On the Church and the World

11-12-2021 Colossians 2:1-7

It’s imperative that we recognize Paul’s conflict here. The church of Colossae was ridden with heresy, having blended Jewish beliefs with Oriental ideas. The heretics felt as though they were “adding” to the “Apostolic Church” with their many various ideas and theories. Things which seemed to contradict their personal thoughts and opinions on things were immediately dismissed and a new approach put in place to accommodate their opinions instead. They viewed Apostolic Christianity to be primitive and had this image in their mind of what the Church should be like, so they sought to implement updates into the doctrines to stay relevant to the times while allowing for better access to “spiritual matters.” And all of this was compounded by the fact that they had never known Paul in person. His guidance of the Church had been exclusively through epistle, thus making it even harder to move away from this “enlightenment” that they were encountering, this gnosis that had gripped the Church.

And yet, we find that this conflict that he has is not with them per se. It was the fact that since he was imprisoned, he had no way to know if they were truly accepting his teaching. We have to remember that he labored for the Church out of love, love for God, and love for his brothers and sisters. His conflict was with whether their “hearts were encouraged, being knit together in love, attaining to the full understanding of the mystery of God” (Vs 2), and as he knew that the heretics they were facing fed upon the “secrets of the universe,” he assures them that it is Christ who knows everything. It is not for us to know, and prideful to think that we ever could, so we must seek Christ alone, who alone is the Wisdom of God. In the incarnation, He may have become a servant for us, taking on our weaknesses and mortality, but even through all of that, through His mortality, through His suffering and torture, He remained the Lord of all.

It’s amazing to me how people will put their faith in other people, in science, in philosophy, in the occult, in money, in government. It’s so amazing to find people who will actually put their faith in literally anything but God. But, if we’re honest, in a way, it makes sense. Each of those things require sacrifice, but they’re not outspoken about it. Each of them has certain things that they will cost you, but it’s kind of in the fine print. Jesus, on the other hand, offers us short term suffering, self-denial; He offers that those of the world will hate you and revile you, you won’t fit in, your parents and brothers and sisters will despise you, your own children may turn away from you; and all for His name’s sake. But, in making those sacrifices, in losing the social media connections, in being ostracized for His name; it is in that very suffering that our faith is strengthened. He who remains to the end will endure.

And yes, this is often hard. It’s so much easier to give in to this gnostic belief that all things were done to make life easier. It’s so tempting to think that if you just give in this one time, then suddenly all of your friends will come back, you’ll be popular again. You feed your pride until you become glutinous for acceptance, you feed your desires until you become a slave to them. And it’s always so much easier to say, “I’m going to do whatever I want, I don’t care if you say it’s sin, because ‘God so loves me.'” Or even worse, to take God completely for granted. To never pray, to never give thanks. We all have that one friend, that friend who never calls unless they want something (though they usually say “need,” it’s almost never a need). And it gets to where we start to hate seeing their name pop up on the screen. Eventually we just start ignoring that call, because we already know what it is about. But then, we reverse the position. We find that it is us completely forsaking someone’s presence in our life, and we only call them when we want something. And that becomes our position with God. The only time we think to pray is when we want or need something. “Share this message and blessings will come your way.” “God, please, I know there are starving people in other countries right now, but I need a new car.” “God, please help me develop my ego by winning this contest.” And then what happens? What happens if He decides we don’t need a new car, or to win that contest? How do we respond? We immediately blame Him for it. I think of the alcoholic who frequently drives drunk. One night he gets pulled over for it, and suddenly he decides to pray that he be let go. The greatest blessing in the world at that point would be for him to be arrested, otherwise he begins to think that he can get away with him, or he thinks that he is god, and either way he’s free to continue down the same path until it’s too late. Again, keep in mind that St Paul himself was imprisoned when he wrote this letter. It is when we suffer the most, when things aren’t going the way that we’d like to them, that we strengthen in our faith. It is when we are not in control of everything that w are humbled by Him who is. And, to put this back into the previous analogy, the friend calling to ask for help isn’t in control of the situation, it’s the person that he’s calling that is in control.

And Paul concludes this with this false doctrine that has become so prevalant. We are able to do whatever we want with our lives, to abuse this love that God has for us. To actually think that we know better than He does what we need with our lives. Contemplate Paul’s words, “As you have received the Lord Jesus Christ, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught.” The word received here is the word “paralambano,” which literally means to join one’s self to, so “as you have joined yourself to Christ, to not reject Him,” and walk is peripated, which means to regulate one’s life, to control one’s self. So, we get, “as you have joined yourself to Christ, to not reject Him, regulate and control yourself and your life accordingly.” “Rooting and built in Him, and established in the faith,” the predominant idea of confidence in Him and trust of Him. And concluding with, “as you have been taught,” as you have been instructed by Christ, through the apostles, through the tradition of the Church. I can pretend that I’m a doctor. I was a theater student, I could even act like a doctor, but believing I’m a doctor would be horrible for any of my patients. No matter how much faith I have that I’m a doctor, that faith alone will not save anyone. Likewise, it is through our faith in Christ and His commands that we are saved. However, if we do not believe those commands, or seek to warp them in some way or another, then is it truly Him that we have faith in? Is it Him, is it a doctor, a politician, a psychiatrist, or is it Him? Only one person ever claimed to be the “truth, the life, and the way,” and He is the only one in whom we can place our faith and it will come true. The world loves when the people of the Church walk away, or compromise their beliefs based on what the world seeks to convince us of. And if we don’t obey them, they will hate us. But, isn’t that what Jesus promised us would happen?

It’s so easy for us to become the church in Colossae, to pick and choose which passages to believe, if any, and still seek to turn to the world to justify it. It’s so easy to seek to modernize our faith based on our culture and it’s worldly ways. But, we must be careful to never do that. We must never let the priorities of the world interfere with our eternal faith. We must never let the fears or thoughts or institutions replace God in our lives. Instead, we must, as Paul here taught the Colossians, “join ourselves to Christ and conduct ourselves as Christ has commanded of us, according to the teachings and traditions of the Church which have been handed down through the Church from generation to generation. Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today, and forevermore, Jesus is the head of the Church, and it’s currently our generation which must defend the Church from the prince of this world, who would give all to see us fall. We must never let the world change the Church, as it has been striving to do for over two thousand years.

