Saturday, August 31, 2013

Weathering the Storms of Life

Trusting in God doesn’t mean we don’t encounter struggle. In the darkest moments of life, the Lord is present to weather the storm with us, but He will not always calm the storm. There will be times when the storms of life will crash down upon us even when we are focused intently upon Christ. It requires endurance to keep our focus on Christ in the midst of the storm. God doesn’t guarantee us a struggle-free life; He guarantees us the necessities of life. When times are really tough, we are tempted to dwell upon how difficult the storm is, rather than how God is guiding us through the storm. That’s when we tend to sink, and when we need endurance to weather out the storm with God holding our hand.

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Friday, August 30, 2013

Protecting Our Children

The coming of September signifies two realities; summer is over and school is beginning. Every family with children knows the importance of supplying children with the proper tools for learning. We drive from store to store searching out and purchasing the best school supplies we can afford so that our children will have the best advantages to learn. We then send our children off to school proud, and rightly so, that we have provided an education for our children.

September looks a bit different from a child’s point of view. Summer is over and school is beginning is like saying fun is dead and torture has begun. From an early age we tend to dread going to school, and look ahead to the next summer when school is over. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised when, as adults, we don’t like even the idea of sitting down and learning something, let alone going to school.

Unfortunately, our dislike for school has affected the way we learn and practice our Faith. We know intuitively, as the old Greek saying goes, “Γηράσκω αιεί παν δισασκόμενος” which means, “I grow old always being taught.” So why is it, when it comes to our Faith in Jesus Christ, we act as if we know all there is to know? Why is it, we DON’T grow old always being taught in our Faith?

We have accepted a poor understanding that, when it comes to Church, learning is for children. This was never the understanding in the ancient Church. Adults were always expected to take time to learn and read about the beauty of God’s promise and the Orthodox way of life, so they could raise their children to follow in their footsteps. In 21st Century America, this has never been more important than it is NOW. Here are some Faith issues our children are facing at school right now…
·         It doesn’t matter where you go to Church, God is everywhere
·         You shouldn’t have to fast, Jesus ended all those rules
·         You’re not supposed to pray to idols (and they’re talking about Holy Icons)
·         Jesus died on the Cross to pay the penalty of our sins
·         You shouldn’t be baptized unless you are old enough to accept Jesus for yourself
·         If you were baptized as a baby, you weren’t saved
·         You shouldn’t pray to Saints

In EVERY ONE of these issues, our children’s friends (and other adults) are telling them the Orthodox Church is wrong! What are you going to say when your children tell you the Orthodox Church is wrong? How can we protect our children if we don’t continue to learn? Here’s a starting point:
X  Attending Bible Study weekly
X  Read from the Bible daily (let your children see you reading, it helps)
X  Arrive to Church ON TIME so you can hear the Holy Scriptures and sermon
X  Buy a book from the Mount Tabor Bookstore and read more about the Orthodox Faith
X  Read the lives of the Saints
X  Fast every Wednesday and Friday
X  Take time to understand what the Church actually teaches about issues
X  Call me and we can always find time to sit and chat

By all means…’s ok to tell your children their friends are wrong and the Church is correct!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

For Whom the Bell Tolls?... Wait....Did I just hear bells?

As I do many mornings, I entered the Church and prepared for our morning prayers (Orthros). According to tradition, I ring the Church bells 15 minutes before services and again just as I am beginning. I do this EVERY service, but this morning someone took notice.

About half-way through the Orthros (30 minutes in total) I turned around and there was a young man in the Church prayer and doing his cross PROPERLY. I must admit I was taken aback since most mornings I am by myself unless Orthros will be followed by Divine Liturgy that particular day. So today it was a pleasant surprise because not only was there a young man praying in Church, it was a young man whom I had not yet met. Was he new to Florence? I have been the priest in this small southern town for just over five years, so I have met just about everyone who is Orthodox, and many of our non-Orthodox neighbors.

At the end of Orthros, I had the blessing to speak with this young man. “Have we met?”

“No,” he said. “I was in my home and heard the bells.”

