Talk to God

When asked if they pray, many people will say they do. Yet, when asked what area of their spiritual life is lacking, they say prayer. People are saying they are praying but they aren’t praying well. So, what is wrong?
Read 1 Peter 5:6-7
Prayer is how we get to communicate with the Creator of the Universe. God makes Himself available to hear from us and when He responds, He reveals much about His character and ours. As we share our emotions and thoughts with God in prayer, we can be convicted, enlightened, or even blessed. When we have meaningful and intimate conversations with God a relationship blossoms and we begin to understand God’s plan for humanity and even our purpose in His plan.

God allows us to experience His creation through emotions and senses. He connected with Adam and Eve in a very intimate manner setting the precedence for future relationship building. His spirit was definably with them in the garden. Genesis implies face-to-face encounters also occurred. During their interactions, Adam and Eve’s body language and words revealed their emotions to God just as His presence revealed something about His love and concern for them.  God taught that real connection, that leads to relationships, stems from verbal communication and face-to-face contact. Although communication changed after the incident in the garden, God continued to pursue His creation and taught us we can remain connected to Him if we are willing to talk and listen.

If we asked someone to share their status using 140 characters or less, a surprisingly high number of people will be able to do that. They can create a short, sweet, to the point statement about how they are feeling, what they are doing and so on. People can do this because this is how we communicate in the world today. We post updates using tweets, pictures, and emoticons.  However, these do little to create closeness.  It’s tough to grasp an understanding of an individual based on updates. Studies have suggested that it is difficult, if not impossible, to develop a meaningful relationship with someone using 140 or less characters. Yet, people continue to hide behind their smartphones and tablets while seemingly having little time for face-to-face social encounters.  Many believe they are socially connected yet studies reveal that despite the number and variety of social media tools available to us, more people are feeling isolated and lonely.

God wants to hear from us. He does not want updates. He want to know our heart. He wants to hear our passions. He wants to hear our pain. He wants to hear our confessions. He wants us to listen. He wants us to know Him. He wants us to grow in faith and worship.We can’t share who we are or what we truly desire in 140 characters or less and God can’t help us if we can’t connect.

It any wonder why people struggle to pray? People are losing their ability to connect to the world around them. They are unintentionally isolating themselves and are dependant on instantaneous, short, communication bites to express their thoughts and feelings. This does not allow for depth, understanding or intimacy. Prayer connects us with God who wants a real, two-way conversation with us. Prayer starts and grows relationships but the relationship God desires takes time, emotion, and surrendering our self before Him. Prayer keeps the connection alive and real. It requires more than a few happy faces, single word thoughts, or LIKEs. It requires our whole being to properly connect with the Supreme Being, God.

 

 

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for….

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

During extensive military training, extreme demands placed on participants can cause some to lose hope. Their weakened physical and mental state may lead to self-doubt and despair. Some will even second guess their decision to participate or even remain in the military. A hopeless mindset is very destructive and so the military reminds them to draw on past experiences and to keep themselves moving forward. Our military, especially those in operation roles, must be in training mode all the time and when they are not training they are putting that training into practice. Learning, training, and doing creates FAITH in an individual’s own abilities, helping our military overcome adversity.

FAITH involves trust and grows as we practice what we are taught. If an individual possess all the qualifications and licensures to practice dentistry but never treats anyone and even refuses to help someone in need of emergency dental work, is that individual really a dentist? No. They are nothing more than someone with knowledge and potential. To be a dentist, an individual must treat patients. The same principle applies to people who say they are Christians but don’t live by faith. FAITH leads them to live according to scripture and to seek and follow God’s will and direction for their life. FAITH causes them to believe and trust in God’s provision, comfort, protection, leadership, and wisdom in all things. If an individual can’t identify how they are living by FAITH, are they really a Christian?

Serving in the military is linked to surviving and overcoming obstacles. During training or day-to-day service, our military are often exposed to different operational scenarios and these experiences gives them the FAITH that they will overcome their circumstances. Those with limited exposure must rely on others to coach and guide them forward but they must personally continue to do all they can to bring themselves up to a functional mode. Because, as with most struggles in life, we start by facing it alone, and so we need to be able to survive the initial assaults.

A Christian’s faith is tested when one faces life in the raw; when an illness strikes or a difficult financial situation occurs or family disharmony is present. Our response to these situations will suggest what kind of FAITH we have. Individuals can lose themselves in fear or grief and will struggle because they are unable to focus on anything other than their predicament. A Christian living by FAITH recognizes struggles, and seeks God’s help. We know He offers a calming effect to help us examine our situation and deal with it. FAITH reminds us of His love and His promise and helps us keep our eyes on the prize; Jesus.

God could make all our life’s struggles go away if we ask. However, He has given us the ability to make decisions and choices and wants us to use our moral and common sense to do so. Most predicaments we face are self-inflicted and like a good Father, He lets us face them. He knows our experiences and study of His word will help us choose wisely. Even in situations we did not seem to bring about, He walks with us but does not interfere. He will offer comfort and peace to address fear and grief, allowing us to put into practice what our FAITH has allowed to grow in us. God’s desire is that we don’t panic or lose hope when life gets tough, but that we put our FAITH in Him to bring us through whatever life has to offer. Talk with God during good times and acknowledge His presence so that when the going gets tough, our first response will be to seek Him and allow our FAITH to carry us.

