It’s not about gods or guns, it’s about us

— It’s not about gods or guns, it’s about us. Part 1 —

Saint_Macarius_the_EgyptianThe heart itself is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there are also lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace—all things are there.
– St Macarius of Egypt Continue reading It’s not about gods or guns, it’s about us

May this chapter end in tears

statueYou have plunged me to the bottom of hell
To its darkest, deepest place
Weighted down by your anger
Drowned beneath your waves

Yahweh, I invoke you all day,
I stretch out my hands to you
Why do you reject me?
Why do you hide your face from me?

I bore your terrors-now I am exhausted
Like a flood, they were around me, all day long
All together closing on me.
Now darkness is my one companion left.

Continue reading May this chapter end in tears

Nativity Icon Explained

Tonight we take a break from the series I was posting to celebrate the Advent Season and the joy and even doubts that can be caused by Jesus coming into our lives.

Above is the nativity icon of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  While I do not intend to make this an exhaustive explanation, I wanted to point out a few parts of it.

There are the shepherds to the right who were pure of heart and received from the angels the news that the Savior of the world had been born.  The magi are seen to the left being guided by the star.  The women at the bottom right are midwives who display that the Son of God was truly born as a human, and did not merely appear to be human as some early heretics claimed.

At the bottom left is Joseph.  The story is that after the birth of Jesus he walked out of the cave and was greatly battling doubts.  The figure next to him is supposed to be the devil who is, of course, not making it any easier on him.  We may sing “What Child is This?” but Joseph’s question was “Whose child is this?!” since he knew he was certainly not the father.

Mary is facing Joseph instead of Jesus, which is rare in any icon featuring both Jesus and Mary.  She is concerned about him and interceding for him.  Jesus lies next to Mary wrapped in grave clothes foreshadowing his coming death.

Joseph also has a halo, indicating he is a saint of the Orthodox Church.  He wrestled with doubt even after God incarnate had physically come into his life.  It makes me wonder if the shepherds appeared after Jesus’ birth more for Joseph’s sake than anything else.

Our Church’s hymns mention this struggle and Joseph’s victory over doubt:

Joseph, when he beheld the greatness of this wonder, thought that he saw a mortal wrapped as a babe in swaddling clothes; but from all that came to pass he understood that it was the true God, who grants the world great mercy. – Vespers of the Forefeast of the Nativity of Christ.

As you celebrate this Christmas season, rest in the fact that our Savior has come into this world and our lives to heal every messy, doubting, sinful part of us.  There is nothing a repentant heart has done that will permanently push God away from it.  And there is nothing that you have done that he has not already helped someone else through, someone else who is considered a saint.

To read more about the gritty drama of the Nativity, check out an ancient document called The Protevangelium of James.  It was written in the first one hundred years of the Church and it regards all of the anguish and drama in the life of Mary and Joseph.

Scripture, Authority, and Tradition Part 3

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9

On the canonization of the New Testament

                                                                            No one had a Bible

That’s a bit of a shock to some modern day Christians.  As mentioned in the last post, the early church had no Bible that resembles what we have today, though many possessed Greek copies of the Jewish scriptures (called the Septuagint).  Many congregations would have a copy of some of the epistles and gospels, but usually only larger congregations would possess all of the writings that became the New Testament (NT) canon. Continue reading Scripture, Authority, and Tradition Part 3

Scripture, Authority, and Tradition Part 2

Part 1, Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9

A historical backdrop

One could argue that the church began in AD 33 with the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus as well as the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.  It is here we will start.  Jesus called his disciples to go out and change the world through the power of the Holy Spirit and His love.  It is very important to note Continue reading Scripture, Authority, and Tradition Part 2

Scripture, Authority, and Tradition Part 1

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9

In my research of church history, biblical authority, and tradition I have learned many surprising things.  I cannot research the early church without questioning many of the assumptions and teachings I have accepted throughout my life.  I invite you to join me in this journey, but I warn you that it will be challenging.  When discussing it with my wife, she said it was much like the Matrix. Continue reading Scripture, Authority, and Tradition Part 1

The Bible as a magical dinner plate

I’ve never been one to cook very much, in fact, my wife teases me about how I must think that food magically appears on the table in front of me.  We then joke that when we go out to eat, she loves to partake in the magic of food just suddenly appearing on a plate in front of her after she puts in her order.

