus? He is God, the second person of the Trinity. He is also the head of the church. The Church is what? The church is his BODY. He is our head. We have been grafted into him and he actually says we have been made one with him. Whoa…!! Yes, he even prayed to the Father in John 17:21, “20"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me”. NIV
Folks, if I am united with Christ my head, who is God, and Mary is his Mother, then in a very real sense I can say she is also my mother. That begs the issue, Do we then pray to her? Ha Ha… That’s for another discussion. But for this discussion, if Mary is the mother of Jesus, then she deserves extreme honor or as the term is called, veneration. Veneration is not worship. You venerate pictures of your parents or children all the time. If I were to come into your house and spit on your parent’s pictures or took pictures of your children off the wall and smashed them to the ground, you’d probably…uh…”crucify” me. Certainly, I’d come out of that house the worse for wear. That is what veneration means. I hold in high honor Mary. I believe we should do likewise. Get to know our mother. Read the Magnificat (the song or Canticle of Mary) in Luke 1:41-45, daily until you appreciate just who she is. I think you will come to the same conclusion as I have.
One other point and I’ll finish. Mary always, always points to Jesus. That is her mission. The Orthodox iconography is very helpful in this. Orthodox icons/images are two dimensional depictions of various saints or aspects of the biblical narrative. Whenever you see a depiction of Mary, she is always with Jesus. The only exception I am aware of is Mary at the annunciation. But then that is to be expected. Other than that, she is always with Jesus in various stages of his growth and ministry. The message is very clear. Mary’s role is subordinate. Her role is to present to us Jesus. She reminds us that our focus is always on Jesus. So she takes the focus off herself and onto Jesus. So when we see Mary represented, always remember that she is reminding us to look to Christ as our reason for hope. Also, it is a reminder that Jesus as God, has been made present to us on earth as the Son. She was the instrument who brought heaven down here. Jesus is present to us here on earth. This is the good news. The kingdom of God is here. Jesus dwells within us. Mary would want us to know that.

I hope you have a better appreciation of Mary. We are still in the Easter season. Take this time to place yourself into the passion of Christ and see it through the eyes of Mary. You’ll get a whole new perspective.
God Bless

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Jesus

No words today. Just find a favorite image/icon/picture of Jesus and meditate on Him. No..not the image. Allow the image to focus and draw your heart to the living Christ. Meditate or contemplate for just 10 minutes. He'll give you all you need for today. Give him your full attention. And shut up!!!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What's in the Chicago Water?

What is it about Chicago’s water? Or should I say, Illinois? No, I’m not talking about President Obama or the scandals that seem to arise on a regular basis. Nor am I talking about the Cubs, White Sox or “da Bears.” Poor Cubs…

I’m talking about the reservoir of religious talent that seems to spring out of the mid-west waters of that area. And they include all the major Christian religions. The first that comes to mind is Fr. Robert Reardon, pastor of the All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago. Father Reardon is also the Senior Editor of the Touchstone magazine, a magazine dedicated to Orthodox life and theology. He is a marvelous speaker and teacher. Father is one of those gentlemen that I could sit under and listen to for hours. He has one of those deep bass voices that thrills you through and through. His homilies and teaching are rich in depth and content and totally God uplifting and honoring. His manner is of deep love and affection for our Lord, his church and those he speaks to. You can hear him regularly on Ancient Faith Radio or download him on Itunes. I guarantee you’ll be blessed.

The next figure that I’m impressed with is Fr. Robert Barron, of the Word on Fire ministry and is the Francis George Chair of Faith and Culture at the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois. He is a prominent lecturer who travels all over the United States and is heard on the EWTN network of stations. He has a major presence on You Tube. His Word on Fire ministry is extremely popular and is making waves for it's innovative methods of transmitting the Catholic faith. Fr. Barron is a rare shining light in that he is one of the few who expresses the Catholic faith in practical terms everyone can understand. (The Catholics admit to being among the worst at training (catechizing) their flock) But Fr. Barron is a welcome exception and a marvelous brother in the faith who is madly in love with our Lord. I highly recommend him. I’ve used many of his illustrations in my teaching in my Presbyterian small group.

