Christ the Teacher

Christ the Teacher

Monday, May 15, 2017

Christian Spirituality XXXI: Beware of False Prophets

Christ is risen!  Yes, He truly is Risen!

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will know them by their fruits.  Are grapes gathered from thorns or figs from thistles?  So, ever sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit.  A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus you will know them by their fruits,” Matthew 7:15-20.

We are coming to the end of this sermon.  Jesus takes a moment to warn us about the false prophets, people who will tell us things that are not true.  They will cover themselves with some good deeds and show the good side of their teachings but deep down, they are wolves ready eat up their victims. 

Look at Christian history and how we have gone astray from each other.  Just looking at our doctrinal teachings, my goodness!  Look at how we have grown apart!  A look at our Christian practice and worship is also revealing.  It is like we are of different religions. 

Nearly twenty-five years ago now, I began my Christian journey.  It was summer of 1993 and I began to throw off the blindness of atheism and I began to look at Jesus as divine.  I assumed that all Christian churches were roughly the same.  I began to read and watch TV church on Sunday evenings.  Wow.  These programs really beat up on each other.  They really took it to Tradition and the ancient ways.  Thus began my search for Christian truth and the roots of Christian teachings, beliefs, and practice. 

How did the earliest Christians believe?  How did they worship?  How did they live their lives?

“Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls,” Jeremiah 6:16.

And so I began to read the early saints of the Church.  And here is where I find safety from the ravenous wolves who would teach error and lead people astray.  The Church has had 2,000 years of practice guarding her sheep.  She knows how to distinguish between the true and the false prophets. 

This article will be short.  One reason is that I do not want to lead anyone astray!  I merely will give you to Mother Church and her saints and to the Holy Fathers and Mothers who have taught us for 20 centuries.  Read them.  Do what they say.  Don’t listen to ignoramuses like me.  Test everyone you come into contact with.  Compare what they say to the ancient ways.  It they are different, discard them.  Stick to the tried and true.  Many of the prayers we use are ancient.  Liturgy is ancient.  Our beliefs and doctrine is based upon the teachings of the Apostles and are ancient.  Let us imitate the early Christians who “… devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers,” Acts 2:42.

Hmmm.  You can’t get much more ancient in Christian history than this passage which occurs right after Pentecost.  Notice anything?  They followed the Apostles’ teaching.  They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread.  What bread?  Did they eat sandwiches a lot?  Ponder this.  Also, THE prayers.  Hmm.  Did they just “wing it” in prayer or was there a prayer book?  Yes, ponder this.  Ponder our roots and root out the modern falsehoods.  Seek the ancient paths.

Peace always.

Dennis the Little

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Christian Spirituality XXX: The Narrow Way

Christ is risen!  Yes, He truly is Risen!

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few,” Matthew 7:13-14.

Ultimately, there are two ways we can go: an easy path and a difficult one, one leads to death, another to life.  Commercials and ads promise “quick and easy.”  There is a lot of religion out there that promises the same.  They promise that salvation comes by just believing in Jesus, or saying this prayer and you are in.  No matter what you do, Jesus will love you and when you die, you get to enter into Heaven. 

But Jesus says that the way that leads to life is difficult.

What can be difficult about this way?  What IS this way?  We have to remind ourselves that in this Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is not giving us a quick way to Heaven.  If that were so, He could have just said, “Believe in me and you’ll go to Heaven!”

Jesus gives us a way to combat evil and to grow spiritually.

First He describes His followers in the Beatitudes in 5:3-12.

He tells us we are salt and light (5:13-16), but not just in name only.  There is an action strongly implied.

In 5:17-19 He tells us that He is not nullifying one iota of the law.  It is still in force.  We have to follow it and take it into ourselves.  It should be noted that the law Jesus is talking about is the Ten Commandments, not the rules of washing cups and deciding who is clean or unclean.  It is the moral law which He then develops in the remainder of Chapter 5. 

Our obedience to the law must be internal, and not just external works as the Pharisees were so famous of doing.  We must be righteous which just mean that our living must be “right ordered.”  We must situate ourselves in the world in a manner that we just plain do what is right even though it may cause us to suffer, or not get promoted, or maybe cost us some money.  What is right is right. 

We might think that because we haven’t killed anyone that we are righteous.  Jesus extends this commandment to say that name calling is the same as murder and looking at a woman with lust is the same as the physical act of adultery.

So many Christians today clamor for “an eye for an eye.”  Just mention the death penalty and you will hear a lot of that.  It is good to note that Jesus ABOLISHES this notion of justice.  He tells us we must be perfect.  And how do we do that?  He is not talking about a perfect way of living in which we never make a mistake or never sin.  The perfection of God that we are able to imitate is His mercy and mercy is a sign of the presence of His Kingdom.  So, be merciful!  Don’t go for the eyes. 

