Tuesday, November 30, 2010

“You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life.” (John 5.39)

New Testament Challenge, Day 16 – John 1-5
The chapters for today are replete with a common theme: “Come and See” which we hear first form the Lord’s lips as He embraced Saint Andrew, “’Come and see.’ They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day.” (John 1.39) Saint Andrew was a disciple of Saint John the Baptist who, “came for a witness, to be bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe.” (John 1.7) so he was fully prepared to follow Christ when He appeared.

“Come and see” also implies the necessity for a real physical witness of the truth to fully believe and be saved as the Lord said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” (John 5.39-40) If we do not have a real physical experience and communion with God we do not have life.

It is a nice coincidence that these chapters are read today as part of the New Testament Challenge, the feast of Saint Andrew. As Orthodox Christians we come and see Christ in the Eucharist as we “worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4.24) We experience Him just as Andrew did some 2000 years ago. He is calling to us today, “Come and see.” Will we come and remain with Him and those first Apostles did?

Monday, November 29, 2010

“He was known to them in the breaking of bread.” (Luke 24.35)

New Testament Challenge, Day 15 – Luke 22-24

In today’s reading we hear of the appearance of the resurrected Lord to Saint Luke and Saint Cleopas on the road to Emmaus. In this scene the two saints of the Church are walking along three days after the death of Christ when they meet who they think is a stranger. It is Christ who asks them what they are speaking about. They were confused: “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?” (Luke 24.18)

At first this is interesting for me simply because they should have recognized Him especially since they were themselves contemplating His Passion. Even in the face-to-face interaction with the Resurrected Jesus they did not recognize Him. This confirms the reality that Jesus reveals Himself to us and nothing we can do can force Him to appear and reveal Himself unless He chooses. The question is when and how does He choose to reveal Himself?

In the Eucharist! It wasn’t until Jesus was offering them the Eucharist that they finally recognized who He was. They even commented later, “Did not our heart burn within us while He walked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24.32) The same reality holds true for us as well. Even the daily study of Scripture cannot reveal the Lord to us without His blessing unless the Scriptures lead us also to Holy Communion.

It was true for Saint Luke and Saint Cleopas; why would we think otherwise for us? If we are not receiving Holy Communion we are not fully understanding Him.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Be Careful What You Ask For

In the Gospel we read of a rich young man who asked, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18.18) as if eternal life was something attainable by one or two simple tasks to checked off a list. The Lord said, “You know the commandments.” (Luke 18.20) It was Jesus’ way of saying, ‘Hey, you know what you have to do, just do it.’ The young man had done all these things but was still asking for more.
Isn’t it interesting how many times we finish a project and still insist on making it more difficult than it needs to be? The young man had his response from Christ which, if he was speaking truthfully, would have been enough, but he pushed the limits with Christ when he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” (Luke 18.20)

“You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Luke 18.22) The rich young man didn’t really want to hear what was needed because, as a rich man, he knew he didn’t want to give up his riches.

This should be a lesson for us. We are never satisfied either in blessings for struggles. We either want to be blessed more or struggle less. The reality is that when our heart is true to Jesus Christ, we will be satisfied with what He has given us. If we have been richly blessed, praise God. If we have struggled for Christ and the Gospel, praise God. God knows what we need.

IF we think we know better than God and we push our limits, we are bound to receive something we can’t handle. Then we will become very sorrowful (Luke 18.23) because we don’t want to offer God what He really wants….our hearts.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

