Spiritual growth through Christian Discipleship. Being a disciple of Jesus is easier if we do it together.
Surrendering to Christ
Welcome back. This week we’re going to be talking about surrender to Christ. The idea for this podcast comes from the book, Becoming a Healing Presence by Dr Albert Rossi. (Amazon Link) And chapter 6 is on Surrender. Specifically, surrender as it relates to becoming a healing presence to others, but I want to touch on surrendering to Christ with our whole lives and by doing this, we will become a healing presence to others.
Surrendering to Christ.
One of the most profound verses on surrender comes from St John the Baptist, “he must increase and I must decrease.” John 3:30
We live in a world of increase. Everything we watch and listen to is telling us we need to obtain more. Even many of our Christian leaders are telling us that we can get more stuff if we just trust God. A pastor bought his wife a Lamborghini and gave it to her on stage to show how God will bless us if we are faithful. And St John the Baptist said, “He must increase and I must decrease.”
We talk about surrender as Christians today in a way that belittles the early church, or the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.We talk like surrendering is something THEY did back then. We’re too sophisticated, or too intelligent. We can manage on our own. And in most things we can manage on our own. I can tie my shoes without Christ. I can drive my car without Christ. But should we?
1 Corinthians 3:18-20 says ,
'Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” '
Surrender is what we are all called to do on a regular basis. It isn’t something you do at an alter once then get up and walk away saying I gave my life to Christ 30 years ago. Surrender is something we do on a daily, hourly, minute by minute basis.
Because of my volunteer work, I talk to alcoholics and addicts on a regular basis. If you want to talk about us as Christians not being able to surrender, ask an addict how much of their life is surrendered to drugs. Ask an alcoholic how much time he or she spends thinking about alcohol. Addicts and alcoholics are completely surrendered to their drug of choice.
We as Christians have the same choice. We can surrender to Christ and let him rule our life or we can continue to give in every day to the world.
God Will Let Us Go
Because of free will, God will let us go on our own. God wants all of us, See Matthew 22:36ff, but he will let us go to the bitter end if we wish. God will not make us surrender to him, that has to be a choice. Dr. Rossi shares this from St Theophan the Recluse,
Seek God: such is the unalterable rule for all spiritual advancement. Nothing comes without effort. The help of God is always ready and always near, but it is only given to those who seek and work, and only to those seekers who, after putting all their own powers to the test, then cry out with all their heart: Lord, help us. So long as you hold on to even a little hope of achieving something by your own powers, the Lord does not interfere. It is as though He says: ‘You hope to succeed by yourself -very well, go on trying! But, however long you try you will achieve nothing.’ May the Lord give you a contrite spirit, a humble and a contrite heart.”
Let’s go back to my friends in the half-way house. Their victory over their addictions came after they surrendered to God. They had surrendered to their addictions for so long that they had lost all hope,
Five God Centered Goals For The New Year or Any Other Time
I know I said I wouldn’t do another podcast before 2021, but I got back from vacation and decided to do an end of the year episode about goal setting because there are thousands of year-end episodes about goal setting in the new year. So what’s one more? Well, I want this one to be different. I’m not against goal setting. I have goals. I have goals for myself; I have goals for my family, and I have goals for my writing and this podcast. We can’t see the future, and God doesn’t reveal everything to us all at once. So these types of goals will change as we grow closer to Christ.
What I want to do today is encourage us to take a step back and instead of just setting goals we want to accomplish for ourselves; we set goals that bring us closer to Christ. In fact...these aren’t just goals, they can become our way of life.
1. Spend a little more time with Christ
I say spend a little more time with Christ because for me, spending time with Christ seems to take a back burner when I get busy, or just find something else to do. Our growth isn’t automatic! If we genuinely want to be mature Christians, we have to spend time with Christ. So one of the things I have recently adopted is the attitude that I can do anything for two minutes. And what I’ve found is that if I do something for two minutes, I will continue longer, but you don’t have to.
Another way to spend more time with Christ is to set an alarm for a couple of times a day to remind you to just say a quick prayer like, “Thy Will be done” or a simple “thank you” just to keep Christ centered in your mind.
