Even a Dumb Dog Don’t Lick a Hot Stove Twice (My tongue is seared from too many licks)

Growing up, did your parents ever tell you to avoid certain things? How many of us did it anyway? “Don’t touch the stove son; it is hot.” One burned finger coming up! I found my life governed by the old saying: “Even a Dumb Dog Don’t Lick a Hot Stove Twice.” Indeed, my tongue has been burned so many times. The only good that can come from such stupidity is to pass on my mistakes with the hope that others will learn from my scorched tongue.

We are living in a time of controversies. Confusion is abounding everywhere as various people grab hold of an issue and do their best to convince everyone else to join their position on it. Every issue has extremists on both sides using social media and videos in their attempt to draw people to their side, leaving most folks in confusion and/or fear. I lived through such “hot stoves” back in the 70’s and here is what I learned:

There is only one “author of confusion and fear” and it is not God (1 Cor 14:33). The enemy of our souls does not care about the issues involved. The powers of darkness simply want people to go to extremes on either side. This is what brings about division, confusion, and fear. You can see the “fruits” of such extremist views in our world today and especially in the Church.

Extremist “pastors” are calling people to leave their own church and come follow them in their extremist views. Divisions are happening throughout Christianity because of the “seeds sown” by extremists on either side of various issues. Those who sow the seeds of schism and division are not from God. St. Paul was dealing with extremists when he wrote the Epistle to Titus. He asks Titus to remind people where they came from and who they have become through Christ (Titus 3:3-7). Here are a couple of those verses, but please read it all:

“For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another…according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit…that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

St. Paul then tells Titus to insist on these things so that those who have believed in God may be careful to apply themselves to good deeds; these are excellent and profitable to men.” Then he tells Titus four things that are futile and unprofitable and exhorts us to avoid them (Titus 8-9): 1 – Stupid controversies, 2 – Stupid genealogies, 3 – Stupid dissensions, 4 – Stupid quarrels over the law

I can remember being involved with controversies back then. Honestly, I didn’t realize they were “stupid” until after they were over. It seemed like it was noble at the time. But those controversies didn’t lead me or anyone else to a closer relationship with our Lord. It led me toward a gnostic type of vain glory, thinking I knew something that others didn’t know. Yes, this kind of stupidity leads to a “blistered tongue” if one fails to learn from it.

So, I pass this on to you: Don’t get caught up with the stupid controversies of today. Focus on growing in your Faith and in your love for our Lord Jesus Christ. If you find yourself in an extremist view, put it aside and seek to live a life pleasing to the Lord: “Let our people learn to apply themselves to good deeds, so as to help cases of urgent need, so that they may not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14).

Weighing Out Mercy

This summer, Colorado once again suffered from a lack of rain. Some of the springs out in a wilderness area where we have trail cameras had dried up. This photo is a pool of water that has gone down, but is hanging in there. The mother bear and her two cubs are certainly being refreshed in it. As I watched the video of them, I was reminded of God’s wonderful mercy and His provision for all His creation.

Everyone of us has experienced God’s mercy in some way. In fact, how many of us would not be alive today except for the mercy of God? I know that certainly applies to me more than once. If we stop and ponder it for a while, we might recall many instances of God’s mercy in our lives, not just matters of life and death, but in so many other ways. If it has been a while since you pondered God’s amazing mercy in your life, it would be worth a few minutes of your time today.

What does God ask of us in return for all the mercy He has shown us? It is pretty simple: Go and do likewise to the people we cross paths with. There is a beautiful story that puts mercy in its right place in our lives.

There was a tax-collector that was selfish, ungrateful, and mean. He would be unkind to beggars and never gave them anything. One day a beggar persisted and persisted with this man. The man was carrying a bag of bread loaves home and got so angry, he finally threw one at the beggar. Later in the night, he had a horrible dream in which he had died. He was in a room with a giant set of scales. On one side, the demons had piled on all his sins and it was weighted to the ground. On the other side, the angels of God couldn’t find one thing to put on the good side of the scale. Finally, in desperation, one of the angels pulled out a loaf of bread and said: “This man once threw this bread at a beggar and showed him mercy.” He put it on the scale and that one loaf of bread brought the scales back to an even balance. The man woke up and thought to himself: “Wow, if that one loaf of bread could do that, what would it be like if my life were filled with acts of mercy?” His life was transformed from that day forward. He became a saint of our Faith. You can read his whole story by looking up: Saint Peter the Tax-collector.