He and his wife had just moved to Florence two weeks ago. They live across the street in an apartment complex and knew the Church was here, but hadn’t been to Church yet. In fact they did come to the Church on August 15th, but since we had an evening Liturgy the night before, they didn’t find anyone at the Church.  This morning, while enjoying a cup of coffee, he heard the Church bells and took notice. He took advantage of the hearing the bells and came to Church. I suppose the bells tolled for him today.

It isn’t an accident that Churches ring bells before, during and after services. Our Church temples exist as physical reminders of God’s presence in a neighborhood, and the ringing of bells often strikes to the core of our heart calling us back to Christ. Of course, it is up to us to act on the call.

The next time you hear Church bells ringing, go find them and offer a prayer of thanks that God has allowed you to be reminded of His presence.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Don’t Let Your Weakness Get in God’s Way

We all have them and we know it. We rarely admit it, but we all know there are days when we are just too weak to trust in God’s promise. And what is His promise? So long as we trust in Him and bring to Him our resources for His ministry, we will always have enough for our needs. And what are our needs? God promises we will have enough BASIC food, BASIC clothing, and BASIC shelter. When it comes to the rest of our resources, we have to trust God ENOUGH and allow Him to use our resources for His ministry. If we allow our weakness to get in the way, people go hungry and Churches are unable to continue to mission Christ began just two thousand years ago.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

When God is Involved, Miracles Can Happen

The day was late and the people were hungry. The group leader only had enough food for the smallest group out of the bunch. There was NEVER going to be enough food to feed everyone. Some suggested sending everybody to find their own food so the few leaders could eat. What did the leader do?

He said, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” (Matthew 14.16)

In the face of this wild and crazy idea that more than five thousand people would have enough to eat, rather than feeling depressed about what would NEVER happen, the team chose to believe in what COULD happen. “Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass.” (Matthew 14.19) Ultimately a few fish and a couple loaves of bread fed more than five thousand people.

If the team had decided it was impossible, then nobody would have eaten that day. If the team had chosen to dwell on the negative, God’s grace would never have been revealed that day. It was only when the team CHOSE to allow God’s grace to work in their lives that miracles were able to happen.

Something to think about…

Monday, August 12, 2013

What Happens When We Don’t Like Our Neighbors?

It happens to all of us. Someone moves in next door and we don’t approve of their behavior. A business opens next door and we believe their behavior doesn’t belong in our neighborhood. In our free pluralistic society, it happens more often than in past homogenous societies, but our response must always be the same. We must never allow our blindness to keep us from expressing love for our neighbors. We must never forget that our lives are no less sinful than our neighbors’. God calls us to open our eyes to our sinfulness and repent from our sinful way of life, rather than to waste time focusing on the sins of others.
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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.
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The Best Words are VERBS!

The Bible is filled with words; small ones and big ones, but the best words are verbs. A sentence is not complete without a verb, and neither is the Christian life. God is a God of ACTION and He calls us to put our gifts to use and become Christians of ACTION. Saint Paul said, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them.” (Romans 12.6) Jesus didn’t just sit in heaven and watch us, and we cannot just sit in Church watching Him.

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Bible is Filled with Words

We often think of the Bible as a book about Jesus Christ and His divine plan for our salvation. A book is made up of chapters. Chapters are made up of pages. Pages are filled with words, small words and long words. Every student of the Bible spends a lifetime discovering what those words mean and if they have meaning in life today. There are many types of words: nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections. The Bible has them all! In my office, I even have a book called a “concordance” which lists EVERY word in the entire Bible and where each particular words exists, listed by Book.Chapter,Verse. It’s no wonder that the Bible is called “The Word of God.”

Jesus is the Word of God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1.1) So, it should be of no surprise that we equate the Bible with Jesus Himself. In fact the Bible is considered an Icon of Jesus Christ and treated with respect and reverence and it is even venerated as Holy. There is something special about the words of the Bible and how they relate to the Word of God. God CAME and LIVED among His people and we SAW Him. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory.” (John 1.14) Jesus didn’t remain in Heaven simply looking at His people; He ACTED upon His love by BECOMING.

If we are going to do any honor to God in our understanding of the Bible, His Word, then we should not simply remain in our pews watching God in the Altar. We should ACT and BECOME Christians. Acting and becoming requires ACTION VERBS. Just as a sentence requires a verb to be a complete sentence, a Christian life requires ACTION verbs to be complete.