Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal

Two Centum Souvenir Edition

Volume 4 No. 200 March 5, 2014

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Two Centum Issue, Malankara World Journal
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TABLE OF CONTENTS

I Foreword

1. Introduction to Two Centum Issue and Mission of Malankara World by Dr. Jacob Mathew

If we want to be a vibrant church, we need to bring in new people to the church and have programs to keep them coming back to church like pastoral counseling, bible studies, Sunday School for children, adult classes and fellowship, etc. etc. Studies have shown that new people bring new blood, new ideas and overall are more excited about the church than the old people, with their ideas and beliefs entrenched. I hope that we can provide leadership in these areas. ...

II Introduction

2. Message from His Eminence Mor Titus Yeldho, Patron

I am indeed proud to introduce the 200th issue of the Malankara World Journal which has already secured the commendation of thousands of people worldwide. I deeply appreciate the efforts of Dr. Jacob Mathew in maintaining a high standard in providing the various information. On the release of the 200th edition, I must say, it is the fruit of the combined labor of a dedicated team who has been working diligently to provide rich spiritual nourishment to the readers of MWJ. ...

3. Felicitations to Malankara World on The Occasion of the Release of Two Centum Issue by Fr. Jose Daniel Paitel

Syriac literature is poetically very rich. We can find the richness of Theology, fragrance of the word of God, and illustration of magnanimity of the divine deity History of Ancient Church, life history and martyrdom of saints, etiquettes for different occasion relevant for every civilized community. ...

4. Two Centum Issue - Congratulations on This Major Milestone by Fr. Paul Thotakat

Malankara World journal is an excellent tool to educate our people about Christianity and its various practices. Each issue shows the dedication of the people behind this project. The journal is of the highest quality. Each issue challenges readers to go further in their spiritual journey; they are motivated to explore in-depth the spirituality of our church. ..

III "I am God..." - I am Statements of Jesus

5. The 'I am' statements of Jesus in John's Gospel - Introduction by Dr. Jacob Mathew

Theologians suggest that when Jesus used the phrase "I AM," He made specific revelations regarding His identity and nature. These revelations made it clear to all that He was claiming to be much more than a rabbi or prophet; Jesus claimed to be the Messiah - God in human form. ...

6. The Seven Signs and Seven 'I Am' Statements in John by Myke Harbuck

In the book of John we find Jesus demanding that we believe He is the Christ, the divine Son of God that was sent from Heaven. He makes these demands by making many comparisons to Himself, and by performing miracles that display not only His presence and power, but the presence and power of God. The comparisons are proclaimed in the seven "I AM" statements of Jesus, and the acts that show Him as the divine Son of God sent from Heaven are shown in the seven signs of Jesus. ...

7. The I AM statements of Jesus - Divinity of Jesus

Christ, who is called the exact image of the invisible Father, is the voice that the people heard. He then says that they search the Scriptures in them you think you have eternal life but they testify of me." The Son is said to be the eternal life with the Father. Scriptural proof in Gospel of John and other OT and NT writings on the Divinity of Jesus. ...

8. I am the Bread of Life

The first 'I am statement of Jesus' is found in John 6:35. Jesus had just fed 5000+ people. The next day, the people went looking for him. They caught up with Jesus and the disciples at Capernaum. Jesus knew why there were really looking for him. They came because Jesus did something for them - he fed them.

In ancient middle east, bread was more than just food; it held life together. Life was dependent on the success of the harvest, which, in turn, was dependent on the rains, which were dependent on God. So, bread was seen as being a gift from God. ...

By suggesting that he is the 'bread of life', Jesus is giving an invitation to move beyond religious activities and to enter into a nurturing and nourishing relationship with himself. What the people were looking for and what Jesus was offering were two very different things.

They were looking for a feed, and Jesus was offering life. Life with depth. Life that is eternal, not just in quantity but also in quality. Life that fulfils the purpose for which our Creator put us on the planet. Life that is transcendentally united with the life of Jesus, the I Am, and therefore a life that is one with God. ...

9. I am the Light of the World

Jesus was teaching people in the Temple courtyard. Along came a mob of religious big shots interrupting his lesson by dragging in a woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery. Jesus knew the hypocrisy. But he had to deal with the darkness of legalism and the darkness of the woman caught in adultery. This was the backdrop when Jesus pronounced his second "I am" statement in John 8:12 - "I am the light of the world"

Jesus said earlier in Sermon of the mount, "You are the light of the world." How are you and I the light of the world? We become the light of the world when we live in the light that Jesus gives. We become more like the moon than the sun. The sun gives off its own light. The moon reflects the light of the sun into a world still in darkness.

That does not mean you are perfect. What it does mean is that we make it our goal to reflect the light of Jesus right where we are. ...

10. I am the Gate

The third and fourth I am Statements can be found in John 10. It comes after Jesus healed a man born blind. The religious leaders quarreled with Jesus because Jesus healed the man on Sabbath day. After being confronted by angry religious leaders who were more interested in their power than in the plight of people, Jesus told them, “I am the gate and the good shepherd [John 10:9,11].

A door can be used to keep people out or in. The gate Jesus was claiming to be was a very special gate. He said he was the gate for the sheep. The gate to the sheep pen. The sheep-pen of Jesus' day had simply four low walls and a narrow opening. No gate. After all the sheep are inside, the shepherd will lie in the open space, and no sheep ever goes out but across his body, and no wolf comes in unless he crosses the shepherd's body; the shepherd is the door. Just like the shepherd protects his sheep from intruders and thieves, Jesus provides safety and security for the believers. ...

11. I am the Good Shepherd

The fourth "I am" statement follows immediately after the third in John chapter 10. Jesus, as the good shepherd, is a very popular subject for paintings, etc. After the Psalm 23, sheep and shepherd has become very popular.

The sheep and shepherd shares a great bond between themselves. The sheep trust its shepherd; they would respond to the voice of their shepherd. A shepherd would risk his life to protect his sheep. It is a great relationship just like the relationship between Jesus and his bride, the church.

Sheep need a shepherd. As long as you are in the position where you don't think you need a shepherd, you will not be in a position to hear the Shepherd's voice...

12. I am the Resurrection and the Life

The eleventh chapter of John records one of the most moving accounts from the life of Jesus. It is known as the "Raising of Lazarus." The chapter is very rich in theology, imagery and revealing the divine nature and human nature of Jesus. It has the shortest verse in the bible, 'Jesus wept.' It teaches us about intercessory prayer and how to pray. It also gives us the 'I am the Resurrection and the Life' in the backdrop of the cave where Lazarus was buried perhaps 4-6 days ago. ...

13. I am the Way, the Truth and the Life

We are coming close to the end. In John 13, Jesus meets with his disciples for The Last Supper. After washing the legs of the disciples to teach them about servant leadership, Jesus appears to bid them farewell. Peter asks him where he is going. Our guardian apostle of Malankara, St. Thomas, says, "God we have no clue where you are going!" Jesus replies with the I am statement we are discussing here: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me." This article is very rich. It gives a good account of St. Thomas. This also talk about "The Mission Statement of Jesus" and how we can be part of that effort. Very informative and moving. ...

14. I am the Vine

We come to the last of the seven I AM statements of Jesus in John's Gospel. We are in chapter 14 of John. The Last Supper is over. Jesus has instituted the Eucharist. Jesus told them that he only has very little time left and tells them, "Come, let us be going." They left the upper room where the Pes'ho was celebrated and are on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus would be arrested, when this discussion took place. They pass through several vineyards on the way and on this backdrop, Jesus tells the disciples the last of the I am statements, "I am the vine. You are the branches." Interestingly, in all the other I am statements Jesus talks about him only; but here he talks about the disciples as well and the expectations for them. Jesus shows the importance of being abiding in him, the necessity for pruning (when we undergo suffering) and the requirement that we produce fruit. .. What a marvelous way to end the series! ...

IV Prayer

15. Father, I Give Thee Thanks - Tutorial on Prayer from St. John by Fr. Mark

Saint John's Gospel is the divine and mystic Gospel. its every page shines with the brightness of the Face of Christ, revealing the glory of the Father. Its every page burns the fire of the Heart of Jesus revealing the Father's merciful love. Saint John's Gospel is alive with the prayer of Jesus to the Father. We can learn a lot about intercessory prayer from John 11, the Story of raising Lazarus. ...

16. On the Priestly Prayer of Jesus (John 17:1-26) by Pope Benedict XVI

We now turn to the priestly prayer which Jesus offered at the Last Supper (cf. Jn 17:1-26). Against the backdrop of the Jewish feast of expiation Yom Kippur, Jesus, Priest and Victim, prays that the Father will glorify Him in this, the hour of His sacrifice of reconciliation. He asks the Father to consecrate His disciples, setting them apart and sending them forth to continue His mission in the world. Christ also implores the gift of unity for all those who will believe in Him through the preaching of the apostles. His priestly prayer can thus be seen as instituting the Church, the community of the disciples who, through faith in Him, are made one and share in His saving mission. ...

17. Our Savior's Intercessory Prayer by Ralph Bouma

Our Savior's intercessory prayer in John 17:1 begins with "Father," which is a word of confidence and intimate love. Even as our Saviour prepares to appease His Father's just wrath upon the sins of His church by His humble obedience unto death, even the death of the cross (PHI 2:8) He demonstrates the sweet parent-son relationship between His Father and Himself. ...

18. Our Savior's Intercessory Prayer (John 17) by Ralph Bouma

Our Savior's intercessory prayer begins with "Father," which is a word of confidence that is unmovable. The word Father instills confidence in the heart of a child. A child has no concern of who is paying the taxes, the rent or the utility bills. He is confident that his father will provide for him. It demonstrates the sweet parental relationship of Him whom He addresses. ...

19. The Greatest Prayer Ever Prayed (John 17:1-26) by Mark A. Copeland

Jesus' prayer in John 17:1-26 is considered to be one of the greatest prayer ever prayed. What makes this prayer so great? At least four reasons can be given. First, the person who prayed. Second, the occasion of the prayer, Third, the contents of the prayer, and lastly the victory that is revealed in the prayer. After revealing himself to his disciples and to everyone else, who he is via his "I am statements", and telling the disciples that he is getting ready to face the passion, Jesus prays for the disciples as he winds down his public ministry. It is a moving prayer; we can learn a lot from it. It is truly amazing and awe-inspiring. ..

20. Our Prayer Life - Taught by Christ's Example by Ralph Bouma

John 17 is called the greatest prayer recorded in the Bible. We have analyzed it in the articles above and why it is a great model intercessory prayer. In this article, we examine what we can learn from this prayer about how to pray - not only the words, but the postures etc. When Jesus taught the disciples how to pray (The Lord's Prayer), he gave the words, not the posture. In John 17, we get both - the words as well as the posture. While reading this, think about the postures in our liturgy. ..

21. Lenten Reconciliation Pastoral Prayer [Sedro] Syriac Orthodox Church

Experience the beauty of the Syriac Orthodox Liturgy.

V For Reflection/Meditation

22. This is the Way, Walk In It

Sometimes, one word is all it takes to assure us the journey ahead is worth taking. Sometimes, the one word that's hardest to believe is that we are beloved. As is. ...

23. Hold Him in Your Endearing Thought

Cover Him in the evening; evenings turn eternal dawns;
Offer Him the mantle; the mantle of your heart shall adorn His altar. ..

24. Step Forward. Come.

There's nothing quite so beautiful as hydrangeas at rest near twilight. There are so many dreams we carry, songs we have yet to sing. It's never too late. .. A reflection based on the healing of the man with the withered hand. (Mark 3:1-7)

25. Plant. And Let Me Be Your Shade.

Jesus longs to show you He understands how you feel and all you're thinking through - by bringing you back to a time He could have spoken with you face to face...

26. Thirsty For God...A Sunday Meditation

A meditation on Psalm 42. What a way to depict our thirst for the love and presence of God.

What happened to the Psalmist? How did he get to this place of desperation? It could be unconfessed sin, but the text doesn't say anything like that. Perhaps he had gotten sick, or was tired or discouraged. We are more than Spiritual beings, sometimes the physical can be a huge factor in our wellbeing. ...

VI Christian Life

27. Slave to Christ, Free in the Spirit by William G. Carter

Human animals fall into some kind of slavery or another. Something or someone is always yanking at our chains. The season of Lent is a good time to survey our own slavery. What are the bad habits that shackle us? That prevent us from joy and grace? And where are the injustices where somebody holds unnecessary power over somebody else? Where are people exploited by the forces of destructiveness? These are important questions for the apostle Paul. Christ comes to make us free. Whatever that means, wherever it matters most, Jesus is our liberation. ...

28. A Love So Great It Seems Like Hate? by Carl E. Olson

I recently read a column by a young Christian who expressed frustration with the saying, "Love the sinner, hate the sin." She wrote that this seemed to make sense initially but, she added, "I started to wonder why we need to hate at all. Certainly, Jesus didn't teach that. Jesus was all about love." She went a step further, saying, "When we start hating, whether it is a person or an action, we stop recognizing the dignity in the other person, which makes it easy to oppress them." ...

29. American Poor, the Gospel, and Social Justice by Greg Stier

I know American poverty. I was raised in it and reared by it. To me poverty is not a theoretical subject for the seminary classroom, but the shaper of many of my childhood memories. Yes, we had people that helped us along the way, including my grandparents. But mom paid back every loan she ever got from them and the stress of it all took a huge toll on her.

But in the midst of all this, Jesus came walking in and changed everything. Through a variety of crazy circumstances my entire family ended up coming to Christ over a few short years. ...

30. Three Excuses Keeping You from Making a Difference by Paul Tripp

Apart from an active faith in God's sovereignty and grace, it's easy to throw up our hands and adopt a "What's the use?" mentality. If it's going to be so hard to make really significant improvements, what does it matter if things deteriorate a little further?

We could all come up with lots of good reasons to remain passive. The problems seem too numerous, and many seem too large. You see yourself as one little person, in one little place, at one little moment in time, and it just doesn't seem logical that you could make any difference at all. ...

31. Care Free Christianity by Thabiti Anyabwile

We may live an anxiety-free Christian life. That is not to say we may live a life with no suffering or hardship. The people Peter wrote to were experiencing great suffering and struggling to understand it all. This word of comfort comes to the suffering and the worried, people with reason (humanly speaking) to be anxious. And it says simply, "Cast all your anxieties upon Him because He cares for you." Trade your worries for God's care through Christ. ...

VII Love

32. To Be Loved by God by Fr. Michael Nasser

Can one sermon change your life? I did not think so, but then it happened to me. The day I heard that sermon was the day I saw everything differently. The difference between what I knew before and what I came to know was huge. At the same time, the difference was also very subtle and seemingly small. ...

33. I Love, Therefore I Am by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

Who am I? The answer is not at all obvious. My personhood as a human being ranges widely over space and time. And indeed it reaches out beyond space into infinity, and beyond time into eternity. Our human personhood is created, but it transcends the created order. I am called to be a "partaker of the divine nature," as Peter said in his second letter. I am called to share, that is to say, in the uncreated energies of the living God. Our human vocation is theosis deification, divinization. As St. Basil the Great says, "The human being is a creature that is called to become God." ...

34. The Extraordinary Love of God by Very Rev. Father Antony Hughes

Neuroscience has shown how spiritual practice can literally effect positive change on the levels of the tiniest cells and neurons in the brain. New neural pathways are opened through the practice of meditation and prayer that alter the brain in amazing ways. St. Paul’s admonition to think only on beautiful things intuits what modern science has discovered. It is healthy to dwell on good things and unhealthy to dwell on ugly things. Fear produces fear. Anger produces anger. Prejudice produces more prejudice. Violence begets violence. War produces more war. Who doesn't know this at least in theory? ...

35. What does it really mean to say that 'God is Love' by Fr. Robert Barron

God does not love us as we are accustomed to love each other. God does not love us because we deserve it or because we have earned it or because we have something that God needs that he lacks in his own nature. Instead, God is love. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is trying to make this point visually as its verbal expression seems at times harder to understand. Understanding all this is one thing. Accepting it is another. ..

36. How to Leave a Legacy by Glynnis Whitwer

Quietly and consistently, they showed their grandson love. Their never-wavering faith was an anchor. Their unconditional love was like water to a thirsty child. Their integrity was a light on a hill to a lost boy. Amel and Elise Whitwer gave hope to a young boy; hope that there was more to God and to this life than what he knew. Moreover, Tod learned that Christianity was something you lived out every day, not just on Sundays.

Through the faith of two humble people, my husband and I learned that God's most effective influence often comes in quiet ways. God can change a life, and a generation of lives, using gentle, consistent, sincere people who love and serve Him. ...

VIII Faith/Sacraments

37. What is Repentance and Confession in Orthodoxy? By Monk Moses of Holy Mountain

Repentance is a freely-willed, internally cultivated process of contrition and sorrow for having distanced ourselves from God through sin. True repentance has nothing to do with intolerable pain, excessive sorrow and relentless guilty feelings. That would not be sincere repentance, but a secret egotism, a feeling of our "ego" being trampled on; an anger that is directed at our self, which then wreaks revenge because it is exposing itself and is put to shame - a thing that it cannot tolerate.

Repentance means a change in our thoughts, our mentality; it is an about-face; it is a grafting of morality and an abhorrence of sin. Repentance also means a love of virtue, benevolence, and a desire, a willingness and a strong disposition to be re-joined to Christ through the Grace of the almighty Holy Spirit. ...

38. The Feasts and the Eucharist in Orthodox Church By Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk

St. Gregory teaches that every church feast should be for a believer a new step on the way to perfection, a new insight into the life and redemptive feat of Jesus. In the same oration, the saint stresses that a Christian feast does not consist in arranging banquets, eating plenty of sumptuous food and drinking costly wines. For a believer, a feast is to come to church and enjoy the word of God in it. ..

The Eucharist is not just a remembrance of the Golgotha sacrifice but its continued reproduction, as evidenced by the texts of the Eucharistic prayers. These prayers are filled with the theme of sacrifice which is offered 'for each and all', which again brings the Eucharist together with the old temple worship centered on sacrifice. ...

39. The Eucharist by Sebastian R. Fama

Jesus is the sacrificial lamb of the New Covenant. The Old Covenant sacrifice prefigured the New Covenant sacrifice. Both include a partaking of the sacrifice to signify participation in its effects. ...

40. Going to Mass Should be a Life-Changing Event by Pope Francis

Going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist should make a difference in the way Catholics live, Pope Francis said; they should be more accepting of others and more aware of their sinfulness.

"If we don't feel in need of God's mercy and don't think we are sinners, it's better not to go to Mass," Pope Francis said Wednesday at his weekly general audience. The Eucharist is a celebration of Christ's gift of himself for the salvation of sinners, which is why the Mass begins with people confessing they are sinners and begging for the Lord's mercy. ...

IX Christian Persecution

41. Abduction of Two Orthodox Bishops in Syria and the Global Persecution of Christians by Dr. Jacob Mathew

This is the time for all of us to come forward and pray for the abducted bishops and clergy in Middle East and for the Christians undergoing persecution throughout the world.

During our lenten prayers, please remember to light a candle to go along with your supplication for the Metropolitans' safe, dignified and speedy release.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said: "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act." ...

42. Pope Francis: There are Christians Nowadays Condemned for Having a Bible

Pope Francis warned that the Cross is always present on the road of a Christian!" We will have many brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers in the Church, in the Christian community, but we also will have persecutions.

"This is because the world does not tolerate the divinity of Christ. It doesn't tolerate the preaching of the Gospel. It does not tolerate the Beatitudes. And so we have persecutions: with words, with insults, the things that they said about Christians in the early centuries, the condemnations, imprisonment….

43. We Must Stand up for Middle East's Persecuted Christians by Johnnie Moore

Christianity began in the East, not the West, yet today Christians in the East are enduring an all-out-assault by Islamic terrorists, while Christians in the West live their lives largely oblivious to it all. This has to change.

This is no imaginary persecution; in Syria alone there have been reports of kidnappings, Christian communities intentionally displaced by militants and, worst of all, shootings and beheadings of Christians who refused to convert to Islam.

In Egypt radicals have recently destroyed dozens of churches, and the once vibrant Christian population in Iraq has been decimated. ...

44. Karnataka, Maharashtra Top Attacks on Christians

Maharashtra has witnessed among the largest number of communal attacks on Christians in 2013, second only to Karnataka, says a recently-released report by the Catholic Secular Forum (CSF). Across the country, the report points at 4,000-odd offenses aimed at Christians, with 400 clergy and 100 churches attacked in a year. ...

45. Briton's Minister Warns That Persecution of Christians in Middle East Has Become a 'Global Crisis' by Hannah Roberts

The bitterest irony of this persecution - ostracism, discrimination, abuse, forced conversion, torture and even murder - is that it is taking place in a region where Christianity has its roots.

Sometimes these cases are examples of collective punishment: people lashing out at Christian minorities in response to events happening many miles away. Other times, a Christian is just a convenient 'other' - a scapegoat. The threat to religious freedom has become a global crisis. ...

X Suffering

46. Jesus Wept by Ryan Duncan

What really struck me the first time I heard this story was that God really did understand the pain of losing someone. I realized that for a long time I'd had a false view of Jesus. I'd always pictured him as this tall, soft-spoken man who was completely serene no matter what the world threw at him. I didn't understand that when God became a man he embraced all human sensation, even the ones that hurt...

47. Why God Makes It Hard When It Ought to be Easy by Dr. Ray Pritchard

I submit that David's life is a pattern of how God deals with his children. It helps us understand why God makes it hard when it ought to be easy. Why do godly men get passed over for promotions? Why do some people reel from one catastrophe to another? Why do some women struggle for years to overcome the memories of their past? Why do so many people have to wait so long for something really good to happen in their lives? And why do some churches seem to take three steps forward and two steps back?

The episodes in David's life we have just discussed demonstrate four steps God is taking when he makes it hard when it ought to be easy. ..

48. The Value Of Suffering by Mother M. Angelica

God does not will that I suffer, just as He did not will that Adam and Eve sin. But since they sinned and I inherit the weaknesses that are a result of that sin, I do and always will have something to endure. Christ's Redemption merited for me a participation in His Divine Nature as God through grace, and a participation in His sufferings as Man, through the Cross. ...

49. The Discipline of Darkness by Adrian Rogers

There are times in a Christian's life when the lights just seem to go out and we enter a season of darkness. When faced with calamity and nothing makes sense, the first question we ask is, "Why did God let this happen?" We feel we can bear just about anything if we only knew why. But what we need to ask is HOW. How are we going to respond?

We might as well admit it - Christians are often left in the dark. As you read this, you may be at the deathbed of a child. You may be going through financial distress. You may be enduring misrepresentation and disgrace or have a broken heart because of a broken home. The question haunts you - why? ....

50. How to Conquer Discouragement by Felicia Alvarez

In our fallen world, we're constantly bombarded with situations that tempt us to complain about how tough our lives are. Sometimes our troubles are miniscule (like traffic or a cranky boss), but other times they are genuinely difficult and can be quite discouraging (like an abusive spouse or a dying loved one). Our worries can weigh us down and cloud our perspective, causing us to forget ...

51. Why Suffering? by Jill Carattini

Again and again Luke points out the necessity of Jesus' suffering, long before he is approaching the cross. I was nonetheless left with a plaguing question for God - or Jesus along the road to Emmaus. Why was it necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into glory, as he tells the men as they walk toward Emmaus? Why was Christ's suffering a matter of "divine necessity"? ...

XI Discipleship - Servant Leadership

52. Selfless Service - The Highest Accolade by Dr. Joe McKeever

... I thought of Paul's words about young Pastor Timothy: "I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare." All the others, Paul said, are looking out for number one. The example of an ENT surgeon is used to explain what selfless service means. ..

53. Greatness in God's Sight by Dr. Stephen Felker

Do you aspire to greatness, or a great heavenly reward? Would you like to be on top? It is characteristic of human nature to seek position, authority, power, and praise. We want to be served and tell others what to do. Most all of us want to be king of our own little kingdom, whether it is a family, or circle of friends, or business, or even our church. Well, Jesus has much to say about that attitude. ...

Don't you want to be great in the Kingdom of God? Instead of reckoning greatness by how many servants you have, Christ reckons greatness by how many you serve. Are you a servant? Do you have a servant's heart? Let us serve to meet the needs of others, to help them bear burdens, or to ease suffering. ...

54. Developing Nobodies in a Celebrity Culture by Stephen Miller

Discipleship is hard work. It's inconvenient. And often, it involves giving up platform opportunities. But it's what we have been called to do by the great Disciple-Maker who called out a bunch of nobodies and poured into them so that He could use them to change the world for his glorious name's sake.

The leaders of tomorrow are in our churches today and Jesus cares about them. We should, too. ...

55. Jesus Gives It to Us Straight - Discipleship won't Be Easy by James MacDonald

Following Christ is not easy. Our Lord never hid that fact. But following Him is best. We're not sugarcoating anything here. The Christian life is not always smooth going, but it is exactly what we were designed to do and be. It's the real life. It's the best life you can possibly have: giving your life to Jesus Christ, living for Him, obeying His Word, fellowshipping with His people, and serving in His kingdom. ..

56. The Strange Math of Jesus: Emptying Himself by Adding Human Nature by Bruce Ware

Whereas the eternal Son of the Father, the second person of the Trinity, had no beginning and will have no end, the incarnate Son - the son of David, the son of Mary, the Messiah - had a beginning in time and space. This Son, (1) Jesus the Christ, was brought into being through the power of the Holy Spirit, as the divine nature of the eternal Son was miraculously joined together with a created human nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary. ...

57. A Suffering Servant: The Letters of Mother Teresa by Chuck Colson

What do the letters of Mother Teresa reveal? For one, they reveal the true cost of discipleship. To follow Christ is to embrace suffering and the Cross. And, at times, to say with Jesus, "My God, my God, why did you abandon me?" ...

Certainly Mother Teresa took on the suffering of the world just as her Lord had done. And she demonstrated a kind of faith that few ever experience. But hers is a faith that will be a lasting witness to the world. ...

58. Mother Teresa's Letters Show Heroic Spiritual Struggle - Vatican

The spiritual struggles of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, powerfully conveyed in a forthcoming book, are not evidence of any lack of faith, but an indication of her heroic struggle, a prominent Vatican cardinal has argued. ...

Cardinal Herranz noted that leading mystics such as St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross wrote extensively about the "dark night of the soul." Their spiritual trials reflect the agony of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, he said. They should be recognized, the Spanish cardinal added, as "a test of greatness of faith." ...

XII Poems

59. Lord, I need you by George and Ira Gershwin

60. A Thought of Comfort by Dr. Mercy Abraham

61. In Search of Light by Sunitha Jijo Flowerhill

62. Praise him! Praise him! Jesus, our blessed redeemer!

63. Spurgeon's Prayer

XIII Inspirational

64. What I Have Learned in Life by Andy Rooney

Andy Rooney had the gift of saying so much with so few words. ...

65. Take A Look In The Mirror by Wes Hopper

The body, like everything else, is a mirror of our thoughts and beliefs.

66. Azim Premji's Lessons in Life

Nine lessons.

67. Seven Steps to Achieving Your Dream!

Can achievement be broken down into steps? Well, it isn't always that clean and easy, but I do know that those who achieve great things usually go through much of the same process, with many of the items listed below as part of that process. So if you have been struggling with achievement, look through the following and internalize the thoughts presented. Then begin to apply them. You will be on the road to achieving your dream! ...

XIV Career/Business

68. What Makes Your Business/Service So Special? by Bedros Keuilian

Your reputation and the service that you provide are the only things that separate you from your competitors.

I hear a LOT of talk about setting yourself apart and creating differentiation in your business, but I don't see enough business owners doing what needs to be done in order to truly set themselves apart. ...

69. The Success Code by Saju Skaria

If you want to become a winner you were born to be, you need to change your daily actions until they become a habit. The fact that you created a vision and understand the true value and purpose of that vision will energize you and give you personal motivation you need to finish well and achieve exceptional results....

70. The Right Way to Learn from Your Mistakes By Bonnie Tsui

To err may be human, but "we're still afraid to admit when we've been wrong - it feels like an indictment of our self-worth," says Kristin Neff, PhD, associate professor of human development and culture at the University of Texas at Austin. This is unfortunate, because according to recent research, acknowledging our slipups is critical to recovering from them. ...

71. Sand - Fighting Over Trivial Things by Kindra Hall

On more than one occasion I have found myself entirely wrapped up, fighting and frustrated, stomping around barefoot trying to stake my claim on a tiny, insignificant pile of sand - the sand of relationships, the sand of social status or money, the sand of a career… whatever. I have been deeply consumed in games of King of the Mini Mound that leave me oblivious to the beautiful beaches around me. Beaches with unlimited sand, possibility, and happiness. We've all been there. Investing our energy in small things while the big ones lay untouched on the other side of the sidewalk. ...

XV Family

72. The Story of the Dysfunctional Family by William G. Carter

If you read the Bible, you won't find a lot of healthy families there.

And one message that it repeats is that the human family is a great big mess. A sloppy, disastrous mess. That's why the nations rise and fall. That's why no king or queen has permanent tenure. That's why greedy people devour the weak and needy. We are a mess. And this gets played out in our families.

Whatever else we say about this famous story of Jesus (Prodigal Son), it's a story about a messed-up family. ...

73. A Father's Influence Extends to Generations By Rev. Mark H. Creech

There's no escaping it. Dads either build a place of blessing for their children, or they build a prison. They either grow weeds - or roses. Whatever the case, their influence extends to generations. ...

74. 40 Lessons We Sought to Teach Our Children by Dennis and Barbara Rainey

I will never forget that incredible moment when our daughter Ashley was born. The doctor cleaned her up and handed her to us. I (Dennis) wanted to blurt out, "Thanks for the gift, but where are the instructions?" When we started out, we had a few ideas of what it meant to be a parent and raise children. Two years later we added a son and we realized that we had better become intentional about what we wanted to do as parents and teach our children. ...

75. Ten Principles to Keep Christ at the Center of Your Home by Mary May Larmoyeux

Jesus Christ came to earth to fulfill a purpose. During our marriage my husband and I have grown in our relationship with the Lord and with one another. If we will practice the following principles, Christ - and His purposes for our lives - will truly be at the center of our home. ...

76. Anger and Relationships by John UpChurch

In marriage, the status quo is always safer. We get into routines, and we like how comfortable the ordinary feels. When something disrupts the normal flow, guys especially want to just move it out of the way and get back to flowing again. Meanwhile, our wives are still upset, and nothing has been dealt with. ...

XVI Health

77. Mediterranean Diet Lowers Type 2 Diabetes

Even without weight loss, adhering to a diet rich in fresh produce, chicken, fish and olive oil is 40 percent more effective in heading off the development of Type 2 diabetes than following a low-fat diet, a new study has found.

The research suggests that for the nation's 78 million obese adults, a diet that minimizes red meat and sweets but incorporates plant-based fats may be a sustainable way to improve health - even if permanent weight reduction proves elusive. ..

78. Mental Illness: A Real and Authentic Social Health Care Emergency by Pope Benedict XVI

Mental disturbance now afflicts one-fifth of mankind and constitutes a real and authentic social health care emergency.

On the World Day of the Sick, I would like to pause to reflect on the situation of the mentally ill in the world and to call for the commitment of the Church communities to bear witness to the tender mercy of God towards them. ..

79. Three Weapons against Anxiety

Paul uses three words to describe the way we're to fight anxiety - prayer, petition, and thanksgiving. ...

80. Vitamin D Helps to Regulate Three Genes Involved in Autism by John Cannell, MD

Using the University of California-Santa Cruz's genome browser, the authors identified three genes that are abnormally expressed in autism. They report that all three genes are directly regulated by vitamin D. That is, the three genes have a vitamin D response element on the gene. This means that vitamin D is one of the hormones that controls expression of that gene. ...

81. Better Sleep Without Pills by Harvard Health Letters

If you often have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you might have thought about trying sleeping pills. Although these medicines can help you drift off to sleep, they also can have side effects, including an increased risk for falls and morning drowsiness that can make next-day driving dangerous. That's why in January, the U.S Food and Drug Administration began requiring manufacturers to lower the recommended dosage of hypnotic sleep aids containing zolpidem (such as Ambien).  ...

XVII Cooking -- Recipes

82. Recipe: Greek Yogurt

83. Recipe: Egg Curry

84. Recipe: Gluten Free Pumpkin Bread Pudding

85. Recipe: Vegetable Kichadi

XVIII About Malankara World

I Foreword

1. Introduction to Two Centum Issue and Mission of Malankara World

by Dr. Jacob Mathew, Editor-in-Chief, Malankara World

Five years ago, it was just an idea; today we are celebrating a milestone.

This is a historical occasion - at least for me. When I had the gleam in my eyes about doing something to help our family and our young as well as old members of the church to learn more about our liturgy, sacraments, and above all, the Bible, I didn't foresee publishing a Journal. What I visualized at that was to develop a library for information about Christianity, and then organize teleconferences and online study fellowships. I also wanted to push the premarital counseling as well as ongoing post marital counseling where our family can come together and share their experiences, successes and failures and receive help from their peers. Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran Churches do this. Our church has little or none of what I call Pastoral Ministry - helping our people with their problems. Yes, we do realize that the family is the 'cornerstone' of our church.

Jesus Christ knew that people have both spiritual as well as physical needs. A church should provide both (actually three - mind, body and spirit). When Jesus returned from the desert after his 40 days fasting, Satan tempted him knowing that he was hungry (physical need). But Jesus rebuffed him pointing out that man needs spiritual "manna" too, not just the physical bread. On the other hand, when he was teaching the huge assembly in the deserted area and it was getting dark, the disciples pleaded with Jesus to let them go so that they will be able to procure the food from the neighboring villages. Jesus asked the disciples to provide them the meal. Jesus, again, showed us that when we satisfied our spiritual hunger, as was the case with the multitude, we still need to satisfy our physical needs for completeness. We need both.

Jesus took care of the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of his sheep. Our church should do the same! We cannot sit in isolation claiming that the role of the church is limited to providing spiritual food only. Rev. Fr. Jose Daniel Paitel (one of the most forward looking priests I have came across in our church with a great expertise in Syriac, our liturgy, traditions and history) had written an excellent article about the state of our youth in USA - some of the problems and issues facing them. (Priests hear about problems we are not privy to.) After reading his article (prepared for this issue, by the way), I convinced achen that we should defer publishing that article to an upcoming issue of the Journal where we can highlight the issues rather than getting lost in a volume like Two Centum Issue with over 85 articles spanning 16 themes. You will have an opportunity to voice your opinion on this important issue soon.

Pope Francis understands the importance of providing the pastoral ministry to the Families. He is very concerned with the problems of divorce and breakup of families. In Catholic Church, divorce is not permitted; only annulment. This is a big problem for many. He has called a special synod/council to discuss the issue, explore options available and recommend solutions - what should the church do in this regard? I have talked about this idea (pastoral ministry) to our Archbishop Yeldo Mor Theethose thirumeni several times. Thirumeni, to his credit, through Very Rev. Abraham Kadavil Cor episcopose (Baltimore, MD) (Kadavil achen), has organized a special session in the Family Conference in 2013 discussing the issues facing our families by several professionals. As a follow up, Kadavil achen is leading an effort to introduce pastoral ministry in the Malankara Archdiocese in North America. That definitely is a great step forward. I talked to Joseph Mor Gregorios thirumeni of Kochi (Kochu Thirumeni) about the post marital counseling and he was interested to explore it further. Our Thomas Mor Themotheos Thirumeni of Kottayam, who is a pioneer in developing the pre-marital counseling program in our church, is also interested in post marital counseling. His Grace has been collecting resource material from the Catholic Church and from others to kick start the program.

I talked to several priests in our church about the problems and challenges we will face in doing this (post marital counseling). Fr. Thomas Kurian, who had been heavily involved in the Premarital Counseling Program in Kottayam Diocese (currently in Chicago), told me that the main challenge will be the reluctance of the people to attend a session focused on improving marriage -  they are afraid that others may get the impression that their marriage is in trouble. This definitely is a problem. We are too worried about our image and dig our head in sand like an Ostrich, thinking that the problem will go away. It won't. It only gets worse, ultimately breaking up the family. The way to take care of a problem is to nip it in bud - before it gets too big. I remember that in my childhood days, mental illness was considered as something that should be buried under the rug under any cost. We called the mental health hospital as "Oolan para". If somebody had psychiatric issues, he or she would be locked in a room and then get married (with a mistaken notion that marriage will cure all ills.) Although we came a long way from those days, the prejudice against mental illness is still there in our community. Our priests can be valuable tool for removing this mistaken notion. They should encourage people to go for counseling or treatment if needed. (Of course, this will require that our priests should have some training in Pastoral Counseling.) Ignoring a problem won't make it go away; it only makes it worse. We need to attack this problem head-on.

Another area our church has neglected is the commandment of Jesus to evangelize. Jesus commanded:

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.
Matthew 28:19-20

And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
Luke 24:47

If we want to be a vibrant church, we need to bring in new people to the church and have programs to keep them coming back to church like pastoral counseling, bible studies, Sunday School for children, adult classes and fellowship, etc. etc. Studies have shown that new people bring new blood, new ideas and overall are more excited about the church than the old people, with their ideas and beliefs entrenched. I hope that we can provide leadership in these areas. ...

I hope that we can provide leadership in these areas.

The Two Centum Issue had been in the planning stages for a few months. Although the souvenir edition has multiple themes, I wanted an overwhelming theme. Initially, the choice was the 'Persecution of Christians' and the related theme of 'Suffering in Christian Life'. This is an important subject especially since one of our bishops is still under abduction in Syria. This subject is covered well in this issue. You can learn about the plight of Christian communities from the places where the Original Christians walked. There is a real danger that Christianity may be wiped out from these areas. Unfortunately, no one cares about what is happening there. Don't we know that it is only a matter of time before it catches up with us? But then it may be too late.

The main theme of this issue is the "I am Sayings of Jesus." This is an important theology. Gospel of John is harder to read than the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke (especially compared to the wonderful stories, imageries and discourses such as Magnificat found in Luke). So, the long passages in John are not paid much attention to - especially in the sermons or in conventions. In His 'I am statements' Jesus is telling us about his nature and Godliness any why is the Messiah. (An orthodox Jew will faint when he hears 'I AM' - "I am who Iam - what God told Moses at the burning bush. They will not even write GOD fully; they will write G-D instead.) After I went through and studied these 'I am statements', which are completely ignored by our church, I realized that virtually the whole Gospel is covered in these statements of Jesus. My original plan was to describe the various statements by different authors. But I came to the realization that having the perspective of one person will provide the continuity and clarity to this theme as opposed to multiple authors. So, all the individual "I am" statements are explained by "Door of Hope" from Australia, one of the best expositions I have came across. We need to know the context in which Jesus made these statements. We also have to have an understanding of the society, the customs and practices prevalent at that time to really understand what Jesus is saying in these 'Iam' statements. For example, unless we know that the sheep is kept in a pen enclosed by a low height wall with a narrow opening without the door and that the shepherd lies down blocking the path effectively acting as a door, we won't have a clue as to what Jesus said by "I am the Door." These statements come alive in these articles.

The reflections/meditations are something new in Malankara World Journal. Please take your time with those. As we are in Great Lent, these come very handy for our introspection.

Another subject I hardly ever heard discussed in Church is the Intercessional Prayer of Jesus as described in John 17. This is the true Lord's prayer. The Lord's prayer we use today is truly a disciple's prayer. It was given by Lord (Jesus) to his disciples so they can pray to God - a model prayer for disciples. It is not something Jesus used. Jesus used the prayer in John 17 as well as in John 11:41-42. These two passages give us a course on how to practice intercessory prayers - not only the content, but also how to pray - pose, eyes, head, etc. Due to the importance of this, multiple articles are given explaining this - usually a short version is followed by a longer version. This should become a great resource for improving our own prayer habit.

As always, we love to hear from you. I want to thank Theethose Thirumeni, Paul Thotakat achen and Jose Daniel Paitel achen for responding quickly to the request for articles. Paitel achen, especially, had been just phenomenal. I can ask him something at midnight and I will receive something back from him by email at 2 AM! (I guess, we two don't sleep!) I also want to thank the advisory and editorial boards of the Malankara World for the assistance and support.

Please pray for the mission of Malankara World so that we can help our people and our church on our journey to eternity.

Dr. Jacob Mathew
Malankara World

II Introduction

Message from His Eminence Mor Titus Yeldho, Patron
His Eminence Mor Titus Yeldho, Archbishop
MALANKARA ARCHDIOCESE
of the Syriac Orthodox Church in North America
(Under the Holy Apostolic Throne of Antioch and All the East)

Archbishop Mor Titus Yeldho
Patriarchal Vicar

By the Grace of God

March 4, 2014

As we enter another period of the Great Lent, it is vital for us to understand the importance of Lent and fasting in our lives so we may reap the full benefits that the harvest has to offer. Lent and fasting is an essential part of our Church life. Many criticize its necessity and inconvenience in this modern day.

During the Old Testament times, fasting was observed to express grief. After the incarnation and the sacrificial passion and death of Jesus on the cross and the triumphal resurrection, the fasting has taken a different meaning for Christians. Fasting is now is a way to focus on God and prayer. Such a focus was Jesus Christ's intent during his 40-day fast in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-2). In preparation for His public ministry, Jesus intensified his prayer with the addition of fasting.

Fasting is set as spiritual preparation for an experience of deeper communion with God. Each person is a unity of body and soul. Prayer benefits not only our soul but also our body. Similarly, fasting helps not only our body but also our soul. Fasting and prayer make us more sensitive to God's personal presence. Thus fasting from foods must be accompanied by fasting from evil. As St. John Chrysostom states, "It is folly to abstain all day long from food, if you fail to abstain from sin and selfishness." Fasting is always associated with prayer and alms giving as spiritual awareness to take a person's attachment away from the world and focus it on God and Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

Let us labor diligently in fasting for it is the weapon with which those who are perfected in Christ won victory.

By fasting, Moses' face became shining.
By fasting, Joshua withheld the sun and the moon in the firmament.
By fasting, Daniel won victory over the beasts.
By fasting, Hananiah and his companions quenched the flames.
By fasting, Elijah was lifted to the heavens.
By fasting, our Lord taught His Church to conquer the evil one.
By fasting, the just were glorified and the martyrs were crowned.
By fasting, may our Lord hear our supplications and have mercy upon our souls.

Remember to spend more time in prayer, reading of the Holy Scripture and on meditation. Get ready for a true Confession to unload our burden and to continue the journey in a spirit-filled manner.

I am indeed proud to introduce the 200th issue of the Malankara World Journal which has already secured the commendation of thousands of people worldwide. I deeply appreciate the efforts of Dr. Jacob Mathew in maintaining a high standard in providing the various information. On the release of the 200th edition, I must say, it is the fruit of the combined labor of a dedicated team who has been working diligently to provide rich spiritual nourishment to the readers of MWJ.

I wish all success to the Two Centum edition of the Malankara World Journal and all the forthcoming editions of the Journal. May God richly bless those who are working behind this and those who read them.

+Archbishop Theethose Yeldho

May God bless You,

+ Archbishop Theethose Yeldho

Felicitations to Malankara World on The Occasion of the Release of Two Centum Issue

Rev. Fr. Jose Daniel Paitel

By Rev. Fr. Jose Daniel Paitel
Malankara World Board Member

I am happy to learn that Malankara World has crossed another historic mark – releasing the 200th issue of Malankara World Journal.

Malankara World is the fruit produced out of the silver jubilee celebrations of the Malankara Arch diocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church in North America. Dr. Jacob Mathew was one among the coordinators working behind the success of that Mega event. There was a team of more than 110 powerful personalities of different aptitudes, from all walks of life like Scientists, Journalists, Engineers, Doctors, Executives, Management Professionals, Business Magnets and so on. It was a tremendous effort spending at least 10,000 human hours and costing over half a million dollars without spending a penny as its initiation cost!

But Dr. Jacob Mathew and Malankara World was the only one born out of that mega venture. Malankara World is his brain child dedicated to the service of Triune God and His Holy Church. I appreciate this noble effort. Dr. Jacob Mathew knew the power of Electronic Media and its influence on the future generation worldwide. Our Church is still struggling with its goal of Evangelization and its survival.

Syriac literature is poetically very rich. We can find the richness of Theology, fragrance of the word of God, and illustration of magnanimity of the divine deity History of Ancient Church, life history and martyrdom of saints, etiquettes for different occasion relevant for every civilized community. But modern day Christians are unaware about it. Even the Christians of Syriac Orthodox origin are quite far from it. That is because of the lack of a link between the Syriac language and other western or modern languages. Syriac literature was engulfed in the monastery and monks delivered all these writings are not able to publish it to other languages and they never tried to circulate it. Dr. Jacob Mathew realized the situation and trying to solve it in every possible manner. This is the genesis of the Malankara World.

Every week, Malankara World Journal comes to our mail boxes without any delay to feed everyone in all corners of the world. There are articles of varied interests by various spiritually filled personalities. Study materials for theological students, sermon help for ministers and pastors, hymns, health, humor and cooking tips also.

It is indeed a proud moment that the Malankara World Journal is now publishing its bicentennial issue in the service of Christianity worldwide. May God almighty shower His blessings to everyone involved in this endeavor and continue this service in the future. May God bless you all.

With Prayers,
Rev. Fr. Jose Daniel Paitel

Two Centum Issue - Congratulations on This Major Milestone

Rev. Fr. Paul Thotakat

by Rev. Fr. Paul Thotakat
Vicar, St. Mary's Syriac Orthodox Church, Carrollton, Dallas, TX
Member, Malankara Archdiocese of Syriac Orthodox Church Archdiocesan Council

I am very excited to learn that Malankara World Journal is crossing another milestone - the publication of the Issue 200 (Two Centum Issue).

I had been an admirer of the Malankara World and its Journal from its inception. It is a tremendous asset to our church.

Malankara World journal is an excellent tool to educate our people about Christianity and its various practices. Each issue shows the dedication of the people behind this project. The journal is of the highest quality. Each issue challenges readers to go further in their spiritual journey; they are motivated to explore in-depth the spirituality of our church.

Most of the days, my to-do list outpaces my workday. As I sort through the various materials with a list of questions in my mind - Is this worth spending time on? Should it be a top priority? Malankara World journal falls in the 'worthy' side as it is always mindful of its core educational purpose. It takes enormous time for editing, designing, and preparing the contents of each issue for publication.

Each issue of the journal has stories of people or issues that are of interest to them to further their Christian Life. I am especially excited about the emphasis on the family in Malankara World. This type of material wouldn’t be available through commercial media. They are independent, international, and inspiring to traverse the unknown. The timely reminder of syirac orthodox liturgical calendar and timeless explanations of its doctrines along with practical lessons for daily life makes this journal a unique resource.

I am sure that the Two Centum Issue of Malankara World Journal will be a valued addition to my reference library. May the Lord enable you to continue this mission for the benefit of current and future generations.

III "I am God..." - I am Statements of Jesus

The 'I am' statements of Jesus in John's Gospel - Introduction

by Dr. Jacob Mathew, Editor-in-Chief, Malankara World

In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes seven references to Himself using "I am" and an imagery that explains his nature/role. They are:

1) I am the bread of life. - John 6:35, 48

2) I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. - John 8:12

3) I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. - John 10:9

4) I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. - John 10:11

5) I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. - John 11:25

6) I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. - John 14:6

7) I am the true vine: and my Father is the husbandman. - John 15:1

An eighth one is sometimes added:

8) Before Abraham was, I am - John 8:58

We will discuss this later.

Here is one way to study these 'I am' statements and to personalize them:

For each "I am", read the entire bible passage and the context in which Jesus made the statement (before and after those statements) and main point of each one. The context may give additional insight. For example, Jesus made the statement, "I am the resurrection and Life' standing near the tomb of Lazarus just before He was raised from the dead. The statement "I am the true vine" was made just after the Last Supper and the institution of Eucharist, where Jesus stated that this vine will be his blood that will be shed for the remission of sins. They were on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane through some vine yards. What a backdrop to explain this concept! Similarly all other "I am statements" have a context, when understood, will bring those alive.

Now, try to understand the following three questions for each I am statement:

1) What does the I am statement say?

Think of the imagery of each "I am."

For example, why "bread of life"?
What does bread have to do with life?

Paraphrase what Jesus is saying about Himself.
If Jesus was here today, do you think he would have used the same imgery to describe himself?
What is a better imagery for Jesus in our times?

2) What does the Statement mean?

What is the context of each conversation?
Who is the primary audience?

Put yourself in Jesus' audience - may be an apostle.
Why do you think Jesus is making this particulat comment/imagery in that context to his audience?

3) What does this statement of Jesus mean to me?

Personalize the implications of each statement by inserting your name in place of "the" in each statement.

For example:

"I am Jacob's bread of life",
"I am Jacob's door".
etc.

[Note: This will work for the first seven but not the last one (John 8:58)]

Now meditate on those personalized I am statements with questions such as:

How do these statements impact your:

A) Beliefs/Faith,
B) Behavior/Discipleship?

What difference should each of these statements make:

In your personal/inner life?
In your work life?
In your family life?
In your community life?

This will provide you some powerful insight into this statements as well as about you.

Theologians suggest that when Jesus used the phrase "I AM," He made specific revelations regarding His identity and nature. These revelations made it clear to all that He was claiming to be much more than a rabbi or prophet; Jesus claimed to be the Messiah - God in human form.

We find Jesus as:

  • One who satisfies (bread of life)
  • One who gives life (light)
  • One who offers salvation (gate)
  • One who dies for us (good shepherd)
  • the resurrection and the life
  • the way, truth, and life, and
  • the true (real, legitimate) vine.

As such, Jesus fulfills the prophecies of the Old Testament regarding the Messiah, predicted His resurrection, and presents Himself as the only way of salvation.

Earlier we mentioned that there is an eighth 'I am' statement. This "I am" reference in John's Gospel offers another clear look at Christ's identity. In John 8:58, Jesus said, "Truly, Truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." This was a clear reference to Exodus 3:14, where God revealed His name to Moses as "I AM." The religious leaders were infuriated that Jesus claimed to be God; they were plotting to kill Jesus since.

Interestingly, some skeptics argue that Jesus never claimed to be God in the bible in his lifetime. They suggest that the idea that Jesus was God was the work of church fathers hundreds of years later in church councils and that this is not supported by history or scripture. Of course, there were disagreements among the early Christians about the exact nature of Jesus and there were many false teachings like Arianism. However, a look at the "I am" statements in John's Gospel plainly confirms the identity of Jesus and lay to rest the claims of these skeptics. Jesus clearly claimed to fulfill the prophecies regarding the Messiah, ultimately equating Himself with the great "I AM," God Almighty.

Please read the following articles that expand on what the "I am" statements of Jesus mean and its implication to our faith.

The Seven Signs and Seven 'I Am' Statements in John

by Myke Harbuck

What are the seven signs and seven "I am" statements in the Gospel of John?

In the book of John we find Jesus demanding that we believe He is the Christ, the divine Son of God that was sent from Heaven. He makes these demands by making many comparisons to Himself, and by performing miracles that display not only His presence and power, but the presence and power of God. The comparisons are proclaimed in the seven "I AM" statements of Jesus, and the acts that show Him as the divine Son of God sent from Heaven are shown in the seven signs of Jesus.

First, "I AM the Bread of Life" (6:35). Jesus tells us here that He is the spiritual food that we need. He relates Himself to bread to indicate that we must consume His teaching and His lifestyle if we are truly His disciples. Of those who do consume His teachings and His lifestyle, Jesus promises that these people would not be hungry and would not thirst - spiritually, that is.

Second, "I AM the Light of the World" (8:12). Jesus is the only true Light and accepting Him and following Him removes the darkness, such as sin and death, out of our lives. The light of Jesus represents His purity and His holiness. Throughout scriptures, we are commanded to walk in the light and John 8:12 tells us what light that is - His light. The light of Jesus gives us life and, according to Jesus, those who follow Him never have to worry about walking in darkness again.

Next, Jesus says, "I AM the Door" (10:7). Jesus is telling us here that He is the entrance - the entrance into a relationship with God the Father - THE ONLY ENTRANCE!! He is also the entrance into forgiveness, victory, holiness, heaven, and most importantly, salvation - THE ONLY ENTRANCE! Jesus Christ is the only door. There are no side doors, no back door, and no door of any other kind. Acts 4:12 says, "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved." (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Fourthly, Jesus says, "I AM the Good Shepherd" (10:11,14). In the Old Testament books such as Zechariah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah, we see God rebuking wicked shepherds. Jesus tells us here that He is the good Shepherd. A shepherd leads, feeds, and protects his flock, and that's exactly what Jesus does to those who believe in Him and trust on Him. This "I AM" statement speaks of Jesus' tender loving care and devotion for us, His people. A good shepherd is willing to die for his sheep, and so Christ, the Good Shepherd in John, the Great Shepherd in Hebrews, and the Chief Shepherd in Peter, was willing to, and did, die for His sheep.

Fifthly, Jesus said, "I AM the Resurrection and the Life" (11:25) Jesus is not telling us that we will avoid a physical death, rather promising us that He is the gateway to an everlasting life and fellowship with God in heaven. He is also telling us that He is the life and to not know Him means that one has no life. One can be physically alive, but spiritually dead and on their way to hell, unless they receive the Resurrection and the Life.

Next, Jesus says, "I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (14:6). Jesus concluded this "I AM" saying by stating that no one can come to His Father, but by Him. Jesus is the way to the eternal life that God, who cannot lie, promised before the beginning of time. (Titus 1:2) Jesus is the way because He is the truth, and He is the truth because He is the way. As God incarnate, He is life for all who believe in Him and accept His salvation to eternal life.

Finally, Jesus said "I AM the True Vine" (15:1). In the Old Testament, a vine represented Israel, God's chosen people. (Isaiah 5, Jeremiah 2, and Ezekiel 19) Since Israel has rejected Christ, Christ becomes the whole vine, and those who believe in Him become branches. This means that we are not only connected to Him, but we are absorbed by Him. If we obey His commandments, we will bear fruit on our branches, fruit that will ultimately belong to the vine. It is reassuring to know that when we provide fruit, we prove to Jesus that we are His disciples, and we therefore glorify His Father.

The first sign listed in John is found in John 2:1-12 where Jesus turns the water to wine at Cana. Changing the water into wine symbolizes the replacement of Judaism with the gospel. John describes the water in terms of Jewish purification, and the wine as the grace and truth that comes through Jesus Christ. This miracle indicates that Jesus and His Word are the sources of all true blessings.

The next of the seven signs is found in John 4:43-54. This miracle shows the son of a royal official being healed from a near death illness. This healing from such a near death experience points to Jesus as the giver of physical and eternal life, and symbolizes Jesus as the way from eternal death to salvation.

The third sign is the healing of a lame man on the Sabbath at Bethesda, and is found in John 5:1-15. As Jesus passed by the Bethesda pool in Jerusalem, he saw a number of invalids. A man had been there for thirty-eight years. Jesus saw him and asked him if he wanted to get well. The man replied that he didn't have anyone to put him into the pool (a pool that many of that time thought possessed healing power). Jesus told the man to get up, pick up his bed roll, and walk. The man was healed instantly. All of this occurred on the Sabbath. In performing this miracle, Jesus shows himself as Lord over the Sabbath, and as the co-worker of God the Father.

Fourth, Jesus feeds the five thousand in John 6:1-15, 25-69. This miracle, apart from the resurrection, is the only miracle that occurs in all four gospels. There were far more than five thousand people, for women and children were not counted in the number. This miracle points to Jesus as the life-giving bread from Heaven. He gives the bread and the fish used in the feeding as a representation of the bread of life, which is His flesh that He gave as the sacrifice for our sins.

Next, Jesus walks on water. This is found in John 6:16-21. This miracle shows Jesus as divine and shows His authority over the forces of nature and the entire created world.

In John 9:1-41 Jesus performs a miracle of healing a man born blind. Some Jews may have thought this man was being punished for sins he committed in a previous existence, or for sins that a family member committed. In the healing of the blind man, Jesus shows Himself as the giver of spiritual sight and the light of the world. Not only was this man healed physically, but more importantly, he was healed spiritually. However, the Pharisees that witnessed the sign refused to believe, and were therefore blind. They remained blind while the man who was born blind gained his sight.

Lastly, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead in John 11:1-44. It is fitting for this miracle to be last as it symbolized Jesus raising Himself from the dead. In this miracle, Jesus shows Himself as the Resurrection and the Life, and shows His power over death even before His own resurrection showed it. Just like Jesus raised Lazarus and Himself from the dead, He will also raise those who believe in Him to eternal life.

Throughout the book of John, we find passages that attempt to convince readers that Jesus is the Messiah and the Christ, as well as the divine Son of God sent from Heaven. These seven "I AM" sayings were written to re-instill that idea as well as give us a glimpse of the character, person, and purpose of the Messiah. The seven signs are given to re-instill the fact that Jesus is all-powerful, super-human, and God in the flesh. In doing so, John adequately portrays the authority that Christ has to teach, lead, and save us. These seven "I AM" statements and signs as a conglomerate represent Jesus and His wholeness and represent the benefits to those who believe in Him and trust their lives to Him.

Source: The Berean Blog

The I AM statements of Jesus - Divinity of Jesus
Who do you say Jesus is? Jesus asked this same question to his disciples about what others thought of him and then asked what they thought of him.

Jn.5:37: "And the Father himself, who sent me, has borne witness of me. You have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. 'Jesus gives the source of his commission, which is from the Father personally. It is the Fathers voice and form they have not seen, yet Christ has.

Christ who is called the exact image of the invisible Father is the voice that the people heard. He then says that they search the Scriptures in them you think you have eternal life but they testify of me."(v.39) The Son is said to be the eternal life with the Father. Are we to believe the Scriptures testify of only a human being and not God himself? In the end of the discourse Jesus says in vs.46-47 "If you believed Moses you would believe Me; for he wrote about me. But if you don't believe his writings, how will you believe my words?"

When did Moses write of him?

Deut.18:15-19: "The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, "according to all you desired of the LORD your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.'
"And the LORD said to me: 'What they have spoken is good. 'I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. 'And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him."

