Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dr. Timothy George

I've added the link that I missed regarding Dr. Timothy George in my last blog entry.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Box Store Religion?? Part IV

So what's all this about the Bible? Aren't you Bible thumpers nothing but a bunch of Fundamentalist radicals who want to take over America and kill anyone who disagrees with you? Well, maybe that's a bit harsh. Most people will probably say, Huh...Bible something or others, get out of my way. I have better things to do.
Well, maybe you do. I'm not going to try and stop you. It's not in my power. But, you may want to think twice. If you ignore the Bible you commit intellectual suicide. You knowingly put yourself under your own rule of law which may make you wince when you discover the payoff for following your own dreams.

O.K. O.K...I'm showing my intolerance. No, just reality. But that is up for argument too. But, what if the Bible is right? If so, does it having anything to say to us and to the subject we've been talking about in this wordy blog?
Let's go back to the historical section of our study. Let's follow this new church as it grows.

We don't have much in writing to give us much to go on in the first 100 years of the church. But we have enough to establish a pattern. We know that there was no New Testament as we know it in the early church. I don't even think writing a book was on the minds of the apostles in those first few years. Paul the apostle is the first of the writers that wrote a letter to the Thessalonians which many now believe was the first of the New Testament books.

But the early believers were primarily Jews. They continued to worship in the temple and synagogues, even after the resurrection and day of Pentecost. It was a Jewish world with Jewish understanding and Jewish scriptures. The Jewish Christians went to the synagogues and temple for worship. They sang and taught the scriptures for the day. It was a tradition not unlike some of the liturgy of the Catholic church today. There was the reading of the assigned scripture for the day, the singing of the Psalm(s) for the day and the various periods of the day when prayers were said. The early Christians continued with that practice from what we can tell.

But what about following Christ's command celebrate the Thanksgiving meal? That couldn't be done in the synagogues, so the next best thing was on the first day of the week, remembering the day of resurrection. Remember, they were not on our calendar. They used the Roman calendar which was a lunar calendar. The next day or first day began at Sundown the night before. Again, you see this in many liturgical churches today that celebrate Sunday Vespers on Saturday night. It is a Sunday service celebrated on Saturday night. Only for the Jews, it was the beginning of the first day of the week and after the Sabbath day.

Read Acts 20:7 for an example of this. It is the first day of the week, but it is really Saturday night. Which gives a little better understanding of why Eutychus fell asleep while Paul droned on. After a Sabbath in the synagogue, a nice Thanksgiving meal, (celebration of the Lord's supper) and having a full tummy and Paul, who by his own words was not eloquent, Eutychus fell asleep and lit on his head.

But note what was happening. Paul was teaching the scriptures. For a few years after the ascension of Jesus, the early church met in the synagogue on the Sabbath and then right after that met for the thanksgiving meal, the Todah, the meal of praise, on the first day of the week. We don't know for certain when or why the church split the meal and the celebration of the cup of thanksgiving, but we can make a good guess. After much turmoil between the Jewish leaders and the early Christians, the early church began to meet on homes.

They met, not because this was the pattern for true church. Many teach that today out of ignorance of the facts. The early Christians were driven out of the synagogues and persecuted. First by the Jewish leaders, and then later the Roman armies. But they grew. They met in homes and what did they practice. They practiced what they knew. They read the law and prophets, sang the Psalms, taught the scriptures in light of the revelation of Jesus the Christ and then followed the command of Christ in celebrating the communion.

At first communion and thanksgiving meal was combined. When it was separated, we don't know. It was probably done over a long period of time and probably done to avoid what occurred in Acts when the the Hellenists complained the needs of the orphans and widows were being ignored. So to avoid abuse, many believe the communion was moved to the early morning of the next day. Plus due to persecution, it had to be separated.

When the Christians became a threat to the empire as it spread to the Gentiles, the communion was considered to be repulsive as well as a violation of Caesar worship. Let's look at the communion for a moment. Acts 2.42 tells us the apostles continued the liturgy of the word and the breaking of bread. These are the main ingredients of the worship of the church. First, the reading and teaching of the word and the breaking of the bread, the communion. Many today call this the "Mass."

The Mass is a Latin term that came many, many years later and is part of a phrase which says "Ite, missa, est" and is translated, Go, it is ended." The whole idea is that now you've received the word and the breaking of bread, now go forth and share that expression of love to others. It is a missions statement. It means after the mass has ended, now the ministry of everyone begins. But that is a Latin term that came many years later in the development of the church. What was known as "the Lord's Supper" was known by several names. The earliest term was merely, "The breaking of Bread." Other terms used were "the offering," "the oblation", and "the sacrifice." Don't get too upset by "the oblation and sacrifice." Remember, this came out of the Jewish understanding of Todah. It was the one and only perpetual sacrifice which has permanent effects for all time.
It is not, I repeat, not a new sacrifice as many claim the Catholics observe. It is the one sacrifice permanent and represent in the act of remembrance.

So where does that leave us? You have a church, steeped in the liturgy of the Old Testament and singing the Psalms and as Paul says, Psalms, hymns and Spiritual songs. Hmmm, there's room for some of those ditties in worship??? Anyway, There's the format. The liturgy of the word and the Lord's supper or altar or chalice.
Circumstances changed the church as it grew. Someone has estimated it grew by 40 percent each decade. As the wealthy were converted, the turned their larger homes into places of meeting. And so larger groups met. The practice of the meal gradually fell away and the communion remained. Through persecution, ups and downs, many things changed.

Where ever the new Christians met, they taught, read and sang the scriptures and had communion. When persecution arose time and time again they were driven underground and into the desert. These became the training centers of worship. What came out of those isolated places was the same thing that went in. As the letters of the apostles were copied and distributed they became a part of the worship of the church. I could go into the development of the pastors, Bishops etc, but that is for another time.

The church became a place of worship and teaching. Since so few could read, the church developed icons, pictures, statues to teach the scriptures. Especially after Constantine and the great cathedrals began to be built, the church became a literal flannel graph of teaching. You could walk into many of these early churches and get a gist of the Bible simply by looking at all the murals, tapestries and statues. It was the You Tube of the middle ages. It was the best way the church had to teach the Bible until more could read.

Sure there were abuses and abuses continue. But one thing has remain the same. The liturgy and the communion. In the Catholic churches and other liturgical unions, it's call the liturgy word and the sacrament of the mass. As the reformation grew things began to change. The preaching of the word took center stage. But what most Protestants don't know is that the early reformers held to the actual "presence" of Christ in the Eucharist. (By the way, the Eucharist means Thanksgiving and is taken directly from the meaning of the Todah sacrifice) I urge you to read Dr. Timothy George and his article on the Baptist View of the Lord's Supper on the Internet Monk webpage. It is a blockbuster article. Dr. George is the founder Dean of the Beeson Divinity School. In that article he literally cries out for us evangelicals to restore the communion to preeminence in the worship of our churches.

