Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Themes: New Year Special, Circumcision of Jesus
Volume 8 No. 454 January 1, 2018
III. Featured: The New Year

Theology at Midnight
"About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them" (Acts 16:25).

You discover your theology at midnight.

Until then, it's all theoretical. When midnight comes, you discover the difference between theory and reality. I used to think that I learned my theology during the four years I spent at seminary. But that's not quite true. For one thing, I already knew what I believed before I went to seminary. Those four years of systematic theology, Greek, Hebrew, Bible exposition, church history and world missions gave me depth and breadth and perspective. I suppose looking back, I would say that in seminary I learned how much I didn't know, and I was given the tools to learn more when I was out on my own.

When I graduated from seminary I felt like most graduates do - that I could answer any question that came my way. Back then I had very definite opinions about everything, including many areas where my knowledge was actually quite shallow. I say that with a smile because it's good for young people to think they can conquer the world. Where would we be without some young bucks to challenge the status quo, to make us feel uncomfortable, and to push the envelope? I like it when I meet young folks with big dreams about what they want to do for God. In this fragile, unpredictable world, we need the fire of optimism that cries out, "Let's take that city for God!" So God bless the young men and women who believe that all things-yes, all things!-are possible, and who have no time or patience for those who ask questions or say, "Perhaps we should think about that for awhile."

Not an Easy Road

Paul seems to have been that sort of man. Perhaps it was inevitable that a man who had been zealous against Christ before his conversion would be equally zealous for Christ afterward. Armed with nothing more than the gospel of Jesus, he spearheaded the Christian movement through Turkey into Greece and on to Rome, the capital of the Empire and the greatest city in the world. He was, it seems, a force of nature. A man possessed by one great idea ("this one thing I do"), he proceeded to preach Christ wherever his name had not been preached so that those who had never heard might come to saving faith.

But it wasn't an easy road. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 he enumerates some of his hardships:

I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

When he mentions being in prison frequently, he perhaps did so with a bit of a wry smile because it was while he and Silas were in prison in Philippi that God worked a wonderful miracle on his behalf. The story as told in Acts 16 goes like this. After casting an evil spirit out of a slave girl, Paul and Silas were thrown into prison for what we today would probably call disrupting the peace. The two men were beaten, thrown in jail, put under close guard, and placed in the inner cell with their feet bound in stocks.

It was not a pleasant situation.

So what do you do when you have been arrested, beaten, imprisoned, placed under guard, with your feet bound in stocks, for nothing more than preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ?

If you are Paul and Silas and it's midnight, you start praying and singing hymns of praise to God. Acts 16:25 says that the other prisoners were listening to them. No doubt these two strangers looked like a mess after being severely beaten. The fact that they were in stocks and under close guard told the other prisoners that Paul and Silas were not ordinary criminals. So I ask again, what do you do at midnight?

The answer is, it all depends on your theology, which you generally don't discover until midnight. At that point you can't walk over to your library to pull out some book on theology, and you can't rifle through that big stack of notes from your Greek class to see what it says to do when you've been arrested. You don't have access to a computer so you can't send an email or update Facebook or Twitter your friends.

In that lonely moment, you discover your theology. You find out what's real and what's purely theoretical.

Recently I read a short story about Major Ian Thomas, founder of Torchbearers International, that mentioned a saying that was fundamental to his understanding of the Christian life:

Go where you're sent,
Stay where you're put,
Give what you've got.

The wisdom of that advice struck me, and as I meditated upon it, I began to consider what great biblical principles it represents. It throws light on the darkness of that prison cell in Philippi where Paul and Silas were singing and praying at midnight.

I. Go Where You're Sent.

If you consider that statement by itself, it may seem to have mainly a geographic component. Abraham was called by God to go to a land that he would later receive as an inheritance (Genesis 12:1-3). So he went out from Ur of the Chaldees by faith, not knowing where he was going (Hebrews 11:8). For him the "where" was definitely a location, one particular place. He was always on the way to the Promised Land. If we examine Paul's case, we can see that God definitely called him from Turkey to Greece (Acts 16:9-10), and when he crossed the Aegean Sea, he ended up at Philippi and began to preach the gospel, winning men and women to Christ, and proceeding to establish a church in that city. Paul's one great calling was to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. The "where" depended wholly on the Lord. That's why he wasn't thrown for a loop when he ended up in jail, notwithstanding the very great physical ordeal of enduring a beating by the authorities. While we don't need to sensationalize that, we shouldn't downplay it either. When Paul years later told Timothy to "endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 2:3), he knew what he was talking about.

There was nothing easy about being accused of disturbing the peace, being publicly disgraced, derided, maligned and vilified. Nor was it pleasant to be beaten or thrown in prison alongside men who were truly criminals. Certainly having your legs in stocks not only meant you could hardly move, it also meant you would have great difficulty lying down. So what do you do in that situation?

It all depends on your theology. If you don't believe in the sovereignty of God, then you'll probably be bitter and angry and very discouraged. If you don't believe in a God who numbers the hairs on your head (Matthew 10:30), then you may think that something terrible has happened to you. But if you believe in the sovereignty of God, then you know that nothing can happen to you by accident. In that case, your reaction is likely to be quite different.

You pray and sing hymns at midnight.

We find the key to the phrase "Go where you are sent" in the word sent. It means that in every situation of life, Higher Hands are at work, leading you on from where you are at this moment to where you are supposed to be next. Many times those Higher Hands will seem to lead you in ways that make no sense, and you may not see any purpose in the things happening to you.

