Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

My father lives in a different world than me.

He lives in Mallorca, Spain and the traditions are different in many ways. I always like to hear of the festivities for different occasions, so I sent an email asking him about Christmastide, and whether they decorate Christmas trees.  I received this long message which I want to pass on to my readers, complete with links and photos.  I am especially amazed by the snowflake lights.  At the bottom of the post you can listen to the song my father refers to in this message, sung by a child.

I hope you all have a meaningful Christmas celebration in honor of the Son of God who came to Earth to save us all.

Shalom,

Sister Olive

~♥~

Dear Dottir,

In the last decade or so, yes, Christmas trees, Santa Claus, elves and any commercialization possible has taken over.  Even here in this small village, in the little plaza up in town there is a Christmas tree with decorations.

Before this northern invasion, Christmas Eve was celebrated in the church, or quietly in the home, no tree, no gifts just a celebration of the birth and the mother.  Here on Mallorca and in Catalunya, they had another very strange custom. A young child sings the Sybila, a song of the Judgment Day. You can read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Song_of_the_Sibyl 

I have heard it sung many times over the years, because when I directed the church choir we were up in the organ loft, waiting for our turn to sing various Christmas songs from the region.  It is a haunting melody, very difficult for a child to sing, so they practice it for weeks before, no accompaniment of any kind, just that pure “white voice” as they call unchanged voices here. Here it is sung in a little church by a woman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfirOs1RGIc

In the Cathedral of Palma they make a real production of it, with full choir, organ and a young woman singing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aYV_Kqv44g– these may be beautiful, but I prefer the single child in the Deya church, innocently singing about the end of the world.  Every year a different child is chosen.

Before also, the decorations were basically “nerulas” or white paper cutouts like snowflakes, hung across the nave of the church and in houses.  The streets still are blazoned with lights, as traditionally – I first saw them in Barcelona in 1969 and was amazed. Take a look https://www.google.es/search?q=christmas+lights+in+Barcelona&hl=en&tbo=u&tbm=isch&source=univ&sa=X&ei=nZfRULDuGOyY0QWeuICoBA&ved=0CEMQsAQ&biw=1024&bih=614

As for myself, you know me – Stephanie and I would sometimes walk and look at the world, especially the stars which are exceptionally bright in winter, just appreciating Creation, perhaps lamenting its ultimate passing…

I will be doing that alone this year for sure, and will send my love to you all.  What I see from my balcony is this:

 Poppy's Window View

Where Chopin stayed in 1838 for the winter, so I have good company.

At night it is lit up, blocking the stars until late, when they are turned off.

 Poppy's View at Night

What will you be doing?  Have you found a compatible church where you can enjoy the songs of Christmas?

Lots of love,

Poppy

~♥~

Here is the link for the solo sung by a child, my favorite of the versions so far:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nANDw8XOHhU

 ~♥~

The Song of the Sibyl

On the Day of Judgment
The good go to heaven for their services.

An eternal King cometh
Dressed in our mortal flesh
He certainly will come from heaven
To judge the century.

Before the judgment is passed
A great sign will show itself
The sun will lose its shine
The earth will tremble with fear.

Then comes a mighty thunder
The sign of a great anger
In a hellish confusion
Rays and cries resound.

A great fire will fall from the sky
In a stench of sulfur
And the earth will burn furiously
And a great terror afflict people.

Then comes the terrible signal
A major earthquake
The rocks will break
And the mountains will collapse.

Then nobody will have gold pieces
Silver or wealth
And all await sentencing.

Death will leave you penniless
And all collide
Only men remain crying
And sadness will cover the world.

The plains and peaks are all the same
Good and bad will be achieved
Kings, dukes, earls and barons
They will have to account for their actions.

And then comes, unexpected
The son of God Almighty
He will judge the living and the dead
The good go to heaven.

The Unborn
Cry from the wombs of their mothers
And with her cries say
“Help us God Almighty”

Mother of God, pray for us
You, the Mother of All Sins
You have the judgment merciful
You have that paradise is open to us.

You who have heard it all
Pray to God with devotion
With all your heart and fervor
That should save us.

 ~♥~

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Salt of the Earth

Atheism, true ‘existential’ atheism, burning with hatred of a seemingly unjust or unmerciful God is a spiritual state; it is a real attempt to grapple with the true God Whose ways are so inexplicable even to the most believing of men, and it has more than once been known to end in a blinding vision of Him Whom the real atheist truly seeks. It is Christ Who works in these souls. The Antichrist is not to be found in the deniers, but in the small affirmers, whose Christ is only on the lips. Nietzsche, in calling himself Antichrist, proved thereby his intense hunger for Christ.

* This excerpt is from “Nihilism” by Eugene (later Fr. Seraphim) Rose

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It was very interesting trying to reblog this on both of my sites, but I finally succeeded…

Originally posted on Salt of the Earth:

Fr. Seraphim Rose of Platina Fr. Seraphim Rose of Platina

What, more realistically, is this “mutation,” the “new man”? He is the rootless man, discontinuous with a past that Nihilism has destroyed, the raw material of every demagogue’s dream; the “free-thinker” and skeptic, closed only to the truth but “open” to each new intellectual fashion because he himself has no intellectual foundation; the “seeker” after some “new revelation,” ready to believe anything new because true faith has been annihilated in him; the planner and experimenter, worshipping “fact” because he has abandoned truth, seeing the world as a vast laboratory in which he is free to determine what is “possible”; the autonomous man, pretending to the humility of only asking his “rights,” yet full of the pride that expects everything to be given him in a world where nothing is authoritatively forbidden; the man of the moment, without conscience or values and thus at the mercy…

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Fr. Seraphim Rose of Platina Fr. Seraphim Rose of Platina

What, more realistically, is this “mutation,” the “new man”? He is the rootless man, discontinuous with a past that Nihilism has destroyed, the raw material of every demagogue’s dream; the “free-thinker” and skeptic, closed only to the truth but “open” to each new intellectual fashion because he himself has no intellectual foundation; the “seeker” after some “new revelation,” ready to believe anything new because true faith has been annihilated in him; the planner and experimenter, worshipping “fact” because he has abandoned truth, seeing the world as a vast laboratory in which he is free to determine what is “possible”; the autonomous man, pretending to the humility of only asking his “rights,” yet full of the pride that expects everything to be given him in a world where nothing is authoritatively forbidden; the man of the moment, without conscience or values and thus at the mercy…

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My father sent me these lovely neules from Mallorca for Christmas!

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20141216_164038They are paper cuts made by nuns there during holiday season, and they are not only decorative but practical. They are hung in the cathedrals in Spain to help illiterate people keep track of the seasons and festivals during the year. They look like snowflakes hanging from the chandeliers and the slightest breeze makes them float and twirl.

20141217_113806I will always treasure them.

Peace be with you,

Sister Olive

~♥~

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“In My Father’s house are many mansions.  If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you”  John 14:2

English: Hans Christian Andersen at the house ...

I woke up this morning from a very interesting dream.  I was sitting in a cafe talking to an American fellow, explaining why I love Europe.  I said that Europeans don’t fret about hoarding possessions and money.  Instead they read books and go to concerts and sip wine with friends.

Then I told him a fantastic tale.  I said that my father lives in a palace facing the castle of Hans Christian Andersen, and it is just across the fjord.  I told him that my father and I visit him often at his castle for tea, and that Andersen wears a tall black hat like Abraham Lincoln.

Of course in my dream it was all true, so I was a bit disappointed to wake up.  But then my mind began to ramble on this idea, that if this life is a dream, I might awaken someday in that world.

Perhaps in Heaven I shall live in My Father’s palace across from Hans Christian Andersen.  Maybe we will have tea together- in a field of flowers under the moon. Then I might climb into my little golden boat with silken sails and glide across that crystal sea to visit Søren Kierkegaard and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Corrie Ten Boom and Mother Teresa and Black Elk…and Abraham Lincoln!

Why not?  Anything wonderful could happen in a world governed by King Jesus!

~♥~

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19th century painting of Our Lady.

I have been in Protestant circles for most of my life, and I find it curious that I have never heard a full-length sermon about the Virgin Mary, although her name pops up fleetingly and most often at Christmas.  I have often wondered why she is not properly spoken of in the context of Mother’s Day or other occasions considering that she was such a powerful and pure instrument of God. She is an amazing example of how every woman of God and mother should be. Although she was not rich or famous, she demonstrated a noble spirit and character that everyone could learn from. She remained humble even when she was chosen to perform the most amazing work for God’s plan.

Have you ever wondered why Christ didn’t just come down here on a fiery chariot like the one that Elijah departed in, or why He didn’t just walk here like Enoch or float down from Heaven on a cloud heralded by the sound of angelic trumpets? 

It seems to me that God wanted Jesus to enter here the same way that we all do, to experience being a helpless innocent child for a season.  And God wanted Him to have a mother while He was in this world as a seal of His humanity, and because there is nothing on Earth that compares to the love of a mother.

I did not care for some aspects of the movie “Passion of the Christ.” It was far too graphic for my taste, and it seemed like the director wanted to make Jesus into another Braveheart. But I did find one thing especially moving in the film:  the powerful presence of Mary. 

I had never stopped to consider what it must have been like to be the mother of Christ, to always be in His shadow observing His ministries, suffering, rejection, and death.  As a mother myself, it resonated with me in a mighty way.  I realized that God knew exactly what He was doing when He chose Mary.  She knew when to stay out of the way and when to be close.  She loved Jesus with incredible longsuffering and tenderness, and yet never interfered with God’s business.  Even at the cross, her heart was so strong and she too drank from a bitter cup that most of us would have refused. 

I don’t write this to steal any glory from Jesus the Messiah, because He is the one who willingly died to deliver us from sin and opened the door to Heaven for every soul. But I don’t think we should be afraid to talk about His earthly mother and learn from her character.  She is a Biblical woman to celebrate. Because there’s just something about Mary.

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Jesus, the Strong Man

I was moved by this post today, especially the image of Christ as the strong man who carried us all on His shoulders…It makes me imagine Him flexing His muscles under the burden of our sins.

Shalom,

Sister Olive

~♥~

Writing Sisters

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And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . . John 1:14

We love these words from C.S. Lewis:

The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation.  They say that God became Man.  Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this. . . .

In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity . . . down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature He has created.

But He goes down to come up again and bring the ruined world up with Him. One has the picture of a strong man stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches…

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I really appreciate the brave Brother Basilius blowing the trumpet from Africa about false doctrine in our times.  He writes about the prosperity gospel saying, “Gambling has simply been spiritualized…and now given a Christian name…” In other words, false teachers are selling a lie that if you put enough into the offering you might get back some blessings. This is a terrible misuse of Christ’s teachings to help leaders make money from the poor.

Please take a moment to visit this brother’s site at: 

http://savouringthegospel.wordpress.com/about/about-basilius/

Let’s savour the gospel together!

Peace be with you,

Sister Olive

~♥~

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Sandro Botticelli, Magnificat, 1480-81, temper...

I love and enjoy the Holy Scriptures, and there are passages throughout that I have special fondness for.  I love how Peter writes that God chooses the stones that the builder rejects.  I love Hebrews 11 where the writer describes the great patriarchs of faith.  And there are several parts of the Bible which lend themselves perfectly to prayer: I love to pray the 23rd Psalm and The Lord’s Prayer.

The styles and tone of the battle king and the fishermen and the converted Pharisee are all distinctive and strong and hard-hitting, but one passage gently strums the strings of my heart because of its graceful feminine voice.  Nothing “speaks to my condition” like the Magnificat, expressions from the soul of a woman who humbly loved God. It affects me on a very personal level as a daughter of God, and I love to recite it in my prayers:

My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior, for He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden, for behold from henceforth shall all generations call me blessed, for He that is mighty hath done unto me great things, and Holy is His Name. 

