Wednesday, March 18, 2015

T-H-A-N-K-S

T - Theosis
H - Hesychasm
A - Asceticism
N - Nepsis
K - Katharsis
S - Synergy

Thanks in the Greek is "Eucharist". Thanksgiving is the same. In Holy Communion(1 Cor. 10:14-17) there is a real participation in the Body and Blood of Christ. The Greek word for "Communion" is "Koinonia". The word Koinonia is saying that something "actual" is taking place when believers partake of the Body(bread) and Blood(cup of blessing) of Christ. This moment of "Communion" is the apex of Divine Worship established by Jesus Himself(Matt. 26:17-29; Luke 22:19,20; 1 Cor. 11:23,24) in the "Divine Liturgy". It is at this point where the believer is sanctified mystically through the physical elements of the bread and cup.

There are several "spiritual" practices that are a part of our "walk in the Spirit"(Gal. 5:16-24) that lead us to "Communion with God". These are spelled out in the acrostic: T-H-A-N-K-S.

T is for "Theosis". Theosis is Greek and means "becoming God" or "becoming like God", or "Godlike". 2 Peter 1:2-4 instructs us that we are to be "partakers of His divine nature"(v. 4), that "His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness"(v. 3). Our ultimate "thanksgiving" for this amazing gift of salvation(sharing in God's divine nature) is celebrated in the Eucharist/Holy Communion. Theosis prepares us to receive the Eucharist, and the Eucharist causes us to experience Theosis in a very special way instituted by Jesus Himself.

H is for "Hesychasm". Hesychasm is Greek and means "the practice of silence". Hesychia is defined as quietness, stillness, tranquility. The goal of hesychia, inner stillness, is NOT mystical silence, but rather listening for the voice of God. Christian stillness is a silence not of emptiness, but of fulness. The ultimate aim is a mystical union with God within a context of silence. The art and heart of Eastern Orthodox prayer teaches that body and mind are brought to solitude and
quietness in order to experience the peace and silence that surround the presence of God(Col. 3:15-17). Note what is written in these three verses carefully: We are called "in one body", the church.  When the church gathers we can "let the peace of God rule in our hearts" as we practice stillness; we take in the "Word of Christ" richly(through the hundreds of scriptures that fill the Divine Liturgy; we "teach and admonish one another(corporate context) with Psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs"; and finally we offer up "thanks"(the Eucharist) to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus.

A is for "Askesis". Askesis is struggle, discipline. We get the word "asceticism" and "ascetic" from "askesis". Christians are to be "ascetics", and we are to practice "asceticism" which is the various methods used to fight the passions and evil habits, to overcome temptation. Askesis is exercise, it is likened to the athletic training of Olympic athletes(1 Tim. 4:7,8; 1 Cor. 9:24-27). "the Apostles inherited the entire life of Christ, they were eyewitnesses and partakers of His works and acts. They inherited the lengthy fasts...they inherited night-long prayers, and agony in prayer. "Why do you sleep? Rise and pray(Luke 22:44-46)..."if they persecuted me they will persecute you(John 15:20)...They inherited agony, suffering, and crucifixion..."The cup that I will drink you will drink"(Mk 10:39). (Matthew the Poor from "Communion of Love"). The whole of Christianity is the life of askesis. It is a way of life, a lifestyle. It is exercising your will to focus on spiritual growth. It is to "study" the scriptures, to practice humility, to exhibit chastity and fidelity, to fast and pray, to counter-speak with the Word of God against every thought contrary to the will of God(2 Cor. 10:3-5), to struggle against sin. Jesus taught "the narrow gate"(Mt. 7:13,14). Jesus taught that his Father is the vinedresser who prunes us(John 15:1-8). Frank Schaeffer, son of the famed Evangelical Scholar Francis Schaeffer and convert to Orthodoxy, had this to say about, "A Christianity Without Asceticism": "The American 'God' loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, but he does not want you to have to struggle to realize it...it is the illusion of crucifixion without nails, of salvation through self-realization, of worship as entertainment, not the faith of the Fathers believed in by all Orthodox Christians everywhere since the beginning."(Letter to Aristotle by Frank Schaeffer). But always remember that askesis is a means to an end, all the disciplines are so that we can be deified, experience theosis, acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit, know union with God.

N is for "Nepsis". Nepsis is a Greek word which means vigilance, watchfulness, alertness, attentiveness. Nepsis is "Inner Attention", "Holding Vigil", "Being Mindful". Nepsis is based on the words of Jesus, "Watch, therefore, for you do not know what hour the Lord is coming(Matt. 24:42). "Blessed are those servants whom the Lord when He comes, shall find watching(Luke 12:37). "Watch! What I say to you, I say to all: Watch(Mark 13:33,37). "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation(Matt. 26:40-45). Watchfulness is our conscious effort to not be sleepy, to remain alert, awake(Eph. 5:14-16; Rom. 13:11-14). We are not to let our minds drift, instead, we are to "Think on these things..."(Phil. 4:8). To think, by definition, is to intentionally engage your mind, to put it into gear, and not remain in neutral, drifting wherever. And when we successfully "Set our minds on the things above, and not on the things on earth"(Col. 3:2) we experience what is written in the "Song of Songs", "Though I sleep, my heart keeps awake"(5:2). We practice "nepsis" with our "daily prayer rule", keeping the hours of prayer as best we can. We are "mindful" to read and study Holy Scripture. We stay "alert" through fasting, and controlling our appetites. And we practice "nepsis", "inner attention" during worship.

K is for "Katharsis". Katharsis is Greek and means "cleansing the heart". God cannot be known unless the heart is purified through tears of repentance, this is katharsis. Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God"(Matt. 5:8). "Purify your hearts, you double minded"(James 4:8). "And everyone who has this hope in Him, purifies himself, even as He is pure(1 John 3:3). We purify our hearts through repentance, through the "gift of tears". Penthos, a Greek word for "penitential sorrow", means "a broken and contrite heart,
being filled with godly sorrow". St Paul instructs, "Godly sorrow works repentance to salvation"(2 Cor. 7:10). St John teaches that the joy of fellowship with God is restored through repentance and confession(1 John 1:1-2:2). The Church Fathers call this "repentance", this "turning of the heart", "joy-creating sorrow". The Gospel teaching of "Jesus and the Sinful Woman"(Luke7:36-50) shows us "the gift of tears"
washing the feet of Jesus resulting in the woman being forgiven and saved. St Peter "wept bitterly" over his denial of Christ and was restored to his apostleship. King David said to God, "I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches." And, "I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with tears." And finally the "Repentant King" said, "...Put thou my tears into Thy bottle: are they not in your book?"(Ps. 63:6; 6:6; 56:8). God sees your tears, and those tears are a gift that washes you clean of your sins. And to show how precious are the tears you cry in repentance, he bottles them, and records them in His book!!!

S is for "Synergy". "Synergy" is a New Testament Greek word, from "syn" meaning "with", and "ergon" meaning "work". "The word synergy expresses the Biblical teaching that God does not force His grace upon us, but guides and strengthens us when we submit to His will. Synergy is derived from the word synergoi, fellow workers with God, used by Paul in 1 Cor. 3:9"(Philokalia p. 197 by Anthony Conairis). The Scriptures are filled with this truth: "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it..."(Ps 127:1). Paul says that he "laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me"(1 Cor. 15:10). We do the planting and the watering and God is the one who gives the growth(1 Cor. 3:6,7). "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me"(Phil. 4:13). In the Great Commission of Mark
16:15-20 we see, "the Lord working with them and confirming the Word with signs following". Phil. 2:12,13 is telling us that when "we work out our salvation" we are not earning it, but we are allowing it to be alive in us daily. And Jesus said, "Take my yoke upon you"(Mt. 11:28-30). A yoke binds two oxen to share the work load, working in concert. The challenge is for us to carry our burden through hesychia, nepsis, askesis, katharsis, and synergy and allow Jesus to complete the work of theosis in us!!!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

THE GOOD SAMARITAN

Luke 10:25-37

In many passages of scripture we can usually grasp the basic meaning of the passage. The 3 most obvious points of this parable are clear and are important in themselves.
1) Christ exalts compassion - We are called to love.
2) Your enemy is your neighbor when he is compassionate. (The Samaritans were the bitter enemies of the Jews).
3) We are called to imitate the Good Samaritan and love our enemies.

