Sunday, January 31, 2016

January 31, 2016

Standing up for the truth!

Judith 8:11-13 LXX

They came to her, and she said to them, “Listen to me now, rulers of the people of Bethulia! Your words spoken today to the people are not right, nor is the oath you have sworn and pronounced between God and yourselves, promising to surrender the city to our adversaries unless the Lord turns and helps you in so many days.

"Now who are you to have put God to the test this day, setting yourselves up as God's equal among the sons of men? You are testing the Lord Almighty, but you will never come to know anything!"

Personal Challenge

As Christians, we can complain all we want about things like political correctness, godless political leaders, corrupt business leaders, bullies amongst us, and many other social ills around us, but what are we, what am I, willing to do to correct the problems. Here we see a whole group of people that challenge God to fix the problem in a set number of days or else they will surrender to the enemy. God wants us to be willing to sacrifice ourselves to further His truths, His kingdom. Doing what is right and true is never easy when everyone around you prefers the lie but this is what we are called to do. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner!

January 30, 2016

Saint of the Week
St. Sergius of Radonezh

Thursday, January 28, 2016

January 28, 2016

Giving out of our abundance

Preaching of Peter

"Rich is he that hath mercy on many, and he that, imitating God, giveth of that he hath. For God hath given all things unto all, of his own creatures. Understand then, ye rich, that ye ought to minister, for ye have received more than ye yourselves need. Learn that others lack the things ye have in superfluity. Be ashamed to keep things that belong to others. Imitate the fairness (equality) of God, and no man will be poor."
From John of Damascus, Sacred Parallels, A. 12.

Personal Challenge

The Preaching of Peter is one of the early Christian apocryphal books attributed to Apostle Peter. This piece was quoted by St. John of Damascus and is so appropriate for us today as we enter into another election year and consider various political platforms. It is not my government's responsibility to take care of the poor. It is te Church's responsibility and as a member of the Church, the body of Christ, that makes it my responsibility as well. God has blessed me so greatly. I do not need to keep everything that He has given me. I can give of my resources, my possessions, my time, and my love to those who need it because that is what God did for me.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

January 27, 2016

Covered in protection by my Lord!

Judith 5:20-21 LXX

"Now my lord and master, if there is any sin of ignorance in this people and they sin against their God, then we will identify their offense and will go up to defeat them. But if there is no lawlessness in their nation, then let my lord leave them alone, lest their Lord shield them, and their God defend them, and we will become a reproach before the whole earth."

Personal Challenge

The reputation of the Jewish nation was well known by their neighbors as Achior, the leader of the Ammonites, was explaining to the leaders of the Assyrian army here in Judith. What he articulates could still be applied to those who follow Christ today. The condensed version is that if God's people stay true to Him and live their lives in lawlessness, as He describes lawlessness, then He will shield them, protect them, and become a reproach to anyone who confronts them. What a clear explanation of God's love for His children and our responsibility to Him. Glory be to God!

Monday, January 25, 2016

January 25, 2016

Engaging in almsgiving!

Tobit 4:16

From your bread, give to him who is hungry, and from your clothing, give to the naked. If you have more than you need, do almsgiving, and do not let your eye envy the almsgiving when you do it.

Personal Challenge

We often hear in the Orthodox Church about how important it is to be almsgivers. Often this takes the form of writing a check. Here in Tobit we are reminded that almsgiving also includes engaging with the poor, those who are hungry, those who are naked, and those who are down and out. Sometimes the greatest gift that we can give to a person in need is our time, a listening ear, and most importantly a piece of ourselves. This is truly being the hands and feet of Jesus.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

January 24, 2016

Traveling the high road!

Tobit 1:6

But I alone traveled frequently to Jerusalem for the feast days, as it is written for all of Israel in an everlasting ordinance. I would carry the firstfruits and the tithes of my harvest and the first-shearing.

Personal Challenge

Tobit reminds us that living a life for God is not a convenient life. He wants us to love our neighbor...all of them, all of the time. He wants us to be a beacon that shows His Light...all of the time. He wants us to sacrifice ourselves for Him and others. This can be difficult. But isn't it wonderful that the more we fall in love with Him, the more we learn to appreciate His love for us, the more willing we are to do the hard things and to do them joyfully? Glory be to God!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Friday, January 22, 2016

January 22, 2016

On the road to Emmaus?

