Ammonius of Alexandria: Not Random

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Ammonius of Alexandria: Not Random

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Acts 13:1-2

“It must be noticed that the Holy Spirit does not speak to those who happen to be there by chance but to those who serve God and observe fasting. And it must be noticed again that they did not lay hands on the deacons at random but on those who were previously fasting and praying.”

Ammonius of Alexandria (175-242) in “Catena on the Acts of the Apostles” 13:2 in Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scriptures, Volume 5 on Acts (Downers Grove: IVP, 2006) 158.

Are you seeking God for direction for your future? To navigate challenges? For help in crisis? Take time this Lent for prayer and fasting.

From the days of the early church with Saul and Barnabas in Antioch and from the writings of Ammonius in Alexandria about a century later, we gain insight on the early church mindset related to service, worship, and fasting.

It’s the doorway for engaging in God’s work. We set our proverbial desires at the door and embrace what God has for us instead. It is not random. It’s the ready position for being empowered by the Spirit.

Wherever you are today, I hope that prayer and fasting will shape your service and put you on a generous trajectory that is guided and supplied by God.

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Cyril of Jerusalem: Patterns

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. Matthew 4:1-2

“Christ fasted a little before His temptation, we before Easter. As far as the fasting days are concerned it is the same, but the difference in the seasons is no little one. He armed Himself with them against temptation; but to us this fast is symbolical of dying with Christ, and it is a purification in preparation for the festival. And He fasted absolutely for forty days, for He was God; but we measure our fasting by our power, even though some are led by zeal to rush beyond their strength. Again, He gave the Sacrament of the Passover to His Disciples in an upper chamber, and after supper, and one day before He suffered; but we celebrate it in Houses of Prayer, and before food,and after His resurrection. He rose again the third day; our resurrection is not till after a long time. But matters which have to do with Him are neither abruptly separated from us, nor yet yoked together with those which concern us in point of time; but they were handed down to us just so far as to be patterns of what we should do.”

Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386) in Oration XL.XXX (delivered in 381) 555.

This reveals that fasting during Lent as a symbol of “dying with Christ” was practiced in the 300’s in the early church as a patterns for our “purification” and “preparation” for the celebration of Easter.

If are not journeying through Lent and focusing on giving, fasting, and prayer, why not start today. Download my free ebook, Lent Companion, as a guide for your journey. Start mid-stream.

Do this for purification. God will show you stuff in your life that is too important or simply needs to go. This will create margin in your heart or your budget for giving and service.

Also do it for preparation. The aim of Lent is to teach is to set aside our desires, attune to God, and give generously. This is how all of life should be lived after Lent. Enjoy learning new patterns for life.

 

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Cyprian of Carthage: Blindness of Perception

Then [Jesus] said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” Luke 12:15

“But those, moreover, whom you consider rich, who add forests to forests, and who, excluding the poor from their neighbourhood, stretch out their fields far and wide into space without any limits, who possess immense heaps of silver and gold and mighty sums of money, either in built-up heaps or in buried stores, even in the midst of their riches those are torn to pieces by the anxiety of vague thought, lest the robber should spoil, lest the murderer should attack, lest the envy of some wealthier neighbour should become hostile, and harass them with malicious lawsuits.

Such a one enjoys no security either in his food or in his sleep. In the midst of the banquet he sighs, although he drinks from a jewelled goblet; and when his luxurious bed has enfolded his body, languid with feasting, in its yielding bosom, he lies wakeful in the midst of the down; nor does he perceive, poor wretch, that these things are merely gilded torments, that he is held in bondage by his gold, and that he is the slave of his luxury and wealth rather than their master. And oh, the odious blindness of perception, and the deep darkness of senseless greed! Although he might disburden himself and get rid of the load, he rather continues to brood over his vexing wealth, he goes on obstinately clinging to his tormenting hoards.

From him there is no liberality to dependents, no communication to the poor. And yet such people call that their own money, which they guard with jealous labour, shut up at home as if it were another’s, and from which they derive no benefit either for their friends, for their children, or, in fine, for themselves. Their possession amounts to this only, that they can keep others from possessing it; and oh, what a marvellous perversion of names! They call those things goods, which they absolutely put to none but bad uses.”

Cyprian of Carthage (c. 200-258) in Epistle 1 “To Donatus” 12 translated by Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids: CCEL) 495.

Why do we need to watch out for greed? What ever we hold on to gets a hold on to us. It causes us to have blindness of perception. And, as a result, Cyprian would say that we put “goods” to “bad uses.”

How do we avoid this? We must intentionally put goods to good uses. That’s why we fast, pray, and give during Lent. We loosen the grip that possessions have on us.

