Friday, October 25, 2013

Have You Ever Played with Demons?

You may not realize it, but if you have read a horoscope, had your palm read, read coffee grounds, or played any number of “dark magic” games on the market, you have played with demons. The demons are constantly waiting around for an opportunity to pounce upon the innocent walking by a “spiritual advisor” or fortune teller. As the temple of the Living God, a Christian would step away from evil demons and remain pure and united to Jesus Christ. Sometimes we need a reminder from God about the dangers of leaving our soul unprotected. The story of the Gadarene Demoniac (as described in Luke 8. 26-39) reminds us of the great danger of a soul left to the wiles of the demons. Don’t let your soul go unprotected. 

An Unused Seed is Already Useless

St Paul said, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” (2 Corinthians 9.6) And here is what I would ADD to St Paul’s advice. He who doesn’t sow anything will reap NOTHING. If we don’t at least place the seed in the ground, nothing will ever grow. St Paul was attempting us to utilize the great gifts God has given to us when he also said, “Now, may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown in increase the fruits of your righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 9.10)

There is another story using the gifts God has given, in this case the gift of faith. In the Gospel of Luke we read of the healing of the woman with the flow of blood. (Luke 9.43-48) She believed, as she had been taught, that if she touched the hem of Jesus’ garments, she would be healed. Jesus eventually said, “Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 9.48) If she had not used her faith, she would never have been healed by God.

In both St Paul’s advice and the healing story from the Gospel, we witness God power. This is only possible when the gift of God, either the seed of the woman’s faith, is first put to its proper use. God gives each of us gifts to be used for righteousness, but He doesn’t force us to put them to use. Just as no seed grows fruit sitting on a shelf, faith not put into action doesn’t bring righteousness. Something to think about.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Denying Christ

Lately, I have been considering the difference between denying Christ and simply keeping your faith to yourself. Jesus said, "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. “But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 10:32 - 10:33 NKJV)

If confessing Christ requires action, is Jesus suggesting that denying Him also requires action, or is not confessing sufficient for Him to deny us? 
Considering this question from Christ's viewpoint, if He were simply to refuse to confess to knowing us, that would be as tormenting as actively denying us. 

Placed in the context of Matthew 25, where non action was indeed the cause of condemnation, I believe we will find equal torment if we do not actively confess Christ. 

Myriad martyrs throughout Church believed the same. Something to consider. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

You Can’t Have it Both Ways

Lately, I have been seeing a string of comments chastising Christians for not being in favor of certain government programs which, according to those posting criticism, promote and endorse Christian morals. One such comment recently was attributed to Former President Jimmy Carter. I’m not sure he actually said, as with so many “attributed” quotes on the internet. He supposedly said, “If you don’t want your tax dollars to help the poor, then stop saying that you want a country based on Christian values, because you don’t.” I saw another recent post accusing a “senior fellow” with the Family Research Council of saying that there “is nothing more Christian” than kicking 4 million people off food stamps. I wish to say a couple things about these quotes AND the implied purpose of posting them.

First, I have often said I don’t believe that any Christian should depend upon the government to fulfill his/her Christian obligations to humanity. As a society, our government tends to support policies that reflect the general morals of a society, whether Christian or not. I have often said that the pursuit of wealth and greed that has been woven into the fabric of America is not Christian, but a fallen state of our passions. I have also often said that the greatest Christian value is freedom and forcing another human being to help the poor is not Christian.

Second, it may be coincidence, but those who cited both of these quotes also have posted many quotes about the need for the government to support same-sex marriage, a bold departure from Christian values. Whether these quotes are accurate or not is not my purpose for this post. Rather, I am intrigued by how when it comes to same-sex marriage Christianity is supposed to be absent from the law, but when it comes to feeding the poor, Christianity should be invoked to guilt the Christian into supporting government programs feeding the poor.

The intrigue works in both directions by the way, as I know many Christians who attempt Christian policies in one sector while eliminating them in others. One such example is the so-called “pro-life” movement which opposes abortion but supports capital punishment. Neither killing is Christian.

