"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" Psalm 119:105

Monday, November 3, 2014

Life (including Homeschooling) Is All About God

One of the blessings of homeschooling is that as parents we could spend a lot of time with our children and our children see us most of the time. They feel secure and they enjoy family time a lot. Yes, you want to build a close family, of course! However, we don’t want to build a family that is inherently toxic, in that, the family is the BE ALL and END ALL, and everybody else out there is bad or distant. Some families are built that way. It’s me and the family! That’s not life is all about!

The way to prevent that is to show our children with our own life and our own conversation that everything revolves around God and His glory. Remember that we are just one family among many that are trying to serve God around the world. Our children’s lives must be oriented toward this principle of “Soli Deo Gloria” (To God alone be the glory!). That’s important!

As homeschoolers our lives are exposed to our children. They know a lot about us and they are greatly influenced by our character, habits, decisions, likes and dislikes. On the one hand, this is good because as we live out our faith, as we learn to obey God and follow the Lord Jesus Christ, not only in good times but also in bad times, our children will catch much of what we want them to learn from us, that is, that life is a battle, that we can’t live life on our own strength but depend on God all the time.

Yet on the other hand, this is a little bit scary especially when they see a lot of our hypocrisy and laziness and inconsistencies and anxieties and uncontrolled temper and other bad habits. It’s humiliating to see that as homeschoolers we see a lot of our sinfulness, bad tempers and laziness and lack of zeal in our children.

This is not of course a hopeless situation. We learn a lot from our mistakes and so we try to address the matter by talking to our children, confessing our sins and weaknesses to them and pointing them to the ultimate and perfect example of all, our Lord Jesus Christ.

So our children must learn and see from us – fathers and mothers – that the most important thing in their lives is to do what God wants us to do: to live for His glory and to serve and worship Him with gladness in their hearts. Worship is the most important thing. And the apex of all of that, at least in this life, is public worship – the gathering of God’s people in His presence every Lord’s Day. Corporate worship where God is greatly delighted in meeting with His people, renewing covenant with them and ministering to His saints is the highest point of all our worship.

So our children must know from our lips, from our prayers and from our example so that when they go up to God’s house of worship this is the highlight of the week. This is a grand and glorious time of encounter with the Almighty God. And God is going to be speaking to us. That’s a great thing!

But they must also know that when they do school, every day and every class hour is to be lived to the glory of God. They are to use their mind to the very best of their abilities not just to get good grades to impress father and mother, so they can look through report card and say, “That was great son!” but more so to use their brain to the best of their ability because they are to glorify God.

So constantly impress this teaching to our children’s heart – that all of life is for the glory of God. It has to keep on going all their lives because there is every tendency in every man’s deceitful heart, and that includes our children’s, to reject this principle and to live for self.

So this is a battle – trying to move our children away from selfishness to God-centeredness. But when we persevere and God, by His grace, comes and work in and through our children then weu begin to see the real fruits of homeschooling. They say something like this to us, “Papa (or Mama), is this the right thing for me to do? Will this be pleasing to God? I’m not really sure if this glorifies God.”

When we hear our children say things like this, we could really thank the Lord for His gracious work in our children’s lives. That’s joy in every parent’s heart – when he hears his children say something like, “Papa, I want to live my life for the glory of God!”

Ultimately you and I do not matter that much to it, that we get what we want or we get our way. We all live for the glory of God. We leave fruits behind for God’s glory. And when we remain faithful to that calling we could hear Him say in that great day, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” That’s everything! That’s fulfilling!


(Thanks to all my fellow homeschoolers here and there, as well as to many speakers and authors on family life, marriage, childrearing and homeschooling who have taught me a lot and helped me put this article together.)

Monday, October 20, 2014

God's Solution to Our "Word" Problem

Pilipinas kong mahal (My beloved, Philipppines): Twenty-eight years after EDSA Revolution we could have expected more honest and faithful politicians and public servants flood our country today. But that’s not the case. Not even in our churches: Evangelical Protestantism was started in 1898 in the Philippines. After 116 years we could have expected more solid, strong and faithful gospel-centered churches, forerunners and pillars of truth. But our overall impact to the community and society as bearers and preachers of the truth and the gospel of Christ is not that much. Mas dumami pa yata ang bisyo kaysa mabuting asal at mas dumami pa ang masasamang tao kay sa mababait sa bansa (Vices are more rampant than virtues and more wicked people thrive than good ones in our nation). Our country is crowded with dishonest, deceptive, immoral, and lawless people.

