Tag Archives: Eastern Orthodox

This day is blessed by God…

pink flowerI have been doing a lot of reading about prayer lately in preparation for a coming sermon series. And, as it typically when studying a topic, my soul gets challenged and stretched in ways that I did not foresee.

Take for example the below quote from the book “Beginning to Pray” by Anthony Bloom. It starts off fairly simple – the day is “blessed by God…let us go into it.” Then, out of the blue, the messages shifts and Bloom is challenging us to embrace the suffering that comes with following Jesus.

Not just the persecution that come the outside, but also the struggle within our hearts and souls – the wrestling that we do with our pride and flesh as we seek to obey and live out the commandment so Jesus. Commandment that are so often in direct conflict with our own personal interest and desires… yet, whether ‘bitter or sweet’, each situation is a gift from God – molding and shaping us to be His people.

This day is blessed by God, it is God’s own and now let us go into it. You walk in this day as God’s own messenger; whomever you meet, you meet in God’s own way. You are there to be the presence of the Lord God, the presence of Christ, the presence of the Spirit, the presence of the Gospel – this is your function on this particular day. God has never said that when you walk into a situation in His own Name, He will be crucified and you will be the risen one. You must be prepared to walk into situations, one after the other, in God’s name, to walk as the Son of God had done: in humiliation and humility, in truth and ready to be persecuted and so forth. Usually what we expect when we fulfill God’s commandment is to see a marvelous result at once – we read of that at times in the livers of the saints. When, for instance, someone hits us on one cheek, we turn the other one, although we don’t expect to be hit at all, but we expect to hear the other person say ‘What, such humility’ – you get your reward and he gets the salvation of his soul.

It does not work that way. You must pay the cost and very often you get hit hard. What matters is that you are prepared for that. As to the day, if you accept that this day was blessed of God, chosen by God with His own hand, then every person you meet is a gift of God, every circumstance you will meet is a gift of God, whether it is bitter or sweet, whether you like it or dislike it. It is God’s own gift to you and if you take it that way, then you can face any situation. But then you must face it with the readiness that anything may happen, whether you enjoy it or not, and if you walk in the name of the Lord through a day which has come fresh and new out of His own Hands and has been blessed for you to live with it, then you can make prayer and life really like the two sides of one coin. You act and pray in one breath, as it were, because all the situations that follow one another require God’s blessing. (underline emphasis added)

Quote by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

beginning to pray“As Christians we are always in tension – in anguish and at the same time in bless. This is mad, ridiculous. But it is true – accepting the dark night just as we accept the brilliance of the day. We have to make an act of surrender – if I am in Christ, there are moments when I must share the cry of the Lord on the cross and the anguish in the garden of Gethsemane. There is a way of being defeated, even in our faith – and this is a way of sharing the anguish of the Lord. I don’t believe that we should ever say, ‘This cannot happen to you.’ If we are Christians we should go through this life, accepting the life and the world, not trying to create a falsified world.

“But, on the other hand, the Christian is like someone who lives in three dimensions in a world in which the majority of people life in two. People who live freely and within a dimension of eternity will always find that something is wrong, they will always find themselves being the odd man out. The same problem was faced by the early Christians when they said that their only king was God. People turned round to them and said, ‘If you say that you are disloyal to our king’ and often persecuted them. But the only true way of being loyal to this two-dimensional world is to be loyal to the three-dimensional. If you really live in three dimensions and do not simply live in two and imagine the third, then life will be full and meaningful. The early Christians were able to do it and Christians today are also able to do that.”

Therapeutic Substitutionary Atonement

Fr. Stephen FreemanFr. Stephen Freeman of the Orthodox Church in America recently posted a great article on the atonement which should be read by everyone.

Sadly enough, I don’t have the time to go into details about the article….but I will say this:

Father Stephen does a great job at pointing out the problems with forensic models of the atonement (i.e. Jesus died instead of man or Jesus died to appease the wrath of God) while offering up an amazing model with takes into account His resurrection (which is usually  forgotten about in atonement conversations).

Below is a quote from the article that highlight the main jest of it – however, I would suggest reading the whole thing to really get it.


“For some, Christ’s death on the Cross represents the payment for a debt owed to God, the debt of Adam’s sin. In another account, Christ’s death on the Cross is a blood sacrifice to appease the wrath of God, incurred through Adam’s sin. For still others, Christ’s death is the destruction of Hades and death itself, the healing of the corruption of sin. There are yet other views, but the disagreement has largely been between advocates of one version or another of these accounts.

