Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Naomi Anastasia

Naomi Anastasia was born on Monday. She was 8lbs 7oz and 21 inches long. Her screaming put all fears about lung development to rest. Mom and baby are both recovering and doing well. We look forward to bringing her to the waters of holy baptism during the Saturday night Easter Vigil service. A special message to the small number of certain Calvinists "friends" who much like Job's "friends" are bent on discerning the secret will of God and were determined that our miscarriages and stillbirths were somehow the result of some sin that we had committed or were God's way of telling us not to have anymore kids: Our kids are cuter than your kids so God loves us more. Your other option is to just stick with God's revealed will and stop pretending that you are God.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Blogging Break

If you've been reading my blog regularly you may have notice that I have been posting a devotional commentary for every feast day pretty consistently. However, I will be taking a break for a week or so. This Monday, Lord-willing, my wife will give birth to a little girl via c-section. Please keep us in your prayers. We have had many miscarriages and two stillborn twins. As long as Mommy and baby are in good health we plan to have our little girl baptized during the Saturday night Easter Vigil Service (the traditional day for baptism and receiving catechumens into full communion). If you belong to a church that celebrates the Easter Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil), I highly recommend attending. If you pay attention you will notice that they are really three parts of a single service that lasts for three days. If you want to see what the earliest Christian liturgy looked like, go to a Good Friday service at a liturgical Lutheran church. Easter Vigil is my favorite. If you're trying to decide between and Easter sunrise service and a Saturday Easter Vigil service, go for Easter Vigil. Many churches offer services every day during Holy Week. I'm going to miss at least some of them but if you are able to attend I recommend this as well. We do not earn brownie points with God by going to any of these services but this is where God is giving out all the cool gifts and the extra services give us more opportunity to receive them. Plus, there is some incredible liturgical material you don't get to experience the rest of the year. Have blessed Holy Week.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Annunciation of Our Lord: A Devotional Commentary

Luke 1:26-38 Now, in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a a town of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. Coming to her, the angel said, “Rejoice, favored woman! The Lord is with you! Blessed are you among women!" But when she saw him, she was greatly troubled at the saying and considered what kind of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not fear, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you are going to conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will call his name ‘Jesus.’ This son will be great and fully Son of the Most high will he be called. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David, and he will be King over the house of Jacob forever. And of his Kingdom there shall be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I do not know a man?” The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy one being born will be called the Son of God. Behold, your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age and this is the sixth month of her pregnancy for her who was called barren. For nothing said by God is impossible.” Mary said, “Behold, the slave of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your saying.” And the angel departed from her.

The humble virgin Mary is the instrument through which God chose to bring about all of the promises of the Old Testament. She is the one who is given a calling that was never given to any man or any other woman. She is given the gift of the Messiah to nurture and protect. Just as the burning bush was filled with fire but was not consumed, the virgin Mary would be filled with the infinite God but miraculously was not consumed. Just as the Holy Spirit overshadowed the ark of the covenant, the Holy Spirit overshadowed the blessed virgin Mary. In the Old Testament the ark of the covenant was the dwelling place of God. In an even more miraculous way Mary became the dwelling place of God. In the book of Revelation the imagery of Mary and the church are used interchangeably. She is delivered from the dragon. Through the calling that God gave her to be the God-bearer she is both the mother of God's Son and the mother of God's sons.

The conception of Jesus came through the power of God's Word. Mary heard the Word from the angel in her ear and conceived Jesus. In a similar way the Word of God begets faith in the heart of the hearer. The Word of God begets faith in you.

Mary is an example of what faith looks like. Mary had every reason to be afraid. Who would believe her? Would you believe someone who claimed that God got them pregnant? If you were betrothed to someone who claimed that God got them pregnant would you want to marry her? But Mary responds with the words of faith. "Behold the slave of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your saying." She has every reason to doubt and to worry. If something like this happened to you, you might think that God hated you. Why would he put you through this misery? But even though Mary did not understand God's plan, she trusted His Word. Mary received the greatest blessing given to any human being through what looked like a curse by most standards.