(Luke 1:46-55)

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The Way of the HeartOur society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul. The basic question is whether we ministers of Jesus Christ have not already been so deeply molded by the seductive powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our own and other people’s fatal state.

Just look for a moment at our daily routine. In general, we are very busy people. We have many meetings to attend, many visits to make, many services to lead. Our calendars are filled with appointments, our days and weeks are filled with engagements, and our years filled with plans and projects. There is seldom a period in which we do not know what to do and we move through life in such a distracted way that we do not ever take the time and rest to wonder if any of the things we think, say or do are worth thinking, saying or doing. We simply go along with the many “musts” and “oughts” that have been handed on to us. People must be motivated to come to Church, youth must be entertained, money must be raised and, above all, everyone must be happy. Moreover, we ought to be on good terms with the Church and civil authorities; we ought to be liked or at least respected by a fair majority of our parishioners; we ought to move up in the ranks according to schedule; and we ought to have enough vacation and salary to live a comfortable life. Thus we are busy people just like all other busy people, rewarded with the rewards which are rewarded to busy people.

All this is simply to suggest how horrendously secular our ministerial lives tend to be. Why is this so? The answer is quite simple. Our identity, our sense of self, is at stake. Secularity is a way of being dependent on the responses of our milieu. The secular or false self is the self which is fabricated by social compulsions. “Compulsive” is indeed the best adjective for the false self. It points to the need for ongoing and increasing affirmation.

Passage from “The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence” by Henri Nouwen

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Cover of "The Inner Voice of Love"

When I first read this passage in Henri Nouwen’s book The Inner Voice of Love, I felt as if the Holy Ghost was speaking directly to me and that I was seeing myself for the first time in a magnified mirror.  I suddenly realized that I have been searching for my father for most of my life; in sweethearts, friends, professors, and spiritual leaders. Perhaps some of you can identify with this battle:

 “You have to let your father and father figures go. You must stop seeing yourself through their eyes and trying to make them proud of you.

For as long as you can remember, you have been a pleaser, depending on others to give you an identity. You need not look at that only in a negative way. You wanted to give your heart to others, and you did so quickly and easily. But now you are being asked to let go of all these self-made props and trust that God is enough for you. You must stop being a pleaser and reclaim your identity as a free self.”

Excerpt from “The Inner Voice of Love:  A Journey through Anguish to Freedom” by Henri Nouwen

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I attended Mass recently, and I found the lyrics to this song to be haunting:

People, look east. The time is near 
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.

Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
One more seed is planted there:
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the rose, is on the way.

Birds, though you long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen
God for fledging time has chosen.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the bird, is on the way.

Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the star, is on the way.

Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
Christ who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.

People, Look East” was written by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965) and was first published as “Carol of Advent”

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But of that day or hour no man knoweth, neither the angels
in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father. 
(Mark 13:32)

I visited an Episcopal church recently, and I asked a lady the meaning of the last line of the Doxology that says “World without end.”  She was a bit embarrassed and said she wasn’t sure, because she wasn’t really “up” on theology.  Then she approached a Sunday school teacher who didn’t seem to know either, although he tried to wing it.

I guess I’m funny that way.  I like to know exactly what I’m singing and saying in my prayers.  Whose world are we referring to?  Surely it doesn’t mean our world will never end.  Or does it?  Everyone thought the world was going to end yesterday, but it didn’t! Big surprise…

Jesus said He doesn’t even know when the end of time will be, so it strikes me as funny that people keep trying to figure it out.  Why do we play these guessing games? If only Christians would read the Bible more. Christ said the end would be like a thief in the night, and that’s a pretty straightforward analogy.  He said if you knew when a thief was coming, you could bust ’em quick.  But it’s not like that…we don’t know, so we’ve got to always be prepared. It’s aggravating, I know, but that’s just how it is.

P.S.  If you know what “world without end” means, please tell me…okay? I love to learn new stuff.

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I found this devotional by Oswald Chambers to be really meaningful in my own life.  It is so human to cling tightly to other people, even to spiritual leaders who are just as flawed as I am.

This passage encourages me to cherish my Heavenly Father above all other relationships, because He alone will remain with me when I am facing my own Jordan’s.

Growing in Grace,

“Sister Olive”

This Experience Must Come

Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha . . . saw him no more —2 Kings 2:11-12

It is not wrong for you to depend on your “Elijah” for as long as God gives him to you. But remember that the time will come when he must leave and will no longer be your guide and your leader, because God does not intend for him to stay. Even the thought of that causes you to say, “I cannot continue without my ’Elijah.’ ” Yet God says you must continue.

Alone at Your “Jordan” (2 Kings 2:14). The Jordan River represents the type of separation where you have no fellowship with anyone else, and where no one else can take your responsibility from you. You now have to put to the test what you learned when you were with your “Elijah.” You have been to the Jordan over and over again with Elijah, but now you are facing it alone. There is no use in saying that you cannot go— the experience is here, and you must go. If you truly want to know whether or not God is the God your faith believes Him to be, then go through your “Jordan” alone.

Alone at Your “Jericho” (2 Kings 2:15). Jericho represents the place where you have seen your “Elijah” do great things. Yet when you come alone to your “Jericho,” you have a strong reluctance to take the initiative and trust in God, wanting, instead, for someone else to take it for you. But if you remain true to what you learned while with your “Elijah,” you will receive a sign, as Elisha did, that God is with you.

Alone at Your “Bethel” (2 Kings 2:23). At your “Bethel” you will find yourself at your wits’ end but at the beginning of God’s wisdom. When you come to your wits’ end and feel inclined to panic— don’t! Stand true to God and He will bring out His truth in a way that will make your life an expression of worship. Put into practice what you learned while with your “Elijah”— use his mantle and pray (see 2 Kings 2:13-14). Make a determination to trust in God, and do not even look for Elijah anymore.

This Experience Must Come | My Utmost For His Highest.

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To read the entire “Divine Doorkeepers” essay as one continuous page, please click on this link:

https://olivetwist.wordpress.com/essays/divine-doorkeepers/

I hope you have enjoyed this series.

Peace & Grace to You,

“Sister Olive”

~♥~

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(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

The writers and orators in this essay were chosen because of their tireless efforts in the furtherance of God’s kingdom, with particular emphasis on revival and reform.  All of them address people with truthful compassion and concern for their souls, and none of them conform to the status quo religion of the day or are crowd-pleasers. While these authors seldom mention each other, they all are concerned with the common purpose of advancing the Kingdom of God, many of them at the expense of their own comforts and livelihoods.

At times their messages and styles bear striking resemblances to each other. Fox and Claiborne are iconoclasts, seeking to tear down the “graven images” of empty religion and draw believers to a deeper personal spirituality. Spurgeon and Moody both have a gentle chiding style in their writings and sermons. Kierkegaard and Lewis tend to personify God to establish our kinship with him, and they have a more argumentative and logical style which is well-suited for dealing with more scholarly audiences. Like Miller, they are also fond of humor and satire to illustrate their teachings.  Lewis, Fox and Kierkegaard enjoy using fantasy-like style to create fables and allegorical tales. The sense of a hero on a spiritual journey can be found in the writings of several of the mentioned authors, including Fox, Lewis, Miller, and Claiborne, who write their memoirs in a way that the reader can travel with them on their path as they seek answers to life’s questions.

Through artful literary devices, these spiritual authors coax unbelievers to contemplate the divine. Savant states that through metaphor we can open the doorway to the supernatural realm: “Precisely because metaphor suggests meaning or sensibilities beyond quantification–beyond plain-speaking and common sense–it serves as a tool, however imperfect, with which we can open up the mysterious in human life and destiny” (18). While earlier writers used farming and weather images to address people who lived on farms and dealt with seasons, seed times, and harvests, modern authors have evolved and become more scientific, industrial, and sociological. Though the metaphors of spiritual writers change to suit their audience, they continue to recognize that stories and illustrations are a powerful tool to make God and the Spirit realm more tangible.

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(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

Shane Claiborne is one of the founders of a New Monastic community called the Potter Street Community (formerly The Simple Way) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Claiborne worked with Mother Teresa during a ten-week term in Calcutta, and worked in Baghdad with the Iraq Peace Team.

Shane Claiborne was raised in East Tennessee where he and his family attended an old-fashioned Methodist church.  Being both idealistic and intelligent, he began at an early age to question what all of the activities and programs in his church had to do with Jesus or being a disciple. His sincerity and earnestness toward God are reminiscent of George Fox as a young man, going about questioning the authorities in religion and seeking for the true meaning of “taking up the cross” of Christ. In one of his books called The Irresistible Revolution, he speaks of wanting to follow Christ but not knowing where he could buy a staff.  By merely mentioning the staff in the context of modern life, he accomplishes two things:  He makes the reader laugh, and he puts forth the concept of embarking on a spiritual pilgrimage without the proper equipment.

Most of his writings evoke a sense of conflict internally and externally.  Claiborne uses a metaphor in his chapter entitled “Spiritual Bulimia” to illustrate the growing hunger for God and the fact that he was not being “fed” by the church:

I developed a common ailment that haunts Western Christianity.  I call it spiritual bulimia.  Bulimia, of course, is a tragic eating disorder, largely linked to identity and image, where folks consume large amounts of food but vomit it up before it has a chance to digest.  I developed a spiritual form of it where I did my devotions, read all the new Christian books and saw the Christian movies, and then vomited information up to friends, small groups, and pastors.  But it never had a chance to digest.  I had gorged myself on all the products of the Christian industrial complex but was spiritually starving to death.  I was marked by an overconsumptive but malnourished spirituality, suffocated by Christianity but thirsty for God. (Revolution 39)

Claiborne strengthens his analogy with strong verb metaphors such as “gorged”, “vomited”, “starving”, and “suffocated” as well as strong adjectives like “overconsumptive” and “malnourished”.  These all enhance the metaphor of the spiritual sickness that was tormenting him so that he could not “digest” the truth.

Claiborne uses Babylon as a metaphor for the worldly kingdom that wars with the kingdom of Heaven in his book entitled Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals.  In the chapter “The Empire has No Clothes,” he talks about the spiritual marriage of believers to God and the problem of the church lusting after the world system which is represented in this passage as a prostitute:

John’s language couldn’t be clearer:  we are to “come out” of her literally to pull ourselves out.  Let’s be honest here: this is rated R…Scholars point out that this is erotic language and that the words John uses are the same ones used for coitus interruptus— to interrupt sexual intercourse before climax.  As John is speaking of this steamy love affair with the empire, he calls the church to “pull out of her”– to leave romance with the world and be wooed by God, to remember our first love, to say no to all other lovers. (150)

After quoting John’s metaphor, Claiborne compares worldly desire to a whore who tempts believers into spiritual adultery, and Christ is portrayed as the one true love to whom a believer must always be faithful. This is a very powerful juxtaposition which is easily understood by the reader with all of its connotations.  Claiborne uses his illustrations in attempt to be a catalyst in the church system which he considers to be largely in conflict Christ’s teachings.  Like Bonhoeffer, he advocates monastic life within the secular community, not in an isolated place.

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(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

Clive Staples Lewis was a highly acclaimed Christian apologist.  He was born and raised in Ireland and as an adult became a faculty member at Oxford University in England. Lewis had been baptized in the Church of Ireland at birth, but gave up his faith during adolescence. Because of Tolkien and other close friends, Lewis returned to Christianity when he was thirty-two. He became known for his strong intellect and ability to debate with spokesmen of different faiths and philosophies.  In an article entitled “How Does C.S.Lewis do Apologetics?” Dr. Pavel Hosek describes Lewis’ appealing style:

As no one else he succeeded in attracting the mind of the unbelieving reader…Many Christians testify that they only learned to really look for heaven after reading Lewis’ books. The way he is able to picture heaven and the spiritual world in general very often enables the reader to taste the heavenly quality, its atmosphere, beauty and splendor (par 11).

