That’s not how this works…

There is a popular TV commercial where a little old lady has mounted photos on the wall of her living room and has several friends over to share the photos with. Another little old lady stands up and says, “That’s not how this works…” and sometimes I want to stand up and say that to folks about Christianity.

I recently challenged someone and asked them if they knew how to do something that they were talking about in Holy Scripture. The response surprised me, I was told I was bringing condemnation, not exactly sure how I was because there were no specifics, and then I was told, “There’s no condemnation in the kingdom…” to which my mind popped up the vision of the little old lady in the TV commercial, “That’s not how this works…”

The scripture the person was trying to apply was, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:1 NKJV

A Baptist preacher once told me, “Anytime there is a ‘therefore’ in Scripture, you need to back up and read more to find out what the ‘therefore’ is THERE FOR.

The passage in Romans 8:1 that was referred to, was being applied to try to shield from criticism. A kind of “get out of jail free” card like in Monopoly. That’s not even close to its application. It was being used as if to say, you cannot question me or criticize me because there’s no condemnation in the kingdom of God. Well that’s not what St. Paul was teaching in Romans 8:1.

Let’s look back, St. Paul was expounding in Romans 7 about how the Law of God brought judgement and starting in verse 13 of Chapter 7 he explained how in his mind he wanted to obey God but his physical body with its passions, desires, hungers were at war with his mind and he was feeling torn and battle weary in all this. THAT is what immediately preceded Romans 8:1 where he said that THEREFORE there is now no condemnation (from God) for us WHO WALK BY THE SPIRIT. That really is the operative thought, those who aren’t under God’s condemnation are those who walk by the Spirit and not the flesh or physical body with its weaknesses and desires.

That does not free us from criticism, if we are wrong in something, anyone in the Church has the responsibility to point it out. If you were to observe another Christian involved in something that was wrong, you shouldn’t just ignore it. They are part of you and when they hurt, you hurt.

“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” Galatians 6:1 NKJV

Restoration requires identification and honesty. This will sound like criticism. If you question someone, because it appears to you that something isn’t right, it will sound like criticism. That’s not wrong, it’s how this works. It’s how ALL of this stuff works.

Imagine the situation that was presented in the Corinthian Church, a man was shacked up with his step-mother. The people in the congregation knew what was happening and were trying to pat themselves on the back for being so tolerant. Saint Paul wrote them about how sad he was over this because they were allowing it to go unchallenged. That congregation was told to put him out, not to allow him to be part of the community, not to allow him to receive communion with them so that HOPEFULLY he would repent, change his ways, and be restored. After he repented, St. Paul told them to let him back in.

Imagine, if you will, if that man had said, “there’s no condemnation in the kingdom…” and tried to convince the congregation that they could not judge him. Imagine the confusion that the Church would have to correct if he said, “There’s no condemnation in the kingdom…”

It is like the people that say “Judge not” where they ignore the rest of the verse. Jesus specifically warned that whatever judgement you apply to others is how you will be judged. In the Corinthian Church, referenced above, St. Paul instructed the congregation specifically to judge the situation because HE had already judged it and he gave them instructions on what to do. He told them that “We” would Judge the angels so our judgement must be sound and practiced.

So I’ve rambled a bit but in conclusion I must say, we cannot be ignorant children, refusing any question or criticism but we must evaluate our words and actions soundly. To reject any challenges simply because we think we are above them is the height of arrogance and childishness.

Saint Peter told us, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;” I Peter 3:15 NKJV

Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks a reason for the hope in you. Can we expect to just slide through? Are we free from challenges? The religious leaders of his day challenged Jesus all the time. They sought the authority which he claimed and he showed them by the very miracles he performed that he was authentic. I suppose if someone came along performing miracles, there would be some deference given to their words but if they didn’t speak in line with already accepted teaching from the scriptures they would not be respected by most.

The Echo Chamber

In our everyday lives we have multiple interactions with others, some inside the Church and some outside the Church. We are involved with social media in various forms for politics, religion, music, social issues and we often retreat into that while missing the biggest opportunity for growth.

