Jesus be the Lord of My Tongue

Taming the Tongue

To make an apt answer is a joy to anyone, and a word in season, how good it is! The mind of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil.” Proverbs 15:23 & 28

These two proverbs truly need to be together. In a group discussion, saying those words that bring about an agreement with everyone is a joy. Having everyone nod in agreement that your words were indeed wise words is an excellent complement. However (sometimes I hate that word “however”), most of the time my mouth engages far before my mind has done much pondering.

St. Arsenius put it this way: “I have always something to repent for after having talked, but have never been sorry for having been silent. Many times, I spoke and regretted what I said, but about silence I will never have any regret.”

A truth that most of us have likely experienced on one end of it or the other: Once a word leaves your mouth, it can never be taken back. There have been times when no sooner than I said something, I regretted it. But it was too late…the word had been spoken. We can say “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean it”, but the damage was done. Controlling this part of our lives is so very difficult. In fact, St. James calls it impossible for a human being (read all of James chapter 3):

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” James 3:7-8

Fortunately, we can make progress in this area. It may be an up and down type of progress as we grow in this area. Just when I think I have made great progress, I will be a little sleep deprived or a little stressed, and once again my mouth will engage before my mind. That does not mean that all is lost, it simply means that we should get back up and work on it some more. Here is one practice that I have found extremely helpful in my life and in the lives of others.

In your morning prayers (or any time for that matter), make the sign of the cross over your mouth and ask Jesus to be the Lord of your tongue and every word that comes out of your mouth.

When I was a prison chaplain, I had some of the men ask me what they could do to stop using foul language on the Rec Yard. I showed them how to make the sign of the cross over their mouths and what to pray. I asked them to simply try it and see what happened. Every time, without exception, they would say to me something along the lines of: “How does that work? I didn’t cuss once!” I am a firm believer that this will work for everyone who takes the time to do it. If there are certain people that you are around that bring out the gossip, coarse talk, or boasting…try this before you talk with them the next time and see what happens. Put it to the test!!

Sadly, there are many people on social media (like Facebook) that should consider putting this into practice before they begin responding to others. Those replies or comments are actually words coming right out of the mouth. Otherwise good people seem to think they can freely slander, gossip, cuss, demean others, etc without any repercussions. Harm is being done to others and to self.

In this time of home confinement, there can occur times of stress, short temper, and frustration which can result in words that cannot be taken back flowing right out of our mouths. What a great time to try this out for yourself and see what happens:

Make the sign of the cross over your mouth and ask Jesus to be the Lord of your tongue and every word that comes out of your mouth.

May God bless and protect you each and every day…

Fr. Stephen

God Will Not Forget

Hebrews 6-10

“God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them.” (Hebrews 6:10)

Over 40 years ago I memorized this verse of Holy Scripture. It remains one of my favorite verses and one that I return to often as a reminder to myself and the people I have the privilege to serve. When we help others, we are doing something that God will remember about us.

There is an amazing story about a man named Peter who lived in the 6th century. He was the chief tax-collector for all of Africa under the Emperor Justinian. This was a position of power and Peter was a very wealthy man. He was also known as a very cruel, harsh, and selfish man. He was a heartless man who cared nothing for the poor and needy. He was used to walking by beggars without giving them notice, but one day a particular beggar kept groveling at his feet which annoyed Peter greatly. He was carrying some bread and in his anger, he threw a small loaf of bread at the beggar. When the beggar grabbed the bread, Peter went his way.

A few days later, Peter had a dream that he had died. He watched as the demons placed all his evil deeds on one side of a scale weighing it down completely. A question was asked: “Is there anything to put on the other side of the scale for Peter?” The angels looked at each other and finally one of them spoke up: “He did throw this small loaf of bread at a beggar, but it was in anger.” The bread was put on the other side of the scale and immediately the scale was balanced.

Peter awoke from the dream, pondering what he had just witnessed. He thought that if one small loaf could have that much impact, what would happen if he did more. At that moment, he repented of his sinful way of life and began to give freely to those in need. His life became one of alms-giving. He is recognized as a Saint of our Faith and a part of the “Great Cloud of Witnesses” that pray for us.

