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Abased and Abound

More from John Chrysostom and his homilies on Philippians:

For I have learned, says he, in whatsoever state I am, therein to be content.

Wherefore, this is an object of discipline, and exercise, and care, for it is not easy of attainment, but very difficult, and a new thing. In whatsoever state I am, says he, therein to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know also how to abound. In everything and in all things have I learned the secret. That is, I know how to use little, to bear hunger and want. Both to abound, and to suffer need.

But, says one, there is no need of wisdom or of virtue in order to abound. There is great need of virtue, not less than in the other case. For as want inclines us to do many evil things, so too does plenty. For many ofttimes, coming into plenty, have become indolent, and have not known how to bear their good fortune. Many men have taken it as an occasion of no longer working. But Paul did not so, for what he received he consumed on others, and emptied himself for them. This is to know. He was in nowise relaxed, nor did he exult at his abundance; but was the same in want and in plenty, he was neither oppressed on the one hand, nor rendered a boaster on the other. Both to be filled, says he, and to be hungry, both to abound, and to be in want.

Many know not how to be full, as for example, the Israelites, ate, and kicked Deuteronomy 32:15, but I am equally well ordered in all. He shows that he neither is now elated, nor was before grieved: or if he grieved, it was on their account, not on his own, for he himself was similarly affected.

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Church Websites

The other day I looked up a church website to find something and was startled by what I saw.  It was difficult to know if I was looking at a church website or the home page of a local chamber of commerce.  I wondered if other churches were doing the same thing with their websites and began to Google a variety of Protestant denominations and Bible churches that I was familiar with in the area.  Here are some of the common themes and layouts of many:

  • Minimizing or completely eliminating the word “church” from the name or the particular denomination.  Instead, the focus is on other words in the church’s name: “Oak Tree”, “River Creek”, “Winding River”, or “First Amarillo” (the names have been changed to protect the innocent).  On several websites, the word “Welcome” was about 4 times larger than the church’s name.  Other sites had the denomination or the word “church” in a much darker color so that the non-churchy words would stand out.
  • Frequent use of key words:
    • “Experience” – not the noun in this case but the verb meaning “to have certain sensations or feelings”;  I found this 4 times on one church’s website – and this was just on the home page!
    • “Real” – as in “Real Worship”, “Real People”, “Real Women”, “Real Community”
    • “Transformed” – as in “Transformed Lives” or “Transformed People” or “Spiritual Transformation”
  • A majority of the churches use a “rotating images” block which can feature:
    • the latest sermon series
    • upcoming services
    • new books being offered
    • special multimedia presentations
    • ways to stay “connected” with Facebook, Twitter and the church blog
  • Other columns on the Home page will list all the bible studies and help groups that are available or upcoming events.

Have we really come to the point where church is just another thing to be marketed, using the latest technology and gimmicks that have proven “successful” in the corporate world?  When did church become all about “community” and programs instead of about God?  One staff pastor was actually called an “Assimilation Pastor”.  I had flashbacks of old Star Trek episodes where the Borg (pseudo-race of cybernetic organisms) assimilated anyone in its path with the promise that “resistance is futile”!  By blurring the lines of the church and the world in this way, doesn’t the church become just another institution or organization trying to gain members and encourage involvement?  When did the church begin competing with the world?

Gain and Loss

It’s back to the homilies of John Chrysostom. I’ve been reading through his sermons on Philippians. John’s audience included many of the very wealthy and materialistically-minded of Constantinople.  I think you will be surprised at the relevance to today’s Western Christians, 1600 years later.

The excerpt below is a discourse on Philippians 3:7 where Paul says, “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.” In order to make it a little more readable, I’ve added section headings.

The Nature of Riches

Wherefore he [Paul] added; “howbeit what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ” (Philippians 3:7)?

Such a course of life, so strictly regulated, and entered upon from earliest childhood, such unblemished extraction, such dangers, plots, labors, forwardness, did Paul renounce, counting them but loss, which before were gain, that he might win Christ. But we do not even contemn money, that we may win Christ, but prefer to fail of the life to come rather than of the good things of the present life. And yet this is nothing else than loss; for tell me now, let us examine in detail the conditions of riches, and see whether it be not loss accompanied with trouble, and without any gain.

