Greetings from the southwest corner of Wyoming

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

CrossTalk: Voice of the Martyrs

Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body. Hebrews 13:3. 

Martyrdom, for most of us, is a thing of the distant past. We think about Christians who lived during the first three hundred years after Christ's resurrection and stood in the Colosseum before hungry lions. But we don't think about martyrdom as an ongoing reality in the modern world. Likewise, persecution, if it is thought about at all, conjures up images of Christians being teased or ridiculed for their faith and morals. The kind of persecution that destroys churches and Christian homes without any protection from the government and which forces us to flee for our lives because of our Christian faith seems like a far-away nightmare.

Still, right now, there are millions of Christians all around the world who worship Jesus Christ in the face of severe persecution. Every year there are many are killed for their confession or driven from their homes in search of a safe place to worship the One who gives life to the world.

The more we know of their stories, the more we are lifted out of our petty concerns and enabled to see life in much bolder and meaningful terms. When we are tempted to soft-petal our witness to Jesus out of fear that we might be laughed at by fellow students or co-workers, it is an inspiration to know that Christians around the world are still willing to suffer even death in the confession that Jesus is the only God, our Savior. When we allow minor inconveniences to interfere with Sunday morning worship, we are put to shame by those who risk death in order to be with the Risen Lord (Matthew 18:20).

Over time, the word, martyr, acquired the meaning “one who is killed for the faith.” But in it's original sense, it simply means, “one who gives witness.” That is exactly what the modern martyrs do. They point us to the Risen Lord.

But this witness benefits only those who hear it. Until and unless you know their stories, their lives of witness are like a tree falling in the forest – and there are more falling trees than you have ever heard about.

The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) is a non-profit inter-denominational Christian organization that is dedicated to giving a voice to those whose voices have been silenced by persecution and death. VOM was founded in 1967 by Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, who was imprisoned 14 years in Communist Romania for his faith in Christ. After he and his family were ransomed, he came to the United States and established VOM which is dedicated to assisting the persecuted church.

This week Evanston has a unique opportunity to hear one of these voices. In 1997, Mujahid el Masih was forced to leave his childhood home because of his conversion to Christianity. On Tuesday night he will be at the Lutheran Church in Fort Bridger and on Wednesday evening at the Evangelical-Free Church in Rock Springs.

All of Evanston is invited to hear him on Thursday, March 31 at 7:00 p.m. It is hoped that his story will strengthen your own commitment to the Christian faith and life. At this presentation, you can both be encouraged and encourage in return. Receive from Pastor Masih the witness of how the Living Christ is at work in places which are normally out of sight and out of mind. Learn from him what Christians in Evanston can do to help, love and encourage brothers and sisters in Christ who do not have the resources and freedoms that you enjoy.  This exchange of gifts between Christians of widely different situations is the mission of VOM. For more information, visit: www.persecution.com.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Jesus Found(ed) What You're Looking For

"Many Christians look for signs and miracles. But there is no more miraculous sign than what happens during Holy Communion. Many Christians look for a religious experience, but there is no experience as vivid as tasting. Evangelicals talk about receiving Christ, something that happened way back at their conversion. But in the Lord’s Supper, as we are brought back to the Gospel again and again, we can continue to receive Christ.

Contemporary Christianity tends to be all internalized — a matter of my feelings, my inner life, and my personal opinions. People look inward for their salvation, with some health-and-wealth preachers urging the members of their congregation to “have faith in yourself.” But the Reformers — Calvin as well as Luther — stressed how salvation is extra nos, outside ourselves, accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Contemporary Christians tend to be all spiritual. They often scorn the physical realm, even as they indulge their sinful flesh, reasoning like Gnostics that what they do with their bodies does not affect their spirits. They often construe God as a being primarily inside their heads, and they treat Jesus like some imaginary friend. The Reformers rejected such Gnosticism.
Recovering the Lord’s Supper can remind all Christians that their faith is grounded in objectivity, in a God who created matter and became incarnate in history, in a Christ who redeemed us by giving His body — not just His “spirit” — in a bloody sacrifice.

