Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Feast of All Saints

This evening begins The Feast of All Saints, once known as All Hallows' Eve, now often called All Saints Day. This day is a universal Christian Feast that honors and remembers all Christian saints, known and unknown. In the Western Church (esp. Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans) it is kept on November 1. The Orthodox Churches observe it on the first Sunday after Pentecost.

Ephrem Syrus (d. 373) mentions a Feast dedicated the saints in his writings. St. Chrysostom of Constantinople (d. 407) was the first Christian we know of to assign the Feast to a particular day: the first Sunday after Pentecost. The Feast did not become established in the Western Church, however, until the Roman bishop Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to Christian usage as a church on May 13, 609 or 610. The Feast was observed annually on this date until the time of Bishop of Rome, Gregory III (d. 741) when its observance was shifted to Nov. 1, since on this date Gregory dedicated a chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter to "All the Saints." It was Gregory IV (d. 844), who in 835 ordered the Feast of All Saints to be universally observed on Nov. 1.3

As mentioned above, All Saints Day is celebrated by Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, Anglicans, and Lutherans However, because of their differing understandings of the identity and function of the saints, what these churches do on the Feast of All Saints differs widely. For Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, and to some extent, Anglicans, All Saints is a day to remember, thank God for, but also to venerate and pray to the saints in heaven for various helps. For Lutherans the day is observed by remembering and thanking God for all saints, both dead and living. It is a day to glorify Jesus Christ, who by his holy life and death has made the saints holy through Baptism and faith.

When Our Enemies are in Our Prayers

John N. Day's "The Pillars of Imprecation: How to Pray for Your Enemies by Praying Against Them" in Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity (November 2006) gives us a fine essay on how we might pray those psalms which ask God to destroy those who oppress and terrorize us. Day's essay focuses on Psalm 83, the very psalm which The Daily Prayer of the Church asks us to use on Mondays in Week I.

When praying such a psalm, Day urges us to place our imprecations before God as follows:
  • only is settings of extreme enmity (as, for example, in Dafur)
  • only while we practice persistant love of God and mankind (Matthew 22.37-39)
  • only as we relinquish all personal desires of revenge (Leviticus 19.18)
  • only as we appeal to God who has told that He alone is the Avenger (Deuteronomy 32.35)
  • only as we plead with "the perfected saints in heaven" (Revelation 6.9-11)
It is, of course, difficult to keep such admonitions and cautions in one's heart and mind as we "pray for our enemies by praying against them." As I was reading/praying Psalm 83 yesterday morning and in the post-psalm silence thought about how it as it relates to the Church's (and thus to my own) prayer life, I found it difficult to collect my thoughts adequately after the silence. The DPC's "after-silence" collect (usually good) was inadequate and did not help very much. To help me next month (or whenever I come across psalms of imprecation) last night I wrote this collect:

O God, in your mercy You have promised to deliver suffering and oppressed peoples from the hands of those who hate you; as we live between Your command to love our enemies and Your promises to undo those who murder, rape, and pillage the innocent, we ask that You fill those who are evil with shame that they may seek Your name and repent of their evil; seeking to be obedient to your will and forsaking every personal desire for retaliation, we implore You to execute Your divine justice for the sake of those who suffer oppression; within the Company of Heaven and in the love and justice of Christ, we offer ourselves and these petitions through the same Jesus Christ, who lives and rules with You and the Holy Spirit forever.

If you would like to read Day's essay, let me know, and I see to it that you receive a print copy. And let me know how the collect above might be improved so that I might learn how to pray for my enemies while praying to God against them.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Prayer for Saint Simon and Saint Jude

Today, many Christians around the world will pause to honor the lives of Saint Jude (photo at left) and Saint Simon. The Book of Common Prayer contains the following prayer in honor of these servants of Christ:

O God, we thank thee for the glorious company of the apostles, and especially on this day for Simon and Jude; and we pray that, as they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so we may with ardent dovotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

You know, we all have odd throughs at 3 a.m. on sleepless nights, and one of my ramblings is to wonder what would have been contained in a new book if Luke had written "Acts 2," or "II Acts." He continued the Gospel that bears his name with the book of Acts, but Acts seems to end right in the middle of things. Paul is in jail; the church is suffering persecution, and Peter is--well, where? What's going on back in Jerusalem? Acts 1 doesn't tell us about the deaths of Paul and Peter in Rome, and the careers of several of the apostles are not mentioned at all.

