Tuesday, January 23, 2018

January 23 - Charles Spurgeon, Preacher, Author, Pastor

It was January in England and Charles was only fifteen when he set out into a storm for some now forgotten appointment. The journey was difficult but manageable for a young man like Charles. Yet, as he drew nearer and nearer to his destination the storm grew more and more insurmountable and inescapable. It was as if the storm was offended by his continued journey and determined to turn him aside. Eventually, Charles did turn aside into a little Methodist church where he might find shelter from the wind and snow. As he waited for the storm to pass, he picked up a Bible and considered it. He had heard some of the stories contained therein but they had not had any significant effect upon his life as of yet. He opened to Isaiah--perhaps a favorite book of his at the time--and was hit by a verse: "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else." At these astounding words, Charles bucked. There is none else? Surely that couldn't be right. Yet, he was caught upon the hook of God's grace and could not escape either the snowstorm or God's furious love. It was alone in that little church that Charles would say "God opened [his] heart to the salvation message." Charles Haddon Spurgeon was converted to a faith worth talking about.

He was later baptized in the Baptist church his family attended. His passion and intensity were plain to see by the leaders and laypeople alike in the small church. He was asked to preach the following winter and he did so gladly to much acclaim and appreciation. It seemed he had a gift. Few expected the boy preacher to have much of a gift--if any at all--and were amazed to hear the way Charles spoke to them as one having authority. His style was not the cultured and educated style of many clergy but, rather, was characterized by an earnest and sincere directness that gripped the heart of the reader and begged it to reconsider what Jesus had to say. Whereas many preachers were waxing theological and earning accolades with sweet words, Charles had one powerful strategy: beg the listener to take Jesus seriously and at his word. It was very effective and he soon found himself a pastor (less than five years after being converted) and preacher at the largest Baptist church in all of London.

In spite of his failure among homiletical critics, soon he was regularly preaching to crowds of more than 10,000 listeners. All of this happened within ten years of finding Jesus in a little Methodist church where he was forced to take shelter from the storm. He was finding that there was "none else" but God that brought salvation and hope for many. He was soon invited to preach at the Crystal Palace and he did so gladly having just founded a preacher's academy that he had been publicizing. He entered the area to test its acoustics and determine where the platform should be placed. He picked a phrase that spoke to him and which he routinely used in sermons: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!" As he shouted it repeatedly, it fell upon the ears of a man who had been doing some renovations and repairs in the building. As the repetitions hammered upon his brain, he was struck by the incredible desperate sincerity in the voice of the preacher and he left his job to go home and think upon the sentence he had heard several times. That night the man was converted to follow after the one and only Lamb of God.

Charles' sermons became one of the most widely read publications in the history of printing and his sermons became collector's items for those desperate to hear a word from God. Though he never extended an altar call at any point in his career he did invite all who were moved to meet with him in the church building on Monday morning. Routinely, these meetings were full of people moved to tears and conversion by the sincere and hopeful words of a man who had been turned aside by a snowstorm. He died, as the end of the 19th century approached, a noted and lauded preacher not by critics but by the ones whose lives had been changed by his preaching.

Monday, January 22, 2018

January 22 - Timothy, Martyr, Shepherd, Companion of Paul

Timothy had heard about the one they were talking about--Jesus. Perhaps he had even met him but apparently he had not been persuaded to become a follower of his if he had indeed run across him in his travels. Of course, Timothy was only a late teenager when Jesus had been put to death and it was Paul who had really brought the Gospel to him later in Lystra. In fact, it was nearly two decades after Jesus' death that Timothy finally found him in the words of the traveling missionary who seemed to be calling Timothy to a higher calling than a typical life in Lystra. It had all happened when Paul and Barnabas had showed up one day to preach their message in Timothy's town and region. With much prayer and passion, they brought about a miraculous healing of a crippled child and the people were shocked. In the face of compassionate power that the Empire could not match--for it could cripple but never heal--many of the witnesses were converted to the faith of Paul and Barnabas. Timothy, his mother Eunice, and his grandmother Loida were all part of these initial converts in Lystra. Timothy became the companion of Paul and went with them on their missionary journeys.

It was at the feet of Paul that Timothy received his education in the faith that now gripped his heart and soul. As they traveled, Paul taught and Timothy learned. In this way, Timothy was immersed not only in the waters of baptism but in the ebb and flow of Christian teaching. Thus, it was no surprise when this loved one of Paul became a leader in the Church at Ephesus. Paul appointed Timothy to be a shepherd of a flock in need of guidance and leadership. Though Timothy did not look forward to leaving his cherished place of guidance by Paul's side, he knew that God had called him and prepared him for an important ministry within the Church. Paul went on with his journeys and Timothy became a leader in the Church. Indeed, Timothy received letters from his mentor advising him how to live into his calling but most of Timothy's decisions were made by focusing on the guidance of the Holy Spirit.One day, though, Timothy received a letter inviting him to a prison where Paul had been incarcerated for preaching the message he shared with Timothy. Timothy traveled and said his farewells to his mentor and Paul reminded Timothy to have confidence in his calling even if it felt overwhelming at times. Paul died and Timothy returned to his flock with the knowledge that the message that he and Paul carried could very well cost him his life. Eventually, it did.

There was a festival going on in Ephesus that involved parading idols before the people so that they might worship and appeal to the gods they were supposed to represent. Timothy could see the faces of the people who put their hopes in dead stone. They sought healing and help and they received nothing but disappointment.Recalling the day he had seen God heal a crippled boy, his heart burned at the thought of misplaced faith and so he took to the street and stood in front of the parade to preach words of true hope and effective faith. They screamed for him to stop and he continued anyway because he had been trained and taught by Paul that the Gospel was worth suffering for. So, he was beaten savagely and dragged by his clothes and arms through the street before those who had such desperate hope stoned him to death and made him a martyr.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

January 21 - Agnes, Martyr, Virgin, Pure of Heart

Agnes was a young Christian of maybe one twelve or thirteen years of age when Diocletian's regime came calling for her life.She was a Roman citizen living in Rome with her wealthy and influential parents when the persecutions began to claim her brothers and sisters in the Faith. As was the case with many wealthy Christian families at the turn from the third to the fourth centuries, Agnes and her family's peaceful existence was turned on its head as the Empire demanded more and more and accepted less and less resistance. However, Agnes' noble parents meant that they would simply be extorted and coerced instead of immediately killed--the time of noble death usually came after they had been bled dry of all their resources by a power-hungry ruling class that no longer cared for them. So, Agnes should have been okay--except Agnes was beautiful.

She was so beautiful that the prefect's son prized her above all the other maidens and went to his father to see what could be done about gaining Agnes as his wife. The prefect was confident that the family would be all too happy to give their daughter over to his family as the bride of their son. So, he sent a courier asking what they thought of the proposal. Amazingly for the day, Agnes' father wanted to know what Agnes thought about the proposition. She rejected the offer and word was sent back to the prefect as the family waited--holding their breath at the expected retaliation. The prefect was furious that they would dare deny him his wishes and his will. He didn't understand why her father hadn't forced her to marry his son and demanded that Agnes be brought before him. When Agnes arrived, she seemed confident in a way that surprised the prefect and so, instead of questioning her--somehow knowing she would continue to refuse even under threat--he ordered her to be killed. "But, prefect," one of his advisers interjected,"she is a virgin and cannot be executed...it would be unseemly." Everybody let out their breath feeling that surely Agnes' life would be spared. They underestimated the cruelty of the Empire.