“The first two accounts generally fall into a category of “forensic” models. In these, there is a debt or a divine consequence (wrath) that must be paid or turned aside. In various ways it is noted that only a perfect Man could pay the debt (or appease the wrath). Since all men sin, only God could meet the requirements. Thus God became man, so that God, as man, could accomplish what man alone could not.

“In the second model, sin and death are more or less synonymous. Rather than being forensic (legal) in character, they are ontological (a matter of being and existence). Sin is the disease of corruption, the movement from true existence toward non-being. The destructive chaos that it leaves in its wake is more like “symptoms” than legal problems. God in His mercy becomes man, and as the God/Man enters the depths of death and Hades, the depths of ontological corruption and destroys them. In His resurrection (which is a necessary aspect of this model – unlike the others), our ontological corruption is destroyed or rather “put to death” and we receive new life – the eternal life of the resurrection (which is a quality and not merely longevity). In this model, there is a participation and communion. Christ becomes sin, that we might become righteous. He dies that we might live. He takes on our death, that we might take on His life.”

“The Orthodox Church” by Bishop Kallistos (Timothy) Ware

the orthodox churchTwo and a half years ago I read Bishop Kallistos (Timothy) Ware’s book “The Orthodox Way” and fell in love with the way in which the Eastern Orthodox Church embraces the mystery of God. This year I located that book’s predecessor, “The Orthodox Church”, and grew in my understanding of the history of that fine establishment.

Originally published in 1963, “The Orthodox Church” was Bishop Ware’s first book, written before he entered the priesthood and based upon his personal study of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In fact, at the time that the book was published, Bishop Ware had only been a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church for five years – having joined the church in 1958 after being raised in the Anglican Church (he’s from Somerset, England).

The book itself if separated into two broad selections. The first part deals with the history of the Eastern Orthodox Church, from the first century up until the 1980s (the copy I read was updated and expanded in 1993). This was a fun selection for me as I LOVE history and had always wondered how the Eastern Orthodox Church developed over the years. Most (read “majority”) church history books in English tend to follow the development of Christianity into Europe via the Roman Catholic Church before taking the Luther/Calvin road into Protestantism. Accordingly “The Orthodox Church” serves as a much needed counterweight to the Protestant centric history of the church.

One quick tit-bit before I move on to the second section. In reading the history of the Eastern Orthodox Church, I discovered that their system of governance is very similar to that of the Vineyard Movement. Both groups divided the church leadership according to geo-political boundaries with the national leaders/bishops working together to maintain unity worldwide. In Eastern Orthodoxy, each autocephalous church (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Russia, Greek, etc.) is led by a single leader (i.e. the Patriarch) who then meets with the other leaders to make sure they are all moving in the same direction. The Vineyard does the same thing with the national director of each Association of Vineyard Churches (AVC) having the responsible of leading the churches under their care while meeting with the other AVC leaders to make sure the Vineyard Movement worldwide is in unity. Similarly, while the Patriarch of Constantinople and Vineyard USA director are equal in all things with all the other Patriarchs/national leaders, they are given special honor as it was from those areas that each movement spread (i.e. first among equals).

Continue reading “The Orthodox Church” by Bishop Kallistos (Timothy) Ware

Christmas and Easter: Connected Forever

Full of family, trees, decorations, food, presents and, hopefully, some snow, Christmas is a wonderful distraction from the dreary cold of winter.  We huddle together under blankets before the fireplace and sing songs of the first Christmas and old men driving around in sleds. And even though we know that Christmas is more than this, we sometimes forget how the course of history and reality was changed all those years ago.

The name of our holiday, “Christmas”, comes from the words “Christ’s Mass” – which refers to a time of worshiping Jesus and reflecting on the amazing, mind-boggling act of love that God Himself would come down from heaven and become a man like us:

“Since man could not come to God, God has come to man, identifying himself with man in the most direct way. The eternal Logos and Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, has become true man, one of us; he has healed and restored our manhood by taking the whole of it into himself. In the words of the Creed: “I believe…in one Lord Jesus Christ…true God from true God, one in essence with the Father…who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnated from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.” -Bishop Kallistos Ware, “The Orthodox Way”

The author of the book of Hebrews puts it this way:

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)

Christmas and Easter are undeniably and forever connected. May we slow down this holiday season and ponder the implications of this union – for it changed reality and impacted every molecule in the universe.