What’s the evidence? All you need to do is to listen to how people talk nowadays! Watch the news on TV or read it online or in the paper and you’ll see. Nakaka-inis na! (It's very annoying!) The kind of people that thrive in our world today is described in Psalm 12:2: "Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak." Three character traits are given about them: (1) they tell a lie, (2) they flatter, and (3) they deceive. The psalmist complains that people’s conversation is full of empty talk, smooth talk, and double talk, as one scholar put it. This is the analysis of the problem of society then (and even now) from the perspective of heaven. In God's eyes our problem of rampant crime, increasing broken marriages and families, church fights and splits, and many other symptoms of disintegrating society are all related to our misuse or abuse of the tongue.

What is heaven's prescription in addressing this problem? Psalm 12:6: "The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times."

This is remarkable! On the one hand, our society’s problem can be diagnosed as disregard for the human word, while on the other hand, the only remedy turns out to be a high regard for the Word of the Lord which HE HIMSELF promises to keep and preserve from generation to generation (v.7).

Many people who do not want to be told by the truth have many times attempted to eradicate the Bible in society. Liars and double-talkers do not want the Bible. If they do, they only pay lip service to the Bible. Why? The written Word of God exposes their darkness.

One reason why churches do not have maximum impact in society today is because churches have disregarded the Bible and its important teachings. Liberalism, tolerance, and emphasis on personal experience have been the pursuit of many congregations today. The essential teachings of God’s Word are now set aside by many. There’s no more teaching of sin and salvation in Christ alone. Salvation na lang without reference to the heinousness of sin. No more teaching of holiness and justice of God which are the very character of God that sin and wickedness offend.

The emphasis on the love of God at the expense of the holiness and justice of God has been one of the causes of the church's impotence in our society today. The churches just want to fall in love with and want to be embraced by the world with her tolerance of evil in society. But God calls us to fight the world's lies and deception with the full armor of God which includes the belt of truth and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

And that Word, mind you, is sure, true, and flawless. Anyone learning and living by it will soon have a new tongue along with a clean heart and mind, so that his “yes” may really, perhaps even painfully, be “yes,” and his “no” be genuinely “no.”

If you are always struggling to keep your word or promise because of the pressure around you, despair no longer. God promises to deliver you if you desperately call upon Him to save you from your perennial "word" problem. On your behalf, and for your sake, God has sent His Word, His beloved Son, who became flesh and dwelt among us. He is the Way, the TRUTH, and the life. He is the ULTIMATE solution to your problem of lying lips and double tongue. He not only demonstrated the love of God toward us liars and deceivers, He also showed the justice of God upon our sin by identifying with us and paying for the penalty of our sin in His death as our representative and substitute. Christ did this in our behalf so that we who were conceived and born in sin, by faith in him, will be set free from the power and penalty of sin. Then we who have been redeemed and cleansed by the Word of God can live freely in the truth and in accordance to His Word.

So God's prescribed solution to our "word" problem is not by disregarding or softening His holy Word but by upholding it and keeping it diligently and faithfully in spite of the world's and the devil's opposition.

(Thanks to Dr. Nelson Kloosterman for his insightful Bible study on Psalm 12 in his "Walking About Zion: Singing of Christ's Church in the Psalms". I've used some of his thoughts in this post.)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Love and Respect in Marriage

(A message at Nexon and Charibelle Laborte's wedding based on Ephesians 5:31-33)

For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband. ~ Ephesians 5:31-33

I like pictures. They help me understand and see better big and complicated things. Pictures especially help us focus on something it portrays. And marriage is like that. Marriage is a picture – a picture of a relationship. And that relationship is between Christ and the church – His body, His people whom He bought back from sin and death by His death. The church is the bride of Christ which He loves so much and for which He willingly gave himself up.

