Look to Jesus Pt. 2

Last week I posted about the necessity of regular Scripture reading in the daily life of the Christian and also made a recommendation for those wanting a bit of a guide to consider using the New ACNA Lectionary for morning and evening prayer and suggested the "Rookie Anglican" version to do so, which is what I am currently using (periodically I'll also use the 1962 BCP).

My hope is that some of you tried this, whether it be starting with a simple step of a Psalm and Gospel reading every day, or perhaps you took a look at the Daily Offices and dove right in. I'm guessing, and as a human and Christian, I feel like I can make a pretty educated guess, that at some point you felt like you "just didn't get anything out of it" that day. Well, in the words of a new friend, and a fellow priest from Missoula, "So what?"

On Friday of last week, I met Fr. Justin Read-Smith, and we sat in Jonny Bean for a couple of hours discussing lots of fascinating topics about life and ministry, but as we discussed the Christian life of prayer, study, mission, social justice, community, worship, etc. I was captivated by his passion for the Daily Office (morning and evening prayer). I had already planned a second, follow-up post for this coming week, but his abrupt answer of "So what?" to the familiar feeling of getting something from Scripture made me laugh and deeply consider my insatiable need for, and over-consumption of immediate satisfaction in every facet of my life. Even my spirituality.

Justin+ aptly described this daily practice as the water of a river gently lapping against a jagged rock. The first few times the water touches the stone, there is no apparent impact, but if you were to return in 50 years, the change is noticeable. Its jagged areas will have smoothed, the shape of the rock has changed, it glistens and reflects the brightness of the sun - the water has slowly, over time polished the surface. It is an entirely different stone than it was when the water first touched the rock. 

It is remarkable what a gentle stream can do to something so hard and rough if given time.

It would be foolish to place a large rock in a gentle stream and be frustrated when the water doesn't immediately and entirely change it. Yet, this is precisely how we come to the Lord; this is precisely how we come to our spiritual disciplines. If we don't see the immediate desired impact or change, we may as well just quit and not try it again, because it didn't work anyways, at least not in the consumeristic and entitled time-frame that we have predetermined to be appropriate and acceptable. 

Rob Dreher, who wrote The Benedict Option, describes the modern church as always desiring the next revival, continually seeking the next spiritual high-point, while neglecting or even resenting the beauty and depth of the slow and gradual (perhaps mature) spirituality and transformation that comes through daily Christian living, especially through morning and evening prayer. Most of you who will read this know me and you'll know how badly I long to see revival, but when that is our expectation and hope every time I go to the Word or prayer, it quickly can become a source of frustration and disappointment, with God and our own, for lack of a better word, progress. 

Our culture of immediate short-term satisfaction is the opposite of what the spiritual life is meant to be - deep, steadfast, and immovable. Like water lapping on a rock, you will be reshaped and transformed, it may be slow, but it is profound and lasting. God will strengthen and stabilize you and you will find yourself able to withstand the storms of life because your roots are deep. 

The Psalmist David writes, blessed is the person who, "delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law, he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither" (Psalm 1:2-3).

So, maybe you tried to pick up your Bible again or tried the Daily Offices and felt nothing. So what? Stop thinking about short-term, immediate satisfaction and entertainment. Give yourself to something real and profoundly deep. Even if it is going to take awhile. In 20 years, you'll look back and see how much he has smoothed out your jagged edges, transformed, and reshaped you entirely. 

Let's stick it to our entitled cultural attitudes that demand something here and now, even if it lacks true substance and growth and embrace a process which is proven over time, that is real, lasting, and transformational.

Dean Stephen barbour

Rob SteeleComment
Look to Jesus Pt. 1

These past few months the Lord has really been drawing me into a more profound love and fellowship with him in the Scriptures. For the majority of my life, I have always loved the Bible, I've loved studying it personally and academically, meditating on it, and of course, preaching from it. Yet in some ways (especially in the past few years), there was (but not only) a functional and strictly spiritual discipline aspect to this, which aren't inherently problematic, in fact, I could use much more discipline in this area, but that is beside the point of this post.

A few months ago, my life and my job were tossed into a significant transition, naturally revealing my inadequacies and personal ineptitudes, revealing my increasing need and dependence on Jesus. What a grace. What I noticed about myself in that time, was how quickly I turned to other voices to tell me about Jesus: sermons (Ray Ortlund of course), podcasts, theological books, prophetic words, close friends, mentors, etc. But not necessarily Jesus.

Of course, these things aren't bad things, on the contrary, they are God-given graces! However, we can become content with hearing what God is saying to the people around us, yet never dig in and hear what he wants to say to us at the moment, at the very times and places of our lives that we need him most. 