But ultimately regardless of how much can be learned about what it means to live a life of faith from the example of Mary, this isn't all about her. Ultimately, this is all about Jesus. Mary is only who and what she is because of the grace of God. Mary would not be honored as the mother of God if God was not in her womb. The incarnate God is the real miracle that Mary was blessed to receive. He came to establish an everlasting kingdom but the kingdom would not look like anything anyone expected it to look like. And it is an everlasting kingdom. His coronation would take place with a crown of thorns pushed into His bloody head and He would reign by being lifted upon upon a cross. Mary called herself the slave of God. But the God-man Jesus came as your slave. As your slave he bore the sins that were yours to pay for. He paid for all of them.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Judica: A Devotional Commentary

John 8:46-59 Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. For this reason, you do not hear: because you are not of God.”Then the Jews answered him, “Do we not say well that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus replied, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. However, I do not seek my own glory. There is one who seeks and judges. Amen, amen, I tell you; whoever keeps my word will never see death.” At this, the Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, and the prophets; and you say, ‘whoever keeps my word will never see death.’ Are you greater than our father, Abraham, who died? The prophets died. Who do you claim to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say that he is our God. You have not known him, but I know him. If I said, ‘I do not know him,’ I would be like you, a liar. But I know him, and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day. He saw it, and was glad!” At this, the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I tell you; before Abraham came into existence, I am.” Therefore, they took up stones to throw at him, but Jesus was hidden, and having gone through their midst and so passing by, he went out of the temple.

As the time for His crucifixion draws closer, Jesus describes the situation in black and white terms. Either I'm sinning or I'm telling the truth. If I'm sinning then show me where I'm wrong. When have I lied to you? Is not everything I have told you God's Word? The reason you do not believe what I say is because you are not of God. You are not God's children!

What harsh words of law! Who would dare to put things so clearly today? How many of us sit here and think how horrible these Jews were for not believing Jesus. But we do the same thing every time we sin and every time we hear God's Word but explain it away.

The Jews did not argue with Jesus. They couldn't. So they started name-calling. How often does this happen today? You're just a crust conservative. You're a fundamentalist. You're a liberal. This thing that you are saying is straight from the pits of hell.

Jesus denies their accusations. I have no demon. I honor the Father and you dishonor me. They claimed to worship God but their rejection of Jesus showed that they did not honor God or love God. They hated God just as we show we hate God when we doubt His Word. God will judge you.

But in the midst of all this horrible law that kills us we find the wonderful promises of the Gospel. Whoever keeps my Word will never see death. What does it mean to keep Christ's Word? Is He a new Moses setting up a new set of laws? Absolutely not! It is to believe what Christ promises us in the Gospels.

The Jews laugh at him just as many today laugh at us, just as we laugh at the idea of obeying God rather than man when things get difficult. Abraham's dead. All the prophets are dead. All the really important people died. Who do you think you are?

But Jesus was greater than all these prophets. And all these prophets knew that. All these prophets placed their faith in Jesus. Jesus clearly proclaims His Divinity. He is not just some new prophet. He is God. He is I AM. He has always existed and He always will exist.

The Jews knew exactly what He was claiming about Himself. They did not respond with an argument. They responded with rocks. They were already murdering Him in their hearts. But they had no power to kill God. And it was not yet time and not yet the way in which God was to die. And so Jesus demonstrated His divinity by miraculously passing through them.

When God comes to us with His law our natural reaction is not repentance. We lash out at God. What right do you have to tell me what to do. We seek justify ourselves. We throw our rocks at God. How does God respond? How would a reasonable god respond? By striking us dead and by punishing us eternally in hell.

But how does God respond? God takes your sin upon Himself. God bears your sin in a bloody death on the cross far worse than stoning. God does this for you to pay for your rock throwing and your unbelief.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Feast of St. Joseph, the Guardian of Jesus: A Devotional Commentary

Romans 4:13-18 Indeed, the promise to Abraham and to his seed that he should be heir of the world was not through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. However, if those who are of the law are heirs, then faith is made void, and the promise is made of no effect. As it is, the law brings about wrath; but where there is no law there is no transgression either. This is why the promise is to faith, so that it comes as a free gift and it is secure for all the descendants, not only for those who rely on the law but also for all those others who rely on the faith of Abraham, the father of us all. As it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations.” This is in the presence of the one whom Abraham believed: even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence what does not yet exist. Hoping against hope, Abraham believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what had been spoken, “And so will your seed be.”

Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23 After they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise! Take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.” So Joseph arose and took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt. They remained there until the death of Herod, so what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: "Out of Egypt I have called my son." But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream when he was in Egypt, saying: “Arise! Take the young child and his mother, and return the land of Israel; those who were trying to kill the young child are dead.” Joseph arose and took the young child and his mother, and they came into the land of Israel. However, when Joseph heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in the place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Being warned in a dream, he withdrew into the region of Galilee. He thus arrived and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazarene."

