Friday, May 30, 2014

Being One in God

Just before Christ voluntarily endured His Glorious Passion, He offered a prayer to the Father. This prayer, known as the “High Priestly Prayer” was a liturgical prayer following the model of the Old Testament Sacrifices which expressed the devotion of the person offering the sacrifice. In this prayer Jesus said, “Keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.” Jesus spoke often of unity in this great prayer. You can read the entire prayer in the Gospel of John, Chapter 17. In this prayer, we can arrive a deeper understanding of Christ’s desire for His Church.

It was this desire for complete unity that has been a driving force of the Church Fathers since the Apostles were first given the authority to lead the Church. This sort of unity Christ desires, is divine unity in love. Jesus is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, not simply because they share the title of Divine. The Holy Trinity is exists in complete harmony of love and will. In other words, Jesus always ‘wants’ what the Father ‘wants’ and the Holy Spirit always ‘wants’ what the Father ‘wants’ and the Father always ‘wants’ what Jesus and the Holy Spirit ‘want’; which is.....that WE should live in the same community of love and unity.

But this unity is even greater than ‘us humans’ being united. God desires that we are one with each other AND HIM. Later in this prayer Jesus prays, “That they may be one just as We are one; I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one.” (John 17.22-23) We are made perfect in our unity with each other and God. This is realized in the living Sacred Tradition of the Church, given by Christ to the Holy Apostles, and maintained by the Holy Fathers of the Church through the centuries.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Seeing God

When life presents us with blessings or even struggles, whether or not we experience them as opportunities to draw closer to God, depends completely upon the condition of our hearts. Do you see God in the blessings and struggles of your life? It just takes allowing God to heal your vision, and open your heart to His grace.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

God and Summer

It’s that time of year again when parents grit their teeth in anxiety over the next three months. School will be over in a few days, and that means THE KIDS HAVE NOTHING TO DO! With both parents working in most families, and especially in single-parent families, finding activities to keep young children involved and, maybe most importantly for the youngest of our children, SAFE, during the day can be quite the nerve-wracking experience. Compound this with the reality that most families no longer live in communities where they grew up, and the lack of extended families doesn’t even allow for grandparents to help. So parents begin to panic…


And then the Church “goes and makes things worse” by actually ending the various programs and ministries for youth. I’ve been in youth ministry for just over twenty years, and I could never understand the mentality, “School is over, now we end the Church programs.” Sunday School ends, Greek School ends (if you are part of a Greek community like I have always been), even youth groups tend to limit their activities during the summer months. You would think Churches would have MORE programs rather than less during the months when youth have no school. But that is not the topic of this post.

This post is about something bigger than whether or not youth groups have scheduled activities during the summer. This post is about an even more dangerous trend. This post is about the trend of taking “time off” from Church as if Church and School are only nine month activities. Of course, the lack of Sunday School plays a role in this phenomenon, because many families “only” come to Church if their children have Sunday School class to attend. You see this also during “Christmas Break” where Church attendance slips for a few weeks following Christmas.

So how can we include God in our summer plans? We have to begin with whether or not we actually include Him in our fall, winter and spring plans. I want to be clear….simply attending Church on Sunday doesn’t necessarily mean you are including God in your life. The Orthodox Way of Life PRESUMES that each day is spent living in communion with God through a life of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and the sacramental life of the Church. Are you attending confession regularly? Are you regularly reading the Holy Scriptures and writings of the Fathers and Mothers of the Church? Is prayer a constant part of your life? See my post on “The Orthodox Top 10” and ask yourself, “Am I living in communion with God or simply being what has been called a ‘pew warmer’ in Church?”

You see summer is really no different than any other season except for the weather. Including God in your summer plans is the same as including Him in your winter plans. Attending Church on Sunday AND ACTIVELY PARTICIPATING in the Sunday Liturgy by preparing for AND RECEIVING Holy Communion is a part of that life – a central part – but a part. 

