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Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Good Thief

One of the criminals who hung there hurled abuse at Him, saying, "Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!" But the other answered and rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? We are suffering justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our sins; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he said, "Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!" And Jesus said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." - Luke 23: 39-43

Jesus Christ and His forerunner, John the Baptist, began their public ministries with the same words: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” What does the command to repent (literally to "change your mind") have to do with God's Kingdom? 

Repentance means more than feeling sorry for your sins, though that's part of it. To repent means to change your mind about how you're living, to turn your heart from sin to the living God, which then leads to a reformed life. As the Baptist preached: "Produce fruit in accordance with repentance." This inner transformation marks the entrance to a new life characterized by humility and love, making the individual fit for God's Kingdom, which is made only for the righteous. This righteousness is acquired by faith expressed by repentance and lived out through love and good works.

But what about those who "repent" at the end of their lives and cannot experience this external transformation?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Death, Snow, and Silence

Often a picture is worth a thousand words. If there was any picture that best represents Lent for me and (due to the exorbitant amount of snow we're experiencing this year) the state of my life, it would be the picture of a tree in snow; visibly lonely, lifeless, and frigid; going and growing nowhere; silent in a blanket of frost. 

But is that what silence (and Lent) is all about? Am I really just grasping around in the dark, waiting for a better day, silently suffering until all hope is just about lost?

Friday, February 20, 2015

UPDATE: Martyred by ISIS

The following are two important articles updating the news from Lebanon regarding the 21 martyred Coptic Christians from Egypt. These two Christian perspectives flesh out the lives and spirits of those killed, solemnly reminding us of union with Christ both in His suffering and His glory. 

American Christians haven't the slightest clue of what it's like to live as a persecuted saint. I hope and pray the example of these Orthodox Christian men serve to encourage Christians throughout the whole Church to join with Jesus Christ in pursuing the Kingdom of God at all costs.

>>> Brother of slain Coptic Christians thanks ISIS for including their words of faith in murder video:

Not So Fast

Fasting, according to Isaiah 58, is far less important than doing good to the less fortunate around us and honoring the Lord in our hearts. Likewise Lent, if only an external ritual, profits a man nothing. It's good to keep in mind that whatever we do as a spiritual discipline should be done either to love God or to love our neighbor. Any other reason and we've lost the whole point.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Biblical Meditation on the ISIS Execution of 21 Christians

Today is the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday. I've begun my fast from alcohol and noise in order to hopefully press into God and find some continued direction in my life. I was going to write a post about silence and delve a bit into its significance for me and for the Church, but in light of recent news I decided to postpone that blog for the article posted below. 

Lent is the time when Christians try, in their own way, to join Christ in His suffering and be a little more like Him, pushing away the distractions of the world to connect with His Spirit and dying to themselves in order to live to God. That's the hope, anyway. But our efforts to deny ourselves often pale in comparison to the sacrifice undertaken by Christians throughout history who've been martyred for the sake of Jesus Christ. They voluntarily give up their lives for their faith and for their God, who gave up His life for them.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grace, Revisited

In addition to the wildly successful novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, comes the added insult to injury of a (most likely) wildly successful movie glorifying sex, misogyny, and other various forms of sin. 

Call it professional jealousy. As the author of an award-winning novel that didn't have the sales to match, I find such immoral and poorly written success stories a little hard to swallow, and "not despairing over the success of the wicked" becomes more and more of a spiritual discipline. 

I wish I could stay all high-and-mighty, waving my fists and banging the podium because such debauchery and indecency is glorified in the media, making millions, and corrupting young minds. But no such thing. I'm bothered by the book, and now the movie, mostly because the success isn't going to me, but to a writer who isn't really a great writer in the first place. 

When the novel came out I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I started reading but couldn't get past the first couple chapters, not because of any revulsion at whatever sexual activities were being described but because the writing (grammar errors and all) was simply terrible. 

Imagine Twilight. For adults.

The fact that this poorly written work garners its popularity from sensual indulgence doesn't help. It's not like the author is trying to increase awareness of sex trafficking, sex addiction, or the need for more copies of I Kissed Dating Goodbye among our youth.

Now that the movie's been released, Christians, social conservatives, and even a healthy amount of liberal advocates for womens' rights are crying foul once again. Not only can we not avoid this travesty of art at a book store; it's coming to a theater near you.

So, in honor of its arrival on the big screen and the hoopla that's sure to ensue, I've decided to re-post my popular article Fifty Shades of Grace. Hopefully you'll enjoy reading it more than the novel . . . 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Silence of Lent

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrow, acquainted with grief" Isaiah 53:3
Lent is the period of forty days where Christians meditate on the self-sacrifice and suffering of the Lord Jesus, particularly as experienced during His forty days of fasting in the desert. Lent takes the whole of Christ's life, from birth to death, and puts it into perspective, joining it with our own lives as we commit to following Him. 

Ash Wednesday (February 18th this year) is traditionally the first day of Lent: a day of fasting, prayer, and repentance. We don't dress in sackcloth and cover ourselves with ashes as they did in Israel, but we do take the sign of the cross in ashes as a visual reminder of both our humiliation before God and our redemption through the cross. I realize more utilitarian expressions of the faith aren't given to many rituals, and individuals within these churches may not experience Ash Wednesday, but I would strongly recommend a day of fasting and self-examination even to them.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Why Do You Call Me Lord?

"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46)

I could write so many things about this passage, though on its own it says plenty. If the worldwide Church meditated on that verse alone a lot of conviction would fall, along with the potential for change. I dare say there are some church denominations that would even read this verse and agree wholeheartedly, pointing to this or that social issue, political agenda, or moral impulse, all the while ignoring a slew of other teachings and commandments found not only in the gospels but in the rest of Scripture. 

When Christ tells us to do as He says, He doesn't give us the option to pick and choose. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Preparing for Darkness

My last post was on the Light of the World: Jesus Christ, and not only Christ, but also His Church, which is His body. We crave light, especially during the depths of winter, and when storms come we fear its loss. Due to the large snow storms threatening my neighborhood lately, I've thought a lot about light and how much we need it to feel safe. So far, so good. No power outages yet, but it doesn't mean I shouldn't be prepared in case the darkness of winter closes in. How much more should we be prepared for life's darkness? How much more should we be in need of God's light?

In his first letter to the Church St. John writes that “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.”  This is a profound and comforting word that negates the philosophy (common among certain world religions) that claims dualism is the norm in both Creation and in God. John happened to see and experience just the opposite, both through his Jewish knowledge of the Scriptures and through his encounters with the Messiah. Jesus embodied the light of God and declared it firmly; to believe darkness is something that should be considered par for the course is untenable. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Light of the World


All Creation was made by God, through the Holy Trinity, acting in an outpouring of love, and the one element permeating all of it was light. When He spoke, God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. When He created man, God said, "Let us make man in our image," and since the Scriptures teach that God is light, man is therefore also a light; or, at least, that was his intended purpose: a light to the world, a reflection of his creator.