“God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them.”

Someone might ask the question: “Well, who are His people that I might help them?” If you recall, Jesus was once asked a similar question by someone wanting to justify himself: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ answer is what we call the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

In the midst of this pandemic that we find ourselves in, there are countless opportunities to “help His people.” The people of your parish may need help or at least of caring phone call; your neighbors may need toilet paper (smile) or something more; the local food banks still need food to give those in need; the shelters and missions of your area still need clothing and financial help…and the list can go on and on. When we realize that “His people” are the human beings made in the image and likeness of God…that is everyone (no matter how tarnished that image and likeness might appear to us).

May the example and the prayers of St. Peter the Tax-Collector open our eyes to the needs around us each day.

 

Walking with the Wise

Article - Wise Counsel

“He who walks with wise men becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” (Proverbs 13:20)

This morning the Governor’s order for those of us in Colorado to stay at home went into effect. Since we can’t be physically walking with wise people or fools, what does Proverbs 13:20 have to do with us right now? Even in our homes we are continually making decisions on who we will be hanging out with…on television, in our readings, phone calls, etc. So with that in mind, let’s consider this proverb and how it might speak to us.

This proverb is illustrated really well by a story in the Old Testament (1 Kings 12-14) about the son of King Solomon.  His name was Rehoboam.  When he inherited the kingdom from his father, he had it made.  He was King over a rich and prosperous nation.  He only had one decision to make as he began his reign.  The people came to him asking how he would rule them.  They asked him to not treat them harshly but to be kind to them and, if he would be, they would serve him well. He told them to come back in three days and he would give them an answer.  First he sought the advice of the elders (the wise ones).  They told him that if he would be kind to the people, they would always be his servants.  (Jesus said something similar: “If you want to be great in God’s Kingdom, learn to be the servant of all!”)  Rehoboam then went to his “friends” (the fools), seeking their advice.  They told him to place heavy burdens on them and to be cruel to the people…“scourge them with scorpions”…rule them with an iron fist.  Rehoboam decided to walk with his “friends” and followed their advice.  The result was a total disaster.  The people rose up in rebellion and the kingdom was divided in two, Judah and Israel…with continual war between the two sides.  Rehoboam ended up losing everything of true value and had no peace in his life.

In our lives, we too have many decisions to make that will greatly impact our lives and the lives of others.  Who do we call our “friends” and who do we go to for advice?  Ultimately, there are only two kinds of advice…”godly” or “ungodly”.  The advice will either lead you on the right path or down the wrong road (sometimes it seems like the right path is a backpacking trail going up a mountain and the wrong direction seems like a freeway that is so easy to travel on!).

When you are in need of advice, bear in mind that everyone will have some for you! Everyone else can tell you how you should live and what you should do.  The real key is who is that someone else.

Many people really want to change their lives for the better, but for some reason they can’t seem to make much progress.  There are many issues involved with this, but one big factor is the people that are influencing their lives the most.  It is important to realize that usually people become like the “friends” they are around the most.  If someone is around many positive people, they will likely be more positive (of course the opposite is also true).  If someone wants to become a better person, they would do well to look for “friends” who will challenge them to improve spiritually, morally, and in every area of life (or at the least, not be influencing them the other direction!).  Keep in mind these “friends” include such things as television, books, phone calls, etc.

Perhaps we could restate Proverbs 13:20 in even simpler terms: “You can’t soar with the eagles if you’re walking with the turkeys!”  Being confined to our homes does not mean that we should not be seeking to be with the wise. Take time each day to study the daily readings from Holy Scripture and/or pick a Book of the Bible to study. Also, take time to read books that will inspire your spiritual life. Listen to positive programs such as podcasts on AncientFaith.com.

There on plenty of good movies to watch that won’t have us walking with “turkeys (fools). One that we watch every Great Lent is “The Island” – I get more out of that each year. It does have English subtitles, but in a couple of minutes you forget they are even there. You can find it many places for free.

