Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What Happens When the Truth Torments Us?

Fast every Wednesday and Friday. Tithe to the Church. Come for Holy Confession. Attend Church regularly. Receive Holy Communion. You can’t marry that person. You can’t live like this, and you can’t do that. What happens when the truth of the Church torments us? We either ignore the Church to ease the pain or we beg the Church to stop tormenting us. “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8.23) These were the words of demons but they can easily become our own words when our life doesn’t match with how God wants us to live. Rather than begging God to leave you alone, why not run to Him and tell the demons to leave you alone? Let the demons bother the pigs; you have a restored life in Christ waiting for you.

Listen NOW for $5 per year at http://betransfigured.podbean.com/2013/07/30/what-happens-when-the-truth-torments-us/

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Are Ghosts Real?

I am asked occasionally about what the Church thinks of ghosts and other wandering spirits.  Here are some thoughts from St John Chrysostom on the point.

But what can be the reason that they love also to dwell in the tombs? They would fain suggest to the multitude a pernicious opinion, as though the souls of the dead become demons, which God forbid we should ever admit into our conception. But what then will you say, one may ask, when many of the sorcerers take children and slaythem, in order to have the soul afterwards to assist them? Why, whence is this evident? For of their slaying them, indeed, many tell us, but as to the souls of the slain being with them, whence do you know it, I pray you? The possessed themselves, it is replied, cry out, I am the soul of such a one. But this too is a kind of stage-play, anddevilish deceit. For it is not the spirit of the dead that cries out, but the evil spirit that feigns these things in order to deceive the hearers. For if it were possible for a soul to enter into the substance of an evil spirit, much more into its own body.And besides, it stands not to reason that the injured soul should co-operate with the wrong-doer, or that a man should be able to change an incorporeal power into another substance. For if in bodies this were impossible, and one could not make a man's body become that of an ass; much more were this impossible in the invisible soul; neither could one transform it into the substance of an evil spirit. So that these are the sayings of besotted old wives, and spectres to frighten children.Nor indeed is it possible for a soul, torn away from the body, to wander here any more. For the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God; Wisdom 3:1 and if of the righteous, then those children's souls also; for neither are they wicked: and the souls too of sinners are straightway led away hence. And it is evident from Lazarus and therich man; and elsewhere too Christ says, This day they require your soul of you. Luke 12:20 And it may not be that a soul, when it is gone forth from the body, should wander here; nor is the reason hard to see. For if we, going about on the earth which is familiar and well known to us, being encompassed with a body, when we are journeying in a strange road, know not which way to go unless we have some one to lead us; how should the soul, being rent away from the body, and having gone out from all her accustomed region, know where to walk without one to show her the way?And from many other things too one might perceive, that it is not possible for a disembodied soul to remain here. For both Stephen says, Receive my spirit; Acts 7:59 and Paul, To depart and to be with Christ is far better;Philippians 1:23 and of the patriarch too the Scripture says, that he was gathered unto his fathers, being cherished in a good old age. And as to the proof, that neither can the souls of sinners continue here; hear the rich man making much entreaty for this, and not obtaining it; since had it been at all possible, he would have come, and have told what had come to pass there. Luke 16:27-28 Whence it is evident that after their departure hence our souls are led away into some place, having no more power of themselves to come back again, but awaiting that dreadful day. (Homily 28 on The Gospel of Matthew)
I think he says it pretty clearly. Although there are examples of thr Saints appearing and assisting us, they never are scary nor mischievous.  If the sight frightens us, that should  be a good indication that it is a demon. Of course, there are also stories of demons appearing as IF they are "good angels" just to deceive us. In these cases it is imperative that we fight the temptation to listen to these demons in disguise. They should be tested with prayer and the power of the Holy Cross.

To say the least, when faced with ANY appearance of angels, we should test them by calling on the name of the Holy Trinity and "crossing ourselves" asking for God's protection. These demons can ONLY harm us if we or God allow them, and unless you are Job, it is doubtful God will allow them. Chrysostom was preaching on a larger story of demons as found in Matthew 8.22-34 where they couldn't even enter pigs without God's permission.

When in doubt.....PRAY PRAY PRAY!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Truth will set you free. Christ is the TRUTH. Be free in Christ rather than your own truth.

It never ceases to amaze me how people use the expression "The truth will set you free," while ignoring how their particular truth differs from history. If you have noticed how many "versions" of the truth exist about Christ, you MUST read this book. It is impossible for 25,000+ denominations, each expressing a different truth about Christ, to all be correct. This book does an excellent job of discovering the journey of seeking the truth by first admitting YOUR truth might be the one that's wrong. 