"We'll see what we can do about that," growled the prefect. His armed and trained guards stripped a young teenage girl of her clothing and chained her hands and feet. She was taunted and mocked for her nudity and age and then led naked through the streets of Rome. The guards led the defenseless girl at sword point as if she were a dangerous criminal--she who had refused the prefect's wishes--and brought her to a brothel to be raped so that she might then be executed. When they tried to seize her they found themselves unable even though she did not resist them. It seemed that their bodies didn't work right. When she was finally pushed into the brothel, men lined up to rape the young girl but were stricken blind as each of them tried to step forward and perpetrate that unholy act upon her. In fear, they took her from the brothel and tied her to a stake. As they tried to set the young girl on fire the wood refused to catch. In fear and panic, the commander drew his sword and drove it through Agnes' throat. The naked little girl had brought an Empire to its knees only by refusing to be shaken or coerced. Her grave became a site of adoration and prayer and yet more Christians were gathered in by the empire for martyrdom upon visiting Agnes' grave.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

January 20 - Fabian, Martyr, Pope, Layman

Anterus had died and so the Church needed a new bishop in Rome. Many Christians from the surrounding communities gathered in one location in Rome to select, call, and appoint a new bishop of Rome--the next pope. Of course, they were mourning the passing of Anterus but they were also busy about the business of the Church as they felt God was calling them to be. The Church did not know it at the time--though some may have seen the writing on the wall--but the next pope would be crucial for the life of Christians throughout the Roman Empire as Decius would become emperor and the Decian persecution was only a little ways away. For now, though, the emperor was Marcus Julius Philippus--remembered as Philip--and life was relatively easy as evidenced by the significant public gathering of Christians. As they talked about who the next pope might be several notable names were passed around--until something miraculous happened. The assembly stopped talking suddenly when they saw a dove slowly circle the gathering. Every eye focused on the dove and every mind turned to the familiar story of Jesus' baptism and they wondered if this dove might mean something amazing. The bird landed gracefully upon the head of a lay Christian named Fabian.

At first, there must have been confusion as to why the dove had not landed on one of the notable people in the group--it had chosen an unknown who wasn't even a priest or deacon. But as they began to voice their confusion, their minds turned to the story of the anointing of David in the house of his father Jesse. David had been a youth of so little importance that he hadn't even been invited for Samuel to inspect when choosing a new king from the sons of Jesse. Yet, God had called David and so David became king. The people held their tongues for they felt God was calling Fabian to be pope even if they didn't see how he was qualified for it. So, they selected, called, and appointed Fabian to be the bishop of Rome--the next pope.

Fabian's papacy was tame for the majority of the time and Fabian served honorably in this exalted and humbling position. Yet, when Decius became emperor the Church became very aware that a storm was brewing. Decius was no friend of the Church and would not be baptized by the pope as emperor Philip had been with his son. Instead, Decius would baptize Fabian--in blood. With the advent of the Decian persecution, the Church was eviscerated and dwindling. Through Fabian's leadership, missionaries were sent to Gaul to carry the Christian faith out of the reach of Roman oppression. Instead of hoping to renew and maintain the Church by focusing inwardly, Fabian knew that the Church was only maintained and renewed by reaching out and spreading the Gospel given to it. So, missionaries were sent that would do the work of the Church even amid the tyranny of the Empire. This great work was essential but it came at a very high price: the life of the pope. Decius hunted down Fabian and had him burned alive in the catacombs where the Church met. The pope who had insisted upon recording the deeds and words of the martyrs--because he was aware of the power of a good story--was made a martyr himself when he refused to bow his knee at the Imperial altars.

Friday, January 19, 2018

January 19 - Absadah, Martyr, Priest

The persecutions that Diocletian engineered within the Roman Empire are still looked back upon with a sickly amazement. Diocletian engaged in a dance of death that was meant to bully and coerce Christians into denying their faith or simply failing to live it out. Either of these options was fine by Diocletian since his goal was the termination of Christ's followers and both outcomes poisoned and assassinated Christian faith. Of course, if they wouldn't do these things, then they would die at the hands of the Empire in an attempt to lessen the number of influential Christians. This is where Diocletian failed to understand his enemies--the death of a martyr may have weakened the weak but it only strengthened the faithful.Further, it propelled the martyr's story into public consideration because of the oddity of their willing death. Since most the martyrs died willingly and most died without offering any resistance, the people who witnessed or heard about their deaths began to ask the questions that led to eventual faith. Every time the Empire punished and killed a martyr they only spread the Christian infection further.

Absadah feared the coming wave of persecution in Egypt and fretted regularly about how to address it when it finally arrived in his small town. He had been fine being Christian when it only cost him little things and occasionally inconvenienced him. He was a priest of the Church and felt a particular pressure to lead his flock in the trying times that were clearly approaching. But, when it was going to cost him his life, he balked a little. When the decrees swept through his part of Egypt, he became anxious and frightened. He ran home and he locked himself in. His earnest hope no longer rested in a resurrected savior but now rested in a barricaded door and the chance that they might not find him if he made himself hard to find. He had barred the door against any intrusion and crept into a place of seeming security so that he might keep his life. Then something miraculous happened.

Jesus appeared to Absadah who was amazed that any could enter into his home. Speaking to Absadah Jesus said, "No security can repel me, Absadah, and no persecution can truly kill me for I am the resurrection and the life." Absadah was immediately aware of what he had been doing--trading faith, hope, and love for security, chance, and fear. Jesus called Absadah to live the life he had already committed to live as a servant and disciple of life and love itself. So, Absadah's security was infiltrated by Jesus and left him with only two options: deny his faith or learn again to trust the God who had been executed. He left his home and went to the officers. He turned himself in as a Christian and set an example for his little flock. They arrested and tried him and found him guilty of trusting a power of which the Empire did not approve. He was beheaded outside of Alexandria to frighten others--but they only succeeded in spreading a gospel that proclaimed life to the dead and hope to the frightened.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

January 18 - Amy Carmichael, Missionary, Intricately Designed by God

Every night before she went to bed, little Amy Carmichael prayed ardently and enthusiastically for God to turn her brown eyes blue as she slept. Like many brown-eyed Irish girls in the 19th century, she adored the typical image of feminine Irish beauty that included blue eyes and white skin. So, she prayed fervently--prayed with a hope that it seems only children can muster--for God to change the part of her that seemed to be designed wrong. She desperately hoped for God's intervention--but it never came. Amy had brown eyes from the day she was born to the day she died. Regardless of how much she begged, God was not moved to effect a change in the design of Amy. However, Amy's faith was not weakened or lessened by God's refusal. Amy still trusted God even if she didn't receive everything she wanted.

As she grew older, she began teaching a Sunday morning class at a local church for a group of women who were in need of spiritual direction and guidance. This class eventually became a congregation called the Welcome Evangelical Church in Belfast, Ireland. She helped lead in and prepare for worship and people began to seek her out more and more frequently with the hope that her dependable and seemingly unrelenting faith might prove contagious. She continued there until she had the opportunity to hear Hudson Taylor preach about mission work in China. Though she suffered from various nerve conditions that ill fitted her for international mission work, she answered the call all the same.