Well, I'm almost finished. I think the Worship Wars would come to an end if we put put the liturgy of the word and sacrifice (communion) back front and center. While we can't minimize the fellowship of the body in love, neither can we hide and minimize the reason we love. Some may say, oh, that's been tried and it has the danger of becoming a meaningless ritual. I want to say, "and your point?" What is more meaningless than coming as a consumer to a house of religious entertainment just to get my needs met. And if I don't I'll go to another religious grocery store.

Whether it becomes ritual or not depends on sound teaching, constant reminder, the continual presence of the Holy Spirit bringing life into the assembly and the ever contstant truth that teaches us "the mass has ended". Now go and love one another and your neighbor as Christ has loved you in today's worship.
You'll notice I'm not saying anything about styles of music or structure of the meeting place. What I am saying, restore the centrality of the liturgy and bring the communion back to the fore. Christ is present in the table of the Lord and we need to recognize that. Again...read Dr. George's article. And think.

God bless.


Box Store Religion?? Part III

Why do you go to church? Why go at all? After all, can't you worship God in the woods by yourself? What is so important about attending church? What is the church? Is a building or a group of people? So what's all this about your church building reflecting your theology Richard? Who cares?

Questions like these dog all of us who go to church. What's so important about church attendance? What is supposed to be there that so all fired important? Well, that's what this blog is all about. I'm simply trying to make sense for myself and hopefully for you a purpose for church. Now, before we continue our trek through history please remember, I'm just an ordinary bloke. I don't have a series of degrees posted after my name. I never attended a seminary although I've had Bible College training and a simple Bachelor's degree. But, I have a deep love for truth, God, the Gospel and the Church. I've studied a lot on my own and have years of training in the school of hard knocks. I suppose were I to start all over, I might study to teach somewhere. But at this stage in life, that seems a bit out of my reach.

But, I can think and I think I can write a fairly well. So let's plunge into our study. I left you with a brief study of the Todah sacrifice and Todah Psalms. The sacrifice was primarily given after a major life threatening event and subsequent deliverance, and the Psalm was a song written to describe the deliverance. Let's take a short closer look at the sacrifice. Read Leviticus 7:12-15 again. Notice what is offered. Bread, a lamb slaughtered and oil. The Todah sacrifice would be offered often at home, the priest would sacrifice the lamb and anoint the bread and bring it to the home. This was the custom. And the Todah Psalm would be sung. Of course, the second half of the Psalm points to the ultimate resurrection and deliverance of the soul.

Now, briefly there was one other facet of the Peace Offering in the Jewish tradition. It is called the Passover Sacrifice. Of course, this refers back to the liberation of the Jews from the Egyptian captivity by Moses. But the Passover Sacrifice had some common elements with the Todah Sacrifice. Both used unleavened bread, (Ex. 12:8 and Lev. 7:12. Both were eaten the same day they were offered. Ex 12:10 and Lev. 7:15. The primary difference between the two was the Todah was given by an individual while the Passover was celebrated annually on the same day by the entire nation of Israel. It is the highest practice of the Todah sacrifice in the Old Testament. It had it's own Psalms which are called the "Hallel" Psalms which move from lament to praise.

Now, let's fast forward to the New Testament. Jesus and his disciples are gathering for the annual Passover meal. Remember, Jesus is a Jew. The disciples are Jewish. They worship in the temple and during this Passover season they now come together in an upper room to celebrate the Passover meal together. And Jesus does a remarkable thing. In the midst of Passover, the ultimate expression of Thanksgiving of deliverance, He offers...the Todah sacrifice. In the midst of the national celebration he gives the individual celebration of the Todah, Thanksgiving sacrifice. It is a major statement of his offering of himself as the sacrifice and deliverer of his people. He becomes the Passover Lamb. It's his body which is to be broken. Luke 22:19 And in vs. 20 he announces the New Covenant.

Everything that had been taught and sung in under the Old Covenant in the worship of Israel was now revealed in light of a new understanding. Jesus was saying everything in the old covenant pointed to him. All the writings of the prophets and psalmists now are understood as pointing to him. To understand the old, he is stating, he is the ultimate fulfillment. He is the ultimate sacrifice that lasts for eternity for men's salvation.
If that doesn't give you a Hallelujah chill, you need an infusion of the spirit.

Then Jesus said something extremely important. "Do this in memory of me." Luke 22:19 Don't ever forget his statement. This is the command of Jesus. It is to be a major, major part of our worship. For in this celebration, this Todah combined with the Passover, in context of the "seder" we are given a lesson in the ultimate love of the Father and his Son, Jesus. And for over a 2000 years this still remains important.

One other thing to maybe seal this truth. It's not in the scriptures but the Jewish teacher taught that during the reign of the Messiah, all sacrifices will cease, except for the Todah. The songs of Praise. It is to be a perpetual sacrifice of Praise. A sacrifice given once and only once, for all and is effective for eternity. This is Jesus. He, in the ultimate expression of Todah, given, once and only once for all and permanently effective throughout eternity. He is the perpetual sacrifice, the only sacrifice, once given and effective now and forever. Need I say it again?

I don't want to over look the bread and wine. This was Jesus foretold in the Todah sacrifice and Passover meal. Don't forget that. Remember it. I'm repeating myself, I know. But folks, what is absent from nearly all Protestant services today? The bread and wine. It's been shoved out. It's no longer central. It's an after thought. And yet, it is the most important testament to our faith. It should be front and central in our worship.

When I go to church, I want that to be thrown in my face. I want to be reminded of that great last supper where Christ offered himself as the great Todah sacrifice. The sacrifice of Thanksgiving and Praise for all eternity. The ultimate sacrifice of love.

When they were finished Jesus and the disciples sang the Hillel hymns of the Passover and went out to confront his destiny.

After Jesus' death and resurrection, he appeared to the disciples and others and opened up the scriptures. Then he left us. But on the day of Pentecost he sent the Holy Spirit and the Church was born. What were the marks of that church?

Next time I'll wind up this study with the other half what our church should reflect.


Box Store Religion?? Part II

“Don’t mess with my church!” “I prefer the old hymns over the new empty praise choruses!” They’re going to replace our holy pews with WHAT?? THEATRE SEATS?? What are we a theatre or a church?” “I think our pews should be curved rather than straight so that there is better eye contact and fellowship.” “Well, OUR pastor wants a ‘runway’ down the middle of the sanctuary so that he can get up and personal with the congregation. What are we? The Oprah Show?” “I think we need three projection screens up front so that everyone can see our pastor when he preaches.” “Oh, I thought it was because you wanted to see his neat blow dry look or ogle at his waxed spiked hair.” “I hate the drums and guitars, bring back the holy sounds of the pipe organ and let’s sing those hymns.”