When I had lost all hope….

“When I had lost all hope, I turned my thoughts once more to the Lord” Jonah 2:7

I recently underwent surgery. Knowing I’d be in the hospital for a few days, I thought about ways I would share Jesus to those I’d encountered. I packed my bible, a book of prayers, and a notebook. I had talked with God before going into hospital and felt ready to be a super evangelist. The morning of my surgery I was keen and full of hope but my attitude began to change hours after surgery. As the medication wore off I began to feel the effect of the surgeon’s work and it hurt. Despite being given a lot of pain medication, I became distressed. Pain is subjective in that no two people will react the same. I was reacting poorly as I had not imagined the pain I was experiencing was possible. I was very desperate for relief and as I lay rocking myself in the hospital bed, I spoke with God several times about my misery. I knew this situation would only last a few days at most but I found I could not say much to Him as my focus and thoughts were about me and not Him.

Many of us struggle with things that steal our focus and thoughts. Many are being weighed down by the trials of life. When we face a dilemma our thoughts are about our situation and we can find it hard to turn them off. The challenge for all followers of Jesus is to find a way to turn our thoughts to God especially during tough times. This does not mean we ignore the problems we are facing. It means we must find a way to soothe our anxious minds so we can survive the experience and even grow stronger. God offers to bring comfort but requires we first stop what we are doing and focus on Him. Why do you think God tells us to be still? (Psalm 46:10). When we are not still our mind is going to be filled with so much noise from the trials around us that we will never overcome our problems and we will resist God’s offer of aide.

Some relief came to me 36 hours post-surgery. As I lay in bed I noticed a bag that had been given to me by some of the kids in my youth class. On it was written “Open if you are feeling bad or need a hug”. I opened it and found many personalized notes of encouragement. They all seemed to be suggesting that if I focus on God I will be happy. The last note I read contained a verse from Jonah 2:7. I seemed to be in a hopeless state but as I read these notes I was reminded of those praying for me and those taking care of me. I also remembered that God loves me and did not want to see me suffer but knew that some suffering would occur but the surgery would improve my life.

During my hospital stay I had used my bible as a biting pad to prevent myself from screaming. My book and notepad were never opened. I did not behave in the Way I had hoped but I learnt much about my relationship with God. When our minds dwells on something besides the Lord for a long period of time we can become weary. As soon as I turned my thoughts to Him, I began to see some light. What are your thoughts filled with? Is it Christ? Our mind loves to dwell on everything and so we have to make war with it. I found that when I thought only of my pain I was not going to move forward. When we get caught up in our misery and struggles, we are often unable to move forward because we stop focusing on God and think only of ourselves; we almost stop looking for help.

Plan to survive struggles. Trust God’s promises. When He says to be still, He offers a way to calm us so we can sense and lean on His presence. Identify a Christian friend who would be willing to walk with you through your thought times and good times (you are expected to do the same with them). Be each other’s encouragement. Have some scripture nearby that reminds you to seek God and trust  Him. Don’t be discouraged or ashamed when you face a struggle. The evil one and his minions are doing all they can to derail your relationship with God. Jesus said He overcame the world, and so we can also survive it. God’s desire is not for us to hate our lives, but to live it to the full. We can do that if He remains the central focus of our thoughts and actions.

Revealing the depth and vulnerabilities of our faith and trust in Jesus

“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. ……… If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.” 1 Corinthians12:26

During a recent hospital stay I quickly became aware of the fact that to ensure recovery I had to be vulnerable. I had to reveal things about myself that I had previously considered very private to ensure the medical team had all the information necessary to diagnose and treat me. I also had to trust those taking care of me that they had to perform certain necessary procedures on me, that my personal modesty would normally never allow to happen.

As we walk in our faith there are thing we can do to keep us on the path towards Jesus. We pray, study Scripture and worship Him during a corporate gathering. During this journey we will encounter situations that will reveal the depth and vulnerabilities of our faith and trust in Jesus. When we are spiritually healthy, we can overcome obstacles and even become stronger. However, if we choose to live our faith alone, without other believers walking with us, there is a strong possibility that these struggles will infect our faith and over time may damage our overall spiritual health.

The Holy Spirit brings us through many of life’s troubles and that is God’s gift to us, however we were never meant to be on this faith walk alone. Just before God created Eve to be with Adam, He said “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). During Jesus’ earthly ministry He was rarely alone. He maintained His spiritual connection to the Father but His daily interactions were with men and women who He helped, but who also helped Him get His message across to others. To maintain a healthy spiritual life we need to be with other believers such as our church family. It is impossible to have an intimate relationship with every believer we encounter but it is possible, and necessary, to build a bonding relationship with at least one or two people. This person should be someone we can be vulnerable with as we share our inner most struggles. This person should be willing to offer sincere advice to help us battle through the challenging times. This is a person, who is not their spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend, is someone we can call anytime day or night to talk with about our faith.

