When I was in graduate school I attended a chapel on campus. Not surprisingly, most of the congregation was students or faculty or staff of the university. Several of us students formed a ‘ministry’ group. We were concerned with service to Jesus and the community, and looked for ways to help people in our area. Since we were students we suffered from a lack of funds and this hampered our mission activities. We were able to do some things on our limited budget, such as organize a clothing drive for the poor. Other things we wanted to do required money. We had a few fund-raising activities but these met with limited success.

After about two years of struggling, our priest made a proposal. He told us that he had a discretionary fund through the diocese for use in meeting the needs of people he encountered. He worked part-time at the chapel and had another position which did not involve pastoral work. As a result, he didn’t receive the number of requests which fall on those in full-time pastoral situations. His proposal was that he hand the discretionary fund to us for use in our ministry and mission work. We were thrilled both with the prospect of having money available for projects and with being judged as responsible enough to manage the discretionary fund. The group managed and used the discretionary fund for about a year and a half. Our oversight ended when the chapel gained a full-time priest and we placed the discretionary fund under his control.

The time of administering the discretionary fund was valuable. It taught us to be responsible not only fiscally but also spiritually because we had to discern the best use of the limited funds. Taking to heart Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) we also used our time to raise additional money to place in the discretionary fund. The priest had made us stewards of the fund and we had to learn to think and act as stewards. We were representatives of Jesus in our community and we had to behave appropriately. The money obviously could not be used for a pizza party or to pay for our college textbooks; the money was not ours — it belonged to Jesus through the church. We were agents for Jesus and the church. We were stewards and we learned stewardship.

I was reminded of this bit of my personal history recently when my daily Bible reading was from Acts. Part of the reading was, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” (Acts 4:32, ESV) Clearly none of us could have said that the discretionary fund was “his own” and that understanding led us to reasoned, loving use of the money for the furtherment of God’s kingdom. The early Christians could could easily have said, “This is mine, and for my use,” but they did not. They had a view that their possessions were to be used as needed to meet whatever needs were existed. They did not see their “personal property” as a source for their private use but rather as a fund for communal support.

This is very different from our usual way of thinking of possessions. In fact, the use of the word ‘possessions’ betrays our attitude: “This is mine! I earned it, and I have it.” It is mine to use as I please for whatever I want to do. Certainly that attitude is an accurate reflection of our laws. However, it is not a proper Christian attitude. As Christians we are taught (or we should be) that all “our possessions” are in fact God’s possessions and are only entrusted to us. In other words, we are stewards, and we are to use the possessions as representatives of God.

Paul talks about this attitude in the first epistle to Timothy: “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (1 Timothy 6:6-8, ESV) Paul tells us that we bring nothing into the world with us when we are born, and we take nothing with us when die, so how should we say that something is “ours”? Whatever goods or wealth we have are given by God and are in our possession only temporarily. We are stewards, and we will have to give an accounting of our stewardship. The catechism teaches us that our duty is “to use our talents and possessions as ones who must answer for them to God” (Book of Common Prayer, p.848).

As I read the verses from Acts and remembered my experience with the discretionary fund, I began to wonder what my life would be like if I had the fullness of the attitude of stewardship in my life, if I treated “possessions” as items on loan from God for use in meeting needs wherever they arise. What if I made all fiscal decisions on a communal and Christian basis? What if all Christians did? What if we were of one mind that all that we have is for use in the expansion of God’s kingdom? That we are managers and not owners? What would the world be like? Perhaps it would be like the early church with new members joining every day, and people being healed of diseases, and the masses speaking of the love of Jesus and of the power of God.

I’m not sure exactly what the world would be like if we all had the attitude of the early church. But I would like to find out.

2741759137_a40f850dcd_oFor many years I used a loose leaf notebook for my prayer list (the Personal Prayer Notebook — see the earlier post on prayer lists). It was easy to update my prayer list and the Personal Prayer Notebook kept it organized. The Personal Prayer Notebook has a recommended organization for prayer with tabbed sections for (in order) Adoration, Thanksgiving, Confession, Intercession, and Petition.

Adoration is praising God — not thanking God for specific gifts received but rather praising God because of who God is, and praising the characteristics of God (holiness, abounding mercy, complete goodness, etc.). Many of the Psalms can be used here; Psalms 95 and 100 are two traditionally utilized for this purpose.

Thanksgiving is thanking God for gifts received whether requested or not. This helps us recognize what God has done, is doing, and will do for us. It is good to keep a list of answered prayers for use in this section. We should write on our hearts and in our minds that God loves a thankful heart (Psalm 50:14,23) and we should work toward having a general attitude of thanksgiving and gratitude.