Sounds kinda silly doesn’t it when you see it in print? But these are real statements I’ve heard from around the country and even in my own church. We are at war folks. Worship Wars. The face of evangelical Protestantism is changing and we are constantly warring at each other over what is right and wrong in worship and what our churches should look like. We have grand cathedrals, glass palaces, traditional (whatever that means) church buildings, (remember the old “A” frames), warehouse box churches all the way down to the simple home church.

We’ve mucked up the meaning of church so badly that there seems to be no consensus on just what a church is or should look like. We argue over peripherals and ignore the majors. In my first post I referred to our consumer culture that has fueled the “box” stores. I think we are doing the same to our churches.

But for perspective I want to blow some dust off the history books because I believe there is something we are missing. My contention is that wherever we meet, be it a church building or in a home, congregational worship our house fellowships, there are some basic fundamental things that should be reflected in our worship and meeting places. Core truths that even the buildings should reflect. So to discover what this is I want to go all the way back into the Old Testament. All the way to the book of Leviticus.

Yes, Leviticus, that book that most of us skim over because our eyes glaze over when we read it. Laws, laws and more laws. It’s the book you read when you need to take a nap or have trouble sleeping. It can put you to sleep in moments. Or so I used to think. It was Ray Stedman who gave me an insight into the book of Leviticus with his great sermon series on Leviticus he gave many years ago at Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto California. The sermon series eventually was compiled into the book. But I loved the sermons better than the book and still have them in a binder. The sermon series is still available online. Read them and enjoy them. He brought Leviticus to life for me.

In Leviticus, Chapters 1 through 7, we find a list of several types of sacrifices. Over looking all the variations of sacrifices, you come up with major categories of sacrifice. There are Burnt Offerings, Cereal Offerings, Peace Offerings, Sin Offerings, and Guilt Offerings. Each serving a distinct purpose. I won’t go into detail as to what all these sacrifices mean. You can do that on your own. But I want to focus on one.

The Peace Offering is the one I want to focus on for a moment and one part of it in particular. Read Leviticus 7:12-15. This is an important subset of the Peace Offering and has traditionally been called in the Jewish tradition, the Todah Sacrifice.

Todah, means Thanksgiving and was strongly associated with praise. In Jewish worship it was always accompanied by song. In this case, a Psalm. The sacrifice was usually made by a person or celebrated in the Jewish worship after a deliverance of some kind. The celebrants would present the sacrifice and then sing a grand Psalm of praise to express to God their gratitude to him for their deliverance.

The Psalm was usually structured in two halves. The first half was a lament, a deep expression of grief, over an impending an death or tragedy. Something we all face on occasion. The second half of would be an expression of praise over the deliverance from death or tragedy, for which praise to God is given.

Are you still with me? Hang in there and don’t go to sleep on me.

An example of this sacrifice can be seen in the life of King Hezekiah in Isaiah 38. There, Hezekiah falls deathly ill right in the middle of the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem. Hezekiah cries to the Lord for Deliverance. Isaiah the prophet comes with a promise of deliverance from both his illness as well as from the Assyrians. In response, Hezekiah composed a Todah Psalm to be offered in the Todah Peace offering in the temple. In the Psalm you see the lament followed by praise for deliverance. It’s magnificent.

But perhaps the most famous Todah Psalm is Ps. 22. We usually miss this because we are focused on the familiar 23rd Psalm. But Psalm 22 is a Psalm no Jew would ever forget. It was regularly sung in the Temple and was memorized by anyone familiar with Temple Worship.

It begins with a lament, “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?” It’s the classic words we remember that Christ said on the Cross. We cannot pass up the significance of this Psalm. Here the Psalmist laments the tragedy occurring and eminent death. Looking back 2000 years we see immediately this is a Messianic Psalm. But many of us New Testament believers miss what Christ was actually doing on the Cross.

Jesus was a Jew. No Jew would miss his reference. He was quoting this Todah Psalm. He was undoubtedly too weak to say the whole Psalm but a Jew would pick up on it. For being a Todah Psalm Christ was singing, yes, death and abandonment were present but deliverance is imminent. The second half of the Psalm is all about deliverance and a prophetic word of salvation. What a powerful statement.

Now what does this have to do with church services, pews, hymns etc?

I’ll get to that. Be patient. I have a long journey here. Stick with me and when I’m done you will be rejoicing with me, I think. Church will no longer be the same for you.

Box Store Religion??

I'm sure we've all shopped one time or another at one of these big "box" store like Costco, Sam's World and I guess you can throw in Wal-Mart as well. It's a whole new world in there. I'm always amazed at the variety of "things" I could buy if I had the money. I have the credit card with an ungodly limit on it which could chain me to debt for the rest of my life if I ever maxed it out. Put me in an asylum if that ever happens.
Just a week or so ago I went to Costco for a loaf of bread. Now don't snicker. This Costco had a brand that I particularly like that I can't find anywhere else. Anyway, I entered the store and did the usual mouth drop at the gorgeous row of wide screen televisions that stared at me upon entering. Wow..great prices. Better than anywhere else. But then I reminded myself, I'm here for bread. Then there were the computers...not a draw. I'm a Mac man and they don't sell macs. Lots of clothes, but I can't stuff my closet with anymore.
After a half hour or so, I walked out with a box of raisins and some mouthwash. Oh..the bread? They didn't have it anymore. Now I don't know where to get it. Anyway, if I wanted and could afford it, I could have anything I wanted in that store...except for the bread.
It was a consumer's paradise. Then I drove to Wal-Mart to pickup the fifty pound bag of birdseed for feathered friends. Again, tons of stuff I could purchase and apply to my card. I walked out with a twenty pound bag of birdseed and a few groceries. They had run out of the fifty pound bags. Sigh, can't always get what you want I guess.
I hate it when my store quits selling something I like. Makes me want to visit another store out of spite. Or when they bring in a new line of the same thing I use, only it's an inferior piece of junk. Ever notice how that favorite room spray you buy because it smells so good seems to lose it's strength after a year or two. For some reason the new and improved update of the product doesn't have the same amount of scent. That really bugs me. I then have to change brands...again.
Why all these choices in our stores. Because we are consumers. We see something we like and have to buy it. If the store changes something, either the product or the layout, we get upset and want to change. Even logos change. All to lure the new buyer. You notice it especially in the clothes department. Ever notice that stores have forgotten the older generation? What used to be a size 36 waist in a man is now a size 42. Or ladies, how many of you past the age of 30 have noticed all the clothes in the ladies section fit only size zero teenyboppers?I've notice some of you in your forties have purchased some of the shorty things and then go around with that roll of middle age flesh hanging over the low cut jeans. Uh..ladies..not a pretty sight. Oh stop it! I know, we try to squeeze our 44 plus stomachs in these undersized shirts and go around with gaps all the way from our necklines to the waistline.
Where am I going? I'm going to church. Because today, we carry our consumer tastes into the sanctuary and the church is doing it's best to accommodate us. What used to be a sanctuary from the world has become a box store filled with goodies to catch our short term tastes. And what a toll it's taken on us. My follow-on blog will address some of these issues. I want to focus on, just what does corporate worship mean? Does our church reflect our theology of faith, or does it simply try to sell us a bunch of stuff we don't need. Are we being drawn by our own lusts of entertainment or are we coming to worship around a central theme? Has the house of worship become a theatre of entertainment or does it lead the body of Christ into a primary focus of belief that affects our relationships, fellowships and outreach? Until next time, I'll keep you guessing. I'm going to reach back into history to find that one thing that has been present in all church gatherings that is being lost in our churches today.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Robert Novak, RIP