What we do in our bodies and in our physical, mundane lives does matter, both for sin and for grace. When we eat the bread of the Lord’s Supper, Christ nourishes us both spiritually and physically, uniting us with His body on the cross and the body that is His church. When we drink the wine, Christ’s cleansing blood courses through our veins, such is the thoroughness and the intimacy of our salvation."
Gene Vieth "showing why the Reformation emphasis on the sacrament is a bracing tonic against today’s highly-internalized pop-Christianity." - Tabletalk Magazine

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Anunciation of Our Lord - The True 'Earth Day'

About 100 years after the death of the St. John, Tertullian of Carthage set about to calculate the month and day of Jesus' death. Using all the information available to him at the time, he settled on Friday, March 25, Anno Domini 29.

Whether his calculations were precisely correct or just nearly so, this date has become much more important than an early-third century attempt to date the crucifixion. It has become the cornerstone of the entire Christian calendar.

First of all, following rabbinic tradition that a prophet always dies on the date of his conception, early Christians considered that Jesus, The Prophet (Deuteronomy 18), also followed this pattern. Thus the date of Jesus' crucifixion was also understood to be the date of Jesus conception.

What a beautiful symmetry! The Savior of the world was first planted in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Then, on the very same day, the Savior of the world was planted in the womb (tomb) of the earth to await His resurrection on the Third Day.

Since we all know that human gestation is nine months, this March 25th dating of Jesus conception and burial led naturally to the church's celebration of Christmas on the 25th of December. (You can safely discard all those rumors about Christmas being nothing but a converted pagan holiday.)

Finally, since the Scriptures tell us that Jesus was conceived in the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy (Luke 1:36), June 24th is also established as the Nativity of John the Baptist by Tertullian's early-third century calculations.

But that's not all... One final date is said to coincide with March 25 -- and that is the earliest possible date of all! March 25 is also considered by many of the early church fathers to be the date when Adam was formed from the dust of the ground.
 
So, from one calculation we have:
  • The Nativity of Our Lord (December 25)
  • The Nativity of John the Baptist (June 24)
  • The Crucifixion, Conception and Annunciation of Jesus -- and the Creation of Adam (March 25)
Given the lack of biblical evidence for these coincidences, they are best understood as a result of deep theological reflection. The first Adam was formed from the dust of the ground and now the second Adam likewise becomes dust in the womb of the Virgin. As the Psalmist says, "Truth shall spring out of the earth..." (Psalm 85:10). And, of course, Jesus is "the Truth" (John 14:6).

Today is a day to reflect more deeply on the importance of Jesus' incarnation. And as we reflect on the incarnation, do not fail to note that Adam was created from the dust of the earth in order to have Dominion over the earth. Accordingly, God's assumption into flesh was simultaneously God's assumption of dust itself. And God's redemption of humanity is also God's redemption of His entire creation. As St. Paul said, "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now" (Romans 8:22).

Today ecology has become the new religion. And it's central tenet is that humans are the scourge of the earth. By this way of thinking, the planet will only be saved by minimizing man's foot-print on the planet. This neopagan religion brings with it birth control, abortion, euthanasia and a calloused disregard for human life in all kinds of situations.

But this new religion runs directly counter to Jesus. In Him we find that the planet's salvation depends entirely upon this Man who is the Incarnate God. Salvation does not come by minimizing His impact on the world but by maximizing it -- just as originally, creation was not lessened by the creation of Adam. Rather, the work of God was not deemed "VERY good" until the creation of Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:31). Nor is Jesus' impact on the world is now relegated to some "spiritualized"  realm; but He is still available in His flesh and blood in His Church on earth -- where men and women are baptized into His Body and where His Body and Blood are given and received.


One of my favorite pieces of art is a 12th century mosaic in the apse of the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome. In its center, the cross of Jesus is thrust into the ground like a sword and at the place where it pierces the earth, shoots forth a vine of wild and uncontainable growth. The New Creation spurts forth where Jesus is planted in the earth.

The sin of the first Adam caused the ground itself to be cursed (Genesis 3:17). Again, Cain's murder of His brother meant that he would be "cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood" (Genesis 4:11). The incarnation of God as a Man from the dust of the ground sets about to restore the ground itself to its original fertility. And the blood of the second Adam renews not only all of mankind, but the very earth itself which drinks it in!