As a pastor, it has been alarming to me how few Christians have a daily time of prayer and meditation on the Scriptures. Yet, we live in an age where anxiety, stress, dissatisfaction, feelings of emptiness and incompleteness in life and calling are at an all-time high.

My question to myself and to whoever cares to read this, is this, are we turning to God himself, or are we satisfied hearing what others have heard from God, all the while, remaining perpetually unsatisfied? 

Your dissatisfaction, your hunger, your longing for more, is entirely God-given and a glorious invitation to receive afresh of the grace of God, and I'm convinced the Bible must become a predominant source of life for your soul.

In Psalm 119 David writes,

"For I find my delight in your commandments, which I love." (vs. 47)
"Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day." (vs. 97)
"How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" (vs. 103)

David, a man after God's own heart (1 Samuel 13:14), loved, delighted in, and meditated on the word of God. It fed and nourished him. God's word was enjoyable, sweeter than honey. God and his word was not merely something to be turned to in the midst of a storm, as some sort of magical fix-all potion, or temporary emotional boost. He loved God, and thus, loved God's words and ways.

We must return to this. Many of us are spiritually starving, and there is a feast before us that we are neglecting. Eugene Peterson, in his book, "Eat This Book" writes, "Christians feed on Scripture. Holy Scripture nurtures the holy community as food nurtures the human body. Christians don't simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus' name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son."

The Bible, as Eugene writes, is meant to “enter” into us, it is like food for our souls, penetrating every part of our life, producing the very holiness, love, and wisdom of God in us. It is meant to impact us and change us. We are meant to delight in the words of Scripture, not just simply read them or listen to them; and for those who delight in them, mull over them, read them prayerfully, the promise of God is that they will be like well-rooted trees, with lasting fruit (and good fruit!). Even when our lives feel chaotic, unsafe, and insecure, for those who have allowed the scriptures to nourish and sustain them, they will be spiritually strong and secure (Psalms 1:2-3).

Friends, look to Jesus. Make time for him, meditate on him and his ways daily, and let his word nourish and comfort you. Because, who are we kidding, our other attempts aren't working, are they?

Some great resources and suggestions:

1) Read your Bible, and just start small if you have to. Start with one chapter in the Gospels and one Psalm every day.

2) I have loved using the ACNA Daily Office given to us by Rookie Anglican and Anglican Pastor. Available Here: http://anglicanpastor.com/rookieanglican/dailyofficebooklet

3) Eugene Peterson's "Eat This Book"

4) The Bible Project videos.

Dean Stephen Barbour

Rob Steele
The Death of ​Evangelicalism?

Lately, I’ve been reading about what some have considered the death of evangelicalism. Admittedly, I am a little shocked at the idea. Evangelicals, in my understanding, have been indignant about their evangelicalism so this concept comes as a surprise. I can't imagine the need to drop a title for such a significant and beneficial movement within Christianity, yet when reading the reason behind this idea I find myself starting to understand (though maybe not agreeing). One of the best articles I’ve read on the subject was a recent blog by Scot McKnight entitled Bury the word ‘Evangelical’(you can read that here).

As I read this article by McKnight, and others alike, I found myself asking a few fundamental questions that are not being addressed. The first of which is whether this is an issue of American Evangelicalism rather than an issue of Evangelicalism itself. Are we, in Canada suffering the same fate as our evangelical brothers and sisters in the US? Canadian politics looks very different than American politics do and in my narrow but growing understanding of evangelicalism, we Canadians are not (yet) following in the same footsteps.

McKnight and many others have tied the issue to their President Donald Trump. Not that it began with President Trump but that the support the POTUS has garnered from the American Evangelical community was the straw that broke the camels back. Many Evangelical leaders are rightly identifying this as an issue of the idolatry of a nation. This being the case, I can't help but think that the idea of dropping the word, or buryingit as McKnight calls us to, would not fix the problem. In fact, would this not only further the problem.

Should we, Canadian or any other evangelicals be willing to drop or change this for the sake of American Orthodox Evangelicals to be able to separate themselves from Trump supporters? Does American Evangelicalism hold that much sway? If so, should it? (If you are an American evangelical that is a question for you as well. Should you?) Does this not further the mentality of America first that many have pointed out as idolatry? How does changing a title actually change idolatry?

Ultimately, my issue with seeing this as the answer to the problem of political bias is that it isn’t just evangelicals that have been tainted. The damage that has been done has been done to the whole church not only those within the evangelical community. No matter how much that may frustrate some of us. The overwhelming message I hear from those outside the church is that they are not willing to separate evangelicals from other types of Christians.

To say “I am a Christian,” says a lot and usually much more than we intend. What I hear people assume about the church is that we suppress woman, we hate homosexuals and transsexuals, we are anti-gun restrictions and pro-Trump. Now, the last one might be less likely north of the border, but the thought is not far from their minds.  If we really want to make a change to the idolatry that got us here, we can't expect that dropping a title will suffice.