Several weeks ago I received an email from my friend Andy McQuitty, senior pastor of Irving Bible Church in Irving, Texas. When I call Andy my friend, that doesn't quite do justice to the situation. Back in the 80s, he we served together at Northeast Bible Church in Garland, Texas. Often I would go back to his office and we would kibbutz together, dreaming about new ideas for the church. Because we lived in the same subdivision and had young children, we became very close. I can still remember when he came into my office and said he felt called to move to the other side of Dallas and take the pastorate of a small church that had fallen on hard times. That was in the fall of 1987. In the years since then, under the good hand of God, Andy has led Irving Bible Church through many building programs, a major relocation, and in the process it has become a mighty powerhouse for the Lord, attracting thousands of people every Sunday.

I say that simply to mention that Andy and his wife Alice are dear friends of ours. The email came out of the blue with some bad news. Following a routine physical exam Andy was diagnosed with colon cancer. That led to surgery which led to a pathology report revealing that the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes, which means it might be elsewhere in his body. Not good news at any time, but especially when you are only 53 years old.

So what do you say to that? How does the godly man respond to such a turn of events? The answer is, it all depends on your theology. Remember, you don't learn your theology at midnight. You discover it. You find out what you really believe. Here are some quotes from two emails he sent to his congregation after the news broke.

After discussing his medical situation, he put it in this context:

I'm not looking forward to all this and truly wish it wasn't on my plate, but it is what the Lord has teed up for me and I'm at peace with that. After all these years shepherding other people through these situations, it's my turn now! Alice and my family are confident and trusting and a huge bulwark of strength for me, and I think the Lord has much to teach me in these days. So we go forward.

My doctors are very hopeful that we will have a very good outcome to this surgery and that the procedure itself will be curative. Ah, but that's where the Great Physician comes in. We're just putting it all in His hands.

The Lord is my Shepherd, and yours too. . . we shall not want!

And certainly he is praying for healing and trusting that that is what the Lord has in mind. But there is always a deeper reality when you face something like colon cancer:

God truly is the strength of my heart. I kind of look at this fight with cancer in the same way I look at riding motorcycles. If God is finished with me, nothing can save me. If He's not finished with me, nothing can touch me. Just so you know, I've given Him all kinds of reasons not to be finished with me and I think I made an adequate case. We'll see.

Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns. Andy is bearing witness to his faith in Almighty God.

That's the true meaning of "Go where you are sent." You go even though it probably wasn't in your plan, and you go singing and praying and testifying to the goodness of the Lord.

II. Stay Where You're Put.

That just means that you go and serve the Lord wherever you happen to be, even though it may not have been your first choice. That's why Paul and Silas were singing at midnight. They knew that God had sent them to the jail to bear witness for their faith. As Paul and Silas sang and the prisoners listened, they had no idea of the earthquake that was about to set them free (vv. 26-28). Nor did they know that soon they would lead the Philippian jailer and his whole family to the Lord (vv. 29-34). That was all hidden to them. As far as they knew, they would stay in prison a few days or a few weeks or a few months, and then they would go on trial. After that, no one could say what might happen.

My point is, Paul and Silas weren't praying and singing in prospect of some great miracle. They simply bore witness to the goodness of the Lord in a most difficult situation.

That's God's call to you and me too. "Stay where you're put" doesn't mean passively accepting all the bad circumstances of life, and it certainly doesn't mean that you shouldn't try to change things if you can. But it does mean that you believe down deep in your soul that you are where you are because God wants you there, and that when he wants you somewhere else, you'll be somewhere else.

III. Give What You've Got.

Evidently Paul and Silas weren't trying to be quiet in the jail. Evidently they prayed and sang loud enough that a crowd of prisoners listened to them, amazed that two men in stocks, having been beaten and roughed up, no doubt a sight to behold, would seem so cheerful and full of faith.

In jail!
At midnight!

How could this be? They discovered their theology and it carried them through the darkness of the night.

When Andy McQuitty got the further news of lymph node involvement in his colon cancer, he wrote at some length about a Hebrew word that pops up often in the Old Testament, especially when God calls someone to a special task. The word is hinnainee (hin-nay'-nee), which means "Here I am."

Here I am.
Ready to serve.
What do you want me to do?
What may I do for you?

It's what a servant says to the master.
It's what little boy says to his father.
It's what believers say to the Lord God.

Hinnainee. Here I am.

Abraham said it in Genesis 22:1.
Jacob said it in Genesis 31:11.
Moses said it in Exodus 3:4.
Isaiah said it in Isaiah 6:8.

Andy goes on to quote E. Stanley Ott who offers this insight:

"In every case, the person whom God called simply replied with the Hebrew word hinnainee (hin-nay'-nee), the word of the servant - which means "here I am" - available - ready to serve - what may I do for you?"

When God calls, we can always find excuses to make: "Not me, Lord." "Go ask someone else." "I'm busy." "I'm happy right where I am." For all of us, the issue is not our personal desires but our response when the call comes. In the truly tough stuff of life, we rarely get a choice in advance, which is probably a good idea because if we did, we would be sorely tempted to run the other direction. But it is in moments like this that we discover our theology.

I'm not surprised that Paul and Silas sang in prison. Some of God's best work gets done in prisons.

John Bunyan went to prison for preaching the gospel and wrote Pilgrim's Progress. Dietrich Bonhoeffer went to prison in World War II and died testifying to God's grace. Chuck Colson went to prison and God gave him the vision for Prison Fellowship.

