Monday, February 28, 2011

On Sleep (Part Two)

No, this is not a picture of me at work!

Here's the second part of my summary of the 60 Minutes segment on the importance of sleep.  Note especially the information about the effect of sleep deprivation on health.

Dinges says people who are chronically sleep deprived, like people who've had too much to drink, often have no sense of their limitations. They believe they've trained themselves. "I think it's a convenient belief. For the millions of people who don't get enough sleep because their commute to work is too long, or they spend too many hours at work, or they just want this lifestyle of go, go, go, it's convenient to say, 'I've learned to live without sleep.' But you bring ‘em into the laboratory - and we have an open challenge to any CEO or anyone in the world, come into the laboratory - we don't see this adaptation," he says.

One thing sleep researchers do see is that their sleep-deprived volunteers often have mood swings: they get short-tempered, then become almost giddy, sometimes within seconds.

Matthew Walker describes a study in which his team deprived a group of college students of sleep for 35 hours straight. Their brain response became hyperactive. But it got even worse.

And what's more, in the sleep-deprived subjects, Walker discovered a disconnect between that over-reacting amygdala (a region of the brain) and the brain's frontal lobe, the region that controls rational thought and decision-making, meaning that the subjects' emotional responses were not being kept in check by the more logical seat of reasoning. It's a problem also found in people with psychiatric disorders.

"So you're saying that you take someone with a severe mental disorder and a person without that disorder, but deprive them of sleep, and the brain scan will look similar?" Stahl asks.

"Their pattern of brain activity was not dissimilar. So I think what it forces us to do really now is to appreciate more significantly the role that sleep may be playing in mental health and in psychiatric diseases. And I think that could be one of the futures of the field of sleep research," Walker replies.

According to Walker (and I’ve read this same thing for years and years) most of us need seven and a half to eight hours of sleep every night.

By almost all measures, we are sleeping less than ever before. In 1960, a survey by the American Cancer Society asked one million Americans how much sleep they were getting a night. The median answer was eight hours. Today that number has fallen to 6.7 hours-a decrease of more than 15 percent in less than a lifetime. And from what the scientists 60 Minutes met are finding, we may be putting ourselves in a perilous situation.

Eve Van Cauter, an endocrinologist at the University of Chicago School of Medicine, studies the effect of sleep on the body. In a recent study, she made a shocking discovery:

"We did a study where we restricted sleep to four hours per night for six nights," Van Cauter explains. "And we noticed that they were already in a pre-diabetic state. And so, that was a big finding."

The study's subjects were on the road to diabetes in just six days, and that’s not all - they were also hungry. Van Cauter has made a radical discovery: that lack of sleep may be contributing to the epidemic of obesity in this country through the work of a hormone called leptin that tells your brain when you’re full. (Emphasis mine)

I was amazed to read this. Our obesity epidemic may not be merely the result of poor diet and lack of physical activity. It may also be caused by lack of sleep! Whoda thunk it? Other studies have confirmed this:

Several large-scale studies from all over the world have reported a link between short sleep times and obesity, as well as heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.

According to Van Cauter, we are not biologically cut out for the deprivation of sleep that we visit upon ourselves.

"You know, our attitude about sleep flies in the face of what you're saying. Because I think that 'You don't need as much sleep' is looked upon as something very positive," Stahl remarks.

"It's seen as a badge of honor," Van Cauter agrees. "But you know I find it amazing to see how many people are asleep within five minutes of boarding an airplane at 11 o'clock in the morning. You know, sit down and boom. It shouldn't happen. A normal adult shouldn't be falling asleep at 11 o'clock in the morning, minutes after sitting in a small, uncomfortable airplane seat. It just shows that, you know, people are exhausted."

Can you relate to this? I certainly can. At just about any time of any day, if I put my head down and turn out the lights, I will be asleep in almost no time.

During a normal night, we cycle through different stages of sleep, progressing from light into deep sleep, then into REM (Rapid eye movement), or dream sleep, and back again. As we age, though, the amount of time we spend in deep sleep decreases.

Van Cauter and Tasali are investigating a novel theory that some of the health problems we typically associate with old age may in fact be caused by the loss of deep sleep.

"We lose deep sleep at a very early age. So a young, healthy person may have 100 minutes of deep sleep, and at 50 years old it may be as little as 20 minutes. So it really… goes down very quickly," Van Cauter explains.

"We usually think of diabetes as something that's a disease of old age. But really it may be a disease of sleep deprivation," Stahl remarks.