But the evangelical church has its representatives that have Chicago/Illinois water in their veins. Who can ignore the mega-church pastor Bill Hybels of the Willow Creek Community Church ministries? They have campuses all over the Chicago area. Like him or not, and I do, he has made a significant impact in the evangelical world. For that alone he deserves attention. No one is better at making Christianity a daily living event. I know, many who visit my site are fed up with the mega-church movement and can’t stand the theatre atmosphere that is often present. But folks, Bill is a Jesus lover and follower and wants each person to experience that same kind of love. Bill has done more to consolidate so many people who are leaving their tiny little churches for something that is alive. Bill Hybels has had a positive effect on Christians all over the world. For that reason alone, I consider him to be a member of my hall of fame as someone who has spread the good news around the world.

I also want to share someone who grew out of the Willow Creek Church and not only has Chicago water in him, but the water is Chicago Cub blue. I’m prejudice on this one because he’s my pastor. John Ortberg , pastor of the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church is one of the leading preachers in the world today. I’ve heard it said he’s one of the top ten preachers in America. I can see why. No one can break down a passage of scripture to its simplest teaching than Pastor John. He is a prodigious reader and author. I’ve heard he can go through two books a day. God give me that talent of speed reading with the comprehension he has. I’ve also heard he has one of those memories that some call “photographic.” He seems to remember anything he has ever read at the drop of the hat. His many books including one of his latest, Faith and Doubt, are consistently among the most read in Evangelical Circles. But the thing that stands out to me the most is his ability to teach a large church the simple message of Christ. Love God, Love People, Serve the World. And it’s not legalistic. His messages all revolve around grace and love and how that relates to God and how our Lord fills us to share that grace with each other in love. My life has gone through a major transition thanks to his loving ministry to us. Read his books, listen to or watch his sermons on the MPPC website. You can also down load them along with study guides to use in your small groups. John is a humble man who simply wants to share his faith.

One more person who has impacted my personal liturgical life is Scot McKnight, author of The Jesus Creed and many other books. My pastor put me onto Scot and my life has not been the same. I learned the joy and beauty of liturgical praying through Scot. He introduced me to the saints of the early church which is why I am able to appreciate so many from the Catholic and Orthodox community. His regular daily blog on Facebook is a delight to read as well as his daily insights on his personal blog. He’s a regular guy…if maybe a bit quirky...how can you not be if you’re a Cubs fan like he is. But Scot has a way of breaking down the simple message of the gospel that brings into our vocabulary the rich teachings of the ancient faith. He’s had an enormous impact on many in the Emergent Church movement. Read his books and enjoy your rich heritage. You’ll never be the same.

Folks, we as a Christian community can thank God, that these five men, from very different and distinct lines of faith teach the same message. I encourage you to learn from them and adapt whatever you hear to your present situation and life.

And ladies…I haven’t forgotten you. I’ll focus on some of you in late postings, especially one young lady this weekend.

God Bless

Monday, April 13, 2009

Hero Worship -- First Week of Easter

Heroes, we all want them. The heroic exploits of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, hero of the US Airways flight 1549 has been replaced by the heroic exploits of the U.S. Naval rescue of the brave Captain Richard Phillips from the dastardly pirates of Somalia. We rejoice, in this first week of the Easter celebration with the family of Captain Phillips. It is almost a resurrection from death if you want to turn it into a metaphor of real life. Here was a man, held captive in the hell of his captors, suddenly released by a group of Navy sharpshooters who eliminated his evil jailors. I can see a book and movie deal in the works already. Good for him. And yes, we as Christians, pray for our enemies that this will never happen again.

So our secular society has been given its new inoculation of hero worship. There’s nothing wrong with that. Heroes remind us of the possibilities in life. But the religion of secularism must have its regular inoculations. Unlike true faith in Christ, it must forever have a fix to satisfy the vacuum the religion of self worship requires. For when the secular man or woman sets themselves up as the final arbiter of what is truth, there is a lack of permanent satisfaction. Not just in the need for heroes, but also in just about anything. The secular man is never satisfied. There is never enough money, never enough things, never enough power, never enough drugs, never enough of anything. More and more is required to satisfy the insatiable thirst of a human who chooses to say no to God.

Unfortunately this secular theology has infiltrated the church where we must always have something new to keep us interested in God and fellowship. And so a new theology to match our personal tastes is born every day until we now have over 30,000 denominations arguing back and forth over who has the truth. And most all say, “we are right because the Bible tells us so.”

Well folks, not all can be right. Someone is wrong or else the Holy Spirit is sending mixed messages to Christ’s body. I choose to believe the former and not the latter.
And so the secular world goes on its merry way, laughing at the church or totally ignoring it because it is no different than the rest of the world. We look the same as the secularists. We have set up our reason and intellect over revelation. And so, while we wear Christian clothing, the world knows the emperor has no clothes. We look and sound just like everyone else.

