Despicable Beloved

Great insight from 17th century Carmelite monk, Brother Lawrence:

“I regard myself as the most wretched of all men, stinking and covered with sores, and as one who has committed all sorts of crimes against his King. Overcome by remorse, I confess all my wickedness to Him, ask His pardon and abandon myself entirely to Him to do with as He will. But this King, filled with goodness and mercy, far from chastising me, lovingly embraces me, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the keys of His treasures and treats me as His favorite. He talks with me and is delighted with me in a thousand and one ways; He forgives me and relieves me of my principle bad habits without talking about them; I beg Him to make me according to His heart and always the more weak and despicable I see myself to be, the more beloved I am of God.”
― Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

Go To The Humble Places, Be An Icon Of Christ

Go to the humble places, be an icon of Christ there…

“Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop, within a yard of hell.”

― Charles Thomas Studd, English missionary

Humbleness and Success
Often people are known, their names are recognized, usually because they are in big, important places, with titles and accolades. Most of us have a desire to be recognized, esteemed, and seen as an important contributor. This is called success, It requires hard work, the right connections are very helpful, and sometimes being at the right place at the right time is crucial.

Humble places require only a willingness and obedience to go and serve. In other words, it requires nothing less than everything (to quote T.S. Eliot), which also includes much hard work. Few desire unacknowledged silent service. Few seem available for the beginning of something when no one is noticing, the small start, the humble place. No one knew who Saint Francis was in the beginning, and he didn’t care. But the order quickly grew to the point that it was ultimately strongly encouraged that he abdicate leadership of the Franciscan Order, the order he had founded. In a real sense, the thing he started was taken away from him. Most of us would not willingly give up our “baby,” but he did, while also praying that the order wouldn’t lose the humbleness it had begun with, now that everybody knew the name of Francis, and knew of the Franciscan order.

Humble Prayers and Small Beginnings
Humble vision is right vision. (Meaning, you have no false imaginations about self, and acknowledge God’s primacy in all things) Humble vision can accomplish great things, if it is following God in obedience and in humility; it doesn’t care so much for acknowledgement, as long as the work gets done.

Talking with the COO at our local homeless outreach, The Community Kitchen, the opportunity presented itself to serve in a unique way. They have very few groups come in to provide spiritual worship opportunities there, so we began a Thursday Morning Prayers & Communion Service at The Community Kitchen. With a box of supplies and a mobile communion kit, we invite the homeless to join us in Morning Prayer in the facility Day Room where everyday social services and various activities still go on. We step into sacred space as we read the psalms and lessons, pray silently and together, and then celebrate communion. About a dozen people come forward to receive that special grace. Afterwards we greet each other, pass the peace, and chat… not “church people” and “the homeless”, just “us”, “we”, all of us together.

A few years ago now, I felt the Lord had given me a vision of the homeless being invited into the work of prayer, the prayers of the people, for the city and for the world. A piece of Saint Basil’s “Urban Monastery” idea, a unique piece, inviting the unlikely into participation in the Prayers of the People. I think God hears the prayers of a Billy Graham, or Tim Keller, or even my prayers, but doesn’t God also hear the prayers of the widow, or perhaps the homeless person, as much? Maybe even more? Yes, maybe.

Icons of Christ in Humble Places
Saint Lawrence, third century martyr, beheld the treasures of the church in the poor. Saint Francis saw in the faces of the poor the brother or sister of the firstborn, Christ. Mother Teresa, and others have seen an icon of Christ in the poor around them, in humble places. In turn, they were also icons of Christ as they served the least and the last. As an Anglican I was first ordained as a deacon, first called to serve. I am reminded that Christ did not fear the humble places, in fact, he sought them out. He sent first the twelve, and then the seventy two to go out to the humble places, to be an icon of Christ there.

What humble place is God sending you to? How does he desire to reshape your heart? Do not fear the humble places, but rather, allow yourself to find Christ there, and let us seek to be an icon of Christ in the humble places, and wherever we go.

(similar blog originally posted on anglicanpastordotcom)

God’s Kindness Heals Me

It’s easy to be hard in this world. It’s easy to be frustrated. It is easy for us to get into a cycle of frantic mediocrity as we go throughout our work-weeks. Have you found yourself impatient and over-reacting to things that are really too small to merit the response given?

This week I have been reminded of God’s kindness, and I have also been praying to be aware of His kindness, and to experience and receive His kindness. God’s kindness heals the deepest wounds I have.