Clothes

For tell me, what is the advantage of those stores of costly garments, what good do we gain when we are arrayed in them? None, nay, we are only losers. How so? Because even the poor man, in his cheap and threadbare clothing, does not bear the scorching in time of heat any wise worse than yourself; nay, rather he bears it better, for clothes that are threadbare and worn single allow more ease to the body, but not so with those which are newly made, though they be finer than the spider’s web. Besides, you, from your excessive self-importance, wear even two and often three inner garments, and a cloak and girdle, and breeches too, but no one blames him if he wears but a single inner garment; so that he is the man who endures most easily. It is owing to this that we see rich men sweating, but the poor subject to nothing of the sort. Since then his cheap clothing, which is sold for a trifle, answers the same or even a better purpose to him, and those clothes, which oblige a man to pay down much gold, do only the same thing, is not this great superabundance so much loss? For it has added nothing in respect of its use and service, but your purse is emptied of so much the more gold, and the same use and service. You who have riches have purchased for a hundred pieces of gold, or even more, but the poor man for a trifling sum of silver. Do you perceive the loss? No, for your pride will not let you see it.

Jewelry and Accessories

Would you have us make out this account in the case of the gold ornaments too, which men put alike about their horses and their wives? For besides the other evils, the possession of money makes fools of men; they account their wives and horses to be worthy of the same honor, and the ornamentation of both is the same; and they would make themselves finer by the same means as the very beasts that carry them, or as the very skins of the awnings, wherein they are borne. What now is the use of decking out a mule or a horse with gold? Or the lady, that has such a weight of gold and jewels about her person, what does she gain? But the golden ornaments are never worn out, he answers. Assuredly this also is said that in the baths and many places both precious stones and gold ornaments lose much of their value. But be it so, and grant that they are not injured, tell me, what is the gain? And how is it when they drop out, and are lost? Is there no loss sustained? And how when they draw down upon you envy and intrigue? Is there no loss then? For when they do the wearer no good, but rather inflame the eyes of the envious, and act as an incitement to the robber, do they not become loss? And again, say, when a man may use them for a serviceable purpose, but is unable on account of the extravagance of his wife, and is obliged to starve and to stint himself, that he may see her arrayed in gold, is it not a matter of loss? For it was on this account that goods have their name from use, not that we should use them thus like goldsmiths’ samples, but that we should do some good therewith; so then when love of gold does not allow this, is not the whole thing loss? For he that dares not use them forbears the use as if they were another’s property, and there is no use of them in any way.

Houses

Again, how is it when we erect splendid and spacious mansions, decorated with columns, marbles, porticos, arcades, and in every possible way, setting images and statues everywhere? Many indeed even call demons out of these, i.e. the images, but let us omit the examination of those points. What too is the meaning of the gilded ceiling? Does it not supply the same need as to him, whose house is on a moderate scale? But there is great delight in it, he says. Yes, for the first or second day, and afterwards, none at all, but it stands merely for nothing. For if the sun does not strike us with wonder, from its being customary, much more do works of art fail, and we only look at them like things of clay. For tell me, what does a range of pillars contribute to make your dwelling superior to others, or the finest statues, or the gilding spread over the wall? Nothing; rather, these come of luxury and insolence, and overweening pride and folly; for everything there ought to be necessary and useful, not superfluous things. Do you see that the thing is loss? Do you see that it is superfluous and unprofitable? For if it supplies no further use or delight (and it does, in the course of time, bring satiety), it is nothing else than loss, and vainglory is the hindrance, which will not let us see this.

The Fountain of Youth

Did Paul then forsake those things which he counted gain, and shall not we even quit our loss, for Christ’s sake? How long shall we be riveted to the earth? How long till we shall look up to heaven? Do ye not mark the aged, what little perception they have of the past? Do ye not mark those that are finishing their course, both men in age, and men in youth? Do ye not see persons in the midst of life bereft of them? Why are we so wedded to unstable objects? Why are we linked to things that are shifting? How long before we lay hold of the things that last? What would not the old give, were it granted them to divest themselves of their old age? How irrational then to wish to return to our former youth, and gladly to give everything for the sake of this, that we might become younger, and yet when it is ours to receive a youth that knows no old age, a youth too, which, joined with great riches, has far more of spirit, to be unwilling to give up a little trifle, but to hold fast things that contribute not a whit to the present life. They can never rescue you from death; they have no power to drive away disease, to stay old age, or any one of those events, which happen by necessity and according to the law of nature. And do you still hold to them? Tell me, what do you gain? Drunkenness, gluttony, pleasures contrary to nature and various in kind, which are far worse torturers than the hardest masters.