Robert Novak, fiery conservative columnist passed away this last Tuesday. Whether you liked him or not, Novak left a mark that will never be equaled. He was a giant in the news business. A relentless investigative reporter with a nose for a story no one else was finding. He was someone who would get under you skin, make you angry and leave you with your mouth open when you discover he was right. Oh, there are those who will hate him, call him names and curse him until the day they die, but there is one thing that can't be said about him. And that is that he was lazy. Far from it.

No one worked harder at his craft than Novak. Novak teamed with Rowland Evans to produce one of the most successful news teams in the business. Novak stirred up fire with his reporting of the Valerie Plame spy scandal.
People who worked with Robert report that he expected the best from himself and from those around him. The explosive relationship he had with Evans is well recorded. They fought like brothers but embraced each other as close friends. He had a temper, but that temper was only lit when he felt someone wasn't doing their job.

Novak was Jewish, but late in life, converted to the Catholic faith in 1998. His conversion was profound and changed him forever. He still was the fiery journalist, but his thirst for God was relentless. He was open with his faith but not showy. He felt his work demonstrated his faith.

Novak has entered eternity. I believe he is in the presence of our Lord because of his faith. He was a saint with clay feet. Earthy but faithful to his Lord. Only God knows. I'm not his judge. But people far worse have made it into the heavenly kingdom. Just read the Bible for those scoundrels that made it there. Novak was a saint compared to some of them.

And now...a bit of a mea culpa

Wow.!! There I said it. Yep...my fingers sped ahead of my brain in my last post. I was speaking of those little phrases we Christians often substitute for using the Lord's name in vain or actual swearing. How "wow" got into that list is a mystery to me. But then again, let's look at attitude. Sometimes we'll use slang, swearing or what we used to call, "Baptist" swearing to emphasize a point. The attitude is the same as if we say a cuss word.
Now...I know, I know...minor sin. Right? No big deal, we all do it. No big harm, no big foul. (almost wrote fowl)...Anywhoooooo, God isn't going to love us any less and we aren't going to be booted out of the assembly line to heaven. But, attitude is something we may want to deal with.

If it's a minor thing then just tell the Lord you goofed. He knows it, so simply admit it. He isn't going to ding you for that. If it's major, tell the Lord. He's big enough to wrap his arms around you and tell you he still loves you and has already forgiven you. You may have to do some apologies or fixing up the harm done, but even that is healthy. Catholics call that reparation. We Protestants simply call it confession and repentence leading to doing something to repair the damage done.

When it's all said and done, swearing or "cussing", use of slang is simply lazy speech. It's a filler for something that could be better said. So "Let your speech be always filled with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may be able to give an answer to anyone." BBE In other words, use words that edify. I need that lesson daily. I'll bet you do too.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tornado...God's Judgement...NOT!!

I'm not a big fan of Greg Boyd, but he's dead on on this topic. I think he's right about John Piper on this issue. Sometimes we Christians say the stupidist things. Greg puts it all in perspective. See his blog on Did God Send a Tornado to Warn The ELCS? It's worth your read.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

God Is A Four Letter Word

God is a four letter word. Huh? "Looks like three letters to me." You may answer. But look again. For many, God is a curse word. His name is used as a "fill the blank" term for whatever ticks you off. Even ministers toss this word around carelessly in their conversation like, "Darn" or "Wow" or "God! Haven't you learned anything I taught you?" I'm never comfortable when God's name is used carelessly. So we substitute Gosh instead. That's how we Christians slip by without actually cussing. Hmmm...maybe that's an issue that needs to be discussed someday. But not for today.

But back to my original statement, God is a four letter word. Let me explain. First the Bible tells us that God is Love. Now that takes a lot of unpacking, but for the moment let it stand on it's own. There's another word, God is Lord. Now that is a big one too. So often our faith is in God as a belief, but to worship God as Lord involves adding Love and obedience to the mixture. For someone to be Lord, that involves ownership. But because God is love, that ownership is one of relationship. God is my father who loves me so much I want him to "lord" it over me. I want to obey him because his love is so overpowering. So to make him Lord..."make" may be a bad term, we don't make anyone. God is already Lord and he gives us his grace to enable us to accept his "Lordship" over us. We submit to him, his will and his plans for our lives.

Lordship is what's missing in many of our lives. God is not a deist god somewhere out in the far reaches of space who sits on his lonely throne stroking his long gray beard and sipping his heavenly nectar. He isn't a casual observer. He is active in our lives and wants only the best for us. He loves us too much to allow us to bump around like so many bumper cars in the avenues of life. He is forever shaping us into his likeness which takes a lifetime. Our part is to allow his grace to shape us and mold us into whatever he wants.

In Protestant circles, we call that Sanctification. In Catholic circles it's called working out your salvation. Regardless, it is all an act of grace that allows God to have ownership, control of us in all we say or do. So if God is simply a three letter word of belief or a four letter word of love and Lord, submit to his third four letter word. What is that? The reveal Word who is Jesus Christ. For Jesus is the expression of the Father to us. He is the spoken Word of God. You want to know Love? Get to know Jesus, the ultimate expression of Love. You want him to be Lord? Submit to him who gives you grace to accept him as Lord, Jesus.

Let Jesus help you to work out your salvation through Sanctification (setting yourself apart for his service and pleasure). An old fashion word for that is Holiness. Let Jesus make you into a four letter word. What is that four letter word? Holy!

Now for a few good links. I encourage you to read a good Catholic, Marcellino D'Ambrosio. His column today is good called "Belief in God, The Virtue of Biblical Faith." His website The Crossroads Initiative is always interesting.