Having been an atheist in his younger years, he was especially capable to address a broader audience than most Christian writers, and to consider questions that people ask about God and faith.  While Fox seemed to be an alchemist, and Finney seemed to be a lawyer, Lewis speaks with the voice of a professor addressing other scholars.  He uses metaphor and personification throughout his books, to enable the reader to comprehend the complexities of good and evil in a fallen world.

In Mere Christianity, he illustrates many of his concepts with comparisons to people.  In this segment, he describes what true pride is as compared to humility.  First he says that “Pride leads to every other vice; it is the complete anti-god state of mind.” Then he uses the metaphor of a young girl to illustrate the nature of pride: “What makes a pretty girl spread misery wherever she goes by collecting admirers?  Certainly not her sexual instinct: that kind of girl is quite often sexually frigid.  It is Pride” (Classics 103-104).  The way that Lewis personifies Pride as a careless woman enables the reader to see the true nature of this vice as being senselessly competitive and self-centered.

In his essay called “The Obstinate Tin Soldiers”, he compares people who avoid God to toy soldiers who, like Pinocchio, have come to life:

Did you ever think, when you were a child, what fun it would be if your toys could come to life?  Well suppose you could really have brought them to life.  Imagine turning a tin soldier into a real little man…And suppose the tin soldier did not like it…all he sees is that the tin is being spoilt.  He thinks you are killing him. (Classics146)

Lewis is using the story to explain how people fear that their lives will be ruined if they allow God to take charge and kill their sinful natures, which really brings them to life. The irony here is hilarious and Kierkegaardian in style, because the toy which was never alive in the first place thinks he has been killed, and was made better but thinks he is ruined. It is humorous to imagine the soldier worrying about its tin being damaged. The story makes it seem silly that humans can feel so threatened by God.  Lewis is the master of creating imaginative metaphors that allow people to laugh at themselves.

In The Great Divorce, Lewis responds to William Blake’s book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and uses the metaphor of divorce to show that good and evil are opposing forces that can never be reconciled.  He uses a simile of a tree whose branches keep separating to illustrate this spiritual principle:

We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre: rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork, you must make a decision…life is not like a river but like a tree.  It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. (Classics 465)

In this example, Lewis illustrates his belief that all roads don’t lead to Heaven and Christ is not merely another “great teacher.”  Like Kierkegaard, Lewis always seems to be in debating mode and tries to challenge those who think they are too intelligent for God. He always is seeking dialogue with his readers.

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(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a British Baptist preacher, but his style stirred the interest of Christians of all denominations.  He is referred to by many as the “Prince of Preachers”.  He was born in Kelvedon, Essex and was converted on January 6, 1850. His conversion occurred when a snow storm cut one of his journeys short and he stopped into a Primitive Methodist chapel in Colchester.

Spurgeon preached up to ten times per week in different locations during his years of ministry. He was the pastor of the New Park Street Chapel (later the Metropolitan Tabernacle) in London for thirty-eight years and was a prolific author of many types of works.  He wrote sermons, an autobiography, devotions, poetry,a hymnist, prayer books,and more. Many of his sermons were transcribed as he spoke and translated into many languages.

Charles Spurgeon has a graceful poetic style in his writing and speaking, and his voice is elevated and lyrical.  He has a remarkably sensitive and gentle voice by comparison to other evangelical authors and preachers, as he is full of comfort and encouragement.  His writing is melodious and flowing and almost angelic in its tone, and his metaphors evoke a sense of divine music.  One of his most “musical” transcribed sermons is his aptly titled “Songs in the Night” (Job 35:10, KJV).    He begins by exhorting the reader about how to maintain good cheer in the midst of distress:

Anyone can sing in the day. When the cup is full, one draws inspiration from it; when wealth rolls in abundance around them, anyone can sing to the praise of a God who gives an abundant harvest.  It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but the skillful singer is the one who can sing when there is not a ray of light to read by—who sings from their heart, and not from a book that they can see. (Songs I-1)

This passage contains many of the poetic elements used by Fox in his epistles, such as the contrast of light and darkness, and the exhortation to sing in the thick night. The songs represent joy and the night represents times of adversity. The full cup and the harvest are images of abundance. He uses them to clarify that it takes no strength of character to be cheerful when one has wealth and comfort.

Then his images shift when he speaks of singing without any light to read the notes by, from an inward book which cannot be seen. The darkness is a symbol for the times when things appear bleak to us and we have to grope for happiness.  The “skillful singer” is a graceful metaphor for the one who can retain joy in times of tribulation, and memorizing the words as opposed to reading them re-emphasizes the skill of the vocalist. The passage is richly sensual, engaging both sight and hearing and also full of contrasts of light and darkness, joy and pain, music and silence.  Rather than merely telling the reader of joy in the midst of trials, he paints glorious pictures and makes lofty music to illustrate his message.

 Let all things go as I please—I will weave songs, weave them wherever I go, with the flowers that grow along my path; but put me in a desert, where there are no flowers, and how will I weave a chorus of praise to God? How will I make a crown for him? Let this voice be free, and this body be full of health, and I can sing God’s praise; but stop this tongue, lay me on the bed of suffering, and it is not so easy to sing from the bed, and chant high praises in the fires…confine me, chain my spirit, clip my wings, make me very sad, so that I become old like the eagle—ah! Then it is hard to sing. (Songs I-1)

His flowing musical style creates a tone of worship.  The coupling of the verb metaphor “weaving” with “songs” is aesthetically pleasing as weaving is rhythmic like musical notes.  “Chanting praises in the fire” is remarkably visual and conjures up an image of strong faith.  He writes that the desert has no flowers to weave a chorus and then asks how to make a crown of praise for God; these two sentences make the reader associate weaving with crowns, and this seems to imply the crown of thorns.  The old eagle is similar to T. S. Eliot’s verse from “Ash Wednesday” about the aged eagle that no longer stretches its wings, and both authors are speaking about mortality and loss of dreams.

While making melody can produce comfort in a troubled mind, Spurgeon is not referring to a real song, but to a supernatural state of mind which he asserts can be retained through the Spirit, which makes people resilient beyond the limits of human fortitude. The unfruitful fig tree is symbolic of the times of struggle, and the divine song represents an attitude of acceptance and peace.

He then speaks of not trying to create joy but to simply ask for it, and he uses a metaphor of an old well pump:

So, then, poor Christian, you needn’t go pumping up your poor heart to make it glad. Go to your Maker, and ask him to give you a song in the night. You are a poor dry well: you have heard it said, that when a pump is dry, you must pour water down it first of all, to prime the pump, and then you will get some up; and so, Christian, when you are dry, go to God, ask him to pour some joy down you, and then you will get some joy up from your own heart. (Songs I-2)

The water Spurgeon refers to is a metaphor for joy, and he tells readers that they are “poor dry wells.”  The old well pump was a familiar household appliance during the days in which he preached, and he uses it as a symbol for striving to find joy when the heart is troubled.  He tells his audience not to work at it on their own or “pump the well” because God can pour down the joy upon His people.

Spurgeon refers to God as the great composer of songs, meaning that God is the one who creates the joy that man cannot find inside of himself.

It may be darkness now; but I know the promises were sweet; I know I had blessed seasons in his church. I am quite sure of this; I used to enjoy myself in the ways of the Lord; and though now my paths are strewn with thorns, I know it is the King’s highway. It was a way of pleasantness once; it will be a way of pleasantness again… Christian, perhaps the best song you can sing, to cheer you in the night, is the song of yesterday morning. (Songs Part II-1)

Spurgeon suggests that people should encourage themselves by remembrance of better times, and he presents the notion of life having seasons.  Seasons illustrate that “pleasantness” will always circle around again after a time in which the path is covered in thorns. The thorns were used by Fox in his writings as well, and they are a symbol of piercing anguish and suffering in the human heart.  The King’s highway is another example of metaphor suggesting a pilgrimage. Spurgeon’s language and tone are effective, because rather than trying to appeal to the heart through abstractions, he creates imagery and music and moods through his flowing style and use of lyrical metaphors.

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(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

Søren Kierkegaard was a renowned Danish philosopher, theologian and religious author. He was born to an affluent family in Copenhagen, and his mother was employed as a maid in the household before marrying his father.

Kierkegaard was greatly influenced by Socrates and the Socratic method of thinking. His theological writings primarily focus on the flaws in the church institution and the crowd-driven mentality of believers. He was strongly opposed to the way that theology and organized religion had tarnished the Gospel message, and he believed that seminaries taught Christians to think and talk about God rather than to take any kind of action. His writings beg for soul-searching and an active response from the reader.

Dr. George Pattison writes of the author’s style in his introduction to Kierkegaard’s Spiritual Writings: “The discourses are not plodding expositions of ready-made dogmas, but have an almost conversational feel, sometimes serious, sometimes playful, but always seeking to open a dialogue with the reader, whose own response is anticipated and responded to” (57).

Kierkegaard tells stories about God humanizing Himself willingly out of His great love for people.  He depicts Christians as thieves and cheaters who twist the gospel to suit their own agenda. Here he portrays the struggle between worldly religion and true spirituality:  “…The Bible is very easy to understand.  But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers.  We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly…Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament” (Provocations 201). His representation of religious folks as “scheming swindlers” is a piercing metaphor that suggests deception and misuse of something valuable.

In one of his letters, Kierkegaard presents God as being a creator who fashioned humans in His own image, and loved them so deeply that He placed Himself into their lives. He asserts that the Incarnated God taught people about service to others by His own example.  In this passage he uses an analogy pertaining to artists and their productions to illustrate how even God lowered Himself out of compassion for humans:

If a poet or an artist puts himself into his Productions he is criticized. But that is exactly what God does, he does so in Christ. And precisely that is Christianity. The creation was really only completed when God included himself in it. Before the coming of Christ, God was certainly in the creation, but as an invisible sign, like the watermark in paper. But the creation was completed by the Incarnation because God thereby included himself in it. (Journals 324)

This statement bears resemblance to one of the parables of Jesus, in which God finally arrives on the scene Himself when his workers have rebelled against Him in the vineyard where he hired them to work (Mark 12:1-10, NKJV). These stories have power because they present the idea that God is one of our kind and that He loved us enough to get involved in our drama of sorrow and suffering and even our mortality.  Kierkegaard’s comparison to the creation without Christ as being as a watermark on paper adds a touch of mystery, because it portrays the idea that we don’t see everything that exists.

In the chapter from Provocations entitled “Behold the Birds of the Air,” Kierkegaard spins a fable about wood doves.  Using an opening like his fellow Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen, he writes of one wild dove that refuses to live in a dovecote under the care of a kind farmer: “Once upon a time there was a wood dove. It had its nest in the fearsome forest, where wonder and apprehension dwelt together, among the erect, lonely trees. But nearby, where the smoke rises up from the farmer’s house, lived some tame doves” (148). The wild dove is a metaphor for a person who chooses to live without divine authority.  The “fearsome forest” where “wonder and apprehension” live together is an aesthetic way of portraying the world and the conflicts that beset us each day.  The reader is hereby summoned into a sense of inner tension which Kierkegaard evokes to show the awful state of man without God. Through interactions between the wild dove and the tame ones, the writer portrays the inner friction between faith and the natural mind:

From now on, the wood dove began to worry. His feathers lost their glint of color, his flight lost buoyancy. He was no longer joyful; indeed, he was almost envious of the rich, tame doves… In worrying about his needs he had trapped himself in a snare in which no birdcatcher could have trapped him, trapped as only a free creature can trap himself. (Provocations 148)

The “tame doves” depict the faithful who don’t live unto themselves and need not worry about their livelihood or their future. Kierkegaard uses artful paradoxes and images to represent the anxiety that began to trouble the “free” dove, describing the loss of luster in his feathers and how he felt weighted down when he attempted to fly. The glossy feathers and lightness are symbols for joy and peace, and the lack of them implies strain and encumbrances.  The wild dove that “has trapped himself…as only a free creature can trap himself” is an apt representation for a man who cannot extricate himself from his ways because his ego is at stake. The author creates irony in that the tame birds are free and the wild bird is in bondage.