We may not feel comfortable sharing with the whole church family, but they can still contribute to our journey. One of the medical procedures I faced this week was having a catheter inserted on my upper leg to allow constant injections of medicine to directly attack the source of pain. The doctor made small talk with me and then, without notice , threw up my hospital gown leaving me exposed as a baby entering this world. I was embarrassed and stared at the ceiling as he worked. At one point I lowered my gaze and noticed there were at least a dozen people watching him work. I made eye contact with a young man, who waved at me and said “Hi I’m Dave, I’m a Dalhousie student”. My first thought was “who is not watching this show’. I did figure out that he was a student in some medical field and was learning by watching. His presence also reminded about our individual roles with the MCF. Our interaction with people in the MCF is limited to observation, but that does not mean we can’t contribute to the spiritual health of other members. From time to time, we receive prayer requests and they are shared with the body. If we choose to pray alongside other members we contribute. Also, we can grow. When we see the vulnerable position some place themselves in when asking for prayer, we may be willing to ask others to pray for us. We may be like Dave, watching so as to be prepared to help one another somewhere down the line.

God designed us to be with others. We honour Him and each other when they are included in our spiritual walk. We should be wise about what we share. We do need to partner with a mature follower to address the faith issues that tear at our souls. If you don’t have such a partner, pray asking God to reveal a name and then go speak with that person. Remember you must also be willing to hear their joys and struggles. Being vulnerable is humbling and on our spiritual journey it can be very rewarding.

If I had one more day.

I think it would be safe to say that each of us has wondered what death holds in store for us; some may even wonder how they will die. It seems a very disturbing thought knowing that death is inevitable and worse not knowing when it will occur. Do these thoughts make a difference as to how you live today? Do you live life knowing that one day we will stand before God to either face eternity with or without Him? Are we focused on our relationship with God or are we more concerned about our legacy or what people think of us?

Scripture shares a story about King Hezekiah who was a righteous, but vain individual. He had restored the Temple, purged its idols, and reformed the priesthood. He made it illegal for people to worship any other but God and seemed to be a favour with God. During his reign, he became sick to the point he believed he would die. Many dignitaries, including the son of the king of Babylon, came to visit him. During these visits, he bragged about his wealth and even revealed secrets about Jerusalem. Isaiah came to see him with this warning, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.” 2 Kings 20:1 NIV. Isaiah also shared that a future generation of Judah would be taken captive by the Babylonian visitor’s kingdom. Isaiah was telling Hezekiah to focus on what was important because he would be meeting his maker. Did Hezekiah think he had more time such that he could feed his vanity instead of his soul?

It is rare for us to know when we will pass from this earth yet, the sad truth of the matter is that many of us think that we have much more time to spare. We behave thinking that when we have done all the things that we think are important we will get our lives straight with the Lord. Jesus came so we could live life to the full now. This includes experiencing joy in daily relationship with God as well as with one another. Jesus brought a message of renewed hope and salvation and desires we share that Gospel message with those we encounter. He called us to be disciple-making disciples whose priority is God. Are you living in relationship with God? Are you making friends with the unchurched? Is your life a witness to those watching such that they are curious as to how Jesus can affect their lives?

In response to Isaiah’s warning scriptures shares, “Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord,” 2 Kings 20:2 NIV. God gave him a further 15 years after his illness and Hezekiah made even more changes to his attitude and priorities. God wants us to remember that He is to be given priority above all else. He blesses us with family, friends, and forms of wealth which give us pleasure. He wants us to respect those gifts while honouring Him. We are not to live life according to a holychecklist that identifies how many times we must pray, read scripture or evangelize. However, we are to live with Jesus in our lives and eternity in the back of our minds.

This message is not meant to cause fear but to challenge you with a sobering, question: If I had one more day, would I live it differently from every other day and if so, why am I not treating every day as it were my last?

Are you happy with your relationship with God or must you turn your face to the wall and talk with Him.

I don’t want to, but I will

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize” 1 Corinthians 9:24

Have you started your day with the words “I don’t want to”?You may not want to get out of bed because the health issue that caused you to toss and turn all night is sending shooting pains to all your joints. Maybe you awoke thinking about work where you are just tired of trying to do what is right in a system that seems designed to take and take and take. Or, your thoughts had immediatelyturned to the conversation you must have with your child about what fell out of their backpack, and you know those talks never seem to go well. Even though you know what you must do, you lie there and repeat “I don’t want to, I just don’t want to face the day”.

Paul’s comment (Cor 9:24) to the Corinthians is about self-discipline; finding ways to at least put one foot after the other and start moving. He notices that people are struggling with life choices which areaffecting their relationships as well as their faith. His overall tone in the letter seems to admonish but he is, in fact, trying to motivate by reminding people where their hope lies; it is with Christ who promises to be with us during our good and bad days. He reminds them that they must try to go after the prize to enjoy the life they have.