After some preparatory time in Japan, she moved to southernmost India to serve as a Christian missionary among the people of the country. The missionaries she worked with did everything they could to fit into the culture of which they were becoming a part. Amy reflected once that she now understood why she had brown eyes--a blue-eyed missionary would have been an oddity that never could have truly fit in with the people--and was thankful that God had persisted in God's intricate and elegant design instead of catering to the wishes of a girl who had not yet met her calling. She even darkened her skin with coffee to further aid in her integration and assimilation into Indian culture. She did all of this, largely, for the children she ministered to in India.

It was not uncommon in India at the time for young girls to be given to the local Hindu temple. This saved the family of the girl money because they did not have to take care of the young one who was considered a drain on finances--unlike a son--and made money for the priests who often sold the young girls as prostitutes to help cover the expenses of the girl and the priest who controlled her. Amy couldn't bear to let this happen and so she devoted herself to rescuing these young girls and housing them in whatever way she could. Soon, she had founded the Dohnavur Fellowship and provided a safe haven for over one thousand children who might otherwise die or be forced into prostitution and/or slavery. Given her devotion to pursuing and rescuing the abandoned children of India, it was no surprise that Amy insisted: "One can give without loving, but one cannot love without giving."Amy gave much and loved much because she had been intricately and elegantly designed to share God's love with people who needed it desperately.

Amy died in 1951 due in part to complications from an earlier injury obtained in her pursuit of ministry. In accordance with her wishes, she was buried in India near the Dohnavur Fellowship without a gravestone.The children she had loved and cared for in India had to do something for the woman they loved and remembered. They put up a fountain for birds over her grave and inscribed the hindi word"Amma" upon it. This word perfectly condensed God's intricate design into one word: "mother."

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

January 17 - Anthony the Great, Monastic, Ascetic, Hermit

Anthony's parents were something of an exception for Egyptian citizens in the lower regions of the nation--they had money and they owned land. From their affluence, they were able to provide handsomely for son and daughter even though Egypt was under the control and dominion of the Roman empire. But, they died when Anthony was eighteen years old. This left him in charge of his family estate and inheritance. The potential conflict between Anthony's faith and his family's wealth did not come to bear until he was in charge of it and charged with providing for his unmarried sister. Anthony felt called to do something ridiculous--to live a revolutionary life of freedom and self-renunciation in the desert--but was anchored to the world that tempted him by his family wealth and obligation to his sister. So, it came as a pleasant surprise when his sister was willing to join an early convent so that Anthony could follow his calling. Anthony sold his family's possessions and gave the sum total of all his considerable wealth to friends and neighbors.With this radical act, Anthony set out for the desert to live into a calling.

As he journeyed further into the wild, he slowly became more and more detoxified from the temptations and holdings of the world he left behind but it would be silly to believe that he simply walked away and was never again tempted to the affluence and influence of his youth. It was a long process but it came to bear very quickly with a very acute temptation as he journeyed. As he thought back to the city he had left he wondered if it was possible he had made a mistake. With poetic timing, Anthony looked down and saw a silver plate--of much value--holding a mound of silver coins. With these coins, he couldgo back and nearly regain the life he had left behind. He could abandon a hard calling for an easy and comfortable existence. He thought about it. Then, he spoke to the one he knew was behind the temptation: "Give it up, Satan, I won't be tempted." As he finished his retort to the temptation, it vanished and faded as Anthony's hopes would have had he given into temptation. As he traveled further, he found a larger, golden plate with and even larger mound of golden coins upon it. Wordlessly, he built a fire and tossed the gold into it whereupon it promptly vanished. He wasn't beyond temptation but he was slowly removing the barbs of the Empire from his flesh and gaining true freedom.

Anthony's life in the desert was the life of a monastic hermit. He secluded himself first in a tomb so that he could best devote himself to a life of prayer and service but no matter how far he got into the wilderness, news traveled back to the cities and increased the amazement of the people for Anthony's deeds. When he became sick, some Christians went and gathered him up to take him to a monastery and heal him. But when he was better, he left again and this time he found an old Roman fortress and made it his hermitage. The pilgrims who came to see the holy man spoke to him through a small hole in the wall of the fortress and received very few words back from him. He offered his teachings to his disciples but refused to be a spectacle for those who were not connected to him. He accepted gifts of food and drink but mainly subsisted upon the bread he made himself. As any monastic of legendary qualities, he was soon surrounded by disciples and students regardless of whether or not he wanted to be a hermit. He taught but he was devoted first and foremost to a life of self-renunciation and denial that blossomed in prayer and worship.

When he approached the end of his life, he endeavored to finally escape one more bond upon his life and so he made his peace with his disciples. He gave away his only clothing--two cloaks. One cloak was given to Serapion his disciple and the other was given to Athanasius. He gave his abbot's staff to Macarius and then he laid down prostrate upon the ground and died having made peace and preparation.Anthony had spent a lifetime rejecting the temptations of power and influence so that he might escape the hooks they would place in his soul. He had even gone so far as to ignore a letter from the emperor Constantine before being convinced by his disciples to at least offer a blessing by letter. For Anthony, freedom and peace were found in renunciation--even if it cost him his everything.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

January 16 - Raoul Wallenberg, Martyr, Victim of Oppression, Liberator of the Oppressed

Raoul had wealthy parents--though he never met his father who died three months before he was born--and this afforded him many opportunities. For example, he was able to study architecture at the University of Michigan even though it meant quite a bit of travel to get there from Sweden. When he returned to Sweden with his degree in hand he soon found that there was no room for young architects among the Swedes. So, first he took a job in South Africa but eventually ended up with a job in Hungary. His boss--Kálmán Lauer, a Hungarian Jew--utilized him to help handle imports and exports between Sweden and central Europe. It was a great opportunity for a young man and he proved invaluable. Especially invaluable after Nazi coercion brought about laws restricting business done by Jews in Hungary. Lauer trusted Raoul and since Raoul had learned Hungarian he made him his representative and allowed the Christian to take care of business matters where he could not do so as a Jew. Eventually, Raoul was a partner in ownership of the company and was spending more and more of his time in Hungary. Then, one day, an emissary from a refugee organization in the United States contacted him on behalf of president Roosevelt. It seemed that the organization wanted to rescue Hungarian Jews from Nazi oppression. Raoul was just the man for the job.

Sustained by his faith and his commitment to the sacredness of life, he reentered Hungary as a Swedish diplomat. As a diplomat from a different country that Hungary hoped to keep good ties with, he was able to issue protective passes that would label the bearers as individuals preparing to immigrate to Sweden. With these passes, they were relatively untouchable by the Hungarian Nazis. He was even able to lobby with the Nazis to consider these men, women, and children to be Swedes and not required to wear the yellow star that was forced upon the Jews in Hungary. But, this wasn't enough. He purchased a building and declared it to be exempt from Hungarian law because of his diplomatic immunity. He put large Swedish flags on the front and titled it the "Swedish Research Institute." But, once inside the doors it was clear that this was a place for Jews to find sanctuary from oppression. But, this still wasn't enough for Raoul--he felt called to more. The one house became several houses and the several houses became many. Yet, there was still more to be done.