Kierkegaard was accomplished in the art of addressing controversial subjects with satire and paradox and allegorical tales, and by using graceful metaphors to illustrate his views in an evocative manner.

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A young American missionary couple rode their bicycles together down a muddy road in Africa after a heavy rain. The woman was pregnant and was due to give birth soon.  The mud became so thick that their bicycle wheels could not turn in the mud, and they could not maneuver through the tall roadside grass either.  It was dusk, and the wife was becoming exhausted. They were worried that wild animals would start to come out of hiding.

Two tall strong men with tribal markings on their faces appeared out of nowhere, and asked if they could help them.  First they gave them tall boots, and the woman was astonished by how effortlessly they were able to stride through the mud. Then the native men offered to carry their bicycles back to their huts. The missionary couple thanked them, and the tall men lifted the bicycles across their shoulders and strode away gracefully.

When the couple returned to the village, they were approached by several people in the village and asked about the two men who had left the bicycles at their hut.  To their surprise, the natives said they did not recognize the tribal markings on the faces of the men.  That seemed strange, since all of the tribes in the region were very familiar with each other.

The Spirit revealed to the missionaries that the two tall men were angels who had been sent to help and protect them when they were in trouble.

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(From EvangeLegends)

A nomadic tribe near Sudan reported a great miracle. They say they were traveling through the desert, and came upon a waterhole that was completely dry.  They always plan their journeys in such a way as to pass waterholes, because they don’t carry water with them.  They know the geographical locations of all of them very well, because they can die of thirst in the desert if they travel too long without water. So they knew that the nearest waterhole from that spot was too distant for them to make it alive. Many of the people in the tribe began to weep aloud, and some of them laid down to wait for death.

But one of the natives told the others that he had heard another tribe singing songs to a god named Jesus, whom they said could save people.  He asked if anyone had ever heard of Jesus before, and the others said no.  Then the man asked if they wanted to try singing to Jesus, to see if He could save them.  They all agreed, and they began to sing a song that the man had heard the other tribe singing.

They sang loudly and earnestly, and to their astonishment, a cloud began to form over them.  It got darker and heavier, and then it began to rain into the waterhole until it was filled up. After the people drank all the water they needed, they continued on their journey and told everyone they met about the amazing thing that had happened. They kept inquiring about Jesus, until they finally met some missionaries who told them all about Him and His teachings.  The entire tribe became Christians because they had called upon the name of Jesus and He had saved them from death.

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(From EvangeLegends)

A missionary couple began to translate the Bible into the dialect of a certain tribe in Africa, and the whole village was excited when the first mimeographed sheets of the Book of Mark arrived.  The natives gathered in their huts every night to read the scriptures, and one evening they invited the missionaries to come and lead them.  The couple agreed, and after holding a study they visited informally with the people.  They asked one of the native men if he had enjoyed the meeting, and he replied, “It was good, but it isn’t what we normally do.”

“What do you usually do?” the missionary’s wife asked.

“We just read the Word, and go out and do what it says.”

~♥~

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Charles Spurgeon (C.H. Spurgeon)

“If it is daylight in my heart, I can sing songs touching my graces—songs touching my sweet experience—songs touching my duties—songs touching my labors; but let the night come—my graces appear to have withered; my evidences, though they are there, are hidden; I cannot clearly read my title to my mansion in heaven. And now I have nothing left to sing of but my God. It is strange, that when God gives his children mercies, they normally set their hearts more on the mercies than on the Giver of them; but when the night comes, and he sweeps all the mercies away, then right away they say, “Now, my God, I have nothing to sing of but you; I must come to you; and to you only.”

Anyone can sing in the day. When the cup is full, one draws inspiration from it; when wealth rolls in abundance around them, anyone can sing to the praise of a God who gives an abundant harvest.  It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but the skillful singer is the one who can sing when there is not a ray of light to read by—who sings from their heart, and not from a book that they can see.

Let all things go as I please—I will weave songs, weave them wherever I go, with the flowers that grow along my path; but put me in a desert, where there are no flowers, and how will I weave a chorus of praise to God? How will I make a crown for him? Let this voice be free, and this body be full of health, and I can sing God’s praise; but stop this tongue, lay me on the bed of suffering, and it is not so easy to sing from the bed, and chant high praises in the fires…confine me, chain my spirit, clip my wings, make me very sad, so that I become old like the eagle—ah! Then it is hard to sing.”

Excerpt from a Sermon

Preached by Charles Spurgeon in the late 1800’s

~♥~

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(From “A Cloud of Witnesses”)

Today is September 14, 2008 and I am standing before the church.  I can see Elder Thomas over my right shoulder as he reclines behind the lofty pulpit on a dark carved chair with velvety red upholstery.  To my left, his wife Annie and daughter Sheilah are seated with the church mothers, facing the altar.  I see Mother Lee opening her Bible, Mother General with her handbag tied to her walker, and Mother Hendrieth with weak shaky feet walking slowly down the aisle clinging to the arm of Donquarius.  Here comes Mother Craine towards the front row. The ladies hats are circled with lace and netting and brocade and braids of gold.  Their hats nod as the women whisper softly to one another.

To my right on the other side of the altar are the brothers: Deacon Williams with his stout strong frame, Deacon Hatten leaning forward with his hands on his knees, and Deacon Ronnie  wearing orthopedic pads and braces, while his crutches lean against the pew. His brother, Deacon Sammie stands near the white-gloved ushers at the back of the church.

Directly in front of me, I see Brother and Sister Spotford, who have been married a few months.  Her shoulder rests against his and their fingers are entwined.  Sister Hatten has come in from the kitchen to sit down next to where I usually am seated.  Sister Green, slender and graceful, is surrounded by her four lovely young daughters a few rows back on the right, and her mother rests at the end of the same pew next to the wall.  Sister Angela Passmore sits just in front of her, smiling softly and Sister Bertha is walking out of the office.

These are my brothers and sisters and parents by the Spirit.  Everyone is dressed in white today, because it is Missions Sunday, the second Sunday of the month.  How appropriate it is, considering the words I have been given about the bride. They look like a wedding party.

Today I shall be a mouthpiece for my Father. I have a message from the Spirit.  Two weeks or so ago, I was in prayer when I received this Word.  With apprehension, I asked God to give me a platform if it was truly His will for me to deliver it.  I never like to speak until I am sure.

Then it happened.  Sister Thomas, the pastor’s wife, called me yesterday and asked me to be the speaker this morning.  She said she would email me with the topic and scriptures.  After checking the email several times, I called her to let her know that her message had not come through.  I only had one night to prepare and now she was away from her computer, so she said “Just go ahead and speak on whatever you like.”

That is when I knew it was time.

I prayed earnestly last night, knowing that God had indeed given me the message and the platform.  The burden of the Word weighs heavily in my mind. I have no notes except for a scripture verse on a little card which is in my Bible.  All I can do now is to pray that His Spirit will come out of my mouth and do the work. Now it is time, and I am standing before the people of God.  This moment will always be frozen in my memory, as the day God let me speak with His voice inside of me.

I thank God for this opportunity to speak with you today.  This may come as a surprise to you, but God gave me a message for His people about two or three weeks ago.  I was in prayer by my bed after tossing and turning most of the night, as I kept pondering the state of the church, and why it is so powerless and hated in the world scene. I wondered why our district elder has been in his wheelchair for eleven years, and all of the saints together cannot pray well enough to bring about his healing. I kept crying and asking God, “What is wrong with us?  Where has our power gone?” 

The next morning, I awoke crying again and knelt by my bed and said, “Lord, why am I crying like this?” 

The Spirit of God broke into my thoughts, and said, “Because my heart is breaking, and I am sharing it with you.” 

“Why?” I asked. 

“Because the hearts of My people who are called by My name are not right before me, and I can’t come into my house, because I am holy, and I can’t come into an unholy place.” 

“Why are you telling me this, Lord?” I cried. 

“Because I want you to tell my people that I am holding them responsible for this lost generation, because they are driving people away from My Kingdom.”

I told the Lord that I would speak His words if He gave me a platform, because then I would know that they were true and not just my own imaginings or emotions. 

As you can see, God confirmed his message.  Sister Thomas called me yesterday to ask me to speak, so I am doing as I promised God I would do.

I will call this message today “The Bride of Christ”.

I will begin with a scripture in which Jesus is telling the Pharisees, “It is not enough that you will not enter the Kingdom of God yourselves, but you are also preventing others from entering.  You travel over land and sea to find one convert, and then you make him twice as much a son of Hell as yourselves.” 

Today, churches are still doing the opposite of what Jesus intended them to do. We are driving people away, instead of drawing them in.  The world sees the corruption and greed in the church and wants no part of it. They see through our programs and our polish and see everything for what it is.  Who do we think we are fooling?  We aren’t fooling people.  Or God, for that matter. 

There was a time when the world came to church when they had a need that they could not deal with on their own.  When they had exhausted all of their human powers and needed divine intervention, they came to church.  But now, the church is going into the world looking for what it has to offer.  One elder I know called this “spiritual adultery.”  The church is Christ’s bride, and has no part in the world. 

But we cut on our television and let the world tell us how to dress and wear our hair, how to make more money, and how to have a better sex life.  We have learned money-making skills from the world and are using them in the church. Religion has become a business today, a highly profitable business.

But God doesn’t operate like the world does. We should be focusing on God for all of our needs and letting Him guide us, but we are learning from people who are ruled by a different set of values.  We are citizens of another Kingdom, but we are bowing to the gods of the world. 

People make many excuses for why the church is so worldly.  “The church is a human institution” they say, so it can’t be perfect. But it is not a human institution, and it is supposed to be without a spot or blemish, according to the scriptures. It is a divine institution, and the first time the word “church” appears in the Holy Scriptures is when Jesus spoke of it to Peter and said “Upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” 

The world judges Christ based upon its view of the church, and that is how it will always be, regardless of the excuses we make.  You cannot tell the world to ignore the church and look at Christ.  They know that the church is supposed to be founded upon Jesus. 

The Bride represents the Bridegroom. Married couples represent each other whether they are together in public or apart. Mrs. Spotford here represents Mr. Spotford and he represents her even when they are absent from one another.  

The church is Christ’s Holy Bride, and her only focus should be making herself as pure and beautiful as possible to meet Him. This is all that she should be concerning herself with. Pleasing Christ.

Think about a wedding you have been to.  The anticipation of the Bride is intense.  Have you ever seen a bride looking ugly or ragged?  No, the bride prepares herself to look radiant and graceful and without a blemish.  The crowd enjoys seeing the flower girls, the ring-bearer, and the bridegroom waiting there.  But all eyes are looking for the Bride to come down the aisle.  She is the centerpiece, the jewel of the ceremony.  When the piano plays the bridal march for her coming, the crowd stands and stares at her glorious elegance and beauty. Has anyone seen an ugly bride?  I never have. 