We sometimes get to feeling like we OWN some particular piece of social media. Bottom line is, the “owner” of our Facebook page is not us but rather the guy that owns that company. He proves that day in and day out by suspending accounts, refusing to allow clerical titles calling them false names, and many other ways. He and his company are simply censoring the content that he wants us to see. If the company decides it is “fake news” because the owner disagrees with it then they censor it or delete the posting.

The Christian life is not supposed to be that way. King Solomon said “I As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” Proverbs 27:17 NKJV

For iron to sharpen iron, some friction must occur. That isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes we learn HOW to say something because it “rubs the wrong way” and as we learn we grow. When I learn how to do something, it might be new to me, it might be of use to others, and asking others if they know how to accomplish something will elicit responses that bring new ideas.

When someone posts something on social media, it is like being in a big room with many people talking. Small groups form, and as you walk through the room you hear what others say. Then there are people sharing, repeating, what someone says.

Some people want to rant, we all have friends that on social media just want to rant. They want their time on the soapbox. They think whatever they’re ranting about is so important that everyone needs to pay attention but they do NOT want any responses.

Some people present the attitude that what they post on social media is their mission in life. The people on their friend list NEED their wisdom and anyone that would try to add to that or ask a question is not worthy to comment.

When you write on Facebook you are not writing your own blog. Yes you can block comments, you can delete comments that you don’t like but seriously, you are in a big room talking and others might actually have insight that you are missing. You are not a sage that has all the wisdom of God. You might have a purpose in stating a fact, quoting something but to limit others’ comments often puts you in an echo chamber. You only hear or see the things that you agree with. Being honest with ourselves there are avenues for that.

Blogs, like this one, are ways for in-depth discussions of what the writer wants to say. This is why I like to write things that occur in my religious life. I’m not perfect, I get it wrong a great deal, but I put myself out there and let others take their best shot. I’m not here writing to debate the issues. I simply put it out there and expose how I feel, what I have experienced and what I learned.

When I finish an article for this blog, I share it on Facebook and in that environment people can discuss and debate the article if they choose. It does not diminish the ideas in the article nor does it threaten my belief structure, it is just a forum where I can share what I have learned.

If you like to post stuff on Facebook so that you can feel good or fulfilled by all your friends agreeing with you then accept the fact that others have equally valid observations about the subject you posted. You might not be the all-knowing sage which you think you are. You might need to hear additional insight.

Lately, politics has colored everything. It depends on what source of information one uses, what they believe. The term “fake news” gets thrown around and no one listens to each other. That is fine because the reality is our opinions do not matter to the politicians. They only care if we vote for them. Most of what we say is meaningless and no one will change opinions based on what someone says on Facebook.

Religion is often the same way, no one will change their opinion by what they read on Facebook.

Blogs give us an extended time to express ourselves. You can open up your heart, and mind, express your feelings, talk about what you have learned, and others can comment if they want to but it truly is YOUR space. You own your blog and can even refuse comments. Everyone knows that going in.

Great Lent is approaching. Soon many Christians will be fasting, using time that ordinarily is focused out for introspection. Many choose to even withdraw from social media in this time. That might be a good idea. At least, if we are seeking enlightenment from God, being away from Facebook and contentious people or subjects.

If you have insight, feel free to share, it’s how we learn.

The Birthday Gift Project

My bride of almost five years is the most important person to me. We went to high school together, dated some, but went our separate ways. We came together in 2012 and planned to marry when she joined me here in Phoenix. While planning our wedding, my priest asked for her baptismal certificate from whatever church she was baptized in. She said she had not been baptized and to his credit he said, “We must baptize her before the wedding” as no one can be married in the Orthodox Church except those who have been baptized in the name of the Most Holy Trinity. His plan was to baptize her, do the wedding and teach her the Catechism afterward over time. 
Over the past four plus years, she has studied and learned, experiencing God through the Divine Liturgy and feasts of the Church. The Antiochian Service Book, usually in the pew pockets at the parish temple has helped guide her, containing the services, and prayers of the Church. The most difficult thing was that often they were taken home by people, or moved to other places in the parish temple so she struggled to get one to use at services. She needed one that was hers, one that no one could “mistake” for theirs, one that would be unique. 

