Let the Spirit lead

A short meditation from Acts of the Apostles 1:1-8

(4) On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

(6) Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Jesus told His disciples to wait in their current situation, which was one of complete fear and terror, until they received the promise of the Father – the Holy Spirit. Many times we rush ahead of our Lord. We want to make decisions about friends, relationships, careers, etc. without His guidance. The world demands that we make decisions. How can we just wait idly for some sort of sign!? Or perhaps, we pray about something for a while but we still aren’t sure which path to take.

“Do not leave Jerusalem.” “Wait for the promise of the Father.” Do not move. Wait wait wait wait WAIT!!! Jesus tells us to wait and He tells us, specifically, to wait for enlightenment by the Holy Spirit. In verse 6, the disciples ask Jesus if He will rebuild the Kingdom of Israel. They ask this having seen His death, His resurrection, and spending forty days listening to Him talk about the Kingdom of God itself. How!? Because without the Holy Spirit, we are ignorant of the things of God.

John 16:13 “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”

It is the Spirit that guides us to the Truth. It is by the Spirit that we are united to God. It is by the Spirit that we are given intimate knowledge of God. Without being led by the Spirit, we are like the disciples – we may have good intentions – but we will be ignorant and foolish.

We need to stop leading ourselves and wait for the Spirit to lead us. This is the promise of our Father – a Spirit of Truth. In the meantime, let us focus on becoming attune to His voice, fearing Him, trusting in Him, and building intimacy with Him.

Let the Spirit lead.

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Becoming ‘Israel’

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Jacob is probably the most interesting Bible character and the hardest to figure out. He is also, arguably, the most relatable of heroes in Scripture. You can find his story in Genesis from 25:26 to 49:33.

Father Tadros Malaty says, [paraphrased] “Jacob felt he was a pilgrim all the days of his life; especially since his life was continually in troubles. In his adolescence, though his mother loved and favoured him, he suffered much from the fierce nature of his brother Esau. [After stealing his birthright and blessing] Jacob was forced to flee to a foreign land, where he vigorously served his uncle: ‘in the day the draught consumed him, the frost by night; and the sleep departed from his eyes’ (Genesis 31:40). [Yet again, he played the role of a deceiver when it came to his uncle’s livestock] but his uncle was also dishonest and changed his wages ten times. When he fled from the face of his uncle, he was devastated by fear from his brother Esau – who wanted to kill him for stealing his birthright and blessing. In Shechem, his sons Simeon and Levi caused him much trouble by murdering the village of a man who had raped his daughter Dinah. In Ephrath, his beloved wife Rachel died in childbirth and then his father Isaac died. After that, his firstborn son Reuban laid with his father’s concubine, something very painful for Jacob. In addition to the episode of Joseph, believing that his favourite son had been murdered,  that rocked his whole being.”

It seems a miserable life, doesn’t it? If God told you to pick a bible character’s life to live, you probably wouldn’t choose Jacob. Yet, side by side with this morbid tale of Jacob’s struggle is another important story.

Before his birth, God told Rebekah that two nations were in her womb and that the older (Esau) would serve the younger (Jacob) (Gen. 25:23). After Jacob runs away from Esau, he has a dream of a ladder going up to heaven with angels of God ascending and descending on it. Further, he sees the Lord who blesses him and his descendants and promises to be with him, watch over him, and bring him back to the promised land (Gen. 28:12-15). This marks the beginning of Jacob’s personal relationship with God. When he learns of Laban’s anger towards him, because of Jacob’s  wealth and deceit, God tells him to return to the promised land of his fathers (Gen. 31). He listens to the Lord, though he is terrified to encounter his brother Esau. In Genesis 31, the angels of God meet Jacob at his camp as he prepares to meet Esau. In Jabbok, he wrestles with God. He earns the title ‘Israel’ because “he wrestled with God and man and overcame.” Later God tells Jacob to return to bethel, where he encountered God as he was fleeing Esau, and again the Lord calls him ‘Israel’ and blesses his descendants.

Side by side with Jacob’s seemingly continuous struggle was a growing dependence on and experience with God. Becoming ‘Israel’ means struggling continuously and putting your whole heart and whole trust in God’s hands. It means persevering through difficulties and learning that God must be the priority of our lives, if we are to have any lasting joy and peace.

In Genesis, Jacob’s name continues to switch from Jacob to Israel and back again. Why? Because life will always be full of struggle. Sometimes we will prevail and seek God first, like Israel. Other times, we fail to rely on Him and turn to the world or deceitful ways – like Jacob.

Persistence and perseverance are the key to our faith. Perfection is not. Jacob was a deceiver, a manipulator, and a thief. At the same time, Jacob was the first biblical character to see a vision of heaven. This teaches us that it is not from our works that we are granted salvation. In His compassion, God bestows free gifts of grace and mercy on us like he did Jacob. So put aside your self-doubt and guilty conscience. There are no room for these things when our eyes are on God.