I wonder what Paul and Silas prayed at midnight? I wonder if it was something like what Paul wrote several years later in 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17.

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

When Eugene Peterson gave us his version in The Message, he started back in verse 15 and came up with this:

So, friends, take a firm stand, feet on the ground and head high. Keep a tight grip on what you were taught, whether in personal conversation or by our letter. May Jesus himself and God our Father, who reached out in love and surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you, invigorate your work, enliven your speech.

I like that. "Take a firm stand, feet on the ground and head high." We all need that, don't we? And at midnight we've got to keep a tight grip on what we know to be true. If it's true in the bright sunlight of noon, it's just as true at midnight. So perhaps they prayed for courage and a "fresh heart" and to be made strong so they could bear witness to the Lord.

John Piper said, "The universe exists so that we may live in a way that demonstrates that Jesus is more precious than life." That truth does not answer all our questions, but it does provide the framework for an answer that will prove true and strong in the worst moments of life. When tragedy strikes, when life caves in, when your plans are dashed on the jagged rocks of reality, when you find yourself in a place you never wanted to be, that's when you discover what you really believe. As long as things are going good, you don't really know what you believe. It's all theoretical. You discover your theology at midnight.

Anyone can sing "Shout to the Lord" when life is good, you've got money in the bank, your marriage is strong, your kids are doing well, you're happy in your job, you love your church, and all is right with the world. If with Paul and Silas you can sing praise to God at midnight in jail, then what you've got is real.

Not only will you discover what you believe in times of trouble, that's also when the world discovers what you believe.

Either God is enough or he isn't. Either Jesus is more precious than life or he isn't.

The truth comes out, always. And in those moments, when you rest your weary soul on the God of the universe, when you cry out to Jesus and discover that he really is there after all, then you discover he was there all along, everything he said turns out to be true, and the people who watch you know that you really believe what you say you believe. And having seen the difference that Jesus makes in the worst moments of life, that's when they want what you have.

Lord, you are so good. Your mercies endure forever. We thank you that you know what you are doing in every situation. We are glad about that because many times we are clueless. We rest our weary souls on you, the Rock of Our Salvation.

Give us confidence to believe that the God who started a good work in us will bring it to completion, and even today is bringing it to completion. Grant us grace to say "Here I am" when you call us to bear witness at midnight. Help us to stand fast, never moved, trusting in you, now and forevermore, until the day comes when we see Jesus face to face. Amen.

[Content provided by Keep Believing Ministries.]
Source: Today's Topical Bible Study

Resolved to be healthier & wealthier? 4 habits you need to succeed

By Gerri Detweiler

Depending on which study or urban myth you believe, the typical American gains two to 10 pounds during the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's. And there is no question that December is the spendiest month of the year. Credit card issuers can document it, and retailers count on it.

And January? That's when we resolve to lose weight and save money. Can we attack them together? Or does it make more sense to do one, then the other? While many people will make an effort (good intentions but no specific plan) and others will look for the quickest fixes (deprivation), some of us will find that the changes hoped for in January feel like a normal part of life by June. If you need motivation for making financial changes, check out just how much your debt is costing you over the course of a lifetime. And know, too, that people who exercise and pay attention to what they eat tend to be healthier and feel better.

Ellie Kay, co-author of "Lean Body, Fat Wallet," said it might be easier to do both at the same time since the same four habits are required for each endeavor. So success in one area helps reinforce the habits you need for the other.

1. A Sense of Entitlement Can Be Your Friend

The first habit is to monitor your thoughts and redirect them. If you've been stopping for milkshakes on the way home from soccer because it's been a long, tiring day and you are entitled to a treat, change that. You are entitled to a life free of financial worry, and you are entitled to inhabit a body that is as healthy as you can make it. You deserve those things. You are worthy of them. And so taking a walk is what you do because you are entitled to it; you are worth taking care of. Got that? No? That is why it bears repeating. Over and over until you believe it.

Athletes visualize success because it's a tool that works. See yourself succeed (and watch those reruns). Because it will take some time to override those old thoughts of, "I always start well, but…" and "I just can't get control of my sweet tooth." Every year, some people succeed. Tell yourself that in 2015, you will be one of them.

2. Have a Plan for Temptations

The second habit is what the authors call the 3-D habit, and it's a way to keep bad habits from getting the better of you. The D's are for determine, distract and delay. Determine your goal (and remind yourself of it). In the face of temptation, find a way to distract yourself so that you can perhaps interest or immerse yourself in an activity that does not run counter to your goals. And finally, delay. Feel like you must have the carrot cake or the 75%-off Christmas decorations? Can you see if the need is just as urgent in an hour? Do you have a buddy you can call for support?

3. Keep Up With the Numbers

The third habit is knowing and keeping up with your numbers. It essentially means recognizing that the intake and outgo are, one way or another, going to balance out.

With weight, it means if you are taking in more calories (intake) than our body uses in a day (outgo), that unused energy will be banked in the form of fat. With money, it's making sure that every dollar that comes in has a destination and actually goes there (you want a fatter bank account). For both, the secret is tracking. You are essentially balancing a checkbook in real time.

It is only human to underestimate how long we exercised or how much we spent (overestimating the size of our bills or how many steps we took in a day is much less common). Knowing numbers also lets you measure progress. While you may be measuring steps walked or shrinking balances, your persistence may also be paying off in more global measures, like weight, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, net worth or credit scores. Monitoring your progress can help you keep track of how far you've come (you can see your credit scores for free on, while you're at it).