Hearing someone say, “suck it up and get moving” does not make our concerns go away, more than likely it adds to our frustration. However, we all need a little push from time to time. The Bible is filled with passages that motivate and encourage, and just reading or hearing one can do wonders for our spirit. Consider finding a passage you feel will jump-startyour day and write it on a card. Before you go to bed, place it so it is one of the first things you see when your eyes open. Then say it in your head and then out loud. Sit up in your bed, pick up the card and read it again. The Holy Spirit, who is our comforter, will help you find meaning in those words and can help us get out of bed.

We are not failures or loved less by God if we utter the words “I don’t want to”. We are human and we have been created in the image of a loving, caring and motivated God, but sometimes we struggle. Sometimes these mornings are happening too often and as much as you read your verse, you still feel “you don’t want to.” You must do something about that. Paul ends his thoughts on motivation with the words “therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air” (1 Cor 9:26). He is saying do something meaningful to help you win your race. Friend, please talk tosomeone about your troubles. We are created to help one another. Share your troubles with a friend. If necessary, seek medical assistance. God wants what is good for us and has allowed gifts and talents to flourish in people so they can help us who struggle. Maybe you are that person God prepared so you can help others. Keep an eye out for your friends and be ready to lend them an ear to listen or a shoulder to rest on. Don’t be afraid to encourage them.

For many, getting out of bed can be their prize that day. God knows the world and life we face each day is not the one He intended for us. He offers to be with us every waking and sleepingmoment. He has prepared others to help us face the world. Today, do something to ensure that tomorrow when you awaken, your words are “I don’t want to but I can and I will”.

God’s letter to you

2 Timothy 3:16

I’m certain that many who are reading this article have written or received a personal letter in the mail.  It’s not a popular activity today as technology has changed the way people communicate.  It is much easier but does seem less personal.  Children wrote thank you notes for gifts received, teens and young adults wrote incredibly sensitive and mushy love letters, and spouses wrote intimate letters sharing family news as well as reaffirming their love for one another.

Deployed military personnel have always known that receiving a letter was special and mail-call was often the most anticipated event of the day. While serving in Egypt in the late 1970’s, mail and short-wave radio were the only means to communicate with my family.  I remembered that not soon after I arrived in Ismailia there was a mail strike in canada.  As a result, I hadn’t received mail from home for several weeks and when the strike ended I waited eagerly for a letter.  When my first letter arrived, I rushed back to my bed space, laid in my bunk, opened the letter and began to read.  It started off “Dear Master. Woof, woof, woof, bark, bark, bark”;  this continued for two pages.  Although my wife had written many letters during the strike, the first letter I received happened to be the one supposedly from my dog.  I was disappointed, to say the least, but I did not throw it out and read it several times because I knew there was more to this letter than those silly words.

Letters received from our families, even our pets, are very personal.  We rarely share our personal mail with others but if we did, other readers could learn something about the relationship that existed between the writer and recipient of the letter.  Most likely they would not be able to know the exact meaning of every phrase because of missing context such as information about family dynamics.  However, if they desired they could inquire and with additional information, they could even imagine it was written to them.  A third-party reader could also sense deeper meaning behind phrases such as “I feel lonely when you are away” because of their own similar experiences.  This is an event which can be understood across generations, cultures and even time.

Much of the New Testament contains personalized letters to groups of people.  When we read those letters today we can sense the intimacy and often, without having much background information, we are able to understand most of their meaning.  However, we should be cautions because without an awareness of the context (cultural or historical setting of the writer or recipient) our interpretation and application may not be as literal as we believe.  As with the case in all Scripture, it is important to consider that other information can be valuable to our interpretation.  It is also important to know that not everything in Scripture applies to us personally but it will contribute to the overall message of the Bible.  Jesus told us we have the Holy Spirit to help reveal understanding and the truth, but as disciples of Christ who desire to see the value Paul speaks about in 2 Timothy 3:16, we should be more intentional in our efforts to know the truths about our Creator’s purpose and desires for us.

It is acknowledged that in this current age few believers are reading their Bibles.  They accept Scripture can offer truth to their current life as well as their eternity but have numerous reasons for not reading their Bibles.  Many don’t read because they don’t know exactly why or how they should.  Compounding this issue is the fact many have Bible translations that are difficult to read but are owned because of family or faith traditions.  All Bibles are translations and if yours is taught to read, get another translations.

All of scripture can be viewed as a personalized letter written by God to each one of us.  His love for humanity is universal but He has personalized love for everyone.

When we accept the Bible as one long continuous letter from God we can see there are stories, passages and themes that we can take personally.  We have been invited to know Jesus but to do that, we do need to know about Him.  God has written to us and about us.  He knows if we purposefully read His words they can be transformative, affecting our day-to-day lives.  To understand what God is saying to us we need to read and study our Bibles, reflect upon the words, and when applicable, apply it to our lives.

Blessings

Anton Topilnyckyj
Prayer Coordinator

If you believe…..

Matthew 21:22

We all have gotten up early and in limited lighting put on a shirt or blouse only to realize later that it is out of alignment (shirtlop); buttons in the wrong buttonholes? We did everything right, used good techniques, placed each button carefully and through the hole provided, but we had started in the wrong place and therefore achieved an unwanted result.