But the Bride of Christ isn’t looking good at all.  She doesn’t even look like a bride.  She looks like something else. (Chuckles come from the congregation.)

The world is looking for a suitable Bride of Christ, and cannot find her.  As long as the Bride is corrupt, the world will continue to play and behave as they do.  When the people of God get serious, the world will follow suit.  When worldly people observe the saints falling at the altar weeping and repenting, they will do the same thing.

We must address the greed and the corruption. God never said that money was a seed of the Kingdom.  The seed was the Word of God.  We must stop trying to sell Jesus and the gospel to people, and stop oppressing the poor by constantly nagging them for money.  When evangelists on television and in our pulpits tell us to sow a seed (referring to money), they just want to reap a harvest.  Jesus said the seed is the Word of God, and the harvest we are seeking is souls.  Not money.  People are being tricked by religious leaders.

Jesus said if we cause one person to stumble and turn away from Him, it would be better to have a millstone tied around our necks and to be cast into the sea.  God is not pleased with His church and the scriptures say that judgment will begin in the house of God. 

I had a dream once that I was standing in a hotel lobby and a man came running in shouting “We need a sanctuary!  We need a sanctuary!”  Then there was a sound of weeping inside one of the hotel rooms down the hallway, and the door was open so I saw the man run inside that room. 

When I awoke, the thought came to me that a hotel room is where you go when you can’t go home.  The Spirit placed the thought in my mind that God cannot go into His House anymore, so He has to go to wherever people really want Him; in the hotel room, on the street corner, in the jail, in the hospital.  

Many times I have felt like giving up on the church, because I am so weary of the lies and deception.  But I love Jesus so dearly. I also love God’s congregation, and I have a vision of the Bride of Christ glowing and drawing people to God with her radiance and beauty and gentleness and love.  I just can’t give up on this vision. I hope that you will help me make this dream come true.

I am going to kneel at the altar now, and you may join me there if you like, but first let me read this scripture from Revelation 19:7-9:

“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’”.

It is done and I kneel at the wooden altar, and there I leave some diamond tears as a gift for my Beloved.  He comes to my side and places His invisible hand upon me. He is pleased with my offering today.

Then I feel an arm around my waist and a cheek pressed against mine.  It is Sister Hatten who is kneeling beside me. “That was beautiful,” she says softly.  As I pull myself off my knees, Sister Michelle comes and embraces me tightly, then Brother Spotford, then the pastor.  Elder Thomas’s eyes are sparkly and wet.  “We need more messages like that,” he says with earnestness.

~♥~

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(From “A Cloud of Witnesses”)

Sister Brenda was the wife of Deacon Proctor.  I always loved to hear her rich melodious prayers, and the way she clapped her hands as she prayed on her knees.  She had a beautiful glow about her face, and fiery eyes.

She composed her own spiritual music, and I learned many of her songs.  She and her husband would say that Brenda had a terrible speech impediment before she became a believer, and she used to be ashamed to talk to people.  But she said when she was reading about Moses and his fear of speaking, the Spirit assured her that He would help her.  I couldn’t tell that she had ever had a problem, but the deacon says she stuttered badly at one time.

One day in church, Sister Brenda was testifying and said, “Sometimes when I ask people if they are saved, they tell me they are just to keep me from bothering them anymore.  So now when they say that, I ask them what they were saved from.  If they can’t answer that, they probably aren’t saved.  A person who is truly saved is always anxious to tell people what God delivered them from.”

Once Sister Brenda approached me at church and said, “I dreamed about you last night.  You were climbing up a ladder, and I was right behind you.”

“Wow, that’s a really good dream,” I said. “I hope you haven’t had any dreams about us falling into a pit or anything.”

She laughed and shook her head, saying, “Sister Olive, I would’ve called you if I had a dream like that, and I would’ve said, ‘We need to shape up and get back on track.”

Sister Brenda died before I had finished writing about her. It’s ironical that she reached the top of that ladder ahead of me, and I am still trying not to lose my balance or fall down.

She passed away suddenly one Sunday morning in June.  I was in Tennessee at the time, and Elder Foster called to tell me the bad news.  He said, “As I was driving into the parking lot, I heard sirens and saw the ambulances pulling up,” he said.  “I thought it was one of the older members who had been having health problems, but as I went in, I saw Sister Brenda on the floor in front of the altar and the paramedics working hard trying to revive her.  They finally put her on the stretcher and took her in the ambulance, and she died at the hospital the next day.”  Sister Brenda was among the youngest women in our church, so it was a terrible blow to all of us.

Deacon Proctor lost his mother several weeks after losing his wife, and is still holding on by faith and inner strength. Ella Mae tells me that she finds it almost unbearable for her to hear anyone else sing Sister Brenda’s favorite song in church.  I can still hear it right now in my mind:

Just another day that the Lord has kept me

Just another day that the Lord has kept me

He has kept me from all evil

And my mind stayed on Jesus. 

Just another day that the Lord has kept me

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Sister Shirley is a radiant saint with a gift of mercy.  I have heard her speak about how she loves to visit the elderly people in her neighborhood, and rub them down with oil and give them comfort.  She visits people in the care home and sings songs about Jesus to encourage them.  She doesn’t mind doing the dirtier jobs and dealing with the more aggravating residents who no one else has patience with.  There is one woman who always has stool under her fingernails, and a nasty disposition to go along with it, but Sister Shirley sits by her bed and cleans her nails and talks gently with her.

Sister Shirley has had a lot of tragedy in her life, such as the drowning of her son when he was a teenager.  One Sunday, Deacon Proctor asked her if it was okay for him to speak about her son and she nodded.  But as the deacon talked about being in the hospital room when Sister Shirley’s son died, I saw her glasses fogging up with a mist, and she kept taking them off to clear them.

Sister Shirley was once stabbed by a woman and was taken to the hospital.  The doctor told her that the knife had missed her heart by less than an inch, and that she could have died. The woman who stabbed her has been released from jail and Sister Shirley always speaks to her with kindness whenever she sees her at the grocery store.  The woman glares at her as if she is crazy.

Sister Shirley had a terrible marriage, but remains friends with her ex-husband and often speaks to him about Jesus.  She has a son in prison that clings to her desperately whenever she visits and often calls her just to talk.

Sister Shirley has a quiet faith, despite all of the bad things that have happened to her, and she is a beautiful example of the love and compassion of God.

 ╬

(For More Portraits like this, see “A Cloud of Witnesses” category or page.)

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(From “A Cloud of Witnesses)

“Let your speech be always with grace…”  Colossians 4:6

I especially remember Mother Gladys’s straw hat, her faded dresses, and her wooden walking cane. I loved it when she would strike the tambourine and begin singing, “Oh I want to see him, look upon His face…” or “It’s gonna be the crowning day…”  She had a resonant voice, passion for the Lord, and a sweet and humble spirit. She was tall, slender and stately with a broad smile, and it was obvious that she was lovely in her younger days. She had tremendous faith in God and had an air of holiness and grace about her.

After Mother Gladys retired from her job at the school for the deaf and blind, she became the “nurse” of her neighborhood.  People say that she would walk house to house taking care of people who were sick or elderly.  She was always poor, but if you visited her she would go straight to her garden, and give away some of her fresh vegetables.  She never refused anyone the help that they needed.

She was a great encouragement to me personally.  After we had been having tent services for several nights and I had testified a few times, she was the first one to approach me with a warm smile and a hug, and say, “There’s that missionary.”  I felt honored by the way that she said it to me.

Mother Gladys was diagnosed with cancer, but she never lost her faith.  When I went to visit her she said to me, “If the Lord wants me to get up, I will get up, and if He doesn’t, I won’t.”

Whenever people visited her, she would say that she just wanted to “have church”.  Sister Doris says that when people would ask her what songs she wanted to hear, she would say, “Anything with blood in it” (referring to the blood of Jesus).  She never complained about her suffering, because she did not want to cause her family or friends more grief.  So she just stayed in her bed at home, and gradually stopped eating and speaking.  She was a sweet and godly woman her whole life.

I did not know her for long enough, because she died soon after I joined the church. It will be amazing to see her again someday in the Kingdom of God.

~♥~

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“What is the Meaning of the Person of Gandhi the Indian?”

As a man of faith, you are troubled by the thought: what will Providence do with Gandhi? And what is the meaning of the appearance of this strange person among the statesmen and politicians of our time?

A warning from God. That is surely the meaning of the leader of the great Indian nation. Through that person, Providence is showing politicians and the statesmen of the world, even Christian ones, that there are other methods in politics than skill, wiliness and violence…

Fasting, prayer and silence! There is hardly a statesman in Europe or America who would not ironically see these three secrets of the Indian statesmen as three dry twigs pointed on the battlefield against a heap of steel, lead, fire and poison. However, Gandhi succeeds with these three “spells” of his; he succeeds to the astonishment of the whole world. And whether they want to or not, political lawmakers in England and other countries will have to add a chapter into their textbooks: “Fasting, Prayer and Silence as Powerful Weapons in Politics.”…

Those are the three sources of great spiritual power which make man victorious in battle and excellent in life. Is there a man who cannot arm himself with these weapons? And which crude force in this world can defeat these weapons? Of course, these three things do not include all of the Christian faith, but are only a part of its rules, its supernatural mysteries.

Sadly, in our time, among Christians, many of these principles are disregarded, and many wonder-working mysteries are forgotten. People have started thinking that one wins only by using steel, that the hailing clouds are dispersed only by cannons, that diseases are cured only by pills, and that everything in the world can be explained simply through electricity. Spiritual and moral energies are looked upon almost as working magic.

I think that this is the reason why ever-active Providence has chosen Gandhi, an unbaptized man, to serve as a warning to the baptized, especially those baptized people who pile up one misfortune on another upon themselves and their peoples by using ruthless and harsh means.

(This letter was written by St. Nicholas Velimirovic to a British Noble named “Charles B.”)

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I wrote this essay during the time of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  It was a terribly sad time for the planet Earth, and I still recall watching the news coverage showing the dolphins and birds and turtles drenched in oil.

Many Christians have unfortunately become “so heavenly-minded that they are of no earthly good.”  There are many contradictions in western Christianity these days, and one of them is that many believers don’t seem a bit concerned about the beautiful garden that God created for man to live in.  It says in Genesis that after each day working upon His creative masterpiece, “He saw that it was good.”

~♥~

I am the Earth (and I am Bleeding) 

My children, my children, what have you done?  I am bleeding, and there is no one who can help me now.  A blood vessel in my heart has broken, and no one can seal it.  I have given all that I can.  I am old and tired, and my wisest sons cannot find an answer to my sickness. 

You are unruly and selfish children, and you have never loved me as you should.  You only care what I can do for you.  All of your wealth and comfort has sprung from me, and you have glutted yourselves on my generosity and goodness. Now you have wounded me, and I cannot find a healer among you. 

Who will give me a transfusion when my blood has clotted and my veins are hardened?  My heart is full of sorrow for you…What shall become of you when I am dead?  When I become a dry crust of bread with no water, what will you do? 

 

We, your children, watched as your heart chamber erupted with fire and thundering and red smoke, and you began to cough up blood.  You gagged and sputtered and eleven of your children died. Your amniotic oceans are bloody and infected with yellow mucus and plasma. 

            We have violated you, like a cheap harlot.  We have thrust tubes and great spikes into your bloodstream so we can draw out your blood and sell it, and we have fought great wars over the ownership of it.  We have bludgeoned your bones with great hammers and drills, until it is pulverized into powders and dust.  With great fists, we have struck down your hills and mountains until they are flat.  We have ripped out your green thickets and vines by the roots, and tattooed you with hot black tar. We have choked you with giant concrete cigarettes puffing arrogantly in our cities.  Our greed is like a bottomless pit.