What I don’t want to encourage you to do is start an extravagant prayer rule that will take an hour or so to complete. If you want to start spending time alone with God, start small so that you will have more success and not burn yourself out trying to keep it up every day. Two minute is easy and you can do it even if you get up late. Look at it this way. If your goal is two minutes and you spend 30 minutes, you will feel great and want to continue, but if your goal is an hour and you only spend 2 minutes, then you feel like you failed and will possibly give up.
One of the most beautiful lines of scripture is Psalm 42:1 'As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. ' That’s how I want my life to be, and I hope you do as well, but unless we’re called by God to do long sessions of prayer starting small will give us the momentum to grow.
2. Go to Church Regularly
When we miss church, the body of Christ isn’t complete. I mentioned this in the 3rd part of the Didache series. The virus has shown people that they don’t really need to go to church. They can stream it in their living room or just skip it all together. Many times people make the mistake of thinking that we go to church to receive a blessing. That we go to church to be filled. And while those things are accomplished when we go to church, they are not the reason we go to church. We go to church to Worship God because we love him for what he has done for us. We go to church to share in the life of Christ with other believers.
For the listeners who are Orthodox Christians you don’t actually go to a church service you go to Liturgy which actually translates to “The Work of The People.” Making it all the more accurate to say that we need to be there so the body of Christ is complete.
Father Thomas Hopko said
You go to church to work. You don’t go to church to be entertained. It’s not food for thought. It’s not rest and relaxation. It’s not a trip into some escaping world of childhood, where it’s all pretty and nice; it’s hard work: to come to church, to stand there, to pay attention, to listen,
The Didache Part 3
Welcome Back today we’re going to focus on the last 6 chapters of the Didache. These last few chapters focus on Teachers, Prophets, and Apostles. While some people argue that because the author uses the term apostle, that means it was written early enough for the Twelve apostles to still be traveling sharing the gospel. I don’t necessarily agree with that thought. There were 70 Apostles in the bible see Luke 10. The church also recognizes others through history as Apostles to certain groups Like St Columba Apostle to the Scots and Sts Cyril and Methodius apostles to the Slavs. What I think the author is teaching is to test those who call themselves apostles by giving these guidelines.
Heresies Were Prevalent Through History
The first thing the author says in this section is that if someone comes and teaches you everything layed out in this teaching, then let them stay with you. If they try to teach something else don’t listen to them.
Heresies were already creeping into the church as the bible was being written in the first century. We see Paul and John both tackling heresies in their writings. So it’s not going to change by the time the Didache was written. Or even today. Heresies are still prevalent in the church today. We have to be aware of what scripture says, and what the church has taught through the centuries, so we are not led away from Christ’s teachings. Remember, every heresy starts with a grain of truth. For instance, there is a group who calls themselves Trinitarian Christians who baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and The Holy Spirit. But they don’t believe the Holy Spirit is anything more than a messenger for God. Not an active person of the Trinity. That is a very subtle heresy most people will never see. It’s a subtle misstep most people won’t notice. Unlike more prevalent heresies, like not believing Jesus is God or that We can become equal to God that most people can spot a mile away.
Heresies are also why the church gave us the Nicene Creed 200 years after they wrote the Didache. It is a short, memorable statement that lays out most of the teachings of the church. Having teachers who teach us the truth is a blessing. According to the author, we should lift these people up in prayer and give them honor.
True Apostles And Prophets
Now, if an apostle or prophet comes, we receive them like we would the Lord. They can only stay one day and we can only give them enough bread to make it to the next stop. This seemed extreme to me, but as I looked at the reasoning, it really isn’t. This teaching goes back to the teaching in Luke 10 when the Lord sent out the 70 Apostles. He told them to only take their clothes and a walking stick. They were to travel from town to town sharing the Gospel They were to rely on God to provide for their needs. So the author of the Didache followed that teaching when he was giving guidance on what to look for in an Apostle or a prophet.
The author tells us how to judge a prophet. They won’t call for the Eucharist while speaking in the Spirit and then receive it. They won’t ask for money while in the spirit. A prophet will act like the Lord, so that is how to tell them from false prophets.
We should support any prophet who decides to live among us because they are our high priests. This goes back to Paul's teaching to Timothy
'Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching; for the scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves to be paid.”