I think this is remarkable. After all, Luke was such a careful historian, why didn't he record the rest of the information that he must have known? Even the traditions of the Chruch give only partial clues to what these men and women did with their ministries and how they met their deaths.

A friend of mine told me once that the Bible contains enough information to save us, but not too much, which would overwhelm us. She cited John 21:25. I suppose we don't need to know these extra stories, but sometimes--at 3 a.m. on sleepless nights--it would be interesting to think about . . . .

Best wishes,

Mason Smith

Thursday, October 26, 2006

"October Prayer"

Each month Christianity Today includes a page of quotations, "Reflections." This month the page includes a short poem by Esther Popel titled "October Prayer." It goes like this:

Change me, O God,

Into a tree in autumn.

And let my dying

Be a blaze of glory! (82).

Best wishes,

Mason Smith

Monday, October 23, 2006

A short ghost story

So here we are near Halloween, and I thought a short ghost story might be in order.

I was reading Katherine Ramsland's Ghost: Investigating the Other Side recently, and ran across the following paragraph in her conclusion. She is discussing what her research--years of reading about and interviewing vampires and ghost hunters--had revealed to her:

Perhaps the most startling revelation to me was the apparent communication from "them"--those who had died--that the way we live here affects the way we may exist over there. If we don't like who we are, we'd better make some changes. According to one report, it's more difficult to change over there. If true, that really makes one think about what might make eternity worth the experience and what might make it miserable. (295)

The funny part of this quote is that Ms. Ramsland, a Ph.D. in philosophy who has taught at ivy-league universities, has spent years learning what the church has been teaching openly for centuries: What happens in life really matters. We'd better make some changes. It's hard to change "over there." Eternity could be worth the experience, or it might be miserable.

On a more serious note, the book was distrubing because she spent nearly 300 pages searching for contact with an evil personality who had been a killer in life and who she believed was following her from beyond death. Why would anyone seek contact with a demon? And she jumped through all the New Age, paranormal hoops.

Years ago, my parents were good friends with our local Presbyterian minister. I remember Mr. Thompson was totally set against paranormal "games" such as Ouija boards and the like. He claimed that such things would never pull up anything but an evil spirit.

I've always wondered what the Rev. Thompson had experienced that might have led to this belief. He wasn't entirely consistent. He'd tell you, "Ouija is just a game," and then in the same breath, "Don't ever play it."

Regardless of how dangerous paranormal games might be, if Ms. Ramsland wants answers to the mysteries of life, it seems to me she'd do better to pick up a Bible rather than try to contact a dead, murderer-vampire via seances.

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Friday, October 20, 2006

Prayer and Ministry

Hello All,

I want to talk about the value of discernment, prayer, and ministry. This is both a testimony to God's greatness and a prayer request for a friend of mine that needs prayer badly.

In my Christian walk I am led to go to restaraunts frequently. This week (Monday), I was led of God to go to Madison Garden-- a restaurant/bar here in downtown Richmond Ky. The first thing I saw was an ambulance about to take a young woman away to the hospital. She had passed out for a minute or two and came around. She could have had this happen for a number of causes and we don't know why. She cut herself on the corner of a table or something. She is said to need stitches. All I could do was sit still for about 10 or so minutes and pray for her to be safe and well.

