Sunday, February 18, 2007

Christ for the New Age

This is a comment I wrote on the topic of Christians attending "New Age" fairs. There was one recently held in Finland, that some young brethren attended, despite the disapproval of the straight and narrow.
It is exactly right to go to a New Age festival and witness for Jesus.
Why? Precisely because it is there that He is wanted.
What? How can that be? They want Buddha, they want Krishna, they want to do yoga, to meditate, to raise their consciousness, to arouse the kundalini, to see the One in All, but not Jesus!

No, my Christian friends.

They DO want Jesus, they DO want the Living God, the One Who is, Who was, Who is to come, the Pantokrator.
They WANT Him.
What they DON'T want is just another "version."
What they don't want is your ideas about a God who seems helpless to transform your lives, a God whom you seem to own, a God to whom you give your left-overs (even when you proudly give your tithe, you do it so you can receive His blessing, and so you can be seen as prosperous and victorious).

The Jesus the New Age wants is the Jesus who is looking for THEM, who walks to them in His disciples' feet, who smiles at them with His love in His disciples' eyes, who helps them with His disciples' hands.

The Jesus who comes in grace, willing to lay down His life in His disciples' willingness to lay down theirs, even to giving up their freedom without counting the cost.

New Age fairs are like this world of which they are a part, they include the sincere but also the insincere, those interested in the Truth but also those who want to make a profit from those who hope that money can buy Truth.

But the Truth cannot be bought or sold, no, not that way.

We are not those who buy or sell the Truth, for we know the Truth who has purchased us with more than money, and we could never sell Him who bought us at the price of His own blood.

We can go among them, the New Age seekers, following Him Who is already walking in their multitudes, seeking His sheep.
How ironic that man should think that he can seek God, or that he must seek Him.
No, it is the God we did not know who came to seek US.
And now that He has found us, who better to send out with Him to gather the rest of His lost sheep?

Go with Jesus.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Cast out of Paradise

This is the last Sunday before the beginning of the Great Fast (Sarakostí, "Lent"), beginning on Monday (Kathará Dheftéra, "Clean Monday"). As the day begins at sundown according to Orthodox understanding, the first service of Sunday (Kyriakí, "the Lord's [day]") is the vesper service on Saturday night. I want to invite my readers and visitors to join us on the journey to Pascha. To start on this pilgrim way, I would like to share with you some of the spiritual poetry that comprises our worship for this day.

“The Lord, my Creator, took me as dust from the earth, and with the breath of life He gave me a soul and made me a living creature.
He honoured me as ruler on earth over all things visible and as a companion of the Angels.
But Satan the deceiver, using the serpent as his instrument, enticed me by food, separated me from the glory of God and gave me over to the earth and to the lowest depths of death.
But as Master and compassionate, call me back again.

“Wretch that I am, I have cast off the robe woven by God, disobeying Your divine command, Lord, at the counsel of the enemy, and I am clothed now in fig leaves and in garments of skin.
I am condemned to eat the bread of toil in the sweat of my brow, and the earth has been cursed so that it bears thorns and thistles for me.
But, Lord, who in the last times were made flesh of a Virgin, call me back and bring me into Paradise again.”

“O precious Paradise, unsurpassed beauty, tabernacle built by God, unending gladness and delight, glory of the just, joy of prophets, and dwelling place of saints, with the sound of your leaves implore to the Maker of all to open for me the gates which I closed by my transgression, and may count me worthy to partake of the Tree of Life, and of the joy in which I delighted when I dwelt in you before Adam was banished from Paradise through disobedience and cast out from delight, beguiled by the words of a woman.

“Naked he sat opposite the place, lamenting, Woe is me!
Therefore let us all make haste to accept the season of the Fast and obey the traditions of the Gospel, that through them we may become well-pleasing to Christ and once more receive Paradise as our dwelling.”

“Adam sat opposite Paradise and, lamenting his nakedness, he wept,
Woe is me! By evil deceit was I persuaded and robbed, and exiled far from glory.
Woe is me! Once naked in my simplicity, now I am in want.
But, Paradise, no longer shall I enjoy your delight; no more shall I look upon the Lord my God and Maker, for I shall return to the earth whence I was taken.
Merciful and compassionate Lord, I cry to you, Have mercy on me who am fallen.”

“Through eating Adam was cast out of Paradise.
And so, as he sat in front of it, he wept, lamenting with a pitiful voice and saying,
Woe is me, what have I suffered, wretch that I am!
I transgressed one commandment of the Master, and now I am deprived of every good thing.
Most holy Paradise, planted because of me and shut because of Eve, pray to him who made you and fashioned me, that once more I be filled with your flowers.
Then the Saviour said to him,
I do not want the creature which I fashioned to perish, but to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth, because the one who comes to me I will in no way cast out.”
(John 6:37)

"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
John 11:25-26 NIV

Monday, February 12, 2007

Living a crucified life

I wrote this recently as a comment to a young Christian brother who is struggling with the fact that professed Christians “settle for less” than Christ's standard to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33 NIV).

With all due respects to your Dad, there is nothing merely earthly that is worth going down for, when you have been raised up by Jesus.

Even Confucius says things like, “Wealth and rank are what every man desires; but if they can only be retained to the detriment of the Way he professes, he must relinquish them” (Analects, 4:5).

Now, if this is true for enlightened, philosophical pagans, it’s true of Christians, or at least it should be. Is this any different, really, than Christ's admonition? “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell…” (Mark 9:43 NIV).

I am an example of one who chose the right over the profitable. It has made most of my relatives my enemies in the long run (not blood-sucking enemies, just people who hold me in contempt), has lost me all the prestige and professional “respect” I ever had, and has even marginalized me at church. But fortunately, I don't care.

It’s sad when a person loses the respect and love of a wife or other family member for choosing the right; it’s just as sad to experience the same loss for not choosing the right, yet it still happens. I’d rather have the first than the second.

It’s all in the Bible. If you choose the right persistently, young brother, you cannot avoid living a crucified life. And if there’s any other kind of Christian life worth living, tell me about it.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Small talk on Judgment Day (Sunday)

Today is “Meat-Fare” Sunday, also known as “Judgment Day” Sunday in the Orthodox Church. The readings are Matthew 25:31-46 for the gospel and 1 Corinthians 8:8-13, 9:1-2 for the epistle. I referred to this Sunday in my previous post, But Lord, when did we see you like that? — And now it's here. Its icon is usually ‘the Day of Judgment’ which you'll see if you click on the link for the gospel reading above. Another icon that’s rarely shown but which I like better, is one shown in my previous post, Love Sets No Limits. Rather than showing Christ at His glorious coming, with all humanity standing judgment before Him, the other icon shows what the Lord was getting at when He revealed the criteria for eternal life versus eternal punishment for those who call Him, ‘Lord’. By the way, the reason this day is called “Meat-Fare” Sunday is because it’s the last day to eat flesh meat until Pascha (the Lord's Passover, Easter).

After chanting both the epistles in Greek and English, and the gospel in Greek, thankfully the deacon read the gospel. The reason for chanting is that before the days of PA systems, chanting carried farther than speaking could. Now, in this modern time, when people listen to music for the melody and often tune out the words, it’s not a good idea to chant the scripture readings, because I notice that the people around me are either straining to make out the words or else, having given up, just waiting patiently for the sermon. Hopefully the sermon will touch on and explain the scriptures.

The sermon, hmm, well, yes, the sermon…
When the preacher came down into center aisle and started his talk with something about ‘carrots and sticks’ I stuck my right thumb into my working ear, unzipped my bible case and opened my Jerusalem Bible at random, and started reading, hoping to find something to take away with me that I could feed on. It was difficult, because his talk was very loud and animated and it got through even my hearing-impaired left ear. On and off his words mixed with my bible reading. Finally, I just gave up, and decided to attend.

It was just then, that the preacher said some words worth remembering. He told an anecdote about Bishop Anthony of San Francisco, our previous chief shepherd, who reposed on Christmas Day, 2005. (See my previous post,
Worlds in Collision, for more about this great man of God.) This is the gist of what he said…

When he was working in the diocesan offices, at lunch time he would grab a small brown sack with his lunch and head for the kitchen to eat it, alone.
But when Bishop Anthony ate lunch at the office, he always went into the kitchen and made lunch for everyone who was working that day, and they all ate together.
Bishop Anthony said, “In my village on Crete, we have a saying, ‘It is a curse to eat alone,’ and so I try never to eat alone.” This made me remember something I wrote in my post, Thinking of Communion last August, “the sharing is better food than the eating.”

Hearing this story brought many things to mind, but especially the times I was blessed to sit with bishop Anthony at table, during one of his many visits to Holy Trinity in Portland. He didn’t surround himself only with ‘clergy’, but often escaped them to break bread with the rough and tumble of his flock.

By the way, yes, that's bishop Anthony in the photos scattered about. May his memory be eternal.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Soon we head out on the road to Pascha

Even though it's not even the beginning of Sarakostí (Lent), I'm already thinking of Pascha (the Lord's Passover).
I was trying to explain to an evangelical brother the problem caused by the Latins adding "filioque" to the original Symbol of Nicæa. He responded that he never heard of that one, but knew only of the controversy of "he descended into hell" being in the Nicene Creed. He said he thought it was probably unscriptural. What he didn't know is that the Symbol of Nicæa doesn't include these words; they're in the Latin baptismal formula called the "Apostles' Creed." Well, the two texts that refer to Christ's "descent into Hades (She‘ol)" are 1 Peter 3:18-19 and Ephesians 4:9-10. My purpose is never to dispute, but simply to report was has been handed over to us. But, as I say, it got me to thinking about the resurrection of Christ, which for us Orthodox Christians, is never more than a week away every day of the year. This reminded me of some beautiful passages from our Orthodox spiritual treasury, that I want to share especially with my evangelical brethren, since they are as much deserving of hearing them as we are, if not more so.

SOMETHING strange is happening.
There is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness.
The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep.
The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh, and He has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began.

God has died in the flesh and she‘ol trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parents, as for a lost sheep.

Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, He has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, He who is both God and the son of Eve.

The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won Him the victory.
At the sight of Him Adam, the first man He had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone:
“My Lord be with you all.”
Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.”

He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying:
“Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.
For I am your God, who for your sake have become your son.
Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by My own authority command—
all who are held in bondage to come forth,
all who are in darkness to be enlightened,
all who are sleeping to arise.

“I order you, O sleeper, to awake.

I did not create you to be held a prisoner in she‘ol.
Arise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.
Arise, work of My hands.
Arise, O My likeness, you who were created in My image.
Rise, let us leave this place,
for you are in Me and I am in you.
Together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

“For your sake I, your God, became your son;
For your sake I, the Lord, took the form of a slave;
For your sake I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth.
For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead.
For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

“See on My face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you.
See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in My image.
See on My back the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back.
See My hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

“I slept on the cross and a sword pierced My side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side.
My side has healed the pain in yours;
My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in she‘ol.
The sword that pierced Me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

“Arise, let us leave this place.
The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise.
I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven.
I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you.
I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God.
You hid yourselves, as if naked, from God: but behold—hidden within you is the naked God.
The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager.
The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open.
The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.”

He's already out there

Christ is already out in the world, looking for His lost sheep. (Matthew 18:12)
When we go out, we are accompanying Him.
He lets us join Him. (John 15:16)
He who does not gather with Me, scatters. (Matthew 12:30)
If you confess Me before men, I will confess you before My Father in heaven. (Luke 12:8)

Isn’t reading the bible out loud in public just a waste of time?
Who would be listening?
If you’re reading out loud, it’s not a waste of time, because even if no one else is listening, you are listening, and your partner is listening.

He who is not ceaselessly busy with the Word of God must become corrupt. (Martin Luther)

The world asks, Christians? Where are the Christians? I don’t see any Christians!
You can be a Christian out in the world by reading the Word out loud in public. (1 Timothy 4:13)
You let unbelievers see that there is a Christian.

What if people come and harass me?
Don’t argue, don’t curse, answer back with a flavor of wit to disarm them (Colossians 4:6), don’t stand on ceremony, but never let any physical dishonor be done to the Word of God.
You cannot stop the mocking and reviling, but you can keep the Word from being physically attacked.

What if people come and ask me for help?
If they need prayer, stop and pray, right then and there. (Ephesians 6:18)
If they need advice, keep it to a minimum, but always only what the Lord gives you to say (John 3:11), never argue, condemn, or bully anyone. (2 Timothy 2:14)
If they need food or money for food, do what you can, according to your circumstances. (2 Corinthians 8:13-15)
Even if you have money and cannot give it for whatever reason, don’t worry.
You’re not there to save the world.
You’re there to read the Word and do as it says to the best of your ability, and to the extent of your capacity.

Don’t be a hero.
If you can and do help, then help quickly and immediately, but with a blessing and prayer, and then quickly forget about it. (Matthew 6:3)
Greet everyone with a smile and a cheerful greeting. (Pirke Avot 1:15)
If anyone calls you a hypocrite or harasses you, don’t worry about it, only God can judge, dogs can only bark.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Cross, do not fail me

do not fail me
when it comes my hour
to bleed.
As to a strong-masted vessel,
let me be bound to you
to share your power.
Hug me close
as the wind we together wrestle.

let them nail me
as my ransomed soul
a steed
of spirit mounts
and my hungers hang.
Let me inherit
what the jailer stole
and hidden,
as I thirst,
what prophets sang.


Monday, February 5, 2007

He IS the Truth

Dear Muslim Brother Rehman,

Thanks for sending me your message for Muslims only, the prayer you composed, and your open letter to Osama bin Laden. Your writings are admirable and in many places come very close to the truth of Jesus Christ. You must be very brave to speak out like this among your own people. You run the risk of being killed for your message.

I love the Muslim people, but I do not love the religion of Islam. I also do not love the religion of Christianity. There are times when the Christian religion acts as an oppressor of its own people and of other peoples. I am a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, which is a peace-loving form of Christianity, but even the Greek church has its faults in allowing its people to remain in ignorance of the Word of God (Jesus Christ), and continuing to emphasize the "religion" of Christianity.

I worship God in the temple, but I prove my worship to be genuine by imitating the apostle Paul, who said, "the God I worship spiritually by preaching the Good News…" and by following what James the brother of Jesus said, that "pure, unspoiled religion in the eyes of God our Father is this, coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world."

Jesus Christ is the Truth, He does not just tell us about it. He IS the Truth. When you read the Gospel of John in the Holy Bible you can easily see that the teachings of Jesus are true. You can also easily see that Jesus did not come to start a new religion.

Jesus was and still is a Jew. He is alive now, not like the hidden imam or anything like that, but really alive. He came to break the chains of religion. He came to bring to us the possibility of true union with God.

Yes, God is One, but His Oneness is not merely mathematical unity. God is so completely and perfectly One, so absolutely without a partner, that His Oneness is not changed or diminished by letting His Word (Jesus Christ) shine out as Light to the world of men, or by letting His Holy Spirit warm us and change us, mere humans, into the children of God, living in Him, joining in His Oneness while remaining forever truly ourselves.

This is what Christianity should be all about, not what passes for Christianity in the world, churches and religious groups fighting each other blindly.

Respecting you, dear brother, and your boldness in speaking out from inside the Ummah to your Muslim brothers, I still welcome you to know the Truth of God, that is, Jesus Christ, son of Mary, the Living One, the Word of God through whom all things were made in heaven, on earth and everywhere, and in whom all live and move and have being. I invite you to get a copy of the Holy Bible, and read what Jesus Himself has said and done, and see for yourself who is and who is not a prophet of God.

Go with God, dear brother, and may the One who made you find you and bring you into His Kingdom.


Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again."
John 3:3 (NIV)