In chapter six and seven, Jesus breaks down a little more neatly what this right living looks like and how to grow into it.

There are seven steps, or spiritual disciplines, to becoming “perfect:”

1.      Humility, Matthew 6:1
2.      Be charitable, 6:2-4
3.      Pray, 6:5-15
4.      Fast, 6:16-18
5.      Trust in God, 6:19-33
6.      Release Judgment, 7:1
7.      Self-accusation, 7:2-5

These are not given to us to do once and forget them, nor is perfection demanded immediately upon becoming a disciple.  These are given to us to work on, struggle with, and grow towards our whole lives.  The beginning of the spiritual life begins with humility.  Each step become increasingly more difficult and takes more surrender as we continue to grow.  This is the struggle with ourselves, the demons, temptations, and the sins that attract us.  We never arrive, but we can grow.  We can become better.  Really, the process is about healing and receiving God’s mercy.  As we grow, we become more able to fast, or more able to not judge others and to see that we need not complain or blame others.  We can see that it is my fault. 

I put forward to you that this is the narrow way.  We live in a fast food culture.  Religion resembles this too.  There are many who tell us that everyone goes to heaven, just believe in Jesus and you will be ok.  Well, if that were true, why did Jesus spend so many words saying otherwise?  Why did He give us this marvelous sermon and command us to DO so many things? 

Yes, ponder these things, ponder the narrow way and the implications this has for your life.  Are there some things that need to be changed?  If so, begin small, but begin to change.  We do not need to afraid.  God in His mercy is here to help us change, little by little.  As we pray and fast and give to others, as we see our need, as we repent, as we see that we do not need to blame anyone for our lives, we will see Jesus more and more in our lives and in all those around us. 

Yes, this path is difficult, but it is also the path of encountering the Lord.  It leads to life, and joy, and peace, and love and about everything positive that you could imagine.  Enjoy your journey.

Peace always.

Dennis the Little

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Christian Spirituality XXIX: The Law and the Prophets

Christ is risen!  Yes, He truly is Risen!

I feel obliged to comment on the second part of the section that deals with asking, seeking, and knocking.  Jesus continues by saying that we, who are evil, yes even we know how to give our children what they ask for.  How much more will the Father!  Then verse 12, “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.”

What is Jesus saying?  He uses this same line later in Matthew’s Gospel when He gives us the two Greatest Commandments, Matthew 22:34-40.  The Greatest Commandments are that we love God with our whole being and that we love our neighbor as ourselves.

One note about the second part of this commandment: some people, indeed some Bible translations render this part as, “…love our neighbor as we love ourselves.”  This is incorrect.  Truly, we are to love ourselves, but this is not what Jesus is saying.  He commands us to love our neighbor as if he or she IS OURSELVES.  For if we read the Church Fathers and Mothers, yes, truly our neighbor is in fact me.  I must see myself in my neighbor.  My neighbor is me.  You must see your neighbor as you.  You and I must treat our neighbor in this manner. 

We are all guilty of being far more merciful to ourselves and our mistakes than we are with our neighbor.  We can be very short tempered with others, very judgmental.  Oh!  We must correct this behavior if we are going to have peace in our own souls and peace in the world.  Practice, practice, practice to treat our neighbor as if in fact we a different person who is acting upon ourselves.  Treat ourselves with mercy.  Treat ourselves with mercy in the other person.  The other person is me and you.  We must never forget to treat each other with mercy!  Be merciful to the sin or errors and mistakes of others!  This is so important.  How will the world let alone Christians understand that our God is a merciful God if we do not act with mercy!

We hear so much about “God is justice!”  And true, He is, but what those justice proclaimers often forget is that even in His justice, God is merciful!  Mercy and justice go together.  Does this sound like a contradiction?  Please read the following sermon given not so long ago at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.

There is much to consider here.  And we would do well to follow the Lord in His command.  When others do injustice to you, please, please, please, (and this advice is for me too!) we must make progress in not lashing out!  We must find a way to return good for evil, love for hate.  We are commanded by our Lord to love even our enemies.  This is the way of the disciple of the Lord.  When someone does us wrong, we must pray for that person. 