I started with the concept for this project in January 2017. I have always admired the ornamental covers on the Gospel Book and the Epistle Book at the Parish Temple. I checked and those are very expensive. I decided to put a metal cover on a service book and give it to Carol. 

I have all sorts of experience in working, I learned a little about a great number things in the past 58 years. I was once a cosmetic worker in a repair plant that repairs airplane parts. I learned about sheet metal there. 

I created a pattern for the pieces that I needed. 

I found a sheet metal vendor, not far away and chose a shiny brass that’s almost a gold color. I drew and cut patterns for the pieces that I needed from poster board. I took them to the sheet metal superstore and they sent them to the shop that they use to cut specialized shapes. That shop uses a water jet cutter. 

They sent the metal off to be cut. 

I received the three pieces that I ordered cut and then worked with the guy at the sheet metal shop to put the initial bends in each. I need a board that is 1/2 inch thick or a little less to hold the spine piece for drilling. I’ll go to Home Depot Monday looking for that. 

I have most of the parts collected up. I’ll get it all done in a few weeks. I have to work on this when Carol is at work on Monday and Tuesday. 

May 8, 2017 

Today I assembled the portable workbench that I bought to do this project. I got a piece of wood that is almost exactly the right size for the binding piece to slip on the end. I will use this to hold the binding piece for drilling the holes to attach the hinges. I cut the hinges tonight and they are ready for their next step. Plan for tomorrow is to drill the practice metal and do some practice rivets. Perhaps I can attach the hinges to the binding section. It doesn’t appear that I can remove the pin from the hinge so they must be attached in a way that I can work around all of the limitations. 

I finally had the opportunity to start bucking rivets only to learn that the holes in the hinges themselves are too large, slightly, for the rivets. So this week I’ll need to drill 1/8 inch holes in the hinges then drill new holes in the spine section. It should not matter since it will be folded under ultimately hidden from view. 

August 7, 2017

I finally was afforded time to finish this project. I have only been able to work on it when my bride was working on my day off. Sometimes in her job, shifts get cancelled and that makes it tougher to work on this project because I do not want her to know what I’m doing until it’s complete. 

I drilled the new holes in the hinges and completed the rivets for the pieces. Then I bent the riveted flaps under on the spine first. I was a bit surprised by the imprint of the rivets showing on the outside of the spine. I needed to prevent that on the other pieces. I determined that the thickness of a credit card would be enough space. I took one of those advertisements that has a credit card type card on the letter, and I cut it so I could put it under the rivets to prevent it from imprinting on the outside. After folding the flap in this manner, I could remove the plastic card from the final product. 

I completed the bending, now the book is covered. I used a rubber mallet to complete the folding and the book is covered. The outside is marred with finger prints and scratches that could not be avoided due to my working conditions and my makeshift bench, so I’m going to need to polish it up. I got some Never Dull metal polish at Walmart just for that. 

I want a couple bookmarks so my bride can mark places she wants in the book and found a golden cord with tassels on the ends. I drilled a spot on the hidden part of the spine to attach it. It will be a nice addition to the overall book. 

I want to decorate the front with a cross, I have an idea for a gift box to present it to my bride, so tomorrow I will go to Hobby Lobby again. 

August 8, 2017

Hobby Lobby has these real neat gift boxes, I chose shiny gold, and with a bit of foam and some purple satin, and I found a nice cross to use on the front. 

I polished the surface, and affixed the cross using Gorilla Glue. I measured and cut the foam, and covered it in the satin for presentation. 

