Tuesday, August 26, 2008

John Owen, continued

...a few more quotes by John Owen, quoted by J.I. Packer in "A Quest for Godliness":

On communion with God, Owen wrote:

"Our communion...with God consisteth in his communication of himself unto us, with our returnal unto him of that which he requireth and accepteth, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him...[a] mutual communication in giving and receiving, after a most holy and spiritual manner, which is between God and the saints, while they walk together in a covenant of peace, ratified by the blood of Jesus."

Receiving Christ's love is by faith, Owen describes as:

free, willing consent to receive, embrace and submit unto the Lord Jesus, as their huband, Lord and Saviour, -- to abide with him, subject their souls unto him, and to be ruled by him for ever...When the soul consents to take Christ on his own terms, to save him in his own way, and says, 'Lord...I am willing to receive thee and to be saved in thy way, --merely by grace; and though I would have walked according to my own mind, yet now I wholly give myself to be ruled by the Spirit, for in thee have I righteousness and strength, in thee am I justified and do glory; --then doth it carry on communion with Christ...Let believers exercise their hearts abundantly unto this thing. This is choice communion with the Son Jesus Christ. Let us receive him in all his excellencies as he bestows himself upon us;--be frequent in thoughts of faith, comparing him with other beloveds, sin, world, legal righteousness; and preferring him before them, counting them all loss and dung in comparison of him...and we shall not fail in the issue of sweet refreshment with him."


Monday, August 25, 2008

Remembering John Owen

I read part of J.I. Packer's book called "The Quest for Godliness" today. It is a terrific book about the English Puritans (who lived generally between 1550 and 1700). As I was reading I learned that one of the most notable Puritan theologians, named John Owen, died on this date in 1683...325 years ago.

Owen is, according to Packer "the hero of this book" and "was one of the greatest of English theologians." Referring to himself as a "teacher" Owen spoke and wrote at length about the importance of the cross and the Spirit in the lives of Christians in dealing with sin.

On sin, Owen wrote, "its nature and formal design is to oppose God; God as a lawgiver, God as holy, God as the author of the gospel, a way of salvation by grace and not by works, are the direct object of the law of sin."

Much of his work has been reprinted and can also be found online. Here's a link to The Puritan Library which contains is work online: http://www.puritanlibrary.com/


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Worship Gathering follow-up

Thanks to all who were able to attend the "Worship Gathering" on Saturday, Aug. 9th. It was an encouraging evening for me, as I was commissioned a Lay Catechist in the Anglican Mission in the Americas.

In addition to Rev. Doc Loomis who drove from Hudson, Ohio we were also joined by Fr. Dale Minor and Deacon Jack Snyder of Circleville, Ohio who led us in a Communion service.

That evening, I also led a brief Bible study, of a few verses in Galatians chapter two. In my next few posts I'll include my notes from our Bible study.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Worship Gathering and New Website

I'll be hosting a Worship Gathering this Saturday, August 9th at 7:00pm at LifeLand Community Church in Mason. As always I’m looking forward to our time together.

In addition to spending time in worship and prayer we’ll be doing something that will be quite significant for me.

I’ve shared with many of you that I’ve been working with a group called the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) since last fall to understand more about Anglican worship and how we can integrate contemporary worship music with traditional elements of the Church of England.

On Saturday at our worship gathering, some folks from AMiA will be joining us to participate in worship and to appoint me as a Lay Catechist. (If you’re like me, I hadn’t heard of that title before now…in common terms a Lay Catechist is a ‘non-ordained teacher/leader’). The appointment will make official a relationship that I’ve had with AMiA for some time, providing myself and our group with oversight, accountability and resources. I’m glad they’ll be joining us.

With their help, I’ve recently created website for our group at: http://www.cincyanglican.org/ I hope you find the site helpful in understanding what we do at our monthly worship gatherings and also a helpful resource for telling others.

Many blessings,

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Price of Truth

Alexander Solzhenitsyn died this week in his beloved Russian homeland.

In 1945 Solzhenitsyn was arrested for writing critically (in a letter to a friend) about Joseph Stalin’s conduct of the war and sentenced to eight years in a labor camp and then to internal exile. While imprisoned and in exile, his beliefs changed from a Marxist worldview to a Christian perspective.

Starting in his early forties, he wrote several novels and books based on his experiences in the labor camps -- bringing into the open the Stalinist cruelties in which perhaps twenty to thirty million Soviets were imprisoned and ten million Soviets killed.

It has been reported, that in the 1960's Solzhenitsyn was monitored so closely by the KGB that he was never able to work with his entire draft of his book called “The Gulag Archipelago”. Instead, he hid portions of the manuscript at the homes of friends, and when he visited them, he would work on that section of the book.

In 1970 he won the Nobel Prize for literature and in 1974 he was deported from the Soviet Union. He spent the next twenty years living in exile in the West.

Three of his books greatly affected me when I read them in High School and college ("One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”, “The Cancer Ward”, and “The Gulag Archipelago”.

