Thursday, October 30, 2008

Vote For Life

For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed... (Psalm 138/139: 13-16)

Warning: It is almost certain that this post is going to offend at least one or two of you who read this. I ask your forgiveness in advance. The views expressed in this post are not necessarily those of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese or of St. Joseph Antiochian Orthodox Church. They are merely the opinions of the unworthy priest James Early.

I have long debated whether or not to delve into the realm of politics in this blog. As those of you who are long-time readers know, the primary purpose of this blog is to provide devotional reflections from the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers, to help you on your path to salvation. So, other than a few small jabs here and there, I have avoided discussing politics. But I cannot keep silence any more.

There is little doubt that the Bush administration has, for the most part, been an overwhelming failure in many, if not most areas. But there is one area in which Bush has done an outstanding job: in halting the advance of the "culture of death" (to use the late Pope John Paul II's phrase). Among other things, he has forbidden federal funding for embyonic stem cell research and for abortions. He has also appointed two strongly pro-life Supreme Court Justices.

At the same time, he has alienated fiscal conservatives by presiding over an enormous increase in federal spending, which has in turn led to the balooning of the federal budget deficit to staggering levels. During his last term, the U.S. economy has lapsed into a near-recession (although I question just how much impact a U. S. president has over something as complex as the U. S. economy). His foreign policy seems to have made more enemies for the U. S. and damaged relationships with many of our friends.

Because of this, many people who voted for Bush once or twice have decided to try dancing with a different partner. They are going to try their lot with Obama and the Democrats. It seems very likely that come January, the Democrats are going to not only control the White House, but also both houses of Congress (very possibly with a filibuster-proof majority). In short, the country is about to take a hard left turn. Government spending will increase even more than it did under Bush, as will taxes and (in all likelihood) the federal deficit.

I am an economic conservative. I believe that taxes should be low. People should be able to keep the overwhelming majority of what they earn, whether they earn $20,000 a year or $20 million. I also believe in small government, and no deficit spending.

But I believe even more firmly in the pro-life cause. I would be willing to accept a more socialistic government if only the travesty called Roe v Wade were overturned (yes, I know that more needs to be done for those with crisis pregnacies, but nevertheless, abortion is murder, simple and plain, and no form of murder should be legal), if embryonic stem cell research were ended, and if the newborn, the disabled and the elderly were protected from those who would end their lives.

In short, I think that the pro-life issue is THE most important issue . You may disagree, and that's fine. But if we can't assure the protection of human life, nothing else matters. I am broken-hearted by the fact that many pro-life Christians are about to throw the unborn and other helpless people under the bus because they are mad at Bush and/or the Republicans. But I cannot, and will not EVER vote for any candidate who is "pro-choice" (to use their euphemistic term). I am not strongly loyal to either political party; what I AM loyal to is the Kingdom of God. If ever a pro-life Democrat were to run for office in a place where I could vote for him/her, I might just do it.

Barack Obama seems to be a decent human being who genuinely wants to help people. I would be delighted to have him as a neighbor, a co-worker, or even a family member. Nevertheless, he has THE MOST liberal voting record in the U. S. Senate, both on economic and social issues. He has even voted against a law that would require life-saving aid to be given to infants born alive after a botched abortion. He wants to sign a law into effect that would codify Roe v Wade as federal law. Worst of all, he would appoint Supreme Court justices who are strongly in favor of legalized abortion.

The Scriptures, the Fathers, and the Orthodox Church clearly and unequivocably teach that life begins at conception, that all life is a sacred gift of God, and that abortion is a terrible evil. Please keep that in mind when you vote this coming Tuesday.

I conclude this post with a beautiful video by the Roman Catholic church (with whom the Orthodox Church agrees 100% on abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, and most other life issues).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I Have Overcome the World (John 16:23-33)

Icon of Christ Pantocrator (Ruler of All)

23 “And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

25 “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; 27 for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God. 28 I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.”

29 His disciples said to Him, “See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech! 30 Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God.”

31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. 33 These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

I have already commented at length about the idea of asking for things in Jesus’ name (see my comments on 14:14 and 15:16), so I won’t belabor that point.

Up until now, Jesus has done most of his teaching in the form of parables and other types of figurative language. As Fr. Farley states “He cannot yet speak openly of the nature of the Kingdom. Until the Cross and Resurrection, they are in no position to understand the spiritual and hidden nature of the Kingdom. But soon they will be” (284). For after the Resurrection, their minds will be ready for the plain truth, and he will spend much of 40 days teaching them all they need to know about the Scriptures and the Kingdom of God.

After the Resurrection, the disciples will no longer need Jesus to pray for them, for they will be able to pray directly to the Father. Of course, Jesus and the Holy Spirit will intercede for them, and of course, will also receive their prayers. But they will also have access to the Father through the risen and glorified Son. Fr. Farley ties this asking in Jesus’ name specifically to their growth in knowledge of the truth. He says that Jesus will not intercede on their behalf “as if they could not ask God for truth themselves. This will then be unnecessary, for the Father himself loves them and will teach them truth” (284).