On Traveling, Part 3 – Attending Church

So I have kept the most important for last. Today is the day for travelers (those traveling during Thanksgiving anyway) to begin thinking about getting back home in time for work and school on Monday morning. The question that often NEVER makes even an appearance at the dialogue is whether or not to attend Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning prior to returning home. If we traveled via airplane then this issue needed to be addressed when we were purchasing our tickets. But for those who are driving it is normally a late night topic for Saturday.
In “The Lord's Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations” (c 70-100 AD) it states quite clearly, “But every Lord's day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving.” It doesn’t say anything about traveling being an exception. Of course it goes without saying that when, in the ancient days, a Christian traveled from city to city it could often taken longer than a week’s journey and that the Eucharist might not be received, that does not mean when we are visiting a city that does in fact have a Church that we should consider the “Travel Rule” to apply and skip the Divine Liturgy, ESPECIALLY IF IT IS SO WE CAN BE HOME EARLY ENOUGH FOR DINNER, etc. There are several reference to Saint Paul remaining in a certain city so that he could celebrate a particular feast.

So if it’s not too late, make plans to attend Divine Liturgy in the morning and THEN leave for home. Trust me; you’ll feel a lot better for it.

Friday, November 26, 2010

On Traveling, Part 2 – Prayer

One thing that is certain in life; we each develop habits, some good and some not so good. Prayer is one such habit that we each should strive to have in our life. We should strive to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5.17) but when we travel this too, (see blog from November 24) takes a back seat to our fun in the sun vacation plans.
On a normal day most of us awake, go to work, come home, and go to sleep, with any number of personal hygiene and other such personal customs at each point of our day. If we are committed Christians these other customs includes morning and evening prayers and maybe even some “prayerful moments” when the day isn’t going quite as we had planned. But take us out of the normal schedule for a few days vacation and our entire world turns upside-down. We sleep in, drive the opposite direction of work, sleep somewhere “on the road” and take in the sights of wherever we are vacationing. Unfortunately our prayers also suffer during these spurts of non-conformity. We may even forget to pray altogether simply because our morning routine was altered to avoid going to work.

Just as in fasting, our prayers must remain a constant part of our day especially when we travel. When are traveling, we encounter a variety of temptations often just by reading the roadside billboards. The best thing we can do during travel time is to keep a small “travel prayer kit” along with our luggage. This kit should include a small (often diptych) icon of Christ and the Theotokos and a prayer book and maybe our prayer rope. For longer journeys like months at the beach we consider taking an entire “Home Altar” where the family can come together and thank God for their many blessings.

Each morning, whether we are traveling or in the throngs of our daily routine, we should begin each day in prayer. Consult your spiritual father for suggestions on what prayers should be included. When in doubt there are a number of very well compiled prayer books published by Orthodox Christian publishers. One idea may be a “minimum daily prayer” where when time is short you “fall back” on the minimum but if time allows more full prayer session can happen.

Either way, keep praying since it is the only we can remain connected to God and dedicate our thoughts to Him.

Priorities, Priorities, Priorities

Today is “Black Friday” named to reflect the day each year most retail stores sell enough items to “be in the black for the year” and open before dawn in an attempt to grab their piece of the purchasing public’s “pie” on what is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year. Store parking lots have been filling up since the early hours of the morning with shoppers hunting for that “perfect bargain gift” for Christmas. It makes we wonder about (a great deal) our priorities as Americans.
When the nation was attacked on September 11th, we were told to shop so the terrorists wouldn’t “win” by depressing our economy. When the economy took a nose dive in 2008 we were told to keep shopping so the markets wouldn’t send us into a second Great Depression. It seems everywhere you turn a politician is suggesting we need to be shopping more.

Of course I’m not going to begrudge someone a little shopping today (or any day) for Christmas gifts, especially in a “down economy” when sales and bargains are so critical in our ability in purchasing “all those presents” we have on our lists. But isn’t that the problem?

Since when does a shopping list for Christmas have anything to do with how much we love each other as mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles, etc? Some economists suggest we haven’t seen the worst of the economy yet so I continue to ponder…what will America look like in the next twenty years?