4. Are You Counting the Minutes Until it's Over?

The last habit is sustainability, meaning you could live this way and still enjoy your life. A couple of months back, staffers went on a "spending freeze," with varying degrees of success. While a freeze can — and did — help shine a spotlight on areas where we could most easily cut back, it also showed us where it was extremely difficult to do so. And if you feel deprived, your efforts are doomed. Make sure you are not being so restrictive that you just can't wait for this to be over.

These four habits are the ones that, practiced consistently, can give you what you want. Here's how it might look in practice. Kay says improving both physical and fiscal fitness requires some tracking, but the tracking isn't difficult. In fact, you can do most of it on your smartphone while waiting in line, while on hold on the phone, etc. If you received a fitness tracker as a gift, use it. There are plenty of financial and fitness-tracking apps that can help you get control.

And although she concedes a healthier lifestyle may have some initial startup costs (let's say you spend 10% more on groceries and avoid the pesticide-laden "dirty dozen" and replace some cheap, processed food with fresh fruits and vegetables), she says that over time, the cost of continuing to be unhealthy will outweigh any savings that come from eating cheaper, less nutritious food. So buy those athletic shoes with good support, but be sure you're getting a good price. Also check with your health insurance, Kay says. Sometimes you can get a discount for enrolling in a fitness program or sharing fitness data that verifies you are getting a certain amount of exercise.

Get the Family on Board

She also recommends enlisting your family's help — and making it fun. (Yes, fun.) There has to be room for fun. If you are able to eat a meal out, consider giving each child a spending allowance and allow them to keep what they do not spend. You won't have to deny them $3 soft drinks; most will decide they would rather have money and drink water, and that lesson is important.

Decide on a family reward for paying off a certain amount of debt. (A camping trip can be fun, Kay notes, and plan modest splurges.) While it's good to tell kids that you're saving money or trying to pay off debt, Kay cautions about telling children the amounts; that is not something they should worry about. You can share the small sacrifices you've decided to make to help save money, and ask what they can do. Talk to them about making money (that's the other way to help save more), and encourage budding entrepreneurs. Tell them the family is working toward financial peace and security. Tell them that you — and they — deserve it.

Recognize Enemies of Success

Among the threats to your success are rationalizing — and we all do it sometimes. Try hard to recognize it and get back on track. Also be careful about judging yourself too harshly. You won't be perfect, and you won't meet every single goal every single day. But if you are meeting weekly goals, you're on your way to succeeding. (That means if if it's 10 p.m. and you've walked only 5,000 steps and your goal was 10,000 that you need not lace up your shoes. Just walk more tomorrow.) Kay recommends being "diligent without being legalistic."

Give your goals a reality check, too. Goals that are too ambitious set you up for failure — as do goals that are too vague. It's reasonable to commit to doing aerobic exercise four times a week; it's not reasonable to go to your 25th high school reunion looking just like you did when you graduated. It's not reasonable to decide in January that by June you will have paid off $30,000 in debt if you have an average income. As motivating as it might be to dream that those things are going to happen, it is a recipe for failure.

Finally, don't let procrastination keep you from being successful. It won't be easier to start in February… or March. Trust us on this. Accept that you will screw up some days and fail to do what you hoped. And that you will succeed if you start again now instead of deciding that you blew it, and what's the use of trying? A small setback doesn't have to become a roadblock if you let that first habit — believing you are entitled to succeed — help you get back on track.

Source: Yahoo Finance;

The New Year: The Mystery Of Time

by Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

On New Year's Eve we feel the mystery of time more powerfully than at any other time. We feel, in other words, that its flow - in which we live and in which everything constantly vanishes as the "past" and constantly places us face to face with the unknown future - essentially contains within itself the main question that everyone is called to answer with their lives.

"Vain gift, chance gift - life, why have you been given me?" asks the poet [Pushkin] in his immortal line. Indeed, it is enough for one moment to turn away from the cares that absorb us, enough mentally to stop the ceaseless waterfall of time, disappearing into the abyss, in order for the question "Why is life given and what is its meaning?" to rise from the depths of the subconscious, where we normally hide it from ourselves, and stand before us in all its implacability.

I was not, now I am, and I will not be; thousands of years passed before me, and thousands will come after... On the surface of this unimaginably infinite ocean I am but a fleeting bubble, into which a ray of life flashes for a split second, just to be extinguished and disappear then and there.

"Vain gift, chance gift - life, why have you been given me?" What, in comparison with this only honest, rueful question do all the loud theories mean that seek to answer this with tiresome theoretics of a "bright future"?

"We will build our new world. He who was nothing will become everything" [from The Internationale]... The most naïve, gullible, and dull-witted person cannot but know that all this is a lie. For both the very one "who was nothing" and the one who "will become everything" will disappear from the face of the earth, from this hopeless mortal world.

Therefore, regardless of whatever we were taught by pathetic prophets of a pathetic happiness, only one real question stands eternally before man: does this ever-so-brief life have any meaning? What does it mean, when compared with the boundless abyss of time, that this flash of consciousness, this ability to think, rejoice, and suffer, this extraordinary life that, however seemingly futile and random, is still looked upon by us as a gift?