It was clear that death awaited those who could not find some escape or protection and so, again, Raoul further laid himself out for his neighbors. He took to pulling off bigger and bigger stunts to free Jews from the chains of the Nazi regime. He could not free every Jew he met--and this thought tormented him--but he tried. Once, he was atop a train headed for Auschwitz and passing protective passports through the slats to the Jews within the train car. They were unsealed and, therefore, unofficial but Raoul was willing to risk everything to save these lives. He was ordered to stop what he was doing by the guards and they fired a warning shot over his head. He stopped and considered the situation--he might lose his life if he persisted in saving a few more people but he would surely lose more if he denied them their last chance at hope. So, he began passing the passes again and the guards fired at him. Whether they had poor aim or were not trying to hit him, Raoul escaped unscathed and stepped down onto the train platform. As the guards watched, he insisted that the doors be opened and that the inhabitants be checked again for Swedish protective passes. The guards opened the doors and Raoul led the men, women, and children to waiting cars and back to safety.

When the Soviets took Hungary, it seems that Raoul would be free again to live his own life now that the Jews could hopefully be safe again. He had saved tens of thousands of Jews from imperially sanitized death. Yet, he was arrested on January 17, 1945, and charged with being an American spy. Charged with espionage he was hid away in secret prisons. Later, the Soviets first insisted that he had died of a heart attack and later that he had been killed by Zionist Hungarians. Eventually, it was uncovered the the last years of Raoul's life were filled with torture, interrogation, and eventually his own execution at the hands of the Soviets. He died because he refused to agree with empires that life was a commodity to be traded and manipulated. Because of his faith in a God who taught love for neighbors and enemies, Raoul was appropriately murdered as a revolutionary--after all, nothing is more revolutionary than love in a world that cannot stand the sight or sound of it.

Monday, January 15, 2018

January 15 - Paul of Thebes, Hermit, Monastic, "the First Monk"

The persecution in Thebes had been intense for quite some time but with the way Decius and Valerianus were ruling the Roman Empire it was only getting worse day by day. Paul wasn't sure what to do as he and his fellow Christians began meeting in secret and contemplating their next course of action in those turbulent times. Paul and his friends found themselves in the middle of a precarious situation: their lives and their homes tied them to Thebes but Thebes was becoming an increasingly dangerous place to live for Christians. Paul found a way out of the situation, though, by abandoning all that tied him to Thebes and becoming a hermit.

He traveled to the mountains of the Theban desert and came across a cave that looked especially inviting. As a twenty-two year old man with a few possessions, this was a significant change of lifestyle but it represented a strange kind of freedom that few knew or understood. Near his cave was a palm tree and a hidden mountain spring. Surely the words of Jesus rang in his head nearly every day as he went to gather fruit and water--"Listen carefully, don't worry about what you will eat, or what you will drink, or about what you will wear. Isn't there more to life than food and clothing?Notice the birds of the air; they don't do plant or harvest or put away supplies for security and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren't you more valuable than birds? And what's worrying ever done for you--has it added one single solitary second to your life?" Time went on and Paul's life became more and more isolated and devoted to prayer and worship. His city clothes gave way to time and wear and eventually Paul was clothed in garments made from the leaves of the nearby tree. His life had become simple and divorced from need upon what the Empire could offer--Paul was an island in the midst of the Roman Empire that needed and accepted no ruler but God.

One day, however, a raven flew down to greet the mostly silent Paul and it carried a small loaf of bread in its mouth. Paul gave the small bird his thanks and rejoiced at the bread provided for him by God's will. He broke it joyfully and consumed it. The next day he saw the raven approaching again with bread and was joyous again. This process continued for the remainder of Paul's life. After subsisting upon what he could gather for twenty-one years he became further liberated from the needs of this world and found his needs met without his own work. His needs were met because he was more valuable than the birds of the air and because Jesus had taught his disciples not to fear--knowing that fear enslaves many to the empires of the world. Paul had nothing to lose and so he had everything to gain and nothing to fear.

Paul was very, very old when Anthony came one fateful day to visit with Paul and seek his advice, Paul welcomed him gladly into his small cave. Anthony was going into the desert to become a hermit and Paul--being the first recorded Christian hermit--was the person to talk to before setting out upon the path of material renunciation that leads to true freedom. Years later, Anthony--that much venerated monk and hermit--would refer to Paul as "the first monk." That day and that night, the two men talked and broke bread together. As Anthony was leaving he had the presence of mind to turn and thank Paul for his time and he saw a vibrant old man staring back and welcoming him to return whenever he would like. When Anthony did return a little while later, Paul had died in his cave in a peaceful and comfortable position. Anthony took it upon himself to bury the old man and commit his body back to the dust as a man finally freed from sin and corruption.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

January 14 - Nino, Slave, Missionary, Preacher

Nino felt a calling to go to Iberia--in fact, she had had a vision commanding her to take what little she had and travel east to the land that would eventually be known as Georgia. But there was one very significant impediment to Nino's missionary calling: she was a slave and, according to the Roman powers, her life was not her own to direct. She had quite a pedigree being related to notable and powerful leaders both within the Church and without it, yet she had been taken captive from Armenia and brought to Constantinople as a servant. However, this did not lessen the intensity of her calling. The words of Mary in her vision still rung in Nino's ears: "Go to Iberia and share the good news that is accomplished in Jesus Christ. I will take every step before you do and be your shield against enemies you'll know and some you'll never know. Take a cross and plant it in a land to proclaim salvation and life through my beloved Son and Lord." So, somehow--some way--Nino risked much to leave and do God's work in a land where she had no connection.

When she crossed the border into Iberia she began looking for a town--any place where people would congregate--and she settled there. She planted the cross she carried into the ground and began preaching a Gospel that so few had heard in the little town. The fires of conversion caught in the tiny town and soon Nino's message was spreading into the larger cities and eventually arriving in the capitol. When the queen heard Nino's message she was transfixed and requested an audience. Nino--the slave--went to speak with the queen and share a faith that depended upon a crucified king. When she arrived, she discovered that the queen was ill and not responding to the cures of the greatest of the royal physicians. Nino offered a humble but earnest prayer on behalf of the queen and she was healed.The two women conversed. We don't know what was said but the queen was converted and this created a pathway to speak with the king. The king was tolerant of his wife's conversion but was not personally persuaded that day. It would take another set of circumstances.

The king--like so many other members of the royal class--had a passion for hunting. One day while he was in a nearby forest, he descended further into the forest than he had ever traveled. Soon, he was surrounded by unfamiliar streams and rocks and realized that he wasn't entirely sure how to find his way back out. He began tracking his path to discover his escape when he was suddenly struck blind. Lost deep in a forest, blinded, and surrounded by animals that would eventually overcome their timidity to inspect and perhaps kill a disabled man, he began to fear for his life. His thoughts flew to Nino and Nino's God and he prayed a simple prayer: "Jesus, if you are indeed God like the slave says, then save me from my darkness so that I might abandon all other gods and allegiances to follow and worship you." With the sounding of his "amen" his sight returned and he beat a hasty retreat to his palace. When he arrived, he called for Nino and was converted. Soon thereafter, Christianity became acceptable in Iberia and was no longer punished.