I want something to cover the inside surface of the covers where the folded metal comes together. I decided to print two icons and laminate them with an adhesive back. I placed Saint Thekla, my bride’s patron on the inside front cover and Saint Paul, my patron, on the inside of the back cover.

I printed the Troparion for the Saint on the print of the icon for her personal devotional use.

My project is complete, boxed and ready for her. Carol’s birthday is the eleventh but that’s a day we won’t see each other except for a few minutes as she gets ready for work. Ordinarily she is unable to consider much conversation when she’s trying to get dressed in the morning. I want this to be a time when she can take it all in. 
After she has come home, while she is eating, this conversation took place:

Me: I have your birthday present ready for you

Her: Let’s wait until Friday when it’s my birthday

Me: well I won’t see you on Friday 

Her: you’re real excited to give it to me aren’t you? 

Me: yes

Her: okay…

Her pleasure and surprise were really the best reward this husband could hope for. 

A Line in the Desert Sand

There is a tendency in certain religious circles to create a doctrine from a single phrase or sentence found in the New Testament. One such instance has been the movement called the “Prosperity Gospel” which often is based on 3 John 1:2 and little else.  
Other doctrines are floating around simply based on one sentence or phrase. This is often why there are so many thousands of churches calling themselves “Christian” that do not agree or are not in communion with others.
From the beginning of the Church, there were teachings and these doctrines were settled from the beginning as “The Apostles Doctrine” and were taught by the Apostles to the first overseers of the first churches. Dogma was settled long before the New Testament was collected and organized. The Scripture references for the doctrines of the Church were later referenced. 
In the early fourth century, a presbyter named Arius decided that since Jesus was begotten of the Father, there must have been a time when Jesus did not exist. His conclusion was that Jesus was not God at all but a created being. The confusion which this line of thinking created spread quickly. It finally reached the capital city of the Empire, Constantinople. The Emperor Constantine realizing that the State Religion was in danger of disarray, asked the Patriarch of Constantinople if there was a way for this to be addressed. The scholars of the Church knew, from the example in history, (we see it in Acts with the Council of the Apostles in Jerusalem) that those who were overseers of the congregations should meet. They could each expound on what had been taught and passed down to them. 
This brought forward the Ecumenical Council of Nicea. After exhaustive explanations from each bishop in attendance concerning what they had been taught from the beginning, the decision to write it down was made. 
The first two sections of the Creed was crafted. This defined the Church’s belief in God the Father and his role as well as God the Son and his role. It also clarified that the Son was “begotten not made” and was “of one essence with the Father” and that by Him all things were created. 
Once the first two sections of the Creed were accepted, they were duplicated and taken to all the local churches with instructions to read them, study and learn what they taught in case anyone was under the mistaken ideas previously heard. 
The Church progressed for several decades when a dispute seemed to be raised over the Holy Spirit. Was He God and a person or simply the effect of God’s presence in the World. Once again the Church leadership met in a council, this time in Constantinople in 381 and when all the speeches and teachings were expounded, the decision to add to the Creed was made. The inclusion of the teachings of the Holy Spirit, with his role in creation, as well as Baptism and t teaching concerning the universality of the Church and its descriptive foundation. 
When the Creed was accepted as complete by the consensus of the bishops, they collectively declared that anyone that changed it at all, without the entire Church leadership in council was to be accursed. This was the anathema that they attached to identify how serious these foundational doctrines were. 
In the year 386 a committee of scholars and bishops began the task of collecting all the works that each local church had which were thought to be scripture. Many books that were called “Gospels” purported to be written by anyone. The writings of any Apostle were also collected. This collection of books were compared, studied and those found to be consistent with all teachings accepted previously were organized into what we now refer to as The New Testament. This final canon of scripture was accepted in the year 389. 
Now if we look, each part of the Creed, finalized in 381, is consistent with scripture that was canonized in 389. 
The Creed in Scripture:
I believe in One God, (Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:29, 12:32; Ephesians 4:6; 1 Corinthians 8:6)
The Father Almighty (Genesis 17:1-8; Exodus 6:3; Matthew 6:9; Ephesians 4:6; 2 Corinthians 6:18)
Maker of heaven and earth (Genesis 1:1; Job 38:1-30)
And of all things visible and invisible (Colossians 1:15-16; John 1:3; Hebrews 11:3; Revelation 4:11)
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ (John 20:28; Acts 11:17, 16:31; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:5)
The Son of God, the Only-Begotten (Matthew 3:17, 14:33, 16:16; John 1:14, 3:16)
Begotten of the Father before all ages (Psalm 2:7; John 1:1-2)