            We have become our own enemy, for we have sickened our mother. Is it too late?  You have hemorrhaged for over forty days and nights.  You cough sputum and blood onto the shores which threaten our homes and crops.  Will your infection scab over and dry up, or will it catch fire in the feverish summer heat?  We are afraid for you, but mostly for ourselves.

            A pelican dives in and gobbles up poisoned fish.  A seagull’s wings are heavy with sludge and never fly again.  Dead fish rise to the surface, cloaked in your blackened blood. 

What have we done, dear Mother?  Are you mortally wounded?  Now we are afraid.  If our mother dies, shall we all perish?  Who will sustain us?

Forgive us, Mother, for we don’t know what we are doing.

~♥~

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I wish to thank my old friend, Sparrow, for this treasure he gave to me many years ago.  While the language is very simple in its style, the undercurrents are very deep and powerful.

 

You know, I’d do anything to make people think about Jesus;

I’d walk on nails or go down in the ground.

Cause when they see His face and they understand

That He’s us,

Then they’ll know that Jesus is all around.

I met a brother on the path

And he started to laugh.

He said, “This path leads in Circles,

Round and round.”

I said I had to agree,

But I asked him, “Can’t you see

That it’s not the path

But the way that you walk that counts?”

I met a sister deep in prayer

And her face was lined with care.

She said, “When will they

Let me out of this cage?”

And I told her, “The cage is you,

And you’re the keeper too.

And you’ll let yourself out

When you see there’s no one to blame.”

I’d do anything to make people think about Jesus;

I’d walk on nails and go down

In the ground.

Cause when they see His face and they understand

That He’s us,

They’ll know that Jesus is all around.

(Jesus gonna shut you down.)

Jesus is all around.

By Sparrow

~♥~

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QUESTIONS?

Don’t go ’round confused– if you have anything you wish to ask me about my faith, my life, or my statements, please ask me.  I would like to have more dialogue with my readers, and to clarify anything that may be unclear.

If I am able to answer your question, I will do so in the most conscientious manner possible. Be aware that I don’t haggle over non-essential doctrine or anything that might create unnecessary controversy or division in the Body of Christ. We need more unity, and less fragmentation.

Also, it goes without saying-  I don’t know everything…don’t ask me the stuff your two-year old is asking you, like “How did God get here in the first place?” and “How come everything isn’t perfect?”  I might try to answer and make a real fool out of myself, but you wouldn’t want that, now would you?

So now that we’ve cleared up the ground rules, I am going to start a page entitled “Dear Olive,” so you can submit your inquiries using the “comment” link.

Peace Be With You,

Sister Olive

~♥~

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Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  I Corinthians 6:19

There was a time in my life that I realized that I could not defend my faith, and it took only a few questions from an unbeliever to make me completely fall apart. I knew that I loved Christ and that I believed, but I could not explain why to a non-Christian.  It really bothered me.  I know there are many things we can never answer, that will always remain mysterious.

I am not one to haggle over doctrine, and before I followed Christ it always turned me off  to hear people reciting the same phrases and answers to everything I asked them. We are not supposed to be programmed like robots. Having said that, I knew that I needed to be able to say something meaningful to people who inquired in a sincere way about Christ. And I had to have a compassionate human voice.

We are spiritual buildings and temples of the Holy Ghost- our bodies actually are the church!  The scriptures say that we have a solid foundation, which is Christ, but some of us have never built upon it with even a few stones, or perhaps we have used only the cheapest materials.  When the winds of trouble begin to blow or the sands of confusion shift, we collapse and have to start all over.

This story is an example of one man who constructed a powerful spiritual cathedral that was truly unshakeable. It inspires me to be all I can be for the sake of Christ and the Gospel.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. I Corinthians 3:10-11

~♥~

One morning, the Elder (Geronda) Epiphanios Theodoropoulos was in a conversation with 2-3 visitors at his home. One of them was an ideological atheist and a communist.  Suddenly, someone from outside came rushing in, and informed them that the city of Athens had been flooded with photographs of Mao Tse Tung, with the inscription “Glory to the great Mao”. It was the day that the Chinese dictator had died.

Geronda Epiphanios: That’s the way things are, my child.  Atheists do not exist.  Only idolaters exist, who take down Christ from His throne and in His place they enthrone their own idols.  We say: “Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”.  They say: “Glory to the great Mao”.  You pick and choose which one you prefer.

Atheist: You also choose your drug, grandpa. The only difference is, that you call it Christ, others call it Allah, or Buddha, etc. etc…

Geronda Epiphanios: My child, Christ is not a drug. Christ is the Creator of the entire universe. He is the one Who governs everything wisely, from the multitudes of infinite galaxies, down to the minutest particles of the microcosm. He has given life to all of us.  He is the One Who brought you into this world and has bestowed you with so much freedom, that you can actually doubt Him, and even deny Him.

Atheist: Grandpa, its your right to believe in all of those things.  But that doesn’t mean they are true.  Do you have any proofs?

Geronda Epiphanios: You think all of this is just a fairy tale, don’t you?

Atheist: Naturally.

Geronda Epiphanios: Do you have any proof that it is a fairy tale? Can you prove that what I believe is false?

Atheist: ……………….

Geronda Epiphanios: You didn’t reply, because you don’t have any proof either.  Which means, you believe they are fairy tales.  I spoke to you of believing, when I referred to God; you, however, although rejecting my belief, essentially believe in your faithlessness, since you cannot back it up with proofs either. However, I must tell you that my belief is not something “out of the blue”; There are certain supernatural events, upon which it is founded.

Atheist: Just a minute! Since we are talking about believing, what would you say to Muslims or Buddhists for example?  Because they also talk about believing. And they too have high moral standards.  Why is your belief better than theirs?

Geronda Epiphanios: So! The criterion of the truth is supposedly judged by this question of yours?  Because the truth is most certainly one; truths cannot be many in number. The thing is, who is the possessor of the truth? That is the major question. Hence, it is not a matter of a better or worse belief! It is a matter of the only true belief!

I agree, that other beliefs also have moral teachings. Naturally, Christianity’s moral teachings are incomparably superior. But, we do not believe in Christ because of His moral teachings. Or for His prompting to “Love one another,” or for His sermons on peace and justice, freedom and equality. We believe in Christ, because His presence on earth was accompanied by supernatural events, which was a sign that He is God.

Atheist: Look, I also admit that Christ was an important philosopher and a great revolutionary, but let’s not make Him a God now……

Geronda Epiphanios: My dear child!  All the great disbelievers in history were snagged by that detail.  The fishbone that stuck in their throat, which they just couldn’t swallow, was exactly that:  That Christ is also God.

Many of them were willing to say to God: “Don’t tell anyone that You are God incarnate; Just say that You’re an ordinary human, and we shall be more than ready to deify you. Why do You want to be an incarnate God, and not a deified human?  We are willing to glorify You, to proclaim You as the greatest among men, the holiest, the most ethical, the noblest, the unsurpassable, the one and only, the unprecedented…  Isn’t that enough for You ?

Ernest Renan –he was the head of the chorus of deniers- thunders out the following, with regard to Christ: “For tens of thousands of years, the world shall be uplifted through You”, and “You are the cornerstone of mankind; if one were to wrench Your name away from this world, it would be like shattering its foundations” and “the aeons shall proclaim that amongst the sons of men, never was there born anyone that could surpass You”.  But this is where Renan and his likes stop. Their very next phrase is: “But a God, You are not!”

And those poor wretches cannot perceive that all of these things constitute an indescribable tragedy!  Their dilemma is inevitably relentless: Either Christ is an incarnate God, in which case, He is indeed, only then, the most ethical, the holiest and noblest personage of mankind, or, He is not an incarnate God, in which case, He cannot possibly be any of these. In fact, if Christ is not God, then we are talking about the most horrible, the most atrocious and the most despicable existence in the history of mankind.

Atheist: What did you just say?

Geronda Epiphanios: Exactly what you heard!  It may be a weighty statement, but it is absolutely true. And I will tell you why.

Let me ask: What did all the truly great men say about themselves, or what opinion did they have of themselves ?

The “wisest of all men”, Socrates, proclaimed that “I came to know one thing: that I know nothing”.

All the important men in the Old and New Testament, from Abraham and Moses, through to John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul, characterized themselves as “earth and ashes”, “wretches”, “monstrosities”, etc…. [1]

But, strangely enough, Jesus’ attitude is quite the opposite!  And I say strangely enough, because it would have been natural and logical for Him to have a similar attitude. In fact, being far superior and surpassing all others, He should have had an even lower and humbler opinion of Himself [2].  Ethically more perfect than any other, He should have surpassed everyone and anyone in self-reproach and humility, from the moment of the world’s Creation to the end of Time.

But, the exact opposite is observed!

First of all, He proclaims that He is sinless: “Who among you shall check Me for sin?” (John, 8:46). “The lord of this world is coming, and he can find nothing in Me.”  (John, 14: 30)

He also pronounces very high ideas of Himself: “I am the light of the world” (John, 8, 12);  “I am the path and the truth and the life”  (John, 14: 6).

But, apart from these, He also projects demands of absolute dedication to His Person.  He even penetrates the holiest of man’s relationships, and says: “Whomsoever loves their father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me. and whomsoever loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew, 10: 37).  “I came to turn man away, against his father, and the daughter against her mother and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Matthew, 10: 35).  He even demands a life and a death of martyrdom from His disciples: “They shall deliver you to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you shall be dragged before leaders and kings for My sake…. And brother shall deliver his brother to death and the father his son, and the children shall revolt against their parents and shall put them to death…. And you shall be hated by everyone, for my namesake…. And he that shall endure to the end, he shall be saved…. Do not fear those who destroy the body….. Whomsoever shall deny Me before mankind, I too shall deny him…. Whomsoever has forfeited his soul for My sake, shall recover it” (Matthew, 10: 17 onward).

And now I ask you:  Has anyone ever dared to demand for himself the love of mankind, forsaking their very life? Has anyone ever dared to proclaim his absolute sinlessness?  Has anyone ever dared to utter the words: “I am the truth”? (John, 14: 6)  No-one, and nowhere!  Only a God can do that. Can you imagine your Marx uttering things like that?  They would take him for a lunatic and nobody would be willing to follow him!

Now, just consider, how many people sacrificed everything for Christ’s sake, even their very life, having believed in the veracity of His words regarding Himself!  If His proclamations about Himself were false, Jesus would have been the most despicable character in history, for having led so many people to such a huge sacrifice!  What ordinary man – no matter how great, how important, how wise he may be – would deserve such a tremendous offer and sacrifice?  Well?  No-one!  Not unless he were God!

In other words: Any ordinary man that would demand such a sacrifice from his followers would have been the most loathsome person in history.  Christ, however, both demanded it, and achieved it. Yet, despite this ‘achievement’, He was proclaimed by the very deniers of His divinity as the noblest and holiest figure in history.  So, either the deniers are being illogical when they proclaim this most loathsome figure as “holiest”, or, in order to avoid any illogicality, and to rationalize the co-existence of Christ’s demands and His holiness, they must concede to accepting that Christ continues to remain the noblest and holiest figure in mankind, but, only under the condition that He is also God!  Otherwise, as we said, He would be, not the holiest, but the most loathsome figure in history, being the cause of the greatest sacrifice of all ages, and in the name of a lie!  Thus, Christ’s divinity is proved by His very deniers, on the basis of those very characterizations of His person!

Atheist: What you just said is really very impressive, but it is nothing but speculation. Do you have any historical facts that would confirm His Divinity?