Joseph lived a life of faith. According to very early Christian tradition, Mary was raised in the temple until she reached puberty. A woman having menstruation was not permitted to be in the temple. An angel of the Lord instructed Zacharias the high priest to assemble all the widowers and have them each bring their rods with the promise of a miraculous sign. God caused a miraculous sign to be given through Joseph's rod. The priest told Joseph that this was a sign that Joseph would be the protector of Mary. He would take Mary into his house and take care of her. Joseph was an older man with full grown children and had no interest in chasing after young girls. He was concerned for his reputation. The priest warned Joseph not to deny God's calling and Joseph feared God and obeyed.

Joseph and Mary are betrothed. During the betrothal period Joseph leaves to work on some building projects. When he returns Mary is six months pregnant. Joseph knows that he had nothing to do with this pregnancy and assumes what any person would--that some other guy has gotten Mary pregnant. The Scriptures say that because Joseph was a righteous man he did not want to publicly expose Mary but to put her away secretly. Joseph had faith in the true God and knew that God was a God of mercy. God's mercy and justice are tied together. If Joseph had publicly exposed his pregnant betrothed, nobody would have looked down on Joseph. He had a reputation to uphold. But Joseph knew that God does not operate in a transactional sort of way. By faith Joseph knew God's mercy and because of that faith he showed mercy to Mary.

From Joseph's perspective it's hard to imagine a more righteous option. By putting Mary away he was trying to obey God's law. But God calls Joseph to an even greater act of mercy. God calls Joseph to not cast Mary away but to take Mary as his wife. Mary was certainly innocent but things certainly didn't look that way and they definitely would not have looked that way to outsiders. People would have assumed that Joseph had sinned with Mary. And Joseph obeys God and takes Mary as his wife. In this way he acts a type of Christ. Christ marries a real adulterous woman--not one that just looks guilty. Christ marries the Church. Christ sheds His blood to pay for all the horrible sins of His bride. Christ sheds His blood for adulterers. Christ sheds His blood for you.

Joseph continued to live by faith. He trusted God's voice even when it didn't make sense and made him an object of ridicule. He doesn't become a great hero of the faith by his evangelistic missions but through fulfilling his calling. He is called to serve and protect a wife who never becomes his wife in the full sense of the word because she is giving birth to a child that is not his son in the full sense of the word. But he trusts God's Word. He doesn't try to dig his way into the hidden will of God. He lives his life trusting and believing what God has revealed.

If Joseph looked at his life and judged it by his own observation he would have to conclude that God hated him. Why else would God make him do all these crazy things? But the son that wasn't really his would grow up to bear his sins and die for him. Although Joseph didn't live to see it, this son bore Joseph's sins and died for them. And that is how Joseph could know that God loves Him. That is how you can know that God loves you. God's love is revealed in God hanging dead on a cross. Because God did this you can trust His Word. Believe that you were baptized into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Believe that Christ gives you His very body and blood. Believe that your sins are forgiven.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Southern Baptist Convention and Calvinism

I spent a few years in a Southern Baptist church. I even met my wife there and got married there. Most churches that I was aware of in the SBC held to some mixture of Calvinist and Arminian theology. They liked the idea of "once saved always saved" but not the limited atonement, irresistable grace, or total depravity. In recent years there has been a resurgence of five point (or sometimes four point) Calvinism in the SBC. The churches that identify themselves as Calvinistic amount to about 10% of the total number of churches in the SBC. There are about 42,000 churches in America that are part of the SBC so that's about 4200 churches that identify themselves as Calvinistic.

The non-Calvinists have often denied that Baptists have ever been Calvinists. The Calvinists have been making the claim that the SBC has been Calvinist historically but has drifted away from Calvinism. They are calling the SBC back to its historic roots. Who is right?

