A Different New Year’s Resolution

2017

2017 is right around the corner!!  Incredible!  With the New Year upon us, many people will be making their annual resolutions.  These usually range from what we eat, drink, smoke, and wear…to the shape of our bodies and what we plan to do about it.  With the vast multitude of resolutions that we have available, I would like to add one more for your consideration:  What comes out of our mouth!

“We all stumble in many ways.  If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.  When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.  Or take ships as an example.  Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.  Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts…With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers (and sisters) this should not be” (James 3).

Those words of wisdom from St. James tell us the importance of controlling what comes out of our mouths.  Our words shape our whole lives, who we are and what others think of us.  How we appear to others in the work place and in our communities is something that we should take very seriously.  Often however, my own tongue is wagging before my brain ever kicks in.

All people would do well to have control over their tongues.  If a person has no control over that area, it is difficult to trust them with other aspects.  What comes to most people’s minds at this point is cursing.  Certainly, this is very important as the Holy Scriptures clearly tell us in Colossians 3:8…”now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.

Would you want to go to a doctor who said:  “Stick out your @#&%#@ tongue, I want to take your @@#&%$#@ temperature” or “Listen you @#%$#@ @#&%$#@ you have the @#$&$#@ flu”.  Most of us would question that doctor’s professionalism and his character (he might have the skills but he would still lose the patients, especially my family).  So it is with each of us.  Our worth, our professionalism, and even our Faith are often measured by what comes out of our mouths (for good or for bad).

But controlling one’s tongue goes far beyond cursing.  How about what we say about other people?  Saying something bad about someone or something might feel good for the moment.  But, as we have all experienced, those words may just come back to bite us and that good feeling will be long gone.  Many times we do not find out that something bad we said about someone has gotten back to them, but we can guess that it did by the broken relationship we experience.

This is a problem that has a remedy. As we read in Colossians 3:8, “you yourselves are to put off all these”…we are to do these things ourselves!! We simply need to begin saying good and positive things about another person or situation.  If we don’t have good words to say then perhaps we would do well to be quiet.  In the same manner that negative words breed negativity, so it is that positive words are very contagious.  If one says:  “It’s a great day…I love my job…I’m happy to be here…_______ is a great person”, others will be finding ways to say positive things as well.

Now you may live or work in a very tough environment, where you hear negative and even ugly things every day.  It is so easy to want to answer back with the same type of words.  Usually, this just escalates the situation.  Consider these simple words from Holy Scripture: “a soft answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1).  Over the many years in my work as a Chaplain, I had ample opportunity to truly test that proverb.  I can tell you it does work; and it works very well.  I would encourage you to test it out yourself the next time you run on to someone being ugly and spewing forth wrathful words. It is amazing just how well it works.

So in addition to your resolutions to eat less and exercise more, I would encourage you to add this matter of what comes out of your mouth to your list for 2017.  One of the best things that any of us can resolve to do for ourselves, our families, our friends, and our work place is to speak words that are good and positive to those around us. Our words have the power to help make us be the very best people we can be.

May God bless you richly in 2017!!! 

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A Closer Look at those Magi from the East

wise-men

Each Christmas, songs are sung about the Wise Men or Magi that came from the east looking for the one who had been born.  Their story can be read in the Gospel according to St. Matthew (2:1-12).  The story is an old familiar one to most of us.  Sometimes it’s easy to pass over some spiritual gems because we’ve heard the story so many times.  So let’s take a closer look.

The Magi had been given a sign from God, a star.  They heeded that sign, leaving home and country.  They came from a great distance traveling as much as two years. They came not as curiosity seekers, but specifically to worship the King that had been born.

The Magi had seen “His Star in the east”, but then the star disappeared.  They continued on without the star.  When they came to Jerusalem, they had to ask people where this King was at. Then after meeting with King Herod (who tried to trick them), the star miraculously reappeared.  Not only that, the star also moved, guiding them to the child.  The star is one of the great miracles of this story.  Many people have tried to explain this star:  “It was the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn” or “It was the appearance of a new star which shines brighter”.  However, the star appeared for a time, disappeared, then reappeared, and then moved.  This was not some natural phenomenon; God intervened in His creation with a special sign to direct the Magi.

