Your Life in 30 Seconds

Have you ever had an elevator conversation? They are really short and end when you get to your floor. While writing a dissertation or thesis, students are encouraged to have a prepared elevator conversation to share with anyone who is willing to listen. It is called an elevator conversation because you should be able to share your thoughts within 20-30 seconds. Kinda crazy, many dissertations are 200 pages or longer. How in the world can you share those thoughts in 20 seconds? Simply put: you can’t. However, you can whet the appetite for more.

It can be annoying when you ask a PhD student what they are studying and they fumble for words because they don’t know how to describe it. The best students are passionate about the subject and have learned how to present their material concisely in 20 seconds so that people will be craving more. Now I ask, should Christians be prepared to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in 20 seconds? If so, what are the major points that you would want to share?

I often have people ask me what I am doing with my life, and I often answer it totally truthfully in 30 seconds – it looks something like this:

“I am working towards reconciling the Church; Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians. All of these major Christian groups believe in the Holy Trinity; the full humanity and divinity of Christ; his actual life, death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven; and salvation through grace by faith in Jesus Christ alone. The Lord Jesus taught us to pray that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven, in heaven we are perfectly united, so I pray for this to happen on earth as well. In John 17, Jesus prays that we be one even as he and the Father are one. The ministry of reconciliation was on Jesus’ heart as well as mine.”

This is the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. He is reconciling us with himself and with each other and he is the only one who can make it happen. My identity is wrapped up in being a child of God; therefore, all of my actions flow out of that identity and I can answer questions like this without fear. My answer about my life did not concern my career or my thesis topic. I believe that the Good News of Christ is best shared with people when we are totally honest. People ask questions all the time, are you willing to answer honestly the next time? There is no reason to be afraid of people and what they will think of you. It is really hard to share your heart in 30 seconds, but it is totally doable and incredible!

If you had 30 seconds to describe what you are doing with your life, what would you say?

Advertisements

Hardest Decision of My Life

Decisions suck. And prayer often seems like such a silly thing at times. Does God listen? Does he care? Is he real? If he is so powerful, can my request change anything? Is life fatalistic, has he pre-planned everything to happen as he wills it?

I have been examining my journey with Christ, looking at specific turning points and scenarios which impacted me. It is funny how all of the bad stuff, all the junk, actually turns into a good thing. Life is hard right now, I am working 70+ hours a week (bike shop, coffee shop, graduate fellowship, graduate school, church volunteering) and sometimes I wonder why I am doing it. Sometimes I wonder if it matters. Sometimes I want to throw in the towel. Sometimes I wonder if God is real. But I know that these are all lies from Satan. I know that all of my trials will be used to mold me into a better person for the Kingdom of God and his Church.

I can recall many hard decisions in my life, and this evening as I was recounting my journey, something led me to cry (mind you, I was crying with joy, not sorrow). I was reminded of one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make. You may be wondering what that decision was: Was it my decision to follow God? No. Was it my decision to marry Sara? No. Was it my decision to go to Seminary school? No. When I was an undergrad, I was accepted into a combined BA/MA Mathematics program and I was overjoyed to have been accepted into the program. I was going to earn my MA in Math at age 21. I was hoping to someday earn a PhD in Math and attempt to earn a Fields Medal in Topology. I became a follower of Jesus Christ in college and realized that I was pursuing Math in a completely prideful manner. The hardest decision I ever made was to drop out of the Math program. The hardest decision I ever had to made was giving up that which I wanted with all my might. At that moment, I realized that everything I held dear was a complete pile of crap, it amounted to absolutely nothing. At that moment, I knew that I wanted to give my all to the Lord, but it was so hard to turn away from the very thing which I loved.

Do I regret this decision? No. I am free. I am free to love God. I am free to love people. I am free to no longer be enslaved to my pride. Yes, I still struggle with issues of pride, but it is not nearly as evil. I truly want to encourage unity and charity among the people of God. I want to see reconciliation of the Church. Everything I do is so that we can be One. At times my pride gets in the way, but God quickens me to repent.

How did I go from talking about prayer to this? Well, I asked God to humble me. And he did. Not in the way I expected. God literally tells all of heaven to stop what they are doing when he is listening to our prayers. All of the heavenly hosts stop what they are doing to hear the prayers of the saints. Our prayers matter. He listens to us. We matter to him.

O Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us. O Lord, cleanse us from our sins. O Master, pardon our transgressions. O Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities, for Thy name’s sake. Lord have mercy. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

I hope that my ramblings bring some sort of hope to you, please let me know your feelings in response to this.

Mothers of the Church

To be a Mother of the Church does not necessitate being a “Mother,” in fact, very few women in this list ever had children, most remained virgins for God throughout their lives. A Mother of the Church is a woman who has displayed the love of God and helped further his kingdom on earth. Three of the women in this list are “Doctors of the Church.” To be a doctor of the Church, one must have contributed a significant piece of doctrine, theology, or spirituality to the Church and be recognized by the Pope or an ecumenical council. This list of women is very brief; I simply want to give honor to these ladies and would love to hear your thoughts regarding them. Do any of these Mothers stand out in particular to you? Who would you add to this list?

Saint Macrina the Younger. She was the sister of Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Peter of Sebaste. This was an amazing family! She helped contribute to her brothers’ spirituality immensely. Gregory portrayed her as the ideal Christian philosopher and teacher, he even said her philosophy was further advanced than that of Socrates! She is the virgin philosopher par excellence. She was a disciple of Gregory Thaumaturgus, of whom I have also written about in previous entries.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. (Mother Teresa, 26 August 1910 – 5 September 1997). She founded Missionaries of Charity and ministered to the poor, sick, dying, orphaned, and widowed for over 45 years. She felt the call to leave her convent in 1946, “I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith.” All of us today are indebted to her humanitarian work and she inspired many to follow her footsteps.

Saint Monica. (ca. 331-387) She was the mother of Saint Augustine of Hippo (Doctor of the Church). Augustine wrote extensively about his mother, speaking highly of her life in Confessions. (Wonderful book, you should read it if you have not!). Augustine humbly recalls that the tears his mother shed for his spiritual birth far outweighed the tears she shed for his physical birth (Monica’s faithfulness reminds me of my mother, Karen, to whom I am forever grateful). Had Monica not been a faithful servant of Christ, her son would not have been there to help unite the Church inNorth Africa and inspire millions of believers in later generations.

Saint Joan of Arc (ca. 1412 – 30 May 1431). Beginning life as a peasant girl, she had visions and dreams and helped leadFrance to victory many battles during the Hundred Year’s War. For various reasons, she was led to an inquisitional tribunal. One question asked her was “if she knew she was in God’s grace, she answered: ‘If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.” Had she said “yes” she would have convicted herself of heresy – for no one can know this for certain; had she said “no” she would have confessed her own guilt. The inquisitors were speechless. Days later they burned her at the stake for wearing men’s clothing when asked not to – they gave her no choice though, for they took away her maiden clothing and only gave her men’s clothing while imprisoned. They burned the 19 year old virgin of Christ at the stake, and then two more times for good measure so her bones could not be collected as relics. Thankfully, the Catholic Church later repented of this act, calling her a martyr and Saint in 1920. Her last words were “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!!!”

Mary, the Blessed Virgin and Theotokos. As a young Jewish girl, she was called to give birth to God the Word. The Catholic and Orthodox Church believe her to have remained the Ever Virgin Mary – so did Protestant Reformers; that view has only changed in the last 200 years or so. Nonetheless, she is ever blessed, most pure, and the Mother of our God. Without defilement she gave birth to God the Word.

Saint Catherine of Siena. Doctor of Unity (25 March 1347 – 29 April 1380) In 1376, she helped bring the papacy of Gregory XI back to Rome from its displacement in Avignon. “In 1378, the Great Schism began, splitting the allegiance of Christendom between two, then three, popes and putting even saints on opposing sides. Catherine spent the last two years of her life in Rome, in prayer and pleading on behalf of the cause of Urban VI and the unity of the Church. She offered herself as a victim for the Church in its agony. Just as the Spirit gave new life to the infant Church on Pentecost, Catherine sought to bring a spirit of reconciliation to the divisions of her time.” Saint Catherine is one of the blessed 82 persons known to have carried the stigmata ad she was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1970.

