Thursday, September 30, 2010

Be All That You Can Be…Not Just What You ARE

We have all heard that God loves us no matter what we do or say or believe. He loves us no matter what mistakes we have made in this life. He loves us even if we don’t love Him in return. It comes as no surprise then that whenever the question of Christian lifestyle comes up in a conversation, I often hear, “God loves me just the way I am.” This is all true, but it is not the end of the story.

Jesus Christ says, “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.” (Luke 6.35) The way in which our Lord teaches us here seems to say that we should love because God first loved us. Our Lord says, “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those love them.” (Luke 6.32)

God is calling us to a higher standard as Christians. While it is true that God loves us no matter how we believe or act, it is quite clear that He wants us to return this love by loving others. “Just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them.” (Luke 6.31) If we have been loved with no strings attached by God, then according to the Golden Rule, we should love others with the same expectation. It is not enough to simply be what we are, we must become all that God WANTS us to be, sons of the Most High.

“Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6.36)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Desire Is What Drives Us….But Where?

Our Lord says, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8.34) This simple statement requires us to consider two questions. Where is Christ going that He wants us to follow Him and do we in fact desire to follow Him there? We cannot answer the second without understanding the first. Some may think Christ is speaking literally since He was known to travel from city to city and spend time in villages and on the seashore teaching. Yet if we dig a bit deeper into the Gospel we discover the answer: “Assuredly, I say to you, that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.” (Mark 9.1)
If we understand that Christ is on His way to be with His Father then the question is: Do we want to follow Him there? God has blessed humanity with freedom: the freedom to follow Him or to deny Him. He doesn’t force us into submission but calls us lovingly like a father calls his children. “Please, come and be blessed,” and as any parent knows, if a child doesn’t want to follow there’s no forcing him. God gives each of us the same choice today.

If we desire to follow Christ to Heaven then we will willingly give up our loyalty to earthly passions in exchange for heavenly. This will not be an easy task since the devil will never stop trying to convince us that following God is for “those religious types who don’t know any better.” We will suffer for Christ, maybe not physically, but sometimes being humiliated by our neighbors can be more painful than being cut by a knife. Saint Paul says is best: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8.18)

Come on! Let’s go follow Christ to heaven together, as a Church and see the Power of God.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

If God Said It, It Must Be True – Let the Healing Begin

Throughout history God has revealed to the world that He means what He says and that just because He says something will happen, it will. There are three very similar examples of where God’s logic conflicts with our worldly logic. Abraham, Joachim and Zacharias were each old men when God declared to them that their wives would have children. In each case so long as the men believed in God’s promise a child was born. We know these three children to be Isaac, the Theotokos, and John the Baptist. In each case God proclaimed a truth and it came to be and life came into the world.

There is another famous instance when God declared sometime to be true that required faith. In the Old Testament we read in Numbers 21.4-9 about the Jews and their struggle in the desert. Because of their unbelief, “so the Lord sent venomous serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people died…Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a serpent for yourself and put in on a signal pole, and it shall be, if a serpent should bite someone, when the one bitten looks at it, he shall live.’” Its difficult to imagine that merely looking at a copper serpent on a stick would cure the poison of a snake, but “it happened, when a serpent bit anyone, and he looked at the copper snake, he lived.” (Numbers 21.9)

This testimony of faith should be an inspiration to us. God has declared that if we believe Jesus Christ and “confess with your [our] mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your [our] heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you [we] will be saved.” (Romans 10.9) It’s just like the Jews in the desert. It might sound impossible, but God said it, so it will come true. All we need to do is believe it…and then ACT ON IT!