Geronda Epiphanios: I told you at the beginning, that the proofs of His Divinity are the supernatural events that took place while He was here on earth.  Christ did not rest on the proclamation of the above truths alone; He certified His statements with miracles as well.  He made blind people see and cripples walk; He satisfied the hunger of five thousand men and manifold numbers of women and children with only two fish and five loaves of bread; He commanded the elements of nature and they obeyed; He resurrected the dead, amongst which was Lazarus, four days after his death. But the most astounding of all his miracles was His own Resurrection.

The entire edifice of Christianity is supported on the event of the Resurrection.  This is not my speculation. The Apostle Paul said it: “If Christ had not risen (from the dead), our faith would be futile”. (Corinthians I, 15: 17).  If Christ is not resurrected, then everything collapses. But Christ was resurrected, which means He is the Lord of life and death, therefore God.

Atheist: Did you see all of this?  How can you believe it?

Geronda Epiphanios: No, I didn’t see any of it, but others did: the Apostles. They in turn made this known to others, and they actually “signed” their testimony with their own blood. And, as everyone acknowledges, a testimony of one’s life is the supreme form of testimony.

Why don’t you likewise bring me someone, who will tell me that Marx died and was resurrected, and that he is willing to sacrifice his life in order to testify it?  I, as an honest man, will believe him.

Atheist: I will tell you. Thousands of communists were tortured and died for their ideology.  Why don’t you embrace communism in the same way?

Geronda Epiphanios: You said it yourself.  Communists died for their ideology. They didn’t die for real events.  In an ideology, it is very easy for deception to seep through; and because it is a characteristic of the human soul to sacrifice itself for something it believes in, this explains why so many communists died for their ideology. But that doesn’t compel us to accept this ideology as something true.

It is one thing to die for ideas, and another to die for events.  The Apostles didn’t die for any ideas.  Not even for the “Love one another”, or any of the other moral teachings of Christianity. The Apostles died for their testimony of supernatural events. And when we say ‘event’, we mean that which is captured by our physical senses, and is comprehended through them.

The Apostles suffered martyrdom for “that which they heard”, “that which they saw with their own eyes”, “that which they observed and their hands touched” (John I, 1) [3]

Just like the clever speculation by Pascal, we say that one of the three following things happened to the Apostles: either they were deceived, or, they deceived us, or, they told us the truth.

Let’s take the first case.  It is not possible for the Apostles to have been deceived, because everything that they reported was not reported to them by others. They themselves were eye and ear witnesses of all those things. Besides, none of them were imaginative characters, nor did they have any psychological inclination that made them accept the event of the Resurrection.  Quite the contrary – they were terribly distrustful.  The Gospels are extremely revealing, in their narrations of their spiritual dispositions: they even disbelieved the reassurances that some people had actually seen Him, resurrected.

And one other thing. What were the Apostles, before Christ called them?  Were they perhaps ambitious politicians or visionaries of philosophical and social systems, who were longing to conquer mankind and thus satisfy their fantasies?  Not at all.  They were illiterate fishermen. The only thing that interested them was to catch a few fish to feed their families.  That is why, even after the Lord’s Crucifixion, and despite everything that they had heard and seen, they returned to their fishing boats and their nets. In other words, there was not a single trace of disposition in these men for the things that were to follow.  It was only after the day of the Pentecost, “when they received strength from on high” that they became the teachers of the universe.

The second case:  Did they deceive us?  Did they lie to us?  But then, why would they deceive us?  What would they gain by lying?  Was it money? Was it status?  Was it glory?  For someone to tell a lie, he must be expecting some sort of gain.  The Apostles though, by preaching Christ – and in fact Christ crucified and resurrected – the only things that they secured for themselves were: hardships, labours, lashings, stonings, shipwrecks, hunger, thirst, nakedness, attacks from robbers, beatings, incarcerations and finally, death.  And all this, for a lie?  It would be undoubtedly foolish for anyone to even consider it.

Consequently, the Apostles were neither deceived, nor did they deceive us. This leaves us with the third choice: that they told us the truth.

I should also stress something else here:  The Evangelists are the only ones who recorded true historical events. They describe the events, and only the events. They do not resort to any personal judgments.  They praise no-one, and they criticize no-one.  They make no attempt to exaggerate an event, nor eliminate or underestimate another.  They let the events speak for themselves.

Atheist: Are you excluding the possibility that in Christ’s case, it was just an incident of apparent death?  The other day, the newspapers had written about someone in India whom they buried and three days later they exhumed him and he was still alive.

Geronda Epiphanios: My poor child!  I will recall the words of the blessed Augustine again:  “O faithless ones, you are not actually mistrustful; indeed, you are the most gullible of all.  You accept the most improbable things, and the most irrational, the most contradictory, in order to deny a miracle!”

No, my child. It was not a case of apparent death with Christ. First of all, we have the testimony of the Roman centurion, who reassured Pilate that Christ’s death was a certainty.

Then, our Gospel informs us that on the same day of His Resurrection, the Lord was seen talking with two of His disciples, walking towards Emmaus, which was more than ten kilometers away from Jerusalem.

Can you imagine someone, who could go through all the tortures that Christ underwent, and three days after His “apparent death”, spring back again?  If anything, he would have to be fed chicken soup for forty days, in order to be able to open his eyes, let alone walk and talk as though nothing had happened!

As for the Hindu, bring him here to be flogged with a scourge – do you know what a scourge is? It is a whip, whose lashes each have a lead chunk or a piece of broken bone or sharp nails attached to their end – bring him here, so we can flog him, then force a crown of thorns on his head, crucify him, give him bile and vinegar to drink, then pierce his side with a spear, put him in a tomb, and then, if he comes back from the dead, then we can talk.

Atheist: Even so, but all the testimonies that you have invoked belong to Christ’s Disciples.  Is there any testimony on this matter, that doesn’t come from the circle of His Disciples?  Are there any historians for example, who can certify Christ’s Resurrection?  If so, then I will also believe what you say.

Geronda Epiphanios: You poor child!  You don’t know what you’re saying now!  If there had been such historians who had witnessed Christ resurrected, they would have been compelled to believe in His Resurrection and would have recorded it as believers, in which case, you would again have rejected their testimony, just like you rejected Peter’s testimony, John’s testimony, etc.  How can it be possible, for someone to actually witness the Resurrection and yet, NOT become a Christian?  You are asking for a roasted fowl, on a waxen skewer, that also sings!  It just can’t be done !

I will remind you though – because you are asking for historians – of what I said earlier: that the only true historians are the Apostles.

Nevertheless, we do have testimony of the kind that you want; and it is by someone who didn’t belong to the circle of His Disciples: it was Paul.  Paul not only wasn’t a Disciple of Christ, he actually persecuted Christ’s Church relentlessly.

Atheist: They say that Paul suffered from sunstroke and that it was the cause of his hallucination.

Geronda Epiphanios:  My child, if Paul was hallucinating, the thing that would have come to the surface, would have been his subconscious.  And in Paul’s subconscious, the Patriarchs and the Prophets would have been top ranking.  He would have hallucinated about Abraham, and Jacob and Moses, and not Jesus, whom he considered a rabble-rouser and a fraud!

Can you imagine a faithful old granny seeing Buddha or Jupiter in her dream or delirium?  She would most probably see Saint Nicholas or Saint Barbara, because she believes in them.

One more thing. With Paul, we have –as Papini notes- the following miraculous phenomena:  First of all, the abruptness of his conversion. Straight from faithlessness to faith.  With no intermediate preparatory stage.  Secondly, the steadfastness of his faith. No wavering, no doubts.  And thirdly, his faith lasted for a whole lifetime.  Do you believe that all these things can occur after a case of sunstroke?  They can in no way be attributed to such a cause.  If you can explain how, then explain it.  If you can’t, then you must admit the miracle.  And you must know that for a man of his time, Paul was exceptionally well-educated. He was not your average little person, who was totally clueless.

I will also add something else.  We today, my child, are living in an exceptional era. We are living the miracle of Christ’s Church.

When Christ said of His Church that “the gates of Hades shall not overpower Her” (Matthew 16:18), His followers were very few in number. Almost two thousand years have passed, since that day. Empires vanished, philosophical systems were forgotten, world theories collapsed. But Christ’s Church remains indestructible, despite the continuous and dramatic persecutions it has undergone. Isn’t that a miracle?

And one final thing.  In Luke’s Gospel it says that when the Holy Mother visited Elizabeth (the Baptist’s mother) after the Annunciation, she was greeted with the words: “blessed are you amongst women”.  And the Holy Mother replied as follows: “My heart magnifies the Lord. Behold, from this moment on, all generations shall call me blessed” (a’ 48).

What was the Holy Mother at that time?  She was just an obscure daughter of Nazareth. How many knew her?  And yet, since that day, empresses have been forgotten, distinguished women’s names have been extinguished, the mothers and wives of great generals went into oblivion. Who remembers, or even knows, Napoleon’s mother or Alexander the Great’s mother? Almost no-one.  But, millions of lips across every length and breadth of the world, throughout the ages, venerate that humble daughter of Nazareth, the “more precious than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim”.  Are we, or aren’t we –the people of the twentieth century– living in this day and age the verification of those words of the Holy Mother?

The exact same things are observed in a “secondary” prophecy of Christ:  While He was staying at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him and poured her expensive fragrant oil over His head. Christ commented: “Amen, verily I say to you, that wherever this gospel will be preached in the world, it will also mention what this woman did, in her memory” (Matthew, 26: 13).  Now, how large was His circle of followers at the time, so that one could say that they outdid themselves in order that their Master’s prophecy be fulfilled?  Especially a prophecy such as this one, which, by today’s world standards, is of no importance to most people.

Are they or aren’t they miracles?  If you can, explain them.   But if you can’t, then admit them as such.

Atheist: I have to admit that your arguments are pretty solid. But I would like to ask you one more thing:  Don’t you think that Christ left His work unfinished?  That is, unless He deserted us.  I can’t imagine a God that would remain indifferent to mankind’s suffering.  We are down here toiling, while He, up there, remains apathetic.

Geronda Epiphanios: No, my child.  You aren’t right. Christ did not leave His work unfinished.  On the contrary, He is the one unique case in history where a person has the certainty that His mission was accomplished, and had nothing further to do or to say.

Even the greatest of philosophers, Socrates, who discussed and taught during his whole lifetime, and towards the end composed an intricate “Apology”, would have even more to say, if he had lived.

Only Christ – in the time bracket of three years – taught what He had to teach, did what He had to do, and finally said (on the Cross): “It is finished”.  Another sample of His divine perfection and authority.

As for the abandonment that you mentioned, I can understand your concern.  Without Christ, the world would be a theatre of insanity.  Without Christ, you cannot explain anything: why are there sorrows, why injustices, why failures, why sicknesses, why, why, why…. Thousands of monumental “why”s.

Try to understand!  Man cannot approach all of these “why”s with his finite logic.  It is only through Christ that everything can be explained. All these trials merely precondition us for eternity. Perhaps then, we might be honored by the Lord with a reply to some of those “why”s.

It might be worthwhile, if I read you a beautiful poem* from Constantine Kallinikos’ collection “Laurels and Myrtles,” with the title “Questions”:

I asked a desert father of seventy years,

whose silver strands were blown by the wind:

Tell me o father, why, on this earth,

do the light and the dark inseparably move ?

And why must they – like twins – together sprout:

the thorn and the rose, the tear and the smile?

Why, in the loveliest part of the woodland green

have scorpions and vipers concealed their nests?

Why must it be, that the tender bud,

before unfolding its fragrant bloom,

be struck by a worm in the heart of its stem,

And left to die, like a shrivelled rag ?

