Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lord, Teach Me To Pray!

I remember for many years crying out to God for a meaningful prayer life. I would hear our pastor emphasize each week in his sermons the need for spending time alone with God. So, I tried. I would show up to my "appointment with God", as he liked to call it, with my Bible in hand and with my list of things to pray about. I never felt like I was quite getting it right.

I wasn't alone in this feeling. My Christian friends would often bring this topic up in conversation. They would ask, "How do you do your devotional time?" I could only say I was struggling with it too, and I told them that I would read the Bible and offer up some prayer requests during my devotionals. Others would say you should use a Bible study guide or a devotional book. As much as it was a struggle and mystery on how to do this, I would continue to show up, even if for only fifteen minutes. My prayers seem to fall flat, and the most oft repeated prayer for me was, "God, how do I pray? How do I have a fruitful time alone with You?"

My wife and I went to a reunion of some of our long-time Christian friends several years ago, and the guy who used to lead the group gathered us all in his living room for a short devotional. He asked how many of us are consistently spending time alone with God. I raised my hand, even though that time alone often seemed empty. But, surprisingly, no one else raised their hands! At that point, I was embarrassed to stand out as "Mr. Super-spiritual". As the conversation ensued, however, it was evident others had struggled and simply gave up trying to create a meaningful time alone with God.

And, several years later, along came Orthodoxy. Now, it's not a matter of what I should pray, but in finding enough time to pray! My prayer time now is radically fruitful; radically meaningful. Not to say it isn't a struggle to get myself out of bed, but once I am up, I know what needs to be done according to my prayer rule. The Lord answered my prayer by bringing me the time-tested and enriching prayers of the Orthodox Church. My prayer life has become something far more than it ever was as a Protestant, and something far more than I ever expected it could be!

I think everyone needs a system to make their prayer time meaningful. After trying many different ways, I find the Orthodox system to be the most engaging and life-changing. Instead of sitting on my couch, coffee in hand and my Bible open to an inspirational passage as I send up my wish-list of things I want to happen, I now enter the prayer arena in the Orthodox fashion. This means lighting a candle, fasting, awakening my spirit and focusing my mind through using the Jesus prayer, acclimating my senses to the Kingdom of God by using icons, Christian symbols and colors, opening my prayer book and engaging in prayers written by the humblest of Saints that change me as I pray through their penetrating insight into the condition of my soul.

Yes, it is a radical change from my Protestant days, and most Protestants would find the typical Orthodox prayer corner distasteful. Nonetheless, it is a system of spiritual saturation in all things Christian designed to change you from glory to glory and prepare you for His glorious Presence, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Are We Getting Better Yet?

Some long-time friends and I have been exchanging emails back and forth about the condition of our world, the New World Order, and UFO's. It all started out so innocently, but then we suddenly became engaged in trying to figure it all out. Being the token religious freak in the group, I added my two cents.

Basically, I summed it all up by saying this: Satan rules the affairs of this planet. I know that is a shocking statement, and I am not saying God does not rule or has no control, but to sum up the Biblical world view in one short, pithy sentence: We gave Satan, the enemy of our souls, the dominion to rule this planet by choosing to obey him rather than God when we ate of the wrong tree.

Many consider this a fairy tale, and truthfully, it kind of sounds like one, but let's summarize what all of the internet chatter and history in general have taught us:

1. The rich and powerful oppress and exploit the rest of us. This has been true since the beginning of time. Doesn't sound fair, and since God is just and fair, this would not be indicative of His rule, so, it must be the rule of a sinister, evil force. Given all of the New World Order talk all over the internet these days, sounds like the same old song of Czars, Kings and Sultans having all the power to rule their lands, just being played out on a grander scale now. Why would this happen now when America has proven to be a prosperous enterprise for everyone involved -there would be no reason to suddenly change this money-winning formula. I think it is because it is not enough to be rich and powerful, but to be the the richest and most powerful. It is not about our happiness and prosperity, it is about theirs. However, if they can keep us all fat and happy while they do whatever they want, so much the better for them - it keeps us quiet that way, sort of like a "Brave New World" system.

2. Aliens. This is one of the most insightful articles on alien visitations I have ever seen: Makes no sense that they would visit us, unless they accidentally stumbled across us like a scout ant finding food, and then sending the entire ant community to come and feed on us. On the other hand, if they are evil spiritual beings (as this article indicates:, and their purpose is to draw us further from God, then again, it aligns well with my statement that Satan rules the affairs of this planet.