Again, let us never follow riches as a good; for they are the ruin of such as walk unwarily, but in everything directing our eyes to God, let us, as occasion requires, use those gifts which He has vouchsafed us, both strength of body, and abundance of money, and every other gift; for it is unnatural that we, who have our being from Him, should make these things serviceable to others, yet not to Him who has made us.

  • He formed your eye: make it serviceable to Him, not to the devil. But how serviceable to Him? By contemplating His creatures and praising and glorifying Him, and by withdrawing it from all gaze at women.
  • Did He make your hands? Preserve them for His use, not for the devil, not putting them out for robbery and rapine, but for His commandments and for good deeds, for earnest prayers, for holding out help to the fallen.
  • Hath He made your ears? Give these to Him, and not to effeminate strains nor to disgraceful tales; but let all your communication be in the law of the Most High (Sirach 9:15).
  • Did he make your mouth? Let it do nought that is displeasing to Him, but sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. “Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth,” says the Apostle, “but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear” (Ephesians 4:29); for edification and not for subversion, for fair words and not for evil speaking and plotting against other, but the very opposite.
  • He has made your feet, not that you should run to do evil, but to do good.
  • He made your belly, not that you should cram it to bursting, but to practice lessons of wisdom.
  • For the production of children, He implanted desire in your mind, not for fornication, nor for adultery.
  • He gave you understanding, not to make of you a blasphemer or a reviler, but that you might be without falsehood.
  • He gave us both money to be used on fitting occasion, and strength likewise to be used on fitting occasion.
  • He instituted arts, that our present state of existence might be held together by them, not that we should separate ourselves from spiritual things, not that we should devote ourselves to the base arts but to the necessary ones, that we might minister to one another’s good, and not that we should plot one against another.
  • He gave us a roof, that it might afford shelter from the rain, and no more, not that it should be decked out with gold, while the poor man perishes with hunger.
  • He gave clothing to cover us, not to make a display withal, not that things like these should have much gold lavished upon them, and that Christ should perish naked.
  • He gave you a place of shelter, not that you should keep it to yourself, but to offer it to others also.
  • He gave you land, not that, cutting off the chief portion of it, you should spend the good gifts of God upon harlots, and dancers, and actors, and flute players, and harp players, but upon those that hunger and are in want.
  • He gave you the sea to sail on, that you might not be wearied with journeying, not that you should pry into its depths, and bring up thence precious stones and all the other things of the same kind, nor that you should make this your business.

…Let us then give up such notions; let us lay hold of the things that are truly real. These are not, but simply pass away, only flowing past like a river. Wherefore I charge you, let us take our stand upon the rock, that we both escape being easily turned about, and that we may obtain the good things to come, by the grace and loving-kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ…

The Nature of Riches

Wherefore he [Paul] added; “howbeit what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ” (Philippians 3:7)?

Such a course of life, so strictly regulated, and entered upon from earliest childhood, such unblemished extraction, such dangers, plots, labors, forwardness, did Paul renounce, counting them but loss, which before were gain, that he might win Christ. But we do not even contemn money, that we may win Christ, but prefer to fail of the life to come rather than of the good things of the present life. And yet this is nothing else than loss; for tell me now, let us examine in detail the conditions of riches, and see whether it be not loss accompanied with trouble, and without any gain.

Clothes

For tell me, what is the advantage of those stores of costly garments, what good do we gain when we are arrayed in them? None, nay, we are only losers. How so? Because even the poor man, in his cheap and threadbare clothing, does not bear the scorching in time of heat any wise worse than yourself; nay, rather he bears it better, for clothes that are threadbare and worn single allow more ease to the body, but not so with those which are new made, though they be finer than the spider’s web. Besides, you, from your excessive self-importance, wear even two and often three inner garments, and a cloak and girdle, and breeches too, but no one blames him if he wears but a single inner garment; so that he is the man that endures most easily. It is owing to this that we see rich men sweating, but the poor subject to nothing of the sort. Since then his cheap clothing, which is sold for a trifle, answers the same or even a better purpose to him, and those clothes, which oblige a man to pay down much gold, do only the same thing, is not this great superabundance so much loss? For it has added nothing in respect of its use and service, but your purse is emptied of so much the more gold, and the same use and service. You who have riches have purchased for a hundred pieces of gold, or even more, but the poor man for a trifling sum of silver. Do you perceive the loss? No, for your pride will not let you see it.