"I would say that sleep deprivation may be a new risk factor for diabetes," Van Cauter says. "Not just aging, not just being overweight or obese, not just having a family history of diabetes, which are the three major risk factors. But this is an added one. And we have really an epidemic of diabetes now. And Type 2 diabetes is now occurring in children, in adolescents. And, you know, adolescents and children too are also being sleep deprived. Maybe high schoolers are amongst the most sleep deprived individuals in our society, because they have an enormous sleep need - nine to ten hours. Yet they sleep less than seven hours per night."

She says this research proves we all need to rethink what we consider essential for good health - that the diet and exercise formula also has to include sleep.

Finally, the article discusses the concept of napping. I loved its conclusion!

Scientists tell 60 Minutes that what's most important is getting your seven and a half to eight hours total, so naps can help. (And Fr. James said…AMEN!) And brand new research is showing that long naps, including REM sleep, can even improve emotional outlook, making people less sensitive to negative experiences and more receptive to positive ones.

I hope you enjoyed this article summary. To watch the segment, or read the transcript, please click here. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to take a nap!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

On Sleep (Part One)

Actually, DO!  See below...

I have a double confession to make:

1. I love sleep.

2. I take a nap just about every day (and have for many years).

I know quite a few people who can get by just fine with 4-6 hours of sleep a night. I am not even close to being one of these lucky folks. I have been “blessed” with a body that needs about 10 hours a night in order to not get tired the next day. But since I am rarely ever able to get that much sleep, I am forced to take naps to get through most days.

My work schedule and activity load generally only allow me to average about 6 – 7 hours of sleep per night in a typical week. As a result, I spend most of my time feeling fatigued. By Friday evening, I am barely able to move. I like to say that I suffer from a condition that I only half-jokingly refer to as “CSD”…Cumulative Sleep Deprivation.

Given all this, it will not surprise you to know that I have been very interested in sleep research for all of my adult life. So when my dear friend Fr. Anthony Perkins, pastor of St. Michael Ukranian Orthodox Church in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, mentioned a 60 Minutes story about recent study that confirmed the importance of sleep, I immediately read the story. For the most part, the story only confirmed things that I had either already read or learned from experience. But I learned a few new things. In summary, getting enough sleep is even more important than I had previously thought.

In the rest of this post, I will summarize the 60 minutes segment for you, including direct quotations (in bold print) of the parts I found most interesting. I hope that you will find it as interesting and beneficial as I did.

(Note: The segment was originally broadcast on March 13, 2008. It was updated on June 12, 2008. The correspondent was Lesley Stahl.)

Human beings spend on average one third of our lives asleep. We know we need to sleep, but most of us have never really given a whole lot of thought to why.

Why do we spend seven or eight hours a night immobile and unconscious? What really happens inside our brains and bodies while we're sleeping?

The segment begins by mentioning that several new studies are suggesting that sleep does more for us than rest our bodies.

One thing that's clear, says Walker [Matthew Walker, the director of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at the University of California, Berkeley], is that sleep is critical. In a series of studies done back in the 1980s, rats were kept awake indefinitely. After just five days, they started dying.

Walker says they started dying from sleep deprivation. "In fact, sleep is as essential as food because they will die just about as quick from food deprivation as sleep deprivation. So, it's that necessary," he says.

Evolutionary biologists find sleep a puzzling thing, because sleep renders animals totally immobile and unconscious, helpless against predators. Given this, it seems that evolving animals would have developed the ability to not need sleep, rather than to depend upon it.

The segment then addresses the relationship between sleep and learning. In a recent study, Walker taught a new task to 400 study subjects. Those who were taught the skill at night and then had to perform it again the next morning after a good night’s sleep did much better than those who did not get to sleep between attempts.

"So, it seems to be that practice does not quite make perfect; it’s practice with a night of sleep that makes perfect," Walker says. "It's this odd notion that we all think in Western civilization that we have to stay awake to get more done. And I think that's simply not true. In fact, I think if you have a good night of sleep, what you'll find is that you can get more done than if you simply stay awake."

But what if you do sleep, just not enough? Walker did another study in which he limited some subjects to only 4 hours of sleep a night then gave them a test. Here he summarizes the results:

"Well, the first finding, and it stunned us, was there's a cumulative impairment that develops in your ability to think fast, to react quickly, to remember things. And it starts right away," Dinges says. "A single night at four hours or five hours or even six, can in most people, begin to show affects in your attention and your memory and the speed with which you think. A second night it gets worse. A third night worse. Each day adds an additional burden or deficit to your cognitive ability."