3. Mass confusion - Red states, blue states, unions, no unions, God, no God, evolution, devolution, truth, no truth. The list goes on. We should expect this sort of confusion and progressively getting worse scenario if in fact we are a fallen race. We wouldn't expect a terminally ill person to get better each day, but would expect their condition to worsen until death. In the same way, as our "fairy tale" points out, we didn't choose Life, but because we chose the other tree, the Tree of Life was barred from us so we wouldn't remain in this fallen condition forever. In that sense, death is a merciful act - can you imagine how deteriorated and gruesome life would become if our fallen condition perpetuated forever?

So, there you have it folks - not rocket science to see that history plays out our fallen human condition in the hands of a sinister, evil force whose aim is to keep us from life-saving truth. Everything else is simply ornamentation on the same ugly frame of a lost and dying humanity in search of a drop of life-giving water to sustain us one more day. We all need hope to give meaning and purpose in our arduous journey toward our graves, and our hope needs to be rightly placed, or we will certainly be disappointed again and again.

May you find the true meaning of the Incarnation of the Uncreated God into His created world and all the implications of this act during this joyous Christmas season!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Obama Is Not The Antichrist...But Maybe Something Worse.

I have never been one for making "political" commentary, and I'll admit I haven't deeply explored the issues, but watching from the sideline, I am seeing some connections between our new president, and our old prophecies. Seems like people have been looking for the Antichrist for years, and each generation has never been disappointed to find one, even several! Maybe we have moved past that now to something even more ominous - the beast.

Each generation has always thought they were it, that they would be the ones to see the end of the world, and each has been mistaken. Eventually, it will happen. The current image our new president has around the globe seems irrationally glowing. The whole world seems to be following after him. I read somewhere that 44 sheep were sacrificed in his honor. Perhaps I do not know enough about world history, but I have never heard of a political leader who has had the entire globe fawning over him. Hitler could certainly be considered an Antichrist, but he by no means had the world's favor. Considering the messianic aura that was imposed on Obama prior to the election coupled with the current fervor, one has to wonder about the biblical implications of this one man's status.

We are informed in the Bible that we can be assured the Second and Glorious coming of our Lord has not happened yet because the man of lawlessness has not been revealed. Now, a charismatic, charming man appears on the world's political stage and is heralded as the "first truly global President" by mainstream media outlets, and whose moral convictions include live birth abortions. That in and of itself impresses me as a lawless man. The list of his lawless convictions is much bigger than this, and it all basically undermines each of the Ten Commandments.

I have heard of Christians who voted for him for economic reasons. They believe he will save the economy. If economics is the most important thing, then our focus is in the wrong place. We cannot serve both God and money. Incidentally, there is only one other reference that I know of in the Bible regarding the number 666, and it is regarding Solomon's gold. If the mark of the beast has to do with our love of gold instead of our love of God, then maybe this is the time when the man of lawlessness has been revealed. Just maybe.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Spirit Behind the Crucifix

I have a friend who is a Protestant missionary in Bolivia. His Christian background is heavily Charismatic, and, with that background, he tends to suspect "spirits" behind events and circumstances. Although I appreciate his sensitivity to the spiritual world, something I think more Christians should be attuned to, it seems as if his focus is on the evil spiritual world. One day, he was telling me how people in that area worship the cross. He said he was curious "what spirit was behind that crucifix."

I was curious why he would think there was an evil spirit on a crucifix! I guess the real question for him and for all of my Charismatic friends is this: If an evil spirit can reside on an object, why can't the Holy Spirit also reside on an object? I think it is clear from the book of Acts that the Holy Spirit does "attach" Himself to physical objects, such as Paul's handkerchief. Can someone know that a person is worshipping a cross, or can an evil spirit attach itself to a cross and deceive someone who is calling out to our Savior who has conquered death through death - the crucifix being the very image of the cross where he disarmed the powers and authorities, triumphing over them (Col 2:15).