“God is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish” (Luke 6:35). Such was the case with this man and such can be the case with us no matter where we might be on that spectrum of “ungrateful and selfish.” Perhaps you, like me, can honestly say: “I would not be alive today except for His mercy!” Recognizing His mercy and the gift of life we still have, may each of us: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful! (Luke 6:36).

“Let mercy outweigh all else in you!” ~~St. Isaac of Syria

From Son of Thunder to Apostle of Love – Impossible?

The one word that would seem to best represent the Holy Apostle John would have to be: LOVE. His first letter (1 John) is filled with that word: God loves us, we should love God, and we should love others (repeat several times). He could easily be called the Apostle of Love. But that is now…what was he known as in those early years with Jesus?

When Jesus appointed the 12 Apostles He called the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, the “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17). That does not bring to mind any “Apostle of Love” type of person. In my mind, I picture a couple of huge “Hulk Hogan” type of men that weren’t to be messed with. Their actions early on with Jesus would support their being Sons of Thunder.

At one point, Jesus and His Apostles were heading to a Samaritan village. The people didn’t want them in their town. The two Sons of Thunder, James and John, in anger asked the Lord: “Do you want us to call down fire from heaven to destroy them?” We are told the Lord rebuked them and told them that He had come to save people’s lives, not to destroy them (Luke 9:51-56). Wanting to kill people doesn’t sound much like an Apostle of Love.

Another time, James and John come to Jesus and plainly tell Him: “We want you to do for us whatever we ask.” Again, I picture in my mind, two huge men towering over Jesus in this conversation. When Jesus asks them what they want Him to do for them, they answer that they want to sit one at His right hand and the other at His left hand. In other words, they wanted positions of power and prestige in this new kingdom the Lord would establish. Jesus corrects them and explains that if anyone wants to be great in His Kingdom, they must learn to be the servant of all. That incident is found in Mark 10:35-45. A hunger for power and prestige doesn’t fit the picture of an Apostle of Love.

Truly the Apostle John was a work in progress. By the time we get to the crucifixion of Jesus, we find a different John at the foot of the cross. He is the only Apostle that follows Jesus all the way to the cross. Jesus tells His mother that John is now her son and He tells John that Mary is now his mother. John cares for Mary the rest of her life. Jesus saw something in this Son of Thunder from the beginning and John’s life is slowly transformed into becoming a great man of God…indeed, the Apostle of Love.

All of us are still “works in progress” as we journey with our Lord. Jesus didn’t quit on John because of his botch-ups and He doesn’t quit on us as we botch things up in our lives. Some of us may still be wanting to call fire down on certain people we know or we may be caught up with a desire for power and prestige. The Lord rebukes us for such thoughts, but He doesn’t give up on us. He sees us as we could become and He continues to mold and shape us each day.

Some folks may think it is impossible to love certain individuals, but our God is the God of the impossible. Even though we might not be there now, God is able to do an amazing work in us as we journey on with Him. The life of the Apostle John should give all of us hope. We too can grow and become all that we can be in Christ. We can become more and more like our Lord. That journey with Him continues right now.

“We love, because He first loved us!” (1 John 4:19)

So Just Who Is This Jesus?

This morning, I received an email from a member of our parish. This person was reading Hebrews and found a great similarity between Hebrews 1 and John 1. This got me thinking about some of the passages of Holy Scripture that would fit well with John 1 and what would it look like to put them all together. I found it so very powerful and certainly answers the title question. Here’s the result (taken from John 1:1-18, Colossians 1:10-20, Philippians 2:6-11, Hebrews 1:1-4, Revelation 1:8, and Isaiah 44:6):

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God.”

He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, Whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.  And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.  

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. He, Who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;  that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;  strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.  He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love,in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. He, Who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. Therefore, God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Wow!