Jesus claims to be the prophet Moses spoke of that should listen to. Notice that it says they did not want to hear the voice of the Lord anymore or see his glory in Horeb. Then God says he will put his words in a future prophets mouth if they do not listen to his words, God will require it of him." This very thing Jesus said of himself in Jn.8:24 "Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am (He), you will die in your sins."

John 6:51: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever;"

John 8:23: And He said to them, "You are from beneath; I AM from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.

John 8:12: Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I AM the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life."

John 8:58: Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM."

John 10:9: "I AM the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture."

John 10:11: "I AM the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.

John 10:36: "Do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'?

John 11:25: Jesus said to her, "I AM the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.

John 14:6: Jesus said to him, "I AM the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

John 15:1: "I AM the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.

John 19:2: Therefore the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews,' but, 'He said, "I am the King of the Jews."'

Acts 7:32: Stephen speaking of Moses' encounter at the burning bush "saying, 'I am the God of your fathers-- the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' And Moses trembled and dared not look."

Acts 9:5: And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" And the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads."

The I Am In the Old Testament was whatever man needed. He became, he was his all in all. Jesus in the New Testament uses all the examples to show who He is. He is everything to man and the only way to God.

The most important of all the statements is in John 8:24 after he tells them I am not of this world.

"Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am [He], you will die in your sins." ( he is not in the original). He is communicating to them he is the same I AM that Moses met at the burning bush which commissioned him.

Christ's Deity Was questioned many times in different ways, and many times it was Affirmed by both God and man

The IF of Satan: - IF Thou art the Son of God command that these stones be made bread" (Matt, 4- 3).

God's Testimony: - This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17 ) Affirmed by God the Father.

The IF Of 'the Jews': - "IF You are the Christ, tell us plainly" (John 10: 24).

Christ's Testimony v.25: Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name, they bear witness of Me."v.36"I am the Son of God.". Affirmed by Jesus

The IF of the Chief Priests: - "If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him." (Matt 27:42)

Nathanael's Testimony: - "Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel" (John 1: 16). Affirmed by a Jew with no guile.
Luke 23:38: And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS

The IF of the passersby: - 'IF Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross" (Matt. 27: 40).

The Centurion's Testimony: - Truly this was the Son of God" (Matt. 27: 54). Affirmed by a Roman witness

The IF of the Rulers: - "Let Him save Himself IF He be the Christ, the chosen of God" (Luke 23: 35).

the Father: "If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God. John 8:54

the IF of the Pharisee: "This man, IF He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner."

Jesus' testimony: But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, John 2:24

Luke 19:10: "for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." Affirmed by Jesus

The IF of the high priest: - "I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!" (Matt 26:63)

Jesus' Testimony: "It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven." Matt 26:64 affirmed by Jesus

The thief's testimony: Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." (Luke 23:42) Affirmed by a criminal put to death.

Why would Satan challenge on his being the Son of God if son only meant his humanity or being a child of God in the general sense like anyone else. It was an assault on His true person who He was before he came to earth. For one to claim specifically to be God's Son was to claim a unique relationship that no one else has. In Jn.5:18, the Jews wanted to kill him because He said God was his Father, making himself equal with God (in nature.) This meant a special relationship that excludes anyone else is able to have. In Jn.10:30 Jesus claimed "I and my Father are one." In V.33 the Jews pick up stones because they understood this as blasphemy in v.36 Jesus interprets what He meant by saying, "because I said, I am the Son of God."

4 TITLES of Son are used in the New Testament:

The Son of Adam - Means he is a man (Son of Man) within the lineage of humanity.

Son of David - Means Jesus is a King a descendent of David being an heir to his throne.

Son of Abraham - Means Jesus is of a Jewish descent.

Son of God - Means Jesus is God just as the Father is God. The phrase "Son of" - is used among the ancients to refer to one who has the same nature as...Son of God, means he has the same nature as God. He was called THE Son of God, being unique one of a kind.

© 2009 Let Us Reason Ministries

I am the Bread of Life

by Dave Woodward

Today, we will look at the seven I AM statements of Jesus in the Gospel of John.

• I am the bread of life [John 6:35]
• I am the light of the world [John 8:12]
• I am the gate [John 10:9]
• I am the good shepherd [John 10:11]
• I am the resurrection and the life [John 11:25]
• I am the way, the truth, the life [John 14:6]
• I am the vine [John 15:5]

As we look at each statement, we are going to try to find something unique about what it means to follow Jesus.

The most famous I AM statement of Jesus is found in John 8:58.

"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!" John 8:58.

This was a direct reference to the time when Moses asked God to reveal His name, so that he had something to say to the Hebrew people when he was being sent to call for their release from Egyptian slavery.

God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'" Exodus 3:14.

This is possibly the most direct claim Jesus ever made to being God. The people who heard Jesus understood what he was claiming, because they immediately picked up rocks to stone him to death.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this statement, but I want it to be in the background of all of the statements we examine. Jesus made some strong claims about himself, all of them based in his claim to be I Am.

Here is our first statement:

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. John 6:35. NLT

Bread, in the Middle East, has special significance – much more than in our present culture where we have people with gluten intolerance, and others who are watching their carbohydrate intake.

Bread was seen as the one thing that held life together. Life was dependent on the success of the harvest, which in turn was dependent on the rains, which were dependent on God. So, bread was seen as being a gift from God.

While bread is not the only thing eaten, it is hard to find a meal in that part of the world that is not accompanied by bread.

In a sense, bread has come to represent all foods, and thus all life – all of which comes from God.

Jesus noted this in the Lord's Prayer…

Give us this day our daily bread. Matthew 6:11. RSV

This is understood to mean that we are asking God for all of our daily provisions.

So, when Jesus says he's the bread of life, what is he saying?

Here are some of my observations.

BIG IDEA NO. 1

Get a bigger perspective of life

Just before Jesus made this claim to be the bread of like, he had just fed 5000 people with a young boy's lunch. After Jesus fed the crowd, he took off for some time with the Father. This is followed by the well-known incident when the disciples had headed out in their boat, and Jesus walked out to them on the water.

The next day, the people discovered that Jesus wasn't there, so they jumped in their boats and went looking for him. They caught up with Jesus and the disciples at Capernaum. Jesus told them why there were really looking for him.

"You've come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs - and for free. Don't waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last." John 6:26-27. The Message

They came because Jesus did something for them.

The five words: what's in it for me, tend to be something of a silent question behind just about everything we do.

It determines the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the people we associate with, how we use our money – just about everything.

Sometimes it has to do with what we get in return. We invest our hard earned wages to get some kind of financial return. We choose what we eat because we assume they will provide some kind of healthy benefit.

At other times, it's not so much what we get but how a particular activity will make us feel. We do things because we believe they will provide feelings of pride, accomplishment, excitement and so on.

I saw it recently through my involvement in the Ulysses Club AGM, last month in Maryborough. While we had a really great team of volunteers without whom we could not have put on the event, there were others who refused to volunteer to help. There were a couple who would only serve if it put them in the limelight.

I see it in myself. All the time, really. It would be hard to count the number of decisions I make based on what that choice will do for me.

Missionaries in developing cultures have been known to use the term Rice Christians. These are people who convert to Christianity because they think that, by doing so, they will receive food or some other benefit from the missionaries. What happens is that when the goodies are gone, so are the Christians.

Western Christianity, unfortunately, doesn't fare a lot better. People approach God for what God can do for them. If at some point they feel God hasn't provided what they wanted, they get grumpy and leave.

The same thing often happens in the Church. We evaluate worship services, church programs and preaching on how they make us feel. If a particular service made us feel good, then it was a good service. If the music was to fast or slow, or the preaching wasn't up to scratch, then it was a bad service.

I guess it's human nature.

It's also a motivation which Jesus sought to reverse.

He encourages us to look beyond that which fills our stomachs to that which reveals the life of God – that which aligns itself with the nature and purposes of God.

Jesus isn't trying to shame people over their what's in it for me approach to life. He wants to lift their vision to something even more important than simply fulfilling human desires.

He's not telling them not to think about, or prepare, their food. If that was the case, then farmers would never plant crops and nobody would go to work. He's not telling them that looking out for yourself is bad. He's telling them that there is something much more significant.

He calls it eternal life.

When Biblical writers referred to eternal life, they had in mind something more than living forever when you die. It has as much to do with quality of life as it does quantity. Eternal life is life that goes beyond the few years we have here. It's living beyond ourselves and our meager mortality.

Jesus is offering to us a different perspective of what it means to really live.

How many people have stopped and looked at the merry-go-round they have been on and asked, "Is this all there is?"

Jesus is offering not something which simply keeps the body alive, but something which enlivens the soul – something deeper, more fulfilling.

BIG IDEA NO. 2

Feed on Jesus

  • Jesus didn't just say that he brought bread of life.
  • He's not the baker of the bread of life.
  • He's not the delivery person, who brings the bread of life.
  • He is the bread of life.

That's a pretty out-there kind of statement. But Jesus gets even more controversial. When the crowd gets nervous about Jesus saying he's the bread of life, Jesus continues.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.
John 6:51. NLT

The people respond with a collective, "Oooh, how does that happen?"

Jesus continues…

I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. John 6:53-56. NLT

What are we supposed to do with that?

It reminds me of hearing John Wimber before he passed away in 1997. Wimber became a Christian without ever having been to church. He got involved in a Bible study, and it was through that experience that he became a follower of Jesus. It was after becoming a Christian that his wife took him to church. It was on his first visit to church that someone came up to him and asked, "Have you been washed in the blood, brother?" His first thought was, "When do they make you do that?"

Imagine you're someone who has never been to church. You rock up and the first piece of the Bible you hear is where Jesus is saying, "Eat my flesh and drink my blood."

I think we'll leave blood drinking for the Satanists. There has to be something else Jesus was meaning here.

It's important to understand that one of the ways Hebrew people communicated was through the use of hyperbole – that is deliberately exaggerating something in order to make a point.

We use it today.

I'm so hungry I could eat a horse.

I was so embarrassed I thought I would die.

My feet are killing me.

I've told you a million times.

Jesus used it too.

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God! Matthew 19:24

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters - yes, even his own life - he cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:26

And my personal favorite came at a time when Jesus was pointing out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders….

You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Matthew 23:24

Jesus is not advocating cannibalism or saying there was some mystical power to be had from consuming his literal flesh and blood. He was pointing them, and us, to something higher.

So, what is Jesus talking about?

  • He's the bread of life.
  • His flesh and blood are food and drink for us.
  • If we don't partake, we can't have eternal life.

Jesus is giving an invitation to move beyond religious activities and to enter into a nurturing and nourishing relationship with himself. To feed not on his literal flesh or to drink his literal blood but to gain life giving nourishment from feeding on a relationship with him.

What the people were looking for and what Jesus was offering were two very different things.

They were looking for a feed, and Jesus was offering life. Life with depth. Life that is eternal, not just in quantity but also in quality. Life that fulfils the purpose for which our Creator put us on the planet. Life that is transcendentally united with the life of Jesus, the I Am, and therefore a life that is one with God.

How do you feed on that bread, on Jesus the bread of life?

I have to admit that, after all these years, I still don't have it down perfectly or even well for that matter.

I have a feeling that it's much simpler than we think.

Jesus said:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30. NIV

I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases it in The Message.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly. Matthew 11:28-30. The Message

Religion makes life hard by imposing rules for getting to God.

Jesus said he came to make the burden lighter, and it starts by getting away with him - walking with him, working with him, watching how he does it and (I like this phrase) learning the unforced rhythms of life.

It all starts by just feeding on Jesus

Spending time with him,

Listening to him,

Observing how he relates to life and God and others

Feeding on him

Feeding on him

During our holidays, I had a conversation with someone who was raised in a branch of Christian that is very religious – very involved in traditions, and liturgies, and creeds and rules. I talked about the idea of shedding all that and just following Jesus. I wasn't advocating leaving their church, just putting all the religious stuff to one side and feeding on Jesus.

Their response was, "If only it could be that simple."

It can be that simple. It is that simple.

There's no food more simple or basic than bread.

How do we start?

How about simply taking time to read again the life of Jesus.

Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5,6,7).

Don't just read it, feed on it. Imagine you are hearing Jesus speak those words into your life. Then, simply see what God does with it.

Source: Door of Hope

I am the Light of the World

by Dave Woodward

I am one of those who is skeptical when someone comes along and starts off by telling me how good they are.

When I was growing up on the dairy farm, we had a farm hand named George. I can't remember whether George had a last name; he was always just George. Anyway, whenever a topic was raised, George was an expert on the issue. Whatever was to be done, George had done it "many a time." As a kid I understood that if this guy was as knowledgeable and experienced as he said he was, he wouldn't have to tell anybody. His skill would have been evident.

Then there was the day this fellow rocked up one day. He had not been in my office two minutes before he was telling me that he had something to teach me from the Bible which I obviously didn't know - because he was there to tell me. He didn't know what I knew or didn't know about the Bible, but he was sure that what he had to tell me was something about which I was ignorant.

Then there was the man who showed up one Sunday morning, and hardly before he got his name out, he started telling me what a good country gospel singer he was. He had sung with some other better-known artist and for some evangelist. He had even been on TV. This guy was going down on two counts, even before I got to know him. First, he was breaking one of my fundamental principles of not bragging about yourself, and he was a singer of country!!!

I tend to think that someone who is really good at something, then it will shine out. On the other hand, too many times people are inclined to overestimate their abilities and come across as boasters and attention-seekers.

Francis Bacon is quoted as saying something to the effect that "a bragging man is scorned by the wise, and admired by fools."

Proverbs says this…

Let someone else praise you, not your own mouth - a stranger, not your own lips. Proverbs 27:2. NLT

Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount includes this…

Be careful! When you do good things, don't do them in front of people to be seen by them. If you do that, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
Matthew 6:1. NCV

Those Scriptures tell us that bagging about yourself is not a good thing to do.

So what do we do with these statements of Jesus?

Here's today's "I am" statement.

I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won't have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life. John 8:12. NLT

Just before he made this statement, Jesus was teaching people in the Temple courtyard. Along came a mob of religious bigshots interrupting his lesson by dragging in a woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery.

They put her in front of the crowd. "Teacher," they said to Jesus, "this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?" They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger.

They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, "All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!" Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, "Where are your accusers? Didn't even one of them condemn you?"

"No, Lord," she said.

And Jesus said, "Neither do I. Go and sin no more." John 8:3-11. NLT

Jesus then turned to the people he had been teaching and made this statement about being the light of the world and that those who follow him won't have to walk in darkness but have light that leads to life.

Let's look at this and see if we can formulate some big ideas.

BIG IDEA NO. 1

Face up to your own darkness

The term darkness is used a lot in the Bible to describe those lives are in a bad place. There are two connotations.

Darkness signifies being unaware what's going on.

Nobody stubs their toe on the bathroom door in broad daylight. On the other hand, there are probably a few of us who know the pain of walking through the house in the dead of night. Instead of turning on the light, we foolishly assume we know our way around our own house. That is until our toe comes into violent contact with the dreaded bathroom door. You wouldn't have done that if the light was on. You would have seen that some fool left the door half open and you would have avoided the clash of toe and door.

To walk in darkness is to live in such a way that we don't see things as clearly as we might.

Darkness is also used to describe the depths to which we go to conceal the things we do.

There's a reason why most burglaries take place at night. Thieves like the darkness because it helps to hide their deeds.

It's not just literal darkness. There are other things we do to disguise our actions.

In this story of the woman caught in adultery, there were two areas of darkness happening.

The adultery itself, by its very nature, is something which is hidden away. The guilty couple – did you notice that the religious leaders only brought the woman and not the man as well? Anyway, the guilty couple weren't out in the open. They were off in some secret place, carrying out their illicit affair. They were living in darkness. And for at least one of them, the darkness was forcefully exposed as she was dragged from the bedroom to the courtyard.

But the wrongdoing of the adulterers was not the only darkness in operation here.

The guys who dragged this woman out and presented her to Jesus weren't interested in right or wrong. They were after Jesus.

If Jesus agreed to stone the woman, he'd be in trouble with the Roman authorities who took a dim view of people taking the law into their own hands. He could have also lost his credibility of being a man of love.

On the other hand, if Jesus advocated letting her go without punishment, he could be accused of going soft on the Law.

So, Jesus said nothing. Instead he stopped down and started writing in the dust with his finger. We don't know what he wrote, but I imagine it was something like writing down the personal sins of the men in the mob.

Finally, Jesus stands up and says…

All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone! John 8:7. NLT

He's basically saying, "Sure, go ahead and stone her, but the first stone has to be thrown by the one who has never sinned. After that, you're all good to go." And he went back to writing in the dust. As he did, the gang began to silently disperse starting with the oldest.

What Jesus did was brilliant. He illustrated perfectly a very profound truth of human nature.

It's easier to point a finger at other people's sins than it is to acknowledge our own.

The religious guys in the crowd were living in darkness, just like the adulterous woman. Only their darkness was more subtle and cunning. They were pointing the finger at someone else when they themselves were guilty.

We would never do that would we? Or would we?

It's easy to see where others have got it wrong. Their inconsistencies and imperfections are much easier to identify and highlight than our own.

One person has referred to it as "shame relocation."

It's darkness.

Jesus skillfully exposed the darkness of the religious.

The person who is without sin is free to throw the first stone.

  • As long as we refuse to acknowledge our own darkness, we will continue to live in it.
  • We will continue to ignore our own sins.
  • We will continue to feel free to point the finger at the sins of others.

We're like Fonzi from Happy Days, who found it impossible to admit being wrong.

Consistently throughout the Bible is the need for confession as a means to forgiveness.

Before God will forgive us, we need to be honest and admit we're in need of forgiveness. And that is the big hurdle some find almost impossible to get over.

Before you can step into the light that Jesus offers, we first have to be willing to admit and face our own darkness.

You see, until we admit we're sinners, we won't see the need for a savior. Until we see the need for a savior, we will have no need for Jesus.

BIG IDEA NO. 2

Realize God is more interested in your future than your past

Now to the woman. She's been exposed and humiliated. Jesus challenges those who exposed her to face up to their own sins.

Now, the woman is left with the only one who was qualified to cast the first stone. He asks if there's anybody left to condemn her. When she says there's no one, Jesus tells her, "Neither do I condemn you. Now, go and sin no more."

I have to admit that, for some time, I saw this as though Jesus was handing her a suspended sentence. When someone breaks the law and receives a suspended sentence, it mean they're not going to prison for now. However, if that person reoffends, they not have to face the consequences of the second crime, they also have to the original offense place back over their head.

That's not what Jesus is doing here. He's not warning her that if she re-offends she'll be in big trouble. He's not giving her a suspended sentence. He's not placing her on parole.

He's offering her the opportunity for a fresh start. He's demonstrating that God is more interested in her future than He is in her past.

One of the amazing things about the message of Jesus is that God sees us at our very worst, and he still loves us.

There is no need to hide our failures from God. We can't hide anything from Him, even though we often try to do just that.

Part of moving out of the darkness and walking in the light of Jesus, the light of the world, is this whole idea of trusting God with our hurts, our defects and our blunders.

There are two mistakes we make when it comes to dealing with our own sins.

We wallow in shame. We pack our bags and go on a guilt trip. We feel a sense of inadequacy and blame. We feel we may never be good enough.

We try to hide. We pretend that everything's okay and we haven't done any wrong.

Both of these approaches are not only dishonest, they're like wandering in darkness, and Jesus declared that we don't have to live there. We can live in the light of honesty about our flaws, our failures, and our failures. And we can do it because God cares more about your future than He does about your past.

Hundreds of years before Jesus showed up, the nation of Judah ended up in a world of hurt because of their own stubbornness. The Babylonians had stormed through the land and had taken the people into exile back in Babylon. It was during this period, when the people of Judah were feeling the full weight of their poor choices, that Jeremiah became the mouthpiece of God to a nation full of their own guilt and shame.

For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11. NLT

I can picture Jesus saying these very words to the shamed and humiliated woman before him.

I can picture him saying those very words to you.

BIG IDEA NO. 3

Become the Light of the World

There is another light of the world statement which Jesus made. It's found in the Sermon on the Mount.

You are the light of the world. Matthew 5:14.

How are you and I the light of the world?

We become the light of the world when we live in the light that Jesus gives. We become more like the moon than the sun.

The sun gives off its own light.

The moon reflects the light of the sun into a world still in darkness.

That does not mean you are perfect. What it does mean is that we make it our goal to reflect the light of Jesus right where we are.

  • That means being honest about our junk.
  • It means resting in the grace that God gives.
  • It means trusting our own shame is taken away in Christ.
  • It also means we are willing to extend grace to those who hurt us.

It doesn't take a lot of light to make a lot of difference. It just takes a little light to get through. There are a lot of people who, for various reasons, won't look at Jesus. They will have to see him in you.

What it does take is a willingness to let Jesus expose the darkness in you, so that his light can shine through.

If I asked you to identify one area of darkness that you feel Jesus would like to deal with today, what do you think it would be?

Some area of guilt you've been too ashamed to bring to light?

Some failure?

Some stubbornness or fear you have on to.

Pray

Lord, shine your light into my heart. Show me that you're more interested in my future than you are my past. Expose my own darkness and heal me with your grace. Let me be a light that shines your love and grace to the world around me. Let me be a light to the world with the light of Jesus, the light of the world. Amen

Source: Door of Hope

I am the Gate

by Dave Woodward

This is the third message in the series of "I am" statements found in John's Gospel. There are two statements in the first half of John 10. Both have to do with sheep. We will look at one here and the other in the next article. Here's the first.

I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won't follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don't know his voice."

Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn't understand what he meant, so he explained it to them:

"I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life." John 10:1-10. NLT

Jesus said he is the gate. Some translations use the word door. The Greek word thuracan mean either a door or a gate.

How many remember a time when doors, or at least locked doors, were not considered a necessity? When I was growing up on the dairy farm in western Oregon, we had a shed where my dad kept all of his tools, the petrol for the car and trucks and diesel for the tractors. It was all in the shed. This shed sat about 3 meters from the road that passed our farm. But the thing I remember most about the shed was that it had no doors. It had two doorways but no doors. I don't know why it didn't have doors. Maybe my dad just never got around to putting doors on the building. Maybe, in that particular time and place, he didn't think it was necessary. The only thing to ever go missing out of the shed was the occasional theft of some petrol. Dad had a way of dealing with that too, but we won't get into that today.

Today, you'd be foolish to leave your house or garage unlocked. Even when you're at home, there are thieves who are brazen enough to try to break in. We have gates and doors everywhere.

Some exist to keep people out.
Others exist to keep people in.

The gate Jesus was claiming to be was a very special gate. He said he was the gate for the sheep. The gate to the sheep pen.

Sir George Adam Smith was a Scottish theologian from last century. He told a trip through the Middle East. As he journeyed, he met a shepherd with his sheep. After talking for a while, the man showed him to the place where he kept his sheep at night. It was a place identical to the sheepfolds of Jesus' day. It had simply four low walls and a narrow opening. Smith asked, "This is where they go at night? "

The shepherd replied, "Yes, and when they are in there they are perfectly safe. "

Smith replied, "But there is no door. "

The shepherd responded, "I am the door. "

Smith asked, "What do you mean you are the door? "

The shepherd replied, "When the light has gone, and all the sheep are inside, I lie in the open space, and no sheep ever goes out but across my body, and no wolf comes in unless he crosses my body; I am the door. "

That is exactly the picture those listening to Jesus would have had. They would have had the whole scene in their minds – the enclosure, the sheep, the shepherd acting as the door.

Jesus took it a step further. He contrasted himself with thieves and robbers. The shepherd: uses the gate & the sheep recognise his voice and follow. Thieves & robbers: sneak over the wall and the sheep don't recognise the voice and will not follow

There's something else happening here which those listening would have probably caught on to, but we will only see if we look at the whole context. As with the previous "I am " statements, the context in which Jesus speaks is really important to understanding what he's saying.

In the immediate context, we find that fascinating story of the healing of the man born blind. This story takes up all of John 9.

Here we find this guy who has been blind all his life. Jesus heals him, but because it's the Sabbath, the religious big shots have a fit. They interrogate the man, his parents, and then the man again. They can't deny that a major miracle has taken place, but they're not happy because Jesus did it on the Sabbath day. They ended up the freshly healed man out of the synagogue.

The chapter finishes with a dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees.

Then Jesus told him, "I entered this world to render judgment - to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind."

Some Pharisees who were standing nearby heard him and asked, "Are you saying we're blind?"

"If you were blind, you wouldn't be guilty," Jesus replied. "But you remain guilty because you claim you can see. John 9:39-41. NLT

Then Jesus launches into his statement contrasting the true shepherd with robbers and thieves. I guarantee everyone listening would have understood what Jesus was saying here. The religious leaders of his day were not true shepherds but were thieves and robbers. He was the shepherd and the gate to the sheep.

Jesus was saying that the religious leaders of his day were unsafe for the sheep because they were thieves and robbers. He, on the other hand, was claiming to be a safe place for the sheep.

One of the characteristics of sheep is that they are completely defenseless.

• Some animals have the ability to rise up and fight when they are under threat. They have sharp teeth or claws, or brute strength and can fight off predators.

• Other animals are designed with extraordinary speed in order to flee from adversaries.

• Still others have body armor. They can just dig in and outwait predators.

• Sheep have none of that. They have no sharp teeth or claws. They are slow, and they are covered in fluffy wool, which is not much of deterrent from the sheep's natural enemies.

Sheep need protection. Jesus is contrasting the approach of the Pharisees with his own approach. He concludes that the Pharisees are a danger to the sheep, while he is their safe place.

That leaves two questions

• What is a danger to God's flock today?

• How is Jesus the gate who provides protection?

Here are four quick big ideas…

BIG IDEA NO. 1

Trust Jesus to protect you from your spiritual enemy

While people are compared to sheep, there is someone in the Bible who is compared to a lion. Now, if you had the choice to be compared to a sheep or a lion, I think most of us would choose the lion. Lions are strong and powerful. You don't mess with lions. Be careful if you choose to be like a lion.

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8. NLT

Whether we like to believe it or not, there are evil powers at work, and they are intent on yours and my destruction. They will use all kinds of methods to achieve this purpose, but the intent is still the same.

Temptations. That's always been his most used tactic.

Accusations. You are not perfect, and Satan will remind you of that.

Pride. This was Lucifer's downfall and one of his major tools..

Direct attack. The devil attacked Job's livelihood, family and health.

One thing that I have found over the years is that the name of Jesus Christ carries with it great power when dealing with the powers of darkness. While the devil is characterized as being like a roaring lion, he is no match for the authority and power of the Risen Christ.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honour and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11. NLT

People don't always understand this, but demons do.

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that - and shudder. James 2:19. NIV

Demons shudder because they know the truth.

Trust in the name of Jesus to stand with you.

BIG IDEA NO. 2

Trust Jesus to protect you from the judgment of others

In this context, the religious leaders tried to use their assessment of the man born blind to control him. When he didn't fall into line with what they thought, they cursed him. Then they said…

• You're nothing but dirt! (Message)

• You were completely born in sins… (NKJV )

• You were born in utter sin… (ESV) John 9:34

It still happens today.

  • You may have had a parent who told you were stupid or lazy or somehow unacceptable.
  • Maybe you had a teacher who said you wouldn't amount to anything.
  • You may have been the victim of bullies who pointed out your big nose, or your skinny legs, or your red hair, or something else.
  • Or maybe you were judged by Christians, well-meaning or not, who told you that you are a dirty rotten bound-for-hell sinner.

The reality is, you are not what other people say about you; you are what God says about you.

The irony of this whole story is that the very guy the religious leaders rejected was the one Jesus accepted and healed.

Don't let the judgments of others drag you down.

Sometimes they will be right, but without grace.

Sometimes they are completely wrong.

Go straight to Jesus and ask what he thinks.

BIG IDEA NO. 3

Trust Jesus to protect you from spiritual manipulation

The religious leaders of Jesus day were not shepherds. They did not lovingly lead the sheep. They drove the sheep by use of spiritual manipulation. They falsely took on themselves the authority to speak for God, and then they twisted God's words to build and protect their own positions.

Unfortunately, we see forms of spiritual manipulation today.

Cults use this kind of manipulation today.

Once a spiritual leader or some religious organization establishes the stronghold in your mind that they are the only ones who hold the truth, they have laid the ground work to manipulate you. If you can be convinced they are the only ones who will get to heaven, then they have control over you.

If they are the only ones who are "in" what will happen if they kick you out? If they are the only ones who are right, then you will be in big trouble.

That's what the religious leaders did with the man who was born blind. When he didn't go along with their assessment of Jesus, they kicked him out of the synagogue. I think they did him a favor.

Jesus spoke very strongly to the religious leaders of his day.

Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are! Matthew 23:15. NLT

I am becoming more and more a believer in letting God decide whether or not a person is right in His eyes. When it's left in the hands of religious people, the temptation towards corruption becomes really strong.

I am thinking it's probably better to just be simply followers of Jesus.

BIG IDEA NO. 4

Trust Jesus to protect you from yourself

Theodore Roosevelt is quoted as saying:

"If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn't sit for a month."

I have said a number of times that nobody has ever offended me to the degree that I have offended God. In fact, I don't think anybody has ever offended me to the degree that I have offended myself.

As we saw last week, it's a lot easier to point out somebody else's sin than it is to face up to our own. But we will never be truly free until we face up to our own irresponsible and irrational decisions and experience the grace God gives.

True freedom comes when we admit…

  • I made the decision to do what I did, or way what I said.
  • I let fear paralyze me into inactivity.
  • I stayed too long in an intolerable situation.

Jesus protects us from ourselves by offering grace.

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:16. NLT

Jesus protects us by allowing us to face our need and by offering the mercy we need.

Is there someone who needs the shelter and protection of the Gate?

Source: Door of Hope

I am the Good Shepherd

by Dave Woodward

This is the fourth message in the series of "I am" statements found in John's Gospel. Last week we looked at the Jesus' statement where he declared that he is the gate for the sheep. This next statement follows immediately.

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don't belong to him and he isn't their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he's working only for the money and doesn't really care about the sheep."

"I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd."

"The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded."
John 10:11-18. NLT

We saw last week that when Jesus said he was the door of the sheep, he was really having a shot at the Pharisees. He was safety for the sheep while the Pharisees were not.

Now, Jesus calls himself the good shepherd and refers to the religious leaders as hired men. Hired help runs at the sight of danger, while the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

As I mentioned last week, the way sheep were looked after in the Middle East is that a shepherd would bring his sheep to a common sheepfold for protection. On any given night, there could be a number of flocks, each belonging to a different shepherd in the fold. In the morning, each shepherd would call his sheep. The sheep would respond to the voice of their respective shepherds.

Jesus makes a big deal about this thing of hearing his voice.

He mentions it six times in this short discourse.

…the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. John 10:3. NLT

He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. John 10:3. NLT

…they follow him because they know his voice. John 10:4. NLT

They won't follow a stranger ….because they don't know his voice. John 10:5

All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. John 10:8. NLT

I have other sheep …. They will listen to my voice… John 10:16. NLT

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27. NLT

So, what does it mean to hear the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd?

Jesus said that his sheep recognise his voice. That worries me sometimes, because I'm not always sure that I do. Not only that, but I am somewhat skeptical of those who claim they hear from God. I have seen too many use "God told me…" as a tool to manipulate or judge.

At the same time, I believe the Shepherd still speaks. So, let's look at some ideas on how to recognise the Shepherd's voice.

BIG IDEA NO. 1

Accept your role as a sheep

It's not very flattering to be referred to as a sheep. Sheep are just about the dumbest animals on earth. There are all kinds of animals you can train, but not sheep. They are just plain dumb. Here are a few more thoughts about sheep.

Sheep are defenseless. They don't have sharp teeth. They have geekly little sheep hooves. They don't run fast. They have no natural defenses. That makes them very susceptible to predators.

Sheep get lost easily. They only look at the grass in front of their noses. They have no ability to think about where they are or where they are going. They wander.

Sheep are also unable to clean themselves. Some animals are able to keep themselves clean. Some have other animals who feed off them and clean them at the same time. Not sheep. Their wool gets encrusted with mud and other stuff. Then the dirty wool attracts blowflies. The flies lay their eggs, and the result is maggots. It's not a pretty sight.

Ok, who's happy now about being a sheep?

The bottom line is - sheep need a shepherd.

As long as you are in the position where you don't think you need a shepherd you will not be in a position to hear the Shepherd's voice.

We live in a culture that emphasizes independence and determination. And while those things are good, we also need to recognise our own inherent weakness and need for a shepherd, someone to guide and protect.

I have had people tell me that Jesus is only for weak people. My response to that is, "Aren't we all weak? Don't we all have need?"

There is not one of us who…

• Does life perfectly or makes the right choices all the time.

• Operates with perfect motives.

• Doesn't get hurt or cause pain to others.

• Can cleanse our own sins.

We are more like sheep than we want to admit. And until we admit it, we will not hear the Shepherd's voice.

BIG IDEA NO. 2

Read the Bible to recognise how Jesus speaks

I have had people call on the phone and not immediately identify who they are. Instead, they just start chatting away. I'm on the other ending thinking, "Who is this!?" Sometimes the context of what they are talking about will give a clue. At other times, I am completely baffled. Sometimes I just have to interrupt and say, "I'm sorry, but who am I talking to?" I don't recognise the voice.

There are other times when people will call, and I know right away who it is. I recognise the voice. It's familiar to me. I have heard it before.

One of the ways we start to recognise his voice is to invest time listen to those times when you know he is speaking. And when might those times be? The best place to start is the Bible.

By looking at Jesus, you begin to get a feel for how he speaks.

• You hear how he relates to people.

• You get a feel for what is important to him.

• You hear him speak to those whose lives have been shipwrecked by poor choices.

• You hear him speak to the highly religious and the non-religious.

• You hear him speak to the neglected and marginalized.

• You begin to feel the texture of his voice.

By knowing how Jesus speaks, you begin to get a feel for how he will speak to you.

BIG IDEA NO. 3

Turn off the noise, shut your mouth and listen

God is always speaking, but there are ways in which we can drown out His voice. The Holy Spirit is symbolized in the Bible as a dove. Doves are also symbols of peace and peacefulness. They don't hang around where there is a lot of noise and commotion.

Noise can drown out the voice of God. That can be a problem in a culture that thrives on constant noise. Our world is bombarded by information and entertainment 24/7. We have ipods, ipads, smart phones.

I have to admit right in the middle of all this technology.

I have three computers, all with internet connection. I have an ipod for music and a smart phone which connects to the internet, where I can collect emails and check my Facebook page. I read books on my e-reader. I also have a Bluetooth headset in my motorcycle helmet which means I can listen to music, answer the phone or talk to Janelle.

I am something of a technology junkie.

I'm not ashamed of those things, but the reality is those things can get in the way of hearing the voice of the Shepherd, Jesus Christ. We can be so surrounded by sound and noise that the voice of God becomes impossible to hear.

That is why we need moments where we turn off the noise and just listen for God to speak. That means turning off the technology and the mouth. It means resting in silence in God's presence with the ears of our hearts tuned to listening mode.

Be still, and know that I am God! Psalm 46:10. NLT

Especially in this age of noise, we need to find quiet places where we can tune out the noise, shut up and listen to God.

BIG IDEA NO. 4

Submit to God's sovereignty

The religious leaders rejected Jesus because, in their minds, no one who healed people on the Sabbath could possibly speak for God. They had a preconceived idea about how God should, would and could act. Jesus didn't fit their scenario, so they discarded him. In doing so, they missed the most significant work of God since the Creation.

The bottom line is that God is God, he can speak any way he chooses to speak. And he can choose not to speak.

When I was going through my low time, a couple years ago, I bombarded God with questions and got no answers. It was very frustrating and very lonely. Somewhere during that period, it finally hit me. God is not obligated to answer my questions. He's not a dog who can be trained to bark on command. He can speak if he chooses, and he can remain silent if that's what he's inclined to do.

Just before God called a very young Samuel, this was the assessment of God's speaking to Israel.

Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon. 1 Samuel 3:1. NLT

God wasn't speaking. The psalm writers often complained that God was not answering them.

The reality is, that's God's prerogative.

And then when God does speak, he's also not obligated to speak in the ways we think he should. We know that God speaks to us through the Scriptures. That is the first place to go to hear God speak. Even when it seems like God is silent, you will always find him speaking in the Scriptures. We have the very words Jesus spoke to give us direction. There is enough there to keep us going even when it seems like God's not answering our prayers. It's also a safeguard, because God will not say anything today that contradicts what he's already said in the Bible.

God has shown up and spoken in some very unexpected places and has spoken through some very surprising mouthpieces.

• He spoke to Moses through a burning bush.

• He spoke to Balaam through his donkey.

• He spoke to a child named Samuel.

• He spoke to Elijah through a still small voice in a wilderness cave.

• He stirred the heart of Persian King Cyrus to write the decree allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem.

• He spoke to tax collectors, prostitutes and other disreputable people.

God also speaks in places we might think unusual.

• Moses was hiding from Egyptian justice when God spoke to him.

• Balaam was being disobedient.

• Elijah was depressed and full of self-pity.

• Cyrus was most likely a Zoroastrian.

We cannot prescribe for God when, where or how he will speak.

We simply have to trust that he does.

BIG IDEA NO. 5

Accept your own imperfections

When Jesus says that his sheep hear his voice, I have to admit to feeling a little uncomfortable. There are times when I feel like I'm not hearing clearly. There are other times when I feel like I'm not hearing anything at all.

A thought will come, and I find myself asking, "God is that from you or me?"

The reality is, we won't hear God's voice perfectly, and that's okay! It's okay to be imperfect. It's okay to have flawed hearing. It's okay to meet the shepherd right where you are. Our salvation is not dependent on how good our hearing is. It's dependent on the grace of God.

The real question is not whether we hear everything God speaks to us. The question is what we do with what we do hear.

Hebrews 3:7-8 refers back to Psalm 95

Today when you hear his voice, don't harden your hearts…. Hebrews 3:7-8

How do we harden our hearts?

• We pretend we haven't heard…

• We make excuses about why we can't …

• We just refuse to do what we're told…

When Jesus speaks in the Scriptures, we do we do with that?

• When the voice of God comes through another person (and we know it's something from God), what do we do?

• When the still small voice comes to our hearts, how do we respond?

How's your heart?

• Soft?

• Hard?

• Are there areas of both softness and hardness?

What do you think Jesus, the Good Shepherd, might say to you about your own heart, right now? What will you do with that?

Source: Door of Hope

I am the Resurrection and the Life

by Dave Woodward

The eleventh chapter of John records one of the most moving accounts from the life of Jesus. It starts with the words,

"A man named Lazarus was sick." John 11:1

Three members of this family are mentioned in the Bible. Mary, Martha and Lazarus were siblings, and they were close friends of Jesus. The two sisters had sent word to Jesus alerting him to their brother's sickness. Implied in that message is the urgent request to come quickly.

When Jesus got the message, he didn't come immediately. Instead he waited for two more days before packing up the disciples and heading for the town of Bethany. We're not sure where Jesus was at the time, but at the end of chapter ten, he's on the other side of the Jordan River, a minimum of 45 kilometers away. By the time Jesus got to Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days.

When you allow time for the messengers to get to Jesus, the two day delay and the trip to Bethany, Lazarus must have died shortly after the messengers left to summon Jesus.

Even before leaving for Bethany, Jesus makes two powerful statements about his good friend Lazarus. When he first heard that Lazarus was sick, though he was more than likely already dead, Jesus said,

This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it. John 11:4. NIV

He didn't say his friend wouldn't die. He just said his sickness would not end in death. Then, after the two day wait, Jesus declared they were going. There was some discussion among him and the disciples. Then this…

"Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up."

His disciples replied, "Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better."

Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." John 11:11-15. NIV

So, two statements – three really:

1. This event will not end in death.
2. Lazarus is, in fact, dead. Jesus is going to "wake him up."
3. This will result in greater faith for the disciples.

They pack up and travel to Bethany, arriving at the scene of a family in mourning. Many here know the scene. You have lived it. Someone you love deeply dies. Emotions collide: grief; confusion; anger; anxiety.

Add to that the fact that this scene is in the Middle East, where grief takes on a very different look to what we experience here is Australia. When they cry, they wail! They rip their clothing and cover themselves in ashes. It's very dramatic and very emotional.

Martha meets Jesus first.

"Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask."

Jesus told her, "Your brother will rise again."

"Yes," Martha said, "he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day."

Jesus told her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?"

"Yes, Lord," she told him. "I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God." John 11:21-28. NLT

That's our "I am" statement for this week.

"I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.
John 11:25-26. NLT

Before we explore it further, let's get back to the story. Martha goes and gets her sister, Mary, who then comes to where Jesus is.

"Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died."

When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. "Where have you put him?" he asked them.

They told him, "Lord, come and see." Then Jesus wept. The people who were standing nearby said,

"See how much he loved him!" But some said, "This man healed a blind man. Couldn't he have kept Lazarus from dying?"

Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. "Roll the stone aside," Jesus told them.

But Martha, the dead man's sister, protested, "Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible."

Jesus responded, "Didn't I tell you that you would see God's glory if you believe?" So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, "Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me." Then Jesus shouted, "Lazarus, come out!" And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, "Unwrap him and let him go!" John 11:32-44. NLT

There is a lot going on here.

• Jesus knows Lazarus is really dead, when the message was just that he was sick.

• Jesus waits two days, after declaring this scenario would not end in death.

• He declares ahead of time to the disciples that this was happening for the glory of God and that the result would be an increase in their faith.

• Jesus makes this "I am" claim - to be the resurrection and the life.

• We're told twice that Jesus was angry, but we're not told what it was that angered him.

• This section contains the shortest verse in the Bible. Verse 35 simply says, "Jesus wept."

• Then he called Lazarus to come out of the grave…and he did!

BIG IDEA NO. 1

Resist the urge to try to manipulate God

When we're in difficult circumstances, it can be really tempting to try to manipulate God into doing what we want.

• Lord, fix this situation…

• Lord, heal this sickness…

• Lord, make my load lighter…

Some even resort to bargaining with God.

• Lord, if you will do this for me, I will do that for you…

This strategy to stage-manage God into acting for our benefit is what lies at the heart of idolatry. It's the way the Old Testament pagan religions tried to control God.

Clearly, Jesus is not open to being handled in this way.

• The sisters send the urgent message for Jesus to come and heal their brother. Jesus stays another two days.

• The disciples try to tell him that going back in the Jerusalem neighborhood is a bad idea. He goes anyway.

There are a number of variations to these attempts to control God, but they are all one and the same.

• Sam fasts so that God will hear him and find him a new job.

• Celia looks to God to help her because she hasn't missed church for three years.

• Bill "claims" the promise that God will supply all our needs in an effort to get God to provide him with a new house.

The reality is, you cannot control God. He is not our servant. He is not there to do our will. While it's true there are some pretty amazing promises that God makes to those who follow him, it is entirely up to God to bring those things about.

In this story, Jesus evidently had something bigger and better in mind and that was to demonstrate to those around who he really was. That mission weighed bigger in his heart than even relieving the sisters of the grief of watching their brother die.

BIG IDEA NO. 2

Look for opportunities in your tragedies

It's clear that Jesus had a different perspective on things than did the disciples, or Martha and Mary.

They saw disaster and heartbreak. A brother and a friend was dead. In addition, the disciples saw all kinds of trouble with Jesus heading back to the regions around Jerusalem, where the religious leaders were out to kill him.

Jesus looked at the exact same set of circumstances, and he saw something very different. He saw this as an opportunity to demonstrate the glory of God and for his followers to grow in faith.

When negative things happen in our lives, it's easy to think that our perspective is the only one there is. It's bad, and there's no way it can be good.

The reality is, when we're in the middle of things, we just do not see all that clearly. We see the calamity. We see the grief. We wonder how things could ever be better again. When you're at the bottom, it's hard to look up.

It's then that we have to at least accept that maybe, just maybe, Jesus sees things from a different perspective than we do.

• Martha and Mary saw heartbreak.

• The disciples saw danger. They didn't at all like the idea of getting that close to those who wanted Jesus dead. When it became clear that Jesus was going, Thomas (ever the pessimist) said…

"Come along. We might as well die with him." John 11:16. Msg

• Jesus saw the opportunity to show the glory of God and to reveal, through his actions, who he was.

Because Jesus sees painful experiences through different eyes, we have to understand that, even though he can, he doesn't always shield us from pain.

BIG IDEA NO. 3

Look for God's love in the midst of your hardship

In this story, we have Jesus weeping at the grave of his dear friend, Lazarus.

We are also told twice that Jesus was angry (verses 33 & 38). At whom or what was Jesus angry.

John doesn't tell us, and Bible scholars are divided.

• Some say he was angry at the fact that all these people were grieving and somehow lacking faith.

• Some say he was angry at the devil for taking Lazarus.

• Others say he was angry at death itself.

Death is the great enemy of life. The Bible tells us that death came as a result of sin, and because of sin everyone dies. It's a cruel tyrant that takes us from our loved ones and takes our loved ones from us.

In fact, there may be another explanation Jesus' emotion here. In verse 33 and 35, the Greek word used means literally to groan. According to Bible scholars, it can also mean"to fret or to be painfully moved" (Vine).

Was Jesus angry, or was he deeply moved in the face of the pain of his dear friends. I have to admit that I'm not totally sure, but I am choosing to go for the second option.

In the context of John 11, where we have Jesus weeping at his friend's tomb, it's not hard to find that he is deeply distressed at their pain.

What I find amazing is that Jesus knew that he was going to fix the whole situation. He knew, even before he left for Bethany, that Lazarus was dead and that he was going to raise him from the dead.

Even knowing that, Jesus is moved to tears by the pain of his friends.

We all experience pain. We all get hurt in life.

• Some of our pain is inflicted on us by others.
• Some of our pain is self-inflicted.
• Some of it comes simply from the fact that we live on a planet that's falling apart.

Little kids sometimes try to manipulate their parents by crying, "You don't love me," when Mum or Dad doesn't give them what they want.

How many people have looked towards heaven, in their times of anguish, and cried to God, "You don't love me!"?

I have often quoted Psalm 23:4.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me… Psalm 23:4. NKJV

God nowhere promises to shield us from dark valleys, but he does promise to walk with us through those dark valleys.

How do you find God's love when you're walking a valley of darkness?

BIG IDEA NO. 4

Accept Jesus invitation to life now

Jesus' statement about being the resurrection and the life is a clear claim to being Messiah. The Old Testament prophets proclaimed that with the coming of the Messiah would be raising of the dead to life.

In Jesus' time Jewish teaching was divided regarding life after death.

• The group known as the Sadducees, who mostly formed the priesthood and controlled the temple in Jerusalem, believed there was no life after death. According to them, there was no resurrection, no heaven and no hell. When you're dead, you're dead.

• The Pharisees, who controlled the synagogues and the huge majority of the teaching, believed in the afterlife. They believed in a resurrection, heaven and hell. Because they were the main teachers in Judaism, their view of resurrection and life became the majority view among the Jews.

This was Martha's view of life and death and life again. She believed her brother would rise again on the day of resurrection, but that didn't do her a lot of good in the here and now.

Jesus came along to tweak that majority view.

• His claim to be the resurrection and life are a Messianic claim.

• His actions, in raising Lazarus, are a demonstration of his claim. It was also a forward picture of his own resurrection.

He taught life after death, but he also wanted them to understand something deeper. Resurrection and life are not just something for the future. It's not just pie in the sky when you die.

Resurrection and life are a person – Jesus.

He didn't say he brings resurrection and life. He said he is the resurrection and the life.

Too many believers only look forward to what happens when they die. To them, it's all about going to heaven when they die. Jesus is saying there is so much more.

Life now!

Jesus offers an invitation to live the resurrected life now.

For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:6. NLT

The Bible doesn't say we will be seat with Christ in heavenly realms. It says we are seated with Christ in heavenly realms. Eternal life is not something we have to wait until we die to get. It's not something reserved only for some future day of resurrection. It's now! It's found in the person of Jesus Christ.

The kingdom of God has about it an already-no yet aspect.

There is an aspect to the kingdom rule that will not become fully active until the end, at the final Day of Resurrection. When death, the last enemy is put away, life will rule for eternity.

But there is a very real part of living in Christ that is real here and now.

• We live in Christ. We commune with Christ.
• We adopt the values of the kingdom.
• We experience the presence and power of Christ with us.

Jesus is inviting us to look beyond the here and now and walk in life now.

Source: Door of Hope

I Am the Way, the Truth and the Life

by Dave Woodward

In John 13, Jesus meets with his disciples in what has been called The Last Supper.

• It begins with Jesus taking a basin and towel and washing the disciples' feet. His act of simply humility embarrasses them, especially Peter. But Jesus reminds them that if he, their Lord and Teacher, would wash their feet, they should also wash each other's feet.

• Jesus then drops the bombshell that someone is getting ready to betray him. It's someone close, someone who is sharing this very meals with him. There is a brief exchange between Jesus and the confused disciples. Judas leave to betray Jesus, with the others thinking he's off to tend to duties as the group's treasurer.

• As soon as Judas leaves, Jesus has more discussion with the remaining eleven.

"The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. And since God receives glory because of the Son, he will soon give glory to the Son. Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can't come where I am going. So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples."

Simon Peter asked, "Lord, where are you going?"

And Jesus replied, "You can't go with me now, but you will follow me later."
John 13:31-36. NLT

These sound very much like final instructions. Jesus is going to be glorified, but they can't come with him.

"But why can't I come now, Lord?" he asked. "I'm ready to die for you."

Jesus answered, "Die for me? I tell you the truth, Peter - before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.
John 13:37-38. NLT

Then comes this exchange and with it, Jesus' sixth I am statement.

"Don't let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father's home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going."

"No, we don't know, Lord," Thomas said. "We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?"

Jesus told him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. "
John 14:1-6. NLT

The context has to do with what kind of Messiah Jesus really was. The disciples, like just about everybody else, had constructed a view of the coming Messiah as one who defeated their Roman enemies, re-established the kingdom of Israel and set up a holy God-rule.

Over the preceding years, they have come to the conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah, but they are confused about how he goes about it.

Then, finally, Jesus declares that he's about to be glorified. I imagine the disciples looking at each other thinking, “Finally, it's happening!” And in the next breath, Jesus says, “But you can't come with me!” What!!!

Jesus seeks to calm their emotions. Don't be troubled - believe. I'm going, but I'm coming to get you. You know the way.

Now they are confused. This is not fitting their idea of how it's all going to work out. Thomas is the one who speaks up first.

• There's something about Thomas that I like. Where others are willing to smile and nod when Jesus says something, Thomas blurts out what he's thinking, even when it's not always the politically correct thing.

• It was Thomas who pessimistically told the others, “Come on, we might as well die with him,” when Jesus was determined to head towards Jerusalem in John 11, just before he raised Lazarus from the dead.

• It was Thomas who, as much as he wanted to believe what the others were saying about Jesus being resurrected, couldn't bring himself to just go along with the others. He declared that he had to see Jesus himself, and touch his scars - really be convinced.

• Thomas might be a pessimist, but he is honest.

"We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?"
John 14:5. NLT

That is when Jesus famously says: I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

What do we make of that?

How do we look at this in a way that is more than simply a theological statement about who Jesus is?

BIG IDEA NO. 1

Let Jesus, the Way, guide you towards Humility

Some of the Jewish leaders had formed the idea that if the whole Hebrew nation could be perfect for just one day, then the Messiah would come. Their perfect thoughts and behavior would make a way for Messiah to come.

I'm glad Jesus didn't wait for that to happen before showing up! We would still be waiting. More likely, we would have, by now, given up on that ever happening.

The religious world is full of formulas and prescriptions for making a way to God by our own morality, sacrifices or other devices.

Jesus knows that there is nothing we can do to make a way for God or to God.

We are all shipwrecked souls in need of a rope.

The simple reason is, our way is death.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God... Romans 3:23. NIV

That's why he made a way to us and for us. That's why the next verse in Romans 3 says this…

…and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:24. NIV

We can't make it our way.

There is not one of us who will stand before God in heaven and sing with Frank Sinatra, "I did it my way." And if somehow, by an act of divine grace, old Blue Eyes makes it there, I guarantee that's one song he won't be singing.

That is why Jesus came not just to show the way but to be the way.

Grace opens the door for us to fully know God and our eternal destiny.

The result for us can be nothing but humility.

We have nothing about which to brag. We dare not have any kind of holier-than-thou attitude.

There is no question that some Christians have adopted a superior attitude towards those who, in their opinion, don't measure up. They look at the tax collectors and sinners of our day. They shake their heads in disgust. They wag their tongues in gossip. They reach conclusions without ever realizing that without the grace of Jesus, they would themselves be hopelessly lost.

We dare not look down on anybody. They are us!

Jesus is the way.

We can only bow our heads in grateful humility.

BIG IDEA NO. 2

Let Jesus, the Truth, guide you towards Confidence

The religious world is full of opinions about what God is like. Every major, and minor, religion includes a description of the personality of the deity. Some, like our Hindu friends, believe in multiple deities. Others, like the Buddhists, can somehow aim for spirituality without a deity.

• Some have harsh and angry gods.
• Some have loving gods.
• There are gods who care and gods who don't

Even Christians can be confused and confusing. Sometimes it's because of the different spin we put on our interpretations of the Scriptures. At other times it's because of the sometimes unclear picture the Scriptures paint of God.

I know people who have rejected God because of how God is portrayed in Bible passages and by some Christians.

Right after Jesus declared himself to be the way, truth and life and that no one could come to the Father apart from him, Philip speaks up.

"Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." John 14:8. NLT

Even Philip, one of Jesus closest friends, wants to know what God is like. Show us the Father, Jesus.

We'll be okay with that.

Jesus seems shocked by his request.

"Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don't know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! John 14:9. NLT

Philip, don't you get it? If you see me, you see God.

You want to know what God is like?

Want to separate the truth from the fiction? Want to get a really good picture of the nature and character of God? You don't have to climb a mountain to find some guru. You don't have to follow some long convoluted formula. You don't have to listen to me preach (that's a relief, right?).

Look at Jesus. That's what God is like.

• How does Jesus relate to sinful people? That's God!
• How does Jesus relate to the marginalized and poor? That's God!
• How does Jesus relate to the highly religious? That's God!

The result for us, in looking at Jesus, is confidence.

• Not the kind of confidence that's arrogant. That would be a violation of the humility to which God calls us.

• It's the kind of confidence that stands in the face of opposition and trouble.

• It's the confidence that guides us even when it feels like the fogs of life are surrounding us.

• It's the kind of confidence that keeps us focused. It helps us to ignore the other images that present themselves as God and keeps our eyes on Jesus.

BIG IDEA NO. 3

Let Jesus, the Life, empower you for Action

Right after Jesus' exchange with Philip about seeing him and seeing the Father, Jesus says this…

I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!
John 14:12-14. NLT

I have to admit I don't fully understand all that Jesus means here, but this I do understand; he expects us to carry on the mission he started when he was physically here.

Go right back to the start of Jesus' earthly ministry. He's in a synagogue in his home town of Nazareth. He is invited to address the crowd. He chooses a scroll that contains the writings of the prophet Isaiah. He opens and reads what many Bible scholars regard as Jesus' mission statement.

"The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD's favour has come."
Luke 4:18-19. NLT

Then he sat down, which is what teachers did when they were about to teach. He simply says, "The Scripture you've just heard has been fulfilled this very day!" (verse 21) In other words, "That's me, boys! That's what I came to do."

The Spirit of the Lord was anointing him for the mission of

• Bringing good news to the poor
• To proclaim the release of captives
• To give sight to the blind
• To free the oppressed
• To announce God's favor

Now, if that's what the Spirit of God was doing then, what do you think the Spirit of God in us is wanting to do today. Is it possible it's the same thing?

The fact that Jesus is the life motivates us to action - our mission.

• To bring good news to the poor
• To proclaim the release of captives
• To give sight to the blind.
• To free the oppressed
• To announce God's favor

A few years ago a slogan started among the Christian community, framed around the letters WWJD.

WWJD stands for “What would Jesus do?” The idea was that, in whatever situation we find ourselves whether good or bad, we should ask the question, "What would Jesus do?" and then act accordingly.

It was a great marketing ploy. Millions of dollars of books, bracelets, bookmarks and other paraphernalia were bought. Somebody made a lot of money out of WWJD.

Just the same, WWJD is a great idea. It focuses our minds, and our decision making, on Jesus.

However, some have suggested that WWJD doesn't go far enough.

If Jesus is the life, and if he is truly alive in us, then maybe the question we should be asking is not "What would Jesus do?" but "What is Jesus doing?"

• How is the Jesus, alive in me, reaching out to the poor, and the captives, and the blind, and the oppressed today.

• How is the Jesus, alive in me, announcing God's grace to those who desperately need grace?

As you ask that question, you may be able to identify some areas where Christ is at work. None of us will be perfect here. There really must be some way in which the life and mission of Jesus is being living out in our lives. When you discover some area where Jesus is alive and working…

• Humbly take note of it.
• Thank God for what he's doing.
• Encourage and develop it further.

You may, as you ask this question of what Jesus is doing, see areas where Jesus is active and working through others, areas where you can, as it were, hop on the band wagon and join with Jesus in what he's doing.

I want to finish with a prayer that asks:

What is Jesus doing? What things is the Spirit of the Living God already active in my life? - in the lives of others?

How can I be a part of the action? How can the Jesus, who is the life, work in me to achieve his mission today.

As I pray, listen for the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit, guiding you into the mission of Jesus.

Listen for Jesus, who is the way, to guide you into humble acceptance of his grace

Listen for Jesus, who is the truth, to reveal to you the nature and character of God.

Listen for Jesus, who is the life, to call you into his mission to the poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed and your fellow sinners in need of grace.

Source: Door of Hope

I am the Vine

by Dave Woodward

Today we finish 'the seven I AM statements of Jesus' in John's Gospel.

One of the things we have noticed, in the first six statements, is that Jesus used events going on around him and then expanded them into teaching moments for the disciples, revealing to them something about who he is.