The cross is a holy thing. Holy things have the Holy Spirit on them. The Spirit does manifest Himself in the world giving great glory to God and affirming the reality of His kingdom. My missionary friend has never been to an Orthodox Church before. I wonder if he would relish in the abundant saturation of the Spirit of God seen in every corner and heard in every hymn, or wriggle at experiencing the Real Presence of God perhaps for the first time ever.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Taking It To The Streets

Orthodoxy has such a visually-rich liturgy that I think it would do well with billboard advertising. I know, spoken like a true ex-Protestant, always wanting to change things. From some of my chats with my priest, it sounds as if advertising is not something the Church does. On the other hand though, I don't think that is entirely true. Websites, for instance, are a new form of advertising. I have also seen ads in the Faith section of our local newspaper for Orthodox Churches. So, why not billboards?

One idea I had (I'm not in advertising, but it is sort of fun to think up stuff like this) is to have a billboard that shows an Orthodox altar on the right and the typical Protestant altar (pulpit, stage, etc) on the left. The caption would read, "Which church has watered down the Gospel?" I think it would be strikingly clear which one has removed worship elements from the Sunday morning service. Hopefully, it would make people pause and think.

I would be interested in hearing your ideas for Orthodox billboards. Even though I am not in advertising, I still have an evangelistic mindset in drawing people to the fullness of the faith, and in helping them realize there is so much more to their glorious heritage that is still maintained to this day in the blessed Holy Orthodox Church.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Will God Ask If I Was Orthodox On Judgement Day?

I recently told a friend of mine I had converted to Orthodoxy. After a brief conversation about Christianity, his reply was, "Well, I don't think God is going to ask you whether you were Orthodox or Lutheran or Baptist when you see Him." I agreed. I don't think He is going to ask you anything about your denomination, but instead, you will stand there with your soul bared, and everything you are, to the core of your being, exposed. It will probably be a scary and embarrassing moment for most. What church you attended may not be as important as how well did your church prepare you for the day you stand vulnerable before the radiant, glorious and all-consuming fire of the living presence of God. How well did they train you to fight the forces of evil which war against your soul? Did your church challenge you to crucify and put to death the misdeeds of the flesh and control your passions?

As I pointed out to my friend, there are coaches who train you to a level where you can enjoy a sport. There are others who are more competitive who train you to win games. Then there are those who train at the Olympic level where their athletes are the best of the best, trained to finish the race with the victor's crown, to "run in such a way as to get the prize".

I knew a guy who played football in high school. He was really good and had a lot of fun playing the game. He went to college on a football scholarship. He said at this point, football stopped being fun. They were analyzing films and plays - they were making it more of a science than a sport. The pro level was even more intense, at which point he decided to go into pharmaceutical sales.

In the same way, Orthodoxy, when practiced fully, is intense. As my priest has said before, if Orthodoxy were just one of many right ways of practicing Christianity, it is the wrong way, because so much more is demanded of you. However, if it truly is the Olympic way, the way of the victorious martyrs and crown-bearing champions, then there would never be a need for God to ask if I am Orthodox or any other denomination. I will have been fully trained, fully discipled, presented "before His presence without fault and with great joy" because I have followed the Way laid out before me, passed down from Jesus to the Apostles to the entire Church for all generations to come. If any have strayed from this Way through a "different Gospel", then they have left the original Way, and horrifically trained others in their same errors leaving weakened souls in their wake.

May God have mercy on us all.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Holy Smoke!

I apologize for my unplanned and unannounced hiatus – it is my plan to have a new blog each week from here on out.

On that note, an incense story.

Desiring to enrich my prayer life, I made my first attempt to use incense during my prayer time at home. I thought it would be so simple, so easy, so discreet. Since the rest of my household is not Orthodox, I waited until they were all sleeping soundly in their beds three and a half levels away from my prayer corner on the opposite end of the house. My prayer corner is in a place where no one likes to go anyway. It is an unfinished sub-basement often referred to as the “dirty basement” by the female members of my family.

I lit the charcoal disc and waited for it to get hot. After a short sizzle and some flying bits of tiny red sparks, I launched my first incense kernel like a mini chunk of food on a tiny little grill. It produced some smoke for what seemed like a very short time. So, I threw another one on, and then another, and then another. I continued in my prayers relishing in the added olfactory dimension of this truly blessed time of prayer.

I didn’t realize how much smoke that little censer was putting out until I turned around and saw a thick, hazy fog filling my little basement. It looked rather neat to see the light beams from my clamp-on lamps shoot through the smoke. However, I was getting concerned about how much of this was drifting upstairs. The two times my family has been to an Orthodox service, the incense nearly choked them to death – they recoiled every time they saw the priest start to swing the censer.