The Expressions Of Faith from The Northumbria Community are a perfect reminder of God’s kindness, and a perfect prayer if you are seeking to experience afresh God’s kindness towards you.

Lord, You have always given
bread for the coming day;
and though I am poor,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always given
strength for the coming day;
and though I am weak,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always given
peace for the coming day;
and though of anxious heart,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always kept
me safe in trials;
and now, tried as I am,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always marked
the road for the coming day;
and though it may be hidden,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always lightened
this darkness of mine;
and though the night is here,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always spoken
when time was ripe;
and though you be silent now,
today I believe.

Sacred Creation and Saint Francis

Creation is so much more sacred than we acknowledge on a daily basis. Every few days it seems there is another headline of ecological tragedy. You don’t even have to believe in global warming to know that we still have a problem with pollution. We poison our streams and rivers without thought.

In light of the hard hits the earth has been taking lately I think it’s appropriated to pause and humbly give thanks for creation. We should also consider how we can get back to our original work to keep and tend the garden. If we do then maybe we can leave the world better than we found it.

Saint Francis Canticle-Giving Thanks for & Celebrating Creation:

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin!

Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve him with great humility.

Francis in the 21st Century

What does Saint Francis have to do with us in the 21st century? Possibly everything.

We are not, in many ways, that far removed from Francis of Assisi. In his day the church had been tainted with greed, and it was in need of renewal. He saw a need for prayer, for a new kind of monasticism, not cloistered off away from the world, but in the thick of it, in the nitty-gritty-ness of every day life. We must also embrace the outcast, those who are “lepers” in our world, as well as those who are simply wandering lost all around us. Francis seemed to have time for anyone in need. Do we have time or are we too busy?

In his day and age he was an apostle, pretty much as the original apostles had been in the Roman world which they had lived, only with the additional challenge of how do you convert people who already see themselves as “christian” at least culturally?

We find ourselves with these challenges and opportunities: How can we be apostolic in our world? The world is our cloister, therefore ministry can happen anywhere. We can be peacemakers in a violent and changing society; ours is changing, and is also very often violent full of angst, hypocricy, and rage.

Man’s anger does not produce the righteousness of God. Father Francis challenged us to walk in peace. Sometimes we fail, but we are called to be missionaries to our local area, to those who are not “christian”; showing the way of Christ and peace. Also, we are to convert many from “christian” to “follower of Jesus.”

As Francis said “We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.” Go.

 

(“Francis of Assisi” by Cook & Herzman may be helpful for your further exploration)

Slaves or Sons: Attitudes and Actions as Heirs of the Kingdom

As disciples in this world we live in the dominion of a reality of what we see and can touch, but at the same time we are residents or citizens of a “Kingdom” we cannot always see or touch which is also a reality. It seems we live among two kingdoms in contrast:

In John 10:10 Jesus says “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” And in Colossians 1:13 Paul explains “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves…”

So, here’s a real clarification by Paul; one is a dominion (of darkness) and the other is truly a kingdom (of light). The words used here are totally different. A dominion is a power or authority, but a kingdom is altogether different. A kingdom is the power and the authority. Satan has a dominion, but no “kingdom”. He has authority because man has allowed it by falling into deception, but Satan is not The Authority.

We live in a time in between what has been and what will be:

John Wimber,  of the Vineyard Movement often used an analogy of D-day:  Similar to the D-day landing that signaled the end of WWII Jesus’ 1st coming signaled his 2nd coming, and the end of Satan’s dominion. In Jesus’ first coming He set in motion the events that will ultimately end in the final overthrow of Satan’s dominion and initiate what will be. Just as D-day signaled the beginning of the end of WWII, so with Jesus’ 1st coming, it’s the beginning of the end of the dominion of darkness. We’ve begun, but we are not there yet. We live “in between what has been and what will be”.

Slave or Son? So you and I are faced with many “realities” in this world that seek to keep us in slavery. This could be lies of the enemy to keep me down, or many situations to dash hope and make me give up. They pursue you, like in a rear view mirror which says “object in mirror are closer than they appear” the dominion of darkness seeks to over-run you and I, keep us in fear, and keep us imprisoned (even though the cell door is standing wide open)

A great story that clarifies this is found in Exodus chapter 14: The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon. As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. -Exodus 14:9-10

So with us; as we begin to step into freedom, the situation, issue or lie wants to come after us and keep us down. Intimidation is always used and objects in the rear view mirror may seem very close to overtaking us. We can easily lose heart and give up. This is the mind-set of a slave.