My concern is not to save the title evangelical. Truthfully, I think the church could do with a few less titles to separate and divide us if I'm honest. I think the problem that I have is the idea that dropping the title will be cause for clarity and peace between the church and the world. The only thing that can actually do that is to live out the way of Christ, working to care for those in need of salvation and to unite the body. Otherwise, we will find ourselves in the same problem years from now.

Those who voted for Trump, who picket at funerals, spew hatred in the name of Christ and call themselves Christians just like me have done damage to the body. Whether they are evangelicals or not is not a saving grace. When someone walks through the world with Christ as their badge of honour and lives in direct contradiction to his teaching there is a problem, and the only answer I can have to that problem is to proclaim the good news of the one who "called me out of darkness and into his wonderful light."

The body of Christ is messy. It always has been, and it will be until Christ comes again. If we are saying that we want to do away with titles and terms like evangelical because it will allow us to gain unity back as the church, then I am all in. If, though, we want to get rid of the title because we believe that it will in some way free us of a radical group within Christianity and allow us to be seen separate from them, then I would say good luck. I believe the only answer for a bad witness of Christ is a good one. So, evangelical or not, let's be in the world as lights shining the glory of Christ for the world to see. Let's stop putting our hope and salvation into the hands of any political figure and put it all into the capable, nail-scarred hands of Christ.

Canon Robert Steele

Rob Steele
Psalm 100

If you have grown up in the church, Psalm 100 may be a well-known Psalm to you. It's possible, depending on the denomination you grew up in that you read it (or potentially sung it) many times before. It has been used in the Presbyterian Church for many years as their processional Psalm. The fact that it is so commonplace in the church makes us run the risk of passing over it without giving it due time and process.

At the heart of Psalm 100, there is a message about the nature of our relationship with God that I believe is important for us to hear.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. Ps. 100

The Psalmist calls "all the earth" to praise the Lord. Isn't it amazing how the psalmist understood that the request to make praise to God is not merely a call for Israel, just as it is not only for the Church today? God’s intention and desire is for all humanity to join in making joyful noises to him. If this is God’s intent, then it would seem imperative to hear a warning in these words. We would bring decay to these words if we, the church, saw ourselves as separate from the world. God desires all to make a joyful noise. Too often the people of God have responded to these types of declarations in scripture as a way of seeing ourselves separate or better than the world. Instead, I hear these words and realize that I should be convicted to pursue the rest of God's creation to turn and worship him as he desires. This desire of God that the psalmist captures should be a catapult into joining God in his mission to reconcile the world back to himself.

After the psalmist addresses the world, calling us all to shout to YHWH, he instructs us to respond in service. In their original context these words “serve the LORD” would have invoked thoughts of the Exodus for Israel. In the exodus, they were called to leave the rule of Pharaoh and head into the wilderness to serve YHWH, and this is still the call today. A call to serve under a new King and rightful ruler and to no longer be a slave to what has enslaved you. It was a call to freedom, and it is a reminder to us that service to God means living a life that is free from service to all created things. Idolatry cannot be a part of those who are in service to YHWH.

Upon receiving this invitation to serve YWHW, we are called to assemble in the midst of His presence to worship. Notice that psalmist draws a connection between shouting praises to God throughout the world, which is mission, the putting aside of all things that rule us to serve him and the coming together to worship. He is demonstrating for us attributes of the heart of God. His desire for all mankind, his unwillingness to share us with created things and his intimate love for all those that come to him in worship. It is out of God’s heart for us that the psalmist asks us to act in these ways. Then out of those three imperatives of shout, serve and come there is a command to know Him.

The Psalmist is not commanding you to learn something cognitively the statement is about reception. The psalmist is saying that you will recognize who God is through shouting, serving and assembling. This is not self-generated but is received. The knowing is dependent on the initiation of God rather than the emotional or spiritual output of the people who are assembling. God initiates in such a way that he reveals to humanity who he is along with what they are to do.

Each of these topics; crying a missional shout of joy among the nations, calling them to God; serving God by putting away all that we have allowed to rule us in order to worship him sincerely; to assemble in the presence of God with all of creation to worship and to know God not through study but through reception are all beautiful and important things for us to understand. If this were a lecture series where we could dig even more deeply into the text, I would have loved to expound upon each of these subjects, and although each point is beautiful if we were to focus on each imperative could cause us to miss the point of the 100th Psalm. To see that we must notice the presence of one thing and the absence of another.

As I read this psalm, I imagine the psalmist walking out to the front steps of the temple calling out to anyone that would hear. At the same time, I imagine him being unable to take his eyes away from what lies inside the temple. Almost as if he cries out with one eye fixed on the holy place. It seems that he speaks as one that is transfixed on God himself. The reason I imagine this picture is because of the use of YHWH in these first four verses. It would seem that its consistency is meant to show us that even though all humanity is being addressed, it is YHWH that is given the central role.