The king and queen were taught by Nino but Christianity was exploding in Iberia and the king recognized that more teachers and ministers were needed to accommodate the needs of the growing community of Jesus' disciples. Emperor Constantine sent a bishop and ministers to Iberia and a great church was built there. Nino could see that the Church had gained a foothold in Iberia and so she retired to a small hermitage in the mountains where she could again devote herself to prayer and service. When she died, the king built a monastery by her grave and continued to tell the story of the slave who had freed a kingdom.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

January 13 - Mev Puleo, Friend of the Poor, One Who Lived a Life "Crammed With Meaning"

Mev Puleo didn't want you to have the opportunity to look away from the unpleasant. One of her many passions was art and her medium was photography.With a point, a click, and some strange alchemy of chemicals and paper she was able to grasp the face of a child or the body racked by poverty and make a statement that could not be ignored. With the permanence of the photographic image, she was able to convict the hearts and minds of many people who would much rather simply wait a moment and forget all about the plight of the less fortunate. Mev couldn't look away from the passion that for the poor and disenfranchised and so she didn't want you to do so, either.

Mev had first been awakened to this calling after having been a Christian for several years. At the age of fourteen, she went on a trip with her parents to Brazil. While they were in Rio de Janeiro and seeing the sites as tourists, they decided to go up and see the "Christ Redeemer" atop Mt. Corcovado. As their bus made the trip up they circled the mountain a few times. On one side, Mev could overlook the homes of the wealthy and respectable. Their homes were brilliantly designed and ostentatiously expensive. In those homes lived a class of people who had little fear for their daily bread. As they came to the other side of the mountain, though, they saw shacks and dilapidated buildings that housed a different class of people. These people were the poor of Brazil and many of their waking thoughts were consumed with fear for their lack of daily bread and anxiety over how to change their circumstances. Mev found herself increasingly uncomfortable with her comfort--she wanted to look away but she couldn't. Suddenly, the chair was too soft, the air conditioning was too pleasant, and the scenery too breathtaking.Her eyes glanced upward to see Jesus standing with his arms stretched wide in the gap between comfort and fear. She feared that though Jesus had been lifted above both sides, it seemed that he had only become a convenient way to avoid looking at the needs of the poor from the comfort of affluence. So, Mev made a decision that day: she decided to change the world.

Mev became an outspoken activist and artist who shared powerful convictions and words about the ability of the Church to bridge the gap between rich and poor--between have and have not. She endeavored to increase awareness about poverty as she struggled to end it personally. Her pictures and her speeches refused to give into the temptation to overlook or forget the suffering of so many. Thankfully and gloriously, Mev wouldn't stop pestering the Church about its obligations to all people. Yet, her great benevolence was no insurance against tragedy and suffering. In 1994, a malignant tumor was discovered in her brain--she was given six months to live.

Words from the journal she kept in college came calling back to her. She had written that she would rather live a short but meaningful life--a life "crammed with meaning"--then to live long and securely without meaning. Mev ended up living almost two more years after her diagnosis and spent every day of it in service to the God who had called her to change the world. The priest eulogized over her at her funeral: "She had wanted to give the poor a face, a voice. She always wanted to be identified with them. And so it came to pass: by the time of her last days you could see them all in her face--the poor of Bosnia, the hungry of Haiti, the powerless of Brazil. She who gave them voice, lost hers. She who helped us see their faces, could finally see no more....She became the poor she loved." Mev was thirty-two years old when she passed on to rest with Christ her Redeemer.

Friday, January 12, 2018

January 12 - Alexander Men, Martyr, Priest, Author

Alexander Men was the child of a Jewish family that converted to Christianity when Alexander was less than one year old. In fact, Alexander was baptized on the same day that his mother was and his initiation into Christianity was completed. Yet, there was more in store for Alexander and his family as the Soviet empire continued to grow and flourish in Russia. With the growth of the Soviet ideals, there was an expectation that Christians--clergy and lay--would swear allegiance first to the State and second to the Church.Many in the Church bought their relative safety through this idolatry but Alexander's family--and by extension Alexander--were part of the movement that refused to do so. They were part of the Russian True Orthodox movement--specifically, they were part of a group called the "Catacomb Church." This group knew they must meet in secret if they were to meet at all because they had run afoul of the imperial powers simply by existing and refusing to bend their knee before a broken and corrupt State.

Of course, such allegiances have their cost even if they are a holy and Christian thing. In 1958, Alexander was expelled from college for the sake of his allegiances and commitments. The powerful did not approve of who Alexander approved of and, so, they refused to accommodate him. He had already committed to becoming a priest and this obstacle only spurred him onward. A few years later, he graduated from Leningrad Theological Seminary and was ordained as a priest in the Orthodox church. Alexander was known as a priest of the intellectuals and engaged in rigorous and exacting debates with Orthodox and atheists. He expressed a powerful commitment to ecumenical theology throughout his clerical life and called upon his students and spiritual children to have faith and courage in the face of both Soviet rule and denominationalism. Recognized as an intelligent man and good teacher, he routinely was invited to teach on religious topics in a variety of places but was hated by those in power because of their distrust for Christians. He was routinely arrested and questioned by the KGB in an attempt to coerce him into silence. Alexander was unchecked in his devotion.

When Soviet rule was coming to an end in Russia, many Christian missionaries were surprised to find a people thirsty for spiritual growth and Christian teaching instead of solely committed atheists. Surely, there were many who rejected the work of the missionaries but there were others who had found sustenance for their faith even from within the iron curtain--they had known men like Alexander and had found Jesus at a cost. Alexander's commitment to his faith persevered through the falling of the Soviet Empire but he was claimed as one of its victims in 1990. At the age of fifty-five, he left his home one morning bound for a teaching engagement. As he walked the path, he heard the patter of footsteps. Before he could turn around, an unknown assailant (or perhaps assailants) cleaved his skull with an axe. Alexander Men died because he refused to submit himself to the Empire or its powers. Instead, he remained committed to a Lord who was crucified and buried to conquer death. No walls fell or resolutions were passed with his death but his work continued long after his death and authentic Russian spirituality flourished because Alexander--and people like him--refused to give up on his faith even when confronted by adversity and death.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

January 11 - Brother Lawrence, Lay Brother, Lover of God, Barren Yet Hopeful Tree

Nicholas Herman struggled with poverty. He had trouble finding enough money to afford to live in seventeenth century France. So, he enlisted in the military and went to fight for France in the Thirty Years War. The war had been going on for nearly fifteen years by the time Nicholas joined its ranks and prepared to fight for as long as meals and a small stipend would be provideda to him. It wasn't what he had wanted to do--few at the time would have volunteered to fight a war if there was no economic incentive--but it helped provide for his needs. He was devoted to the Faith he was raised in but found life unsavory and wondered if he might be missing something in his own everyday Christian life. But, while afield with the military, he had a vision that would change his life for the better.

Nicholas was looking about himself in the middle of a very cold winter. A tree barren of all leaves stood resolutely before Nicholas' gaze and seemed to cry out for notice and consideration. Nicholas' mind drifted toward the eventual full bloom that awaited the tree come summer and he held the image before him in tension with what he knew awaited the tree standing barren and steadfast among death and destruction. In the tree, Nicholas saw his bleak existence and in its hope he saw his own: a hope that relied upon God's good grace and steadfast love. Though life was hard and desperate for young Nicholas he was filled with hope for a life consisting in deep love between creator and creation. In a barren tree, God had reached down and touched Nicholas' heart with a vision that granted hope and strengthened his persistence.

