Sunday, December 31, 2006


Exterior journeys often reveal the need in my own heart for interior, spiritual journeys, and this road trip I am now completing is no exception.

But lately I've been dwelling on the passage in 2 Corinthians 5:17 - Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

Here we are at the end of one calendar year and at the beginning of another and I am longing for "newness." This longing is both a desire for escape (bad) and renewal (good). I long for newness to escape the effects of all my "oldness," my old ways, passions, and attitudes - all a result of my own slavery to survival as opposed to true life. My selfish desire is for a "clean slate" so I can instantly escape the consequences of my past behavior and sinfulness.

But St. Paul is talking about a new kind of "newness." He means a newness that is rooted in a relationship with Fire Himself. It is an invitation to the Divine Furnace of unconditional love. It is a challenge to enter "into" Christ, to "dare to call upon God as Father and to say - Our Father Who art in heaven..." This "newness" is a place of perpetual "newness," a place where I AM new eternally in Christ, a place of eternal renewal. Every event, every behavior, every thought, attitude, and action is always new in this Fire.

Terrifying, isn't it, and compelling.

To enter this newness will mean "old things" MUST pass away. They must become what they are - death. They must be allowed to be dropped as the weights they are and to rot and decay, because they have the fatal flaw of the fallen - they are disconnected from eternity, and any attempt to bring them with me will doom my own journey into this "newness."

Here I stand at a new year. This moment is new. It has never existed before and when it is passed it will never exist again. Only that which shares in Christ - The One New Man - will be able to pass from this fleeting moment into eternity. All else will participate in that death that is the second death.

I am invited by Christ to enter Him and His eternal newness. This will be a lifelong journey and it will cost me everything I have and am. Far from being some magical, instantaneous transfer, this will be an eternally new entering with every choice, every thought, and every prayer. Perpetual hope and challenge, but without even a whiff of despair because He loves me more than I, myself, know how to love.

Come, all the brave among you, let us enter the Furnace of this newness with fear and joy.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 29, 2006


If you look right below my stat counter logo, you will notice a new serivce here at Sober Joy!

It's FeedBlitz.

If you add your email in the box provided, you can have the posts from Sober Joy emailed to you when they are updated.

I hope this makes keeping up with the blog easier for you. Let me know what you think.


Friday, December 22, 2006


Well, gentle reader, the Powell family is off on a visit to extended family to celebrate the Birth that changed the cosmos.

I will be forgoing updating for the next several days but will renew our little visits after a short holiday break.

By the way, thank you for coming by and thanks also for those who've requested republication permission for church bulletins and papers. Please feel free to use what you wish with proper attribution to my little slice of the blogosphere.

I beg your prayers as we travel and rest assured you remain in ours.

Once again to Bethlehem, dear ones, with an expectant eye toward the eastern sky.

Merry Christmas,

Thursday, December 21, 2006


We are almost at the Manger. Soon we will hear the joyous announcement that "Christ IS born!" Soon the time for feasting will have arrived. Soon, the Bridegroom will return and His Bride will have made herself ready!


Until then, please join me in contemplating the "smallness" of God. Read Fr. Stephen's post and let's consider our need for smallness and weakness.

It is said that the angels of heaven peered over the edge of heaven the day Jesus was born and looked into the manger. One angel turned to the other and said “My, look how small God has made Himself.”

A blessed Nativity to you all.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006


The icon above was instrumental in helping me overcome a very Protestant mindset about Mary.

And, as usual, it was in answer to the question Christ put to His disciples that brought me to this epiphany: "Who do you say that I am?" If Jesus is fully God and fully man, then His mother is Theotokos, as the 4th Council at Chalcedon declared.

And if Jesus IS God in the flesh, then the womb of this woman was "more spacious than the heavens." I truly love the theology tied to the Incarnation and Mary precisely because it fills up my realization of Who Jesus IS.

Evangelicals worry that devotion and contemplation of Mary will detract from Jesus, and this is a danger, but since when did we allow truth to be sacrificed for "safety?" Doing theology is inherently dangerous. We handle truths that are always too big for us, any of us. We deal with the "fire" of the Uncreated energies of God Himself. It is always dangerous to do theology. Always!

But that authentic danger should not keep us from the sublime theology that expands our souls and calls us to deeper faithfulness to Christ.

And the danger is not diminished if we retreat to perceived "safe" positions. In fact, the danger there is that we will open the door to a watered down Christology just as we were working hard to "protect" our devotion to Jesus alone.

But Christ is never concerned about devotion and honor shown to His Mother. In fact, His last act from the Cross was to give her as mother to all His disciples when He entrusted her care to St. John. In that act Jesus shared His mother with all His disciples through the ages.