Sounds like “Cumulative Sleep Deprivation” to me (in fact, Walker uses a similar term earlier in the segment). The segment then goes on to say that all of the things people try to do to compensate for inadequate sleep, such as drinking caffeine, slapping themselves, keeping the air cool in your car, singing, and so on, do not really solve the problem. A large number of traffic and other accidents each year are tied to inadequate sleep. Dr. David Dinges, a sleep researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, thinks that inadequate sleep may have contributed to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Chernobyl, the Three Mile Island disaster and the 2003 Staten Island ferry crash.

60 Minutes did a little research and found that The Exxon Valdez spill happened after midnight with a man at the helm who'd slept only four hours the night before; Chernobyl and Three Mile Island also occurred late at night and involved human error. And the assistant captain who crashed the Staten Island ferry into a pier, killing 11, admitted that he felt exhausted before the accident.

For some reason, in the United States at least, needing sleep is seen by many people (and I would argue perhaps by the culture as a whole) as a weakness, and not sleeping much is seen as a good thing. It seems that in many people’s eyes, admitting you need a lot of sleep is just a step above admitting you need drugs or great amounts of alcohol to get by.

To be continued...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

On Bible Intepretation

I have a dear friend who is an agnostic with very little interest in the Bible or Christianity. Recently, he was visited by some Jehovah’s Witnesses. During the visit, they urged him to read 2 Timothy 3:1-5, which reads as follows:

1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!

My friend was puzzled by the passage and wrote me to ask what it meant. I told him it referred to the state of humanity in the days leading up to the Second Coming of Christ, when the Antichrist will rule on the earth. He wrote back and said that he didn’t see how this interpretation is possible, especially since neither Christ nor the Antichrist are mentioned in the passage. This was my reply to him. I hope you find it helpful.

Suppose that I wrote a letter to my brother and sister early one December and that my letter contained the following passage:

“I look forward to seeing both of you this Christmas Eve and sharing dinner with you. I also look forward to blessing you with that delightful saying that Mom always shared with us every Christmas Eve.”

Now suppose that two thousand years later an archaeologist discovers a copy of my letter and reads the above passage. Part of the passage is easy to understand. The interpreter would instantly know that I was looking forward to seeing my brother and sister and dining with them. He would also understand that I wanted to tell my siblings something, and this “something” was a saying that our mother used to say to us. With a little historical research, he could even determine the date I was planning to have my siblings for dinner (December 24). But then the interpreter would run into a difficulty. What exactly was the saying of our mother that I mentioned?

One way the archeologist could solve this problem would be to read other letters that I had written (assuming any were still extant) and see if I made any other reference to this saying. Perhaps I gave the exact text of the saying in another letter. If not, perhaps I left other clues as to the meaning of the mysterious saying.

If he could not find any other references to this saying in my other writings, then the next thing he might do is try to find some writings of my brother or sister. Failing this, he would then scour the writings of my children, since is almost certain that my children heard this saying, and it is entirely possible that one of them wrote it down.

Failing all this, the next best thing to do would be for the researcher to try to find any living descendants of mine to see if perhaps the mysterious saying had been preserved throughout the years through the family line.

If none of these efforts were to bear fruit, the interpreter would have to just make his best educated guess, based on his historical research and/or knowledge of me, my life story, and my writings. If he were honest, he would have to admit that his interpretation was merely a conjecture. He could even just say, “I have no idea what the writer means”…but of course, doing this doesn’t pay very well.

Interpreting the Bible is much the same. Some passages are totally clear, but others are obscure. When we come upon an obscure passage, there are a number of things we can do to try to interpret it. First, we should check the other writings of the author of the passage. In which other passages did St. Paul refer to the “last days,” and how do these other passages shed light upon the passage we are trying to figure out?

Second, we should examine the other books of the New Testament, which were written by other Apostles (the “brothers” of St. Paul). Did Ss. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, James, or Jude have anything to say about the “last days?” If so, how do they help us interpret the passage in question?

Next, it is important to see how the earliest Christians (the “children” of the Apostles) understood the troublesome passage. For they learned everything they knew about the Scriptures from the Apostles themselves. How did they understand the phrase “the last days?”

Finally, we see how today’s living “descendants” of St. Paul interpret the passage. Who are these descendants? Collectively, the spiritual descendants of St. Paul and the other apostles are the Orthodox Church, the only Christian tradition that can trace an unbroken connection back two thousand years to the first century Church without major changes to doctrine and practice.