Have you ever prayed and not felt you had not received an answer or the response was not as you expected? You’ve read scripture about prayer, listened to others pray, studied the prayer practices of people of faith, and set aside some private, isolated time to speak with God and yet nothing. All these are activities that certainly enhance our understanding of prayer yet they may not be the ‘first things” Jesus desires of us when He says He will answer. Maybe we are praying from the wrong starting point. Scripture does speak about our relationship with God in terms of our belief in Him. Maybe we need to examine and reflect upon our believes so that when we talk with God we are starting from the point of belief in Him.

Jesus called us to believe. Believe that God created us to be in a relationshipwith Him and with others. Believe that God made and kept promises and despite our desire to choose a path that offends Him, He will not abandon His plan for us. Believe that God has offered humanity a WAY to reconcile with Him and that WAY is Jesus. Believe that Jesus spoke truths that destroy the impact of sin and open a path to a transformed life for those who believe.

Belief can sculpture our patterns of feeling and acting. It can be the cause and affectof our status as a Christian. It is crucial to a relationship with God. When we believe in Jesus we pray knowing it is not something we do to get on His good side but an acknowledgement that we believe in Him. Belief is essential to hearing God’s answers to our prayers.

Let me share these words spoken by Billy Graham that may help you as you examine your belief:

“It is impossible to believe anything into existence. The Gospel did not come into being because people believed it. The tomb was not emptied of Christ’s body that first Easter because some faithful persons believed it. FACT preceded the faith. We are psychologically incapable of believing without an object of our faith. The object of Christian faith isChrist. Faith means more than an intellectual agreement of the claims of Christ. We are not called upon to believe something that is not credible, but to believe in the fact of history that transcends all history. Faith means surrender and commitment to the claims of Christ. We do not know Christ through the five physical senses, but we know Him through the sixth sense that God has given every man—the ability to believe.”

Believe before, during and after you pray and you will be amazed at what Jesus wants

Blessings

Anton Topilnyckyj
Prayer Coordinator

God moments!

John 13:34-35

God is omnipresent; He is everywhere. He is in our hospitals beside our sickly neighbours; He is on benches, grates and shelters where our homeless veterans hang out; He is in the classroom where our youths are looking for purpose from a morally corrupt society. Maybe we should stop thinking we need to bring Jesus into the world, because He’s already there. We need to think about how we can reveal Him and make His love known to those He watches every day. We need to watch for opportunities to reveal God moments, times where God’s loves shows up so He can show off.

Since our creation, God has been on a mission to reveal His love to humanity. We have been invited to join Him and we need to decide whether we will be part of the mission or not. Church is great but the true Church is the people who gather for worship, become inspired, and learn to serve one another so they can go into their world and reveal God. God is waiting for us to reveal His love and glory to the world by our presence in the lives of those not realizing He is with them. This could mean that some may go to foreign lands to build schools or dig wells. But, for the majority of us, our mission field is right outside our front door. God is out there, waiting for us to show up so He can show off through us.

At one time ,I use to advocate the anonymous random act of kindness approach to blessing strangers. Lately, I found myself thinking, wouldn’t it be better if that stranger knew why I did what I did. Wouldn’t it be nice if we did something for someone and when they asked why, we could say “God has blessed me so I could bless someone like you” . God would immediately get all the credit and the glory and people might see the world differently knowing there are people who love God, wanting to love them.

What could you do?

Idea #1. Maybe the school where your children or grandchildren attend are struggling to find lunchroom or recess monitors. If you visited the principle asking if you and some friends could help they might accept. This may get you invited to be a classroom helper reading to children or helping them read. You become part of their community and when the opportunity appears, and it will because God will create those opportunities, you may get to explain what compels you to serve this group.

Idea #2. There are several organization seeking to serve the military community. For example, VETS Canada assist homeless veterans. They have all kinds of opportunities to help and serve. Connect with a local chapter and see what you can do. Because you are doing this to reveal God’s love, He will immediately get the glory even if those you are working with or serving do not see this for a while. You are meeting a need in your community and because you are driven by God’s desire to reveal Himself, you will be given an opportunity to make Him known.

We live in communities where the needs are many. Our neighbours are unreceptive to talking about God because they are putting so much energy into surviving, that they don’t have time to listen or take us up on our offer to come to church. However, they can’t stop from seeing what is going around them and if they watched us become the Church, a loving disciple of Jesus, they will notice and become curious. Jesus said: “the world will take notice when we love each other.” Each follower needs to find a need they can fill. The possibilities are endless but it starts with a willingness to reveal God moments to those who can’t see Him.