There is abundant life for us when we live in Jesus Christ. There is peace and joy that does not depend on our circumstances. Eternity begins now. Heaven is on earth because we can be united with God here and now.

We cannot predict where God will take us or what our impact will be, but we can always persevere and serve Him wholeheartedly like Israel learned to.

 

Quote of the day: “Love the sinner, hate the sin”

“So the man who lives according to God, and not according to man, should be a lover of good, and therefore a hater of evil. And since no one is evil by nature, but whoever is evil is evil by vice, whoever lives according to God should hold a perfect hatred toward evil men. He should not hate the man because of his vice, or love the vice because of the man. Instead, he should hate the vice and love the man. Once the vice is cursed, all that should be loved will remain, and nothing should be hated.”

Saint Augustine in City of God

Hypocrites in the Church

I couldn’t agree more. “When was the last time you left a football game because the person sitting next to you was a hypocrite?”

The Orthodox Life

This article was published in the following newspapers:

Norris City Banner – Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Ridgway News – Thursday, November 29, 2007
Gallatin County Democrat – Thursday, November 29, 2007

~

Hypocrites in the Church

“The hypocrite with his mouth destroys his neighbor, but through knowledge the righteous will be delivered” (Proverbs 11:9).  Why are so many hypocrites in the church?

Actually, hypocrisy is not the only problem.  There are lots of sinners in church.  In fact, everyone has sinned.  Moses murdered a man.  King David committed adultery.  The Apostle Peter denied Christ.

People should not expect the church to be a perfect place.  It isn’t!  The church is not a gathering place for perfect people.  It is a hospital for sinners.  So, whether you are a hypocrite, a gossip, or a murderer, the church is exactly where you need to be!

Of course, God loves you too much…

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Do not hide your goodness

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I read a very thought provoking quote by Saint John Chrysostom this morning that made me think a lot about the effect of choosing to hide Christ in us.

“This is why God has left the wicked in the world: so that the good may shine brighter…and the wicked gain, too, by mixing with the good. Even if they do not keep from evil, nevertheless they dare what they dare in secret. And this is no small thing, not to have sins publicly committed. For the life of the good becomes the accuser of their wickedness. ‘It hurts me even to see him,’ they say of the righteous man – and it is no small beginning of amendment to be tormented by his presence…but to be stung and pricked in the conscience when he is present would be a considerable hindrance do wickedness. So do you see how much the good gain from the wicked, and the wicked from the good? This is why God has not set them apart, but allowed them to be mixed together.”

“The life of the good becomes the accuser of their wickedness.” This is an extremely powerful and possibly controversial statement but I personally know it to be true. In my dark days, before I knew Christ, when I met a Christian who was loving, pure, patient, and compassionate it made me feel VERY uncomfortable. I can’t explain why but I just didn’t like that person very much and I couldn’t stand the sight of them. I felt inadequate around them. Their presence was like a neon flashing arrow to my mistakes and my sins.

Why do you think so many people are uncomfortable around Christians? Christians who do not necessarily even speak publicly about Christ. You can be sure that the more a Christian speaks of Christ and their spiritual life, the greater they will encounter discomfort from people in the world – even to the point of hatred.

I live in a country that preaches freedom of speech, but when I speak of my God I discover that ‘freedom of speech’ means freedom to say what everyone else is saying and believe what everyone else believes in. I did not encounter these things when I lived in and amongst the world. The world loved me – it gave me many friends, success in my studies, and a great respect from my peers.

Now? Now that I try to live in the shadow of my Lord Jesus, the world turned its back to me and I find that I am not respected like I was before.

John 15:18-25, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you, out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”

Why? Because good accuses wickedness and nobody likes to feel accused. No one wants to admit that they know somewhere deep down their choices are not right. No one wants to admit that their affairs will not bring them satisfaction, acquiring wealth is nothing but a burden, drinking to oblivion leaves the soul feeling empty. Truth is painful.

I understand, I was there.

But this is exactly why God has kept and commanded His servants to mix with those who do not believe in Him (or know Him). Mark 16:15, “He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” If I had not felt the accusations in my heart whenever I saw a person living truly in the faith, saw their acts of kindness and their love for God and others, I would not have pursued Christ.

I found Christ because I found people who truly reflected His image, even if they did not necessarily speak of him (though most of them certainly did). I saw His love in their eyes. I saw His compassion in their interactions with each other and myself. I saw His forgiveness in their acceptance of me. Their good deeds were always before my eyes and I heard their heartfelt, sometimes tearful, prayers to God.

It changed me. I could not be in the presence of such goodness and not desire to turn away from my wicked ways. It softened my hard heart.

So I pray for each and everyone of us that we never hide our goodness that comes from Christ alone. I pray that we let Him shine brightly within us. Someone said once that being a missionary is being full of light and opening a window. Let us all pray daily to be filled with Christ who is the light of the world.

Quote of the day: “God’s mercy after the Fall”

“Man threw away everything he had – his right to speak freely, his communion with God, his time in paradise, his unclouded life – and went out naked, like a survivor from a shipwreck.

But God received him and immediately clothed him, and taking him by the hand gradually led him to heaven. And yet this shipwreck was quite unforgivable.

For this tempest was entirely due, not to the force of the winds, but to the carelessness of the sailor. Yet God did not look at this, but had compassion for such great disaster…

…And just as criminals who sail the sea often drill through the ship with a small iron tool, and let the whole sea into the ship from below, so when the devil saw the ship of Adam (by which I mean his soul) filled with many good things, he came and drilled through it with his voice alone, as if it were a little iron tool, and stole all his wealth and sank the ship itself.

But God made the gain greater than the loss, and brought out nature to the royal throne.

– Saint John Chrysostom

In  A Year With the Church Fathers by Mike Aquilina

Quote of the day!

“What a wonderful and mysterious power truth is. How it sits atop the most resistant head and darts into the darkest heart. That head and heart may not choose to act on the truth or to acknowledge it. The person may even repress it very deeply, but once truth is spoken, there is a place in the human heart that knows it has heard truth , and it will have to wrestle with it from then on. It is the truth, and Truth Himself, who changes people, structures, and nations.”

-Leanne Payne

Inside the walls with my enemies

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Acts 3:1 “Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.” 

This verse precedes Peter and John’s miracle of healing a lame man by the gate of the temple in Jerusalem. It is never really touched upon, other than to show that the disciples continued to keep the traditional times of Jewish prayer (the ninth hour is three in the afternoon). This verse, however, contains a hidden message that all of us need to hear.

To see this message though, we need to also read Acts 4: 1-2 that says,“Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” The priests were often relatives of the high priest and had positions of great influence and respect, the leader of the guards maintained order and security in the temple, and the Sadducees were members of the powerful Jewish sect that did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. It is members of these three groups who planned Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.**

Peter and John went to the temple to pray knowing that the very people who organized the death of Jesus were within these same walls. Remember that this takes place after the ascension. They no longer see Jesus as merely their friend or teacher. They know now that He is the Son of God, the Messiah, whom they had watched ascend into heaven. He is now their life, joy, hope, salvation, everything. He has changed their hearts, their personalities, their entire outlook on life has been turned upside down by Jesus.

……And the very people that caused Him incredible suffering were worshipping ‘God’ in the very same temple…..what would you do in their situation?

Unfortunately, this situation is actually a reality for many people, not just the early disciples. Many of us (I say us because this was me until two years ago) are kept away from worshipping Jesus because we have been hurt by people in the same church or in the same faith. The pain of rejection causes some of us to look elsewhere for God. In other cases, it causes us to rebel against the institution and try to start our own version of Christianity. I’m sure issues of hurt and rejection have contributed to the extensive number of denominations we have today.

Some of us can only associate the four walls of a church, the sign of a cross, or the sight of a bible with pain, sorrow, disappointment, and shame. Others might associate these things with guilt or hatred. In this way, people who hurt us have come to dominate a whole building, institution, or religion.

Maybe some of you have heard the phrase “Jesus is not a religion.” I whole heartedly concur. If Jesus Christ was just a rule oriented religion, we would not have many Christians today – a faith that is still growing and spreading around the world. I want to tell you that Jesus cannot be contained. He cannot be known through a simple list of dos and don’ts. Jesus is a relationship with a God who cares so much about you that He came to earth, in an identifiable form, in order to connect with each of us and our suffering.

Luke 4:16-21: [Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them,’Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'”

Peter and John knew Jesus perhaps more intimately than any other person. They watched His miracles and saw Him transfigured into His glorious nature. They ate, slept, and talked with Him for three years. And they continued to go to the temple to pray because they knew they would meet Jesus there and they loved Him. Yes it wasn’t the only place for them to communicate with Him now after His death and resurrection, after the veil of the temple is torn representing the barrier between man and God (Matt. 27:51), but it was a place dedicated to worshipping God. A place dedicated to worshipping God becomes a whole lot more significant when you know God that well and that personally.