So let’s make the most of this time of being restricted to our homes. May the God of all wisdom guide us to make wise decisions in our lives.

 

“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.”

Daily Devotion for March 19, 2020

Facebook storm coming

Isaiah 11:16-12:2

 “…As it was for Israel in the day that they came up from the land of Egypt…Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; He has become my salvation.”

Our daily reading today in Isaiah reminds us of the deliverance of the children of God when they were in bondage in Egypt. You can read the entire account beginning in Exodus 1. The people were suffering greatly and crying out to God for help. In Exodus 3, Moses encounters God in the Burning Bush and the Lord speaks these words to him:

“I have indeed seen the misery of my people…I have heard them crying out…and I am concerned about their suffering…So I have come down to rescue them…And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me…” (Exodus 3:7-9)

The Lord delivers His people from their enemy and after they had crossed the Red Sea and were safe, they sang what is called the Song of Moses (Exodus 15). The Holy Prophet Isaiah quotes this verse from that song of praise to the Lord for His deliverance:

“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; He has become my salvation.” (This verse is found in both Exodus 15:2 and in Isaiah 12:2)

My dear brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). As He delivered His children from their enemy back in Egypt, He will deliver us from this invisible enemy we face today. He knows what is happening and He hears our prayers. Truly our prayers have reached Him. How and when He will deliver us remains to be seen, but we can be assured of His faithfulness to us.

The gates of hell cannot prevail against His Church (Matthew 16:18) and we can be confident that this coronavirus will not prevail against it either.  May we not be gripped with fear and anxiety as we hear the daily news from around the world, but rather, may our hearts be flooded with the love and faithfulness of our Lord for us. Please take time right now to meditate on that key verse from today’s reading and let His peace flow into your heart:

“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; He has become my salvation.”

May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus our Lord…Fr. Stephen 

The Fruit of Obedience

Fruit of Obedience

I awakened this morning with an amazing peace of soul. This seemed incredible to comprehend as we continue to hear of the spread of the Coronavirus, my concerns for the well-being of all the people of our parish, and the questions about our continued services which have been weighing on my mind lately. After my prayer time this morning and as I read the daily readings, I pondered how I could have such peace today.

One thought came to me and continues to be in my mind as I write this: There is peace in obedience. I am so often disobedient to our Lord so this peace is a very nice experience. So what is this obedience right now? As a parish, we have endeavored to do our best to be in obedience to the Archbishop’s directions and to our own Metropolitan’s guidance. It really doesn’t matter what any other church or jurisdiction of Orthodoxy is doing; we have our “orders” so to speak. Our personal opinion on any of the directives we have been given is truly irrelevant.

A couple of Sundays ago, I shared in my homily the story of St. John the Dwarf. Here’s a brief summary of that story:

One day, the abbot of his monastery gave St. John a dried up stick and told him to water it every day until he was told to stop. He could have questioned the ridiculousness of such a task, even calling it a stupid directive. Instead, he responded: “May it be blessed.” He began to water that dry stick daily, which was not an easy task since he lived in the Egyptian desert and had to hike to the river for water each day. Day flowed into weeks; weeks flowed into months…and so on. There was no sign of complaining, questioning, or arguing about why or what he was doing. He simply obeyed. This gets even more profound when you consider that he did this for three years…THREE YEARS. Wow, I have trouble obeying things for three minutes. At the end of those three years, the dry stick suddenly budded and leaves appeared. It eventually bore fruit. The abbot took the fruit and held it up to all the brethren saying: “This, my brothers, is the fruit of obedience!”

The Holy Prophet Samuel told us: “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.” (1 Samuel 15:22). King Saul had done what he thought was right in offering sacrifices to God, but he had disobeyed Samuel. Considering the place of the offering of sacrifices in the Old Testament, Samuel holds obedience to be of the greatest importance.

The Holy Prophet Zechariah, in chapter 7 of the book of Zechariah, proclaims to us that obedience is greater than fasting! That should truly strike home as we Orthodox around the world are fasting right now during Lent.