Blessing

Anton Topilnyckyj
Prayer Coordinator

Reflections Upon the Origin of the Knights Templar

Christians on a Mission 

Romans 12:1 

“Rejoice, brave warrior, if you live and conquer in the Lord, but rejoice still more and give thanks if you die and go to join the Lord. This life can be fruitful and victory is glorious yet a holy death for righteousness is worth more. Certainly ‘blessed are they who die in the Lord’ but how much more so are those who die for Him.” [i]
Bernard of Clairvaux

The Knights Templar had a simple and undramatic beginning.  After the conclusion of the First Crusade nine knights banded together to apply their skills and knowledge of warfare in service to the king of Jerusalem to meet an urgent need.  The group grew, slowly at first, and then seemingly exponentially in numbers and wealth.  The Knights Templar was a construct that had come of age.  The order enjoyed the favour of popes and kings, of nobles and peasants.  The order was envied by its peers and persecuted by its opponents. Yet, in spite of all the honour and wealth the order enjoyed, their existence was short-lived by monastic standards and their demise was as meteoric as their rise in popularity.  The Templars have become popularized and their history has become muddled; however, there are reliable sources that present sufficient details from which much can be learned and even applied today.  This paper will review some of the thinking that led to the Templar’s genesis and growth focusing on the two primary topics of the evolution of practical theology and men’s responses to it.

To understand the thinking that underlay the birth of the Templars it is instructive to consider the teachings of Augustine on the theology of “Just War.” In his written response to the Manichean Faustus, Augustine argues the unity of the Old and New Testaments, with a particular focus on the rightness of military actions that were on the surface seemingly wrong.  With specific reference to Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of his son Isaac, an act that in the eyes of an uninformed observer would have been incomprehensible, Augustine justifies Abraham’s action as having been specifically ordained by God.[i]  Also, writing of the wars conducted by Moses, Augustine argues that the conflicts were ordered by God, which therefore made such action right.  God-ordained conflict is not an evil, rather the evil would be to not enter into the conflict, which would be an act of disobedience.

…in wars carried on by divine command, he showed not ferocity but obedience; and God in giving the command, acted not in cruelty, but in righteous retribution, giving to all what they deserved, and warning those who needed warning. What is the evil in war? Is it the death of some who will soon die in any case, that others may live in peaceful subjection? This is mere cowardly dislike, not any religious feeling.[ii]

This line of thinking resulted in the first criterion for just war or conflict, that being Jus Ad Bellum– the right to go to war.  Though a conflict may be justified, Augustine also argued that the motivations of those involved in the conflict could themselves be a source of evil, which leads to the second criterion for just war, Jus In Bello– the right sorts of conduct in war.

The real evils in war are love of violence, revengeful cruelty, fierce and implacable enmity, wild resistance, and the lust of power, and such like; and it is generally to punish these things, when force is required to inflict the punishment, that, in obedience to God or some lawful authority, good men undertake wars, when they find themselves in such a position as regards the conduct of human affairs, that right conduct requires them to act, or to make others act in this way.[iii]

While a fulsome investigation of Augustine’s theology on the matter of justified conflict is beyond the intent of this paper, the fundamental criteria of Jus Ad Bellumand Jus In Belloare helpful in understanding the theological logic behind the creation and operations of the Templars.

Another factor to consider is the state of European society during the 10thcentury.  In general, European society was fractured and it was violent. The grand powers of the Church and the monarchy dominated the urban centres, of which there were few, while the countryside, which accounted for the majority of territory, was rampant with lawlessness.  Chieftains ruled locally, in accordance with their individual desires. They fought with neighbouring lords at their discretion and for their purposes.  Travel was restricted due to the inherent dangers in a lawless environment where might was the determinant factor in what was right.[iv]  The mightiest was the one whose fighting men were adept at fighting from a horse, individuals that the Franks termed chevalier.  Horses large enough to carry a man encased in protective and offensive equipment and those who rode them were necessarily large, healthy and well trained.  These discriminators meant that only those of some degree of wealth could afford to be chevaliers.  Such men came from families of at least some substance and normally enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with local clergy.  Though direct lines of cause and effect are not possible to identify, the influence of the clergy and an enlightened code of conduct, evidently inherent within Germanic tribes, is viewed as a primary source for the development of a code for the conduct of mounted men.  A code of behaviour which became a system of Chivalry or Knighthood.  The code was not a written Rule, rather it was a series of practices that were learned through practice as well as observation.[v]  Given the development of the Augustinian theology of Jus Ad Bellumand Jus In Bellothe evolution of a social code of conduct in conflicts between mounted men, who were themselves somewhat educated for the time period, is likely.

In the mid 11thcentury the Holy Land had been occupied by Muslim forces since the 7thcentury.  In spite of its occupation, Church doctrine of the era, stipulated that pilgrimages to designated holy sites were “a significant penitential act after the commission of serious sins.”[vi]The need for Christians to travel to Jerusalem and environs was essential. Fortunately, Caliph Omar made a solemn promise to Sophronius the patriarch that one fourth of the inner city would remain in the hands of Christians, and pilgrims would be permitted to transit Muslim held territory to visit revered sites and objects upon the payment of a small fee.  Thus a mutually beneficial, albeit unequal, relationship between the occupiers, and Christian residents and pilgrims evolved and became the source of a peaceful co-existence. There, was evidently a spiritual revival of a sort in 1064, for over 7,000 pilgrims made the long journey to Jerusalem that year.  However, the year following, circumstances changed.  Turcoman forces under the command of emir Ortok invaded the region. 3000 citizens of Jerusalem were murdered, and Christians specifically came under sever persecution.[vii]