• After Jesus fed a multitude, he told them, "I am the bread of life." [John 6:35]

• After dealing with the darkness of legalism and the darkness of a woman caught in adultery, he said, "I am the light of the world." [John 8:12]

• After being confronted by angry religious leaders who were more interested in their power than in the plight of people, Jesus told them, "I am the gate and the good shepherd." [John 10:9,11]

• Just before raising his friend Lazarus from the dead, he declared, "I am the resurrection and the life." [John 11:25]

• When the disciples admitted they had no idea where he was going or how to get there, Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, the life." [John 14:6]

Now, Jesus has finished the Last Supper with his disciples. His last words in John 14 were these:

I don't have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me, but I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father. Come, let's be going.
 John 14:30-31

The last words in chapter 14 are, "Come, let us be going." At that, they would have left the upper room. They were most likely on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus would be arrested, when this discussion took place.

I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn't produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

"Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father."
John 15:1-8. NLT

Our last "I am" statement by Jesus has an "I am - you are" aspect to it. It's not just "I am…" Jesus says, "I am the vine. You are the branches."

There are some really good ideas that come from this Scripture.

BIG IDEA NO. 1

Understand that bearing fruit is important to God.

There are a number of Old Testament Scriptures which refer to Israel as being God's vineyard. This is not a reference with which the disciples would have been unfamiliar. They knew the references to God being the vine keeper and Israel being the vine or the vineyard.

One that stands out is found in Isaiah 5.

Now I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a rich and fertile hill. He ploughed the land, cleared its stones, and planted it with the best vines. In the middle he built a watchtower and carved a winepress in the nearby rocks. Then he waited for a harvest of sweet grapes, but the grapes that grew were bitter.

Now, you people of Jerusalem and Judah, you judge between me and my vineyard. What more could I have done for my vineyard that I have not already done? When I expected sweet grapes, why did my vineyard give me bitter grapes?

Now let me tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will tear down its hedges and let it be destroyed.

I will break down its walls and let the animals trample it. I will make it a wild place where the vines are not pruned and the ground is not hoed, a place overgrown with briers and thorns. I will command the clouds to drop no rain on it.
Isaiah 5:1-7

The nation of Israel is the vineyard of the Lord of Heaven's Armies. The people of Judah are his pleasant garden. He expected a crop of justice, but instead he found oppression. He expected to find righteousness, but instead he heard cries of violence.

God, the Divine Gardener, had put a lot into the nation, his vineyard.

• He found fertile soil…
• He prepared the land by clearing out the rocks and ploughing…
• He provided the protection of both a hedge around it and a watchtower within it…
• He planted the best vines…
• He even built a winepress in anticipation of enjoying the good fruit which would be produced.

It's obvious God was disappointed in the fruit that came.

• He expected good, sweet fruit, but instead the vineyard produced bitter grapes.

• He looked for justice and righteousness, but instead he found oppression and heard the moans of the victims of violence.

This passage gives us a good idea of the kind of fruit God is looking for.

Another passage, this time in the New Testament, gives a similar picture.

In Galatians 5, Paul lays out what he calls the works of the flesh; the life lived when we're only focusing on ourselves. These are the bitter grapes Isaiah writes about.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarrelling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
Galatians 5:19-21. NLT

He then moves on to what he calls the fruit of the Spirit, the kind of life produced when the God is in charge. This is the good fruit Isaiah says God was looking for.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Galatians 5:22-23a. NLT

For God, fruit - that is good fruit - is not optional.

In Isaiah, when God doesn't find the good fruit for which He is looking, he decides to let the vineyard go to ruins. He removes the protection. He lets it go. He doesn't cultivate the soil or prune the branches.

Those of you who are gardeners know what happens to the garden when you simply let it go. It turns to weeds. That's what God does in Isaiah 5.

In our passage today, Jesus says God has other actions in mind. He cuts off the branches which don't bear fruit. If they won't bear fruit, at least they can become firewood.

Bearing fruit is not optional. It's what God expects.

• The vineyard that produces bitter fruit is abandoned.
• The branches that produce no fruit are cut off.

Years ago I heard a preacher talking about this very section of the Bible. He specifically talked about this action of God removing, cutting off, the branches that bear no fruit. He asked the question,

"If God removed the unproductive people from the church today, where would you be next Sunday?"

God doesn't just want us to produce good fruit. He expects it.

What kind of fruit is God looking for? I think the two passages in Isaiah 5 and Galatians 5, give us a clue.

• In Isaiah, God was looking for justice and righteousness.

• In Galatians, the fruit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

That's what God is looking for in his people today.

That leads to the second big idea.

BIG IDEA NO. 2

Cultivate your connection with Jesus

In between the ground and the branches that produce the fruit is the vine.

For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.
John 15:4-5. NLT

This fruit God is looking for is not dependent on us trying really hard to making it happen. Just as fruit naturally comes from the tree, our fruit comes naturally from being connected to Jesus. In the very same context, Jesus says this.

I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father's commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!

This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn't confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn't choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name.
John 15:9-17. NLT

This is my command: Love each other.

Jesus identifies two things that connect them to him.

• Keeping his commands…
• Loving one another…

Those two things link us to Jesus in a way the produces the kind of fruit God is looking for.

I have a life principle which I have shared many times over the years.

You drift towards what you look towards.

It came to me in a motorcycle rider training course I was taking many years ago when I was getting back into riding after many years. The instructor told us that the direction you look is the direction in which you tend to drift. He set up to vertical broom sticks, just a couple of centimeters wider than the handlebars on our bikes. Our challenge was to ride between the two broomsticks without hitting them with the handlebars. What we found was when we looked at the broomsticks, we tended to drift towards them. The secret was to pick a point in the distance between the sticks and look straight ahead.

This principle is especially important when cornering on a motorcycle. When you're going through a corner, if you look at the edge of the road, you tend to drift towards the shoulder. The shoulder of the road is where the gravel is, and that is not particularly a good place to be in a corner. If you look towards the centre of the road, that's where you tend to drift. Drift over the centre line, and you're in the lane where the oncoming traffic is, also not a good place to be. The idea is to look through the corner to where you want to be.

That principle also works in life, as well as in motorcycling.

You tend to drift towards what you are looking at.

What are you looking at?

• If you're looking at all the things in life you don't have, you will create a life characterized unhappiness and envy. You will not appreciate the things you do have, and you'll be constantly discontent.

• If you are looking at all the things and people in life that have hurt, you will live in never-ending pain, always feeling like a victim.

• Focus your attention on things that make you happy, and you'll end up a completely self-centered person.

Look at Jesus. Cultivate that connection. Read his story. Emulate his life. Focus your mind and heart on him and his teachings. You will find your life drifting naturally towards his. You will also find your life naturally producing the kind of fruit his does.

BIG IDEA NO. 3

Welcome God's pruning

Jesus already said that God cuts off the unproductive branches. There is also another cutting here, also from God, the divine gardener.

He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.
John 15:2. NLT

You know I'm not a gardener, but I do know that pruning is a good thing for trees and flowers.

Cutting off sections actually helps the plant to produce healthier and more numerous flowers or fruit.

Years ago, I was on the management committee for a Christian campsite. The mango trees at the campsite had become diseased. Some of the branches were dead. The rest of the branches were still producing mangoes, but not a lot of them. We scheduled a working bee to prune the trees. One guy showed up with his chainsaw and really went to work. He cut off the dead branches and then proceeded to buzz through the rest of the trees as well. By the time he had finished, there was literally one green leaf left on one of the five trees! I thought, "That's the end of that. Nothing will happen on those trees anymore. Well, those mango trees bounced back. The following summer, there was good fruit on them. The following year, they were loaded!

Jesus tells us that sometimes God prunes us, cuts away deadwood, and even productive branches, so that we can produce even more fruit.

What things does God use to prune us? He uses a lot of ways really, but here are three, maybe even the big three.

• Problems.
• Predicaments.
• People.

The big idea here is that this pruning is actually a good thing. It might not feel like it at the time, but we know from past experiences that's it really is something positive.

James also reflects this thought.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. - James 1:2-3. NLT

Not only is this pruning good for us, it's also inevitable.

Learn to see your pruning as an opportunity to grow.

• To trust more.
• To become more humble.
• To become less independent and more dependent on God.
• To step out of your comfort zone and do something new.

One of three things is true for you right now today.

You are being pruned right now.

Maybe you are going through a pruning process right now. There has been loss in your life. You are facing hardship. Someone is giving you a hard time. There are tough decisions you have to make.

Pruning hurts. The challenge is to look for what God is doing and trust that he's got your fruitfulness at heart.

You are hurting because you have been pruned.

Maybe the pruning has already happened, and you're smarting a little (or a lot) from the pain of that pruning.

The question here is, "What is God inviting me to through this circumstance?"

You are in full bloom. There's nothing bad happening. Everything is rosy.

If that's the case, thank God. But keep this in mind…

There's a pruning on the way.

Whichever situation you find yourself in, I want to teach you a simple little prayer. Whether you're going through a pruning time, smarting from a pruning, or you've got one coming, this prayer is a good one.

God, what are You inviting me to?

• What lessons do you want me to learn?
• How do you want to build my faith?
• How do you want to build my character?

Stop right now and pray that prayer. Be sure to listen to God for the answers he might give.

Source: Door of Hope

[Go back to Table of Contents]

IV Prayer

Father, I Give Thee Thanks - Tutorial on Prayer from St. John

by Fr. Mark

Saint John's Gospel is the divine and mystic Gospel. its every page shines with the brightness of the Face of Christ, revealing the glory of the Father. Its every page burns the fire of the Heart of Jesus revealing the Father's merciful love. Saint John's Gospel is alive with the prayer of Jesus to the Father.

One cannot listen to the Gospel of Saint John,
or read it, or meditate it in one's heart
without being lifted, almost imperceptibly,
into the prayer of Jesus to the Father:

a prayer that rises on the wings of an unshakable confidence
in the Father's readiness to hear us at every moment.

So few of us pray as the Father would have us pray
because we cling to our own prayers

- narrow, myopic, half-hearted,
constrained by our fears,
and weighed down by our inability to trust.

Jesus, however, would have us pray as He prays.

Even more than that,
He would have us open our hearts
to His own prayer to the Father;
the bold and trusting prayer of the Son,
the sacrificial and all-powerful prayer
of the Eternal High Priest.

Jesus would infuse His own prayer into our souls
and, by the action of the Holy Ghost,
so draw us into His own relationship with the Father

that He will pray in us,
and we in Him,
and the Father, seeing us in prayer
hearing our words,
attentive to our groanings,
and counting our tears
as so many pearls for the treasury of the Kingdom,
will see on our faces the Face of the Son,
the Eternal High Priest,
and hear in our every heartbeat
the echo of His.

There is much in today's Gospel
that solicits my attention
and almost begs to be preached.

There is, for instance,
the message sent to Jesus by Martha and Mary,
the model of all intercessory prayer:
"Lord, behold him whom Thou lovest is sick."

How like the prayer of the Mother of God at Cana
is this prayer of two women, friends of Jesus,
fully confident in His response even before He gives it.
"They have no wine." (Jn 2:3)
"Lord, behold him whom Thou lovest is sick."

There is no need to say more.
A prayer of intercession patterned after this prayer
cannot fail to touch the Heart of Jesus.
I could also linger over the message that Martha
whispers into Mary's ear:
"The Master is here, and calleth for thee." (Jn 11:28)

This is the very message that everything in our churches
whispers to the believing heart:
the doors of the Church says it,
the Holy Water at the entrance of the Church says it,
the flicker of the sanctuary lamp says it,
the centrality of the tabernacle says it.
"The Master is here, and calleth for thee." (Jn 11:28)

How can you or I remain indifferent to such an appeal?

I could preach about the tears of Jesus:
the tears of the God-Man,
the tears that reveal the Divine Sensitivity of the Human Heart of God,
the tears that show us the Divine capacity for human friendship,
the tears that, falling upon our stony, hardened hearts,
soften them, change them, and wash them clean.

There is much more in today's Gospel
that begs to be preached, repeated, prayed
and held in our hearts.
Every line, in fact, is a vein of purest gold
waiting to be mined for the treasury of Mother Church.

All of this being said,
today I am drawn irresistibly to verses 41 and 42
of this eleventh chapter of Saint John.

"And Jesus, lifting up His eyes said:
'Father, I give Thee thanks that Thou hast heard me.
And I know that Thou hearest me always;
but because of the people who stand about have I said it,
that they may believe that Thou hast sent me.'" (Jn 11:41-42).

Jesus lifts up His eyes.

By lifting His eyes towards heaven,
Jesus teaches us that prayer is nothing else
than the lifting of the heart and mind to God.
The direction of His eyes
reveal the movement of His Heart.

Everything in the Son is turned towards His Father.

There is not a moment in His earthly life
when He, the Word who was in the beginning,
is not God facing God.
Instructed by His example,
the Church directs that in the most sacred part of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,
in that "Holy of Holies" that is the Canon of the Mass,
the priest, in imitation of Jesus,
lift his eyes towards the Father.

Here, the priest functions as the Head of the whole
worshipping body,
the congregation kneeling behind him.
When the eyes of the priest are raised heavenward,
the hearts of the faithful are also drawn upward,
for the eyes of the head
determine the orientation of the whole body.

There is no detail in the liturgy of the Church
that is of no consequence.
The lifting of the eyes heavenward
sets in motion the whole Church,
that is, the multitude of those who
"being of but one mind and one soul" (Ac 4:4)
lay aside all earthly cares
and forsake all that weighs upon their hearts
to enter with the Son, the High Priest,
into the sanctuary of heaven.

'Father, I give Thee thanks that Thou hast heard me.'

Here is Saint John's echo of that admirable thanksgiving of the Son in the Gospels of Saint Matthew and Saint Luke:

"In that same hour, He rejoiced in the Holy Ghost,
and said: I confess to Thee, O Father,
Lord of heaven and earth,
because Thou hast hidden these things
from the wise and prudent,
and hast revealed them to little ones.
Yea, Father,
for so it hath seemed good in Thy sight." (Lk 10:21)

The prayer of the Son to the Father
is an outpouring of thanksgiving:
every utterance of the Son says to the Father:
I praise Thee,
I bless Thee,
I adore Thee,
I glorify Thee,
I give Thee thanks for Thy great glory.

Is this not the hymn of His Bride the Church
that will set all our cathedral bells ringing
in the night of Holy Pascha?
And where did the Church learn her language of thanksgiving
if not in the school of the Heart of Jesus,
her High Priest and her Spouse?

There is never a moment when the prayer of the Son
does not capture
the full and infinitely loving attention of His Father.

What was from all eternity
- the ineffable conversation of the Father with the Son,
and the Son with the Father -
is actualized for us here and now
in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The Mass, being the Son in dialogue with the Father,
being, even more, the Son handing Himself over to death
the Son immolated,
the Son sacrificed, albeit in an unbloody manner,
for our sakes
and for the Father's glory,
authorizes every boldness in prayer.

There is nothing that the Mass cannot obtain.

Saint John Fisher said that
"He who goes about
to take the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass from the Church,
plots no less a calamity
than if he tried to snatch the sun from the universe."

Were the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
to cease on this earth of our ours,
we would be plunged into a darkness
as terrible as if the sun, the moon, and the stars
were extinguished in the firmament.

And why?

Because the Mass is the Eternal Father
captivated by the prayer of the Son:
Christ's prayer in us
and our prayer in Him.

"Because of the people who stand about have I said it,
that they may believe that Thou hast sent me."

Our Lord prays aloud
not because the Father needs to hear His human voice,
but because He would have us hear Him pray.

Hearing Him pray with such boldness,
with such filial confidence,
with such priestly majesty,
how can we not believe
that He who prays
is the Resurrection and the Life?

The Son's prayer to the Father
is uninterrupted,
ceaseless from before the beginning of time
and into the infinite unfolding of eternity.

This is the prayer that He articulates
for our sakes
in front of the tomb of Lazarus,
so that we, confronted by the stench of our sins,
bound in bands of our vices,
shrouded in our self-absorption,
and faced with the inexorable reality of death,
may be consoled and liberated by His prayer
and make His prayer our own
in this, the valley of the shadow of death,

Brothers and sisters,
this first week of Passiontide
as the Catholic tradition calls it,
and the following week called Great and Holy
will be for you and for me
a progressive entrance
into the prayer of Christ to the Father.

Christ will pray in us
and we in Him
at every stage of His bitter Passion,
in the seven last words from the Cross,
in the stillness of Holy Saturday,
and then in the glory of the resurrection
when the Son, waking from the sleep of death,
will open His eyes to see the Father bent over the tomb
as a father bends over the cradle of his first-born.

Open your hearts then
to the prayer of Christ.
Receive it, distilled by the liturgy of His Bride the Church,
and having received it
let it become in you ceaseless and uninterrupted
the pulse of your life in God,
your heartbeat, your life's breath.

It is time to go the altar.
The Master is here and calleth for us.
Let us go to meet Him:
our Victim and our Priest.

Source: Vultus Christi. Homily preached by Fr. Mark at Holy Family Cathedral, Tulsa, Oklahoma on 10 April 2011

On the Priestly Prayer of Jesus (John 17:1-26)

by Pope Benedict XVI

"Love Is True Glory, Divine Glory"

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In our continuing catechesis on Christian prayer, we now turn to the priestly prayer which Jesus offered at the Last Supper (cf. Jn 17:1-26). Against the backdrop of the Jewish feast of expiation Yom Kippur, Jesus, Priest and Victim, prays that the Father will glorify Him in this, the hour of His sacrifice of reconciliation. He asks the Father to consecrate His disciples, setting them apart and sending them forth to continue His mission in the world. Christ also implores the gift of unity for all those who will believe in Him through the preaching of the apostles. His priestly prayer can thus be seen as instituting the Church, the community of the disciples who, through faith in Him, are made one and share in His saving mission. In meditating upon the Lord's priestly prayer, let us ask the Father for the grace to grow in our baptismal consecration and to open our own prayers to the needs of our neighbours and the whole world. Let us also pray, as we have just done in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, for the gift of the visible unity of all Christ's followers, so that the world may believe in the Son and in the Father who sent Him.

Here is the full speech:

Dear brothers and sisters,

In today's catechesis we will focus our attention on the prayer that Jesus addresses to the Father in the "Hour" of His exaltation and of His glorification (cf. John 1:26). As the CCC affirms: "Christian Tradition rightly calls this prayer the 'priestly' prayer of Jesus. It is the prayer of our High Priest, inseparable from His sacrifice, from His passing over (Passover) to the Father to whom He is wholly 'consecrated'" (No. 2747).

Jesus' prayer can be understood in its extraordinary depth of richness if we consider it against the backdrop of the Jewish feast of expiation, Yom Kippur. On that day, the high priest makes expiation first for himself, then for the priestly class and lastly for the entire community of the people. The purpose is to restore to the people of Israel, after the transgressions of one year, the awareness of reconciliation with God, the awareness of being the chosen people, a "holy people" among the other nations. Jesus' prayer, presented in Chapter 17 of the Gospel according to John, adopts the structure of this feast. Jesus on that night turns to the Father as he is offering Himself. He, Priest and Victim, prays for Himself, for the apostles and for all those who will believe in Him, for the Church throughout the ages (cf. John 17:20).

The prayer that Jesus offers for Himself is the request for His own glorification, for His "exaltation" in this, his "Hour." In reality, it is more than a request and declaration of His full availability to enter freely and generously into God the Father's plan, which is to be accomplished in His being handed over in death and resurrection. This "Hour" begins with Judas' betrayal (cf. John 13:31) and will culminate in the Risen Jesus' ascension to the Father (John 20:17). Jesus comments on Judas' departure from the cenacle with these words: "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and in him God is glorified" (John 13:31). Not by chance does He begin the priestly prayer, saying: "Father, the hour has come: glorify the Son that the Son may glorify Thee" (John 17:1). The glorification that Jesus asks for Himself as High Priest is an entrance into the fullness of obedience to the Father, an obedience that leads Him into the fullness of His Sonship: "And now, Father, glorify Thou Me in Thy own presence with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was made" (John 17:5). This availability and this request form the first act of Jesus' new priesthood, which is a total self-giving on the Cross, and it is precisely on the Cross -- in the supreme act of love -- that He is glorified, because love is true glory, divine glory.

The second moment of this prayer is the intercession Jesus makes for the disciples who were with Him. They are those of whom Jesus can say to the Father: "I have manifested Thy name to the men whom Thou gavest me out of the world; Thine they were, and Thou gavest them to Me, and they have kept Thy word" (John 17:6). "To manifest God's name to men" is the realization of a new presence of the Father among His people, among humanity. This "manifestation" is not only a word; in Jesus, it is reality; God is with us, and thus the name -- His presence with us, His being one with us -- is "realized." Therefore, this manifestation finds its fulfillment in the Incarnation of the Word. In Jesus, God enters into human flesh: He makes Himself close in a unique and new way. And this presence has its summit in the sacrifice that Jesus offers in His Passover of death and resurrection.

At the center of this prayer of intercession and expiation for the disciples, is the request for consecration; Jesus says to the Father: "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth. As Thou didst send Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate Myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth" (John 17:16-19). I ask: what does it mean to "consecrate" in this case? First and foremost, it needs to be said that, strictly speaking, only God is "Consecrated" or "Holy." To consecrate therefore means to transfer a reality -- a person or a thing -- to God's ownership. And in this, two complementary aspects are present: on the one hand, the removal from common things, a segregation, a "setting apart" from the realm of man's personal life, in order to be given totally to God; and on the other hand, this segregation, this transfer to the sphere of God, signifies "sending," mission: precisely on account of its being given to God, the reality, the consecrated person exists "for" others; he is given to others.

To give oneself to God means no longer existing for oneself, but for all. He is consecrated who, like Jesus, is separated from the world and set apart for God in view of a task, and this is precisely why he is fully available to all. For the disciples, [the task] will be to continue the mission of Jesus, to be given to God so as to be on mission for all. On Easter evening, the Risen One appearing to his disciples will say to them: "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, even so I send you" (John 20:21).

The third act of this priestly prayer extends our gaze to the end of time. In it, Jesus turns to the Father in order to intercede on behalf of all those who will be brought to faith through the mission inaugurated by the apostles and continued throughout history: "I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in Me through their word." Jesus prays for the Church throughout the ages, He prays also for us (John 17:20). CCC comments: "Jesus fulfilled the word of the Father completely; His prayer, like His sacrifice, extends until the end of time. The prayer of this hour fills the end-times and carries them toward their consummation" (No. 2749).

The central petition of Jesus' priestly prayer dedicated to His disciples throughout the ages is for the future unity of all those who will believe in Him. This unity is not a product of the world. It comes exclusively from the divine unity and arrives to us from the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. Jesus invokes a gift that comes from Heaven, and that has its real and perceptible effect on earth. He prays "that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me" (John 17:21).

On the one hand, Christian unity is a hidden reality present in the hearts of believers. But at the same time, it must become visible in history with complete clarity; it must become visible, so that the world may believe; it has a very practical and concrete end -- it must become visible so that all may truly be one. The unity of the future disciples, being a unity with Jesus -- whom the Father sent into the world -- is also the original source of the Christian mission's efficacy in the world.

We can say that the founding of the Church is accomplished in Jesus' priestly prayer … it is precisely here, in the act of the Last Supper, that Jesus creates the Church. "For what else is the Church, if not the community of disciples who receive their unity through faith in Jesus Christ as the one sent by the Father and are drawn into Jesus' mission to lead the world toward the recognition of God -- and in this way to save it?" Here we find a true definition of the Church. "The Church is born from Jesus' prayer. But this prayer is more than words; it is the act by which He 'sanctifies' Himself, that is to say, He 'sacrifices' Himself for the life of the world" (cf. Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. II p. 101ff).

Jesus prays that His disciples may be one. It is in virtue of such unity, received and cherished, that the Church can journey "in the world" without being "of the world" (cf. John 17:6) and live out the mission entrusted to her, so that the world may believe in the Son and in the Father who sent Him. The Church becomes, then, the place where the very mission of Christ continues: to lead the "world" out of alienation from God and itself, out of sin, in order that it may return to being God's world.

Dear brothers and sisters, we have taken in a portion of the great richness of Jesus' priestly prayer, which I invite you to read and to ponder, so that it may guide us in conversation with the Lord, that it may teach us to pray. Then we, too, in our prayer may ask God to help us to enter more fully into the plan that He has for each one of us. Let us ask Him to grant that we may be "consecrated" to Him, that we may increasingly belong to Him, so that we may love others more and more -- those who are close to us and those who are far away; let us ask Him to grant that we may always be able to open our prayer to the dimensions of the world, not closing it in to the request for help for our own problems, but remembering our neighbor before the Lord and learning the beauty of interceding for others. Let us ask Him for the gift of visible unity among all believers in Christ -- we have earnestly invoked this during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity -- let us pray that we may always be ready to respond to whomever asks us the reason for the hope that is in us (cf. 1 Peter 3:15). Thank you.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Source: A translation of the catechesis Benedict XVI gave Jan. 25, 2012 during the general audience held in Paul VI Hall.

Our Savior's Intercessory Prayer

by Ralph Bouma

Our Saviour's intercessory prayer in JOH 17:1 begins with "Father," which is a word of confidence and intimate love. Even as our Saviour prepares to appease His Father's just wrath upon the sins of His church by His humble obedience unto death, even the death of the cross (PHI 2:8) He demonstrates the sweet parent-son relationship between His Father and Himself.

As our Saviour approached His Father's throne He,

"…lifted up his eyes to heaven,"

raising them above the present circumstances in holy reverence,

"and said, Father…."

Our Saviour's primary concern was not self-centered in this trying hour. What was the central theme of this prayer?

"…the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee." JOH 17:1.

See how blessedly our Saviour's actions in His hour of greatest trial, still corresponds with His teachings. He not only commands prayer as a gospel precept, but He also directs our attention to what the central theme of our prayer must be,

"whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son," JOH 14:13.

Our heavenly Father's glory must be the central theme of our life if we are to receive what we ask of Him. See the blessed promise the Lord Jesus Christ uses to commend obedience to such a gospel precept.

"Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you." JOH 15:16.

Now to this precept and promise our Lord adds His own example. If Christ who is CO-EQUAL with the Father prayed so earnestly for His Father's glory in the hour of trial, how much more must we obey His gospel precepts to obtain the gospel promises.

This principle comes through so clear from 1JO 3:22, "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight."

Our Lord knew that His own deliverance from death and the grave were sure. It was public knowledge that He had said,

"After three days I will rise again" MAT 27:63.

He also had a new right by the purchase through His perfect obedience unto death. Yet He would have this right confirmed by prayer.

This example is given for our learning; even if we are healthy, independently wealthy, and have full assurance of our salvation, yet we are commanded to acknowledge our dependency upon His grace as our Saviour taught in the perfect prayer:

"Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen."

Such a childlike humility beams with affection--holy reverence--and confidence in the parent-child relationship we have with our Heavenly Father under the most trying circumstances. See Christ's example in this principle at MAT 26:39,

"And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying,
O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me:
nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
"

All Christ's prayers are based on this parental relationship with His Father as in JOH 17:5:

"And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self
with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.
"

Amen.

Our Savior's Intercessory Prayer (John 17)

by Ralph Bouma

These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee (JOH 17:1).

Our Saviour's intercessory prayer begins with "Father," which is a word of confidence that is unmovable. The word Father instills confidence in the heart of a child. A child has no concern of who is paying the taxes, the rent or the utility bills. He is confident that his father will provide for him. It demonstrates the sweet parental relationship of Him whom He addresses. A little child can be turned loose in a crowd of people and feel totally lost, but as soon as he can take his father by the hand he is confident and has nothing to worry about.

By use of the word Father, Christ is demonstrating a confidence that what He asks will be granted. He lifted up his eyes to heaven in holy reverence and spoke the central theme of this prayer - that the Father glorify the Son, so that the Son may glorify him. Is this the central theme of our prayers? Are all of our requests centered on that which will bring glory to our Father?

See how blessedly our Saviour's actions in His hour of greatest trial still correspond with His teachings. What we say must correspond with what we do. Christ not only commands prayer, but He also reveals how His Father's being glorified in the Son must be the central theme of our prayer as we see in JOH 14:13. "And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." His entire motivation of granting what we desire is that His Father might be glorified in His doing so.

See the blessed promise the Lord Jesus Christ uses to commend obedience to such a precept in JOH 15:16. "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you." He promises a blessing upon obedience for praying this type of prayer. If we do not do what He has commanded us we may not expect the Father to give us what we ask.

Now to this precept and promise, our Lord adds His own example. The Lord does what He commands us to do. If Christ who is coequal with the Father prayed so earnestly in the hour of trial, how much more must we obey His precept to obtain the promises, that He be glorified in the trial we are in.

1TH 5:17-23 says:

"Pray without ceasing.
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
Quench not the Spirit.
Despise not prophesyings.
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
Abstain from all appearance of evil.
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."

The Lord is looking at our hearts to see if this is our desire. This does not mean that we will be perfect. Our best righteousness outside of Christ is filthy rags in the sight of God. The Lord is looking at our hearts. He wants a heart religion. He wants us to come before Him in a childlike spirit addressing Him as our Father, with a desire to do His will. We must strive for holiness. This does not mean that we are holy in ourselves. This is talking about taking up our cross and crucifying our flesh.

Our Lord knew His own deliverance. He knew He would be raised from the dead. He knew of the joy that was set before Him. He had an eternal right to heaven and glory and also a new right by the purchase of perfect obedience unto death, yet He would have this right confirmed by prayer.

So it is with all believers. Even if we are independently wealthy and have our assurance of mercy, yet we are commanded to acknowledge our dependency upon His grace as our Saviour taught in MAT 6:11-13.

"Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen."

This helps keep us humble, walking in the Spirit of Christ and dependent on the Lord. You and I still carry that old nature. We are still subject to temptation, and we must ask for this deliverance daily. The Lord wants us to acknowledge these things and reflect as a little child our dependence upon Him.

It is good to recognize that Christ did not commence His intercessory prayer saying "Our Father." He distinguishes between His relationship with the Father and ours even though we are coheirs with Him.

JOH 20:17 says,

"Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God."

He is a Son who is coequal with the Father, and we cannot lay claim to that. We are sons by adoption in Christ.

ROM 8:15-17 says:

"For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together."

His relationship with the Father is the original relationship, and our relationship is only through Him. In our land, if you have a natural child and then you have an adopted child, you can disinherit your own child, but you cannot disinherit an adopted child. So now we become joint-heirs with Christ. We are not heirs by nature; Christ is. We can be glorified together with Christ, but we have no glory outside of the glory we have in Jesus Christ.

What an unspeakable blessing when we receive that spirit of adoption whereby we can, "cry, Abba, Father," that we can address Him as our Father. With such a parental relationship with our heavenly Father, we beam with affection, holy reverence, confidence and childlike submission, under the most trying circumstances.

See Christ's example in MAT 26:39,

"And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt."

Think of a time when your child may have been on his death bed. It would draw all of your love and affection for such a one, and that is where the heart of our heavenly Father is toward His children. He was able to restrain His love for His own Son because of the love He had for such wretches as we are. We call into remembrance His parental love when we call to Him, "Abba, Father." We come with reverence, yet we also come with childlike submission. We can take the Father's hand as a little child, confident that He will take care of all of our needs. We confess that our hearts are in unconditional submission to His will.

See how that all Christ's prayers are bottomed on this parental relationship with His Father. JOH 17:5 says,

"And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was."

Our Saviour taught by His example and in His teaching that we are to come unto God through faith, addressing Him as our Father. MAT 6:9 says, "After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name." We are to come before God respecting Him and acknowledging that parental relationship, which denotes authority and submission, reverence, dependency.

The great work of the Holy Spirit is to rebuild this family relationship between those whom the Father has loved from eternity and Himself. In paradise, we had that parent-son relationship with God the Father. We rebelled against that authority. It is in that spirit of adoption that we acknowledge and accept that He is our Father, and that we bow to that authority, that we are drawn by that affection and love.

Those who remain under the "spirit of bondage" unto sin and self, may well cry "Lord Lord," but they cannot cry, "Abba, Father." We see this in MAT 7:22-23,

"Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."

They could not address God as Father because there was no humble submission to His will. They were not in His service. They were still working iniquity even though they called Him Lord.

Those who rightly "cry, Abba, Father" are not the workers of iniquity. Can you dare to be a worker of iniquity and come and say, "Our Father"? The spirit of a true child of God is a submissive spirit to the will of the Father. Our Saviour said in MAT 7:20-21,

"Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven."

Those are the ones who enter His kingdom. They serve under His Kingship. They humbly submit and obey.

If a person prays to God and says, Our Father, yet He has a heart of rebellion and loves to work iniquity, he is taking the Lord's name in vain. The self-sacrificial Spirit of Christ tends to a right to cry, "Abba, Father," with a submissive, childlike faith. For those who remain in the service of sin, to call God their Father is to take His name in vain. Christ counts none to be His brethren who are not sanctified.

HEB 2:10-11 says,

"For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren."

If we have not been adopted in the Lord Jesus Christ and sanctified, we cannot call God our Father. We are not one in Christ.

The unclean ravens may cry unto God for providential provisions, which God will hear and supply, but they cannot call God their Father. This does not mean that they possess grace. PSA 147:9 says, "He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry." This is written to encourage the believer to trust in the mercy of the loving Father of all creation, and to teach us to do good, even to our enemies. If we are going to have the image of God, if we are going to have the Spirit of God, we see that God even grants to His enemies things in providence.

MAT 5:44-45 teaches us to show love and mercy to our enemies, following the example of our heavenly Father. "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." If God the Father does this, ought not we as children of the Father, to pray for our enemies and do good to those who despitefully use us. God gives His enemies the bounties of His providence for which they will have to account on the day of judgment that they have sinned against such love.

Crying "Lord, Lord" as a creature is not half as sweet as to cry, "Abba, Father" as a child with a submissive, childlike faith. GAL 4:6-7 says, "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ." This is a ground of hope and expectation that will not make ashamed. Only those whom He has sanctified is He not ashamed to call His brothers.

Christ, the Son of God, was about to step into His Father's wrath to appease His wrath upon our sin, yet He addresses Him as Father. The Lord Jesus did not lose sight of the loving, tender affection of His Father just because He was about to step into the Father's wrath. The hour had come to meet the just demands of our Father with Him as our surety for a debt that we could not pay, yet He addresses Him as Father, not as Judge. A surety is one who has taken upon himself to pay what the debtor is not able to pay. He did not come before the Father as a righteous judge, He came before Him as a tender, loving Father, fulfilling all the demands of the law in our behalf, that you and I might be able to cry, "Abba, Father." These truths are beyond all human understanding.

In so doing, our Surety teaches us by His own humble obedience as His acknowledgment of His Father's love, that in all adversities we must maintain our claim of adoption and behave ourselves like children, even in the utmost adversity. Whatever the Lord brings upon us, it is from a loving Father's hand. When we see that He is using His chastening hand, we do not start questioning our salvation. These are but tokens of His love, of His sanctifying work, of His purging and cleansing us from our sins.

Many people when faced with adversity resort to alcohol or drugs to blot it out of their minds, but we must accept the adversity as from Him. HEB 12:5-8 says,

"And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons."

As the Lord takes you and me through the furnace of afflictions for purification, we must not lose sight of His loving hand, that it is in His love that He chastens us. The Lord is a God of the valleys as well as of the hills. If we are without chastisement, we cannot claim God as our Father; we have no heavenly Father.

To be exempted from the cross is to be excluded from the family of God as dear children, and brethren of Christ. The bramble is allowed to grow wild, but see what we read about the vine in JOH 15:1-2. "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit." He does not do this for the bramble. He does not allow His children to go out and destroy themselves. Even though it is painful to our flesh, He brings us into childlike submission. HEB 12:11 says, "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby." There is a joy of being sanctified, that we may be brethren with Christ, that we can be adopted into the family of God.

Fatherly acts are not only directed with authority but with loving care. A slave driver may correct with cruelty and malice, but loving fathers do not deal so with children. HEB 12:9-10 says,

"Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness."

To express the parental love of our heavenly Father, His bowels of love are likened unto those of a mother. Throughout Scripture we see that the heart of the Father yearns for His children. ISA 49:15-16 says,

"Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me."

His love for us exceeds the natural love of a mother for her children. Those walls are our security, our eternal security. It is impossible for Him to forget us. Every time His hands are before His face, He sees our names written there. Every scar in His hand was engraved there to pay for our sins.

He is likened unto a natural father to illustrate His wisdom and loving care. MAT 6:31-33 says,

"Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."

Seek in the original means to go after these things with our utmost desires. He will provide these things. We do not have to run after them. We do not have to make them our care.

If we have a trial in providence, where should we go? We should come before Him and seek His will and what we can do to enter into His service and not be so worried about our problems in this life. He has it all under control, and He can correct it by just speaking a word. What He wants is our hearts.

Our natural fathers may have chastised us with some mixture of passion or fleshly corruption, but our heavenly Father's corrections are perfected with love and sound judgment. A natural father may overreact out of fleshly passion, but our heavenly Father knows exactly what chastening it takes to bring us into the furnace of affliction to purify us that we might be partakers of His holiness. It is for our own good. This is the only reason He sends chastening.

A schoolteacher said she had a discipline problem, and I asked her, Why do you not use some discipline? She replied, By the time I get over there I am not mad any more. That is not the way to discipline. You do not discipline a child because you are mad. A man told me, It is obvious that the Lord is punishing you for this, or for this, or for this. I said, No, I am sorry. I do not agree with you. If Christ is mine, and I am His, then my sins have already been punished. The Lord is not punishing, but He may be correcting. If that be the case, I am willing to kiss His hand. That is a totally different thing.

Therefore, we can say with Christ as in JOH 18:11b, "The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" We do not have to become discouraged when the Lord brings His chastening hand. Even every bitter cup comes from a loving Father's hand. Can we not taste the sweetness in a cup, when we know it was first touched by our Saviour's lips, when we know that He has drunk from that very cup in our behalf? Does that not take the pain and bitterness out of it?

PRO 27:7 says, "The full soul loatheth an honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet." Even the most bitter trials can become so sweet when we have a right appetite for the things of the Lord. When we rightly understand our loving Father's hand, then the bitter things He gives us to drink, are sweet.

The Greatest Prayer Ever Prayed (John 17:1-26)

by Mark A. Copeland

INTRODUCTION

1. "Some brethren pray by the yard; but true prayer is measured by weight, and not by length." - Charles Spurgeon

2. This statement is true, for the greatest prayer ever prayed is recorded in Jn 17...

a. It takes about six minutes to reverently read it aloud
b. There may not be much length, but there is certainly a great depth and weight!

3. Though there are approximately 650 prayers recorded in the Bible...

a. Not one of them can match our Lord's "High Priestly Prayer" in Jn 17
b. Nor can any prayer recorded outside the Bible

[What is it about this prayer that makes it so great? At least four reasons can be given. From Jn 17:1 we learn it is great because of...]

I. THE PERSON WHO OFFERED THE PRAYER

A. JESUS, REVEALED IN THIS GOSPEL AS...

1. He who was with God in the beginning - Jn 1:1
3. He who was God - Jn 1:1
4. He who was in the beginning with God - Jn 1:2
5. He who was the Creator of all things - Jn 1:3
6. He was the light of men - Jn 1:4
7. He who became flesh and dwelt among men - Jn 1:14

B. JESUS, PROCLAIMED IN THIS GOSPEL AS...

1. The Word - Jn 1:1,14
2. The Lamb of God - Jn 1:29
3. The Son of God - Jn 1:34
4. The King of Israel - Jn 1:49
5. The promised Messiah - Jn 4:25-26
6. The Bread of Life - Jn 6:35
7. The Light Of the World - Jn 8:12
8. The Great "I Am" - Jn 8:56-58
9. The Good Shepherd - Jn 10:11
10. The Resurrection and The Life - Jn 11:25

[The prayer in Jn 17 is great because the greatest Person who ever lived is the One who offered it! It is also great because of...]

II. THE OCCASION THAT DEMANDED THE PRAYER

A. OCCASIONS PROVIDE WEIGHT TO WORDS...

1. Neil Armstrong said, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

a. If he had made the statement while playing hopscotch with the neighborhood children, nobody would have paid him attention

b. He made it as he stepped down from his spacecraft, the first man to walk on the moon

2. The situation helped give weight to his words!

B. THE OCCASION SURROUNDING THIS PRAYER...

1. Notice His first words: "Father, the hour has come" - Jn 17:1

2. What 'hour' is that?

a. His appointment with the cross - cf. Jn 16:31-32
b. A time of separation, betrayal, suffering, and crucifixion
c. A time in which God's eternal purpose is about to be carried out
d. A time in which Jesus is about to bear the sins of the world on the cross!

[The occasion, in which Jesus knows His crucifixion is imminent, gives great weight to the words of His prayer. Whatever preoccupied the mind of Jesus at this time must be very important! The prayer was also great because of...]

III. THE CONTENTS OF THE PRAYER

A. THIS PRAYER DEALS WITH GREAT THEMES...

1. It takes us back and forward in time

a. Back to eternity past - Jn 17:5
b. Forward into the future glory in heaven - Jn 17:24

2. It deals with glory

a. The glory of the Father and the Son - Jn 17:1
b. The disciples glorifying God on earth - Jn 17:10
c. The Son giving glory to His disciples - Jn 17:22
d. The disciples beholding the glory of the Son - Jn 17:24

3. It discusses love

a. The Father's love for believers - Jn 17:23
b. The Father's love for Jesus - Jn 17:23-24

B. THIS PRAYER CONTAINS GREAT PETITIONS...

1. "Glorify Me" - Jn 17:1-5
2. "Keep them" - Jn 17:6-12
3. "Sanctify them" - Jn 17:13-19
4. "That they all might be one" - Jn 17:20-23
5. "That they may behold My glory" - Jn 17:24-26

C. THIS PRAYER HAS THREE GREAT DIVISIONS...

1. Jesus prays for Himself - Jn 17:1-5
2. Jesus prays for His disciples - Jn 17:6-19
3. Jesus prays for all believers - Jn 17:20-26

[Even a brief examination of its contents reveal the greatness of this prayer, and why it is worthy of careful study. Finally, a fourth reason why this is the greatest prayer: because of...]

IV. THE VICTORY REVEALED IN THE PRAYER

A. THE CONCERN OF JESUS IS EVIDENT...

1. Pertaining to "the world" (used 19 times!) and the effect it can have on believers

2. A justifiable concern, for we live in a world which is:

a. Deceived (blinded by Satan) - cf. 2Co 4:3-4
b. Dangerous (promises fulfillment, but will pass away) - cf. 1Jn 2:15-17
c. Defiled (defiling those who accept it) - cf. Jm 1:27
d. Divided (this is self-evident, especially in regards to religion)

B. YET JESUS HAS OVERCOME THE WORLD...

1. As He told His disciples prior to this prayer - cf. Jn 16:33

2. In this prayer, the victory in Jesus is revealed! The world may be:

a. Deceived, but Jesus has shown us reality, in revealing the only true God - Jn 17:3
b. Dangerous, but Jesus provides security as we are kept in God's name - Jn 17:11-12
c. Defiled, but Jesus provides sanctification through God's word - Jn 17:17
d. Divided, but Jesus offers unity through His glory - Jn 17:22

CONCLUSION

1. These four reasons help us appreciate why Jesus' prayer in Jn 17 has been called...

a. "The Greatest Prayer Ever Prayed"
b. "The High Priestly Prayer"
c. "The Lord's Prayer" (not just that taught by Jesus in Mt 6 and Lk 11)

2. It is indeed a great prayer...

a. But it is a prayer in behalf of those who are Jesus' disciples
b. If you are not a disciple, Jesus' prayer is that you first become one! - cf. Mt 28:18-20

Then as disciples of Jesus Christ, we should do all that we can to see that "The Greatest Prayer Ever Prayed" be fulfilled in our lives...!

Note: The main idea and many points for this outline came from a book by Warren Wiersbe which I believe is now out of print.

Source: Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2011

Our Prayer Life - Taught by Christ's Example

by Ralph Bouma

"These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee" (John 17:1).

Notice the posture of our blessed Saviour as He comes to address the Father.

The fact that He lifted up His eyes shows that His eyes were above all things of the flesh and of this world. He was looking to His heavenly Father with one objective in mind - glorify your Son so your Son may glorify you. His central concern was the glory of His Father. He did not ask His Father to spare Him from suffering and death.

The four Gospels tell of many instances in which the Lord Jesus Christ prayed, but as His hour to depart drew near, His prayer was greatly intensified.

This runs parallel with what we read in John 16:21, where the Lord Jesus was teaching His disciples what they should expect:

"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."

As He came to the time of His departure our Saviour was in travail of His soul.

His eyes were lifted up to His Father, seeing the glory that He would bring to His Father's name by redeeming the church from the power of Satan and sin and reconciling them to the Father from whom they had fallen. He had His eyes on the joy set before Him. We read in Isaiah 53:11: "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities." This was soul travail or spiritual travail. That should lift our hearts and minds and eyes above all things of the flesh.

By keeping His eye on the joy that was set before Him, He could endure the cross, suffer the shame and then be seated again at the right hand of the Father. He lifted His eyes above the suffering that lay before Him.

Our Saviour's intercessory prayer is a monument of His affection for His bride for whom He came as Redeemer.

He said in John 17:9: "I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine." His Father would be glorified in the redemption of those who are His own chosen, those whom He has loved from eternity.

This intercessory prayer mentions all blessings and privileges necessary for the church.

Our Lord prayed for Himself, the apostles and for all believers. Look at verse 17:22: "And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one." The Father is glorified in that oneness the Saviour has with His bride and the oneness there is among the church.

Throughout the Old and New testaments we see that there is nothing more displeasing than discord among the brethren.

Nothing is more grievous to the Lord. We were reading a chapter the other day about those who hold bitterness in their hearts toward their brothers, those who imagine evil in their hearts against their brothers. The Lord hates this, and now we see how the Father is glorified with this oneness. Can you imagine the oneness the Lord Jesus is speaking about between Christ and the Father, and that we should have this oneness among the church?

Christ's merit, the authority of His Word, and the believers' comfort (the unity and fellowship among believers) are the central issues of Christian religion.

If you claim to be a Christian it should be centered in these central issues.

So let's consider the preface to our Saviour's intercessory prayer. Our text says:

"These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven."

What were these things? They were those things that Jesus spoke in His farewell sermon in the previous chapter. Look at John 16:33:

"These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."

Jesus wanted His church to have peace with God the Father, that He might redeem them back to God, that they might have peace through the blood of His cross, but also that His peace might dwell in their hearts, that they might have no more frustration, no more anxiety, but that they might have perfect peace.

It is so precious to see how our Saviour discharges His office as Mediator.

A mediator is a go-between between two parties who cannot come together. A mediator mediates between two offended people. As the blessed God-Man, He lays His hand upon both. We read in Job 9:32-33: "For he is not a man, as I am, that I should answer him, and we should come together in judgment. Neither is there any daysman [mediator] betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both [that is, who can deal with both parties]." As a mediator, Jesus lays His hands on His church and on His Father and He gives what it takes to bring them into reconciliation.

The Father is offended by the grievousness of our sins, so the Son of God takes upon Himself to pay the penalty and to appease the Father's wrath. But we have become servants of Satan and sin. And He lays His hands on us and delivers us from the servitude of Satan and sin and brings our hearts back into oneness with the will of God.

Throughout the Gospels, Christ dealt with men in the name of His Father (as the ambassador of God to us, to bring us the good news of the gospel), opening His counsel to us, but now He comes to deal with the Father in the name of all believers to present their case to the Father. As an intercessor, He becomes before God bearing His precious merits, showing how He has brought the Father's word to His bride, and they have become one, and to come before the Father and plead on behalf of His church.

Moses was a type of Christ who acted as mediator between God and the people. He spoke to God on behalf of the people. We read in Exodus 19:19: "And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice." But Moses also spoke from God to the people. We read in Exodus 20:19: "And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die."

In like manner, our Lord Jesus Christ spoke all that the Father had given Him to say to the people, and now He brings their case before the Father as we read in John 17:6-8:

"I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me."

The Lord Jesus is bringing their credibility, their hearts of reconciliation, and pleading it before the Father. This is how He was interceding or mediating on behalf of His church.

Today our Lord speaks to us in His Word.

We still have the words Christ spoke to His disciples. He speaks for us in the courts of heaven - without which our prayers would be nothing but mere vain repetition of words. He is still interceding for us. If it wasn't that the Father looks at our prayers in the intercession of Christ, we would only be speaking to the air.

We read in Hebrews 7:25: "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." He takes our prayers and washes them in His blood and presents them before the Father.

The word never speaks effectually to us until Christ speaks in it. The Holy Spirit takes the word of God and gives it to us. You and I cannot take His holy word. We can read it and even try to calculate with our human minds what it says. But it doesn't become spoken to us personally until it is given to us. He opens our understanding and applies it to our hearts.

Look at 2 Corinthians 13:3-5:

"Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you. For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you. Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?"

Has God given us His word? Has the word of God been applied in our hearts? Does it effectually work in our lives? Does it turn us and deliver us from the power of sin? Is Christ in us? Do we have the Spirit of Christ? Do we have the word of God given to us by the Holy Spirit that delivers us from the service of sin? Can the world see Christ in us? Do they see us as lights? Do they see that by our attitudes and actions that Christ is in us?

Joseph told his brethren they would not see his face unless his brother Benjamin was with them. But think what a blessing it is that we can come to seek the Father's face on the basis that His own beloved Son is not only with us, but in us and we in Him! When we come to God and say: "Father, deliver me," and the Lord Jesus is not with it, we will not see the Father's face. If God the Father looks down from His throne and does not see Christ in you, He will not hear your prayer, you will not see His face or receive His delivering hand.

We must not only have Christ in us, but we must be in Christ.

Look at Colossians 1:27-28: "To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." He is warning us that unless Christ is in us we have no hope of glory.

Christ's intercession is the golden conduit through which our prayers ascend to the throne of grace - and through which the Divine influences of grace are conveyed to us.

I want you to see 1 Corinthians 8:6:

"But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him."

We cannot come before the throne of grace outside of the atoning work of Jesus Christ. There is only one avenue of approach and that is the atoning work of Christ. It is only through Christ that we have access to His throne.

Notice Christ's order and method: From preaching He went on to pray. As He finished His farewell sermon He prayed.

The preaching of the word is not fruitful without the Divine influence of the Spirit of grace.

Luke 24:28-31 says:

"And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further. But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them. And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight."

In this account of Jesus meeting the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, He preached to them and then He prayed with them, and their eyes were opened, and they knew Him. In the breaking of bread and the giving of thanks their eyes were opened. Jesus had spoken to them revealing from the word that He was the very Christ, but their eyes were closed until He prayed with them.

A God-given ministry cannot be separated from effectual prayer as the apostle Paul said in Acts 6:4:

"But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word."

You cannot separate the two. Just occupying a pew in church does not convey a blessing. The service must be seasoned with prayer before and after.

Prayer is the key to open the heart for the word, because that is what opens heaven's ear.

But those who do not know what it is to have communion with God will think it is Eli when God does speak to them. Samuel was a godly child, but he was a stranger to communion with God. We read in 1 Samuel 3:8-9:

"And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And Eli perceived that the LORD had called the child. Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, LORD; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place."

When this happened, Samuel was not yet knowledgeable about hearing the word of God. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he thought it was just a man speaking to him. They did not realize that it was the Lord Jesus Christ speaking to them. And when the Lord does speak to us, if we do not understand and have communion with God, we will think it is just the voice of a man.

To fail to follow up on the sermon with prayer is to forsake Christ's established method. When we pray the pastor full, he will preach you full. Christ, by His example, has established a method for getting the ear of the Father. We read in Romans 15:30-31:

"Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints."

Members don't always understand how a man must struggle in prayer before he can preach. The apostle Paul is calling on members to strive with him that the word he preaches would be accepted, that he might speak words that the Lord would bless.

The Holy Spirit recorded the gesture of Christ, which is a real significance of the motions of the heart.

In our text in John 17:1 we read:

"These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee."

Jesus is showing us here how important it is that our hearts are above the things of this life, that our affections are on the things that are above. Our heart's desire is that He might be glorified.

When our Saviour was in the Garden we read in Matthew 26:39:

"And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt."

However in our text we read that He "lifted up his eyes to heaven." When our Lord was made to be sin for us He "fell on His face," but later He lifted His heart to His Father with a gesture of confidence for His dear children. When we have a right insight into our sins, sometimes we have to lay with our faces on the ground.

In Psalm 25:1 we read: "Unto thee, O LORD, do I lift up my soul." This implies the lifting up of our hearts above the things of this life. Our hearts ascend to the Father that He might be glorified, that whatever He would bring into our lives would be for His glory.

If you would converse with God you don't need to change the posture of your body.

He is not impressed with how ever you may raise your voice, but He looks at the posture of your heart. He wants our hearts to be in communion with Him.

Once I was on a tractor and my heart was going out to the Lord, and all of a sudden it hit me that if I am praying I ought to be on my knees. So I stopped the tractor, got off and got on my knees, but the Lord was gone. That happened a number of times.

Years later I was sitting on a chair in my kitchen, and my heart was in such blessed communion with the Lord. All of a sudden Satan hit me with it again: "You belong on your knees." I stayed sitting because Satan had tricked me like that many times before.

I saw a little book, Zion's Witness, and I reached over and took a hold of it, and it was on this very subject. It explained that David went in and sat before the Lord, and that Isaac was out in the field and walked before the Lord. It went on to explain how that Satan so often will try to get us to change the posture of our bodies, but the Lord is not looking at the posture of our bodies. He is looking at the posture of our hearts. If Satan can get us to obey him, the Lord is gone.

We read in 1 Samuel 1:10-13:

"And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the LORD, and wept sore. And she vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head. And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli marked her mouth. Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken."

Acceptable prayer is communion between our hearts and the Lord.

Many times no words are spoken audibly. Many times it is just the heart meditating and going out to the Lord. You don't have to stop what you are doing and get on your knees. Acceptable prayer is offered with holy reverence for the majesty of the King we are approaching. It is common to feel awe when we come into the presence of a dignity. If you could shake hands with the President of the United States, you would feel a sense of awe. I have experienced that. I shook hands with the elder President George Bush. You take a hold of that hand and you realize that this is a man in a position of power and dignity. The Lord had placed him there. But this is nothing compared to coming into the presence of the King of kings. We must come before Him with reverence and holy awe.

Look at Psalm 103:17-19:

"But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children's children; To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them. The LORD hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all."

We must have this reverence in our hearts.

You Don't Need Long Prayers

As our heart is lifted up in holy reverence to the throne of God, we must learn what Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 5:2:

"Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few."

Some of the most effectual prayers that I have ever prayed in my life were three words: "Lord, help me." We don't need to come before the Lord with a lot of words, set our watches and time ourselves and spend three hours on our knees. We don't need to use many words and vain repetitions as the heathens do thinking that thereby the Lord will hear us. He wants our hearts.

Many tremble to approach the throne of earthly kings, but what is all their pomp and splendor compared to that of our God? We read in Psalm 104:1-4:

"Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty. Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain: Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind: Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire."

When we have this view of God we come before Him with holy awe. There is no joking, jesting or humor. To do so is to follow a trick of Satan out of the pit of hell.

What are the coaches of earthly princes who are but our fellow clay compared to the chariots of our God who rides upon the very heavens? Look at Psalm 68:33-34:

"To him that rideth upon the heavens of heavens, which were of old; lo, he doth send out his voice, and that a mighty voice. Ascribe ye strength unto God: his excellency is over Israel, and his strength is in the clouds."

We come before a God who is an almighty God, who brought forth the earth with but a word.

We must lift our eyes and hearts with our affections above the things of this life to find access to the throne of such a God.

It is strange that some people think they can talk to God as if He were on their level or below them. They act as if God is but a man. Look at Colossians 3:1-2:

"If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth."

We don't tell the Lord what to do. We need to ask what would be pleasing to Him.

As our affections are drawn to the blessed throne of grace, our eye of faith is fixed on the hand of our Lord and Master to know what would be pleasing to Him. Now we start to understand what true prayer is. We don't tell the Lord what to do. We need to ask what would be pleasing to Him. Jesus' petition was: "Glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee." The first true prayer that the apostle Paul prayed was: "Lord, what will you have me to do?"

In Psalm 123:2 we read:

"Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the LORD our God, until that he have mercy upon us."

Hired people look to their employers wanting to know what they would want them to do so that they might have their wages or reward. If they are indignant they may not have a position any more.

They might lose their position and not receive their reward that provides for the necessities of life. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33:

"Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."

We must come before the Lord asking Him what we must do. If we are servants of the Lord, and serving in His favor, He will look after our necessities of life. He knows what we need before we ever come before Him and ask. We can come before Him with trust and faith if His glory is our chief concern, not what we can get from Him.

Our text says in John 17:1:

"These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee."

We read in Philippians 2:9-11 about what Jesus received for His condescension and humble obedience:

"Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

We may ask, why did the Son of God stand knocking at the Father's door?

I answer, Because this was the Father's will! This was an act of submission. He was co-equal with the Father, yet He lay with His face on the ground pleading before Him. Later, He raised His eyes pleading that the Father would glorify Him so He could glorify the Father. He did this because this was the Father's will.

Look at Psalm 2:7-8:

"I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession."

The decree is already there. The Lord has already decreed that He will do it, but He says to ask. The Lord is glorified by that humble childlike spirit, that we come before Him and ask for those things that are necessary.

Christ's intercession for His saints demonstrates His condescension.

It demonstrates how He bows to the will of the Father. In His whole transaction of redemption. God the Father would sustain the Person of ruler of the universe whose wrath was appeased by the merits of His Son. I want you to think of something. God created Adam and put Him in a position that he had all things of this earth under his dominion. He reserved one position for Himself, and this is that He is the ruler, that Adam would be second in command and would have to respect and honor the authority of God.

Now we see Christ coming as our substitute. He condescended to place Himself as second in command, where God had created man to be. He took the place that you and I deserved. He took the place for which you and I were created. He was in subjection to the will of God. To establish this He gave Him a command of one tree of which he was not to eat to demonstrate his submission to God's authority. Adam wanted to become as God, to be equal to Him, and he fell. The Son of God was equal to God, and He condescended to take a position second to God. He rightfully had what we tried to steal, and that is a position equal to God.

We read in 1 John 2:1-2:

"My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."

Now His wrath is appeased, looking on the merits of the Son of God. As Jesus comes before God as our Advocate with our names written in the palms of His hands, He demonstrates how He has purchased our redemption by His condescension and volunteering to obey.