Social media is filled right now with comments from Orthodox Christians condemning the decisions of other jurisdictions and bishops. One thing I learned long ago (the school of hard knocks), we can never be the “bishop’s” bishop. Being judgmental in this way is simply not the path of Orthodoxy. Every Orthodox Christian should endeavor to be obedient to their bishop and not worry about what others are doing in the midst of this pandemic we find ourselves in. Our bishops have an incredible task before them in considering the safety and well-being of their flocks within the practice of our Orthodox Faith. I can’t even imagine the spiritual warfare they encounter as they wrestle with these decisions. When we receive their decisions, may we also say:

“May it be blessed.”

A MOTHER’S DAY MESSAGE FROM FR. STEPHEN

Mothers Day 2017 B

I rewrote Proverbs 31:10-31 with each of the ladies of my own parish in mind. If you are a member of another parish, know that your priest sees you the same way!!! It may remind you of your own Mom as it did mine. (A note to the men who receive this email: please go out of your way to show your love to the ladies in your life this Sunday. Trust me, it is perfectly okay to buy them flowers, candy, or some other gift – even if they say they don’t really want anything – trust me, they will so appreciate your kindness and love!!)

A woman of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.  Her Church has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.  She brings the Church good things, not harm, all the days of her life.

She brings her gifts and works with eager hands.  She is like the merchant ships, bringing her gifts to the Church from afar.  She gets up while it is still dark; she provides all that is needed to her Church family and makes sure every visitor is cared for. She considers the needs of the Church and out of her earnings she makes sure all is provided for.

She sets about her work vigorously; her faith is strong for her tasks.  She sees that her good works are spiritually profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.  She is willing to do whatever it takes day and night.

She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.  Whatever trials may come, she has no fear for the people of her Church; for all of them will be cared for. She makes certain the Church is beautiful and ready for every service and every person who enters its doors.

Her priest is respected when he takes his seat among the priests of the land, because she has enabled him to shine brightly.  She prays for him and lends her support to him in all things.  She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.  She speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

She watches over all of the needs of her Church and could never be accused of idleness.  Others in the Church and her priest all rise up and call her blessed and the priest praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” 

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.  Such are the ladies of St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Pueblo. May the Lord grant each of you the reward you have earned, and may your works bring you praise throughout God’s Kingdom.

As I think of each of you precious ladies in our Church, I am reminded of Proverbs 31.  You are truly worth more than rubies!!  God is using each one of you to help our parish be healthy and active for the next generation.  You all bring different gifts and abilities to our Church, but there is one thing that all of you share:  All of you love the Lord and you love His Church.  You have blessed me beyond anything I could possibly put into words.  My love, my praise, and my thanks to each of you precious ladies…God bless you!!! 

Fr. Stephen 

 

The Journey Begins

Journey Begins

For Orthodox Christians around the world, a journey has begun today. It is a spiritual journey that will eventually lead us all the way to the empty tomb of Jesus Christ. For the next 6 weeks we will journey through Great Lent and then we will experience Holy Week and the incredible Feast of Feasts: the Glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. A great opportunity is before us; it is not like any other opportunity. May we take serious our Faith and draw closer to our Lord than we have ever been. Let us begin our journey today.

Proverbs 1:1-20

You have probably seen some of the multitude of articles and websites discussing how much we need to work our brains to keep us thinking and make us smarter.  There are even websites that promise to increase your brain power for a small monthly fee.  Perhaps you do daily crossword puzzles or Sudoku to help you think more intelligently.  All of these things are good, but not of the greatest importance.  We all know people that may be extremely intelligent, but may not be very wise in how they live their lives.  Simply put, having intelligence does not equal being wise.

On this first day of Great Lent, there is a challenge set before us to exercise our brain in such a way as to increase our wisdom (intelligence also comes with wisdom…but not necessarily the other way around).  In the opening of Proverbs 1, we are told why King Solomon wrote the Book of Proverbs:  “To know wisdom…”  In fact he gives us a wonderful list of things that could be ours if we take time to study this book.  “A wise man will hear and increase learning and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel.” 