Also, we realize that what the world says we need, stuff such as money and possessions, is not what sustains us or brings us joy. It’s only found in the enjoyment and sharing of blessings.

No wonder Jesus did not hold on to any possessions and commanded us to let go of them. He was not trying to rob us, but help us. We must do the same for others lest they remain blind.

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Theodoret of Cyrus: The Blessing Their Generosity Would Win

Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing. 1 Kings 18:21

“On receiving information that Phoenicia was still suffering from the madness of the demons’ rites, John got together certain monks who were fired with divine zeal armed them with imperial edicts and despatched them against the idols’ shrines. The money which was required to pay the craftsmen and their assistants who were engaged in the work of destruction was not taken by John from imperial resources, but he persuaded certain wealthy and faithful women to make liberal contributions, pointing out to them how great would be the blessing their generosity would win. Thus the remaining shrines of the demons were utterly destroyed.”

Theodoret of Cyrus (393-457) in Chapter 29 of The Ecclesiastical History (c. 455) entitled “Of the idol temples which were destroyed by John [Chrysostom] in Phoenicia.”

Today’s Scripture comes from the time when Elijah stood alone against the prophets of Baal. The people were vacillating in their allegiance. When he confronted them, they remained silent. So, regardless of their response, he acted boldly to demonstrate the power of God.

We find a similar instance in church history recounted by Theodoret of Cyrus.

He writes of the work of John Chrysostom. When the spiritual forces of evil were creating havoc in Phoenicia, John deployed zealous monks resourced by wealthy and faithful women to destroy their shrines. In plain terms, John was reclaiming the territory from the spiritual forces of evil.

It struck me that John reminded the givers “how great would be the blessing their generosity would win.”

We need to do a better job at this in modern times. We must help people see how great the blessing and the victory that their giving can bring about. In our work with GTP around the world, the spiritual forces of evil have established corrupt structures. Bringing them down requires the work of zealous servants and the giving of generous supporters.

God help us inspire those with wealth to use it to retake territory for the kingdom.

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Macrina the Younger: Refreshed Offering

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:42-43

“O Lord, You have freed us from the fear of death. You have made the end of life here the beginning of a true life for us. You, who compassionately gave paradise back to the man crucified with You, remember me also in Your kingdom. If I have committed sins in word, deed, or thought because of the weakness of our nature, don’t let Your eyes discover them. You, who have power on earth to forgive sins, forgive me so that I may be refreshed. May I be found before you once I have put off my body, having no fault in the form of my soul. May my soul be received into Your hands, blameless and spotless, as an offering before You.”

Macrina the Younger (c. 327-379) was the sister of Basil the Great of Ceasarea and Gregory of Nyssa. Macrina the Elder was her mom.

These words are ascribed to her before her death. Read “Dialogue on the Soul and Resurrection” by Gregory of Nyssa to learn more. Macrina draws our attention to a key theme in Lent: repentance.

She echoes today’s Scripture with the interchange between Jesus and the thief on the cross. The word we are exploring this year, “remember,” appears both in the Scripture and in today’s post which is Macrina’s prayer.

When we ask God to forgive us our sins, in word, deed, or thought, He does.

We are refreshed, and not just refreshed, it renews us to give our lives back to Him as a blameless and spotless offering. This happens not because we are perfect, but because He has washed and cleansed us.

This relates to generosity as the only blameless and spotless offerings are those cleansed by repentance.

Remember, the gift of paradise awaits the humble, but that comes later. Now as we live each day as washed souls, our lives are the offering. God blesses and refreshes us to bless and refresh others.

Jesus, remember us today wherever we are. Forgive us our sins, make our lives into blameless and spotless offerings by your Spirit at work in us. Bless others through us today and remember us when you come into your kingdom. Amen.

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Gregory of Nyssa: Knowledge of the Giver

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. Psalm 19:1-2

“For not as yet had that great and precious thing, man, come into the world of being; it was not to be looked for that the ruler should appear before the subjects of his rule; but when his dominion was prepared, the next step was that the king should be manifested. When, then, the Maker of all had prepared beforehand, as it were, a royal lodging for the future king (and this was the land, and islands, and sea, and the heaven arching like a roof over them), and when all kinds of wealth had been stored in this palace (and by wealth I mean the whole creation, all that is in plants and trees, and all that has sense, and breath, and life; and—if we are to account materials also as wealth—all that for their beauty are reckoned precious in the eyes of men, as gold and silver, and the substances of your jewels which men delight in—having concealed, I say, abundance of all these also in the bosom of the earth as in a royal treasure-house), he thus manifests man in the world, to be the beholder of some of the wonders therein, and the lord of others; that by his enjoyment he might have knowledge of the Giver, and by the beauty and majesty of the things he saw might trace out that power of the Maker which is beyond speech and language.”

Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-395) in “That it was reasonable that man should be created last of the creatures” in “On the Making of Man” in Gregory of Nyssa: Dogmatic Treatises (Grand Rapids: CCEL) 531-32.

Today marks the second feast day of Lent. My advice is to go outside and give thanks for the awesomeness of creation as we continue our journey to Easter. Take a walk. See snow-capped mountains or the deep blue sea. Trek through woods or open spaces. Or gaze out a window if you must remain indoors.

May our enjoyment of all God has created enhance our knowledge of the Giver. Also, may the beauty and majesty remind us of the power of our Maker. This gives hope to the hopeless, peace to the struggling, and joy to the sad. Why? Our generous God can do anything.

And He’s given us, as stewards of His creation, many responsibiltiies and promises. Today, think of the abundance around you. What can you do with it? How can you put it to work to produce flourishing? His promises fill you us with wisdom and courage, reminding us that He is with us.

We cannot live on food alone, but need to feast on the Word of God. I suggest you feast on Psalm 19 and 20 today. As our knowledge of the Giver grows along with our grasp of His power, we become more generous because we start to understand the God who is conforming us into His image through our humble obedience.

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Gregory of Nazianzus: Farming the Necessity of the Needy

Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land. Isaiah 5:8

“One of us has oppressed the poor, and wrested from him his portion of land, and wrongly encroached upon his landmark by fraud or violence, and joined house to house, and field to field, to rob his neighbour of something, and been eager to have no neighbour, so as to dwell alone on the earth [Isaiah 5:8]. Another has defiled the land with usury and interest, both gathering where he had not sowed and reaping where he had not strawed [Matthew 25:26], farming, not the land, but the necessity of the needy.

Another has robbed God [Malachi 3:8] the giver of all, of the firstfruits of the barnfloor and winepress, showing himself at once thankless and senseless, in neither giving thanks for what he has had, nor prudently providing, at least, for the future. Another has had no pity on the widow and orphan, and not imparted his bread and meagre nourishment to the needy, or rather to Christ, Who is nourished in the persons of those who are nourished even in a slight degree; a man perhaps of much property unexpectedly gained, for this is the most unjust of all, who finds his many barns too narrow for him, filling some and emptying others, to build greater [Luke 12:18] ones for future crops, not knowing that he is being snatched away with hopes unrealised, to give an account of his riches and fancies, and proved to have been a bad steward of another’s goods.

Another has turned aside the way of the meek [Amos 2:7], and turned aside the just among the unjust; another has hated him that reproveth in the gates [Isaiah 29:21], and abhorred him that speaketh uprightly [Amos 5:10]; another has sacrificed to his net which catches much [Habakkuk 1:16], and keeping the spoil of the poor in his house [Isaiah 3:14], has either remembered not God, or remembered Him ill—by saying “Blessed be the Lord, for we are rich,” [Zechariah 11:5] and wickedly supposed that he received these things from Him by Whom he will be punished.

For because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience [Ephesians 5:6]. Because of these things the heaven is shut, or opened for our punishment; and much more, if we do not repent, even when smitten, and draw near to Him, Who approaches us through the powers of nature.”

Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390) in “On His Father’s Silence, Because of the Plague of Hail” 18 in Selected Orations of Saint Gregory Nazianzen (translated by Charles Gordon Browne and James Edward Swallow) 521-22.

Gregory of Nazianzus is the fourth of the four Doctors of the Eastern Church. His homilies are loaded with Scripture. He knew the Word of God and quotes texts not familiar to many biblical readers. In so doing he connects the dots for us about a key idea: if we handle money like the world we are children of disobedience and the only right course is repentance.

Though culture says accumulating houses, practicing usury, charging interest, and farming “the necessity of the needy” are acceptable activities, they are an abomination to the Lord. We must not be found taking advantage those He has resourced us to serve. Don’t engage in business to make money from them.

Gregory also warms those who credit God for making them rich. If God positioned you for generosity, he would say, don’t claim the right to retain His bountifully blessings. Those who do are doing nothing more than keeping the spoil of the poor in their  own houses. In God’s eyes, it’s thievery. Please, remember God.

At this point, some might unsubscribe. You might say this guy has crossed the line. Look up each Scripture. See for yourself. And since it’s Lent, a time of repentance, humble yourself before God. Ask Him what needs to change in your life. Follow the leading of the Spirit. Seriously, don’t shut heaven for yourself by saying you believe one thing and doing the opposite.