Now the clock strikes twelve on New Year's. And as long as it strikes life for twelve short seconds stops and pauses, and everything as it were focuses on what is now to begin, posing and responding to the same torturous question: What is this - another step towards a meaningless end and disappearance, or the unexpected flashing of a ray of renewal and new beginnings? In response come words from an infinite loftiness and an infinite profundity: That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name... And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth... And of His fullness have we received, and grace for grace (John 1:9-12, 14, 16).

These are the words of the Evangelist John the Theologian in the very beginning of his Gospel. They are thoroughly imbued with the joy, confidence, and love of a man who has seen the light of true life, about which it is said that it shines in darkness and was not overcome by the darkness (John 1:5). Listening attentively to them, the very same joy, the very same confidence, and the very same love begin to be kindled in our own souls. Time is powerless if this light shines above us. Life is not vain, life is not chance, but is a gift from on high, from God, about Whom the same John the Theologian said that in Him was life, and this life was the light of man (John 1:4). And every man that comes into this world is once again set alight, is once again gifted this life, and the love of God is addressed to each one of them, and to each one of them is addressed God's commandment: "Live!" Live, in order to love! Live, so that your life will be filled with love, light, wisdom, and knowledge! Live, so that in your life darkness, meaninglessness, and eventually death itself will be overcome! For eternity already shines through this world and through this earthly life. This gift of life in the world and with the world is given us that eternal life with God and in God may become part of us.

Yes, suffering, doubt, trials, the bitterness of separation - all these have fully become part of our lot. How often we are weakened in this battle, and give up, and fall, and change! How often we are scared and lonely, how often we lose heart when we see how evil and hatred are triumphing in the world! But the One Who gave us this life and granted us freedom taught us to discern good and evil; He gave us the loftiest of all gifts: love. For He said, and continues to say: In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (John 16:33). We, too, can overcome in this very world, and in it our lives can shine with that same light that once flashed forth and continues to shine - that light that the darkness has not overcome.

The clock strikes... Let this mysterious future come to us; for, whatever it might bring with it, we know and believe that God is with us, that Christ has not orphaned us, that He is faithful that promised (Hebrews 10:23). Here are the marvelous words of Vladimir Soloviev:

Death and time reign on earth,
Do not call them your masters;
Everything, whirling about, disappears in the haze
The only thing fixed is the sun of love.

Yes, this is our calling, our freedom as children of God: not to call "masters" those things whose dominions have been destroyed, and not to close ourselves from access to the Sun of love, faith, and hope.

The holiday will soon be over, and routine, labor, fatigue, and depression will begin. But let us not permit the daily routine to overpower ours souls! Just as sunlight penetrates through closed shutters, so too let the light of Christ, through this mysterious holiday, become present in our daily lives, rendering our entire lives an ascent, a communion with God - a difficult but joyful path to eternal life. For the Apostle John said: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
© 1999–2016

New Year Homily

by St. Barsanuphius of Optina

I greet all of you gathered here with the New Year. I congratulate you with the joys that I hope the Lord might send you in the coming year. I congratulate you also with the sorrows that will inevitably visit you this year: perhaps today, perhaps tomorrow, or in the near future. Incidentally, do not be confused by sorrows or fear them. Sorrows and joys are closely bound up with each other. This may seem strange to you, but remember the words of the Savior: A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world (Jn. 16:21).Day turns to night, and night turns to day, bad weather turns to good; so also does sorrow turn into joy, and joy into sorrow.

The Apostle Paul pronounced threatening words against those who do not endure any punishment that comes from God: If you are left without punishment, you are illegitimate children. Do not be depressed; let those be depressed who do not believe in God. For them, of course, sorrow is onerous, because they know only earthly pleasures. But people who believe in God should not despond, because through sorrows they receive the rights of sons, without which one cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

"Scorning the impious decree, the Children brought up together in godliness feared not the threat of fire, but standing in the midst of the flames, they sang: 'O God of our fathers, blessed art Thou.'" (Irmos of the Nativity of Christ, tone 1, canticle 7).

Sorrows are that very threat of fire, or trial, but we must not fear them; rather we must be like the godly children and sing unto God in our sorrows, believing that they are sent to us by God for our salvation.

May the Lord save you all, and lead you to the Kingdom of Unwaning Light! Amen.

St. Barsanuphius of Optina, Spiritual Inheritance (Moscow: STSL, 2004)

© 1999–2016

Three Things Not To Worry About In The New Year

by Dr. Ray Pritchard

Everyone Worries About Something

Even millionaires have problems. Money and fame bring their own set of concerns. The lesson, I suppose, is this: Everyone worries about something. You might not think so, but it is true.

Even the best of us … and certainly the rest of us … have worries and concerns. For most of us, the worries are more mundane and closer to home. There is sickness. There is mental pressure and stress. There are family problems. There are job problems. There are difficulties we have with other people.

And for most people, it's not just one thing. It's many things wrapped up together. It's a job, school, money, work, health, bills to pay, your husband, your wife, your ex-husband, your ex-wife, the in-laws, the kids, and on and on it goes. Any one thing we could handle or even two things, but when you get three or four together, your knees start to buckle.

Satchel Paige

One of baseball's greatest pitchers was Satchel Paige. For twenty-four years he pitched in the Negro leagues and then joined the Cleveland Indians and later the Saint Louis Browns. In 1971 he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. While he is justly famous for his exploits on the mound, he is also remembered for his Six Rules for Staying Young. I share them with you for your enjoyment.

1. Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.
2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain't restful.
5. Avoid running at all times.
6. Don't look back. Something may be gaining on you.