Helping us see this, is the use of YHWH through the first four verses. God is not identified with his attributes or given a role he's accomplishing, as the psalmists usually do in the Psalms. YHWH is not given an attribute that he is using but is explained as a being, the being, the I AM, the God of heaven and earth. This is the point of the 100th psalm. All humanity is called to shout, serve, assemble for and know the personal and relational YHWH. He is being distinguished from all gods, deeds, traits, and attributes. Humanity is called to him because of who he is not because of what he does.

The psalmist has painted a picture of a personal God, calling to all people of the earth to serve him, come to him and worship him so that they may know him. The psalmist knows and see’s that God cannot be separated from his attributes and accomplishments and so he adds these in verse 5, but the break of the traditional hymnal structure tells us that psalmist is trying to stress God, not what God can do. He is trying to emphasize the centrality and totality of God. God calls to you, and he is worthy of your shouts of praise, worthy of your service, worthy of your worship, worthy of your time and every other part of you, not because of what he does for you but because of who he is. He is worthy because he is God.

The next time you go to into a worship service, when you sit down to study the scriptures, or you go to the table to partake of the bread and wine, take a second to think about Psalm 100. Reflect on the fact that you are not only offered attributes of God, but you are offered God himself. He has drawn near to you and calls you to draw near to him.

Canon Robert Steele

Rob Steele
Worship, Sin & The Culture Clash of Reading the OT

A little while back I took an Old Testament survey. For the survey, I had to read through the whole of the Old Testament over an eight-week span. If I'm honest, I found myself feeling nervous at how much I would be able to receive from it. The Old Testament is just so vast, how is it possible to truly receive when reading through it all in only eight weeks? Yet, as I read what I found was that my view of God was greatly expanded while at the very same time he looked just I’ve always seen him.

The Old Testament, from the creation account in the very beginning, all the way through the covenant of Abraham, Sinai, the exodus & exiles, Judges, Kings, and the Prophets, all point to the transcendence of our God. YHWH is so vast, so intangible, and yet he always so close. He is beyond the heavens, and yet he comes and visits, marries and is intimate with his people. There is so much about him that is impossible to comprehend, and at the same time, he is so deeply satisfying.

My purpose here is not to try to use as many oxymorons as possible. I just can't help but see God as unknowable and at the same time supremely intimate. The Old Testament shows us the transcendence of God in a way that we could miss if we lived without it. Jesus' coming, God taking on flesh loses its appeal, its necessity, its utter unfathomableness if we do not understand the greatness, the holiness, and the beauty of our creator God as he is described in the Old Testament.

The textbooks (Encountering the Old Testament: A Christian Survey by Arnold & Beyer & The Literary Structure of the Old Testament: A Commentary on Genesis-Malachi by Dorsey) added to this view of the transcendent God through their ability to make plain the author's intent. At times the Old Testament can be overwhelming. The cultural clash that happens when a 33-year-old, third generation Canadian father of three reads about the holy wars of Canaan or Samson’s destruction of the Philistines or multiple wives and concubines is significant. Yet, through it all when you have the help of those study tools, you can see the truth. The truth of God’s righteousness. The truth of his pursuit of a people that he could call his own and of his desire to eradicate the sin that has caused all humanity to suffer under it.

Sin.

This was one of the most significant parts of my personal growth. I saw my sin when reading the story of Israel, and it made real Jesus sermon on the mount. When I read of the things of Israel, I can see the same sin in me. No longer does 'not committing murder' give me the space to make me think that I am more holy than they were. I do not read the stories of Israel and see myself better than they, nor do I think, well I would never do that! Thanks to Arnold & Beyer, for the first time I could see how their culture functioned, and I realized that I was calling the cultural shift from theirs to mine a type of holiness. The heart of humanity has not changed, we are all still capable of, and commit, the same sins as Israel. This is why Jesus expanded the law in his sermon on the mount. This is why he taught us that murder is not the root but hatred is. He needed us to see our sin.

God, is so gracious to all his people. The New Testament is not the Testament of grace and the Old Testament of law. I see that God has always been gracious. He has always been loving and kind. Always desiring his bride as we read about in Hosea. Unfortunately, we often refuse his love and choose adultery like Gomer did. After all of that, he comes to us in the Son. Amazing. That is what brings us to the New Testament, to the birth of our Savior it is our rejection of him.