When the Magi arrived before the child, their first act was to offer themselves in worship.  Then they were able to offer their gifts.  Amazingly, they were prophetic gifts; Gold was given, the gift for a king (remember the Queen of Sheba brought 4.5 tons of gold to honor King Solomon – I Kings 10:10).  They brought this gift proclaiming the child to be the King of Kings.  Secondly, they gave him incense.  Incense was to be offered only to God and only offered by a priest.  The prophetic meaning was twofold:  that the child was fully God (which is what Christmas is all about – the Incarnation) and that he was to be the High Priest in Heaven.  The last gift offered was myrrh.  Myrrh was used to embalm the dead.  This pointed toward the ultimate reason the child had been born: to lay down his life for the world.  St. Gregory the Dialogist wrote the following about how we can apply this to our lives:

“We offer gold to the new-born King, if we shine in His sight with the brightness of the wisdom from on high.  We offer Him incense, if we enkindle – on the altar of our hearts – the thoughts of our human minds, by our holy pursuit of prayer; so as to give forth a sweet smell to God by our heavenly desire.  We offer Him myrrh, if we mortify the vices of our bodies by our self-denial.”

These are just a few of the spiritual gems found in this story, enough to give us some good food for thought.  The Magi had a star which guided them on the right path.  We all need something to guide us on the right path.  Our Church , the Holy Scriptures, our devotional studies, our rule of prayer, seasons of fasting, etc, etc…all of these and more can certainly be a guide for us.  BUT. just like the star disappeared for a time, we may experience spiritually dry times.  When this happens (not if it happens, because it will happen), if we remain faithful (going to Church, praying, studying, fasting…even when we don’t feel like it), we will find ourselves on the right path, growing in our faith.  We may feel that our prayers don’t even reach the ceiling…but we pray anyway!  We may feel that we are getting absolutely nothing out of Church…but we go anyway!  We may feel a blank wall as we read the Holy Scriptures, but we read anyway!  Notice the common word “feel”…that should never be our guide!!  Our spiritual life and growth are not based on how we feel.  The Magi were excited when they first saw the star, but they continued on their journey even when the star had disappeared.  Eventually, the star reappeared and they reached their goal…the King of Kings.  Let us have them same faith when those spiritually dry times come our way!!!

One last food for thought:  Like the Magi, we should first offer ourselves to God in worship.  Then we will be able to present our gifts (good works, finances, serving in our Church, etc.).  Sometimes it’s easy to think that our acts of kindness and good works (even giving money) are enough.  The Magi remind us of the most important thing:  Worship of God! 

May your celebration of Christmas be filled with the worship of God.  And may it bring you great joy and blessings.  Let’s remember (as a bumper sticker I saw said):

“Wise Men Still Seek Him” (so do Wise Women and Wise Children!!).

Could you give back your best gift?

gift

We often call Christmas the “season of giving”.   If you are like me, most of that giving is in material things.  Toys for little ones, maybe nice clothes for older ones… maybe something really expensive for those precious ones.  And of course, there is always the receiving of these fine gifts from others who have entered into the “season of giving”.  Most everyone really likes being on the receiving end of a gift. 

Now this article is not about to condemn such activities.  In fact, I think it is really nice that we have a chance to give gifts to those we love and care about.   And, it’s really nice to be on the receiving end too!  At the same time, it is called the “season of giving” for a much different reason.  Perhaps this story will help shed a little light.

Wealth More Precious than Jewels (Author unknown)

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food.  The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and wanted it, so the woman gave it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime. 

A few days later, he came back to return the stone to the wise woman. “I’ve been thinking,” he said.  “I know how valuable this stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious.  Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me this stone.”

Even though this traveler had gotten hold of a precious stone that was worth a fortune, he realized that he was missing out on something even more valuable. The Giver of the gift had something of much greater worth than that stone. The traveler came back desiring that greater treasure.

We can be a lot like that traveler as we go through life.  We may suddenly find ourselves in a bad situation.  It could be serious, as in a health problem or divorce or death of a loved one.  It could be less serious, as in feeling depressed or stressed out or in need of some material thing.  Next thing we know, we find ourselves asking God for help.  I imagine every one of us can recount a time when God intervened to bring us that gift we asked for. 

Many of us have gone on our merry way after receiving His gift of help, forgetting that just maybe there was something far greater behind that gift.  Is it possible that the One, who could give us that gift of help we needed, might actually have something more valuable to give us?   Indeed, the real message of Christmas is not just that we have a God who is able to heal our broken health, or to bring comfort in the midst of great grief, or to bring peace of mind when our world is stressed out beyond belief.  The message of Christmas is far deeper and greater for those who would bring their gift of life back to God and seek the more precious gift. 

For those who would like to look further into that gift of Christmas , here’s some great reading from the Giver of Life Himself:

Luke 2:1-20; Galatians 4:1-7; John 1:1-13; 3:13-21.

God’s richest blessings to each of you this Christmas season!!

Put Christ Back in Christmas??

christmas

Put Christ Back in Christmas?

For the past several years there has been a common cry go out in our country: “Put Christ back in Christmas!” Many of the people I know who send out that message on social media and share emails emblazoned with that phrase are also folks that quit going to Church a long time ago. If we are honest with ourselves, the truth is Christ never left…it is people who have left.