Fear & Complaining

They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” – Exodus 14:11-12

Human nature is the same no matter what century you live in…

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” – Exodus 14:13-14

He calms the people and leads, settling their fear and reassuring them to trust God. But then God says something interesting, :

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. – Exodus 14:15-16

He calls them not only to trust and reliance but also to action. This is characteristic not of a slave, but of a son. They too were in between what had been and what would be. They were no longer slaves, as they left Egypt and slavery they were regaining and reclaiming their place as sons and daughters (though they didn’t comprehend it yet)

Check out what Galatians 4 says:

…When we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. – Galatians 4:3-5

Attitude & Action- So both our attitude and our actions need to grow to be that of Sons and Daughters, and not that of slaves! The prison door is open and we are free if we will simply walk out of the cell and into freedom as a son!

Galatians continues…Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. – Galatians 4:6-7

ATTITUDE: That is to be our attitude; not pompous or prideful, not spoiled but never the less a son or daughter of a king and therefore a responsible son who acts like his big brother, Jesus, who didn’t come to be served but to serve and was humble, and took appropriate action as a child of the king.

ACTION: Augustine said “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”

God was delivering the slaves from Egypt but all they could see was what was in the rear view mirror. Even after seeing at least 10 miracles that would ultimately set them free, all they could do was complain when what they should have been doing was walking or even running to freedom. Ultimately Moses had to lift his staff, divide the sea and the ex-slaves had to take action to gain the freedom that was already theirs. Slavery behind, the promised land ahead, they were in between what had been and what would be, but their attitude AND their actions had to change.

Frederick Douglass, ex-slave and abolitionist, 1800s, said: I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.

The sailors say: “Pray… and row away from the rocks…”

As ex-slaves who are now Sons and Daughters of The Kingdom what pursues you and wants to overtake you or enslave you? “Pray…  and ____(fill in the blank)_”

When I was diagnosed as diabetic, the first week I was in shock,  I suffered overwhelming depression, I was enslaved. (The objects in the rear view mirror seemed much larger and closer and were overwhelming me) But then my attitude and actions began to change. I believe God will keep me, even heal me because He has before. I still fully trust in him).

As a son I also had to change my actions. I changed my diet, I take my meds regularly, and I am exercising daily. I’m putting legs to my prayers, I’m working as if it depends on me, as a son. I have to. But I also want to.

Always remember “you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir!” – Galatians 4:6-7

Repentance Must Begin In The Church

Something has gone terribly wrong. Headlines of the failures of individuals and institutions shake you and would make you lose heart. We have seen it in bits and pieces for years like looking at the details of a much larger and darker grotesque work of art. In recent history, possibly even your lifetime, leaders of the church have fallen one by one through the many various scandals over the decades. I’ll not name names, they are infamous enough that a simple internet search will produce plenty of tabloid material to choke on.

Francis Schaeffer, in critiquing the church’s understanding of culture said:

“The basic problem of the Christians in this country in the last eighty years or so, in regard to society and in regard to government, is that they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals.”

It’s a kind way of saying we’re somewhat blind, but this is also true of the church’s self evaluation. Inside of the church it kind of makes sense, currently speaking, many are disowning the Evangelical side of the family for being too right wing, (for example) or, Protestants have disowned the Catholic side of the family when situations like the Pennsylvania clergy scandal arise. Who can blame anyone for wanting to distance self from these atrocities and say “They are not actually a part of our family” like the weird relative no one really wants to own up to at Thanksgiving. But we’re still looking at smaller details instead of the bigger picture, and the bigger picture is that something has gone terribly wrong in the church, and society, as screwed up as it is, has noticed.

It is a double standard to expect society to be one way and the church to be another. So be it. But all to often the church has conformed her ways in an unhealthy manner to the standards of the world (greed, sex, fame). Sometimes men in the church have held no standards at all. Some men in the church have been simply evil. All too often denominational leaders have valued gifting instead of character, and all too often that is a losing proposition. All too often the church has simply tried to maintain the status quo only to find serial offenders and manipulators taking advantage of people in their midst. It is a tragedy when it is a rogue operator and a travesty when it is systemic.