Will we become meek and mild over night?  Oh no.  And I have been at this for many years.  I am certainly not perfect, but I think there is progress.  One key to unlock this behavior, one key to end this horrific impulse to lash out with violent words, violent actions, or violent emotions, violent thoughts, is to remember that we do not belong to this world.  We are pilgrims and sojourners.  We are here but a short while.  The spiritual combat is fought in our hearts every day.  Every day we can choose to love and be merciful.  The devil and his minions will try to convince us to lash out, put down someone, or be harsh with them.  Oh, and he makes so much sense.  He tells us things like, “Do you want to be a door mat?  If you don’t take care of this now, no one will ever respect you!”  And I could go on. 

It is our hearts that want to lash out at others because we are deluded into thinking we have a right to be treated better than others.  Look at the injustice all throughout the world.  So many do not even have food to eat.  So many people forced from their homes or jobs or even have their families slaughtered in front of their eyes.  So terrible.  We must look at these events and resolve in our own hearts that we can bear some bad words or perhaps the loss of a little money.  We embarrass ourselves when we lose our temper over trivial things, or treat others poorly in order to make a few more dollars when we look at others who live the Christian faith much better than we. 

You know, Christ took all of our sins, from everyone, to the Cross.  Perhaps our cross is to bear the sins of just one of neighbors, or a friend, or our mother.  Just one person and just for a short time, and just a sin or two that they have done to us.  Is this too much to ask for?  St. Paul urges the Corinthians to put up with the injustice of others, at least for what others do to us in 1 Corinthians 6:7-8, “To have lawsuits at all with one another is defeat for you.  Why not rather, suffer wrong?”

Pray for the strength to endure.  Pray for a compassionate heart.  Pray for patience.  Pray that each of us will improve in our way of dealing with others.  We must cultivate in our hearts that my neighbor is me, that your neighbor is you.  When we have made progress in this, we will be able to truly love the enemy.  We will be able to see that very often, I am my own worst enemy.  Yes, I am my own enemy too often.  And rather than condemn, I must love.  I must love myself even when I am at my worst.  I must repent!  Very true, repentance is the hinge that opens the door to Christ!  This will hopefully teach us to love our neighbor even when he is at his worst.  Somehow, perhaps I can see his pain or darkness and help him heal.  This is our problem you know:  we have pain.  Somewhere in our hearts, we act in wicked ways because we are in pain.  We lash out. 

We must get in touch with our pain.  Bring it to the Healer, the Master, the Lord.  He will teach us the way to love and heal.  And just a note to ponder, the word in the Bible so often translated as “to save” or “salvation” is a synonym with “to heal” or “healing,” and also “to deliver” or “being delivered.”  So, while we are being saved, while we are on the journey of salvation, it makes perfect sense to me that we are also being healed and delivered from our afflictions.  They go hand in hand.

Peace always.

Dennis the Little

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Christian Spirituality XXVIII: Asking, Seeking, Knocking

Christ is risen!  Yes, He truly is Risen!

Today I will write about Matthew 7:7 – 12.  Verse 7 reads like this, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

Orthodox material that I read is quick to point out that the verb tense in this verse (in the Greek) is the present progressive.  A better English translation would be, “Be asking… Be seeking…. Be knocking…. The Orthodox Study Bible adds that we, “…ask in prayer, we seek by learning God’s truth, and we knock by doing God’s will.” 

I like to link this to 1 John 5:15, “And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of Him.”  The way I read this, it is saying that our praying IS our receiving!  We have already received it!  Now, before you get excited, we must remember what prayer is, what God’s will is, and what praying in Jesus’ name is. 

From our own very limited perspective, all our prayers are good.  We all pray for good things, or at least we think so while we are praying.  We pray for better jobs, a good house, good weather for the farmers, health for our children, healing for ourselves and those that we know and love.  Yes, we all ask the Lord for things like these while we pray. 

How often do we pray for God’s will to be done?  Or that we would know God’s will in our lives? 

It is interesting to me that some people can rattle off what God’s will is for them at the drop of a hat.  I wonder if that is really the truth.  I suspect there is a high percentage of these folks whose ideas of what God’s will is for them changes with relative ease.  I knew a pastor who hated living in the north and dealing with winter.  He loved to golf.  All of a sudden, he knew it was God’s will that he move to Texas.  And sure enough, he found a church that needed a pastor and that town had a great golf course and he packed his bags and was gone.  He said it was God’s will that he move to this town.  

Was that God’s will for him?  I don’t know.  I can’t say for anyone else because I have a hard enough time with the specifics in my own life.  And truthfully, unless our jobs entail something that is unlawful or immoral, I don’t think God really cares what we do to make a living.  I think we can just rely on what we love to do.  And perhaps just doing what we love is God’s will.