This year Christmas falls on a Sunday. If it is anything like the last time this happened, many, many churches will be closed. The most often reason given: Christmas is a family time, so people should be with their families that morning. The Holy Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ is one of the great Feast Days of the year. It is not meant to be simply a “family time” for us to share presents. It is the celebration of God becoming man (the Incarnation) for our salvation. His Birth changed this world forever!

The word “Christmas” comes to us from two Old-English words: “Christ’s Mass”. It was a church service dedicated to the Birth of Christ. Christmas was a family time only in the sense that the entire family went to Church to celebrate His Holy Nativity.

Put Christ back in Christmas? No, we should put ourselves back in Christmas; worshiping the One called Emmanuel: “God with us!”

If you are looking for a Church that will be celebrating this great Feast Day of the Faith, check out your local Orthodox Church. They will all be open Christmas morning and they will all be worshiping the One Who became man for our salvation. And do make it a family time by inviting all your family and your friends.

Have a blessed and joyous celebration of the Holy Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ!!

“Joy to the World!”

joy-to-the-world

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come; let earth receive her King.”  So go the words to one of our favorite Christmas songs heard from living rooms to shopping malls throughout our country.  Most of us could sing the above lines and more without any outside help.  The truth of the matter is that there really is “Joy” when God is King of our lives.

The Book of Judges in the Holy Scriptures ends with this verse:  “In those days there was no King; everyone did as they saw fit.”  This verse is a summary of the Book of Judges.  Judges tells us of the Israelites roller-coaster ride.  One minute they are experiencing God’s blessings and peace; the next minute they are turning away from God and find themselves enslaved.

When we think of the Book of Judges, we think of the great heroes that were mightily used of God:  Deborah, Gideon, and Samson.  They were all used to rescue Israel from bondage to freedom.  But the real thrust of Judges is the fact that Israel would not walk in that freedom.  They would not keep the Lord God as King, but instead exalted themselves as kings.

Historically, whenever a great nation or empire has fallen, it has fallen from within first.  The sense of right and wrong gave way to “do whatever is right for you”.  Morals had decayed to the point where they had become non-existent for many of the people of that nation.  In their minds, they had become kings of their own lives.  They had no authority greater than themselves.  No one, not even God, could tell them how to live their lives.  Each one of those nations is now simply a part of our history books.  They have perished, collapsed from within.

“In those days there was no King; everyone did as they saw fit.”  The last thing anyone would want is for that verse to read:  “In these days…”  Thankfully, we do live in the greatest nation on the face of the earth.  We are a country that was founded on godly principles.  In fact, our country is described as “One Nation under God.”  But, we are already several generations removed from our founding fathers and warning signs are everywhere.

The television continually screams into our brains to “do whatever is right for you”, with no regard to the morality of that decision (not to mention the spiritual and psychological wounds).  The black/gray/white areas of morality of 40 years ago have changed so drastically that what used to be considered absolutely wrong is now considered okay (it’s not even in the gray).

Can you imagine the things that are on prime time television today even being on the television ten years ago?  If this log-rhythmic decline of morality (which looks something like an avalanche) continues, who could possibly guess what could be on television in even 5 years’ time.

There seems to be a growing number of people who proclaim that they have the right to do whatever they want, whenever they want, etc.  The authority for such decisions is simply self.  They have proclaimed themselves kings and would like the rest of us to do likewise.  This kind of “self-rule” can seem innocent enough and even right, but throughout the history of the world it has always seemed to lead to destruction.  This can be illustrated even in a small unit like a family.  If the children have no rules or guidelines to live by, chaos is usually the result.

I remember hearing the famous preacher, Billy Graham, once say that if God does not bring judgment on America, He will owe an apology to Sodom and Gomorrah.  Now if I asked each of you readers to tell me what the sin of Sodom was, I suspect you might have an immediate answer.  But is your answer accurate?  Listen carefully to these words of the Holy Prophet Ezekiel about what was really the sin of Sodom:

“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, your sister Sodom and her daughters never did what you and your daughters have done.  Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom:  She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.  They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” (Ezekiel 16:48-50)

This sounds all too much like a society that had exalted self-rule to the point of destruction.  When self sits upon the throne of anyone’s life, the rule quickly becomes:  “do whatever is right for you” without regard for the ultimate consequences.  As we see our own country going through so many changes, what can we do to best help it?

It truly is time for us to take action on behalf of the country we love.  It is certainly not the time to point blaming fingers at others…that is not what God is calling His people to do.  Again may we listen carefully to the Holy Scriptures as we hear exactly what God would desire us to do:  “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

As we celebrate Christmas this year, let’s pray for our country and may we acknowledge Almighty God as our King in both our words and our deeds.  “Joy to the world, the Lord is come; let earth receive her King.”