After I left the basement, I did a sniff test to see if I could smell it anywhere near the door. I didn’t smell anything! I checked a few more corners of the house to see if it made its way up through the vents – still nothing. I felt good about heading to bed, as I was still one level away, and the smell did not drift. That was about 10:30 P.M.

I’m lying in bed still a little concerned, because that was a heck of a cloud I left behind down there, and I knew it had to go somewhere. At around 11:15, it had wafted its way into our bedroom. My wife, who was sleeping so soundly when I came to bed that she didn’t even wake up when I plopped down on the mattress, suddenly was becoming restless. She let out a sleepy cough, and then another, but this one was a little more robust. She then sat up in bed, and I pretended to be asleep hoping she didn’t notice. Still half asleep, she said, “Something’s burning!”

So as not to worry her, I immediately confessed I used incense during my prayers before bed, at which point she pleaded that I never do that again. After listening to her cough and hack for the next fifteen minutes, I of course agreed to her request.

I guess there’ll be no smells and bells at my household for a while. It all just seems so censeless (groan!)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Woefully Short of His Glory

What a whirlwind it has been since Great Lent and Holy Week. Even though I have been attending an Orthodox church for several years now, this was my first Pascha as an Orthodox Christian, and I noticed a big difference. For me, it was the difference between watching a game from the sidelines and actually being in the game. The hymns seemed deeper; the fast seemed more intense and effective. The anticipation of the resurrection was stronger than it has ever been in my entire Christian life!

Now, it seems as if God is testing my faith (James 1). And, I am failing miserably! It hasn't been pure joy, and I have reacted, not in trust, but in a pathetically carnal way. As if I had either no hope or no trust in God at all. As if my circumstances were random acts unnoticed by our Heavenly King. As if God has been taken by surprise as well and doesn't really know what to do to help me out.

Of course, the reality is that He is fully in control. I have begged for God's forgiveness for my lack of trust in Him and for responding to my circumstances in such an unspiritual fashion. For all my blathering about my faith on this blog, I too am weak, lost, and in need of God's great mercy now and forever. As much as I would love to react to my circumstances with the peace and calm of our Lord, I fall so woefully short and need Him entirely.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Pagan Christianity

Seems like I am writing my blogs these days on the fly, and this one is no exception. I stumbled across a book at one of the major book chains titled 'Pagan Christianity'. I only had time to just peruse it, so I didn't get chance to really dig in to find out what this author is trying to accomplish. If you know more about this, please add comments, but here is what I gleened.

At first, I expected the book to be an attack on the so-called pagan practices of Roman Catholicism/Orthodoxy (rituals, symbols, praying to saints, etc.). Instead, it seemed to be attacking nearly every major tradition of orthodox (little 'o') Christianity. He did, of course, mention what I mentioned above, but he also attacked the practice of building churches with steeples and the long tradition of giving a sermon at a church service. He said sermons are a carryover from the Greek orator days when sophists spent a great deal of time perfecting their speeches.

I thought that if he is classifying the sermon as a pagan practice, that would pretty much mean all of Christianity is pagan. At this point, I turned to the back cover to see why he wrote this book. Apparently, he is trying to get back to the 'biblical roots' of church emphasizing the 'house church'. Like I said, I am writing this on the fly, and I have not really read the book, but can we really say that the entire church tradition has been wrong all these years? Of course, Orthodox Christians do not believe so, but instead, we emphasize preserving the ancient traditions.

To say they incorporated pagan practices I think misses the point entirely of God revealing Himself to mankind. Didn't pagans have human sacrifices and drink the blood of their victims? Was Jesus instituting paganism into traditional Jewish beliefs by saying we should drink His blood and eat His flesh? Didn't pagans have beliefs about virgin births and the gods becoming men? Maybe he should have said the New Testament is itself a pagan document since it has such 'pagan' things in it.

The truth of the matter is that Christianity brought to light the Truth of God in the world and revealed how pagan beliefs and practices were often a distortion of the ultimate Truth. It explains why the pagan world identified with Christianity so willingly. It was as if the pagans were in the dark, 'feeling' their way through life and someone suddenly turned the light on to reveal what they were 'feeling'. Their descriptions and understanding of what they were 'feeling' changed after the light came on and they saw things as they really were.