When we do all this, we learn that the phrase “the last days” means the new era that began with the first coming of Christ, a period which lasts until his second coming. Often, however, the phrase “last days” is used in a narrower sense, indicating the period of time immediately prior to the second coming. This period of time includes the advent and reign of Antichrist. It is certainly true that in 2 Tim 3:1-5, St. Paul doesn’t explicitly mention Christ or the Antichrist. He didn’t mention them explicitly because he didn’t need to. Timothy (to whom he wrote the epistle with this passage) and all of the early Christians would have instantly known that St. Paul was referring to the time of the Antichrist, the time leading up to Christ’s return, just as my brother and sister would know that the saying of Mom’s that I referred to was “I can’t believe it’s Christmas Eve!”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Update from Floyd and Ancuta Frantz in Romania

Greetings, and I hope that this finds you well today, and in good spirits on this most blessed day of Meatfare Tuesday.

It has been a few weeks since our last newsletter, and people have been reminding me of this so I am at last going to get down to the "doin" of writing one. I hope you have time to read it, and that you will enjoy having it. Actually, quite a lot has been going on over here since my last posting.

You may remember Christina Semon, my OCMC collegue here in Romania. She has been doing some therapy groups with the St. Dimitrie Program in the Tbc hospital in Savadisla, and we have been going at times to the Republic of Moldova to help with the project of Fr. John, in Leova, Moldova. She had applied to do a long term project in Moldova, focused on helping the youth. Well, last week she was given a go-ahead, and will be working in both Moldova and in Romania. It is going to be a very nice project, and I hope that you will keep up with it at OCMC's web site,

On our side of things the Holy Romanian Synod has approved our addictions courses to be used in both the faculty seminaries and in the highschool seminaries. This was actually more than we had hoped for when we submitted them last year. Of course it means that we will need to keep it updated, and will need to develop it over time. It is very exciting for us as it has been a long term goal of ours for several years to have this happen.

One other item of note is that Deacon Stephen Holly from St. Micheal's in Westminister, California has been visiting us and doing some very nice presentations in the local parishes to young people on "How to choose a mate for life", which is based on his short book about the subject. He has been well received, and in now in Iasi doing the same over there with Fr. Iulian.

There is much to say, but I do not like to send out long emails as few people have the time to read them. I will try to be more faithful about writing in the future, as I would like to share about some of the people in our program. They have been bringing me joy to my heart, and in the next email I will share this with you.

In His Love,
Floyd & Ancuta Frantz
OCMC Missionaries in Romania

Monday, February 21, 2011

Church Ladies with Typewriters

OK, she isn't on a typewriter, but I instantly though of Clara Puller of "Where's the Beef?" fame when I read these

They're Back! Those wonderful Church Bulletins! Thank God for church ladies with typewriters. These sentences (with all the BLOOPERS) actually appeared in church bulletins or were announced in church services:

The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.


The sermon this morning: 'Jesus Walks on the Water.' The sermon tonight: 'Searching for Jesus.'


Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.


Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our community. Smile at someone who is hard to love. Say 'Hell' to someone who doesn't care much about you.


Don't let worry kill you off - let the Church help.


Miss Charlene Mason sang 'I will not pass this way again,' giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.


For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs.


Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the help they can get.


Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.


A bean supper will be held on Tuesday evening in the church hall. Music will follow..


At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be 'What Is Hell?' Come early and listen to our choir practice.


Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.


Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.


Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.


The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment and gracious hostility.


Potluck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM - prayer and medication to follow.


The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.


This evening at 7 PM there will be a hymn singing in the park across from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.


Ladies Bible Study will be held Thursday morning at 10 AM . All ladies are invited to lunch in the Fellowship Hall after the B. S. is done.


The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the Congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday.


Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM . Please use the back door.


The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare's Hamlet in the Church basement Friday at 7 PM . The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.


Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance.


The Associate Minister unveiled the church's new campaign slogan last Sunday: 'I Upped My Pledge - Up Yours.'

Friday, February 18, 2011

I Press Toward the Goal (Phil. 3:12-16)

12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. 16 Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.

In 1955, Col. Harland Sanders was having a career crisis. He was 65 years old, and his beloved Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant (of which there was only one at the time) was failing due to a new highway that diverted most traffic away from the town where the restaurant was located. He knew, however, that his secret recipe was a winner.

Col. Harland Sanders

So he went around looking for people to help him market it. One person who agreed to help was a restaurateur named David Thomas. Thomas suggested several ideas to the Colonel, but the most helpful idea was the simplest one. At that time, the Colonel’s restaurant served many types of foods, not just chicken. Thomas suggested that the Colonel focus on just one thing. Instead of trying to do everything, he said, just do one thing and do it better than anyone else. The Colonel agreed, and decided that any future restaurants that he would open would only serve fried chicken. And the rest, as they say, is history…

David (Dave) Thomas, the man who saved KFC (and then went and founded Wendy's!)