These three points are good and true, and should be understood at face value and followed as the commandments of Jesus. But there is another way of reading scripture that was often practiced by the early Church Fathers, and that is allegory. Allegory was virtually universal throughout early Christianity. Allegory is used to draw our attention, in many well-known passages, to the universal condition of mankind and the all-encompassing love of God. The early Church Fathers are those recognized by the Church as true interpreters of Holy Scripture. One such father was St John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople(modern day Istanbul) in the 4th century.

The parable of the "Good Samaritan" becomes a word-picture of the entire mystery of salvation!!! The allegorical interpretation of the following meditation is from the teaching of St John Chrysostom with the addition of some of my thoughts.

Verse 30: we read, "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho...". The trek from Jerusalem to Jericho was known to be a very dangerous journey, on a very narrow path, where robbers would lie in wait for unsuspecting travelers. In fact, "the valley of the shadow of death" is an actual location on this road. St John Chrysostom says that this is a picture of Adam, who choosing to trust himself rather than God, decided to descend from Paradise to the world. It is interesting to note that Jericho is the lowest city on earth at 853 feet below sea level. Jerusalem, at it's highest point is 2756 feet above sea level. The descent is 3609 feet in 15 miles. So Adam was going from the heights of Paradise to the lowest place that the world can offer.
Then we read, "...and fell among thieves..". So here we see Adam attacked by demons who, as Jesus taught elsewhere, "come to steal, and to kill, and to destroy"(John 10:7-10).
Then we read, "...which stripped him of his raiment,". This shows that Adam(mankind) was stripped of his "robe of immortality". Often in scripture we see that clothing is a picture of spiritual qualities; righteousness, humility, truth. Before the fall, mankind was created immortal, he was clothed with immortality, to live eternally in the Paradise of God. Adam, in his disobedience, was stripped naked. (Read Gen. 3:7-12; Isaiah 25:7,8; 1 Cor. 15:52-57; 2 Cor. 5:1-4)
Then we read, "...and wounded him,". Adam(mankind), in the fall, was wounded by sin, and is wounded by the sins of others, as well as self-inflicted wounds. Mankind was/is afflicted with diseases of the soul, his mind became darkened(Eph. 4:17,18), he became sleepy, ensnared by demons, his will weakened. All these conditions, we can be saved from, healed of, by Jesus.(1 Peter 2:24)
Then we read, "...they departed, leaving him half dead". Adam(mankind) was reduced to the half-life of this earth, subject to sin and death. Adam remained physically alive, but spiritually experienced a death, a separation from God. This does not mean that mankind is spiritually unconscious, as a physically dead person becomes upon death. Adam(mankind) remained spiritually aware, but separated from God, dead to the things of God.

Verse 31 & 32: It happened that a priest...then a Levite, came by that way, and passed by on the other side. This reveals that Israel, who was given the great privilege and responsibility to bring the knowledge of God to the nations, kept to themselves, and did not aid mankind.

Verse 33: Then we read, "But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, had compassion on him,". Jesus is the Samaritan. He journeyed, not from this world, but from heaven above. He had even been accused of being a demon possessed Samaritan by the Jews(John 8:48). Jesus sees all who are wounded by the thieves(demons), and upon all He has compassion.

Verse 34: Then we read, "And went to him,...". Jesus comes to all who are wounded by the thieves, to all who are left half-dead along the road from Paradise to the lowest place in the world.
Then we read, "and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine,...". Jesus is seen doctoring mankind's wounds with His teachings(bandages); pouring oil and wine into the wounds. The oil is the Holy Spirit and the Wine is the Holy Eucharist(1 Cor. 10:16,17).
Then we read, "and set him on his own beast, and brought him to the inn, and took care of him". Christ, in becoming incarnate, joins mankind to His divine nature(Hebrews 10:19-22; Rom. 5:12-6:23; 2 Peter 1:2-4); then He brings mankind to the hospital of His Church and continues to minister to him as the divine physician.

Verse 35: We read, "And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him..." Jesus departed the earth in His Holy Ascension(Acts 1:1-11; Eph. 4:8-11; sending the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and giving ministry gifts to men, turning the disciples into apostles and prophets, etc), and he entrusted the care of mankind to the Apostolic Synod personified by its great apostle to the gentiles, St Paul(Col. 1:23-28; Eph. 3:1-6; Gal 1:11-24), and through Paul to the bishops and teachers and ministers of each church(Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). "Take care of the gentiles which I have given you in the church. Since men are sick, wounded by sin, heal them, putting on them a stone plaster, that is, the prophetic sayings and the gospel teachings, making them whole through the admonitions and exhortations of the old and new testaments."(Chrysostom)
Then we read, "when I come again, I will repay you". At my second coming I will reward you.

We are to see "the Church", through this imagery, as a hospital for the sick and wounded. Jesus, in his teachings, makes reference to this reality(Mt. 9:12; Mk. 2:17; Lk. 5:31). In the Church we are divided into the sick, those undergoing treatment, and those - the saints - who have already been healed...the Church Fathers do not categorize people as moral and immoral, or good and bad, on the basis of moral laws. This division is superficial. At depth, humanity is differentiated into the sick in soul, those being healed, and those healed.
In 1 Peter 2:24 we see that Jesus took upon Himself our sins in order that we be healed of our spiritual sicknesses. Once healed(saved) of our sicknesses we will be able to live righteously. For example; once healed of bitterness, we can show compassion to those who have injured us; once healed of pride, we can with humility and lowliness of mind serve all people regardless of their station in life; once healed of anger we can be at peace with every person we encounter throughout the day.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

FALSE TEACHERS AND ITCHING EARS

"Love for Truth is the Cornerstone of the Spiritual Life"

The Teachings of Jesus are the Truth!!!

You Must Know and Obey the Truth of Jesus's Teachings to have a Genuine Spiritual Life!!!

Jesus's teaching, that we know as the "Sermon on the Mount", is the basic commands of living the Spiritual Life of the Kingdom of Heaven!!!

Matthew 7:15-23
Jesus said, "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves."(Matthew 7:15) These particular false prophets are portrayed in verses 21-23 as having misconstrued the true Gospel with pseudo-charismatic ministry, "...have we not prophesied in your name? and in your name have cast out devils? and in your name done many wonderful works?" Jesus responds, "I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity". Certainly there are genuine charismatics in the Body of Christ, but I submit they do not make a sideshow out the gifts of the Holy Spirit. True charismatics(those holy people called and gifted) operate in humility and lowliness. They are not flying jets and driving limos paid for by the widows mite sent into the address on the TV screen. WHERE IS DISCERNMENT? WHERE IS SPIRITUAL COMMON SENSE? WHERE IS OUR OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST'S WORDS "Beware of false prophets..."? Jesus warns us to beware of these phonies who misuse the gifts of the Holy Spirit or manufacture some imitation of the spiritual gifts.