The church is composed of people whom Christ loves and owns as His. He gathers them from all nations of the world, provides for them and protects them. The apostle Paul says that Christ did all of this for His church “[t]hat he might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that he might present her to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish”(Ephesians 5:26-27).

And in response to that love and care that Christ shows to His church, the church as His bride is called to submit to Christ and to respect Christ. This really life is all about as Christians, as people belonging to the Lord Jesus.

And marriage is supposed to portray this relationship of Christ and the church. Marriage is to picture the unity and inseparability of Christ and the church. This kind of unity is so emphasized in the Scripture in such a way that whoever persecutes or hates the church is really persecuting Christ.

Before his conversion Paul thought that in persecuting the church he was doing God a favor. But when Christ confronted him on the road to Damascus, Christ told him that he was not just persecuting the church but the risen Christ who is the head and husband of the church (Acts 9:4-5).

What this all mean is that, our marriages, including Nexon’s and Charibelle’s, are pictures intended to show the unity, the oneness of Christ and the church. Nexon and Charibelle, this is very important.

Now not all pictures of course are the same. There are some pictures that portray the subjects very clearly, and they usually end up being posted in our Facebook account. And there are also pictures that are blurry and looking at them just gives us pain in our eyes.

It’s the same thing with marriage. There are some marriages that really portray and testify to the unity and harmony of Christ and the church. And of course there are marriages that are not so good in portraying the loveliness of Christ and His church.

I’d like to dwell on how to beautify our marriages in such a way that God, the author and sustainer of marriage, will be pleased and glorified. And I’d like to do that by looking at the essential responsibility of the husband and the wife in marriage.

In summarizing the responsibility of the husband as the head of the marriage relationship and as the Christ-figure in marriage, the apostle Paul says that husbands is to LOVE his wife as himself. Love is the overarching responsibility of the husband to his wife (v.33).

The wife’s basic responsibility to her husband, however, is RESPECT or reverence. So love and respect summarize the husband-wife responsibility in marriage. The husband loves his wife as Christ loves the church; the wife respects her husband as the church does to Christ.

From this we discern that wives need love from their husband, and husbands need respect from their wives. When husbands faithfully love their wives, they are doing their God-given responsibility and God is pleased. And when wives are respecting their husbands, they are doing their God-given duty and are glorifying God.

When wives are well loved, they usually respect their husband more and more. When husbands are well respected, they usually love their wives and care for their wives more and more. Lack of love and respect in marriage, of course, leads to disaster and many troubles.

So how does this ‘love and respect’ model portray Christ and the church in practical terms?

Let me suggest a few steps. I would like to begin by addressing Nexon, and all the husbands here. First, Nexon, to show your love to Charibelle, as Christ loves the church, you should aim to be close to her. She should feel close to you. You do this my holding her hand, hugging or kissing her, and being affectionate and loving to her without sexual intention.

Second, not only your closeness expresses your love to Charibelle, but also your openness. When you share your feelings to her and not being shy or afraid to tell her your concerns and problems, she will feel loved. Also if you talk to her without harshness or grunting she will really feel that you love her.

Third, let me suggest that when there’s some misunderstanding between the two of you, you be the first to go to her and settle the matter and make peace with her. Don’t be afraid to admit that you are wrong. Although it’s hard for us to do, yet that’s one of the ways wives are feel loved, when we husbands apologize and sincerely tell our wives, “I’m sorry.” Keep your relationship with Charibelle up to date. Try to resolve conflicts in a godly way and don’t forget to pray together after a hurtful time, after you resolved your conflict. Wives would love to see their husbands leading them in prayer.

Fourth, show your love to Charibelle by showing her and telling her that you are loyal to her. Guard your eyes and your mind. Don’t look at other women lustfully. Let her be the only person who satisfies your eyes and mind and heart. Also, try to speak only positive things about her before her family and friends. Keep your promise and vow to her today until death.

There are many other things I could share, but I’d like to turn to Charibelle now (and to all the wives here). How do you show respect to Nexon in a way that is pleasing to God?