After hearing Jesus’ words about speaking to them plainly, the disciples come to the conclusion that the time for this clear knowledge has already come. They now think that they understand him completely. Once again, Fr. Farley sums up the situation perfectly:

“[Jesus] spoke about leaving the world and going to the Father, and they take this to mean Christ leaving the world in death, not seeing that He will triumph over death, not seeing that He will triumph over death and return to the Father in His resurrected body in the Ascension. The Lord promised a new day would come, in which figures and veiled speech would not be necessary…The disciples think that now this new day has come, since now (they think) they understand the Lord” (285).

The disciples’ assertion that they understand Jesus is followed by a profession of faith and loyalty to him: “We believe that You came forth from God!” But Jesus knew them better than they knew themselves. He knew that they meant well, but that their knowledge of him was still very limited and that their loyalty was very shaky. To help them to understand this and to teach them humility, he tells them that they will scatter and abandon him in his imminent time of tribulation. But even if Jesus is devoid of human company, he is not alone, for the Father is always with him. The Father will not abandon him as the disciples will.

This statement of Jesus clearly must have caused consternation among the disciples. Because of this, Jesus again speaks to them words of comfort: “In this world you will have tribulation” (i.e., suffering and hardship; the Greek word here is thlipsis, the same word used for the pain caused by childbearing in v. 21).

The last part of verse 33 is my favorite part of the chapter: “but be of good cheer (lit., “take courage”), I have overcome the world.” No matter what happens to us, no matter how much sorrow, heartache, or suffering we find ourselves in, we can take courage and be of good cheer. In spite of his great passion and suffering, Jesus triumphed; he overcame the world. And because he did, so can we. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Phil. 2:13).

Memorize these words and recall them when you suffer.

Next time: Jesus’ holy “High Priestly Prayer” (John 17)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Longhorns and The Express

This the UT pennant that I mentioned in an earlier post. Dating from 1977, it is older than some of you who are reading this!

Well, last Saturday, my Longhorns finally met their match in Oklahoma State. For the first time, they beat their opponent by less than ten (final score: 28-24). They never trailed in the game, but the game was always close. Throughout much of the game, the Cowboys seemed to score at will. Fortunately, the Longhorn defense stopped them in the end, when it counted. Next Saturday, the Horns face what will probably be their toughest test all season: the Texas Tech Red Raiders. It will be a whale of a game!

Ernie Davis, 1961 Heisman Trophy Winner

Speaking of the Longhorns, they were featured in a movie that Jennifer and I went to see this past weekend: The Express, starring Rob Brown and Dennis Quaid. Now I rarely ever go to see a movie in the theater. At most, I might go to five or six movies in a year. I am very picky about what I go to see, and even pickier about what I recommend to others.

But I do highly recommend The Express. This film tells the story of Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy, the highly prestigious annual award for the best player in college football. Davis had to overcome many obstacles, including racism. He first had to win over his teammates at Syracuse University, and then he had to deal with racism whenever his team traveled to play a game in the South. After winning the Heisman Trophy his senior year, Davis was picked by the Cleveland Browns as the #1 overall pick in the 1962 NFL draft.

SPOILER ALERT: If you don't want to hear about the end of the movie, skip this paragraph! Sadly, Davis came down with Leukemia toward the end of his senior year. As a result, he was never able to play a single down in the NFL. He died in 1963.

The strange thing about this movie, at least for me. is that my beloved Texas Longhorns are the bad guys! During Davis' senior year, Syracuse was ranked #1 heading into the bowl season, and Texas was #2. So naturally, the two teams met in the championship game, which was held that year in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Sadly, most of the UT players and fans at that time were extreme racists, and Davis took quite a beating from many of the UT players, as well as getting booed by the fans and pelted with debris throughout the game. What's more, Davis was injured at the end of the first half. But he came back into the game toward the end and led his team to victory.

It was a weird feeling for me to actually root against the Longhorns, but I had to. After all, they were the "bad guys," while Syracuse was the "good guys." But in spite of this, the movie was very inspiring and enjoyable. It tells a wonderful story of triumph in spite of your obstacles. And, even better, Davis' Christian faith is depicted as the source of his inner strength. Christianity is presented in a very positive light (how rare for Hollywood these days!). The only objectionable part of the movie is the constant gratuitous taking of God's name in vain.

If you liked Remember the Titans, Glory Road, or We Are Marshall, you'll really enjoy this fine film. I strongly recommend it. Just for fun, here's the official trailer of the film.

Monday, October 27, 2008

You Will Not See Me (John 16:16-22)

A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world (John 16:21)

16 “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.”

17 Then some of His disciples said among themselves, “What is this that He says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’?” 18 They said therefore, “What is this that He says, ‘A little while’? We do not know what He is saying.”

19 Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, “Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’? 20 Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. 21 A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.

In verse 16, Jesus once again reminds the disciples about his imminent departure, albeit in a cryptic manner. The disciples are completely confused by his assertion that they will not see him, but then they will see him again. Of course, Jesus was referring to his crucifixion and burial, after which they would not seem him (although only for a brief while) and then his resurrection, after which they would see him again and rejoice.