Christ is in our midst.

On Faith

11-10-2021 Colossians 1:18-29

When we think about the human body, when we think about the physical human body, we think about the body itself, it’s strengths and weaknesses, it’s functions. We tend to judge what we can or cannot do based on our physical condition and then contemplate what we can do to correct any faults or errors that our bodies may have. But, what we so seldom consider is the role that our head, our brain, our mind, plays in this development as well. I think of numerous people that I’ve met throughout my life who were in perfect physical condition, people of whom a photo would spawn envy in athletes everywhere, and yet an issue in their head has caused their bodies to mis-function, leaving them physically impaired. This is fully worth noting here, because although the body may be perfectly able to function, it all comes down to it’s ability to perform those tasks which the brain is telling it to. And the inverse is equally true as well. The perfect brain telling the imperfect body to perform certain tasks could very easily result in a failure to perform that tasks. That imperfect body becomes trained into habits that are not conducive to the tasks which the mind has set forth to accomplish.

This has full bearing on todays passage and thus we must take this into consideration and keep it in mind as we go through it. The Church is the Body of Christ, thus we are the Body of Christ. Yet we, as humans, are far from perfect. St John tells us that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is far from us.” (1 John 1:8). And yet, St Paul writes of Jesus stating that “He is the head of the body.” He who is without sin is telling the imperfect body what to do. Even though we are separated from God by our imperfections, the point remains that we are of one nature; we were created in His image and His likeness. It was through our own free will that we were separated from Him, and there becomes a goal of reconciliation of the Head with the body. A reconciliation of us to Him, that we can be fully joined together with Him in the Kingdom.

Now, consider someone who is lazy. And their brain begins to tell them that there’s something wrong with their lives. It begins to tell them to exercise, to work out, to go outdoors and do something. When they first begin to listen to their brain and start performing those tasks, it is difficult. Their bodies have become acclimated to this particular lifestyle and so it resists. The body is used to lying around doing nothing, so when the mind says to go outside and go biking or walking, it finds everything that it can do to make this as uncomfortable as possible. And we can either surrender to this discomfort or we can begin to slowly build up another lifestyle. What I have found from exercising is that the more frequently you do it, the easier it becomes.

And in application, I’ve found this same truth to be true spiritually as well. We begin to form habits. When we don’t attend the liturgy for a few weeks, it becomes easier to stay up late on Saturday and sleep in on Sunday than to make the sacrifice of not fulfilling the body’s desire to have fun on Saturday night. When we skip the prayer rule in the morning, it becomes much easier to skip it in the afternoon and evening as well. We develop the habit of satiating earthly desires instead of fulfilling spiritual needs. We see this in the Church as well. And Jesus, who is the head of the Church, tells us those things which we must do instead. And it’s hard to fathom the idea of making those sacrifices. Most of us, if we’re honest, would much rather spend two hours on social media or watching the TV than spend thirty minutes before the icons in prayer. Most of us will gladly arrive at the bar at nine and stay five hours, but don’t want to spend two hours in the liturgy. I’ve met self-proclaimed Christians that will watch a two hour concert on the television and then say that it’s too late to say their prayers. And all of those things are the imperfect body trying to preside over the perfect head.

But what we must strive to understand is that Christ is the fullness of all things who came down to teach us, not merely in words, but in His actions, what we were created to be. He came, if you’ll forgive the expression, to lead by example. “He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death,” (Hebrews 5:7); “After the crowds went away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.” (Matthew 14:23); “It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12). There are so many times that we find in the Scripture that Jesus went to pray, He even prayed for the salvation of those who were crucifying Him, while He was being crucified. And He calls us to do the same. In our sin, we create this division between us and Him, and in His coming down in the flesh, He came to reconcile this, to end the alienation between God and creation, between the head and the imperfect body. And He did all of this through words, but also through being the example of what the perfect life in God should look like. And through this, the Church truly becomes the Body of Christ, the source of restoration and fulfillment.

Paul speaks of the body of His flesh as being mortal (capable of dying) humanity of Christ before the resurrection. And yet, we cannot become one with Him until we are united to Him in His death and resurrection. Until we put off the old man and become a new creation in Christ. It is through His death that we die with Him, we die to our sinful ways, we begin to become the new body that starts to obey what the head is telling us to do. And this can be very painful. Anyone who has lived a lazy life and begins to exercise will tell you that it is painful at first to begin being physically active again, and yet, the more frequently it is done, the easier it becomes. To put off old habits and ways of life is often a struggle, but it helps to strengthen our ways in the long run. At one time I never prayed, I didn’t believe in it, but to slowly work my way into it I feel has helped me appreciate more and more the power of prayer in my life. In making sacrifices, not out of a legalistic approach, but out of faith, I’ve seen the blessings that I’ve been given with much more appreciation, knowing that because of them I’ve been able to help others as well.

And St Paul continues to tell what this reconciliation looks like. To continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, obedient to what Christ has said and clinging to the promises regardless of what the world says. He says that he rejoices in the sufferings that the world has imposed upon him, because the Church and Christ are so intimately bound that, as we may suffer and die, so too does He suffer with us in His works of reconciliation. To be reconciled with Christ while alive in the flesh is a painful process, not only from the breaking of old sinful ways and habits, but also because the world doesn’t align with the teachings of Christ. And so to have the mind of Christ in the world is almost guaranteed to offer pain, suffering, rejection. But, as he wrote in his letter to Ephesus, all of his sufferings are but naught for having gained Christ. And, Christ so loved the world, He loves His children, and He suffers with us whenever we suffer in His name.

Paul concludes this passage by speaking of fulfilling the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from the ages but now has been revealed. This mystery is that “in Him, through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace…having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His pleasure which He purposed in Himself” (Ephesians 1:7-9). Notice how often Jesus is referenced in that passage. His blood, His grace, His will, His pleasure, He purposed. We do nothing more than follow Him, we obey Him (His will), and He does everything else. And this mystery is fully experienced in the sacraments of the Church.