Yesterday we supposedly spent the day being thankful for the blessings God had given us. All across the United States families gathered around a great banquet feast and enjoyed quality time set aside for giving thanks. I’m sure some families spent hours into the late evening remembering stories of childhood silliness with laughter and late night snacks, which makes the early morning parking lots even more humorous. One friend of mine posted on Facebook that he had been to four different stores before sunrise.

Is this really what makes America a great nation? I wonder how full our Church parking lots will be on Sunday morning (nowhere near dawn) as compared to shopping malls. “Where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.” (Matthew 6.21) Where are YOUR priorities this Thanksgiving Weekend?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Feast of Thanksgiving…The Real Thanksgiving

Every November our school children bring home paper cut-outs of pilgrims and turkeys shaped from their own hands. This is “all in a day’s work” as they learn about Thanksgiving and the first European settlers to “discover” the Native American cultures already steeped in their local traditions. Tradition is a big part of celebrating Thanksgiving for every family. Many family traditions include great feasts together with cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc followed by time spent together as a family. As Greek Orthodox Christians we have our own Holy Traditions surrounding the idea of giving thanks to God…it is called The Divine Liturgy.
The Divine Liturgy, or the Eucharist as it more properly called, is the celebration of Holy Communion, and is THE celebration of Thanks to God for His love and blessings. When God chose to become a human being and suffer and die for us, He chose to give us eternal life. When we are Baptized into His Church (the Body of Christ) we are forever united to God and, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8.38-39) This is the reality of what we celebrate every Divine Liturgy. This is why the early Church termed the Feast of Holy Communion to be Eucharist (Ευχαριστεία) which literally means thanksgiving.

We find ourselves nearly 2000 years later and every November we celebrate a national holiday set aside to say “Thank you,” to God. The problem is……as Americans we have left Him out of the very holiday meant to thank Him. Thanksgiving has become nothing more than a school vacation, a football extravaganza, and excuse to over-eat on turkey. Sometimes as a last-minute thought we give a donation to a charity to ease our guilt.

My dear brothers and sisters God has poured so many blessings that it has become difficult to keep track of just how blessed we are. This month, in honor of Thanksgiving, make an effort to not only consider the blessings God has given you FREE, but find time every Sunday to go to Church for Divine Liturgy and say “Thank You” to God.

After all, we say “thank you” to the cashier at the store and tip our wait staff to say “thanks,” but how do we thank God? By going to Church and celebrating the real thanksgiving, The Divine Liturgy.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On Traveling, Part 1 - Fasting

Today is one of the busiest travel days of the year and I’m called to take a moment away from the New Testament Challenge and offer some thoughts about travel and how it affects (or not) our spiritual journey toward salvation.

One of the most obvious effects of travel is our diet. Despite the best efforts, our diet often takes a back seat (no pun intended) in importance when we travel. How often have you planned a trip with statements like: “When are we eating next?” I can remember many family vacations, especially around the holidays, where as one meal was only beginning we were looking ahead to the next meal. This is often under the pretense that, “schedules must be kept!” if any vacation is to be successful. The problem with this is that it places the incorrect emphasis on food. “Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them.” (1 Corinthians 6.13) While food is a necessary part of life, fasting reminds us that, “And Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger” (John 6.35)

Fasting, something that deserves its own blog entry, is a long lost discipline that many of us have neglected in our daily life. When we travel, many invoke the “Travel Canon” (no specific exemption exists by the way) and refrain from fasting even though by today’s standards, fasting even on the interstate highway is just as feasible as in our own homes. For that at least we should be thankful to the era of national chain restaurants!

Without fasting we find ourselves without the discipline of self-control which, when combined with being away from our familiar surroundings of home, may lead to sin. When we travel we are tired and without sleep we already are not making the soundest of decisions. Combined with the lack of self-control and an atmosphere of, ‘I’m traveling so I can do this…’ we lead ourselves further from Christ which is always a danger.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” (Mark 14.13)

New Testament Challenge – Day 9 – Mark 13-16

Each day we struggle to live the life Christ desires for us because of the truth conveyed in these few words, “And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake.” As I have been saying for the past several days, we are at war with Satan and his demons. Every time we commit to doing the will of God, the devil tries everything in his arsenal to stop us; and that includes send our closest friends and family to convince us to stop (or at least tone down) our foolish faith.