Light of Light (John 1:4, 1:9, 8:12; Psalm 27:1; Matthew 17:2, 5; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Hebrews 1:3; 1 John 1:5)
True God of True God (John 1:1-2, 17:1-5; 1 John 5:20)
Begotten, not made (John 1:1-2, 16:28, 1:18)
Of one essence with the Father (John 10:30)
By Whom all things were made (Hebrews 1:1-2, 10; John 1:3, 1:10; Colossians 1:16; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Romans 11:36)
Who for us men and for our salvation (I Timothy 2:4-5; Matthew 1:21; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; Colossians 1:13-14)
Came down from heaven (John 3:13, 3:31, 6:33-35, 38)
And was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:34-35)
And became man (John 1:14; Hebrews 2:14)
And He was crucified for us (Mark 15:25; I Corinthians 15:3; 1 Peter 2:24) 
under Pontius Pilate (Mark 15:15)
And suffered (Mark 8: 31; Matthew 27:50)
And was buried (Luke 23:53; 1 Corinthians 15:4; Matthew 27:59-60)
And He rose again on the third day (Mark 9:31, 16:9; Acts 10:40; 1 Corinthians 15:4)
According to the Scriptures (Luke 24:1, 45-46; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
And ascended into heaven (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9-10; Mark 16:19)
And sits at the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19; Acts 7:55; Luke 22:69)
And He will come again with glory (Matthew 24:27; Mark 13:26; John 14:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:17)
To judge the living and the dead (Acts 10:42; 2 Timothy 4:1; Matthew 16:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Peter 4:5)
His kingdom shall have no end (2 Peter 1:11; Hebrews 1:8)
And I believe in the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; Acts 1:8)
The Lord and Giver of life (Acts 5: 3-4; Genesis 1:2; John 6:63; 2 Corinthians 3:6)
Who proceeds from the Father (John 15:26)
Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified (Matthew 3:16-17)
Who spoke through the prophets (I Samuel 19:20; Ezekiel 11:5; 1 Peter 1:10-11; Ephesians 3:5)
And I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church (Matthew 16:18, 28:19; 1 Peter 2:5,9; Ephesians 1:4, 2:19-22, 4:4, 5:27; Acts 1:8, 2:42; Mark 16:15; Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 10:17)
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins (Ephesians 4:5; Galatians 3:27; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Colossians 2:12-13; Acts 22:16)
I look for the resurrection of the dead (John 11:24; 1 Corinthians 15:12-49; Romans 6:4-5; 1 Thessalonians 4:16)
And the life of the world to come. (Mark 10:29-30; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1)
Amen. (Psalm 106:48)
 Now, understanding this builds the doctrine of the Church, the foundational teaching of the Church, with references in scripture. That’s a completely different way to establish a teaching or doctrine. In the beginning of this article, I referred to taking a phrase and creating a doctrine from it. The reference I made was to the expressed good wishes from the Apostle John that “I would that you prosper and be in health even as your soul prospers”. The groups known under the banner of “The Prosperity Gospel” preachers tend to build this up to declare that God wants me to be wealthy. If I perform everything that is a commandment, tithing and giving primarily, I will prosper and be in health. 
Over time we have seen how flawed this thinking can be considering that God never promised us a mansion or a jet or a Rolls Royce. If we look, usually it is found that those preachers experience that kind of monetary prosperity often to the detriment of their followers. The regular guy is often told to keep giving and if he REALLY believes he will prosper. When he doesn’t get wealthy, the conclusion he reaches is that he just doesn’t believe enough. 
Years ago, close friends of mine were seduced by this kind of preaching. They were also pointed to an investor that traded gold internationally. They believed so deeply in the people that they followed that they took out a second mortgage on their home. They invested all of that borrowed money into this fund that was supposed to be managed by this investor in international gold trading. A market correction caused his fund to collapse and last I heard from my friends they had lost not only their investment but when the second mortgage came due they could not pay it, they lost their home and assets in bankruptcy. 
There are several preachers from that belief system who have died of cancer in the past decade. I have the question in my mind, if they spent years telling their congregations that sickness was caused by lack of faith, how do those congregations explain their pastor’s death? It seems to be a difficult place to be found. The foundation of their belief was not really God, rather it was a man’s interpretation of scripture. 
There are many such flawed teachings. Another one that is prominent is that presbyters, pastors and priests (all the same kind of minister) should never be referred to as “Father”. This is based on a statement of Jesus in Matthew 23:9 “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.” Matthew 23:9 NKJV
Based exclusively on this one sentence, entire doctrinal statements concerning the title “Father” have been built. They obviously ignore that the title Father has a specific use in history, the man who raises children is the FATHER to those children. The history of the term is exhaustive and can be found in any language. Saint Paul writing to the Church in Corinth identified them as his children “For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” 