It is dually important to note that Paul constantly stresses that it is not through our works that we can attain to this eternal paradise, it is through our faith. But, true salvific faith is far beyond a mere mental acknowledgement of His existence, it is to become a true child of God. It is to look to Him as a Father and therefore, as with any son or daughter, obey what our Father says. When we are baptized, we die with Christ. We die to our old selves, our old ways, and begin anew in Christ. And, inevitably, when we see our old selves begin to slowly creep back in, we must strive even harder to become like Christ. This is part of why confession is so important in our spiritual lives. We are forgiven for our sins through the sacrament of confession, but also it gives us the chance to inflect on our lives, to see exactly where that old self is creeping back in, and to pray for the strength to resist those urges, those habits which we ingrained in our lives for so many years. And we must remember that God loved us so much that He gave mankind His expectations, and we failed. He gave us His commandments, and we failed. He put His expectations in writing (the Torah), and we failed. So, He came down in the flesh and not only told us in His words, but exemplified for us the suffering and betrayal that we would encounter, and we still fail every day of our lives. But, because of His love for us, He never gives up on us. There is always hope, so long as there is faith. True salvific faith, which must lead to obedience to Him, and in turn leads to change in ourselves. Just as the lazy person can eventually break those habits if the brain never gives up, so also can we be changed in accordance with the Will of God.

Christ is in our midst.

On The Purpose of Suffering

11-5-2021 Philipians 3:8-19

Paul here calls to question not only the turmoil that he and the Church in Phillipi were encountering, but something that I feel we can all fully relate to. Far removed from the motivational speeches of the prosperity gospel, where God serves as a divine butler getting us whatever we happen to want, Paul is actually recounting all of the things that he has lost. And this is so important for us to heed as well, he recounts all that he has lost, and yet all of those things he counts as gain because in losing these earthly things, he has gained that which was more important, Christ. And this true righteousness that all of us seek is the relationship with Christ, Who is eternal life. This faith in Christ is contentment, it is the meaning of life. And yet, it’s not a mere affirmation of His existence, this faith is to actively seek after Him, to be a true follower of Christ. See, we could obtain millions in earthly riches, we could be idolized around the world, but without Christ it is all for naught. Paul tells us, “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (verse 8). And that is what it means to be a true follower of Christ. It means that the world may not understand, it may despise you, you will suffer for it. Christ Himself has warned us of that. But the eternal gain is so much more. To reside with Christ, to attain to Paradise with Him, to live in His presence, all of that is so much more important than anything that this world could ever offer. Consider that Paul was imprisoned when he wrote this, and yet all of his losses were rubbish to him because in so losing, he gained Christ. And it all served a purpose and drew him even closer to God.

For ourselves, we must remember this. A faith that obeys Christ is a faith that likewise requires us to deny ourselves everyday. Let us not forget the words of Christ, “whoever would come after Me, let him deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). To live a true life in Christ, to be a true follower, does not, nor has it ever meant, that life will magically get easier. Consider all of the martyrs who have died for their undying faith in Him. Consider all of the saints who have gone on before us, none of them were granted great riches and beautiful houses because they prayed for those things. To be a true follower of Christ doesn’t mean that we pray to win the lottery and then buy all of our problems away. No, it means that no matter what happens to us, we can be content and know that whatever does happen to us, it’s because God allows it. It means to search for the lesson in the suffering, or be thankful in the prosperity. True prayer should never be focused on material things, otherwise we disbelieve the Lord’s prayer. When we pray, “Thy will be done,” there should not follow a shopping list of demands if we truly meant the prayer that we prayed.

Oftentimes, on a personal level, I have found that the better my life is going, the harder it is for me to think about God. When everything is going great, work is amazing, my family life is flourishing, my bank account and refrigerator are both full; those are the times that I have to struggle to not take God for granted. I think that a lot of people could say that. We may go to Church, pray the prayer rule, etc. But, it’s when things go wrong that our faith is really deeply tested. And I think that that is when most of us really mean our prayers. We pray from our hearts and our souls instead of our heads. It when we actually mean our thanks for the things that we have been blessed with. A near-death experience makes church much more to us than a Sunday morning social club, it becomes our family that we turn to and plead for prayer, we beg for help. And it is through those times of those people being there, praying for you, talking to you, that we begin to understand what the Body of Christ really means in our lives.

And, look what we gain in the process. Paul considers all of his loses as gain, because he is made righteous, not through his own righteousness, but “righteousness from God through faith in Christ. And faith is the name of this relationship that gives us full participation in the life of Christ, His death, His suffering, His resurrection. Yes, faith is a set of beliefs that we maintain and rules that we follow, but it is also the knowledge that Christ is fully active in our lives. And whenever we suffer, we are sharing in Jesus’ suffering and ultimately death on the cross, for our sakes. We can’t pick and choose which parts of this faith that we like and then discard the rest. Faith in Christ will be amazing at times, and at times, it will be suffering. We have to be thankful for all of it and understand that it is through suffering that our faith will either shine or shatter, it will either strengthen or be broken. And He allows that suffering for that very reason, that we might test ourselves to see whether we are in the faith or not.

My brethern, let our faiths shine, let our strength increase, with thanks to God, trusting that He knows much better than we do whatever we may need. Let us join in, following Paul’s example as true followers of Christ, never deviating what it means to be His true followers. Let us follow in the pattern set forth before us, not deviators enslaved to lust, power, greed or the politics of the world, thereby becoming the enemies of Christ.

Christ is in our midst.