Thankfully, some Evangelicals and even some Pentecostals are re-discovering the value of Mary in devotion and honor. A TV preacher I heard recently was strongly admonishing his audience to remember the faithfulness of Mary, and the fact that she was the most unique woman who ever lived. He commented that Jesus was "with" the disciples, but He had been inside Mary. That bond lasted right up to Calvary's cross. As he put it: "From the Manger to the Mountain." But then this Pentecostal preacher added something else that brought tears to my eyes.

He went on to talk about the day of Pentecost and how the Holy Spirit descended on all the Apostles. He said for them it was a first time experience having the Holy Spirit overshadow them and fill them, but Mary looked around and said "I know this Presence."

This certainly is a less theologically precise way of saying deep theological truths, but the very fact that it is being said at all is such a source of joy.

As we approach the Manger, dear ones, let's stop and sing with the Church:

O Virgin Theotokos, Rejoice, O Mary full of grace.
The Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women
And blessed is the fruit of your womb
For you have borne the Savior of our souls

Holy May, Mother of God, pray for us that we too might conceive in our bodies the Lord Jesus, and that we might also attain unto God. Amen

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I want to draw your attention to a wonderful article on Fr. Stephen's blog entitled "Are You Saved."

It has generated quite a discussion and I find the talk about the Orthodox view of salvation very encouraging.

The contemporary reduction of all things theological to the size of a bumper sticker creates so many problems for us. This reduction, all in the name of simplicity, has so stripped the Christian message of meat as to leave nothing left but the memories of past glory. We must reject the temptation to minimize our theology.

It is difficult and it is hard and it is dangerous, but this theology is the ultimate human work, so it should be challenging. Let's do the work, folks.

Please stop by and learn.

Monday, December 11, 2006


Former Lutheran pastor John Fenton, has a thought provoking article on his blog about his journey to Orthodoxy.

In it he is asked the question "Where is the Church?"

For me, this is a fundamental question that has a real answer.

You see, for me, my own spiritual journey brought me to the same place. For years I believed the Church was "invisible" made up of all those who claimed Jesus as their Savior and had accepted His lordship over their lives.

While this pietistic theory of ecclesiology seemed to serve me well, it eventually has to end in heresy because the Church IS the Body of Christ. Christ is fully God and fully man. He was visible and real during His earthly ministry, and His Body still maintains these characteristics of reality - visibility and authenticity.

To suggest otyherwise is to toy with the heresy of docetism.

Ecclesiology is the "undiscovered country" for most of Protestantism, and specifically Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism.

When one confronts the issues related to this primary question "Where is the Church?" one will begin to see other issues become clearer.

Ultimately, this question, as with most other questions of theology end up with the Person of Jesus Christ. All heresies somehow attempt to distort Who Jesus Christ is or to deny Him. The issue of ecclesiology is no different. A weak ecclesiology WILL result in a weakened Christology, and that "corruption" will eventually make its way into the everyday lives of believers.

What we believe theologically always incarnates itself in our behavior. That's why we will come to the final judgement as either "sheep" or "goats." What we already "are" will only be revealed there, not imposed there.

Lord, have mercy.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


As I have said previously, I am convinced the modern Pentecostal movement offers the Christian Church a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with the timeless faith of the Apostles and the balance of mystery and rationalism that has all but been lost in the Christian West.

However, I also believe that Pentecostalism is a system of theology that cannot and will not bring anyone to the fullness of the faith "once for all delivered to the saints."

This is not because Pentecostal people are "bad." It isn't because Pentecostal or Charismatic theology is "wrong" or "evil." It is because the underlying theological foundation for Pentecostal and Charismatic theology is poverty stricken. It is simply too weak to bear the weight of the fullness of the Apostolic faith.

Coming as I do from a Pentecostal background, that word "Apostolic" holds a particularly pregnant meaning. Unfortunately, my understanding of "apostolic" was quite deficient during my days as a Pentecostal.

In fact, the very tendency in the West to break off into "factions" and "denominations" is particularly strong among Pentecostals. This revealed itself early on in the movement over the issue of water baptism. Being cut off from the wisdom of the Church these sincere believers embodied all that was wrong about the Protestant innovation of "Sola Scriptura." They did not have access to the wise understanding of the Trinity preserved in the Church so they mistook the trinitarian teaching for tri-theism and reacted against what they perceived as a heresy.

But this so-called "new issue" demonstrates the first theological poverty of Pentecostalism: A poverty of communion with the saints.

Since Protestantism tends to reduce the Christian faith to certain theological propositions, the Pentecostals allowed this reduction full flower in their attempts to "recapture" the power of the first century Church. Feeling no sense of connection with their fellow Christians throughout the ages, the Pentecostals only care for those first century believers that they see as their true heritage. They are also willing to adopt other heretical groups through the centuries that seemed to bolster their notions of ecstatic experiences as THE theological stamp of approval.

This lack of connection with the Church through the centuries meant that the Pentecostals were left to their own devices and fell into many, if not most, of the heresies of the past.