2 Timothy 4:1-4
"I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine: but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables". > This passage of scripture seems to be made for today!!! People who have itchy ears that can only be scratched by teachers telling them what they want to hear. People want teachers who will cater to their lusts/desires. Instead of living a life of repentance, where we welcome reproof, rebuke, and exhortations. Those with itching ears welcome fables, fairy tales that are without one sound doctrine. We read about what sound doctrine is in 1 Timothy 6:2-21 > "These things teach and exhort. If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to the wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ(FOUND IN THE 4 GOSPELS), and to the doctrine which is according to godliness: he is proud(a fool), knowing nothing..." So firstly we must compare what any and every minister says with the very "words of our Lord Jesus Christ", and secondly, we must judge every teaching with whether or not it leads us into godliness. Paul goes on describing these false teachers to Timothy saying, "knowing nothing, but doting(being fond of) about questions and strifes of words, whereof comes envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings. Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, (NOTICE THE NEXT CHARACTERISTIC OF THESE FALSE TEACHERS) supposing that gain is godliness: from such turn away. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. and having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will(boolomahee/Greek - purpose, resolve to be) be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred(been seduced) from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." (verses 4-10) > St Paul is warning Timothy and warning all of us that we must scrutinize teachers in light of the teachings of Jesus and the doctrine that is according to godliness. Whether a person has no money or lots of money they must live according to these truths and turn away from any teachers who teach falsely and plant in their hearts the desire to be rich. It is possible to possess wealth and not be covetous, and it is possible to not have two nickels to rub together and be filled with covetousness. The Apostle is teaching us, whether we have wealth or not, that it always goes back to what Jesus himself taught about money, possessions, and things(Luke 12:13-21; Mark 4:14-20; Luke 16:19-31), as well as what Jesus taught about the way(Matthew 5-7), the truth(John 14-17, the life(John 3-8). St Paul adds an exhortation for those who are rich in verses 17-19 later in this pasage in 1 Timothy 6. "Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life". Paul instructs Timothy to "Charge", ie. "pass on this teaching", that if you do possess the riches of this world that you are to be rich in good works. At the same same time let's be reminded that Jesus was most impressed by the giving of a destitute widow(Mark 12:41-44) who gave her last two coins(maybe 4 cents) to God's treasury which helped to feed the poor!!! Jesus wants all of us, no matter our financial state, to do alms.
    NOTE: In the final verses of this passage of 1 Timothy 6 St Paul addresses another kind of false teaching to be avoided. There will be teachers who will oppose the Gospel(from within and without the Church) with "profane and vain babblings" opposing Christ with "science falsely so called". Today we see this everywhere, teachers calling something scientific, or factual, when it actually is just a theory at best, or just not true. Today science has been turned into scientism, the natural sciences have become a religion all its own. Paul says they are falsely calling their teachings a science, when what is being taught is actually not based in experimental data, but in a religious philosophy. Today we must be aware of secular humanism, or atheistic humanism, and we must be aware of darwinian evolution. Paul warns in verse 21 that even some have erred from the faith. The warning here is not to get sucked into their "profane and vain babblings" or their arguments of pseudo-science.
   
2 Corinthians 2:17 > "For we are not as many, which corrupt(hucksterize - Greek/kapeleuo) the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in/of Christ". The word "corrupt" in the Greek is speaking of a pedlar who is a huckster, one who is out for personal advantage, one trying to acquire dishonest gain(Vines p. 242). These false teachers make merchandise of souls through covetousness(Titus 1:11-16;             2 Peter2:1-22; Jude 1-16;). So, when a minister, whether on TV, the radio, or in the pulpit promises you something in return for a generous offering turn them into the "Better Business Bureau" :) . Well, actually throw eggs!!! Well, just turn and run, or ignore, or avoid, shun, or do all the above!!!

2 Corinthians 4:1,2 > "Therefore seeing that we have this ministry(LOOK ABOVE INTO CHAPTER 3 - THE MINISTRY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT TRANSFORMING PEOPLE FROM GLORY TO GLORY), as we have received mercy, we faint not; but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully..." > St Paul here instructs us by way of comparison between ministers who have "renounced the hidden things of dishonesty", and those ministers who walk "in craftiness" and "handle the word of God deceitfully". The honest ministers are careful not to mishandle the word of God, they are striving to see people transformed from glory to glory by the Holy Spirit. The false ministers adulterate the word of Truth, they take passages out of context to prove their false doctrine. Some will use whichever modern translation backs their unscriptural ideas. In a word, they are "crafty". St Paul says, "That we henceforth be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ"(Ephesians 4:14,15). The "winds of doctrine" that cause us to be tossed "to and fro" are perpetrated upon us by "the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness". The word "sleight" in Greek is "kubia" or "kubeia" and denotes dice-playing(from kubos, a cube, a die as used in gaming); hence, metaphorically, trickery, sleight. The English word is connected with sly(Vines p. 40). False teachers are like card-sharks or those who roll the dice. There hands are quicker than your eyes and they take your money!!! These false teachers use subtilty, like the serpent in the garden of Eden with Eve. St Paul says, "But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that comes preaches another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if you receive another spirit, which you have not received, or another gospel, which you have not accepted, you might well bear with (me) (2 Corinthians 11:3,4). Four points here; 1)Satan tempted Eve with a promise that she could become a god without God, that she could be a god through secret knowledge/wisdom(gnosticism)(Genesis 3:1-6). Eve's mind was corrupted by the subtilty of Satan's lies. False teachers often speak lies in such a way that those not grounded in the Faith can have their minds corrupted from the simplicity of Christ, and sell you a complex system of principles and steps on how to manipulate God to do things for you or to generate magical powers to cause things to come your way. In a word, witchcraft. You are taught by these false teachers how to manipulate God to do your will. (Read James 4:1-10). 2) Another Jesus? It is possible to be sold another Jesus besides the Jesus whom Paul preached. We must know the Apostolic Faith concerning the person of Jesus Christ, God incarnate, one of the Holy Trinity!!! 3) Another Spirit? Again, we must know the Apostolic Faith concerning the person and work of the Holy Spirit so that we are not deceived into falsehoods concerning the Holy Spirit. 4) Another Gospel? And yet again, we must know the Gospel according to the Apostles and Prophets. In Galatians 1:6-12 St Paul tells us of the possibility of preachers coming along who pervert the Gospel, creating their own version of the Gospel. So, we see that false teachers attack the heart of the Apostolic Faith; they present a different Jesus, maybe one who is not God, or a Jesus who is not fully human, or a Jesus who was raised from the dead as a spirit and not bodily(1 John 4:1-6; 2 John 7-11); they present another Holy Spirit, one who is not one of the Holy Trinity, or a Spirit who is just an impersonal force; they present a different Gospel; some false teachers present a Gospel of salvation by works alone, or they present a Gospel of cheap grace, or a Gospel of prosperity and perfect health with no mention of suffering.

2 Peter 3:16-18 > St Peter warns us that St Paul's epistles contain some things that are difficult to understand. Let us approach the Word of God with humility. False teachers pretend to know everything. They tend to speak for God even where God didn't speak. Many things are a mystery. By mystery we do not mean God has not revealed truth or left us in the dark, but that He has not always revealed why or how something could be true. Examples: the incarnation, the virgin birth, the two natures of Christ, the Holy Trinity, the bodily resurrection of Christ, the Holy Communion being His body and blood. These truths have been given to us to apprehend, even if we cannot comprehend why or how.

2 Timothy 2:14-17 > St Paul writes to St Timothy, his son in the faith, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth"(verse 15). God's ministers must study. They must approach the Holy Scriptures as a workman, as one who labors at knowing and understanding the scriptures. They must "rightly divide" the word of truth, that is, interpret the scriptures according to Jesus and by the Holy Spirit. Read Luke 24:13-35. Take note how the scriptures were opened to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. In verses 16-18 of 2 Timothy take note that St Paul will name names to expose false teachers who have erred concerning the truth and overthrow the faith of some Christians. The false teaching of Philetus and Hymenaeus had the effect of gangrene on the body.