Ezra 9:54-55 (1 Esdras LXX)

Then everyone went on their way to eat and drink, to gladden themselves, to give gifts to those who were lacking, and to heartily rejoice. For they were inspired by the words which were taught to them, and they gathered together.

Personal Challenge

So, here is the question, "Am I so inspired by the words of my Lord that I hear and read that I run out rejoicing?" When the disciples on the road to Emmaus had the scriptures revealed to them by our resurrected and living Lord, their hearts burned within them. Does mine during every liturgy? Does mine after every class or study time? Not as it should! The revelation of our Lord is not just for my intellectual edification. It should be burning in my heart and changing my behavior. Lord, have mercy! Lord, have mercy! Lord, have mercy! Lord, have mercy!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

January 21, 2016

Relegated to the back seat!

Ezra 4:59-60 (1 Esdras LXX)

“The victory and the wisdom are from You, the glory is Yours, and I am Your servant. Blessed are You who granted me wisdom, and I give thanks to You, O Lord of our fathers.”

Personal Challenge

I so often find myself thinking, and therefore, behaving as if I am the one who has accomplished everything in my life and therefore relegating God to a back seat in my journey to theosis. This cannot be farther from the truth. I am nothing without my Lord. I have done nothing and can do nothing without my Lord. He gives me every breath and heartbeat. He is the author of every success and victory in my life. He has provided to me every bit of wisdom and knowledge that I have, even though it is so small compared to what it could be. It is to Him that I owe all thanks, all honor, all praise, and all trust and respect. It is me that should be relegated to the back seat. Maybe then the journey would more quickly and effectively lead me to righteousness. Glory be to God!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

January 20, 2016

Living in Truth!

Ezra 4:38-40 (Esdras LXX)

"But the truth abides and is strong forever. The truth lives and rules unto ages of ages. There is no partiality or prejudice with the truth, but it does righteous things, distinct from all wrongdoings and evil. All are pleased with its deeds, and there is nothing unjust in its judgment. For strength, dominion, authority, and majesty belong to it unto all ages, and blessed is the God of truth."

Encouraging Words

In the Orthodox Church, we have a saying, "All truth is God's truth!" It is interesting how much this passage aligns with Paul's passage on love in 1 Corinthians 13. God is love and He expects us to live our lives both in His love, but also imparting of His love to our neighbors. If Jesus gave His life for mankind out of love and we are to love our neighbor then shouldn't we also be willing to give our life for our neighbor. The same goes for truth. If God is truth and He desires us to grow into the image of His Son, then shouldn't we also be willing to live our lives in His truth and portraying that truth to our neighbors, even if it means our death? Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner!

January 19, 2016

His kingdom has come!

Luke 4:18-19

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

Encouraging Words

Jesus ushered into existence a whole new age. His incarnation became the beginning of the kingdom of God amongst us. We do not have to wait for some event in the future for we are living in His new age. And what an age this is. We were poor and He preached the living gospel to us. We were brokenhearted and He healed us. We were captives to sin and death and He set us free. We were blind and He gave us our sight again. We were oppressed and He gave us liberty. What must I do to partake in this kingdom? Believe in Him. Trust in Him. Obey Him by loving Him and my neighbor. Glory be to God!

Monday, January 18, 2016

January 18, 2016

The journey through the wilderness.

Luke 4:1

Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,

Encouraging Words

Why was it so important for Jesus to go off into the wilderness after His baptism? First it fulfilled the prefigurement of Him in the travel of the Jewish nation through the wilderness for forty years. But more importantly, it sets the stage and the example for each one of us who are baptized into Him. After our baptism, we are filled with the Holy Spirit and will spend the remainder of our lives walking through the wilderness of this temporal life on our journey to our promised land. Glory be to God!

January 17, 2016

Blessed by the descending of the Holy Spirit!

Luke 3:21-22

When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”

Encouraging Words

I will never to be able to be like Christ even though it is my desire, for He is God and I can never achieve that status. However, He chose to become like me and take on the form of humanness, fully and completely. He did not need to be baptized to cleanse Him from any sins because He was sinless. He chose to be baptized so that I, and everyone else like me, could follow Him someday into the waters of baptism that have been blessed by Him forever. He not only paved the way and set the example for me to follow, but He showed me that when I followed Him into baptism that I too had the Holy Spirit descend upon me, and that I too had the Father address me as His beloved son because I was not adopted into His family. Glory be to God!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Friday, January 15, 2016

January 15, 2016

Breaking the chains that hold us back!