When he wrote this Gospel, St. John knew what the Lord meant. And we, of course, know what Jesus meant. But of course, the disciples at the time did not have the benefit of this hindsight. We must resist the temptation to sit in judgment of the disciples, thinking they are stupid and slow to learn. Speaking for myself, I am certainly even slower to learn most of the time, and I have the benefit of the Scriptures and the Church!

It is only natural that the disciples would be confused by Jesus’ constant references to his going away (let alone to his going away and coming back!). It is even more normal for them to be a little bit frightened. But again, our compassionate Lord quickly moves from speaking of his departure to giving words of encouragement. As Fr. Farley writes: “Soon enough, after His Resurrection, they will be reunited with Him. Let them be brave, and endure this brief trial!” (282).

The events to come will certainly cause the disciples to weep and lament, while the world (in this case, Jesus’ earthly opponents as well as Satan and his demonic hosts) will rejoice. But their sorrow will quickly turn into rejoicing. To further help the disciples to understand what is to happen, and to give them encouragement, Jesus uses a metaphor that all of them understood: a mother’s giving birth.

Every woman who has given birth understands this comparison deeply and in a way that no man ever can. Childbirth is a painful process (can I get an “amen,” moms?), sometimes excruciatingly so. It causes great stress on the body, often even claiming a mother’s life in the days before modern medicine. But after the baby is born, most of the time, the mother forgets her pain and rejoices over the new life that she has brought into the world. Again, Fr. Farley’s words beautifully sum up the idea:

“The final joy completely swallows up all memory of the former pain. In the case of childbirth, the pain ends in joy and new life. It will be the same here. The pain of the Cross and of their being deprived of Him will end in the joy of reunion and in the new life of the Resurrection…As in the case of childbirth, that joy will be worth the pain!” (283).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

St. James Adelphotheos

St. James the Just, Adelphotheos (Brother of God), First Bishop of Jerusalem

In honor of the anniversary of the martyrdom of my patron saint, Saint James the Just, I thought I would re-post a tribute to him (albeit slightly modified and expanded) that I wrote in March of 2007 (the original post was called "Knees Like Camels.") The post also explains the rationale behind the name of this blog. I hope that St. James' story will be a blessing to you.

First, here is the saint's story, excerpted from the OCA website:

From his early years James was a Nazarene, a man especially dedicated to God. The Nazarenes vowed to preserve their virginity, to abstain from wine, to refrain from eating meat, and not to cut their hair. The vow of the Nazarenes symbolized a life of holiness and purity, commanded formerly by the Lord for all Israel. When the Savior began to teach the nation about the Kingdom of God, St James believed in Christ and became His apostle. He was chosen as the first Bishop of Jerusalem. St James presided over the Council of Jerusalem and his word was decisive (Acts 15).

In his thirty years as bishop, St James converted many of the Jews to Christianity. Annoyed by this, the Pharisees and the Scribes plotted together to kill St James. They led the saint up on the pinnacle of the Jerusalem Temple and asked what he thought of Jesus. The holy Apostle began to bear witness that Christ is the Messiah, which was not the response the Pharisees were expecting. Greatly angered, the Jewish teachers threw him off the roof. The saint did not die immediately, but gathering his final strength, he prayed to the Lord for his enemies while they were stoning him. St James' martyrdom occurred about 63 A.D.

The holy Apostle James composed a Divine Liturgy, which formed the basis of the Liturgies of Sts Basil the Great and John Chrysostom. The Church has preserved an Epistle of St James, one of the books of the New Testament.

Now a little about my personal connection to St. James. When I was in the process of converting to Orthodoxy, I asked my priest if I could take St. James as my patron saint, and he agreed that this was a good idea. I did not choose St. James merely because my first name is James, but also because I feel that it was partly because of St. James that I came to Orthodoxy.

When my family and I were at our last mission station, in Banja Luka, Bosnia, one of the things that I did was lead a Bible study on the Acts of the Apostles. One day, the day on which we were to study the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, only one of my students, a very devout young man whom I shall call David, showed up. Of all of my Serb friends in Banja Luka, David was the one that I felt the closest to.

In Acts 15, we see the Apostles and the other leaders of the Church gathered to discuss a criticial issue which had arisen as a result of St. Paul's first missionary journey. The problem before them was, in essence: Did Gentiles converting to Christianity have to first become Jews, or could they be received directly into Christianity, without first being circumcised or submitting to the full Old Testament Law? As David and I were studying the text, we noticed that after the council discussed the issue at hand, St. James said, "Simon [i.e. St. Peter] has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree." Then, after quoting a passage from the Prophet Amos, he concludes, "Therefore, I judge that they should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood" (Acts 15:14-15,19-20).

James' words "I judge" are key here. At the Council, there was much discussion, during which at the very least Peter, Paul, and Barnabas spoke. But then all were silent, waiting for James to make a ruling. There was no vote, and after James ruled, there was no further discussion. Rather, the Scripture tells us that "it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church" (15:22) to send people out to the various churches with St. James and the council's ruling.