Acts 20:28-35 > With tears St Paul warned the Elders of the Church for three years day and night. In his farewell address to these Elders he warns "that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them"(verse 29,30). St Paul commends the Elders "to God, and to the word of his grace"(verse 32). Earlier he tells the Elders to "feed the church of God"(verse 28). St Paul also reminds the Elders of his own example as it relates to sacrificial living(verses 33-35). The Elders were to be the Truth-tellers, and the guardians of the flock of God.

Dear brothers and sisters, it is time to take a stand against all the false teachers, in all their varied forms. You will judge angels in the future, now it is time to judge wolves!!!



Wednesday, February 18, 2015

JOEL 3:12-21 and JOEL 2:12-26


Joel 4:12-21 (3:12-21 KJV)  > Let all the nations rouse themselves and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat, for there I shall sit to judge all the nations round about. Bring out the sickles, for the harvest is ripe.  Come in and tread the grapes, for the winepress is full, the wine vats overflow; for their wickedness is multiplied.  The news resounded in the valley of judgment, for the day of the Lord is near in the valley judgment.  The sun and moon shall become dark, and the stars shall withdraw their light.  And the Lord shall cry out from Zion, and He shall utter His voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and earth will quake, but the Lord shall keep His people safe and shall strengthen the sons of Israel.  So you shall know that I am the Lord your God, the one dwelling in Zion on My holy mountain.  Then Jerusalem shall be a holy city, and no more will strangers pass through her.  And it will come to pass in that day that the mountains shall drip sweetness, and milk shall flow from the hills, and all the brooks of Judah shall flow with water.  And a fountain shall flow out from the house of the Lord, and it will supply water to the valley of Acacias.  Egypt shall become a desolation and Edom a wilderness because of the wrongdoings against the people of Judah, because of the innocent blood shed in their land.  But Judah shall be inhabited forever and Jerusalem unto generations of generations.  And I shall avenge their blood and shall not let it go unpunished.  The Lord shall dwell in Zion. 

Joel 2:12-26 > Now says the Lord your God, “Turn to me with all your heart, with fasting and wailing and with mourning; rend your heart and not your garments.  Return to the Lord your God, for He is merciful and compassionate.  He is longsuffering and plenteous in mercy and repents of evils.  Who knows if he will return and change His mind—if He will leave a blessing behind Him, even an offering and drink-offering to the Lord our God?”  Sound the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly; gather the people, sanctify the congregation, call out the elders, and gather the nursing infants.  Let the bridegroom go out from His bedchamber and the bride out of her bridal chamber.  Between the porch and the altar, the priest of the altar, ministering to the Lord, will each be weeping and will say, “O Lord, spare Your people; do not give your inheritance to reproach, that the gentiles should rule over them, lest they should say among the gentiles, ‘where is their God?’”  But the Lord was zealous for His land and spared His people.  And the Lord answered His people and said, “Behold, I send you wheat, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied with them.  I will no longer a reproach among the nations, and I will drive the army from the north away from you, and I shall force him into a dry land.  I will drown his face in the eastern sea and his back in the western sea; its stench and foul smell will rise up, because he has done powerful works.” O land, be of good courage; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things.  Take courage, you beast of the field, for the planes of the wilderness have budded, and the trees bear their fruit.  And again the vine and the fig tree yield their full potency.  And you children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God, for He gives food that is right for you, and He will shower you as before with the early and the late rain.  The threshing floors shall be full of wheat and the presses of wine and olive oil will overflow.  And I will restore to you the years the grasshopper and the locust have eaten, and for the blight, and the caterpillar, even for My great army, which I sent against you.  You will eat abundantly and be satisfied and will praise the name of the Lord your God for what He has so wondrously done unto you.  And My people will not be put to shame forever. 

Introduction

Today’s readings, Joel 4:12-21* and Joel 2:12-26, speak to us of the Day of the Lord, that is, the “Last Judgment” which occurs at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, and how we may prepare ourselves, through repentance and fasting to stand before Christ at this judgment. Juxtaposed against this “Day of Judgment” and our repentance is the revelation of God’s mercy and grace, and how it is our enemies (Luke 10:17-20) that will be judged and destroyed, and not us who have repented and received God’s mercy. We who have repented and received God’s mercy will be cleansed, and will not be put to shame forever, (Joel 2:26).

Four Truths to Live By

Truth #1 We must prepare for the coming day of judgment (Matthew 25:31-46) by taking heed to the words of the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting and wailing and mourning…” (Joel 2:12). St Gregory the Great (c. 540-604), the Dialogist, writes that ‘when it is said by the Prophet, ‘Sanctify a fast [Joel 1:14],’ sanctifying a fast means showing bodily fasting to God as an alms, by adding every other good deed. Cease to be angry, put aside quarrels. You weaken your body in vain if you do not restrain your heart from all its pleasures.” St Athanasios the Great (c. 296-373) says, “Listen, as in a figure, to the Prophet blowing the trumpet; and further, having turned to the truth, be ready for the announcement of the trumpet, for he saith, ‘Blow ye the trumpet in Sion: sanctify a fast [Joel 2:15].’ This is a warning trumpet, and commands with great earnestness, that when we fast, we should hallow the fast.” The trumpet is blowing, the Church is calling us to the “Great Fast”. And when we enter the “Great Fast” (Lent), may we understand the sacredness of what we are embarking on. We are setting out on a highway to holiness (Isaiah 35:8). We are striving to purify ourselves, even as He is pure (1 John 3:1-3; 2 Timothy 2:19-22; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7). St James says, “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” Therefore submit to God, Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:6-10)

Truth #2 We must know that God is “merciful and compassionate. He is longsuffering and plenteous in mercy…” (Joel 2:13). The Lord is zealous (jealous in the KJV) for His people (Joel 2:18). He desires that we repent so that we may experience His grace and mercy, and have all things restored unto us that the enemy of our souls has stolen or destroyed. It is the goodness of God that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). As we fast, let us pray, pray for hearts to be softened, for hearts to be turned to the Lord in a new way. Let us pray as David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 50 [51  KJV])

Truth #3 We must “be of good courage” and “be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things” (Joel 2:21). In the midst of our tears of repentance we will find our mourning turned to joy. But soon we will sense the need to search our hearts and repent even deeper (1 John 1:9). So we live a life of “joyful sorrow”. A life that knows the “joy of salvation”, but feels the sinfulness of this present age weighing upon our souls (Psalm 50 [51 KJV]). So we are sorrowful for our sins, yet we rejoice in Christ. As Jesus said, “In the world you shall have tribulation, be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Truth #4 We must look forward to the final restoration of all Creation. When Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead (1 Timothy 4:2), the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed (Daniel 2:44), and the heavens being on fire will be dissolved and the elements will melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein will be burned up (2 Peter 3:10, 12), our enemies will be judged and destroyed, that is, the demon hordes that assailed us in this life, and the years that these demons (grasshoppers and locusts) have eaten will be restored to us. These enemies (Ephesians 6:12), which were sent against us in our times of rebellion, wreaking destruction and stealing precious time from us, will be judged and destroyed by our God (Matthew 25:41/Hell). And the shame we incurred through our rebellious times will be cleansed away by God’s mercy according to our repentance, our tears, our fasting, and our deeds of justice (Isaiah 58:6-8; Micah 6:8).

Questions to Ponder

1)    What are some ways we can “hallow” the fast?

2)    What scripture verses that speak of God’s love and mercy could I memorize for Lent?

3)    In what ways can we demonstrate true fasting? Consider Joel 2:12, 13; James 4:6-10; Matthew 25:31-46; and Isaiah 58:6-8?

4)    What is the significance of “Forgiveness Sunday” (next Sunday) as it relates to the “Great Fast”?

Announcement!!!