Is it anti-biblical to build a church over a holy place, such as where Jesus was born or where a Saint is buried as his book states? The Bible states the Israelites built things where God had done something, such as the memorial built in the Jordan river where the ark of God had been (Joshua 4). It also states in the book of Revelation that the souls of the saints are under the altar in heaven. If the Israelites patterned their worhip after the heavenly model (as God commanded), how much more so should we who have been given the fullness of the faith?

Those are my knee-jerk reactions to my scant perusal of this book. I would be interested to hear from others who may have read this book or heard other such attacks against church traditions.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Unorthodox Guitar Playing

This post has nothing to do with the faith, but being a musician, I had to post it for all to enjoy. I stumbled across this on YouTube and thought that everyone would appreciate some really good and unconventional guitar playing. As you can tell by my picture on the right, I favor the guitar - it is how I misspent my youth - trying to become a rock star. Once I lost the hair, then the whole rock star image and dream disappeared too! Hope you enjoy this little piece:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How Do We Know What Jesus Looked Like?

A Messianic Jewish friend of mine and I were talking about icons. He has a big problem with them. I told him that the Jews were forbidden to make an image of God because no one knew what He looked like. Since God became flesh in Jesus Christ, we know exactly what He looks like, as Jesus is the image of God and the exact representation of His being. I asked him, "Do you think that of the thousands of people that saw Him, not one person drew or painted His picture?" His response was surprising since I consider him an intelligent and articulate individual. He said, "Don't be so sure of it."

But, for the sake of argument, let's say he is right. Supposing no one ever painted a picture of the actual Jesus, does this mean that His image is still not captured in the icon? People who knew Jesus well didn't recognize him after His resurrection until the Lord decided to "reveal" Himself by breaking bread. People who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty and visit the sick also don't recognize Jesus either. Does this mean His image is not in the world? Does the mean we have no point of reference to the God-man, the one made flesh for all to behold?

I think the truth of the matter lies in the icon image itself. It shows this man to be the Word of God, the Great I Am, the Almighty, the one who was humiliated, crucified, risen and ascended. The one who blesses and teaches us. He is our healer, our portion and our cup, the One Who Is and Who Was and Who is to come. My friend would certainly never deny these truths about Christ, and yet, despite any particular artistic detail regarding the accuracy of His physical features, the icons proclaim all of these realities and more - the Spirit of Truth rests upon them.

The same can be said for all of the other icons - they represent the truth of the Faith and the reality of the Kingdom of God, of a life that never ends, and of the living stones that make up the heavenly temple. It has been said so well before by many others, but Paul says it best when he says in the book of Hebrews that we have come to the heavenly Jerusalem, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect. Our icons help us keep this focus - on things above and not on the things of the earth.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Orthodox Lent

Fasting is hard. No matter how you look at it, fasting is hard. It requires a good deal of sacrifice to do the fast right. You not only have to look at your internal motivations and attitudes, but you also have to maintain the Church prescribed diet in obedience to God.

But, with that said, I want to offer a up a public thanks to God and to all who peruse here - it would be much more difficult for me to keep the fast if it weren't for my wife making me special meals. I have heard of other converts whose spouses did not convert with them (as is my case) who were on their own when it came to the fasts. My wife is first to admit she dislikes cooking, and she thinks God has a grand sense of humor to place her in a situation where meal-making is yet more challenging. She not only does this during Great Lent, but also during the week on Wednesdays and Fridays. So, as I have told her and now broadcast to the world, thank you! Thank you for your service to God in my spiritual journey and for understanding this is where I need to be.

Like all good, God-fearing Protestants, she has issues with some of the Orthodox ways, yet she still supports me in the fasts, the feasts, the extra services during Lent, and in going to separate churches. Certainly not an ideal situation while raising two pre-teen daughters, but the peace is kept in the household, and my prayers go up for her and for them.

If you feel so inclined, I would love more than ever to have them join me on the Orthodox path, so please keep them in your prayers.

May God's profound peace and enriching grace be yours during this most holy of all seasons.