I Corinthians 4:15 NKJV
He obviously identified to them that he was their father in the Gospel because he had begotten them. I wonder if that reference would lead me to believe that he was their spiritual father and they identified him as such?
References to fathers weave through the New Testament. It is clear from context that the Apostles writing referred to fathers on earth and the Father in heaven. There was no general prohibition on referring to any man as “Father” and the apostles many times talked to the Church as “my children” so to make some blanket statement that based on the one sentence that it is recorded that Jesus said “call no man father” is ignoring the history and practices of the Church. We know who our father is, who our spiritual father is and who our Heavenly Father is, we’re not stupid. One line reference to build a doctrine from seems without foundation. 
The Great Schism 1054, where the Roman Pope excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople and all those who were remaining in communion with Constantinople, saw the biggest division of the Church. After the Schism, the Roman Pope began making up doctrine never accepted before. Some could be easily reversed if Rome ever chose to return to the community of believers that are in the Eastern Church. Other doctrines are more difficult to reverse. One of those is the addition of what is known as “the Filoque” which is the corruption of the Creed. In reference to the Creed, presented above with scripture references, I refer to the identification of the Holy Spirit. The Creed makes a point of saying the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father”. The Roman church added the phrase “and the Son” to that sentence. They read that “who proceeds from the Father and the Son” thus subordinating the Holy Spirit in some hierarchical way. This is not a doctrine of a one-liner but rather a part of a larger doctrine easily seen in scripture. This is why it became so important. 
The idea that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father was derived from the teachings of the Apostles. When the canon of scripture was finalized, the Gospel of John made it clear because only there do we find the specific of where the Holy Spirit comes from. Many want to reduce this to a mere semantic argument but it being so much part of the larger teaching in the Creed makes me believe that it is of great importance. 
The authority of the Creed was the authority of the Church. The bishops (overseers) were the voting members of the Church Councils. Those same bishops were the authority for the Canon of the New Testament Scriptures. Effectively, the Church coming first, has the authority, and the New Testament Scriptures, being produced by the Apostles, is higher than the Creed but the Creed is a collection from scripture of the basics of Christian belief, they are intertwined and inseparable. It is possible, and common in the modern day, to accept the New Testament and reject the Creed but impossible to be a Christian and reject the Creed. 

Is it possible to get “saved” when you are in some religion that denies the Creed?  That’s God’s choice, no man can decide that. What we DO know however, is that if you are INSIDE the true Church, founded by Jesus on the Testimony of the Apostles, you stand a great chance since you are following the Apostles’ Doctrine just as the early Church did.