Saturday, December 31, 2016

Time for a Spiritual New Year Resolution

Today is the day that everyone focuses on improving something about life in the New Year. As clocks strike midnight all across the globe, good intentioned men and women scurry to confirm New Year resolutions. Of course many if not most if not all New Year resolutions end up in the garbage pail by the end of the first week of the New Year, but that won’t stop millions across the globe for faithfully committing to improving their life next year. By no means am I against New Year resolutions. It is just that we waste so much time making resolutions about things that ultimately don’t matter. Here is the top 10 for 2017 according to one website...
  1. Lose Weight
  2. Getting Organized
  3. Spend Less, Save More
  4. Enjoy Life to the Fullest
  5. Staying Fit and Healthy
  6. Learn Something Exciting
  7. Quit Smoking
  8. Help Others in Their Dreams
  9. Fall in Love
  10. Spend More Time with Family

What would Saint Paul have to say about New Year resolutions? Would he worry about the same issues that we worry about? Consider today’s Epistle Reading:
St. Paul's First Letter to Timothy 6:11-16 (RSV) - Timothy, my son, aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.  Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.  In the presence of God who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; and this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, and King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see.  To him be honor and eternal dominion.  Amen.
It isn’t that these issues are necessarily bad for us. In fact there is most definitely a spiritual side to every issue listed, but I’m not sure most people want to “spend less and save more” for the sake of their soul. I could be wrong. I’ll be the first to admit people surprise me every day with better intentions that I would have presumed. That being said however, if the constant drive to build bigger economies own more things, I suspect people are trying to save more in order to “eventually” own more, or at least have more to spend later.

Nonetheless, I invite you today to consider your soul when it comes to making your New Year resolution for 2017. To assist I often encourage people to take the “Spiritual Self-Assessment” I came up with a few years ago. You may want to add some items to your resolution list.

Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 Top Ten Videos from Be Transfigured Ministries

Where do you stand?

As this year comes to a close we have an opportunity to evaluate how we have responded to God in the past year. Have we denied our ego, welcomed our struggles, and followed Him and His Church in a life of prayer, fasting, and caring for the poor? Or have we focused on our own agenda, searched always for comforts, and let the poor fed for themselves? The Church has been given to us, as today’s Gospel indicates, for us to be temporary guardians and stewards.
Gospel Reading: Mark 12:1-12 (RSV) - The Lord said this parable, "A man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a pit for the wine press, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him, and sent him away empty handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed; and so with many others, some they beat and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son; finally he sent him to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But those tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' And they took him and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants, and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture: 'The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?" And they tried to arrest him, but feared the multitude, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them; so they left him and went away.

One day, and we don’t really know when that may be, the Lord will return and expect an accounting from us. When that day comes, where will you stand?

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Be Transfigured Ministries Granted 501c3 Status

IT'S OFFICIAL!!! The IRS has granted full 501c3 tax exempt status to Be Transfigured Ministries. What does that mean for our future? That means YOU our dedicated and prayerful fans and supporters are able to deduct all your contributions to Be Transfigured Ministries as a charitable donation. That means we are eligible to receive grants, trusts, bequeaths and all other donations in support of our online ministry.

We are thankful for all the support YOU our fans have provided over the years for our ministry. We pray this new status will better position Be Transfigured Ministries to continue to grow and inspire others to Live A New Life In Christ.

Tax deductible donations can be made online by clicking "DONATE TODAY' in the above menu. Don't forget to share our ministry with your friends?

Here's to a grand 2017!

Monday, December 26, 2016

It is STILL Christmas

Every year I find myself needing to remind myself that Christmas isn’t over just because it is December 26th. As Orthodox Christians we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for two weeks! Christmas isn’t just a single day event. It isn’t just about one day during which we all gather to open too many presents and eat too much food. In fact, it really isn’t about the “day” at all but a “life” that we choose to live in Christ. Please allow me to explain...