Monday, July 22, 2013

What Does God Have to Do with Anything Anyway?

There are many types of demons in our life, not always revealing themselves as from Satan. Some demons grow from within our hearts, nurtured by our ego and selfish drive for power and glorification. These particular demons are often the hardest to remove from our lives simply because we don’t recognize them as demons nor the struggle they create.

Think of a time in your life when you worked really diligently toward the completion of a difficult task. You spent many hours of pondering the perfect solution calling upon your vast experience. You tested different theories against your ideas and developed just the right combination of “mind over matter” and discovered that “you knew the answer all along,” but just had to allow your brain to do the thinking. Then, once the task was completed successfully, you sat back and admired your amazing troubleshooting skills. You pat yourself on the back and toast to your awesomeness. You never even stop to consider that God “may” have had something to do with your results. It was YOUR idea, it was YOUR effort, and it was YOUR glory. What does God have to do with your success anyway?

Just then is when you SHOULD run to the Church and beg God’s forgiveness for thinking you were so awesome to begin with. Even if you DID come up with the idea, wasn’t your intelligence a gift from God in the first place? Even if you DID dedicate many hours of YOUR time, wasn’t it God that first provided you with the time to offer to solve the world’s problems in the first place. Even when others praise you for YOUR effort, wasn’t is really God that inspired you to tackle the task? And doesn’t it annoy you when someone shows up and tries to burst YOUR bubble by pretending that God had “anything” to do with your success?

Sometimes the mere presence of God in our lives, especially when we want to claim credit for our awesomeness, torments us. That’s because deep in our hearts is we know that we are God’s children. “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (Hebrews 8.10) The torment is our heart trying to inspire us to repent from our ego trip and honor God with our blessings and thank Him for the gifts He has given us.

But these demons are very strong in our hearts because, as fallen human beings, we are in a constant struggle to please our ego rather than please the Lord. Saint Paul characterized it perfectly when he wrote,
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7.14-25)
It is not impossible to defeat these demons when we embrace the Lord as the Master.

We should be comforted by the story in this Sunday’s Gospel lesson. (Matthew 8.28-34,9.1) The legion demons could not even enter the swine without God’s permission. Neither can they control our life if we do not grant them permission. Our task, the REAL task, it to come to the Lord and He will drive the demons out of our hearts making room for His love and grace, IF we desire it. Too often we respond to God with the same words as the demons, What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8.29)

The next time you find yourself wondering why giving God credit for YOUR awesomeness feels like torment, consider the demons are working hard to keep you away from His grace and love. Bring yourself to the Church and invite God to remove these demon thoughts from your heart. THEN replace them with God’s love and grace. Otherwise, remember what the demons did to the swine, “And suddenly the whole herd of swine ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and perished in the water.” (Matthew 8.32) If you don’t get them out of your heart you will find yourself running wild off a spiritual cliff.

Of course there will always be someone who would rather you run off a cliff, not because of you, but because they can’t stand giving God credit in their lives either. “And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus. And when they saw Him, they begged Him to depart from their region.” (Matthew 8.34)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

It's Time for Being Content

With the daily news of our continuing economic struggle in the USA and throughout the world, I can’t help but reflect upon Saint Paul’s wisdom. “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content,” (1 Timothy 6.7-8) “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13.5) “Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it. For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord's freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ's slave. (1 Corinthians 7.21-22) Could Saint Paul’s wisdom help us with our current economic crisis?

By listening to the nightly news you might suspect human beings NEVER lived without electricity, running water, private toilets, and twinkies. In fact people STILL live without these so-called necessities all over the world EVERYDAY…and they survive! Our daily comforts are not without toil, nor are they without spiritual risk. If these daily comforts continue to become the focus of our emotional energy, we run the risk of forgetting that we “can carry nothing out” of this life.

It’s about time we refocus our nation’s energies on our relationship with God. And I’m not just talking about same-sex marriage and abortion. These sins are mere symptoms of a society that has forgotten that God is God and human beings are created. We are created in the image of God, another fact most of us have forgotten. If we could only get past ourselves enough to see God waiting with His arms open, maybe we could return to a life dedicated to putting God first in our lives.

Putting God first doesn’t just mean calling ourselves Christians. It means having enough faith in Him to be content with the resources we have and not be concerned with our status as slaves. The only slavery we must fight is the slavery to sin that we each voluntarily embrace because it makes us feel good….that is until the economy comes crumbling down around us. THEN we wonder why God is punishing us. THEN we question whether we could believe in “a god” that doesn’t allow us to enjoy all the creature comforts our flesh desires.