Our Lord predicted this when He said, “Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.” (Mark 14.12) There are few other possible choices of temptation that the devil could send our way than the betrayal of our own family. We must be strong in our faith in Christ and be willing, as so many of the early Saints were, to struggle for it if the need arises.

We are human beings living in a fallen state of sin. Put simply that means we will not always be successful in fending off temptation. Consider today’s reading and you will see the weakness of even the Apostles.

“In the evening He came with the twelve. Now as they sat and ate, Jesus said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, one of you who eats with Me will betray Me.’ And they began to be sorrowful, and to say to Him one by one, ‘Is it I?’” (Mark 13.17-19)

“Then Peter called to mind the word that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.’” (Mark 14.72)

“Then they all forsook Him and fled.” (Mark 14.52)
These few passages indicate that even the most faithful ( Peter was the leader of the Apostles) have moments of weakness in fending off temptation especially in the face of our closest friends and family attacking our faith in Christ. The point is not to be without fault; the point is to be committed to trying as many times as it takes to get it right.

Monday, November 22, 2010

He Never Said It Would Be Easy

New Testament Challenge – Day 8 - Mark 9-12

“There are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.” (Mark 9.1)

These words rang true for the first believers of Christ. The Ancient Church not only believed in Him as God they recognized the Power present in the Church to continue His saving work. As Saint Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” (Romans 1.16)

Many times when we read Holy Scripture it is tempting to say to ourselves, “I couldn’t possibly do everything the Lord is asking me to do. I’ll just do a bit and He will understand. After all, I’m only human.” Nothing could be further from the truth… following God’s commandments, while it might be difficult is always possible by the power of God.

He never said it would be easy, just possible. “But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (Matthew 19.26) As you read today’s challenge readings, or whenever you pick up the Holy Scriptures to read remember, God said it was possible. All you have to do is stay connected to Him.

Go ahead; change your life for Christ; and Be Transfigured!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

That Good Part

In the Gospel read at every Feast of the Theotokos we hear the story of Martha and Mary and their need for God’s blessing. The story is familiar to our own in that once Christ arrives in their home as a guest for dinner, Mary leaves the kitchen (and Martha doing the remainder of the work) to spend the remaining time with her guest, our Lord Jesus Christ. The story is familiar because we each have been both Mary and Martha in our homes when guests arrive. And like the Gospel story we each have been faced with a dilemma: finish the busy work or spend time with our guest. “Mary has chosen that good part.” (Luke 10.42)

We have all heard how important it is to finish our preparation for company so that when the company arrives we may spend time with them rather than in the kitchen. It is seen as rude behavior to be slaving in the kitchen while our guests relax in the den. The same must be said about our life with the Lord. We must be prepared so that when the time comes to be with the Lord we are not “distracted with much serving and worried and troubled about many things.” (Luke 10.40-41) The real question we must consider is, “When IS the Lord coming?” and “When should we put away the busy work and spend time with Him?”

The answer is, “NOW!” We must live like the Lord is coming now and then we will always be prepared for His arrival. “Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing.” (Matthew 24.46) “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24.36) In the meantime, EVERY DIVINE LITURGY is an opportunity for us to “lay aside the cares of this life so that we may receive the King of all.” (from the Cherubic Hymn of the Divine Liturgy)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

So Who's Your Boss?

New Testament Challenge – Day 6

Mark 1-4

One of the first topics Saint Mark covers in his Gospel is the battle between Jesus Christ and Satan. In fact Satan is mentioned as early as Mark 1.13 where we hear, “And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan.” This should remind us of the reality that there IS a war between God and Satan; a war that Satan cannot win of course, but a war non-the-less. Right out of the gate Saint Mark tells of Jesus’ power to cast out demons from people’s lives to show exactly who’s boss!