In our secular world Christmas, even among many Christians, has become a secular holiday where slogans such as, “Christmas is about family” or “Christmas is a time for giving” have become trite sayings. Many Christians don’t even plan to attend Church services any longer. We shouldn’t really be surprised though because for many Christians, even Orthodox Christians, throughout the year attending Church services has become at best an honored tradition and at worst a painful obligation during which we stare at the floor and anxiously await the end of the service.

But today it is still Christmas. Not only does the Church continue the actual celebration of Christmas with the singing of the Christmas hymns and the forbidding of fasting, the Church reminds us that celebrating Christmas is a chance to change our life for good. Christmas is about encountering the newborn Savior and living a life genuinely connected (what we call in communion) with Him not just on December 25th but EVERY day.

Don’t allow Christmas to come and go like the forgotten toys in the corner the day after Christmas. Encounter the newborn Savior and Live A New Life In Christ. Enjoy Christmas every day......but at least for the next two weeks! It is STILL Christmas!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas is a TODAY Experience

Many Christians celebrate Christmas as a historic event, but Orthodox celebrate Christmas as a TODAY experience. “Today He who holds the whole world in His hand is born from a Virgin.” We are blessed with the gift of Christmas so that we can live a new life in Christ TODAY, not just to celebrate some far-away concept of an event that happened in history. If Christmas is nothing more than history, we are no better than Herod who turned away from Christ. We have a better way, a living way, a TODAY way!

Friday, December 23, 2016

It’s Just SO Hard to be a Christian

The world is constantly pulling at you. Your friend keep asking when you are going to get a new job so you can make more money, and your boss keeps asking you when you are going to take your job seriously because he needs you to  make more money. Politicians keep telling you that unless you make more money, you are lazy and need to go out and try to make more money. On top of all that....this week is Christmas, so EVERY story and online shopping warehouse is trying to get you to spend more money by convincing you that your family will only think you love them if you got it.....more money on THEM! All you want to do is think about Christ at Christmas but everywhere you turn, all anyone seems to care about is money, money, money.
Check out today’s Gospel Reading: Mark 10:24-32 (RSV) - The Lord said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for these who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God." Peter began to say to him, "Lo, we have left everything and followed you." Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many that are first will be last, and the last first." And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.

Worrying about money isn’t anything new. What’s new is your willingness to put God above money. What’s new is the freedom that you have to escape the constant torment from society about money. What’s new is Christmas. Jesus Christ became one of us, the same in every way except sin (see Hebrews 4.15) SO THAT you would no longer be a slave to money. It’s your choice to truly honor Christ during Christmas this weekend. It isn’t easy, but it is possible.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Who’s Way is Best?

The Church Community can be a difficult experience for even the longest standing members of the Church. It isn’t always for lack of communication, although Churches do many times lack proper communications techniques. The most common cause of our struggles is explained in today’s Gospel Reading:
Mark 9:33-41 (RSV) - At that time, Jesus and his disciples came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you discussing on the way?"  But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest.  And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, "If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all."  And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me."  John said to him, "Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us."  But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me.  For he that is not against us is for us.  For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward."
It isn’t because we don’t talk to each other. It is because when we do speak with each other, we are always fighting for OUR way rather than someone else. We expect OUR Church to serve OUR needs rather than the needs of others. We expect OUR goals to be the goals of the Church rather than the goals of Christ.

Christ compares our spiritual life to that of children. It is common for children to be selfish. In fact parents spend much of their time teaching children to be less selfish. What is it that we cannot teach ourselves to be less selfish like we teach our children? We solve that....and we will solve our community struggles. By the way the same logic works for our politics as well.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The final days before Christmas

Christmas is just a few days away and many of you are making your final checklists to make sure you are ready for the holiday. Shopping for gifts, shopping for ingredients, pulling out the rest of the decorations, cleaning the house to welcome guests....the work never ends does it? But what about your soul? Have you made your checklist to make sure your soul is ready for Christmas?
Here is today’s Gospel Reading: Mark 9:42-50; 10:1 (RSV) - The Lord said, "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to Gehenna, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. For every one will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another." And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again; and again, as his custom was, he taught them.
I am sharing this with you today to encourage you to make a spiritual checklist for Christmas.
  • Have I fast as much as I am able as an offering to God?
  • Have I said my daily prayers as I should?
  • Have I been making time to read the Scriptures?
  • Have I chosen a charity to support for Christmas?
  • Have I prepared to receive Holy Communion?
  • Have I lived a Christian life?