The Scriptures tell us that King Solomon so pleased God at the beginning of his reign, that God said:  “Ask me for whatever you want me to give you.”  He could have asked for riches or long life, but instead he asked God for wisdom and discernment.  God responded:  “Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice, behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you.”  (You can read that whole story in 1 Kings 3 or in the Orthodox Study Bible on page 392).

We can seek intelligence through puzzles, games, and various website brain exercises. Or during this year’s Lenten journey, we could seek wisdom through our study of the Book of Proverbs.  Each day, we can do our daily readings and find wisdom on how to live our lives.  This would be a most excellent way to exercise our brains!  How about setting aside the times spent doing a puzzle or Sudoku, and spend that time with our daily readings? What do we have to lose? Or rather, what do we have to gain?

Proverbs 1:1-20

The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel:

To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding,
To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity;
To give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion—
A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel,
To understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother;
For they will be a graceful ornament on your head, and chains about your neck.

10 My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.
11 If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait to shed blood; let us lurk secretly for the innocent without cause;
12 Let us swallow them alive like Sheol, and whole, like those who go down to the Pit;
13 We shall find all kinds of precious possessions, we shall fill our houses with spoil;
14 Cast in your lot among us, let us all have one purse”—
15 My son, do not walk in the way with them, keep your foot from their path;
16 For their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood.
17 Surely, in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird;
18 But they lie in wait for their own blood, they lurk secretly for their own lives.
19 So are the ways of everyone who is greedy for gain; it takes away the life of its owners.

20 Wisdom calls aloud outside; she raises her voice in the open squares.

The Journey Toward Great Lent: The Sheep & the Goats from Matthew 25:31-46

Sunday of the Prodigal Son 2019

Today, Eastern Orthodox Christians around the entire world all read the same Gospel reading concerning the Great Judgment from Matthew 25:31-46.  Each year we Orthodox come face to face with this Gospel passage, whether we want to or not.  It concerns the sheep and the goats; even more importantly it concerns who will inherit the Kingdom of God and who will not.  Both the sheep and the goats call Jesus “Lord”…the difference between the two is found in putting the love of God into action.

In our daily readings we often read about the 2nd Coming of the Lord.  The Great Judgment really puts this in the right perspective.  It is irrelevant for any of us to be trying to figure out when the Lord will return.  It really doesn’t matter if it is today or a thousand years from now.  What is really important in this whole matter is that each of us will appear before His Judgment Seat…whether He returns in our lifetime or if our hearts simply stop beating, we will be there…either as sheep or as goats…we will be there.

In the past, our Church took up the challenge of meeting each of those things the Lord says to the sheep in praise of them.  “I was hungry…thirsty…a stranger… naked…sick…in prison…and you met my needs!”  I am so very proud of the members of our Church as they have continually met the needs of these different concerns. Sometimes we met them locally and sometimes in a far off distant place.  God is Love and this is that love touching precious souls through us. This Great Lent we can again be challenged by this same Gospel passage in perhaps a slightly different way.

All of those things that Jesus expects us to be doing have as their foundation our Faith.  It is presupposed that we are already doing the things He has taught us to do:  Attending Church regularly; Praying regularly; Reading our Bibles regularly; Receiving Holy Communion regularly; Confessing our sins regularly; Fasting when it is time to fast…and the other things that are foundational to our Faith.  All of these things build us up spiritually so that we are better equipped to put our Faith into action.  This is what we should hear in this Gospel reading:  We will all be called to give an accounting of how we put the love of God (our Faith) into action.   The sheep and the goats both called Jesus “Lord” but only the sheep had put love of God (their Faith) into action.

In the parable of the Talents, one man was condemned because he simply hid his talent in the ground…he didn’t even try…no attempt was made to increase his talent.  For doing nothing, his talent was taken away.  Our Church is our talent…a gift given to us.  We must try our best to make it grow.   Putting our Faith into action is both an individual and a corporate matter.  It is something we as a Church must take seriously.  Our Church is a wonderful gift from God and we will be held accountable for what we did with that gift.