Below is one of my favorite passages from his novel, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich"...showing some of the cruelties of the forced labor camp and the perspective of Christian prisoners. The passage begins as Ivan Denisovich (who is also known by the nickname "Shukhov") gets ready for bed in the prison barracks:

Head on the pillow, stuffed with shavings of wood; feet in jacket sleeve; coat on top of blanket and --Glory be to Thee, O Lord. Another day over. Thank You I'm not spending tonight in the cells. Here it's still bearable.

He lay with his head near the window, but Alyosha, who slept next to him on the same level, across a low wooden railing, lay the opposite way, to catch the light. He was reading his Bible again.

The electric light was quite near. You could read and even sew by it.

Alyosha heard Shukhov's whispered prayer, and, turning to him: "There you are Ivan Denisovich, your soul is begging to pray. Why don't you give it its freedom?"

Shukhov stole a look at him. Alyosha's eyes glowed like two candles.

"Well, Alyosha," he said with a sigh, "it's this way. Prayers are like those appeals of ours. Either they don't get through or they're returned with 'rejected' scrawled across 'em."

Outside the staff quarters were four sealed boxes--they were cleared by a security officer once a month. Many were the appeals that were dropped in to them. The writers waited, counting the weeks: there'll be a reply in two months, in one month...

But the reply doesn't come. Or if it does it's only "rejected".

"But, Ivan Denisovich, it's because you pray too rarely, and badly at that. Without really trying. That's why your prayers stay unanswered. One must never stop praying. If you have real faith you tell a mountain to move and it will move..."

(At this point in the book, Shukov questions Alyosha in several paragraphs if he had ever seen a mountain move).

..."Oh, we didn't pray for that, Ivan Denisovitch," Alyosha said earnestly. Bible in hand, he drew nearer to Shukhov till they lay face to face. "Of all earthly and mortal things Our Lord commanded us to pray only for our daily bread. 'Give us this day our daily bread.'"

"Our ration, you mean?" asked Shukov.

But Alyosha didn't give up. Arguing more with his eyes than his tongue, he plucked at Shukhov's sleeve, stroked his arm, and said, "Ivan Denisovich, you shouldn't pray to get parcels or for extra stew, not for that. Things that man puts a high price on are vile in the eyes of Our Lord. We must pray about things of the spirit -- that the Lord Jesus should remove the scum of anger from our hearts."

After some discussion about Orthodox priests, Shukov relied,

"Well," he said conclusively, "however much you pray it doesn't shorten your stretch. You'll sit it out from beginning to end anyhow."

"Oh, you mustn't pray for that either," said Alyosha, horrified. "Why do you want freedom? In freedom your last grain of faith will be choked with weeds. You should rejoice that you're in prison. Here you have time to think about your soul. As the Apostle Paul wrote: 'Why all these tears? Why are you trying to weaken my resolution? For my part I am ready not merely to be bound but even to die for the name of the Lord Jesus.' "

Shukov gazed at the ceiling in silence. Now he didn't know either whether he wanted freedom or not. At first he'd longed for it. Every night he'd counted the days of his stretch--how many had passed, how many were coming. And then he'd grown bored with counting. And then it became clear that men like him wouldn't ever be allowed to return home, that they'd be exiled. And whether his life would be any better there than here--who could tell?

Freedom meant one thing to him--home.

But they wouldn't let him go home.

Alyosha was speaking the truth. His voice and his eyes left no doubt that he was happy in prison.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn died on August 3, 2008. He was eighty-nine.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Hamilton, the Duel and Communion

In my previous posts, I mentioned that I recently finished Ron Chernow's biography on Alexander Hamilton.

I found reading the biography so interesting because Hamilton had an almost Forrest Gump-like ability of being at the right place at the right time early in American History. As an aide to Gen. George Washington he was at many of the crucial battles with the British, even leading combat troops at the battle for New York and at Yorktown. He was a signer of the Constitution (the only signer from the state of New York), he was a founder of the First Bank of the United States, a general of the Army during John Adams' administration and even a founder of the New York Post.

Unfortunately, Hamilton was also present at what Henry Adams called "the most dramatic moment in the early politics of the Union" --- the famous duel between Hamilton and Aaron Burr in 1804 that resulted in Hamilton's death.

Oddly enough, Hamilton and Burr had known each other since their early 20's and had much in common. Both had endured childhood tragedies and were both orphans, both were officers in the Revolutionary War, both studied for the bar at the same time in Albany, and both had been prominent attorneys in New York City for a number of years.

Over the years, however, Hamilton had grown to greatly dislike and distrust Burr (who was quick to shift his political beliefs in order to succeed). Their rivalry grew so divisive, that in the Presidential race of 1800, when the Electoral College dead-locked between Burr and Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton put his support behind Jefferson, even though he and Jefferson had been bitter rivals for many years during George Washington's administration.

When forced to choose, Chernow wrote that, "Hamilton preferred a man with wrong principles (Jefferson) to one devoid of any (Burr)."

After thirty-six votes in the House of Representatives, Jefferson eventually won the Presidency, which made Burr the Vice President.

In 1804, while still Vice President, Burr ran for Governor of New York. Again Hamilton campaigned against him, causing Burr to lose to the candidate that Hamilton supported.