A civil society can only remain civil with a system of laws and accepted common values that “keep the peace” among citizens. This depends upon each citizen to AGREE to abide by these laws. Where I fear we are rapidly departing from this premise, is that our system of laws no longer is focused on maintaining peace, but rather a place where individual agendas can be promoted and imposed upon others by forcing compliance in otherwise unrelated ways. When you force a member of society to actively engage in a behavior that he/she opposes, you can hardly expect a society of peace.

As an Orthodox Priest, I am fully aware that we live in a post-Christian society, but I am willing to peacefully live among those without similar Orthodox Christian values of my Church. My willingness to live peacefully however does NOT include betraying my Orthodox Christian way of life. I do not plan to tell anyone who they can/cannot/must love. I WILL continue to share with anyone willing to listen/read what our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ and His Church has to say about who we should marry. I will continue to encourage those who love the Lord to feed the poor in a personal way. I will NOT force others to do the same.

I already know government isn’t based upon Christian values, but my life is. I will live my life, and you will live your life. Occasionally our paths will cross. I won’t force you, please don’t force me. You can't have it both ways.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Is Your Heart Prepared to Receive Christ?

In the Parable of the Sower found in Luke 8.5-15, Jesus tells us of four different types of people. One hears the Gospel and loses it to the Devil because he is too distracted to pay attention. One hears the Gospel and it fades in times of temptation because it had no depth. One hears the Gospel and it dies without bearing fruit because of the riches and cares of the world choke it out. Only ONE hears the Gospel and brings fruit with patience. Only ONE has a heart pure and fertile enough for the Gospel of Jesus to germinate and grow. God sows His Seed, the Only Begotten Son and Word of God, in all hearts, but only the hearts of those who are prepared to receive Him can bear fruit. Is your heart prepared to receive Christ?

It’s Never as Bad as it Seems

One thing that is common to EVERY person is struggle. Everyone struggles in some way during life. Some struggles are harder than others, and some people experience more struggle than others, but we all struggle. For some the struggles are woven into the rhythm of life so we don’t notice them as much as those struggles that seem to preoccupy our day. It’s those “out of the ordinary” struggles that seem to be so bad, maybe because we notice them more, maybe because they are actually harder on us. The more life experience we have however, the more we realize that our struggle could always be worse. What is it that protects us from being overtaken by struggle?

When we place our complete trust and faith in God, His grace comes upon us and we are able to endure the struggle with His help. He doesn’t always take away the struggle right away, as in the story of the Gadarene Demoniac found in Luke 8.26-39. Sometimes He protects us from serious harm, like death, until such time as His Glory can be revealed for the greatest benefit. The demoniac was possessed by legion demons for a long time. These demons were so fierce, they forced the man to live in the wilderness among the tombs with the wild beasts. In fact he was treated as a wild beast by the town folk. Then Jesus came and rescued him. Jesus commanded the demons to depart.

That is when the man realized it could have been much worse all those years than it had been. Once the demons left the young man and entered a nearby herd of swine, the demons were so fierce, the swine ran off a cliff and were drowned in the sea. God had protected the young man from the demons’ power for many years and the man was so thankful, he wanted to stay with Jesus. But Jesus commanded him, “Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.” (Luke 8.39) The greatest thing the man realized was that it’s never as bad as it seems when God is part of your life.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Golden Rule Isn’t About You

We can all quote it, but we never really follow it. “Just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.” (Luke 6.31) The preciousness of the Golden Rule isn’t in how we can negotiate better treatment toward us, but rather, how we can treat others better without care of how they will treat us. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” (Luke 6.32) The call of Christ is to love others, whether or not they will love us in return and to be like God. If God only loved us based on how we could love Him in return, He would have stayed in Heaven. We are called to do the same for others. “Just as God has done to you, you also do to others likewise.”

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Choosing Quality Seeds for Your Garden

As you know, I enjoy my garden. Not only can a garden produce delicious food for our bodies to be nourished, but it can also provide many valuable lessons for life. One thing ever gardener must understand is the quality of seeds for our particular soil. Certain seeds are not capable of bringing fruit is certain climates. Similarly, every gardener must learn to understand his particular soil and take the necessary actions to work the soil (to soften it), to amend the soil (to make it more fertile) and to weed the soil (to allow for a good crop), all in order to receive high quality seed.