The above wasn't even half of my story about what happened. Soon afterward, I met a total stranger named Ron (talking with strangers is one of my spiritual specialties that God has given me to use for Him). We talked for about four hours about life, the Christian faith, and some small talk. This man has to be about the loneliest man that I have ever run across. Ron is a Christian, but because he has been lonely for an extended period of time (divorced 17 years), he started to crack a little and was there to pick up women. He said he knew his motives were not pure because he just wanted attention and love. Of course, a good woman might be the ticket if the relationship is wholesome. Ron was not after a wholesome dating relationship at all. Instead of him finding a lust party, God sent me to Ron so his heart wouldn't be as badly tarnished or hurt as it could have been. I prayed over him after everything was said and done and he took me home. He and I hope we see each other again (I believe and know I will in heaven). He just needed a strong Christian to help in a time of spiritual and emotional crisis. God gave Ron what he needed, not his actual heart's desire of a lady. He however got his heart's desire for love and attention. Praise be to the Lord Jesus Christ for now and forever for the grace that He shows to people who are down and out (or down and almost out) whatever the case may be. This man also drinks (he says not above his tolerance, just until he becomes light-headed--In my opinion, lightheaded = just a little too much to drink, so it might be a problem--this part I don't know), he smokes decently heavily and he uses bad language quite a bit (I told him that these are a hinderance to a good Christian walk--which he understands perfectly). The reason for the swearing habit he said is that he had been in the Navy Seals and was immersed in this bad stuff (drill sergeants motivate in this way he says), and he was expected to do the same--the way I understand it. He has two teenage sons that he has lost precious time with because they don't exactly have a lot of common ground right now (hobbies, interests etc.). This makes him even lonelier.

In short, this person needs a lot of prayer and help. The praise of it is that God showed His greatness that night because I know that God helped Ron through me. I promised that I would raise a prayer warrior army--full of faith and mostly love.

We need to pray for discernment so God can give us the blueprint for our lives of witness and ministry. Grace is needed by all of us. I just am glad God is full of all the grace we need and/or want. Prayer is one of the biggest engines we have to do ministry and make a difference!!!! Praise be to the Lord God Almighty, who forever is, was, and yet to come--The Alpha and Omega.

God Bless You. Be Safe.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

St. Luke's Day, Oct. 18

Today (Oct. 18), many Christians will pause to remember the Third Evangelist, St. Luke.

His gospel--which contains some of the most-loved stories in the New Testament--is apparently based on a variety of sources, as he suggests himself in the opening verses:

"Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught" (Luke 1.1-4, NIV).

The introduction to his gospel in the NIV Study Bible has the following to say about Luke's biography:

"Luke was probably a Gentile by birth, well educated in Greek culture, a physician by profession, a companion of Paul at various times from his second missionary journey to his final imprisonment in Rome, and a loyal friend who remained with the apostle after others had deserted him (2 Tim. 4.11). Antioch of Syria and Philippi are among the places suggested as his hometown" (1564).

The introduction continues: "Luke had outstanding command of the Greek language. His vocabulary is extensive and rich, and his style at times approaches that of classical Greek (as in the preface 1.1-4), while at other times it is quite Semitic (1.5-2.52)--often like the Septuagint (the pre-Christian Greek translation of the OT)" (1564).

The Book of Common Prayer suggests the following prayer on this day:

Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Best wishes,

Mason Smith

Friday, October 06, 2006

Remembering William Tyndale

Today (Oct. 6) many Christians will pause to remember English reformer and Bible translator William Tyndale (c. 1494-1536). He is perhaps best known for an early translation of the Bible into English--well before the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible of 1611. In fact, he was finally executed for his work in translating and making the Scriptures available to the people.

Historian David Daniel, in his introduction of a modern edition of Tyndale's New Testament has this to say:

William Tyndale's Bible translations have been the best-kept secrets in English Bible history. Many people have heard of Tyndale: very few have read him. Yet no Englishman--not even Shakespeare--has reached so many.

Tyndale translated the New Testament twice, and continually revised. His 1534 New Testament was his greatest work. . . . [We now know that ] much of the New Testament in the 1611 Authorized Version came directly from Tyndale, as a glance at Luke 2 or most of Colossians or Revelation 21 will show. [In many cases] the rest was [only] subtly changed (vii).

Christians in the English-speaking world owe this 16th century scholar a massive debt of thanks. We might pray a short prayer for him as follows:

Almighty God, thank you for the life and work of your servant William Tyndale, who labored and died that we might have your Holy Word in English. Thank you for this priceless gift, which has comforted and inspired countless millions of English-speaking people around the globe. Please, Lord, bless today the men and women who continue to work to translate and make available the Scriptures to native peoples who have no other avenue to your Gospel. Grant them stength and wisdom in their work, and grant them protection from those who would have this work stopped. We ask this in Jesus' name, Amen.

Best wishes,
Mason Smith
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