(Source: The Baseball Reader, p.101)

All those things will definitely help and at the beginning of a new year most of us need all the help we can get. But some of our problems run a little deeper than fried meat.

The Big Question For The New Year

What will the new year bring? The cover story of USA Today in 1989 discussed that very question. Tim Willard of the World Future Society predicted that the coming decade will be "the most worry-filled decade the world has ever experienced." Was he right?

This morning I would like to bring you some good cheer for the new year. My sole purpose is to be an encourager. There is plenty of pessimism going around. I would like to dispense some biblical optimism.

What we really need to know can be summed up in one sentence - Will God take care of us in the new year? Will he or won't he? If he will, then we don't have much to worry about. If he won't, then we're in a heap of trouble.

Let's be perfectly honest about that question. With our heads, we know the answer is "yes." Of course, God will take care of us. With our hearts we wonder about it. Does God know about my situation? Does he really care about me? Will he take care of me in the new year or do I have to handle things all by myself?

This is not an academic question. This is the question. Will God take care of us in the new year?

Jesus' Advice To Compulsive Worriers

Fortunately, Jesus answered that question for us. He did it so clearly that no one can miss it. For our Lord's answer, turn with me to Matthew 6. This is the middle portion of the Sermon on the Mount. It sounds like it was written for the beginning of a new year.

Look at verse 25: "Do not worry."
And verse 27: "Who of you by worrying?"
And verse 28: "Why do you worry?"
And verse 31: "So do not worry."
And verse 34: "Therefore do not worry."

Five times in ten verses Jesus mentions "worry." And the whole point is to tell us: "Don't worry. Don't get anxious."

What is worry? The word itself comes from the Old English wyrgan, which means to strangle or to seize by the throat. Let me give you a simple definition. Worry is excessive concern over the affairs of life. The key obviously is the word "excessive." Worry happens when you are so concerned about the problems of life that you can think of nothing else. It is an all-consuming feeling of uncertainty and fear.

And it is a sin. Worry is a sin for two reasons:

First, because it displaces God in your life. When you commit the sin of worry, you are living as though God did not exist. And you are living as though you alone can solve your problems.

Second, because it distracts you from the things that really matter in life. As long as you are worrying, you can't do anything else. You are strangled by worry.

But how can we tell when the legitimate concerns of life have become sinful worries? Here are three practical guidelines. You are probably well into worry …

1. When the thing you are concerned about is the first thing you think about in the morning and the last thing you think about at night.

2. When you find yourself thinking about it during every spare moment.

3. When you find yourself bringing it up in every conversation you have.

Seen in that light, most of us worry a lot more than we would like to admit!

But Jesus said, Don't worry. Don't be anxious about the affairs of life. Don't let your legitimate concern turn into sinful worry.

Let me tell you from this passage three things you shouldn't worry about in the new year.

I. Don't Worry About Where Your Next Meal Is Coming From

Verse 25 says, "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink." And verse 31, "So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink.'" Now that sounds okay if you've got food in the pantry; it sounds crazy if you don't.

But let Jesus explain himself. Verse 26 says, "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father takes care of them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"

Very few birds go into farming. You hardly ever see a red robin planting some corn. But God feeds the birds. And aren't you worth more than the birds to God?

I suspect that the problem lies right there. Deep inside we wonder if we are worth anything to God. Psychologists tell us that behind nearly all emotional and mental problems lies a poor self-image. If you feel bad about yourself, if you see yourself as a loser and a flop, if you regard yourself as never quite measuring up, then you are going to have a hard time trusting God, because you will not see yourself as worthy of his love.

The truth is, our self-images are formed in our early years. And that's why what happens at home is so important. Erma Bombeck said that good children are like sunsets. They disappear every evening and we take them for granted. Few adults realize how desperately our children want to please us and how crushed they are when they think they have failed.

I began thinking about my own boys and how proud I am of them and how the time is slipping away from me. Just recently we started a new deal where each week I will take one of the boys out for a special treat - just me and him. Joshua and I went out to Portillo's and then Mark and I went to McDonald's and yesterday Nicholas came and said, "Can we go miniature golfing?" I said, "Son, there's ice everywhere." He grinned and said with perfect five-year-old logic, "So? Let's go anyway."

Now, I'm a very imperfect father but I love my sons. Do you think God loves me any less? No, he loves me far more. I'm his son. And if I love my sons when they do wrong, am I better than God? No, he loves me even when I fail him. Let me say it this way. There is nothing you can do to make God stop loving you. Nothing. You can hate him, you can turn away from him, you can curse him to his face, but you can't stop him from loving you. Nothing can make him cease caring for you, nothing can stem the tide of his mercy toward you, nothing can hold back his kindness. And he has promised to take care of you. You are worth more than a million birds to him. After all, the birds are God's creatures, but we are God's children.

Does that mean we will never miss a meal? No. Does that mean we will always have food on the table? No. Does that mean we will never go hungry? No. It means that God has promised to take care of what we eat and therefore we don't need to worry about it.

II. Don't Worry About What You Are Going To Wear

Isn't it interesting that Jesus mentioned clothing? He knew all about the future. It's so important to wear the right things today - like Dockers or Bugle Boy jeans. Listen to his words in verses 28-30: "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?"

The lilies don't even work for what they have. God gives it to them. And do you think the flowers worry? You never see a lily going to the psychiatrist because he can't get his head together. Only humans do that.