First, don’t forget to appreciate his desire to work and to achieve. Husbands feel respected when their wives says thanks to them for going to work every day for their wife and family. When wives cheers their husbands successes, whether in their career or in business or sports, husbands are happy. Ask Nexon what’s his dream and see how you can support his dream.

Second, don’t forget to express your appreciation to Nexon his role as the leader of your marriage and family. Tell him that you are deeply touched by the thought that he’s willing to die for you, as Christ was willing to die, and has really died for His bride, the church. Husbands are happy when they are praised for their commitment to provide and protect for their wives and families.

Third, appreciate his perspectives and insights in life. Don’t try to oppose his point of view right away without trying to understand it. Husbands really feel respected when their wives thank them for the advice and knowledge they share with their wives. Husbands like to fix things in the house and when their wives applaud them of their work and the solution they provided, they feel respected. Husbands are solution-oriented. When you share them your problem, they are thinking right away for the solution. I know wives wanted to be listened to first, but keep your words to the minimum when you’re sharing to your husband. Reserve the longer version of your story to your girl friends. They can bear your long stories more than your husband.

Fourth and finally, husbands feel respect when you appreciate and meet their sexual passions and desire. Wives, if you really want to show your respect to your husband, try to initiate periodically and try to respond more often to your husband’s initiative. And please don’t put to shame your husband when he’s acknowledging to you his sexual temptation. Help him overcome them by praying for him and responding to him more often than you want to.

I know there are many other healthy and practical steps that we could talk about. But before I bore you or make you feel guilty with all these suggestions let me end with this challenge.

You and I know that this ideal in marriage is not easily achieved. Certainly the basic hindrance to the achievement of healthy and strong Christian marriages is our sinfulness, especially our selfishness.

So if you desire to build and experience a strong and healthy marriages and family, you need to ask the grace of God and always come to Jesus Christ. Not just now, but always. Christ alone breaks down barriers and hindrances. He alone reconciles you and me with God so that we become part of God’s people. He alone reconciles us with one another. He alone cleanses us from our sin. He alone gives us the Holy Spirit who produces in us the fruit of love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control. Christ alone gives you, Charibelle, the Holy Spirit, who enables you to respect Nexon. And He alone gives you, Nexon, the Holy Spirit, who enables you to truly love Charibelle just as Christ loves the Church.

When both husband and wife faithfully fulfill their responsibilities in marriage according to God’s Word, marriage may not be perfect, yet it would be more enjoyable. It would be more satisfying and God-glorifying! God bless you and your marriage, Nexon and Charibelle, and all the couples who are here today!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Father’s Day Reminder and Challenge

Fathers are very important in life. Not that mothers are not. But mothers are not the focus of this article. The fathers are. Fathers play a unique and vital role in life. In fact we can trace some of the social and emotional problems in our society due to lack of father figure or due to abuses that fathers perpetrate in the home.

It is said, for example, that adolescent boys are engage in more delinquent behavior if there is no father figure in their lives.1

In his Father Facts, a study on the effects of absentee fathers to their children, Wade F. Horn concluded that the large body of research pertaining to fatherhood reveals that, compared to children raised in two-parent homes, children who grow up without their fathers have significantly worse outcomes, on average, on almost every measure of well being.2

Another study shows that “girls and young women who have an unstable father figure are more liable to unplanned pregnancy, low-self esteem, high school and college drop-out, poverty, divorce and sexually promiscuous behavior.”3

There are exceptions, of course. There are some children who grew up well and fine in single-parent homes or in homes where biological fathers are abusive, absentee or abdicating.

So how important are fathers in our lives? What’s the purpose of their existence in the world? These are the questions I want to address here. I will first explore the biblical responsibilities of the father in the home. Then I will touch a bit on the importance of the role the fathers play in the family and close with a personal reflection.

The Bible tells us of the three-fold duty of fathers. First, fathers are God-ordained leaders of the home. God has called fathers to be His main representative in the home. They have God-given authority to rule and manage the household in God’s stead, in God’s way, and for God’s glory. God’s purpose for the family is to glorify Him by imitating the personal relationships within the Godhead, showing to the world what it means to live harmoniously and in unity in diversity.