Yet in His prayers Christ speaks as the God-Man. He does not say, "I ask," but He says "I will." All authority was given Him as His reward for such humble obedience.

Jesus bringing us into reconciliation with the Father with His Prayer

Look at John 17:24:

"Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world."

It was the Son's will; and the Father's will and His will were one, and now our wills might be made one with His will, that we might be one with Him as they are one. It is true with every one of God's dear children, that He has loved us from before the foundation of the world. When you and I are brought back into conformity with the will of God, then His will and Christ's will and our will all will be one. Then we are brought back into reconciliation with the Father.

Our text says in John 17:1: "These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee."

Lenten Reconciliation Pastoral Prayer [Sedro]
Syriac Orthodox Church
Priest: O Christ, our God, the eternal Tranquility of creation, and the true

Peace of the uttermost parts of he world; Thou Who art love and art
called love, and Who delighteth in this title more than all other
titles; Thou Who giveth honor to those who hold to this love.

By Thy love for us, Thou offereth Thyself as an acceptable sacrifice
and a sweet fragrance.

By Thy crucifixion, Thou breakest down the barrier of enmity and,

By Thy blood, Thou hast reconciled the dwellers of heaven and earth
and hast removed the enmity from the middle and united them as one.

By the indivisible unity of Thy Godhead from eternity and Thy human
nature in time, Thou hast called all those who were far off and those
who were near, and thus Thou has joined them together with the concord
of Thy divine love.

By this same love, Thou hast counted them among the household of Thy
eternal kingdom and brought the whole world good tidings of peace and
tranquility. At Thy birth, the heavenly hosts proclaimed peace to the
shepherds. Thou gavest peace to the women, who went and announced Thy
glorious resurrection. In peace, Thou assureth Thy holy apostles of
Thy resurrection in the upper room where they gathered. When Thou
wast ascending to Thy Father, Thou gavest Thy peace to Thy disciples,
saying to them: "My peace I leave with you; not as the world giveth,
do I give it to you. This is my commandment that you should love
another, just I have loved you." Keep this love entrusted to us, our
Savior, and by it, confirm our minds.

By Thy love, may we be bound together.

By Thy love, drive out from among us divisions and controversies.

By Thy love, make us keep Thy life-giving commandments.

By Thy love, hold afflictions and sufferings from us.

By Thy love, make us children of peace and tranquility.

By Thy peace, unite the shepherds and their flocks.

By Thy peace, cause priest to delight in their offerings.

By Thy peace, perfect Thy Church and her children.

By Thy peace and tranquility, guide and adorn Thy Church.

By Thy peace and tranquility, lead her congregations and make her
children glad

In Thy tranquility, keep those who are near her.

In Thy peace, purify her deacons.

In Thy tranquility, unite her leaders.

In Thy peace, reconcile the wrathful.

In Thy tranquility, unite those that are divided.

In Thy peace, fill bitter souls with happiness.

In Thy tranquility, keep Thy flock.

In Thy peace, settle doubting minds.

In Thy tranquility, purify our thoughts.

In Thy peace, deliver us from merciless people in authority.

In Thy tranquility, adorn us in all Thy festivals.

In Thy peace, accept our fasting and our prayers.

In Thy tranquility, grant us mercy and forgiveness.

In Thy peace, loosen us from the bonds of wickedness.

In Thy tranquility, break us out of the yoke of the adversary.

May Thy peace be with us and may Thy tranquility reign among us.
Bind our minds with Thy Love and establish Thy loving-kindness in our
hearts that we may offer thanks to Thee, O Lord of tranquility, and to
Thy Father, the Giver of peace, and to Thy Holy Spirit, the
Perfector of true love, now and forever.

People: Amen

Courtesy of: Rev. Fr. John Bryan, Holy Transfiguration Church, Madison, WI

[Go back to Table of Contents]

V For Reflection/Meditation

This is the Way, Walk In It
[Editor's Note: The following Meditation/Reflection is designed for deep reflection/meditation. Sit in a quiet place. Read each sentence. Meditate on it. Think what it means and, if necessary, read it again. Reflect on the meaning of each sentence. Reflect on what Isaiah prophesied and its effect on the people who were there. ...]

The Way - Malankara World Journal

Sometimes, one word is all it takes to assure us the journey ahead is worth taking. Sometimes, the one word that's hardest to believe is that we are beloved. As is.

echo through me.
let me stay a little longer, so I breathe in more of you.
if I could touch this moment's wonder, I would not let go.

kneeling close in stillness…
then my tears will fall in rivers,
love will make them sweet.

- Karen Money, Echo

As we begin a new day, let's give our soul's space to rest.

Let's slow.

And savor a stillness.

Like a cloud moving slowly across the sky, just as you pause along your journey, you see its shadow moving so gently across where you stand.

Your soul recognizes this movement. Just like Moses felt the brush of God pass by Him - as he hid - you feel He is near.

And it doesn't matter any longer what you may have been doing - or wrestling over in thought - one second before you stepped into this pocket of rest.

All that matters is that you are here now.

You are loved.
You are seen.
You are heard.
You are accepted.

Come.

And draw near.
To Jesus.
As you are.

See.

In this very moment.
What He longs to show you.
What you've longed to show Him.

Listen.

To the Inner Voice of Love.
That whispers to you now.
Let it echo in you.

Confide

In Him as friend to friend.
What you've longed to whisper and ask.
Let your voice echo to Him.

Come. See. Listen. Confide.

These four movements, I call Soul Conversations, bring my soul rest.

Soul conversations create moments of whitespace - breathing rest for my soul – into my everyday life.

Even during the darkest season of my life,

when I could not control the worries and anxieties,

God's soulful whispers would come.

Even if the spaces sometimes between these whispers felt quiet and far between,

like the draw of the moon upon the tides that turn (you know when you count the waves, so you know when to run and play catch with the tide upon the sand?),

like a soothing cloth upon my cheek when I laid alone (it's the way I'd imagine a loving mother would find her place beside the bed in the dark when the nights grew long),

God's voice always brings soul rest.

As I pour these soul rest words here, I hope they would refresh your soul as they do mine.

A Soul Conversation

Step into a moment of Soul Rest now.

Imagine yourself with Jesus.

Enter into the soulful whitespace of words from Isaiah 30:19-23 –

 

O people in Zion, inhabitant in Jerusalem,
you will weep no longer.
He will surely be gracious to you
at the sound of your cry;
when He hears it, He will answer you.

 

Although the Lord has given you bread of privation and water of oppression,
He, your Teacher will no longer hide Himself,
but your eyes will behold your Teacher.

 

Your ears will hear a word behind you,
"This is the way, walk in it,"
whenever you turn to the right or to the left.

 

How do you hear God's voice as you read this passage?

How does He sound - is His voice gentle or soft?

Which words draw you?

How do they make you feel?

My Words

As I thought about the One Word God placed from my heart into my hands this week, I began to over-think again. My heart wanted to go into hiding again. As ideas started to flow about what I could do as the Beloved, I began to think maybe my ideas had been too grand. Maybe what I heard or saw about that One Word was beautiful, but I needed to tone it down. Take it down a few notches. And not be so reckless with belief.

Lord, what if all this was just a sigh of my heart's desire,
And not the echo of your heart?

I'm not so sure now,
in this very moment,
as I step out to do what I feel prompted to try.

Don't hide.
I need to see you in this.
Don't be silent.
I need to hear you on this.

I guess what I'm really trying to say is, don't leave me.
I want to step out, but it's hard not seeing where it will lead.
Help me.

His Words

What you heard me whisper to you in quiet moments.

It's still true.

I'll keep saying it over and again.

Be. loved. When you're not sure and afraid, I will make a way.

To you.
To reach your heart.
Again. And again.

I won't give up on you.
I will be faithful.
I will not leave you.
To wonder.

And if you falter, I'll just keep whispering it, close to your ear.

This is the way - Beloved - walk in it.

When you find yourself looking to the side, at what someone else may be doing.

And you're tempted to disappear again, I will remind you.

Beloved - stay close to me.
No matter how small or insignificant each step feels.
I won't let you be anyone else.

I just want you.

Just call out to me.
And I will answer.

Listen.
Listen.
Listen.

I will tell you – over and again.

I. Love. You.

Your ears will hear a word behind you,
"This is the way, walk in it,"
whenever you turn to the right or to the left.
-Isaiah 30:21

-----

Confide in Jesus, as friend to friend.

- How is God bringing you soul rest?

- Do you have a Scripture, a song, poetry, a quote, a story or prayer – that feeds your soul this week?

- Give voice to it. Share it with us in this soulful space and let it shape us too.

{ Pull up a chair.}

Remember… Soul rest is soul beautiful.

Source: Soul Rest Sunday, Faith Barista

Hold Him in Your Endearing Thought
Cover Him in the evening; evenings turn eternal dawns;
Offer Him the mantle; the mantle of your heart shall adorn His altar.
Then the Lord and the soul shall embrace in their secret chamber;
Their conversation full of adoring love shall last into the twilight.

Do you think such heavenly bliss shall end with your life on earth?
Or His materialized Love perpetuates into Heavenly dwelling?

Splendid splendor, intense sweetness is for those who love;
Long for them, with renewed kindling in hopeful trust,
Which overflows to be overflowed by the Divine Grace-current.
The infinite engulfing current originates and shall come back to its Source.

Prepare your soul like a flowery garden
To constantly offer an exquisite bouquet to Gardener who tends.
Everything is His labor, planted, watered, weeded, nurtured;
All given to the soul with the most endearing glimpse.

Don’t you detect His fragrance in your garden of blooms?
Don’t you feel His touch which carries your soul aloft into unknown ecstasy,
Where you never thought of, but longed for just the same?

Some time the fantasy can turn bitter, can burden,
but His Grace made it sweet to swallow
And the soul is willing for love.

Don’t be afraid, even death He had conquered.
Just living and loving, most intensely, utmost, and
expect nothing but the grace of the moment,
For He exist in you in every instant of thoughts.

Hold Him in your every endearing thought as
He beholds you as His most precious present.

Step Forward. Come.
[Editor's Note: The following Meditation/Reflection is designed for deep reflection/meditation. Sit in a quiet place. Read each sentence. Meditate on it. Think what it means and, if necessary, read it again. Reflect on the meaning of each sentence. Reflect on what Jesus did and its effect on the people who were there. Put yourself in the temple and think what you would have done. ..]

There's nothing quite so beautiful as hydrangeas at rest near twilight. There are so many dreams we carry, songs we have yet to sing. It's never too late.

"Come, Lord Jesus.

When this world is dark as night,
You are the one we call the light.

When we are tempted to go astray,
You are the one we call the way.

When troubles of life bring harm,
You are the One who brings us calm."

- Keith Duke, Come, Lord Jesus

There are so many dreams we carry.

So many songs without words.

Yet, there are so many cares that hold us back.

The world has taught us that not everyone will embrace us.

And there isn't always room for the things we want to do. Or to be.

As we come to a pocket of rest, can allow ourselves a moment to let go of that world?

And take one step closer to Jesus.

To get close enough, so He can see our clenched hands. And hear our thoughts and uncertainties?

Will we give ourselves what He longs for us to receive?

His embrace.

Come.

And draw near.

To Jesus.

As you are.

See.

In this very moment.

What He longs to show you.

What you've longed to show Him.

Listen.

To the Inner Voice of Love.

That whispers to you now.

Let it echo in you.

Confide

In Him as friend to friend.

What you've longed to whisper and ask.

Let your voice echo to Him.

Soulrest. It's soulbeautiful.

A Soul Conversation

Take a moment now to be with Jesus.

Let Him show you He sees everything. About you.

Let Him show you there is nothing so small or insignificant about you, that He would not cast everything else aside to make His way straight to you.

He does not care what anyone else says about you.

He wants you to come with Him now. To step into a scene He'll never forget.

To show you just want He means.

It takes place in a room full of people who never noticed anyone of beauty. Only the inner circles they created.

Enter into the soulful whitespace in Mark 3:1-7 -

And He entered the synagogue again,
and a man was there who had a withered hand.

So they watched Him closely,
whether He would heal him
on the Sabbath,
so that they might accuse Him.

And He said to the man who had the withered hand,
"Step forward."

Then He said to them,
"Is it lawful on the Sabbath
to do good or to do evil,
to save life or to kill?"

But they kept silent.

And when He had looked around
at them with anger,
being grieved
by the hardness of their hearts,

He said to the man,
"Stretch out your hand."

And he stretched it out,
and his hand was restored,
as whole as the other.

Then the Pharisees went out and
immediately plotted
with the Herodians against Him,
how they might destroy Him.

But Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea…


Do you see Jesus?

Where are you in this scene?

Are you the man - with a "withered hand"?

Longing to do and fully be - yet unable to act or be seen?

Which of His words is He speaking to you?

"Step forward."

or

"Stretch out your hand."

Or are you standing next to Jesus - in a room filled with people who have their own ideas of what is good or acceptable?

Is there someone He wants you to notice - to touch others through you - even if it causes others to misjudge you?

What does Jesus want you to do or say?

Even if the timing, date or place is rather visible or perhaps inconvenient?

My Words

Lord Jesus, here is my withered hand.

It's trembling.

I want to be made whole.

But, I don't know if I can.

I want to believe. Help my unbelief.

Lord Jesus, I'm unsure. Of the people who are quick to judge.

Who I know don't view me in high estimation.

But, I love seeing you next to me. It gives me strength - to step out and be like you.

When you're near me, I'm not afraid.

When I see you with me, I am safe. And loved.

His Words

It's going to be okay.

I'm not going to leave you.

I'm staying right beside to you.

Closer than anyone's ever been to you.

Don't worry. I know when it gets too scary.

When you feel threatened by other voices, I'll take your hand.

And we'll withdraw.

With others who know me.

With others you can trust.

We'll always be together.

I'll keep you safe.

And He said to the man who had the withered hand,

"Step forward."

"Stretch out your hand."

And he stretched it out,
and his hand was restored,
as whole as the other.

But, Jesus withdrew with His disciples to the sea…
- Mark 3:3, 5, 7

----

Confide in Jesus, as friend to friend.

- Jesus is right beside you. Close.

- Step Forward. Come. And share the words on your heart today.

You are among friends. In this quiet space.

Pull up a chair.

{ Remember… Soul rest is soul beautiful. }

Source: Faith Barista Devotional

Plant. And Let Me Be Your Shade.
[Editor's Note: The following Meditation/Reflection is designed for deep reflection/meditation. Sit in a quiet place. Read each sentence. Meditate on it. Think what it means and, if necessary, read it again. Reflect on the meaning of each sentence. Put yourself in a paddy field - the many fields in Kerala. The rice is near harvest, weighed down by the fruits that swings slowly in the wind. Think of the time the rice was sowed. Think of starting a seed and it growing into a small tree. Reflect on what Jesus did and its effect on the people who were there. Most of the listeners probably didn't understand what Jesus said; but He explained to the disciples and we know what He said to the disciples from the Bible. What do you think of the comparison between the Kingdom of God and the planting? Do you agree that all we need is Jesus as our shade?  ..]

Straw plants laden with grains

Sometimes, when we least expect it, we feel our hearts stir.

We hear that voice in us.

That wants to live the life unlived.

Where do we start?

Are we too late?

What if we can't?

But how?

And when? Now?

And before we know it, it seems that moment that inspired us has left.

And we're left with the memory of what it felt like to be at rest.

Come.

And draw near.

To Jesus.

As you are.

See.

In this very moment.

What He longs to show you.

What you've longed to show Him.

Listen.

To the Inner Voice of Love.

That whispers to you now.

Let it echo in you.

Confide.

In Him as friend to friend.

What you've longed to whisper and ask.

Let your voice echo to Him.

A Soul Conversation

Step into this moment now to be with Jesus.

Right where you're standing.

Feel Him rest His hand gently on your shoulder, prompting you to stay.

See the table. Space for you.

Feel Him rest His hand over yours. To let you know.

It's okay.

Just rest.

Notice a cup near you, warmed by the heat of what's been poured.

He wants to tell you something in private.

As you take the cup in your hands, listen to His words.

Imagine what His voice sounds like.

Jesus longs to show you He understands how you feel and all you're thinking through - by bringing you back to a time He could have spoken with you face to face.

Enter into the soulful whitespace in Mark 4:16-34

Then Jesus said,
"This is what God's kingdom is like.
It's as though someone scatters seed on the ground,
then sleeps and wakes,
night and day.

The seed sprouts and grows,
but the farmer doesn't know how.

The earth produces crops all by itself,
first the stalk,
then the head,
then the full head of grain.

Whenever the crop is ready,
the farmer goes out to cut the grain
because it's harvesttime."

Jesus asked,

"How can we show what the kingdom of God is like?
To what can we compare it?

It's like a mustard seed planted in the ground.

The mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds on earth.

However, when planted,
it comes up and becomes taller
than all the garden plants.

It grows such large branches
so that birds can nest in its shade."

Jesus spoke [God's] word to them using many illustrations like these.
In this way people could understand what he taught…

But when he was alone with his disciples,
he explained everything to them.

Where are you in these pictures?

Are you scattering seeds - awake? Asleep?

Are you waiting - unsure how - seeds would grow?

Or is it time for you now to place your hand to the sickle…
to cut and reap?

Or are you holding seed now, looking at the small?

Will you open your hand to allow the seed to fall and plant?

Do you hear His quiet invitation to be alone together, so He can explain everything to you?

My Words

Jesus. I'm not sure.

Standing here. In this curious place.

It seems it's time for me to plant some new seeds.

But, I don't see anyone around me growing what I have in my hand.

What if weeds are all that will come out from this ground?

I see another place in the field where the grain has grown full.

Is it time for me to take hand to sickle to harvest? What if it's not enough?

Place your hand on my hand.

Then I'll have all I need for my answers.

You.

If I can see you beside me, I'll plant. I'll cut.

I'll live the life that's been unlived.

One small seed at a time.

His Words

Don't worry.

I'm not going any where without you.

I'll always be here to care for you.

I am the shade you can rest in.

You can build your nest.

Your world is safe with me.

No matter what anyone else says or does.

Listen to me.

You are good soil.

You don't need to know when or how.

You are good soil.

Do what I've placed on your heart.

You and I.

Plant. And let me be your shade.

 

"The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil;
he goes to bed at night and gets up by day,
and the seed sprouts and grows –
how, he himself does not know…

But He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples
- Mark 4:26

 

Your Words

Confide in Jesus, as friend to friend.

- Jesus is listening. He longs for the words you share with Him alone.

- Let His complete understanding of everything in your world touch your heart today.

Let's quietly make space for each other, offering our words as incense in this Night Prayer. Our Compline.

You are among friends. In this quiet space.

Pull up a chair.

{ Remember… Soul rest is soul beautiful. }

Source: Faith Barista Devotional

Thirsty For God...A Sunday Meditation

by Bill Randles

Read aloud this desperate and heartfelt prayer with me:

As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.
My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?

When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday.

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.

O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar. Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me. Yet the Lord will command his lovingkindness in the day time, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.

I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me;
While they say daily unto me, Where is thy God?
Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and
Why art thou disquieted within me?

Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.

(Psalm 42)

* What happened to the Psalmist? How did he get to this place of desperation? It could be unconfessed sin, but the text doesn't say anything like that. Perhaps he had gotten sick, or was tired or discouraged. We are more than Spiritual beings, sometimes the physical can be a huge factor in our wellbeing.

* It could just be that we have a God who often sovereignly hides His presence from us, that we might seek Him, and see our need for Him.

* It is evident that the Psalmist had been somehow cut off from participation in the public worship, and this hurt him deeply.

* We have a constant need for the means of grace, and for the renewed presentation of the vision of God.

* Another painful thing about this experience, He was surrounded by taunting and godless people.

*What did he do about it? He preached to himself! As Martyn Lloyd Jones used to say, "Don't listen to yourselves, talk to yourself!"

* Thirst like this is actually a gift from God…for it draws upwards, and causes us to want something that this world cannot give us…thus it draws us heavenwards.

* Our God recognizes this (he made us to be motivated this way) so he makes it into an offer at the end of the Bible;

And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. (Revelation 22:17)

The message of the Holy Spirit and of the true church who is the Bride of Christ, is to the thirsty, to come and drink deeply and freely of the waters of Life, which flow out of the smitten Rock, the Messiah Jesus.

* What a sad and cruel hoax, when the apostate church presents false prophets as the answer to spiritual thirst! "Come drink at Joel's place!", as they staggered about, supposedly 'drunk in the Spirit', as if they were initiating revival. Where are these churches now in the hour of the world's deepest crisis? They are irrelevant, empty tombs. But they have managed to turn millions of once thirsty sinners into cynics!

*Do you remember when the water was too brackish to drink, out in the wilderness in the days of Moses our teacher? What were the instructions he was given? Take the tree, cut it down and throw it into the water…and the water will become sweet again. Is that not the story of our lives? The cross of Jesus applied to the brackish pit that is our lives, now yields the sweet, life-giving water of life!

* Reconciliation with God is so refreshing! Like drinking water after years of health destroying soda or Koolaid, so forgiveness of sins, adoption, true worship and communion with God does restore our souls.

* But Jeremiah tells us that God has a double controversy with His people, 1) they have forsaken Him, the fountain of living water, and 2) they have hewn out their own cisterns which can't really hold water. Is this not true of today's church? How much of Spiritual activity is really based upon seeking after God himself? Why have we forsaken God's "old paths" of preaching the Word, calling men to repentance and warning of hell and judgment"? Instead we have 'skits' to entertain the bored flock.

* Some people are thirsty but unquenchable. This is because they really don't want the God of the Bible. They have a void, but have already ruled God out of the equation. This thirst takes them into false religion, mysticism, sexual hedonism, and a variety of other human experiences that prove unsatisfactory. Satan has a minstrel named Mick Jagger who sings of it, when he wails, "I can't get no satisfaction…."

* Others are thirsty because they have tasted God, but are currently in a dry place in their pilgrimages. They need to be renewed in God and know it, thus they seek Him.

O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name. (Psalm 63:1-4)

* Finally there is a kind of "satisfied thirst" of One who knows God and constantly resorts to Hm. He isn't always looking for something else, for He knows that God himself is what he needs. There is a cycle of thirst, the more I drink, the more I want.

Drink deeply of Him who was smitten for our Life my friends, and have a good Sunday!

[Go back to Table of Contents]

VI Christian Life

Slave to Christ, Free in the Spirit

by William G. Carter

Scripture: Galatians 4:1-5:1

C.S. Lewis wrote a fable about heaven and hell. He called it The Great Divorce, and it's a story about the huge separation between both patches of real estate. The poor souls in hell ride a bus on a day that is perpetually dreary. It's a flying bus and climbs into the sky, increasing in size as it moves upward. Hell is a small place, it seems, full of small, insubstantial people who snarl at each other. And as they move toward heaven, everything gets bigger, thicker, and brighter. These small Hell-dwellers are exposed as shadowy beings who complain that the green grass of heaven is too hard for their feet.

Nevertheless, they are free to visit, perhaps in the hidden hope that something might happen to give more substance to their lives. They can go to heaven whenever they want. They can stay there if they choose to do so. But aye, there's the problem.

One of the visitors is described as an ugly old dwarf. He snarls, but never speaks. And he comes dragging a battered old actor on a chain. The actor is old school, a melodramatic man who speaks the King's English in self-important tones. Maybe he has been in a number of Shakespearean dramas. He certainly talks that way whenever the dwarf pulls his chain.

A woman approaches them. She shines so brightly that somebody mistakes her for Mary, the mother of Jesus. She is radiant and serene, simply aglow with the peace of heaven. She greets the twosome. The dwarf tugs the chain, and the tragic actor returns the greeting, albeit grimly. Her name is Sarah, and on earth, she was married to the man who has become the dwarf. She died before he did, and now he has come from Hell to see her – hopefully to make her miserable, just as he is.

Each time, she speaks with grace and shines all the brighter. The dwarf snarls, pulls the chain, and the tired old actor responds with self-pity. He tries to make her feel guilty that he is miserable and she is not. She reminds him that misery and self-pity are choices that we make.

She invites him to give up that old actor, to send him away, to enjoy the beauty of heaven. He almost gives in, but then pulls the chain and the old actor howls for him. Sarah says, "Please give up this nonsense." Once again, he yanks the chain, the actor bellows, "And now, you need me no more?" Each time the small man pulls the chain, he gets even smaller. The actor moans, "Woe is me!" as the small man nearly shrinks away.

I have always been taken by that scene. It's a picture of someone in captivity. He can drop the chain anytime he chooses. But it might as well be shackled to his wrist. He is a captive to his own natural whims. He is a slave to his long-established customs. It is not necessary – but being half of a human who nurses his own anguish is more familiar than being free and full of light. It's a picture that I would lay down beside the fourth chapter of Galatians.

Paul wants to talk about freedom. That is the overwhelming theme of this letter: freedom! Jesus Christ comes in freedom, and he comes to set us free. In this sprawling chapter four, he hurls Christian freedom in the backdrop of human slavery. Twelve times in this chapter, the word "slave" shows up as a noun or a verb. Twelve times, he reminds the Christians of Galatia about the human experience of slavery.

Now, I realize there is some distance between our experience and his. Slavery was a current reality in the Roman Empire. Slaves were bought and sold, mostly among the wealthy, as a way of buying laborers to do the things that the wealthy did not want to do. In the American empire, slavery was abolished in 1863. Or so our history teachers told us.

Truth is, there is plenty of slavery in our own world. There is human trafficking going on all the time. Runaway teens fall into it at truck stops or drop-in shelters. Somebody owns them, uses them, profits from them. And that's only a small slice of what happens in our nation. Around the world, human slavery is alive and well. You can read all about it, if your stomach lets you.

And there are other kinds of slavery, too. C. S. Lewis tells that story of that small man imprisoned by his own resentment. We know those people. They are captives to anger, prisoners of bitterness, slaves to the very emotions that they keep stoked.

Others are slaves to their work. It bolts them to their desks. Or they take it wherever they go. Wherever they work, they are consumed. They are afraid of letting it rest. Or it feeds them with adrenaline and they are fearful of not getting the emotional rush.

Still others are slaves to their technology. Have you noticed that? Maybe it's that thumb-exerciser that some many people have, that I have. I checked the household cell phone bill. One of the denizens in our home made forty-five hundred text messages last month. Four thousand five hundred. No talking with the tongue, just the thumbs. This is the addiction.

Or there are other forms of enslavement, other addictions. I saw it yesterday afternoon about 3:00. It took me almost an hour to drive home from visiting someone in Geisinger-CMC. All the way down Mulberry Street, I saw college students with green shirts, red eyes, and fuzzy tongues. It looked like they began preparing for St. Patty's Day about two days ago. One of them gave me a descriptive gesture, weaved a bit, and yelled, "Who do you think you are, driving down the middle of our street?" I smiled in return, and prayed that when he goes back to religion class on Monday, Professor Pinches might have him write a paper on the fourth chapter of Galatians.

Human animals fall into some kind of slavery or another. Something or someone is always yanking at our chains. The season of Lent is a good time to survey our own slavery. What are the bad habits that shackle us? That prevent us from joy and grace? And where are the injustices where somebody holds unnecessary power over somebody else? Where are people exploited by the forces of destructiveness? These are important questions for the apostle Paul. Christ comes to make us free. Whatever that means, wherever it matters most, Jesus is our liberation.

It is important to keep in mind that Paul is writing this letter to two entirely different groups of people at the same time. In his energy of his fury, he seems to shift quickly from addressing one group and then another. We have heard him speak of some "antagonistic missionaries." Those were the Super Jews who insisted that the Gentile men in Galatia had circumcised, that they had to become Jews before they could become Christians. Paul says to them, "Knock it off!" The Jewish Law was for the Jewish people. If you remember from last week, it was our "babysitter," our custodian, until Christian faith could come to direct our lives. Rather than follow a checklist of virtues, we are led by God's Spirit to follow Jesus Christ. All are forgiven in cross of Jesus. All can live free from the sin that killed our Savior. That is his word to the Jews.

But he pivots and turns to the non-Jews, to the Gentiles. "You aren't slaves to the Jewish Law," he says, "but you are slaves to something else." What is it? In chapter one, he says we are slaves to "the present evil age." That is, to the whole system of abuse, destruction, anger, fury, and selfishness that gets manufactured and rebuilt in every generation.

Here in chapter four, he says it another way, "We were slaves to the elemental spirits of the world." The elemental spirits – at their most primitive he means earth, water, fire, and air – the four primary elements of the created world.

In other words, we are creatures made from the same stuff of our planet. Earth is same stuff as skin and bones, water courses through our bodies, fire burns in our hearts and minds, and we live as long as there is air in our lungs. That's all we are – a delicate system of chemicals. That's all we can ever be – unless the Breath of Christ becomes our breath, unless the mind of Christ possesses our minds, unless the fire of grace consumes us and sets us free from merely existing as God's temporary chemistry experiments.

There is a dignity to claim as God's own children. We are adopted as God's own offspring, thanks to the self-giving love of God's own Son. We are not abandoned to ourselves and our whims, a theme that Paul will unpack in chapter five. Oh no, God puts Holy Breath right into our lungs, the Holy Spirit. And when we exhale our prayers and say, "Abba! Daddy! Father God," it is the echo of saving grace that seals our inheritance.

Just take a moment and catch yourself breathing. Listen to the wind entering your lungs. Watch your chest rise and fall with each breath. Picture in your imagination that this is the Breath of God, entering you freely, giving you life to be sure; but also giving your freedom. You are Somebody's child, regardless of whether if you are ninety-three years old, forty-two, or seven. Your life matters because it is God-in-Christ who enters to possess you, to make you his own. We are bound to Christ, we are free in Christ, all at the same time.

What does this look like? Well, that's what chapter five will be about, when we get to it next week.

But to prime the pump, let me tell you a quick story. Up at Boston University, there is a school of theology. The day came when the development office announced that the oldest living graduate would return for homecoming. Not only that, he was invited to speak for a mandatory worship service in the chapel. The students groaned. They were young and hip, and this old guy was going to be rolled in to preach to them.

Well, he walked with a cane, and didn't need to be rolled in. But he was old. Really old. When Noah landed the ark, this guy was already eight hundred years old. On the appointed day, he appeared. He hobbled in. They were waiting for him, and had to wait a little longer. He was in no hurry. The wrinkles in his face were like deep canyons. His steps were slow and measured. He was taking his time, and needed to.

Finally he stood in the pulpit, cleared his throat. Paused, looked at the crowd. Cleared his throat again, adjusted the microphone, gazed out at the students through his cataracts and said, "I would like to thank my alma mater for setting me free without setting me adrift." Then he sat down.

That's what Jesus does for us, in the power of his Holy Spirit. Sets us free, never sets us adrift.

(c) William G. Carter. All rights reserved.

A Love So Great It Seems Like Hate?

by Carl E. Olson

A Scriptural Reflection on St. Luke 14:25-33

I recently read a column by a young Christian who expressed frustration with the saying, "Love the sinner, hate the sin." She wrote that this seemed to make sense initially but, she added, "I started to wonder why we need to hate at all. Certainly, Jesus didn't teach that. Jesus was all about love." She went a step further, saying, "When we start hating, whether it is a person or an action, we stop recognizing the dignity in the other person, which makes it easy to oppress them."

This seems rather reasonable at first glance. But if Jesus never expressed hate, what are we to do with today's Gospel, in which Jesus tells the great crowds traveling with him to Jerusalem, "If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." As Luke Timothy Johnson notes in his commentary, "the language here is very strong," for the Greek word used for hate - misein - "is the opposite of 'love' (agapao)…"

How should we understand this blunt and seemingly "un-Jesus-like" remark? First, we must work to free ourselves from the common understanding of "love" and "hate" as primarily having to do with feelings and raw emotion. When love, for example, is defined as how we feel about someone or something, both love and the object of my "love" are devalued and damaged. How many marriages last when based on a love flowing from strong emotion and romantic euphoria, not rooted in a commitment of will and a mature acceptance of responsibility?

The two terms - love and hate - as used in Luke's Gospel, "denote attitudes and modes of action," Johnson explains, "not emotions." Jesus was not a pop psychologist; he was not concerned with talking about feelings, but with responding rightly to truth. His are strong and hard words, but they are best understood in light of his own actions. Did Jesus love his disciples? The people of Israel? The world? The answer to all three questions is emphatically, "Yes!" And yet his love for the Father was so perfect, complete, and absolute that Jesus, at different times and in various ways, spoke harshly to his disciples, denounced the sins of Israel, and renounced the ways of the world.

And here we find a paradox within a paradox, for while those actions might appear hateful to some, they are the epitome of love, for love always wills the good of the other despite the emotions involved. The man who truly loves God will never despise, mock, or demean his friends or family. But his love for God should be so consuming - so distinct and radical - that his love for other people might seem hateful. When Jesus told Peter, "Get behind me, Satan!", it appears he is being unfair, even hateful. But his next words are essential: "You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men" (Matt. 16:23). Anything hindering us from loving God is to renounced; anyone who insists on taking the place of God in our lives must be rebuffed.

This teaching by Jesus builds upon many of his earlier statements. It amplifies, for instance, his remark, "For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?" (Lk. 9:25). And it challenged those following him to consider seriously the hard fact of the Cross. The journey to Jerusalem was a journey toward suffering and death. Everyone on the journey must take up and carry "his own cross," for only by the Cross do we enter into the Kingdom, the heavenly family of God.

Jesus calls us to reject everything and everyone who would keep us from God. That includes sin, of course; it might also include some friendships and relationships. What may seem like hate to others is evidence that Jesus is indeed all about real and lasting love.

Source: Insight Scoop

American Poor, the Gospel, and Social Justice

by Greg Stier

I was raised American poor. I call it American poor because the brand of poverty I lived through pales in comparison to some of the third world poverty I've seen firsthand in India, Colombia and El Salvador. But, by United States standards, my family was poor.

Although we qualified for food stamps my mom refused to take advantage of them. She felt in some weird way that this would be admitting defeat and stealing from the government. Although she should have gotten alimony from at least one of the four marriages she had experienced in her relatively young life, she didn't get any.

Our family experience was filled with deadbeat dads (whom we never saw), hard work and pressing bills. To add insult to a high possibility of injury, my mom, brother and I lived in one of the highest crime rate areas of our city.

Mom scraped and scrapped to put food on the table, clothes on our backs and some shred of dignity for our souls. She was determined to raise us as well as she possibly could. But sometimes the pressure was too overwhelming for her.

She would often cry herself to sleep at night. My brother and I could hear her through the paper thin walls of our tiny apartment. Mom told us many times that she was worried that we would turn out to be just like her. To be honest I didn't know what she meant when she said that. To me, my mom was everything. She was strong, hard-working and surprisingly generous.

But she felt like a loser. She felt like a loser because she couldn't keep a relationship. She felt like a loser because she couldn't get ahead of the relentless bills. She felt like a loser because of the sins she had committed. And every month when bills came due those feelings were magnified.

As a kid, I was a collector of pennies. In sidewalk cracks and underneath couch cushions, I looked for those shiny copper coins everywhere I went. By the time I was eight, I had amassed a fortune. ($50 worth!) I'll never forget the look of shame my mom had when she asked to borrow the money from me so that she could buy groceries for us that week. I agreed and she promised to pay me back when she could.

Mom worked long hours at her job and did what it took to make sure her boys had enough to survive. But when she felt the pressure of unpaid bills and an inability to change the situation, she would sometimes crack. I remember once she took out her anger on Paul, one of the guys she had married. After all, he had left us high and dry with bills to pay. Then one day out of the blue he showed up in a new car in front of our place. I'll never forget when she took a baseball bat to his car and then turned it on him. By the time he drove off, the car was trashed and he was covered in blood. We never saw him again. The only thing he left behind were his unpaid bills.

I know American poverty. I was raised in it and reared by it. To me poverty is not a theoretical subject for the seminary classroom, but the shaper of many of my childhood memories. Yes, we had people that helped us along the way, including my grandparents. But mom paid back every loan she ever got from them and the stress of it all took a huge toll on her. I think that's why one of the only luxuries she allowed herself was two packs of smokes per day.

But in the midst of all this, Jesus came walking in and changed everything. Through a variety of crazy circumstances my entire family ended up coming to Christ over a few short years.

My toughest uncle was reached with the good news first and the rest began to fall like dominos. Uncles, aunts, cousins, eventually all put their faith in Jesus. For the first time, real and lasting hope entered my family and I was a firsthand witness to it all (that's a big part of why I'm so passionate about the power of the gospel to change lives!)

When my brother and I trusted in Jesus, we began to share this message of hope with my mom. For years, she resisted. She thought she was too bad for God to save. She especially felt guilty because she had lived a life of hard partying. I was the result of one of those parties. When she found out that the man she met got her pregnant she drove from Denver to Boston under the pretext of visiting family. Her real intention was to have an illegal abortion (this was before Roe vs. Wade.)

But my grandparents found out, got hold of her, talked her into having "that baby." (aka "me!") That's probably why she always looked at me with a look of guilt and, maybe, part of the reason she cried herself to sleep at night. She had almost taken my life in her womb and, as a result, felt unforgivable.

But my brother and I kept sharing with her the message of hope that we now had in our hearts. When I was fifteen years old, she finally relented right there at the kitchen table while smoking a pack of Benson and Hedges Gold 100's cigarettes. I had the privilege of leading my mom to Jesus in that smoke filled kitchen.

Over time, my mom's tears were replaced with a new and profound sense of joy. Jesus gave her (and us) hope both in this life and the next. It was this hope that made us feel rich for the first time. We were still poor financially but we felt like millionaires in the deepest part of our souls.

And now we had Somebody to talk to who would, not only listen, but could do something about our situation. My mom's sense of hopelessness was replaced by a sense of anticipation and deep joy.

That's why I don't pay much attention to Christian theories of social justice that minimize the gospel message in the whole process of ministering to the poor. I would guess that many experts who've been perpetuating these theories have never been poor themselves. Some even try to make themselves poor (move to a poor part of the city, live on next to nothing, etc.) so they can relate…but it doesn't work that way.

You see, poverty is not the absence of money. It's the absence of hope. Self-induced poverty always has a way out. It can always reverse the situation when the experiment gets boring. Real poverty can't.

Jesus brings the audacity of real and lasting hope into a hopeless world. That's why providing food, clothes, job opportunities and money are not enough when it comes to social justice. These things may be a beginning but they are far from the end.

Don't get me wrong, growing up I was deeply grateful for every helping hand our family received. I was personally blessed by adults outside our family who helped me make it through my poor upbringing. From taking me out to eat, to giving me clothes, to helping send me to camp, every gift I received from Christians I knew growing up was appreciated. But it was the message of Jesus that truly gave me, my brother and, eventually, my mom a hope that we couldn't shake.

Feed the hungry, clothe the naked and give jobs to the poor. But please don't leave Jesus out of the social justice equation. Provide them bread for their bodies and then give them The Bread of Life for their souls. Provide them water to quench their physical thirst and then give them The Living Water for their spiritual thirst. Build them a house here on earth and then build them one in heaven as well.

Anything short of that is a lesser brand of social justice.

About The Author:

Greg Stier is the Founder and president of Dare 2 Share Ministries International. He is the author of fourteen books and numerous resources, including 'Dare 2 Share: A Field Guide for Sharing Your Faith' and 'Firing Jesus'. For more information on Dare 2 Share please visit dare2share.org.

Three Excuses Keeping You from Making a Difference

by Paul Tripp

Apart from an active faith in God's sovereignty and grace, it's easy to throw up our hands and adopt a "What's the use?" mentality. If it's going to be so hard to make really significant improvements, what does it matter if things deteriorate a little further?

This sort of faithless attitude could apply to the "house" that is our life, or the "house" that's the regular environment in which we live and work - such as the school attended by those young men. We could all come up with lots of good reasons to remain passive. The problems seem too numerous, and many seem too large. You see yourself as one little person, in one little place, at one little moment in time, and it just doesn't seem logical that you could make any difference at all. To be specific, let me propose three arguments that we all tend to make at one time or another that keep us passive and uninvolved.

The Identity Argument: "I'm Too Small"

As I have written again and again, you and I don't have much in the way of personal power and authority. When we think about it, we know we can't really change people, and we know that in most important respects we have little ability to alter circumstances significantly. When we compare ourselves to the size of the changes that are needed around our "house," it is easy to conclude that God must actually be mistaken on this whole subject of renovation.

Remember the first words from Moses' mouth when God called him to go back to Egypt and lead out the Israelites? Moses said, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" (Exodus 3:11). In response, God restates Moses' commission, and Moses basically replies, "But I'm not sure I know what to say." So God tells him what to say, tells him that he will go with him, and tells him that he will accompany Moses' words with "wonders" that will strike the Egyptians. Moses tries once again to take himself out of the action, essentially replying, "But what if they do not believe me?"

So the Lord, right there and then, demonstrates two miraculous signs that he will allow Moses to perform before Pharaoh. But these still aren't enough for Moses, so he says, "O, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue" (Exodus 4:10). Through a series of questions God then reminds Moses that he made his mouth. But Moses is still not convinced that he can do what God is calling him to do and finally pleads, "Oh, my Lord, please send someone else." The Bible says that at that point the anger of the Lord burned against Moses, that God gave Aaron to Moses as his spokesman, and that God sent Moses to do what he had chosen him to do.

There are two ways to look at how Moses responded here, and both are true. In one sense, Moses was accurately identifying weaknesses in himself. Fair enough, but hardly the complete picture because, far more importantly, Moses was completely overlooking the fact that the one asking him to do these significant things was the Almighty Creator, who certainly had the power to bring them to pass.

So the kind of doubt Moses was displaying here was not simply doubt in his own abilities. There is ultimately a deeper and far more significant doubt involved - a doubt of God's sovereignty and power. Where the first kind of doubt might be a form of humility, the second is a sinful faithlessness. God knows that in ourselves we are not up to the tasks he calls us to, but he never makes a false assignment. When he sends us we are sent as instruments in his almighty hands. He is the one who creates the change. He is the great Restorer. He never calls us to what we cannot accomplish in him, but he always calls us to what we could never accomplish without him.

God did eventually do amazing things through weak and fearful Moses. Pharaoh was silenced, Egypt was defeated, and the children of Israel were liberated. You see, for the child of God, passivity is simply rooted in poor theology. When you begin to embrace the theology of God's presence, promises, and power, passivity no longer makes any sense.

The Magnitude Argument: "The Problem Is Too Big."

Maybe you're looking at the chaotic life of a loved one and are overwhelmed at all that needs to change. Or maybe you're considering your marriage, and all the years that have poured over the dam, and it simply seems impossible to turn it around. Or maybe in studying your community you're stunned at the injustice, corruption, poverty, and violence not too far from you - conditions that seem far too big, far too complicated, and goodness, it's all been going on for years.

Once more, Moses comes to mind. The children of Israel are now in the wilderness and complaining because they are bored with eating the manna that God provides every day to sustain them. God tells Moses that he'll send quail for Israel to eat; not just for a meal, or a week's meals, but for a month, until it comes out of their noses and they loathe it! (Numbers 11:18-20). Now read Moses' words, and you can then understand what's wrong with the magnitude argument.

But Moses said, "Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, 'I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!' Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?"- (Numbers 11:21–22)

What do you think is wrong with Moses' analysis? He certainly recognizes, legitimately, that it will take a great deal of food to feed more than 600,000 hungry Israelites. But he can't see past that fact. The fatal flaw in his analysis is that he thinks far too little of the God who is calling him to act. We know this from God's answer: "Is the Lord's arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you" (Numbers 11:23). In Moses' eyes, the God whom he serves is infinitely smaller than the God who actually exists and who's called him to do great things. No problem is too big for the Creator God.

The Separation Argument: "It's Not My Problem."

One way we sometimes try to quiet a guilty conscience is to tell ourselves that we would gladly get involved if we were involved. We argue that we've a lot on our plate already and we want to be faithful to what God has given us to do. Again, there is some logic to this, and even some truth. You're a human being with limited time, energy, and resources. And it's true that you must make a priority of the things God has given you to do. But perhaps we take ourselves off the hook too easily. Perhaps we are often too happily uninvolved.

Could it be that our passivity to the needs around us doesn't really grow out of a commitment to prioritize what God has commanded us to do, but is really a neglect of how he's commanded us to live? It's the difference between focusing on specific behaviors as opposed to a particular kind of lifestyle. Listen to the words of the prophet Micah:

With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

(Micah 6:6-8)

In this passage, specific acts of worship at the personal level (which may or may not be genuinely from the heart) take a definite back seat to a lifestyle at the public level that's committed to justice, mercy, and humility. Micah's call takes us way beyond a "me and mine" way of looking at the call of God. God requires his people to be instruments of his justice and mercy wherever he's placed them.

How you live is much more comprehensive and broader than your specific acts or roles. It's the child, the apprentice, who simply performs the duties that have been set before him. With growth and maturity comes a release into a broader world where you're expected to interact more freely with your environment. The apprentice becomes a craftsman, and the child becomes an adult. Consider the call of Christ to us all as recorded by Matthew:

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
(Mathew 5:14-16)

Jesus is saying, "You've been lit by my grace, now go let my character shine through you." How do you do this? Jesus makes it very clear: through a public life characterized by good deeds. Here again is a call to step out into this darkened world, not succumbing to thoughts of your smallness, or the magnitude of the problem, or the distance it is from your front door. It's a call to remember who you are (someone who has been lit by the transforming grace of God) and who he is (a God of awesome power and grace) and step out to look for opportunities to light what has been dark through actions of love, mercy, justice, reconciliation, peace, and compassion.

Source: Paul Tripp Ministries. For more information visit www.paultripp.com.

Care Free Christianity

by Thabiti Anyabwile

"Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you."
(1 Peter 5:7)

That's Peter's direct and simple instruction to a church of "pilgrims" or "sojourners" scattered throughout the world, suffering persecution for righteousness' sake.

"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you."

The Action

Cast all your anxiety. Anxiety is not meant to be held onto. It's not a treasure or a keep-sake. Anxiety is not a bosom friend or a comfort toy. Anxiety is an enemy. It's an enemy to a sober mind. It's an enemy to peace. It's an enemy to faith. Anxiety chews at the roots of the plant of faith and life until, having eaten away the root system completely, it leaves us like stalks stuffed into fertile soil but with no way of gathering nourishment and nutrients.

Dishonest Christians pretend there is no anxiety in their lives. They "keep a stiff upper lip" and don plastic masks. Inside they're twisted into a pretzel of worry, but their dishonesty and hypocrisy keeps them from telling others. The text simply assumes that faithful Christians living for the Lord Jesus will know anxiety in this world. All those who live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. And that persecution will give rise to anxiety, worry, and fear.

But, we are to throw or cast anxiety away.

The Target

But we're not to throw our anxiety in any direction or at any target. How often do we make this mistake? We grow anxious, full of worry, doubt, and fear, so we hurl that anxiety in every direction and at every target in sight. We cast our anxieties on our families. We cast our anxieties on our friends. We cast our anxieties on our churches. We cast our anxiety on politicians. Indiscriminately casting our anxiety around only means we fill our world with more anxiety-producing people and circumstances.

The text says we are to cast our anxiety to One who is big enough to handle them. We are to cast our anxiety to One who can resolve them. There is only One who is big enough, wise enough, and powerful enough to handle all the anxieties of all God's people at once.

It is "Him." It is Jesus, the Lord, the Savior, the Shield of His people. We cast our anxiety to Him who is able to keep us from falling and to present us faultless before the throne of God. What peace would fill our homes, our workplaces, our churches if God's pilgrims all cast their anxiety to the resurrected King and let Him handle them?

The Reason

The reason we cast our care to Jesus is not just because He is big enough, strong enough, wise enough to handle them. For we can think of presidents, kings, potentates, rulers and people of authority who could give us some measure of peace, who could perhaps address many of our anxieties. And if the truth is told, don't we often seek care-free, anxiety-free lives from those around us we think can help?

But we're often frustrated when we do that because (a) we find the limits of their ability to help-they can't really settle our hearts; and (b) we find the limits of their motivation-they may or may not care anything about us, powerful though they are.

But here is the Savior, full of wisdom, power, and mercy, who also "loves us." We go to Jesus "because he cares for us." And may we never forget that no one cares for us the way Jesus cares for us. No one.

It is not true to say in our anxiety that "no one cares for us." There Jesus is, full of compassion, full of care, intimately aware of our sufferings and fully able to identify with us. There is our Great High Priest who ever lives to intercede for us, carrying our groaning and travails right to the Throne of Heaven, never slumbering, never sleeping.

How our anxieties lie! In a thousand voices with ten thousand sentences our anxiety whispers and yells, "You are alone; no one cares." Don't listen! You are not alone! You arenot abandoned! Jesus cares for His people. The Son of God cares for you!

The cross is the proof. "God demonstrated His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us" (1 John 3:16a).

So now there is an exchange of care. We cast all our cares upon Jesus, and He returns to us divine care and love. We give Him anxiety, He gives us peace. He does it because He cares for us.

We may live an anxiety-free Christian life. That is not to say we may live a life with no suffering or hardship. The people Peter wrote to were experiencing great suffering and struggling to understand it all. This word of comfort comes to the suffering and the worried, people with reason (humanly speaking) to be anxious. And it says simply, "Cast all your anxieties upon Him because He cares for you." Trade your worries for God's care through Christ.

About The Author:

Thabiti Anyabwile is the author of 'What Is a Healthy Church Member?', 'The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity', and 'The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors'. He also blogs regularly at Pure Church.

[Go back to Table of Contents]

VII Love

To Be Loved by God

by Fr. Michael Nasser

Can one sermon change your life? I did not think so, but then it happened to me. The day I heard that sermon was the day I saw everything differently. The difference between what I knew before and what I came to know was huge. At the same time, the difference was also very subtle and seemingly small.

Three hundred campers and camp staff were packed into St. Ignatius Church at the Antiochian Village. The Village is an Orthodox summer camp in Western Pennsylvania where I had spent several years as a counselor and staff member before returning to spend ten years as the camp's director. It had played a vital role in my growth as a human being, as an Orthodox Christian, and eventually as a priest. I had heard literally hundreds of sermons in my time at the Village, and by the time I heard that sermon, I had even given hundreds of sermons myself. But for me, that one sermon was different.

Fr. Anthony Hughes, who was assisting me at camp for two weeks, was giving the daily sermon that morning. To this day, I have no memory of what he said before or after, but I will never forget what he said in between: "God didn't create you to love and serve Him. He created you so that He could love and serve you."

I heard myself repeating his words in my head: "God didn't create you to love and serve Him. He created you so that He could love and serve you."

Whoa.

I had lived my entire Christian life up to that point thinking it was the other way around. And I was OK with it. It did not bother me that God made me to love and serve Him (as I had thought up until then). Though I was not always good at it, I was often happy to do it, and sometimes even excited at the thought of serving Him. And when I was happy and excited to serve Him, it was because I thought that was my purpose in life. I mean, doesn't everyone know that? People have asked countless times: Why did God make us? And the answer is always the same: to love and serve Him.

Made To Love and Serve God … Right?

I had been so sure it was true! Had not Adam and Even been placed in the Garden of Eden to be its caretakers? Wasn't Adam placed there to name all the animals, to care for the Garden and to stay away from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Wasn't Eve created in order to be a "help" to Adam, so that together they could accomplish God's will of doing the work He asked them to do and not doing the things that He told them were wrong?

And the story of Adam and Eve was just the first of many examples of what I had understood in the Old Testament to be God creating His people in order for them to serve Him and do His will. He gave Abraham the job of starting a whole new nation, whose citizens were to be God's servants. He called Moses to lead those people out of the bonds in which they found themselves while in Egypt and then gave him the Ten Commandments so he could instruct them on what they had to do to please God. When the people failed to do so and displeased Him, God gave the prophets the job of proclaiming His word to His people, correcting their errors and warning them of feeling His wrath if they did not.

And it was not just my reading of the Old Testament that had ingrained in me this idea of being created to serve God. When I would read or hear the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, I easily understood this as a new giving of God's law. Jesus, like Moses, goes up a mountain to teach His people how they ought to live. I thought I understood His instructions well when He said we should be poor in spirit, we should be meek, and we should hunger and thirst after righteousness.

Only that morning, as I sat listening to Fr. Antony, I began to see things much, much differently: Jesus had not said that we should be merciful, that we should be pure in heart, and that we should be peacemakers. In fact, there is not a "should" in any of the Beatitudes. He simply said that when we mourned, we would be comforted. And when we were persecuted and reviled, He would reward us.

A fragment of the icon of the creation of the world

Promises, Not Commandments

"Would" and "should": two words that are almost identical, and yet miles apart. Those Beatitudes, I began to see, were not commandments. They were promises: promises of what God wants for us. They were blessings (which is, after all, what "beatitudes" means): blessings God was hoping to shower upon us. He wants to do us good. He wants us to be His Sons and Daughters. He wants to be seen by us. He wants to show us mercy. He wants us to be filled. He wants to comfort us and to give us the whole earth as our inheritance. And ultimately, He wants to give us His Kingdom. Like Charlie at the end of "Willy Wonka," He does not want to send us home with a box of chocolate or some other token gift. He wants to give us everything.

Made To Be Loved

So I sat listening to Fr. Antony saying that everyone who had taught that we were made in order to love and serve God had not gotten it right. And I began to realize that he was correct. In fact, I realized that God could not have made us to love and serve Him, because that would make Him no better than someone who could make His own slaves rather than going through the hassle of having to go to the slave market and buy them. I looked back on the story I thought I knew from the Bible about God and what He wants from His people, and instead I found the story of what God wants for His people.

In the book of Genesis, we read that God made everything and that it was good … until He made us. Then we are told that it was not just good: it was very good. He made us to be the best of all the things that He made: His very best creation, His masterpiece! Then we read that having made Adam, He realized something was "not good," namely that Adam was alone (Genesis 2:18). The fact that it was "not good" was not because Adam could not fulfill all of God's demands. Adam being alone was not bad for God – it was bad for Adam! And because God did not want anything to be bad for Adam, He created and gave him Eve, the masterpiece made from His masterpiece! In fact, the reason mankind was His masterpiece was because, out of all of the things that God had made, only with Adam and Eve did He use Himself as the pattern, designing them from Himself as the prototype! He wanted to give us humans the best He had. And being God, the best He could give was Himself.

And where does God place the newly-created human beings? Not out in the wilderness to suffer (that comes later), and not in the Garden just so that they can work in it. He places them there to enjoy it! He allows them to eat of all the trees in the entire Garden – except for one. And He even joins them on their evening strolls, walking with them in the "cool of the day."

Living Like the People We Were Made To Be

He made us because He loves us and wants to shower that love on us constantly, in every moment, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. He started by loving Adam and Eve and has not stopped loving each and every person who ever lived. Making us to be loved by Him, however, is not only why He made us; it is also how He made us. He made us to be able to receive His love. And when we do – when we really receive it and see it for what it is – we respond by living as we were made to live: like Him. When we receive His love – really receive it – we become it. We become His love. We become like Him.

The opposite is also true: when we are not acting like Him, we are really not accepting His love.

From Adam and Eve's first bite of the forbidden fruit until our most recent sins, when we sin we reject the love God offers us. All of His commandments, all of His expectations for us, are ways for us to receive His love, and having done so, to love as He loves. God's law does not tell us primarily what we should or should not do. His commandments tell us who we are and who we are not. If God tells us to honor our father and mother (Ex. 20:12), it is because honoring the people God has chosen to love us and raise us only comes naturally when we see our parents as the gifts of God that they are. They do not even have to be perfect parents for us to honor them (which is good, since none of them are!). We see them as one more of the countless expressions of God's love for us and, seeing that, we love and honor them. It is just who we are.

When we reject His love, we reject being who we really are. We reject Him. In so doing we find ourselves cursed instead of blessed; instead of embracing righteousness, we embrace sin; and instead of accepting our salvation, we work for our own damnation. When we receive His love, we are blessed; we embrace righteousness; we accept our salvation.

When we receive God's love, we see Him for who He is: the very personification of love. God is love (1 John 4.8). And as He is, so are we. Being made to be loved – and being made (like Him) to be able to love – we love. That is our one and only calling, the one vocation we all share. There are variations of this one calling. We might be loved by God and love others in Boston, in Kentucky, in Albania, and so on. We might be loved by God and in turn love Sally or Bobby, or orphans, or prisoners. We might be loved by God and, as doctors, teachers, garbage collectors, and even priests, love others. These variations are countless, and it can be daunting trying to figure out which way to go. While that exploration is a good and noble task, we should never forget that these myriad possibilities are just that: a variety of ways to carry out our one calling. That calling is to receive the love God so richly pours out on us, and at such a great price.

Whenever we see an icon of Christ, whenever we see a cross, whenever we hear the Gospel read or open it and read it ourselves, if we do not see deep, abiding and limitless love coming from God to us, we are not looking. If we find ourselves lonely, depressed, hopeless or scared, that also may be a sign we are not looking – not looking at the God who gazes adoringly at us, His Beloved, His Bride. If we do not see that He loves us to such an extent that being His Beloved defines who we are and why we are here, then we are not looking.

If we can see God for Who He really is, then we can become the people that we were created to be. So often we have such good intentions, to do the right thing and serve God as we think He would like us to. But so many times, like a car running on empty, we just cannot get there. Seeing God as love and seeing ourselves as His Beloved, made to be like Him, can inspire us and give us strength. As a slave, I might serve a master out of fear, but when he was not looking, I would try to get out of doing my work if I could get away with it. As a son of God, as one loved so deeply by Him, I cannot help but want to be who He made me to be.

Now this might sound simple and easy.

Simple? Yes. Easy? Not so much.

In fact, if we think about it, this just might be our one and only task. We have tried to avoid sin when we are tempted. We have tried to love those around us more. We have tried being more regular in our prayers. We have tried to fast better. More often than not, we have failed. Had we been made merely to serve God, we would do a lot better when we tried.

But if we were made to be served and loved – and we recognize and see God for Who He is as the

Lover of mankind – I think we will do the things we have so often failed to do: praying, fasting, avoiding sin and, yes, loving those around us.

Being made to be loved and served, and being made to love and serve might seem very close: one little grammatical change. Can it make that much of a difference? Like one sermon, it can make all the difference in the world.

Source: The Word / February, 2011 © Copyright 2007 by pravmir.com

I Love, Therefore I Am

By Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

Most of the time we think we know who we are. But do we, in fact, know in the full and profound sense who we are?