Jesus planted His Church on this earth so that every person…from every nation…from every walk of life would have an opportunity to be a part of it and to be a part of His eternal Kingdom.  (“For God so loved the world!”) In our local Church, we may not be held accountable for every nation, every people, or for the whole world.  BUT, we may well be held responsible for our little part of this world…the world that we live in each day.  We are responsible for what we do with the gift of our Church in our “world” … the area in which we are located.  Consider with me for a moment those words of Jesus spoken to the sheep and the goats at the Great Judgment and let’s apply them to the people of our “world”:

“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.”  Many of the people around us have a spiritual hunger and they are looking for something that will truly feed their souls.  Jesus said: ”I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry” (John 6:35).  Has our Church offered the people of our “world” the Bread of Life?

“I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.”  Like the woman at the well, many people would love to drink the water of Christ:  “Whoever drinks the water I give him, will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).  Is our Church offering this “water” to those around us?

“I was a stranger and you invited me in.”  Do the people of our “world” even know that our Church exists…are they strangers who are unaware of our existence?  What can our Church do to truly invite them in?

“I was naked and you clothed me.”  Much like Adam and Eve (Genesis 3), many people have had their eyes opened and realize they are spiritually naked.  These people are being clothed with anything and everything this world has to offer.  The Church can offer them the greatest clothing of all:  “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27).  What is our Church doing to clothe the naked of our “world”.

“I was sick and you took care of me.”  When Jesus was asked why He was hanging around with sinners, He said:  “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…for I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mt. 9:12-13).  There are so many people in our “world” that are sick with sin and our Church has the very medicine that will make them well.  The Church has always been and continues to be a hospital. What has our Church done to make this medicine available to others?

“I was in prison and you visited me.”  It has been said that the hardest prison to get out of is the one without bars.  So many people around us are living in their own personal “prison” each and every day…truly a living hell.   The psalmist knew this when he wrote:  “Bring my soul out of prison, that I might praise Thy Name…O Lord forever more”  (Psalm 141:8; 142:7).  Jesus explained how one could be set free from this prison:  “The Truth will set you free…everyone who sins is a slave to sin…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31-36).  What is our Church doing to set the captives of our “world” free?

It is only God who can truly help the people of this world.  But as in all things, we are called to work in cooperation with God (synergy).  We are called to do our best in bringing the love of God Who is the Truth to our “world”.  We are called to invite the people of our “world” to come and see…and experience…the love of God found in the True Faith.  We are simply called to make the attempt…to try.  It is the Holy Spirit who will touch the hearts and minds of people through our loving efforts.  Please pray with me throughout this Great Lent that God would give us wisdom to know what we can do in our “world” …using the technology and all the resources available to us…may we take this step of faith and see what God does with it.

May God help us to be His instruments of love in our world.

A Rational and Logical Mind?

Logical Mind

How would you respond to some well-meaning Christians who said they did not want to lose their rational and logical minds by joining an “organized religion”? Over the years of being a prison chaplain, I encountered many, many men who had embraced that very thinking. They felt that submitting to the authority of the Church was something they could never do because it meant giving up their minds. They also believe that they only need their Bible and their rational, logical minds. It seems that same thought has become so very popular in our society today.

Perhaps the first question we could ask those Bible believing Christians who do not want to lose their rational thought process in some Church (which of course we know isn’t the case at all) is: Where in the Bible do you find rational and logical thinking working out well?

Ananias & Sapphira certainly seemed to be using very rational and logical thinking in Acts 5…oh, but they ended up dead.

Nadab & Abihu (Numbers 3) offering incense to the Lord sounded quite rational and logical, but they also ended up dead.

Israel demanded a king and who was a more logical choice than Saul as he was handsome and bigger than anyone else (1 Samuel 9-10)…that really worked out for them (forgive my sarcasm). That list can go on and on through the entire Bible…with logical and rational thinking not turning out well.

So then, let’s consider historically what happened within Christianity. We find a great deal of rational, logical thinking by people using the Holy Scriptures.

Arius was quite logical in his teaching that the Son of God was not co-eternal and consubstantial with His Father.