Jewelry and Accessories

Would you have us make out this account in the case of the gold ornaments too, which men put alike about their horses and their wives? For besides the other evils, the possession of money makes fools of men; they account their wives and horses to be worthy of the same honor, and the ornamentation of both is the same; and they would make themselves finer by the same means as the very beasts that carry them, or as the very skins of the awnings, wherein they are borne. What now is the use of decking out a mule or a horse with gold? Or the lady, that has such a weight of gold and jewels about her person, what does she gain? But the golden ornaments are never worn out, he answers. Assuredly this also is said that in the baths and many places both precious stones and gold ornaments lose much of their value. But be it so, and grant that they are not injured, tell me, what is the gain? And how is it when they drop out, and are lost? Is there no loss sustained? And how when they draw down upon you envy and intrigue? Is there no loss then? For when they do the wearer no good, but rather inflame the eyes of the envious, and act as an incitement to the robber, do they not become loss? And again, say, when a man may use them for a serviceable purpose, but is unable on account of the extravagance of his wife, and is obliged to starve and to stint himself, that he may see her arrayed in gold, is it not a matter of loss? For it was on this account that goods have their name from use, not that we should use them thus like goldsmiths’ samples, but that we should do some good therewith; so then when love of gold does not allow this, is not the whole thing loss? For he that dares not use them forbears the use as if they were another’s property, and there is no use of them in any way.

Houses

Again, how is it when we erect splendid and spacious mansions, decorated with columns, marbles, porticos, arcades, and in every possible way, setting images and statues everywhere? Many indeed even call demons out of these, i.e. the images, but let us omit the examination of those points. What too is the meaning of the gilded ceiling? Does it not supply the same need as to him, whose house is on a moderate scale? But there is great delight in it, he says. Yes, for the first or second day, and afterwards, none at all, but it stands merely for nothing. For if the sun does not strike us with wonder, from its being customary, much more do works of art fail, and we only look at them like things of clay. For tell me, what does a range of pillars contribute to make your dwelling superior to others, or the finest statues, or the gilding spread over the wall? Nothing; rather, these come of luxury and insolence, and overweening pride and folly; for everything there ought to be necessary and useful, not superfluous things. Do you see that the thing is loss? Do you see that it is superfluous and unprofitable? For if it supplies no further use or delight (and it does, in the course of time, bring satiety), it is nothing else than loss, and vainglory is the hindrance, which will not let us see this.

The Fountain of Youth

Did Paul then forsake those things which he counted gain, and shall not we even quit our loss, for Christ’s sake? How long shall we be riveted to the earth? How long till we shall look up to heaven? Do ye not mark the aged, what little perception they have of the past? Do ye not mark those that are finishing their course, both men in age, and men in youth? Do ye not see persons in the midst of life bereft of them? Why are we so wedded to unstable objects? Why are we linked to things that are shifting? How long before we lay hold of the things that last? What would not the old give, were it granted them to divest themselves of their old age? How irrational then to wish to return to our former youth, and gladly to give everything for the sake of this, that we might become younger, and yet when it is ours to receive a youth that knows no old age, a youth too, which, joined with great riches, has far more of spirit, to be unwilling to give up a little trifle, but to hold fast things that contribute not a whit to the present life. They can never rescue you from death; they have no power to drive away disease, to stay old age, or any one of those events, which happen by necessity and according to the law of nature. And do you still hold to them? Tell me, what do you gain? Drunkenness, gluttony, pleasures contrary to nature and various in kind, which are far worse torturers than the hardest masters.

Again, let us never follow riches as a good; for they are the ruin of such as walk unwarily, but in everything directing our eyes to God, let us, as occasion requires, use those gifts which He has vouchsafed us, both strength of body, and abundance of money, and every other gift; for it is unnatural that we, who have our being from Him, should make these things serviceable to others, yet not to Him who has made us.

· He formed your eye: make it serviceable to Him, not to the devil. But how serviceable to Him? By contemplating His creatures and praising and glorifying Him, and by withdrawing it from all gaze at women.

· Did He make your hands? Preserve them for His use, not for the devil, not putting them out for robbery and rapine, but for His commandments and for good deeds, for earnest prayers, for holding out help to the fallen.

· Hath He made your ears? Give these to Him, and not to effeminate strains nor to disgraceful tales; but let all your communication be in the law of the Most High (Sirach 9:15).

· Did he make your mouth? Let it do nought that is displeasing to Him, but sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. “Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth,” says the Apostle, “but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear” (Ephesians 4:29); for edification and not for subversion, for fair words and not for evil speaking and plotting against other, but the very opposite.

· He has made your feet, not that you should run to do evil, but to do good.