I have been blessed to prepare this weekly Bible Study for the past six weeks. I hope that you were fed spiritually, and were challenged in your faith to grow in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Starting next week Fr. Stephen De Young will be preparing the weekly Wednesday Bible Study based on the daily Scripture readings. May the Lord who loves mankind illumine your hearts with the pure light of His divine knowledge.
Always in Christ,
Michael Simmons

P.S. This blog, Ancient Faith Bible Study, is one of my teaching blogs, and I will continue from time to time to add new Bible studies to it. You may visit my other Bible study blog at: www.mikesbiblenotes.blogspot.com

* Why does today's reading say Joel 4:12-21 rather than Joel 3:12-21? In the Masoretic Text (Hebrew Old Testament), and the "original" Septuagint (LXX - Greek Old Testament) there are 4 chapters in the book of Joel. The numberings are what we are seeing in today's Bible Study. The King James Bible has 3 chapters instead of 4. The difference is that the last 5 verses of Joel 3 in the Septuagint are added to the ending of chapter 2 in the King James Bible. And then chapter 4 becomes chapter 3. Any Questions?

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

HEBREWS 4:14-5:6 and Matthew 10:1, 5-8



Hebrews 4:14-5:6 > 14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.1 For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in thingspertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness. Because of this he is required as for the people, so also for himself, to offer sacrifices for sins. And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him:
“You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.”
As He also says in another place:
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek”.


Matthew 10:1, 5-8 > And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.
These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead,[a] cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.

Introduction
Today’s readings, Hebrews 4:14-5:6 and Matthew 10:1, 5-8, give us a dynamic vision of our relationship with the incarnate Son of God, Jesus, who is, at this present moment, our High Priest, and more specifically, the High Priest of our confession (Hebrews 3:1, 4:14). We “see” the person and work of Jesus Christ displayed for us. First, as “the only begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages” (Creed), when the Father says, “Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee” (Hebrews 5:5; Psalm 2:7); secondly as the “One” who fulfills the Aaronic priesthood (Hebrews 5:1-4; Exodus 28:1); and thirdly as the “One” who assumes and fulfills the Old Testament priesthood of Melchizedek, being both a Priest and a King (Hebrews 7:1-21; Genesis 14:18-20). Jesus is also known to us as “the Apostle…” (Hebrews 3:1). Apostle means “sent one”. Jesus was sent by the Father (John 6:44; 1 John 4:14), and in turn, He sent the Twelve Apostles. And for what purpose did Jesus send the Twelve Apostles into the world? To carry on His ministry of preaching the Kingdom of Heaven, and healing the sick, cleansing lepers, raising the dead, and casting out devils (Matthew 10:7, 8). Let us consider “four truths to live by” that I have drawn from today’s readings.
Four Truths to Live By
Truth #1) We must “see” Jesus. We must envision, that is, see with our mind’s eye, the person and work of Jesus ever on-folding. “Seeing Jesus”, as St Basil’s Divine Liturgy enumerates, “having in remembrance his saving Passion and life-giving Cross, his three days’ burial, and Resurrection from the dead, his Ascension into heaven and Session at thy right hand, his Father and God, and his glorious and terrible Second Advent”. The person and work of Jesus Christ must ever be flooding our consciousness. The “prayer before the Gospel” in the Divine Liturgy reads, “Open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Thy gospel teachings”. As we receive with meekness, the implanted word of God which is able to save our souls (James 1:18), let us pray that the Holy Spirit helps us to “see” Jesus. As the writer of Hebrews instructs us, “Seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…consider him (Jesus) that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest you be wearied and faint in your minds” (Hebrews 12:1-3). It is by “looking unto Jesus”, and as we “consider Him”, that our minds stay strong in the Lord. So, “Seeing then that we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession” (Hebrews 4:14).
 
Truth #2 We must hold fast to our confession of faith in the face of every temptation. Because Jesus is  our high priest, and not a sinful fellow human being as in Aaron and his sons, we have a high priest who can not only sympathize with our weaknesses, but because he never sinned, is able to help us by granting to us power over sin (Hebrews 2:16-18). In this life we will face temptations, tests, and trials from dark forces that are designed to defeat us in the spiritual warfare that we are moment-by-moment engaged in (2 Timothy 2:3, 4; Ephesians 6:10-18; 1 Timothy 6:12; 1 Peter 5:8-10). These dark forces, demons and wicked spirits, desire to wrest our grip away from the faith that we are faithfully holding on to. St Paul exhorts, “Stand fast, and hold the traditions* which you have been taught, whether by word (oral transmission), or our epistle (written text) (2 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 11:2). The Apostolic Faith that has been handed down to the faithful must be tightly held in our spiritual hands. Jesus gave to the Twelve Apostles His word, His truth, his gospel teachings, and His healing ministry (Matthew 10:1-42; John 17:1-26). This Faith was then delivered to the saints that followed the Twelve Apostles (Jude 3), and the Orthodox Church has preserved this Faith through the centuries by the power of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Timothy 3:15; John 16:12-16).
 
Truth #3) We must come boldly to the throne of grace every time we are tempted. Every step of the way, that is, every step in our journey here and now in the midst of a twisted generation we must cry out to the Lord as we are reminded in Great Vespers, “O Lord, I have cried out unto Thee, hear Thou me. Give ear to the voice of my supplication, when I cry out unto Thee (Psalm 140[141]. “What “throne of grace” is he speaking of? That royal throne concerning which it is said, “The Lord said unto my Lord, “Sit on my right hand” (Psalm 110:1*). What is “let us come boldly”? Because “we have a sinless High Priest” contending with the world. For, says he, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33); for, this is to suffer all things, and yet to be pure from sins. Although we (he means) are under sin, yet He is sinless. How is it that we should “approach boldly”? Because now it is a throne of Grace, not a throne of Judgment. Therefore boldly, “that we may obtain mercy,” even such as we are seeking.” (St John Chrysostom, Hebrews, Homilies 7) This boldness we have been given is a liberty, a freedom, that comes to us who are cleansed by the blood of Jesus, whose sins are washed away. We can come boldly to God, to the throne of His Grace, as it is written, “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus…and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast our confession…” (Hebrews 10:19-23). Take note, that during the Divine Liturgy we pray, “And vouchsafe, O Master, that with boldness and without condemnation we may dare to call upon thee, the heavenly God, as Father, and to say: Our Father, who art in heaven…”. This should be our mindset as we travel the inner path, battling the thieves hiding in the bushes of our thoughts; God loves us, accepts us in His Son, and hears our cries. “There is therefore now, no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). We can rest assured that God loves us, and accepts us in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6), and that “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:16-19).
 
Truth #4) We must obtain mercy and acquire grace to help us every time we are tempted.  Our text is teaching us that with every temptation we are in need of help. And help is available to us through the high priestly ministry of Jesus. If we will take God at His word (Matthew 11:28-30), and come to Him boldly, to the throne of grace, in our moment of need, we will receive two blessed realities. First we will obtain mercy. Mercy is the critical thing, and mercy is the most urgent need of the disciple of Christ. Because we are sinners, who are wounded in our souls, diseased, and brokenhearted, we must continuously be repenting, and crying out like the Publican, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). Especially at the moment of temptation, when we are likely in a weakened state, we are need of mercy. Mercy is not understood in a judicial sense, that is, that you are not receiving judgment as you deserve. Mercy is to be understood in a medicinal sense, that is, you are on the receiving end of God’s steadfast love. Mercy (eleos in Greek which has the same root as the old Greek word for olive oil) is the healing oil poured into the diseased wounds of our souls (Luke 10:25-37). By obtaining mercy, that is, by receiving the healing balm (Jeremiah 8:22) for our souls, we can overcome the temptations that our weaknesses make us susceptible too (James 1:12-15). This is why we pray “Lord have mercy” with such frequency in the Divine Liturgy. And why we are encouraged to often repeat the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. Secondly, we can acquire grace, that is, the divine energies of God Himself. This uncreated grace, will cause us to be supernaturally strengthened in the inner man (Ephesians 3:16). God imparts that part of Himself, that is, not His essence (nature), but His energies, to the child of God who calls upon Him in his time of need. God has elected to communicate his divine energies with His creatures that are in Christ Jesus (2 Peter 1:2-4).
Conclusion
My brothers and sisters, let us see Jesus in all His many and glorious offices; as our teacher; as our healer; as our one and only mediator (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 8:6); as our intercessor (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34) and advocate (1 John 2:1); as our High Priest and Chief Minister/Liturgist (Hebrews 8:1-6); as our Chief, and Good, and Great Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4; John 10:14; Hebrews 13:20); as the Bishop of our souls (1 Peter 2:25); as the Captain of our salvation (Hebrews 2:10), and as our Great God and our Savior (Titus 2:13); Jesus is our Lord!!! By keeping our eyes upon Jesus through prayer and meditation on His word He will help us to hold fast to our confession of faith regardless of the severity of the enemies attacks. The more we grow in the knowledge of Jesus, the more we will increase in confidence and faith, and the more boldly we will trust our souls to the throne of Grace. In the Divine Liturgy six times we pray, “Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by thy grace”. This little prayer sums up all that I am attempting to explain. Let us attend, let us pay attention to what we are praying as we stand in church. May the Scriptures come alive to us as we pray the Divine Liturgy. And may the Divine Liturgy come alive as we grow in the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures.
 
*Tradition – Scripture speaks of two types of tradition: human tradition and apostolic tradition. On the one hand, Christians are warned not to be deceived by the “traditions of men” (Colossians 2:9; Matthew 15:2, 3; Mark 7:9). On the other hand, Christians are commanded to “keep the traditions as I delivered them to you” (1 Corinthians 11:2; Philippians 4:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Timothy 2:2; John 16:13; Galatians 1:18; 1 Timothy 6:20; Jude 3). (A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, pg. 646)
 
**Psalm 110:1 is the most quoted Old Testament verse of Scripture found in the New Testament; Matthew 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42; Acts 2:34; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Hebrews 1:13. Also Romans 8:34, 1 Peter 3:22, and Ephesians 1:20 make reference to Christ at the right hand of God.
 
Please send questions to:
Fr. Bogdan Bucur Frbogdan@orthodoxbutler.org 
Fr Stephen De Young stevedeyoung@yahoo.com
Michael Simmons CyclingSimmons@gmail.com
 
 
Please leave a comment below. Thank you.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

2 PETER 3:1-18 / MARK 13:24-31

2 Peter 3:1 – 18 > Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior, knowing this first; that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” For this they willingly forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now are preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation – as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.
Mark 13:24 – 31 > But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heaven will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of the earth to the farthest part of heaven. Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near – at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
Introduction
Today’s Scripture readings, 2 Peter 3:1-18 and Mark 13:24-31, point us to the Great Day of God, that is, the second coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: a)when the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ (Revelation 11:15); b)when all that are in the graves will hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation (John 5:24-29); c)when the creation itself will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:21); d)when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who will be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power; when he will come to be glorified in His saints (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10); e)when, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, for the trumpet will sound, and the dead (in Christ) will be raised incorruptible, and we (who are alive) will be changed (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) f) when the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up…nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:10,13; Revelation 21:1). Peter, in his epistle, reminds us of those things we must remind ourselves of.  And he warns us to beware of the scoffers who will twist the Holy Scriptures to lead us into the error of the wicked causing us to fall away. Christ had warned that, in the time of the end, even the very elect could be deceived (Matthew 24:24). And St Paul warned that there would be a great falling away before the second coming of Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:3). May these sobering realities lead us to a life of repentance and perpetual conversion. I have zeroed in on four truths that will help us to live this life in the light of the Great Day of God Almighty, which is the glorious revelation of Jesus Christ from heaven, to judge the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1) and create the new heavens and the new earth.
Four Truths to Live By
Truth #1) We need to be reminded often of the truths of which we should be most attentive. Peter “stirs up” their pure minds. Why? It is because the tendency is to become a forgetful hearer, to lose sight of the vision of God that has been set before us (James 1:22-25). Peter, in this reading, declares what we are “seeing”. In verse 11, “Seeing then that all these things will be dissolved…”; in verse 14, “…seeing that you look for such things…”; and in verse 17, “…seeing you know these things…”. We are being challenged, commanded, to not lose sight of these eternal realities. We are to ever be “mindful of the words which were spoken by the holy Prophets, and of the commandments of the Apostles…” (2 Peter 3:2). This is why the Church is constantly pointing us to the Eschaton, that is, to the second coming of Jesus Christ and all that His second coming portends. We pray in the Divine Liturgy, for “a Christian ending to our life, painless, blameless, peaceful, and a good defense before the fearful judgment seat of Christ.” We confess in the Creed, “And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end…I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” The Scriptures are replete with references to the second coming of Jesus Christ and the final judgment (over 300 times in the 258 chapters of the N.T.). Jesus, Himself, when teaching, included His second coming as a constant point of focus. Today’s gospel reading is an example of this. But, in spite of the scriptures flood of eschatological passages, and in spite of the constant references in the Church’s Divine Services to the future promises of our hope in Christ, we must still actively remind ourselves of these truths. We must be mindful (purposefully paying attention), of what has been given to us, and to what we have been shown with the eyes of our hearts.
Truth #2) We are to live this life in light of the eschaton.  This life is but a vapour, that appears for a little time, then vanishes away (James 4:14). Jesus taught, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His holy angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works (Matthew 16:26,27) The knowledge of these truths, that is, the truths of the last things (Eschatology), is to inspire diligence in our souls. Our aim in this life is to live holy lives, and be found “in peace, without spot, and blameless” at Christ’s second coming. The blessed hope leads to a life of holiness (Titus 2:11-13). We are to live this life in the light of eternal consequences. Twice in the Divine Liturgy we pray, “That the whole day may be perfect, holy, peaceful and sinless”. This prayer is a radical request. But it is a request that is a response to the commandment of the holy Apostle Peter (2 Peter 3:14; 2 Peter 1:5-12)
Truth #3) We are to live a life of repentance. Repentance (metanoia in Greek) is defined as “a change of mind”, “a change in the inner man”. God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3, 4). The Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). The reason that God delays the “day of the Lord” is because he is longsuffering, not willing that anyone should perish, but that all would come to repentance. Please understand, repentance is not “just” a one-time event, when you are first converted to Christ Jesus. Repentance is to be a moment-by-moment experience, causing us, by God’s grace, to experience perpetual conversion. But we all must begin with that initial conversion experience, that rebirth that Jesus taught to Nicodemus when He said, “You must be born again.” Let us repent.
Truth #4) We must beware of false teachers who twist the Holy Scriptures to lead us into error. We especially are to be wary of false teaching concerning the last days and the time of the end.  We live in a day and time when the land we live in is flooded with false teaching concerning the coming again of our Lord Jesus. These teachers proclaim boldly that there is a “secret rapture” seven years before the second coming of Jesus Christ which will evacuate Christians from this world just in the nick of time to miss the Great Tribulation. Almost every radio and television preacher, and most Evangelical pastors believe these false doctrines and proclaim them with regularity.  These false teachings have been popularized in the “Left Behind” book series and just recently with a motion picture entitled, “Left Behind”. The “Pre-Tribulation Rapture” of the “Left Behind” theology/theory is a denial that Christians in these last days will have to suffer for their faith. The “Rapture” is a way that Christians can bypass God’s judgment. We must pay particular attention to the teaching of the Church concerning eschatology. The Church has distilled the teaching of the Holy Prophets and Apostles, as well as the Church fathers in the Divine Services of the Church. Paying attention to these things will prevent the faithful from being led astray. Peter warned that false teachers would twist scripture that could result in the faithful being led into error. The system of eschatology developed by those who teach the “secret rapture” theory is called “dispensationalism”. And it was made possible by the Protestant doctrine of “sola scriptura” (the Bible alone). By “sola scriptura” they mean that the Bible is the “final authority” for doctrine, not the Church. This opens the doors for teachers to interpret the Bible, with no checks and balances, and create their own novel systems of belief. I call this twisting of scripture “sola scriptorture”. Truly, these false teachers must torture the scriptures to “make the Bible say what they believe it must say”.
Conclusion
Let us realize that though we are responsible as individuals to be mindful of the things Peter and the other Apostles are teaching, we are not left to our own devices to make this happen. In the Church, the Holy Spirit has inspired the Divine Services with; psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, prayers, applicable Scripture readings, and divine teaching commentary, so that we will be mindful in a way that is acceptable to our God (Romans 12:1, 2; Psalm 19(18):14). Let us attend the services of the Church on every opportunity, and acquire our own copies of the Divine Service books for personal devotions. And let us be committed to daily Scripture reading as guided by the Church calendar so that we may be mindful of the truths of Christ, including those concerning His second coming. All these things are in place for our spiritual growth and salvation, and to protect us from the influence of false teachers. As we begin to let the reality of the Eschaton descend from our minds down into our hearts, may we find ourselves ever more repenting, that is, turning away from this world with its passions, and turning toward Jesus and His Kingdom.
Questions to Ponder
1)      What are the distractions in your life that hinder your spiritual mindfulness? (Mark 4:14–20; Luke 21:34–36)
2)      How should you respond when someone you are speaking with espouses false teaching about Jesus? (Colossians 4:3-6; 2 Timothy 2:14-16)
3)      Why is the “secret rapture” doctrine a danger to the spiritual lives of the faithful?
4)      What are some things that you can do to grow in the grace, and in the knowledge of God (2 Peter 3:18)? Ask yourself, “Is growing up in Christ something I truly desire? (Ephesians 4:14, 15)