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John Chyrsostom: Glory and Goodness

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

“Tell me, will you seek to obtain this vulgar glory? Do not, I beg and entreat you. It turns everything upside down; it is the mother of avarice, of slander, of false witness, of treacheries; it arms and exasperates those who have received no injury against those who have inflicted none. He who has fallen into this disease neither knows friendship nor remembers old companionship, and knows not how to respect any one at all; he has cast away from his soul all goodness, and is at war with every one, unstable, without natural affection.”

John Chyrsostom (c. 347-407) in Homilies on the Gospel of John 3.6. Chrysostom is the third of four Doctors of the Eastern Church.

I hope you like the new header photo of my neighborhood with a fresh blanket of snow set against the bright blue sky. It shouted of the glory of God and His goodness to creation.

Glory and goodness belong to God. When Jesus walked the earth we saw the visible manifestation of this glory and goodness. As the Spirit works in us, we can reflect His glory, but we are only mirrors. We also dispense His generosity, but we are only pipes. He’s the Source!

If we seek glory in our giving, what appears through us is the opposite of goodness, which is the biblical term for generosity. We produce avarice and host of other treacheries as Chrysostom put it. But why? When we seek glory we attach to the wrong thing which causes us to lose the connections which give us life and community.

Worst of all, we lose our connection to the Source. Want to grow in generosity? Do not to seek glory.

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Athanasius of Alexandria: Engrossed

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Colossians 3:5

“The origin of idolatry is similar [to the origin of evil which resides in the perverted choice of the darkened soul]. The soul, materialised by forgetting God, and engrossed in earthly things, makes them into gods. The race of men descends into a hopeless depth of delusion and superstition.”

Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296-373) in “Against the Heathen” 1.8 in Athanasius: Select Works and Letters (Grand Rapids: CCEL) 148. Athanasius is the second of four Doctors of the Eastern Church.

There is a lot in this short statement by Athanasius. It gives us insight in how to avoid greed, which is both idolatry and the opposite of generosity. Three thoughts surface.

Firstly, idolatry is the result of “the perverted choice of the darkened soul.” We are all guilty of it. In our fallen nature, we make the choice to serve things other than God.

Secondly, stuff of a material sort captivates us. Earthly things engross our attention and affections. We become slaves to whatever we hold on it. Things becomes to us as gods.

Thirdly, all humanity is trapped by this hopeless pattern. No one is immune. It leads everyone into a downward spiral of irrational and unjustified behavior.

Of course, elsewhere Athanasius points readers to Christ as our only hope. Ironically, when we listen to Christ, he offers the antidote to greed. What is it? It’s generous giving rooted in deep trust in God.

Help those around you avoid the depths of despair. Remind them to be engrossed in Christ this Lent, who teaches us how to live, in part, through practicing the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and giving.

In case you missed my Lent Companion, click to download it freely.

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Basil of Caesarea: The Promises

God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them. Hebrews 6:10

“I am very much astonished to hear that, after the kind promises which you made and which were only such as might be expected from your generous character, you have now forgotten them and are putting violent and stern pressure on our sister. What to think, under the circumstances, I really do not know. I know from many who have experienced your liberality, and bear testimony to it, how great it is; and I remember the promises which you made before me and the ex-prefect.

You said that you were naming a shorter time in writing, but that you would grant a longer term of grace, from your wish to meet the necessities of the case, and do a favour to the widow, who is now compelled to pay out of her substance such a large sum of money at once. What is the cause of this change I cannot imagine?

However, whatever it is, I beg you to be mindful of your own generous character, and to look to the Lord Who requites good deeds. I beg you to grant the time of remission, which you promised at the outset, that they may be able to sell their property and discharge the debt. I perfectly well remember that you promised, if you received the sum agreed on, to restore to the widow all the stipulated documents, as well those which had been executed before the magistrates as the private papers.

I do beg you then, honour me and win great blessing for yourself from the Lord. Remember your own promises, recognizing that you are human and must yourself look for that time when you will need God’s help. Do not shut yourself off from that help by your present severity; but, by showing all kindness and clemency to the afflicted, attract God’s pity to yourself.”

Basil of Caesarea (330-379) in Letter CVIII “To the guardian of the heirs of Julitta” (dated A.D. 372) in Basil: Letters and Select Works, edited by Philip Schaff (CCEL: Grand Rapids) 545.

God sees everything. He sees our good days and bad ones, our service and our sins. And He loves us.

He also wants us to serve as agents of blessing, and this charge comes with the promise He will not forget when we help His people. When we do so, we attract His help.

In today’s post, Basil of Caesarea, writes the guardian of the heirs of a deceased woman and urging the guardian to live out his generous reputation.

What about each of us? Will we? If we promise to do things, we must remember those promises and follow through with generous commitments.

Let’s do this knowing that God sees and will care for us as we care for others. It might require sacrifice but it is nothing compared to Christ’s sacrifice for us.

 

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