One text that is very important for the Orthodox understanding of the human person is Psalm 64:6 [LXX 63:7]: "The heart is deep." That means the human person is a profound mystery. There are depths or if you would like, heights within myself of which I have very little understanding.

Who am I? The answer is not at all obvious. My personhood as a human being ranges widely over space and time. And indeed it reaches out beyond space into infinity, and beyond time into eternity. Our human personhood is created, but it transcends the created order. I am called to be a "partaker of the divine nature," as Peter said in his second letter. I am called to share, that is to say, in the uncreated energies of the living God. Our human vocation is theosis deification, divinization. As St. Basil the Great says, "The human being is a creature that is called to become God."

I am reminded of the story of the Fall at the beginning of Genesis, of the promise of the serpent, who says to Eve, "You shall be as God." The irony behind that story is that this was exactly the divine intention. The humans were indeed called to divine life. But the Fall consisted in the fact that Adam and Eve grasped with self-will that which God, in His own time and way, would have conferred upon them as a gift.

The limits of our personhood are very wide-ranging indeed. We should adopt a dynamic view of what it is to be a person. We shouldn't think that our personhood is something fixed. To be a person is to grow. To be on a journey. And this journey is a journey that has no limits, that stretches out forever, that goes on even in heaven. Some people have an idea of heaven as a place where you do nothing in particular. But surely that is deceptive. Surely heaven means that we continue to advance by God's mercy from glory to glory. Heaven is an end without end.

St. Irenaeus remarks, "Even in the age to come God will always have new things to teach us, and we shall always have new things to learn." Even in heaven, we shall never be in a position to say to God, "You are repeating Yourself. We have heard it all before." On the contrary, heaven means continuing wonder and unending discovery. To quote J.R.R. Tolkien in The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Road goes ever on and on."

Now there is a specific reason for this mysterious and indefinable character of human personhood. And this reason is given to us by St. Gregory of Nyssa, writing in the fourth century. "God," says he, "is a mystery beyond all understanding." We humans are formed in God's image. The image should reproduce the characteristics of the archetype, of the original. So if God is beyond understanding, then the human person formed in God's image is likewise beyond understanding. Precisely because God is a mystery, I too am a mystery.

Now in mentioning the image, we've come to the most important factor in our humanness. Who am I? As a human person, I am formed in the image of God. That is the most significant and basic fact about my personhood. We are God's living icons. Each of us is a created expression of God's infinite and uncreated self-expression. So this means it is impossible to understand the human person apart from God. Humans cut off from God are no longer authentically human. They are subhuman.

If we lose our sense of the divine, we lose equally our sense of the human. And that we can see very clearly from the story, for example, of Soviet communism in the 70 years which followed the revolution of 1917. Soviet communism sought to establish a society where the existence of God would be denied and the worship of God would be suppressed and eliminated. At the same time, Soviet communism showed an appalling disregard for the dignity of the human person.

Those two things go together. Whoever affirms the human also affirms God. Whoever denies God also denies the human person. The human being cannot be properly understood except with reference to the divine. The human being is not autonomous, not self-contained. I do not contain my meaning within myself. As a person in God's image, I point always beyond myself to the divine realm.

I remember a visit in my student years in Oxford from Archimandrite Sophrony, the disciple of St. Silouan of Mt. Athos. He gave a talk on Orthodoxy, and there was a discussion afterwards. Towards the end, the chairman said, "We have time for just one more question." Somebody got up at the back of the audience and said, "Fr. Sophrony, please tell us what is God?"

Fr. Sophrony answered very briefly, "You tell me what is man?" God and the human person are two mysteries that are interconnected, and neither can be understood apart from the other. "In the image of God" means there's a vertical reference in our personhood. We can only be understood in terms of our link with the divine.

But then, let's think of another point. "In the image of God" means in the image of the Trinity. As St. Gregory the Theologian says, "When I say God, I mean Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." That is what as Christians we mean by God. We don't understand God as a series of abstractions. We understand God as three Persons. And that we see very clearly from the Creed. We begin in the Creed by saying, "I believe in One God." And then we don't continue by saying, "Who is an uncaused cause, who is primordial reality, who is the ground of being." This is the way many modern theologians speak. But in the Creed we say, "I believe in One God … the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." We continue, that is to say, in specific personal terms.

God for us is Trinity. And if we're in the image of God we're in the image of the Triune God. What does that mean for our understanding of our personhood? Let's think first of the Trinity, and then of ourselves.

"God is love" declares St. John in his first letter, and goes on to say, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear." In true love there is no exclusiveness, no jealousy. True love is open, not closed.

God is love. There is no fear in love. And so God is not the love of one. God is not love in the sense of being self-love, turned in upon itself. God is not a closed unit. God is not a unit, but a union. God is love in the sense of shared love, the mutual love of three Persons in one.

When the Cappadocian Fathers in the fourth century are describing God, one of their key words is koinonia, meaning fellowship, communion, or relationship. As St. Basil says in his work on the Holy Spirit, "The union of the Godhead lies in the koinonia, the interrelationship, of the Persons." So this then is what the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is saying: God is shared love, not self-love. God is openness, exchange, solidarity, self-giving.

Now, we are to apply all this to human persons made in the image of God. "God is love," says St. John. And that great English prophet of the eighteenth century, William Blake, says, "Man is love." God is love, not self-love but mutual love, and the same is true then of the human person. God is koinonia, relationship, communion.

So also is the human person in the Trinitarian image. God is openness, exchange, solidarity, self-giving. The same is true of the human person when living in a Trinitarian mode according to the divine image.

There's a very helpful book by a British philosopher, John Macmurray, entitled Persons in Relationship, published in 1961. Macmurray insists that relationship is constitutive of personhood. He argues that there is no true person unless there are at least two persons communicating with each other. In other words, I need you in order to be myself. All this is true because God is Trinity.

From this it follows that the characteristic human word is not "I" but "we". If we are all the time saying, "I, I, I," then we are not realizing our true personhood. That's expressed in the poem of Walter de la Mare, "Napoleon":

What is the world, O soldiers?
It is I:

I, this incessant snow,
This northern sky;

Soldiers, this solitude
Through which we go
Is I.

Whether the historical Napoleon was actually like that or not, de la Mare's point is surely valid. Self-centeredness is in the end coldness, isolation. It is a desert. It's no coincidence that in the Lord's Prayer, the model of prayer that God has given us, and which teaches what we are to be, the word "us" comes five times, the word "our" three times, the word "we" once. But nowhere in the Lord's Prayer do we find the words "me" or "mine" or "I".

In the beginning of the era of modern philosophy in the early seventeenth century, the philosopher Descartes put forward his famous dictum, "Cogito ergo sum" "I think therefore I am." And following that model, a great deal of discussion of human personhood since then has centered round the notion of self-awareness, self-consciousness. But the difficulty of that model is that it doesn't bring in the element of relationship. So instead of saying "Cogito ergo sum, ought we not as Christians who believe in the Trinity say, "Amo ergo sum I love therefore I am"? And still more, ought we not to say, "Amor ergo sum" "I am loved therefore I am"?

One modern poem that I love particularly, by the English poet Kathleen Raine, has exactly as its title "Amo Ergo Sum." Let me quote some words from it:

Because I love
The sun pours out its rays of living gold
Pours out its gold and silver on the sea.

Because I love
The ferns grow green, and green the grass, and green
The transparent sunlit trees.

Because I love
All night the river flows into my sleep,
Ten thousand living things are sleeping in my arms,
And sleeping wake, and flowing are at rest.

This is the key to personhood according to the Trinitarian image. Not isolated self-awareness, but relationship in mutual love. In the words of the great Romanian theologian Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, "In so far as I am not loved, I am unintelligible to myself."

If, then, we think of the divine image, we should not only think of the vertical dimension of our being the image of God; we should also think of the Trinitarian implication, which means that the image has a horizontal dimension relationship with my fellow humans. Perhaps the best definition of the human animal is "a creature capable of mutual love after the image of God the Holy Trinity." So here is the essence of our personhood: co-inherence; dwelling in others.

What is said by Christ in His prayer to the Father at the Last Supper is surely very significant for our understanding of personhood: "That they all may be one, as you, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us" (John 17:21). Exactly. The mutual love of the three Divine Persons is seen as the model for our human personhood. This is vital for our salvation. We are here on earth to reproduce within time the love that passes in eternity between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Source: In Communion: Web Site of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship; Spring 2009 issue of In Communion. © Copyright 2007 by pravmir.com

The Extraordinary Love of God

by Very Rev. Father Antony Hughes

Gospel: Luke 6:31-36

Again we are reminded that God is merciful and compassionate and that we are to follow his example, but this is more than mere imitation. The imitation of God is one thing, but we are called to do more than that; we are called to become divine, not just to be merciful, but to become Mercy. The transformation of the human person is an ontological transformation. If we are to obey the commandments, which over and over again we are told we must do, that is, to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, then there must be in us no mental or physical hindrance to loving our neighbors as ourselves. That means we must change on the deepest levels and this change can happen even (if you believe some of the newest scientific research) on the level of our genes!

Neuroscience has shown how spiritual practice can literally effect positive change on the levels of the tiniest cells and neurons in the brain. New neural pathways are opened through the practice of meditation and prayer that alter the brain in amazing ways. St. Paul’s admonition to think only on beautiful things intuits what modern science has discovered. It is healthy to dwell on good things and unhealthy to dwell on ugly things. Fear produces fear. Anger produces anger. Prejudice produces more prejudice. Violence begets violence. War produces more war. Who doesn't know this at least in theory?

As a man thinks in his heart, so he is, we read in Deuteronomy. When we feed on negativity and fear what happens? We become negative and fearful. Our little old amygdala (that part of the brain that warns us when we are in danger) gets irritated and we find ourselves in "fight or flight" mode. The problem is that in many of us the amygdala is irritated even when there is no threat. Do you remember what Mark Twain said, "I am an old man who has known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened." Fear comes at us most often when there is nothing to fear and particularly from the future. We fear what may happen. We create our own fear! I suspect it may be that we are so used to having an irritated amygdala, that we keep creating fear to keep it that way! Peace would seem so strange after years of panic. But Christ came to bring us peace. How do we calm the amygdala? One of the most effective ways is spiritual practice - prayer and meditation are best.

And remember when Jesus speaks about neighbors his definition is so much more expansive than ours. Not just family and friends. He means everyone, every person, even our enemies. One of the Desert Fathers said that the only true test of love is whether or not we love our enemies. Our Gospel reading puts it plainly.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? In other words, so what? Who cares? Most of us do pretty well with that anyway. But what about those people we do not like?

You have heard me say it before, but it bears repeating. You only love God as much as you love the person you hate the most. Why? Because that person is Christ. Every person is Christ. Not only might we be entertaining angels unaware when we greet strangers (as the writer of Hebrews suggests) we are always entertaining Christ and to be aware of that is to be Enlightened. That is exactly why at this parish everyone is welcome. Everyone is embraced. There are no litmus tests or entrance exams.

Put this way, with all the commandments rolled into one, or maybe two, about loving God and one another, then the whole of the spiritual life boils down to learning to love well. Rumi says something interesting about this when he writes,

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

Why do we not need to seek for love? Because love is who we truly are. Here is Thomas Merton on the subject: "To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name."

Instead of seeking for love, we simply need to recognize our true identity and set it free from all the hindrances to expressing love that we have allowed to grow in us, to tear down all the walls we have erected within that keep us doing anything but loving everyone, all the time no matter what the circumstance, no matter who they are or what they do. Those walls are in our brains. We cannot tear down physical walls until we tear down our mental walls. If spirituality is anything, it is about deconstructing our mental fortresses. For Christians there is no justification for hatred in any form whatsoever, nor can there ever be.

In my time at the prison I have seen over and over again that the simplest expression of compassion brings the greatest possible results. As I tell everyone who joins us there, we are not there to teach, to convert, to argue, or convince. Our only job is to love and when we do that it changes hearts, both of the men we meet and our own.

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

Here is one more from Thomas Merton.

"Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy."

"Be merciful even as your Father is merciful," Jesus says, "and your reward will be great," for then it is mercy you will receive.

Source: Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on September 29, 2013
© 2013 - St. Mary Orthodox Church - Cambridge, MA

What does it really mean to say that 'God is Love'

by Fr. Robert Barron

What does it really mean to say that "God is Love," and how is this revealed in the Sacred Heart of Jesus? Father Steve meditates on an image of the heart of Christ, explaining what it means to be held within this pierced yet radiant symbol of Divine love.

Hanging on the wall of one of the confessionals at my parish is an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The unknown artist has opted, as many have, for a soft Jesus, whose features are as bland and inoffensive as possible and whose heart is more of a glowing orb than anything remotely resembling flesh and blood. I know that the image is meant to communicate - that the Lord Jesus is accessible to the penitent and offers in response to even the most grievous of sins the possibility of another chance. This is not a Jesus prone to yelling "You did what?" It is a Jesus before which one would be able to deliver oneself with honesty without fear that what awaited such an admission would be blown to the face.

Comforting? Yes. It is also an image of Jesus that is, from an aesthetic perspective, utterly forgettable. The image lingers there, barely noticed. I think that I recall this depiction of Christ only because I am positioned beneath it with some measure of frequency. When I have mentioned to folks who frequently request the Sacrament of Penance that I would meet them in the confessional that has the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in it, they look at me as if they will need a map.

Images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus are enduring and ubiquitous in Catholic culture. The emphasis these images place on the approachability of Christ, even to the point of softening his features to effeminacy, is meant to communicate how human feelings and affections have been elevated through the Incarnation. Christ, who loves us, loves us in a way that we can appreciate and understand, and he makes himself available to us in our emotions. Christ can love us, and we can love him in return. Yet the traditional devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has also stressed that the love of God in Christ is met, more often than not, by our refusal. The Heart of Jesus is not only radiant with love for us, but it is a wounded heart, encircled by the thorns, and pierced - this is a Heart that we tried to kill, a love that we tried to extinguish.

But our attempts were frustrated by the willingness of Christ to love us even more.

In this respect, the Sacred Heart of Jesus is itself an image of the totality of the Incarnation. The Incarnation is the revelation that God is love and that this love, resisting all our attempts to make it into something that serves our own egos, will always look in this world like Christ. What we did to this love, and continue to do to this love, is irrefutable evidence of how unlovable that we are - at least from our vantage point. However, seen from the vantage point of God, our failure to love him enflames his passion for us all the more. If, in the narrowness of our human hearts, we fail to understand why God's love in Christ would resist the standards of justice that we all too readily impose, this might mean we actually appreciate how mysterious God's love actually is.

God does not love us as we are accustomed to love each other. God does not love us because we deserve it or because we have earned it or because we have something that God needs that he lacks in his own nature. Instead, God is love. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is trying to make this point visually as its verbal expression seems at times harder to understand. Understanding all this is one thing. Accepting it is another.

The temptation to try to make God love as we love is particularly acute. Especially given that if God loved us on our terms it would also mean that he would be just as inclined to hate on our terms as well. It is hard to consider that humanity's refusal of God, which is manifested in the cross, might be interpreted as the punishment we impose on God for not loving on our terms. That God in Christ transforms the punishment we impose on him into the means to love us even more makes its grace all the more difficult to fathom. But we must accept it, and for the saints such acceptance is irresistible. For the sinner such grace is a total surprise, and it is hard not to believe that there is some kind of catch. There isn't a catch, even if we find that hard to believe.

That image of the Sacred Heart in the confessional has presided over more confessions than many priests will hear in a lifetime. Its presence has, for the most part, been unseen. However, how many penitents have caught a glimpse, if only for a moment, finding in it a quiet, gentle reassurance that in all that I have done and failed to do, in all of my refusals and failures to love, God is love, and in his Sacred Heart, he still loves me.

Source: Wordonfire

How to Leave a Legacy

by Glynnis Whitwer

"I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also."
- 2 Timothy 1:5 (NIV)

Tod's family went to church faithfully. That's what they had always done. But once inside the brick walls of their home, the story was different. There the masks came off, and Tod and his little brother lived with the painful reality of their parents' bad choices. Living a double life became the norm for Tod, and he learned early that Christianity was something you put on with your church clothes.

Summer, however, brought more than relief from school, homework, and the daily routine of life. Summer brought with it a short break from living in the craziness of his family, because summer meant time at his grandparent's home.

Grandma and Grandpa Whitwer were humble people. They served alongside each other as ministers, sacrificially laying down their lives to travel from church to church in many different states. They served well into their retirement years, and never gave up ministering to others.

Throughout the years they saw the pain of their son's choices, choices that drastically affected the lives of their grandchildren. But there was little they could do to intervene. At least it was little in the eyes of the world.

What they were able to do had a lasting impact on Tod. Quietly and consistently, they showed their grandson love. Their never-wavering faith was an anchor. Their unconditional love was like water to a thirsty child. Their integrity was a light on a hill to a lost boy. Amel and Elise Whitwer gave hope to a young boy; hope that there was more to God and to this life than what he knew. Moreover, Tod learned that Christianity was something you lived out every day, not just on Sundays.

Through the faith of two humble people, my husband and I learned that God's most effective influence often comes in quiet ways. God can change a life, and a generation of lives, using gentle, consistent, sincere people who love and serve Him.

The faith of a godly woman ... the faith of a God-fearing man .... it changed my husband's life. It changed my life. And it is changing our children's lives. Never underestimate the power of faith, and a godly legacy, to make an impact over generations.

Note from Author:

Before Tod's parents passed away, we were blessed to see both of them receive healing and restoration, to God and to their families.

Dear Lord, thank You for the model of faith You have given me through the lives of previous generations. Help me to honor those people who love and honor You. Like them, I long to be a woman who creates a legacy of faith to those who will follow in my footsteps. Help me be the woman You want me to be. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Reflect and Respond:

If your grandparents are still alive, take the time to write them a letter, or call them. If you are a grandparent, write your grandchildren a letter.

Think of an older woman who has been a model of Christian faith. What are some of her most memorable characteristics?

What can you do now to become a woman of faith who will leave a legacy?

Power Verses:

Isaiah 55:11, "... so is my word that goes out from my mouth; It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." (NIV)

Daniel 4:34b, "His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation." (NIV)

Deuteronomy 7:9, "Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands." (NIV)

© 2013 by Glynnis Whitwer. All rights reserved.
Source: Encouragement for Today

[Go back to Table of Contents]

VIII Faith/Sacraments

What is Repentance and Confession In Orthodoxy?

By Monk Moses of Holy Mountain

"Many Confess; Few Repent"

Confession is a God-given commandment, and it is one of the Sacraments of our Church. Confession is not a formal, habitual ("to be on the safe side", or, "in view of upcoming feast-days"), forced and unprepared act, springing from an isolated duty or obligation and for psychological relief only. Confession should always be combined with repentance. A Holy Mountain Elder used to say: "Many confess, but few repent!" (Elder Aemilianos of Simonopetra Monastery, Mt. Athos)

Repentance is a freely-willed, internally cultivated process of contrition and sorrow for having distanced ourselves from God through sin. True repentance has nothing to do with intolerable pain, excessive sorrow and relentless guilty feelings. That would not be sincere repentance, but a secret egotism, a feeling of our "ego" being trampled on; an anger that is directed at our self, which then wreaks revenge because it is exposing itself and is put to shame - a thing that it cannot tolerate.

Repentance means a change in our thoughts, our mentality; it is an about-face; it is a grafting of morality and an abhorrence of sin.

Repentance also means a love of virtue, benevolence, and a desire, a willingness and a strong disposition to be re-joined to Christ through the Grace of the almighty Holy Spirit.

Repentance begins in the depths of the heart, but it culminates necessarily in the sacrament of divine and sacred Confession.

During confession, one confesses sincerely and humbly before the confessor, as though in the presence of Christ. No scientist, psychologist, psychoanalyst, psychiatrist, sociologist, philosopher or theologian can replace the confessor.

The father-confessor.

No icon - not even the most miracle-working one - can provide what the confessor's stole can: the absolution of sins. The confessor takes the person under his care; he adopts him and ensures he is reborn spiritually, which is why he is called a "spiritual father".

Normally, spiritual paternity is lifelong, sacred and powerful - even more powerful than a family bond. Spiritual birth is a painful process. The confessor must keep track of the confessing soul, with a fear of God (as one who is "accountable to God"), with understanding, humility and love, and guide him with discretion in the ever-upward course of his life in Christ.

The confessor-priest has been given a special blessing by his bishop for the undertaking of his confessional work. However, the gift of "binding and un-binding" sins is initially acquired through his ordination as presbyter, when he is rendered a successor to the Apostles. Thus, validity and canonicity in Apostolic succession, through bishops, is of central and great importance. Like all the other holy sacraments of our Church, the sacrament of Confession is performed (and it bestows Grace on the faithful), not in conjunction with the skill, the science, the literacy, the eloquence, the energy and the artfulness of the priest - not even with his virtue and holiness - but through the canonicity (validity) of his priesthood and through the "Master of Ceremonies" - the Holy Spirit.

The possible sins of the priest do not obstruct divine Grace during the Sacraments. Woe betide, if we were to doubt (on account of the unworthiness of the priest) that the bread and the wine actually become the Body and the Blood of Christ during the Divine Liturgy! This of course does not mean that the priest should not have to constantly concern himself with his own "cleanliness".

Thus, there is no such thing as "good" or "bad" confessors. Each and every confessor provides the exact same absolution. However, we do have the right to choose our confessor; and of course we have the right to turn to the one who truly makes us feel at ease with him spiritually. To constantly change our confessor however, is not a very sober decision; this kind of tendency does not reveal spiritual maturity. But confessors should, respectively, not fret excessively - or even create problems - when a spiritual child of theirs happens to depart from them.

This may mean that they were morbidly attached to each other (sentimentally, to the person, and not to Christ, nor to the Church). They may also regard that departure as an insult; one that is demeaning to them and makes them think there is no-one better than them, or, it may give them a feeling that the other "belongs" to them exclusively and they can therefore dominate them and in fact even behave forcibly towards them, as if they were repressed and confined subordinates.

We did mention that the confessor is a spiritual father, and that spiritual fatherhood and spiritual childbirth entails labor.

Thus, it is only natural for the confessor to feel sorrow upon the departure of his spiritual child. However, it is preferable for him to pray for his child's spiritual progress and his union to the Church, even despite his disengagement from him. He must wish for, and not against that child.

The confessor's work is not just the superficial hearing of a person's sins and the reciting of the prayer of absolution afterwards. Nor is it restricted to the hour of confession. Like a good father, the confessor continuously cares for his child; he listens to him and observes him carefully, he counsels him appropriately, he guides him along the lines of the Gospel, he highlights his talents, he does not place unnecessary burdens on him, he imposes canons (penances) with leniency and only when he must, he consoles him when he is disheartened, weighed down, resentful, exhausted, and he heals him accordingly, without ever discouraging him, but constantly pursuing the struggle for the eradication of his passions and the harvesting of virtues; constantly shaping his eternal soul to be Christ-like.

This ever-developing paternal and filial relationship between confessor and spiritual child eventually culminates in a feeling of comfort, trust, respect, sanctity and elation. When confessing, one opens his heart to the confessor and discloses the innermost, basest, and most unclean - in fact, all - of his secrets, his most intimate actions and detrimental desires, even those that he would not want to confess to himself, nor tell his next-of-kin or his closest friend. For this reason, the confessor must have an absolute respect for the unlimited trust that is being shown to him by the person confessing.

This trust most assuredly builds up with time, but also by the fact that the confessor is strictly bound (in fact to the death) by the divine and Sacred Canons of the Church, to the confidentiality that confession entails.

In Orthodox confession there are of course no general instructions, because the spiritual guidance that each unique soul requires is entirely personalized. Each person is unprecedented, with a particular psychosynthesis, a different character, differing potentials and abilities, limitations, tendencies, tolerances, knowledge, needs and dispositions. With the Grace of God and with divine enlightenment, the confessor must discern all these characteristics, in order to decide what he can utilize best, so that the person confessing will be helped in the best possible manner. At times, leniency will be required, while at other times, austerity.

The same thing does not apply to each and every person. Nor should the confessor ALWAYS be strict, just for the sake of being called strict and respected as such; and he should likewise not ALWAYS be excessively lenient, in order to become the preferred choice and be regarded as a "spiritual father of many". What is required of him is a fear of God, discernment, honesty, humility, deliberation, understanding and prayer.

"Economy" (Oekonomia: to make allowances for something, exceptionally) is not demanded of the person confessing, nor is it proper for the confessor to make it a rule. "Economy" must remain an exception.

"Economy" must also be a temporary measure (Archmandrite George Gregoriates). When the reasons for implementing it no longer exist, it must naturally be retracted. The same sin can be confronted in numerous ways.

A canon (penance) is not always necessary. A canon is not intended as a form of punishment. It is educative by nature. A canon is not imposed for the sake of appeasing an offended God and an atonement of the sinner in the face of Divine Justice; that is an entirely heretic teaching. A canon is usually implemented during an immature confession, with the intent to arouse awareness and a consciousness of the magnitude of one's sin. According to Orthodox teaching, "sin" is not so much the transgression of a law, as it is a lack of love towards God. "Love, and do whatever you want", the blessed Augustine used to say…

A canon is implemented for the purpose of completing one's repentance in view of confession, which is why Fr. Athanasios of Meteora rightly says:

"Just as the confessor is not permitted to make public the sins being confessed to him, so must the person confessing not make public the particular canon that the confessor has imposed in his specific case, as it is the resultant of many parameters."

A confessor acts as the provider of the Grace of the Holy Spirit. During the hour of the Sacrament of Confession, he does not function as a psychologist and scientist. He functions as a priest, as an experienced doctor, as a caring father. When listening to the sins of the person confessing, he prays to God to give him enlightenment, to advise him what the best "medication" for cure will be, and to gauge the degree and the quality of that confession.

The confessor does not place himself opposite a confessing person with curiosity, suspicion, envy, excessive austerity, power and arrogance; but equally not with indifference, thoughtlessly, carelessly and wearily. The humility, love and attention of the confessor will greatly help the person confessing.

The confessor should not ask too many, unnecessary and indiscreet questions.

He must especially interrupt any detailed descriptions of various sins (especially the carnal ones) and even the disclosure of names, to safeguard himself even more. But the person confessing should also not feel afraid, or hesitate and feel embarrassed; he should feel respect, trust, honor and show reverence to the confessor. This clime of sanctity, mutual respect and trust must be mainly nurtured, inspired and developed by the confessor.

The benefit of confession.

Our holy mother the Orthodox Church is the Body of the Resurrected Christ; She is a vast infirmary for the healing of frail, sinning faithful from the traumas, the wounds and the illnesses of sin; from pathogenic demons, and from the venomous demonic traps, and influences of demonically-driven passions.

Our Church is not a branch office of the Ministry of Social Services, nor does She compete with various social welfare organizations. This does no mean that She does not acknowledge their significant and well-meaning work, or that She Herself does not offer such services bounteously, admirably and wondrously. But the Church is mainly a provider of meaning in life, of redemption and salvation of the faithful, "for the sake of whom Christ died," through their participation in the sacraments of the Church.

"The priest's stole is a planing instrument," as Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain used to say, "that planes and straightens out a person. It is a therapeutic scalpel that excises passions, and not a trowel for workaholics, or a symbol of power. It is a servant's apron intended for ministering to people, for providing therapy and salvation."

God uses the priest for the forgiveness of His creature. It is plainly stated in the absolution blessing: "May God forgive you - through me the sinner - everything, in both the present and future age, and may He render you blameless before His awesome Seat of Judgment. Having no longer any worry for the crimes that have been confessed, may you go forth in peace." Sins that have not been confessed will continue to burden a person, even in the life to come.

How to confess.

Confessed sins should not be re-confessed; it would be as though one doesn't believe in the grace of the Sacrament. God is of course aware of them, but it is for the sake of absolution, humbling, and therapy that they need to be outwardly confessed. As for the occasional penance imposed for sins, one must realize that it does not negate the Church's love for the person, but that it is simply an educative imposition, for a better awareness of one's offenses.

According to Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, "confession is a willed, verbal revealing of one's evil deeds and words and thoughts; solemn, accusatory, direct, without shame, decisive, to be executed before a legitimate spiritual father." This God-bearing saint has succinctly, fully and meaningfully clarified that confession must be willed, free, effortless, without the confessor straining to extract the person's confession. It should be solemn; in other words, with an awareness of the sorrow that the sinner caused God with his sin, and not with sentimental, hypocritical, fainthearted tears.

Genuine "solemnity" implies an inner compunction, remorse, hatred of sin, love of virtue, and a feeling of gratitude to the Gift-Giving God. "Accusatory" implies a responsible confession, without attempts of justification, subterfuge, artiface, irresponsibility and seeking of scapegoats; with sincere self-reproach and genuine self-humiliation that bears the so-called "joy producing sorrow" and the "joyous grief" defined by the Church. "Direct" implies a confession with all sincerity, directness and precision, valour and courage, severity and bravery.

It often happens that during the hour of confession, one avoids admitting his defeat, fall and weakness, and by means of eloquent and long-winded descriptions attempts to deflect his share of responsibility, with twists and turns and half-truths - or even by accusing others - all for the sake of preserving (even at that hour) a prim and proper ego. A confession "without shame" implies a portrayal of our true, deplorable self.

Shame is a good thing to have prior to sin and not afterwards, and in the presence of the confessor. It is said that the shame felt during confession will free us from the sin at the Last Judgment, because whatever the confessor absolves will not be judged again. A "direct" confession implies that it should be clean, specific, sincere, and accompanied by the decision that the faithful will never repeat the sins he has confessed.

Furthermore, confession should be continuous, so that the "willfully recurring" passions (according to Saint John of the Ladder) are not strengthened, but rather are more speedily cured. Thus, old sins will not be entirely blotted out from the memory - there will be a regular self-monitoring, self-observation, self-awareness and self-reproach. Divine Grace will not abandon the penitent; demonic entrapment will be averted much more easily, and remembrance of Death will not seem so horrid and terrible. <…>

Modern problems that hinder pure confession.

A basic prerequisite for partaking in the holy Sacraments and for an upward spiritual course is a purity of heart; a purity that is devoid of various sins and the spirit of avarice and blissfulness inspired by today's hyper-consumerist society, the spirit of God-despised pride in a world of narcissism, individualism, lack of humility, misanthropy, and arrogance, the demonic spirit of mischievous thoughts, fantasies, imaginations, and unclean suspicions and envy.

Purity of heart has become a rare ornament - in brotherly and conjugal relations, in obligations towards colleagues, in friendships, in conversations, in thoughts, in desires, in pastoral callings. The so-called Mass Media have lapsed and become mere sources of contamination.

Forgotten are neptic awareness, ascetic sobriety, traditional frugality, simplicity and gallantry. This has led to a polluting of the soul's rationalizing ability, an arousal of its desirous aspect towards avarice, while its willpower has become severely blunted, thus drawing a weakened person towards evil, without any impediments or limitations.

Nowadays prevailant are self-justification, excuses for our passions, beautification of sin, and its reinforcement through modern psychological supports. The admission of mistakes is regarded as belittlement, weakness and generally improper. The constant justification of our self, and the meticulous transferal of responsibilities elsewhere have created a human being that is confused, divided, disturbed, worn-out, miserable and self-absorbed, taunted by the devil, and captured in his dark nets.

There is a prevalence of foolish rationalism nowadays, which observes evangelical virtues and Conciliar canons according to its liking, preference and convenience, on important issues such as fasting, abstinence, childbearing, morality, modesty, honesty and precision.

In view of all the above - none of which I believe has been exaggerated - it is our belief that the job of a confessor is not an easy one. Ordinary coercion to repent and the cultivating of humility are nowadays inadequate; the fold requires catechesis, re-evangelizing, spiritual training, as well as a spiritual about-face, in order to acquire powerful antibodies. Resistance, reaction and the confronting of the powerful current of de-sanctification, of secularization, of denegrating heroism, of eudaemonism (a theory that the highest ethical goal is happiness and personal well-being) and of amassing wealth are imperative. The young generation is in need of special attention, instruction, and love, because their upbringing has not proven to be of any help to make them aware of the meaning and the purpose of life, or of the emptiness, indecency, lawlessness, and the darkness of sin.

Another serious problem - even for our Christians - is the often over-zealous quest for a labor-free, toil-free and grief-free life. We are in search of Cyreneans to carry our crosses. We refuse to lift up our own personal cross. We have no idea of the depth and breadth of our own cross. We bow in reverence before the Cross in church, we cross ourselves, but we do not embrace our personal cross. In the long run, we would like a non-crucified Christianity. But there cannot be an Easter Sunday without a Good Friday.

We honor martyrs and saints, but we ourselves do not want to suffer any hardships or difficulties. Fasting is too difficult a task to accomplish, we feel resentful during an illness. We cannot tolerate any harsh words, not even when we are to blame; therefore how could we possibly tolerate injustice, slander, persecution and exile, the way our saints did? It is an indisputable fact that the contemporary, secular spirit of convenience, leisure and excessive consumerism has greatly affected the measure of spiritual living. Generally speaking, we demand a non-ascetic Christianity… Orthodoxy however has the ascetic Gospel as its basis.

One other serious problem of our time is man's morbid and undue reliance upon logic, intellect, knowledge, and personal judgment - we are referring to over-fed and ultimately tiring rationalization. Neptic Orthodox theology teaches us to consider our Nous a tool, and to lower it, into the Heart. Our Church does not cultivate and produce intellectuals. To us, rationalization is not a philosophical mentality, but a clearly sin-oriented life view - a form of atheism - since it goes contrary to the commandment of placing our faith, hope, love, and trust in God. A rationalist judges everything using the filter of his own, finite mind, with himself and his sovereign ego as the epicentre, and does not place any trust in divine Providence, divine Grace and divine Assistance in his life.

By often regarding himself as infallible, a rationalist does not allow God to intervene in his life and therefore judge him. Thus, he is convinced that he is not in need of confession. Saint Simeon the New Theologian says, however, that for one to believe he has not fallen into any sins is the greatest of falls and fallacies, and the greatest sin of all. Certain modern-day theologians speak of "missing the target" instead of "sinning" in their desire to blunt the natural protest of one's conscience. The self-sufficiency displayed by certain churchgoers and fasting Christians can sometimes be hiding a latent pharisaic stance, i.e., that "they are not like the others" and therefore are not in need of confession.

Pride.

According to the holy fathers of our Church, the greatest evil is pride; it is the mother of all passions, according to Saint John of the Ladder. It is the mother of many offspring, the first ones being vainglory and self-justification. Pride is a form of denial of God; it is an invention of wicked demons, the result of too much flattery and praise, which in turn results in a person's debilitation and exhaustion, God-despised censure, anger, rage, hypocrisy, a lack of compassion, misanthropy, and blasphemy. Pride is a passion that is formidable, difficult, powerful and hard to cure.

Pride is also strong in many ways, and has many faces. It manifests itself as vainglory, boastfulness, conceit, arrogance, presumptuousness, pompousness, insolence, self-importance, megalomania, ambition, self-love, vanity, avarice, pampering of the flesh, desire for first place, accusations and arguments. It also manifests itself as smugness, favoritism, insolence, disrespect, outspokenness, insensitivity, contradiction, obstinacy, disobedience, sarcasm, stubbornness, disregard, indignity, perfectionism and hypersensitivity. Finally, pride can lead to impenitence.

The tongue often becomes the instrument of pride through unchecked, long-winded, useless talking; gossiping, and silliness; through vain, insincere, indiscreet, two-faced, beguiling, affected, and mocking conversations.

Out of the seven deadly sins many other passions spring forth. Having mentioned the offspring of Pride, we then have Avarice, which gives birth to the love of money, greed, stinginess, lack of charity, hardheartedness, fraud, usury, injustice, deceitfulness, simony, bribery, gambling. Fornication manifests itself in myriads of ways; for example, envy, with its underhanded and evil spite, insatiable gluttony, anger, as well negligence and lack of care.

Elements of family life.

Special attention should also be paid to many un-Orthodox elements in family life, which we believe should be examined carefully by confessors and the persons involved. The avoidance of childbearing, the idolizing of one's children (when parents regard them as an extension of their ego); overprotecting them, or constantly watching their moves and savagely oppressing them.

Marriage is an arena for exercising humility, mutual yielding and mutual respect, and not the parallel journey of two sefish egos, no matter how long they have been together. The devil dances for joy whenever there is no forgiveness for human weaknesses and in everyday mistakes.

Parents will help their children significantly not by excessive courtesy outside the home, but by their peaceful, sober and loving example in the home, on a daily basis. The participation of the children together with the parents in the sacrament of confession will fortify them with divine Grace in an experiential life in Christ.

When parents ask for forgiveness with sincerity, they simultaneously teach their children humility, which destroys all demonic plots. In a household where love, harmony, understanding, humility and peace bloom, there the blessings of God will be bounteous and the home becomes a castle that is impervious to the malice of the world around it. The upbringing of children with the element of forgiveness creates a healthy family hearth, which will inspire them and strengthen them for their own futures.

Self-justification.

One other huge matter that constitutes an obstacle for repentance and confession is self-justification, which also plagues many people of the Church. Its basis is, as we mentioned earlier, demonic Pride. A classic example is the Pharisee of the Gospel parable.

The self-justifying person has seemingly positive traits, which he himself will praise excessively, and which he would like others to honor and praise. He is happy to be flattered and to demean and humiliate others. He has excessive self-esteem, he excessively justifies himself, and believes that God is obligated to reward him. In the final analysis he is a poor wretch, who in his miserable state makes others miserable. He is overcome by nervousness and agitation and is overly demanding, thus imprisons himself, for these are tendencies that will not allow him to open the door to divine mercy through repentance.

An offspring of Pride is censure (fault-finding), which is unfortunately also a habit of many Christians, who tend to concern themselves more with others than themselves. This is a phenomenon of our time and of a society that pushes people into a continuous observation of others, and not of ourselves.

Modern man's myriad activities never allow him to remain alone to study, contemplate, pray; to attain self-awareness, self-critique, self-control, and remembrance of death.

The mass media are incessantly preoccupied with scandal-seeking, with human passions, sins, and peoples' crimes.

Such things provoke and leave impressions, and even if they do not tempt, they nevertheless burden the soul and the mind with filth and ugliness. They actually reassure us by making us believe that "we are better" than those described. Thus, a person becomes accustomed to the mediocrity, lukewarmness, and transience of superficial day-to-day life, never comparing himself to saints and heroes. This is how censure prevails in our time - by giving others the impression that he is justly imposing a kind of cleansing by slinging mud at others. Meanwhile he is contaminating himself by generating malice, hatred, hostility, resentment, envy and coldness.

Saint Maximus the Confessor says that the one who constantly scrutinizes others' sins, or condemns his brother based on no more than suspicion, has not even begun to repent, nor has he begun any attempt to discover his own sins.

Conclusion

Many and various things can be said; but in the end, only one thing is significant and important: our salvation, to which we are not attending. Salvation is only attained through sincere repentance and pure confession.

Repentance not only opens the heavenly Paradise, but also the earthly one, with the foretaste - albeit incomplete - of the ineffable joy of the endless heavenly reign, and the reign of wonderful peace in the present time. Those who continually practice confession are potentially truly and genuinely happy people; peace-loving and peace-bearing; heralds of repentance, of resurrection, transformation, freedom, grace, with the blessing of God in their souls and lives. "God's bounteous Grace turns the wolf into a lamb," says Saint John the Chrysostom.

No sin can surpass God's love.

There is not a single sinner who cannot become a saint, if he so desires. This has been proven by innumerable names recorded in the Lives of the Saints.

The confessor listens to confessions and absolves those confessing, under his blessed stole. He cannot, however, confess himself and place the stole over his own head to obtain forgiveness in the same manner. He must necessarily kneel underneath another stole to confess and be absolved.

That is the way the spiritual law functions; this is what God's Wisdom and Mercy have ordained. We cannot confess others while never submitting ourselves to confession; we must practice what we preach. We cannot talk about repentance, but never repent; or talk about confession, but not go to confession ourselves regularly. No one can cast himself down, and no one can absolve himself. The unadvised, the disobedient, and the unconfessed are a serious problem for the Church.

Dear brothers and sisters! The confessor's stole can be a miraculous scalpel for the removal of malignant tumors; it can raise the dead, renew and transform the indecent world, and bring joy to earth and heaven. Our Church has entrusted this grand ministry, this sacred service, to our priests and not to the angels, so that we might be able to approach our confessor easily and fearlessly, as fellow-sufferers and corporeal counterparts.

All the above has been delivered sincerely and not at all pretentiously by a co-sinner who does not aspire to play the teacher, but who is a co-struggling, co-student with you. It was his sole desire to remind you in simple and artless words of the Tradition of our holy mother, the Church, on the ever-relevant matter of divinely-conceived and divinely-blessed Repentance, and the God-given, God-pleasing, blessed Sacrament of Confession.

Source: From the book Repentance and Confession, from the website of the Serbian Orthodox Church in America; Excerpt edited by OrthoChristian.com 

The Feast and the Eucharist in Orthodox Church

By Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk

The day which followed the six days of the creation was the first feast to be celebrated as a day free from work, a day of rest and quiet (this is how the modern man understands any feast): By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy (Gen. 2:2-3).

The life of the primordial couple in Eden went in the context of the Sabbath rest. Man was not yet to work by the sweat of his brow to earn livelihood. He was in continued communion with God, and the world around him was in the state of harmony.

The fall however put an end to this condition of paradise. Man had to give most of his time to work necessary to meet his vital needs. For communion with God, which consisted mostly in thanksgiving (Eucharist in Greek), special days were assigned, which is confirmed by the biblical description of Cain's and Abel's sacrifices. It means that already at that time there was a ritual of feast - sacrifice fixed for a certain season and there were certain obligations of man before God expressed in thanksgiving through sacrifice.

The Bible repeatedly speaks of sacrifices made by people in gratitude to the Creator for His mercy. These included the sacrifices made by Noah at the end of the Flood (see, Gen. 8:20-22), and Abraham near Bethel (see, Gen. 12:8) and the sacrifices near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron (see, Gen. 13:18), and in Beersheba (see, Gen. 26:23-25). Jacob set up an altar in Shechem (see, Gen. 33:18-20). The Lord ordered Jacob to build an altar in Bethel where He had appeared to him earlier when he was fleeing from Esau (see, Gen. 35:1), etc.

However, the establishment of feasts and related worship and sacrifice and a detailed procedure for the behavior of the people of God on these days dates from the time of their exodus from Egypt.

Thus, the commandment on the Sabbath in the Decalogue given to the chosen people in Chapter 2 of the Book of Genesis specifies:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
(Ex. 20:8-11).

Therefore, the first feast to be observed in human history was based on a divine instruction, while being natural as it was needed for labourers' rest.

The fact that the festive calendar was established by the Lord Himself speaks of the importance of feasts in our life. Indeed, celebrating a feast, the people of God not only remember a particular event in their history but also testify that they remember God's deeds, live by this memory and actualize it in their time. But a feast is not only an appeal to people's memory. It is also an appeal to the 'memory' of God, 'reminding' Him of His love for His people. It is a call to preserve and renew the mercies He showed to their forefathers. It is noteworthy that the commandment on the Sabbath, just as other ones on later feasts, has two aspects: service of God and withdrawal from earthly chores and tasks.

The most important Old Testament feasts were Passover and Pentecost, and a common meal was the most important part of any celebration.

The first Eucharist celebrated by Christ Himself was a continuation and development of the Passover's festive repast which was sacred because it was dominated by religious emotions, and the traditional festive meals were subjected to a religious idea. Put in the frame of the Old Testament Passover supper filled with remembrances of Israel's exodus from Egypt, the New Passover was essentially centered on the crucifixion and resurrection of the Son of God. And the Saviour commanded His disciples that they should celebrate the Passover not in the remembrance of the exodus from Egypt but in remembrance of Him, His exodus from death to life. The Paschal lamb was at the same time a sacrifice of thanksgiving for the deliverance from the Egyptian captivity and a sacrifice of supplication for mercy to be shown for people's sins and the main part of the festive repast. All these three elements – thanksgiving, supplication and repast – are present in the Eucharist.

In the early Christian Church, the annual liturgical cycle was also based on Passover and Pentecost. Inherited from the Jewish tradition, these feasts acquired a new content, as Passover from the beginning was a celebration devoted to the Resurrection of Christ, while Pentecost a remembrance of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and the establishment of a New Covenant between God and the New Israel – the Christians.

In the 2nd century the Church begins to venerate martyrs, assigning calendar days for their remembrance in prayer. The oldest testimony to this is 'The Martyrdom of St. Polycarpus of Smyrna' dating from the mid-2nd century. Characteristically, the veneration of martyrs is not separated in this manuscript from the worship of Christ: 'We worship Him as the Son of God and we give due love to martyrs as the disciples and imitators of the Lord for their invincible commitment to their King and Teacher. May God give us to be their fellow workers and disciples?' ('The Martyrdom of Polycarpus of Smyrna', 17). And though originally the worship of every martyr was fixed for the day of his death, the church remembrance of this event has always been of a festive nature. In the end of the story about the death of St. Polycarpus, the authors say, 'We then took his bones, which are more precious than precious stones and nobler than gold, and put them to a proper place. There the Lord will possibly give us too, who have gathered in merriment and joy, to celebrate the birthday of His martyr in the memory of those who were before us and in the instruction and preparation for the future (ascetics)' (The Martyrdom…', 18).

During the 4th century, the liturgical cycle of Christian Churches was considerably broadened through introduction of new feasts, review of old ones, addition of new saints and 'exchange of feasts' between local Churches. And certainly, each celebration was centred on liturgy, namely, the Eucharist.

Each of the Holy Fathers of that period left us sermons on particular feasts. At the same time, there were attempts to comprehend the phenomenon of the Christian feast. An outstanding role in these efforts belongs to St. Gregory the Theologian. In his sermon of the Nativity of Christ, he speaks of the annual cycle of church feasts and of how the whole life of Jesus goes before a believer's eye during the liturgical year.

'Indeed, a little later on [this points to the Epiphany Day, Feast of Lights, the nearest to the Nativity Day] you will see Jesus submitting to be purified in the River Jordan for my Purification, or rather, sanctifying the waters by His Purification (for indeed He had no need of purification Who takes away the sin of the world) and the heavens cleft asunder, and witness borne to him by the Spirit That is of one nature with Him; you shall see Him tempted and conquering and served by Angels, and healing every sickness and every disease, and giving life to the dead (O that He would give life to you who are dead because of your heresy), and driving out demons, sometimes Himself, sometimes by his disciples; and feeding vast multitudes with a few loaves; and walking dryshod upon seas; and being betrayed and crucified, and crucifying with Himself my sin; offered as a Lamb, and offering as a Priest; as a Man buried in the grave, and as God rising again; and then ascending, and to come again in His own glory. Why what a multitude of high festivals there are in each of the mysteries of the Christ; all of which have one completion, namely, my perfection and return to the first condition of Adam' (Gregory the Theologian, Oration 38).

St. Gregory teaches that every church feast should be for a believer a new step on the way to perfection, a new insight into the life and redemptive feat of Jesus.

In the same oration, the saint stresses that a Christian feast does not consist in arranging banquets, eating plenty of sumptuous food and drinking costly wines. For a believer, a feast is to come to church and enjoy the word of God in it.

It is in the church, according to another great saint, John Chrysostom, that the festive repast, the feast of faith, is celebrated. Here, participating in the Eucharist, we not only meet with the Saviour dwelling really with us in the Holy Gifts but also partake of His Holy Body and Blood, becoming participants in a truly festive repast.

'Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry! Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness', the teacher of the Church calls upon Christians in his famous catechetical homily on Holy Pascha.

While the Eucharist is the center and meaning of a Christian feast, the participation in the celebrations is unthinkable without participation in the Eucharist. This is what Sts Nicodemus of the Holy Mount and Macarius of Corinth say about it: 'Those who, though fasting before Pascha, do not communicate on Pascha do not celebrate Pascha. Those who are not prepared to partake of the Lord's Body and Blood on each feast cannot really celebrate Sundays and other holidays because these people have no reason or cause for the feast which is Sweet Jesus Christ and do not have the spiritual joy which is born from the divine communion' (Macarius of Corinth, Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, 'On Continued Communion', p. 54).

Each day, according to Sts Nicodemus and Macarius, can become a feast: 'You want to celebrate every day? You want to celebrate holy Pascha when you wish to enjoy an ineffable joy in this sorrowful life? Always resort to the Sacrament and communicate with appropriate preparation, and then you will enjoy whatever you wish. Indeed, true Pascha and the true feast of the soul is Christ who is sacrificed in the Sacrament' (Ibid., 2, pp. 52-53).

Here they almost literally reproduce the teaching of Simeon the New Theologian on life as a continued feast of communion with God. St. Simeon writes, 'The way you celebrate is the way you take the Holy Mysteries; let all your life be one feast, but not even a feast but a beginning of the feast and one Pascha, a move and resettlement from things visible to things contemplative' (Moral Homily 14, 54).

In a reflection on Christian feasts, it is impossible to avoid the theme of interaction between the temporal and the eternal in our life. The Son of God born by the Father outside time and before time, combines in His incarnation the temporal and the eternal, the earthly and the heavenly. Both the feast and the Eucharist overcome time and reveal eternity to those who participate in them.

The Eucharist is not just a devotional remembrance of the Last Supper celebrated by the Church on certain days, nor is it its didactic enactment, but its continued repetition.

The celebrant of the Sacrament is Jesus Christ Himself, and every liturgy is not just a symbolical remembrance of that event but its continuation and actualization. Though the Eucharist is celebrated at various times and in various places, it remains one, overcoming the border of time and space. This is what St. John Chrysostom says to us, 'Believe, therefore, that even now it is that supper, at which He Himself sat down. For this is in no respect different from that. For neither does man make this and Himself the other; but both this and that is His own work. When therefore you see the priest delivering it unto you, account not that it is the priest that does so, but that it is Christ's hand that is stretched out' (John Chrysostom, Homilies on Mt. (50, 30)).

According to the saint, 'We always offer the same Lamb, not one today and another tomorrow, but always the same one. For this reason the sacrifice is always only one. Though it is offered in many places, is there a multiplicity of Christ? No, Christ is one everywhere, compete here and complete there, one Body. And just as He is one body and not many though offered everywhere, so too is there one sacrifice. He is our High Priest who offered up a sacrifice which purifies us. Even now we offer that victim who was once offered and who will never be consumed… We are ever offering not another sacrifice, as the high priest then did, but always the same…' (John Chrysostom. Homilies on the Hebrews (17, 3).

Chrysostom emphasizes elsewhere, 'It is not man that causes the things offered to become the Body and Blood of Christ, but He who was crucified for us, Christ himself. The priest, in the role of Christ, pronounces these words, but their power and grace are God's' (John Chrysostom. On the Treachery of Judas 1, 6).

The Eucharist is not just a remembrance of the Golgotha sacrifice but its continued reproduction, as evidenced by the texts of the Eucharistic prayers. These prayers are filled with the theme of sacrifice which is offered 'for each and all', which again brings the Eucharist together with the old temple worship centered on sacrifice.

In the prayer after the holy gifts are brought out in the Liturgy of Basil the Great, the presiding priest asks God to accept the service of the participants in the liturgy just as He accepted 'the gifts of Abel' (see, Gen. 4,4), 'the sacrifices of Noah' after the Flood (see, Gen. 8:2-22), 'the burnt offerings of Abraham' when Abraham offered his son Isaac (see, Gen. 22:1014), 'the priestly offices of Moses and Aaron' (see, Ps. 98:5), and 'the peace offerings of Samuel' (see, 1 Sam. 11:14-15). Mentioned here are five stories from the sacred history seen in the Christian tradition as prototypes of the Eucharist. Since the Last Supper the Eucharist has been the only sacrifice which is necessary for salvation and which replaces all the Old Testament sacrifices and burnt offerings.

The prototype of a Christian feast, says St. Gregory the Theologian, is the Old Testament 'Jubilee' - the Year of Release. According to Mosaic Law, every seventh year is one of rest when it was forbidden to scatter fields with seeds and to pick grapes. Every fiftieth year was declared a jubilee, a year of feast, when people came back to their domains, debtors were forgiven their debts, and slaves were set free. The purpose of a jubilee year devoted to God in a special way was not only to give people rest but also to rectify as far as possible inequalities and injustices in human society. A jubilee was a year of summing up when people gave accounts to God and one another about how they built their life and rebuilt it to be in more conformant to God's commandments. A jubilee thus became the prototype of people's life in the future where there was no social inequality, slavery and masters, lenders and debtors.

'The children of the Hebrews do honour to the number Seven, according to the legislation of Moses… This honour which they pay to it is not confined to days alone, but also extends to years. That belonging to days the Sabbath proves… and that belonging to years is shown by the seventh year, the year of Release; and it consists not only of Hebdomads, but of Hebdomads of Hebdomads, alike in days and years. The Hebdomads of days give birth to Pentecost, a day called holy among them; and those of years to what they call the Jubilee, which also has a release of land, and a manumission of slaves, and a release of possessions bought. For this nation consecrates to God, not only the firstfruits of offspring, or of firstborn, but also those of days and years. Thus the veneration paid to the number Seven gave rise also to the veneration of Pentecost. For seven being multiplied by seven generates fifty all but one day, which we borrow from the world to come, at once the Eighth and the first, or rather one and indestructible' (Gregory the Theologian, Homily 21, 2, 4-35)

Pentecost in the Christian tradition is the feast of the Holy Spirit the Comforter Who has come to replace Christ Who ascended to heaven. The deeds of Christ on earth are over, and for Christ as man the Sabbath of rest has come since His burial, while for Christians an era of jubilee has come after His Resurrection as an endless fiftieth year beginning on the earth and going into eternity. The era of jubilee is characterized first of all by the intensive renewing work of the Holy Spirit. Under the influence of the Spirit's grace, people are radically changing to turn from shepherds into prophets, from fishermen into apostles. St. Gregory believed that the Christian feast should never end. He states it in conclusion of his homily on Pentecost:

'Now it is our duty to dissolve this Assembly, for enough has been said. But the Festival is never to be put an end to; but kept now indeed with our bodies; but a little later on altogether spiritually there, where we shall see the reasons of these things more purely and clearly, in the Word Himself, and God, and our Lord Jesus Christ, the True Festival and Rejoicing of the Saved…' (Gregory the Theologian, Oration 41).

The whole life of a Christian should become a continued feast, an uninterrupted Pentecost, a jubilee year beginning at the moment of baptism and having no end. The life of a Christian on earth may become for a Christian an endless feast of communion with God through the Church and the Eucharist. The annual cycle of church feasts and the sacraments of the Church helps a person to move gradually from time to eternity, to the gradual dismissal from things earthly and participation in things heavenly. But the real feast and the real sacrament will come only there where, beyond time, one will meet God face to face. The true feast is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who is contemplated in continued exaltation by the faithful in the Kingdom of God, and the sons of the Kingdom will no longer partake of the Body and Blood of Christ in the appearance of bread and wine but will more fully partake of Christ Himself as the Source of life and immortality.

Source: Department for external church relations of the Moscow Patriarchate (DECR)
© Copyright 2007 by pravmir.com

The Eucharist

by Sebastian R. Fama

The Church has always taught that the Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ. This is difficult for some to accept. However, belief in the Real Presence rests upon the words of Christ Himself. In John 6:48-57 we read:

I am the the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread, will live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. The Jews quarreled among themselves saying, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?"

Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me."

Opponents of the Real Presence contend that this is all symbolic. But read what happens in verses 60 and 66, - "Then many of His disciples who were listening said, 'This saying is hard, who can accept it?'...As a result of this, many [of] His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him."

Why was it hard for Jesus' disciples to accept something that was supposedly symbolic? Why would they abandon Him over it? Apparently they took Him literally. If they were wrong, why didn't He correct them? When Jesus taught something and it wasn't understood, He would explain it as He did with the parables. If His message was understood but rejected, He just repeated it with more force, as He did with the Pharisees. Which category do you suppose John 6 is in?

At the Last Supper, Jesus fulfilled His promise: "While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, 'Take and eat, this is My body.' Then He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins'" (Matthew 26:26-28). This could hardly be seen as symbolic, as Jesus held bread and the cup of wine in His hands and said "This is my body" and "This is my blood." He was obviously referring to what He was holding. Luke records that Jesus also said to do this in memory of Him (22:19). For the Jews, to do something "in memory" meant to make it actually present.

Paul affirms the Real Presence in 1 Corinthians 10:16 and 11:27-29. "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?... Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord...For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself." If the Lords body and blood are not present, how can a wrong be committed against them?

Jesus is the sacrificial lamb of the New Covenant. The Old Covenant sacrifice prefigured the New Covenant sacrifice. Both include a partaking of the sacrifice to signify participation in its effects.

Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch from the year 69 to 110, writes in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans, "But look at the men who have those perverted notions about the grace of Jesus Christ…They will not admit the Eucharist is the self same body of our Savior Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins, and which the Father in His goodness afterwards raised up again" (7:1).

A few decades later, around the year 150, Justin Martyr wrote: "Not as common bread or common drink do we receive these, but since Jesus Christ our savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the eucharistic prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus" (First Apology 66).

Copyright © 2001 StayCatholic.com

Going to Mass Should be a Life-Changing Event by Pope Francis

by Cindy Wooden

Going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist should make a difference in the way Catholics live, Pope Francis said; they should be more accepting of others and more aware of their sinfulness.

"If we don't feel in need of God's mercy and don't think we are sinners, it's better not to go to Mass," Pope Francis said Wednesday at his weekly general audience. The Eucharist is a celebration of Christ's gift of himself for the salvation of sinners, which is why the Mass begins with people confessing they are sinners and begging for the Lord's mercy.

Continuing a series of audience talks about the sacraments, the pope asked people to think about how they approach the Mass and what difference it makes in their lives and the lives of their parishes.

Do you go to Mass because it's a habit or a time to see your friends? the pope asked. "Or is it something more?"

"When we go to Mass, we find ourselves with all sorts of people," the pope said. "Does the Eucharist we celebrate lead me to consider all of them as brothers and sisters? Does it increase my ability to rejoice when they do and to weep with those who weep?"

Pope Francis said it is not enough to say one loves Jesus; it must be shown in love for those he loved.

Ask yourself, he said, if going to Mass helps you reach out to the suffering or "am I indifferent, or am I gossiping, 'Did you see how that one's dressed?' Sometimes people do that after Mass. But this shouldn't happen."

Attendance at Mass also should lead to "the grace of feeling forgiven and able to forgive others," he said.

Pope Francis said he knows some people wonder why they should bother going to church when the church is filled with people who sin like everyone else.

"In reality, those who participate in the Mass don't do so because they think or want to believe they are superior to others, but precisely because they know they are in need" of God's mercy, he said.

"We go to Mass because we know we are sinners and want Jesus' forgiveness," the pope said. "When, at the beginning of Mass, we say, 'I confess,' it's not something pro forma. It's a real act of penance."

In the Eucharist, Jesus truly gives us his body and blood for the remission of sins, he said.

Celebrating the Eucharist also should make a difference in the way a parish community lives, he said. At Mass, Christ gathers people around him "to nourish us with his word and his life. This means that the mission and identity of the church begin and take form there."

"A celebration could be perfect from an aesthetic point of view -- it can be beautiful -- but if it does not lead us to an encounter with Jesus Christ, it risks not giving any nourishment to our hearts and lives," the pope said. There must be "coherence between our Eucharist and our lives."

Source: Catholic News Service; ncronline.org

[Go back to Table of Contents]

IX Christian Persecution

Abduction of Two Orthodox Bishops in Syria and the Global Persecution of Christians

by Dr. Jacob Mathew, Editor-in-Chief, Malankara World

abducted orthodox Bishops in Syria, April 2013

The kidnapping of the two Metropolitan Archbishops of Aleppo, Mor Gregorios Yuhanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, and Paul Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, enters into the 317th day as we go to press with this Two Centum Special Edition of Malankara World Journal.

The bishops were abducted on April 22, 2013 while on a humanitarian mission to release abducted priests in Syria. It is believed that the bishops are being held in a town called Beshkatin, Northwest of Aleppo; but no independent verification of it is available. The Archbishops were en route to Kafr Dael, a relatively small village in the outskirts of Aleppo, doing humanitarian work and their pastoral duties in securing the release of two priests who were kidnapped earlier this year when they were abducted. Both Archbishops were forced out of their vehicle and have not been seen or heard from since. Their driver, Fatha’Allah Kabboud, a deacon in the Syriac Orthodox Church, was shot dead.

Coincidentally, March 4, 2014 is the Pearl anniversary (35th year) of the consecration of Mor Gregorios Yuhanna Ibrahim to be the Metropolitan of city of Aleppo and Environs. His Eminence was consecrated on March 4, 1979 by the Late Patriarch His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Yacoub III (1957-1980) at the Syrian Orthodox Cathedral in Aleppo. Fr. Raban Yohanna Ibrahim was thirty years old at the time of the consecration.

Our brothers and sisters in Syria, Iraq and the whole middle east have gone though tremendous suffering and persecution in the past few years. The church is practically decimated in Iraq and Syria. Most of the Christians are living in refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Many have gone to Greece and then to Europe. Thousands of our people had been killed, tortured, raped and abused, just because they are Christians.

Breakpoint Commentary observed:

What's happening is part of a larger global pattern. Christians around the world are often "harassed, arrested, jailed, tortured, raped, beaten and killed." Christian "churches and homes are bombed or burned to the ground." Children are even "taken from their Christian parents lest they become too tainted with faith in Jesus."

We're living in what's been called "the age of martyrs."

The people in America and in Kerala are virtually ignorant and silent about this situation in Middle East. Interestingly, during the Manjinikkara Pilgrimage and Services in February, I noticed large banners with the picture of Mor Gregorios on the walls of the church and special prayers were held for the release of the abducted bishops and clergy. We need more of that. If we do not speak up, Christians are in danger of being decimated from the areas that gave birth to Christianity.

Kirsten Powers of the Daily Beast observed: "Christians in the Middle East and Africa are being slaughtered, tortured, raped, kidnapped, beheaded, and forced to flee the birthplace of Christianity."

However, these atrocities are perpetuated by few extremists, not the mainline population in these areas. Christians have co-existed with Muslims for centuries peacefully. In fact, Bishop Matta Khoury, secretary to Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Zakka I Iwas and Bishop of Bab Touma in Damascus, noted on the day of the kidnapping of the bishops:

"As Christian clergy, we do not fear Syrian Muslims. We have no problem with any Syrian Muslims, whether they are Sunni, Shii, or Alawi. Rather, our problem is with foreign Muslims who come from abroad, Chechens, Taliban, Afghans who want, for example, to fight Russia in our region. "

He added, "We have lived with Syrian Muslims for a long time and we coexist with them in peace. We are brought together by feasts and united by traditions."

Khoury emphasized that "Muslims from all sects have built our patriarchal residence in Bab Touma, decorated it, and carved icons of Saint George for us."

Bishop Khoury observed that the Muslim children who fled from Homs, Syria whom he met in Lebanon confirmed to him that "there is no connection between Syrian Muslims and what is happening. They are sorry about what has happened in Homs and are afraid of the foreign groups that have come from abroad."

He concluded that, "the Syrian Muslim does not constitute a source of fear for the Syrian Christian, as history testifies."

One of the outspoken persons who speak fearlessly about the persecution of Christians around the world is Baroness Warsi, UK Foreign Office Minister. She says that the situation for Christians has become a global crisis and has warned that "Christians in some parts of the world face extinction because of violence against them."

Baroness Warsi told BBC that this "persecution" has become a global crisis.

"I'm concerned, as are members of the public from the large amount of correspondence that we receive, that the birthplace of Christianity - the parts of the world where Christianity first spread - is now seeing large sections of the Christian community leaving and those that are remaining are feeling persecuted," she said.

"There are huge advantages to having pluralistic societies - everything from the economy to the way in which people develop educationally - and therefore we all have an interest in making sure that Christian communities do continue to feel like they belong and are not persecuted in the places where this religion was born."

Baroness Warsi said the situation was bleak for many religious minorities, but particularly for Christians.

"It is [particularly bad for Christians]," she said. "One in ten Christians live in a minority situation and large numbers of those who live in a minority situation around the world are persecuted. And I think tragically what's happening is that they are being seen as newcomers, being portrayed as 'another' within that society, even though they have existed there for many, many centuries.

"What we are seeing sadly is a sense of collective punishment, which is meted out by local groups - sometimes states, sometimes extremists. [Christians are] seen as legitimate targets for what they perceive as actions of their core religions, and this concept of collective punishment, about them being seen as agents of maybe the West or other places of the world or agents of regimes is wrong, and therefore we need to speak out and raise this with the countries where this is happening."

Our Holy Father Patriarch HH Ignatius Zakka I Iwas is praying with tears everyday for his sheep. The extent of Moran's agony can be gleaned from HH's Christmas Message for 2013. Let me quote a segment here:

"Dearly beloved, how can you celebrate this Christmas and New Year with all the happiness when our beloved Archbishops Their Eminences Mor Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and Mor Paulose Yazgi are abducted since last April and we lack any kind of true information about them?

Is it possible to celebrate Christmas by immersing in worldly enjoyments when twelve of the humble and saintly nuns of Ma'alula are kidnapped?

How will you welcome the New Year with gladness when thousands and thousands of your brothers and sisters in Syria including innocent children are brutally killed by the evil clutches of terrorism?

Isn't a time to recognize that going after name and fame or money and power is satanic when our brethren in Syria are living in fear and anxiety and expecting death at every moment?

Isn't it too late for us to stretch our helping hand to the victims of violence and to pray for world peace especially in the Middle East?

We exhort all of you to learn from Jesus Christ, who is the true embodiment of humility and poverty, in whom we find true comfort and celebrate Christmas meaningfully.

We are unable to express the pain in our heart for the innocent victims of terrorism and violence. Pray with humility and confidence that they may find solace in the Living Lord. Also beseech the intercession of all the martyrs and saints especially our Holy mother, who is ever-virgin, pure and spotless."

While affirming the Nicene Creed during our Holy Qurbano, the priest kneels in front of the alter and makes his private prayers. The song we sing at that time is especially noteworthy ("Yachikkendum samayamitha.."):

Come, the time of prayer is here,
Come for pardon, have no fear;
'Tis the time to ask a new'
'Tis the time for mercy too

This is the time for all of us to come forward and pray for the abducted bishops and clergy in Middle East and for the Christians undergoing persecution throughout the world.

During our lenten prayers, please remember to light a candle to go along with your supplication for the Metropolitans' safe, dignified and speedy release.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said: "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act."

Pope Francis:
There are Christians Condemned for Having a Bible
The persecution of Christians in contemporary society was the focus of Pope Francis' homily at his Mass on Tuesday morning (March 4, 2014) in the Santa Marta residence. He warned that the Cross is always on the road of a Christian, saying there are more Christian martyrs today than during the early days of the Church.

In his homily, the Pope took his cue from the biblical account of Peter asking Jesus what the disciples would receive in return for their following him. Peter probably thought that following Jesus would be a great profitable activity because Jesus is generous. But Christ warned that whatever they would gain would always be accompanied by persecutions.

"It's as if Jesus said, 'Yes, you have left everything and you will receive here on earth many things: but with persecutions!' Like a salad with the oil of persecution, always! This is what the Christian gains and this is the road for the person who wants to follow Jesus, because it's the road that He himself trod. He was persecuted! It's the road of humbling yourself. That's what Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians. 'Jesus emptied himself and being in every way like a human being, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross'. This is the reality of Christian life."

Pope Francis went on to warn that the Cross is always present on the road of a Christian!" We will have many brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers in the Church, in the Christian community, but we also will have persecutions.

"This is because the world does not tolerate the divinity of Christ. It doesn't tolerate the preaching of the Gospel. It does not tolerate the Beatitudes. And so we have persecutions: with words, with insults, the things that they said about Christians in the early centuries, the condemnations, imprisonment…. But we easily forget. We think of the many Christians, 60 years ago, in the labor camps, in the camps of the Nazis, of the communists: So many of them! For being Christians! And even today…. But (people say) 'today we are better educated and these things no longer exist'. Yes they do! And I tell you that today there are more martyrs than during the early times of the Church."

Pope Francis pointed out that there are many brothers and sisters nowadays who bear witness to Jesus and are persecuted. Some cannot even carry around a Bible.

"They are condemned for having a Bible. They can't wear a crucifix. And this is the road of Jesus. But it is a joyful road because our Lord never tests us beyond what we can bear. Christian life is not a commercial business, it's not making a career; It's simply following Jesus! But when we follow Jesus, this happens. Let's think about if we have within us the desire to be courageous in bearing witness to Jesus. And let's spare a thought -- it will do us good - for the many brothers and sisters who today – today! – cannot pray together because they are persecuted; they cannot have the book of the Gospel or a Bible because they are persecuted."

Let's think, the Pope continued, about those brothers who cannot go to Mass because it is forbidden and let's ask ourselves if we are prepared to carry the Cross and suffer persecutions like Jesus did? It's good for all of us to think about this, concluded the Pope.

Source: Vatican Radio; en.radiovaticana.va

We Must Stand up for Middle East's Persecuted Christians

by Johnnie Moore

Christianity began in the East, not the West, yet today Christians in the East are enduring an all-out-assault by Islamic terrorists, while Christians in the West live their lives largely oblivious to it all. This has to change.

This is no imaginary persecution; in Syria alone there have been reports of kidnappings, Christian communities intentionally displaced by militants and, worst of all, shootings and beheadings of Christians who refused to convert to Islam.

In Egypt radicals have recently destroyed dozens of churches, and the once vibrant Christian population in Iraq has been decimated.

Christians in the West should stand up for those in the East out of regard for all they have given us over these thousands of years, if for no other reason.

See, what most American Christians don't realize is that the "Islamic World" was once the Christian world. Some of the most well-known and influential leaders in the early church hailed from North Africa and the Middle East - like the warring theologians Athanasius and Arius, and the apologist Tertullian. It was for the library in Alexandria that the preeminent Greek version of the Torah (the "Septuagint") was commissioned.

Today, St. Augustine would be called a Tunisian, Origen would be Egyptian and the Apostle Paul - who was on the road to Damascus when he encountered Christ - would have told the story of his conversion while heading to "Syria."

It was also in the Syrian city of "Antioch" that Christians were first called "Christians," and to this day there are as many Christian holy sites in that nation as anywhere else in the world.

When Jesus was born, and his life was threatened by the hysteria of King Herod, it was to Egypt that Joseph and Mary fled until Herod's bloodlust subsided.

If the famed Council of Nicaea were held today, the headline would read: "Christian theologians gather in Turkey to settle long-held dispute about Christ's deity," and the part of the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized could have very well flowed through modern-day Jordan , as opposed to Israel.

Christianity was once so entrenched in the modern Islamic world that for centuries the center for Christian scholarship was Baghdad, and the long-ruined city of Merv (not far from border of what is now Afghanistan) was not only the largest city of its time, it was also best known as the center of Bible translation.

To this day - in nearly all of those places - there are Christian communities that have persevered through the ages, but now face the threat of extinction.

They have endured conflict after conflict, schism after schism, and they have learned how to coexist with peace-loving Muslims who are themselves fighting against the same radicalism that has caused the burning and bombing of hundreds of churches around the Islamic world since the spark of Arab Spring.

The trickling stream of Christianity runs in these places all the way to the era of Christ himself, but now - particularly in Syria - that stream is being dried up more quickly that most people realize.

Sadly, few Christians in the West have any idea this is going on, and I was once just like them.

Then I was invited last September to observe a meeting convened by Jordan's King Abdullah in his country's capital, Amman. Several dozen leaders of the Christian congregations of the East attended the meeting; I listened as these Catholic cardinals, Orthodox patriarchs and Anglican and Coptic bishops described the plight of their people.

No one was discussing their theological differences, because it was their churches that had been burned, their relatives who had been kidnapped and killed, and nearly every one of them told stories of consoling an inconsolable mother or child as they grieved the death of their last living loved one.

I wept as I heard their stories, and I wondered why Christians around the world weren't incensed by it all.

Ironically, that meeting in Jordan was not convened by Christians, but by Muslims who cared about the plight of their Christian neighbors.

At one point, Jordan's strong and kind king said that "it is a duty rather than a favor" to protect the Christians in the region, and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, a senior adviser to the king, acknowledged that "Christians were in this region before Muslims." He said, "They are not strangers, nor colonialists, nor foreigners. They are natives of these lands and Arabs, just as Muslims are."

While I was deeply encouraged by the tone of these Islamic leaders, I couldn't help but ask myself, "I wonder how many Christians in the West even care about those in the East?"

In that moment, I decided I would be their advocate.

It was the Apostle Paul who once advised some friends in Greece to "pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people."

I hear Paul's prayer again on the lips of those persecuted today, and I call upon Christians everywhere to pray for and be an advocate for those upon whose foundation so much of our faith has been built.

Indeed, it isn't a favor. It's our duty.

About The Author:

Johnnie Moore is the author of a new book about Jesus called 'Dirty God'. He is a Professor of Religion and Vice President of Liberty University, where he, among other things, supervises its Center for Global Engagement.

Source: Fox News

Karnataka, Maharashtra Top Attacks on Christians
Maharashtra has witnessed among the largest number of communal attacks on Christians in 2013, second only to Karnataka, says a recently-released report by the Catholic Secular Forum (CSF), an organization chaired by Justice Michael Saldanha, former judge at the Bombay and Karnataka high courts. Across the country, the report points at 4,000-odd offenses aimed at Christians, with 400 clergy and 100 churches attacked in a year.

While Karnataka may have had a higher number of attacks on Christians over the last year, the report suggests that Maharashtra is the next Hindutva laboratory. "The new government in Karnataka is sensitive to the attacks on Christians. However, in Maharashtra, the police and the lower levels of state administration are highly saffronized," said Joseph Dias, author of the report and general secretary of CSF.

From the desecration of a heritage cross in Mumbai and a statue of Jesus at Mangaon to violent attacks on priests and nuns across the state, Dias says few other minorities would have been as tolerant to such attacks as Christians have been. "We're looked at as easy targets as we do not fight back. We are compelled to turn the other cheek because our religion teaches us not to resort to violence."

Growing attacks on India's Christian minority form the unreported story of communalism in India, says Harsh Mander, social activist and former member of India's National Advisory Council, who has worked extensively with victims of communal violence. "Unlike pogroms targeted at the Muslim community, attacks on Christians are of a low intensity, though very widespread. You don't have the sort of large outbreaks that you see in case of Hindu-Muslim clashes, and hence attacks on Christians often do not attract the same attention. However, there is a pattern emerging when it comes to attacks on Christians. Much of it is a result of Hindutva propaganda over what is perceived to be mass conversions. Like much hate propaganda, however, it is not backed by evidence to show any large increase in India's Christian population," said Mander.

Saldanha feels the onslaught against Christians is a cause for deep concern, especially in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections. "No party says they stand for communal violence, and yet such attacks continue unchecked," says Saldanha. In addition to violent attacks, Dias points to discrimination against the church in cities like Mumbai where the civic administration is ruled by the Shiv Sena-BJP combine. "There have been instances where Christian burial grounds were destroyed to widen nullahs on one side of the road, leaving the other side of the road untouched," says Dias.

Persecution of Christians in 2013
(Reported by Catholic Secular Forum)

* Instances of persecution against Christians were highest in Karnataka, followed by both Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh at no. 2.

* Odisha, Chhattisgarh, MP, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Rajasthan and Delhi were among the top ten states where persecution occurred.

* Around 4,000 Christians were targeted in anti-Christian violence across India.

* Over 1,000 women and 500 children were victims of violence.

* Over 400 clergy and community leaders were attacked.

* About 100 churches and places of worship were attacked.

* 7 were killed for their faith, including a 7-year-old child in Rajasthan.

Source: Times of India; Catholic Secular Forum

Briton's Minister Warns That Persecution of Christians in Middle East Has Become a 'Global Crisis'

by Hannah Roberts

• Sayeeda Warsi described a 'rising tide' in attacks against Christians
• The politician said they can become 'scapegoats' in war-torn countries
• More Christians were killed for their faith in 2013 than ever before

Britain's most senior Muslim politician, Sayeeda Warsi, has warned that the persecution of Christians has become 'a global crisis'.

Minister for Faith Baroness Warsi described 'a rising tide' in attacks on Christians in the war-torn regions of Egypt, Iraq and Syria where they often become 'scapegoats' for events taking place thousands of miles away.

Warsi, a mother of five and the daughter of Pakistani immigrants, pointed out that Christian minorities are threatened by Muslim majorities in the very places that gave rise to Christianity.

In an open letter to L'Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, she wrote: 'The bitterest irony of this persecution - ostracism, discrimination, abuse, forced conversion, torture and even murder - is that it is taking place in a region where Christianity has its roots.

'Sometimes these cases are examples of collective punishment: people lashing out at Christian minorities in response to events happening many miles away.

'Other times, a Christian is just a convenient 'other' - a scapegoat.'

'The threat to religious freedom, I believe, has become a global crisis.'

The number of Christians killed for their faith around the world doubled in 2013. The senior Tory said that majority Muslim communities have a duty to defend Christian minorities.

She said: 'History teaches us that we have only defeated intolerance and hatred when we have all come together, whatever the cause. The majority communities need to defend the minorities.'

The peer, who is also a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister of State, said that 'the government has elevated (religious discrimination against Christians and other minorities) to a key priority in the government's human rights work.'

An estimated 100 million Christians around the world suffered persecution for their faith in 2013.

Failing states with civil wars or persistent tensions such Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen were often the most dangerous for Christians.

There was now 'a strong drive to purge Christianity from Somalia', a report by non-denominational group Open Doors USA who compiled a list of the worst countries said.

The majority of anti-Christian persecution in the world in 2013 took place at the hands of radical Muslims, according to the report, both in Islamic countries such as Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Pakistan, Iran and Yemen and in non-Muslim countries such as Kenya and Tanzania.

In Syria, 1213 Christians were killed last year, more than the global total in 2012. Atrocities against the Christian minority who make up 10 per cent of the population have been getting more frequent since the war began almost three years ago, perpetrated especially by jihadi groups.

In Pakistan– a suicide bombing at a Peshawar church last autumn killed 89 in the country's deadliest single attack targeting Christians so far.

There is also increasing violence against Christians in Africa. 612 Christians were killed for their faith in Nigeria last year.

Elsewhere, Sri Lanka saw more than 50 attacks on churches last year alone, powered by a strident Buddhist nationalist movement

Killings are only the most extreme examples of persecutions. Christians, the world's largest persecuted minority also face attacks on churches and schools, discrimination, threats, sexual assaults and expulsion from countries.

Source: Associated Newspapers Ltd, Daily Mail

[Go back to Table of Contents]

X Suffering

Jesus Wept

by Ryan Duncan, Crosswalk.com Entertainment Editor

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. - Matthew 4:1-2

I once heard a story of a woman who lost her only daughter in a tragic accident. After the funeral she fell into deep despair, and many of her friends began to worry about her safety. In desperation, one of them asked their local priest if he would go to her house and speak with her, but the moment the woman saw him she flew into a rage.

"Get out!" She screamed, "I already know what you're going to say. You're going to tell me that everything happens for a reason, that this is God's will, and I don't want to hear that." The priest did not move. Eventually the woman began to calm down and started to sob. It was at that the priest spoke, quietly and gently.

"Listen," he told her, "I don't know why your daughter died, and I do not know why God allowed it to happen, but I do know that God understands what it is to lose a child, and that he is standing next to you, and that he cannot stop your suffering but that he loves you and he loves your daughter, and if you let him into your heart you will see her again."

What really struck me the first time I heard this story was that God really did understand the pain of losing someone. I realized that for a long time I'd had a false view of Jesus. I'd always pictured him as this tall, soft-spoken man who was completely serene no matter what the world threw at him. I didn't understand that when God became a man he embraced all human sensation, even the ones that hurt.

Jesus got hungry, just like us (Mark 11:12). He got frustrated, just like us (Mark 11:14). He got sad (John 11:35), and angry (John 2:16-17), and scared (Luke 22:44). Jesus probably laughed with his friends, and grew stern with the Pharisees. The Bible says that Jesus lived a sinless life, but that doesn't mean he wasn't human.

Some of you may be having a fairly nice day while reading this and some of you may be having a pretty miserable one. Regardless of what is happening to you, know that God understands how you feel, and that he will always love you.

Intersecting Faith and Life:

Follow Christ through his years of ministry. Take note of the times when Christ displays his emotions.

Further Reading

Matthew 4:1-11

Source: Crosswalk.com - The Devotional

Why God Makes It Hard When It Ought to be Easy

by Dr. Ray Pritchard

Scripture: 2 Samuel 2-3

It's a question everyone has struggled with at one time or another:

1. A young couple moves from Indiana to Florida to go to seminary. From the moment they get here, things fall apart. They can't pay their bills, he can barely stay in school, she works full-time just to pay the bills, and the kids haven't had new clothes in over a year. They came because they felt God's call on their lives. What happened? Did they make a mistake?

2. Another couple is married for almost twenty-five years when he suddenly, strangely comes down with a virus. The doctors treat it but he gets worse, not better. In two weeks he is dead. Life for her will never be the same. Deep in her heart, in the middle of a sleepless night, she wonders, Why did God let this happen?

3. It started with forgetfulness that soon led to periods of incoherence. Eventually she could not take care of herself, so her husband hired a live-in housekeeper. Although she was only in her early sixties, the doctor confirmed the diagnosis: Alzheimer's disease. For over three years she was confined in a special unit of a nursing home. For months on end she sat motionless in a chair, her hands clenched, her legs permanently crossed. With tears her husband prayed over and over for her to be released from the ravages of an incurable disease, but she lingered for years, trapped inside her own body, recognizing nothing around her. What higher purpose is being served?

4. A young church with a bright future calls a promising young pastor. After impressive early growth, the church splits and then falls apart. No one can understand it because there were so many good people with so much willing spirit. The future was almost unlimited. Now the pastor is gone and the church is a shadow of its former self. How could this have happened?

Sometimes you find the best truth in the strangest places.

One of the great proofs of the Bible's supernatural origin is that it speaks to every part of the human condition. Not only is there something for everyone in the Bible, but there is something meaningful for every situation we face in life. We would expect nothing less from a book that claims to be the very Word of God. If the message of the Bible comes directly from God, then it ought to speak to us at the precise point of our spiritual need.

Why does God make it hard when it ought to be easy? In order to answer that question, let's take a safari to an often-overlooked portion of the Bible - 2 Samuel 2-3. These chapters tell the story of David's long struggle to become king over all Israel. There are two facts that will help you understand this story. The first is that during this period Saul was dead and had been dead for some time. The second is that David had been anointed king over Judah and was living in the city of Hebron. Everything that happens in this story flows from those two facts.

David's Rising Star

The fact that Saul was dead meant that the throne of Israel was now vacant. Saul had forfeited his right to that throne through disobedience and rebellion. He had died in disgrace, committing suicide on the slopes of Mount Gilboa in a battle with the Philistines. Some of his supporters had rescued his body and given it a decent burial in Jabesh. And that brings up the point that Saul did have his followers. Lots of them, in fact. After all, he was the only king Israel had ever known, and even though he came to a bad end, there were thousands who mourned his death. But for good or ill, Saul was dead, the throne was vacant, and, since nature abhors a vacuum something was bound to happen.

The fact that David was king in Judah meant that he was still marking time in Hebron. He was God's choice to rule the nation after the death of Saul. And you would think, from a purely human point of view, that this was his big chance. At the age of thirty, David seemed fully prepared to take over. But it didn't work that way. Nothing in life is ever that easy.

Seven years would pass before David became king of the whole nation. 2 Samuel 2-3 tell us what happened during those seven years of turmoil and confusion. In order to understand these two chapters, there are five people you need to keep straight in your mind:

Saul, the former king of Israel, is now dead.
David is king of Judah but not yet king of the whole nation.
Ish-Bosheth, one of Saul's surviving sons, is a puppet king in Saul's place.
Joab was David's number one general.
Abner was Saul's number one general.

What it all meant was that after Saul's death the nation was divided along north-south lines. The people in the north followed Ish-Bosheth and Abner. The people in the south followed David and Joab. Thus the stage was set for a civil war. Second Samuel 3:1 puts it this way: "The war between the house of Saul and the house of David lasted a long time. " As I read this passage, one question comes to mind: Why did David have to fight for what God had already promised him? Why this civil war if David was really God's man to be king? Was there sin in his life? Was he out of God's will? The answer to both questions is no. Then why didn't God do what he had promised without all this fighting?

The story from David's life in 2 Samuel 2-3 provides a framework for answering that question. Why did David have to fight for what God had already promised him? These two chapters - which are basically about a civil war in Israel - suggest two answers.

1. That the rightness of his cause could be slowly revealed (2:11-3:5).

The key is the word slowly. David was thirty when he became king in Hebron. He was thirty-seven when he finally ruled the whole nation. What was God doing during that seven-year period? He was demonstrating to the people of Israel that David was indeed his man. We see this fact in two ways.

A. In the victories his soldiers won in battle (2:12-3:1).

Abner son of Ner, together with the men of Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, left Mahanaim and went to Gibeon. Joab son of Zeruiah and David's men went out and met them at the pool of Gibeon. One group sat down on one side of the pool and one group on the other side. Then Abner said to Joab, "Let's have some of the young men get up and fight hand to hand in front of us. " "All right, let them do it," Joab said. So they stood up and were counted off-twelve men for Benjamin and Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, and twelve for David. Then each man grabbed his opponent by the head and thrust his dagger into his opponent's side, and they fell down together. (2 Samuel 2:12-16).

This is like one of those wrestling spectaculars where twelve men get in the ring at once. Only here it's twenty-four men, and they all end up killing each other. It's a tie. So they just go ahead and have a regular battle, and verse 17 says, "The battle that day was very fierce, and Abner and the men of Israel were defeated by David's men. " If you want the body count, just drop down to verse 30: "Then Joab" (remember, he's on David's side) "returned from pursuing Abner and assembled all his men. Besides Asahel" (that's Joab's brother, who was killed by Abner) "nineteen of David's men were found missing. But David's men had killed three hundred and sixty Benjamites who were with Abner. " That's like winning a football game 360 to 20. It's a kill ratio of 18 to 1 in David's favor. The whole point is that God was demonstrating that David was his man by giving him overwhelming victory on the battlefield.

B. In the birth of his six sons at Hebron (3:2-5).

Notice what the last part of 3:1 says. "David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker. " We've already seen how that was true on the battlefield. But look what comes next. Verses 2-5 are a list of six sons who were born to David by six different women while he was in Hebron. The sons are Amnon, Kileab, Absalom, Adonijah, Shephatiah, and Ithream. Among the wives, the one we know best is Abigail, the widow of Nabal. At first glance you may wonder why this list of sons is placed here. It appears to be out of place, but it isn't. In the ancient world one way a king demonstrated his power and greatness was by having many sons by many women. That's what this passage is stressing. That is, David was not only growing stronger on the battlefield, he was also growing stronger in the bedroom. That's hard for us to accept, but there it is.

But this is polygamy, you say. Yes, and it was never God's highest and best plan for mankind. But God permitted it in the Old Testament. David indulged himself this way, and he is still called "a man after God's heart. " But-and this is a big but-one of the sons mentioned here is Absalom, who was to bring him nothing but heartache and shame. Thus David was sowing the seeds that would later bring forth bitter fruit. For the moment, though, these sons were a sign of God's blessing.

And that's the first answer to the question, Why did David have to fight for what God had promised? Because in the fighting and in the waiting God was writing his will in the sky for all Israel to see. It was as plain as day. Only the blind could miss it. David was God's man-on the battlefield and in the bedroom.

2. That the purity of his motives might be openly revealed (3:6-39).

If the first reason had to do with external things, this one has to with David's heart. It was important that the people of Israel knew that David was not only God's man, but that he was the right kind of man. That is, they had to be convinced that God's choice ought to be their choice as well. God did that by arranging the circumstances so that the purity of David's motives might be openly revealed. This also happened in two ways.

A. In his willingness to welcome Abner to his side.

I've already mentioned that Abner was Saul's number one general. After Saul's death, he becomes the most powerful man in Israel. He is the one who put up Ish-Bosheth as a kind of puppet king. But make no mistake, Abner was the power behind the throne. Second Samuel 3:6-21 tells us how Abner came over to David's side. It happened because Ish-Bosheth accused him of sleeping with Rizpah, one of Saul's concubines. In the ancient world, women were a symbol of political power, and the more women a man had, the more power he had. Thus a king might have many wives and many concubines, and all of them together would make up his harem. Rizpah was part of Saul's harem. After he died, the harem more or less passed on to Ish-Bosheth.

When Ish-Bosheth accused Abner of sleeping with Rizpah, he was essentially accusing him of trying to pull a bedroom coup d'etat. Abner was so upset that he decided to leave Ish-Bosheth and join David. It is here that you see something of David's heart. After some negotiation, he welcomed Abner into his camp. If you read the story of David's life, you will find that he had many character flaws. But one of his great strengths was that he knew how to forgive the past and turn enemies into friends. In welcoming Abner, David's heart was openly revealed for all to see.

B. In his grief at Abner's untimely death.

This was the final episode of the civil war. David had won on the battlefield and the opposing general had come over to his side. But before peace could be declared, Abner was assassinated. It happened because Joab was jealous of Abner and did not trust him. Remember, they had just been fighting each other. And in that battle, Abner had been forced to kill Joab's brother Asahel in self-defense. So the assassination was partly revenge and partly jealousy.

Joab set up a trap to catch Abner alone at the well of Sirah. 2 Samuel 3:27 picks up the story.

Now when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the gateway, as though to speak with him privately. And there, to avenge the blood of his brother Asahel, Joab stabbed him in the stomach, and he died.
What would David do? If he sided with Joab, the people of Israel would think he set the whole thing up. If that happened, they would never trust him as king. His reaction was critical. It took place in five parts.

First, he pronounced a curse on Joab and his house (vv. 28-29).
Second, he declared a period of public mourning (vv. 31-32).
Third, he composed a lament for Abner (vv. 33-34).
Fourth, he entered a personal fast (v. 35).
Fifth, he spoke of his personal anguish (vv. 38-39).

Notice how the people responded to David's grief. "All the people took note and were pleased; indeed, everything the king did pleased them. So on that day all the people and all Israel knew that the king had no part in the murder of Abner son of Ner" (2 Samuel 3:36-37). This may seem small to you, but I assure you it was big to the people of Israel. The way a man responds in a time of crisis tells a great deal about his character. In this case, David's grief revealed the purity of his motives. He was not trying to take the throne by devious means.

Let me summarize what we learn about David's life from this story. God had a purpose in making David fight for what he had promised. Through the years of struggle and controversy the rightness of his cause was slowly revealed. Through the events involving Abner, the purity of his motives was openly revealed. By the end of it all, two things were clear:

1. David was God's man to be king.
2. David was the right man to be king.

Strange as it may seem to us, David needed those seven years in Hebron to be fully prepared to be king over the whole nation. And the people of Israel and Judah needed the time to get to know David's character. If they were going to trust him as king, they had to know what he was like. If we stand back and look at the situation, we can say with confidence, "It had to happen this way," even though with all the intrigue and infighting and all the killing, it didn't make much sense at the time. In fact, it looks like the usual political machinations that take place whenever a king dies-or a senator needs to be replaced. Suddenly life becomes very messy, alliances are made, broken, remade and broken again. Rumors spread, people talk, emails fly, threats and promises commingle as first one person and then another angles for the top spot. And somehow through all of it God works to accomplish his will.

Believing in Advance

I remind you again of the words of Philip Yancey. "Faith is believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse." That's my favorite definition of faith because it seems to be universally true. Right now-today!-lots of things don't make any sense. Probably all of us have a secret list of things we would change if only we could. But faith, true God-honoring faith, looks at the perplexities of life and says, "I can't see any reason for this, but I believe that one day I will look back and say 'The Lord knew all along exactly what he was doing. '"

How does all this apply to us? I submit that David's life is a pattern of how God deals with his children. It helps us understand why God makes it hard when it ought to be easy. Why do seminary students struggle? Why do godly men get passed over for promotions? Why do some people reel from one catastrophe to another? Why do some women struggle for years to overcome the memories of their past? Why do some couples spend all their lives almost-but-not-quite making it? Why do so many people have to wait so long for something really good to happen in their lives? And why do some churches seem to take three steps forward and two steps back?

The episodes in David's life we have just discussed demonstrate four steps God is taking when he makes it hard when it ought to be easy. It is God's plan to . . .

1. Vindicate us slowly.
2. Bless us openly.
3. Surprise us occasionally.
4. Test us continually.

Those four things taken together explain much of what happens to us. Some of you right now are in the vindication process. You are in the middle of a hard and difficult time, but it is God's intention to ultimately display the rightness of your cause. It's just not happening very fast. Some of you are being blessed openly, and that's a wonderful thing. Enjoy it, because it won't last forever. Some of you are being surprised by God with an unusual and unexpected circumstance. That is part of God's serendipity. And all of us are being tested continually. That, too, is part of God's plan.

One other point needs to be mentioned. God doesn't work according to our timetable. We think, "Lord, I'm ready to move on. Let's go. " And God says, "Not so fast. I have a bigger plan in mind. " A few days ago we received a note offering us a helpful insight:

I've thought a lot about what I wish and hope for, with my friends, and you know what. . . . my thoughts are a bit different this year. I wish for you both, some positive (enough to praise him) some negative (not too much, but hopefully you'll be able to praise him) and enough of life in between to know that you are in the middle of God's plan for your lives! Just to know that, is enough to keep on going.

That strikes me as an entirely biblical way to think about the future. God sends hard times because we need them in order to grow. That, I suppose, is the final reason God makes it hard when it ought to be easy. He is developing character in us, and to do that adversity is essential. That is why life isn't easy, why nothing works the way it's supposed to, why we struggle so hard to get ahead. God's agenda and timetable are often quite different from ours.

In all of this we have the example of Jesus Christ, who "learned obedience from what he suffered" (Hebrews 5:8). If he had to learn obedience, how much more do we? If adversity was essential for the Son of God, how much more for us? Do not despair. The road is hard and the journey long because God made it that way. But there is a crown and a throne at the end for those who persevere.

© Keep Believing Ministries

The Value Of Suffering

by Mother M. Angelica

Suffering in any form was, from the beginning of time, a mystery, and a blot on the human race. It was feared, dreaded, and shunned - a sign of contradiction and a curse. Jesus came as man and, because He accepted the consequences of our fall and suffered as we all suffer, He elevated suffering, transformed it, gave it power, and considers the pain of each member of the human race His pain. So much so that when I alleviate the pain of my brother, or am compassionate with his life, Jesus considers this done to Him.

There was suffering, pain, hunger and thirst, before Redemption, and there is still suffering, pain, hunger and thirst after Redemption. Redemption gave me more than an exemption from pain: it gave me Jesus, grace, the Spirit, love, peace and joy. It raises me above pain.

God does not will that I suffer, just as He did not will that Adam and Eve sin. But since they sinned and I inherit the weaknesses that are a result of that sin, I do and always will have something to endure.

Christ's Redemption merited for me a participation in His Divine Nature as God through grace, and a participation in His sufferings as Man, through the Cross.

He came down from glory to my suffering level that I might rise from my misery to His Glory. But to do this I must take upon myself the whole Christ - suffering and resurrected.

  • He took upon Himself my sins that I might sin no more.
  • He took upon Himself my weaknesses that I might have grace to overcome.
  • He took upon Himself my pain that I might hold His Hand in mine.
  • He took upon Himself my humiliation that I might be raised to His Throne.
  • He took upon Himself ridicule and insult that I might stand tall in persecution.
  • He took upon Himself the loss of His friends in His hour of need that I might never be alone in the hour of my need.

and then

He stood alone, abandoned by God and man, so that I need never feel desolate or rejected.

  • Now it is our cross - His and mine.
  • Now there is a reason behind each tear, each pain, each heartache.
  • Now the cross is no longer in the mud of despair - it is raised on high and on it is God's own Son.
  • Now it is no longer a sign of His vengeance but a sign of His love.
  • Now it no longer destroys but molds and renews.
  • Now it no longer oppresses my spirit but empties it so that it may be filled with God.

for

  • Each heartache empties my soul of me and fills it with Him.
  • Each tear washes my soul and makes it more beautiful to His Eyes.
  • Each disappointment strengthens my will to cling to Him alone.
  • Each anxious day makes me look to Him for support.
  • Each tension-filled hour makes me reach out to find serenity in His grasp.
  • Each pain is added to His on the Cross to redeem the world.
  • Each doubt makes me search for Truth and hold it fast.
  • Each separation gives me an awareness of the one thing necessary.
  • Each time my love is spurned I know how He feels when I ignore Him.
  • Each time I am treated unjustly, I know His feelings when He was called a devil.
  • Each time pride, jealousy, or ambition rears its head I see His Crown of Thorns.

Excerpted from THE FRUITS OF HIS LOVE by Mother M. Angelica.
Copyright © 1999 EWTN

The Discipline of Darkness

by Adrian Rogers

There are times in a Christian's life when the lights just seem to go out and we enter a season of darkness.

When faced with calamity and nothing makes sense, the first question we ask is, "Why did God let this happen?" We feel we can bear just about anything if we only knew why. But what we need to ask is HOW. How are we going to respond?

We might as well admit it - Christians are often left in the dark. As you read this, you may be at the deathbed of a child. You may be going through financial distress. You may be enduring misrepresentation and disgrace or have a broken heart because of a broken home. The question haunts you - why?

What do you do when the lights go out?

In this message, I have five propositions to consider.

#1: Those of Greatest Devotion May Know the Deepest Darkness

"Who is among you that fears the LORD, that obeys the voice of His servant, that walks in darkness, and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God." (Isaiah 50:10)

Darkness is not unusual for God's choicest saints. No matter how close we walk to God, it's not always sweetness and light. Who ever came up with the distorted idea that if we give our lives to Jesus, all will be joy and rose petals? We're not going to waltz through life with ever-increasing health, success, a serene old age and a glorious exit. Thousands of saints who love God are deeply perplexed. Think of these Bible saints:

Job, godly man, wrote, "He hath fenced up my way that I cannot pass, and He hath set darkness in my paths" (Job 19:8).

Habakkuk prayed, "O LORD, how long shall I cry, and Thou wilt not hear! Even cry out unto Thee of violence, and Thou wilt not save!" (Habakkuk 1:2) The heavens seemed like brass.

John the Baptist found himself in prison. It didn't make sense that Jesus could work miracles, even raise the dead, and yet John was in prison. He asked Jesus, "Are You the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" (Luke 7:19).

Even Paul, the great apostle, said, "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed" (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

Great saints of history had the same experience. Read their biographies - many spoke of a dark night of the soul.

So if you're in darkness, you're in good company.

Notice that Isaiah describes the person in darkness as one who "fears Him and obeys the voice of His servant." Darkness, therefore, does not mean we have sinned or are out the will of God.

#2: The Faith That Is Born in the Light Often Grows in the Dark

"We should never doubt in the dark what God has shown us in the light."

It is in darkness that we have to trust the Lord and "stay" upon Him. Think carefully: when have you grown the most? In sunny days when everything seemed perfect? Or at midnight when you cried out to God? It was in the darkness that you grew, wasn't it?

Faith, like film, is developed in the dark. God wants us to develop a faith that goes beyond our understanding and experience.

How you act in the dark is the real test of your character. Have you noticed in a building when the lights suddenly go out, it's the little children who begin to run and scream with fear? When the lights come back on, they behave once more.

"We walk by promises, not by explanations." -Warren Wiersbe

What should you do when the lights suddenly go out in your life?

· First, look to the Lord.

Isaiah 50:10 says "trust in Him." Just because things don't make sense to you doesn't mean they don't make sense. And just because they don't make sense now, doesn't mean they won't make sense some day. If it doesn't make sense, nonetheless trust the Lord.

· Not only trust, but also obey.

Don't stop praying for an unsaved spouse, even if they seem to get worse. Don't stop giving in a financial reverse. Don't stop witnessing, even if no one seems to respond. Don't stop praising, even if you don't feel like praising.

· Lean upon the Lord.

"Stay" comes from the word for "staff." Just as a shepherd leans on his staff, lean upon the Lord. David said, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me." (Psalm 23:4) It's better to be in a dark valley, leaning on Jesus, than on a sunlit mountain without Him.

We may not understand, but relationship is really more important than reason. It may be that we do not know Why in order that we may know Who. In the dark valley, David no longer talks about the Lord ("the Lord is my shepherd"), he now talks to the Lord ("Thou are with me").

However dark life becomes, you will find Jesus standing somewhere in the shadows.

Sometimes in life we come to a time of darkness when the lights go out and nothing seems to make sense.

Job was so perplexed, he demanded, "God, you owe me some answers!" Although God never specifically answered Job's questions, Job came to learn something critically important: that God alone was enough - even without the answers. A beautiful song by Scott Wesley Brown and Greg Nelson says,

  • When answers aren't enough, there is Jesus.
  • He is more than just an answer to your prayer.
  • And your heart will find a safe and peaceful refuge.
  • When answers aren't enough, He is there.

Sometimes God may put us into darkness so we'll learn that even without the answers, He is enough. We may not be able to say that and mean it until He is all that we have.

#3: Some Things Are Seen in the Dark That Cannot Be Seen in the Light

"And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel." - Isaiah 45:3

Sometimes the greatest treasures are discovered in the darkness. Darkness is not always the work of the evil one. It's also one of God's ways to teach.

The stars that hang like chandeliers in the velvet canopy of space are only seen in the darkness. Stars don't "come out" at night; they're there all the time. Sometimes on the darkest night, the stars seem brightest. In the daylight, we may think the brightest thoughts, but at night we think the deepest thoughts.

#4: It Is Better to Lean on God in Darkness Than to Stand Alone in Man-Made Light

Isaiah 50:11 warns about lighting our own fire. Man-made enlightenment can be deceptive. Ron Dunn said, "You cannot look at a sundial with a flashlight and tell the correct time." If we light our own fires and walk in that light, we'll ultimately lie down in sorrow.

Abraham kindled his own fire after receiving God's promise of a son. Tired of waiting, he produced Ishmael. Today the children of Abraham are still lying down in sorrow because of their conflict with Ishmael.

Moses received God's promise but took things into his own hands. He became a murderer and set God's work back forty years. Moses knew for forty years what it was to lie down in sorrow.

Simon Peter boasted that he would follow Jesus even to death. Then came dark Gethsemane. Peter did not understand and tried to light his own fire, cutting off the high priest's servant's ear. What an embarrassment to the cause of Christ! Peterwould lie down in sorrow that terrible night.

In a time of darkness, don't create you own man-made light

#5: If Your Sun Has Set, Be Sure Morning Will Come

Your dark night will come to an end. God will turn every hurt to a hallelujah, every tear into a pearl. Your Calvary will one day be an Easter.

It was a dark night for the disciples when Jesus was nailed to the cross and hung there, three hours of it literal darkness. It all seemed so inky black. His kingdom had shrunk to the narrow dimensions of a grave. But then came that glorious morning.

"Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness: He is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous." Psalm 112:4

"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." Psalm 30:5

Didn't David say he would walk through the valley of the shadow of death? Remember, the God who leads us in is the God who leads us through. One day Jesus will pull back the shades of night and pin them with a star. He will open the door of morning and flood your world with the sunshine of His love. That day will be all the more wonderful after the darkness.

"Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee." Psalm 139:12

God sees through the dark. His eyes are upon you in your darkness.

A little girl's mother had died. Her first night apart from her mother, she felt alone in the darkness of her bedroom and left it to sleep with her daddy.

They tried to sleep, but unable to see her father's face, the little girl said,

"Daddy, it is so dark. Is your face toward me?"

"Yes, darling, my face is toward you."

"Daddy, you love me through the dark, don't you?"

"Yes, sweetheart, Daddy loves you through the dark." The little girl drifted off to sleep.

That strong man slipped out of bed, fell on his knees and prayed,
"Heavenly Father, it is so dark. Is Your face toward me?"

The answer came from heaven, "Yes, My child, My face is toward you."

"Father, do You love me through the dark?"

"Yes, My child, I love you through the darkest night." The father joined his precious daughter in much-needed sleep.

An unknown poet has written:

So I go on, not knowing;
I would not know if I might.

I would rather walk with Christ in the dark
Than to walk alone in the light.

Source: Love Worth Finding with Adrian Rogers

How to Conquer Discouragement

by Felicia Alvarez, Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer

"I have a tough life," my five-year-old cousin said.

"Really? Why is that?" I asked.

Folding his arms, he looked up at me with his big blue eyes as he rattled off his complaints. "Well, I get spankings, I get time out, and I have to clean my room!"

I couldn't help bursting out in laughter. In return, he just looked at me quizzically as if silently asking, "Why are you laughing? I'm serious!"

After regaining my composure, I shook my head and said, "I don't think that's too terrible, buddy. I think you're gonna' be okay."

Later that day my cousin's complaint made me wonder: How often does God smile down at us and say, "Everything is going to be all right, my child"?

In our fallen world, we're constantly bombarded with situations that tempt us to complain about how tough our lives are. Sometimes our troubles are miniscule (like traffic or a cranky boss), but other times they are genuinely difficult and can be quite discouraging (like an abusive spouse or a dying loved one). Our worries can weigh us down and cloud our perspective, causing us to forget:

• that, since we are citizens of heaven, our problems on earth are only for a season (Philippians 3:20).

• that God works out everything - even tough situations - for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

• that we can trust God with our lives (Psalm 55:22).

When trouble hits, we tend to see only challenges. So, how can we get a fresh perspective on life when discouragement is weighing us down?

Here are a few things that have helped me:

1) Determine if the cause of discouragement is worth being discouraged about.

First, I ask myself: Am I upset about something important or something trivial? Often a long line at the supermarket or a rude stranger can put a damper on the entire day. But are those worth being upset about?

2) Determine if the loss is imagined or real.

Frequently I'm only upset because of my own "what if…" thoughts: What if she thinks this? What if they do that? What if I don't do well? What if they don't like it?

When "what ifs" or imagined thoughts weigh you down, ask God to help you take those thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). Choose instead to dwell on "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things" (Philippians 4:8).

3) Talk to the right people about the problem.

In 1 Samuel we find the story of Hannah, a woman deeply grieved because she was unable to have children. In her sorrow, Hannah cried out to the Lord for comfort. She went to the temple year after year to pray, and the Lord heard her prayers and opened her womb. Her story is an excellent reminder that we should, first of all, talk to God about our sorrows. "Cast all your anxieties upon Him because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7).

We can also dialog with encouraging Christians who will speak God's truth into our lives. However, we need to be careful when selecting these confidants. Discussing the matter with those unable to provide wise advice doesn't help us. It may even deepen our discouragement or spread it to others.

4) Dive into the Word.

God's truth is the best defense against Satan's schemes. Several years ago I had two stress fractures which kept me from being active. It put my hobbies - and career - on the line. Needless to say, I was very discouraged. But during that time I dove into the Bible and, in the depths of my sadness, He spoke to me in deeper ways than I had ever experienced. The trial didn't disappear, but God's Scriptures lifted me out of the valley of discouragement. It empowered me to endure the trial with contentment and peace instead of depression and bitterness. Sometimes our lows in life are what bring us closest to God. Don't miss the opportunity by pushing away from God; run to the open pages of the Word!

5) Pour into others.

I once heard someone say that it's better to live life giving away than pulling away. Giving to those in need reminds us of what we have to be thankful for. So, visit a lonely person. Help an elderly neighbor with their yard work. Write a letter to someone who needs cheering up. Are there children at your church that need a mentor? Take the opportunity to disciple them and point them to the Lord. The more you serve, the more you'll find that your perspective change from gloominess to thankfulness.

6) Rest in the Lord.

Psalm 55:22 says, "Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken." During an extremely difficult situation in the life of Christian author and pastor, Andrew Murray, he eloquently penned:

  • "First, He brought me here; it is by His will I am in this strait place: in that fact I will rest.  
  • Next, He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace to behave as His child.
  • Then, he will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow.
  • Last, in His good time He can bring me out again - how and when He knows."

Let me say I am here,

1) by God's appointment
2) in His keeping
3) under His training
4) for His time"

No matter what your trial, God will see you through it. "Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge" (Psalm 62:8).

About The Author:

Felicia Alvarez lives in Southern California and loves avocados, sunshine, and serving her Savior. Currently, she teaches dance to over one hundred students and is working on her second book.

Source: Crosswalk.com The Devotional

Why Suffering?

by Jill Carattini

One of my favorite scenes from the story of Christ's birth is of the far-seeing elderly Simeon reaching for the child in Mary's arms, content now to die for having seen the Messiah with his own eyes. His words to Mary, more eerie than most mothers could graciously accept, always seemed a cryptic little side note from a strange and saintly old man. But the prophecy never struck me as a pivotal introduction to Luke's overarching motif of suffering throughout his telling of the story of Christ. Says Simeon:

"This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed." (1)

Starting with Simeon, theologian Roy Harrisville draws out a side of Luke that surprised my reading of Luke's Gospel and passion narrative - if only the surprise of seeing plainly something I'd never noticed. (2) Again and again Luke points out the necessity of Jesus' suffering, long before he is approaching the cross. I was nonetheless left with a plaguing question perhaps less for Harrisville than for God - or Jesus along the road to Emmaus. Why was it necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into glory, as he tells the men as they walk toward Emmaus? Why was Christ's suffering a matter of "divine necessity"?

Luke has long struck me as one of the more fascinating narrators of the life and death of Jesus, including details at a story level that make for more nuanced intrigue. "Day after day I was with you in the temple and you did not seize me," says Jesus at his trial. "But all this has taken place, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled," he explains in Matthew and similarly in Mark, "But let the scriptures be fulfilled." Yet Luke's recollection of the scene is much less formulaic. Jesus replies with a far more layered vision of all that is at work. "But this is your hour, and the power of darkness," hinting that there is another hour and the power of something else at hand. (3) Luke repeatedly includes hints of these disparate visions at work, blind and brute ignorance beside cryptic insight like Simeon's, a contrast seen quite literally in the very criminals on either side of Jesus on the cross.

All of this I have cherished in the evangelist's telling. And I can now see, as Harrisville notes, that Luke's relentless pointing to the necessity of Christ's suffering indeed lies at the heart of this dramatic narration; I can see that Luke describes the life of Jesus as the way of the suffering Christ, and the passion of the cross as the necessary event which marks the approaching kingdom. But why? Beyond the need to encourage suffering readers, beyond the musts of scripture, why was it necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things? If Luke's telling is indeed a motif of human ignorance alongside that of the divine necessity, I am thankful for the grace that is shown on the side of unknowing. And I am thankful that Jesus went willingly toward suffering for our own sakes even though we might not fully understand it.

References:

(1) Luke 2:34-35.
(2) Roy Harrisville, Fracture: The Cross as Irreconcilable in the Language and Thought of the Biblical Writers (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2006).
(3) Parallel texts found in Matthew 26:56, Mark 14:49b, and Luke 22:53b.

About The Author:

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

Source: A Slice of Infinity.
Copyright © 2014 Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, All rights reserved.

[Go back to Table of Contents]

XI Discipleship - Servant Leadership

Selfless Service - The Highest Accolade

by Dr. Joe McKeever

"I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you…. For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus….." (Philippians 2:19ff)

As I write this, I have just come from the office of my E-N-T doctor. For two decades this good man has looked after our family and has done life-saving surgery on me twice. I find myself thinking that as I age, he too will make that decision which I made five years ago, and retire. Anyone else can retire and we're fine by that. But not our doctor.

He reaches age 65 next month. So I asked the big question.

"I'm not even remotely thinking of retiring," he said. "I love my work too much for that."

I'll tell you how much he loves his work.

Every morning of his life he attends 6:30 am mass to pray for his patients.

Ten years ago, before performing cancer surgery on me, he gathered his team around and said, "Reverend, would it be all right with you if I prayed?" Are you kidding? That is just about the finest gift anyone has ever given me. (I reminded him today I am ten years cancer-free.)

You do not need me to tell you - but I will anyway - that his staff and colleagues adore him. When he had stepped away, one of the OR nurses whispered, "He's my doctor, too."

Later, after leaving his office, I thought of Paul's words about young Pastor Timothy: "I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare."

All the others, Paul said, are looking out for number one.

Even Christians fall into this trap of self-centeredness.

We have three observations….

If someone in your life has a calling from Heaven to "be concerned for your welfare," you are blessed indeed.

Usually this is a husband or wife. It can be an assistant to you, a secretary, or your mother. It drives them to pray for you and go the second (and third and fourth) mile on your behalf.

The team of Billy Graham used to say their job was to take off his shoulders secondary things so he could focus on the calling God had given him.

If someone believes in you to that extent, recognize it as rare indeed and a precious gift from God.

Perhaps you are the one called to be the supporter, the encourager, the helper to someone who is doing a great work. You must labor not to be intrusive, not to want to manage their lives, and not to want to be Colonel Parker to their Elvis.

Those who care more for others than for themselves are rare and wonderful; cherish them.

Paul said to the Philippians, "With humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself" (Phil. 2:3). He added, "Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others" (2:4).

Has anyone ever calculated how rare this kind of love is?

The typical person - even in the ministry it grieves me to say - will look at a proposed action and ask questions like "Will this advance my career? How will it make me look? Will anyone notice if I do this - or if I don't? What's this going to cost me? What's it going to pay?" and such foolishness.

Then, once in a while, a Timothy enters the room (or joins your church staff). He gives no thought to his career or his resume' or his vocational path. He has come to serve and to bless. He has arrived as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I have had a Timothy or two on my church staff through the years. Two things stand out in my mind: a) Almost from the first, some were threatened by him. Everything he does, he does well. He shows up the rest of us by his attention to detail, his love for people, his consistent walk with the Lord. b) When he is no longer there - moving on, retiring, death - his colleagues know (often too late) that someone very special walked among us and we were too small (negative, narrow-minded, protective of our turf) to see it.

They are the rarest of all who care primarily for the things of the Lord Jesus Christ. (And the way we see that is by their tender care for us and anyone about them in need.)

As unusual as it is to find someone who puts the welfare of others before his own, even rarer is the one whose main consideration is "What does Jesus Christ want?"

What will further the cause of Christ? What will exalt and glorify Him?

John the Baptist said of Jesus, "He must increase; I must decrease" (John 3:30). God, as you know, took that literally and removed him from the scene shortly thereafter. But his work was done. The Lord Jesus gave him the very highest praise (Matthew 11:11).

The greatest praise any of us should ever covet is to hear His "well done, good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:23).

Let that be the primary item on our bucket list.

Greatness in God's Sight

by Dr. Stephen Felker, Colonial Heights, VA

Gospel: Mark 10:35-45

Introduction

At this point in the Gospel of Mark, we find Jesus drawing near to Jerusalem. The number of followers of Christ by this time was smaller than in the earlier days. And the few who were following Christ to Jerusalem were amazed and fearful (v.32). There was a sense of foreboding concerning what was about to take place. They were going up for the Passover feast, where hundreds of thousands of Jewish families would offer up a lamb as a sacrifice. Yet Jesus knew that soon, He was going to offer Himself as a sacrificial lamb, to die on a Roman cross. So He warns His disciples in vv.33-34 that in Jerusalem He would be condemned to death by the ruling council of Israel, and He would be severely mistreated, and then delivered to the Romans to be executed by the terrible death of crucifixion.

Somehow, this warning did not sink into the minds of the disciples. It is clear from what follows that they were focusing on a crown, not a cross. You see, most of the close followers of Jesus firmly believed that He was the Messiah who was to save and rule Israel in a glorious kingdom. And they believed that they would rule and reign with Him. But simply reigning with Christ was not enough. James and John wanted to know who would reign closest to Christ. Who would be the greatest in the kingdom? So they wanted to go ahead and settle the issue, as we shall see.

Do you aspire to greatness, or a great heavenly reward? Would you like to be on top? It is characteristic of human nature to seek position, authority, power, and praise. We want to be served and tell others what to do. Most all of us want to be king of our own little kingdom, whether it is a family, or circle of friends, or business, or even our church. Well, Jesus has much to say about that attitude, and I want to share His teaching with you.

Now my first appeal to our hearts is this:

I. SHUN A SELF-CENTERED AMBITION FOR GREATNESS

In v.35 we see that James & John approached Jesus. They were interested in obtaining a special favor from Jesus.

A. A Preliminary Request

In the last of v.35 James & John (1) asked, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask." This kind of request is generally made when children are not too sure that they have a right to receive what they are about to ask. They want you to commit before hearing their request.

In v.36 Jesus replied, "What do you want Me to do for you?" Notice that Jesus refuses to commit Himself. He's too smart for that! Making blind promises is wrong. Think of Herod's promise to his step-daughter Salome! (Mark 6:22).

There is a lesson here about prayer. Prayer is not a blank check from God. He will answer our prayers favorably if they are according to His will (1 Jn. 5:14-15). God does not answer selfish prayers. James 4:3 says, "You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures." God wants to give us what is best for us, not merely what we want. He denies some of our requests for our good.

After Jesus refused to commit to grant any request, we see next in our story:

B. A Bold Request

In v. 37 they said to Him, "Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory." They wanted to have the two highest positions of authority next to Jesus!

Now why would they even think of such a request? They were right in believing that Jesus is King of kings and will one day reign on earth, seated on the throne of His glory. Look back at the last words of chapter 8, v.38. There Jesus talks about coming "in the glory of His Father with the holy angels." They believed that the establishment of the kingdom was very close at hand; in fact, they thought it could appear immediately (Lk. 19:11). No doubt they believed the promise Jesus had given, that in the future kingdom, the disciples would sit on 12 thrones with the Lord Jesus (Mt. 19:28).

Yet who would sit closest to Him? Well, James & John thought they had a good shot at getting those two seats. After all, in chapter 9 they were only 2 of 3 disciples that got a vision of Jesus in His glory on the mount of transfiguration.2 That's because they were in the inner circle of Jesus' disciples. On top of that, they were probably related to Him through their mother. So they could just see themselves reigning right next to Jesus in the kingdom to come!

The desire for greatness or leadership is not wrong in itself. Paul said in 1 Timothy 3:1, "If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work." Sometimes we may sincerely want a high position for a noble purpose. High position gives you greater influence, and you may be able to do more good with greater influence. Perhaps they just wanted to be as near as possible to Jesus.

And if you desire to be chief among men and women, I am sure that you can give some good reasons for your ambition. But notice with me:

C. What Was Wrong with the Request

I see at least 3 things wrong with their request:

1. It Demonstrated Selfish Ambition

It is clear to me that sinful ambition was playing a role here. They desired that the two most honorable places should be assigned, not to Peter and Andrew, or to Philip and Bartholomew, but to themselves! Christ was only thinking of others as He was on His way to the Cross. But they had their thoughts centered on self-advancement in the kingdom. They still dreamed of temporal crowns and earthly rewards.

We must guard our hearts against selfish ambition. Paul said in Php. 2:3, "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself."

2. Selfish Ambition Leads to Conflict

In v.41 we read, "And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John." The word translated "to be greatly displeased" (aganakteo) is better translated with the stronger word, "to be indignant." They could not believe the audacity of James & John. They were upset that James & John wanted to be on top!

The bitter feeling threatened what little harmony the apostolic band had. Selfish ambition will always destroy unity among believers. In fact, this conflict over who would be the greatest continued on the night of the Last Supper (Lk. 22:24).

Now James & John were wrong in their ambitious request. But the other disciples were wrong in their reaction. Jesus had to correct the whole group. The 10 remind me of Joseph's brothers who were jealous toward him. Joseph had dreams of being on top, of even ruling over his brothers, and they became jealous to the point of wanting to kill their own brother! Watch out for jealousy! Furthermore, the other 10 probably would not have been upset had it not been for the probable fact that they wanted these highest positions for themselves. They were unhappy because they had not thought of asking first! I can imagine Peter thinking, "Remember me, I'm the one who walked on water! I was the one that spoke up and confessed that Jesus is the Messiah. I have been the leader of this group all along. I should be the one who reigns next to Jesus!"

The ambition of clergymen is a great scandal in the church, and frequently causes rivalries, enmities, divisions, and schisms.

3. Selfish Ambition Is Worldly

Jesus said in the last of v.42, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them." Do you think that most of our political leaders seek office for the benefit of the people they represent, or for their own benefit? Back in the day when we had a truly Christian nation, we had quite a few statesmen who held office to serve God, and serve the people. But as our nation has turned from Christ, we have more and more political leaders who seek office for self-centered reasons: to exercise power, to gain fame, to have servants, and to obtain financial benefits. They will sell a vote to ride in Air Force One with the President!

So Jesus points out here that their attitudes demonstrated the way of worldly people. They wanted to rule and be on top like their Gentile rulers. It was the pomp, privilege, power, and position in the Gentile world which was so greatly esteemed. Like many people today, the disciples were making the mistake of following the wrong examples. Instead of modeling themselves after Jesus, they were admiring the glory and authority of the Roman rulers.

The people of God get into trouble when we try to model ourselves after the world. We are not to follow this old sinful world; we are to follow Jesus!

So we are to shun selfish ambition for worldly position, power, & fame. Instead, we should:

II. FOLLOW THE PATH OF TRUE GREATNESS

Does God offer the reward of greatness? Will some have higher positions of authority (Luke 19:13-25) in the kingdom of Jesus than others? Will someone be seated next to Jesus in the coming kingdom? Yes indeed. You can be one of the great leaders in the kingdom of Jesus! Jesus did not rebuke a desire for greatness. Instead, He explained the true path to greatness. You may be surprised by the prescription of greatness that Jesus gives here in this text, for it is a complete reversal of popular opinion. Here is what you need to understand:

A. Greatness Requires a Sacrificial Commitment to Christ

Jesus here reminds them that a request for glory is a request for suffering. Mere desire for greatness is not enough. Jesus said in v.38, "You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" To "drink the cup" means to fully undergo this or that experience. Drinking the cup points to Christ's active obedience to suffer & die for others. Later in the Garden of Gethsemane He would refer to his death again as "the cup" (14:36). The word "to be baptized" does not refer to water baptism, but it points to suffering, and it is probably used here in the figurative sense of "to be overwhelmed" by agony (cf. Lk. 12:50). Jesus knew He was to be plunged into the flood of horrible distress. Would they be willing to experience the agony of suffering also? Are they willing to die to self? At this point it seems they were more interested in promoting self!

Notice their response. They said in v.39, "We are able." They sure were confident in themselves! Then Jesus said to them in the last of v.39, "You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized." Jesus affirms that they would first have to suffer, rather than be exalted. In fact, James was the first apostle to be martyred (Acts 12:2) and John was banished to the island of Patmos in his old age and suffered much, including hunger, cold, & isolation (Rev. 1:9).

It is easy to say we will endure anything for Christ, and yet most of us complain over the most minor problems. If you seek ease and comfort, you will never be great in God's Kingdom. If you would be near Him then, you must be near Him now. You must be willing to obey Christ, and follow Him, even if He leads you down the path of suffering. If we would share His throne, we must bear His cross. Many people want glory, but they are not willing to suffer and labor intensely. The fact is that the path to suffering is a path to glory.

A certain man described a dream he had.

I saw in a dream that I was in the Celestial City - though when and how I got there I could not tell. I was one of a great multitude which no man could number, from all countries and peoples and times and ages. Somehow I found that the saint who stood next to me had been in Heaven more than 1,900 years.

"Who are you?" I said to him.
"I," said he, "was a Roman Christian; I lived in the days of the Apostle Paul. I was one of those who died in Nero's persecutions. I was covered with pitch and fastened to a stake and set on fire to light up Nero's gardens."
"How awful!" I exclaimed.
"No," he said, "I was glad to do something for Jesus. He died on the cross for me."

The man on the other side then spoke:
"I have been in Heaven only a few hundred years. I came from an island in the South Seas - Erromanga. John Williams, a missionary, came and told me about Jesus, and I too learned to love Him. My fellow-countrymen killed the missionary, and they caught and bound me. I was beaten until I fainted and they thought I was dead, but I revived.

Then next day they knocked me on the head, cooked and ate me."
"How terrible!" I said.
"No," he answered, "I was glad to die as a Christian. You see the missionaries had told me that Jesus was scourged and crowned with thorns for me."

Then they both turned to me and said, "What did you suffer for Him? Or what did you sell & give to send men like John Williams to tell the heathen about Jesus?"

And I was speechless. And while they both were looking at me with sorrowful eyes, I awoke, and it was only a dream! But I lay on my soft bed awake for hours, thinking of how little I had really experienced the words of Jesus, "You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized." (3)

Are you willing to suffer rejection & even ridicule by relatives, friends, classmates, or coworkers? To receive the reward of greatness, you must be willing to pay the price of suffering.

Since Jesus was willing to suffer, and even die for us, we should be willing to suffer for Him!

B. Greatness Requires Personal Service to Others

Notice what this involves:

1. We Must Reject the World's Way

Again, Jesus said in v.42, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them."

Those who are rulers in this world exercise authority for their personal benefit. In this world greatness is determined by how many people you rule over. But Jesus clearly states in v.43, "Yet it shall not be so among you…."

In the church there are to be no rulers, but only servant-leaders. Yet by the Middle Ages the Church turned against this clear teaching of Jesus, and established ecclesiastical hierarchies and rulers. Their top rulers even had thrones & scepters.

Every time you have a power struggle in a local church, you violate what Christ is saying here. We should submit to one another, and serve one another; not rule over each other.

So what are we to do?

2. We Must Follow Jesus' Way

Jesus said in vv.43-44, "Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all." Greatness consists in self-giving, in the outpouring of the self in service to others, for the glory of God. God's pattern in Scripture is that a person must first be a servant before God promotes him or her to be a ruler.

Joseph was a servant in Egypt before he became a ruler in Egypt by the Providence of God.

Moses forsook the worldly power of Egypt & served his father-in-law in the backside of a desert before he became the leader of God's people.

Joshua served Moses before he became the leader of Israel.

David humbly served his father as a shepherd before God raised him up as the shepherd of His people.

Unless we know how to obey orders, we do not have the right to give orders. What is it that makes a godly mother the queen of her children? Simply that all her life she has been their servant, and never thought about herself, but always about them.

This is perhaps the most important basis of allocating spiritual leadership in the church. If you are a Sunday School Teacher you are in that position to serve your class, to study hard and teach them the Word of God, and to minister to them. If you are a deacon, your role is not to rule the church, but to serve the church. The same is true of me as a pastor/clergy. Are you serving your family, your church, and your follow man?

Jesus did not just teach us about being a servant; He showed us by His own example. In v.45 Jesus said, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." This is the key verse in the gospel of Mark. Whenever the Bible wishes to give the supreme example, it points to Jesus. Notice that Jesus came to us. He came from where?

We know from other Scriptures that He came from heaven, with all of the glory and privileges He enjoyed. He came from a realm where angels served Him. And when He came to earth, He "did not come to be served, but to serve…." He lived day after day in service to others, healing the sick, doing other good works, and teaching the Word of God to hungry souls.

His greatest act of service on our behalf was dying for us. Jesus went on to say that He had come "to give His life a ransom for many." This passage is a clear proof of Christ's substitutionary atonement. He was not just a martyr. When He suffered, He suffered in our place. When He died, He died for us. A ransom (lutron) was originally the price paid for the release of a slave. Sin makes slaves of us. Sin condemns us. But Jesus redeemed us from our slavery to sin, & He set us free by the payment of His own blood. It cost Him a very high price. It was the public payment of the debts of sinful people to a holy God.

Don't worry if you are one of the "many" that Christ died for. 1 Tim. 2:5-6 says, "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all…." He died for all, but since not all will be saved, He effectively died for "many."

Anyone here today can be saved. The cross, with its burden of sacrifice for the world's sin, is the only power which will supply us with a sufficient motive for the loftiness of Christlike service.

Don't you want to be great in the Kingdom of God? Don't you want a great reward? Well, instead of reckoning greatness by how many servants you have, Christ reckons greatness by how many you serve. Are you a servant? Do you have a servant's heart? Are you too good to serve in the nursery, or cut grass, or wipe tables after a church meal? Do you think you are too important to stoop to lowly service for someone else? Jesus says to be great in the kingdom of God, you must be a servant to others. Let us serve to meet the needs of others, to help them bear burdens, or to ease suffering.

Conclusion:

Yes, a great reward awaits those who follow the example of Jesus Christ. If you follow Christ, even to the point of suffering, and if you serve others, then you will be great indeed. In Philippians 2, Paul wrote of Jesus becoming a servant, and even dying on the cross. Then he wrote, "Wherefore, God has highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name."

Peter wrote, "Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, and in due time, he will lift you up."

If you want to be great, then follow the path to greatness that Jesus took, through humble service and sacrifice for others.

Before you can be great in the coming kingdom of God, you must first enter the kingdom by repentance of sin, & faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior. He died on the cross to save you from your sins. Make sure you will be among those who will enter the kingdom of God. Jesus said in John 3:3, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Have you been born again? If not, turn to Christ & be saved today!

Footnotes:

1 The gospel of Matthew tells us that the mother of James and John was involved in this request. The boys must have put their mom up to this, & she was more than willing to ask this favor for her sons. What mom does not what her children to succeed in school, in extracurricular activities, and in life?

2 Peter, James, and John were part of the inner circle of Jesus' disciples. Furthermore, their mother seems to have been a sister or cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus (cf. Mt. 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25).

3 Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: #4310 (Rockville, Maryland: Assurance Publishers, 1979).

Sources:

Ronald A. Beers, ed., Life Application Study Bible (Tyndale House & Zondervan, 1991);

Stephen Felker, Devotional & Explanatory Notes on the Entire Bible (Col. Hghts, VA: Published by Author), 2010;

William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Mark (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975);

Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Vol. 7 & 8 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977 reprint);

Larry Pierce, Online Bible [CD-ROM] (Ontario: Timnathserah Inc., 1996);

A.T. Robertson, New Testament Word Pictures, Vol. IV (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931, accessed through Online Bible);

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900), Mark: Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1993);

Dr. Jerry Vines (sermon tape of 2/12/84); Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Diligent: Mark (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1987);

Kenneth S. Wuest's Word Studies From the Greek New Testament, Vol. 1, Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950).

Other sources listed in the footnotes.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982).

Compares sources of Matthew 20:20-28; Luke 22:24-27.

© Dr. Stephen Felker, Colonial Heights, VA 23834

[Go back to Table of Contents]

Developing Nobodies in a Celebrity Culture

by Stephen Miller

All throughout Scripture runs a common theme: The leaders of tomorrow are nobodies today.

Abraham was an old man who couldn't have kids.

Joseph was a pesky younger brother, turned slave prisoner.

David started out as a shepherd kid whose own dad didn't think was worth presenting to Samuel as a potential new king.

Amos was a fig picker.

Peter was a fisherman.

Even Jesus started out in the obscure household of a carpenter, hiding out in Egypt.

Some are born into more privilege or with more natural talent than others, but no one is born an all-star.

Many of us know well the feeling of being young, passionate and energized with a drive to minister and serve the church with our gifts, yet discouraged from lack of opportunity. Some even feel cast aside or not taken seriously because they have not yet proven themselves and seemingly have nothing to offer. They look at the celebrity culture the church has fostered and feel there is no place for them. Unless they are already "somebody," it is simply not set up to equip them for leadership beyond giving them space to observe.

Many in our churches have legitimate gifts to offer and lead with, but if these gifts are not recognized, encouraged and developed, we will end up losing many of our best leaders before they ever have a chance to lead.

Ephesians 4:11-16 tells us that Jesus gave spiritual leadership gifts "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ… we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love."

The truth is that nobody is a really a "nobody." Every believer was created in the image of God, rescued and purchased by His blood, redeemed and adopted into His family and given gifts to serve His church so that it can work properly.

Every member of the body is equally important (1 Corinthians 12), yet as leaders, we often focus our attention on people who can further our own agendas, platforms and influence, while ignoring those who need the wisdom we have to offer in order to realize their potential.

The undeveloped and underdeveloped people in our churches have inherent value because God gave it to them, and we have a mandate to equip them to serve and lead well, whether or not we perceive they have anything to offer us.

This kind of discipleship goes beyond the platform; deeper than just preaching or leading worship to a mass audience. It involves life-on-life development of leaders in their love for Jesus, while giving them opportunities to lead. It means equipping them adequately so that when they do, they have been set up to succeed.

Depending on how our churches are set up, we may need to get creative about how we do this. And we must be wise. Sunday primetime may not the best place to let an untested preacher or worship leader loose on our congregations. But what is the appropriate place where we can foster their gifts, evaluate them, develop them and help them improve?

Are there smaller gatherings such as a community groups, Bible studies, Sunday school classes, members meetings, or special services? What are the regular rhythms of our churches where we can begin to intentionally implement the equipping and developing of servant-hearted leaders?

The Church does not need another "somebody," all-star, or celebrity who has already arrived. What the Church really needs is humble, teachable, godly, Spirit-filled, passionate servants who are willing to do the work it takes to grow - people the Church can pour into, who will then pour into others.

Discipleship is hard work. It's inconvenient. And often, it involves giving up platform opportunities. But it's what we have been called to do by the great Disciple-Maker who called out a bunch of nobodies and poured into them so that He could use them to change the world for his glorious name's sake.

The leaders of tomorrow are in our churches today and Jesus cares about them. We should, too.

About The Author:

Stephen Miller is the author of the book 'Worship Leaders, We Are Not Rock Stars', and worship album, 'All Hail the King'. He writes regularly at www.stephen-miller.com

Jesus Gives It to Us Straight

by James MacDonald

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go." (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, "Follow me." - John 21:18–19

Today's passage is an intense private conversation between the Lord and Peter that the apostle John was allowed to overhear. Even though Peter was still very tender from his devastating failure during the events leading up to the crucifixion, when he denied knowing Christ, Jesus welcomed him back.

But it was a welcome accompanied by truth. Jesus had work for him to do. He refused to sugarcoat the reality of the life to which Peter had returned. Jesus basically let him know, "This is going to be hard, Peter. If you're going to follow Me, the way won't be easy. Feeding My sheep is going to take everything you've got."

When Jesus said, "Where you do not want to go," we know what He meant because of John's side note: " (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.)" Jesus could see what Peter would face in the future and He knew His disciple would endure.

Church history records that in about AD 65 Peter was executed in Rome under orders from Nero. By the end of his life Peter had been on the road for several decades proclaiming the gospel. He had penned a couple of New Testament letters and probably been Mark's main source for the second gospel. Peter had a great life of serving God, but he had a tough finish.

Following Christ is not easy. Our Lord never hid that fact. But following Him is best. We're not sugarcoating anything here. The Christian life is not always smooth going, but it is exactly what we were designed to do and be. It's the real life. It's the best life you can possibly have: giving your life to Jesus Christ, living for Him, obeying His Word, fellowshipping with His people, and serving in His kingdom.

You don't know what lies ahead for you. Jesus does. He probably won't tell you beforehand, except to assure you that whatever happens, He will be with you every step of the way. He has made that promise (Matthew 28:20) and He will keep it.

That's all you really need to know as you follow Christ. Tell Him you fully intend to let Him lead you as you step out in faith.

Prayer

Lord, I realize You demonstrate who You are by asking me without apology to do hard things. You promise to help, but You never minimize the difficulties. Your Son offered us an easy yoke, but it's still a yoke, and our weaknesses mean we can't afford to ever forget who is sharing the yoke with us. Thank You that we never have to go through a hard or easy thing apart from You! In Jesus' name, amen.

Source: Our Journey Online

The Strange Math of Jesus:
Emptying Himself by Adding Human Nature

by Bruce Ware

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. - Philippians 2:5-8

Whereas the eternal Son of the Father, the second person of the Trinity, had no beginning and will have no end, the incarnate Son - the son of David, the son of Mary, the Messiah - had a beginning in time and space. This Son, (1) Jesus the Christ, was brought into being through the power of the Holy Spirit, as the divine nature of the eternal Son was miraculously joined together with a created human nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Luke's account of this miracle - the grand miracle, as C. S. Lewis rightly called it - is riveting. Luke writes:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy - the Son of God. (Luke 1:26-35)

The conception of Jesus in the Virgin Mary was unique in the history of humankind. Not only did the Holy Spirit supernaturally bring about conception within her apart from the involvement of any human father, but even more remarkable was the uniting of the divine and human natures in Jesus, such that this one would be born the son of Mary (Luke 1:31) and the son of "his father David" (v. 32) while also being "the Son of the Most High" (v. 32), "the Son of God" (v. 35). That is, he would be fully human (son of Mary) while also being fully divine (Son of the Most High). The miracle the Holy Spirit brought to pass, then, was to conceive in Mary none other than the God-man, the theanthropic person, Jesus Christ, son of David and Son of God.

The Nature of the Kenosis (Self-Emptying) of the Eternal Son

Given that the divine nature in Jesus was eternal and infinite while the human nature in Jesus was created and finite, one of the questions we ponder is just how these two natures could coexist in the one person. Could Jesus as both fully divine and fully human be, for example, simultaneously omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent - qualities of his eternal, divine nature - while also possessing a limited and finite human power, a limited yet growing knowledge and wisdom, and a restricted ability to be only one place at one time - qualities of finite, human nature? It seems clear that some qualities of his eternal, divine nature are simply incompatible with his true and genuine human nature, such that it would be impossible for him truly to live as a human if that so-called human life was also one in which he exhibited fully divine qualities such as omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. In other words, would Jesus be truly and genuinely human if in his human experience he had limitless power, knowledge, wisdom, and spatial presence?

The crux of the answer to these questions comes in how Paul in Philippians 2:5-8 expresses the kenosis, the self-emptying, of the eternal Son as he took on human nature. Here Paul writes:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

Notice some crucial features of this important passage.

First, Paul makes clear that Christ Jesus, as the eternal Son of the Father, is fully God.

Paul offers two expressions, each of which conveys the full deity of Christ. Paul writes that Christ existed in the "form of God" (v. 6), using the term morphē, which refers to the inner nature or substance of something, not its external or outward shape. So, while the English word form can convey merely the outward appearance of something (i.e., the shape or contour or facade of some object), not its inner reality, the Greek word morphē conveys just the opposite, as can be seen with Plato's "forms" - i.e., those substances of ultimate realities such as beauty, truth, justice, goodness, etc., that Plato thought existed eternally and apart from any material representation. The Greek morphē, then, is the inner substance or very nature of a thing, not its outer shape or appearance.

That Paul intends this understanding can be seen further in his second use of morphē, when he says that Jesus took the "form of a servant" (v. 7). Surely it is evident that Paul does not mean that Jesus took on merely the outer appearance of a servant, implying perhaps that though he looked like a servant, he was not in his own heart and life a true servant. Just the opposite: Jesus took on the inner substance and very nature, i.e., the form (morphēn), of what it means to be a servant, and that to its highest expression. As a servant, he served to the utmost, as he was obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross. So again, "form" (morphē, v. 6, and morphēn, v. 7) must mean the very nature of something, not merely its outer appearance. Therefore, Paul's point in 2:6 is clear: Jesus, being the "form of God," exists in very nature as God, with the inner divine substance that is God's alone. He is fully God since he exists "in the form of God."

Paul also refers to Christ as possessing "equality with God" (v. 6), which likewise makes clear his full deity.

Nothing is equal to God except God! As God declares of himself, through the prophet Isaiah, "I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me" (Isa. 46:9; cf. Ex. 8:10; 15:11; Deut. 3:24; 2 Sam. 7:22; 1 Kings 8:23; Ps. 71:19; Mic. 7:18). Indeed, there is no god other than the one true and living God - so God is exclusively God - and there is no god who is like the one true and living God - so God is incomparably God. With this background in mind, Paul's declaration that Christ possesses "equality with God" is stunning. It can mean only one thing: by virtue of the fact that no one can be equal to God but God himself, Christ, who possesses equality with God, must himself be fully God. Of course, as we often find where the deity of Christ is expressed, we see hints or outright declarations that someone other than Christ likewise is God. Since he is equal to God, this means that there is another who is God, in relation to whom Christ is his equal. So, as John puts it, the Word is both "with God" and is "God" (John 1:1), and Hebrews declares that Christ is the "exact imprint" of the nature of God (Heb. 1:3). Likewise here in Philippians 2, Christ is both other than the one who is God (understood as the Father, no doubt) while he also is equal to this other one who is God and so is himself fully God.

Second, when Paul writes that Christ "did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped" (Phil. 2:6), he cannot mean that Christ gave up equality with God or that he ceased being fully God.

Since he is fully God, he cannot cease to be fully God. God is eternal, self-existent, immortal, and immutable, and thus he cannot cease to exist as God, nor can he fail to be fully God. Surely what Paul means is this: Christ being fully God, possessing the very nature of God and being fully equal to God in every respect, did not thereby insist on holding onto all the privileges and benefits of his position of equality with God (the Father) and thereby refuse to accept coming as a man. He did not clutch or grasp his place of equality with the Father and all this brought to him in such a way that he would refuse the condescension and humiliation of the servant role he was being called to accept. Just how he could accept his calling to become a man while being (and remaining!) fully God, we'll explore next. But here it is crucial to see that Christ's not "grasping" equality with God cannot rightly be taken to mean that Christ gave up being God or became in any way less than fully God when he took on also a fully human nature. No, rather, he did not grasp or clutch onto the privileged position, rights, and prerogatives that his full equality with God, his Father, afforded him, in order to fulfill his calling to become fully a man who would be, amazingly, servant of all.

Third, as one who is fully God, Christ Jesus "emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant" (v. 7).

The word that here is translated "emptied himself," ekenōsen (third aorist indicative of kenoō), means literally just this: that Christ "emptied himself" or "poured out himself." Note that Paul is not saying that Christ emptied something from himself or poured something out of himself, as if in so doing he became less fully God than he was before (which, as we have seen, is impossible). Rather, he emptied himself; he poured out himself. That is, all of who Christ is as eternal God, all that he is as the one who is in the form of God and is equal with God, is poured out. Christ, then, as God remains fully God. He loses nothing of his divine nature, and no divine qualities are removed from him as he pours himself out. No, Christ remains in his divine nature fully who and what he is in his existence as the eternal second person of the Trinity. He has eternally been fully God, and now in the incarnation he pours out fully who he is as God, remaining fully God as he does so.

The question then becomes just what this means - that Christ, the one who exists in the form of God (morphē) and as equal (isa) to God, pours himself out (ekenōsen). The answer comes, amazingly, in the three participles (particularly the first one) that follow ekenōsen. Christ poured himself out, taking the form of a servant. Yes, he pours out by taking; he empties by adding. Here, then, is a strange sort of math that envisions a subtraction by addition, an emptying by adding. What can this mean?

In brief, what this must mean is this: Christ Jesus, existing and remaining fully who he is as God, accepts his divine calling to come to earth and carry out the mission assigned him from the Father. As the eternal Son of God, who is himself the form (morphē, i.e., very nature) of God, he must come in the form (morphēn, i.e., very nature) of a servant. That is, he must come fully as a man, and as a man he must live his life and give his life as one of us. In so doing, Christ pours himself out (all of who he is) as he takes on, in addition to his full divine nature, a full human nature. Again, it is crucial to see that in the self-emptying (ekenōsen) of the eternal Son, Paul does not say that he poured something "out of" himself. No, absolutely not! Rather, he poured out himself. All of who he is as the eternal Son of the Father, as the one who is the form (morphē) of the Father, is poured out fully.

Here, then, is no subtraction, strictly speaking. It is a "subtraction" (i.e., a pouring out, an emptying) by adding human nature to his divine nature. He came, then, to become the God-man - the one whose very divine nature took on fully the existence of a created human nature. He poured himself out by adding to himself the nature of a man, indeed, the nature of a servant par excellence who would give his life in obedience on the cross to fulfill the will of his Father.

Endnotes:

1. The appellation "Son" is used of the second person of the Trinity in three distinct yet related senses in Scripture.
(1) The eternal Word (John 1:1) is often referred to as "Son," and in this sense he is the eternal Son of the eternal Father (e.g., John 3:16–17; Gal. 4:4; Heb. 1:1–2; 1 John 4:9–10).
(2) Jesus the Christ, Son of David and Son of Mary, who is the incarnate God-man, is referred to as the "Son" of God, and in this sense he is the incarnate and historic Son of the Father, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of Mary (e.g., Luke 1:31–35; John 1:33–34, 49; Gal. 2:20).
(3) The crucified but risen, ascended, reigning, and exalted Messiah is also referred to in a distinct way as the "Son" of God, and in this sense he is the risen and triumphant Son of the Father (e.g., Acts 13:32–33; Rom. 1:3-4; 1 Cor. 15:27–28; Heb. 4:14).

Source: The Man Christ Jesus; christianity.com Daily Update

Taken from The Man Christ Jesus: Theological Reflections on the Humanity of Christ by Bruce A. Ware. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

A Suffering Servant: The Letters of Mother Teresa

by Chuck Colson

For the first time in more than 30 years, Mother Teresa graces the cover of Time magazine. But unlike the 1975 cover that hailed her as a living saint, this week's cover titillatingly trumpets, "The Secret Life of Mother Teresa." The subtitle declares, "Newly published letters reveal a beloved icon's 50-year crisis of faith." NBC led the TV pack with serious questions about her faith.

Those letters, written by Mother Teresa over more than 60 years, form a new book called Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. So what do these letters really reveal? Newsflash: One of the great saints of the 20th century had doubts. At times, she even doubted the existence of God. Imagine that!

Now, to put this in perspective, imagine that for 60 years you waded knee-deep in the gutters of Calcutta to tend to the outcast and the dying. In the midst of unspeakable squalor and human suffering, might you at times not doubt God?

Here's more news: Mother Teresa struggled with depression. When you wrestle with the devil surrounded by human misery, you might have good cause to be depressed! I know from the years I have spent ministering in prisons. There are many times that you question, "Where's God?" To be depressed in such situations simply makes you human. To carry on through the depression reveals the hand of God.

Not surprisingly, Mother Teresa's letters are red meat for the media. And atheists like Christopher Hitchens could not resist ridiculing her dark night of the soul. "She was no more exempt from the realization that religion is a human fabrication than any other person," Hitchens told Time. "Her attempted cure was more and more professions of faith [which] could only have deepened the pit that she had dug for herself." Hitchens even compared her to the old communists who realized their lives were meaningless after the Soviet Union collapsed. What rubbish!

And meaningless is the last word you would think of to describe Mother Teresa. To help the poorest of the poor die with dignity was the greatest example of faith, particularly while you are suffering yourself, with doubts and with pain and with depression.

She continued to do the toughest job anyone could possibly do. And she did it to her dying day. Why? As she wrote to her spiritual advisor, she submitted to God. "I accept," she wrote, "not in my feelings - but with my will, the Will of God - I accept His will." I came to that realization in my own dark night of the soul a couple of years ago when two of my three kids had cancer.

The very essence of faith, you see, is believing even in the absence of evidence. And it is the only way we can know Christ. We can conclude rationally that God exists, that His Word is true, and that He has revealed Himself. But without that leap of faith, we will never know God personally or accept His will in Christ.

So what do the letters of Mother Teresa reveal? For one, they reveal the true cost of discipleship. To follow Christ is to embrace suffering and the Cross. And, at times, to say with Jesus, "My God, my God, why did you abandon me?"

Certainly Mother Teresa took on the suffering of the world just as her Lord had done. And she demonstrated a kind of faith that few ever experience. But hers is a faith that will be a lasting witness to the world - when Christopher Hitchens and the media critics are long forgotten.

Source: Breakpoint with Chuck Colson

Comments About The Dark Nights of Mother Teresa

"I accept," she wrote, "not in my feelings - but with my will, the Will of God - I accept His will."

That's it - not my will God, but yours. That's the Christian life - and Mother Theresa was living it! The media critics and atheists couldn't do what she did for one day much less a lifetime.

---

Excellent column. The fact that she persisted in service even while she struggled with doubts is a great testimony. Having faith while your life is going well is easy. One of the great paradoxes of life is that faith is not tested and purified until you are placed in surroundings which cause you to doubt.

She struggled for years, but wrote, "I accept His will." Extraordinary.

Colson points out that Jesus said from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me." There are other biblical examples of such struggles in the minds of God's servants.

John the Baptist, while he was in prison, sent some of his followers to ask Jesus if He was the messiah. When John had previously baptized Jesus, John testified to his followers that Jesus was the one, and John even heard a voice from heaven declare it. Yet, in the midst of his trials, he began to have doubts.

Job suffered greatly, and his wife and friends were not very helpful in the midst of his trials. He regretted the day he was born, a sign of depression. And yet, he declared, "I know that my Redeemer lives."

In Psalm 13, David cries out, "How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?"

The atheists chortle over Mother Teresa's letters. But Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." She did that. Paul wrote:

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.'... For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe."

So, unbelievers cannot understand God's ways, nor can they understand people of faith.

In Revelation, Jesus says to the faithful in the church of Philadelphia, "I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name."

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Gal 6:9)

--

One of the things I like that Mother Theresa said, "If they cut you into little pieces, know that every little piece belongs to Christ."

---

Wonderful. And I like this incident:

A reporter sees her cleaning the maggots out of a wretched man's wound.

Says he, "I wouldn't do that for a million dollars."

Says she: "Neither would I."

---

Upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Mother Teresa said: "What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family. And love your friends. Love them without measure."

Mother Teresa's Letters Show Heroic Spiritual Struggle - Vatican
The spiritual struggles of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, powerfully conveyed in a forthcoming book, are not evidence of any lack of faith, but an indication of her heroic struggle, a prominent Vatican cardinal has argued.

Cardinal Julian Herranz, the former president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts (the Vatican's top canon-law body), told the Italian daily La Repubblica that Mother Teresa clearly suffered through the "dark night of the soul," like many other great saints.

The book Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light includes letters that Mother Teresa sent to her confessors and spiritual directors over a period of years, recounting her internal struggles and her sense of aridity in prayer.

The frank content of the letters -- describing the spiritual struggles of a woman who is revered worldwide as a saint-- has prompted some secular media outlets to question whether Mother Teresa had lost her faith in God. But any such interpretation of the work is profoundly mistaken, Church leaders agree.

Cardinal Herranz noted that leading mystics such as St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross wrote extensively about the "dark night of the soul." Their spiritual trials reflect the agony of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, he said. They should be recognized, the Spanish cardinal added, as "a test of greatness of faith."

Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the former director of the Vatican press office, made a similar point in La Repubblica. Navarro-Valls observed that the anxieties expressed by Mother Teresa should be seen as "not a sign of lack of faith; they are normal, and in her case heroic."

The contents of the new book will not come as a surprise to Vatican officials who are studying the cause for canonization of Mother Teresa. Her correspondence was included in the file studied by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints prior to her beatification in 2003.

Source: Catholic World News, Aug. 27, 2007

[Go back to Table of Contents]

XII Poems

Lord, I need you

by George and Ira Gershwin

Lord, I need you, more than I need anything
Lord I need you, more than I need the sunshine
Lord I need you, more than I need, oh the rain
Lord I need you, more than I need the morning
Lord I need you, more than I need anything

When I'm thirsty, You are my living water
When I'm hungry, You are my living bread
When I'm tired, You are my rest Lord
And on You, I can lay my weary head

Lord I need you, more than I need the sunshine
Lord I need you, more than I need, oh the rain
Lord I need you, more than I need the morning
Lord I need you, more than I need anything

Lord You're my light, when I walk through those dark valleys
I've come to know that Your joy, is my only strength
I found out that You are a sure foundation
You're my Redeemer, my Savior, my friend

You're my light in all of my valleys
Your joy has become my only strength
Yes You are, You are my foundation
My Redeemer, my Savior, my friend

Lord I need you, more than I need the sunshine
Lord I need you, more than I need, oh the rain
Lord I need you more than I need the morning
Lord I need you, more than I need anything

Lord I need you, more than I need the sunshine
Lord I need you, more than I need the rain
Lord I need you, more than I need the morning
Lord I need you, more than I need anything

Isaiah 41:10 (NKJV)

Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, Yes,
I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

Copyright 2010 Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch -
Archdiocese of the Western United States

A Thought of Comfort

by Dr. Mercy Abraham

My soul longs for Thee oh Lord my God
As the deer seeks after the water brook
I am parched as a dry leaf in this desertland
Where hotwinds blow always as in a summer time

I long to bask in the sunshine ever present
But shadows dims my visions bright
They disappear in your smile bright and
I long to see your face so beautiful

I feel myself carried in your everlasting arms
Strengthening, comforting and guiding my life
I want to hide under your sheltering abode
But there are lost souls, who wander far and wide

With not even a friendly shoulder to weep
Lord you are near to the brokenhearted
Come to our aid and give us comfort and
Strength to tackle the problems at hand

Only you, you alone can we depend
We are glad that you are close to our needs
Your glorious chariots and archangels
Come to our aid when we cry out in our fears

No one can take away our gladness which
You Lord gives us, when you are with us
Come what may, trials, temptations, tempests
That crush and strangle our lives

If Lord God is with us, we will never fail
There is always something to rejoice in our hopes
Which are like a silver lining to the darkened
Stormclouds that hang over the earth

And your goodness and love comfort us
In our sorrows like a blanket in winter
And peace like a dove descend upon us
In our trust and your faithfulness Lord

And our minds filled with thanksgiving
Sings in everlasting realms of music
Which like an offering ascends to heaven
And fills the earth with its sweet perfume
In reverberating shades of love, oh Lord

For a related meditation, please see Thirsty For God...A Sunday Meditation

Editor's Note:

Dr. Mercy Abraham does not need an introduction for Malankara World Journal readers. She had written several poems that has been published here. Mercy, medical graduate from Kottayam Medical College, works in UAE. The eerie landscape, the desert and the hotwinds inspire Mercy to write her poems. The present poem recalls the deer panting fro water in the earth that reminded David to talk about our soul's thirst for God. This poem takes you to  similar view of our relation with God. Enjoy.

In Search of Light
by Sunitha Jijo Flowerhill
Malankara World Board Member
St. Peters Syriac Orthodox Cathedral, Philadelphia, PA, USA

പോകുമോ ഞാ‍നും ഈ ലോക സാഹിത്യമാം
മഹാ സമുദ്രത്തിനൊരിറ്റു
വെള്ളം പോലുമേകിടാതേ

എന്‍‌ പ്രിയ ഭാഷയാം മലയാളത്തിനൊരു
കുഞ്ഞു മഞ്ഞു തുള്ളി
പോലുമേ നല്‍‌കിടാതേ

രാത്രിത‌ന്‍‌‌‌ സ്വഛതയില്‍‌‌ ഊറിടും വാക്കുകള്‍‌
പോലും പുലരിതന്‍‌ ഉണര്‍‌വില്‍‌ മറയുന്നൂ
മറവിതന്‍‌ നിഘൂഢതയില്‍‌

എന്തേ നീ ഉറങ്ങാത്തതെന്തെന്നു ചൊല്ലും
പ്രിയജനങ്ങളും കാര്യമറിഞ്ഞാലോ
ബുദ്ധി ഭ്രമമോയെന്നു വേവേലാതിയും!

അപൂ‌ര്‍‌ണമാം വാക്കുകള്‍‌ തുണ്ടു കടലാസില്‍‌

കോറിയിട്ടാലനുഭവിക്കും ആത്മസംത്രൃപ്തി
അവാച്യമെന്നു ഞാന്‍‌ സമര്‍‌ഥിക്കാം

ത‌ന്‍‌ പൈതങ്ങള്‍‌ തന്‍‌ കുസൃതിയാര്‍‌ന്ന
പാല്‍‌ പുഞ്ചിരി എന്‍‌ മനസ്സില്‍‌ ചുരത്തും
സ്നേഹത്തിന്നാഴം എങ്ങിനേ ഞാന്‍‌ അറിയിപ്പൂ!

വൃദ്ധ ജനങ്ങളും ആതുര വൈകല്യ
മാര്‍ന്നവരും ഹൃത്തില്‍‌ കോറുന്ന ഗദ്ഗദം
മറക്കാന്‍ മനസ്സിന്‍‌ തിരശ്ശീല പോര

പ്രകൃതി മാടി വിളിക്കുന്നൂ എന്തേ ഞങ്ങളേ
പകര്‍ത്താത്തൂ, വെണ്മയാം മെഘത്തുണ്ടും
തലയാട്ടും തൈ വൃക്ഷങ്ങളും

ഘനമേറും വാക്കുകള്‍ വേണ്ട, പുതിയ
മാനങ്ങള്‍ പരതേണ്ട, ലളിതമാം
ചിന്തകളല്ലോ മനസ്സിന്നു സുഖപ്രദം

ധിഷണയോ പാരമ്പര്യമോ ഒന്നുമേ മുതല്‍‌ക്കൂട്ടാതേ
വികലമാം മനസ്സിന്‍ തുടിപ്പുകള്‍
വെളിച്ചം തേടുന്നുവോ?


എഴുതിയത്:

സുനിത ജിജൊ ഫ്ലവര്‍ഹില്‍‌

Malankara World Board Member,

St. Peters Syriac Orthodox Cathedral, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Praise him! Praise him! Jesus, our blessed redeemer!

Praise him! Praise him! Jesus, our blessed redeemer!
Sing, O earth, his wonderful love proclaim!
Hail him! Hail him! Highest archangels in glory;
Strength and honor give to his holy Name!
Like a shepherd, Jesus will guard his children,
In his arms he carries them all day long.

Praise him! Praise him! Jesus, our blessed redeemer!
For our sins he suffered, and bled, and died;
He our Rock, our hope of eternal salvation,
Hail him! Hail him! Jesus the Crucified.
Sound his praises! Jesus who bore our sorrows,
Love unbounded, wonderful, deep and strong.

Praise him! Praise him! Jesus, our blessed redeemer!
Heav'nly portals loud with hosannas ring!
Jesus, Saviour, reigneth for ever and ever;
Crown him! Crown him! Prophet, and Priest, and King!
Christ is coming! Over the world victorious,
Pow'r and glory unto the Lord belong.

Praise him! Praise him! Tell of his excellent greatness;
Praise him! Praise him! Ever in joyful song!

Spurgeon's Prayer
I am poor, help me to glorify thee by contentment;
I am sick, help me to give thee honour by patience;
I have talents, help me to extol thee by spending them for thee;

I have time, Lord, help me to redeem it, that I, that may serve thee;
I have a heart to feel, Lord, let that heart feel no love but thine,
  and glow with no flame but affection for thee;
I have a head to think, Lord, help me to think of thee and for thee;

Thou hast put me in this world for something, Lord, show me what that
  is, and help me to work out my life purpose:

I cannot do much, but as the widow put in her two mites, which were
  all her living, so Lord, I cast my time and eternity unto thy treasury;

I am all thine;
  take me and enable me to glorify thee now

in all that I say,
in all that I do,
and with all I have.

[Go back to Table of Contents]

XIII Inspirational

What I Have Learned in Life

by Andy Rooney

Andy Rooney had the gift of saying so much with so few words. He was a long time commentator in CBS sixty Minutes.

I've learned.... That the best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person.

I've learned.... That when you're in love, it shows.

I've learned.... That just one person saying to me, 'You've made my day!' makes my day.

I've learned.... That having a child fall asleep in your arms is one of the most peaceful feelings in the world.

I've learned.... That being kind is more important than being right.

I've learned.... That you should never say no to a gift from a child.

I've learned.... That I can always pray for someone when I don't have the strength to help him in some other way.

I've learned.... That no matter how serious your life requires you to be, everyone needs a friend to act goofy with.

I've learned.... That sometimes all a person needs is a hand to hold and a heart to understand.

I've learned.... That simple walks with my father around the block on summer nights when I was a child did wonders for me as an adult.

I've learned.... That life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.

I've learned.... That we should be glad God doesn't give us everything we ask for.

I've learned.... That money doesn't buy class.

I've learned.... That it's those small daily happenings that make life so spectacular.

I've learned... That under everyone's hard shell is someone who wants to be appreciated and loved.

I've learned.... That to ignore the facts does not change the facts.

I've learned.... That when you plan to get even with someone, you are only letting that person continue to hurt you.

I've learned.... That love, not time, heals all wounds.

I've learned.... That the easiest way for me to grow as a person is to surround myself with people smarter than I am.

I've learned.... That everyone you meet deserves to be greeted with a smile.

I've learned.... That no one is perfect until you fall in love with them.

I've learned... That life is tough, but I'm tougher.

I've learned.... That opportunities are never lost; someone will take the ones you miss.

I've learned.... That when you harbor bitterness, happiness will dock elsewhere.

I've learned.... That I wish I could have told my Mom that I love her one more time before she passed away.

I've learned.... That one should keep his words both soft and tender, because tomorrow he may have to eat them.

I've learned.... That a smile is an inexpensive way to improve your looks.

I've learned.... That when your newly born grandchild holds your little finger in his little fist, that you're hooked for life.

I've learned.... That everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you're climbing it.

I've learned.... That the less time I have to work with, the more things I get done.

Take A Look In The Mirror

by Wes Hopper

"The body, like everything else, is a
mirror of our thoughts and beliefs."
Louise Hay

Most people who grow up without any real
metaphysical training grow up believing that
their bodies and physical capabilities are just
determined by their biology - their genes.

And if that's what you believe, then you get to
be right about that. But you miss a lot of
great opportunities.

Because, as Louise Hay puts it, our body is
just a mirror of our thoughts about it.

A young American woman named Wilma
Rudolph was crippled by polio as a child. But
she didn't accept that as her fate - as a
permanent limit on what her body could do.

She decided to first walk, then run, to
strengthen her legs. In high school she and her
sister went to join the track team. The coach
didn't want Wilma, but they said it was a package
deal.

Wilma saw her body as whole and healthy. She
saw that it would be as healthy as she believed
it would be. And she believed it could be really
healthy.

So healthy, in fact, that in 1960 she, with the
body she believed in, became the first American
woman to win three Gold Medals in the Olympic
Games in Rome.

It took more than running to get to the Olympics.
It took belief in her body, and the constant
practice to challenge the body to do more.

Her body became the mirror of her beliefs
about it. Your body is the mirror of your beliefs
about it.

If you don't like it, you know what to do.

Source: Daily Gratitude

Azim Premji's Lessons in Life
First

The first thing I have learnt is that we must always begin with our strengths. There is an imaginary story of a rabbit. The rabbit was enrolled in a rabbit school. Like all rabbits, it could hop very well but could not swim. At the end of the year, the rabbit got high marks in hopping but failed in swimming. The parents were concerned. They said, 'Forget about hopping. You are, anyway good at it. Concentrate on swimming.' They sent the rabbit for tuitions in swimming. And guess what happened? The rabbit forgot how to hop! As for swimming, have you ever seen a rabbit swim? While it is important for us to know what we are not good at, we must also cherish what is good in us. That is because it is only our strengths that can give us the energy to correct our weaknesses.

Second

The second lesson I have learnt is that a rupee earned is of far more value than five found. My friend was sharing with me, the story of his eight year-old niece. She would always complain about the breakfast. The cook tried everything possible, but the child remained unhappy. Finally, my friend took the child to a supermarket and brought one of those ready-to-cook cereal packets. The child had to cut the packet and pour water in the dish. The child found the food to be absolutely delicious? The difference was that she had cooked it! In my own life, I have found that nothing gives as much satisfaction as earning our own rewards. In fact, what is gifted or inherited follows the old rule of 'come easy, go easy'. I guess we only know the value of what we have, if we have struggled to earn it.

Third

The third lesson I have learnt is, in Cricket, no one bats a hundred every time. Life has many challenges. You win some and lose some. You must enjoy winning. But do not let it go to the head. The moment it does, you are already on your way to failure. And if you do encounter failure along the way, treat it as an equally natural phenomenon. Don't beat yourself for it or anyone else for that matter! Accept it, look at your own share in the problem, learn from it and move on. The important thing is, when you lose, do not 'lose the lesson'.

Fourth

The fourth lesson I have learnt, is the importance of humility. Sometimes, when you get so much in life, you really start wondering, whether you deserve all of it. We have so much to be grateful for. Our parents, our teachers and our seniors, have done so much for us, that we can never repay them. Many people focus on the shortcomings, because obviously, no one can be perfect. But it is important to first acknowledge, what we have received. Nothing in life is permanent, but when a relationship ends, rather than becoming bitter, we must learn to savor the memory, of the good things, while they lasted.

Fifth

The fifth lesson I learnt is, that we must always strive for excellence. One way of achieving excellence, is by looking at those better than ourselves. Keep learning what they do differently. But excellence cannot be imposed from the outside. We must also feel the need from within. It must involve not only our mind, but also our heart and soul. Excellence is not an act, but a habit. I remember the inspiring lines of a poem, which says that your reach must always exceed your grasp. That is heaven on earth. Ultimately, your only competition is yourself.

Sixth

The sixth lesson I have learnt is, never give up in the face of adversity. It comes on you, suddenly without warning.. Always keep in mind, that it is only the test of fire, that makes fine steel. A friend of mine shared this incident with me. His eight-year old daughter was struggling away at a jigsaw puzzle. She kept at it for hours but could not succeed. Finally, it went beyond her bedtime. My friend told her, "Look, why don't you just give up? I don't think you will complete it tonight. Look at it another day." The daughter looked with a strange look in her eyes, "But, dad, why should I give up? All the pieces are there! I have just got to put them together!" If we persevere long enough, we can put any problem into its perspective.

Seventh

The seventh lesson I have learnt is, that while you must be open to change, do not compromise on your values. Mahatma Gandhiji often said, "You must open the windows of your mind, but you must not be swept off your feet by the breeze." Values like honesty, integrity, consideration and humility have survived for generations. At the end of the day, it is values that define a person more than the achievements. Do not be tempted by short cuts. The short cut can make you lose your way and end up becoming the longest way to the destination.

Final

And the final lesson I learnt is, that we must have faith in our own ideas even if everyone tells us that we are wrong. There was once a newspaper vendor who had a rude customer. Every morning, the Customer would walk by, refuse to return the greeting, grab the paper off the shelf and throw the money at the vendor. The vendor would pick up the money, smile politely and say, 'Thank you, Sir.' One day, the vendor's assistant asked him, "Why are you always so polite with him when he is so rude to you? Why don't you throw the newspaper at him when he comes back tomorrow?" The vendor smiled and replied, "He can't help being rude and I can't help being polite. Why should I let his rude behavior dictate my politeness? "

Seven Steps to Achieving Your Dream
Can achievement be broken down into steps? Well, it isn't always that clean and easy, but I do know that those who achieve great things usually go through much of the same process, with many of the items listed below as part of that process. So if you have been struggling with achievement, look through the following and internalize the thoughts presented. Then begin to apply them. You will be on the road to achieving your dream!

1. Dream it

Everything begins in the heart and mind. Every great achievement began in the mind of one person. They dared to dream, to believe that it was possible. Take some time to allow yourself to ask "What if?" Think big. Don't let negative thinking discourage you. You want to be a "dreamer." Dream of the possibilities for yourself, your family, and for others. If you had a dream that you let grow cold, re-ignite the dream! Fan the flames. Life is to short to let it go.

2. Believe it

Yes, your dream needs to be big. It needs to be something that is seemingly beyond your capabilities. But it also must be believable. You must be able to say that if certain things take place, if others help, if you work hard enough, though it is a big dream, it can still be done. Good example: A person with no college education can dream that he will build a 50 million-dollar a year company. That is big, but believable. Bad example: That a 90 year-old woman with arthritis will someday run a marathon in under 3 hours. It is big alright, but also impossible. She should instead focus on building a 50 million-dollar a year business! And she better get a move on!

3. See it

The great achievers have a habit. They "see" things. They picture themselves walking around their CEO office in their new 25 million-dollar corporate headquarters, even while they are sitting on a folding chair in their garage "headquarters." Great free-throw shooters in the NBA picture the ball going through the basket. PGA golfers picture the ball going straight down the fairway. World-class speakers picture themselves speaking with energy and emotion. All of this grooms the mind to control the body to carry out the dream.

4. Tell it

One reason many dreams never go anywhere is because the dreamer keeps it all to himself. It is a quiet dream that only lives inside of his mind. The one who wants to achieve their dream must tell that dream to many people. One reason: As we continually say it, we begin to believe it more and more. If we are talking about it then it must be possible. Another reason: It holds us accountable. When we have told others, it spurs us on to actually do it so we don't look foolish.

5. Plan it

Every dream must take the form of a plan. The old saying that you "get what you plan for" is so true. Your dream won't just happen. You need to sit down, on a regular basis, and plan out your strategy for achieving the dream. Think through all of the details. Break the whole plan down into small, workable parts. Then set a time frame for accomplishing each task on your "dream plan."

6. Work it

Wouldn't life be grand if we could quit before this one! Unfortunately the successful are usually the hardest workers. While the rest of the world is sitting on their couch watching re-runs of Gilligan's Island, achievers are working on their goal - achieving their dream. I have an equation that I work with: Your short-term tasks, multiplied by time, equal your long-term accomplishments. If you work on it each day, eventually you will achieve your dream. War and Peace was written, in longhand, page by page.

7. Enjoy it

When you have reached your goal and you are living your dream, be sure to enjoy it. In fact, enjoy the trip too. Give yourself some rewards along the way. Give yourself a huge reward when you get there. Help others enjoy it. Be gracious and generous. Use your dream to better others. Then go back to number 1. And dream a little bigger this time!

Source: psychotherapy_india
Courtesy of: Rev. John Brian, Spiritual Help Devotional

[Go back to Table of Contents]

XIV Career/Business

What Makes Your Business/Service So Special?

By Bedros Keuilian

In the last four weeks alone I've been to Las Vegas, San Diego, San Francisco, Beverly Hills, and Newport Beach for both business and pleasure.

As you might imagine, all of these fine cities offer amazing options for restaurants, hotels, and business meetings.

But in all of these cities there are specific hotels that I'll stay at and restaurants that I'll take business meetings to.

In San Diego I'll stay at and hold my meetings at the Hard Rock, Omni, and Hotel Del Mar.

Dinner meetings in Southern California are usually at 21 Oceanfront in Newport Beach, Mastro's Steakhouse in Beverly Hills, or Donovan's Steakhouse in San Diego.

In San Francisco I'll stay at and hold meetings at the Westin or Four Seasons.

In Las Vegas our meetings are held at either the Bellagio or Aria hotels... and dinners are at the Craft Steakhouse at the MGM Grand.

There are two reasons these hotels and restaurants are highest on my choice in venues.

1. They come referred by people who I trust and respect.

2. They deliver service that's unmatched by their competitors.

For example, when I head out to Las Vegas to run our mastermind meetings, both Aria and Bellagio send out a private SUV service to pick me up from the airport.

The headache they save me by not having to wait in the long cab line means a lot and it tells me that they care.

They also provide a private check in service, upgraded rooms, and world-class breakfasts and lunches for our mastermind members.

They make us look good to our coaching clients - and that means a lot to me.

Their competitors offer none of that, which is why I've stuck with Bellagio and Aria, and that's why I tell everyone about how awesome they are.

In Beverly Hills Mastro's Steakhouse always upgrades you to the best available table and then they follow up with a call the next day asking how your food and service was.

I'm 100% convinced that if I were to say that my experience is anything but stellar, they'd issue a full refund and invite me back for another dinner on the house.

I don't know of any other restaurant that follows up with a call to find out how your experience was the night before...

...and you'd be hard pressed to find a restaurant that would fall over themselves to deliver service and an experience that's unmatched.

It's no wonder that there's always a waiting list for Mastro's even though there are a dozen other five star restaurants to choose from within a hundred yards of them.

Your reputation and the service that you provide are the only things that separate you from your competitors.

I hear a LOT of talk about setting yourself apart and creating differentiation in your business, but I don't see enough business owners doing what needs to be done in order to truly set themselves apart.

Let's be honest here, ALL businesses can deliver results...

For example, I work specifically with personal trainers, and almost every trainer can help a client lose weight. It's not rocket science to take someone who's spent the last decade on the couch indiscriminately indulging in fatty, fried, sugary, salty, and starchy junk and get them to start moving three times a week while cleaning up their diet by just 20 percent and give them results.

The system is really not that much different between one gym and the next.

What is going to set a successful fitness business owner apart from the crowd and create a massive point of differentiation is the reputation that they establish for themselves and the service that they become known for.

Just look at Yelp... an entire business has been built to help people find local businesses that deliver the highest level of service and have the best reputation in their niche.

The service that you're known for and the reputation that you establish is what makes or breaks you.

Think about it, people are always talking about you - good or bad - they're talking about you.

They're talking about you on Yelp, on Facebook, on Google Local, and at the local grocery stores, at church, and at their kid's school functions.

What they're saying matters and has direct impact on your business.

The service that you're known for and the reputation that you establish...

...that's what makes you so special.

[Editor's Note: Bedros Keuilian lives the American Dream. Arriving in the United States from the communist Soviet Union back in 1980, his family went from being broke to eventually millionaires. Today, Bedros helps over 45,000 fitness experts grow their businesses. ]

Copyright © 2013 Early to Rise, LLC.

The Success Code

by Saju Skaria
Member, Malankara Archdiocese of Syriac Orthodox Church Council
& Malankara World Board Member

If you want to become a winner you were born to be, you need to change your daily actions until they become a habit. The fact that you created a vision and understand the true value and purpose of that vision will energize you and give you personal motivation you need to finish well and achieve exceptional results. Mahatma Gandhi, who led India's independence, was an average person with limited success in his early career. Some life changing experiences he had in South Africa, as an young attorney, led him to discover his "purpose in life." This motivated him to "persist without exception". With this vision and purpose, he led the entire nation to independence without firing a shot!

Much about success is just the result of the ability to follow up, follow through, and finish what you started. You are not beaten by being knocked down. You're only beaten if you stay down. You are what you are and where you are because of what's gone into your mind. But you can change what you are and where you are by changing what goes into your mind. Choices determine what action you take, and action produces the results of your life. You can only think in ways consistent with the information you have in your mind. So to change what you do, you have to change the way you think, and to think differently, you need to change what goes into your mind.

There are six characteristics that comprise the foundation stones of your life and success. They are: honesty, character, faith, integrity, love, and loyalty. These six foundational stones essentially provide the raw material for your thinking. As such, they become the core characteristics of what you be, do, and have, which ultimately determine the results you get in life. These stones form the code for success or failure because your thinking and your actions must be consistent with the characteristics of the foundation you build. The idea of value and purpose is linked to the concept of discovering a mission with higher calling. This is applicable at individual, as well as at the business level. High performing individuals and organizations have discovered this higher calling. Fundamentally, we need to understand one universal principle: You can have everything in life you want if you will help enough other people to get what they want. This is an other-centered strategy; not self-centered.