Colonel Sanders did one thing, and he did it well. And St. Paul would have us do one thing. Let’s see what he has to say about this one thing.

Having just expressed his heartfelt desire to attain to the resurrection of the dead (that is, to obtain eternal life), St. Paul is quick to emphasize that he has not already attained it. The apostle would be the last person to affirm “I’m saved and I know it!” In St. Paul’s thinking, salvation is a process that he was still in the middle of. As he will say later, it is like a race, not a one-time event.

Not only has St. Paul not yet attained eternal life, he also has not yet been perfected (from the Gk. verb teleioo). The Greek word teleioo and its cognate adjective teleios (“perfect”) do not necessarily mean “perfect” (as in “sinless”) in the English sense of the word. It can also refer to becoming fully mature, or even to reaching a goal. The latter sense is most probable in this passage, especially given the subsequent comparisons St. Paul makes between salvation and running a race. St. Paul, then, is saying he has not yet reached the maturity of the age to come, nor has he achieved his goal of reaching the kingdom of heaven.

Rather than resting on his accomplishments, or even on his simple faith in Christ, St. Paul presses on, never ceasing to struggle toward salvation, which he refers to here as “that for which Christ Jesus laid hold of me.” Christ had “laid hold” of St. Paul in a very forceful way, in an effort to bring him to Himself, and to one day bring him into heaven. And St. Paul wants to do everything he can to get there!

In his effort to gain salvation and a place in the kingdom of heaven, St. Paul says “this one thing I do.” What is that “one thing?” It is the same thing that a runner does in a footrace. For a runner must not look back, or he will waste precious time and risk losing his balance. He must forget everything that is behind and focus on just one thing: the finish line. Only one thing matters: the prize that the runner gains for reaching the goal. Our prize as Christians is eternal life.

In verses 15 and 16, St. Paul goes on to state that the striving that he does is not just “his thing” – it is something all Christians must do. We must all forget the past and continue to run our race of the Christian life. We must do whatever it takes to win the prize of salvation. FF comments eloquently on these verses:

“[St. Paul’s] opinion is not just his own opinion—it is the truth of God, and St. Paul claims that God will vindicate his teaching in the hearts of the Philippians. However, he adds, keep walking-straight (Gr. stoicheo, ‘to walk in a straight line’), following the same rule [Gr. kanon] to which we have attained. Whatever God will reveal to you in the future, St. Paul concludes, will be consistent with what He has already revealed through the apostolic preaching , the Rule of Faith. They must continue to walk straight in that way and not swerve off into heresy” (55).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

That I May Know Him (Phil. 3:7-11)

"I count all rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him"

7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

In the early to mid-nineties, there was a lot of talk about mission statements. It seems that every company felt the need to come up with a short, snappy saying that described why it existed. Coca-cola said that their mission was to put a Coke product in the hands of every person on the planet. Pillsbury wanted to be the best food company in the world. Even churches and other non-profit organizations jumped on the “mission statement” bandwagon.

Mission statements seemed like a fad at first, but they have stuck. And this is not a bad thing. Each of us, as persons, would do well to sit down and come up with our own statement. Why are we here? What is our main purpose in living? What is the one thing that we strive to do above all else. In this passage, St. Paul gives his own “mission statement.”

When he encountered Christ on the road to Damascus, St. Paul discovered that all of his hard work, all the impressive accomplishments that he had piled up, all the things he thought had earned favor with God, counted for nothing. As FF comments, “The experience of grace in Christ convinces Paul that salvation consists not in self-assertion and defense, but in humbly receiving forgivness and pardon...his supposed gain of Jewish pedigree and defense he esteems as loss and harm to himself, for if he brought it into account to make use of it, it would come between him and the pardon of God, the true and saving knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (51-52).

St. Paul counted as loss not only all his pre-Christian accomplishments, but everything...compared to knowing Christ. Nothing can be compared in importance or value to having a saving relationship with Christ. Riches, power, fame, talent, possessions...each of these should be thrown away if necessary to gain Christ (and even if we don’t totally throw them away, we must subordinate them far below Christ). St. Paul certainly gave them up in order to know Christ...and he didn’t regret it for a moment.

Toward the end of verse 8, St. Paul uses a very earthly word, which the NKJV translates as “rubbish.” The Greek word is skubala, and as FF points out, this word has the dual meaning of trash and excrement. The closest English word is “crap”, which of course would never make it into a respectable English translation (and rightly so). But St. Paul’s use of this word really highlights just how worthless everything else in this life is compared to knowing Christ.

