Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Are you in a pit?

Wow! What a weekend! I had the opportunity to attend the St Mark's Passion Retreat - boy was it great!

The theme was getting out of the pit, for more info, check out Fr Anthony Messeh's blog posts this week.  What a great topic to choose! We've all felt down in the ruts in certain times in our life, when everything just going wrong, and it doesn't seem like there is much hope for us - that nothing will change and that we're stuck in the situation we're in.  Everyone has felt that right?

I experienced something else this weekend when I sat with myself in quiet thinking about the 'pit' I was in and how I was to start getting out.  You wanna know what I found out? That I wasn't in a pit - that was my pit.  I was so stuck in one, that I didn't even realize it anymore! After sitting in quiet time and thinking "Man, these talks are great - God help me out of my pit.. Umm, just let me figure out what it is" Has this ever happened to you?

Sometimes we are so deep in, that we completely forgot what it was like to be outside! That was the situation I was in.  I thought I had everything in control, nothing was majorly wrong in my life, I could handle the small struggles that I was going through, and that I should just focus on helping others get out of their pit - wrong! What was I thinking? After speaking to a few other people, I found that I wasn't alone in this boat.  Many others have so casually 'decorated' their pit and not been able to recognize it from the outside.  "We were created to live in a palace, not a pit," Fr Anthony urged.  I don't want to forget what the palace was like! My pit was that I was in control of everything. My life wasn't in such a mess or anything, that I thought I could handle it on my own - and I think that is worse than any other pit out there.  The moment I thought I didn't need God that much in my life, is the worst feeling in the world.

In Way of the Ascetics by Tito Colliander, he states "To let in fresh air, we have to open a window - achieving hope is no different.. However weighed down and tangled in earthly fetters you might be, it can never be too late. Not without reason is it written that Abraham was 75 when he set forth, and the laborer who comes in the eleventh hour gets the same wages as the one who comes in the first."

Never lose hope! God tells us that the only unforgivable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit - and thinking that we are too 'gone' that the Holy Spirit can't save us any more, is that sin. Are you with me? Most pits we get in, we feel that God has abandoned us. In mine, I had abandoned God - and yet, His love is so great that He will run to us no matter what..

I'll finish off with my favorite quote from this past weekend.  "You are a much better person healed than you are if you had been well"

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Who Are You?

Again, I don't normally write more than once a week, but who's counting?

Who are you? Seems like such a simple question, right? We have a basic answer, but does it change depending who is asking? Yes, St Paul says "to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" 1 Cor 9:22.

This is not the change I'm speaking about.  What St Paul is teaching us to do here is very very important, and may be the only way to share the message of Christ with everyone.  As stated in my earlier post, HH Pope Shenouda had this ''I'm on the same level as you" mentality, but brought with it much wisdom.

So again, I ask, who are you? The answer I fear to hear (that I myself give many times) does sadly depend on who is asking me.  Do I change my morals or standards or beliefs around others? Am I embarrassed of things I normally do behind closed doors? Is my faith, a 'personal' relationship with Jesus that I don't need to share? Am I two completely different people?

The Coptic Synaxarium, a compilation of the commemoration of events, for today was very interesting.  It is a short and nice read.  Basically, St Macarius the great and St Macarius of Alexandria, were exiled to an island by an Arian emperor.  We may not hear it as often now, but it may be a common idea to us - being exiled that is.  It is pretty rough! Imagine being forced out of your home, city, country - and shipped to a foreign land.  These two saints weren't just shipped off to a deserted island or anything, they were sent to an island of idol worshipers.  What would you do? I would probably hide under a rock until I'd be allowed back home. What did they do? They dealt with love to the people and used the power of the Lord to heal a sick person. Later they preached and ended up turning the whole island into believers of Jesus! How awesome is that?!

Two things I take away from this. First, being true to my beliefs and faith, no matter what.  Second, like Christ does with us, they made the best out of the situation they were in.  They didn't pout or cry or give up.. they simply said, "Hmm.. well lets make this our new home".

Just like the wise words of HH Pope Shenouda after his exilehe was asked "Are you happy that you are back?" Our response, "You better believe it! Woohoo!!". HH response, "I am happy everywhere. Gladness and happiness depends on the relation between man and God - not outside circumstances"

Monday, March 19, 2012

What is a Leader?