Next, speaking of Holiness, consider this article from a Catholic regarding changes in the mass. Protestants would do well to read this and than ask yourself the questions, "Do constant changes in our worship services help or hinder my concentration in worship? On the one hand, "Does sameness breed too much familiarity resulting in lack of concentration?", or "Is my worship enhanced when new things are thrust upon me which breaks my worship in order to figure out what is happening?." My suspicion is that we Protestants have similar concerns as this Catholic worshipper. Think about it.

And then there is the enigmatic Michael Spenser, the "Internet Monk." Michael is a Southern Baptist with strong leanings to Lutheranism and the new Reformation teachings growing there. He has in interesting family His wife has converted to Catholicism and his son is, I believe, Episcopalian or Anglican, I'm not sure. Michael has been doing a series of articles on The Evangelical Liturgy. Today in part 4 he addresses some of the questions I have hinted at above. Enjoy The Evangelical Liturgy Part 4.

Then there is a mystic that has caught my attention. I don't buy into all this guy teaches, but this article on his blog today was quite interesting. He calls himself Yoholo (don't ask me why). He's an ecumenical Catholic and won't be accepted by many of the traditional Catholics. He considers Protestants as brothers and sister. But this article is quite good. Enjoy, The God Bargain-When Christians Act Like Pagans.

Well, that's it for today. I'm home sick and need to go and rest.

Until next time, Jesus is Lord.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Evangelical Liturgy

This is a must read. I don't have to do the ranting this time. Michael Spencer does it for me on his Internet Monk blog. Read it and enjoy. He is dead on on this issue. Click on the link.

Abortion/Euthanasia - An ancient issue

I usually try to avoid bringing up controversial issues that often cloud the image of Jesus Christ. Some issues are secondary and when we make them preeminent in our focus we then obscure Christ. Politics often does this. We become more associated with our politics than Jesus. As Mark Driscoll of the Mars Hill Church in Seattle says, "When a good thing becomes a god thing, it becomes a bad thing." Sometimes good things become our focus to the point it becomes our idol and we'll fight like the devil to make sure people will see things our way. That will often become a bad thing because it becomes a thing people see as our god and hence, cause fights.

However, there are issues that requires a voice. I've been hesitant to talk about abortion or euthanasia because it so often becomes an issue that clouds the clear image of Christ. However, it is an issue that the church and ancient Judaism has been very clear on and has always stood against the standards of society.

Rather than repeat what others say, I'll simply point you to a site that offers some of the clearest explanations of why Christians and Jews have stood against this hellish practice. You will notice it is a Catholic site and some of you will automatically turn it off. Don't!! Read it with an open mind. The article refers to a profound writer on the one child issue in China that really puts these issues in perspective. You can read the blog What Does The Prayer Really Say? by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf. Don't ask me to pronounce his name. He's known simply as Fr. "Z".

In this particular blog he refers to an author of the book, Better Ten Graves Than One Extra Birth. The article is very enlightening. I plan to purchase the book which can be acquired for $15 at the author's website, Loagai Research Foundation.

Society has been at odds with both Christianity and Judaism on this issue for centuries. Read and become educated.

God Bless

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Stink or Aroma

O.K. Stink got some attention. But do you know the difference between Stink and Aroma? In today's society of relativism we'd say, it depends on who's stink you believe. Or, maybe, we keep trying to answer right or wrong questions that determine your smell. In my earlier article I tried to show how we who define ourselves as Christians are so ill tempered that we do nothing but present bad smells. We war over doctrine, turf, as illustrated by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher monks, theology, and perhaps most noticed in our generation of right vs. left politics. And so we stink up the place by substituting the love of Christ for our personal gods, which always smell fishy.

One sharp eyed reader agreed with me and than added, but we all stink. His point is that the reason Christians stink, using my odorous metaphor,is because we are human and there is something wrong with all of us. Christians will even argue over this. Those of the Reformed tradition will will argue that we are wicked and desperately evil. Others, like the Catholics will argue, "no, we are made in the image of God and are simply flawed as a result of sin and separated from God." Then there are all those somewhere in the middle.

I agree with my PhD. friend. That was the one thing that I deliberately left unsaid. But that still leaves a question. And that is, what makes us stink and what makes us smell good. I ended the last blog with a question. How do you smell?

Read these words carefully, "For we are a sweet perfume of Christ to God in those who are getting salvation and in those who are going to destruction." 2 Corinthians 2:15 (Bible in Basic English)

So there is a time when we smell good. When is that? First of all, that is when God smells us in Christ. God looks at us through Jesus Christ. His enormous love wipes away our stink. In fact, there is no stink. We are a sweet smelling aroma to God when we follow Christ. But even more we read,
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life." John 3:16

We smell good because even before we decided to follow Christ, God loved us. We smell good to him because Christ bore our stink on Calvary. He who bore no sin, became sin for us on the Cross.
The apostle Paul goes even further, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" "No, In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us." Romans 8:35, 37

So God removes our stink through Christ because he loves us. But, you say, we still stink. We still sin.
Yes, we do. We are always sinning because we are still humans. But, when we allow Christ to be our Lord and Master, we receive his Spirit to become more like him.

So what smells good to God and others? We smell good to God by Grace and we smell good to others only by grace. In our own strength, we can't do it. But when we submit to God, he give us grace to smell good. How?
Let me illustrate.

"Be upright in judging the cause of the man from a strange country and of him who has no father; do not take a widow's clothing on account of a debt." Deut. 24.17 Bible in Basic English

I used the Old Testament on purpose to show how God's love is shown in the Old Testament. Jesus carried this over in his New Covenant. God made this statement because widows, orphans, the poor, the stranger or immigrant (illegal or otherwise, I might add) or any other race or disenfranchised group are to be provided assistance. Here, he hits at a common element in all societies, then and now. There are people in our world that fall into these categories. Political parties of all persuasions will often neglect these people in order to insure they remain in power or "their" rich remain happy. It's called justice and is the most neglected truth in Christianity. Especially Evangelical Christians who are often politically motivated.

We as Christians used to be known for our love for the alienated. All of the early child labor laws, slavery laws, especially in England, and many other social issues were championed by Christians. And the Catholic church probably is the best in providing for the poor. Their relief agencies are everywhere.

This smells good to God. Ask the poor if they appreciate help. When we stand up for them in causes of justice and peace we smell good to them. We no longer stink but are a sweet smelling aroma. When Christ uses us to bless others, we smell good to him and those receiving our love. Not because we did what we did because Christ already loves us. But because we through Christ became a tool of love to those who need love.

Now, will we always smell good? No. We will continue to smell good to those who need love. But as I said in my earlier post, the world will always hate us because they hated Christ. Light overcomes darkness rather than darkness overcoming light. Ever seen a black flashlight obliterating light? Those in darkness prefer darkness and don't like light. And when light shines on them all they see is judgement and right or wrong questions.