Setting aside the dark tragedies for a moment, the church in general has tainted herself too much by flirting with the world. Did Jesus eat with sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors? Yes. Did he come feasting, and drinking wine? Yes. Yet, He was without sin. He did not condemn the woman in the street, he told her to “Go, and sin no more.” To be a disciple is to follow Christ, to call others forward on their journey, and to carry whatever responsibility Jesus assigns to you. Some have outright fallen into sin, and too many are never held to account. In addition the church has been a poor student of what has been given to it; Marcionic with the scriptures, not very prayerful, and not very holy.

What does the world need? For the church to be the church. Don’t expect any thanks for it. Everyone complains when it’s right to complain, no one compliments when you do a good job, but the world desperately needs the church to be the church…to be holy and good and light in dark places. But don’t expect compliments or acknowledgements. If the church is doing its job right it will still be despised, but not for the reasons it is despised for today.

In order for the church to be what it needs to be, the church has to repent. As Americans we have a strong sense of what does or doesn’t apply to us, individually. So, I may say “I haven’t been greedy, I haven’t abused power, I’ve not had an affair… so this doesn’t apply to me…” let me remind you of Ezekiel 22:30

“I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.”

Stand in the gap means to intercede for the benefit of another. Here, literally to stand in an area where the wall is completely knocked down, with sword and shield drawn ready for battle.

The church needs to deeply and wholly repent, some of us have to start “guilty or not.” Those who seek to faithfully lead the church must first lead by repentance and then by seeking the transforming holiness of God. We need to pray, be literate in God’s word, and return to our post and our work, and be faithful. This is the only answer.

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, – Acts 3:19

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.'” -Revelation 7:17

The Church, The Last Days & The Holy Spirit 1

When we hear the term “Last Days” it often conjures up travesty on the evening news, or perhaps some poorly made disaster film.

But if you look in context that’s not all there is, in fact the signifier of the “Last Days” is something different; In Acts chapter 2 we find Saint Peter speaking:

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

-Acts 2:14-21

Saint Peter quotes the prophet Joel on the day of Pentecost 400 years after Joel spoke those words. Peter said The Holy Spirit being poured out is the signifier of the Last Days.  Joel said Something is going to happen, God is going to do something in the last days… God is saying “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh” all who will receive I will pour out my spirit on sons & daughters, old & young… regardless of age, race, sex, color, background…

In the old testament the Holy Spirit “came upon” people at particular times for particular tasks: Gideon, David, Ezekiel, others. In the new testament, Joel foresaw and was prophecying, there will be a new ability to hear God, to prophecy, to have dreams and visions, this would not be limited but a great and new opportunity.

John the Baptist was the last old testament prophet proclaiming the coming of Jesus. He said “I baptize with water, but he baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire!” Jesus said “I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;” – John 14:6

Comforter, “paraclete” in Greek, means ”One called along side of.” Look at Saint Paul’s story: Knocked to the ground, he encountered Jesus then was filled with the spirit after being prayed for.

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 9:17

People encounter Jesus and then encounter the Holy Spirit, I love the fact that Ananias said “so that you may see again  be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

So, in short there are 3 ideas for us to grab this week:

I) The Holy Spirit has been given

  • Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. -Acts 1:4-5
  • The Samaritans in Acts 8:17 – Peter and John laid their hands upon these believers, and they received the Holy Spirit.
  • Cornelius & Co. in Acts 10:44- Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message.

II) The Holy Spirit teaches

  • But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. –John 14:26
  • But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true–it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ. – 1st John 2:27

III) The Holy Spirit enables and empowers

  • Peter has a vision up on the roof –Acts ch 10:19-20 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” The Spirit informed and empowered Saint Peter.
  • The Spirit enables us, we do not direct the Spirit: ‘Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” – 2 Peter 1:21

The Last Days have begun, God has poured out His Holy Spirit on daughters and sons, and We want to be “carried along” by HIS Spirit as we go.

Bob Dylan said “You’re Gonna Serve Somebody”

“Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for reward, save that of knowing that I do your will…”

So prayed Saint Ignatius. To live completely devoted to God, to be a God-pleaser. To put yourself totally in His hands and be pleasing unto God, whether pleasing unto men or not.