1 Timothy 5:17-19
Support Your Pastors and Priests
The Didache Part 2
Welcome Back! We’re continuing our overview look at the Didache. Last week we talked about the first 6 Chapters of the Didache which are an early church catechism. This week we are going to look at the second part, which is directions on how to do church stuff like fasting, prayer and the Eucharist. Next week well get into the later chapters that deal with itinerant prophets and pastors. This makes up chapters 7 - 16. While this may sound like a lot, the Didache is only 20 pages total, but each thought is laid out in the translation as a chapter which isn’t found in the original text but makes it easier to find subjects or heading like the translations of the bible.
Again, I’m not going to go line by line, but there is a lot of good stuff in here. I just want to hit some highlights of each section and try to relay how we can use the Didache today.
Let’s Get To It!
Chapter 7 is on Baptism
After the person had been taught everything in the first six chapters, they are ready to be baptized. That is another point we fall short on today. We either rush people to get baptized out of fear of eternal damnation, or teach them the history of our church and basic beliefs. The teaching in the Didache was a requirement. The early church wanted to make sure people understood what they expected of them before they were baptized. I don’t even qualify to be baptized by their standards.
They weren't interested in numbers. They were interested in the truth of the gospel and making sure the community would last. If Jimmy got baptized, he stood a good chance of being killed, or at least ostracized by his family and friends.
I also love this section on baptism because it starts out with a strict, ”Baptize in cold running water,” then goes to you can use lukewarm water and if you don’t have running water pour it over their head. Finally, just use what you have because how you baptize isn’t as important as why. Make sure they know the gospel and then baptize them.
Chapter 8 fasting and prayer
While fasting is prescribed still by the Orthodox and Catholic churches, most protestant churches don’t have set guidelines for fasting and some church bodies reject it completely. The writer of the Didache presumes people in the church fasted and gives the guideline of fasting on Wednesday and Friday instead of Tuesday and Thursday like the Pharisees. The author gives no other restrictions and I assume this is because anyone who read the document would know how to fast because they did it regularly.
What he does do is give some direction on praying. He says we should pray the Lord’s prayer three times each day. This could be the first establishment of what the church calls today, praying the daily cycle, or the hours, or the watches. All of which are a set time throughout the day. Some churches have set prayers for the daily cycle, and the Lord’s Prayer is included in these set prayers.
Chapters 9 and 10 The Eucharist
The Eucharist is only for those baptized into the church. Orthodox and Catholic churches still follow this practice and maybe some protestants, but today just about anyone can show up to most protestant churches and receive communion. As a former protestant we did this, I think for two reasons. First, communion is not looked at as the Real Body and Blood of Christ. It is a symbol of what Christ did for us, and it is done in remembrance of his death on the cross. This remembrance view opens up to the second reason, which is inclusion. Today most people in America believe they are Christians and when they go to church, they take communion if it is offered. We didn’t want to turn people away because there may be an opportunity for evangelism if the...
The Didache Part 1
Welcome Back! It’s been a couple of weeks, but I wanted to do this podcast when the rewrite of the Didache in Modern English hits Amazon, which it has. So, if you don’t know what the Didache is or you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a little recap.
So what is the Didache?
The Didache is an early church document, also referred to as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. It is thought to have been written in the early to mid-second century. However, with the title The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, some feel it may be an even earlier work and some church fathers thought it should be included in the biblical canon, so it held a lot of weight in the early church. I was surprised when our men’s lunch group read it last summer that most copies are just reprints of 19th century books and not modern texts. I want to make sure everyone understands, I'm not translating from the original Greek, I have three public domain copies from the 19th century I am using to come up with a modern take on the document.
It was mentioned by several early church fathers in their writings, but no copy of it had been found until a Greek Bishop named Philotheos Bryennios found it in a stack of other 11th century copies of early church documents in a monastery in Constantinople (Yes that’s still what the Orthodox Church calls Istanbul) in 1883.
The finding of the Didache is the completion of a circle for some scholars. It’s not on a level with the Dead Sea Scrolls, or the Gnostic Gospels found in Egypt, but it's a document that scholars knew was out there, but no one had found a copy. The funny thing is that two teams of scholars passed this copy over a few years before Bishop Bryennios found and published it.
Why Does it matter to us today?
The Didache is important to us because it gives us a glimpse into the early church. One of the biggest takeaways I have from the Didache is that it was written to a group of people who were living a life separate from the world. It wasn’t written to a country or a state or a city. It was written to a group of people who were separated from the world. The Roman world was a harsh and unforgiving place for Christians, and the Didache was written to teach them how to live lives separate from that world.