Then St. Paul reveals his own “mission statement”, which he describes in a variety of ways: “that I may gain Christ,” that he may “be found in Him,” and “that I may know him.” Let’s take note of a couple of things St. Paul says as he lays out his goal for life.

First, he points out that his righteousness is not from the Law (note in passing that this is “THE Law,” that is, the Law of Moses. This is not a proof text for “salvation by faith alone.”). His righteousness is through faith (which, as we have stated before, always includes works).

Again, FF has some great things to say about this passage: “...God does not want our carefully drawn-up list of accomplishments; He wants our heart...What does God want from us? The Judaizers think he wants an impressive score; that it matters not how proud our hearts are before Him, so long as we have accumulated a store of good deeds and avoided the blame He seems to be ready to give. Inwardly they think Him to be a ‘hard man’...quick to condemn, a dangerous God against whom we can protect ourselves if only we keep the Law rigorously enough. St. Paul knows better. He knows that what God really wants is us; our love, the response of our penitent and broken hearts. He knows that God is not quick to blame, but is a gracious and good God, and the Lover of mankind” (52-53).

St. Paul wants to know Christ in his totality, including not only the power of his resurrection, but also the fellowship (Gk. koinonia, also “sharing”) in his sufferings. In other words, he doesn’t want just the “good” from Christ, but the “bad” too. This is radically different from the attitude of many so-called Christians today, who preach that life in Christ brings only good health and material blessing and never suffering. St. Paul even expresses a desire to be “conformed to him in his death”, that is, to give his life for the Gospel (and this wish would eventually be granted).

Note finally that St. Paul says, “if by some means I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” St. Paul here uses the phrase “the resurrection from the dead” in the sense of the resurrection of those who have died in Christ. He does not doubt that there will be a resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15 if you don’t believe me). What he does doubt is whether or not he will be a part of the resurrection of the blessed. There is certainly no hint of “I know I’m saved” here! We’ll see more of this type of thinking in the next section.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

We Are the Circumcision (Phil. 3:1-6)

 1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe.2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, 4 though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

At the beginning of this passage, St. Paul begins to conclude his letter, urging the Philippians once again to rejoice in the Lord.  He acknowledges that he is being a bit repetitious, but he never tires of writing about joy.  Having joy is fundamental in the life of a Christian.  In the OT book of Nehemiah, we read “the joy of the LORD will be your strength” (8:10).  FF writes that “Joy is the signature of the Christian” (48).  Fr. Alexander Schmemann once said, “The most terrible of all accusations against the Christians was that they had no joy” (quoted in FF, 48).

As I have already mentioned (but which bears repeating), Christian joy is not a feeling.  Rather it is, in FF’s words, “obedience to a command.  Whether we are feeling euphoric or not, Jesus is still Lord, and it is that unchangeable fact in which we are to rejoice” (48).

As often happens (see Ephesians, for example), St. Paul’s first attempt to conclude his letter was unsuccessful.  It seems that just as he is about to wrap things up, he thinks of the threat posed by the Judaizers.  The Judaizers were a heretical sect of Jewish Christians who followed St. Paul around.  After St. Paul would leave a town to go preach the Gospel in the next town, the Judiazers would go into the first town and try to lead the new Christians into their false teaching.  They taught that if a Gentile wanted to become a Christian, they had to first become a Jew.  Men would have to be circumcised, and all converts would have to submit to following the entire Mosaic Law.  They were violently opposed to St. Paul’s gospel of grace, calling him a false teacher.

St. Paul most definitely does not want the Philippians to fall for the Judaizers’ false teaching as had many Christians in Galatia (see his epistle to the Galatians for more information), and so he warns them strongly, denouncing the Judiaizers with very strong words.  He calls the false teachers “dogs,” “evil workers,” and “the mutilation.”  Let’s look at each of these epithets in more detail.

“Dogs”:  We need to keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of dogs in St. Paul’s day were not the cute, fuzzy house pets that we think of when we hear the word “dogs.”  Rather, they were mean, wild, mangy curs that travelled in packs and caused much harm to society.  St. Paul is using irony here; Jews considered Gentiles to be dogs, but instead, it is the Judaizers, not the Philippian Gentile Christians who were the real dogs.

“Evil Workers”:  Jews claimed to be people who worked righteousness.  In their eyes, they were the only true good people, and all others were evil.  But these Jews, to the contrary, by perverting the Gospel of Christ, were actually the ones who were doing evil.