Confession is the acknowledgement of our failings and request for forgiveness. I do not recommend keeping a list of sins (as some people do) as I find it better to do a brief examination of conscience and ask God to give me awareness of my sins. I rely on God to lead me in examining my faults and guide me in understanding the areas of my life where I need to improve.

Intercession is offering prayer for others. Many people ask for prayer if we but listen to them. Some requests are quite specific, for example in the case of illness. Many are vague: a person may say that he or she is having a difficult time with a spouse or a child. People may ask me personally to pray for them or they may make a general request so I also use the intercession list from my church bulletin for this part of prayer.

Petition is offering prayer for oneself. Let’s be clear: God knows our needs (Matthew 6:8, 32) but God also wants us to ask for what we need as the Lord’s Prayer makes clear (“Give us each day our daily bread”, Luke 11:3, NIV). We need to cover spiritual, mental, and physical needs.

During both intercession and petition we need to be keenly aware that God knows our needs better than we, and that God will give good gifts even if they are not the gifts we desired or expected (Luke 11:11-13). We certainly should not treat intercession and petition as a “shopping list” of what we want or as a “to do list” for God. It is better to approach with the thought, “Here are some things I want to discuss with you,” and then be open to God working in our lives. God’s gifts to us, in the long run, are better than anything we could have specifically requested.

One can maintain a prayer list for each section using Psalms, songs, poems, scripture portions, and of course, lists of needs or problems of others and ourselves. This is particularly useful for Adoration and Thanksgiving as psalms, songs, poems, and scripture often have the effect of raising our hearts and minds to God. With familiar verses the result is sometimes automatic — a line from a Psalm or a song may immediately transport one to a realm of praise or gratitude.

The order of Adoration, Thanksgiving, Confession, Intercession, and Petition is important. All the liturgical daily offices with which I am familiar follow this order. We need to begin prayer by focusing on God rather than ourselves. We need to confess and repent so that we can discuss intercessions and petitions with a clear heart and mind. It is also important to pray for others (intercede) before praying for ourselves (petitioning). Jesus call us to focus on the welfare of others before focusing on ourselves. There’s an old adage that the way to joy is to think of Jesus first (J), then others (O), and lastly yourself (Y) (Matthew 22:37-40).

Another order for prayer, which is very similar though not identical to one above is given by the acronym ACTS: Adoration; Confession; Thanksgiving; and Supplication. Use either order — the important thing is to focus on God and not on ourselves, and to be thorough by giving attention to the several aspects of prayer.

An earlier post on this blog provided information about N.T. Wright Online which offers courses by New Testament scholar Bishop N.T. Wright.  At that time a free course on Philemon was available. Bishop Wright now offers three additional free courses:

I found the course on the Lord’s Prayer to be especially helpful and insightful; it provided me things to ponder for several days.

askntwrightanything1Bishop has also expanded his cyber presence by offering a podcast. The fortnightly Ask N.T. Wright Anything podcast consists primarily of Bishop Wright answering questions sent by listeners.

The podcast is a joint partnership of Premier Christian Radio, SPCK Publishing, and N.T. Wright Online. After subscribing to the podcast, one ought to visit the Premier web site and sign up for the email list. The Premier site has additional content with short videos of Bishop Wright addressing various topics. Additionally Premier offers give-aways of N.T. Wright books and signing up for the email list enters one in drawings for the give-aways.

prayer-book-1798452_1280A prayer list is an important tool for the Christian spiritual life. Most of us need written lists because our memories are not good enough for us to rely exclusively upon them. My first prayer list consisted of slips of paper which I kept inside the cover of my Book of Common Prayer (BCP). Since I use the BCP offices, this was a convenient place to keep the information. Initially the pieces of paper were unorganized — just notes made as I became aware of needs or when people asked for prayer.

As my prayer life matured and I found myself having more requests to remember, I decided I needed better organization for my prayer list. I purchased the Personal Prayer Notebook from the Anglican Fellowship of Prayer. (It is still available from the Canadian AFP: click here for information.) This small three-ring binder (which I still have after about thirty-five years) has general information on prayer and tabbed sections for Adoration, Thanksgiving, Confession, Intercession, and Petition. Since it is a loose-leaf binder, one can insert pages with one’s own intercessions and petitions, or materials one finds useful in prayer such as meditations. This binder served me well for decades.