Twenty years later, persecution of Christians in the Holy Land had become normalized, yet Pope Urban II saw value in liberating Jerusalem from Islamic occupation.  Islamic scholars point to:wide-spread poverty in Europe and a resultant loss of faith among the populace, a power struggle between the Church and secular authorities, envy towards the wealth of the Muslim East and a papacy’s fanatical desire to export Catholicism through a militarized delivery system as precipitates of Urban’s call for crusade.[viii]While, there may be some truth within these assessments, they do not present sufficient rational to explain the overwhelming response and the apparent religious zeal that infected some who volunteered.  On 27 November 1095, at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II appealed to the 300 clerics in attendance.[ix]  An original copy of Urban’s speech does not exist; however, there are five separate accounts from either witnesses or those who spoke to clerics who had attended the Council.  The pertinent parts of his speech as it pertains to the First Crusade were: first, the Holy Land was occupied by infidels and it was the Lord’s will that it be liberated by Christians of the West; second, that any Christian who participated in the crusade, whether they died on the way to the Holy Land or they died in battle against the pagans, would earn for himself the complete remission of all sin; and third, that resources hithertofore expended in conflict between Christians must be redirected against the infidel.[x]In the 11thcentury, salvation was works-based. Penance was a standard means by which to receive forgiveness and every sin had an associated penitential act. The life of a Christian was one of confession, repentance, and penance. People lived under the fear that they would not be able to sufficiently even the scales between righteousness and sin to assure themselves of a place in heaven.  Urban II was offering the ultimate penitential act.[xi]  One year later, four armies were fielded.

The Crusader armies were disjointed. The first to arrive in the East was led by Peter the Hermit, a monk of no military training.  They were crushed.[xii]Subsequent, Christian forces were better trained, with leaders experienced in armed conflict. On 7 July 1099, Jerusalem was liberated, and Pope Urban’s II divinely assigned mission was complete. Western forces returned to their regions victorious and free from the consequences of their sins: past, present, and future.  For those who sought pilgrimage, the road to Jerusalem had been reopened. Unfortunately, though Islamic fighters had either been killed or driven out of the urban areas, those that lived continued to operate in the country side and harassed, robbed, raped, terrorized and murdered pilgrims who were transiting.

It is within this post-crusade context in 1120 that Hugh de Payens, a knight of Champagne, along with Geoffrey de Saint-Omer and seven other knights formed a small para-military type police force[xiii].  All had distinguished themselves in the battle for Jerusalem, and having witnessed the continuing persecution of Christians by localized Muslim bandits they collectively decided to apply their knightly skills and knowledge towards ensuring the safety of pilgrims and the defence of religion. Though unpaid, they formally offered their services to king Baldwin II of Jerusalem, who evidently seeing value in such service accepted their offer. Concurrently, and at the discretion of the nine, a decision was taken that they should collectively swear a solemn vow to Guarimond, patriarch of Jerusalem, embracing the fundamental monastic vows of perpetual chastity, obedience and poverty. Initially, the nine took upon themselves the name of “The Poor Fellow-soldiers of Jesus Christ.”[xiv]Knights were not simple-minded men. By their nature, as previously intimated, they were themselves men of some degree of wealth and education.  They had performed the ultimate penitential service and could return home in honour and in a state of permeant righteousness.  Heaven had been earned. Yet, they remained in Jerusalem.

Military service in the Middle Ages provided the soldier with a variety of compensations: respect, honour, esteem, purpose, plunder and adventure, so there was an attraction.  It also offers moral confusion and injury, physical disease, psychological misery, physical and psychological injury and death. While there were benefits to be enjoyed as a knight, one must return to the presence of family and friends and away from the risks of battle to obtain them.  The nine rejected the benefits and by their actions embraced the cost.

In medieval times there were essentially two types of religious vows: the simple vow and the solemn vow.  The simple vow, though given in similar manner to the solemn vow, was temporary in nature, valid only while serving with a particular congregation or order, and it could be relinquished at the will of the individual.  The solemn vow was permanent, rendering the individual a religious in the canonical sense and the giver could only be liberated from his commitment at the discretion of the Church and then only in the gravest of circumstances, such as apostasy.[xv]  The nine collectively surrendered themselves to the life of a religious.

Recognizing the potential value of an increased number of Templar knights, King Baldwin II sent Hugh de Payens back to France in order to further legitimize the nascent community by obtaining “from the Pope the approbation of their order.”[xvi]  Seeking support for the initiative, Baldwin sent a letter along with Hugh de Payens to St. Bernard of Clairvaux requesting his assistance with the Pope.[xvii]  Bernard was a French abbot and the primary reformer of the Cistercian order, an order that itself was young, having only been established in 1098.  Impressed with Hugh de Payens and the concept behind the brothers of the temple, Bernard influenced the sitting of a Council at Troyes to consider Hughes application for papal recognition of the order.  At the Council Hughes explained to the Council the history and purpose of the order of the temple knights of Jerusalem. Bernard, who was recognized within the Church for his wisdom and piety and who history has deemed as the last of the Church Fathers, provided his endorsement and a Rule for the new order based upon that for the Cistercians.  The Council approved the establishment of knights of the Temple as a monastic order with a unique mission and the Rule by which they would live.[xviii]