David's and my study of this passage occurred before I even read my first book about Orthodoxy. The "ball" of my movement toward Orthodoxy was not yet rolling (or was it?). But I remember looking at David and saying, "That sounds like something a bishop would say and do." David looked at me and said, "Yes, it sure does." David and I, happy Baptists that we were, learned on that day that the first century Church really did have bishops that made rulings, just as the Orthodox Church has always taught. This experience planted a seed in both David's and my mind, and, not surprisingly, today both of us are Orthodox. I think that maybe, just maybe, St. James was praying for David and me on that day, that we would soon come into the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I could be wrong, but it seems too coincidental otherwise.

Because of all this, I consider myself to be, in a sense, St. James' kid. And my prayer is that all of us will become St. James' kids. Of course, I do not mean that all of us must have St. James as our patron saint; rather, I mean that all of us should live with the same devotion to Christ that St. James had. My prayer is that we would all be:

People who are "swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath" (James 1:19).

People who are "doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves" (1:22).

People who " by [our] works," for "a man is justified by works and not by faith only" (2:18,24).

People who daily show "the wisdom from above" that is "pure, then peaceable, gentle, wiling to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy" (3:17).

People who "confess trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that [we] may be healed," for "the fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (5:16).

People who pray so much that we too have knees like camels'.

May our gracious Lord, through the prayers of St. James and of all the saints, grant that we may follow the example of St. James and become increasingly holy and pure, that we may bring glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Colliander On Obedience (part 2)

“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Mark 9:34).

Here is the rest of Chapter 12: "On Obedience" from Tito Colliander's marvelous book Way of the Ascetics. I have been meaning to post this ever since I read it about three weeks ago, but I haven't had the time or the energy. Interestingly, Fr. Stephen Freeman, in his outstanding blog Glory to God in All Things, has today quoted the majority of the chapter. For me this serves as affirmation of just how good this chapter is. Enjoy!

For those of you who don't have time to read the whole chapter, I'll boldface the parts that I thought were especially good.

You must remember that you have of your own free will given yourself over to slavery, and let the cross you wear around your neck be a reminder of this: through slavery you are proceeding toward true freedom. But has the slave a will of his own? He must learn to obey.

Perhaps you ask: Whom shall I obey? The saints answer: you shall obey your leaders (Hebrews 13:17). Who are my leaders, you ask? Where shall I find any, now that it is so utterly hard to discover a genuine leader? Then the holy Fathers reply: The Church has foreseen this too. Therefore since the time of the apostles it has given us a teacher who surpasses all others and who can reach us everywhere, wherever we are and under whatever circumstances we live. Whether we be in city or country, married or single, poor or rich, the teacher is always with us and we always have the opportunity to show him obedience. Do you wish to know his name? It is holy fasting.

God does not need our fasting. He does not even need our prayer. The Perfect cannot be thought of as suffering any lack or needing anything that we, the creatures of His making, could give Him. Nor does he crave anything from us, but, says John Chrysostom, He allows us to bring Him offerings for the sake of our own salvation.

The greatest offering we can present to the Lord is our self. We cannot do this without giving up our own will.
We learn to do this through obedience, and obedience we learn through practice. The best form of practice is that provided by the Church in her prescribed fast days and seasons.

Besides fasting we have other teachers to whom we can show obedience. They meet us at every step in our daily life, if only we recognize their voices. Your wife wants you to take your raincoat with you: do as she wishes, to practice obedience. Your fellow-worker asks you to walk with her a little way: go with her to practice obedience. Wordlessly the infant asks for care and companionship: do as it wishes as far as you can, and thus practice obedience. A novice in a cloister could not find more opportunity for obedience than you in your own home. And likewise at your job and in your dealings with your neighbour.

Obedience breaks down many barriers. You achieve freedom and peace as your heart practices non-resistance. You show obedience, and thorny hedges give way before you. Then love has open space in which to move about. By obedience you crush your pride, your desire to contradict, your self-wisdom and stubbornness that imprison you within a hard shell. Inside that shell you cannot meet the God of love and freedom.

Thus, make it a habit to rejoice when an opportunity for obedience offers. It is quite unnecessary to seek one, for you may easily fall into a studied servility that leads you astray into self-righteous virtue. You may depend upon it that you are sent just as many opportunities for obedience as you need, and the very kind that are most suitable for you. But if you notice that you have let an opportunity slip by, reproach yourself; you have been like a sailor who has let a favourable wind go by unused.

For the wind it was a matter of indifference whether it was used or not. But for the sailor it was a means of reaching his destination sooner. Thus you should think of obedience, and all the means that are offered us by the Holy Trinity, in that way.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Colliander On Obedience

"And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 4:8)

Tito Colliander is not exactly a household name among most Orthodox Christians. Colliander was born in 1904 in Russia. Soon after the Russian Revolution, his family emigrated to Finland. Tito grew up in a Swedish-speaking part of Finland. He became a writer of short stories and novels and enjoyed some success. As he grew older, his Orthodox faith deepened, and he soon began writing about the faith. In 1960, he published a work called Askernatas vag (Way of the Ascetics). This book, a summary of the great ascetical teachers of the Orthodox Church, soon became a much-loved and classic introduction to Orthodox Spirituality.