Pelagius taught that the role of Jesus was only to be viewed as “setting a good example” and that Divine Grace has no place in the life of a Christian…we have the full responsibility for our own salvation.

Sabellius used his rational mind with the Bible to teach that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are simply different modes or aspects of one God, rather than three distinct persons (a total denial of the Holy Trinity).

Nestorius used his rational mind to discover that the Holy Scriptures pointed out that Jesus was not God come in the flesh (a total denial of the Incarnation).

The list of heretics using their logical and rational minds goes on and on, with many still at work today. Simply using our rational and logical minds to understand a God that is far beyond our comprehension are the very things heresies are made of… and how they continue to exist today. If you sit through a presentation from certain heretical groups, they will continually ask you: “Doesn’t this make sense to you?” They learned long ago the best approach is to appeal to rational and logical thinking.

There is Truth in this universe and at some point we have to accept the fact that our rational minds may not arrive at it because some of the things of God are truly beyond our comprehension.

May we take seriously these words of the Holy Prophet Isaiah (55:8-9): “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

This leads us to the Seven Ecumenical Councils which handed down the Truth that had always been believed from Christ through His Apostles and on to their disciples and on to their disciples through each generation. Each of those heretics mentioned earlier were dealt with in one of those ecumenical councils. God doesn’t call each Christian to have to figure out all of these things on our own…over and over again. Through the Holy Spirit those councils verified those handed-down truths and it is those truths that we stand on today.

Our rational or logical minds will never wrap themselves around the Holy Trinity or the Incarnation. Those are truths beyond our comprehension.

”If you could understand the Holy Trinity, then the Holy Trinity would not be God!”

If these “non-organized church” folks would use their “rational, logical minds” to grasp these arguments both from Holy Scripture and from history, they may be able to see their need to get back to the Church that has not changed with every wind of doctrine that blows by. Here there is great safety. This is not simply a blind acceptance with a thoughtless mind, but rather it is a mind that embraces the Truth that has been handed down. Without that foundation, rational and logical thinking has led to the thousands of divisions within Christianity. They all proclaimed that they used the Bible and their rational, logical minds and they gave us schism after schism until Christianity as a whole now has the look of a shattered mirror. We have a responsibility to do our best in using our minds to present such mysteries to those logical, rational Christians.

God did not create us to be robots nor does He call us to act as such. He calls us to use our minds, but from the foundation of truth… not in order to invent or come up with our own truth, but in order to walk in that truth. Consider these words of the Holy Apostle John from his third epistle: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”

The Holy Apostle John passed that truth on to his disciples. St. Ignatius learned from him and passed that truth on to his disciples and so on. The only hope for heresies in today’s world is that people continue to ignore the Early Church (or dismiss it as having become corrupt right after the Apostles died). The best hope for Christianity today is to go back to the Early Church and those Seven Ecumenical Councils and to begin “walking in the truth.” That brought St. John joy in the first century and it will no doubt bring joy to our Lord today!

The Rest of the Story

 

December 6th, this Thursday, is an important day in my church each year.  The “why?” is best answered by sharing this true story with you.  If you are a fan of the Paul Harvey radio programs, you will be familiar with one of his shows called “The Rest of the Story”.   This story could easily be one of those stories.   I would like to share this true story with you about a man who made his mark on the world, not with power, or money, or great writings…but with his life.

Back in the 3rd Century this man was born in Asia Minor.  He was born into a wealthy, Christian home.  He was given an excellent education and had everything going for him.  Then his parents died and he was left with the family fortune.  He could have done anything he wanted…yet his heart began to long to serve God.

Unlike most people who dream of winning the lottery, he did not begin buying things for himself with his new found wealth.  Instead, he began to give money to help the poor.  One time he heard of a poor family with three daughters that were marrying age.  In those days, if a woman had no dowry she was likely to end up out on the streets.  This man went secretly at night and threw three bags of gold through their window for the daughters’ dowries.