The Southern Baptist Convention was initially formed by churches that broke away from Calvinistic Baptist churches over the issue of slavery. The southerners did not appreciate yankees coming down south and telling them to give up their slaves and the northeners would not allow slave owners to serve as missionaries. Some of the churches that became part of the SBC retained their Calvinist creeds (there were different Calvinistic Baptist confessions that different churches from different regions subscribed to). But not all did. Some churches in the SBC still subscribe to one Calvinistic Baptist creed or another. But creedal subscription was never a requirement to serve as a minister in the SBC or for a church to affiliate itself with the SBC. The earliest systematic theologies written by professors in the SBC seminaries were Calvinistic but I don't think it logically follows that the SBC was Calvinistic. Calvinists like systematic theologies probably more than anyone else. If you are a Calvinist you are far more likely to write a Systematic theology or be interested in systematic theologies than just about any other group. You can't look at the books and movies, both fiction and non-fiction, that have been produced in the last few decades about eschatology and conclude that most Christians are premillenial dispensationalists. It simply isn't true and has never been true. But you are far more likely to write a work of fiction about eschatology if you are a dispensationalist. Most of those in the SBC who are writing lengthy histories of the SBC are teaching that historically the SBC was Calvinistic but once again most of them are Calvinists. The Calvinists in the SBC tend to be better educated and more likely to write history books. Calvinism feeds the brain in a way that the mushy theology of the other churches in the SBC does not and encourages further education and research. Some Baptists are simply afraid of education. What was the original purpose of the SBC? The original SBC constitution says:

It shall be the design of this Convention to promote Foreign and Domestic Missions, and other important objects connected with the Redeemer’s kingdom, and to combine for this purpose, such portions of the Baptist denomination in the United States, as may desire a general organization for Christian benevolence, which shall fully respect the independence and equal rights of the Churches.

The intent of the denomination seems to have been to create a big tent denomination in which people with all kinds of soteriological views could join together to promote foreign and domestic missions. The churches are to respect each others independence which I would understand as freedom to own slaves and teach whatever soteriology you want. As far as I know, nobody in the SBC owns slaves and so the impetus for the formation of the SBC doesn't really exist anymore. They have even issued a declaration of repentance. It would seem that if the SBC is anti-slavery, the Calvinists within it should return to the Calvinistic denominations that they left in the first place. However, the original constitution seems to still be honored. Baptists of whatever stripe are free to join the SBC and it is highly unlikely you would ever get kicked out. As long as you don't baptize babies you can join. Billy Graham is probably one of the most popular Southern Baptists of all time. Billy Graham ended up denying the traditional teaching on hell and trusted in his own works for salvation. He also seemed to regard Mormons as Christians. There was never any attempt to kick him out of the SBC and some in the SBC consider the person anathema who criticizes Billy Graham.

This whole thing seems odd to me. I believe babies should be baptized because they are part of the nations and need forgiveness of sins just like everybody else. But it seems like a very odd thing to hold a denomination together with. I wouldn't want to be part of a denomination that was held together by nothing but a common belief in baptizing babies. For what? To support missionaries? Are they going to go around just preaching that babies need to be baptized? It would almost make more sense to have a denomination where Calvinistic credo-only and paedo-Baptists join together. I don't think this would be a good idea either. I think it better to work together searching the Scriptures until agreement can be reached but it seems like a wiser idea than these Baptist denominations where different pastors come in and say all kinds of contradictory things about salvation. What is the message that we are actually promoting? "Don't baptize babies" seems like a pretty Christless message.

All of this shows the importance of being united by a common confession. It doesn't mean that we regard all who are not part of our denomination as being lost. But what message can people really bring if they are being sent by various churches with different soteriologies. If our unity is based on anything but a robust confession, it will end up being based on something else. It could be slavery or alcohol or ethnicity or social justice. None of these things are Jesus. And if you just say that we are just going to preach Jesus, what does that really mean? The Calvinist Jesus is not the same guy as the Arminian Jesus. Neither of them are the same as the Lutheran Jesus. These Jesus' did different things. Is He a moral example, a CEO, a life coach, or did He actually do something? Did He do something for you? Can you be sure? Is Jesus an abstraction?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Did Martin Luther Remove Books From the Bible?

When reading books by theological liberals it is often common practice to avoid any areas of disagreement between opposing denominations. Fuzzy language is used that can sound appealing but has no real substance. The writer often doesn't even really even agree with his own theological heritage--he views it as primitive and archaic.

Ecumenical conversations are much more helpful when conducted by people who actually subscribe the original intent of their respective confessions and are actually willing to discuss the core issues that separate them. Unfortunately, different traditions have their own vocabulary and assign different meanings to words. There are also many misunderstandings about what other groups actually teach and often even when people are trying really hard there is even misunderstanding about what a person's own tradition actually teaches.