So the love of Christ is a threat to them. Which explains why in so many places of the world, Christ and the cross is so hated. And it will always be that way. We live in a nation that is moving farther and farther away from righteousness. Christians are becoming more and more hated. Often for good reasons. But more often, because we shine light in darkness.

So I return to the question in my earlier post. How do you smell? Do you live in the saving love of God? Does he live his love in your life before others? Nothing is more important. Jesus summed up the whole law by his new law. "You shall love the lord your God, with all your heart, soul and strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself." That smells good.

God bless

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Christian's Stink

Yep, I said it. Christians stink!! (Now THAT may generate some readership) I bought another book the other day off the Stanford Bookstore sale bin. The book is Holy Fire. The Battle for Christ's Tomb by Victoria Clark. I wanted something light to read rather than a theological tome. The book is about the extraordinary events that surround the gathering of Orthodox and Catholic Christians at Christmas time to witness the so-called Holy Fire that miraculously appears each year from a rock on the site of Jesus' tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Ms. Clark is a journalist for the Observer in London.

Victoria Clark is not a Christian and the book takes a rather harsh look at the shenanigans of the church in Jerusalem. And she appears to be quite prejudice in her views despite the appearance of fair reporting. But the book is interesting and an easy read. Ms. Clark shines a spotlight on one of the most bizarre events in all of Christendom. She vaults back and forth from the earliest times of the conflict between the Jews, Latin (Roman) Catholics, the Orthodox Catholics with all their factions and Muslims to today. She interviews Copts, Orthodox of all stripes, Catholics (western) and Muslims.

I won't go into the story but you can read it for yourself. Also visit an Orthodox site that supports the Holy Fire at the link. Nor will I argue the veracity of the "miracle". You can decide for yourself. Protestants are basically oblivious of this event. We don't study our church history to even see it on our radar. We should pay attention to it because it is a mirror of modern religious politics today.

Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote many years ago "To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant". Newman, a convert to Catholicism from the Anglican faith and profound scholar and thinker was making an apologetic argument for the historicity of the Catholic church. And he's right. If you are going to search history, and especially church history, you swiftly become immersed in Catholicism. You can't avoid it. The entire middle ages are all about the Catholic Church. It was the profound leading force in all governments and religion. Our Bible is a Catholic Bible. It was assembled, fought for, argued about and developed into a canon of thought by Catholics. The profound truths we as Protestants base our foundations are taken from a Bible assembled by Catholics minus a few books most of us don't accept as inspired. I won't get into that debate in this either.

But, as I followed Cardinal Newman's advice I also found many other things that really make me think Christians stink. This event that takes place annually in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is an abomination to our Lord. You may remember back in December of 2008, the violence that occurred there where 15,000 worshippers were gathered. Violence broke out when Armenian Orthodox monks and the Greek Orthodox monks began to argue over basically "turf rights." One thing led to another, others joined in resulting in a full scale riot. By the time it was over, one person was stabbed with a knife and many others injured.

Now this event, celebrated each year, is to commemorate the discovery of remnants of Christ's Cross by the wife of the emperor Constantine in the fourth century. The Armenians felt threatened because they are supposedly the guardians of Jesus' Tomb which is literally yards away from the place where the cross was supposedly discovered.

Folks, this is a nasty scene and it's a prime example of when Christians stink. We are always fighting over our turf. While the world looks on, we fight, maim and kill anyone who disagrees with us. The entire Crusades in the Middle ages are all about that. Throw in the extraordinary anti-semitism of the Crusaders and you have another example of how Christians stink.

You think this doesn't happen any more? Let's bring this home. The last 50 years has highlighted this old problem. Whenever we invite politics into our faith we raise the risk of raising a stink. Just look at Facebook. There are many Christians on that page who are standing up for their faith. I have no problem with that. We should be noticed for our faith. But what bothers me is when our politics take front and center and all we see is a political view that simply hides the face of Christ.

God has called us to be the face of Christ to a world who rejects him. Instead, in all too many cases, all people see is the face of whatever political viewpoint we represent. I know I'm treading on sacred cows right now, but I'm sick and tired of Jesus being obscured by our politics. Both sides are guilty and need to face up to the reality that what people see is the same thing seen at the scene in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher each year.
We represent Christ folks and that is who we should reflect. I could go down the first page of my Facebook and illustrate this point.

How many Christians, in the name of Christ, will vilify others, many who are Christians themselves, because they don't take the "right" view. We name call, demonize, and otherwise attack the character of people we don't know because we can't stand their cause. The religious right in the country is maybe the most guilty of this. But the left leaning Christians are just as guilty. The left demonizes the right attacking the same mothers of those on the right with just as nasty statements.

This stinks. It stinks as as bad as those "Christians" in the conflict in Jerusalem. We have abandoned the face of Christ for an idol of our making. We have become idolaters of our ideologies. Our political persuasion has become our god. We are the Christian monks of our generation that are stinking up the world with our hatred for one another.

On the other hand, isn't there a time when stink is good? Isn't there a time when we should raise a holy stink? Can we raise a stink with the face of Christ not being obliterated? I think we can. For you see, Christians are called to stink. Huh? What in the world do you mean Richard?

Consider these words. "Blessed are men when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you, for my sake." Matt. 5.11 ASV

Or "Bear in mind what I said to you 'A servant is not superior to his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also." Weymouth Translation

So there is a time when we stink good. (bad English, on purpose) When we reflect Christ's love as exhibited by Jesus. For instance, when widows were being neglected by the early church. What did the apostles do? In Acts 6 we see the needs of the weak, widows and children were being neglected. So the apostles appointed deacons to care for those who were being neglected. Who were these neglected? The widows. They were the lowest of low in society. Often abandoned and neglected they died destitute and alone. Children. Children were considered as dogs. And on top of that, the complaint was brought by the Hellenists, an immigrant group of people. Gentiles.

So acts of Mercy revealed the face of Christ to the abandoned, the outcast and the hated immigrants. Hmmm...remind you of anything today? How about immigration. A tough nut for which there are no clean answers. But, if we neglect even mercy to the illegals in the name of Christ we may obscure the face of Christ from them. They need to see the face of Christ. Now that brings in the topic of justice.

Well, justice dealt without mercy, is tyranny. I won't try to unravel that problem, but be careful. We as Christians don't represent a nation, we represent the kingdom of God which includes all. My national identity disappears at the cross. The kingdom of God doesn't have these unnatural divisions.

All of these peace and justice issues will raise a stink. The left will accuse us of abandoning the interests of the neglected if we pound on justice too much. The right will lambast us for being too socialistic and too immersed in the social gospel. The world will watch us fight and hold us in derision. And if we follow Christ, we'll please no one. So we stink. But that may be a good stink.