Having Received Mercy from the Lord

This photo of a mountain lion came from a full video. The mountain lion came into this spring for a cool drink of water. In the midst of quenching his thirst, something caught his attention. He immediately crouched down facing the unsuspecting animal. He stayed in that position for quite some time and then began stalking his prey.

Predators, like this mountain lion, will usually go after the weak, injured, or sick animal in a herd. Those are the ones that are easiest to bring down. This got me thinking about the spiritual realm and how the enemy of our souls is referred to as a “lion stalking its prey, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Like the mountain lion, he, too, loves to find the spiritually weak, spiritually injured, or spiritually sick.

This past Sunday, we heard the incredible story the Lord speaks about a man who had received great mercy and then refused to show another man any mercy at all (Matthew 18:23-35). The Lord brings home His point with these words for all of us: 

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

If we belong to the Lord, then we have experienced His great mercy. When we confessed to Him, He forgave us for all the wrong things we had done in our lives. We are called to walk in that forgiveness and to have that same mercy on others. But we can find ourselves hurt or angered by the words or actions of someone else. In that hurt or anger, we can refuse to forgive them or to show them any mercy. We may want to hurt them back, but in reality, the only one being hurt is us.

When we refuse to forgive and have mercy on someone, we injure ourselves spiritually. We are the ones who then become spiritually weak, spiritually injured, and spiritually sick. The enemy of our souls (that lion) is stalking such prey constantly.

One of the absolute worse things that could come out of our mouths is: “I could never forgive ______ for what they did (or said)!” With God’s help, we can forgive others. It always helps me to remember the depths of God’s forgiveness toward me when I committed my life to Him. He had great mercy on me for which I am forever grateful.

May our Lord give us strength each day to walk in His forgiveness and mercy, and to show that mercy to others.

As a Deer Pants for Water

On a recent hike into a nearby wilderness area, I discovered that one of the springs I often visit had dried up. It is easy to picture the wildlife that had been coming there for a needed drink suddenly finding themselves “panting for streams of water” (Psalm 42 (41):1. The extreme heat and drought in Colorado are having an impact.

A few miles away, there is another spring that is still flowing. It was a joy to visit this one and find that the many of the wildlife were enjoying this wonderful oasis. The photo speaks volumes as this little fawn frolics in the water of this spring as its thirst has been quenched.

All of us have experienced (or may be experiencing right now) a spiritual drought. Have you gone through those times when your prayers don’t seem to even reach the ceiling? Sometimes, my prayers feel like they leave my lips and fall to the floor. And are there times when you read a passage from the Bible and get zero from it? I sometimes run onto that in my daily readings and feel so very thirsty. Yes, I can identify with that mother and baby deer before they found that living spring.

Have I been longing for the Living Water (Christ) or simply going through the motions of prayer and Scripture reading? We can pray words and read words without our hearts and minds abiding in Christ. It is Christ, the Living Water, that will quench our thirst. We need to keep focused on Him as we pray. The same is true as we read the Holy Scriptures. “Oh Lord, illumine my heart and my mind as only You can do.”  We know the importance of “being present” in our interactions with other people and it holds so very true in our interactions with the Lord. Our minds so easily wander! The Lord is present when we pray and read His Word. We need to “abide” in that presence and commune with Him, our source of Living Water. “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me” (John 15:4).

The author of Psalm 42(41) certainly understood this principle and we have his guidance to follow:

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.”

In addition to “being present” with the Lord in our personal prayers and Scripture reading, we need to be present with Him in Church. Stay focused on Christ in the prayers and worship of our services. It is a battle! Our wandering thoughts so easily lead us away. We Orthodox Christians have the icon of Christ in our churches to help us keep focused on Him. He, and He alone, will quench our thirst. As we do this, the Psalm continues:

“By day the Lord directs his love, at night His song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life.”

Like that precious fawn frolicking in the water, so our souls will once again “frolic” in the spiritual refreshment that God alone can bring. When you find yourself in a spiritual drought, it might be a good start to speak to your soul as the psalmist suggests and then drink from that spring of Living Water to quench your thirst:

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.”

Where is Your Focus in the Storm?