PLEASE SEND QUESTIONS and COMMENTS TO:
Fr Bogdan Bucur at frBogdan@orthodoxbutler.org
Fr Stephen De Young at stevedeyoung@yahoo.com
Michael Simmons at cyclingsimmons@gmail.com



Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Galatians 5:22 - 6:2 and Luke 6:17 - 23

Galatians 5:22-26; 6:1-2 > But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Luke 6:17-23 > And He came down with them and stood on a level place with a crowd of His disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem, and from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear Him and be healed of their diseases, as well as those who were tormented with unclean spirits. And they were healed. And the whole multitude sought to touch Him, for power went out from Him and healed them all. Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples and said:
Blessed are you poor,
For yours is the kingdom of God
Blessed are you who hunger now,
For you shall be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now,
For you shall laugh.
Blessed are you when men hate you,
And when they exclude you,
And revile you, and cast out your
Name as evil.
For the Son of Man’s sake.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy!
For indeed your reward is great in heaven,
For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.
INTRODUCTION
Today’s readings, Galatians 5:22 – 6:2 and Luke 6:17 – 23, are simply awesome in their power to illuminate our understanding concerning our struggle with the passions and our victorious transformation of them through a life in the Spirit; and how Jesus wants to heal us of our spiritual sicknesses, those very passions, addictions, and crippling infirmities, that imprison us. By walking in the Spirit we crucify the passions and evil desires, and they are transformed by the life of the Spirit into the fruit of the Spirit in all goodness and righteousness and truth (Ephesians 5:9). The healing ministry of Jesus* is a pictograph revealing to us a parallel between the sicknesses and physical maladies that Jesus healed, and the spiritual sicknesses, that is our passions in us, that are in need of healing. The sicknesses and demonic vexations that Jesus healed are metaphors for the healing of our passions, evil desires, and addictions. Have you ever noticed how we can be blind, in the dark because our spiritual eyes have cataracts or worse? Have you noticed how we can be deaf, our ears can’t hear the voice of God because of damaged eardrums from listening to the demonic frequencies of the world’s lies? Have you ever noticed how we want to do good, but our will is weak, crippled, like a withered hand? Have you ever noticed how we seem to be controlled by unseen forces? Have you ever noticed how we can be thrown into a fit of rage like someone with epilepsy? Have you ever noticed how we sense the wounds in our soul are bleeding, our life’s energy is seeping out of us? Have you ever felt paralyzed, unable to move because of bitterness or shame? Have you ever felt dead inside, lifeless, unfeeling, uncaring, unable to muster compassion; you are like a dead man walking? Jesus will heal you of all these spiritual diseases and conditions if you will cooperate with Him. As we become doers of Christ’s words we enter into communion with the Holy Trinity (John 14:15-26) resulting in our sanctification and deification. We are healed, that is, saved from our sins as we become partakers of God’s divine nature (2 Peter 1:2-4).
Four Truths To Live By
Truth #1)  We must admit that we are spiritually sick with our many sins. Our sinful nature, that which we inherited from Adam (Romans 5:12, 19), and what Paul calls, “the old man” (Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:23, 24; Colossians 3:9, 10), are spoken of here as our flesh, with its passions and lusts. “By the flesh, Paul does not mean the body. The flesh here is a general term for evil actions, the depraved will, the earthly mind, the slothful and careless soul…” (Orthodox Study Bible Pg. 1595) What are the passions and lusts? Some are listed for us in the three verses just before we read about the fruit of the Spirit, read Galatians 5:19-21. St Paul describes them this way, “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” (Romans 7:22) St Gregory of Nyssa describes the passions as qualities we inherit from our animal nature: “The animals came into the world before we did and we have inherited some of their qualities. This is the spring from which our emotions are derived. Those qualities which secure self-preservation in animals have been transferred into human life and become passions…Human nature…has a double likeness. In the drive of the passions it reproduces the signs of the animal creation, but in the soul it has the features of the divine beauty.”
Truth #2) We must know that Jesus desires for us to be healed of all our sins and infirmities, our passions and lusts, our sickness and brokenness. (Luke 4:16-19) In Acts 10:38 we read a description of Jesus’ healing ministry, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” And it is written, “When evening was come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, saying: ‘He Himself took our infirmities, and bore our sicknesses.” (Matthew 8:16, 17) This, of course, is a quote from the great Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 53, where the Messiah is portrayed as the “suffering servant” who suffered and died for our sins. Notice here the language of Isaiah defines our sins as sicknesses for which Christ suffered and died that we may be healed (saved from our sins), “He bares our sins and suffers for us, yet we considered Him to be in pain, suffering, and ill-treatment. But He was wounded because of our lawlessness, and became sick because of our sins. The chastisement of our sins was upon Him, and by His bruise are we healed. All we like sheep have gone astray. Man has gone astray in his way, and the Lord delivered Him over for our sins.” (Isaiah 53:4-6 OSB) St Peter’s inspired commentary reads, “Who Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed.” As we are healed by our cooperation with Jesus, that is, through our faith and obedience, we become dead to sins that once dominated us, and we are free to live for righteousness.
Truth #3) We must arm ourselves with all “the weapons of our warfare” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5), and through faith and obedience, cooperate with the divine grace that abides in all these God-given weapons, so that we may gain the victory in the unseen war. The Fathers of the Philokalia offer the following weapons with which to fight the passions: 1) Prayer, especially the Jesus Prayer; 2) The remembrance of the Name of Jesus; 3) The remembrance of the Lord’s Passion; 4) The remembrance of death. “He who has acquired the remembrance of death will never be able to sin.”; 5) The remembrance of the Last Judgment, especially eternal suffering; 6) Nepsis, watchfulness, vigilance; 7) By not feeding the passions, thus, starving them; 8) By waging war against them through ascesis; 9) By putting on the armor of God through the reading of God’s word and the writings of the Church Fathers; 10) Through the sacraments, especially Confession and the Eucharist. (Philokalia by Anthony Coniaris pg. 147) A beautiful thought from the “Philokalia”, “If you wish, you can be a slave to passions, and if you wish, you can remain free and not submit to their yoke; for God has created you with that power. A man who overcomes passions of the flesh is crowned with incorruptibility. If there were no passions there would be no virtues, and no crowns given by God to those who are worthy.” (Breaking the Chains of Addiction by Victor Mihailoff pg. 17) Synergy (working together with God), must become our path to victory over the flesh. It is through faith and obedience that we are empowered by divine grace to crucify the flesh with its passions and desires.
Truth #4) Christians who become spiritual, who have overcome the passions, are to restore the brothers and sisters who fall into trespasses. As we are healed, become spiritual (Galatians. 6:1), we are to become healing agents, restoring one another in the Faith. For it is written, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed…Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:16, 19) And thus “fulfills the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
QUESTIONS TO PONDER
1) In light of these scriptures, which passions would be on your list for an honest and thorough confession? Consider the lists in Galatians 5:19-21 and Ephesians 4:29 – 5:4.
2) List as many of Jesus’ healings and miracles, recorded in the Gospels, as you can recall, and how each one would parallel a spiritual healing in your life.
3) Of the ten weapons recommended by the Church Fathers to defeat the passions, which ones do you practice daily? What can you do to incorporate the ten weapons into your daily thoughts?
4) When you attempt to help a fallen brother/sister, do you examine yourself first? (Matthew 7:1-5) What does a “spirit of gentleness” look like? (Ephesians 4:31, 32)
Verse-By-Verse Commentary On Galatians 5:22 – 6:2
 Verses 22, 23 > The fruit of the Holy Spirit grows upon the tree of our life as we are rooted in the gospel teachings, and obey the commands of Jesus. These fruits, nine of which are listed here, are the very energies of the divine nature that we express against the works of the flesh (the passions and evil desires). As we live in the Spirit, and walk in the Spirit, we yield our lives to the Holy Spirit, through our obedience to the commands of Jesus, that same Spirit transforms our passions into the fruit of the Spirit. We begin to produce beautiful fruit that glorifies the Father in heaven (John 15:1-8). Verse 24 > Those who are Christ’s are actively crucifying the flesh, that is, the passions and evil desires. St John Chrysostom writes, “For the desires, although they are troublesome, rage in vain.” Verse 25 > We are to live by the Spirit, that is, by the laws of the Spirit, and the power that that those laws supply. (Romans 8:1-3) The life that the Spirit gives us is actualized as we “walk in the Spirit”, that is, become doers of the word, and obedient to Christ’s commands. Verse 26 > The temptation we often face in the Spiritual life is to “compare ourselves with one another”, thus leading some of us to become conceited (thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought – Romans 12:3), and others to become envious (coveting another’s gifts and calling). This is all vainglorious, and to be crucified. Let all of us who strive for the mastery in spiritual things (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 KJV) be temperate (self-controlled) in all things. Verse 1 > St Paul instructs the spiritual brethren on how they are to relate to those who are overtaken in  any trespass, that is, carried away with a passion that has not yet been crucified. Paul says, “you which are spiritual “restore such a one”, He says not, “chastise” nor “judge,” but “set aright.” (St John Chrysostom Homilies) Chrysostom continues, “…be very gentle to those who have lost their footing…administer correction with mildness.” St Paul warns that those who are administering correction take heed to their own weaknesses lest they be tempted and end up in very same state as the weaker brother whom they are restoring. Verse 2 > Since we all have shortcomings, Paul “exhorts them not to scrutinize severely the offences of others, but even to bear their failings, that their own may in turn be borne by others.” (St John Chrysostom) In this way we fulfill the law of Christ!