Finally, to have success, one must develop the following three dimensions of life. The first dimension is spiritual, the second dimension is mental, and the third dimension is physical. Each dimension is separate, but they work together to create a total person. The most important and the most neglected dimension is spiritual. Our attitude flows from our souls, and our attitude defines our altitude in life. The depth of our spirit will determine the height of our success. Our mental abilities are housed in our brains, and if you think our brain as a muscle, you need the importance of exercising it daily to keep it in top condition. The best exercise for brain and your mind is to force it to think which is enabled by continuous learning and education. Taking care of physical condition and health is very essential for our overall success. We need to eat nutritious, well-balanced food. We also should have the discipline to control our weight with regular exercise. If we want to provide our spirit and mind a top notch house to live-in, we need to keep our body in excellent shape.

Our success greatly depends on how we align these three dimensions, viz; spiritual, mental and physical. This is my personal testimony. I believed in all three dimensions from very early in my life, but my priorities were in different order. Some life changing experiences gave me deeper insight that helped me to re-prioritize the dimensions to the right order: i.e., spiritual, mental, and physical. This change in priority clearly brought greater success and happiness in my life.

About The Author:

Saju Skaria is a business/ technology leader with a large global corporation. He was very active in church and spiritual activities from a very young age. He is a founder member of St. Peters JSO Church, Phoenix, USA. Saju is currently serving as the Council Member of Malankara Archdiocese in North America and also as the Director of Patriarchal Center Project. Saju lives with his family in Phoenix, Arizona.

The Right Way to Learn from Your Mistakes

By Bonnie Tsui

We all make mistakes, but new research shows there's a right way to deal with them.

I can remember, with aching clarity, some of the most mortifying mistakes I've ever made. There was the sixth-grade spelling bee ("S-T-A-L," when spelling steal - in my head I thought I had already said the e); the geographical error in the first edition of one of my books (I said Fort Mason was in Sausalito, but it's in San Francisco; a reader wrote in to excoriate my sloppiness); the time I left the car headlights on during a cold winter afternoon and returned an hour later to an engine that wouldn't start (in this case, I did the excoriating myself).

We've all felt it: the forehead-smack frustration that comes with failing, forgetting, or simply being flat-out wrong. And to make matters worse, these errors tend to take center stage in our consciousness. Psychologists call it the negativity bias: Our minds are highly attuned to focus on what we've done wrong, not what we've done right. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense; for our hunting-and-gathering ancestors, messing up was often a matter of life or death. Though modern-day mistakes don't mean we're going to end up being mauled by a saber-toothed tiger, we may still respond with the same urge to flee. But that response leaves us ill equipped to fix the kinds of errors we make these days, which usually require logical, methodical problem solving.

To err may be human, but "we're still afraid to admit when we've been wrong - it feels like an indictment of our self-worth," says Kristin Neff, PhD, associate professor of human development and culture at the University of Texas at Austin. This is unfortunate, because according to recent research, acknowledging our slipups is critical to recovering from them.

When we make an error, most of us fall into one of two camps: those who have a fixed mind-set and think, Screw it, I'll never be good at this, then try to shut out the mistake altogether; or those who have a growth mind-set and view an error as a "wake-up call," identifying what went wrong and then adapting accordingly. It's easier for the "wake-up call" camp to get back on their feet, says psychologist Jason Moser, PhD, director of the Clinical Psychophysiology Lab at Michigan State University. Moser led a small study in which he recorded the neural activity of participants who completed a simple task that required them to identify a letter in the middle of different sequences. After the experiment, the researchers evaluated whether the participants had a fixed or growth mind-set. The growth mind-set group made errors but quickly recovered; they showed enhanced brain activity on EEGs, indicating that they were focused on their mistakes and, as a result, were less likely to make a subsequent error. The fixed mind-set group didn't show an enhanced neural response and were more likely to choose the wrong letter in the next sequence. "By paying attention to mistakes, we invest more time and effort to correct them," says Moser. "The result is that you make the mistake work for you."

Fortunately, a growing body of research has found that we can rewire our response to mistakes so that they're not just scary, anxiety-inducing rabbit holes. The key: self-compassion. "Several studies show that when we practice a new way of approaching failure, it can change an error from something we fear into something we embrace," says Neff. "The hardest part is giving yourself permission to relate to the mistake differently."

One University of California, Berkeley, study published last year found that when a group of students failed a test, those who were reminded to be self-compassionate (with phrases like "Try not to be too hard on yourself" or "It's common for students to have difficulty with tests like these") were motivated to spend more time studying for the next exam, compared with students who were given statements meant to simply boost their self-esteem ("You must be intelligent if you got into Berkeley!"). "We found that people who were taught to be kind to themselves felt more motivated to see their mistakes as a chance for growth," says lead researcher Juliana Breines, PhD. "Outside validation didn't seem to matter as much."

Recently, an out-of-town friend texted to remind me when she was scheduled to arrive at my house, and I realized that I had completely forgotten I'd invited her. I spent the entire night anxiously wondering, How could I forget a person? I'm going crazy! But in the light of morning, I took a deep breath. I cleared my calendar, pushed up a work deadline, rescheduled some events, and apologized to those I had double booked. Summoning Neff's wisdom, I tried to look at this error as a "wake-up call" to remind myself not to take on too much. And, as Neff advised, I talked to myself from the perspective of a caring, problem-solving friend: Everybody has scheduling screw-ups. Build in more reminders next time. Let. It. Go.

Could I actually embrace the mistake? That seemed like a stretch, but for once, a singular oversight didn't feel like a black mark on my soul. I fixed what I could and stopped obsessing about the rest. No excoriation necessary.

About The Author:

Bonnie Tsui writes frequently for The New York Times and The Atlantic; her next book is a collection of essays on swimming.

Source: O, The Oprah Magazine, January 2014

Sand - Fighting Over Trivial Things

by Kindra Hall

There are many things to love about Coronado, California.

There is the bridge. There is the Del. There is Danny's Burgers. There is the little yellow house by Star Park where The Wizard of Oz books were written. There is the view of San Diego. And of course, there is the beach.

But of all these things to love about the island, my favorite thing is the morning.

Every morning my husband Michael and I wake up in Coronado, he rolls over and says, "Let's go get coffee." We put on various layers of clothes, our tennis shoes, walk out the door, and begin the twelve- block walk to Starbucks. Every morning Michael waits in line for his coffee and I walk next door to the bakery where I get a crispy-flaky-sugar-coated pastry disk. Then, with our goodies in hand, we take the "long way home."

The long way home involves walking down Orange Avenue, through the Hotel Del, and then along the beach. Some days we walk in the sand and others we take the sidewalk. When we run out of shoreline, we wander our way back home taking different routes to admire the many houses that give the island its charm.

Three hours later, our walk-to-get-coffee is complete.

And while nearly every trip around the island is breathtaking, there is one walk I'll never forget…

It was shortly after the holidays and Michael and I were in the middle of our Coronado morning routine. Michael had his coffee, I had already finished my crispy disk, we were finished at the Del, and we were walking the sidewalk that framed the famous beach. Despite a chill in the air, the sun was out and people from all over the world were also out on the sidewalk that framed the beach - young couples, old couples, couples with children, joggers, walkers, dog people. It was a little crowded, but festive and cheerful.

As we maneuvered our way down the sidewalk, two children stood out. They were a young sister and brother who had obviously been told to wait by the lamppost while their parents rummaged around in the minivan parked next to them. To entertain themselves the children were playing a game they had just created, a game I assumed was called, "This is My Pile of Sand." They took turns standing on the tiny piles of sand that had accumulated on either side of the lamppost. The sister would yell, "This is MY pile of sand," and the brother would run to her side, stick his foot in the pile and yell, "No! This is MY pile of sand!" The sister would then run to the other side of the lamppost, stand in the tiny pile on that side and yell, "This is MY pile of sand."

I watched these barefooted children battle each other as we walked. It was all out war. They fought hard and loudly just to wiggle their tiny toes in "piles of sand" not much bigger than ant hills. Nothing could break their focus, not even their mother yelling to play nicely.

As we passed the children, I couldn't help but look to my left….

There, filling the two hundred yards between the sidewalk and the sea, sprawling miles down the waterscape in sheets of winter cold-glistening white, were limitless tons of classic California sand.

Some was spotted with footprints from tourists, some lay smooth, and still more lay in waves - textured by the wind. Finally, immediately in front of where the children were playing "This is My Pile of Sand," towered the Coronado Dunes; dunes that were big enough to exhaust a high school water polo team forced to run them during early morning practice. Dunes that would sort the men from the boys during Navy SEAL training. Dunes that, from the sky, clearly spell the word C-O-R-O-N-A-D-O.

Enormous piles of sand. Just a few feet from where the children played.

Soaring piles of sand to satisfy their every sand-filled dream. Piles the children never even noticed because they were too busy fighting over the tiny accumulations around the base of the lamppost where they stood.

They never even looked up. The thought never even occurred to them that more sand could be waiting just moments away on the other side of the concrete path.

Now, to their credit, they were children - children who were no doubt told by their parents not to so much as look in the direction of the beach. They were children who had no choice but to keep themselves busy while waiting for their parents to take them by the hand and lead them to their next adventure. They did the best they could with what they had without being tempted by what was around them.

They were children.

But what is my excuse?

On more than one occasion I have found myself entirely wrapped up, fighting and frustrated, stomping around barefoot trying to stake my claim on a tiny, insignificant pile of sand - the sand of relationships, the sand of social status or money, the sand of a career… whatever. I have been deeply consumed in games of King of the Mini Mound that leave me oblivious to the beautiful beaches around me. Beaches with unlimited sand, possibility, and happiness. We've all been there. Investing our energy in small things while the big ones lay untouched on the other side of the sidewalk.

As Michael and I walked past the children, I lost myself in these thoughts. Startled by my silence (an unusual occurrence), he asked what was on my mind and I told him about the dueling brother and sister and their tiny piles of sand and about how ashamed I was that I am sometimes one of them. He nodded - he was too.

Shortly after passing the children, the sidewalk became a little too crowded and we strayed from the shoreline. We began weaving our way back through the Coronado grid - streets of letter and number. As we wandered, passing block after block of gorgeous houses built by dreams realized, we talked about the beaches of sand waiting for us, beaches we might not have noticed, sand it was time to explore.

By the time we turned the corner onto the block we called home for the weekend, the sun was high and the day was warming up. Afternoon was approaching. It was time to say goodbye to another morning - my favorite thing about Coronado - and to look forward to the many mornings, spent on vast beaches, ahead.

Copyright Telzall 2014, Kindra Hall

About The Author:

Kindra Hall is an author, speaker, and storyteller with over 20 years of experience. She works with organizations and individuals to help them discover, craft, and deliver their personal stories in order to more effectively communicate their mission and values.

[Go back to Table of Contents]

XV Family

The Story of the Dysfunctional Family

by William G. Carter

Gospel: Luke 15:11-32

[Editor's Note: You need to allocate some time to read this article. Once you start, you won't be able to stop till you finished reading it. Then you want to read it again. The parable of the prodigal son is a very favorite parable of mine. It can be used to illustrate God's unconditional love, unlimited grace and compassion, the meaning of the cross, etc. But talking of dysfunctional families? That takes the cake. The author further illustrates with the example of Jacob and Esau and the story of a sister when her 'disgraced' brother shows up for her wedding. There is even a springer spaniel named Pippa. If you want to learn about unconditional love, you cannot find a better subject than a dog. This is the best example of "show and tell" teaching. I am sure, once you read it, you will come back to read it time after time. Read on. ...]

If you read the Bible, you won't find a lot of healthy families there.

That fact is usually lost on people who wave the Good Book around without ever opening it. Perhaps they pick and choose their selective verses to support pre-existing points of view. Or somebody will go on TV to grandstand on the great issues of the day, attempting to squelch all opposition by citing a verse from Leviticus and declaring, "The Bible says . . ."

Well, the Bible says a lot of things. We might expect that if we remember the Bible was written over twelve hundred years or so to people in a shifting culture. Nations rose and fell, rulers came and went, economies grew and dwindled. Yet God persisted in speaking in many ways through a variety of people. Some of that was remembered and written down. So the Bible says a lot of things.

And one message that it repeats is that the human family is a great big mess. A sloppy, disastrous mess. That's why the nations rise and fall. That's why no king or queen has permanent tenure. That's why greedy people devour the weak and needy. We are a mess. And this gets played out in our families.

Whatever else we say about this famous story of Jesus (Prodigal Son), it's a story about a messed-up family. Once upon a time, there was a father who had two sons. He doesn't seem to have any influence over either one.

The younger son says, in essence, "Dad, I wish you were dead. Give me my share of the inheritance that I'm going to get when you're gone." He shows his father no respect, and simply demands what he believes he deserves. When he receives it, he blows it all, even to the last nickel. His life is a complete waste. When he hits bottom, he rehearses a speech to con his father into taking him in.

Meanwhile, later on, the older brother sits out in the family field, his arms crossed. He refuses to reconcile when his brother returns. He has no joy that his brother is home safe and sound. Instead, he complains to their father about "that son of yours." He will not budge. He is set in his ways. He has convinced himself that his own lack of adventure and unwillingness to take risks is a sign of his superior character, so he has no time for the party.

That is a messed-up family. When the story concludes, there is no sign of any movement. They are just stuck.

We have no assurance that, the next day, after the younger boy sleeps off the effects of the party, that he's not going to steal a couple of silver candlesticks and head for Vegas again. And so far as we know, his older brother spent the night in the field, arms crossed, jaw clenched. He probably didn't get a wink of sleep, and he's going to blame his brother for that, too.

It is a single parent family. No mama in sight. No sisters either. Just this father whose broken heart was mended when Number Two came home, only to have it broken again when Number One Son refuses to forgive.

Nobody wonders why Jesus tells a story like this. It's a story about a family, and family is where we have to work out the issues of life and death, wealth and waste, mercy and punishment. The Bible never backs off from that. The great lessons of love and grace don't make any sense for any of us unless we can work them out within the crazy circles of relatives where God places every one of us.

I remember an older preacher telling me about his first job. He graduated from Yale Divinity School and took a job as the chaplain of a Christian campground in South Carolina. That's where he was from. He couldn't wait to get down there, have Bible studies, and work with the teenagers. Every night was going to be a family campfire. They would sing Kum BaYah and make s'mores. He couldn't wait to get started.

Then the campers started rolling in. His counseling load grew until it was overwhelming. All these families that never spend time together were now forced to spend seven days and nights under the same roof. One rainy day, he had to phone the sheriff six times because of domestic disputes. So he quickly resigned and took a job as a pastor of a United Methodist church. That has to be easier than being a chaplain at a Christian family camp, right?

We don't know anything, really, about the two sons in Jesus' story. Did the younger one want to get off the farm and head for bright lights in the big city? Did the older brother lack imagination and initiative? We don't know. The story is two thousand years old and sounds so familiar.

Maybe the story is even older than that. Ken Bailey, the Bible scholar, says Jesus did not have to invent this tale out of the air, especially with families the way they are. In fact, says Bailey, Israel already had a story of two brothers who didn't see eye to eye. That was the story of Jacob and Esau. They were twins, and they were nothing alike. Jacob was the younger, a thief and swindler. Esau was dutiful and obedient, and never strayed far from home.

You may remember that Jacob tricked his brother into giving him the birthright as Number One Son. Then, with his mother's help, he fooled his father into giving him the irrevocable family blessing - a blessing usually given upon death. Jacob had no scruples, and Esau was furious when he discovered what his brother has gotten away with.

It's a familiar story, isn't it? In some of our families, it is the same old story repeated every generation or two. And the question is, what are we going to do when there is anger, bickering, and frozen conflict? What are we going to do when lines are drawn, positions are fixed, and nobody is willing to budge? What do you think?

I will never forget when Eddie showed up in the wrong room. It was his sister's wedding, as I recall. Eddie had done hard time for robbing a gas station. He had been desperate and foolish, thinking to himself, "I will just get some money now and pay it back later." Sadly it didn't work that way. He disappeared from public view after his arrest. Nobody talked about it.

When his sister Darla got married, the whole family was there. You know how it is: people were sitting on opposite sides of the aisle, neither side giving much time to the other. The back door opened and Eddie walked in. His head was shaved, his face was grey. When he walked in, everybody froze. Nobody moved. Some of the people on this side of the aisle glared at some of the people on that side of the aisle as if his appearance was their fault. Nobody spoke. Nobody budged . . . until Darla dropped her bouquet and ran down the aisle. She hugged her broken brother and said, "I'm so glad you are here!" With that, there was a huge exhale and nobody knew what to do.

Do you know what she did? She took Eddie up the aisle and introduced him to her new husband. After the service, she took him around the fire hall and introduced him to everybody at the reception. I was just a kid, but I didn't know you could do that. The world that I lived in taught us to stay to ourselves, to hold fast to our intractable positions. I don't think I had ever before seen such aggressive grace.

That is how the father acts in the story of Jesus. It's really a story about him. "There was a man who had two sons…" and he is aggressively gracious toward each one. He goes out to each son. Unlike any other father in the first century Palestinian world, this father leaves the seat of power and runs to embrace the returning younger son. That's not how it normally worked back then; you go all the way to your father. You never expect him to come toward you. In a shame-based village culture, that father runs to welcome his boy, thus signaling to the whole village, "Hands off, he is all mine, and I refuse to punish him since he returns to me." He cuts off the well-polished apology speech (did you notice that?) and cries out, "Bring him a princely robe and my signet ring. Call the caterers and hire the zydeco band. It is time for a joyful party!"

Likewise, the father goes out to the older son, too. He knows it cannot truly be a joyful party unless everybody is welcomed to the rejoicing. In his flesh, he makes real the words that he speaks to the self-righteous son: "All that I have is yours. Everything that is mine belongs to you as well - - even that crazy brother of yours that just returned home. He is your brother too." As far as I know, the father is still out there, begging that hard-head to come and enjoy the barbeque.

Now here is the point: neither one of those boys did anything to deserve such treatment. That is the definition of grace: it is favorable treatment that we cannot win and could not deserve. Yet it comes anyway. Grace is aggressive. It comes toward us from a God who moves beyond any system of punishment or reward. Grace comes in complete goodness, for the purpose of creating joy, to the end that all people love one another as brothers and sisters.

This is the Gospel. This is the mission of Jesus. Luke says this is the message first sung by angels to the shepherds: Unto you is born this day a Savior, who is the Christ, the Lord. If I may translate that First Nowell: You shepherds weren't even looking for him. But in him, God came looking for you.

How amazing this is! In the midst of dysfunction that characterizes the whole human family, God runs to us with aggressive grace. God does not want anybody to stay broken or to keep fighting.

Like old Jacob and Esau! When Jacob realizes God is bringing them face to face, with all the bad blood between them, what does he do? He marches his kids and his women-folk at the front of the line, hoping that will soften Esau's heart just a little bit. Then he braces himself for the inevitable. But that's not good enough for Esau. He falls on Jacob, holds him, embraces him, begins to weep.

Welcome home, little brother. Welcome home.

This is a snapshot of the mission of God. It is a picture of what God's people - God's Christian people - are called to be: ambassadors of God's aggressive grace.

I have great respect for the father in this story. No hesitation. No hangups. No fear. No guilt trip. No revenge. No bitterness. If he had any such baggage, he let it go. You know how hard that is? It takes superhuman ability, some power way beyond what the rank and file person has. You need the ability to let go of hurts. You need the skill of welcoming the warlike, the resentful, and the headstrong. You need to look upon those who reject you and feel nothing but deep love. I consider this, and wonder if I ever could become like that. It is such hard work.

Then it strikes me that I already have a Father like that. So do you. Boundless mercy. Unrequited love. Watching and waiting, even pursuing, always glad to see me. Ever know grace like that?

With our house emptying out this summer, my wife decided we needed a dog. I confess what a few of you know. I am not a dog person. Dogs need to get up early. Dogs leave white spots on your lawn. Dogs need somebody to watch them when you hit the road. I prefer cats, even though all my cats have died. I didn't want a dog. But my wife said, "I want a dog." And I realized if I wanted a wife, I needed a dog.

So a springer spaniel named Pippa came to live with us earlier this year. It has gone pretty well. We have lost a few shoes. There are some spots on my lawn. But Pippa has big brown eyes and cute floppy ears. And she doesn't seem to care that I am not, by biological makeup, a dog person. No, she sits on the back of the living room chair and watches for me. She gets energized when I pull into the driveway.

Pippa is always glad to see me. With something like a pure love, she does not ask any questions or remind me of my faults. She makes no requirement for my return. Just dances around with excitement and barks. It is as if she is saying, "Welcome home! I want you close by my side."

That's a parable.

(c) William G. Carter. All rights reserved.

A Father's Influence Extends to Generations

By Rev. Mark H. Creech

Abraham had gone to Egypt because of a famine. His wife Sarah was a stunningly attractive woman and Abraham was deeply concerned someone might attempt to kill him to obtain her. So he instructed Sarah to say she was his sister.

It was a half-truth because she actually was Abraham's half-sister. But a half truth is a whole lie, and using such sophistry only leads to a deeper morass. Thinking Sarah was Abraham's sister, she was taken into Pharaoh's house, which brought the curse of God on the potentate and his kingdom until he returned her to Abraham. The occasion was not only a moment lost for an effective witness to the living God, but evidently had a negative impact on Isaac, Abraham's son.

Several years later, during another famine that occurred when Isaac was a grown man and had a wife, whose name was Rebekah; Isaac stayed in Gerar and was encountered by the king of the Philistines, Abimelech. Isaac, like his father before him, was frightened he might be killed so that his attractive wife could be taken from him. Thus, he instructed his wife to use the same lie his father had instructed Sarah, his mother, to use. Fortunately, God intervened when Abimelech inadvertently spied Isaac embracing Rebekah in a way that clearly demonstrated she wasn't his sister. Abimelech called Isaac on the carpet about the matter and told him that not only was his lie unfair in that it could have brought trouble on the Philistine kingdom, but it was unnecessary. Abimelech then issued an order that anyone that touched either Isaac or his wife should be put to death.

Is it any wonder that when Jacob, Isaac's son, came onto the scene, he was an accomplished liar? For years, Jacob would spin an impressive web of deceit, as well as become the victim of other people's lies, until God broke the cycle in a wrestling match He had with the patriarch.

At a 1994 Promise Keepers Conference in Denton, Texas, Pastor James Ryle explained how the sins of the fathers are often visited upon the children.

When he was two years old, Ryle's father was sent to prison. When he was 7, authorities placed him in an orphanage. At age 19, he was in a car accident that killed a friend. Ryle sold drugs to raise money to pay his legal fees until the law caught up with him. He was arrested, charged with a felony, and sent to prison.

While in prison, Ryle turned to Christ. After serving his time, he eventually went into the ministry. Years later he sought out his father to reconcile with him. When they got together, the conversation turned to prison life.

James's father asked, "Which prison were you in?"

James told him, and his father was taken aback. "I helped build that prison," he said. He had been a welder who went from place to place building penitentiaries.

Pastor Ryle concluded, "I was in a prison my father built."

How amazing that a father's example can build a blessed place for his children to live. Or, it can build a prison.

Ronald Kessler, in his book 'The Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Founded', records Kennedy's booze-running days during prohibition, his association with the mafia, his Wall Street insider trading, his philandering, his unprincipled manipulations, and his hunger for power. He asserts that Joe Kennedy purchased votes for his son, John F. Kennedy, during his political career. After John won the presidential race in 1960, Kessler says that Joe instructed John to appoint his brother Bobby as attorney general. In 1961, Joseph P. Kennedy suffered a stroke. For the next eight years, he would watch helplessly, unable to walk or talk, as one tragedy after another destroyed the kingdom he had by unscrupulous means built for his sons.

In Exodus 20:5 God says, "I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments."

The text certainly doesn't mean God will punish the children for their father's sins, except when they perpetuate them and when the sins committed involve certain social and physical consequences. But more interesting is that the text says God's mercy transcends His wrath, and His blessings extend to those who love and obey Him unto a thousand generations.

W. Eugene Spears, Jr., in Faith of our Families admonishes:

"Children are either growing like a weed or a rose today. The weeds just happen without any planning and they struggle to mature without proper training .... Seldom do they experience the comradeship and the partnership of their father. Seldom do his loving arms surround their shoulders and strengthen them on the straight path. Seldom do they share their ideas and ideals with a father who listens and loves and longs to enliven. Seldom do they hear God's Word in the home, and seldom do they share in family prayer. No wonder these orphan children grow up to be warped, wasted weeds!

But thanks be to God, there are some parents who grow Christian roses .... Some fathers do become the companion, the guide and the confident of their children. In the deepest sense, some fathers are shining examples of their Heavenly Father. Through them, the child learns that God is masterful, God is moral, and God is merciful. In these homes, the children mature and blossom as a radiant rose."

There's no escaping it. Dads either build a place of blessing for their children, or they build a prison. They either grow weeds - or roses. Whatever the case, their influence extends to generations.

© Rev. Mark H. Creech

About The Author:

Rev. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He is a prolific speaker and writer, and has served as a radio commentator for 'Christians In Action', a daily program featuring Rev. Creech's commentary on social issues from a Christian worldview. In addition to RenewAmerica.com, his weekly editorials are featured on the Christian Action League website and Agape Press, a national Christian newswire.

40 Lessons We Sought to Teach Our Children

by Dennis and Barbara Rainey

I will never forget that incredible moment when our daughter Ashley was born. The doctor cleaned her up and handed her to us. I (Dennis) wanted to blurt out, "Thanks for the gift, but where are the instructions?" When we started out, we had a few ideas of what it meant to be a parent and raise children. Two years later we added a son and we realized that we had better become intentional about what we wanted to do as parents and teach our children.

As a result we began a list of 25 things we wanted to teach our children. Then it became 40, 50, and even more. (For your sake we've shortened the list back to the top 40.) Some of these lessons began during the first year for each of our six children, while others were emphasized later during childhood or adolescence. Today our children are adults and our role in their lives has changed. We have moved from being teachers to being cheerleaders and advisers, when asked.

Raising children requires huge chunks of time, prayer, discipline, involvement, and relationship-building. This list of values and traits has helped us focus on biblical priorities in raising children to become mature adults of faith and godly character.

Above all, fear God.
Respecting authority - trust and obey your parents.
The importance of friendships.
Be in love with Christ and focus on your relationship with Him, not just on doctrine or on biblical principles.
Have compassion for the poor and orphans.
Believe God for too much rather than too little.
Real strength is found in serving, not in being served.
The power of moral purity and a clean conscience.
How to motivate people without manipulating them.
How to handle failure.
Keeping your promises.
The power of the tongue for good or evil.
Giving too much rather than too little.
The importance of manners and common courtesies.
Viewing life through God's agenda - the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.
Give thanks to God in all things.
The importance of prayer.
The art of asking good questions, carrying on good conversation.
How to grow as a Christian.
How to handle temptation.
By faith, trusting Christ as your Savior and Lord, and sharing with others how to become a Christian.
Seeking wisdom - skill in everyday living. Knowing how to make good decisions.
Gaining a sense of God's direction and destiny for your life.
Staying teachable and not becoming cynical.
Obtaining godly counsel.
The importance of flexibility and adaptability to cope in life.
Truth is best passed on through relationships.
Leaving a legacy of holiness.
Keeping life manageable. Prioritizing decisions.
Taming selfishness - learning you can't always get your way.
Choices are yours to make and results are yours to experience.
Respecting the dignity of another person and of all people.
Being faithful in the little things.
Character is the basis of all leadership.
Life isn't fair - don't compare with or be jealous of others.
Living by commitments, not by feelings.
Expressing grace and forgiveness.
A strong work ethic.
Surrendering to the authority of Christ.
How to handle your finances.

We should mention that, after number one, the items on this list are not presented in any order or priority. We realize the list may appear long and daunting. But we suspect that if you began a list of your own, you'd quickly find that it's just as lengthy.

That's because parenting is a long and challenging task. Fortunately we have a God who gives us the strength to accomplish the tasks He lays before us (Philippians 4:13). We encourage you to lean on Him. No we didn't perfectly teach each and every one of these 40 things, but it was a guide to remind us of what was important. But we never stopped training, teaching and cheering them on. As Galatians 6:9 tells us, "And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary."

Copyright (c) 2009 by FamilyLife®

Ten Principles to Keep Christ at the Center of Your Home

by Mary May Larmoyeux

Not too long ago, my husband used a stone to scratch "Good Friday, April 2" into the freshly-poured foundation of our new home. As he formed the words into the fresh cement, I was reminded of the significance of Christ's death on the cross. I also wondered how Christ's example will affect Jim and me in our new home.

Jesus Christ came to earth to fulfill a purpose. During our marriage my husband and I have grown in our relationship with the Lord and with one another. If we will practice the following principles, Christ - and His purposes for our lives - will truly be at the center of our home:

1. Remember the Builder.

Construction workers will transform piles of wood into the walls of our next house. They will do this by following the builder's plans.

Likewise, Jim and I will need to fill the rooms of our home according to the Builder's design with love, and wisdom, and understanding.

For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Hebrews 3:4

2. Seek knowledge.

Ask God to give us wisdom and understanding in our relationships and decisions.

My husband and I do not have the knowledge or expertise to construct our new house. We're relying on the experts.

In the same way, it will take spiritual wisdom and understanding to transform our house into a Christ-centered home. And that knowledge can only come from God.

We have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Colossians 1:9

3. Be on the alert for evil.

Satan does not want us, our friends, or loved ones to follow Jesus.

There are thieves in this world who want to rob and take what is not theirs. Because of this, Jim and I may join a neighborhood watch group in our new community.

Yet, what about the spiritual dangers that will attempt to invade our new home? We will need to be on the alert for evil and not allow it to enter.

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8

4. Follow God's directions.

As we follow God's directions in our home, we will be filled with His joy.

Friends and family won't know how to get to our new house until we draw them a map. If they follow it correctly, they'll end up at our house.

Likewise, God gives us clear directions for each day that are found in His Word. When we follow His precepts, we will be filled with His joy.

I will meditate on Your precepts and regard Your ways…Your statutes are my songs in the house of my pilgrimage. Psalm 119:15,54

5. Keep God's bigger picture in mind.

As we seek our neighbors' good before our own, we will model Christ to a watching world.

When Jim and I planned our new house, we had to look at the big picture of the neighborhood and not just our individual lot. We considered the location and design of our home and how it would fit in with our future neighbors' houses.

As each house is unique, so too are the individuals who will be living near us. If Jim and I truly follow Christ's example, we will look at the big picture as we interact with our new neighbors. How will what we say and do impact their thoughts of Christ?

In 1 Corinthians 13:5 the Bible says that love cares more for others than for self. That means that I need to care more about showing God's love to my new neighbors than pleasing myself.

For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good. Psalm 122:9

6. Live in unity.

Harmony and peace will mark my home and relationships when my actions match Christ's desires.

It would be terrible if an earthquake destroyed our new home. But it would be far worse if misunderstanding and confusion split our hearts apart.

Living in unity is the mark of a home centered on Jesus Christ.

If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. Mark 3:25

7. Seek understanding.

As I seek to understand others in my house, it will become a Christ-centered home.

Time and effort were invested in preparing the lot for our new house and in pouring a solid foundation. And after it is built, the rooms will be filled with our material possessions.

But those material possessions will not transform our house into a home. We'll need understanding to center (establish) it on Christ.

By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches. Proverbs 24:3-4

8. Ask God to bless my home. And let others know of His faithfulness.

If our builder does a wonderful job constructing our new home, he will likely ask us to endorse his work. We will be happy to tell others about his expertise as a builder.

Likewise, when we move into our new house, we will ask God to bless it. We will also tell others of His faithfulness over the decades of our married life.

May it please You to bless the house of Your servant… 2 Samuel 7:29

9. Choose every day to serve the Lord.

No matter what our culture says, we will choose God's ways.

After we move into our new house, we can either take good care of it or neglect it. It can be a place of refuge and beauty, or it could eventually become dilapidated. The choice is ours.

Likewise, every day Jim and I will choose whether we will serve ourselves or the Lord. Will we be selfish or selfless? Will we be patient and kind, or jealous and rude?

Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24:15

10. Remember that the Master of my home [the Lord] will return.

May I be aware each day that my house ultimately belongs to the Lord.

Jim and I may live in our new house for a year, decades, or more. We can consider it ours, or remember that it is ultimately the Master's. One day the Lord will return and ask how we used His house.

Will it be a haven for the weary? Will we tell others about Jesus within its walls? Will we be found faithful?

Will we fulfill the purpose God has for our home?

"It is like a man away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert. Therefore, be on the alert - for you do not know when the master of the house is coming…" Mark 13:34-35

Source: FamilyLife Today®

Anger and Relationships

by John UpChurch, Senior Editor, BibleStudyTools.com

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger. (Ephesians 4:26)

When I got married, the friend my wife and I roped into making the wedding video for us added a few surprises to the tape before he gave it to us. During our rehearsal dinner (which didn't actually follow a rehearsal), he'd grabbed guests, whisked them outside, poked the camera in their faces, and asked them for their best tips on keeping a marriage strong.

The advice is decidedly mixed. It ranges from the serious ("Make time for your relationship") to the Scriptural ("Love is kind") to the funny ("Just let her win, John") to the ludicrous ("Beat him when you need to"). It's the stuff you'd expect from those who are on the spot with only moments to think up something that would be forever stamped on our video.

But one piece of advice has always stuck out to me, and even as I write this, I see it and wince. One of our friends told us that we should just "forget about that whole sun-not-going-down-on-your-anger thing. You will go to bed mad."

It's just really bad advice.

Now, admittedly, when Paul wrote Ephesians 4:26, he wasn't talking to married couples directly. He meant it for the believers at Ephesus in general. But he slips that passage in among his admonitions about how our lives should be different now that we follow Christ. He says those who don't know Christ live one way, but when they start to follow Him, their lives show it. Before, we let our anger seethe, but now, we fix the problem. Before, we didn't seek forgiveness and restitution, but now we do.

In marriage, the status quo is always safer. We get into routines, and we like how comfortable the ordinary feels. When something disrupts the normal flow, guys especially want to just move it out of the way and get back to flowing again. Meanwhile, our wives are still upset, and nothing has been dealt with.

You see, there's another part to that going-to-bed-angry thing that our well-wisher left out. When we do that, the Bible says we give the devil a foothold, a place to cling on. The anger burns deeper and deeper. One angry night becomes dozens. That's the place where relationships stop growing - and even die.

But there's no need for any angry sleeping, not when we've got something as crazy-good as the gospel. As Paul says, the good news is that we've chucked off our old selves and gotten brand-spanking-new selves. This new-self sets us apart in the world as children of light. In other words, when we don't do what people expect, we suddenly blaze into the darkness. When we don't let the sun go down on our anger, but forgive as we're forgiven, it's like setting off a flare. You're saying, "Look. This is God's love made manifest through us. Dig it."

Intersecting Faith and Life:

Paul doesn't leave us a way out. Boiling anger has no room in our relationships, and it's this readiness to forgive and willingness to work out our problems that make us light up the world. No matter what conventional wisdom may be, don't let the sun go down before you work to put things right.

Source: Crosswalk the Devotional

[Go back to Table of Contents]

XVI Health

Mediterranean Diet Lowers Type 2 Diabetes

By Melissa Healy

This diet -- even without weight loss -- lowers chances of Type 2 diabetes by 40 percent

Even without weight loss, adhering to a diet rich in fresh produce, chicken, fish and olive oil is 40 percent more effective in heading off the development of Type 2 diabetes than following a low-fat diet, a new study has found.

The research suggests that for the nation's 78 million obese adults, a diet that minimizes red meat and sweets but incorporates plant-based fats may be a sustainable way to improve health - even if permanent weight reduction proves elusive.

The findings add to mounting research that suggests a traditional Mediterranean diet may be easier to adhere to and more likely to improve health than more restrictive regimens.

Compared with those on a low-fat diet, trial participants whose Mediterranean-style diet was supplemented with a daily dose of tree nuts - almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts - were 18 percent less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. The researchers called that a positive trend but acknowledged that the difference fell short of demonstrating beyond doubt the superiority of such a diet over a standard low-fat diet.

Published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the latest entry in the diet fray followed for more than four years a group of 3,541 older Spaniards who were at high risk of developing cardiovascular disease. They were a subgroup of a larger clinical trial that demonstrated the effectiveness of the Mediterranean diet in reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

That trial of 7,447 subjects - documented in February in the New England Journal of Medicine - found that those placed on a Mediterranean diet supplemented with either nuts or extra-virgin olive oil were 30 percent less likely than those prescribed a low-fat diet to suffer a heart attack, stroke or death due to cardiovascular disease.

Nearly half of those recruited for the parent trial already had Type 2 diabetes.

The subjects used in the current subgroup analysis started the trial with at least three risk factors for developing premature cardiovascular disease: They were active smokers; were overweight or obese; had a family history of premature heart disease; or had hypertension or worrisome cholesterol readings. None had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at the start of the trial.

Two-hundred-seventy-three participants went on to develop Type 2 diabetes. Among those in the Mediterranean diet-supplemented-with-extra-virgin-olive-oil arm, 6.9 percent developed diabetes; among those in the Mediterranean-diet-plus-nuts group, 7.4 percent did so; and among the low-fat dieters, 8.8 percent developed Type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Meir J. Stampfer, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Harvard University, called the research published Monday a significant step in further demonstrating the clinical benefits of the diet that until recently predominated in southern Europe. In showing the Mediterranean diet to be sustainable and beneficial, Stampfer said, the study should help put to rest many health-conscious Americans' aversion to nuts and oils, which are as calorie-dense as they are rich in unsaturated fats.

But Dr. David Heber of the University of California, Los Angeles' Center for Human Nutrition cautioned that Americans should not give up efforts to cut fat from their diets in a bid to improve health. He pointed to copious evidence supporting a widely available regimen known as the Diabetes Prevention Program: When people at risk for diabetes lose 5 percent to 10 percent of their body weight using a program that reduces calorie and fat consumption and boosts their exercise, they drive down the likelihood of developing diabetes over the next five years by close to 60 percent.

"Saying that it's beneficial to consume more olive oil, which has over 100 calories per tablespoon, without weight loss encourages magical thinking about diabetes," Heber added. For obese patients, he said, driving down one's risk of developing Type 2 diabetes requires weight management.

Dr. James B. Meigs, an internal medicine specialist at Harvard, noted that the latest research suggests a Mediterranean diet drives down diabetes risk as much as preventive use of the drug metformin. But that's still only half as powerful an effect as that seen in subjects participating in the Diabetes Prevention Program, which recommends at least 30 minutes a day of exercise and a low-fat, reduced-calorie diet.

Meigs said that while physicians still should advise obese patients to lose weight and exercise more, he sees "little harm … of also encouraging" Mediterranean-style diets.

In the parent trial, subjects were urged to minimize sodas and fats that came in spreadable form, as well as limit consumption of commercially baked sweets and pastries to three times a week. They were told either to eat about a quarter-cup a day of either almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts, or to consume at least 4 tablespoons a day of extra-virgin olive oil.

Mediterranean dieters were told they could drink wine moderately - about seven glasses per week.

Source: JewishWorldReview.com

Mental Illness: A Real and Authentic Social Health Care Emergency

by Pope Benedict XVI

Mental disturbance now afflicts one-fifth of mankind and constitutes a real and authentic social health care emergency.

On the World Day of the Sick, I would like to pause to reflect on the situation of the mentally ill in the world and to call for the commitment of the Church communities to bear witness to the tender mercy of God towards them.

In many countries, legislation in this field does not yet exist and in other countries a precise policy on mental health is absent. It should also be observed that the prolongation of armed conflicts in various areas of the world, the succession of terrible natural catastrophes, and the spread of terrorism, in addition to causing a shocking number of deaths, have also created mental traumas in not a few survivors, whose recovery at times is difficult.

And in countries with high economic development, the experts recognize that at the origin of new forms of mental disturbance we may also find the negative impact of the crisis of moral values. This increases the sense of loneliness, undermining and even breaking down traditional forms of social cohesion, beginning with the institution of the family, and marginalizing the sick, and especially the mentally ill, who are often seen as a burden for their families and the community.

I would like here to thank those who work in various ways and at various levels to ensure that the spirit of solidarity does not decline and that people persevere in looking after these brothers and sisters of ours, basing themselves on human and Gospel-based ideals and principles. I thus encourage the efforts of those who work to ensure that all mentally ill people are given access to necessary forms of care and treatment. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world the services for these sick people are lacking, insufficient or in a state of decay.

The social context does not always accept the mentally ill, with their limitations, and for this reason, as well, difficulties are encountered in securing the human and financial resources that are needed. One perceives the need to integrate in a better way the tandem appropriate therapy and a new sensitivity towards disturbance so as to enable workers in this sector, in a more effective way, to help these sick people and their families, who on their own would not be able to take care of their relatives in difficulty in an adequate way. The next World Day of the Sick is a suitable occasion to express solidarity to families who have mentally sick people dependent upon them.

I would here like to address myself to you, dear brothers and sisters burdened by illness, so as to invite you to offer your condition of suffering, together with Christ, to the Father, certain that every ordeal received with resignation is meritorious and draws the benevolence of God upon the whole of mankind. I express my appreciation to those who help and care for you in residential centers, day hospitals and wards providing diagnosis and treatment, and I exhort them to strive to ensure that medical, social and pastoral assistance for those in need which respects the dignity specific to every human being is never absent.

The Church, in particular through the work of chaplains, will not fail to offer you her own help, being well aware that she is called to express the love and care of Christ for those who suffer and for those who look after them. I commend pastoral workers and voluntary associations and organizations to support -- in practical forms and through practical initiatives -- those families who have mentally ill people dependent upon them, in relation to whom I hope that the culture of welcoming and sharing will grow and spread, as a result, also, of suitable laws and health-care programs that envisage sufficient resources for their practical application. The training and updating of the personnel who work in such a very delicate sector of society is as urgent as ever before.

Every Christian, according to his specific task and specific responsibility, is called to make his contribution so that the dignity of these brothers and sisters of ours is recognized, respected and promoted. "Duc in altum!" This invitation of Christ to Peter and the Apostles I address to the Church communities spread throughout the world and in a special way to those who are at the service of the sick, so that, with the help of "Mary Salus Infirmorum," they may bear witness to the goodness and the paternal solicitude of God. May the Holy Virgin comfort those who are afflicted by illness and support those who, like the Good Samaritan, soothe their corporeal and spiritual wounds!

I assure each one of you that you will be remembered in my prayers, and I willingly impart my Blessing on you all.

[Translation issued by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, Dec 8, 2005]

Source: CatholicCulture.org

Three Weapons against Anxiety

by Colin Smith

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." Philippians 4:6

Paul uses three words to describe the way we're to fight anxiety - prayer, petition, and thanksgiving.

1. Prayer

That word "prayer" will cause some readers to lose interest, because they're already convinced that they've tried this and it doesn't work.

Ask yourself if you have really prayed about the things worrying you now. It is possible to think that we've prayed when in reality all we've done is worry on our knees, adding "Father" at the beginning and "Amen" at the end?

Prayer is entering the presence of God and filling your mind with who he is. Like a good marinade, let a sense of his greatness and glory permeate into the recesses of your mind - God is sovereign; God is good; God is for you; God is with you. True prayer begins as you allow these truths to soak into your mind.

2. Petition

Petitions are specific requests that we bring before God. You might find it helpful to think of anxiety as a large bag that you carry on your shoulders. We aren't always entirely sure what is worrying us, and we're often afraid to look inside the bag to find out what's there. The only way to fight back against worry is to open the bag.

Take that great burden off your back and open it up. Face your fears. Bring them out of the darkness where they thrive. Put them into words and bring them to God. That's petition. Spell out your "what ifs" to him, and keep in mind the greatness of God. That's why marinating your mind in truth comes first. You need to know that God is great enough to handle the darkest fear in the corner of the bag.

3. Thanksgiving

Cultivate the practice of bringing to mind the great things God has done for you. Thanksgiving refreshes your soul and brings joy to the heart of God. Thanksgiving expresses confidence in God: "I know you're with me. I know you're for me. So whatever happens, I trust you, and I'm grateful that my life is in your hands." God wants to hear our requests; he also invites us to count our blessings.

For further reading, see Ephesians 1

New Study Finds Vitamin D Helps to Regulate Three Genes Involved in Autism

by John Cannell, MD

When a member of the National Academy of Sciences speaks, most people listen. Professor Bruce Ames spoke a few days ago on a subject close to my heart, autism. He and his coauthor, Rhonda Patrick, discovered several of vitamin D's potential mechanisms of action in preventing and treating autism. (1)

Using the University of California-Santa Cruz's genome browser, the authors identified three genes that are abnormally expressed in autism. They report that all three genes are directly regulated by vitamin D. That is, the three genes have a vitamin D response element on the gene. This means that vitamin D is one of the hormones that controls expression of that gene.

The authors also solved some of the mysteries surrounding autism. One mystery is why autistic individuals have low levels of serotonin in their brain but elevated serotonin levels in their peripheral blood. The authors discovered that there are two genes involved in turning tryptophan into serotonin, a central gene and a peripheral gene.

Vitamin D up-regulates the central serotonin gene and down-regulates the peripheral serotonin gene. That may explain why autistic kids have elevated blood serotonin but decreased brain serotonin when their vitamin D levels are low. To date, many studies of vitamin D levels in autism show autistic kids are vitamin D deficient.

It is important to remember that it was not me who first theorized that vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for autism. It was Professors John McGrath, Darryl Eyles and colleagues. In 2001, they first theorized that "vitamin D deficiency is a candidate risk factor for the neurodevelopmental disorders." (2)

Drs Patrick and Ames may have solved another mystery of autism: why autistic children have low levels of oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that does a lot of things, such as promote socialization. The authors explain that oxytocin is also directly controlled by vitamin D. If children are deficient in vitamin D, they will also have low levels of oxytocin.

The authors also may have explained why autism is five times more common in boys than in girls. It turns out that estrogen greatly increases expression of the central serotonin gene, thus protecting girls from autism caused from vitamin D deficiency but exposing boys.

Finally, tryptophan, the amino acid that is metabolized into serotonin, is also metabolized into a protein called kynurenine. Kynurenine is intimately involved in immunity. In the placenta, it is required during pregnancy to prevent a general autoimmune response by generating regulatory T cells, which maintains immunological tolerance to the fetus.

This paper is, in my opinion, groundbreaking. Just as John McGrath and Darryl Eyles used animal models to show relationships between vitamin D deficiency and neurodevelopmental disorders, Rhonda Patrick and Bruce Ames are the first to explain the biochemical mechanism by which it works.

References:

1. Patrick, R. P., & Ames, B. N. Vitamin D hormone regulates serotonin synthesis. Part 1: relevance for autism. The FASEB Journal, 2014.

2. McGrath J, Feron F, Eyles D, Mackay-Sim A. Vitamin D: the neglected neurosteroid? Trends Neurosci., 2001.

About John Cannell, MD

Dr. John Cannell is founder of the Vitamin D Council. He has written many peer-reviewed papers on vitamin D and speaks frequently across the United States on the subject. Dr. Cannell holds an M.D. and has served the medical field as a general practitioner, emergency physician, and psychiatrist.

Source: Vitamin D Council
The statements on this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Better Sleep Without Pills

By Harvard Health Letters

What to do before turning to medication

The world looks very different at 3 a.m. when you're lying in bed staring at the ceiling--or worse, the clock. All you do is worry, "How will I make it through tomorrow without any sleep?"

If you often have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you might have thought about trying sleeping pills. Although these medicines can help you drift off to sleep, they also can have side effects, including an increased risk for falls and morning drowsiness that can make next-day driving dangerous. That's why in January, the U.S Food and Drug Administration began requiring manufacturers to lower the recommended dosage of hypnotic sleep aids containing zolpidem (such as Ambien).

Before turning to medication, it's important to identify whether you even have a sleep problem.

"Some people are bothered that they wake up at all, but they wake up, go to the bathroom, and go right back to sleep. There's nothing wrong with that," explains Dr. Hadine Joffe, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Taking 20 minutes to fall asleep also doesn't necessarily mean you have a sleep issue, she says.

If you regularly can't get to sleep or stay asleep and it's affecting you during the day, then you may have insomnia. But before you take medicine to help you sleep, Dr. Joffe recommends trying lifestyle interventions--such as avoiding caffeine and sticking to a regular sleep schedule. It can also be helpful to see a doctor so you can find out whether a medical condition is causing your sleep troubles.

COMMON PROBLEM AMONG WOMEN

There are several reasons why sleep problems are especially common in women, says Dr. Julia Schlam Edelman, clinical instructor in obstetrics and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School and author of "Harvard's Successful Sleep Strategies for Women."

"One is the obesity rate. Sixty-five percent of women are overweight. And overweight women are more likely to have sleep-disordered breathing," she says. Sleep-disordered breathing often refers to obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which the airway becomes periodically blocked during the night. This blockage temporarily cuts off airflow, leading to snoring and frequent sleep interruptions.

Health issues such as a thyroid condition, anemia, menopausal hot flashes, heartburn, incontinence, and depression can also affect both the quality and quantity of sleep. And the medicines you take to treat health conditions--including beta blockers for high blood pressure, cold remedies containing alcohol, and migraine remedies with caffeine--can all disrupt sleep.

WHEN YOU DO NEED SLEEPING PILLS

Sometimes insomnia is so severe that you want to try medicine to help you sleep. Before grabbing a bottle of sleeping pills off the drugstore shelf however, try following the steps outlined in "Sleep Problems and Solutions" (below). If these steps don't work, see your doctor, who can rule out any medical causes for your sleep issues.

You can start by trying a natural sleep aid, such as melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the body's sleep-wake cycle.

"Melatonin tends to be effective for women over 55," Dr. Edelman says. It's also safe, with few side effects. Valerian root is another herbal sleep remedy. It can have side effects, though, including headaches.

You may need to turn to over-the-counter or prescription sleep medicines if insomnia is having a real impact on your health and daily function, says Dr. Joffe. Check with your doctor before taking any sleep aid--even ones you purchase without a prescription.

"Over-the-counter sleep aids can be addictive, and they can interact with other medications," Dr. Edelman says.

Only use prescription sleep aids such as eszopiclone (Lunesta), ramelteon (Rozerem), zaleplon (Sonata), or zolpidem (Ambien) as a last resort when other treatments haven't worked. Because these medicines can worsen sleep apnea, discuss with your doctor whether you might have sleep apnea.

To take prescription sleep aids safely, "You always need to be cautious about dosing," Dr. Joffe says. Ask your doctor whether you can start on the lowest-dose, shortest-acting sleep aid possible. As you get older, your body processes and removes medicine more slowly than it did when you were younger. Also make sure you have the number of hours recommended on the package available to sleep, so you're not groggy the next morning.

SLEEP PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS

Here are some common sleep problems and how to treat them:

Problem: I'm tired, but I just can't fall asleep.

Solution: Try lifestyle changes, avoiding factors that might be keeping you awake. Limit caffeine and alcohol (especially before bedtime); make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and comfortable; and turn off all electronics (including the book you're reading on your tablet computer) one hour before bed.

Problem: I get seven or eight hours of sleep a night, but when I wake up I'm exhausted. Also, my partner says I snore.

Solution: See your doctor, who might order a sleep study to test you for sleep apnea.

Problem: My joints ache so much that I can't fall asleep.

Solution: Ask your doctor about arthritis pain relievers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids.

Problem: I'm too stressed out to sleep.

Solution: Try stress-relieving techniques, such as meditating, taking a warm bath, or listening to music. Before you go to bed, Dr. Joffe suggests writing down a "worry list" of everything that's on your mind. Once the worries are on paper, it can be easier to put them aside. "It's such a simple thing but it's very effective," she says.

Problem: My legs twitch, tingle, and itch so uncontrollably that I can't fall asleep, and once I do fall asleep I keep waking up.

Solution: You could have restless legs syndrome (RLS). Your doctor might suggest stretching or massaging your legs before bed. You can also take a warm bath. If lifestyle interventions don't work, there are medicines available to treat RLS.

Problem: I keep waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.

Solution: Limit caffeine and alcohol, which can increase the urge to urinate. Stop drinking fluids a few hours before bedtime. And use the bathroom right before you get into bed. If you're taking diuretic medicines, talk to your doctor, because they could be contributing to the problem.

Problem: My heartburn is keeping me awake.

Solution: Try raising the head of the bed 4 to 6 inches. Eat dinner at least two to three hours before bedtime, and don't eat anything too heavy. Avoid foods that can trigger heartburn, such as chocolate, coffee, caffeinated drinks, spicy foods, and fatty foods. -- Harvard Women's Health Watch

© 2013, PRESIDENT AND FELLOWS OF HARVARD COLLEGE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

Source: JewishWorldReview.com

[Go back to Table of Contents]

XVII Cooking -- Recipes

Greek Yogurt
Ingredients

4 cups Milk
2 tbsp Yogurt
Strainer
Sugar/Salt (optional)

Directions

Step 1: Heat the milk for 15 minutes and keep it aside

Step 2: Cool this milk then add yogurt to it

Step 3: Keep this mixture aside for 8-12 hours

Step 4: Strain this freshly prepared yogurt with the help of strainer, and then refrigerate it for 2-4 hours

Step 5: Greek yogurt is ready. You can add sugar or salt before serving if you like.

Egg Curry
Ingredients

4 Eggs, Boiled and Peeled
1 Onion, Grated
2-3 Clove Garlic, Grated
1 Large Tomato, Chopped
½ tsp Turmeric Powder
1 tsp Garam Masala
½ tsp Cumin Seeds
1 tsp Red Chilli Powder
1 tsp Coriander Powder
3 - 4 Whole Red Chili
Few Coriander Leaves, Chopped
Oil for fry
Water as required
Salt to taste

Directions:

Step 1: Heat oil in a pan, put cumin seeds on it and fry for a minute. Add onion, whole red chili, garlic and sauté it over a low-medium flame till it softens

Step 2: Now add tomato, turmeric powder, coriander powder, red chilli powder, garam masala . Mix well and stir it for few minutes. Then add enough water and salt to make gravy. Let it brings to the boil

Step 3: When the gravy became thickens combined boiled eggs to the pan and coated well with gravy. Cook for 4-5 minutes more and turn off the heat

Step 4: Garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot

Recipe: Gluten Free Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Bread pudding, which is popular in many countries’ unique cuisines, originated as far back as the 11th and 12th centuries. One thing that’s really neat about the easy-to-make dessert is that it has no set recipe. That’s because so many countries have adopted it into their culture. For Americans, it was popular during the Civil War. Granted, the soldiers made it using simple and frugal ingredients, but it was perfect for a quick and tasty pick-me-up.

Native Americans were already cooking with pumpkin when our Pilgrim ancestors arrived. Once they discovered it, however, they wholeheartedly embraced it and the multipurpose fruit eventually became a fall tradition.

Let’s face it. Pumpkin should just declare itself the mascot of fall and this Gluten Free Pumpkin Bread Pudding recipe just screams Autumn—a.k.a. warm, sweet and savory goodness.

After all, gluten free recipes are all the rage. Many Americans are gluten intolerant or gluten sensitive, yet never realize it. In fact, an estimated 83% of Americans who have Celiac Disease are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions.

Ingredients:

6 slices gluten free bread cut into ½ in. squares (Use thick slices of whole wheat bread for a non gluten free option)

2 cups of canned pumpkin (or 1 15 oz. can)

1.5 cups unsweetened vanilla hemp milk (Or you could try almond milk or soy milk for a non gluten free option)

1/2 cup grade B maple syrup

3 eggs (lightly beaten)

1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1/2 tsp. gluten free vanilla extract (You can also use regular vanilla extract for a non gluten free option)

Preheat oven to 350°F (175 deg C)

Cooking time: 75 minutes

Preparation:

1. In a bowl, combine all of the above ingredients (expect the bread cubes) with a whisk.

2. Next, carefully stir in the bread cubes and pour the contents of the mixture into an 8x8 baking dish and cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate for 30mins to an hour.

3. Preheat the oven to 350° and place the aluminum foil covered 8x8 baking dish into a 9x13 baking pan and pour 1 inch of boiling water into the 9x13 pan (this creates a water bath).

4. Bake for 75 minutes then remove the foil and continue cooking for another 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the dish comes out clean.

5. If the top gets too brown, cover it again with aluminum foil.

Source: BistroMD

Vegetable Kichadi
Ingredients

1 cup Basmati Rice ,Soaked and Drained
¼ cup Green Gram ,Rinsed and drained
½ cup Green Peas
1 Medium Potato , Chopped
1 Bunch Carrot , Chopped
1 Medium Sized Onion ,Chopped
1 Small Sized Tomato ,Chopped
2 Green Chilli ,Chopped
½ tsp Garlic Paste
3-4 Black Pepper
2-3 Cloves
1 Cinnamon
1 tsp Cumin Seeds
1-2 Bay Leaf (Optional)
1 tsp Red Chilli Powder
½ tsp Turmeric Powder
1 tsp Coriander Powder
½ tsp Chaat Masala
1 tsp Ghee or Butter
Water as required
Few Coriander Leaves for Garnishing
Oil for fry
Salt to taste

Directions

Cooking Time: 30 Mins

Step 1: Heat oil in a Pressure Cooker, add bay leaf, black pepper, cloves, cinnamon and cumin seeds to it when cumin seeds became crackled add garlic paste and onion with green chilli and fry till the onion become softens

Step 2: Combined all the vegetables as potato, tomato, green peas and carrot to onion mixture then add turmeric powder, red chilli powder coriander powder and chaat masala. Mix well

Step 3: Add drained basmati rice and green gram together in the vegetable mixture. Then pour 2-3 cups water over it. Mix well. Add butter or ghee in it with required salt

Step 4: Covered cooker and take 3-4 whistles from the pressure cooker over medium flame. Switch off heat. Let it cool down and uncovered. Scoop out the khichdi in a serving bowl.

Step 5: Garnish with coriander leaves and serve with papad and yogurt

[Go back to Table of Contents]

XVIII About Malankara World
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