After hearing three different priests recommend Way of the Ascetics, I finally decided to read it. I was not disappointed. Despite the fact that he had never formally studied theology and was a layman, Colliander did a masterful job of summarizing the teachings of ancient writers on Orthodox spirituality (such as the writers of volume one of the Philokalia) and more modern writers (such as St. Theophan the Recluse). Over the next week or so, I am planning to share with you a few of my favorite chapters from Way of the Ascetics. I hope that they will be a blessing to you as they have been to me. Here is the first paragraph of Chapter 12: On Obedience.

Obedience is another indispensable implement in the struggle against our selfish will. With obedience you cut off your physical members the better to be able to serve with the spiritual, says St. John Climacus. And again, obedience is the grave of your own will, but from it rises humility.

I especially like that last sentence. Next time, I'll post the rest of the chapter.

Longhorn Update #3

UT running back Chris Ogbonnaya

Some "experts" thought that UT's #1 ranking in the college football polls would only last one week. They felt that the Longhorns might lose to #12 Missouri.


The Longhorns, favored by only 7, handily beat the Tigers 56-31. QB Colt McCoy completed 29 of 32 passes. That's a 90% completion rate. Any more doubters?

Next week, the Horns' "murderers' row" schedule continues as they host #8 Oklahoma State. I think the Horns will win--but it won't be easy.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

He Will Guide You Into All Truth (John 16:12-15)

Traditional Coptic Icon of Pentecost. I found this very interesting.

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.

In verse 12, Jesus informs the disciples that there are many more things that he has to tell them, but they cannot bear them now. They would be too much. In Fr. Farley’s view, these include such things as “the spiritual nature of the Kingdom and the inclusion of the Gentiles in it on equal terms with the Jews" (281). And this is how God works with us still today. He constantly challenges us to increase both our knowledge and our relationship with him, but he does it slowly, one step at a time, lest we be overwhelmed. Thanks be to God for his infinite patience with us!

In verses 13-15, Jesus once again speaks about another ministry of the Spirit that he has alluded to before. “He will teach the apostles the truth, even as Jesus taught them the truth” (Farley, 281). Let’s look at the exact wording of all three of Jesus’ sayings about the Holy Spirit’s teaching ministry:

“He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (14:26).

“He will testify of Me” (15:26).

“He will guide you into all truth…and He will tell you things to come” (16:13).

These verses were instrumental in my decision to convert to Orthodoxy. When I had been a Southern Baptist, I had of course read them dozens of times; still I had never quite comprehended their full significance. In these three passages (especially the third one), Jesus is assuring the disciples (who were the Church at that time) that after he has left the earth, the Spirit will remind them of all that he had taught them and also guide them into all truth. In other words, the Spirit will protect the Church (though not necessarily individual Christians) from error.

I further realized that if the typical evangelical belief that the Church had quickly fallen into error after St. John’s death were true, then Jesus did not keep these promises. And since Jesus’ promises are always true, he must have (through the Holy Spirit) kept his Body, the Church, from error. Therefore, not only could the first century Church be trusted, but so could the second century Church, the third century Church, and so on. Therefore the Orthodox Church can be trusted to have faithfully, with the help of the Holy Spirit, kept the teachings and practices of Jesus and the apostles.

Fr. Farley’s words on verse 13 are also helpful: “The implication of this for the authority of the Church should not be missed. By saying that the spirit will guide the Church in all the truth about God, Christ is assuring the disciples that they will not be left at the mercy of their own limitations. As men they are sinful and fallible, but they are not to be left alone. The Spirit will come to make up their deficiency” (281).

Finally, in verse 14, Jesus speaks of yet another ministry of the Spirit: to glorify Christ. The Spirit’s job is not to bring glory to Himself, and much less is it to glorify individual human beings. Rather, the Spirit brings glory to Christ and him alone. Jesus also assures them that everything that the Father has is also his, and that the Spirit will declare these things to the apostles. In other words, whatever they need to know that Jesus has not explicitly taught them, the Spirit will make known to them.

Monday, October 13, 2008

He Will Convict the World (John 16:5-11)

Icon of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost

5 “But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. 8 And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 of sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; 11 of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged."

It is only natural that the disciples should feel sorrow, given that Jesus is about to leave them. Still, Jesus wants them to think about more than their own sorrow. As Fr. Farley writes, “Their concern is only for their own grief at His absence and their panic at being abandoned. Sorrow has filled their hearts and left no room in it for curiosity about Christ’s future plans” (280). The one exception is Peter, who with characteristic boldness did ask Jesus where he was going a little earlier (13:36). Jesus is trying to keep their minds focused on the near future and the traumatic events that are about to come.