If you haven’t done all these, don’t panic. We all have fallen short of the glory of God. That is why the Church reminds us again this week of the importance of preparing our soul for Christmas. But there is one final item for your Christmas Checklist....schedule Holy Confession. I encourage you to contact your spiritual father and make an appointment for Holy Confession. Since we all know we fall short, it is through the joyous mystery of Holy Confession that we can get that “fresh start” and be fully prepared for Christmas. Your soul will thank you...

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Our Ancestors

Our spiritual ancestors lived dedicated Orthodox Christian lives, willing even at times to sacrifice everything they had for the truth of God. Our physical ancestors made sacrifices too, many coming from far off lands with just a few dollars in their pocket, so that we could have a better life. The better life our ancestors sought was not only about houses and cars. The better life they sought included building a Church at the center of our life.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

I Know Better Than You

It goes like this...(generic ‘you’ & ‘me’)
Me: You don’t know what you’re talking about. You never do.
You: You’re doing it again. You never think I know what I’m talking about, but you’re always wrong. I’ve just come to live with having to ignore your opinion.
Me: Nobody thinks like that anymore. You need to come along with the times. You’re old fashioned.
You: You’re being racist. You can’t say that.
Me: You are!
You: No, YOU ARE!
Me: NO...Y O U  A R E!!!!
And so the raging argument continues without any resolution, not because ‘you’ and ‘me’ don’t love each other, but because they aren’t listening. When it comes to issues that are close to our hearts, and most especially religion and politics, most people can’t seem to listen to other opinions. It isn’t because they are being mean. It’s because they already insist they know better. Consider today’s Gospel Reading
Luke 14:1-11 (RSV) - At that time, one sabbath when Jesus went to dine at the house of a ruler who belonged to the Pharisees, they were watching him. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath, or not?" But they were silent. Then he took him and healed him, and let him go. And he said to them, "Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well, will not immediately pull him out on a sabbath day?" And they could not reply to this. Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he marked how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, "When you are invited by any one to a marriage feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest a more eminent man than you be invited by him; and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give place to this man,' and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, 'Friend, go up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

The only way we can resolve our conflicts is to be humble and that means to accept that maybe, just maybe, that means we might be wrong. It is completely arrogant to believe you are always right, and yet most of us live in that world. We are always right, and we always know better than everyone else. So today as the political debate rages on, consider how you are adding fuel to the fire. Step back and allow someone to “Say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher,’ then you will be honored.’” But until then remember you don’t REALLY always know better.

Friday, December 16, 2016

It’s easy to be confused

Have you ever read something in the Bible and wondered why you didn’t understand the words the same way the Church taught? It can be really easy to read the Holy Scriptures and come to your own conclusion about the meaning of the text, but chances are you will be wrong as often as you are correct. Even the same disciples who would eventually become the Holy Apostles didn’t always get it right when they were first following Jesus. Of course once the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost, they were guided into all truth as Jesus promised. What’s the lesson for us today? Look at today’ Gospel Reading.
Mark 9:33-41 (RSV) - At that time, Jesus and his disciples came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you discussing on the way?"  But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest.  And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, "If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all."  And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me."  John said to him, "Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us."  But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me.  For he that is not against us is for us.  For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward."

The difference between our lack of understand the Holy Apostles rests only in our willingness to allow Christ to transform our understanding to be along His desires. While He walked with the disciples, He was continually teaching. He continues to teach, through the Church, for those of us willing to listen and learn. It’s easy to be confused, but if you are willing to be guided by the Holy Spirit who works through the Church, then your confusion will lead to truth.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Are You Ashamed?

It seems every day we are given the opportunity to confess our love for God, either in words or often more importantly in actions. Many times we are faced with a split second decision to either confess God or deny Him. Sometimes our quick decisions are words that come from our mouths, but NORMALLY this decision has more to do with our actions than our words.