Matthew 19:21

Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

Personal Challenge

Every one of us has a ball and chain attached to our spiritual leg that holds us back from being all that we can be for Christ. For some, like this young man, it is wealth and possessions. For some, it is the prestige of our position or the position in life that we hold or aspire to. For some, it is family or friends. For some of us, it is our pride. Whatever the case, God wants our unfettered commitment to Him so that we can follow Him wherever He leads. It is a lifelong journey of determining what is holding us back and letting go of it. Only I can do that for myself. This changes as we continue our journey because new fetters get uncovered. Therefore, we are never fully there. Sometimes it is difficult to know what is holding us back, but if we continue to seek Him He will reveal it to us. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner. Teach me to forsake all that is earthly and in the way of my following you!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

January 14, 2016

Am I compelled?

2 Corinthians 5:14-15
For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.

Personal Challenge
Am I compelled by the love of Christ and His willingness to die for me, as well as every other human being, to stop living for me and to live for Him? Unfortunately, the evidence of my life does not point to this conclusion as much as I wish it would. Christ died for me. He died for all. And He asks that I die with Him, for Him and my neighbor. What kind of death does He want from me? Death to this world and the things of this world. Death to myself and always trying to have everything revolve around me. Death to sin, and therefore, death to spiritual death itself. That which results is life; abundant life, joyful life, spiritual life. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

January 13, 2016

Spending time in prayer.

Mark 1:35

Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.

Personal Challenge

Is it important for me to carve time out of my busy schedule to spend it with my Lord in prayer and meditation? It is so important that even Jesus, God Himself, spent time with His Father on a regular basis. Should I do any less? Absolutely not. I can find focus in times that I spend with my Lord. I can find peace. I can find joy. Do I do this as much as I should? Absolutely not. But I can choose to work at it. Glory be to God!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

January 12, 2016

Martha or Mary...Mary or Martha...

Luke 10:41-42

And Jesus answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her."

Personal Challenge

I believe that all of us has a little bit of Martha in us as well as a little bit of Mary. Our disposition in life ultimately comes down to which one we are willing to feed and nurture. Martha gets all caught up in the busy-ness of life, the Lord is coming over to my house and I must make sure that it is spotless and that I have the most awesome meal prepared for Him, and I need to be the hostess with the mostest, etc., etc., etc. None of this is bad in and of itself. But in this process, the Lord comes and goes and Martha has missed the opportunity to sit at His feet and partake of His presence, love, and mercy. Mary, however, abandons all of the cares of the visit and sits at His feet, soaking in every word, every expression, and every moment of having Him available.

Most of my life has been struggling with the Martha in me and trying to live as Mary in the presence of both my Lord and my loved ones, my neighbors. And I know that his will be a struggle until the day I die. I must continue to learn the balance between being responsible with that which has been placed under my stewardship and being present, fully present, with those who are in my life. Lord, have mercy! Lord, have mercy! Lord, have mercy!

Monday, January 11, 2016

January 11, 2016

Never losing heart!

2 Corinthians 4:1

Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart.

Personal Challenge

Where I put my focus, my thoughts, and my energy is where I will be drawn. If I only focus on the challenges and difficulties of life, then they will dominate my thoughts and ultimately my attitudes and behaviors. However, God has poured out His grace on me. He has loved me dearly and given me all that I need to press through these challenges and difficulties. If I focus on Him and His grace and mercy then this is what will dominate my life. Glory be to God!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

January 10, 2016

Who does God speak to?

Ezra 2:2 (1 Esdras 2:2)

Thus says Cyrus the king of the Persians: Israel's Lord, the Lord Most High, revealed and indicated to me, the king of the inhabited world, that I should build a house for Him at Jerusalem in Judea.

Personal Challenge

Sometimes we Christians get prideful and boast that only we can communicate with God and hear back from Him. In this verse, we are told that God clearly communicated to someone "outside of the faith" and that they listened to Him. God can, and will, do whatever He wants to. He is the Lord Most High and knows the true state of our hearts and whether or not He can use us to build His kingdom. My responsibility in all fo this is to prepare my heart so that He can use me, be obedient to Him and love Him and my neighbor, and trust that all truth is His truth and the even those who do not appear in my eyes to love Him may have some of that truth. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner!

January 9, 2016

Saint of the Week
St. Isaac the Syrian

Friday, January 8, 2016

January 8, 2016 is a command!