There are leaders, and there are those who lead.

We are all saddened to hear of the departure of our Great Patriarch, Pope Shenouda III.  Truly the life of this Holy man will not be forgotten. My friend, Mena Mirhom, gives a great account of when we presented FTFT! to HH in a clergy seminar in Boston - to focus on his evangelistic nature. 

I would like to focus on the leadership of HH that we all have experienced, and something I would yearn to have one day.  This past Saturday I was attending a spiritual day with Fr Athanasius Farag, where the topic was diakonia, the greek word for service/ministry.  We focused on a few points, until we had learned of the unfortunate news.  What caught my eye was a verse he chose from the gospel according to St Luke.  The Church, in her wisdom, also appointed this passage to be read at a funeral service for a Patriarch, Metropolitan, or Bishop.  Coincidence? I think not - this goes to show how they truly, particularly HH, lived the true meaning of diakonia - as a leader!

"For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves." Luke 22:27 (emphasis, mine). I had to read that a few times. Christ is talking to his disciples here, asking a rhetorical question that the obvious answer seems to be right there.  He even answers it for them - but then throws a curveball, "Yet I am among you as the One who serves" - diakonia.  A more precise definition would be to serve out of one's own will.  Just as Christ says, "I did not come to be served, but to serve", a true leader reflects this characteristic.

HH Pope Shenouda III really showed this type of leadership.  As Fr Antonios Kaldas, in a guest post on Fr Anthony Messeh's blog, "He had a way of making an unimportant stranger feel important, a way of giving you his attention in a way that said, 'At this moment in time you are more important to me than anything else.'" Always caring for what the people and youth want, choosing clergy to better serve them, building churches, allowing services to go on, blessing ministries. I remember one time walking into a meeting where HH met with roughly 30 youth from a church, to see their needs and opinion - to help choose the best priest.  His care for an individual and the future of the church was great.  I don't know another man who has affected so many youth in the Coptic Church like I've seen with HH. He wasn't just a figurehead in a far away place, he was caring, involved, responsive, and loving.  A wise leader and servant.

One quote I read in a book truly defines HH. Ever see him get asked a question or in a conversation? Every word he speaks is chosen carefully, and there is no regret after it is released from his mouth.

"A priest [clergy member] ought to be sober minded, and penetrating in discernment, and possessed of innumerable eyes in every direction, as one who lives not for himself but for so great a multitude." On Priesthood, St John Chrysostom

May the Lord grant to us a good shepherd, like His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, to shepherd His people in purity and righteousness.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Angels got nothin' on me!

I don't usually blog more than once a week, but this topic (as seen in my past few posts) has been on my heart for a while.

It really gets to me, when people try to assume they know how God thinks of them - because we only have a limited mind. God doesn't love like we love, nor forgives like we forgive. God IS love, and St Paul writes "when we remain faithless, He is faithful - He cannot deny Himself" 2 Tim 2:13. If someone hasn't forgiven you, or hates you, or thinks you're a lost cause - DO NOT translate this to how God thinks! Like I mentioned in my last post, for you to feel that God thinks you are the most important person in the world, you have to believe it first, then you'll feel it!

Don't believe me? St Macarius the great, of the early 4th century found this out! Truly believing this helped him lead a great life which he was able to feel the love of God and never lose hope, no matter what situation around him or whatever people said to him.  St Macarius writes, in Homily 15,

"See how great are the heavens and the earth, the sun and the moon. 
But the Lord was not pleased to find His rest in them, but in humanity alone.  
Man, therefore, is of greater value than all other creatures, and perhaps
I will not hesitate to say, not only visible creatures, but also those 
invisible namely, the ministering spirits. For it was not of Michael or Gabriel the archangels that God said 'let Us make man in Our image',  but concerning the spiritual makeup of the human"

Oh yes he did! He just said we are held higher than angels! He is reminding us how much God loves us and puts us on a pedestal, no matter what the world thinks of us.  "If God is for us, who can be against us!?" Rom 8:31. St Paul continues to emphasize that NOTHING can separate us from the love of God. 

We've all been in our pit and felt down and unwanted and it seems like nothing is going our way - trust in God! Where would the resurrection of Christ be, if there were no suffering on the cross? We commonly tend to focus on the cross and suffering in our own life, but neglect to see past it to the glorious resurrection that awaits us! 