On Tradition and Scripture

10-12-2021 Ephesians 2:19-3:7

Paul here begins this lesson with a very powerful statement. We have to remember that he is writing this to the Gentiles, and also that he wrote this to them from a prison for preaching the word of Christ. See, the Gentiles were the uncircumcised, those who had resisted Judaism. And he begins this powerful passage with a statement. “You are no longer strangers or foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” This was a huge statement for them, and should be for us as well. They were divided, the Jews and the Gentiles, by their beliefs, and yet Paul here unifies them. In fact, all of humanity is unified through their union with the Spirit of God through the Body of Christ, His Church. This is such a powerful statement, especially at that time, because so many had rejected the Jewish tradition of who God was, and yet, he tells them that they are all unified through their belief in Jesus. I can’t help but relate this to our times, where so many people “believe in God,” but it’s their own God who just so happens to love everything that they love and hate everything that they hate. But when the beginning point is God, and then we work to change ourselves to suit that, then that is where the true change comes. “Having built on the foundation of the prophets and the apostles.” he proclaims. What is the source of the Church to Paul, the teachings that he is teaching? “On the foundation of the prophets and the apostles.” This also rings so true in our time. Through our union with the Church, we are unified not only one to another, across racial barriers and everything else; but also to all the saints and prophets who have gone before us. And we must always remember to thank them, to seek their prayers on our behalf. It’s so imperative that we understand how much the saints sacrificed not only for their generation, but for future generations as well. If we ever forget where we came from, what has passed, then we will never understand where we are going. And we must remember to thank not only our patron saint, but all of the saints for their work, their sacrifice, their continued prayers on our behalf.
And it is from this foundation that we have the Scripture and all of the doctrines. All handed down to us throughout the ages for our continued life in Christ. It’s so easy for us to think of the Church as just a building, or a stage for a contemporary Christian rock band, or even a theatrical stage where someone is stumbling over a script; but it’s so much more than that. The Church has never been any of those things, it was never meant to be. The Church is the House of God, the Body of Christ, and we must never forget the lessons which have sprung forth from it. The teachings of Christ, the teachings of the saints, the teachings of the Church fathers; all recorded and passed down to us throughout the generations. The world is very quick to dismiss that fact, the enemy is quick to teach us that “those lessons are outdated, it was a different world,” but I struggle to see any peril in the Scriptures that I don’t see manifest in our current generation. See, they tend to take one verse and misinterpret it. I’ve hear lessons that taught that you could do whatever you want, as long as you’ve taken the holy bath, you’ll still inherit the Kingdom. But I don’t see that anywhere in the Scripture. No, I see the exact opposite. I see that you shall suffer for His name’s sake. I see the apostle’s hanged and persecuted and imprisoned. And yet, I still see peace in their writings because they know that they are doing it for a savior who allowed Himself to be crucified, a slow painful death, in the name of our sins. I see this complacent approach even in the face of death. The only time I get a sense of animosity from any of the apostles is when someone rejects Jesus and decides to live a material life, which Jesus Himself warned against.

Then Paul continues though. He refers to himself as a prisoner of Christ. Now ask yourself, if the prosperity gospel were true, why was he imprisoned? Being a prisoner tends to be a title of apostleship. To be a preacher preaching against the worldly laws, the “societal norm,” was an offense, especially amongst the Gentiles who had already rejected the faith. Imagine, if you can, a world where merely speaking of Christ and His commands was an offense, where holding and speaking out about Christian values was reprimandable, censored, and illegal. History oftentimes repeats itself, my brothers and sisters, and I foresee a time in the near future where such may be the case. We must never turn away from our Lord though, we must never bow down to the world and it’s prince.

And we note that far from being merely an apostle, Paul was given a special commission, the dispensation. He was given that to extend the Church of Christ to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. It may seem to mean little now, but in his time, this was unheard of. All who truly believed were accepted, regardless of race or status in their society. Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, all were welcomed into the Church of Christ, all were “being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”

This is perhaps the greatest lesson of this passage. If the Protestant Reformation has taught us anything, it’s the utmost necessity of unity within the Church. Ask yourself, which denomination is right? They each claim to be right, they each hear leactures about the “actual” meaning of Scripture every Sunday. Each denomination claims to be the “true Church of Christ” and disclaims all of the others as among the lost. I’ve seen Pentecostal churches lose people to the Lutheran church and “pray for them to find their way back to the ‘true’ church.” See, they each claim to be the “true Church” but each of them have doctrines and teachings that completely contradict one another. If “sola scriptura” is right, then why even have sermons? Because even they know that there’s so much more to be a Christian than just memorizing passages. They understand the need for tradition, they just choose to start their own instead of the traditions established over the course of two thousand years. Yes, read the Scriptures, yes, know them; but remember the necessity of the traditions handed down for generations. What did the saints die for if the printing press was the enemy? The Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, they are in fact infallible, but they get so misinterpreted that they become dangerous to us. We pick and choose one verse here, this other verse that we like there, and consider it the whole of Christian theology. Yes God loved the world so much that He sent His only Son that all who believe in Him should never die. But to believe in Him is to follow Him, and to follow Him is to obey Him, not just acknowledge His existence. “Not everyone who says to Me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in Heaven.” (Matt 7:21). No, the saints and the martyrs all died for the teachings which had been passed down throughout the generations for us and for future generations.

Brothers and sisters, let us revel in that fact. Let us embrace this truth. There is still a Church whose teachings have survived almost two millenia; a Church wish worships the Triune God; a Church who ask the saints who have gone before us to pray on our behalf; a Church who doesn’t have a Pope or a pastor who can come in and change those thousands of years of teaching. The Body of Christ lives as one, in unity with Christ, by the grace of the Father, and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. You just have to search for it, and you will find it.

Christ is in our midst.