Whenever I read the story of Jesus walking on the water in Matthew 14:22-33, I am reminded of my adventures crewing on a 41-foot ketch sailboat in the Pacific Ocean. The Gospel story takes place during the 4th watch of the night which is from 3:00-6:00 a.m. This was my night watch on the sailboat.

We had gotten on the edge of a very violent storm as I relieved the owner at 3:00 a.m. His instructions were pretty simple: Keep steering into the waves and keep a lookout for the lights of large cargo ships as we were in a shipping lane. The waves were so very huge as they crashed over the bow of our sailboat and the wind was so strong that we were keeled over more than I had ever experienced.

Halfway through my watch, with my whole focus on the wind and the waves, I woke up the owner saying I felt we were about to roll. He came on deck and focused only on our sail. As far as I could tell, he didn’t pay any attention to the wind or the waves. He simply said: “We’re fine; we are not going to roll.” With that he disappeared below deck to go back to sleep.

I learned something that night about where I put my focus. Like Peter in the Gospel story, I often have my focus on the “storm” rather than on what really matters. In the storms of life that come our way, it can be easy to be asking God “WHY is this happening to me?” and to shake an “angry fist” at God because our focus is on the storm. Here is a most important truth that should be taken to heart:

“If one goes sailing in the ocean, storms will come your way. And if one is alive on planet earth, the storms of life will come your way.”

Some folks have gone through such horrible storms that make no sense:  the death of a young child, a terminal disease that comes to a family member, a loved one in jail, someone close that commits suicide, an ugly divorce, losing your job or career, an accident that leaves your life forever changed… and certainly the list of these ugly storms goes on and on.

There are also smaller storms that catch us unawares: a trusted friend who stabs you in the back to move up the ladder of success, lies about you that can’t be challenged, broken relationships that make absolutely no sense to you, a serious injury that comes from out of the blue, being punished unjustly or unfairly (this is one we can hold on to from way back in our childhood)…and this list also goes on and on.

If you find yourself in a super-storm or even in a smaller storm, you will get a ton of advice from every direction.  Good meaning folks may offer you all kinds of advice: “Suck it up…be tough!” (If I could have sucked it up I certainly would have long before this advice came my way!)  “Don’t take life so seriously!” (Seriously, this pain is destroying my life!)  “You need to repent of sin in your life!” (Do you really think I haven’t gone over every sin I have ever committed and cried out to God for forgiveness?) Generally speaking, these wonderful words of advice only make the one offering that advice feel better. 

It’s important to keep in mind that these folks do mean well, but it isn’t their storm…it’s your storm.  They aren’t there at 3:00 a.m. when tears are rolling onto your pillow, and your prayers don’t even seem to reach the ceiling, and your heart feels like it is about to burst.  But God is!  No, He probably won’t answer the question “WHY?” no matter how many times you ask him or in what tone of voice you ask Him.  But He will be with you…He may be carrying you when you don’t even know it.  You may be angry with Him and shake your fist at Him…you may even say some unkind words to Him.  But He still loves you and is there for you. He will give you just what you need to make it through the storm.  Will the pain or hurt be instantly gone?  Probably not…but one day when you are able to look back, you will see that He was there and that His love and care carried you through it. The only advice that makes any sense is to focus on the Lord and grab hold of the His hand, asking Him to bring you through it.  At that 3:00 a.m. wake-up call, perhaps all you can say is “Lord, please help me!” You have said enough.  That was all Peter said to Jesus.

May the Lord be your comfort, your peace, your strength … may He be your everything through whatever storm comes your way.  God bless you… and if possible, may all your storms be the kind that you can sleep through because your focus is on the only One that truly matters: the Lord.

There’s That Tongue Again

This morning’s reading from our devotional By Way of the Desert had a wonderful story of some people visiting a desert hermit. There were some young men shepherding sheep near his hermitage that were constantly using foul language. They asked the man of God why he didn’t tell them to stop. He replied:

“If I can’t endure something small like this language, how will I resist a serious temptation if God permits one to come to me? Therefore, I remain silent. I am trying to learn how to bear whatever comes my way.”

