We are at War

August 5, 2008 in Bible - NT - James, Biography, Meditations, Monasticism

James 4:7 (NKJV)7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

Recently I have been reading biographies of Christians in the early church written by other Christians in the early church. The Life of Antony written by Athanasius; The Life of Paul of Thebes by Jerome; The Life of Hilarion also by Jerome. All three of these men were instrumental in the foundation of the movement known as monasticism – where men and women separated themselves from society in order to pursue wholeheartedly the presence of God.

For all their faults – and there were many – one thing shines bright and clear throughout their lives – they knew they were at war with the evil one. They knew that Satan was out to destroy them, out to undermine virtue, out to corrupt and taint and distort whatever vestiges of righteousness he could find. And not only did these saints know they were at war – they knew which side they were on. Read the life of Antony – here was a man who hungered and thirsted for righteousness. Read the life of Paul of Thebes – here was a man who sought first the kingdom of God. Read the life of Hilarion – here was a man who panted for the living God and for streams of living water. Years and years they would wrestle and strive and fight. Why? To overcome sin and in so doing to overcome all the wiles of the evil one.

So let me encourage you – read of our fathers. Read of the monastics. Read of the martyrs. Here was faith. Here was abandon. Here was striving in the fight against sin and vice. They understood that the stakes were high. They understood that the war with the evil one was raging constantly. They understood that constant vigilance was imperative. But what of us? I fear that we are too patient with our sin. We fail to perceive the nature of life.

Brothers and sisters, we are in a war. The evil one would like to take us down. He would like to destroy us. He would like to see us corrupted. He would like us to be complacent. Do you see it? When you are tempted to ignore your wife – that’s the battle. When you are tempted to be bitter toward your husband – that is the battle. When you are tempted to yell at the kids – that is the battle. When you are tempted to disrespect your parents – that is the battle. When you are tempted to despise your sibling – that is the battle. A war is raging and many of us are playing with the little tinker toys in the corner. A war is raging and many of us are keeping uncommon close company with the enemy. A war is raging and many of us are consumed with whether we are happy rather than whether we are holy, equipped for the battle.

So listen – let us get our eyes off our navels and get to war. Let us get rid of our selfishness, get rid of our greed, get rid of our bitterness, get rid of our lust, get rid of our idolatry. Let us heed the exhortation of James – Submit to God, resist the devil. And then listen to the promise of God. He will flee from you, from little old you. Listen to the Word of God through the Apostle John, “I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” You have overcome the evil one. Have you?

Peter tells us that the Spirit of God has come to give us all things necessary for life and godliness – did you hear that, all things necessary. And this is written by a man who believed firmly in total depravity. So what excuses have we made for failing to achieve it? The monastics didn’t make excuses – they did whatever was necessary to please the Lord. In this let us imitate them.

Reminded that we are in a war and that many of us are playing with the dollies in the attic, let us kneel and let us confess our sin to God.

Educating Our Children

February 22, 2008 in Biography, Plutarch, Rome, St. Anne's

For those of us who homeschool our children, it is imperative to remember the goals toward which we are striving. What is it we are endeavoring to achieve as we educate and train our children?

As we answer this question, it is helpful to consider the answers of others who have gone before us, Christian and non-Christian. Among the latter group was the ancient Roman senator and statesman Cato the Elder, who lived during and after Hannibal’s attacks on Italy.

Cato is perhaps best known for his unflinching commitment to economy and industry both in private and in public life. He was a great politician – serving in various public offices throughout his life. But Plutarch tells us that Cato himself reckoned a man’s handling of his family more important than his management of public affairs. After all, a man’s treatment of his family was reflective of the way he would treat the state. And so he considered a good husband worthy of more praise than a great senator and maintained that he who laid violent hands on his wife or child, violated that which was most sacred.

In keeping with these sentiments, Cato took his responsibility toward his son very seriously, considering it his highest calling to train his son personally. Unlike many Roman fathers who preferred to observe their sons from a distance, Cato often joined his wife as she bathed and changed him as an infant. When his son was old enough to learn, Plutarch tells us that “Cato himself would teach him to read, although he had a servant, a very good grammarian, called Chilo, who taught many others . . .; [Cato] himself . . . taught him his grammar, law, and his gymnastic exercises.” And when Cato found himself in need of curriculum to teach his son the history of Rome, he himself wrote it out: “he wrote histories, in large characters, with his own hand, so that his son, without stirring out of the house, might know about his countrymen and forefathers.”

Not only did Cato train his son intellectually, he also mentored him physically. As it came time for his son to train for war, Cato took the task upon himself. “Not only did he show him how to throw a dart, to fight in armor, and to ride, but to box also and to endure both heat and cold, and to swim over the most rapid and rough rivers.”