Easter Week forces us to rethink this false gospel. Today is the first day of the first week of Easter. The Easter season is on us. It lasts fifty days from the Holy Saturday Easter vigil until the day of Pentecost when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the church. So what does Easter tell us? Precisely the opposite of what the rest of the world believes.
Easter signals a new beginning. Not just a breaking of the power over death by the resurrection, but the power of grace and hope given to us for everyday. We now no longer need the regular heroic fixes. We have hope and new life to live daily. We were designed by God for God and for our neighbor. As Pascal said, there is a God shaped vacuum within each of us. The reason we need the heroic and narcotic fixes is because we are trying to fill a vacuum that was designed for God alone.

The resurrection of Jesus finally breaks the power of death and gives us power to live. We are given power to do the impossible. The demands of the law and the prophets which we could never satisfy, has now been made possible in Christ. He gives us the ability, the power, the grace to live an impossible life in the most seemingly impossible circumstances. He gives us peace where we can find peace. He gives us hope, in place of a secular godless hopeless end. He gives us a purpose to love our neighbor and lovingly serve the needs of those around us.

Let us celebrate these next fifty days of Easter as a daily reminder that we have a God who has lowered himself to live within us to become our life, our hope and peace. And let us become the physical representation of Christ to those around us who so desperately need his love.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Christ is Risen --Easter Quotes


Easter Quotes:

"If Christ be not risen, then is my preaching vain, and your faith is also vain, and you are yet in your sins, ...all our visions of heaven are blasted and withered;  the brightness of our hope is quenched for ever; that rock on which our trust is built, turns out to be nothing better than mere sand if the divinity of Christ be not proved.  All the joy and consolation we ever had in this world, in our belief that his blood was sufficient to atone for sin, has been but a dream of fancy and a  'figment of idle brains;' all the communion we have ever had with him has been but an illusion and a trance, and all the hopes we have of beholding his face in glory, and of being satisfied when we awake in his likeness, are but the foulest delusions that ever cheated the hopes of man."  Charles Hadden Spurgeon Sermon 258

"We worship a risen, living Savior who has promised to give immortality to all who believe on his name.  No longer do men and women need to stumble in the fog and hopelessness.  A light shines brighter than the noonday sun, offering hope to everyone who has been born again.  Jesus promised, "I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die."  (John 11:25-26)  Billy Graham.  

"Do no abandon yourselves to despair.  We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song." 
-- Pope John Paul II

"Christ the Lord is risen today, 'Sons of men and angels say.  Raise your joys and triumphs high;  Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply."  --Charles Wesley

"Let every man and woman count himself immortal.  Let him catch the revelation of Jesus in his resurrection.  Let him say not merely, 'Christ is risen,' but ' I shall rise.'"  --Phillips Brooks


Holy Saturday - Holy Hope

It is Holy Saturday.  I awoke this morning at 5:00 AM to a cloudy day...no sunrise this morning.  How fitting for my mood and for the meaning of the day.  I fixed my coffee, sat down and read my devotions for the day.  But I couldn't get an article off my mind that was in our local newspaper on Friday.  It reflected the religious thinking of the secularist mindset so prevalent to day.   For two thousand years those of us who call ourselves Christians have argued and fought to maintain the faith, establish doctrines and developed extraordinary theological truths in order to win the world to Christ.  In the process we have changed the world.  

However in the last 25 years it seems we've shot ourselves in the foot and have lost our way.  Somewhere, somehow, we who call ourselves Christian have totally alienated ourselves from the mainstream of modern society, especially in the developed nations.  We are off the radar map of most Americans who walk our streets.  Oh, we have the big names, the mega-churches, the political religious figureheads, but...but...we've seemed to have lost the skirmish.  I say skirmish, because I believe the battle has already been won by Christ but we seem to be locked in turf wars that makes the world roll its eyes.  