My thankfulness, my realization of my sin, my worship of his transcendence and imminence have all grown. I am thankful for the opportunity to read and study through the whole story of the Old Testament and I hope this will be an encouragement for each of you to jump into the story of God's redemption in a new way.

canon robert Steele

Rob Steele
Good Friday Dream

I woke up from a dream last night, unlike anything I had ever experienced. In the dream, my wife had murdered someone. It was not something she did with premeditation, but nevertheless, there was judgment coming her way. It was a vivid dream, where the colors were intense and setting a tone of sadness and sticking realism.

As Sarah (my wife) was about to be arrested and sentenced for murder, I stepped in and said that I would not allow her to bear the punishment, but I would take it for her. Yes, she had murdered someone, and yes she was deserving of the consequences, but I wouldn't allow it, and the court allowed me to take her place. I was arrested, taken away from my home and placed in a cell.

There was one specific scene in the dream that was especially striking; the conversation between Sarah and myself when I told her that I would not allow her to bear this punishment. She did not want me to be taken from her, nor from the kids, but, along with this apprehension, there was a response of appreciation. That word, appreciation, might not even capture it right. It was gut wrenching for her, but she knew that it was necessary for her to receive this gift offered to her.

I stood in my cell, wearing a bright orange jumpsuit (Apparently I have seen SING too many times with my kids) and weeping in the prison cell. It was unnerving how real the feelings in this dream were. The tears were not because I was scared, nor that I was upset that I was receiving this punishment. It was right, it was good, but it hurt. I could feel the weight of not living life with my kids any longer. I could feel the weight of confinement and loneliness weighing upon me. I wept, bitterly.

At this moment I woke. In my bed lying with my head on my pillow, I woke bitterly crying just as I had been in my dream. I was not weeping because I believed the dream to be real but because of the realization of what I was seeing. What I was feeling. God was speaking to me and in the most personal of ways. I was getting just a glimpse into Good Friday for my Saviour.

Now, I know that you're not reading this with judgment, but I feel it necessary to say how impossible it is to compare what I felt and experienced in this dream with the reality of the cross. There is no equality between these two things, but I felt God using it nonetheless. See, I was about to lead our Good Friday service only hours later. I was about to stand at the foot of the cross and look to my Saviour who hung there for me. Once again, I was going to receive from his choice to take my punishment. God wanted me to have a glimpse, and it was just that. Just a tiny momentary glimpse of Christ's choice for me.

I don't compare my dream to the reality of the cross. I am more aware than ever before, though. I am struck by Christ's sacrifice, by the pain he felt for me. The pain that I caused him.

My sin. My shame.

I stand amazed.

When I woke in the morning, I looked to my prayer book, and this prayer stood out to me. I have been praying it over all day. Each line with a different, and important truth.

"Christ our teacher, for our sake you were obedient even to accepting death, teach us to obey the Father's will in all things.

Christ our life, by your death on the cross you destroyed the power of evil and death, may we die with you, to rise with you in glory.

Christ our King, you became an outcast among us, a worm and no man, teach us the humility by which you saved the world.

Christ our salvation, you gave yourself up to death out of love for us, help us to show your love to one another.

Christ our Savior, on the cross you embraced all time with your outstretched arms, unite God's scattered children in your kingdom of salvation."

I hope today you understand and feel the Good in this Friday.

canon robert steele

Rob Steele
Aquinas’ First Way

St. Thomas Aquinas was quite a guy.  His most famous work is called “The Summa Theologica”, which is kind of like a systematic theology with a distinctive question and answer style.  Each question being examined has a number of articles which are given to answer it; and each article begins with a number of objections, proceeds to the presentation of an argument, and concludes with a reply to each of the objections.  

The Summais well known outside of Christianity, and is probably most famous for “The Five Ways”that Aquinas gives as proof for the existence of God.  As you would imagine, this section comes along very early in his work.  The Five Ways are given in the third article of the second question.  There is nothing, at this point, exclusively Christian about his arguments.  This is because his answers are going to be building upon one another as he goes.  His purpose at this point is only to establish that a God exists.  Once that foundation has been laid, he can move from there to determining what kinds of attributes this God must have, and eventually to formulating a fully Christian understanding of who God is.

Prior to this (in question one), Aquinas explores the nature and extent of sacred doctrine.  Determining the value and authoritative nature of sacred doctrine, he then turns to its subject matter – God, and whether or not he truly exists.  This, he covers in three articles.  

·     Whether the existence of God is self-evident. 

o  It is not self-evident, but rather needs to be demonstrated by things that are more known to us.  

·     Whether it can be demonstrated that God exists.  

o  Leaning on Romans 1:20, he determines that God’s existence can be demonstrated.  

·     Whether God exists.  

o  Since he has already determined that the existence of God can be demonstrated, this article explains how that might be done.  His answer here, as mentioned, takes the form of “The Five Ways”.