On Humility and Leading a Christ-like Life

10-8-2021 Ephesians 1:7-17

Here we have Paul declaring that our only means of salvation, of our forgiveness, is through the blood of Jesus. He alludes not only to the Eucharist, but also to our baptism as being absolutely necessary for that redemption. And this redemption refers to the freedom from the bondage of a slave. Likewise, when we have achieved these actions, this freedom, we are freed from our bondage to sin. See, it’s this whole idea that when we give into the desires of the flesh, we constantly herald that in so doing, we are celebrating our own freedom. In reality, however, when we do so, we are actually making ourselves slaves to our own body, slaves to sin. Think how hard it is for the alcoholic or drug addict to turn away from their ways. Likewise, think about the man who is constantly looking for a fight, for something to anger him. We become slaves to the very things that we felt would bring us into the throes of freedom. Does freedom from this bondage, however, guarantee a sinless life? By no means, but they are necessary steps in a life in Christ, who calls us to be as His imitators. And this is all in the steps towards true redemption. And the price of this redemption is blood, and that blood was given by Jesus Himself for the sake of those who would follow Him, trust in Him, have faith in Him.
He goes on to speak of the “mystery of His will.” This “mystery” is this very plan of redemption about which He spoke. It is, in fact, the Gospel, the Church, and, ultimately, the Kingdom of God. The Gospel itself tells the story of the life of Jesus and explains what He expects from those who would follow Him. The Kingdom is the reward, the eternity promised to those who believe and obey His commands. The Church is the house of God. It is in the Church where we gather to peacefully share our lives as the family of God. We join together in communion with God and with one another, free from worldly cares and concerns, free from political dissonance, free from any personal issues with one another. We come together to truly worship, to confess our many faults, to receive communion, to celebrate the blessings that each of us have been given as well as to find comfort for the many trials we have encountered. We, as the family of God, must stray away from any difference in opinion, in politics, in anything which would seperate us from the love of God and one another.
hhis is something that I personally have grown to understand more and more. It is not supposed to be five minutes of singing, an hour plus lecture, and then five more minutes of singing. It’s an hour of rejoicing, of joining in with the saints and the angels in worship and praise of the all holy Trinity. Even, nay especially, in times of turmoil, with we feel overwhelmed by the world and it’s faults, the communion of the Church family is necessary to make it through, to stand together, with love and compassion for one another, no matter what. Regardless of background, or social status, or economic status, none of those things matter in the body of God. We are each one of us made in the image of God, so however we treat one another is how we treat God, especially in His house.
Paul goes on to note that this Gospel is for all. We see him say that “we who first trusted in the gospel.” We have to remember that Paul was first a Jew, thus this inclusion of “we” includes the Jewish people, and yet “we” are joined with the Gentiles, “you who also trusted,” and to what end were they all joined? “That He might gather together all things” (verse 10). See, Paul here is stating that the Gospel isn’t exclusive of any, but rather all are offered this same Gospel, this same chance at redemption. All come together as one, sealed with the Holy Spirit. All human beings have this same opportunity, this same offer at redemption, this same calling to “sacrifice” our slavery to human vice and sin and to live a Christ-filled life. And to what end? That we would all be inheritors of the Kingdom. God will punish those who don’t answer this calling, but to any and all who heed it, He offers eternal paradise in the Kingdom. And he says that this bringing together of all who believe is sealed together with the Holy Spirit, who is the “guarantee of our inheritance.”
He concludes this by stating that after he heard of their love of Jesus and all the saints that he has not ceased to give thanks to God for their continuing faith and love. It is worth noting here that he specifically says God and all the saints. Not merely God alone. Whilst it is God alone whom we worship, let us not forget the continuing prayers of the saints on our behalf. This is why in our prayers, we never pray to St John to save us, but we do ask that he would pray on our behalf, much as we would our brother in Church on Sunday. If we are true in the faith, we believe that the saints have gone on to life eternal through the grace of the Lord, thus seeking that they pray for us as well is only fitting. It’s also worth noting that St Paul himself says that he will not cease praying for them, for the church in Ephesus. This is the very approach that each of us should have as well. We should imitate him as he prays for his brothers and sisters, likewise she should each pray for those in the Church.
See, in our world, especially on social media, it’s so easy for us to get caught up in political topics that we forget what it means to be a Christian. I personally struggle with this daily. But, we have to remember, Jesus never called us to be a Republican or a Democrat, or to wage war on one another. In fact, when we do such things, that is the enemy manifest in us. That is the enemy, the “lord of this world,” causing us to be divided against one another, rather than united against him. Jesus, on the other hand, commands us to love one another. And that’s not just those in the Church or those we see eye to eye with on political topics. Jesus calls us to love our enemies. Wishing ill on someone, even someone we don’t agree with, doesn’t spread the message of Christ. If I, as a Christian, argue politics with someone, or allow their opinions to shape how I treat them, then I’ve not only failed to change their minds which have been shaped by the world, but I’ve likely destroyed any chance of the coming to know Christ. Should I accept these worldly means? By no means. But, I must be careful to correct them out of love and compassion, not closed-minded arrogance or anger. Oftentimes the best correction is merely to explain the love of God to them and then let the Holy Spirit instead do the work of converting them, if they be willing, always remembering that God has given us free will, but He has also given us the outcome of those decisions. And yes, we may truly love someone who has fallen, but many times the best we can do for them is offer to bring them to church and if they refuse vehemently let the issue go, but still always be there for them.
Being a Christian means that we never stop praying for people: our friends; our family; our enemies; our neighbors; even when we don’t agree with them. Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of the very ones who sentenced Him to death while they were crucifying Him, what does that translate to when we look at our own lives? Was He outspoken? Yes! Did He deny the faith? Of course not. And baring that in mind, He warns us that we will be hated for His name’s sake. Yes, keep the commandments, yes, spread the gospel by all means. But we must remember that there are those who will choose not to hear those things. And always remember this, the “gospel” literally translates to “good news.” It is not the side of the argument that makes people stop commenting because they are so sick of the topic. When our goal is to win an argument, then our goal is no longer to represent Christ, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy. Our goal must be to represent Christ and all He stood for, out of love, not pride. I love God, and I will do anything that I can to preach His word; but there are many things beyond my control that only the Holy Spirit can do, and humility is recognizing that fact and instead of trying to convince people with words, I try to convince them by leading a life that makes them wonder how I’m able to do so. And I think that’s the most important thing. I can argue with the most devout atheist and not make a dent, or I can live a life that makes him see the difference my faith makes in my life, and possibly lead him to Christ.

Christ is in our midst.

On the Law as a Tool

Paul continues here to explain the necessity of actual faith in Christ to the people of Galatia. “Before faith came, we were kept under guard by the Law…” he begins. However, he continues to state that they were in felt held under guard for a purpose “kept for the faith which would soon be revealed.” See those whose earthly lives predate the coming of the Messiah could not have had faith in Jesus, who had not come yet. And it’s funny because one of my biggest hang-ups before I came ot be a Christian was “what about everyone who lived before Him, did they just go to hell?” It’s funny because if I’d only read the Scripture befoer making such an assumption, I’d have known the answer. I doubted the faith because of a question that God had answered nearly two thousand years ago. Even though He had not yet come, they wer still held in righteousness by the Law itself. Before the incarnation of Christ, there was still the Law, and those who had held to it were counted as righteous.
In this context, however, we should consider the Law to be basically like a tudor, a teacher, teaching what we should and shouldn’t do. We learn what is accepted and what is not, and then through repentance and faith in Christ, we might be saved. And once we come through that repentance and faith in Christ, we might be saved. Logically, once we’ve achieved the point of repentance and faith, we no longer need the tudor. Not that it is useless, merely unneccesary to live a life in Christ. We no longer need that teacher, that tudor. Even though it is still there to compare our lives to, to make sure that we are still living a life in Christ.