Jesus knew our salvation required much the same care as our garden. But in the case of our salvation, there is no chance for a bad seed, since the seed is Christ Himself! We could say the seed of Christ’s Gospel is an heirloom seed. Heirloom seeds, when placed in fertile and well worked soil, bring delicious and plentiful fruit. The means, our focus must be on the soil of our soul.

According the Gospel, the soil of our soul is either;
…hardened not allowing the Word of God to penetrate,
…filled with temptation not allowing the Word of God to deeply root,
…filled with the cares of riches and the pleasures of life not allowing the Word of God to bring fruit,
…rich and fertile allowing the Word of God to root deeply and produce a crop a hundredfold.

We already know the seed is perfect. The only thing left is our soul. Will it be rich and fertile and receive the Word of God? Something to think about, before we go blaming the seed for our lack of fruit.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Protection of the Theotokos

October traditionally is a month when being an Orthodox Christian seems to be very challenging. Now that the children (and college students) are back in class full swing, school-sponsored and other youth league sports call so many families to the sports field on Friday evening and all day Saturday for youth and college sports. Sunday television is dominated by NFL Football. Homecoming dances and other school-sponsored social activities fight for their place on our family calendars, not to mention HOMEWORK! And THEN comes Church…

Sunday Divine Liturgy, Wednesday Paraklesis, Saturday Vespers, Fasting Wednesday and Friday, Sunday School, Greek School, GOYA, HOPE/JOY, Bible Study…Where are we supposed to find the time for the Church activities with everything going on around us? Does the Church expect us to stop participating in sports and school dances? Can’t the Church be more flexible?

As these questions find their way into our vocabulary, we should remember that in October, the Church reminds us of the Feast of the Protection of the Theotokos. This feast, scheduled originally for October 1st but transferred in Greek Orthodox parishes to October 28th following World War II to coincide with “OXI Day” when the Greeks stood up against tyranny, is meant to remind us that the Mother of God, the All-Holy and Ever-Virgin Mary, is constantly watching over us as her own children. We are in fact, her children since at our Baptism we were joined to Christ and made members of His Body, the Church.

When life seems to be so complicated that we need the advice of a mother, we should consider turning to the Theotokos, and she will warmly and lovingly remind us of what matters in life. She will draw us closer to Christ and His Church for protection – and we need protection more than ever these days. This is why the Church offers the Paraklesis to the Theotokos. It is our chance to gather as a family and seek the comfort and protection of our mother, the Mother of God.

And when you arrive for Paraklesis, you can even include names of your friends and family who may not be able to come to Church but needs God’s help and His Mother’s advice. Then together we can sing the hymn:

A protection of Christians unshamable,
Intercessor to our Holy Maker, unwavering,
Please reject not
The prayerful cries of those who are in sin.
Instead, come to us, for you are good;
Your loving help bring unto us,
Who are crying in faith to you: Hasten to intercede
And speed now to supplicate,
As a protection for all time,
Theotokos, for those who honor you.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Purpose of Miracles

I have been asked many times if I have ever witnessed a miracle. I have been asked if I believe in miracles. I have been asked often about miracles and why God chooses to “do a miracle” for one person and not another. Miracles, miracles, miracles. We seem to be obsessed with miracles. So it comes as “good timing” that this week’s Gospel is about miracles.

If we wish to understand God’s miracles, we must first understand AND accept that miracles are not every day events. If they were, they wouldn’t be miracles. Once we accept this point, the next step is to understand, based upon the history of the Church (which includes the Old Testament) what is ultimately accomplished in the miracles of God. In all cases the witnesses are amazed at the power of God and ultimately accept, even if not welcomed, the fact that God IS in fact God.

In this week’s miracle of the raising of the widow’s son, we hear, “Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen up among us’; and, ‘God has visited His people.’” (Luke 7.16) The next time you consider requesting a miracle from God, consider why you want a miracle. If it doesn’t include helping witnesses accept and embrace the power of God, then you might want to think twice about requesting it in the first place.

By the way.....YES I have witnessed miracles, and YES I believe in miracles.