The first way is a form of cosmological argument.  But wait. Slow down.  I know what you’re thinking, but this is notan argument to say that the universe had a beginning, and thus a Beginner (that’s that Kalaam fellow).  What Aquinas presents is not an argument that depends upon chronological cause and effect relationships, but rather one that shows a hierarchy of dependencyrelationships.  First prize is not necessarily the prize given out first, but it is the most prominent and it is primarily in reference to ‘first’ that other placeholders derive their meaning.  It’s not a perfect analogy, but maybe it helps get the point across. Aquinas is not here concerned about time.  

Alright.  So, what is his argument?  In his words:

The existence of God can be proved in five ways.

The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

If you found that confusing, don’t worry, you’re not alone.  

First off, it’s obviously central to the argument to understand what Aquinas means by ‘motion’. To put it in his terms – motion is the actualization of a potential, which I believe is terminology borrowed from Aristotle.  He gives a couple of examples to help our understanding – wood being made hot by fire and a staff being put into motion by a hand.  These are very different things.  But we can see in each case something potential becoming actual – or in other words, we see change

To re-state his argument in the way that I understand it:

1.     Some things are in motion

a.     Aquinas doesn’t really do anything to prove this statement – he simply takes it as axiomatic.  Things are in motion.  Potentialities are actualized.  This is observable.  

2.     For potential motion to become actual motion requires actual motion.  

a.     The actual motion of the fire causes motion in the wood.  The actual motion of the hand causes motion in the staff.  If the hand only had potential motion, the staff would never move. 

3.     Things can’t be both actuality and potentiality in the same respect.  

a.     The fire in the example is already in motion – it is actually hot.  It cannot simultaneously be potentially hot, but is rather potentially cold.  (And yes, of course, there is more variance than ‘hot’ and ‘cold’, but for the sake of simplicity we’ll leave it at that).  

b.     You can almost think of there being a fixed number representing the sum total of actuality and potentiality of motion in a certain respect.  So, if the potentiality decreases (the fire warms the wood), actuality increases. The total stays constant.  

4.     Therefore, a thing cannot move itself

a.     This follows from what precedes it.  In order to produce motion, the fire has to act on something that is potentially hot – but the fire is not potentially hot, it is actually hot. Therefore a fire acting upon itself will not produce motion.  

5.     Therefore, whatever is in motion is moved by something else.  

a.     This simply follows from point 4.  If a thing is observed to be in motion, and we know that it cannot move itself, then we can understand that it must have been moved by something else.  There are no other options.  

6.     This sequence cannot extend to infinite.  

a.     If the sequence of motion extends ad infinitum, then there can be no first mover, and thus no other mover.  Now, something to bear in mind here – Aquinas is not rejecting all forms of infinite regress, but only those which form a part of causally dependent relationships. 

b.     An infinite series cannot have a beginning – because no matter how many dependency relationships you are able to identify in the sequence, there is still an infinite number remaining.  And if there is nothing to set things in motion to begin with, the thing itself would not be in a state of actual motion.  It doesn’t matter how many intermediate causes there are – for motion to occur there must be a first, non-derivative, independent cause. 

7.     Therefore, there must be a first mover.  And this we understand to be God.  

a.     All of these causally dependent relationships will eventually find their source of motion in God – who is pure actuality.  He is the first mover in every sequence and contains no potentiality.

Remember what I said about the arguments building on each other?  Ok, good.  Because all we know about ‘God’ at this point is that he is the first mover, which is hardly enough to know that he’s God.  I think this is better thought of as a retroactive designation, rather than part of the proof. Aquinas is going to spend the next few hundred pages exploring the attributes that the first mover must have. So, while it would be sufficient to the argument for him to conclude with a first mover, it is helpful for those reading the material to understand that Aquinas is going to establish a connection between the first mover and God.  

What do you think? Does Aquinas prove by this that there is a God?  Do you disagree with how I’ve interpreted his argument?  What holes do you see in it?  Did you skip to the end to see if I had any thought provoking questions? Tell me about it in the comments. 

Thanks for reading.

deacon amos martel

Rob Steele
ON CALLING MINISTERS ‘FATHER’

It’s pretty common in Christianity for priests or pastors to be referred to as ‘father’.  But is this right?  There are many who oppose this practice – and they do so on the basis of Jesus’ own words.  Before we ask any questions then, we’d best read what Jesus had to say.

“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren.  And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.  Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ.  He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Matthew 23:8-12).

Sounds reasonable.  And I honestly wouldn’t be upset with anyone for restricting their use of the word ‘father’ because of this passage.  However, I do think that it misses the intention of these words.  If that is what Jesus meant, how far are we to take this?  Is it, for example, unbiblical for a child to refer to their father as ‘father’?  If not, then we have to agree that there are some situations when the word ‘father’ is an acceptable title and some when it is not.