How will we respond to the homeless man on the sidewalk?
How will we look the request for food?
How will we treat the stranger who attends Christmas Liturgy?

Saint Paul says, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God.” (2 Timothy 8)

The quick responses that face us everyday speak more about our hearts than the well chosen words we choose to use on Facebook or through emails. If we are willing to embrace the words of Saint Paul, then our actions (not just our well chosen words) will BE a living example of the gospel of Christ.

Just something to think about as Christmas draws near...

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Remember Be Transfigured Ministries at Christmas

2016 has been an incredible year for Be Transfigured Ministries. As we continue to expand our internet presence with weekly sermons and blog posts, our ministry continues to grow by God's Grace and we couldn't do it without your help. I would be honored for you to consider helping our ministry grow with your Christmas Gift. Just "click" on the button below to make your safe online Christmas Gift, and help us help others Live A New Life In Christ.

Have a blessed Christmas,
Father Athanasios C Haros, President
Be Transfigured Ministries

The Holy Scriptures are a Book of Love

As I was reading today’s Epistle reading I once again encountered a passage that seems to be ignored by so many so called Sola Scripture Christians....
Epistle Reading: St. Paul's First Letter to Timothy 1:18-20; 2:8-15 (RSV) - TIMOTHY, my son, this charge I commit to you in accordance with the prophetic utterances which pointed to you, that inspired by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith, among them Hymenaios and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire but by good deeds, as befits women who profess religion. Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
Women preachers, women teachers, women clergy, women bishops, women wearing gold, women wearing costly attire....if I didn’t know any better women would be total second class citizens in Protestant Churches....of course thankfully they are not.

So if Sola  Scripture Christians are not REALLY Sola Scripture, then why does the Orthodox Church receive so much grief that our Holy Traditions aren’t Biblical? Of course they ARE Biblical, but that has been a matter of interpretation.

There are more examples that are not about women, lest you think today’s blog is about keeping women down. This blog is NEVER about keeping women down...
  • Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. (Matthew 23.9) YET....I’ve never met a single Christian who claimed NOT to have an earthly father.
  • And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. (Matthew 23.10) YET...there are many Protestants who are called teachers.
  • You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. (Deut 4.2) YET....the ENTIRE New Testament is in violation of this passage.

My point today is NOT to favor Biblical literalism, but to wonder why so many claim literalism while ignoring so many verses. The answer of course is the holistic approach of the Orthodox Church. The Holy Scriptures are to be used to lead people into a deeper relationship with Christ. They cannot be used to bully people, guilt people, or otherwise control others. The Holy Scriptures are a Book of love.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Free to Do Good

Continuing with yesterday’s post about being free to follow the Church, today’s Epistle reading reminded me that the Law of the Church can and is many time abused by people trying to control others. When we consider the Holy Canons of the Church as a way to control behavior, we are already in a state of abuse. In truth the Holy Canons, also known as Canon Law, is meant to guide people into a holy life in Christ.

St. Paul's First Letter to Timothy 1:8-14 (RSV) - TIMOTHY, my son, we know that the law is good, if any one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, immoral persons, sodomites, kidnapers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. I thank him who has given me strength for this, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful by appointing me to his service, though I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him; but I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

When the Holy Canons are used for good, they lead others to Christ. When they are used for control they turn others away from the Church. My guess is the person who left the comment I blogged about yesterday has been abused by the Church. If He had felt the loving guidance of the Church and wanted to live with Christ, he would see the goodness in the Holy Canons and not evil.

If you find yourself considering how the Holy Canons are good to control behavior, I invite you to consider another point of view. When you are seeking control over others, it is more likely you are the one with a choice to make. Do you use the Law for Good or evil? You are free to do Good. Now go do it.

Monday, December 12, 2016

You’re Free to Disagree

Yesterday I received the following comment on my YouTube Channel attached to one of our sermons...Here is the comment:
Get over it and stop promoting hurtful discrimination against people - we are not living in the Middle Ages, Christianity does not rule the world anymore thank God.......imaginary crimes that do not exist except in the eyes of extremist religions. You are promoting discrimination, hatred and violence. Why don't you do everything the bible says??? Why don't you kill gay people, kill adulterers, prohibit women from speaking in church etc. etc. There is nothing holy about much of what the bible says, much of it is hurtful.
The truth is the Church teaches freedom. We are free to join Christ and we are free to depart from Him. The sad truth is there exist may who are trying to distract us away from Christ. Consider today’s Gospel Reading:
John 10:9-16 (RSV) - The Lord said, "I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.  And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd."