(For all of those who are Orthodox seekers, there is no better time to check out Orthodox services than during this period when many extra services are done throughout the week - I especially like the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy on Wednesday nights.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

"It's Fine For You, But It's Not For Everybody"

"Well..." they begin to say as they become more and more put off by your convert enthusiasm, "'s good for you but it's not for me." I often heard this when I became 'born again' back in the early 1980's. They would say Jesus isn't for everybody, or they might even say Jesus can't be the only one true Savior. What about those who have never heard?

Now, my new convert enthusiasm is from discovering Orthodoxy. I began telling all of my Christian friends - friends who used to pass out tracts with me as we witnessed to the lost out on the street corners and who heard all of the same excuses - about my great find in discovering the Orthodox Church. And now, they are saying, "Well, it's good for you but it's not for me." and "There can't be only one true church. What about all of the other Christians?"

Ironic, isn't it? I guess it goes to show people are pretty much the same when they don't want to have their minds changed about something. We all make excuses for why we don't want to change. The non-believer says, "As long as we all believe something, and are sincere about it, that's all that God cares about." And the Christian, when confronted with the big, scary, historical, beautiful, Orthodox Church, says "As long as we all believe in Jesus, that's all God cares about."

I am certainly over-simplifying here and mean no offense to anyone, but it has been almost comical to me to get pretty much the same reactions and hear the same lines from my Christian friends when I present to them the very thing that would complete their Christian faith. I know I have said this before, and others have said it too, but it truly was like finding a treasure hidden in a field - a treasure with no end to its riches.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Why Pray To Mary and the Saints?

There has been a recent discussion about Mary on The Path blog. I really enjoy his honest inquiry. This discussion about Mary generated quite a few responses, two of which were from me because, like many former Protestants, this whole idea of Mary and the Saints is a huge deal. From the outset of my journey, it was one of the most distasteful things for me. I thought, "Why can't they just leave that part out - it is just so unbiblical!"

It wasn't until I read a response from Perry Robinson that it hit me. Here is a snippet of Perry Robinson's comment followed by what I posted:

"The saints are deified and enjoy participation in the divine life to a fuller measure. Consequently they not only enjoy holiness and immortality but other divine powers also." Of course, this is exactly it! If they were great prayer warriors here, how much more so there? If they were great miracle workers here, how much more so there? And if Mary was the God-bearing, God-honoring, God-fulfilling worker of His divine will here, how much more so there? I can picture it. We don't become less and dissipate into the fog when our life ends here, we become greater; we see Him face-to-face and become just like Him, for we see Him as He is: An interceding high priest before our Father in heaven, working miracles for the glory of His Name.
I then remembered Jesus stating that wherever He is, His servant is there also - how much more so in the heavenly realm! As Christians, it only gets better for us. Knowing concretely we have this great cloud of witnesses, of intercessors, of miracle workers and protectors, how much more dynamic and rich does that make our walk with God? This is a great relief for me. This is the kind of answer I was hoping for, one that would make me say, "Aha!" I thank God now more than ever for bringing me into Orthodoxy. This is such a milestone moment for me in my journey. I no longer have to internally wince when I hear a saint answered a prayer or Mary performed a miracle - they are His Body, His city and His heritage, living stones in His spiritual household and pillars in the temple of God unto the ages of ages, Amen.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

To Blog or Not To Blog...

I recently felt convicted about being out here blogging my heart out. This conviction came when I was reading this post and its comments on The Path. Even before I read it, I had thought about closing down shop. I started the blog last year, and it is really just a hobby. As far as feeling 'compelled to share my story', I have had plenty of outlets for that. For instance, I have been in many email conversations with my Protestant friends; the local major newspaper in our area has allowed me to write about my Orthodox journey in their Faith section; I recently completed my college degree which required a final project and a paper explaining the vision of my life - both highly engaging and involved writing projects that more than met this need for sharing. My former pastor also wanted me to write to him explaining my journey as completely as possible so he could understand why I made the jump.

So, did I need this self-indulgent, vainglorious blog? Did I really need to spill my private thoughts to the world. Did I really need another way to be accountable for all of my idle words on Judgement Day?

I am beginning to think Marshall McLuhan was right when he said that in the electronic age, we lose our privacy. It seems as if the internet with YouTube, MySpace, FaceBook, Blogger and all of the other outlets available to become a self-made superstar, are making his statement true - and we are doing it willingly!

But, on a positive note, perhaps this blog and others like it provide a word of encouragement, a new and refreshing way of looking at the world or understanding the Faith, or just enough of a nudge to cause you to write something worthwhile and helpful on your own blog.