So who’s boss in your life? You may have been baptized at one time either as a child or an adult who came to know Christ later in life. You may have never been baptized because you don’t see a spiritual benefit to what you consider an “empty ritual” even though our Lord Himself commanded the Church to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them….” (Matthew 28.19) You may be reading this right now and thinking, as a good American citizen, “Nobody is MY boss! Nobody can tell ME what to do!” You may even think that makes you your own boss….you couldn’t be further from the truth.

The reality is that the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is the supreme boss of the universe whether we embrace that reality or not. When we don’t, then experiencing His commandments and authority is akin to torture – this is Hell. When we do embrace Him as our boss, though we use the word ‘Lord’ then we welcome His commands and bath in His authority. I can tell you one “person” for sure who doesn’t embrace Him as Lord…Satan; which is why the Gospel so clearly declares God’s victory of death and any control that Satan had over creation following The Fall of Humanity.

When we choose to turn our life over to the REAL Lord, Jesus Christ the Son of God, then we will likely experience some violent reaction from Satan, the demons that were a part of our life, and even from those friends and family members around us who cannot understand our new-found-faith in Jesus Christ. In fact many people will not be able to comprehend a decision to abandon the “American Dream” in place of a quite satisfying life at the foot of the Cross of Christ. Even Church communities who have been fooled by Satan into embracing such myths as the “Prosperity Gospel” will react violently to a new direction focused upon our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.

It will be no different than what we hear in the Gospel, “And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him.” (Mark 1.26) It may be violent, but it won’t last because it is only Satan’s final temper tantrum as another life or community is saved.

So who’s your boss?

Friday, November 19, 2010

"Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, finds so doing." (Matthew 24.46)

New Testament Challenge – Day 5

Matthew 25-28

The opening verses of today’s readings, on the surface, conflicts with everything I ever used to “know” about God and Christianity. At least, that’s what I used to think. How can the Church condone the selfishness of the five virgins who refuse to share their oil with the others? If this question does not stir in our hearts as we read Matthew 25.1-13, we either have no heart or no brain. Even today I struggle with this passage. Here it is:
 1 "Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
2 "Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
3 "Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them,
4 "but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
5 "But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.
6 "And at midnight a cry was heard: 'Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!'
7 "Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.
8 "And the foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.'
9 "But the wise answered, saying, 'No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.'
10 "And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.
11 "Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open to us!'
12 "But he answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.'
13 "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.

I used to think that it was selfish to deny the oil to others so they could also meet the Lord, but that ignores verse 9. Is it selfish if my actions are meant to secure my salvation while risking the salvation of others? This continues to be my dilemma…daily.

I turn also to Saint Paul who says,
“I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.” (Romans 9.1-5)
These words from the greatest missionary of our Church remind me that some people just won’t respond to God and nothing I do can change that. That’s up to the Holy Spirit. Clearly Saint Paul could not have cursed himself since as he says,
“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8.38-39)
Since if we love the Lord nothing can separate us from Him I don’t see how we could ever be too giving. The message in Matthew 25.1-13 isn’t as much about selfishness as it is about being prepared. When the time comes to meet the Lord, like it or not, we must be ready to meet Him. If when He comes we are, out of love for others, trying to help others find Him, “Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, finds so doing.” (Matthew 24.46)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

“For many are called, but few chosen.” (Matthew 20.16)

New Testament Challenge – Day 4
Matthew 19-24

In today’s chapters we hear over and over again the warnings from Christ against complacency. Whether we are the servants who “says in his heart, ‘my master is delaying his coming,’” (Matthew 24.48) or the wicked vinedressers who bore no fruit and were destroyed (Matthew 21.33-46) our Lord is warning us to be vigilant in our daily works for Him. “Blessed is the servant whom his master, when he comes will find so doing.” (Matthew 24.46)

The ancient Church lived as if the Lord was coming in their lifetime. Every action and thought revolved around being ready for His return. The realty that Jesus Christ has not yet returned in over 2000 years has created an atmosphere of complacency in the Church and society in general. In times of crisis, such as the death of a child or other tragedy, we are forced to realize that we don’t know when the end will come. As I like to say, “Either He is coming for us or we are going to Him. Either way, we don’t know when that will be so we should be ready for it.”