Secularism rules, Faith has taken a major hit.  Yesterday The Mercury News, often called the "Murky News" here in the San Jose area, printed an article by Erik Reese entitled, "Faith's Loss Leaves Only Jesus' Words" .   In that editorial, Erik Reese describes his journey from a Baptist background of Faith to one of no faith, only a secular understanding of the life of Christ.  To be fair, Mr. Reese believes Jesus was real, and that his teachings were revolutionary.  He has a lot of respect for Jesus.  But, he sees Jesus, as so many before him have, as a great teacher with a revolutionary idea that got him killed.  He sees a Jesus that might bring down the Roman empire and begin the kingdom of God.  But as for the resurrection?  He doesn't believe in it.  He doesn't believe in miracles or much of anything the Bible says.

He joins the countless others who have tried to explain away God by human reasoning.  He has replaced the supernatural with another god, himself.  For when we raise intellectual reasoning above faith we enter a dead world, with no purpose.  The secularist world has no hope, the end has no purpose, death still has a sting.   This results in a lifestyle of no room for God, faith, or...Christians.  

That's why this Holy Saturday is so important.  It is a silent Saturday.  The Catholic churches have no masses until the Easter vigil in the evening.  The altar, cross, monstrances, tabernacles are covered or hidden.  No music...nothing.  Jesus is dead.  God is dead...or so it seems.  It is the picture of a world without God.  No faith, no hope, no message.  For if we leave Jesus there, in the grave, then Reese is right.  We have crucified Christ.

Our minds go back to the day before, Good Friday.  There was Christ on the cross.  A Benedictine Nun wrote a hymn that contained these words. 
"Beneath the cross the Mother kept
         Bleak vigil under darkened skies.
         Upon the cross her Son hung nailed,
         Stabbed through by crowds of hostile eyes"

Sister Genevieve Glen OSB wrote hymn is which can be purchase at the OCP website.  

Look at those words, "Stabbed through by crowds of hostile eyes".  Isn't that what we as Christians face today.  We are the four-letter word of our generation.  Faith is a word that has lost its meaning to our society.  The death of Jesus, is simply that...death.  Death of a great teacher.  Well lah-de-dah!!  

But look at the words of Pope Benedict XVI.  I quote from the Magnificat daily prayer guide.  
   "Holy Saturday is the day of the 'death of God,' the day which expresses the unparalleled experience of our age, anticipating the fact that God is simply absent, that the grave hides him, that he no longer awakes, no longer speaks, so that one no longer needs to gainsay him but can simply overlook him..."

Isn't that exactly what the secular society is trying to tell us?  Isn't that what Reese is saying.  God is absent?  He no longer awakes?  God doesn't speak anymore.  Gainsay means to deny.  Since he's dead, the world completely eliminates God from their vocabulary.  They overlook him and us Christians, because we stand for nothing since our God is dead and hence nothing.

Benedict goes on to say that because Christ walked through and into hell, into our loneliness, into our  abandonment, to that place where no voices can reach, he eliminated death.  He brought "life in the midst of death, because love dwells in it."  

Holy Saturday is quiet on the surface, but deep down Christ was making a racket and booted death into oblivion.  And that is the birth of hope on Holy Saturday.  Father John Dominic Corbett, O.P. wrote a masterful piece in the Magnificat Lenten prayer guide.  He said, 
   "If we rise in the early enough in the morning we can see the sun rise.  If we are sensitive to beauty we are moved by the sight but we are not amazed.  We expect the sun to rise and would be amazed, to say the very least, if it did not.  We expect and depend upon the world to work in regular ways.  If the world did not work in reliable ways we could not make plans or be in control.  This is why the modern world not only disbelieves in miracles but also hates the very idea of them.  We think we can know what to expect from life. "

He goes on to say that we expect natural events to occur and would be disappointed if they didn't.  So the world is amazed and dumbfounded when we Christians echo the words of the angel, "You seek Jesus...the crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here."

The secularist mindset cannot handle that so they ignore it.  Faith does not fit into the realm of the secular mind.  So the secularist is left with nothing.  No hope, no possibility of miracles, no risen Christ and no eternal salvation.  That is Holy Saturday without God.  The absence of God on that day between the death and the resurrection is a reminder to the world that despite all that has taken place and despite the fact they cannot perceive God through reason alone, the story isn't finished.  Holy Saturday is a lull to us, but during that lull, our salvation and hope is being born, so that tomorrow, Easter Sunday, we can say with faith and hope.  
"He is risen, He is risen indeed."  Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is alive and well and has opened deaths door to eternity with him.  