We have all been bitten by the serpent, the devil, and we are all in need of some healing – whatever healing that may be. If believe God will heal us, He will. Why not put our faith in Him and let the healing begin?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Three Little Words, One Big Blessing

It Never Fails. I’m always receiving a blessing when I’m the one “doing the blessing”. Of course we all know that it is God that does the blessing when faithful Christians seek His blessing, whether clergy or non-clergy, but this evening I can honestly say I was the one blessed and inspired by someone’s deep faith. I was invited to bless the home of someone this evening that had just moved into their new home. Their home is new because their old home was destroyed in a fire in 2009. While getting to know the couple the wife shared with me the terror and anxiety of the night the fire took place. What inspired me this evening was the faith the wife had in Christ in the midst of such tragedy. As she shared with me, she was on the front lawn watching her home burn to the ground and began to panic about lost pictures and valuables. Realizing that such panic would only make things worse, she told herself, “Its only stuff.” With these three words, she was comforted that God would take care of her family and that “stuff” can always be replaced. Inspiring enough? NO! She then informed me that all the things she had begun to panic about losing were some of the few and only things salvaged in the fire. Many of the things that were saved were in the attic, which was nearly destroyed, in a plastic bin. Days later when she was allowed back into the home to assess the reality of the disaster, the bin was found in the attic charred but intact; her family photos and other precious memories were saved.

I firmly believe that God was present with this family in their tragedy, as He is with everyone during hard and good times, but His gift to this woman was to protect her “stuff” just as she was willing to not be bound to it and allow Him the help her. Maybe it was His way of saying, “Ok, now that you have given your heart to Me, I want to let you know you’re not alone.”

We can all be inspired by stories such as this and I pray that my sharing it here this evening will bring joy and peace to someone who is reading this but not quite sure that God is near to help. He is. He’s just waiting for you to let Him take over.

Glory to God for all things!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

It’s Time for a Change of Perspective

Sometimes in life we have to change the way we look at things. This is true not only in the arrangement of furniture in the Den, but our spiritual lives and September is an excellent opportunity to do this. When we look differently at our furniture sometimes we see things we never noticed before; and sometimes this can be a scratch in the sofa or a stain in the carpet. Whenever we take the chance to look at things from a different angle we are able to improve and sometimes repair that which is damaged.

Since September is the beginning of the New Ecclesiastical Year, I encourage each of you this week to change your perspective, not of your furniture, but of your life in Christ. Look at your spiritual life from a different angle…look at it from Christ’s point of view.

Would our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ be pleased with the way you treat others at work, in the store, on the street, in our Church? Would He be pleased with your level of commitment to Him or would He want more from you? Have you prayed as much as Christ would like? Have you fasted? Have you been charitable to others and His Church? Have you taken the time for your spiritual growth by spending a few moments each day away from the hustle and bustle of daily life?

God wants our hearts but He knows that sometimes our hearts are torn. He knows that sometimes we spend more time away from Him than with Him. He knows that sometimes we forget to pray and serve others. He knows we’re not perfect. All He wants is for us to try harder and He has given us Holy Confession for us to repent (change our behavior) to get closer to Him. Consider making an appointment for Holy Confession and change your point of view to God’s Point of View.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

From God’s Perspective, Everything Looks Different

As a boy I spent many Saturday mornings in front of the TV watching cartoons. Among my favorites was The Road Runner! I still chuckle when I think of that poor coyote especially when the Road Runner finds himself in mid-air hovering over a deep cliff holding the sign, “I know I’m defying the law of gravity, but I never studied law!” The scene is always followed by that poor coyote falling hundreds of feet to the canyon floor. As kids we always knew we couldn’t defy the law of gravity because we were real and the Road Runner was just a cartoon character. Here on Earth, the law of gravity is the law of gravity and there is no lawyer that can talk his way out of that law! Did you ever wonder why the Road Runner could do it and not Wile E. Coyote, Super-Genius? You’ll have to ask Warner Bros. since they wrote it.

In this morning’s Gospel, our Lord asks the Pharisees a seemingly simple question. “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” (Matthew 22.42) He asks this question as a follow-up to their inquiry just moments before: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22.36) Unlike my favorite childhood cartoons, the Pharisees did know the Law very well and were known for always following it to the very letter! It makes me wonder why they even bothered to ask the question.