It’s no wonder Jesus Christ called us to a life of asceticism when He said, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8.34) We cannot follow Christ worrying about our own desires. The centurion had it right when said, “"Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof.” (Matthew 8.8) Now THAT’S being content!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Demand Less and Praise More

At one time or another we all find ourselves in time of need, and we call upon the Lord in prayer to help us. In fact, many times our prayers consist more of shopping lists than praise. “I need this.” “Please help me with this.” “Convince this person to do what I think is right.” “Heal my friend.” Although we may not use these exact words, the meaning of our prayers is often the same. We want something, and we ask God for it.

There was a certain man who needed something from God, but his approach was very different. He said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.” (Matthew 8.8) How often do we think ourselves unworthy of God’s presence? How often do we simply place our total faith in God’s wisdom? In the face of such humility, Jesus “marveled, and said to those who followed, "Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” (Matthew 8.10) The servant was healed.

In his great need, the centurion praised God’s power and authority rather than demanding a miracle. We could take notes and learn from the centurion’s deep humility. The next time you find yourself in need, rather than demanding (or even begging) God for help, try just praising God. You may end up realizing you don’t need what you think you need after all. With great faith come great blessings.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Many Emotions of Summer Camp

I’ve just returned from two weeks of directing Saint Stephen’s Summer Camp for the Holy Metropolis of Atlanta at the Diakonia Retreat Center in Salem, SC. This very special summer camp ministry has given me the blessing of participating in the core of the Metropolis Youth Ministries. I currently serve as Co-Director with three dedicated and loving priests. We each share a portion of the summer schedule after months of planning and conference calls. As I write this blog, there are still two more sessions of camp to bring to completion. I must say, exhaustion aside, I miss being there with such loving staff and campers.

Summer camp brings out every emotion from sadness to joy, from frustration to comfort, and from doubt to trust. In the past two weeks I have witnessed all these and more, but what really touches my heart isn’t the emotion but the transition from negative emotions to positive. The first night of camp brings hesitation and homesickness as campers meet new people and experience, many for the first time EVER, their first night away from family. Shyness often turns to tears as these first year campers come to us begging, “Can I call home?” I’ve been down that road before and I “haven’t lost one yet.” It normally goes like this…
Camper: “Can I call home?”
Me: “Why?”
Camper: “I’m not feeling so good.”
Me: “What would you say to your mom right now?” (Keep in mind it is normally almost MIDNIGHT at this point)
Camper: “I want to go home.”
Me: “Since you can’t go home tonight anyway, why not go back to your room and sleep with your cabin. Then, come and talk to me in the morning.”
Camper: “Ok.”
Off to bed they go…almost never to return the next morning. Tears have turned to smiles in the morning.

By day two and three, camp has become a comfortable routine and deep friendships have already been established. Then comes day four….the day we offer the Mystery (Sacrament) of Holy Confession. Each camper is invited and encouraged, but never forced, to confess to a priest. I always make it a point to remind the campers of the grace of God that is present in every sacrament of the Church, but especially the healing power of God’s grace in Holy Confession. This is the day each priest cherishes when it’s over but dreads before it begins. After just a few days of summer camp, the love and trust between campers and clergy has reached a pinnacle and together in the grace of God, our souls meet for a brief moment and real healing begins. I’ve witnessed many tears turned to joy in Holy Confession. But Holy Confession is only a beginning….

The last full day of camp is the reason we all gather each summer. The Divine Liturgy is the center of our Orthodox Christian life, and brings the healing ministry of summer camp to a climax. Campers and staff join clergy in the Mystery of Holy Eucharist in the presence of the Holy Spirit. One by one, we each receive Holy Communion, the manifestation that God has become man so that we might, by God’s grace, participate in His divinity. Following Divine Liturgy we each experience the freedom of Christ’s love and our hearts are again restored to their purity in His love.

But every camp must end and Saturday is a return to tears, but they’re different. Sunday’s tears were filled with fear and longing to be at home. Now on Saturday, our tears are altogether different. We feel the warmth and trust and love and joy of camp. We know the world is filled with more pain, so our hearts are drawn to remain in Christ’s love, so strong at camp, rather than depart for the “real world” of bullies, judgment, and self-image issues.

This is where MY emotions are the strongest. I know the pain of the world awaits the campers. Will they remember the tools we taught them to remain pure? Will they take full advantage of the Church’s healing ministry and guidance to fight temptation? This is when I REALLY feel like the “father” they call me. I know I must send them out into the world, but wish I could protect them forever! Only one thing comforts my soul as I bid the campers farewell….the Holy Spirit is greater than all the protection I can offer. Go in peace my dear campers….we will meet again.