Certainly, Jesus’ departure would be extremely traumatic for the disciples. Still, it was absolutely essential, for a variety of reasons. In fact, Jesus’ leaving the earth was actually to their advantage, for only if Jesus were to go to the Father and be exalted at his right hand could the Holy Spirit come and dwell permanently in the Church. This is now the fourth time in this discourse that Jesus has foretold the coming of the Spirit. Here, he mentions yet another thing that the Spirit will bring: conviction.

Note that verse 8 is the only place in Scripture where the Holy Spirit is said to have a ministry to the world. Everywhere else, his ministry is reserved for believers (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, 697). The Greek word for “convict” (elegchein), which Fr. Farley translates as “reprove,” carries a legal flavor, as does the word parakletos, which, as we have seen, is the name that Jesus uses for the Holy Spirit. But whereas parakletos means an advocate, one who pleads on our behalf, elegchein implies one who prosecutes. So while the Spirit’s main ministry to believers is to stand along side them and support them, his activity in the unbelieving world is to convict it, with a view toward bringing people to salvation.

In this verse, Jesus lists three types of conviction that the Holy Spirit brings to the world, and then he elaborates on each type of conviction in the following verses.

The first conviction is conviction about sin. Without the Holy Spirit’s work in the world, no one would be completely cognizant of right and wrong. And, of course, the greatest sin is rejecting Jesus, or not believing in Him. As Fr. Farley points out; “Israel has disowned him, thinking that they are doing the will of God. By the working of the Spirit, they will be cut to the heart and see that this is sin…” (280)

Secondly, the Spirit will convict the world about righteousness. The reason for this is “because I am going to the Father.” This statement seems a little puzzling, perhaps even a non sequitur at first. Fr. Farley explains it thus: “That is, [Jesus] is to be raised to God’s right hand, and thus be vindicated by God for His righteousness. Israel thought Jesus an unrighteous Law-breaker. By the working of the Spirit, they will see what true righteousness really is as they see Christ exonerated and glorified by the Father” (280). In other words, the Resurrection will show that Christ is truly righteous, or even more accurately, that he IS true righteousness.

Thirdly, the Spirit will convict the world about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. Again, Fr. Farley’s words are helpful: “…Satan and his instruments in the world (such as the Sanhedrin) have been judged and condemned by God. Their time of ascendancy is over; now is the time for Christ’s victory. By the working of the Spirit, they will see that the time of lies is now over; now is the time to repent” (280).

Sunday, October 12, 2008

We're #1!! We're #1!!

UT Tight End Jordan Shipley

I have been an orange-blooded Texas Longhorn fan all my life. This is in large part due to the fact that my older brother and one of my sisters attended there in the 70's. And although my parents attended TCU, they became loyal Texas fans when my siblings attended there, and they remained so until their deaths.

One of my most prized possessions is an orange UT pennant that my sister Lisa gave me back when she was a senior there. That year (1977) also happened to be the senior year of "Big Bad" Earl Campbell, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy that year, and would eventually go on to have a Hall of Fame Career with the Houston Oilers (may they rest in peace!) and the New Orleans Saints. The pennant says "Texas Longhorns: #1 Team in the Nation," which was true for most of that year, until the Horns lost to Notre Dame in the national championship game.

For most of the rest of my life, Texas was NOT the #1 team in the nation (at least not in football), until the early 80's, and that didn't last long. They had not ended the year as #1 since 1970. Finally, under the leadership of QB Vince Young, they finally did win another championship in 2005-2006. And so, for a year, my pennant was finally not lying again. After that year, Young left for the NFL, and the Longhorns had not occupied the #1 spot again.

Until now, that is! Check the polls. Every one of them now has the Longhorns at #1. Needless to say, I am elated. Okay, okay, I'll shut up about football least until next Saturday! Either tomorrow or Tuesday, I'll post my next study on the Gospel of John. But for now, all is good in the world. My pennant is once again telling the truth!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

We Did It!

Colt McCoy, UT Quarterback

#5 Texas 45, #1 Oklahoma 35!

The Longhorns are STILL undefeated!

Need I say more?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Tetelestai! It is finished!

Hallelujah! Thanks be to God!

Thanks to the help of my friend and parishioner Eddie Brega, I think I've finally done it. After trying for a week, I have finally succeeded in converting the audio files of my Sunday School classes into podcasts. If you would like to subscribe to them, click here. If, like most podcast listeners, you are using iTunes, click on "Add to iTunes" (right side of screen, blue type). The podcast should appear in your iTunes player soon, and new episodes will appear automatically as they appear. Or, if you prefer, click on one of the other podcatchers' buttons.

I pray that you will find these Bible studies helpful. Please do take the time to write a comment and let me know what you think of them. Or if you have any questions, be sure and ask.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Servanthood, Betrayal, and Love

At long last, the mp3 audio file of my Bible Study on the thirteenth chapter of St. John's Gospel is available for download. I still haven't figured out how to make it a podcast, but hopefully this will happen soon. For now, if you would like to listen to the study, here's what you need to do:

1. Go to my new Wordpress blog, which I set up just to host my audio files.

2. Place your cursor over the link "servanthood-betrayal-and-love-john-13" and a small window called a "snapshot" will pop up. The snapshot window will have a big "play" button in it.