Saint Teresa of Ávila. Doctor of Prayer (March 28, 1515 – October 4, 1582) At age 7 she ran away from home hoping to become a martyr for Christ, her uncle stopped her. Her life was one of Christian mysticism; she was a theologian of the contemplative life through mental prayer. She was also a prolific writer during the Counter Reformation. Yes, the Catholics actually fixed the problems which the Protestant Reformers noticed and Saint Teresa helped in this effort. During the last three years of her life, Teresa founded 17 convents. Her last words were, “My Lord, it is time to move on. Well then, may your will be done. O my Lord and my Spouse, the hour that I have longed for has come. It is time to meet one another.” She was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1970.

Saint Thérèse of LisieuxDoctor of Confidence and Missionaries (2 January 1873 – 30 September 1897) She is also known as “The Little Flower of Jesus,” one only need look at her picture to see why. She took vows and never set foot outside her Carmelite cloister after the age of seventeen. In her simplicity, she went to the essence of Christianity: God is love, suffering love, and all he asks of us is that, moment by moment, staccato second by staccato second, we purposefully open our hearts to his action within us. Her Little Way, with its radical insistence upon childlikeness and absolute love, constitutes an original and profound elaboration of gospel principles. More than 2500 churches worldwide are named in her honor. Thérèse was the most beloved patroness of the French troops in the trenches of World War I, and was declared the patroness of France, the eldest daughter of the Church, coequal with St. Joan of Arc. Therese of Lisieux is one of the patron saints of the missions, not because she ever went anywhere, but because of her special love of the missions, and the prayers and letters she gave in support of missionaries. This is reminder to all of us who feel we can do nothing, that it is the little things that keep God’s kingdom growing. She was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1997.

Saint Cecilia. On her wedding day to Valerian, she sang in her heart to the Lord and she knew she was to remain a virgin; her husband consented to this request. During the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (ca. 161-180), there were persecutions and Cecilia was number among the martyrs. Officials attempted to smother her with steam, she did not die. Then they proceeded to try and cut off her head, she did not die. While she lay, she in blood she was singing praises to God. She refused to die until she received Holy Communion. She is celebrated in allMajorChristianChurcheson November 22 and is one of seven women, excluding the Theotokos, commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass. She is the patron saint of Musicians and Church Music. Saint Cecilia reminds me of my wife, in that she sings in her heart constantly.

I would love to also mention by name the following: Saint Olympias, Saint Melania the Elder, Saint Marcella, Saint Paula, Saint Felicitas, Saint Perpetua, Saint Agatha, Saint Lucy, Saint Agnes, Saint Brigid of Ireland and Saint Anastasia. These ladies and many others truly are the Mothers of the Church. How blessed we are to have had all of them live their lives in full devotion to the Triune God! Who would you add to this list? Please let me know and share your thoughts as to why.

A Declaration of Faith

St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (ca. 213-270, also known as Gregory of Neocaesarea, Gregory of Pontus, Gregory the Wonderworker, or simply The Wonder Worker) is memorialized on November 17. When he become Bishop of Caesarea, there were only 17 Christians. When we died, there were only 17 pagans left in that region. As his name states; there were many Wonder Workings done by the Spirit through Gregory. Saint Gregory of Nyssa said that Gregory of Thaumaturgus was the first person known to receive a vision of the Theotokos (Mary, the Mother of God). In that vision, the Theotokos and the Apostle John gave him a statement of doctrine on the Trinity. That statement is here re-told:

There is One God, the Father of the living Word, who is His subsistent Wisdom and power and Eternal image: perfect Begetter of the perfect Begotten, Father of the only-begotten Son.

The is One Lord, Only of the Only, God of God, Image and Likeness of the Deity, Efficient Word, Wisdom comprehensive of the constitution of all things, and power formative of the whole creation, true Son of true Father, Invisible of Invisible, and Incorruptible of Incorruptible, and Immortal of Immortal and Eternal of Eternal.

And there is One Holy Spirit, having His subsistence from God, and being made manifest by the Son, to wit to men: Image of the Son, Perfect Image of the Perfect Life, the cause of the living; Holy Fount; Sanctity, the Supplier, or Leader, of Sanctification; in whom is manifested God the Father, who is above all and in all, and God the Son, who is through all.

There is a perfect Trinity, in glory and eternity and sovereignty, neither divided nor estranged. Wherefore there is nothing either created or in servitude in the Trinity; nor anything superinduced, as if at some former period it was non-existent, and at some later period it was introduced. And thus neither was the Son ever wanting to the Father, nor the Spirit to the Son; but without variation and without change, the same Trinity abides ever. 

