Daily Devotion

“High King of heaven, Lord of the years and sovereign over time and history, grant to us such an overpowering knowledge of who you are that our trust in you may be unshakable. Grant to us too a sufficient understanding of the signs of the times in which we live that we may know how to serve your purposes in our generation and more truly be your people in our world today. To that end, O Lord, revive us again and draw us closer to yourself and to each other. Where there is false contentment with our present condition, sow in us a holy restlessness. Where there is discouragement, grant us fresh hearts. Where there is despair, be our hope again. For your sake empower us to be your salt and light in the world, and thus your force for the true human flourishing of your shalom. In the name of Jesus, Amen.”

Oz Guinness

Photo Credit: “Faluka Boats on the Nile” present day Cairo. By myself. 

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Christmas is Coming! Will you have a tree?

In a recent forum conversation for my Church History class at Gordon-Conwell (Theological Seminar), I came upon a discussion about what the correct response should be to modern day criticism of Christian symbols.  Primarily those which non-Christians rightly point out as previously belonging to pagan religions.  To respond to this I jumped backwards in history to an earlier period where art and symbols in the Christian church came under heavy attack from the religion of Islam.  Dr. Donald Fairbairn (GCTS faculty and long time missionary in the Ukraine) gave a brief history of icons during our start of the year integrative seminar on the Beauty of Holiness, wherein he briefly discussed the history of the iconoclast controversy.  The reason icons became contentious amongst Christian communities was because of the criticism of Muslims who saw, not only that Christian’s had many icons, but that they claimed to worship a trinity, 3-in-1.  To the Muslim mind there cannot be a 3-in-1, and any depictions of Christ or the saints are idols as well, and so they conclude that Christians are holding severely idolatrous beliefs.  To what end?

The criticism and judgement led to a series of councils in the Christian community where icons were discussed.  Interestingly, those bodies which condemned icons were comprised primarily of political figures, whereas those councils which continued to uphold them as beautiful pieces of art and essential components of Christian worship were comprised of the leading religious figures, (Dr. Fairbairn, Iconoclast Controversy).  In our western atmosphere of political correctness it is all to easy to respond to the criticism of our symbols by setting aside the Christmas trees, our crosses and the Ikthus.  But I don’t think that is the correct response.  One of my favorite uses of pagan symbols for the defense and promulgation of the gospel is by St. Patrick when he ministered in northern Europe.  The  winters in this region are cold and dead, and as a sign of hope that the death and illness would pass the tribal people cut down an evergreen and brought it into their homes.  St. Patrick capitalized on this action in order to demonstrate to them the redemption of God from the pain and death of sin!  Thus, the Christmas tree has become far far more in our traditions than a mere decoration.  Its presence at the celebration of the birth of Christ reminds us that death will pass and that, like the evergreens, we have eternal life in Jesus Christ.  What if we refused to give in to false ideal of political correctness and simply explained what it is that art, which is truly what we are discussing, means to us and to the world?

I’ll share this remarkable quote from Clement of Alexandria, cited by William Tennent in his book Theology in the context of World Christianity, “[Clement of Alexandria] said that the pagans were given the stars to worship so they might not fall into atheism: ‘It was the road given to them, that in worshipping the stars they might look up to God.'” (Tennent, 44).  So what if non-Christians around us criticize our symbols and icons?  Every symbol we have demonstrates the redemption of God, and the more we have from the religions of the world the greater the testimony.  We could perhaps rephrase Clement and say, “These are the objects we have set before them, and that they have welcomed into their homes, so that we might also be welcome with the story of the Savior.”

The Story of Saint Blandina – “and the weak shall shame the strong”

saint blandinaHere is the story of Blandina the martyress, taken from the Letter of the Churches of Lyons and Vienne, ca. 177.  “This report of martyrdoms…is one of the earliest of the surviving Passiones” says editors Coakley and Sterk, (2004). Passiones are stories that claim to be born by eyewitnesses to the events. This story is not just for Christians, but for any man or woman who is looking for the strength to live boldly.  Listen to her story. Feel her passion and ask yourself, why not women?

“But the whole wrath of the populace, and governor, and soldiers was aroused exceedingly against Sanctus…Maturus…Attalus…and Blandina, through whom Christ showed that things which appear mean and obscure and despicable to men are with God of great glory, through love toward him manifested in power, and not boasting in appearance.