A Few Thought Provoking Items

I was going to write a tad more about each of these items…but time restrains have forced me into doing something shorter.  😕

Beatitudes Teaching By Greg Boyd

I was introduced to Greg Boyd this summer through a blog book give away. Since then I have seen his name pop up over and over and over again…so last week I decided to check out his sermons (he is the pastor of Woodland Hills church in St. Paul, MN).  And wow! I was totally blown away by his teaching and understanding of what it means to follow Jesus in this crazy world.

Greg’s sermon from  Oct 14th (“The Salt and Light Revolution”) was an amazing introduction into a series he just started on the Beatitudes. Two things really stood out to me in this sermon:

1) Salt has to stay into contact with the food in order to change it (i.e. Jesus followers are to be ‘in the world’ but not ‘of the world’ – practically meaning that Jesus follower are to have non-Jesus-follower friends as well as Jesus follower friends, just like Jesus did).

2) The Beatitudes are not something we are to strive for – but rather something that come naturally as it describes who we are.

The second sermon in the series is called “The Dependent and Those Who Mourn” and is great message on giving up everything and radically following Jesus. Greg also spends some time talking about the anti-homosexual marriage law that Minnesota is soon to be voting on – only he did so in a way that is totally different than what you would like. Greg did not agree with or disagree with the proposed law – instead he reminded the church that the biggest sin (and the most talked about) in the Bible is greed and selfishness. So instead of trying to pick out the stick in our brothers eye, we should be dealing with the log in our own eye. In other words (in my words, not Greg’s), let us stop trying to force non-Jesus followers to live by the guidelines given to us by the Holy Spirit. Jesus told us to love and bless everyone (friends and enemies alike) while healing the sick, cleaning the leapers, preaching the Kingdom of God, casting out demons and raising the dead  – perhaps we should focus DOING that….

Continue reading A Few Thought Provoking Items

“A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin” by Tony Jones

Off and on over the last past few years I have been thinking about the different metaphors used in the Bible to describe why Jesus came to walk among humanity, died, rose again and etc. (the fancy theological word for this is the “atonement”). Interestingly enough I’m not the only person thinking about this issue as modern Jesus followers re-discover of the mystery of the atonement. Folks such as N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight, John Piper, Al Mohler and Brian McLaren are all offering their opinions on the subject – not to mention those from the mainline Protestant churches, Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Roman Catholic Church.

A big part of the reason why the atonement is such a big deal today is due to the increasing rift between neo- Calvinists evangelicals (John Piper, Al Mohler et al.) and the progressive evangelicals (N.T. Wright, Roger Olson, et al.). Add to this fire the growth of post-modern and post-post-modern Jesus followers who are looking at Christianity through different glasses/worldviews than their predecessor (Brian McLaren, David Fitch, Scot McKnight, et al.).

Knowing all this, I have every excited when I heard that Tony Jones had published an ebook on the atonement, “A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin”. Tony, for those who don’t know, was a driving force in the emerging church movement of the past few decades and the author of the book “The New Christians: Dispatches From The Emergent Frontier”, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  He is also an adjunct professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School – meaning that he is a post-modern theologian scholar who, I was hoping, could bring some fresh air to the conversation.

And, to a certain extent, he does deliver – even though I disagree with his final conclusion, but I’m getting ahead of myself! 😛

The outline of the book is fairly simple with the first part being more biographical in the sense that Tony shares with the reader why he started on the journey of questioning the predominant Protestant view of the atonement (i.e. penal substitutionary atonement or PSA). After the ground work is laid, Tony shifts gears into laying out all the views of the atonement the church has held since the time of Jesus (all quotes are from Tony’s ebook):

Continue reading “A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin” by Tony Jones

Junia or Junias: Thoughts on Women in Church Leadership

Last week on his blog Frank Viola (author/speaker) posted a link to his essay “Reimagining a Women’s Role in the Church” which was originally meant for this book Reimagining Church”, but was left out due to the length of the book in general.

Seeing how women in leaders is one of those ‘sticky’ issues in parts of the church today, I decided to wander over and skim his essay – well, that and the fact that Frank Viola is pretty influential due to his work with Leonard Sweet, George Barna, and others – meaning, of course, that it is good to know what his viewpoint is on the issue.

In skimming over the essay, I have to say that I was fairly impressed on the way in which Frank approached and dealt with the issue at hand. He retained the integrity of the Scriptures while looking at the full context in which they were written.