· He made your belly, not that you should cram it to bursting, but to practice lessons of wisdom.

· For the production of children, He implanted desire in your mind, not for fornication, nor for adultery.

· He gave you understanding, not to make of you a blasphemer or a reviler, but that you might be without falsehood.

· He gave us both money to be used on fitting occasion, and strength likewise to be used on fitting occasion.

· He instituted arts, that our present state of existence might be held together by them, not that we should separate ourselves from spiritual things, not that we should devote ourselves to the base arts but to the necessary ones, that we might minister to one another’s good, and not that we should plot one against another.

· He gave us a roof, that it might afford shelter from the rain, and no more, not that it should be decked out with gold, while the poor man perishes with hunger.

· He gave clothing to cover us, not to make a display withal, not that things like these should have much gold lavished upon them, and that Christ should perish naked.

· He gave you a place of shelter, not that you should keep it to yourself, but to offer it to others also.

· He gave you land, not that, cutting off the chief portion of it, you should spend the good gifts of God upon harlots, and dancers, and actors, and flute players, and harp players, but upon those that hunger and are in want.

· He gave you the sea to sail on, that you might not be wearied with journeying, not that you should pry into its depths, and bring up thence precious stones and all the other things of the same kind, nor that you should make this your business.

…Let us then give up such notions; let us lay hold of the things that are truly real. These are not, but simply pass away, only flowing past like a river. Wherefore I charge you, let us take our stand upon the rock, that we both escape being easily turned about, and that we may obtain the good things to come, by the grace and loving-kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ

What is a Localist?

The world is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time; so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and to save the world from suicide. – T.S. Eliot

This article is worth reading and some serious contemplation: Confessions of a Localist in Training

Prayer by its nature is communion and union of man with God; by its action it is…

the reconciliation of man with God,

the mother and daughter of tears,

a bridge for crossing temptations,

a wall of protection from afflictions,

a crushing of conflicts,

boundless activity,

the spring of virtues,

the source of spiritual gifts,

invisible progress,

food of the soul,

the enlightening of the mind,

an axe for despair,

a demonstration of hope,

release from sorrow,

the wealth of monks.

Abba Agathon, Patriarch of Alexandria, 7th century

More on the Prodigal Son…

The joy at the dramatic return of the younger son in no way means that the elder son was less loved, less appreciated, less favored. The father does not compare the two sons. He loves them both with a complete love and expresses that love according to their individual journeys. He knows them both intimately. He understands their highly unique gifts and shortcomings. He sees with love the passion of his younger son, even when it is not regulated by obedience. With the same love, he sees the obedience of the elder son, even when it is not vitalized by passion. With the younger son there are no thoughts of better or worse, more or less, just as there are no measuring sticks with the elder son. The father responds to both according to their uniqueness.  The return of the younger son makes him call for a joyful celebration. The return of the elder son makes him extend an invitation to full participation in that joy.

“In the house of my father there are many places to live,” Jesus says. Each child of God has there his or her unique place, all of them places of God. I have to let go of all comparison, all rivalry and competition, and surrender to the Father’s love. This requires a leap of faith because I have little experience of non-comparing love and do not know the healing power of such a love. As long as I stay out in the darkness, I can only remain in the resentful complaint that results from my comparisons. Outside of the light, my younger brother seems to be more loved by the Father than I; in fact, outside of the light, I cannot even see him as my brother.

The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri J.M. Nouwen

Leaving Home

I have been rereading The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen.  It is a marvelous discussion and analysis of the parable told by Jesus while at the same time using Rembrandt’s famous painting of the same name.  As Nouwen tells the tale of the  younger son who demanded his inheritance, left home, and foolishly squandered it all, he considers the true meaning of “leaving home.”

Leaving home is, then, much more than an historical event bound to time and place. It is a denial of the spiritual reality that I belong to God with every part of my being, that God holds me safe in an eternal embrace, that I am indeed carved in the palms of God’s hands and hidden in their shadows. Leaving home means ignoring the truth that God has “fashioned me in secret, moulded me in the depths of the earth and knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” Leaving home is living as though I do not yet have a home and must look far and wide to find one.

It is easy for us to think, “Well, I can’t identify with the prodigal son, because I never did that.”  But we need to think beyond the external facts. Consider Nouwen’s verbs:

  • denial of the spiritual reality that I belong to God
  • ignoring the truth that God has created me
  • living as though I have no home and must look for another

Which of us can say these aren’t daily struggles? The battle is great and constant. God have mercy!