How do you smell?

That's enough to chew on. I wish I had the answers.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Speak or Shut Up Part III

I continue with my story.....

Paul and Barnabas sat silently for a few moments watching Peter finish lighting the oil lamps. Peter then put the candle back, crossed the room and picked up the pitcher of wine. He gestured to the others. Paul shook his head but Barnabas nodded. Peter poured some wine in the cup Barnabas was holding and stopped when Barnabas waved his hand. Peter poured himself another cup and then sat down.

He spoke, "Brothers, speaking of the Baptizer. If he had not spoken up, he would not have been beheaded. But John was not like that."

"Not like a reed shaken in the wind." Paul quoted.

Peter nodded and continued. He was true to his calling. And he stuck to his principles all the way to his death. You know, if he had just remained silent, he could probably been here with us today."

"And we probably would have not have Andrew with us today." replied Barnabas.

"Among others, yes." answered Peter.

"And possibly more important chimed in Paul, "he wouldn't have fulfilled the prophet Isaiah as the one who prepares the way of the Lord."

"Yes," Peter nodded. "And he would not have fulfilled God's calling on his life. You know brothers, I don't know if God is calling us to martyrdom or not, although I see it as likely, but he is asking us to be courageous. He's asking us to set our minds on him with purpose and refuse to allow the daily demands of life to dictate to us how to live."

"Peter, I think you've touched upon a serious point." Paul said as he stood and began to pace. "He's asking us to not listen to all those voices out there that call us to serve pleasure or selfish indulgence. Not that pleasure is wrong, but to embrace pleasure as a gift from God. But never our master. Our calling is missional. Our calling is to share the good news of the kingdom. We must never forget that. Anything that distracts us from that becomes our idol.
We make so many excuses for not sharing our Lord when there is so much to be done. God help us to be optimistic and not pessimistic, to love the world we have been given and for the good that is in it. Our lives should be spent praising what is good and doing all we can to increase it. This world is our responsibility. We must care for it. But it can only be done as we seek first God's kingdom, and his righteousness, then all these things are possible."

"Hmmm, sounds like something any one of us could have written." Peter mused. "And, I'm sure someone will. Maybe Matthew. He's mentioned he needs to send a letter to some of his followers sometime and that seems to a theme with his ministry."

Barnabas spoke after a few moments of silence. "There's one more thing brothers and then I think I'm going to go to bed. There is one more kind of silence that is a sure sign of cowardice."

"What's that Barnabas?" asked Paul turning to him.

Peter walked up next to Paul as Barnabas began to speak.

"Sometimes we are often with someone very close to us. God has called us to come along side with them."

"Like you to me?" Paul said smiling.

"Yes." Barnabas nodded. Sometimes God has put us with a person to be a light for them. Sometimes it is a lack of courage when we remain silent with each other, especially when we've been called along side someone whom God has called to help us grow in him. If we aren't courageous with ourselves to share both our victories and failures then we commit a sin of silence. If we can't share our inner lives with one another, especially with those more mature in the faith or with a group of fellow laborers, then we lose out on so much grace that will build us up in Christ."

"That's what you've been to me Barnabas." nodded Paul. "I have learned so much from you. I can't begin to tell you of all you've done for me. You have encouraged me so much."

"Yes Paul, and when God decides you or I need to move on, he'll let us know in some way."

"True." said Peter. "It might be a good circumstance or even a personal disagreement, I don't know. But as long as you are together, you hold one another accountable to the gospel and thus help each other grow in Christ."

"And that is what attracts people to the faith." said Paul. "People will know we are followers of Christ by our love for each other."

"Even if we have to die for our friends." said Peter sadly. "We've seen so much of that. Our beloved apostle John really emphasized that to me recently. He said he's learned so much from his care for Mary, our Lord's mother. He says she learned so much of that in her life with our Lord. And John seems to have acquired that same mission of love. I never come away from seeing him without having my heart filled with the love he has for our Lord."

"And that is why he has so many followers." replied Paul. "Well, I don't know about you but I'm getting quite weary. Let's embrace and pray together than in our witness to this lost and dying world, we may know when to speak and when to remain silent."

-----

And with that, I close. Fellow travelers, minding our tongues is so hard. But knowing when to speak and when to remain silent is a gift we must seek. I keep asking, "do my words direct people to Christ or do they obscure him?" I pray we may speak the truth in love and be silent when accusations arise. God be with you and yours.


Speak or Shut Up Part II

I hope you enjoyed Part I of my little scenario. The topic of discussion now changes focus.
-------

Peter rose from his seat. "It's getting dark." he said quietly. He strode across the room and took one of the lit candles from a small alcove and began lighting oil lamps around the room. Paul leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes in weariness.

"You know Paul," Peter said as he lit a large lamp, "Jesus didn't always remain silent."

Paul opened his eyes and listened. Peter continued, "After the resurrection we were standing on the shores of Galilee. We had just finished a fantastic meal. All of us were gathered around him listening to him explain the scriptures and how the prophets and all the ancient writers spoke about him. I really didn't understand him until after that wild day of Pentecost when we were filled with the Holy Spirit."

"That was really the beginning, wasn't it?" Paul asked, knowing the answer.

"Oh yes. But I'm think about what he told us on the beach. I'll never forget how he drove home the point that there are times when not speaking up and remaining silent can be a collaboration with lying. "

Paul leaned forward. "I think I know what you're going to say, but continue."

About that time there was a sound of sandals shuffling from down one of the dark passage ways. Peter and Paul turned to see who was coming. Out of the dimness strode Barnabus. "Hey guys, what's up?"

"Oh greetings my traveling companion." Paul said with a smile. "Join us. We've been talking about the importance of silence and Peter was just saying something about the times when we must not remain silent."

Barnabus walked over to a counter and poured himself a cup of wine and gestured, "Continue Peter, but don't take all night. Paul and I must journey to the far country early tomorrow."

Paul shook his head and smiled, "Thanks for the reminder Barnabus. We rise when the rooster crows don't we?"
"Yes, Barnabus replied. The caravan will be coming by early."

"Well," replied Peter with a chuckle. "I'll try not to be long-winded. From what I hear, Paul is the one who has the gift of gab."

Everyone laughed heartedly.

Peter then continued. "Silence can sometimes be wrong. It can confirm a lie. It can reinforce cowardly living."

Barnabus interrupted, "You speak the truth Peter. Sometimes we don't want our comfort interrupted or have someone or something complicate our lives."

Paul nodded and responded. "Boy have I seen that Barnabas. Take today, Peter and I were just talking about it. Had I remained silent and closed my eyes to the wrong approach he was taking..."