3. Click on the "play" button, and voila! The lesson will play. However, the complete lesson is about 50 minutes long, and you may not be able to listen to it in one setting. If you would like to download the file so that you can listen to it later on your computer or on an MP3 player, do the following:

1. RIGHT-click on the link given in step 2. A menu will pop up.

2. Select "Save target as" and save the file.

3. Go to the folder where you saved the file, double-click it, and it should play.

I pray that this audio version of the Bible study will be a blessing to you. I will post more audio files in the near future.

May God bless you all.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sacrifices to God

Icon of the stoning of St. Stephen, the first fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy that "everyone who kills you [will] suppose he is offering worship to God" (John 16:2)

In this chapter, Jesus continues to warn them about his coming departure, revealing to them that they will suffer much for his sake. And in spite of this suffering, the Holy Spirit will minister to them and bring them courage and joy.

Sacrifices to God (16:1-4)

1 “These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. 3 And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. 4 But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them. And these things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.”

In these verses, Jesus continues to warn the disciples of the coming persecution. The Jewish authorities will expel them from the synagogues, and many of them will face death, some at the hands of Jews and others at the hands of pagans. Many people will think that they are making a sacrifice to God by killing followers of Christ. Fr. Farley has an interesting comment on this:

“In a Jewish commentary on Phineas (who slew the apostates during the time of Moses and was rewarded by God; Num. 25:13), it was said that “whoever sheds the blood of the godless is as one who offers a sacrifice.” It is this deluded mindset that is to take hold of the Jewish authorities as they persecute Jesus’ followers. With such an attitude, the apostles’ persecutors will not cease until their deadly work is done. Dark and dangerous days are coming indeed!” (278).

Even today, many religious extremists (and secular extremists, too!) think that killing Christians is pleasing to God. But anyone who does this does not know God or his Son, as Jesus says in verse 3.

Jesus also tells them that he did not tell them these things in the beginning, because he was with them, to comfort and to explain. But now that he is about to leave the earth, they need to know them to prepare themselves.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

This Crazy WORLD #11

Agony of victory

Arkansas State's 83-10 rout of Texas Southern in the Red Wolves' home opener on Sept. 6 created a lot of excitement around the Jonesboro, Ark., campus. Except for Hoppy Hoffman, owner of a local apparel store who promised to discount prices of Arkansas State swag by 1 percent for every point the Red Wolves won by during home games this year. With the promise of 73-percent-off merchandise, Hoffman said a huge crowd waited for him to open his doors the Monday morning after the game. "It got crazy. We opened at 9:30. The people who probably got in line by 10 checked out about 1:30," he said. "When the door opened at 9:30, I know at least 200 people filed in. It was hilarious. . . . It looked like they were waiting to buy rock concert tickets." He said he'd like to encourage Arkansas State to continue winning home football games—but perhaps only by a point or two.

He's certainly being a good sport (no pun intended) about it, given how much money he probably lost! Lesson: Be careful what you promise!

Scratch that

According to the USAction Education Fund, it has a proud history of increasing voter registration in underrepresented communities. This year, that means cats too. In a recent voter registration drive, the left-leaning advocacy group sent a registration packet to the home of 54-year-old Jeff Jewitt of Ohio. But the voter registration information wasn't directed to Jeff Jewitt, but instead to his cat Dipped Jewitt, a six-year-old black cat with white paws. Despite Dipped's ability to smell out a rat—presumably in politics too—the cat's owner says he has no plans for submitting the registration card.

Typical. As we all know, one of our political parties has a long history of registering ineligible voters, including illegal aliens, dead people, and animals.

Tight security

After spending decades locked away in a secret filing cabinet with two combination locks inside a triple-locked vault, the Colonel's secret recipe was on the move. Executives with the KFC fast food chain needed to temporarily move Harland Sanders' 68-year-old original recipe for fried chicken from its Louisville, Ky., home on Sept. 9 as experts upgraded security at corporate headquarters. Company officials placed the yellowing piece of paper that bears Sanders' handwritten 1940 recipe in a lock box before handcuffing it to a safe keeper who climbed into an armored car that took him and the trade secret to an undisclosed location. Moves to upgrade security were prompted by executives who recently retrieved the recipe for consultation prior to releasing a new line of chicken strips.

Gee whiz, you'd think that this is the "nuclear football" or something! We wouldn't want this recipe to fall into the hands of (say) Al-Qaeda!

Sandwich ruse

Nothing can ruin a lunch hour faster than discovering some unknown perpetrator has stolen your ham-and-cheese right out of the office refrigerator. Sherwood Forlee thinks he has a solution. The New York--based design engineer is trying to market a sandwich bag that camouflages a normal sandwich as a moldy disgusting sandwich by painting on translucent green splotches on the bag to ward off would-be lunch thieves.