When he was discharged from the military, he went to a Carmelite monastery and petitioned to become a brother.Because of his relative lack of education he could not become a cleric but he persisted and became a lay brother and was assigned to work in the kitchen. His duties included cooking, cleaning, and serving--in other words, he was called to sustain the monks and he did so gladly. He took the name of Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection upon entering the monastery. But, his culinary skills are not what he is best known for. Rather, he is known as a fantastic proponent of the power of love. He insisted that the many works of men and women to explain and grasp the love of God were unnecessary. There was a simple way of life and love that Lawrence called his friends and colleagues to: loving God in the everyday moments.Instead of doing great and big things to "earn" the love of God, Lawrence endeavored simply to appreciate God's steadfast love in the small things. When he was cooking a meal, he thought of himself as cooking for God and with God. When he scrubbed a pot or a pan, he was doing it for and with God.

Lawrence had an intimate and deeply personal relationship with God and advised all of his friends and colleagues to do the same no matter what else they might be doing with their lives. After all, Lawrence knew well that there was only hope for life in the love that animated and sustained all of creation. Though he was a barren tree hoping desperately for summer, he knew that God was already effecting a summer in his soul and this love informed all of Lawrence's actions. His many sayings and teachings on God's love and presence were gathered together by people who appreciated them after his death and bound together in a text known as The Practice of the Presence of GodThere was no other calling for Lawrence than this: to know and be loved by the God who gave hope and faith to God's much loved creation.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

January 10 - Gregory of Nyssa, Theologian, Cappadocian Father, Champion of Orthodoxy

When you're a middle child (and there are many middle children when you're one of ten) and your older brother is a well-educated Church Father, it's hard to grow up. Being compared to Basil was indubitably challenging for Gregory--especially since Basil was the only one to receive a formal education. His parents--descendants of martyrs themselves--had wanted to provide education for their children but their limited means meant that they could only afford to educate their eldest son. But, Basil came back and helped his younger brothers learn--especially Gregory. In fact, as Gregory grew both in maturity and intellect, older brother Basil predicted that in the future his name would lend more notoriety to the city of Nyssa then the city of Nyssa's name would lend to him. On this count, Basil was very correct.

Gregory's education may have been indirect and informal but it was a great gift that empowered Gregory to take an important role in the Church. He became influential and persuasive and gathered the attention of the Arians within the Church power structure. Gregory insisted that Jesus was not subservient to the Father but was, instead, coequal to the Father along with the Holy Spirit. This orthodox view did not gain Gregory any friends among the Arians and soon he was deposed from his position in the Church and forced to leave. He was no longer welcome in Nyssa and in his absence more charges were leveled against him by the powerful. He was accused of misuse and abuse of Church property and was slandered to any who would hear a harsh word about him. Yet, he continued to maintain his orthodox and trinitarian stance by encouraging the people of the Church who refused to believe the slander about him. Though he was no longer officially a bishop, he was a minister to the people who would not leave him or his orthodox position. Time passed and eventually those in power died or were removed from their office and Gregory was invited back to be bishop again and he gladly accepted having had his rhetoric honed to razor sharpness by his exile from the Church he loved and served.

Within a year of his return to the Church, his older brother Basil died and Gregory was emotionally and mentally crippled. Only through the care and comfort of his older sister Macrina was he able to recover and continue on with his calling as a servant of God and the Church. In 381, he was part of the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantitnople and helped draft the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed. This master work of the Church was a shield against heresy that delineated what orthodoxy was so that members of the Church could challenge themselves further to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Further, this creed helped label and identify the dangers of heterodoxy. He spent the rest of his life working with his friend Gregory of Nazianzus to teach orthodoxy to a people hungry for understanding.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

January 9 - Philip of Moscow, Martyr, Victim of the State, Opponent of the Empire

Feodor Stepanovich Kolychev was born approximately 100 miles from Moscow in the city of Galich. He had the good fortune of being associated with royalty and he joined the royal court of Grand Prince Vasili III. Vasili had a son named Ivan who Feodor developed a friendship with. However, conspiracy and deception were afoot and soon Feodor was forced to flee Moscow because of his benefactor's involvement in a plot that gathered unwanted attention. So, Feodor fled from Vasili and his friend Ivan. He escaped to the mountains and spent some time consider what had transpired. The wounds perpetrated against him by political powers had driven him to painful reflection and as he stood inside a monastery, he heard the liturgist proclaim: "No man can serve two masters." At these words, he made the decision to become a monk. So, around the age of thirty, he became a monk and left the political world behind--for a while. He took the monastic name of Philip and devoted himself to prayer and discipline.

At the age of forty-one, Philip became the hegumen of his monastery and lived into the leadership role exceedingly well. It may be that his childhood in the imperial courts had trained him well in leadership and management because soon the monastery had built an impressive array of buildings and improvements and kindled a spiritual revolution in the surrounding countryside. Philip was especially notable because of his personal involvement in the projects. Instead of relaxing and allowing power to soften him, he joined in with the brothers and did the exact same work he asked of the them. Though he was the hegumen, he was unafraid to pick up a shovel. The spiritual revival was largely a work of Philip's careful work under a new and more demanding monastic rule. Contrary to the movement of so many other powers, Philip had high expectations of people and was confident that they could reach them if given time and assistance. Philip's leadership at the monastery became legendary and attracted the attention of his boyhood friend Ivan. But this time Ivan was not known as Ivan son of Vasili but as Ivan the Terrible.

Ivan wanted his friend to come to Moscow and fill the position of metropolitan but Philip had one condition: the end of Ivan's practice of oprichnina. Oprichnina had started when Ivan's paranoia over revolution had gripped him so terribly that he had fled Moscow with many Church possessions and refused to return. He returned to Moscow on the condition that he be allowed to create a secret police with power to sweep away treason from Russia. The clergy consented and Ivan returned. Soon, the secret police (known as "oprichniki") were scouring the country atop black horses and wearing black cowls. Their power was, for the most part, unchecked and they did as they pleased. If somebody became an enemy of Ivan then they often died at the hands of one of the oprichniki. The other powerful Russian people--and the Church in Russia--were held at bay by threat of men in black cowls who had a hound and broom imprinted upon the pommel of their saddle to symbolize their task: seeking out and sweeping away all who opposed the centralization of power in the hands of Ivan the Terrible. Philip agreed to become metropolitan only if Ivan would cease and desist from his politically sponsored campaigns of death. Ivan agreed and Philip was made bishop and metropolitan.

Yet, Ivan did not stop his manipulations. At first, he tried to hide the workings of the oprichniki but their murderous works were hard to conceal. Philip found out and so when Ivan came to the cathedral for a Lenten service, he publicly rebuked Ivan for his bloody works and refused to give him his blessing. Ivan was irate but it did not deter him from yet more slaughter and so he authorized the oprichniki to execute a massacre at Novgorod because of fear of treason and defection. Philip denounced Ivan again and it became increasingly apparent that Ivan could not buy the loyalty of the Church through his childhood friend. So, he decided to exercise his power and ruin Philip.