 

St Augustine on Sustainability

Did you know that Saint Augustine was into sustainability? He was green before it was in style.

“…Grow green again, grow grain again, grow ripe again…”

St Augustine of Hippo (ca. November 13, 354 – August 28, 430) did everything he could to maintain a reconciled and unified Church. He was constantly urging Christians to follow the One True Catholic and Apostolic Church. Part of his teachings which I find most encouraging are centered around, what do we do with “bad members” in our Churches? The following is an excerpt from Sermon 223:

Don’t be surprised, either, at how many bad Christians there are, who fill the church, who communicate at the altar, who loudly praise the bishop or priest when he preaches about good morals…They can be with us in the Church of this time; but in that Church which will come into being after the resurrection, they will be unable to be gathered in with the saints.

The Church of this time, you see, is compared to a threshing-floor, having on it grain mixed with chaff, having bad members mixed with good; after the judgment it will have all good members, without any bad ones….as the gospel states, “He will have a winnowing fan in his hand, and will cleanse his threshing-floor; and he will gather his wheat together into the granary, while the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3.17).

You older faithful, you listen to what I am saying. Any of you who are grain, rejoice with trembling, and stay where you are, and don’t leave the threshing-floor. Don’t attempt on your own judgment, to shake yourselves free, as it were, from the chaff; because if you separate yourself from the chaff, you won’t be able to stay on the threshing-floor. And when that one comes who distinguishes infallibly between grain and chaff, he won’t carry up to the granary anything he doesn’t find on the threshing-floor. So it will be no good at that time for grains to boast about the ears of wheat they came from, if they have left the threshing-floor. That granary will be filled and closed. Anything left outside will be gutted by fire.

So then, dearly beloved, if you are good, you must put up with the bad; if you are bad, you must imitate the good. The fact is, on this threshing-floor grains can degenerate into chaff, and again grains can be resurrected from chaff. This sort of thing happens everyday, my dear brothers and sisters; this life is full of both painful and pleasant surprises. Every day people who seemed to be good fall away and perish; and again, ones who seemed to be bad are converted and live. “God, you see, does not desire the death of the wicked, but only that they may turn back and live” (Ezekiel 18.23).

Listen to me, grains; listen to me, those of you who are what I desire you to be. Don’t let the mixture of husks depress you; they won’t be with you forever. How much, anyway, is the pile of husks that is covering us? Thank God, it’s very light. We only have to be grains, and however big it is, it won’t crush us. “God, after all, is faithful, and he will not permit us to be tempted or tried beyond our capacity, but with the trial will also provide a way out, so that we can endure” (1 Corinthians 10.13).

Let the husks listen to me too; wherever they are, let them listen. I hope there aren’t any here; but let me address them all the same, in case there are perhaps some here. So listen to me, you husks; though if you do listen, you won’t be husks anymore. So listen. Let God’s patience stand you in good stead. Let your association with the grains, and their advice and admonitions, make you too into grains. You are not denied the showers of God’s word; don’t let God’s field in you be barren. So, grow green again, grow grain again, grow ripe again. The one who sowed you, after all, wished to find full ears of corn, not empty husks.

I thank the Lord for Saint Augustine, he has helped propel so many followers of Christ forward in their journey along The Way. I pray as he did, that the Church would be unified, reconciled, and welcoming. As I said earlier, Augustine was truly into sustainability: he did not want to throw people away, and he saw that God is able to renew them in a better re-creation. I hope these words give you encouragement. I would love to hear any and all thoughts. Happy Birthday, St Augustine!

Mary, the Mother of God

If you are a member of a modern evangelical church, you may have never heard Mary being called “the Mother of God.” You will hear that she was the mother of Jesus, but you will rarely, if ever hear that she is the Mother of God. However, if you attend Catholic or Eastern Orthodox services, you will often heart the term “Theotokos” or “Mother of God” or “Bearer of God.” Why is Mary called the Mother of God?

Not all, but some of my evangelical friends become uneasy when I refer to Mary as the Mother of God, they will back up and say, “whoa, I am fine with calling her the Mother of Jesus or the Mother of Christ, but don’t call her the Mother of God.” Is this an appropriate response?