And here's the point. The flowers don't even last very long. You buy some today and by Wednesday they've started to wilt. Little helpless flowers that pass away so quickly. Yet God takes care of them.

But we are not flowers. We are living souls. Your body is not you. It's part of you, but it's not the whole you. The real you is more than the sum total of your blood, muscles, bones, fat, nerves and skin. You are not just a piece of gross anatomy. You are a living soul living in a body made by God. And you are going to live forever somewhere. That's makes you infinitely more valuable than the lilies of the field. If that's true - and it is - than you don't have to worry about what you are going to wear. God will pick out your wardrobe for you. He will make sure that you have what you need.

Why Food And Clothes?

Suppose we stop right here and ask, "Why did Jesus specifically mention food and clothes as things not to worry about?" The answer is that they represent the basic elements of life. They stand for all the things we need to get along in the world, such as money, jobs, housing, transportation, and so on. By mentioning food and clothes, Jesus is really saying, "You are not to worry about any of these things."

And the reason we are not to worry about them is because worry inflates these things all out of proportion. Verse 25 says, "Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?" Food is important - and you need to eat some from time to time - but it is not the most important thing. Clothing is valuable - and you ought to wear some - but it is not the most valuable thing. The whole point is, in God's economy food and clothing are of minor importance. They are so small that God is saying, "You think about the big stuff and I'll take care of the details."

There is one final thing we don't need to worry about in the new year.

III. Don't Worry About How Long You Are Going To Live

Notice what Jesus said in verse 27, "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" In the Greek the phrase "a single hour" actually refers to a cubit. In ancient times a cubit was a measurement equal to the length from the elbow to the middle finger, a distance of about 18 inches. It is like saying, "Who by worrying can add an inch to his height or a single moment to his life?" The answer is, no one can. That's the funny thing about worry. It can give you an ulcer or a stroke or a migraine headache or a heart attack. But the one thing worry can't give you is a longer life. A man can worry himself to death, but he can't worry himself into a longer life.

Think for a moment about some of the people who died in 1989 - Lucille Ball, Abbie Hoffman, Robert Penn Warren, Ferdinand Marcos, Gilda Radner, and just this week, Billy Martin. And there were millions of other who died who were not so famous. How many of them knew in advance the time and place of their death? Hardly any of them.

The Bible says, "It is appointed unto man once to die." (Hebrews 9:27) That is one appointment we all must keep. It cannot be postponed or rescheduled. Perhaps you've heard the story of the two baseball players, George and John. One day they were talking and John said, "Do you think they play baseball in heaven?" "I don't know," said George, "But if I get there before you do, I'll try to come back and let you know." Well, the very next week George died suddenly. A few days later John was out walking by himself when he heard a voice call his name. He looked around but no one was there. The voice called his name again. "Is that you, George?" he whispered. "Yes, it's me," said the voice. "Well, do they play baseball up there?" The voice answered, "John, I've got some good news and some bad news about that. The good news is, they play baseball up here all the time. The bad news is, they've got you scheduled to pitch next week."

That's the way life is. One day you're shoveling snow; the next day you're pitching for the Angels. But it could happen to any of us. You may die in the new year. Nothing you can do can change that fact in the least. The whole matter is in God's hands. So to worry about terminal illness or a freak accident is pointless. Nothing you can do makes the slightest difference. You cannot by worrying add a single second to your life.

That lifts a tremendous load off your shoulders, doesn't it? You're going to die someday. Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe later this year. But maybe not for fifty years. Maybe suddenly. Maybe slowly. Only God knows how it will happen.

But that means you are living on borrowed time. Only God knows when your time is up and your appointment has come. That means you don't have to worry about dying. That's out of your hands. Therefore, you are free to relax, enjoy life, live each day to the fullest and go for all the gusto you can get. And let God worry about how things turn out.

Worry Less And Trust More

So what kind of year will the new year be? The man from the World Future Society says this will be the most worry-filled decade in world history. He may be right. In times like these, our temptation is to worry more and trust less when exactly the reverse ought to be true. We ought to worry less and trust more.

Will God take care of us in the new year? Yes, he will. So we don't need to worry about food or clothes or how long we will live or anything else. God is going to take care of us. Maybe not exactly the way we expect. But he will take care of us.

In light of that, what should our attitude be? Let me give you exactly what Jesus said.

I. Remember That God Already Knows What You Need

Look at verse 32, "For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly father knows that you need them." What are "all these things?" Food, clothes, shelter, money, a job, and all the other necessities of life. God already knows about them. When you say, "Lord, "I'm out of a job," it isn't news to him. When you say, "Lord, I can't pay my bills," he checked your bank account before you did. He knows you are broke.

That's a wonderful incentive to pray. He already knows the details of every problem in your life. So go ahead, tell him the whole story. He won't be surprised. And pray with confidence … He's waiting to hear from you.

II. Put God First And Your Worries Second

This is just a way of paraphrasing verse 33: "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." This means, let God solve your problems. Keep on praying. Keep on trusting. Keep on believing. Keep on doing good. Keep on serving the Lord. Keep on helping others. Keep on sharing. And God promises to take care of you. Let God be God even in the hard times. And everything else you need will be added to you.

III. Don't Worry About The Future

This is Jesus' final piece of advice in verse 34. "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Don't borrow trouble. There's plenty to be thinking about right now. So many people are frozen with fear over what might happen two or three months down the road. Listen, if God could create the world in seven days, he can surely handle your problems in March or April.