Philip was deposed and Ivan was able to manipulate various clerical professionals into arresting and imprisoning him in a monastery. Stripped of power and reputation, he spent the remainder of his life chained to a wall with less and less food every day. He was abused and punished for refusing to be bought. Then one night, shortly after taking communion, one of Ivan's most trusted minions--Malyuta Skuratov--crept into his cell and strangled him to death. Though Ivan had modeled his oprichniki after the monastic orders and even hinted at times at wanting to become a monk, it was through the manipulative work of the Empire that he put to death his childhood friend and spiritual superior--Philip of Moscow.

Monday, January 8, 2018

January 8 - Jim Elliot, Martyr, Missionary, Focused

Jim's upbringing suggested that he would be a Christian. After all, his mother and father were both very committed to their faith and his father was a Baptist preacher. In their home, they taught their faith to their children. They regularly read and interpreted the scriptures with their children and worked diligently to steep them in the culture and power of the Faith that had gripped them and begun the process of redemption in their own lives. Jim, however, showed an incredible focus in his faith life. When he went away to Wheaton College, he went with the intention of becoming a missionary in another country. He excelled in the subjects that he described as useful for mission work but lagged in classes that he felt were unimportant in the development of his spiritual maturity.

He declined to be in clubs and organizations that did not offer any discernible benefit to a missionary and so he missed out on at least one year of free tuition because he felt the expectations of the group would have distracted him. He majored in Greek so that he would be fit and ready to translate the New Testament into whatever language he needed to. He began to associate himself with non-denominational groups--he had shed a denominational identity so that he could be more focused on missions and less on politics and polity. He insisted that he would be a conscientious objector if drafted and also refused to become engaged in political conversations and debates as he cast aside whatever weighed him down in his pursuit of missions. He was focused and knew that he was being called to be a missionary--he just didn't know where.

When he graduated, he had no immediate direction or goals. He felt a call to mission work but felt no specific guidance. Consequently, he was unwilling to go anywhere or do anything without God's movement and leading. He returned home and worked various jobs in churches and schools. Eventually he was offered a full-time teaching position but he turned it down to continue his own study and preparation for missions. He continued to correspond with his missionary mentors and study languages in preparation for a specific call he felt was just around the corner. When a missionary to Ecuador began telling Jim about the Quichua people. He studied their language and the process of converting a spoken language to a written language before finding another unmarried man to go with him to Ecuador as a missionary to the indigenous peoples.

While serving as a missionary in Ecuador, Jim could not shake the feeling that there was an increased depth to his calling. After getting married and serving as a missionary alongside his wife, he began to feel called further into the wilds of Ecuador. The people he knew as the Auca--that are now known as the Huaorani--had little contact with outsiders. Jim's heart broke for a people disconnected from the Faith that moved and sustained him. So, along with his friends and colleagues (Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and Nate Saint), he began reaching out to the people by bringing gifts and offering hospitality to a people who had no reason to know or trust him.They established a camp and started to build relationships with the very guarded Auca people. They even took one of the men--whom they called "George"--in their plane to see the jungles and terrain from above. Yet, the language barrier became a danger when George went back and maligned the men. Unexpectedly, and for no comprehensible reason to the missionaries, a party of ten men with spears approached their camp one night and murdered the missionaries brutally. When his family retrieved Jim's possessions, they read in his journals: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."

The martyrdom of Jim Elliot was not the end of the outreach to the Auca people and, in fact, was only the beginning of the mission work there. Years later, even the men who murdered Jim and his friends would be converted and repent for their past sins. Jim's focused approach to mission work has been deservedly lauded by many as an atypically wonderful approach to the missionary commitment.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

January 7 - Lucian of Antioch, Martyr, Theologian, Falsely Accused

Lucian had received a good education and his desire was to share it with others who felt a calling to the theological life. He had been born to Christian parents with enough money to provide him with a classical education and train him further in theology. Following in the footsteps of his parents, he was active in the Church. Further, he had a significant impact as he served in different roles within the ecclesiastical structure. He was ordained as a relatively young man by the congregation in Antioch and opened a school of theology. His students were well-trained and accepted by congregations of Christians throughout the Roman Empire but somehow he became associated with Paul of Samosata. It might have been because of accusations from opponents or it might have been based on spurious evidence but, regardless, Lucian's name was connected to Paul's. When Paul's theology was labeled suspect--and eventually heretical--Lucian's reputation and influence were crippled.

Since he was rumored to be heretical, his students were less accepted by other Christians. Then, since his students were experiencing difficulty, prospective students soon found other teachers. For nearly twenty years, Lucian struggled through false accusations and mistaken impressions. As he did so, his own personal spiritual life deepened and intensified. Years later when Church historians would look back at him they would insist that Lucian had been better known for his Christian practice than for his Christian theology and that is saying something since Lucian was one of the chief proponents of literal reading of the scripture in juxtaposition to the allegorical readings suggested by the Alexandrians (in the tradition of Origen). It wasn't that Lucian felt that figurative reading was a poor practice but, rather, that literal reading was essential in understanding some passages that otherwise might be glossed over and their powerful meaning missed. In his attempt to insure that the words of the scripture not be avoided or not be overlooked, he taught a literal reading that allowed the scripture to speak powerfully and directly when appropriate.

Eventually, his students were accepted again and his reputation was cleansed by continued piety and faithful Christian practice. False accusations simply could not stick to Lucian over the long term and melted away when faced with the intense heat of his personal devotion to Jesus. But once his school of theology was regaining its notoriety and influence, it attracted the attention of the Emperor. As Maximian's persecutions continued, Lucian was arrested. Unlike many of the Church's martyrs, it was not a short process for Lucian. Over a period of nine years he was tortured as the Empire hoped to manipulate him to deny his faith. Every time they asked over nine years, Lucian refused to deny his faith--a faith that had already cost him dearly and would likely cost him even more dearly if he continued to refuse. Finally, the Empire tired of their efforts and executed Lucian with little pomp or show.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

January 6 - Epiphany - The Great Revealing

In the time when a corrupt governor ruled like there was no other power in the world, a little boy named Jesus was born in a backwater town. Powerful and important people--the kind who didn't spend much time with illegitimate children in backwater towns--came looking for him.They went to the big city nearby because they assumed he had to be there and asked the governor where they could find the one who was going to take his place. "We heard that this one is going to be really special," they said, "and we want to take the time to offer our respects to this one." When the governor heard that, he was wounded at the thought that he wasn't important enough and he got scared. "What if it's true?" he asked himself when nobody was around.So, he asked the men to wait a moment while he talked to his advisers about it.

His advisers checked their books and said, "Oh! They must mean this little passage. I guess it kind of suggests that it will be in Bethlehem." "But surely, no ruler can be better than you," they lied to save their necks. So, the governor called for those dignitaries and pumped them for information before telling them to go and look in Bethlehem.

"And if you find him," he remarked coyly as if he had just now thought of it, "why don't you come on back and tell me where he is so I can offer my respects, too." So, the men left the governor's mansion and went to the little town without a stoplight. They followed the signs that had led them this far and were glad to see the leading coming to an end and the finding finally starting. They arrived at the little shack and wiped their expensive shoes on the rag that passed for a welcome-mat before entering in to find a teenage girl with her child. Somehow--perhaps it had something to do with the long journey--they knew this was the one and they stood in shocked silence before a little boy. Something amazing had been revealed to them--the birth of God in human flesh--and they could not take it in. So, they offered gifts to express their worship and respect: stock options, a bible with his name embossed on the cover, and--perhaps most shocking to his mother--a cemetery plot near thecity. As they were leaving, they felt compelled not to return to the governor and so they caught the early flight out.