Orthodoxy’s Top 10 Disciplines for Salvation

Fasting every Wednesday and Friday
Reading the Holy Scriptures daily
Receiving the Holy Sacraments regularly
Praying the Lord’s Prayer 3 times a day
Attending Church services on time
Tithing for the support of the Church
Forgiving each other’s faults
Living a moral life
Assisting the poor

Avoiding sinful preoccupations

Friday, May 23, 2014

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Are You Blind to God’s Blessings?

In the Gospel of John heard on the sixth Sunday of Pascha, we hear of a “man born blind” who received his sight as a gift from God. Despite several attempts to convince those around him that he had been healed by God, those who had witnessed his new sight refused to accept God’s role in his healing. They chose instead to say, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” (John 9.16) And again they said, “We know that God spoke to Moses; as for this fellow, we do not know where He is from?” (John 9.29) These witnesses to healing who refused to accept God’s blessings were none other than the Jewish “elite”, the Pharisees.

It should come as no surprise that the Pharisees couldn’t bring themselves to accept God had healed the “man born blind,” since WE regularly cannot see God’s blessings WE have received. The Pharisees, although they could see with their physical eyes, couldn’t see the blessings of God with their spiritual eyes, their hearts. There is an expression “can’t see the forest through the trees” which I believe illustrates this common human failure.

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our immediate, close-up reality that we cannot see how God has His blessing hand on our path. Sometimes we are so focused upon our actions, that we cannot see how God has placed good things within our reach. Sometimes we are convinced that our fortune is of our own making, that we cannot see how God has given us the means through which to succeed. Sometimes we are blind to God’s blessings, even though we can see the results. Isn’t it about time we stop being blind, and start seeing God’s blessings?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

When the Church Disappoints

We have all experienced this emotion at some time in our life. We feel the Church has let us down or that her programs are inadequate or even substandard. People (young adults especially) are leaving the Church in droves, and we struggle to assign “blame” or establish some reason why so many leave the Church. It has been verified that between 60-80% of youth leave the Church after high school NEVER TO RETURN.

Upon my review of many studies and with twenty years experience working with youth, I suggest that most often, though by no means exclusively, when we feel disappointed by the Church, it is our expectations that needed adjusting, rather than the Church. You may think I am merely defending the institution for which I am invested.

Hold off on that accusation for the moment. The Church has for several decades been wrestling with the question of how best to minister to her flock. And we will continue to wrestle with these issues, which is why I offer my thoughts in this particular blog post. Too often the Church focuses upon the wrong enticements to hold on to her flock. What do I mean?

There are many program and ministries the Church attempts IN A DIRECT EFFORT to attract and hold her flock. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these ministries focus upon the fleshly passions rather than the yearning for God that exists in every human soul.
  • Basketball (and various other athletics)
  • Folk dance groups (and various other cultural ministries)
  • Scouts (and various other leadership building groups)
  • Camping trips (and various other outdoor excursions)

And in most of these activities, the Church falls short in delivering great, superior programs. Why is this? I believe the answer is right in front of our faces. When I first entered youth ministry a mentor taught me, “We can’t compete with the world.” Here is what he meant...
  • We have teenage athletic programs, BUT the Middle Schools and High School will ALWAYS do athletics better than we can. Our programs are “burdened” with fairness and Christian rules of sportsmanship.
  • We have teenage folk dance programs, BUT the professional dance schools will ALWAYS do dance better than we can. Our programs are “burdened” with rules that force equal time in performances for every member, whether or not they attend all the required practices.
  • We have leadership programs, BUT the Chamber of Commerce will ALWAYS do leadership training better than we can. Our leadership training is limited many times because we have “teachers” who themselves are poor leaders, because they are the only volunteers to step forward.
  • We take outdoor trips with our teenagers, BUT they often fall short of expectations because of poor funding sources.