Don’t go through life naive about wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are real and they surround the Church. You are free to disagree with the Church, but that won’t stop the Church from proclaiming the truth.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

We Have been Invited to Heaven

In the Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14.16.24) our Lord compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a great banquet to which we have all been invited. As in the parable many of us make excuses as to why we or our family cannot attend. As servants we are commanded to go out and invite others who have also been invited so that God’s House is filled. We don’t know when God will call us to Heaven, but we must be prepared to answer the call without excuses and enter into Heaven with our Lord. No more excuses. We have been given another opportunity to answer the call without excuses. Through the life of the Church we can be prepared to enter into Heaven. No more excuses. We can still be loyal and faithful servants.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Light Shines on Good and Bad

We often think about how a light shines in the darkness and we are comforted. From a young age light was the source of comfort and safety. As little children we begged our parents to leave the light on as we fell asleep. We were sure the light would keep monsters away from nibbling on our toes during the night. Growing up, the light always was a sign of good things. But light is not always a sign of something good. It can also reveal sin and evil. Consider today’s Gospel Reading:
Luke 8:16-21 (RSV) - The Lord said, "No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a vessel, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hid that shall not be made manifest, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light. Take heed then how you hear; for to him who has will more be given, and from him who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away." Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him for the crowd. And he was told, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you." But he said to them, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it."
Light shines on our Churches. It shines on the good and the bad. When a Church is an example of love and faithfulness to God, the light reflects God’s light and others are drawn to the Church. When a Church is an example of sin and selfishness, the Church no longer reflects God’s light but is exposed with sin, and others who seek the Lord are driven away.

If your Church is not growing, one thing to consider is how the life the Church members is reflected in God’s light. Is the life of each member drawing others to Christ or away from Him? Nothing that is hid shall not be made manifest.....something to think about when it comes to Church growth.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Time is Drawing Near

Yesterday I wrote about making excuses when the Lord sends His servants to call us to heaven. At some point the Lord will come calling. We all know and accept that reality, but it has become “normal” to think we have more time. We are confident the Lord isn’t coming today, “So why not just go about our business,” we think every day. But as today’s Gospel reminds us, our time is drawing near...
Here is today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 21:28-33 (RSV) - The Lord said to his disciples, "Look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." And he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees; as soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."
I have noticed over the years that two types of people general exist. There are people who put off until the very last moment the work needed for a project. The project could be school related, work related, and even vacation related. Have you ever realized your vacation was beginning tomorrow and you hadn’t made hotel reservations yet? The other type of person is the one who arrives at the airport three hours in advance “just in case” something comes up they have to attend to. This type of person would rather sit at the gate for three hours and enjoy reading a good book, than feel rushed through security in a state of panic the plane would depart without them comfortable in their seat.

No matter what the project, the procrastinator will procrastinate. There is one major problem though when it comes to our relationship with God. WE DON’T KNOW the departure time. We only know, as the Lord says in today’s Gospel, the time is drawing near. When it comes to our time to enter heaven, we won’t be able to ask for more time, we won’t be able to wrap things up, we won’t be able to “pull an all-nighter” to finish the report. God will come for us, and whatever we have accomplished we have more – no less.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you know my emphasis on taking seriously the life the Church offers to us as preparation for when God calls. I invite you today, most especially if you are a procrastinator, to consider whether or not you are prepared to enter the kingdom of heaven. “The time of your redemption is drawing near.” Will you be ready?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What will your excuse be?