For example in his talk about the limited verses in 1 Timothy 2, Frank reminds the readers of the Gnostics teachings spreading throughout Ephesus that stated that Eve pre-existed Adam and because she tasted the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge first, she was the “bearer of special spiritual knowledge”, which was the hallmark and desire of Gnostics. Seen again this background, St. Paul’s words to Timothy begin to take on a different mean than when they are read by themselves devoid of any culture/historical context.

In addition to bring up some things I had not thought about, Frank’s essay also reminded me of an ebook I had read a month or so ago. The book is in entitled “Junia Is Not Alone” and was written by Scot McKnight, New Testament scholar at North Park University in Chicago.

In that book Scot tackles Romans 16:7, which is a fairly controversial verse in the whole women in church leadership debate. For those who recall, Romans 16:7 makes reference to an apostle named “Junia.” I put the name in quotes as the debate sounding this verse is limited to whether or not the Greek name is feminine (Junia) or masculine (Junias).

Continue reading Junia or Junias: Thoughts on Women in Church Leadership

Some Of My Favorite Blog Sites…

A site I have been following recently asked for blog suggestions as they were looking for some new sites to follow. In thinking about that, I decided to list out some of my favorite blog sites for your reading pleasure. Note however that this is a very small list as I have over 80 sites on my RSS feed… yeah, I’m strange that way!  😛

Vineyard Related:

  • Jason Clark – Jason is a Vineyard church planter in SW London, UK, as well as a teacher at George Fox Seminary and a PhD student in theology at Kings College London. He has some great thoughts and conversations on the church, culture, mission, and theology in general.
  • WordHavering – Written by Mike Freeman, a Vineyard Boise (Idaho) pastor, this blog full of amazing “musings/haverings on God, theology, the Bible and the occasional movie.” While it may sound cliche, I would have to say that Mike’s style of write is refreshing and warm to the eyes.
  • As I See It… – Marty Boller is the pastor of the Cedar Rapids, IA, Vineyard church and has been exploring ways to move from focusing on size of a church building, money in the bank account and/or the number of folks attending to really, truly following Jesus and being missional to our communities
  • Peace Catalyst International – Peace Catalyst is an organization seeking to “stimulate peacemaking between individuals and between peoples.” Most of the articles are written by Rick Love, a truly peaceful and loving man, who severs as a consultant for Christian-Muslim relations in the Vineyard, USA.
  • Brambonius’ blog in English – Brambonius is a Belgium Vineyard guy who writes some eye opening posts about Jesus, Christianity and the Bible through a European worldview.
  • Carl Medearis – Carl is an international expert in the field of Arab-American and Muslim-Christian relations as well as the author of “Speaking of Jesus(one of the best books ever!). The thing I love about Carl is his passionate love for Jesus and the ability to separate the culture of “Christianity” from following the person of Jesus. Well worth the read!
  • Verse&Verse – A wonderful blog full of heart felt poems and deep views on following Jesus. It is written by Steven Hamliton who currently in the process of launching a Jesus community in urban Pittsburgh. He is also deeply involved with the Vineyard Anti-Slavery Team.
  • Captain’s Blog – Written by Chad Estes, this blog just oozes the freedom, mercy and love of Jesus to all people at all times. It is definitely a good site to have on your RSS feed.

Continue reading Some Of My Favorite Blog Sites…

Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit

Sometimes after a particularly rough day juggling ministry and work, my good friend (and former pastor) and I used to joke about bagging church leadership and becoming monks.

We so desperately wanted more time to hang out with Jesus and study the Bible…time that never seemed to be found…so we would joke and laugh about leaving everything behind and becoming hermits or joining a monastery – then slap each other on the back and go about our daily lives.

The thing was that that we really didn’t know much about monks or hermits beyond the standard cultural stereotype. You know the one – older man dressed in a robe walking the old stone halls of an ancient monastery canting a pray as he walked….totally separated from the world and material desires.

Because of this background, I found myself excited to read Herman Middleton’s book “Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit: The Lives and Counsels of Contemporary Elders of Greece.”

Published by Protecting Veil Press (don’t you just love that name?), this book introduces the reader to eight different Eastern Orthodox monks who lived in Greece over the last hundred years. After each biographical section, Middleton includes selected quotes or counsels from that elder – allowing the reader to get a ‘feel’ for these ‘precious vessels.

The crazy thing was no matter how much these monks wanted to retreat in the vast quietness of the Holy Mountain (Mt. Athos), God would not left them along. He continued to send people to them so that they could teach His people and help them along the journey towards Jesus.

Continue reading Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit