On Death and the Resurrection

11-20-2021 2 Corinthians 5:1-10

I will die. You will die. All of us will one day die. This is in no way to try to set anyone off, or to depress anyone, it’s just sheer fact. The greatest scientists in the world have yet to overcome death. The greatest priests and saints have yet to overcome death. And this is worth bearing, because we so often think about how the scientist can overcome this fault in our programming. We often think about how the priest can over come this fault in our structure. And yet, in the end, we will all put off this mortal coil and remain no longer living in the physical sense of the world. No amount of medication shot into our bodies, no amount of proper dieting, no amount of friends or family, will ever change this fact. The fall of Adam is so often thought to have brought sin into the world, but the real travesty was that it brought death into our world.

I wanted to begin with that, because in today’s passage, St Paul is speaking about this exact fact. He begins with stating that though our earthly home may be destroyed, we should have no fear of that, because we have a home with God. And this is an amazing revelation to not only the Church in Corinth, but to us as well. This fear of death is overcome for the true Christian by hope in the Resurrection. The soul, Saint Paul says, is naked (v.3), unclothed (v.4) when it dies. The soul is clothed in our flesh, and once we fall asleep in the Lord, the soul leaves that clothing. And yet we groan because we long to be clothed in the Kingdom. We long to be embraced and welcomed into the Kingdom, clothed in the Spirit of Christ.

All together, we see that he is teaching that while we should never seek death, we should never long for it, neither however should we fear it. We should not long for the clothing of the flesh, but rather we should long to be clothed in the resurrection. God did not create us to die, it was the introduction of sin which begat the introduction of death, but rather He created us to be transformed from mortality into life everlasting. Thus, he speaks of not the bliss of the soul naked without a body, but rather the glory of the soul in union with the glorified body; that is in union with Christ in the resurrection. Again, when we contemplate the Cross, we should think less of it’s forgiveness of sins, and more about the fact that through Christ’s death and resurrection, He overcame the power of death, and thus the fear of it for His followers.

He goes on to say that we are always confident with the Lord. While we are present in the flesh, we are apart from the presence of God. Thus the time we spend at home in the flesh is spent drawing closer to the Lord, learning about Him, becoming more like Him, being taught those things which He expects. We walk not by sight, by those things which are visibly seen, by those things which seem so important to us in the world; but rather by faith, living in accordance with those things which Christ has deemed are truly important. It’s again this idea that in the flesh, we are fallen and therefore vulnerable to the temptations of the flesh; what feels good, what makes us feel good, what do we desire; to chase those temptations and pleasures. And yet, so long as we have faith in Christ, we have the power to refuse those carnal ways. Our bodies and our desires are not our god, our lord, Jesus is. And so long as we understand and adhere to that fact, death carries no fear for us. No, we should never seek to escape this gestational stage, but neither should we fear the full blooming of the soul into the Kingdom. Walking by sight becomes the spirit living according to the physicality of the flesh, the sinful nature which we have inherited from the world. And yes, Paul states that we are not only confident, but actually well pleased with the thought of being absent from the body and present in the Lord.

“Therefore, we make it our aim, whether absent or present, to be well pleasing to Him.” To be present with the Lord, we have learned, is to be absent from the body, thus whether we are living or dead, our goal must always be to be well pleasing to Him. To obey His commands and to stay as far as possible away from sinful thoughts and deeds. And this is far from an easy task, but is absolutely imperative for us. For all of us will appear before the judgment seat of Christ, believers and non-believers alike. And in this fact, we find that our time in the flesh is preparing us for that very day. It is preparing us for the day when we will stand before the Lord. And, St Paul explains to us that we will stand before Him so that “each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (Vs 10).

For Christians, right belief gives the power and motivation for right behavior. And we don’t like to hear this. Our generation has been given the power to cancel anyone that we don’t agree with, but we can’t overlook what Jesus and the apostles taught us just because we don’t like it. Here again, we see our faith tied to our works. We must believe in Him who alone is able to forgive, but we must believe in Him with a belief that can put behind us what we want or what we desire. We must believe with a belief that doesn’t please us, but change us. The true Christian in a world whose prince is the enemy should never be comfortable, our lives here should never be easy. Accepting the true faith means we walk away from the world, it’s decrees, it’s mandates; it means we recognize and never accept sinful behavior regardless of who endorses it. It means we walk away from our own sinful deeds, sinful thoughts. Not that these deeds will save us, it is our faith, but it is our faith that begets these deeds. It is this blending of faith and works which leads us to this eternal life. And nowhere in Scripture does it ever rebuke these facts, to the contrary, all through Scripture we find warnings against faith which doesn’t beget deeds and deeds that don’t beget behavior.

Our salvation in Christ is through our faith, which begets our obedience, which begets our deeds. Jesus loves us, and it is not His will that any sinner should perish, but all should have eternal life; and He tells us how we can accomplish that. He lays forth for us very strict morals, very strict guidelines, to inherit the Kingdom. And to those of us who follow Him, who take heed to these, there is no need to fear death. “Each of us will receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” True faith in Christ isn’t meant to please you, it’s meant to change you. To please you in this life is to make you a slave to the very death that He came to save you from in the resurrection.

Christ is in our midst.

On Division

11-19-2021 Colossians 4:10-18

St Paul concludes his letter to the Church in Colossae by sending them greetings from those who are with him. And, it bears noting that of all of those who were with him, only three of them were of Jewish heritage. The remainder were Gentiles who had equally been accepted into the Church. This is worthy of note because, at the time that this letter was written, there was a great divide between the two, with the Jews claiming that those who believed in Jesus were errant.

So, when we look at those who were with St Paul at the time of this writing, we see many names. We see Aristarchus. In Acts, we learn that Aristarchus was a Macedonian from Thessalonica (Acts 20:4), and was amongst those seized alongside St Paul in Ephesus (Acts 19:29). There is Mark, who at this point for the first time is revealed as the cousin of Barnabas. And what we learn, sheerly from this reference alone, is that this previous animosity between Paul and Barnabas and Mark (Acts 15:36-40) had since been reconciled, as Mark was physically present with Paul to send his greetings. Their personal disputes had been cast aside. The grace of God had been working in Paul, changing him overtime, teaching him the love of Christ towards those who had otherwise offended him. Then there was Jesus, whose baptized name was Justis. Honestly, according to what is written in Scripture, we know nothing of him beyond his name and that he was of Jewish descent. But consider what this message says to the Church in Colossae. Consider, if you will, what we’ve already learned about the Colossian Church. There was heresy which had already combined Judaism and humanistic ritualism with Oriental Mysticism. And yet, greetings and prayers were offered on their behalf by three of Jewish heritage and others of Gentile heritage. And these three who were Jews providing great comfort who was an apostle of Jesus Himself. The lines between them were torn down by the grace of God.

And then there stands Epaphrus, who was “laboring fervently for you in prayer.” We have to remember that in their time prayer wasn’t something that they did in their free time. It wasn’t something that they do while they’re staring at phone screens or just kneeling down at the edge of their beds. Prayer, true Biblical prayer, is hard work. It requires time and dedication. It requires the ability to turn off the outside world and all of it’s distractions. There were no cellphone notifications impeding in their prayers, no television in the background, it was a sacrifice of time and energy. And it was also looked down strongly upon in Colossae. Knowing the dangers of false teaching (re: any teaching not accepted by this one Church), this work of prayer to Jesus became all the more dangerous. Again, it’s so easy to think about someone spending time in prayer in our time and age and think it to be no big deal, but in an era where saying the name of Jesus in public was punishable by death, in an era when the apostles themselves were imprisoned and publicly crucified, this was a major risk on his behalf.

But still, they prayed that the Colossians would stand perfect and complete in the Will of God, not bowing down to self-proclaimed leaders of some independent spirituality, not bowing down to false teaching, but rather standing strong in the true faith, regardless of what it cost them. There was neither political nor ecclesiastical amnesty offered to them, but they still needed to remain strong in the faith, regardless of any political or theological threats.

And then, he calls on the Colossians to greet others on his behalf. This is also a powerful statement, because it calls to mind the fact that others that they are allied with have already accepted the truth. The brethern in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the Church in his house. He also insures to include who should head the Church, the ministry. Archippus, “take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” This is so important, St Paul names someone who should head the Church. Rather than allowing the Church to run rampant, he names the one who should lead it, the one who should organize it. He establishes something unheard of, a hierarchy. But, a hierarchy headed by one who has received the true faith. But, rather than address Archippus directly, he instead wrote it in the letter to the Church, thus Archippus assumes this role through the Church of the Colossians, and through Laodicea, as the epistle was to be shared with them as well.

See, we get this revelation here that there wasn’t one book of Scripture that only applies to one group of people, or one geographical location. It’s so easy to look at the Scriptures and think, “Oh, but this only applies to Colossae, or this only applies to Corinth, or to Philippi.” But, we see here, this letter to the Colossians was written not only to one church, but to all churches, because any of them could fall into the same heresies. And this covers the span of time. The same lessons that applied to the Colossians and the Corinthians and the Philippians applies to us as well. It is very easy to lose sight of that fact. It’s so easy for us to look at the commands set forth in Scripture and question whether this rule or that command actually applies to us or not. But, what we see here is that there was never meant to be a Colossian Church, or a Corinthian Church; there was only meant to be one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. And any logic behind division is contrived by the enemy and is usually rooted in pride. And this one Church is here manifest perfectly. Just consider the backgrounds of each person mentioned, consider the geography of each church. The letter was addressed to the Colossians, but the lessons were to be shared with all of the neighboring churches as well. And all of these people, with all of these backgrounds, put all of that aside to join together in corporate prayer on behalf of the Colossian Church. They were all, regardless of the differences, joined together in the body of Christ.

“If anyone adds to these things, God will add him to the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes way from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the book of life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19). The Scriptures are complete. The traditions are established through the teachings of the Holy Fathers. God has told us what to do and what He expects from us. There will be no “Newer Testament” or revised edition. I can only pray that we are able to hear His words and quit allowing ourselves to be divided over matters and positions, especially over worldly concerns. Politics have no place in the Church, until they impede on the ability of the Church to be the Church and live by the commands and the morals set forth by God. At the point that politics control our churches, then politics become our god. Personal opinions about things have no place to divide the Church, unless those personal opinions go against the teachings of the Church as have been handed down for generations, at which time, that person, or that opinion becomes our God. So often I hear from someone who doesn’t study the Holy Fathers because “their teachings are outdated,” but those teachings are the foundation of the Church. All through the Scripture we read about those things that will separate us from God, and those things which will draw us closer. Attempting to manipulate the words of God based around our own desires or opinions are simply heresy. Each of us has our own decision of which path we will follow, for some it’s the truth that will lead to paradise, for others, it’s a lie that will lead to Hell. And this can happen inside the Church, or outside as well. The world will always be the world, no amount of arguing, no government or political positions will change that. It’s when the Church begins to be shaped by these policies, accepting sinful practices, allowing sinful relationships, that we should be concerned. It’s when we begin to view the commands of Christ as “outdated” or “unfair” or even “discriminatory” that we should become concerned. Look at all who greeted the Church in Colossea; Jews and Gentiles, free and slave, prisoners, men and women joined together as one family through the grace of Christ; and yet imprisoned together for their obedience to, and love of Christ. We are nearing the time in our world when such may once again be the case. The world is beginning more and more to vilify the Christian moral standard, and the Church, regretfully, is beginning to give in to that fact. Any stance for true Christian morality is deemed hate speech and uninclusive. Because the world has turned it’s back on God. They’ve deemed His commandments to be too closed minded to sate their desires, and, being the world, because of that, they’ve turned away from those commandments. And, a world without God is very frightening. A population of millions of people free to chase after their fleshly desires is absolutely horrifying. We’ve hit a time where the worst crime you can commit is to be a faithful, devout Christian, upholding the commands of He who died to give us eternal life.

Christ is in our midst. More and more, when I look at the world, I see that statement as a warning more than a promise. But He will overcome, and when He does, I pray that we are truly ready for it. Grounded in the Word of God, through the teachings of the Church Fathers, in the traditions of the Church, obedient to the will of God, not seeking to interpret away the many warnings in the Torah and the New Testament, but clinging to them, in the knowledge that God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. His expectations never change, and likewise His promises never change. May we all find this truth to be inspiring, to be the cause of hope, the cause of love for all, and may we pray to God that the Holy Spirit will lead us in obedience to His Word.

Christ is in our midst.

On Planting the Seeds

11-18-2021 Colossians 4:1-9

St Paul here begins his closure on his letter to the Church of Colossae. He begins by reminding those who have bondservants to treat them with what is just and fair, never forgetting that no matter what fortunes or conveniences they may have in this life, they still do in fact have a master to whom they must answer. And this is such a vital message for us today as well. Though bondservants are no longer in a literal sense existent, it serves to consider any who are worse off than you, or perhaps you may manage someone in your job. Though they are far from slaves in a literal sense, if they are receiving money from you to do what you tell them to, this would still apply. But, regardless of economic ranking or financial status, we are all one in the family of God. And thus, all deserve to be treated with what is “just and fair,” to be respected as one created in the image and likeness of God. And that fact transcends any worldly label, any financial level, any race. There is nothing that we could label someone as that would make them any less worthy of respect.

And he continues to teach them to be earnest in prayer, vigilant in thanksgiving. See, when we read the Scriptures, it’s so easy for us to read it as a personal letter to us individually. And more often than not, that’s okay. However, in this instance, we must remember that this epistle was addressed to the entire Church at Colossae. This is so important to remember, because here he instructs them, as a whole, to be earnest in prayer. He expects the Church to be in corporate prayer often, gathering together more than once a week, in this corporate prayer and thanksgiving. In true worship. It’s the expectation that, yes, we will receive instruction during the homily, but that homily should never be the focal point of coming together. The Church we see depicted in the Scriptures is a Church that gathers together regularly in prayer. And notice, this prayer isn’t focused on our needs or wants or desires, but rather is to be vigilant in thanksgiving and worship. We pray for the well-being of the our brethern, for those who are travelling, for the government, for the military, for the poor and suffering, for the Church as a whole. We get outside of our little box and pray for the whole world, that it would be saved by the grace of Christ.

But most of the service is focused solely on the acknowledgment of Christ as our Lord and God, and our thankfulness to Him for His grace. And we see this very thing in St Paul’s letter even. He seeks the prayers of the Church for the apostles. Yet, notice, even in asking for this prayer, it is not that they would gain financial benefits, or prestige, or anything of that nature. No, rather he asks them to pray that God would open the door for the Gospel to reach more people, regardless of the cost. And he writes this while reminding them that it is for this very reason that he is imprisoned. It is for speaking of the mystery of Christ that he is in chains.

And he concludes by offering them this teaching. “Walk in wisdom towards those who are outside…let your speech always be with grace.” This is vital. Not only the apostles are to speak the truth, but every member of the Church should have a voice to reach those outside the Church. Jesus died for the sins of all, therefore His message should be available to all. But, he also warns that when we so do, our speech must be filled with grace. We must spread the word, but never through arguments or debates. Let us never get caught up in those things. Rather, we must speak with love, neither teaching or accepting heresy, but also never fighting to make someone believe. Our job as Christians is to plant the seed, or perhaps water the seed that someone else has planted. We do not make the seed grow, that is the Holy Spirit within them. And this is important. I’ve seen so many people turn away from the Church because of the members of the Church, I can not stress this enough. No one will ever answer those who are truly seeking the true faith without this grace of God.

So, what do we do? We attend the liturgies, we pray unceasingly, and we never forget to give thank to God for all things. Even when things seem to be going miserably, we give thanks to God. And yes, we do spread the word of Jesus, and yet we do so with grace. We live lives that reflect His grace, His mercy, His love. We reject things that He would reject and love things that He would love. Our world has created internet warriors who constantly seek to “one up” each other, but we must go out of our way to never let that happen. When we offer the Gospel to people, we must be living lives that reflect the promises and commands of Jesus. No one will listen if they see someone drunkenly proclaiming that Jesus is Lord. No one will listen if they hear someone arguing incessantly about how Jesus is the Lord. We offer the Gospel message with grace and with love, and some will walk away, and we pray for them. Some will have questions, and we answer them. Some will even want to come to the Church, and we welcome them. We must never let the fear of rejection from the world silence us, but we must likewise be mindful to never let our words, our passions, our attitudes, be the reason that they don’t come either. And we have to be careful. There are many heresies and false teachings, just as there were in Colossae, and we must be careful not to embrace them. There are teachings which have been accepted which have declared multiple mortal sins to be not sins, and we must avoid them as well. Unfortunately, most of the opinions of those outside the Church are based on those heresies.

We must remember that the goal of the Church isn’t to please you, it’s to change you. The Church isn’t a playground, it’s a hospital, where we go to be cleansed of our sinful ways. And we have to remember that to someone who is outside of the Church, that can be a terrifying thought. But, for those who would come, we must be a bridge to the Truth, not a wall of self-righteousness standing in the way. Let us not fill either our heads or theirs with lies about “live your best life now,” as this is a guaranteed let down, but rather let us speak in grace the undisputed truth about everything that it means to be a true Christian. We must spread the word, but we must be mindful of the pride that often times ensues. We plant the seeds, but it is Christ who makes them grow.

Christ is in our midst.

On Family and Submission

11-17-2021 Colossians 3:17-4:1

Here we begin by receiving a stark reminder, “whatever you do in word or deed, do in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Now, I want to truly consider for a moment what exactly St Paul is implying here. Notice, there is no mention of crowds, no media reporting anything, no cameras getting video or photos here. It’s this knowledge that anything that you do, you must do in the name of Christ. It’s not only the things that you do when it’s convenient, or when it will win you “points.” No, it’s “whatever you do,” any actions that you partake of, even when you are the only one visibly present, it’s literally anything that you do. All of the “hidden things” that you think you can get away with. “In word or in deed.” Any thing that you do, anything that you say, even those things which you think, do all things in the name of the Lord.

Now, I’d like to posit a point to you. As Christians, we receive a great blessing. A great deal of hope in a fallen world. As such, we have all been joined into the family with the Lord Jesus Christ through His Bride the Church. But, as with any family, we have responsibilities to that family. Consider this fact, when we proclaim the title “Christian,” then all of our words, all of our actions, become reflective of the Church, the body of Christ. And not only within the Church itself, but even moreso to the outside world. When you are working, or hanging out with friends, or perusing through social media, any thing that you say or do reflects on the Church, and therefore on Christ Himself. I’ve always said, as a previously devout anti-theist, I was never driven away from the Church by God, I was driven away by the people in the Church. I never felt welcomed by the members of the Church, I always felt judged by them, and eventually I grew to despise the Church in America. I remember actually making the statement one time, “If they don’t even believe their own book, why should I?” And, I remember using this exact passage to disprove the Bible, to show the hypocrisy of “love one another” in a book that encouraged sexism and slavery.

And yet, now as someone who actually studies the Scriptures seeking understanding of our God, instead of using three minute searches to pick and choose which verses I could use to argue my point, I’ve become much more aware of what the Bible actually is. It’s not like song-lyrics where you can point to one line and say, “wow, I really like that.” And that has led me to a much better understanding of the Scriptures as a whole, and this verse in particular. This verse is, in a way, describing the life in the home, and in the family. And yet, what it refers to is actually that our life in the home is our life in the Lord. Our homes become as like a little Church, our families become our Church body. And, because of this fact, there must be order. Every family should live the life of the Church in their homes. All of the duties of the house, just like in the Church, are reciprocal. Everyone has the same responsibility to the same Master. Wives submit to your husbands, in the same manner that the altar servers would serve the priest. That is to say that they are there to aid in the service, although it is no less of a service to the true Master than the priest himself is performing. Without the altar servers, the priest would never be able to perform all of the duties, and without the priest, the altar servers would be useless. Husbands love your wives, as Christ loves us. What does this mean? How did Christ love us? He never took advantage of us, He never slandered us, He never talked about us behind our backs. He was willing to die for our sakes. Children, obey your parents. This is a reference to the parish, without whom neither the priest nor the altar servers would be needed. And then, throughout this unification, we all serve the One God, we all become the bondservants because all service is to God, not to men. We all have the same Master, therefore to claim to be a master over a person is to place ourselves in God’s position. In the Church family, there is no one person who is more important to God than another, all are welcomed to become children of God, all are welcomed into the family.

It’s all intended to present this idea that, in the home, just as in the Church, there must be this structure, this sense of organization. Again, the family, like the Church, must be a body. There must be a head, a body, arms and legs, hands and feet, and if any of those is not working properly, then the whole of the creation suffers. No one part on your body is any more or less important, each part has it’s own role and each is imperative for the others to function properly. Consider a star footballer with a broken leg, or a body-builder with a dislocated shoulder, or a mathematician with brain damage. Each of these has the knowledge or the skill to perform these tasks, but because part of their body isn’t working according to it’s role, the entirety of the body is left crippled. And so it is in the family. If the father doesn’t love the wife unconditionally, then the submission of the wife to the husband becomes useless, and sometimes dangerous. If the wife doesn’t submit to the husband, then that love becomes for naught. If the children don’t obey the family, you end up with chaos with neither of the other commands being possible. It is only through the full union of each part, performing their roles effectively, that the family will work; that the body will function like it’s supposed to.

In no way does this passage imply that any one part of the body is more important than the other. Instead, it is intended to simply guide us to the roles that each part plays in the operation of the Body as a whole. All authority is humbling, it is all for the sake of loving service. The husband loves his wife so much that he will do anything for her, to serve her. The wife loves the husband so much that she will submit to him, to serve him. The children submit to the will of their parents because they love them, and understand that nothing will be commanded of them unless it is out of love. But, it’s very important to remember that this service in each part is not service to the husband, or the wife, or the children or parents, but rather it is submission to God. And this organization only works when each part of it is fully dedicated to the ways God has taught us. These family roles only work in the image of the family as a little Church. If any part of this body begins to seek after their own will instead, then the whole Church collapses, as you allow sin to enter in more and more.

Therefore, the fathers, the priests, the “masters” should never attempt to take advantage of this submission, they should never assume the role of God in this equation. They should love undyingly, they should teach God’s will according to God’s will, not some contrived interpretation of what God had commanded, never allowing the falleness of their being interfere. Their lives and attitudes should mirror that of Christ in the way that He always was and remains the Husband to the Church, the Master. And yes, during the time that St Paul wrote this, there was slavery. But, he notes that even the slave owners were to never take advantage of that fact, that they should give what is just and fair. And we have to strive to understand that from the perspective that he wrote it, not from our current standards. We understand slavery as a concept to be unjust and unfair, but when St Paul was writing this, it was commonplace for people to own slaves, historically speaking. And he commands even the owners of those to consider them as a part of the family.

The Church is the Bride of God, the Body of Christ. And we do submit to His will, out of His undying love for us. We are the children of God, and as we expect our own children to do, so to must we obey Him. We must stop looking for loopholes, stop searching for one verse out of context to prove Him wrong. We must stop blaming Him, stop behaving as children, and instead focus on growing into who He created us to be.

It is a hard time to be a Christian. It is. It is hard to stand strong in Christian values and morals. We constantly get attacked and sometimes tortured for clinging to the commands that Christ has passed down for us. Recently in our culture, Christianity began to be attacked by the world. And throughout those attacks, it has lost a lot of it’s worldly influence. Holding Christian values is nerely illegal at this point. But, thousands of years of history has proven this to always be the case, and the Church has never ceased to exist. We as children must strive to obey our Father in spite of all of this. And it means that we will be hated and resisted, ridiculed and reviled for so doing. But we must stand strong in the faith. And, in that obedience, in the submission to our Father, we will find the humility that we so need. We will truly be children of God, the true family of God with all of our brothers and sisters, and ultimately, through the guidance and grace of our Father, we will become the inheritors of the Kingdom.

Christ is in our midst.

On the Ways of the World

11-16-2021 Colossians 2:20-3:3

Paul here begins this passage with a simple question, if you have died to the world with Christ, why do you still follow it’s regulations? In our knowledge that the ways of the world are corrupt and hateful and that the enemy is the prince of this world, why would we compromise our spiritual health in it’s name? It serves to remind that the Church in Colossae was falling into heresy. It had already begun to accept sinful practices and beliefs. Worldly fears, worldly concerns, worldly beliefs, and Oriental mysticism had already begun to intermingle with Judaism and were leading the Church down this path of mysticism and human ritual. “Do not otuch, do not taste, do not handle,” as though these human rituals were able to superceed the decrees of God.

And, he proclaims, men have seemingly come up with this sort of “wisdom” to justify these decrees; he states that they have the “appearance of wisdom.” All of these leaders proclaiming that they are right and everyone else must fall in line with their demands. “False humility, neglect of the body.” And yet, he also states that each of these things are “of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” As fallen human beings, we are susceptible to certain things. We tend to give too much power to the world in our lives. We allow them to dictate our lives, our health, our beliefs. We want to hear only what we want to hear, and anything else we decry as evil. And this was what was happening in Colossae. The Church was appealing to this longing for “true for you but not for me.” They were placating this acceptance, which is how the mysticism began to seep in to the Church. It was mysticism that we could control. They were being taught that pride, deception, passion, all of these were completely natural, and therefore not sinful. So, again, we go back to this control. No one can tell me what to do or what to believe. Further, in the Church of Colossae, they were being taught that the heirarchy of celestial beings were supreme, not Jesus. And through the power of the angels, they could do or achieve anything which they desired. Finally, they were being taught that there was this gnosis, this belief that sin came from a lack of knowledge and that the heretics teaching them were the only ones capable of understanding what these sins were. Basically, in teaching them that they could do and get anything they wanted, they were being taught not that they were one with God, but that they were gods. There was no discipline, no doctrine; it effectively turned into “my will be done” instead of Thy will. It was claiming the name of Christ while completely disregarding all of His teachings.

He goes on to explain to them, if you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above. Don’t seek fame or glory or riches, not only are those things strongly warned against, but the acquisition of them becomes for naught with the awareness that no one is eternal on the earth. No, rather, we are to seek that which is above, the Kingdom. Our goal in life should never be to die with the most toys, it should rather be to seek His will for our lives. We have received His resurrection through Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit through Charismation, why would we ever return to the same life and goals that we once had? The same principles, the same ambitions? Shouldn’t we rather seek the ultimate spiritual glories of the age to come? If we’re instead seeking to live our best lives now, isn’t that a sad thing, knowing that this life will end? Paul tells us to set our minds on these things above, specifically not the things of the Earth. If we look deeply, are we truly doing that, or are we seeking the things of the Earth instead?

I ask this question because if we are truly living in His resurrection, if we are truly living our lives in Christ, then we should be fully devoted to His teachings and the teachings of His Church. It’s never enough to pick and choose one or two verses here and there that we can twist to mean what we desire. No, we have to truly seek His life, His truth. To truly live in Christ isn’t to seek loopholes in the traditions so that we can continue to please the flesh or the world. To truly follow Christ is to obey Him regardless of what the world says about it. It is to face the world strong in our faith and not be afraid to stand up for that faith. Remember, the world hated Jesus, to the point of putting Him to death. And the one reason that the world hated Him so much, He wasn’t afraid of it. And for that reason, they sentenced to death the One who came teaching to love one another. Because the love that He taught wasn’t this inclusive, everyone do what they want, love. It was the love that a father feels for his son.

May we all find this same courage, to stand up to the traditions and sinful ever-changing ways of the world, and cling closely to the cross of Christ. Not to intentionally cause trouble or war or anything else, but to not relent on living our true faith, which has been handed down to us throughout generations for thousands of years. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

Christ is in our midst.

On Grace Through Faith

11-15-2021

Colossians 2:13-20

In this passage, Paul continues to rebuke those of Colossae who still cling to the Law as the sole means of salvation, as well as those who have taken the faith and intermingled it with Eastern mysticism. However, we have to remember that Paul has stated that the Law was never abolished, he here goes on to explain that mere secular adherence to the Law alone is likewise not sufficient either. We also must remember the crowd to whom this letter was written. The Colossian heresy was a blend of Jewish and Oriental beliefs, who felt that they were supplementing Christianity with new and innovative ideologies. They felt that the angels were supreme and that Christ was not God, but rather was merely a mediator and that sin resulted from a lack of knowledge in which they alone were experts. Lastly, they taught that salvation was obtained through ritualistic and ascetic practices. This resulted in an organizational and works based theology, wherein you could obtain salvation solely through the performance of these rituals and works. While it is imperative to remember importance of the Law, however, as this passage is so often used to justify the teaching of the heresy of faith alone. Are we saved by works alone, then? Of course not. Are we saved by mentally acknowledging that Christ is God? Of course not. What we must remember is that God has given us the Law to teach us what it truly loks like to follow Him and Christ has taught us that to follow Him is to gain eternal life. However to have faith in Him, to truly follow Him, is to actually obey Him and do what is expected. And that is why the Law was given to us. And yet, it is not these works themselves which save us, but rather the faith in Him which begat those works.

He touches on the law of circumcision here to begin with. Remember that the audience was those Jews who had allowed other teachings to seep in. And he touches on this topic only inasmuch as it is no longer necessary unto salvation. In the Torah, the circumcision required the removal of a small portion of flesh. In the circumcision of Christ, however, we die completely to the flesh and dedicate our whole lives to Christ, to the Christian way of life, and to the Church. Just consider the statement made here, “and you, being dead in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him.” See, only the Jews were circumcised, thus in their time, only the Jews could be saved. They were “God’s chosen people.” And yet, Paul here addresses this by noting that the Gospel message is open to any who come to the true faith in Christ, the true faith that Jesus commands. Thus, circumcision, which was exclusive to the Jews, was no longer a requirement for salvation, and Jesus had come to save any who would lift up their cross and follow Him. But consider, He never abolished the law, He amplified it. It is no longer one small amount of flesh required to be saved, it is now dying entirely to the flesh and being reborn in Christ. Jesus never abolished the Law because He was the only person in the flesh who could actually fulfill it. And He did so to become a model for us of what a true Christian should be, and calls us to be like Him. It is not for nothing that Paul calls us to be “imitators of Christ.” But, knowing that we will never fulfill this Law, God has in turn given us the opportunity for the remission of our sins through the sacrifice of Jesus. He suffered for us all what each one of us would deserve to individually suffer combined. Will we ever fulfill all of His commands? No, even the most devout monastic will fall into sin. St John tells us that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). But, this is not to say that we should ever embrace our sins. While we will never be perfect or sin-free, it must remain our goal. As His followers, we must always seek to obey and follow our leader, who is Christ Himself.

And it is through this faith in Christ that we can begin to achieve these goal, through His grace. It is through this obedient faith in Christ that we are washed of these sins. Once we die to ourselves in Holy Baptism and begin living as He calls us to, these “principalities and powers,” the angels who are the hidden powers behind our fallen existence, cease to have the power to control us. When we have fully surrendered to Christ, the flesh no longer controls us, we begin to control it. I think of so many people who celebrate their freedom, their free will, their ability to do whatever they want; in alcohol, in drugs, in the many addictions which plague our society. But when we give in to those things, we begin to give the flesh that control over us. And as the flesh begins to gain control, as the addictions take hold, we begin to realize that we can no longer control those addictions, we become slaves to them. We become slaves to the very freedoms that we were so apt to celebrate. And this same thing happens when we begin to embrace sin. Even in the Church. What begins as rebellious freedom with a free ticket to Heaven because we “believe” quickly becomes the renouncing of the Law in the name of this “freedom” and ends with the utter denial of any authority of God to tell us what we can and cannot do. I see this so often in the Church, where someone is baptized in the name of the Lord and then quickly returns to their sin filled life, feeling as though they get the free pass to the Kingdom because they once signed a form guaranteeing them membership in the Church, and therefore forgiveness of the sins that they continue to revel in.

Again, I will state, all of us will sin. This is in no way a judgment of people who fall into sin, it’s a warning to those who continue in sin with no attempt to overcome it. It’s a warning to any who claim that the Law of the Old Testament and the commands of Jesus in the New Testament were only for that one era in our history. When we renounce the Law, when we teach that it has been abolished, we begin the slide into slavery to sin; but likewise, when we renounce the grace of God, we begin the same slide. When Jesus fulfilled the Law, He did not abolish it, He accomplished what you and I could never do. He fulfilled it, meaning that He was able to actually follow it. Which is something that none of us could ever do. He came to serve as an example of what He expects of us. The Law, by human nature, can never be fulfilled, but it must be continually striven for. It is by faith in Him that we can begin that trek, and it is by His grace that we are forgiven when we fail, so long as we seek His grace and repent. Remember His warning, “many will say to Me Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name.” And Jesus replied, “I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:22-23). See, while it is through His grace that we are forgiven, that in no way implies that we can continue in sin, and that sin is outlined in the Law, else He would never have referenced their lives as being “lawless.” He alone fulfilled the Law, obeyed the Law, and He alone can forgive us when we transgress the Law; and yet we make a mockery of that sacrifice when we continue in those transgressions. Remember, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God…you shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, His testimonies and His statutes, which He has commanded you.” (Deuteronomy 6:16-17).

Paul concludes with by asking a simple question of the people of Colossae, and therefore of us as well. If we who died with Christ died to the basic principles of the world, why do we subject ourselves to these same principles? According to the commandments and doctrines of the world. In verse 8, we saw these principalities; philosophies, deceit. Consider science trying to disprove God, consider the principles of the world, lust, beauty, anger, greed, comfort, being able to do whatever you want, hatred, pride. Why would we ever want to give into these very principles which we died to? Through Christ those things have no power over us aside from that which we willfully give them. So, St Paul is asking us, why would we ever willingly give those things power over us again? Again, in relative terms for the sake of simplicity, an alcoholic who lost everything because of their drinking, who has since recovered, why would he ever return to that which had cost him so much in this world?

Paul tells us that we do not live by the shadow, which is the law, but we live by the substance which produces the shadow, which is the Body of Christ, the Church. He writes this to the Church in Colossae because they have intermingled so many things, the Law with Eastern mysticism and it has all become this man-centered ritualism which is very dangerous. When we begin to take another person, or even our own opinions, as God, we begin down this slope of falleness, which has very dangerous repercussions. When we start to believe in man over God, we create our own God, and, owing back to the Commandments, “Thou shalt have no God besides Me.” We have to be careful of accepting the divinity of the world and it’s mysticism. Mystical experiences are often filled with deception, pride, greed, and minds that are controlled by the body. There is a reason that so much of the New Age movement is filled with fully endorsing sin, it’s because those things are mystical experiences not rooted in God. He does warn that ascetic principles can also lead equally as much to pride, thus these should also be blessed by the Church as well. How many people do you know that strictly keep the fasts of the Church? How many people know if you do? If you know of people who do, or if people know that you do, then there’s the question of how those people know. We have to be careful of talking about those things, because it often comes from or leads to pride.

See, it’s so easy for us to fall into these patterns. No, the Law does not guarantee salvation. No, the Law was never abolished. No, acknowledging Jesus is God does not guarantee entry into the Kingdom. Yes, it is faith in Him through which we are saved. But, in this passage, Paul describes what this faith is, what it looks like. It is a faith that leads to dying to one’s self, dying to all of our pride and hatred and anger, our self-indulgence and greed. It is a faith wherein we die to ourselves and put on Christ, imitating Christ. And the Law is our guide to so do. It tells us what Jesus expects from His followers. And when we fail, which we will, we ask His forgiveness and begin anew. But we’re not alone in any of this. We have family in the Body of Christ that we can turn to for help, for guidance, to learn what the Church has taught for centuries. We have the family as well as the saints that we can seek intercession from through their prayers. And, we have the grace of the Holy Spirit to empower us to live the life that Christ calls us to live. And while this life is never easy, it is fully possible through the intercessions of our brothers and sisters, through the prayers of the holy saints, through the prayers of our lady the Theotokos, and the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Christ is in our midst.

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.