This gets clearer as we look at the surrounding verses.  Jesus also says that his disciples are not to be called ‘rabbi’ which means ‘teacher’.  Is it unbiblical then, to tell your pastor that he is a great ‘teacher’?  Or for a seminary student to relate to their professor as their ‘teacher’.  I don’t think it is, but if there truly is a universal condemnation of priests or pastors being called ‘father’ (vs. 9) then consistent biblical interpretation would require that there be equally strong objections to the words ‘teacher’ (vs. 8) and ‘master’ (vs. 10).  Since this is very rarely the case, it would seem that most objections to the title ‘father’ are not based solely on the words of Jesus, but are also coloured by some external factors.

Even so, we are still left to try to understand which usages of the words father, teacher, and master are acceptable, and which are not.  For the sake of clarity, I will now focus only on the word father, but it should be understood that there are similar applications for the other titles.

It has already been implied that usage of the word father in a biological way isn’t a problem.  Jesus is not in these verses forbidding children from calling their fathers ‘father’, or ‘dad’ or ‘papa’, or any other synonymous designation.  But what about in a spiritual way?  Is there any evidence that this might be acceptable in some circumstances and not in others?

If you went to Sunday school, you probably got used to referring to the Old Testament figure Abraham as the father of the nation of Israel or even the father of the faith.  To my knowledge, there are no objections to this usage of the word ‘father’ for Abraham or for his descendants who also share in this calling.  Isaac, Jacob, and others are counted among the patriarchs or forefathers of the nation of Israel.

The New Testament too has similar examples.  The Apostle John, throughout his epistles, regularly addresses those he is writing as ‘children’, which firmly places him in a fathering role. And Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:14-15 says this: “I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Surely Paul was aware of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 23!

So we can see that this practice – of referring to spiritual leaders as ‘father’ – is actually pretty common in the scriptures; and the Apostles themselves, despite their first hand knowledge of Jesus’ words, are comfortable adopting this practice when addressing their congregations.

Why?  (this is the important bit)

The Fatherhood of God, like many things in theology, is something that we can really only grasp by way of reference and analogy.  It is our familiarity with the concept of fathering that gives the revelation of God as Father its profound meaning.  We are given imperfect earthly shadows which are meant to in some way reflect and communicate the perfect heavenly reality.  In other words, we can learn something of the Fatherhood of God by looking to the fathers of scripture and to our biological fathers.  Likewise, when some churches choose to refer to their pastors as ‘father’, their intention is to do so in recognition of the infinitely greater Fatherhood of God.  Our pastors and priests are not an end in themselves and they are not perfect fathers, but their task is to point us to our perfect heavenly Father; and God is pleased to reveal his fatherly nature to his people through them.  To forbid the use of the word ‘father’ altogether would cause us to miss this analogous relationship and we would ultimately risk losing sight of the Fatherhood of God.

That said, we aren’t quite done.  What was Jesus condemning in Matthew 23?

These verses come in the midst of a section denouncing the pride and arrogance of the scribes and Pharisees. Rather than humbly looking to God as the source of fatherhood, teaching, and authority they exalted themselves as the highest authorities, (‘master’ – vs. 10) the ultimate teachers (‘rabbi’ – vs. 8) and primary father figures (‘father’ – vs. 9). They were seeking titles without giving recognition to God as the source of all these things.  They wanted to be called ‘father’ but were not reflecting the Father’s heart or leading people to the Father.  They were seeking his glory for themselves.  Jesus isn’t universally condemning all usages of the words ‘father’, ‘teacher’, or ‘master’ – he is condemning the idolatry and hypocrisy of human teachers and authority figures.

In brief:  If your pastor or priest is seeking the title ‘father’ because he wants to divert your attention from God who is your true and perfect Father – then the context of Matthew 23 is applicable and you should not indulge or encourage such things.  If, however, your pastor is seeking to point you towards your heavenly Father – if he desires to worship God with you and if in some small way you see a reflection of your heavenly Father in the person ministering to you in his name – then it is not inappropriate or unbiblical to acknowledge that with the title ‘father’ if you so choose.

deacon amos martel

Rob Steele
Faith, Hope, and Love

Because I am so bad at blogging (at very least, infrequent), I decided to post this short excerpt from Robert Wilken's "The Spirit of Early Christian Thought “which challenged me today. Is my faith in Christ marked by love and hope? If not, is it truly faith in Christ?

"Believing in God, says Augustine, does not only mean one believes that something is the case, but that one loves God: 'By believing we love him, by believing we esteem God, by believing we enter into him and are incorporated in his members. This is why God asks faith of us.' Faith throws open the door that leads to the knowledge of God.