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Hamburger

Hamburger. What is more American than the glorious hamburger? Remember that jingle made famous by some clown under some “golden” arches?
“Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun!!!” Who thought up this marvellous gift to cuisine?
Some say it was by some Mongol warriors who tenderized slabs of meat by placing them under their saddles and riding all day long. Gives a whole new meaning to “ham”burger. O.K. Where did the “ham” part come from? Others will say it came from a sandwich which supposedly had it’s origins in Hamburg, Germany. It was grilled chopped meat between two slices of bread. Sailors who walked the streets of New York were familiar with this according to the Milwaukee Magazine.

Well, I don’t know and really don’t care. It has become an American staple. You can thank outfits like Bob’s Big Boy and McDonald’s whose creation was made to compete with the Big Boy. As for me, nothing beats a half pound BBQ hamburger, with slice of cheese, tomato, lettuce, pickles and plenty of catsup and mustard between a couple of toasted Sesame seed buns. Now that’s a sandwich. I prefer cold ice berg lettuce so that there is a nice snap when you bite through the sandwich. Can you feel the juices running down your chin right now? Savour the smell, the texture. I’m getting hungry as I type.

I can hear you saying right now, but I prefer romaine lettuce. ROMAINE LETTUCE?? You gotta be kidding. Or maybe you don’t like catsup or mustard. So you add BBQ sauce. Wait a minute. Haven’t you changed the hamburger? Is it still a hamburger? Well, why not? It’s just your variety of a hamburger. Not mine particularly, although I might experiment now and then to see if I like it or if it suits my tastes. And then, maybe you like swiss over American, chedder or who knows, maybe even limburger. Ugh! But…it’s still a hamburger. Just a different presentation. The hamburger is still the same. And as long as it’s the same, it’s still a hamburger sandwich…even if you change the bread.

So why all this about a hamburger? Isn’t this kinda the way we treat Christianity? Christ is always the same. We are blended, adopted into his body. So Christ and his church are the hamburger.

Hey Madge…did you just read with this idiot said.
No Bert…what did he say?
Madge, he said Jesus and the church were hamburgers.
Aww Bert…at least he didn’t say Jesus was a hotdog.

O.K. O.K…calm down. All you Bible thumpers and just sit and quiet down for a few moments.

Think about it. We treat Christ and his church like so much hamburger. Our traditions, laws, canons, rules, practices or whatever, are the condiments. We think we have the best church or the only church. So we hide our Christ under a layer of doctrinal lettuce, cheese, tomatoes and buns. Hot cross buns sometimes. We have spent two millennia arguing over condiments while the world just laughs at us. We hide the meat under as many extras we can and then say our hamburger is the best.

But our ad agency has been a miserable failure. We are more irrelevant to the world than we’ve ever been. Even Newsweek got on the bandwagon a few weeks ago describing a major identity crisis among Christians and our churches. See The End of Christian America.
This after the "Internet Monk," Michael Spenser shook everyone up by saying the evangelical church would probably disappear or be unrecognizable in ten to twenty years. His article in the Christian Science Monitor caught a lot of attention. The End of Christian America” Mark Galli in Christianity Today had a field day on that one. "On the Lasting Evangelical Survival"A whole new house movement has been given new life thanks to thousands of Christians who are fed up with tomatoes, cheese and buns arguments.
I’m beginning to think they may be onto something. Could it be that we have forgotten relationship with Christ is not about doctrines, tradition, rules. Or if you please condiments? Whatever happened to Love God, Love People, Serve the world?

O.K. Maybe I’m just a bald headed old guy who’s spent too much time in the sun. But I think I may be onto something. Waddya think?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Holy Week

I can see I'm off to a rousing start. I've had 100 percent viewer coverage so far...ME! Maybe that's good. I'm stilling trying to figure out this monster and how to put all the links together to make an attractive and interesting blog. So far, it's been a total flop. Oh well, I'm listening at least. If someone eventually stumbles across this creaky effort, be kind and understand I'm on training wheels at the moment.



Well, we have just entered Holy Week. Yesterday was what my Catholic friends call, Passion Sunday. The rest of us call it Palm Sunday. I'm not worried about the difference. It's just the same thing with a different accent on the syllables. So, what is so special about Holy Week, some may ask. Shouldn't every week be Holy?

The answer is, of course! But this particular week has been set apart (that's the meaning of holy)by the church universal as an opportunity to recall the wonder of God's grace and love that was given to us through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It has become, for many, a legalistic exercise of duty that has destroyed the glory of this grand event. I don't think Jesus ever intended for us to use it as a proof that we are spiritual people because we did something to commemorate his life.