Burr had heard that Hamilton had defamed his character, and called for a duel. Hamilton, not wanting to look like a coward, accepted.

Early in the morning on July 11th, both men climbed a cliff across from New York City in Weehawken, New Jersey. Hamilton had written earlier in the week that he intended to "throw away" his first shot by shooting away from Burr. In fact, it appeared that his shot hit the branch of a tree overhead. Burr's first shot hit Hamilton above the right hip.

"I am a dead man." Hamilton is said to have proclaimed when he was hit.

Hamilton did not die instantly. He was taken to a house of a friend along the Hudson River in Manhattan. Eventually his wife joined him. To comfort her he kept repeating the phrase:

"Remember, my Eliza, you are a Christian."

In addition to feelings for his family, Chernow explained that Hamilton was "preoccupied with spiritual matters in a way that eliminates all doubt about the sincerity of his late-flowering religious interests."

As soon as he arrived he asked for last rites from the Episcopal Church and called for Rev. Benjamin Moore. (Moore was rector at Trinity Church and President of Columbia University...where Hamilton had attended as a youth, when it was called King's College). Initially Rev. Moore refused Hamilton's request, knowing that Hamilton had not been a regular at church-going and not wanting to sanction the duel.

Hamilton, ever the persuader, told Rev. Moore after professing his faith in Christ, "My dear Sir, you perceive my unfortunate situation and no doubt have been made acquainted with the circumstances which led to it. It is my desire to receive the communion at your hands. I hope you will not conceive there is any impropriety in my request."

Hamilton added, "I have no ill will against Col. Burr. I met him with a fixed resolution to do him no harm. I forgive all that happened."

Chernow writes, "At that point Rev. Moore relented and gave holy communion to Hamilton, who then lay back serenely and declared that he was happy."

The following day he bid farewell to his children, repeated to Rev. Moore that he "had no malice toward Burr, that he was dying in a peaceful state, and that he was reconciled with God and his fate."

At 2:00pm on July 12, 1804, thirty-one hours after the duel, he died. Hamilton was forty-nine.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Young Hamilton and Rev. Knox

As I mentioned in my previous post, I just finished reading Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton.

In his short life, Hamilton had a number of accomplishments: aide to Gen. Washington during the Revolutionary War, co-author of the Federalist Papers, and first U.S. Treasury Secretary among distinctions.

Unlike the other "Founding Fathers", who were raised on southern plantations or in wealthy northern towns, Hamilton was born into poverty on the small island of Nevis (near St. Croix) in the Caribbean. It is this location that Chernow, in his biography, is at his best in vividly describing Hamilton's younger years. After moving from one location to another with his parents and older brother an amazingly sad set of events occurred over the course of four years. Chernow writes:

“Let us pause briefly to tally the grim catalog of disasters that had befallen these two boys between 1765 and 1769; their father had vanished, their mother had died, their cousin and supposed protector had committed bloody suicide, and their aunt, uncle, and grandmother had all died. James, sixteen, and Alexander, fourteen, were now left alone, largely friendless and penniless.”

Eventually, Alexander got a job as a clerk in a trading office. Two years after these horrible event (in 1771) he was befriended Dr. Hugh Knox, a newly appointed Presbyterian minister in St. Croix. (I was surprised to learn that Knox was ordained by Rev. Aaron Burr, the father of the man who would be Hamilton's nemesis and killer in later years).

Rev. Knox saw potential in the young sixteen year old and made his collection of books available to Hamilton, and encouraged him to read, write and learn. Another biographer, Joseph Murray, (in 2007) explained that,

"Knox preached a brand of religious fundamentalism that that must have resonated in Hamilton's mind that was so inherently geared to structured and well-ordered reasoning. The library that Knox brought with him offered Hamilton broad new vistas of ideas and knowledge. Finally, here was a man of great intellect, a source of answers, and ready to engage in intellectual pursuits. Knox's friendship awakened in Hamilton a religious fervor, stimulated his intellectual development and gave direction to his powers of expression."

Rev. Knox encouraged Hamilton to write an essay for a local paper and eventually worked with others to establish a fund (four annual shipments of West India produce) to send the young Hamilton to a college in one of the Colonies to the north.

Hamilton did not hesitate to take the offer and quickly enrolled at King's College in New York City. While he was there, the Revolutionary War began and he enlisted with the Continental Army, rose quickly through the ranks, and soon became an indispensable aide to Gen. Washington and the patriot cause. Chernow explains:

"In fewer than five years, the twenty-two-year-old Alexander Hamilton had risen from despondent clerk in St. Croix to one of the aides to America's most eminent man."

For me, I was amazed to see how quickly circumstances in Hamilton's life had changed. They had changed so quickly for the worse with the death of so many family members before he was fourteen. Then, at the age of sixteen with the help of Rev. Knox, his circumstances changed so quickly for the better, leading to his amazing rise through the ranks of the Continental Army.

Reading this gave me many lessons to think about here: mentoring, our need for God in times of difficulty, the shortness of life and the kindness of strangers among others.