Nor did Cato overlook the importance of moral education and example. He was extremely careful “to abstain from speaking anything obscene before his son, even as if he had been in the presence of the sacred virgins, called vestals.” And he took the time to write a series of precepts for his son to guide him on the path of life.

As we examine the training that Cato offered his son, we see that it was full orbed – hitting all aspects of his son’s life – mentally, physically, morally. But the training was simply that – training. It was not the end, but a means to the end. Cato hoped to see cultivated within his son a desire for virtue that would establish him as a man worthy of praise in his own right. And indeed, “though delicate in health, his son proved a stout man in the field, and behaved himself valiantly . . . when his sword was struck from him by a blow, he so keenly resented it, that he turned to some of his friends about him, and taking them along with him again fell upon the enemy; and having by long fight and much force cleared the place, at length found it among great heaps of arms, and the dead bodies of friends as well as enemies piled one upon another.” Thus, Cato had the satisfaction of seeing his labors come to fruition when his son became an admirable soldier and later a fine jurist.

The Apostle John sets before us the same basic expectation for the training we offer to our children. “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.”

Boniface of Crediton

February 15, 2008 in Biography, Church History, St. Anne's

Born in the latter half of the seventh century, he established schools, monasteries, and churches, some of which remain to this day. He labored tirelessly to see the Gospel embraced and applied among a pagan people. He instructed the ignorant, rebuked the immoral, empowered the righteous. His labors spanned a period of 40 years and, in the end, he crowned his life with martyrdom. Who is he? Winfrid is his name, though he is more popularly known as Boniface, the Apostle of Germany.

Boniface was born in England around 680, the son of noble parents. He is accounted one of those esteemed Anglo-Saxon missionaries who rescued continental Europe from the second darkness that descended upon it after Rome fell. Convinced that God had called him to missionary labor, Boniface took the Gospel to the Frisians, a tribe who lived in what is now the Netherlands. Rebuffed in his efforts, Boniface returned to England. However, he could not be content with a sedentary life in a monastery. And so he traveled to Rome. There he met the Bishop, Gregory. He was so encouraged by Gregory’s zeal and confidence, that he ventured into Germany with the Gospel.

Germany was a dark land–it reaked with the stench of paganism. Human sacrifice was common, immorality was rampant, and Christian missionaries not infrequently were murdered. Long attached to the pagan gods, most Germans refused to consent to Christianity. Boniface strove arduously for some time until finally, in a strategic move, he challenged the Germans to a duel. Imitating the faith of Elijah on Mt. Carmel, Boniface met the Germans while they were worshiping at the massive Oak Tree of Thor, god of Thunder. After challenging the Germans to renounce their false gods and embrace Christ, he pulled out an axe and began to chop down the tree. The startled Germans recoiled in horror, awaiting the dread judgment of Thor to fall upon Boniface. To their surprise, no doom fell–on Boniface, at least. Rather a great wind arose, seemingly miraculously, and the tree toppled and burst into four pieces. Thor died that day–and the German people converted to Christianity in droves over the succeeding years.

As his preaching and organizing ministries continued, Christianity became more solidified in Germany. Though encouraged by this turn of events, Boniface once again became restless. He recalled his abortive labors among the Frisians and resolved to return. He was convinced of the great need and impelled by missionary zeal. Accompanying him were numerous assistants ready to endure any hardship for the sake of the Gospel. And hardship came. Encamped by the river Borne where they were baptizing converts, the missionaries were set upon by armed men and slaughtered. Their labors in the land of Frisia ceased; yet their sacrifice was a fragrant offering unto the Lord and He considered it as He used the Gospel to crush the Frisians and bring them to faith in Christ.

What can we glean from the life of Boniface? First, boldness. Boniface was not content with quietude. He pushed himself again and again to advance the kingdom of God. His determination involved great sacrifice, even death, and yet it earned him the title of the Apostle of Germany. By God’s grace, his boldness was used to break the Germans’ bondage to paganism. Second, consistency. Rather than seek to coexist with the dominant paganism of the Germans, he demanded complete allegiance to the Triune God. Boniface understood that the Church has enemies with whom she cannot peacefully exist side by side. Christianity and paganism were mutually exclusive–one must win, the other lose. And, so far as Boniface was concerned, the victor was destined to be the Church. Finally, Boniface can teach us strategy. In his attack upon paganism, Boniface sought out the central symbolic pillar of the German religion and focused his attack there. With the fall of the symbol, German paganism disintegrated. Likewise in attacking our enemies we must make decisive blows against strategic objectives. We must look for the Oak of Thor in Mormonism, Islam, Planned Parenthood and political conservativism. Once found, we must take up the weapons of our warfare which are “divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses” and lay them low. We must seize our axe and fell the tree.