“The Mutilation”:  The Jews of Jesus’ day prided themselves on their circumcision (Gk. peritome).  But St. Paul, using a play on words in the Greek, says that they are not the peritome, but rather the katatome (mutilation).  Their circumcision does them no spiritual good.  As FF writes, “It has no spiritual value, but only serves to mutilate and disqualify for true spiritual worship” (49).  Circumcision, rather than making people special in God’s eyes, is a mere physical act. 

The true circumcision (i.e, people who do the will of God) are St. Paul and the other apostolic Christians, who “worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (v. 4).  Notice that he does not say people who have the right genetic pedigree, church membership, or impressive list of good deeds.  FF explains further:  “The Judaizers trust that being Jewish will save them, and they work to amass an impressive resume to present to the Lord on the Last Day.  St. Paul knows that we need and can trust only in His mercy” (50).

He goes on to argue that if anyone could have confidence in the flesh, it would be him.  His earthly “resume” was much more impressive than that of any of the Judaizers who plagued him.  He was a Jew from birth, circumcised on the eighth day.  He was of the stock of Israel, not a Gentile convert.  He was of the tribe of Benjamin, which was the tribe of Israel’s first king Saul and the only tribe besides Judah who stayed loyal to David.  He was a Hebrew of Hebrews, not a Hellenistic Jew.  He was a Pharisee, the strictest group within Judiaism.  He was so dedicated to God that he became a “persecutor of the Church”, which he saw as a perversion of the true faith.  And he was blameless (as close to perfection as could be had) in keeping the Law.

But, as he later learned, none of this really meant anything.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Putin on Mount Athos pilgrimage

Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited the monastic community of Mount Athos in Greece, one of Orthodox Christianity's holiest sites.

Read More Here.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hold Such Men in Esteem (Phil 2:19-30)

 Icon of St. Timothy

19 But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. 20 For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. 21 For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. 22 But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel. 23 Therefore I hope to send him at once, as soon as I see how it goes with me. 24 But I trust in the Lord that I myself shall also come shortly.

St. Paul’s love for the Philippian Christians is such that he cannot bear not hearing from them for very long.  Because of this, he plans to send his most trusted associate Timothy to them to bring back news from them.  Note how he has confidence in the Philippians; he assumes that the news that Timothy will bring back will encourage (Gk. eupsycho, literally “do good to the soul”) him.  FF writes, “See how St. Paul’s own commitment and courage depend upon the welfare of others, since he loves them as being part of the same Body with him.  In the same way, our hearts should be joined to others in our Christian communities” (44).  When our brothers and sisters in Christ rejoice, we should rejoice; when they hurt, we should hurt.

Regarding Timothy, St. Paul refers to him as isopsychos (literally “equal-souled”).  FF elaborates on Paul’s commendation of his spiritual son:  “The other Christians around St. Paul in prison (the local Roman Christians, we may assume—St. Mark and St. Luke being elsewhere) are not like him.  They tend to put their own convenience and plans ahead of their service to Christ Jesus.  But not Timothy—he seeks only the Lord’s will and their welfare!” (44).

Icon of St. Epaphroditus

25 Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; 26 since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27 For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful. 29 Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; 30 because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me.

This passage reveals a main purpose of the letter.  St. Paul wrote the Philippians to thank them for their generosity and to encourage them in the face of coming persecution, but he also wrote to commend the bearer of the epistle, a man named Epaphroditus.  The Philippians had sent Epaphroditus to St. Paul with a financial gift and news about their small congregation, most likely thinking that he would stay with St. Paul a long time to take care of his needs.  Epaphroditus’ relatively quick return to them must have struck them as odd.  It might have even brought reproach upon him.  St. Paul assures them that it was he who sent Epaphroditus back; Epaphroditus did not bail out on him!  As FF writes, “It is entirely characteristic of St. Paul that, in prison and on trial for his life, he still selflessly takes thought for such lesser matters as the embarrassment and feelings of a brother” (45-46).

St. Paul assures the Philippians that they have no reason to be ashamed of Ephaphroditus.  He compliments him by calling him a “brother”, a “fellow worker” and a “fellow soldier” and adds that he “ministered to my need.”  He was concerned for the Gospel, for St. Paul and also for the Philippians (“he was longing for you all”).   The word translated “he ministered” is actually “he was a leitourgos” (“offerer” or even “liturgist”).  A leitourgos was someone who brought an offering, and St. Paul uses this word for Ephaphroditus because he brought the Philippians’ financial offering to St. Paul.  As FF writes, “In using this imagery, St. Paul would have the Philippians show Epaphroditus the same respect that the children of Israel owed to their priests” (46).