'It makes a great deal of difference,' said Augustine in one of his sermons, 'whether someone believes that Jesus is the Christ, or whether he believes in Christ. After all, that he is the Christ even the demons believed, but all the same the demons didn't believe in Christ. You believe in Christ, you see, when you both hope in Christ and love Christ. If you have faith without hope and without love, you believe that he is the Christ, but you don't believe in Christ. So, when you believe in Christ, by your believing in Christ, Christ comes into you, and you are somehow or other united to him and made into a member of his body. And this cannot happen unless hope and love come along too.'"

The object in whom (or which) I put my faith is undoubtedly connected to the effectiveness of that faith.  True faith, when placed on Christ, the source of transformation, should result in Christ-like qualities being realized in my own life, such as hope and love.  When I actually look at myself, the state of my heart and mind, I have to ask, where have I put my faith?  Admittedly, I am lacking hope and love, not just in some 'we can always have more' sort of way, but really, my hope seems fickle and my love, shallow and deficient.

I must return to true, wholehearted belief in Christ, uniting with him, esteeming him, and loving him above all else.  In him alone are life, joy, hope, and love, of which I am so desperately in need.

dean stephen barbour

Rob Steele
Looking For Revival

I am on my way home from Scotland at the moment (well I was when I wrote this). It was a great trip. It was impossible not to fall in love with the people and the scenery. I’m sitting here on the plane in the dark, wishing I was sleeping thinking. Thinking about all the things that have rubbed off on me and trying to understand many more things. As someone who doesn't leave Canada very often, I assume that this is very normal when coming home from a new experience in a new country.

One of the things that became obvious very quickly is the steadfastness of this people. Maybe it’s the thousands of years of culture that is always all around you but you can feel the strength of the people in the air. A history that we can’t understand here in Canada.

Steadfast

Part of this strength became obvious when speaking with new friends in the church. These people have been beautifully waiting, longing and praying for revival. I don't know if I have heard that word used more often than it was in my short stay there. It wasn't in a flippant or unknowing way either. These people were looking for the real deal. An honest God breathed, Holy Spirit inspired revival. They knew that this costs something. That you can’t expect to seek this type of change without expecting sacrifice, this does not scare them.

There was so much prayer in that place. If there was a place that I could say was truly bathed in prayer this was it.

Prayerful

There were many people I met in the tiny little town of Kyleakin that have been attending a prayer meeting for 20+ years, earnestly seeking for revival. I may be wrong but it would seem that their faith is unwavering, unshakable. Their passion runs deep and it’s easy to see. Maybe it’s the movies, the books or the studies I’ve done of the country but it was not a surprise to me to find an unwaveringly passionate people there. The Scot's love and they love deeply.

Passionate

I have heard it said by those that have visited the country before that they were 'adopted' by the people. I saw it with my own eyes. The people don't love with a halfhearted love, it is all or nothing. When I think of those that are described as lukewarmin the scriptures it feels impossible that the Lord could be thinking of the Scots. They don't give up, they don't back down and they won't be imposed upon.

Ok, before I get ahead of myself I want to say, that I know that these can be stereotypes and quite unhelpful, which all stereotypes are, but I saw it in them. I heard in their voices and I read it in their history. Even if it’s not true of all, it's in the psyche of the country.

If I ever needed convincing of the fact that God is not moved by our works, it was when I was with these people. If God is looking only for those that are working for revival, then the people of Scotland would be in it right now. If God looks only for the prayers of a few to open up the heaven's and come down to change a nation, then Scotland has it. If God only needs the tears of a praying people to unleash the storerooms then, again, Scotland has that in spades.

I was convinced more than ever that revival is not about saying a proper prayer, about being passionate enough to weep for it or about working hard enough to move God's hand. No, revival is about God. It's about his purpose and his plan. It's about his timing and his story, about hearts and about souls and only God knows the right time and the right place. He wants our involvement but he's not needing us to make the difference. Scotland you are a beautiful place and full of lovely, Godly people. Hold to hope because your God has you. He holds you strong and he is even more steadfast and passionate about you than you have been for him. What he has promised he will fulfill, that is a promise (thankfully not from me but from Him.)

The land is beautiful, the people are beautiful, the promises are beautiful and their impact will be long lasting for me.

As I came home I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the fact that we should all be a part of seeking God as they do. Longing, hoping and praying for a revival to spread across our land. We should all look to the heavens for the Spirit to fall. We should all be Ian's, Callum-Ian's, Holy Mary's, Scott’s, Margie’s, Drew’s and John Smith's. We should all be steadfast, prayerful and passionate for a move of God. To hold to the hope that he would revive the hearts of his people and send The Spirit upon the earth, seeking and saving the lost.

The people of Scotland reminded me to be steadfast, prayerful and passionate. Never stop looking for revival. Never stop believing in what God has promised. To never put the weight of Revival on my works, on my timeline or as my responsibility. Thankfully it is all about Him, all for Him, all in His time and all under his authority.

Praise God.

Canon Robert Steele

Rob Steele