It’s just like in school. You study, you learn your subjects, but you can’t stay in school your whole life. At some point, you have to go out into the real world with all of the knowledge you’ve obtained, and actually apply it. If you make a mistake, you apologize, trust that you’re forgiven (well, hopefully), and continue working. So it is in Christ. You have you’re tudor when you’re younger in the faith, you learn what you are expected to do (most of it is pretty obvious), you go out and apply it to your life, and when you a mistake (and you will I promise you, I’ve lost track in my own life), you apologize (repent), and move on, with faith that as long as your repentance is sincere, you are forgiven. I can not stress how importance the idea of sincerety is here though. Repenting of something that you have no intention of quitting is not only ineffective, it’s actually not what the word repentance means. To repent means to turn away from something, it’s not waking up with a hangover and saying, “I’ll never do that again,” and then going to the bar with your friends.
See, the Law isn’t given to us legastically, it’s given to us as a guideline. It’s given to us so that we will know when we’ve sinned, and we can repent, confess, and move on. All of us sin, ALL of us. There’s only one who has ever walked this earth without sin, and that one was Jesus. We were given the Law so that we could learn that, apart from the grace of the Holy Spirit, we can’t keep it. Without His grace we could never attain to those standards, and if someone were to manage to, they’d be filled with pride, which is a sin. In never being able to attain to these standards though, it’s so easy to throw up our hands and surrender, but we must never do that. The Law teaches us that value, nay, the necessity of repentance and humility. All of us sin, even the most holy man in the world is probably proud of that fact, and therefore sinful. But, we must never give up. We trust in Christ to forgive us and pray that He would remove that sin from our lives.
And, Paul takes it even further. He states that “all are sons of God through grace in Christ.” Do you understand what that means? It means that Jewish, Greek, slave, free, man, woman, rich, poor, all of us are sons of the God most high. Do you understand the implications there? What Paul is saying here is that it doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter what country your ancestors are from, if you’re rich or poor. None of it matters. We are all sons and daughters of God the Father. When we call each other brother and sister in Church, we mean it most literally. Remember that when you see someone in a bad mood at Church, or overwhelmed with their children, or whatever the circumstance; that it your brother or sister. How would you react if your actual brother or sister were there on the brink of tears from being overwhelmed? It should mirror how you treat each other, not only in Church, but in life. We who believe are the seed of Abraham; we are the very plants that he planted finally blooming in this generation.
He concludes by stating that the heir, when he is a child, is under the guidance of another. Parent, guardian, babysitter, whatever the situation, he is under this guidance. Likewise, when we were children, we were also under the guidance of someone, we were in bondage to societal philosophies and traditions. We were told when to go to bed, what to wear, what we were eating for dinner; as well as a multitude of political ramblings. But each of these things shaped who we grew up to be. But, as we have grown, we’ve been able to see the true light of the Holy Spirit shining on us. Likewise, when the time had come, God the Father sent His Son, Jesus, to redeem not only us, but all generations, past, present, and future. The past, who had lived under the Law, as He had promised Abraham; the present, all who were in Corinth and Galatia, the apostles, everyone; and the future generations for all time. Our children, you, me, our grandchildren, everyone has this opportunity.
See, some of us have been going to Church just because it’s what you do. We may listen to podcasts, maybe even read theology books, but what do our lives say? Do our lives really reflect the life that Christ commanded of His followers? Are we humble or prideful? Do we love eveyrone regardless of what they’ve done to us, or do we get mad and walk away? Jesus prayed for the very people who crucified Him, while they were doing it. How do we react when someone says something we don’t like online? Are we humble, or do we hide behind that fact that they’ll never be able to take it out on you in real life?
See, we Christians have this bad habit of talking a great faith. We speak incessantly about being a Christian, but when we disagree with someone, do we truly represent Christ, or do we just get angry and propgate the fight? In the last few months, due to health issues, I’ve been online a lot, and I constantly see so many Christians arguing with people and threatening them, using words my seven year old isn’t even allowed to say. And all of this makes me think, if I can see what you’re doing, or you can see what I’m doing, we both know that Jesus can. He sees all and knows all. And none of us ever know when our time is coming. It’s by our lives that Jesus will judge us, not by our final words. We need to repent now and start living the life that Jesus Himself told us to live. No, the Commandments were not given to us legalistically, but they were given to us for a reason. If you can read this, take the time to look at them, look at Jesus’ teachings, and ask yourself, are you truly living a life that you would want to answer to Him for, especially as those claiming to be His children? But if you can read this, then you know that for time, there’s time. Look at the commandments, look at Jesus’ teachings, and evaluate your life in comparison. There’s still time right now to repent and confess and turn back to our Lord, to whom belongs all glory, honor, and blessing.

Christ is in our midst.