But there is a larger picture, one more general that I find that people often miss.  How do we treat people?  How do we live in the world or even our family?  Yes, there are some passages and texts in the Bible that tell us very specifically what God’s will is for us.  We can look at the Ten Commandments and The Sermon on the Mount.  Just these two items would keep us busy (and humble)!  Not just keeping laws however, which is how many people read them, but in guiding the way in which we live. 

I wonder if there are lot of people, even Christian people, who don’t even pay attention to either of these.  I hear some tell me that I don’t need to bother trying to live the Sermon on the Mount because Jesus was just giving us the goal of the Christian life and not what was required or anything.  If you are able to follow all these rules, when good, but if not, that’s OK because we are not saved by keeping laws, or so the story goes. 

Jesus will tell us point blank in 7:21 that to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, we must DO God’s will.  So, I think finding out God’s will is important.  And it isn’t complicated.  It’s pretty simple actually.  Much of it is either written down or is taught by our Church.  I would like to share this short list of verses that say we are judged according to our works or words.

Proverbs 24:12
Psalm 62:12
Jeremiah 17:10
Matthew 7:21
Matthew 12:36
Matthew 16:27
John 5:29
Acts 10:35
Romans 2:6-10, 13
Romans 14:12
2 Corinthians 5:10
1 John 2:17
1 Peter 1:17

This list is by no means exhaustive.  Rather in my daily reading of Scripture, I pay attention and try to make connections.  These are ones that I have written down over the past few months.

So, the most important thing to ask for is eternal life with the Lord and He does not keep it a secret of how we are to get there and what we must do.  It’s pretty plain and simple, although not necessarily easy.  And when we fail, we will encounter the mercy of God.  Remember in Matthew 5:48, Jesus says, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father in perfect.”  What this is really saying is that mercy is a sign of the Kingdom.  The perfection of God is mercy.  So, just by practicing mercy, we can travel far and fast in the spiritual life. 

It is an error, a false Gospel, that we can ignore the law, that we can accept Jesus as our Savior and then basically do as we will.  The deceiver Satan sews ideas such as this when we are not diligent and watchful.  When we start thinking like that, it is good to recall the words of Christ Himself in Matthew 7:21.  This, and similar verses like the ones above, should develop within us a certain amount of fear, or wonder and awe, that we should desire to stay close to our Savior.  Yes, we will fail.  We will fall.  Humility becomes an essential ingredient to our living the Gospel and we recognize our failures and our falling and we humbly seek the Lord and His mercy and forgiveness.  We rise again.  We choose narrow path. 

It is here that we sift and sort through what is really important and we find out what are the essential things to ask of the Lord.  One thing to recall is that in the Lord’s Prayer, the one He commanded us to say, there is not one petition in it that is earthly or temporal (not even daily bread which really refers to Eucharist).  I wonder if it is here that we eventually learn wisdom.  You know as we struggle through life, prayers that are seemingly unanswered, endure some suffering, experience trials, we come to the realization of what is more important.  Yes, it is OK to ask the Lord to heal Gramma’s heart, her physical heart after a heart attack or something.  We should pray for this!  Yet, let us also learn to ask the Lord for strength in bearing suffering.  Ask the Lord to help Gramma in her suffering.  For it is through suffering that the Lord teaches us wisdom, love, and how to truly be compassionate and holy. 

Suffering has much to teach us.  As we grow in faith, let us ask the Lord to open our hearts to the lessons He is trying to teach us through our trials.  Let us seek the Lord merely for Who He is and prostrate ourselves before Him and ask His help to teach us how to love more fully, putting others first, treating them as better than ourselves.  Let us keep knocking that He would open our hearts and teach us the ways of holiness, to set us on the narrow path, and keep us from false teachers.

Those last two items, I will take up next time.  Until then, keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking.  The Lord is listening.  Follow Him.  He is leading us to our answers.  Life itself contains many of the answers to our prayers if we but remain watchful and open to seeing.

Peace always.

Dennis the Little

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Christian Spirituality XXVII: Pearls Before Swine

“Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you,” Matthew 7:6.

Like any line of Scripture, there are multiple valid interpretations.  Here is one that I like because it causes me to see the pride that lies inside of me.  I am often tempted to speak to others what I know and what I have just learned.  It’s kind of like, “Look at me!  I know what this means.  Just ask me and I’ll tell you the deep, hidden meaning.  See, I’m pretty smart.  I must be close to God.”

If I were honest, this is one reason why I began to write.  Now, hopefully it is not the reason that I continue to write! 

Jesus has given us pearls in this sermon, wonderful teachings that will make a difference in our lives if we do them.  This line is telling me, “Don’t just go around bragging about it, or showing off to your friends what you know, just calmly and simply do them.  Live out what I teach you.  This will be enough.”