As they often do, years passed and things changed. The boy grew into a man and grew into his calling.

Jesus' cousin John had been spending time out in the woods preaching to anybody who would come near enough to hear his frantic yelling. He preached: "Y'all need to get right cause the kingdom of heaven is right around the corner." He was forever talking about his cousin and how people should pay more attention to Jesus and less to John. John truly was a voice crying in the wilderness: "Get ready for something new from God! Prepare yourselves for God's appearance." Of course, it's no big surprise that people couldn't stop looking at John. He wore clothes that he had stitched himself that had been made out of fur. He ate bugs and honey (when he could find it). So, he was an oddity and got lots of attention. With the attentive crowds came some people who were listening and were preparing themselves for God's big thing--God's Great Revealing.

But attentive crowds aren't always attentive because they like you or agree with you. Often, John would see some of the members of the local ministerial council hanging out in the crowd and would greet them in his own special way:
"You sons of snakes! Who gave you a clue and told you about the storm that's brewing--I know you didn't see it for yourselves. You came out to hear me? Well, get to changing yourself because your name and your reputation aren't going to do anything for you. Your titles and influence are worthless here. Even now, the chainsaw is gassed up and waiting to be picked up to cut down the trees that don't produce good fruit. And what do you do with bad wood? You burn it up because it's useless. I'm out here baptizing with water because of repentance but there's one coming after me who can do you a sight better--shoot, I'm not even worthy to shine his shoes--and he'll baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire. Oh, and don't kid yourselves...God's judgment is right around the corner. He's going to sort out the good from the bad real quick."
One day, Jesus came to John to be baptized in the creek where John preached. When Jesus took off his shoes and waded in, John shook his head and said, "If anybody should be doing the baptizing it ought to be you and not me.You should baptize me, Jesus."

But, Jesus smiled and said, "No, John, you're doing right. This is the way it's supposed to start. This is the way God's great revelation begins." So, John agreed begrudgingly and baptized Jesus in the creek. When Jesus came up out of the water, he looked up and the skies were torn apart before him. The barriers between God and humans had been broken and cast aside and the Spirit of God came down and a voice was heard saying, "This is my boy. I love him and I'm proud of him."

It was on those two days--the revelation of God to the wise men and at Jesus' baptism--that we see God choosing to self-reveal to the world. The obstacles have been dismissed and the way has been paved. The paths are being made straight. The Kingdom of God has arrived and is arriving.

Friday, January 5, 2018

January 5 - Felix Manz, Radical Reformer, Anabaptist, Martyr

People had been trying to tie his hands for several years now but until now it had all been metaphorical--perhaps just as demeaning but still only metaphorically. Those naming themselves as ministers of a new covenant of forgiveness, life, and love wrapped thick rope around his wrists and ankles in the cold January morning. His accusers planned to make a powerful mockery of his baptism by drowning him in the lake and thereby cruelly enforcing a recent edict demanding death for those who resisted the powers on matters of baptism. As he floated down the river and they affixed the pole between his legs, his mother and brother called to him from the shore and encouraged him to face his death--his martyrdom--with courage and confidence.

Felix had been a follower of Huldrych Zwingli at first. Likely, he had been won over to the reformer's views by his commitment to personal involvement in the Christian story and by his own spiritual devotion. Yet, when Conrad Grebel joined with the group he found a closer and more similar friend. Conrad and Felix formed their theology together in conversation and mutual commitment. Soon, they found themselves drifting away from Huldrych theologically. They were uncomfortable with his involvement in political and civil affairs--they felt that the State was all too involved in Zwingli's group and resisted its encroachment into their affairs. Further, they were bothered by the juxtaposition of Zwingli's insistence on personalized faith and the practice of infant baptism. Felix did not want infants to be baptized because he insisted that the norm of baptism involved volition along with intention and method and that infant baptism undermined the importance of personal involvement in one's own faith.

Felix and Conrad's people soon refused to have their infants baptized out of a conviction that the Church was in need of reformation and could only be reformed by honest and intentional involvement by Christian believers. They engaged in debate with Zwingli and there was no resolution or concession by either side of the debate. Instead, the civil authorities stepped in and committed one of the acts that Felix and Conrad feared: they made the Church's decision for it. So, those who insisted upon being baptized as an adult were condemned to die. Felix was baptized. Therefore, Felix was condemned to die.

They took him out onto the lake full of confidence that they were killing a man who rightly deserved it yet one must wonder if their hearts didn't quake at the thought of turning over the power of the Church to the State and murdering a man because of a theological dispute. But, they followed through with their orders and Felix was cast overboard into the cold water to drown to death as a martyr for a Church that refuses coercion and prizes sacrificial love.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

January 4 - Elizabeth Ann Seton, Charitable, Victim of Bigotry, Educator

Elizabeth Ann Bayley was the daughter of a successful doctor and professor of anatomy at Columbia College in New York city. Her father had been a powerful man of influence and generosity who had insisted upon raising his children--first with Elizabeth's mother who died when she was three, and secondly with his new wife--in the Church (specifically, the Episcopal church). She became the wife of William Seton--an affluent businessman--at the age of nineteen and had five children before tragedy struck the young family. Several lost ships meant the loss of the business that provided for their needs. On the heels of their impoverishment, William took ill.Elizabeth went with him to Italy when the doctors suggested he take a vacation for his health and was there when he died young and in a faraway land. She was taken in by a wealthy and loving Roman Catholic family that saw her tragic circumstances and wanted to breathe a little hope into an otherwise bleak situation.

While mourning and grieving, she began to have conversations with her magnanimous hosts and found herself becoming more and more connected to the parish they attended. Eventually, she became a Roman Catholic. Therefore, it was as a Roman Catholic that Elizabeth returned to the States--specifically Maryland--and tried to pick up the fractured pieces of what remained of her life. When she arrived in the States she expected to wade back into family relationships that would provide a loving embrace of support but found nothing to aid her.Her family relationships had soured with her change to Roman Catholicism and so she found herself an impoverished and grieving woman with five children to support in a hostile environment. It would have been easy to give up on what she believed and professed but, instead, she committed to do something incredible. She built a Roman Catholic school and supplied her family from the meager income it provided her. It seemed that a success story had been begun out of the ashes of destruction. But it failed.

The first school she started failed miserably because of anti-Roman-Catholic sentiment. Given all that had befallen her, it is amazing that she pushed on and somehow endeavored to establish the first free school in the United States. She found a life of charity and generosity to be fulfilling but also commanding. She provided free education in a system designed to inhibit it. It was an incredible feat but it seems that Elizabeth never knew just how impossible her calling was. Instead, she strove to do what it was that God had called her to do in spite of adversity and resistance. Religious orders and schools sprung up in the wake of her daring faith and hope and the world was changed ever so slightly for the better because of one grieving woman's efforts to provide not only for her own children but also the children and future of a nation. She died at the age of 46 at the hand of tuberculosis.