Friday, May 27, 2011

Rejoicing After Final Exams

June marks the end of another school year and the beginning of summer fun and celebration for our children…well only if they don’t have to return to summer school. Most students have learned to fear the end-of-year exams that reveal whether or not they have been working carefully during the year. If they pass the exams, that means summer is for fun and celebrating at the beach. Lucky for children, there are review days before exams to help them prepare. In fact throughout the entire year, schools offer review periods to help students get back on track if they have fallen behind. These reviews are very important because they let students know where they need to improve BEFORE the exam. If they didn’t do their work, then summer is about summer school and making up for lost time – definitely NOT a celebration.

Our spiritual life is no different. We are children of God and throughout life we are given a chance to review where we may have fallen behind so we can get back on track before its too late….before our final exam. Just like school, if we don’t get back on track and “fail” the final exam, heaven won’t be about joy and celebrations, but suffering.

 This is why I am offering the “Spiritual Self-Assessment”. Each year in June, the Church celebrates the Feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was given to the Church and “guided the Apostles into all truth.” (John 16.13) It is the Church that has guided us for over 2,000 years to live a life according to Christ’s commandments. Just like a school that guides young people into knowledge, it is the Church that guides her children to knowledge of God.

 Take a few moments and complete the “SpiritualSelf-Assessment” included in this month’s newsletter and consider it a chance to review before final exams. None of us will score perfect a perfect “1” rating, but at least we will know where more work is needed to prepare to meet the Lord.

 Go ahead…….complete it now and come back to finish reading this…..I’ll be waiting.

 I pray this exercise was helpful in preparing each of you to meet the Lord. After you have completed the assessment and come to terms with where you need a bit of extra work to get back on track, make a commitment to the Lord to improve and start improving today!

 If you find your answers were mostly in the 4-5 rating, don’t feel lost. There is always hope because the Lord gives us each a fresh start when we need it. If you find your answers were mostly 2-3, please don’t feel too confident because there is always room for improvement. Identify a few items on the assessment that need work and call your priest. Together, using the tools of the Church, you can create an “Individual Education Plan – IEP” to get you back on track.

 I close with encouragement from Saint Paul. “Therefore do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4.16) Take advantage of this chance to review so in heaven together we can all celebrate and rejoice!

 Glory to God for all things!

We are all Blinded by Something; What is it that Blinds You?

In the Gospel of John 9.1-41 Jesus heals a man who had been born blind. His Disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9.2) In ancient Jewish understanding of suffering, since Adam and Eve brought death into the world by sin, it was presumed that all suffering and illness was a result of sin. Technically speaking they were correct.  

To the woman He said: "I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you." Then to Adam He said, "Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it': "Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return." (Genesis 3.16-19)

But the Lord also said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.” (John 9.3) Following these words the Lord, using clay just as He used clay to create Adam and Eve, healed the man of his blindness. Turning to the Jews He said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.” (John 9.39)

Do the words of Jesus and His Church cause you to see clearly? We were all born in spiritual blindness. Just as so many Jews could not recognize Jesus Christ as God, many of us are blind to His word and live in darkness. Take the opportunity that God has given you today and wash away the dirt of life and open your eyes to Christ and worship Him just as the man born blind. “Lord, I believe!” (John 9.39)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Spiritual Self-Assessment

Rate the following topics from 1 to 5

I read the Bible


2)3x per week

3)1x per week

4)<1x per month

5)Been a long time

I fast at least from meat

                1)Wednesdays and Fridays and every day the Church teaches to fast

                2) Only Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year

                3) Only Wednesdays and Fridays during each of the Lenten Periods

                4) Only Wednesdays and Fridays during Great Lent

                5) Been a long time

I say my prayers

1)      Morning and evening every day

2)      Morning and evening when I remember

3)      When I get a chance or when something is bothering me

4)      When I or a member of family is in crisis

5)      Been a long time

I receive Holy Communion

1)      Every Sunday and on other Religious Holidays

2)      2x per month

3)      1x per month

4)      3x per year

5)      Been a long time

I attend Holy Confession

1)      4x per year

2)      2x per year

3)      1x per year

4)      When my conscience is really bothering me

5)      Been a long time

I attend Divine Liturgy

1)      At least every Sunday

2)      2x per month

3)      1x per month

4)      4x per year

5)      Been a long time

I have attended Church services OTHER THAN Sunday Liturgy (not including Holy Week)