In these relationships within the home the father plays a crucial role in seeing to it that everyone does his part and does it willingly and joyfully. Husband-fathers are accountable to God for the well-being of the family. On this ground, order in and success of the family largely depend on the faithfulness of the father in fulfilling his task as the leader. Conversely, disorder and breakdown in the home are mostly due to the neglect or abuse of fathers as leaders.

Second, fathers are providers. Right from the very beginning, man was mandated and equipped by God to work the earth (Gen. 2:15). The entrance of sin did not change man’s task although sin made it harder for him to accomplish his mission. In working the earth man has to till and cultivate the earth in order to receive produce from it. Whatever man receives from nurturing the earth he brings it home to feed and nourish his family.
What this means for the father today is that he is responsible for financial provision of his family. He is the family’s breadwinner, ideally to free his wife up to pursue her vocation in the home as wife and mother. He works in order to meet the needs of the family.

But the father’s duty of providing is not only limited to material needs. He is also to provide spiritual direction and guidance to bring his wife and children to maturity in the faith. Fathers who spend time with his family in reading and studying the word of God and in prayer are doing great service to his family. Fathers who are spiritual leaders in the home are also great leaders in the church and the community. Their children are usually proud of them and are not ashamed to follow their footsteps.

Finally, fathers are protectors of the family. They serve as strength and fortress in the home. The father’s instinct is to secure the well-being of the members of his family by guarding them from intruders. This is part of the father’s calling when God tasked Adam to guard or keep the first garden-home in Eden (Gen. 2:15). Mothers and children feel secure when fathers are equally responsible in this area.

Fathers will especially do well in protecting their family by being willing to lay down even their own lives against any intruder for the sake of their wives and children. No doubt fathers could learn from our Lord Jesus Christ who was willing to give up even his very life to save us and protect His people from the consequence of their sin, which is eternal death. In protecting us, His people, Christ willingly became our substitute taking our place and carried our sins with Him in His vicarious atoning death so that sin and death will no longer be a lethal threat to us.

However, a wise father would also protect his children from their sin and his own sin. We fathers should not be na├»ve of our and our children’s propensity to sin and foolishness. Being aware of this, we must use our God-given authority and strength to correct our erring children before it’s too late. Remember the sin of Eli who did not restrain his sons from their iniquities. Let us learn then from his unwillingness to discipline his wicked children by lovingly disciplining our children and training them unto righteousness.

Likewise, fathers, protect your family, especially your children from your own sin. Learn self-discipline and self-control. Don’t deceive yourself that your sin has no consequences to your children.

Someone has rightly observed that one unmistakable lesson we learn from reading the Old Testament is that a nation can suffer because of the sin of its leader and that a family can suffer because of the sin of its father.4 Achan, for example, sinned by keeping for himself some of the items plundered from Jericho that God had devoted for his own use. When it was found out that his disobedience was the reason for Israel’s crushing defeat, it was not only Achan who suffered the consequences (Joshua 7). God punished all Israel for a time through the disgraceful rout at the battle of Ai leaving Israel’s army with thirty-six dead soldiers. God has impressed upon Israel’s heart the truth that one man’s sin has terrible effects upon his household. Eventually not only Achan but also his whole family were put to death because of his sin as the head of his household.

So fathers, let us protect our family by running away from sin, by putting it to death, and by pursuing holiness in humble obedience to God by His Spirit. Author and blogger Tim Challies has a very helpful thought in this area. He said, “Sometimes the greatest gift you [fathers] can give your family is a silent, hidden decision to refrain from pursuing sin.”5

So how important are fathers in the lives of their children? In speaking of his fellow writer, George MacDonald, C. S. Lewis said, “An almost perfect relationship with his father was the earthly root of all his wisdom. From his own father, he said, he first learned that Fatherhood must be at the core of the universe.”

Fathers are powerful instruments in God's hand in bringing up upright and law-abiding children. They are God-sent tools in building godly families, strong churches, and peaceful and orderly communities and nations. That’s how important fathers are in the economy of God.