A succession of papal Bulls increased the legitimacy, autonomy and power of the Templars. In 1139, Pope Innocent II issued a bull entitled “Omne Datum Optimumthat granted the Templars a range of extraordinary privileges.”[xix]Among which, the Templar order was accountable only to the Holy See, permanently; they were exempt from all forms of tithes and taxes, they retained their own clergy, and they were the “designated ‘defenders of the Catholic Church and attackers of the enemies of Christ, a licence so broad as to be effectively all-encompassing.”[xx]  In 1144 Pope Celestine II’s Milites Templi (Knights of the Temple), granted all members of the order permanent relief from penance, essentially the same as that granted to participants who died in and on the way to the First Crusade. And in 1145 Pope Eugene III’s Militia Deireconfirm the Templars the right to select their own clergy, use their own cemeteries and to establish their own oratories, which would allow the order a steady and substantial cash flow through tithes and fees.[xxi]

There is no evidence as to why the nine chose to become religious.  During the 11thcentury monasticism in general had been experiencing a paradigm shift.  Previously, monastics were men of solitude who dedicated their lives to contemplation and prayer.  The shift was towards an outward service orientation.  Yet, the same underlying denial of self, detachment from earthly things and complete consecration to God remained as values in the evolving orders.  Within Jerusalem were the Hospitalliers, a monastic order of the new paradigm, and at the time of the Templars inception, the Hospitalliers were solely dedicated to providing medical care to injured and sick pilgrims.  It may have been that the nine were influenced by their medically oriented counter-parts, but it still would not fully explain why nine knights would surrender their lives in service to physically defending the weak and advancing the Catholic cause. It is also possible that the earlier teachings of Augustine’s Just War, and its 11thcentury interpretation and application were also influences. Initially, there was no financial gain as they lived on alms, wore old clothing and ate left over food given to them by the Hospitalliers. It is likely that these nine men were profoundly affected by: their previous training and experiences as knights; their response to Urban II’s call to arms; the immediate needs of the community in which they lived; their abilities as knights and a spiritual call to serve in the name of Jesus Christ in similar manner to their non-military monastic peers. Whatever motivation or series thereof moved the nine to take the solemn vow in 1120 in service to the sovereign and the patriarch of Jerusalem, their actions were seismic.  Within twenty-five years of its inception the small band of nine had become Pope’s Special Forces, completely self-contained, self-sustaining and self-governing.  Tens of thousands would line up and join.  20,000 would literally give their lives in sacrifice unto the mission. Yet, in spite of the Templar inspired spiritual revival, their unique and privileged position would eventually provide the stimulus for the order’s decimation.

Gerry Potter
Colonel (Ret’d)
President[i]John Langan, “The Elements of St. Augustine’s Just War Theory,” The Journal of Religious Ethics 12, no. 1 (Spring 1984): 21.

[ii]Augustine, “Contra Faustum, Book XXII,” New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, paragraph 74, accessed December 10, 2017.  http://www.newadvent.or”g/fathers/140622.htm

[iii]Augustine, paragraph 74.

[iv]Woodhouse, F. C. The Military Religious Orders of the Middle Ages: the Knights Templar, Hospitaller and Others.(Great Britain: Leonaur, 2010), loc. 116, Kindle.

[v]Woodhouse, loc. 159.

[vi]James R. Ginther, The Westminster Handbook to Medieval Theology, (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press), 151.

[vii]C. G. Addison, The Knights Templars Third ed., (London: Longman Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1842), loc. 205.

[viii]Al Jazeera, “Shock: The First Crusade and the Conquest of Jerusalem,” Al Jazeera, December 07, 2016, accessed December 13, 2017, http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/the-crusades-an-arab-perspective/2016/12/shock-crusade-conquest-jerusalem-161205081421743.html.

[ix]Wikipedia, “Council of Clermont,” Wikipedia, December 11, 2017, accessed December 13, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Clermont.

[x]Charles River, ed., The Teutonic Knights: The History and Legacy of the Catholic Church’s Most Famous Military Order(Charles River Editors), Loc. 127, Kindle.

[xi]Dan Jones, The Templars: the Rise and Spectacular Fall of Gods Holy Warriors (NY, NY: Viking, 2017), loc. 309, Kindle.

[xii]Wikipedia, “First Crusade,” Wikipedia, December 11, 2017, accessed December 13, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Crusade.

[xiii]Jones, loc. 647.

[xiv]Jones, loc. 220.

[xv]Charles Warren Currier, History of Religious Orders: A Compendious and Popular Sketch of the Rise and Progress of the Principal Monastic, Canonical, Military Mendicant and Clerical Orders and Congregations of the Eastern and Western Churches together with A Brief History of the Catholic Church in Relation to Religious Orders, (New York, NK: Murphy & McCarthy, 1898), pg. 31.

[xvi]Addison, loc 288.

[xvii]River, loc. 2378.

[xviii]Jones, loc. 888.

[xix]Jones, loc. 1066.

[xx]Jones, loc. 1078.

[xxi]Jones, loc. 1100.

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