Verse-By-Verse Commentary On Luke 6:17 – 23
Verse 17, 18 > Jesus is revealed as our healer. He healed diseases and delivered people from unclean spirits. Christ’s healing ministry is a picture of what He accomplished for us through His passion, that is, his suffering and crucifixion. The diseases and torments healed by Christ parallel the healing of our spiritual sicknesses and psychic torments (our passions and evil desires). “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed.” (1 Peter 2:24) It is when we are healed of our spiritual sicknesses, that is our sins, we are then able to live righteously. And “When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses’” (Matthew 8:16-18; Isaiah 53:4).  Verse 19 > Through physical contact with Jesus the people were healed, because healing power went out from Him. To come in contact with Jesus was to come in contact with healing power (Acts 10:38). Remember the “woman (who) had a flow of blood twelve years, and suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. For she said, ‘If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.’ Immediately the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of the affliction. And Jesus, immediately knowing in Himself that power had gone out of Him, turned around in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched My clothes’…And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction’.” (Mark 5:25-34) When we come into contact with Jesus, His power flows into us according to our faith. (Matthew 9:29) What are some ways we contact Jesus? First, through His Word; secondly, through prayer; and thirdly, through Holy Communion and the sacramental power of the Holy Spirit. Verse 20 > Jesus shifts His attention from the crowd unto His disciples and begins to unveil the blessedness of those who follow His commands (known elsewhere as the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:1-12). Blessed are the poor (in spirit). As we willingly become poor as Jesus did (2 Corinthians 8:9), assume the heart of the poor, becoming totally dependent upon God, we are given the spiritual riches of the kingdom of heaven (Ephesians 1:3; Colossians 1:12-14). Verse 21 > Blessed are you who hunger, you who fast the things of this world, who deny themselves earthly pleasures, you will be filled with God’s Spirit. Blessed are you who weep, who shed tears of repentance. “St Theodore the Studite invites us to “go in the Spirit to the Jordan…and let us receive the baptism with Him, I mean the baptism of tears.” “The fruits of the inner man begin with the shedding of tears,” wrote St Isaac of Syria. “The fire of sin is intense,” wrote St John Chrysostom, “but it is put out by a small amount of tears, for the tear puts out a furnace of faults, and cleanse our soul of sin.” (Philokalia pg.174, by Anthony Coniaris) Your mourning shall turn to joy in the kingdom. Verse 22, 23 > Blessed are you when you are hated, and reviled, and called evil for Christ’s sake. Rejoice at the onset of persecutions, even leap for joy, for you are counted worthy to suffer shame for His Name. (Acts 5:41)

*The Healing Ministry of Jesus:
Our Blindness Matthew 9:27-31; Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 8:22-26; John 9:1-38.
Our Deafness Mark 7:31-37
Our Dumbness Matthew 9:32-34
Our Deafness and Blindness Caused by Demons Mark 9:14-27
Our Paralysis Matthew 9:1-7; Luke 5:17-26; Mark 2:1-14
Our Palsy Matthew 8:5-13
Our Epilepsy Matthew 15:21-28
Our Dropsy Luke 14:1-6
Our Weak Limbs Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6
Our Internal Bleeding Mark 5:25-34; Matthew 9:20-22
Our Fever Matthew 8:14,15
Our Demons Mark 1:23-28; Luke 4:31-37; Matthew 8:28-34; Luke 8:26-39
Our Leprosy Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-16; Luke 17:11-19
Our Disfigurement Luke 13:10-17
Our Deadness Matthew 9:18-26; Luke 7:11-17; John 11

PLEASE SEND QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS TO:
Fr. Bogdan Bucur at frbogdan@orthodoxbutler.org
Fr. Stephen DeYoung at stevedeyoung@yahoo.com
Michael Simmons at cyclingsimmons@gmail.com

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