As a father who knows my role and my responsibilities I am very aware of my many shortcomings. Yet I do not give up pursuing this noble calling of fatherhood. I am not discouraged by my many weaknesses in seeking to carry out these God-given responsibilities for I know that God, our heavenly Father, by His Holy Spirit equips me to persevere in keeping these duties. In spite of my many failures, I thank God for sparing me many sorrows as a father by giving me a godly wife and four wonderful and God-fearing children. It is my prayer that as our children grow I will also grow in my obedience to God’s holy calling as a father – to be a Christ-imitating leader, a faithful provider and a firm protector of my family and children.

Endnotes

1 Freakonomics, “How an Absent Father Affects Boys and Girls Differently,” The Freakonomics Blog, October 19, 2011, accessed May 24, 2014, http://freakonomics.com/2011/10/19/fathers-and-delinquency-in-the-american-family/.

2 Jennifer Flood Eastin, “Impact of Absent Father-Figures on Male Subjects and the Correlation to Juvenile Delinquency: Findings and Implications,” (PhD diss., University of North Texas, 2003) 4-5. Available at http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc4332/m2/1/high_res_d/dissertation.pdf.

3 Lisa Mancini, “Father’s Absence and Its Effects on Daughters,” (Thesis, 2010) 3. Available at http://library.wcsu.edu/dspace/bitstream/0/527/1/Final+Thesis.pdf.

4 Tim Challies, “Leadership in the Home – A Godly Man Protects,” Informing the Reforming Blog, December 3, 2009, accessed May 24, 2014, http://www.challies.com/christian-living/leadership-in-the-home-a-godly-man-protects.

5 Tim Challies, “Leadership in the Home – A Godly Man Protects.”

Friday, February 7, 2014

Some Year-end Reflections

As I reflect upon my life and experiences in 2013 I realize how slow my growth in holiness and obedience to the Lord has been. It’s been humiliating as the Lord painfully exposes the ungodly desires of my sinful heart. I have been secretly seeking the approval of people and inwardly seething with resentment some criticisms and corrections I received from people who love me. My mind keeps on falling into ‘the error of taking material prosperity as the ultimate mark of God’s blessing’ rather than ‘poverty of spirit, mourning for sin, and persecution for righteousness sake.’ I’m easily forgetting that ‘the only thing that matters is what God thinks’ and that true spirituality ‘is not seen in gathering wealth but in being delivered from loving it – whether we have it or do not have it.’ Greed, lust, hypocrisy, anxiety, and many other sins continue to hound me.

I can feel the indictment of the Lord telling me, “O you of little faith!” But thanks be to God! Although I have some setbacks and grieve for my slow growth in godliness I do not doubt the grace of God in Christ for such a sinner as me. And by the power of His Spirit I trust Him to enable me to rely upon His faithful provision for life and godliness and to seek His kingdom and righteousness first this year and the years to come. "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Psalm 73:26).

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Melito of Sardis

(This article was written by James T. Dennison, Jr. and published by "The Outlook," October 2003, Volume 53, No. 4, pp. 7-8. The original article is available online at http://www.reformedfellowship.net/articles/dennison_melito_sardis_apr03_v53_n04.htm))

The one who hung the earth in space, is himself hanged;

The one who fixed the heavens in place. is himself impaled;

The one who firmly fixed all things, is himself firmly

Fixed to the tree.

-Melito, Paschal Homily (96)

It was first discovered in the 1930's (Michigan-Beatty Papyrus) and initially published in 1940. Melito's (MEL-e-toe) Paschal Homily (or "Sermon on the Passover") is regarded by many as the most stunning patristic discovery of the 20th century. Save for fragments, the homily was not extant in ancient collections of Melito's works. Yet providentially, another version (Papyrus Bodmer XIII) was discovered and published in 1960. A newly found Coptic manuscript of the sermon (Mississippi Coptic Codex 1) remains to be edited and translated. For the first time, scholars and students of the early church have access to the full text of a sermon from the bishop of Sardis in Asia Minor (died about 190 A.D.). The homily may have been delivered between 160 and 170 A.D.

The homily/sermon astonishes us with its poetic beauty, its rhetorical power, its theological depth, its majestic sweep of redemptive history. And in every aspect of its marvelous richness, Melito directs the hearer/reader to Christ as the eschatological Lamb and Passover of God. (An English translation of the homily is available free of charge at kerux.com.)