God is like no one else! Again, God = Love. Your friends may leave you, your parents may think poorly of you, strangers may ridicule you - but please always remember that God holds you above all else, and to Him you are not just one in a zillion, you are THE ONE in a zillion.

Please feel free to contact me privately if you are struggling with this, or comment to encourage others.

Monday, March 12, 2012

YOLO - so start living!

#yolo (you only live once) has been trending on twitter like crazy recently, and has been the motto of many people at many points in our lives.  Sadly, it has been used as a vice of doing something irrational, and justifying it to your friends, parents, and worse - yourself.

To me, this is actually a very biblical principle gone wrong.  It can be looked at two ways, I think.  "Ah, its only marijuana, you only live once". And the second, "Maybe I should start taking things a little more serious, I can't lose any more opportunities, you only live once." This can either shape our lives into working for a focused purpose, or completely tear us down. I would like to focus on the latter, which may show us why the former may not be such a good idea after all.

The way I like to picture God's plan is like a big puzzle, with roughly 7 billion pieces (estimated world population).  Each piece uniquely shaped to fit somewhere that no other piece can take. YOU are that one special piece that NOBODY else can fill.  God's divine plan is not like a job fulfillment, where if you don't get the job, the employer will find somebody else to fill the position. On the contrary, if you don't do what you were designed to do on earth, it won't be done! So if you go back to the puzzle analogy, you may be able to see the general picture, but its not complete, and that is the key. St Paul says in Ephesians, that "we are God's workmanship". Original Greek word for workmanship is poiema, the same word used for a poem.  How beautifully crafted and thought out and touched up and perfected are poems? God did that with you.

Okay, we've heard that God cares about us and we are special to Him and that if we were the only ones on Earth, He would've come to be crucified anyway.  Do we really believe that? Do we really believe that God sees us differently than the rest of the 7 billion people here? The answer is you better believe it! It is not until you believe it, that you will actually start experiencing it! Think about that again.  St Athansius says that one must believe first, then understanding will come.  You wont understand what sky diving feels like until you jump, you wont understand what an in-n-out burger tastes like until you get that double double, and you sure won't experience the fact that you are the most important person in the world to God, unless you believe it.

So its true, you only live once - but God can give us new life that will be like nothing we've ever experienced before, both here and in heaven.  "No eye has seen, nor ear heard, neither have come upon the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him" - 1 Cor 2:9

Monday, March 5, 2012

Does God ask too much of us?

Have you ever had one of those moments? Ever wonder why some people are just nice, for absolutely no reason? After wondering, have you ever gotten mad or annoyed at them - like they shouldn't be that way?

     St Paul says, "But God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ DIED for us"  - Romans 5:8 (emphasis mine). Lets read that again, while we were still living in lust, chasing after material things, stabbing our friends in the back, Christ was thinking "you know what, they'll come around - I'm going to die for them in case they ever do". Wow!

     That is some crazy love, right? What's the craziest love out there? "There is no greater love, than for a man to lay down his life for his friends" - John 15:13. Taking a bullet for someone? - man that is some pretty crazy stuff.  Did Jesus actually live by this motto? I don't think so.  Who do we know that is labeled as the friend of God - Abraham.  He lived a great life and was probably going to heaven, we can somewhat say.  Did Christ die for Him? Well, yes He died for everyone.  What do you think shows greater love, for Christ to die for Abraham or the soldier that was flogging him? We could easily say, "I would do anything for my mom!", but would we be able to say "I would do anything for my boss - who fired me" (Come to think of it, we would probably say, I would do anything to kill my boss - who fired me! - not really kill, but you understand)

     God knows we are weak, so He didn't set the same standard for us and Himself.  He died for His enemies, but asked us to do so for our friends.  He suffered for us, but asked us to just turn the other cheek.  He fasted for 40 days, but asked us to remember that we don't live by bread alone.  You wanna know the 'crazy love' thing, though? He still promised us the same things as Him! "...we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ" Romans 8:16b,17a.

     Isn't that something? That's like telling me "All you have to do is watch the show 'House', and you can get the salary of a great doctor" - but times a zillion. We'd be foolish to pass up on this offer.  God didn't have a reason to do anything for us, but still gave up His only Son for us.  Are we willing to live so carelessly, that it would seem as if Christ died for nothing? I can't live with that, can you?