On Repentance and Forgiveness

Galatians 2:21-3:7

“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Jesus died in vain.” As we had seen previously, Barnabas, and even Peter, had each laid aside the grace of God. The had laid aside the grace of God and had replaced it exclusively with the works of the law. Now, is this to say that we should lay aside the law, disregard it? By no means. However, believing that the law should supercede the grace of God is utter blasphemy. It is fully possible to obey all of the laws of God and still have no faith in Him. If obedience to the law was all that was required, then Christ indeed died in vain.
He goes on to deeply admonish the believers in Galatia. They had previously accepted the teachings and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, only to later reject His teachings. Rather than abiding in Him in the Spirit, they turned to trying to be perfected in the flesh. He even accounts for the suffering that they have encountered and poses the question of if this suffering was indeed in vain, or was it allowed so that their faith in Him woud be even stronger. See, it’s this logic that when everything is going well, it’s so easy to disregard God. When your job is going great and you’ve got a nice home, you’ve got kids and family and everyone is healthy and doing great, it’s so easy to take not only the power of God, but even those things that you have for granted. It’s when suffering comes, when pain, sickness, homelessness are encountered that many people turn to God. Regretfully, it’s so easy for us to buy into this “prosperity gospel” that if you believe in Him, everything will be perfect, and that’s just not the case. We live in a world that utterly reject Him. Consider the apostles, the saints. Consider, if you will, the martyrs who have died in His name. Jesus never promises us that if we follow Him our lives will be without struggle. To the contrary, He promises us disdain, pain, hatred, even death, if we are truly in the faith. Look at our world now. People of faith are the most discriminated against. As our worldly sciences increase, as our healthcare increases, our right to live our faith decreases. See, we tend to have this mindset that we can do whatever we want, and no one can tell us any different. And that is a very worldly mindset. And as that seeps into the Church, we begin to see more and more schisms. More and more arguments amongst Christians about what should and shouldn’t be allowed. And God’s just kind of looking down like, “I told you what you could and couldn’t do, what’s the problem here?” Jesus tells us that in this life, if we are truly His followers, “you will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles…brother will deliver brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents…and you will be hated by all for My name’s sake.” (Matthew 10:18-22). See, this prosperity gospel sounds great, but when we look at God’s word, it doesn’t even silhouette the teachings of those who preach it.

Lastly, Paul goes to the heart of the problem. “He who supplies the Spirit to you…does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” Are we expected to obey the Law? Of course we are. To live a Christian life is to be in obedience to the Law. However, obedience to the Law must be derived from true faith in God. Consider Abraham. Paul reminds us that it was written that “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.” When we are living a life of true faith, we will abide by the Law, but it’s far more important that the foundation of that life is faith in God, not the Law itself. Any atheist could abide by most of the laws put forth in Scripture; but that alone could never be enough. Being a “good person” isn’t enough. It is only through faith in God that we could ever be counted righteous.

Is this to say that we will never sin? By no means, it is to say that when we fall, we truly repent and have faith that God will forgive us, so long as the repentance is true. See, it’s never enough to repent of drunkenness while on the way to a bar. To truly repent means to strive not to fall into the same sin, and to pray that it will be enough. And sometimes it isn’t. All of us fall into sin, but that should never be looked at as an excuse to willfully do so.

When I first joined the Church, I found myself repenting for things that I didn’t even know were sin. I was never raised in a religious household, so many things that are sinful, I didn’t realize were sin. I found myself being like a child being told “no” by my Father for the first time. And oftentimes, I would find myself repeating the same things over and over again, each time being told “No” and each time asking for forgiveness. But just like that child, each time it would resound in my head more and more. I had been brought up to believe that I could do whatever I wanted. Once I found out about God, it was even better, because my young inexperienced mind took the few Bible catchphrases that I heard (John 3:16, as an example) to mean that “great, I can do whatever I want and still get into heaven, I don’t even have to believe in God.” But, that’s not what God said, and it was years before I was willing to read and understand that. That was never what God said, that was what Satan the tempter of man said to me through the teachings of the world. I was Mr “if God didn’t want me to do it, He wouldn’t have put me in this situation.” I was reknowned for the catchphrase, “I was born this way, it’s not my fault.” and still convinced that I could attain the Kingdom. “I can be a good person, not waste my time praying or reading the Bible and still get into heaven.” But, that’s not what God says. God says something completely different than what I’d learned from the world. And I didn’t learn that until I truly opened my heart and let Him into my life. When I finally read and actually studied the Scriptures, I learned these things. I learned that everything I’d been taught was not a lie, but a misinterpretation of what was being said. Jeremiah 29:11 was the result of 70 years of prayer and asceticism and was salvation from the retribution taken against the prophets and diviners who had led the people wrong. See, for me, it was the actual reading of Scripture after opening my heart to God, and spending time in the Church, the true Church, that I learned these things. And I am ever thankful to Him that He led me there.

In so doing, I learned what sin truly was, and to call it what it was. To truly repent of it, to confess it, and, by the grace of God, to be forgiven of it. And with each sin I committ, I follow the same path, and I can only bow down before His image and say, “Lord Jesus CHrist, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And I’m sure some of you have, or are currently, going on the same path. May you each find the truth about our Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t focus on the Law, focus on Him, and you will find the Law manifest in your life. If He can lead me on the right path, I know He can lead each of you as well.

Christ is in our midst.

On Testing Yourselves

2 Corinthians 3 13:3-14
Paul begins this chapter by confirming the power of God. “Since you seek the power of God speaking in me…” he begins. And it’s interesting that he refers to the weakness of Jesus and compares it to the weakness that we all encounter. And the comparison that he makes of Jesus “being crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God.” This does not imply that God and Jesus are seperate beings, but rather is a testament to the fact that God was willing to take on human flesh and all of it’s weaknesses for our sake. “We are also weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God.” This is the affirmation that though we are often times very weak, that we encounter many things which would seek to disrupt and destroy our lives, and yet, through Him we are saved. It also serves to us as a stern reminder that no matter how “good” or “holy” we may think ourselves to be, it is not we ourselves who can obtain the kingdom. No self-righteousness, no judgments, nothing could make us worthy of the kingdom. But rather it is the grace of God Himself living within us is worthy of obtaining the Kingdom. The test of being in Christ is a humble, virtuous life in Christ and in communion with the Church, the “body of Christ.” Make no mistake, we will falter; but through this communion, we are able to repent, confess our sins, and move forward. And through His grace alone would we be able to attain to the Kingdom.

And then Paul impels us to “examine yourselves to determine whether you are in the faith.” To “test yourselves.” As Christians, we have Jesus living in us, unless we are “disqualified” (for lack of a better word). And what is it that could disqualify us? Being unable to speak the truth about Christ. Being unable to live a Christ-like life. Intentionally wronging or hurting others. Living a life of arrogance and being unwilling to love one another, even those who wrong us. Jesus had the power to call down the angels, but instead went willingly to the cross because His love for His people was so great. He went to the cross to take upon Himself the punishment for the sins of His people, and not just those who were present at that time, but rather for the sins of all people, past, present, and future. Paul, Peter, Timothy, Pontius, me, you, your great grandchildren; He chose to die for the sins of all people in all time. And to what length do we honor that sacrifice, I ask you? We may occasionally post something on social media, but do our true lives look as though we truly believe it? I htink that, if we were honest, even in the Church, most people see His great sacrifice more as a “get out of jail free card.” I think that most of us, if we’re honest, don’t really see His sacrifice in the true light of what He willingly did for us.