This is how we must learn to view the church. Peter and John went to the temple knowing they could be killed for preaching. The love of Jesus gave them strength and boldness. Peter and John could have been furious at the religious leaders and tried to kill them; remember when Peter tried to cut the ear off of someone trying to arrest Jesus (John 18:10)? They knew, however, that they too (like the religious teachers) had not fully understood who Jesus was until now. They recognized their own fears and weaknesses, especially Peter who denied Jesus after the arrest. They understood now that all men were sinners and they wanted to live in the shadow of their God who had said, while suffering on the cross, “Lord forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Likewise, I pray that we can all approach the church in this light. We go to church for worship of Jesus and not because of the people inside its walls. There are times when we disagree with those inside the church but that should never prevent us from coming to worship our saviour. There are many of us who have been hurt by Christians but we cannot hold the choices and actions of people against God. We must recognize our own faults and admit that we too have offended people. We need to appreciate that all of us are sinners and all of us need forgiveness.

For someone who stayed away from the church for so long, it is amazing to sit and think about Peter and John happily going to the temple, excited to meet the Lord, even though their enemies are in such a close proximity. It is a good lesson never to let anyone jeopardize our relationship with Jesus.

On a final note, I would like to apologize on behalf of those Christians who may have hurt you. If you were targeted by someone in a church or by your own family for whatever reason, I am sincerely sorry. It is unacceptable for you to be treated as anything less than the marvellous work that you are (psalm 139). I am sorry that you were not recognized to be an essential part of the community, the body of Jesus Christ, which you are (1 Corinthians 12:27). I am sorry that may have never been told that you were created for a purpose and that your life has meaning (Ephesians 2:10). I pray that you may come to a place where you no longer hold Christ accountable for your hurts. I pray that you may give Him a chance to come into your life and heal you from any sorrow or emptiness or pointlessness you may feel. God is not just for people in the church, He is for you too. That is a promise.

**This information comes from the Tyndale Life Application Study Bible

Confessions of an often angry and irritable person

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Recently, I completely failed the Lord in practicing patience and mercy. I pray always for patience and yet when given the opportunity to gain this virtue, I become the most angry and irritable person. I felt very convicted this morning as I read in Ephesians 4:1-2: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

I preach unity, love, peace but I can’t even control my own feelings, thoughts, or actions. Lord, what will you do with a hypocrite like me? I sit and wonder what it is that you showed Saint Paul that gave him the ability to minister and serve with such self-sacrifice and love. Maybe I just need to see You more clearly with the eyes of faith? Maybe I need to repent of my pride more? Maybe I still don’t quite understand how much You have forgiven me?

If I was giving someone else advice about my own problem, I would tell them to step away from the situation when feelings of irritability arise. I would ask them to watch their thoughts and think about what is making them angry in particular. I would probably also tell them to discuss their feelings with that person (if a person is involved), in a calm way, to avoid making the situation worse. I would also tell them to remember their own insecurities, perhaps the enemy is playing on one of these sore spots.

It’s high time I take my own advice. I was feeling pretty devastated before the Lord about my behaviour when I read Ephesians 3:13: “Therefore, I ask that you do not lose heart in my tribulations for you, which is your glory.” Saint Paul knew that his tribulations are nothing in comparison to building the faith of the Ephesians. My tribulations can not make me lose heart either because they are for my own glory, my own strengthening in the faith and moulding into the image of Christ my master.

Likewise, I remember the verses I just wrote about from Micah 7:-10: “Do not rejoice over me, my enemy; when I fall, I will arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him, until He pleads my case and executes justice for me. He will bring me forth to light; I will see His righteousness.” I will not let my enemy have the last laugh and I will not allow myself to sink into self-pity. I will learn to arise when I fall with persistence because I know in the end the Lord will bring me forth to righteousness and I will see Him clearly for I will be like Him (1 John 3:2).

Finally, I saw this quote (as I came on to post this article) from the great Saint Anthony, “It is not seemly for us to remember the time which has passed, but let a man be each day as one who begins his toil, so that the excessive weariness (which we shall feel) may be to our advantage. And let him say, as Paul said, “That which is behind me I forget, and I reach out to that which is before me’ (Philippians 3:13). And let him also remember the word of Elijah who said, ‘As the Lord lives, before Whom I stand this day (1 Kings 17:1).'”** I must always look forwards and not backwards. Today is a new opportunity to shine the love and likeness of Christ to the world and I cannot miss this opportunity because of yesterday.

Although this blogpost started in remorse, sorrow, and hopelessness, it is ending in praise of our Great God – The Holy Trinity. I thank my Lord that He is so loving and kind that even when I am rightfully down about my sins against Him, He lifts me up to appreciate the glory and mercy of a new day. Like the Samaritan woman I approached my saviour Jesus Christ in darkness and He transformed it into light saying, “Go and sin no more (John 8:11).”

God be with us all today and everyday. May He grant us His love for others, His patience, and His wisdom.

**http://sayingsoftheorthodoxfathers.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/look-ever-forwards-in-your-spiritual-growth-abba-anthony-the-great/