This brought to mind my own experience. In my many years of being a prison chaplain, I was surrounded by people using foul language. I had no thought process like that man of God just mentioned, but I simply never mentioned it to any of them. I never thought of myself as enduring anything, I simply ignored it. Even when someone’s frustrations turned on me and they began cussing me out, God gave me the grace to respond with a “soft answer” that always seemed to “turn away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1).

Over the years, some of those men would ask me how they could quit cussing. This happened many times and I always gave them the same advice:

“When you are getting ready to interact with people that you know will bring about cuss words, such as going to recreation, make the sign of the Cross over your mouth and ask Jesus to be the Lord of your mouth. Ask Him to guard every word that comes out of your mouth.”

Without exception, the next time I saw that man while making rounds, he would say something along the lines of:

“How does that work? I did what you said and I didn’t say one cuss word!”

I would respond to him: “The Lord did exactly what you asked of Him. But it likely isn’t a forever fix. You will need to repeat that often to gain victory over what comes out of your mouth.”

James 3 has a lot to say about the “tongue” and he tells us that “no man can tame the tongue” (James 3:8). But the Lord can and He will, if we ask.

Honoring the Virgin Mary?

The Holy Scriptures tell us that every generation will call Mary “Blessed” (Luke 1:46-55).  In fact, she is without doubt the most blessed woman to ever live. Considering all of the great women there have been throughout history, that is no small statement to make. Yet, out of all the women who have lived in this world, it was Mary that was chosen by God for the Incarnation of our Lord.

The early Christians thought so highly of Mary that they actually referred to her as the “Second Eve”. Where Eve was disobedient and brought death into the world, Mary was obedient and through her obedience the Lord Jesus Christ became man for our salvation, trampling down death by death. “Not my will but Your will be done” are words that should be on all of our lips.

So it is that the Orthodox Church sets aside the first two weeks of August each year to remember the life and the dormition of Mary. We do it with a fast that is meant to draw us closer to her Son and to honor her. Indeed, we do call her “Blessed”.

For those who may be struggling with any kind of honor being paid to the Virgin Mary let me offer this simple thought. Consider the first words spoken by the Holy Archangel Gabriel when he visited Mary:

“Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28)

These words were spoken by an Archangel of God who dwells in the presence of God Almighty. Take a moment and let that sink in for a bit. If the Holy Archangel Gabriel can venerate the Virgin Mary, what is so wrong with us honoring her. Absolutely nothing! We are not worshiping her, but we are indeed venerating her.

Every generation will call her “Blessed” and nothing has changed for our generation. An excellent podcast which has this truth and much more can be found at:

https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/walkinganancientpath/reconsidering_the_virgin_mary_part_1

Disoriented

From my youth, I have spent much time in wilderness areas. If you do not pay attention to where you are, you can easily get disoriented. Growing up, we jokingly said that we never got lost, we simply took longer getting back than we anticipated.

The most disoriented I have ever felt was a time in my late teens. I was deep in the forest and began tracking an elk. I tracked him for about an hour with my total focus on the ground. When I finally stopped and looked around, I had absolutely no idea where I was. Clouds blocked the sun and there were no mountains or landmarks to be seen in the dense forest. I confess there was an instant rush of anxiety through my entire body as I realized my total disorientation (notice I still cannot use the word “lost”).

Fortunately, I didn’t panic but calmed down and realized the only way out of my situation was to recall what I did know and track that elk backwards, the exact way I had come.

In our spiritual lives, it is easy for a person to get their focus on the “ground” (the world) and find ourselves disoriented. Somehow, we managed to take our focus off the things that keep us on the right path. When we finally look up, we find ourselves disoriented. We suddenly realize that for quite some time we have not been to church, or we have not been praying, or that we haven’t read a verse of Scripture. If fact, we have not been focused on our spiritual life at all. What should we do?

When that realization washes over you, don’t panic. Remember that you are not lost; you are just taking longer to get back to the right path. Start right where you are by asking the Lord for forgiveness and to help you get back on the right track. Make the decision to go to Church the next Sunday. Take a few minutes and read the Scriptures for the day. Ahhh… Already you are calming down and heading in the right direction.

It is important to understand that becoming disoriented once in a while is very much a part of our spiritual journey. It happens to almost everyone. You are not “lost”. It is simply taking a little longer to get back to where you ought to be.