He decided to take a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  While there he felt the calling of God so strongly on his life that he decided to become a pastor.  This was no easy decision because the most severe persecution of Christians was taking place under the Roman Emperor Diocletian (303-311).  To become a priest in the Christian Church at that time could be a death sentence.  Yet not only did he become a pastor, he also gave away the rest of his money to the poor.

When the Archbishop died the bishops gathered together to choose a new Archbishop.  This was normally one of the bishops.  This time however, they chose this humble priest because they saw his deep spirituality.

Finally, he was arrested, tortured, and thrown into prison.  He would have died there except that the Emperor Diocletian committed suicide in 313.  Constantine became emperor and released all Christian prisoners.  Upon his release, he was reinstated to Archbishop, continuing to help the poor and  pointing out injustice in his society.  He was responsible for the first hospitals being built and for the first houses for the poor being established.  He was instrumental in helping to shape the Christian Church in ways that still affect it today.

He died in the year 330, not making his mark with great writings or in his power as Archbishop.  Rather, he left his life as a great example for us.  His example of faith and commitment is one that is well worth following. But the story doesn’t end here. So who is this man?  As Paul Harvey says:  “Now for the rest of the story!”

 In the early Church people who had led lives that were excellent examples for others to follow were remembered on a particular day.  Their life would be talked about and all were reminded of how they should be living.  This particular man was remembered on December 6th.  His name was Nicholas.  Remembering his life, people began to give gifts in secret on the eve of December 6th.  Over time, the Dutch Christians held an especially big celebration on this day.  Eventually many Dutch Christians came to America.  They continued to celebrate this day.  The celebration was Americanized. Here’s how it happened:

“After the American Revolution, New Yorkers remembered with pride the colony’s nearly-forgotten Dutch roots. John Pintard, influential patriot and antiquarian, who founded the New York Historical Society in 1804, promoted St. Nicholas as patron saint of both society and city. In January 1809, Washington Irving joined the society and on St. Nicholas Day that year he published the satirical fiction, Knickerbocker’s History of New York, with numerous references to a jolly St. Nicholas character. This was not a saintly bishop, rather an elfin Dutch burgher with a clay pipe.  The jolly elf image received a big boost in 1823, from a poem destined to become immensely popular, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” now better known as “The Night Before Christmas.”

In 1863, political cartoonist Thomas Nast began a series of annual drawings in Harper’s Weekly, were based on the descriptions found in the poem and  saint-nicholasWashington Irving’s work. These drawings established a rotund Santa with flowing beard, fur garments, and an omnipresent clay pipe. The picture shown here was the first “red suit” given Santa by Nast.  As Nast drew Santas until 1886, his work had considerable influence in forming the American Santa Claus. Along with appearance changes, the saint’s name shifted to Santa Claus—a natural phonetic alteration from the German Sankt Niklaus and Dutch Sinterklaas.”

(The two previous paragraphs and the picture are used with permission from The St. Nicholas Center at  http://www.stnicholascenter.org  if you would like more info.)

Because of the gift giving, the celebration was moved to Christmas Day.  Eventually, a flying sleigh and reindeer were added from a Norwegian Mythology.

“And there you have, the rest of the story!”  Yes, there really was a Saint Nicholas.  The real man has been lost in the tall tales of recent years.  Not only was Saint Nicholas a real man, but he was a man worth remembering!  He was a man of convictions and commitment even in the face of tremendous worldly wealth and persecution.  Now you know why December 6th is important in my family.  It is a time to give to those in need…remembering the example of Saint Nicholas.

With all of the over-commercialization of Christmas, one can easily forget the real meaning of what is being celebrated.  Yet, let us not, in our desire to regain the meaning of Christmas, simply view all gift giving as a corruption of the celebration.  Rather, it can be a part of it, bringing joy as we give both to our families and to those in need.  And we can share with family and friends, the rest of the story behind “Jolly ol’ St. Nick”.

If you would like to celebrate this December 6th, perhaps you could find a way to give to someone in need without them ever knowing you did it!!!!  It’s hard to do, but you will be blessed if you can keep the secret!!!

May the days leading up to Christmas be filled with joy and peace and may you have a Christmas this year that is truly a HOLYDAY!!!