And Paul further extols us, “I pray that you would do no evil, no that we should appear approved.” Again and again we see this abomination against actions for the sake of appearance. It’s this strong warning, anyone can say they’re a Christian. Anyone can go to church. But do our actual lives reflect that faith? Do we strive to live a Christian life, or do we just look for the cliff notes version of the Bible. Anyone can quote John 3:16, I’ve seen it used to promote many sinful events, but do we truly believe that the whole Bible is the Word of God? If so, we need to pay attention to it. 1 Corinthians 6 alone condemns so much of our current culture, yet it so often gets bypassed because of this condemnation of so many things that we’ve accepted, that we’ve rejoiced in, that we’ve grown to love more than we love God Himself.

Paul concludes this letter to the church in Corinth we a final lesson. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace. In having completed so many of thes lessons, he wants to make it known that disciples of Christ should never be at ends with one another. True disciples of Christ should strive to be as Christ was, never accepting false teachings, or heretical thoughts; however the true disciples of Christ would never have accepted those things either. But, amongst the faithful, there should never be hatred, never be judgment. Let us all remember that there was only ever one without sin, and He took all of our sins unto Himself so that those who truly seek after Him would be cleared of those wages of thos sins.

Let us all strive to live a Christ-like, Christ-filled life. Let us abide in His teachings and commandmnets as best we can, never forgetting to turn to Him in prayer whenever we fear that we may fall. Let us remember the sacrifice that truly happened for all of our’s sakes, and remember it as it really was. Most pictures and paintings of the crucifixion don’t really do justice to the length that He went to for our sakes. The Scriptures describe the crucifixion much more in detail than our paintings and icons ever could. We will fall from this, we will fail; but let us repent and confess each time we do so, praying that we may one day we judged worthy of the Kingdom.

Christ is in our midst.

The Light

Long ago the Apostle Paul warned believers that because of them people cannot believe in God and in Christ, because in them they do not see the triumph of life, in them they do not see people who shine for eternity.

Let us become such that each of those around us, each person who meets us, would stop and exclaim: What shines in the eyes of these people ?! This is an unearthly light, this is a light that streams from somewhere – we do not know from where, but we need to go there, because we need this light, not a temporary light, but an eternal one, the radiance of God …

✒ Metropolitan Anthony of Surozh
📷 photo by Maxim Chernogolov

# Christianity # faith # mission

On Election and Personal Accountability

Romans 9:6-19

St Paul questions Jewish unbelief by illustrating the faith of a nation torn in two. There were some who believed that Israel were the spiritual sons of Abraham and some who believed that on the sheer basis of their physical lineage that they were immediately among some group of the “elect.” And thus, Paul challenges them with this question, “Who are the true sons of Abraham?” And then, he gives them the answer. “Those who are the children of the flesh are not the children of the promise.” It is not merely Abraham’s biological offspring who are his true children. Remembering that Abraham also bore offspring with Hagar (Genesis 16) and Keturah (Genesis 25). Were it merely physical offspring, then those bloodlines would also be considered the children of God. Further, it is not even those born of the bloodline of Isaac, otherwise Esau and the Edomites would also be included. No, rather, Paul makes a very clear distinction that it is “the children of the promise (who) are counted as the seed.” (v.8). Those who are “in Isaac,” thus those who faithfully believe. 

It is so much easier to think of a particular ethnicity, an “elect” group of people, whom God has chosen to be blessed, because on a carnal level, it removes personal accountability. If one is of Israel and Israel are the children of God, then those of Israel need do nothing, for they are already blessed. Further, if one is not of Israel, they also need do nothing, because nothing can change that lineage. You are either blesssed or cursed because of God’s decision, and none of us has the power to change God’s mind, thus you can do whatever you like regardless of your stature and nothing can change it. It becomes much easier because it requires no action or conscious decision on our part. 

However, if there is no elect group with these special entitlements, then both sides must take responsibility for their actions. If there is no special elect group, then each of us must make the willful decision to align ourselves with God, to believe in the promise. We must each consciously decide to have true faiths and to order our lives accordingly. And that’s so much harder for us to do. We must heed the words and commands of our Lord. To deny ourselves and abide in Him is much harder than to merely believe that because of our lineage we are either blessed or cursed, but either way nothing we do can ever make a difference. 

Thus, the Jews didn’t want to hear this teaching from the mighty apostle. Salvation and God’s blessing was for them only, not for the Gentiles, the “unclean and unworthy.” And while part of this may have come from their selfish pride concerning their ethnicity; I’m sure at least a small part of it came from this responsibility as well. It’s so easy to think that they can do whatever they so choose, whatever they’ve always done, and be completely fine and “blessed.” Whatever went wrong, they could easily blame the Gentiles for. But St Paul challenges this notion by reminding them that there is no one group that God chooses over another. Quoting from Exodus, he reminds them of God’s proclamation to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy and compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” This is not to say that God creates people and determines which list He will put them on, but rather that there is no one ethnicity that has this special privilege. The blessing of God is on whoever consciously turns to Him in faith, abiding in His commandments. 

My brethern, we live in a generation that teaches that certain groups are more highly favored than others. And the world, like the Jews in this reading, will continue to embrace this thought because it’s the easy way. It’s easy to say that we are of the elect we need do nothing to be saved, or the inverse, that because wee are not of the elect that there is nothing that we can do to be saved. It’s easy to think that one group is special and another isn’t and you need accept no personal responsibility for anything you do; you can either than God for your blessing or scapegoat all of your problems on those who aren’t like you. However, Paul’s teaching explains exactly how false of an ideology that is. Salvation, the grace, the mercy of God, these are available to any and all who willingly accept it. But that acceptance alone is not enough. That faith requires not only choosing to believe it, but choosing to live our lives according to that belief. And it’s not easy, by any means. However, let us remember that Jesus spoke of two paths; an easy path which leads to death (Matthew 7:13) and a much harder, more narrow path which leads to life (Matthew 7:14). 

Christ is in our midst.