Sunday, December 26, 2010

Just finished a mildly depressing WWII/Holocaust sort of novel (Heidegger's Glasses), directly after (finally) finishing "The Foolishness of God" (Siegbert Becker) a book about the place of reason in the Theology of Martin Luther (fyi, it's not a very high place, he called reason a whore). Both have the brain swimming in an existential stew...nooooo, stew's too substantial, more like a thin soup where infrequent encounters with puzzling cubes of potato leave one with a sense of the nostalgia that accompanies impermanence.

Or something like that.

So now I'm dosing with Shaeffer's "The God Who is There". The Heidegger's Glasses had an achingly sad and unresolved love-story thread in it that made it necessary to call Brandy and tell her how very much I love her. I just finished Philippians on a work break and now out to check buildings in the dripping shadows of the witching hours.

In reaction to which I hold tight to the rifle of Phil. 4:6,7.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Got to teach at Ruslan's Ukranian/Russian youth service again. They call the church "Skinnia" church, which sounded funny to me so I looked it up. Apparently it means "tent", like a stretched skin tent. Neat name if you think about it, it has a very "Sojourner and traveler in this world" feeling to it.

This time I taught from Hebrews 11:1 on Faith. That verse reads as follows:

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

I confess that this verse has historically been one of those "Abide in the Vine" kind of verses for me. By that I mean one of those passages of scripture that have striking language but obscure metaphors, and which tend to be recited to a far greater degree than they are understood. And then when some people take it upon themselves to crack the nut they reveal more nuttiness than truth. One of my disturbing associations with this verse was a conversation I had with an individual who'd just read through Hebrews, and in the course of an overlong conversation fixed me with what was meant to be a profound and mystical gaze and proclaimed: "You know what faith is? a substance!" (from the context of the conversation I believe he meant that it's a substance in the same sense as mayonnaise, but on a grander scale)

Teaching is a high pressure thing. It's not like normal public speaking where as long as you've amused people you feel that it wasn't a complete failure. Teaching God's word to people is like operating the big red nuke button when the world's watching you - you feel very motivated to NOT screw up, to make sure you're handling it rightly.

So my discomfort with this verse had to go. I did my word studies and true to my training read through the scripture itself over and over again trying to understand the wording. When I was done, I remembered what I'd read in a book that said you should be able to distill your message into a sentence. So what I distilled was as follows:

"Faith is the perceptive faculty of the heart as sight is to the eye, activated by the Word of Christ, by which we perceive invisible realities, either past, future, or unseen."

I was surprised that it came out so clearly, and thankful. I know it's not nearly all that the verse means or what can be gotten out of it, but as far as the question of a "definition" of Scriptural faith I was happy with it. But just to make sure I wasn't radically misinterpreting the verse, I looked at what some other guys had to say. Tozer said it's misleading to try and use the verse as a definition, but he ended up describing it as something akin to what I'd written. Then I checked out Andrew Murray's commentary on Hebrews, which is titled "The Holiest of All". He said, in reference to Hebrews 11:1

"Faith is the spiritual faculty of the soul which deals with the spiritual realities of the future and the unseen. Just as we have our senses, through which we hold communication with the physical universe, so faith is the spiritual sense or organ through which the soul comes into contact with and is affected by the spiritual world."

So, I think I like how Andrew Murray worded it a little bit better, but I was excited when I read it to have evidence in the similarities that "No prophecy is of any private interpretation", and that God speaks the same word to His people even if they're separated by time and space.

After the service, Ruslan invited me to his house for tea. It was about 10:30 pm, but I didn't have to be anywhere the next morning so I took him up on it. He explained to me that about 12 people (all family) live in their house. As we went in only two sisters and one brother were awake and present, and they already had the hot water on and more goodies than I could eat in a week on the table. I was surprised as they got the tea things out and set everything else up, and asked if they do this often. Ruslan's sister explained that as they rarely see one another since they all work or go to school, they do this as a time to get together. They all watched me curiously as I poured milk in my tea and asked me how that tasted. (Apparently Ukranians don't put milk in tea). Ruslan tried it and pronounced a favorable verdict. So we all sat around and chatted til about 11:30, when Ruslan's parents came in and his mom insisted I eat a second dinner. So I proceeded to eat a big bowl of homemade borscht and explain that no, I am not Ukranian, I go to school with Ruslan, yes, I am a christian...etc... They were really neat and hospitable people, and told me next time I should bring my wife and kids. Then Ruslan showed me his book collection and told his little brother he'd have to wait til tomorrow for help with his biology, and I thanked them for the wonderful tea and left, since by that time it was after midnight.

Monday, December 13, 2010

I may be inviting a burning at the stake, but here's a blog post I did for school in response to reading Augustine's account of his mother's death.


" brother said something to the effect that he wished for her sake that she would die in her own country, not abroad. When she heard this, she looked at him anxiously and her eyes reproached him for his worldly thoughts. She turned to me and she said, "see how he talks", and then, speaking to both of us, she went on, "It doesn't matter where you bury my body. Do not let that worry you! All I ask of you is that, wherever you may be, you should remember me at the altar of the Lord.""-Augustine

Monica's death, like her life, was one of no-nonsense faith. She spent her entire life living in a way that would leave most people of modern-day America shaking their heads at what they'd most likely see as her crazy fundamentalism and naïveté (i.e. living with an unfaithful and bad-tempered man, persevering through initial mother-in-law problems, praying fervently for her children). According to Augustine, she went to her death full of confidence in her bodily resurrection, of God's power to find and restore her, and of her immediate presence with the Lord after death. She felt that her mission on earth, the salvation of her husband and children, was complete, and she had no reason to be detained her longer. No dreams of "self-realization", no pangs of regret for not having traveled the empire or not having any romances once her husband passed - she wanted to be "with the Lord". The only request she seemed to have was that her children would pray for her. Augustine ends book nine with the hope that those who read his Confessions would join him in praying for his mother (and father).

That's where my question is. Did you pray for Monica? Do you ever pray for those who are presently 'with the Lord'? Years ago I never would have dreamed of praying for anyone who'd died. I would have thought it was on the verge of sin, 'cause "It is given to man to die once, and then the judgement" - so what would be the point of praying for a dead person? That book's done been closed, right? Since then I'm not so sure. I still believe that when we're dead we're dead, there's no purgatory to make amends for past wrongs through indulgences of friends on earth or anything like that. I do, however, think that I have no problem praying for people presently on the earth, that God would remember their good rather than their bad, and have mercy on them and forgive their sins; so I ask myself, why not pray these things for those who are with the Lord? They're still alive, they're not outside of God's action, they've not yet been resurrected or received the full 'reward for the deeds done in the body' that comes at the final judgement, so It can't hurt to let our common Father know how much we've been blessed by their lives and ask God to remember them for good. I've prayed for dead believers before, guys who've blessed me by their writings but whom I've never had the chance of meeting, like John Wesley, Justin Martyr, Richard Baxter, Francis Schaeffer - so why not Monica? I've been very blessed by her son's writings, which are in large part thanks to what the Lord did through her. Why not let our God hear it from me, and ask Him to remember her for good in accordance with her & Augustine's wishes?

Saturday, December 04, 2010

rarely notice that I'm breathing
but I'm breathing anyhow
I rarely notice that you're with me
You're still with me, even now.

The sky is blue behind the grey clouds
I swear it's blue, though I can't see
and while the rain brings down its gray emotions
I swear you're clear as skies inside of me