The Council of Chalcedon in 451 addressed this exact same scenario. In the final wording of the Council, it refers to Mary as the Theotokos (Mother of God). But why? The main thrust of the Council was concerning the dual natures of Christ. Exactly. Giving Mary the title of Mother of God, does give her honor; afterall she will be known as blessed throughout all generations. But more importantly, giving Mary the title of Theotokos drives home the point that Jesus is fully divine and fully human. Theotokos is primarily a Christological term, it is not to be used for Mary apart from Jesus. It does not refer to Mary giving birth to the essence of the eternal and everlasting Triune God, that would be utterly detestable. It refers to the fact that it was truly God, who truly became a real man through a physical birth, and the Virgin Mary was the blessed servant of God who helped make this come to be.

It is truly meet to bless you, O Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim. Without defilement you gave birth to God the Word: true Theotokos, we magnify you!

Praying with St Leo the Great

[Pope St. Leo the Great (ca. 391 – November 10, 461) helped identify Christ as One Divine person with two complete natures, human and divine; one of his letters, Leo’s Tome, was strongly influential at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. He also met Attila the Hun in 452 and helped ward off his invasion of Italy. And he officially became recognized as a Doctor of the Church in 1754. The Church is truly indebted to this servant of God]

This is listed as Sermon 1 and was preached on the day of Ordination. This is very much a prayer and an encouragement to the church to pray.

Let my mouth speak the praise of the Lord, and my breath and spirit, my flesh and tongue bless His holy Name. For it is a sign, not of a modest, but an ungrateful mind, to keep silence on the kindnesses of God: and it is very meet to begin our duty as consecrated pontiff with the sacrifices of the Lord’s praise. Because in our humility the Lord has been mindful of us and has blessed us: because He alone has done great wonders for me, so that your holy affection for me reckoned me present, though my long journey had forced me to be absent. Therefore I give and always shall give thanks to our God for all the things with which He has recompensed me. Your favorable opinion also I acknowledge publicly, paying you the thanks I owe, and thus showing that I understand how much respect, love and fidelity your affectionate zeal could expend on me who long with a shepherd’s anxiety for the safety of your souls, who have passed so conscientious a judgment on me, with absolutely no deserts of mine to guide you.

I entreat you, therefore, by the mercies of the Lord, aid with your prayers him whom you have sought out by your solicitations that both the Spirit of grace may abide in me and that your judgment may not change. May He who inspired you with such unanimity of purpose, vouch safe to us all in common the blessing of peace: so that all the days of my life being ready for the service of Almighty God, and for my duties towards you, I may with confidence entreat the Lord: Holy Father, keep in Your name those whom You have given me (John 17:11): and while you ever go on unto salvation, may my soul magnify the Lord (Luke 1:46), and in the retribution of the judgment to come may the account of my priesthood so be rendered to the just Judge that through your good deeds you may be my joy and my crown, who by your good will have given an earnest testimony to me in this present life.

By the grace of God, may our Church leaders have this heart of humility and may we pray this way for the them.

The Nature of Christ

[The fourth ecumenical council, the Council of Chalcedon, was held from 8 October to 1 November, 451 AD. Two saints (among hundreds) must be given special thanks for helping bring about the results which the church held to: Cyril of Alexandria and Pope Leo the Great. I will write more about both of these men in the next week. From this council comes perhaps the single most important Patristic statement about Christ]

We confess one and the same Son, who is our Lord Jesus Christ, and we all agree in teaching that this very same Son is complete in his deity and complete — the very same — in his humanity, truly God and truly a human being, this very same one being composed of a rational soul and a body, coessential with the Father as to his deity and coessential with us — the very same one — as to his humanity, being like us in every respect apart from sin. As to his deity, he was born from the Father before the ages, but as to his humanity, the very same one, was born in the last days from the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, for our sake and the sake of our salvation: one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only Begotten, acknowledged to be unconfusedly, unalterably, undividedly, inseparably in two natures, since the difference of the natures is not destroyed because of the union, but on the contrary, the character of each nature is preserved and comes together in one person and one hypostasis, not divided or torn into two persons but one and the same Son and only-begotten God, Logos, Lord Jesus Christ — just as in earlier times the prophets and also the Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us about him, and the symbol of our Fathers transmitted to us.