For God replaced the lamb,

And a man the sheep;

But in the man was Christ

By nature both God and man (5, 8)

Melito's biography is obscure. He labored in Asia Minor which today is modern Turkey. There he was episcopal leader of the church in Sardis (cf. Revelation 3:1-6). His discussion of the date for Easter (so-called Quartodeciman controversy); his so-called Apology (addressed to the emperor Marcus Aurelius); and his list of the canonical books of the Old Testament (authenticated by a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in which Melito becomes the first Christian writer to call the Hebrew Bible the "old covenant"; his list of inspired books agrees with the Hebrew/Protestant canon, though he omits Esther (or perhaps combines her with Ezra and Nehemiah): all have made him an historical and patristic curiosity. But there, tantalizingly, our knowledge stops. Melito's biography remains obscure.

The mystery of the Passover is New and old, Eternal and temporal,

Corruptible and incorruptible, Mortal and immortal (‘2).

But the Paschal Homily is not obscure. It is a magnificent example of Christian preaching in the second half of the second century AD. While Melito's method may be labeled "typological" or "promise-fulfillment", the richness and profundity of his insights are more organic, more transcendentely revelational as well as immanently incarnational. Some scholars have labeled the sermon heilsgeschichtlich ("salvation historical"). I prefer the label redemptive-historical or biblical-theological.

From the Passover in Egypt, Melito moves to "Christ our Passover" (1 Corinthians 5:7). From the lamb slain in Egypt, Melito brings us to the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8). From the blood sprinkled upon the doorposts in Egypt, Melito brings us to the "sprinkled blood which speaks better than...the blood of calves and goats" (Hebrews 12:24; 9:13). From the Passover of death to life, Melito brings us to the One who has passed from death to life eternal. From Moses and Israel in Egypt, Melito brings us to Jesus and the new Israel in heaven.

I am the Christ.

I am your forgiveness,

I am the Passover of your salvation,

I am the lamb which was sacrificed for you,

I am your ransom,

I am your light.

I am your savior

I am your resurrection,

I am your king,

I am leading you up to the heights of heaven,

I will show you the Eternal Father,

I will raise you up by my right hand (103).

Melito lays out his method and direction in the introduction (1-10), i.e., the relationship between the old (former covenant; Exodus Passover) and the new (last days covenant; crucifixion of Christ). He then explains the Passover in Egypt in its historical context (11-33), i.e., the slaughter of the Iamb and the sentence of death upon the land from which Israel was ransomed by the blood of a substitute. Next, he constructs the shadow-type/reality-antitype paradigm, relating the Old Testament event to the New Testament fulfillment (34-45), i.e., the history of Israel in Egypt is an anticipation of the history of Jesus in Palestine, while the history of Jesus in Palestine is a recapitulation of the history of Israel in Egypt. Now, he relates the Passover in Egypt to the wider context of God's grace in history from the Fall of Adam down to Christ (46-65), i.e., the redemptive history from Genesis to Malachi is accomplished in the redemptive history of Jesus Christ (Matthew to Revelation). The homily draws to a close with the shift in God's plan of salvation from Jew to Jew and Gentile (66-99), i.e., from old Israel (Abraham and those in him, according to the flesh) to new Israel (Christ and those in him, according to the Spirit). A doxology of triumph in Christ concludes the homily (100-105).

This is the one who made the heaven and the earth,

And who in the beginning created man,

Who was proclaimed through the law and the prophets,

Who became human via the virgin,

Who was hanged upon a tree, was buried in the earth,

Who was resurrected from the dead,

And who ascended to the heights of heaven,

Who sits at the right hand of the Father;

Who has authority to judge and save everything,

Through whom the Father created everything

From the beginning of the world to the end of the age.

This is the alpha and the omega.

This is the beginning and the end.

This is the Christ.

This is the king.

This is Jesus.

This is the Lord.

This is the one who rose up from the dead.

This is the one who sits at the right hand of the Father,

To whom he the glory

And the power forever. Amen (104-105).