One time I was sitting around a table with religious leaders from all sorts of different backgrounds. This group included Christians and non-Christians, and we were discussing the importance of hospital ministry. One Christian pastor asked, “Is there anyone who would visit a patient in the hospital and not pray for physical healing?” The question sounded obvious enough since the very reason a patient enters the hospital is to be healed by doctors who have been trained in all the newest technologies. We don’t go to the hospital to die. I was troubled by his question because as Orthodox Christians we approach life from a different vantage point, so I raised my hand. “I don’t!” I let it sit out there for a minute or two. “As an Orthodox Christian I pray they are healed so that they may live long enough to repent.”  A long discussion ensued.

I think it has become too easy to pray for healing just so that we are no longer sick. We pray that God fixes what is broken in our bodies so that we can continue to pursue our dreams of building great dynasties. We pray that God allows us to get up from our sick bed so that we can walk into work another day and close that perfect deal we were just about to wrap up. We even pray to God that we don’t die too soon so that we can enjoy time with our family. Let’s face it; we all have excuses about why we don’t want to die. But if we’re honest the excuse rarely if ever includes time for repentance and confession. We hear something similar in the Gospel.

The Lord compares heaven to a great banquet to which many had been invited. The master had sent word to those who had been invited that the banquet was ready, “But they all with one accord began to make excuses.” (Luke 14.18) The result was that others were brought into the banquet and those who had made excuses were left outside. The master said, “For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.” (Luke 14.24)

The stories in the Gospel are never just stories. They are meant for us today to hear and embrace as a witness to God’s loving promise about our future with Him. That means WE have been invited to the banquet which He calls Heaven. We have been called by His servants, the Saints of our Church, to remind us that He is waiting for us. We have been given the opportunity to accept His invitation to the banquet. It also means that we have been the chance to come up with excuses about why we aren’t ready to attend. It isn’t because we don’t want to attend; we just would rather spend more time doing what we like to do “down here” for a while longer. That’s really why we spend so much energy trying to get healed and leave the hospital. We want more time to check out the new property we just purchased, test the new equipment we just installed, or enjoy time with our family.

The truth of God’s promise is that we don’t know exactly when He will send His servants to “bring us” to the banquet, so we need to be willing to answer the call when the time comes. That can only mean that we must be ‘ready and waiting’ for His call. But when He calls and you aren’t ready, what will your excuse be? Instead of making excuses, be ready for Him. Be waiting for Him. Enter into the banquet together with Him and avoid being left outside the gates of heaven. It isn’t about property, jobs, and family. It is about entering into heaven with God.

Monday, December 5, 2016

A True Christian Cannot Ignore those in Need

Today is the Feast of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker. He was a great saint and holy Bishop of the Church. Of his many traits, the love of the poor was among his greatest. As I continue to “settle in” to our new host parish of Saint Nicholas Cathedral in Tarpon Springs, yesterday I spent a few moments sitting with a few of those being served breakfast during our weekly feeding ministry. It was only a few minutes between appointments, but I immediately was warmed by the graciousness of who many in our society would consider outcasts. I am pleased to say our Cathedral hosts the feeding twice per week. What pleased me additionally was the presence of several parishioners working with dignity and class to provide a simple and needed meal for those in need. I bring this up not to boast on our host parish, but to hopefully inspire you to remember the poor, not just on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but every day.

They are blessed by God as we hear in today’s  Gospel Reading:
Luke 6:17-23 (RSV) - At that time, Jesus stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.  And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came forth from him and healed them all.  And he lifted up his eyes on His disciples, and said: "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.  Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.  Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.  Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven."

May the Holy Wonderworker and Hierarch Saint Nicholas be an inspiration to you as he has been for me.

There’s Always Time for Cranberry Sauce

When Jesus healed a woman on the Sabbath, those who were watching complained because He “worked” on the Sabbath. They had forgotten there was an actual purpose for the Sabbath. In the same way, many of us look at the Church rules as just rules to follow. We spend so much time worrying about following the rules; we forget that the rules have an actual benefit for our lives. The weeks leading up to Christmas present a great opportunity to refocus our attention on what really matters. If only we could trust the Church enough to understand the meaning behind the rules, we could arrive at the Feast of Christmas with peace rather than a panic about making sure everything is in order for the dinner. There’s always time for cranberry sauce. This year, let’s get our soul ready for Christmas.