Complacency in spirituality is more dangerous than in other aspects of life because it has eternal results. Are we ready to greet the Lord today? He may come before you finish reading this blog entry. Are you ready for Him?


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

“The field is the world.” (Matthew 13.38)

Among many miracles and parables in today’s reading Jesus opens with comparing the Word of God with seeds and the world as a field planted. We can even say that WE are the field and Christ is the seed which the Father plants in us. The beauty of seeds is in how they transform. As seeds they are small and insignificant like a mustard seed, “which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree.” (Matthew 13.32)

If we embrace that a seed of faith has been planted within us we will also embrace that how are today must transform as the seeds grows within us. If not, the seed dies and we become mere dirt. It also implies that we are never done growing as the seed continues to blossom into the tree it is destined to be. Likewise our life is destined for greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven if only we nurtured the seed of faith and let it grow.

He who has ears to hear let him hear.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

“Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent.” (Matthew 11.20)

New Testament Challenge - Day 2
Matthew 8-12

In this reading of Matthew we hear the Lord speaking difficult words of rebuke to those whom, although He had blessed them, did not repent from their sinful lives. There are two points in this passage that we should take special note of:

1. Even sinners receive and witness blessings from God

2. God expects a new life of repentance in thanksgiving for His blessings
Here the words of Saint Paul ring loudly, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5.8) Haven’t we been blessed by God? Isn’t there anything in our personal life that we can recognize as a blessing from God? Too often we can’t think of things, not because we have not been blessed, but because we can’t see that our good fortune and health are gifts from God. We somehow think that we are to be credited with the greatness that we have accomplished in our lives. The reality is that each one of us has been blessed by God, in ways we don’t always understand.

The reality of our blessings brings great cause for reflection over point #2 above. We cannot thank God for the blessings if we don’t recognize His hand in them. In this case we don’t live a life of repentance either because we don’t think we need to repent or because we don’t recognize God’s love acting in our lives.

Here is our deepest challenge….to see the love of God acting in our lives and then to offer Him thanks by living new lives. If we can learn to see our blessing for what they are, giving thanks comes a great deal easier. And when we live a life of repentance then God will not rebuke us as He did those in Chorazin or Bethsaida.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Why I Blog? - 40 Days of Blogging Challenge

Today begins the New Testament Challenge and with it the 40 Day Blog Challenge. In the very opening verses of today’s Challenge we read of the genealogy of Jesus Christ. This reading of the beginning of Christ’s earthly lineage together with the beginning of the blog challenge allows me the chance to ponder on the beginning of my blogging experience and why I choose to blog as an Orthodox Christian Priest.

So here are a few thoughts about why I blog….

For over three years I have been maintaining a public blog. “Be Transfigured” is dedicated to expressing thoughts and sermons on Orthodox Christianity. In my blogging experience I have come appreciate and benefit from the use of this valuable technology and I pray that those who take the time to read the blog are also somehow blessed by God. It isn’t so much that I believe my blog to be so fantastic. On the contrary my posts are simple and often short statements that challenge the normal everyday American concepts in which the Orthodox Church find herself. I strongly believe the blessing is gained not be reading but by contemplating the challenges I routinely lay out for my readers. I find this possibility a great blessing to me as a Christian specifically and as an Orthodox Christian Priest in general. But I receive a much greater blessing by my blog experience.