1)      More than 10x in the last year

2)      5x – 9x in the last year

3)      2x in the past year

4)      1x in the past year

5)      Been longer than a year

When it comes to making my family calendar

1)      I always consider the Church calendar to avoid conflicts

2)      1 try to consider the Church calendar to avoid conflicts

3)      I look at the Church calendar in the Sunday bulletin and discover a conflict

4)      The Priest tells me he missed me and I discover there was a conflict

5)      You mean the Church has a calendar?

When discussing our family finances

1)      We have a goal to tithe our income to the Church as thanksgiving to God

2)      We try to increase our giving each year because we know the Church as expenses

3)      We give our fair share of the Church budget

4)      We give what we think is appropriate considering our personal finances

5)      We give when we have spare funds

SECTION 2 – Please answer Yes or No

We have a dedicated prayer corner in our home

I say my personal prayers where my children can see me

I teach my children how to say their personal prayers each night

I often miss Divine Liturgy for reasons other than being sick

I think it is important for my children to learn the Orthodox Christian Faith

I take time during each week to discuss the Faith with my children

I read the articles and letters in the Monthly and Sunday Bulletins regularly

I subscribe to the Church email distribution list

I am a “fan” of the Church Facebook Page

I often read the Church’s FB page for inspiration

I visit other Orthodox Christian websites for spiritual inspiration

I visit other Christian websites for spiritual inspiration

I visit other non-Christian websites for encouragement and guidance

I think the Greek Orthodox Church has information and guidance that can help me in my personal life

I feel a bit guilty answering these questions

I feel judged answering these questions

I don’t think the Church should bother to ask me these questions

Friday, May 20, 2011

Following Christ is a Step-by-Step Process

When Jesus encountered the Samaritan Woman, whom we know as Saint Photini, she immediately questioned His actions. “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” (John 4.9) Saint Photini couldn’t bring herself to accept that someone would break with years’ worth of tradition as the Gospel points out, “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” (John 4.9)

 Sometimes we get stuck between seeing the world as we have always seen it and seeing it through Christ’s perspective. Sometimes we are confused by what makes sense to us and what makes sense to God, just as Saint Photini struggled with understanding God when she said, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well?” (John 4.11-12)

 Whether we recognize Him or not, God never stops reaching out to us. He continues to offer us, step-by-step, opportunities to embrace Him and welcome Him into our daily lives. He walks with us from confusion to perception to understanding. Finally Saint Photini recognized who Jesus was after He revealed her inner secrets and she said to her friends, “Come, see a Man who told me all things I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (John 4.29)

 It doesn’t matter where we might be, God is calling us today to follow Him and welcome Him into our daily lives. For some of us that might mean putting aside “how it used to be” and embrace how God desires us to live now; for others it might mean going out and boldly declaring the truth of Jesus Christ. Either way, step-by-step we will all have the chance to walk with Him.

 Christ is Risen!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

We ALL Have a Friend in Jesus

The famous gospel song What a Friend We Have in Jesus touches deep in the hearts of many in the South. This song is not limited to so-called Gospel Churches, but is a long-time traditional hymn in many Western Christian Churches who share in the hope of Jesus Christ.

In the Gospel on the Fourth Sunday of Pascha the Church commemorates the Sunday of the Paralytic where we hear a man, paralyzed for 38 years meet Christ. Jesus ask, “’Do you want to be made well?’ The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool.’” (John 5.6-7) Jesus had compassion on the man and healed him immediately “on the spot” without hearing another word.

We also are in need of someone to help heal us. As the song goes, we have a friend in Jesus, and He has come that we may live forever. We sing “Christ is Risen!” not just because we celebrate Pascha, but because in His Resurrection death has been conquered and we are now blessed to live with God forever.

We also have a hymn about the help Jesus give us. In the Kontakion of the Paralytic we sing, “I am grievously paralyzed in a multitude of sins and wrongful deeds. As You raised up the paralytic of old, also raise up my soul by Your divine guidance, that I may cry out, "Glory to Your Power O Compassionate Christ."

Christ is Risen!