I don’t mean to suggest that our programs are ACTUALLY substandard. It is only when our programs try to “compete” with similar programs sponsored by the secular world, that they appear substandard. If a teenager REALLY enjoys basketball, he (or she) looks upon our Church team as poor talent and not a place where he can shine athletically. A high school star is just another player among GOYAns at a Church tournament. So long, as someone isn’t expecting GREAT basketball, our programs meet the need for fellowship but not because it’s great basketball. I believe the same can be said of many of our programs. In other words, if the teenager is seeking great basketball, he won’t find it here.

There is only thing the Church can offer that is far superior to any secular program. Only the CHURCH can offer CHRIST. If someone is seeking Christ, then the Church will never disappoint, but Christ resides in the Church. The Church was established by Christ, SO THAT people could encounter Him when they seek Him.

So if you feel like the Church is a disappointment, consider what you are seeking. Are you seeking Christ or a great basketball program? If you seek Christ, He is present in the Eucharist for you to physically encounter. If you seek Christ, He is present in the Word for you to study. If you seek Christ, He is present in His Church for you to speak with. If you seek Christ, you will never be disappointed.

And IF you are seeking Christ, and you are still disappointed, is it because your Church is focused too much on trying to compete with the secular world? Maybe you can help by offering to host a program that focuses on Christ and an authentic relationship with Him.

I don’t mean by this blog that we should eliminate all our programs that are not directly related to our relationship with God. These programs are important in that they develop a sense of community. BUT they should stem from the genuine community that exists in the Eucharist rather than trying to attract others into the community. Otherwise, we will continue to be seen as the Church with mediocre programs, and disappointment will remain the standard emotion of our members. AND...they will continue to leave the Church.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

I Have No Man

On this week's episode of Be Transfigured - Live a New Life in Christ! we discuss the healing of the paralytic who had been waiting for Christ thirty-eight years. When Jesus asked, "Do you want to be made well," his response was poignant when he said, “I have no man to put me into the water.” Jesus is the man we all need, the only true authentic human being who has come to save us from the paid and brokenness of this world. Whatever we need, He is willing to give us for our salvation. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

What do You Want from God?

Early in Jesus' earthly ministry, He came across man who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years, who was lying by the pool of Bethesda. At certain times during the year, an angel of the Lord would come down from heaven, stir the water, and the one who entered the water first after the angel, would be healed. This man whom Jesus met, time after time, was too slow dragging himself into the pool. Though he failed to be healed after so many years, he never gave up hope. He never stopped waiting for God's mercy. Then one day, God arrived.

Jesus asked this man, "Do you want to be made well?" (John 5.6) This was a common dialogue between Jesus and those who would be healed, and the Gospel shares this with us for our inspiration? We should hear the question as if Jesus is asking US, "Do WE want to be healed?" Once we can open our hearts to Him, then He can heal us. This paralyzed man shared his need, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool," and Jesus met his need.

What DO you need from Jesus? Do you need peace? He will give it to you. Do you need faith? He will give it to you. Do you need salvation? He will give it to you. Jesus Christ, who was born, crucified, buried, and raised from the dead, has the power to accomplish your every NEED. Your part in this relationship is to share your inner most needs with Him, and let Him do the healing.

The Scriptures and the Sunday of the Myrrh Bearing Women

A special Bible study of the Scriptures passages, themes and hymns for the Third Sunday after Pascha, the Sunday of the Myrrh Bearing Women. This study is based on the series "A Year of the Lord, Liturgical Bible Studies" by Fr Theodore Stylianopoulos, and recorded LIVE at the Transfiguration of Our Savior Greek Orthodox Church in Florence, SC.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Scriptures and the Sunday of Thomas

A special Bible study on the Scripture readings and themes for the Sunday after Pascha, the Sunday of Thomas, based upon the series "A Year of the Lord, Liturgical Bible Studies" by Father Theodore Stylianopoulos. Recorded live, April 30, 2014, at the Transfiguration of Our Savior Greek Orthodox Church in Florence, SC.