Epaphroditus had for some reason (perhaps due to the rigors of travelling) become ill, so much so that he almost died.  His death would have brought much sorrow upon both St. Paul and the Philippians, but thankfully, he regained his health.  St. Paul urges them again to not only receive him with all gladness, but to hold all such men (i.e., people who devote themselves fully to the Gospel) in esteem.  He mentions that Epaphroditus did what he did “to supply what was lacking in your service to me.”  This is not a slap against the Philippian church, as FF explains:

“In other words, there is nothing lacking in Epaphroditus!  It was to make good your lack (i.e. your inability to deliver the offering because of distance) that he took such dreadful risks.  Surely he should be greeted with a hero’s welcome—not with reproach!”  (47).

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

World Muslim Population to Double, study says

(Photo and article from the religion blog of

Twenty years ago, the world had about 1.1 billion Muslims. Twenty years from now, it will have about twice as many - and they'll represent more than a quarter of all people on earth, according to a new study released Thursday.

That's a rise from less than 20 percent in 1990.

Pakistan will overtake Indonesia as home of the largest number of Muslims, as its population pushes over 256 million, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life projects.

The number of Muslims in the United States will more than double, to 6.2 million, it anticipates.

To read the rest of the article, click here.   Be sure and check out the interactive map, which you'll find at the same link.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

You Shine as Lights in the World (Phil. 2:14-18)

"Korah's Rebellion" by Botticelli.

14 Do all things without complaining and disputing, 15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain. 17 Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 For the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me.

St. Paul now elaborates on his command to work out our salvation, listing two specific things to do.  The first of these is to “do all things without complaining and disputing.”  The complaining and disputing (or “questioning”) of which St. Paul speaks is not just ordinary complaining and arguing (although we should certainly strive to do neither of these!).  It is a much deeper type of complaining, as FF points out:

“The word translated here ‘grumbling’ (Gr. goggusmos) is a word with a history.  It is an onomatopoetic word, the syllables reproducing a low, grumbling, murmuring sound.  It is the word used in Numbers 16:41 (LXX) for the open rebellion of the children of Israel against the leadership of Moses and Aaron.  In response to this ‘grumbling,’ this threatening murmur of seething and armed insurrection, ‘they were destroyed by the Destroyer” (1 Cor. 10:10) as God sent a sudden plague which wiped out more than fourteen thousand of them…”

He continues:  “What is forbidden is the rebellious questioning of God’s goodness.  When disasters and persecutions overtake us, it is tempting to rebel against God and say that if he really loved us, this would not happen to us (see Prov. 19:3).  Such grumbling is deadly and to be avoided.  It is paired here with questioning.  Again, the questioning that is banned is arguing with God, disputing with Him as did Job, denying His providential goodness and care” (41-42).

If we will do this, we will be well on our way to being blameless (or “faultless”) and harmless (or “innocent”).  And in so doing we set ourselves apart from the crooked and perverse generation in which we live.  St. Paul assures the Philippians that if they work through their suffering with humility and love for each other, then “the world will see that there is no cause to fault them for any crime and that they are innocent of anything that would merit their persecution. (The word for innocent is the same word used when our Lord told His disciples to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” in Matt. 10:16)” (FF, 41).

Note that St. Paul is not saying here that we can be sinless, but that we can live in such a way that the world will not be able to pin any fault or blame on us.  And if we will do this, we will serve as examples (“lights”) to an unbelieving world.  Here St. Paul echoes Jesus’ command to “let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

The second command that St. Paul gives the Philippians is to hold fast to the word of life.  They must not allow trials and persecution to drive them away from their faith in the Lord Jesus.   If they will do this, they will not only be saved on the Last Day, but they will also cause St. Paul to rejoice.  If they do depart from the faith, they will make him feel as if he has run his apostolic race in vain (note yet another athletic metaphor; there are still more to come!).  As FF states, “Here is a mighty incentive for the Philippians to persevere—for if they do not, their beloved Paul will feel that he has toiled all for nothing!” (42).

Thinking about the Last Judgment causes Paul to also think about his own death (even though he doesn’t think this will happen soon).  In ancient times, animal sacrifices were accompanied by a drink offering—a cup of wine poured out over the sacrificial victim.  St. Paul states that his death, whenever it might come, will be like the drink offering accompanying the Philippians’ spiritual sacrifice of offering themselves to God.  He is not afraid to die, but would do so gladly for the Gospel.  In FF’s paraphrase of St. Paul’s words, “…my death would be a great joy to me!  And you must share this joy, he says, not grieving, but rejoicing along with me!”  FF goes on to comment, “St. Paul does not consider persecution and martyrdom to be a calamity, but the bringer of eternal glory” (43).