“…not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bond-servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart” – Ephesians 6:6

A God-Pleaser is a bond-servant- doing the will of God from the heart. Doulos is the Greek for bond-servant. As Paul wrote:

(He) made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:7)

Paul, Timothy, Peter, Jude, & James all referred to themselves as doulos; the bond-servant of God. This refers to Old Testament times when people would work as servants for a time to pay off a debt, and they were then set free. A bond-servant  however was one who’d made a conscious choice, though free, to stay and not leave. His lord had become family and a friend, his house had become home, no longer a servant, he became a part of the family…

“But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my lord, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ “then his lord shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his lord shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.”  –Exodus 21:1-6

As we seek to live lives devoted to Father-God we do as St. Ignatius did and cast ourselves completely to the care of the Lord as a bond-servant, and rightly so, for as Peter wrote: “Cast all your cares on Him for He cares for you” -1 Peter 5:7

Psalms 27 says:

Though an army should encamp against me,* yet my heart shall not be afraid; And though war should rise up against me,* yet will I put my trust in him. One thing have I asked of the LORD; one thing I seek;* that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life; To behold the fair beauty of the LORD* and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter…

As we commit our way to The Lord we realize that He has also committed Himself to our care and we find God’s provision in spite of circumstance or trouble. The sermon on the mount tells us we’re blessed even though these terrible things happen to us. I take this literally. Others may curse you, say unfair or untrue things about you, but at the end of the day you belong to Father-God and He says you are, and will be blessed.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you… He cares for you.

An old Bob Dylan song says “your gonna serve somebody…” Commit everything, to your last breath to The Lord and become His bond-servant. Belong and become family.

Conviction, Love, and Activism

The Gospel of Jesus Christ spread throughout the culture of the Roman Empire much because of the identifying characteristics that the culture saw in the early church.

The early church was misunderstood by Roman Culture: Now on the one hand believers were suspect to the culture that day. They had practices like a secret supper where they supposedly ate the  flesh and drank the blood of some man named “Jesus”; so the Romans asked if they were cannibals? They called each other “brother & sister”; did that insinuate  incest? They didn’t worship the Roman  gods; so were Christians atheist? Though there was confusion and distrust, and even false accusations about the Christians, and persecution from the establishment, there were also observations and a growing admiration for the early church as well.

In AD 112 a letter written from the Governor of Asia Minor to the Emperor Trajan states:

“many of all ages…every level of society…male & female… (free or slave) in towns & villages…& throughout the country…” Were becoming “Christians” and he feared; “the shrines of the Roman gods were becoming deserted”

As Paul said in Galatians 3:28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Because of the dignity and equality expressed in the early church, Christianity appealed to women, to the poor and to slaves, but also to some who had means. The message that Christ came and died for all of them spoke with significance. The Christians also treated all with dignity and love. So we see these characteristics within the Ancient Church:

High Convictions, High Love, and Practical Expression-

1. High Convictions: They actually believed in something. They believed enough in something that often they were willing to die for what they believed. They believed that THE EVENT had happened, that the God of the Universe had invaded space and time, that God came down from heaven and became man. He had come powerfully to redeem men from sin, evil, and darkness-

“Let me illustrate this further. Who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man like Satan and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger–someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house.”- Mark 3:27

As St Ignatius (2nd century) summed up “The son of God became a man so that men could become the sons of God.” He had come to make all things right, He’d begun this process and would one day soon complete it. As 2nd Corinthians 5:19 says “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them…”

They actually believed in something, and they believed enough in something that often they were willing to die for what they believed. The early church was known for their high convictions that guided their life and actions, even to the point of going to the arena, being burned alive, or thrown to the beasts.

 

2. High Love: God’s grace and love directed the believer outward to the needs of his fellow men, or in Jesus’ words-

“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.” –Matthew 5:13 And also “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” –John 13:35

Tertullian wrote, in the early 2nd century “The pagan’s remark ‘See how the Christians love one another’…” Oh that it were true now,  it can be, but we must reorient our hearts.

The high convictions and high love we see in the ancient church produced a practical expression of love within the community of the day.

3. Practical Expression: They took the words of Jesus, and of the disciples, seriously and lived them out in practical expression-

“I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.”- Matthew 25:36,

They took seriously James’ exhortation of caring for the widows and orphans in James 1:27. So, in the early church we see an activism which took care of widows and orphans, which visited the sick and the prisoners, that loved the poor and the slaves, that took children in who had been left on the street to die, that buried the discarded dead because they were the image of God, and they were known for their open-handed generosity.

In our time the culture will have a problem with the church’s high convictions which should go against the grain of the culture whenever the culture is against the grain of Jesus’ teachings, and what God has revealed in the Bible, for God has not been silent.

But the church’s love and activism and expression, not divorced from its convictions, should also be such that bear witness to a world in need of hope.

(kudos to Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language, and Robert Webber’s Ancient Future Faith)