Thus, March 25th is the Christian Earth Day.
  • On it we do not celebrate the earth goddess, Gaea; but we celebrate the Virgin Mother, Mary.
  • We do not seek ways of lessening the impact that man has upon the environment. We, rather, rejoice that Christ's redemption of mankind is, itself, the repair of the environment.
  • We do not solve problems by destroying human beings conceived by God, but we rejoice that by Jesus' own conception, He has made conception and childbearing salutary (1 Timothy 2:15).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick at Tara

It was on 26 March, Easter Sunday, in 433, that the eventful assembly was to meet at Tara, and the decree went forth that from the preceding day the fires throughout the kingdom should be extinguished until the signal blaze was kindled at the royal mansion. The chiefs and Brehons came in full numbers and the druids too would muster all their strength to bid defiance to the herald of good tidings and to secure the hold of their superstition on the Celtic race, for their demoniac oracles had announced that the messenger of Christ had come to Erin.

St Patrick arrived at the hill of Slane, at the opposite extremity of the valley from Tara, on Easter Eve, in that year the feast of the Annunciation, and on the summit of the hill kindled the Paschal fire.

The druids at once raised their voice. "O King", (they said) "live for ever; this fire, which has been lighted in defiance of the royal edict, will blaze for ever in this land unless it be this very night extinguished." By order of the king and the agency of the druids, repeated attempts were made to extinguish the blessed fire and to punish with death the intruder who had disobeyed the royal command.

But the fire was not extinguished and Patrick shielded by the Divine power came unscathed from their snares and assaults. On Easter Day the missionary band having at their head the youth Benignus bearing aloft a copy of the Gospels, and followed by St Patrick who with mitre and crozier was arrayed in full episcopal attire, proceeded in processional order to Tara...

On that bright Easter Day, the triumph the Triune God i Hibernia was complete. The Ard-Righ granted permission to Patrick to preach the Faith throughout the length and breadth of Erin, and the druidical prophecy like the words of Balaam of old were fulfilled: the sacred fire now kindled by the saint would never be extinguished.

The beautiful prayer of St Patrick, popularly known as "St Patrick's Breast-Plate", is supposed to have been composed by him in preparation for this victory over Paganism. The following is a literal translation from the old Irish text:

I bind to myself today The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity: I believe the Trinity in the Unity The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism, The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial, The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension, The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.

I bind to myself today The virtue of the love of seraphim, In the obedience of angels, In the hope of resurrection unto reward, In prayers of Patriarchs, In predictions of Prophets, In preaching of Apostles, In faith of Confessors, In purity of holy Virgins, In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today The power of Heaven, The light of the sun, The brightness of the moon, The splendour of fire, The flashing of lightning, The swiftness of wind, The depth of sea, The stability of earth, The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today God's Power to guide me, God's Might to uphold me, God's Wisdom to teach me, God's Eye to watch over me, God's Ear to hear me, God's Word to give me speech, God's Hand to guide me, God's Way to lie before me, God's Shield to shelter me, God's Host to secure me, Against the snares of demons, Against the seductions of vices.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Monday, March 7, 2011

Let's Pray the Litany Daily: Kyrie Eleison!

"I've long enjoyed praying the Litany. Luther did too. The prayer has an amazing longevity in the church, having found its form by the 6th century (Gregory the Great regularized it). Luther removed a few un-evangelical aspects, but retained the prayer nearly in toto, even rendering it into German and proving an original chant tone. Click HERE for a nice overview of the history of the Litany.


Left to ourselves, bereft of texts as the foundation of our prayers, we are often left praying "Dear God, give me a mini-bike," as I was wont to pray as a 12 year old - and am prone to pray even today!!!!!! Texts of the scriptures (Lord's Prayer, Ten Commandments) and scriptural texts (Creed, Litany!) lay down God's thoughts as the foundation of prayer, the tarmac if you will, from which our meditations may gently or quickly rise, aided by the Holy Spirit. The fulsome petitions of the Litany take us out of ourselves, to pray for the church, pastors and teachers, our enemies, women with children, the poor, the imprisoned and much much more. And all for mercy, growing out of the great petitions of the blind, the lame and the ill who comes to Jesus in the New Testament, "Lord have mercy!" "Kyrie eleison!" The Lord loves to have mercy. The Lord came to have mercy. The Lord continues to have mercy.

You'll find the litany in any standard Lutheran hymnal worth it's salt. Pray it daily with me for Lent won't you?

Pastor Matthew Harrison"

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

'Another Dark Day'

Pakistan - A Leading Christian and Advocate for religious freedom in Pakistan is gunned down.
A pastor (not named for security reasons) said, “Bhatti has paid the ultimate price for his boldness to stand for the truth and for the good of common people.” News of the assassination, he said, “has sent shock waves of fear through the Christian community in the country.”