Sunday, December 15, 2013

2013 New Testament Challenge – Day 31 (Catch Up! Part 2)

Every year I participate in a special effort called the New Testament Challenge sponsored by a priest of the Orthodox Church in America. He encourages Christians to spend the Christmas Fast, also known as Advent) reading the entire New Testament as a preparation for Christmas. Each year I have done this, it has been blessing to me and I pray this year will be no different. As part of the New Testament Challenge, I endeavor to blog a bit about the reading for that particular day. I may miss a few, but I pray for those who follow this blog (NOW ALSO ON FACEBOOK) it will be a blessing.

I continued with my “catch-up” today.

Day 26 – Romans 1-8
Saint Paul couldn’t make it any clearer for us. Our new life in Christ shouldn’t be a slave to our former passions, but united to a Godly life free of sin. Of course, since we are never truly without  sin, obviously Saint Paul is talking about the attempt to live a sinless life as he said.
Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. 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 7.13-25)
How can we give up so easily? It seems like we throw in the towel when it comes to our sinful passions. But Saint Paul’s advice is to challenge and comfort us at the same time. Since God came, “while we were yet still sinners” and we each are warring against sin not always successfully, then we should be comforted to know that God will forgive us. He already HAS forgiven us if we accept His forgiveness. And since He has forgiveness us, how can we not try harder to live as He desires for us to live? I’m sure you feel this same battle in your life, so we can all join Saint Paul’s words of praise, “I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Yes indeed.

Day 27 – Romans 9-16
Building on his advice to live a new life in Christ, Saint Paul reminds us that if we fail to live as we should, we will face the same judgment as the Jews. As they witnessed the Church being taken away from the, we will see the Church depart from us, although in actuality it will WE who have departed from the Church. We shouldn’t be so smug that we are members of the Church.
You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? (Romans 11-19-24)
I find this to be a problem in many “cradle” Orthodox raised in the Faith. As the Jews felt certain superiority because they were the “chosen ones” and the People of God, they failed to understand His intent to save the world. Likewise since we are already comfortable inside the Church as members, we often forget that our mission is to continue Christ’s saving work. But if we’re not careful, we will (as today’s Gospel reading during Liturgy pointed out – Luke 14.16-24) find ourselves OUTSIDE the Church.

Saint Paul thought it was God Himself who hardened the hearts of the Jews, so that the Gentiles could come into the Church. I sometimes wonder if the same thing is happening today with the cradle Orthodox Christians. If our Churches were full, which they unfortunately are not, there might not be an urgency to reach out and bring new people into the Church. Jesus said He wanted His Church full, so maybe He sends some away to make room for more. And if, as Saint Paul suggests, it is God who does the sending away, then His mercy is sufficient.

Day 28 – Luke 1-7
It never ceases – my awe of the Holy Scriptures. At this time in my life, age 44, I guess I have read the entire New Testament more than a couple dozen times, either from the pulpit during services, or in person as I am for the New Testament Challenge. YET, each passage STILL reaches me with profound respect.

Take for example, the opening verses of the Gospel of Luke,
Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed. (Luke 1.1-4)
Not only does he write with complete certainty, but he writes for clarity’s sake. We know the Gospel of Mark had already been written, and Luke traveled with Saint Paul, so he was well versed with the Gospel. But being a physician, he desired for us to have clarity. He must have known that confusion leads to doubt, and doubt leads to faithlessness, and faithlessness leads to despondency, and despondency leads to death.

But the Gospel is for life, eternal life! And I am given new life every time I pick up the Holy Scriptures. Thank you Saint Luke; and thank you God.

Day 29 – Luke 8-16
Some people are just hard-headed. No matter how many miracles Jesus performed (and they witnessed), no matter how many times Jesus revealed their most inner thoughts; many could not bring themselves to accept Him as the Christ. I think the same thing happens nowadays. I wonder sometimes what WE would do if we were blessed to witness the things they witnessed. Jesus taught and healed PUBLICLY in the Temple and Synagogues and in the marketplaces. Some believed, while others refused to believe. And why did they not believe?

The only way for them to accept the Christ was to deny their own comfort and prestige. This was the basis for the challenge Christ offers,
Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. "And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. "For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it --  "lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, "saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' "Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? "Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. "So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14.25-33)
So… you believe?

Until tomorrow…..I’m finally caught up. Tomorrow we finish the Gospel of Luke.

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