“For while we all trembled, and her earthly mistress, who was herself also one of the witnesses, feared that on account of the weakness of her body she would be unable to make bold confession, Blandina was filled with such power as to be delivered and raised above those who were torturing her by turns from morning till evening in every manner, so that they acknowledged that they were conquered and could do nothing more to her.  And they were astonished at her endurance, as her entire body was mangled and broken; and they testified that one of these forms of torture was sufficient to destroy life, not to speak of so many and so great sufferings.

Colisee-de-Rome

Colisee-de-Rome

“But the blessed woman, like a noble athlete, renewed her strength in her confession; and her comfort and recreation and relief from the pain of her sufferings was in exclaiming, ‘ I am a Christian, and there is nothing vile done by us.’…

“…Maturus…and Sanctus and Blandina and Attalus were let to the amphitheater to be exposed to the wild beasts, and to give to the heathen public a spectacle of cruelty, a day for fighting with wild beasts being specially appointed on account of our people…(followed by descriptions of the sufferings of Marturus and Sanctus who faced every torture they could contrive and were still alive proclaiming Christ).

“But Blandina was suspended on a stake, and exposed to be devoured by blandina on the crossthe wild beasts who should attack her. And because she appeared as if hanging on a cross, and because of her earnest prayers, she inspired the combatants [the men with her] with great zeal. For they looked on her in her conflict, and beheld with their outward eyes, in the form of their sister, him who was crucified for them, that he might persuade those who believe on him, that everyone who suffers for the glory of Christ has fellowship always with the living God.

“As none of the wild beasts at that time touched her, she was taken down from the stake and cast again into prison.  She was preserved thus for another contest, that, being victorious in more conflicts, she might make the punishment of the crooked serpent irrevocable; and, though small and weak and despised, yet clothed with Christ the mighty and conquering Athlete, she might arouse the zeal of the brethren, and, having overcome the adversary many times might receive, through her conflict, the crown incorruptible.”

– Our Women will be called to the stage of the world. They will be placed in the center of thousands and told to deny their faith, they will have to stand before tens and thousands and be asked to give a reason for the hope to which they were called.  This will happen in their schools, at their jobs.  This will happen on the mission field, foreign or domestic, and even in their own churches. Such events are not pleasant to say the least. Crowds can be cruel, torturous with their words and unforgiving in their criticisms and judgements.  Yet we do little to prepare them for this.

How life changing and inspiring would it be for the daughters of God if they were taught to speak and teach before the crowd? Not passively, but with conviction and boldness! And what safer place for them to learn than with their families, the body of Christ.  As Paul cautions ALL believers, regardless of gender (for he addresses both specific men and specific women with the charges of false teaching) one who speaks publicly must be educated in the Truth of the Gospel so that they do not mislead by mistake. Are women so much more prone to mistakes than men that they be confined as an entire CLASS within the church to the imprisonment of the pew? Our pews should be models of sitting at the feet of Christ, and our pulpits preparation for the amphitheaters of the good work to which we are called. And in which we will be condemned no matter our gender. Listen to the final chapter of Blandina’s life.  Listen to inspiration her steadfastness and devotion gave to the men around her, and to her torturers. And listen to the tender words with which her biographer honors the power of her womanhood.

“…After all these, on the last day of the contests, Blandina was again brought in, with Ponticus, a boy about fifteen years old.  They had been brought every day to witness the sufferings of the others, and had been pressed to swear by the idols.  But because they remained steadfast and despised them, the multitude became furious, so that they had no compassion for the youth of the boy nor respect for the sex of the woman. (emphasis mine). Therefore they exposed them to all the terrible sufferings and took them through the entire round of torture, repeatedly urging them to swear, but being unable to effect this; for Ponticus, encouraged by his sister so that even the heathen could see that she was confirming and strengthening him, having nobly endured every torture, gave up the ghost.

“But the blessed Blandina, last of all, having, as a noble mother, encouraged her children and sent them before her victorious to the King, (speaking of Marturus, Sanctus, Attalus and the boy Ponticus), endured herself all their conflicts and hastened after them, glad and rejoicing in her departure as if called to a marriage supper, rather than cast to wild beasts.

Saint Blandina depicted ideally in her final moments

Saint Blandina depicted ideally in her final moments

“And after the scourging, after the wild beasts, after the roasting seat (an iron chair heated to orange in which one is fastened with no clothes), she was finally enclosed in a net, and thrown before a bull. And having been tossed about by the animal, but feeling none of the things which were happening to her, on account of her hope and firm hold upon what had been entrusted to her, and her communion with Christ, she also was sacrificed.

And the heathen themselves confessed that never among them had a woman endured so many and such terrible tortures.”