I've been reading a book by an Eastern Orthodox writer that I have some respect for. I enjoy her writing even though I disagree with her synergistic understanding of salvation. She made the claim that Christian throughout history accepted the Apocrypha but that Martin Luther removed books from the Bible and that's why Protestants don't have the Apocrypha in their Bibles. This is a common statement made by both Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. Generally Protestants respond by saying that Martin Luther did not remove books, the Roman Catholic church added them. Then the argument usually involves two people who really don't know what they are talking about arguing about which books should be included and why. I've heard some Protestants even use strange mathematical formulas to prove that they have the correct number of books.

But the Reformation did not occur because of a dispute over the canon. If we spend our time arguing about the canonical books we miss an opportunity to discuss the real issues. There were always Christians who questioned the canonicity of various Biblical books. It wasn't until the Council of Trent that any formal declaration was made as to which books were canonical by the Roman Catholics, no such list was made by Lutherans. There has always been widespread belief in the canonicity of the Gospels, the letters of Paul, and the books contained in the Hebrew Bible, but there was disagreement about other books and people were not excommunicating one another over it.

Did Martin Luther remove books? Nope. He questioned the canonicity of the books but he did not remove them. He put them in a separate section but he did not take them out. Did his descendants? Nope. Did the translators of the KJV? Nope. One of the bishops who translated the KJV made it illegal to print KJV Bibles without the Apocryhpa. It wasn't until the 1880's that Protestants began printing Bibles without the Apocrypha. The Apocryphal books should not occupy the same place in our theology that the Gospels do but they should not become the chief article that divides us. Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutherans all hold up the Gospel Book and give it a special place in the service. The same is not done with the Apocrypha in any of the churches. All make some use of the Apocrypha in the liturgy.


I got the latest issue of Gottesdienst in the mail today and noticed that they used the same picture for their cover that I now have at the top of my blog. If you are interested in Lutheran liturgy I highly recommend.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical by Frank Senn

Fortress Press sent me a complimentary copy of Christian Liturgy by Frank C. Senn. The book is rather large and spends quite a bit of time on the Reformation and the modern ecumenical movement. I wish a little more time were spent on the early church, especially the Eastern church and the liturgy of St. James. Overall the book is very good especially when it is being descriptive. When it is being prescriptive it misses the point. It seems that Senn has his daily conversations most often with people in other denominations who are members of some type of ecumenical movement but very little with confessional Christians. Or perhaps Senn is trying to avoid the real arguments and divisions. On page 479 Senn writes:

Lutherans need to understand that sacrifice is a polysemous concept in the eucharistic tradition that refers variously to the offering of bread and wine, the self-offering of the faithful, and the saving work of Jesus Christ. Roman Catholics need to remember that sacrifice is one metaphor for the saving act of Christ along with others, such as ransom or purchase, victory over sin, death, and the devil, and the restoration of immortality through the incarnation of the Word. All of this is present in the eucharistic tradition. Study of this tradition would go a long way in helping us to overcome the ecumenical impasse on eucharistic sacrifice in particular and on the eucharist in general.

Sacrifice is one methaphor for the saving act of Christ? Confessional Roman Catholics and Lutherans would agree with one another that Christ's sacrifice is not just some metaphor for the saving act of Christ, nor are ransom, purchase, victory over sin, death, etc. Senn wants to overcome the ecumenical impasse by turning everyone into theological liberals that view everything as some metaphor. He calls us to study the eucharistic tradition but deny the original intent of the writers and read everything through modern liberal eyes. The real dispute between Roman Catholics and Lutherans is over whether the eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice. Roman Catholics say yes. Lutherans say no. Senn says yes because he thinks that even the death of Christ on the cross was only a sacrifice metaphorically and denies real propitiation completely.

The above is just one example. Senn does the same thing with Lutheran and Reformed disputes on the eucharist. This book can be very useful, but the reader should be cautious when reading Senn's prescriptions.