Today we live for the world and go to church. These people lived in the church and participated in the world, but knew the world was not for them. They didn’t try to change the world; they let Christ change them. This is a lesson I think the church of today could learn from.
Here is a short overview of the first five chapters, which are an early catechism of the church
There Are Two Ways!
The First Part of the Didache starts with the teaching of the two ways, one of life and the other of death. And there is a great difference in the two.
“This is the way of life: First Love the Lord your God who made you, second Love your neighbor as yourself, third do nothing to anyone else that you wouldn’t like to happen to you. To keep these teachings, bless people who talk bad about you, pray for your enemies, and fast for people who persecute you. What credit is it to you if you only love people who love you? Sinners can do that.”
This first part is very familiar to most people who have been in church for any length of time. The Great commandment and the Golden Rule. It’s not twelve ways to be a better Christian or 45 days to a more Godly life. It’s love God, Love your neighbor, and pray for your enemies. Isn’t it amazing that 20 centuries later this is still the hardest teaching we as Christians have? We can’t figure these three things out and our best writers and scholars think we are...
St Moses The Black and My Faith Journey
Welcome back! This episode is a little different because I am sharing a little of my faith journey and tie it in with the story of St Moses the Black, whose name I took when I was Chrismated into the Orthodox church. I first shared this at St John the Divine Greek Orthodox Church in Jacksonville, Florida. I have changed it up a bit because there are things I wanted to share that I wasn’t able to the first time.
So here’s some background... When individuals convert to orthodoxy they take on the name of a saint. This is usually someone they admire or with my children they just take the name of the Saint I gave them when they were born. When our family converted to Orthodoxy, I chose St Moses the Black because he was someone who I could identify with, but he was also someone I could look to in my walk of faith.
Lifestyle of a Saint
St Moses started out his life as a slave but was banished by his master because he, according to some accounts, murdered a man. Whether or not he did St Moses was an all around bad guy so his master didn’t want him around. Soon after being banished, he became the leader of his own band of marauders. What else could he do?
St Moses lived a life of excess whether eating, drinking or stealing. It is said that no man could stand up to him because of his strength. Once he was interrupted as he was trying to steal from a farm so he waited until night, swam the river to kill the farmer who had hid from him again so he stole two of his sheep and swam back across the river to kill and roast them for dinner.
The church I grew up in only baptized people when they accepted Christ into their lives, and this is known as Believers Baptism. They baptized me at 13 years old. I don’t remember what was said or what prompted me to go forward. I knew at that age I was filled with a blackness that needed to be cleansed. That’s where my connection to Abba Moses starts. Because when Abba Moses was ordained to the priesthood, someone commented that “now Abba Moses has become as white as snow.” And Abba Moses retorted, “all but in his heart.”
I understood at 13 years old exactly how he felt.
Even as a child I knew God couldn’t forgive me because of the blackness in my heart. All I remember hearing when I went to church was that God was angry with me for my sin. That I could do no right. I don’t even know that was what was said, I just know that is what I heard. Jesus was an insurance card to keep me out of hell, not someone I could have a relationship with or someone I could live like. I was a Christian in name only and believe it or not I was arrested within a year for breaking and entering. Church wasn't where I could fit in, but the guys I was arrested with they knew me. We were close. Except for when they would steal my stuff, but that’s the price you pay to have friends.
I left the church at age 16 because those same friends didn’t go to church, so why would I. I walked out of church one Sunday and my best friend asked me why I went there because I cursed and smoked and did drugs, and he was right. Church was for people who were good, not people like me. Church was guilt driven and shame based, and I didn’t want to feel guilty or ashamed. My friends didn’t judge me, they encouraged me.
I stayed away from church for the next 10 years. I became an agnostic, which means I assumed there could be a God, I just didn’t want him in my life. But, in my heart, I knew I needed God, but I wasn’t willing to accept him. One story says that St Moses would talk to the God he didn’t know and ask him to show himself to him.
God has a funny way of getting through to people.
After 10 years I had a conversion experience ironically...
Bite sized practical Christianity
This podcast is so helpful to keep me on track in my spiritual life. Extremely practical, relatable and honest about how to grow as a Disciple of Christ and to understand the depths of Christ’s Love for us.