My personal feeling is that if you write a blog, that it isn't necessarily a self-indulgent thing (although it certainly can be), but that, like the servants who were given talents to put to good use until the Master's return, bloggers believe they are contributing something to the world that the Master has given them. We may not be able to necessarily double our efforts as they did in the parable, but we aren't burying them either. We are sharing our unique perspective endowed by our All-Holy God who brings Life to the world.

I am no Hemmingway or Shakespeare, but by God's life-giving Grace, I pray I do what I can with what He has given me.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Steal, Kill and Destroy

One of the things I found to be a huge contrast between the non-denominational Protestant church I used to attend and the Orthodox Church is how much is simply 'not there' in the Protestant church. If you look at the Orthodox Church, you have the Eucharist, the Mysteries, the icons, the vestments, theosis, the Liturgy, the spiritual displines, the major feasts, the minor feasts, the Bible with the Apocrypha, the teachings of the Church Fathers, holy water, and so much more I have have not included on this list. Basically, the historic fullness of all that is truly Christian.

In comparison, the modern non-denominational Protestant church looks like a drastically scaled back version of the Church. It has the 'abbreviated' Bible, only symbolic sacraments in baptism and communion, no art to speak of (but that is changing somewhat), no altar - basically not much to anchor you to the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets. I only say this as a comparison of the outward look and feel of this version of Protestantism, because there is no doubt sincere believers in Christ there - I just think they are getting short changed.

The reason? Because the enemy has done exactly what Jesus said he would do - steal, kill and destroy. He has honed down, watered down and extracted from the Faith its glorious fullness, and the result is sincere believers are not getting the powerful presence and reality of the Lord they love. So much has been done in the way of setting up road blocks through Western history that it seems like an insurmountable task to clear the way for my dear friends to see the fullness of the faith and how much has been stolen.

Be that as it may, I pray for them. I am still in close relationships with many sincere, true Protestant believers, and I love them dearly for their zeal and commitment to the cause of Jesus Christ and the salvation of souls, and I desire so much for them to see the greatness of our God in the historic and life-giving fountain of the Holy Spirit in the Holy Orthodox Church, the visible and tangible Body of the Living Christ on earth.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sense of Faith

When I read "What Is a Miracle" on the Two Natures blog, I was reminded of something I had thought about before: What if faith was a faculty, similar to the other senses, which gives us a different impression or understanding of the world we live in? For instance, the sense of touch gives us one understanding of something, whereas, the sense of hearing, a totally different impression altogether. The sense of sight expands our understanding of physical reality even further.

As an analogy, imagine a world where everyone is blind; where no one has ever known sight - they have no idea what light or color is . They wouldn't know that when your foot hit a stone, it was an object set in a certain place, or if you suddenly felt warmth on your face, it was the sun which had broken through clouds unknowingly hanging miles above them in the sky. If someone came along and could see, it would seem like much of his behavior was miraculous. He would never bump into things, and he would consider the technologies of this blind world as needless weights - he wouldn't need them to maneuver through this world.

In a physical sense, hearing is much lower on the frequency spectrum than vision. And the amazing freedom of movement that comes with the ability to "pick up" or "sense" the higher frequencies is exponentially greater. Our understanding and depth of insight is phenomenally enlarged by the capacity to "see".

So, with sight comes an enlarged view of reality. With being able to perceive the higher frequencies comes a higher understanding of the physical nature of things.

What then would happen if our capacities were enlarged even further? If we had a sense to perceive higher frequencies? The same result would ensue. Our interpretation of the world would completely change based on this new way of perceiving the world around us.

Maybe this is the faculty of faith. Instead of seeing reality as static and immovable, reality suddenly becomes the playground of faith where all things are possible. Perhaps that may be why Christ could walk on the water. To us it was a miracle; to him it was perfectly natural. That may be why the many amazing and miraculous things Christ did were too numerous to count - He was acting on his natural understanding of the world through the sense of faith.

He knows we are weak, so he says, "Ask anything in my name and it shall be done for you". When we exercise our faith in Christ, we are revealed to be children of God, and creation is liberated from its bondage. When we are blind, we bump into the rock. When we are sighted, we walk around the rock, and as children of God, we say to the rock, "Be thrown into the sea", and it obeys us. We rule over the earth and subdue it.