Each day has enough trouble to keep you plenty busy. You take care of today and God will take care of tomorrow.

Cheer Up, Ye Saints Of God

And that brings us to the end, doesn't it? Be encouraged, child of God. Look up, Christian. Rejoice, ye saints of the Lord. Your heavenly Father has promised to take care of you in the new year. That's good cheer for the New Year.

When we were first married Marlene taught me a little chorus that we sometimes sing at our house. It seems like a fitting conclusion to this message:

Cheer up, ye saints of God, there's nothing to worry about.
Nothing to make you feel afraid, nothing to make you doubt.
Remember, Jesus never fails, so why not trust him and shout,
You'll be sorry you worried at all tomorrow morning.

Forgive us, Lord, for doubting your Word. We say we trust you … and then we try to manage our own affairs. We believe that you have the answers … but often we forget to consult you. Forgive us for our lack of faith. Please, Lord, reach down and change the gears within us, that we may go forward with you. Amen.

 © 2017 Keep Believing Ministries
Homily for The New Year

By Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros

"And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and grace before God and man"
(Luke 2:51)

Today we start a new year. We advance one year in age. Do we advance in wisdom and grace? St. Luke said that "Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and grace before God and man" (Luke 2:51).

1. To advance in wisdom is to become more and more mature. St. Paul, in is Letter to the Ephesians, sees that the goal of every Christian is to "attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ." (4:13). How can we describe the spiritually mature Christian?

St. Augustine said: "I want to know only two things: God and the human soul." The mature Christian is someone who knows who God is and who human being is.

a) First the mature Christian is, according to St. Paul, someone who has the knowledge of the Son of God. To know the Son of God is to believe in the depth of one's heart that "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life." (John 3:16). If God so loves us, there is no longer any reason for fear, worry or anxiety.

b) Second the mature Christian knows who he is. The mature Christian has a dynamic sense of personal uniqueness. Each one of us can truly say that he or she has no replica, and that God has given to each of us a special mission to be fulfilled, a life's work that no other can accomplish. If I am a husband, a father, a mother, a businessman, no other man or woman can fulfill these roles in exactly the way that I can. In their outside appearance, people are different but inside they are all children of God, and are called to incarnate God in their lives..

I read a nice story I want to share with you. A little boy was watching a man selling balloons at a Country Fair. This man allowed a red balloon to break loose and soar up into the air. Next, he released a blue balloon, then a yellow one, and finally a white one. They all went soaring up into the sky until they disappeared.

The little boy stood looking at a black balloon for a long time and then asked, "Sir, if you sent this one up, would it go as high as the others?"

The man gave the boy an understanding smile. He snapped the string that held the black balloon in place. As it soared upward, he said, "Son, it is not the color! It's what's inside that makes it rise."

Don't judge human beings by their outside appearance. It is what inside them that gives them their value and their dignity, and make them rise to God. We read in the Book of Genesis that when God created Man, he formed him from the dust of the ground, and then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. This breath of life is a divine breath common to all human beings. Inside every human being there is a breath from God. All human beings have been created in the image and likeness of God. The image is in their nature, the likeness is in their actions. When they sin they lose God's likeness, but God's image remains in them. Jesus came to restore in us God's likeness, to give us divine grace. To advance in wisdom is therefore to know who God is and who human being is.

2. To advance in grace is a healthy self-acceptance. If God loves each and every one of us as his children, we should love and accept ourselves with all our limitations, and accept life with all its difficulties and limitations. The mature Christian is characterized by a fundamental peace that the many vicissitudes and sufferings in life cannot destroy.

We know that our actions do not deserve us God's favor. Everything we have is a grace from God. St Paul had some sickness and he asked God to deliver him from it. God told him: "My grace is enough."

Karl Barth, the great theologian, was preaching to prisoners on New Year's Eve. He said, "Some of you have heard that over the last forty years I have written many books, many of them very fat ones. Yet there are four words which say it better than all the books I have written. These four words are ‘my grace is enough.' When my books are forgotten, these words will shine in all their eternal richness."

"My grace is enough"

The "grace of God" is one of the most beautiful expressions in our Christian vocabulary. Grace is God's loving activity in the world. It represents the unlimited pouring out of God's mercy. Grace is God's unconditional forgiveness offered to the unworthy. It is God's enabling power given to overcome the challenges of life. Grace is the quality in God which moves Him to do good to us even though we do not deserve it. Grace is God giving Himself to man. It is divine life itself: God coming to make His home in us. We don't do good in order to deserve God's grace. We receive God's grace without any merit from our part. And we do good as answer to God's grace.

There is a story about a man who went to heaven. He was met at the gate by St. Peter, who said, "It will take 1.000 points for you to be admitted. The good works you did during your lifetime will determine your points."

The man said, "Unless I was sick, I attended church every Sunday, and I sang in the choir".

"That will be 50 points", Peter said.

"And I gave to the church liberally," the man added.

"That is worth 25 more points", said Peter.

The man, realizing that he had only 75 points, started getting desperate. "I taught a Sunday school class," he said, 'that's a great work for God".

"Yes," said Peter; "that's worth 25 points".

The man was frantic. "You know", he said, "At this rate the only way I am going to get into heaven is by the grace of God."

Peter smiled, "That's 900 points! Come on in".

In this New Year, let us always remember that God's grace accompanies us in every moment of our life. And every moment of our life should be a loving answer to the grace of God.

Happy New Year! 


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