Laetare: A Devotional Commentary

John 6:1-15 After these things, Jesus went away to the other side of the sea of Galilee, which is also called the Sea of Tiberias. A great multitude followed him, because they saw his signs which he did on those who were sick. Jesus went up into the mountain, and he sat there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Jesus therefore lifting up his eyes, and seeing that a great multitude was coming to him, said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?” This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that everyone of them may receive a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these among so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in that place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus took the loaves; and having given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to those who were sitting down; likewise also of the fish as much as they desired. When they were filled, he said to his disciples, “Gather up the broken pieces which are left over, that nothing be lost.” So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with broken pieces from the five barley loaves, which were left over by those who had eaten. When therefore the people saw the sign which Jesus did, they said, “This is truly the prophet who comes into the world.” Jesus therefore, perceiving that they were about to come and take him by force, to make him king, withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

The ability to feed so many people is certainly a wonderful miracle. But don't think of it as something that Jesus once did long ago. God does this for us every day. Every day God gives us the food we need, regardless of whether we believe in Him or not. We've gotten use to the ordinary activity of being fed and so we no longer think of it as a miracle. But if God did not give us food we would not eat. By doing this same thing for a smaller number of people Jesus showed that He is God. The people wanted to make Him king. Jesus certainly is king but He is not the king that they wanted. They wanted a king who would destroy their enemies and make food for them all. Over time they would certainly get used to this as well and start asking steak instead of all this fish and bread all the time just as the Israelites did. We do the same thing. Even with our much more varied diets we stop rejoicing in the steak and expect it.

Jesus not only feeds us with food, He feeds us with the Word. We start out hearing it joyfully but after a while we come to expect it as well and grow tired of it. Give us puppet shows or even a sermon series on how to be successful. But the Word is what we need and we have easy access to it.

The type of king that Jesus actually came to be was the very strange type of king that reigns hanging dead on a cross. They would not have been rushing to make Him king if they thought He was going to be that type of king--if they even thought that such a king could ever exist. But this is the king we desparately need.

Christ's feeding of the five thousand points us forward to the Lord's Supper where Christ feeds us with His very own body and blood. The feeding of the five thousand should be enough to show us that the objection that Christ's body cannot be in more place than once is silly. When the bread was multiplied it did not cease to be bread. Jesus is God and is more than giving His body and blood in abundance. Just as in the feeding of the five thousand, there is more than enough to go around. But we get used to this as well. Do we have to take the time for the Lord's Supper? Shouldn't we spend this time doing something more worthwhile? But in the Lord's Supper Christ gives you His very body and blood! Christ gives you forgiveness of sins! If you have stopped sinning I suppose that this act might be boring and unnecessary for you. But for the rest of us, what better thing could we be doing?

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer that Tunes the Heart to God

Paraclete Press sent me a copy of The Jesus Prayer by Frederica Mathewes-Green. This is now the third book that I've read on the Jesus Prayer. The Jesus Prayer is "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner." Some use shorter or longer versions of the prayer. The prayer is said repeatedly. I have found this helpful in focusing my mind on Christ, reminding myself that I am a sinner in need of Christ's mercy, and keeping my mind from sinful thoughts. I've reviewed The Jesus Prayer by Per-Olof Sjogren and The Way of a Pilgrim. All three books are useful for different reasons. All three books have strengths and all three have weaknesses. All three suffer to some degree from pietism. All three take a different approach to the use of breathing techniques and pacing the prayer with your heartbeat. The Way of a Pilgrim strongly promotes breathing techniques and pacing the prayer to your heartbeat. Frederica Mathewes-Green seems to discourage the use of these techniques. Per-Olof Sjogren is somewhere in the middle. These are probably all the result of individual experiences with the prayer. At times I have found the techniques helpful and at other times I have found them distracting. Frederica Mathewes-Green offers a very helpful defense of using this prayer repeatedly against those who claim that this is nothing more than pagan Eastern mysticism. Frederica Mathewes-Green does promote a syergistic view of salvation but she is Eastern Orthodox after all. The book isn't perfect but it might be the best introduction to this prayer and it's an easy read.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Oculi: A Devotional Commentary

Luke 11:14-28 Jesus was casting out a demon which was mute, and when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke and the people were amazed. However, some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of the demons!” Others put him to the test and asked from him a sign from heaven. But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation. A house divided against itself falls. If Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul! But if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your children cast them out? Therefore, they will be your judges. However, if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come to you! When a strong man is fully armed and guards his own house, his goods are safe. But when someone stronger attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils. Whoever is not with me is against me! Whoever does not gather with me scatters! When an unclean spirit has gone out of a person, he passes through dry places, seeking rest. But finding no rest, the unclean spirit says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came out.’ When he returns, he finds it swept and put in order. He then goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter in and dwell there. The last state of that person becomes worse than the first.” As Jesus was saying these things, a woman called out from the crowd and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts which nursed you!” But Jesus said, “Yes, and more than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”