Peter interrupted, "Had you done that Paul, you would have encouraged a serious lie of misrepresentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I remember when our Master rebuked the scribes and pharisees and called them hypocrites. Now that was a confrontation in which he saw the need to say something. Had he remained silent he would have said in essence that it was alright to devour the widows houses while they uttered their phony long pretentious prayers. He had to confront their injustices done in the name of religion."

Barnabas replied, "I remember the stories of John the Baptizer. Remember, he was the voice crying in the wilderness that Isaiah the prophet predicted. He reminds me that sometimes it feels like we are the only person saying what needs to be said. While everyone else is silent, our voice seems so lonely."

"But our Lord will not let our voices go wasted." Peter said with a strong gesture. Peter leaned against the wall crossed his arms and continued. "Sometimes we need to say what needs to be said and not worry what others may think of us. If we speak the truth in confidence and love in the power of the Holy Spirit, it makes no difference what other think. If we speak in God's power, and speak as one Body in Christ, we could change the world."

"That's why we speak against injustice." replied Paul rising and raising his voice. We can't sit by and remain silent while our society, our emperors, our leaders or neighbors comment acts of murder or injustice against one another. Our society values life so little. Our children are cast aside like mere animals. They have no value to their mothers or families. They are sacrificed to the gods in order to bring peace and prosperity to themselves."

"And husbands treat their wives unjustly as well." reminded Peter.

"All matters of injustice must be seen as inconsistent with Kingdom Living." responded Barnabas.

"And have you heard how now we are being told not to teach our children about our Lord?" replied Peter. "It's scandalous."

"Or even attacks against you my brother in Christ." said Paul. "When our brothers and sisters in Christ are slandered, oppressed or mistreated, we must come to their aid and boldly stand with them and speak up. That is all part of our calling."

Peter paced back and forth. "Not only injustice, but when good is done, we must speak up. We should always act out of hearts of love. So when the emperor, or city or magistrate or neighbor does good, we must speak up and praise them out of love. All good must be spoken well of as that is a reflection of the love of our Lord. We must couple fortitude with love. We must be good citizens, always abounding in love. Good manners are a part of speaking up."

"Oh Peter," said Paul. "You speak so much truth. If we can just get our brothers and sisters in Christ to realize that in this sinful world, even evil doers often do good. We must speak up when good is done and use it as a witness to our Lord. We must always avoid being sour and cynical and always judgmental when our enemies do good."

"Didn't our Lord say, 'Love your enemies?'" Barnabus said with a smile.

"Boy, that's a hard one, but you are so right." Replied Peter. "We must know when to speak, how to speak and when to remain silent."

To be continued....

Speak or Shut Up Part I


Peter stood by the entrance to the cave and looked out over Antioch and the Orontes River. It had been given to the newly formed church in Antioch by the apostle Luke. The sun was setting, casting a golden glow over the landscape. A fresh Mediterranean Breeze rustled the olive trees outside the cave bringing relief from the muggy heat of the day. Peter sipped silently from his cup of wine and took a deep sigh.

Paul, glanced at Peter, dipped his bread into a bowl of olive oil. He broke off a piece of dried salted fish and sandwiched it between two small pieces of bread and took a bite. He savored the oil, bread and fish in silence. It was the end of a long and contentious day. It was a day where he had rebuked Peter, the leader of the apostles for hypocrisy. Peter in his wisdom after a few moments of anger, had accepted the rebuke. Their friendship, which had begun several years earlier, soon after the conversion of Paul, had now grown to an abiding trust and respect.

Peter turned and said softly, "Paul, I must thank you again for your truthful statements today. I was wrong and you didn't remain silent."

Paul took a sip of wine and replied, "Simon Peter, to do otherwise and remain silent would have been a sin."

Peter smiled and nodded. "So much like the master. Oh, how I miss my Lord."

Peter turned and again took in the fading light of the day.

After a few moments of silence Paul said, "Peter, you are quieter than usual tonight. Are you alright? Are you feeling ill?"

Peter turned and faced Paul and sat down on a ledge. He rolled his cup in his hands and replied, "No Paul, I'm quite well. I was just thinking about our Lord. He knew when to be silent and when to speak. I'm still learning that lesson.

"Yes?" Paul said lifting an amused eyebrow.

"Paul, After the resurrection, Jesus told us what happened at his trial. He remained silent when accused of wrongdoing. John reminded me this afternoon how Jesus stood silent before all those bringing false witness against him. He just remained silent."

"Like a lamb being led to the slaughter." Paul broke in.

"Yes, and before Herod and Pilate, the same thing. And before the chief priests and elders, he made no answer."

Paul nodded and replied, "So much love and patience."

Peter looked at him quizzically.

Paul continued, "Peter, I learned from my journey in the wilderness and subsequently from Barnabas, that in our Lord's trial, he showed us his strength and sense of purpose through his silence."

Peter snorted and began to chuckle. "Oh how true Paul. It is a lesson I'm ever having to learn. I'm always complaining about something or the other. All of us have complained about bad luck. We shout for everyone to hear how bad things are for us. Like this afternoon when you confronted me. I tried to explain my actions and excuse them just to get an approval or acceptance from everyone. How so unlike our Lord, Paul. He said nothing when accused of wrong doing for which he was innocent. "

"How true." replied Paul sitting up and taking another sip of wine. He rose and walked over to Peter and sat down next to him.

"Cephas," he said softly, "We all struggle with this. I know I do. But we must learn from Jesus. Life is what it is. Bad things happen to us. We are often hard pressed, burdened with trials. Yet, with his power, we must accept our duties and worries without complaining. When we have personal problem, we must deal with them squarely and not dump them on someone else. We must face up to them and seek resolution either with God alone or with one another, like you did this afternoon after our confrontation. That's when Jesus gets the glory."

Peter put his arm across Paul's shoulder and said, "You're so right Paul. You know how I must constantly deal with my pride. I'm always the first to bellow something when I should have kept silent. I must constantly rely on my Lord's presence to keep me silent when I'm slandered or when false rumors are told about me. Remember what the prophet Isaiah said? He said "By waiting and being calm you shall be saved." And then he added, "Your strength lies in quietness and trust."

Paul nodded, "So true Peter. Our strength of mind through the power of the Holy Spirit is grounded in silence and in hope."
------------
I hope you enjoy my little journey into what might have been. I like to imagine scenes like this. It makes the Bible come alive for me. This little lesson of those times when silence is the best path to take. So when we are accused of wrong doing, determine if the accusations are correct or not and then take appropriate action. Sometimes that action is to say nothing. In my next post, I'll expand this thought on when to speak up. And, oh, by the way, my apologies to Fr. Francis Fernandez Carvahal editor of the Palabra magazine and priest of Opus Dei. I drawing my scenario from one of his meditations. The story is mine, but the basic outline come from his thoughts.

Until next time remember...Silence is often golden.