Do we need any further proof that we live in a crazy, messed-up world when so many sandwiches are being stolen that someone feels led to develop a bag that makes the sandwich appear moldy? (By the way, I wish you could see the picture of the sandwich in the bag. It looks truly disgusting!

Crazy talk

In terms of outrageous Detroit politicians, City Council President Pro Tem Monica Conyers has a long way to go—but she's off to a good start. Walking out of an elevator in a Detroit courthouse, Conyers began screaming at news media that had assembled in the lobby. "You are all evil! Please leave me alone!" she shouted at reporters who had not even asked a question yet. Conyers has had altercations with other city officials, but she'll have to step up her antics to match those of disgraced former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who was forced to resign from office on Sept. 18 in connection with two guilty pleas to felony charges of obstruction of justice.

Maybe candidates for office should have to undergo psychological testing before being able to run. Just a thought...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

What I Learned From Ike

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Thirty-fourth president of the United States. Eisenhower, of course, was the original "Ike." I like this Ike, but I didn't care much for his hurricane namesake.

I've been very busy lately. On Monday (the 29th), Jennifer and I celebrated our 18th anniversary. Tuesday night, I took Audrey to an open house hosted by the Honors College at the University of Houston (her next educational stop). Last night I had to do some stuff for my secular job.

At the risk of making you very sick of reading stuff about Hurricane Ike, I thought I would share with you an interesting reflection that a parishioner of mine sent me a few days ago. If you've been through a natural disaster like Ike, you'll be able to relate to it. If not, file it away for the future, because it's just a matter of time until you have to deal with either a hurricane, a flood, a tornado, an earthquake, or something else equally devastating.

Things I Learned from Hurricane Ike

Coffee and frozen pizzas can be made on a BBQ grill.

Hot pockets taste pretty good deep fried on the outdoor cooker!

My car gets 23.21675 miles per gallon, EXACTLY (you can ask the people in line who helped me push it).

He who has the biggest generator wins.

A new method of non-lethal torture- showers without hot water.

There are a lot more stars in the sky than most people thought.

TV is an addiction and the withdrawal symptoms are painful.

A 7 lb bag of ice will chill 6-12 oz Budweiser's to a drinkable temperature in 11 minutes, and still keep a 14 lb. turkey frozen for 8 more hours.

There are a lot of dang trees around here.

Flood plain drawings on some mortgage documents were seriously wrong..

People will get into a line that has already formed without having any idea what the line is for.

Cell phones work when land lines are down [Fr. James' note: not necessarily!], but only as long as the battery remains charged.

Hampers were not made to contain such a volume.

If my store sold only ice, chainsaws, gas and generators... I'd be rich.

Waterfront property can quickly become someone else's fishing hole.

Tree service companies are underappreciated.

I learned what happens when you make fun of another states' blackout.

MATH 101: 30 days in month, minus 6 days without power equals 30% higher electric bill ?????

Drywall is a compound word, take away the 'dry' part and it's worthless.

I can walk a lot farther than I thought.

A MUST for all blackouts with kids... GLOWSTICKS! Cheap, fun, no mess!

A skateboard and a sheet make a great "sailboat" before the rain starts.

You can never have too many gas cans! If you fill the bathtubs with water, the water will not go off.

7 dogs that do not normally live together still do not get along during a hurricane...they have no comprehension of sharing.

5 gallons of sweetened iced tea a day is not enough for 9 teenagers.

Neighbors are much more sociable when they are sharing a generator.

Two-year-old canned beets taste better than you'd think. [Fr. James' note: Only if I'm starving!]

What looks acceptable by candlelight in your bathroom will scare you when you look at yourself in the mirror at the office.

Coffee is possible without Starbucks.

Rather than campfires, you find families huddled about tiny battery-operated televisions to watch The Simpsons. [Fr. James' note: Pathetic!]

Peanut butter and jelly is a perfectly acceptable meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the same day.

Don't shun those who use Tylenol PM or Advil PM to get through 11-hour nights.

That neighbor who knows how to use a chainsaw is your new best friend.

Ice is a form of currency.

It's OK to let the kids keep their stick fort until the debris-pickup crews start rolling in. C

oming home from work with a pizza and a charged-up laptop so the kids can watch a DVD makes you a hero.

You run out of things to barbecue after Day 2.

We don't want to hear rehashes of ball games we missed or be reminded that we may miss the season premiere of Dexter at 8 p.m. Sunday on Showtime.

Hair can dry without a blow dryer, but it may not look the way you planned.

The storm treasures your kids are finding really belong to your neighbors.

When George Noory's Coast to Coast AM returns to KTRH's late-night lineup, we sleep better.

Baseball caps go with any post-hurricane ensemble.

Grapes taste better in the dark.

You can't train yourself not to flip on light switches when entering a room.[Fr. James' note: Amen! I must have done this literally a dozen times in 36 hours!]

Lukewarm is the new cold.

You have neighbors.

It's easier to ignore a dirty floor when you can't see it.

A new opening phrase when seeing someone: "Got lights yet?"