Friday, December 9, 2016

Light Shines on Good and Bad

We often think about how a light shines in the darkness and we are comforted. From a young age light was the source of comfort and safety. As little children we begged our parents to leave the light on as we fell asleep. We were sure the light would keep monsters away from nibbling on our toes during the night. Growing up, the light always was a sign of good things. But light is not always a sign of something good. It can also reveal sin and evil. Consider today’s Gospel Reading:
Luke 8:16-21 (RSV) - The Lord said, "No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a vessel, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hid that shall not be made manifest, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light. Take heed then how you hear; for to him who has will more be given, and from him who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away." Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him for the crowd. And he was told, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you." But he said to them, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it."
Light shines on our Churches. It shines on the good and the bad. When a Church is an example of love and faithfulness to God, the light reflects God’s light and others are drawn to the Church. When a Church is an example of sin and selfishness, the Church no longer reflects God’s light but is exposed with sin, and others who seek the Lord are driven away.

If your Church is not growing, one thing to consider is how the life the Church members is reflected in God’s light. Is the life of each member drawing others to Christ or away from Him? Nothing that is hid shall not be made manifest.....something to think about when it comes to Church growth.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Time is Drawing Near

Yesterday I wrote about making excuses when the Lord sends His servants to call us to heaven. At some point the Lord will come calling. We all know and accept that reality, but it has become “normal” to think we have more time. We are confident the Lord isn’t coming today, “So why not just go about our business,” we think every day. But as today’s Gospel reminds us, our time is drawing near...
Here is today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 21:28-33 (RSV) - The Lord said to his disciples, "Look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." And he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees; as soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."
I have noticed over the years that two types of people general exist. There are people who put off until the very last moment the work needed for a project. The project could be school related, work related, and even vacation related. Have you ever realized your vacation was beginning tomorrow and you hadn’t made hotel reservations yet? The other type of person is the one who arrives at the airport three hours in advance “just in case” something comes up they have to attend to. This type of person would rather sit at the gate for three hours and enjoy reading a good book, than feel rushed through security in a state of panic the plane would depart without them comfortable in their seat.

No matter what the project, the procrastinator will procrastinate. There is one major problem though when it comes to our relationship with God. WE DON’T KNOW the departure time. We only know, as the Lord says in today’s Gospel, the time is drawing near. When it comes to our time to enter heaven, we won’t be able to ask for more time, we won’t be able to wrap things up, we won’t be able to “pull an all-nighter” to finish the report. God will come for us, and whatever we have accomplished we have more – no less.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you know my emphasis on taking seriously the life the Church offers to us as preparation for when God calls. I invite you today, most especially if you are a procrastinator, to consider whether or not you are prepared to enter the kingdom of heaven. “The time of your redemption is drawing near.” Will you be ready?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What will your excuse be?

One time I was sitting around a table with religious leaders from all sorts of different backgrounds. This group included Christians and non-Christians, and we were discussing the importance of hospital ministry. One Christian pastor asked, “Is there anyone who would visit a patient in the hospital and not pray for physical healing?” The question sounded obvious enough since the very reason a patient enters the hospital is to be healed by doctors who have been trained in all the newest technologies. We don’t go to the hospital to die. I was troubled by his question because as Orthodox Christians we approach life from a different vantage point, so I raised my hand. “I don’t!” I let it sit out there for a minute or two. “As an Orthodox Christian I pray they are healed so that they may live long enough to repent.”  A long discussion ensued.

I think it has become too easy to pray for healing just so that we are no longer sick. We pray that God fixes what is broken in our bodies so that we can continue to pursue our dreams of building great dynasties. We pray that God allows us to get up from our sick bed so that we can walk into work another day and close that perfect deal we were just about to wrap up. We even pray to God that we don’t die too soon so that we can enjoy time with our family. Let’s face it; we all have excuses about why we don’t want to die. But if we’re honest the excuse rarely if ever includes time for repentance and confession. We hear something similar in the Gospel.

The Lord compares heaven to a great banquet to which many had been invited. The master had sent word to those who had been invited that the banquet was ready, “But they all with one accord began to make excuses.” (Luke 14.18) The result was that others were brought into the banquet and those who had made excuses were left outside. The master said, “For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.” (Luke 14.24)

The stories in the Gospel are never just stories. They are meant for us today to hear and embrace as a witness to God’s loving promise about our future with Him. That means WE have been invited to the banquet which He calls Heaven. We have been called by His servants, the Saints of our Church, to remind us that He is waiting for us. We have been given the opportunity to accept His invitation to the banquet. It also means that we have been the chance to come up with excuses about why we aren’t ready to attend. It isn’t because we don’t want to attend; we just would rather spend more time doing what we like to do “down here” for a while longer. That’s really why we spend so much energy trying to get healed and leave the hospital. We want more time to check out the new property we just purchased, test the new equipment we just installed, or enjoy time with our family.

The truth of God’s promise is that we don’t know exactly when He will send His servants to “bring us” to the banquet, so we need to be willing to answer the call when the time comes. That can only mean that we must be ‘ready and waiting’ for His call. But when He calls and you aren’t ready, what will your excuse be? Instead of making excuses, be ready for Him. Be waiting for Him. Enter into the banquet together with Him and avoid being left outside the gates of heaven. It isn’t about property, jobs, and family. It is about entering into heaven with God.