1 Corinthians 1:10

Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

Personal Challenge

Both Jesus and Paul iterated multiple times that we are to strive for unity in the body of Christ. If we were to do this on all accounts then the church would be so different than the rest of the world that we would not be able to have enough buildings to contain all that would want to join us. On the contrary, we have perfected division and disunity to the point that we accuse other believers of not being Christians over very petty differences. The enemy has sucked us into his net of discord. It is our responsibility, and therefore also my responsibility, to sow seeds of love and unity so that the body of Christ may be healed and reunited. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

January 7, 2016

Merry Christmas to all of our Orthodox friends and family that are celebrating the old calendar. Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

January 6, 2016

The Renewal of Water to It's Original State

Luke 3:21-22

When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”

Encouraging Words

Why did Jesus get baptized? He didn't have sin in His life to be cleansed. Was it just to establish a symbol for us to identify with? No! Today the Orthodox Christians that follow the new calendar around the world are celebrating Theophany (God revealed), which is the blessing of water by our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a wonderful feast celebration full of teaching and remembrance. The Orthodox Study Bible sums up the purpose of this event very well:
Jesus Himself does not need baptism. In being baptized, our Lord accomplished several things:(1) He affirmed John's ministry; (2) He was revealed by the Father and the Holy Spirit to be the Christ, God's beloved Son; (3) He identified with His people by descending into the waters with them; (4) He prefigured His own death, giving baptism its ultimate meaning; (5) He entered the waters, sanctifying the water itself; (6) He fulfilled the many types given in the OT, as when Moses led the people from bondage through the Red Sea (Ex 14) and when the ark of the covenant was carried into the Jordan so the people could enter the Promised Land (Jos 3; 4); and (7) He opened heaven to a world separated from God through sin.
For this, we glorify our God and the work that He has done!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

January 5, 2016

Mountain moving faith!

Matthew 21:21-22

So Jesus answered and said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive."

Encouraging Words

How is it that eleven uneducated, simple men could so radically change the world? How is it that throughout the history of the Church great and miraculous things have been done by such common people no different than me? Through faith! Proper faith! Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and the things that He has the power to do. If we have true, spiritual faith we will not ask for things that will glorify and exemplify ourselves. We will ask for things that will glorify and exemplify God. Even the apostles, with their great faith and works for the Lord, did not ask to be spared from persecution and martyrdom. They did not ask for wealth or prestige. They asked to be used by God to build His kingdom. Is this not the same behavior that we are seeing from our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East who refuse to renounce their faith? Should I do any less? Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner!

Monday, January 4, 2016

January 4, 2016

Holding on to promises!

Matthew 14:27

But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”

Encouraging Words

This is the reason that I can go through each day, every crisis, every challenge, without any fear or apprehension. It is not because I have everything under control because I seldom do. It is not because I am some kind of special person because I am not. It is because Jesus promised that He would always be with me and He always keeps His promises!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

January 3, 2016

The Power of the Incarnation!

Psalm 85 (84 LXX)

O Lord, You were pleased with Your land; You turned back the captivity of Jacob;
You forgave the transgressions of Your people;
You covered all their sins.
You ended all Your wrath;
You turned from the wrath of Your anger.
Turn us, O God of our salvation,
And turn away Your anger from us.
Will You be angry with us forever,
Or will You prolong Your anger from generation to generation?
O God, You will turn and give us life,
And Your people will be glad in You.
Show us Your mercy, O Lord,
And grant us Your salvation.
I will hear what the Lord God will speak in me,
For He will speak peace
To His people and to His holy ones,
And to those who turn their heart to Him.
His salvation is very close at hand to those who fear Him,
That glory may dwell in our land.
Mercy and truth met together;
Righteousness and peace kissed each other;
Truth arose from the earth,
And righteousness looked down from heaven.
For the Lord will give goodness,
And our land shall yield its fruit.
Righteousness shall go before Him
And establish His footsteps as our pathway.

Encouraging Words

Why, oh why, would our God, the creator of all, especially all of mankind, use the incarnation of His Son as the means by which to save us all for eternity? Because as long as we were created beings, created from the soil of this earth, we would remain separated from God, the Creator, the Divine. But through the incarnation, through God Himself becoming man, mankind has been given the divine opportunity to see the Image of god. And through that Image, our Lord Jesus Christ, we will come to be in the presence of our God throughout eternity. Glory be to God!

January 2, 2016

Saint of the Week
St. Hesychios the Priest