And so dear friends, let this be enough for you and for me. 

Peace always.

Dennis the Little

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Imitation of Christ

I have been reading the Imitation of Christ again, slowly, very slowly, during Lent.  I came across this a couple weeks ago and wanted to share it with you for my last article, but I forgot to include it.  So I will put it here, now.

The Fourteenth Chapter


TURN your attention upon yourself and beware of judging the deeds of other men, for in judging others a man labors vainly, often makes mistakes, and easily sins; whereas, in judging and taking stock of himself he does something that is always profitable.

We frequently judge that things are as we wish them to be, for through personal feeling true perspective is easily lost.

If God were the sole object of our desire, we should not be disturbed so easily by opposition to our opinions. But often something lurks within or happens from without to draw us along with it.
Many, unawares, seek themselves in the things they do. They seem even to enjoy peace of mind when things happen according to their wish and liking, but if otherwise than they desire, they are soon disturbed and saddened. Differences of feeling and opinion often divide friends and acquaintances, even those who are religious and devout.

An old habit is hard to break, and no one is willing to be led farther than he can see.
If you rely more upon your intelligence or industry than upon the virtue of submission to Jesus Christ, you will hardly, and in any case slowly, become an enlightened man. God wants us to be completely subject to Him and, through ardent love, to rise above all human wisdom.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Christian Spirituality XXVI: Judge Not

Jesus continues His sermon with a few lines about judging others, Matthew 7:1-5.  We will be judged to the same degree that we pass judgment on others.  Now, we know that we shouldn’t judge people, and yet, we do it all the time, don’t we?  Don’t you?  Certainly I do. 

You know the routine.  You see someone during the liturgy who is obviously not paying attention.  You thank God that you are paying attention and are not like this person over there who obviously is not getting anything out of the prayers.  You might even wonder what will be going on in their head when it comes time for Eucharist.  “Yep.  They’ll blow that one too.” 

Or, there’s looking down on someone who is poor, not well educated, or maybe someone is overweight, another person smokes, and we can come up with a pretty long list can’t we?  How many things could we judge our boss about?  Our spouse?  How about high school kids?  Undocumented immigrants?  College students?  Athletes?   The rich?  How about rich athletes that make the headlines due to a crime or other negative reason?  After each of these we can each write a litany of criticisms of each one.  It seems that we judge others almost automatically.

We are guilty.  So now what?  What do we do?  How do we overcome this all too common tendency of ours?

Well, since I am no expert, and I do not want to be the blind leading the blind, I’ll keep it very simple.  First, follow the Scripture, “Attend to thyself and diligently guard your soul,” Deuteronomy 4:9.  What does this mean?  Simply that we keep watch over what we do and what is in our hearts to begin with and what we allow inside of ourselves.  Every night before sleep it is helpful to pass over the day and watch yourself as if from a distance.  What did you do?  How did you treat others?  Of course we know what our thoughts were at the time and we can look at those too.  What were we thinking when we said something negative to another person?  Were we looking down on someone?  Conversely, were we putting someone up on a pedestal? 

Over time we can keep vigilant with the goal of allowing this sin into our hearts less and less.  Let us also make a sincere apology to the Lord when we notice ourselves guilty of this practice.  Ask for God’s mercy and pray.  Make mental notes too about who you tend to be more judgmental towards.  When we notice we are judging others, we should pray for them.  Ask the Lord to have mercy on them and help them.  Ask that He help us to see Christ in them and to treat them as Christ.  Over time, our judgment of others will become less and less. 

As we practice and strive to be non-judgmental, non-condemning, we can become more at peace inside.  It is like this: most people (me too) tend to be very patient and forgiving of ourselves but hold others to a higher standard.  Speaking for myself, if I look back with honesty, it is like I was looking at others with an eye to correct them which of course justified my own actions, my own twisted judgments.  It is almost an attitude of me being in charge to point out the flaws of others so that they can live better and draw nearer to the Lord. 

That seems to be the justification anyways.  But I think what is really happening is that the soul knows what the problem is.  However, our ego cannot accept that we are the problem and we look to solve the problem in others.  We see our faults quite clearly but deal with them in other people. So, this must be part of our reorientation as well.  What do we condemn in others?  A step towards inner peace then is to find this fault in ourselves.  Once we can do this, then perhaps, if we are directed by the Lord, we can help our neighbor.  But we must do this inner work first.  Otherwise, we will be the blind leading the blind.  Pray to God that we do not lead others over the cliff, but rather do our inner work first.  Yes, it is painful and at times difficult, but the Lord and the Church can be our guides and offer us help along the way.

Peace always.

Dennis the Little