At only one place do we cringe at Melito's language. When he suggests that the Jews were the "killers" of Christ ("Israel admits, I killed the Lord" [74]). We shrink from the apparent anti-Semitism. Most scholars believe Melito is guilty of the racist charge. But perhaps the rhetoric of this passionate bishop is no more "anti-Semitic" than the language of the gospel of John or the speech of Stephen (Acts 7) or even the invectives of the Old Testament prophets. Perhaps Melito regards himself as a prophetic voice, charging Israel with grievous sin, so that they may be "cut to the quick" (cf. Acts 2:37), repent and cry out, "O Paschal Lamb of God, we hide under the blood of your cross - your once-for-all sacrifice - that eternal death may hide its dark face from us forever."

The second century bishop of Sardis has drawn us into the drama and meaning of the Passover by drawing us into the drama and meaning of the last lamb for sinners slain. With that second century audience, we plead, "O Lord, cover us with the blood of this Eschatological Passover Lamb." With that church in Sardis, we pray, "O dying Lamb of God, we lay our life in Thee so that Thy life - Thy resurrection-life - may be laid upon us." With the saints of second century western Asia Minor we plead, "O Lord, let our eyes be opened to the incarnation of Thy Son in the type, so that we may enjoy the adoption of sons in the antitype—the incarnate Son."

Melito's sermon is a superb example of dramatic, passionate, Christ-ed patristic preaching. It reminds us even today that our preaching (and believing) can be no less!

(Rev. James T. Dennison, Jr. is Academic Dean at Northwest Theological Seminary, Lynnwood, Washington where he also teaches Patristics.)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Gregory the Great

A brief biographical account of Gregory the Great (c.540-604) by Rev. Brian DeJong

Perhaps the most important early pope was Gregory the Great. Gregory was born in 540 to a noble and wealthy Roman Christian family. In fact, Gregory’s great-great grandfather was Pope Felix III. Gregory’s mother Silvia was a pious woman and raised Gregory as a Christian.

Gregory was also an intelligent child, and was above average in his schoolwork. During this time Rome was repeatedly attacked by the barbarians. At age 5 Gregory saw Rome besieged by Totila, King of the Goths. Because of this turmoil, Gregory was called to civil leadership as an urban prefect.

After serving a short time in government, he resigned his post, used his wealth to found six monasteries and himself became a simple monk. To turn his back on wealth and power was dramatic, but Gregory sought a life of solitude and peace with God. He later said that those were the happiest days of his life. Gregory’s decision was based in part on his firm belief that the end of the world was near. He thought that judgment loomed, and that volcanoes were the gates of hell. While we must do what we can to relieve suffering here on earth, our main task is to prepare for heaven, he thought. Gregory was a model monk, fasting and praying and meditating.

Gregory also wanted to be a missionary, and almost succeeded in going to England. Supposedly he was reading on his way to England, and as he read, a locust landed on his open book. The word locusta sounded like loca sta “stay put”, so Gregory stopped his journey and waited. As he waited, messengers from the Pope overtook him and commanded him to return to Rome. Later, as Pope, Gregory would send Augustine of Canterbury to evangelize the English.

Upon returning to Rome, Gregory was appointed an aid to the Pope. In this role he went to Constantinople as a Papal ambassador. During this time Gregory came to realize that Rome was on its own, and couldn’t expect help from the Eastern part of the Empire.

When the reigning pope died in 590, Gregory was unanimously chosen as successor. Among other things, Gregory was an able theologian and perhaps the greatest Christian preacher of his day. He worked to reform the morals of the church, and dealt strongly with heretics.

Yet Gregory always worked from the assumption that the Bishop of Rome had authority over all other churches and bishops. He defined and affirmed many Catholic doctrines, such as purgatory, the need for penance and good works, the saving power of the sacraments, and the practice of appropriating pagan festivals and practices and Christianizing them.

During his reign (590-604) the barbarians repeatedly sacked the city of Rome. The civil leaders were ineffective and Gregory actually wielded greater civil power than they – even appointing military governors. He also organized the distribution of food among the needy in Rome, oversaw the repair of aqueducts, and supervised the defenses of the city. He made the church into a temporal power to be reckoned with, not only in Rome but up into southern Europe.