Why are the plow, the seed and the hands

a must for the wheat, to become our bread?

Why must everything useful, noble, divine

always be purchased with tears and our blood,

while selfishness ever  rampantly reigns,

and lewdness is swallowing up the world?

And why, amongst such harmony around,

must tumult and disorder find their way?

The hermit replied, with his somber voice

and right arm pointing to the sky,

that there, beyond those clouds of gold,

the Almighty weaves a tapestry divine.

But since we are wanderers of the lower plane

We see nothing but the knots and strings below,

It is no wonder, why the mind sees wrong,

when it should always be thankful and give praise:

for the day will come, when Christians all,

with souls that ride the skies with wings,

will gaze atop God’s tapestry and see

how careful and orderly everything was!

My child, Christ never abandoned us.  He is forever with us, as a helper and a supporter, until the end of time.  But you will realize this, only when you become a conscientious member of His Church and be joined by Her Sacraments.

~♥~

[Re-published, from the book of the Holy Recluse Monastery of the Theotokos “FROM THE LIFE AND THE TEACHING OF FATHER EPIPHANIOS”]

* The poem has been loosely translated, for its message only.

I found this story at this site:  http://thehandmaid.wordpress.com/a-geronda-and-an-atheist/


R E F E R E N C E S

[1] From within sacred history, we observe how Abraham considers himself “earth and ashes” (Genesis 18: 27). Similarly Job (42: 6). The great Moses hesitates to undertake the mission of liberating the Israelites from Egypt, believing himself to be too small and inadequate for such a job: “And Moses said to God : ‘Who am I, that can go to the Pharaoh, king of Egypt,… I am not capable… weak voiced and stuttering, I am” (Exodus 3: 11, 4: 10). The same is said at a later date by the Judge Gideon: “My Lord, how can I save Israel?…. for I am the youngest of my father’s house…” (Judges 6: 15). David calls himself “a dead dog, and a louse” (Kings I, 24: 15), a worm and not a man, the disgrace of mankind and the derogation of the people” (Psalms 21:27).  Isaiah cries out: “woe is me, the wretched one, for I am deeply troubled, because, being a man and having impure lips, I reside amongst the people with impure lips, and yet I have looked upon the king, Lord Shabuoth with my very eyes”  (Isaiah 6:5).  Jeremiah laments: “O Sovereign Lord, behold, I cannot speak, for I am the younger… Cure me my Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved. For You are my boasting.” (Jeremiah 1:6,  17:14).  The three Young Men utter a confession about themselves and all of the population: “…for we have sinned and broken the law, by distancing ourselves from You, and we are sinners in everything and we did not obey Your commandments… with a crushed soul and a humbled mind, may we be received by You…”  (Daniel, Azarias’ prayer, 56 and 16).

John the Baptist, the “greatest amongst those born of woman”, confessed : “I am not the Christ. And they asked him: Who then are you? Are you Elijah?  I am not. Are you the Prophet? And he replied: No. …. I am just a voice in the wilderness, crying out “straighten the path of the Lord… I am not worthy enough, to even loosen the strap of His (Christ’s) sandal…” (John I, 20).  Finally, the one and only and unprecedented Paul, considers himself a “monstrosity” and unworthy “to be called an apostle”, a “wretched person”, and “the first amongst all sinners” ( Corinthians I, 15:89, Romans 7:24, Timothy I, 1:15).  But, we won’t take up any more time here…

[2] by applying the standard of:  “the greater you are, the more you should humble yourself” (Sirah, 3:18).

[3] This is precisely what is stressed in John’s Gospel:  “the one who witnessed, testified” (19: 35); In other words, the one who wrote those things was the one who actually saw the soldier pierce Christ’s side with the spear, and he saw blood and water coming out of the wound.

[4] “They hesitated to prostrate themselves to Him” (Matthew 28:17). “And they (the apostles), upon hearing that He was alive and was seen by her (Mary Magdalene), disbelieved”. (Mark 16:13).  “He derided them for their disbelief and their hard-heartedness, because they did not believe those who had seen Him risen”  (Mark 16:14). “It appeared to them (the Apostles) that their (the myrrh-bearers’) words were like ravings (foolishness, delirium), and they disbelieved them” (Luke 24:11). “We had hoped that He was the one who was destined to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). “If I do not see the imprint of the nails on His hands and place my finger on the imprint of the nails, and place my hand on (the wound of) His side, I shall not believe.” (words of Doubting Thomas, John 20:25), etc.

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“I believe in Jesus; I believe He is the Son of God, but every time I sit down to explain this to somebody I feel like a palm reader, like somebody who works at a circus or a kid who is always making things up or somebody at a Star Trek convention who hasn’t figured out the show isn’t real.”

~Donald Miller

If you’ve never read Donald Miller, you should check him out sometime, because he is a Christian writer with a delightful and often humorous way of fleshing out human frailties and existential questions.

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“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

~From God in the Dock

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“And the twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities—Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance.” (Luke 8:1-3)

Of all of the women in the New Testament, I most identify with Mary Magdalene, the woman who was about to be stoned for committing adultery.  Most of you already know the story of how Jesus rebuked a group of men with stones in their hands and said that whoever was without sin should cast the first one, and they all walked away.

Jesus was not only defending the woman, but acknowledging that a woman cannot commit adultery by herself.  “Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” After everyone had left, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you? She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”[1]

After saving her, one might have expected Him to say, “Now go and get married and be a dutiful wife from now on.”  But He released her in that moment, and she henceforth became a witness and a disciple in her own right.

After this, the Pharisees came arguing with Christ that He did not have authority to do the things He was doing.  He answered them saying, “You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one.”[2]  He said that He had the authority to judge, but chose not to exercise it.  If Jesus did not hasten to condemn, then why must Christians be so judgmental?

He told the religious leaders “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed…”[3]

After she was liberated by Christ, Mary traveled everywhere that Jesus went and offered financial support for His ministry.  She was a very important figure who witnessed His earthly ministry, crucifixion, and burial.  She was the first person to see the resurrected Christ.

Consider the story of the woman at the well.  She was a Samaritan, and Jesus was a Jew, and by law they were not supposed to interact at all.  But Christ chose to interact with her when He humbly asked her for a drink of water.  At one point Jesus asked her to call for her husband.  She said, “I have no husband” and He replied “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”[4]

Again, if one of the religious leaders had been there, he would have ordered her to get married or fulfill her expected role in society.  But Christ did not do this, and she also became a disciple.  She could not wait to tell everyone she knew that she had met the Messiah.  “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’”[5]

Mary the sister of Lazarus was another great woman of God, who loved to listen to Jesus teach.  When Martha tried to get Jesus to make Mary work with her in the kitchen instead of spending time with Him, He rebuked Martha saying “Mary has chosen the better part, and that will not be taken from her.”  He clearly allowed Mary to fulfill her own heart’s desires, and this Mary also became a powerful disciple.

On one occasion, at a feast in the home of a wealthy man named Simon, Mary came in and washed Jesus feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and poured expensive perfume on his feet.  The men in the room were appalled and made mockery of her, and whispered among themselves that Christ did not know what kind of woman she was.  He knew their thoughts and harshly rebuked them.  He said that the woman would always be remembered for this act of affection that she bestowed on Him, and told Simon that he could learn a lot from her behavior about how to treat the Lord. Christ had a pattern of showing love and dignity to women, and He could not endure to see them mistreated by anyone.

In the eighth chapter of Luke, Joanna and Susanna are mentioned as women who take care of Christ’s needs “out of their substance.” A friend of mine and I had once discussed the fact that Christ had no house, chariot, money, job, or any comforts that most people enjoy, and we had wondered how His clothes were cleaned and things such as that.  Then we found our answer in this passage with the women who cared for Jesus.

Imagine the bravery of Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, to be helping Jesus after the male babies had been slaughtered and John the Baptist had been beheaded by this same king!  In many ways, she showed more courage than the twelve disciples did. But she considered it a privilege and a joy to take care of the Lord.  Women were always coming forward to take care of things that the men were unwilling to attend to.

When the rich young ruler came and tried to argue with Christ about the law, I don’t read that he offered to contribute money to help with the ministries of Jesus and the disciples.  There are other men who said that they wanted to follow Christ, but after He told them that He was homeless, they lost interest in following Him.

But the women were always there.

After Christ was crucified, the scriptures say that the women were still lingering around the tomb weeping for Jesus when the men had given up and were complaining that Christ had not saved them from the Romans. In John 20 and 21, the disciples didn’t even recognize Christ after He appeared to them several times, and they all went out fishing.

In the early church after the resurrection of Christ, women continued to play an important role in furthering the gospel.  The apostle Paul mentions Priscilla and Aquila in his epistles, and scholars say that he mentions Priscilla first because she was recognized as being more gifted in the ministry than her husband.  Lydia the purveyor of purple cloth helped support the work of the apostles, and Dorcas was so important in one community that Paul raised her from the dead.

Kathleen Norris writes in her book The Cloister Walks that theologians have never forgiven Christ for coming through the body of a woman.  She states in her chapter about virgin martyrs that the men could not bear to kill holy women without raping them first, because they thought of them only as devices for the pleasure of men.

Today we still see this attitude within the context of Christianity, that a married woman is expected first to serve her husband and then God.  Women are considered second-rate citizen in the Kingdom of God by many denominations, and leaders take scriptures out of context to support this errant view.  As a result, women in some churches are not permitted to speak or to lead, because it is believed that their only suitable roles are child care and baking cookies.

This subject was addressed in an article entitled “The Head of the Epistles,” which appeared in Christianity Today in 1981. The writers explain that the “head” was a metaphor for the enabler of the body, not the ruler:

Paul’s word order also shows he was not thinking of chain of command: Christ, head of man; man, head of woman; God, head of Christ.  Those who make it a chain of command must rearrange Paul’s words.  In fact, Paul seems to go out of his way to show that he was not imputing authority to males when he said, “For as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman.  And all things are from God. (1 Cor 11:12)

     …As Christ is the enabler (the one who brings to completion) of the church, so the husband is to enable (bring to completion) all that his wife is meant to be.  The husband is to nourish and cherish his wife as he does his own body, even as Christ nourishes and cherishes the church. (vs.29)

It is very clear to me from reading scripture and particularly the “Parable of the Talents” that we are expected to use all of our gifts to promote the Kingdom agenda. No one should be hindered in doing their best work for Christ.

OLIVE TWIST ©2012


 http://www.godswordtowomen.org/head.htm

The Head of the Epistles was written by Berkeley and Alvera Mickelsen, professors at Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul, MN.  It originally appeared as an article in Christianity Today, Feb. 20, 1981.

Scripture Passages:

[1] John 8:10-11, ESV

[2] John 8:15, ESV

[3] John 8:32-36, ESV

[4] John 4:17-18, NKJV

[5] John 4:39

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These are some of the most truthful and poignant words I have read describing the state of Christianity today! I am so thankful for such “voices in the wilderness!”

Salt of the Earth

What have we done? What have we done? Christ has left us. We have driven him away. Our hatreds, our pride, our pharisaical self-sufficiency have driven out the Spirit of the Gospel. And Christ has gone. Christ has gone. Oh, how satisfied we are with ourselves! We are the pure, we possess the truth, and we condemn others! But life and history go on. They are knocking at the doors of the Church, and putting ultimate questions to us. Everything is changing. The scientific revolution is advancing, it is modifying and not only man’s environment, but man himself, his education, the relationship between the sexes, his psychology, and tomorrow perhaps his heredity and character as well. Not that science and technology necessarily build a world without God, as is sometimes said. But they force man, and they will force him more and more to ask where all this is going…

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