As you look at all of our marvelous technologies, you suddenly realize they are like white canes for the blind - we need them to navigate through our world of unbelief. Think about this in contrast to a world perceived with the sense of faith where all things are possible to him who believes.

As I said in my comment to the blog mentioned above, this is just a crude analogy and part of what makes blogging fun.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Saved By Faith Or By Works?

During a recent conversation with a Baptist acquaintance of mine, we compared notes on how we view salvation. The general perception in the Protestant world is that Catholics and Orthodox alike are 'works' oriented. I only reinforced this perception when I told him I did not believe in 'once saved, always saved'. He immediately replied saying, "So, salvation is a crapshoot then."

He had withdrawn from the faith back in his college days but has been strongly living out his Baptist faith since then. We had to end our conversation abruptly because I had to get back to work - but I sent him this reply to assure him salvation is not a crapshoot...

It was great talking to you this morning - I wish we could have had more time to fill in the details of this engaging topic, but I couldn't just leave you with the impression that salvation is a "crapshoot" in the Orthodox world. So, I am sending you this email to hopefully clarify things.

Salvation is a gift. It is the most wonderful gift ever. It is also an incredibly expensive gift. As one of my pastor friends put it, "Salvation (grace) is free, but not cheap". With this gift comes responsibility. To whom much is given, much is required. The parable of the talents emphasizes this point. Jesus also emphasizes this point in another passage -

"He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes...Remain in me and I will remain in you..."(John 15:2ff)
This passage goes on to say "if you remain in me..." and "if you obey my commands...".

We are responsible. We are to remain in Christ and feed on Him. We are then loved by the Father and bear much fruit. He is our salvation. Bible study and reading are important, but it isn't our salvation - Christ is our salvation. We feed on Him in the Eucharist, through purposeful and intentional prayer, through fasting to identify with his sufferings and to continually soften our hearts toward Him, and through repentance and confession to purge our souls of pride, to "prune our branches". These "touch points" of grace, of God's Presence on the earth, are what empower us to love, to give, to obey His commandments and bear much fruit. This is why the Orthodox Church places heavy emphasis on regular church attendance, keeping the church fasts and following a disciplined prayer rule. This is what keeps you on the path, what keeps you humble and in obedience to God's perfect will. If you stop doing these things, then it is a crapshoot, because you have left the well-trodden path laid out before you to assure your growth and to bear much fruit.

Grace, from an Orthodox perspective, is God's empowering life and energy. So, to be saved by grace means appropriating that life and energy toward good works which he has prepared in advance for us to do. To neglect this empowering life and energy is to neglect our salvation -
"Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?" (Hebrews 2:1-4)

So, yes, we can stray from the path, and it is a dangerous place to be. Thank God that he put you back despite your wanderings. There is a sure road to salvation, and not everyone who calls Jesus "Lord" is on it. It isn't a crapshoot, but a path of discipleship, obedience and humility in Christ and in the Church He established to produce saintly beings whose lives bring Him glory in this age and in the age to come. You stay on this path, then your salvation is assured, but if you leave it, only God knows whether you will be saved, as it is not up to me, or my priest, or anyone else to judge someone in that regard.

I want to leave you with one of my favorite New Testament passages that summarizes this theme perfectly. It is 2 Peter 1:2-11:

"Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
Since Peter states that we should be eager to make our calling and election sure, it emphasizes how important our responsibility is to stay on the path.

As always, it was great talking to you. I hope this clarifies why our salvation is neither a crapshoot, nor something to take for granted.

God's peace my friend,


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year, New Day, New Stuff

Ok, a new year has started and it is time to take blogging a little more seriously. As I look back, I think about why I have procrastinated posting anything. I guess I was hoping each blog would be a masterpiece or have something profound to say. This year, I am simply going to make it more random and laid back - simply talk about life and God and Orthodox stuff. I am not a deacon, a priest or a bishop, therefore the pressure of being perfect in my blogs should not be so severe. At the same time, I never want to misrepresent the Faith and cause a seeking person to reject Orthodoxy because of something I've said. Lord have mercy.

I have missed not posting more frequently, and I have missed not responding to other blogs. God willing, I will be out there amongst you, fellowshipping in cyberspace and hopefully contribute a random thought that strikes a chord in your beautiful soul.