Some years ago I purchased an Android tablet. One of the primary uses of my tablet is reading. I soon realized that I could easily copy the BCP Daily Offices and Psalter to my tablet and use the tablet for daily prayer. Having copied the Offices and Psalter, I decided also to copy my prayer list to the tablet. For several years I have produced my prayer list pages (for the Personal Prayer Notebook) on my computer. Having my prayer list in a word processor document made updating quick and easy. I produced a pdf document from the word processor document and copied it to my tablet. The Aldiko Book Reader app makes it easy to use the office, psalter, and personal prayer list by switching among the documents as needed. And that is what I currently use for daily prayer. I have everything on one small tablet which is easy to transport and the files are simple to access and use. I also have the Bible (pdfs of both the ESV and the NET) for the daily scripture readings. No more juggling books, and since Aldiko automatically keeps my place for me, I don’t have to worry with bookmarks or ribbons. It is especially handy when travelling as I everything is on my tablet which I would take on a trip anyway. It’s lightweight, and easy to pack and carry.

 

Many archaeologists, historians, and even casual Bible readers become curious about foods mentioned in ancient sources. Often these folks have a desire to taste the foods and compare them with modern cuisine. However, this presents a difficulty as there are few recipes for ancient dishes, and when there are recipes they are often merely a list of ingredients without specifying amounts or methods of preparation. Sometimes the name of an ingredient cannot be translated as the modern equivalent is unknown. And of course the recipes do not contain cooking temperatures or times as ancients did not have the means to measure these.

mersuBut some are not deterred by these problems, and seek to recreate ancient foods by reconstructing recipes using information gained by archaeologists and cultural historians combined with personal knowledge of cooking techniques. One example is the Babylonian stew described in a post below. Another is the attempt by Megan Sauter (Associate Editor at the Biblical Archaeology Society) to make mersu, a type of cake or pastry. Ms. Sauter used a receipt recreated by Adam Maskevich who based his work on a recipe originally translated from the Babylonian by Jean Bottéro. The Babylonian recipe came from the site of Mari in Syria and dates from c. 1775 to 1761 B.C.E.).

Mersu is made of a basic dough using flour and a liquid. The dough is shaped into a ball and hollowed out. The center of the ball is filled with a mixture of fruit and nuts, and then baked. It sounds similar to a modern pie (with crust all around) or a popover (with a harder crust). It also sounds like it would be quite tasty. You can read Ms. Sauter’s article with full details for the recipe here.

Nicea, or Nicaea, is extremely important in the history of Christendom as the site of the first and seventh ecumenical (i.e. world-wide) councils. The First Council of Nicea convened in A.D. 325 to settle the question of the divinity of Jesus Christ in reaction to Arianism. A product of this council is the Nicene Creed, named after the council. The Nicene Creed is one of the three major creeds of the Church. (The Apostles’ Creed and the Athanasian Creed being the other two.) The Nicene Creed is an expansion of the Apostles’ Creed and incorporates specific language concerning the nature of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, and their relation to God the Father. The less significant Second Council of Nicea (the seventh ecumenical council) in A.D. 787 restored the use and veneration of icons (i.e. holy images) which had been banned by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine V thirty-three years earlier.

ChurchOfNicea1Nicea was located in northwestern Anatolia, which today is part of Turkey. Nicea lies within the modern city of Iznik on the eastern shore of Iznik Lake, also known as Lake Ascanius. On the shore of this lake was a church, and it was in this church that the First Nicene council met. In A.D. 740 an earthquake struck the area, and the church was submerged beneath the lake. The exact site of the church was forgotten over time, and has been unknown for centuries. However, that has now changed.

Dr. Mustafa Şahin, a Turkish archaeologist, has searched many years for the ancient church of Nicea. He explored the area around Lake Iznik (known as Lake Ascanius in Roman times) without success. In 2013, the government began taking aerial photographs of the lake but the government did not share the photographs with archaeologists. Recently the government renewed the aerial photography and a member of the team thought of contacting Dr. Şahin. The photographs showed an ancient structure about 160 feet from shore and under about ten feet of water. Dr. Şahin immediately recognized the remains as those of a church and he was sure that his search was over. “When I first saw the images of the lake, I was quite surprised to see a church structure that clearly. I’d been doing field surveys in Iznik since 2006 and hadn’t yet discovered a magnificent structure like that,” Dr. Şahin told reporters.

ChurchOfNicea2Divers dispatched to explore the submerged building discovered several human graves and some Roman coins.

The site may become Turkey’s first underwater museum; Dr. Şahin hopes that wll be the case. Museum plans include a sixty-six foot tower which would allow the ruins to be seen from the shore, a walkway over the lake itself, and a submerged glass room at the nave allowing visitors to pray in the area enclosed by the original church. The museum would allow visitors to dive and get a closeup view of the structure. Construction may begin soon and the museum could open in 2019.

For more information on the find, as well as information on the controversy leading to the First Council of Nicene, read this article in the Daily Beast.