As part of my weekly sermon preparation I often take the time to blog thoughts during the week as reactions to something I read, whether from a Church Father or the Holy Scriptures themselves. Sometimes I blog a few thoughts about something I heard on the radio or even saw on the side of the street. The fact is, that each week, as part of weekly sermon preparation a general theme begins to develop (based upon the Sunday Gospel lection of course) that directs not only each of these blogs, but bible study preparation and reflections that I must offer during the various meetings in which I find myself during the week. This theme tends to frame everything I read during the week.

This process has been a great help directly in sermon preparation because it has helped to focus attention thematically each week narrowly. The most obvious benefit to this focus is seen (or heard really) each Sunday as I am blessed by God with the opportunity to ascend the Pulpit and proclaim the Truth of the Gospel of Christ. By the time Sunday arrives, the theme for the sermon has been internalized to such an extent that, by the grace of God, words flow.

A common challenge for any preacher is to subdue the, “preacher voice” that is lurking beneath our lapel microphone. To the extent that I have been somewhat successful in subduing this voice, which I must admit still plagues my weekly sermons more than I would like, the permeating of this general theme developed during the week has allowed the sermon to sound more “conversational” rather than “preachy.”

Over the next 40 days I invite you to stop by and take a few moments to reflect upon the challenges as we travel the Advent journey toward Christmas. I welcome any comments on the thoughts I present and pray that together we will enjoy a brief dialogue on the importance of living a life transfigured by the Light of Christ.

Until then….

Friday, November 12, 2010

Showing Mercy is a Ticket to Heaven

When our Lord as asked, “”Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10.25) He offered the story of the Good Samaritan along with the commandment, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10.37) God has made perfectly clear to us through His Gospel how we are supposed to live if we desire to live forever with Him in Heaven. The problem is….we just don’t understand the fullness of the Good Samaritan story because we don’t understand mercy.

When most of us think of mercy we think of “being let off the hook” for some poor behavior, but if we study the Lord’s words in the Gospel, we see mercy as an outward expression of compassion rather than some poor behavior being forgiven. This is also at the very core of our constant pleading for mercy during the Divine Liturgy. We are not begging God to simply forgive our poor behavior; we are asking Him to show us compassion and heal us for our spiritual and physical illness.

According to the Good Samaritan story, when we stop what we are doing, paying special attention to the needs of someone else, even if under normal situations we might not even talk to that person, and show them compassion and assist them in their weakness, this is showing mercy. But it is deeper even then this….

To show this type of compassion, to put the needs of others ahead of our needs and wants, is only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit and the love that comes from a relationship with God. And THAT essentially is why showing mercy can get us to heaven.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Humility and Patience Go Together

In the Gospel (Luke 8.41-56) we witness both the patience of a devoted father and the humility of a real leader. As a leader of the synagogue, Jairus could have expected special treatment when he approached Jesus Christ to heal his daughter. He could have expected Jesus to drop everything and come at once to attend to his dying daughter. He could have expected the crowd to clear the way for Jesus to pass quickly so his daughter would not die. But he didn’t.

After Jairus had approached Jesus and begged Him to heal his daughter, and while on the way to Jairus’ house, Jesus was delayed. “As He went, the people pressed round Him. And a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years and had spent all her living upon physicians and could not be healed by anyone, came up behind Him, and touched the fringe of His garment; and immediately her flow of blood ceased.” (Luke 8.42-44) Because of this delay, Jairus daughter died.

Jairus could have given up hope. He could have left Jesus and crowd “defeated” and depressed. He could have blamed the young woman for the death of his only daughter. He could have become angry. But he didn’t.

Rather than demand special treatment Jairus was humble in the Lord. Rather than lose his temper he remained patient. Jairus is an example to us of great Christian humility and patience. I say Christian humility and patience because both these traits rest in knowing that Jesus Christ is God and has greater love for us than we know.

Don’t you want to be like Jairus?