No, in response to his love, we as members of his body, respond to his love by doing as he said and love him for his great sacrifice for us that frees us from sin and bondage our own righteousness. I set aside this week out of all the weeks of the year, to join the millions of other members of Christ's body to honor our Lord and Savior. He gave of himself that we might live in him. For that reason alone, I set aside this one week out of the year to thank my Lord for makeing me alive.

But I don't leave it there. I'm one of those Jesus followers who observes the Christian year and follows the life of Christ throughout the year. Not for my own personal gain, but simply because I'm reminded each day of something in the life of Christ that has had a profound effect on my life. I'm not bound to the liturgy of the year, but I follow the traditional seasons laid down for us by the church over the centuries as an aid to raise my focus to the reality beyond my senses.
I know this is not normal anymore for Protestants, but if you are aware of anything going on today, there is a driving need growing among Christians and Protestants in particular to return to some of the practices of the ancient faith.

I'll have more to say on this on later posts but for now, I encourage all my non-liturgical friends to take at least a look at the liturgy that has been around for generations. For many, formal prayers are dead prayers. As for me, I've discovered a wonderful communication with my heavenly papa, son and Holy Spirit through the formal prayers and hymns of the ancients. When personally applied and meditated upon, you may find that a whole new window to heaven will open. And that window will lead you to see the Kingdom of Heaven that is here, now, forever and always. Always available to the heart willing to believe and trust our lord to speak to us in action, thought, word and deeds.

Finally, totally off the subject, and to expose my quirky nature. Congratulations to Carrie Underwood for winning Entertainer of the Year at the Country Music Awards bash. I'm not a big fan of Carrie's and would have preferred Kenny Chesney but she's worked hard for her award. Now if only some of my older favorite artists could somehow win the big one...

And baseball seasons opens this week. Go Giants and A's. And for my Internet Monc friend, Good luck with the Redlegs...they'll need it.

God bless and pass the matsos.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Greetings seekers

Greetings to all my friends to my first post. I'm not sure where I'm going yet with this adventure, but you can be sure it will be fun. Let me introduce myself. My name is Richard Olsen. I'm married to the most wonderful woman in the world. Sorry, I'm prejudice! We live in Silicon Valley in the middle of some of the most productive people in all the world. It is also one of the most spiritually empty areas as well. More on that later.
I'm also at the upper end of the age game, so am not one of the young whippersnappers who make the most waves in this blogging scene.
My hobbies are fishing and reading and walking. Our dream is to eventually retire in a few short years and move to the home we have in Oregon. There I'll join a fly fishing club and become one of those funny looking guys with long poles and bug on a string. I love to read, primarily church history and theological tomes. I'm one of those guys that will walk out of the dark corner of a library, brushing dust off my shoulders and cracking open little read treasures. We've forgotten how to read in this generation, so have not learned the lessons of the past. As a result we are committing many old errors of the past.
My faith is in Jesus Christ. Actually I'm what you would call a trinitarian. I believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, One God, Three in One. Jesus is wholly God and wholly man. I love the new descriptions that make the trinity personal. Abba or daddy is my Father. So I believe in Abba(daddy)Jesus Holy Spirit, One God.
This blog will be friendly to a wide variety of faiths. The church is one, universal, catholic. So you will find references and pointers to my favorite writers of many traditions. There are marvelous teachings found in the Orthodox faith, Roman Catholic faith, Evangelical and Fundamentalists that can lead us to a closer walk with our Daddy. People like Matthew Gallatin from the Orthodox tradition, a magnificent teacher. Scott Hahn, great Catholic theologian and reformer from Franciscan University along with Peter Kreeft, outstanding philosopher from Boston College. Evangelicals like my pastor John Ortberg from the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. Even fundamentalists like John Piper from Minneapolis. Wayne Jacobson, author of The Shack and others in the new Emergent Church /house church movement. Yes, an odd collection of folks, but probably mirroring a lot of what I am.
This blog will be updated at semi-regular intervals. My time doesn't allow me to post daily. Plus...I'm like a lot of you, (grin/wink) I put things off too often to be regular.
So visit and comment now and then. If you raise questions I can't answer I'll try and get help from the "experts"...meaning all my fellow bloggers.
So for now, I'll bid adieu. Just remember, the entire Bible can be wrapped up in two sentences. You shall love the lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
That says it all. If we do that, God will do the rest. If he can redeem me, he can redeem anyone.
God bless