The second poverty of Pentecostalism is the rank individualism that permeates the entire movement. this again is a flowering in the Pentecostal movement of the general poverty of Western Christianity. Individualism reduces faith to "me and Jesus got our own thing going" and reduces Church to either a religious pep rally or, worse yet, a Christian self-help group. Worship is measured by how it made me "feel" rather than what it reveals about the Uncreated God. Hence Pentecostals and Charismatics tend to measure their spiritual growth by their experience of "victory" in their personal lives. But the narcissistic weakness of this religious poverty guarantees a perpetual spiritual "kindergarten" for these believers.

One of the unintended consequences" of this gross individualism is the "cult of personality" that naturally arises when a dependence on individual abilities is emphasized. Pentecostal groups are usually founded on some strong personality who has the gift of gab and a flare for the theatrical. Unfortunately, "the arm of flesh will fail you" and the cultural landscape is littered with the sad lives of men (and some women) who simply could not maintain the fevered pitch expected of them from their loyal following. The stories of emotional, psychological, and event physical manipulation, all for "God's glory," are simply too numerous to mention.

Another poverty that I see in Pentecostalism is the weak theological dependence on ecstatic religious experiences. This true hunger in the soul of a person for an authentic and intimate experience of the presence of God cannot be truly satisfied with self-centered religious phenomena. In fact, much like sweets ruins your appetite, so the spiritual "cotton candy" of shallow ecstatic religious experiences, brought on as much by psychological peer pressure as by anything divine, deaden this good hunger and eventually creates an almost narcotic dependence on these less than satisfying religious events.

Interestingly enough this emphasis of emotional experiences not only leads to a kind of religious addiction, but also feeds other physical desires as well. Most Pentecostals do not like to talk about the strong minority of sexual weaknesses that tend to dominate many Pentecostal and Charismatic sub cultures. This emphasis on keeping the emotions heightened at all times, or reducing worship to experiencing a religious "high" tends to reinforce a lack of physical discipline. Recent events are the exceptions that many times prove the rule.

Finally, the greatest poverty I see in Pentecostalism is theological. While this is changing, Pentecostalism has traditionally been suspicious of theological training. Seminary instruction was considered suspect, and a reliance on the education of the "Spirit" was more valued. But beyond that there is a real and debilitating "historical amnesia" among Pentecostals that impoverishes their religious education. There is so much wisdom preserved in the Church that is simply unknown to most Christians nowadays and that ignorance is dangerous. It means there are generations of believers who will have to learn all over again lessons already learned by their brothers and sisters of the past. What you don't know CAN hurt you.

There are hopeful signs. A recent Pew Poll found that speaking in tongues, a strong distinctive of Pentecostalism, is waning. Post-graduate work is becoming not only acceptable among Pentecostals but expected. And whole new denominations have formed by Pentecostals and Charismatics wanting to overcome the inherent weaknesses of their own shallow religious traditions by discovering the wisdom of ages past.

For me, however, the natural home for Pentecostals and Charismatic Christians is the Orthodox Christian Church. Here there is a trustworthy "fireplace" for the Pentecostal "fire." Many are surprised to hear me say that it was my Pentecostalism that prepared me for my journey to Orthodoxy. In Eastern Orthodoxy there is a comfort level theologically for paradox and mystery. As opposed to the West where rationalism has been allowed free reign, Orthodoxy's emphasis on the present work of the Holy Spirit provides a theological balance for a sterile theological rationalism that may excite the mind but leaves the soul cold. Pentecostals and Charismatics will discover in Orthodoxy the wisdom necessary to avoid all the pitfalls so often present in the world of Pentecostalism. There are theological remedies for and spiritual medicine that provide authentic healing and spiritual health for those weary of the eternal search for the everlasting "goose bump."

Pentecostalism reveals the primary spiritual poverty of the West. This is its greatest gift to the Christian world. But we cannot remain ignorant of the fatal weaknesses of Pentecostalism without condemning generations of sincere believers to a life of a perpetual "spiritual kindergarten."

So, to all my precious Pentecostal and Charismatic friends, I say to you what Philip said to Nathaniel: "Come and see!"


As many of you know, I am the development director for Orthodox Christian Network. We produce the weekly radio program Come Receive The Light, and we are about to launch a 24 hour internet radio station called The Ark.

Recently Fr. Chris Metropulos, our host, interviewed Rev. John Fenton, a Lutheran pastor who recently resigned his Lutheran pastorate and is in the process of converting to Orthodoxy.

Rev. Fenton has a blog where he's told his story, and he also has posted the audio excerpts of a radio program from a Lutheran minister who replayed his interview from us on his radio program. Look at the Tuesday, December 5th recordings.

The comments and misconceptions of the radio host about Orthodoxy are obvious to anyone who knows the Orthjodox faith, but I found it interesting anyway.

If you have the time, read Rev. Fenton's story and then take a listen to the audio from KFUO.