Jesus casts out a demon from a mute man and what does he get in return? You're a Devil worshiper! What? Just think of how insane that is. Jesus rightly points out that the Devil doesn't go around trying to defeat himself. But this is the way we think by nature. The truth of the Gospel is so contrary to our man-made religion that we'll accuse someone of Satan worship if they bring the truth. Maybe we won't put it so bluntly. We'll call them a fanatic or a traditionalist or a liberal or even a Pharisee. The chief error of the Pharisees was that they taught that the law was doable but strangely enough if you start questioning those who teach that the law is doable (and Jesus did much more than question) you get accused of being a Pharisee or having some type of non-saving intellectual faith.

What is the response of Jesus to these accusations? If he were a modern religionist he would, "Just settle down. You have a truth but I also have a truth." But what does He actually say? Only one of two things is possible. Either I'm some nutty Satan worshiper with multiple personality disorder who actually goes around casting out demons or I am the Messiah and am casting out demons by the finger of God and the Kingdom of God has come to you! You are driving people away from the Messiah! You are acting as a tool of the Devil!

The Devil is strong--to strong for any mere man to conquer. But Jesus is stronger. Jesus binds the Devil. Jesus bound the Devil by hanging dead on a cross for you. Jesus binds the Devil in your baptism. But heed the warning that Jesus gives. Beware of thinking that it's all up to you now. Maybe you used to be an alcoholic or drug addict or just some ordinary everyday sinner. Then you gave your heart to Christ and found victory over your sins. Now you think you have the power to obey God's law and lead a morally decent life on your own. The demons will return and it will be worse than before. If God cleans you out but you are not united with Christ the demons just have a cleaner place to live in. If Christ does not occupy the house then something very evil will.

But blessed are those who hear the Word of God and believe! Christ has done it all! Christ has bound the strong man! Christ has conquered the Devil through the power of the cross! Christ paid the price for your religious sins!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Lost Gospel of Mary: The Mother of Jesus in Three Ancient Texts

Paraclete Press sent me a complimentary copy of The Lost Gospel of Mary by Frederica Mathewes-Green. The title might suggest a sensationalistic book which contains some supposedly lost gnostic writings that tell us about the real Mary--a Mary that is nothing like the Mary found in the Christian Scriptures. But that's not the case at all. Paraclete Press is probably trying to attract the attention of those who are interested in gnostic writings but the scholarship within the book is very good. The book contains three texts from the early church that are either about or addressed to Mary with lots of introductory material and commentary.

The first text is the longest and is my favorite. Most scholars refer to it as the Protevangelium of James. Frederica Mathewes-Green calls it the Gospel of Mary and her title is fitting. This was written sometime before AD 150 and is all about the life of Mary from her birth through the birth of Christ. In the early church some regarded it as canonical. It fills in some interesting information about her betrothal and supports the tradition that Mary remained a virgin through the birthing process. Frederica Mathewes-Green writes within the Eastern Orthodox tradition and offers a pretty balanced view of how we should regard this document. I don't see anything in this text that contradicts the Scriptures--just some filling in of details. I'm suspicious of a few of the details in the story but the bulk of it seems believable. There are a few translations of this text floating around the internet but this translations is the easiest read and has lots of helpful notes.

The second text is a prayer addressed to Mary, asking her for protection that was written around AD 250. This text does not really tell us about Mary and who she is. I don't believe this is practice that we should imitate but it does help us understand how some in the early church understood Mary. Mary certainly does pray for us but we have no promise that Mary hears our prayers.

The third text was written by St. Romanos around AD 520. The Eastern Orthodox refer to it as the "Akathist Hymn." Frederica Mathewes-Green appropriately calls it the "Annunciation Hymn." It is sung from the perspective of Gabriel. There are many Scriptural allusions throughout the hymn and some very clever poetic work that brings out some profound theological truth. I'm not saying agree with everything the hymn says about Mary but there is much truth to be found there and some excellent poetry. Frederica Mathewes-Green does caution against taking some of the things that are said about Mary too literally.

I disagree with some of the theology of the book but I still recommend it highly. Frederica Mathewes-Green has a real gift for being able to communicate to those outside of her own tradition without pandering to them or misleading them.