I have found that we Christians frequently treat the Bible in this manner.  We just have this book that magically appears in front of us, all polished and pretty with gold letters and leather binding.  Few of us stop to wonder: how did we get this book of holy scriptures?

In answer to that question, most Christians would quickly exclaim, “Oh! I know!  It came from Greek and Hebrew sources written thousands of years ago.  And really smart scholars translated it into English.”

But even in that answer there is this element of magic.  How did all of these books come together to form the Bible?  Was there a primordial, biblical soup of thousands of writings and whichever ones congealed together were the ones we stuck with?

Lately I have been learning a great amount regarding the Bible, and especially the New Testament.  Contrary to popular belief, the mission of the apostles was not to write a Bible, but to build the Church, the Bride of Christ as guided by the Holy Spirit.  The Bible we have now took hundreds of years of discussion before finally being canonized in its present form(s).

In fact, the Church is not a product of the Bible, but the Bible is a product of the Church.  After hundreds of years of tradition and teachings being passed down from the disciples through the Church Fathers, we finally received the Bible we have today.

***Update***

I have completed a nine-part series of short posts that discuss briefly the history of the church and the canonization of the Bible.  It begins at the ascension of Jesus and goes through the Protestant Reformation and into today.  It also addresses sola scriptura arguments.  You can view the introductory post and outline here.

Intro to Iconography – part 2

So, you’re visiting an Eastern Orthodox Church and you notice that people are coming in, approaching paintings of dead guys and gals, bowing slightly, and then kissing them.  As a Protestant, you know this must be idolatry, right?  What else could it be?

(If you missed Part 1, click here to read it)

A Lesson from Japan

Continue reading Intro to Iconography – part 2

Intro to Iconography – part 1

Who are the solid people anyway?

“Like ghosts we walk upon the earth, the ground it groans” sings Michael Gungor of the uber-talented band Gungor.  He takes inspiration from CS Lewis’ writings in which he questions our very concept of reality.

When we think of spirit beings or ghosts, we tend to visualize something that is misty, a vapor that can’t even be grasped.  The spirit world seems foggy and illusive, much like trying to clasp your fingers around steam as it rises above a pot of boiling water.    Continue reading Intro to Iconography – part 1

Christ’s Descent into Hades – icon explanation

This is one of my favorite Eastern Orthodox icons.  It is referred to as Christ’s Descent into HadesAnastasis or Resurrection Icon.  It is the primary icon of Pascha (Easter).

Some key features:

Things I Wish I’d Known Before Attending

A guide for your first venture to an Eastern Orthodox Church

What in the world is a “liturgy”?

The Sunday morning service at an Orthodox Parish is called the Divine Liturgy.  We follow a liturgy compiled by St. John Chrysostom in the 4th century.  Up until St. Chrysostom, the early church always worshiped in the form of a liturgy, however, several different (and very lengthy) ones were in use, and St. Chrysostom edited and compiled the liturgies into the one most commonly used now.

Am I welcome?

Almost all Orthodox Parishes are very open to visitors.  While they probably won’t have greeters at the door, this doesn’t mean they don’t want you there.  Be sure to linger after it is completed so you have a chance to speak with the priest.  And don’t be afraid to tell people you are new and just checking this Orthodox thing out.  Many people you meet there will be converts, so they understand where you’re coming from.  Most parishes serve lunch afterward.  Staying for the meal is one of the best ways to get to know others.

What’s with the constant singing?

Most of the service is chanted or sung.  About the only speaking you will hear   Continue reading Things I Wish I’d Known Before Attending

Why Orthodoxy? Part 2

History of the Ignored

As I mentioned in my previous post, I heard from reading church history books that there was something called the Orthodox Church.  I didn’t have much interest in it though as many books passed it off as being insignificant, very ethnic (Greek, Russian, etc), and somewhat Roman Catholic.

As far as I know, the Orthodox Church never fought any great wars, never led crusades (in fact, they were the victims of one Continue reading Why Orthodoxy? Part 2