Conclusion: The TRUTH is that if the spirit of Christ is in us both then He has no reason to direct his Church to suppress and withhold from women the many, many diverse roles of leadership there are in the Kingdom of God.  Neither too should any woman in her own home, not be allowed to stand next her husband and assume whatever role they deem necessary, by the distinct gifts and bents of the individuals and by their own unanimous consent. We are to submit to each other in love. Does this not apply to the husband as well as the wife? What woman should be ordered by her church to submit to her husband before she be submitted to God?

These questions have been answered in so many ways, by twisting the relationships, by saying that a woman’s submission to God is THROUGH her husband. I say that is self-righteous arrogance. The same arrogance that was condemned by Cyprian Bishop of Carthage when he proclaimed that a Confessor did not have any special power to forgive the sinners who had recanted to Rome.  No power more special than that which Christ had given to all of us.

Martyrdom has no gender. Neither should the life of the Body of Christ.

Faithful Unto Death by Herbert Schmalz

Faithful Unto Death by Herbert Schmalz

(an addendum to my final plea. I do not separate gender from sexuality, I believe they are one in the same. Women are created to be women, men are created to be men. Otherwise God has made some mistake in the makeup of our being, or else sin has corrupted our DNA so much as to create a dichotomy of sexuality within us which is not to be accepted. I do not believe that the church should teach “nor male nor female” as a permission to render our sexuality as meaningless (men can be women, women can be men) rather that the kingdom of God so transcends the flesh of our created bodies that before the light of Christ our differences are no longer visible. Sexuality/gender becomes superseded by the LOVE of God).

An Installment of Window Time – poetry of life

Every once in a while I doodle up a poem around the theme of Window Time. You know, those moments when you find yourself gazing through the glass and thinking, dreaming or praying. Here’s the latest.

“I had window time with a Beauty today,
She loves to live and laugh and play,
Her eyes grow wide and stare up high,
‘what’s thaa?’ She asks, looking at the sky.
‘A tree’ I say, ‘with leaves and flowers’
(I can tell this is how she’d spend her hours)
If only life were lived each day
Outside where she could laugh and play.

image

‘WOW’ says the Beauty to the window clear,
About this world she holds so dear.
She loves the birds and the cricket’s song,
She’d gladly live there all day long
In this precious world within the frame
Of a windows perfect window pane.

If only our eyes could see like theirs,
We might, more oft, relinquish our chairs.”

image

A Sunday Home

Combined forces of the physical and the divine intervened today and kept us home for church this Sunday.  God has truly been challenging our perceptions and expectations of fellowship since our move to the East Coast and it is both rejuvenating and exciting. But theology aside, we succeeded in Church. In BEing together the kingdom of God.  We worshiped with some dance and some reading, Nathanael and I both taking turns in helping the children to learn and focus on WHAT we were doing so we could later teach them the WHY. 🙂  Samuel decided he wanted to read his Bible for most of the worship time and Gloria followed suit for a few minutes before going back to the rotation between guitar, scarf and piano.

2015-08-30 11.41.55 2015-08-30 11.38.34Isn’t that the face of pure joy and delight?

Inspired by my study and writing from the Word this morning we taught Samuel about the Kingdom of God.  The kingdom is in our midst and is in us (Luke 17:20-21) and therefore we should seek to listen to God and to obey him.  With Samuel, trains and train metaphors make their way into just about everything, and specifically the Polar Express. So in true Samuel fashion we explained the idea of following the Way of God with a train!  God is the conductor and he is the one who asks for our tickets and tells us which way to go. When the train gets off the tracks he tells us how to get back on (see The Polar Express) and we should listen to him. Listening includes obedience. That is the Way.

Prayer. Prayer interrupted by crying baby girl.  Back to prayer and our scripture verse “I am the Way the Truth and the Life.”

AMEN!

Then it was time for lunch and naps. Nap time is when Nathan and I then pick up worship again for the two of us.  It was my turn to lead the worship this morning which took the form of a sermon based upon that bible verse, “I am the WAY” (see previous blog post).  We rejoiced in God through the truth of his Word and then praised him more from the psalms, specifically 33 and the first part of 34!  Please go read them, they are wonderful songs.  A verse in Psalm 34 sparked a discussion on worship and adoration that has continued for most of the afternoon and will most definitely continue in my heart for several days.  I’m sure I will write more about it.

“Where two or more are gathered I am there in their midst.”  We did not have hundreds today or even dozens, but we had the four of us and a true time of adoration of God together.  I would leave with a few questions which God has raised in us this week. What is adoration? What IS worship? Is it conscious? Is it just a thought process or is it something more?

I’m off to worship God with a little creation 😀 Shalom!