Fortunately for us, St. Matthew tells us up front the reason for the lawyer’s question. The Gospel says, “But when the Pharisees heard that He [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him.” (Matthew 22.34-35) The lawyer had no desire to actually hear what our Lord had to say but wanted instead to trap Him into some nuance in the Law. What they didn’t expect was that they were asking the author of the Law about the Law.

God is the Author of the Law and there isn’t anyone who would dare challenge the author of a law as to its meaning so why challenge God? I believe the answer is in the lawyer’s inability to recognize Jesus Christ as God. The Pharisees and Sadducees were so wrapped up in being superior to commoners, such as carpenters (such as Jesus was) they were blinded to the truth. And the truth is, God’s Law rules above all other laws, but just as its strange to see the Road Runner standing in mid-air, it is strange seeing God’s wisdom and Law from our perspective. From our perspective as fallen human beings in need of healing, God’s Law just doesn’t make sense.

“Jesus asked them saying, ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He? They said to Him, ‘The Son of David.’ He said to them, ‘How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool’’?” (Matthew 22.42-44) Of course Jesus, being God, knows exactly how this can be, but because He wants to lead the Pharisees and Sadducees into the Truth, He invites them to take notice of the (what I would call) lack of common sense revealed in David’s Son being His Lord. But they couldn’t see the Truth because they wouldn’t let go of their earthly logic and laws of nature. In their pride, they refused to see how someone’s son could also be their lord.

In their pride they were unable to go to the only logical conclusion: “With man this in impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19.26) Saint John Chrysostom says, “For those men gained nothing, taken captive by vainglory and having fallen upon this terrible passion.” (Homily LXXII on Matthew)

Now back to the Law. “Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments, hang all the Law and Prophets.’” (Matthew 22.37-40) Immediately we begin to understand just why the Pharisees and Sadducees may have been confused. They asked which law, which single law, was the great one; and Jesus answered with two laws and then says the Law rests one of the Laws. How could the entire Law rest on itself? There has to be some greater authority than the Law itself. It’s kind of like asking why the Road Runner could float in mid-air and not the coyote. The statement, from their perspective, just made no sense.

The Bible is full of statements that, from our fallen human perspective, just don’t make sense. “Whoever shall lose His life shall gain it.” (Matthew 16.25) “He who desires to be the greatest shall be the servant of all.” (Mark 9.35) “Ask for a drink you and shall never thirst again?” (John 4.14) And don’t forget, “He who comes after me was before me.” (John 1.30) From our perspective none of these statements make sense; so when Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves, we just add that to list.

But God’s Law DOES make sense. We just have to change our perspective. We have to begin looking at life from God’s point of view. We must stop placing our trust in what the world and “worldly logic” tells us makes sense and beginning to trust in God’s Word and see things from His point of view. And what is God’s point of view? The Lord says…

"For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny. You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. Furthermore it has been said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery. Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.' But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5.20-48)


You see my brothers and sisters in Christ, from God’s perspective He WANTS us to be perfect. He doesn’t want us to settle for what makes sense from our worldly perspective. It is worldly perspective that gave the world hundreds of wars and the Holocaust of World War II. It is worldly logic that has created the worst economy since the Great Depression. And it will be worldly logic that keeps us away from God when He calls us into His Kingdom just as it was worldly logic that kept the Pharisees and Sadducees from recognizing Jesus Christ as God – the Author of the Law!

It’s time for us to change our perspective. It’s time to start looking at life the way God looks at it. It’s time to give up our pride and vainglory and actually hear the Word of God. “Wisdom arise! Let us HEAR the Holy Gospel.” (from the Divine Liturgy) My brothers and sisters, God doesn’t want us to just listen, He wants us to HEAR it with our hearts.