Man Oh Man, It’s Time For The New One

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;  bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

— Colossians 3:12-17

This passage really could not have come at a better time. The preparation week of Lent is coming to an end, and fully-fledged Lent is upon us. It is now the time to put our proverbial money where our mouths are and make a real change in how we are living our lives. I decided to take this passage and break it down, virtue by virtue and self-reflect, and I would encourage you to do the same. Here we go:

  • Tender mercies: not just mercy, but tender mercy; that’s a whole other level of mercy. Have I been merciful to those around me? Or do I get frustrated with others, refusing to let go of their faults and refusing to give the benefit of the doubt?
  • Kindness: do I show kindness to others around me? And when I do where is it coming from? Is it coming from the little that I have or does it stem from the kindness that I am receiving from God?
  • Humility: this is a biggie. What am I focusing my life around? Is it all about me or is it about those around me? Am I doing or saying things to keep attention focused on me? What are the intentions behind my actions and words?
  • Meekness: I don’t think we always know what being meek means, but it goes along with the theme of the rest of this passage. Am I gentle with those around me? Am I soft and calm? Or am I boisterous and loud and saying whatever pops in my head without regard for the consequences?
  • Longsuffering: Am I patient with the people in my life? How about with God? Do I allow Him time to work in my life or do I decide to take matters in my own hands? Do I live my life in the “my way or the highway” mentality or do I leave room for God to do His work on His time?
  • Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another: similar to the attributes above, how am I dealing with people I interact with? Do I forgive or do I insist on holding onto grudges and what I think is owed to me? Do I bear with those who feel like a thorn in my side?

I will be honest with those of you out there reading this, I have not been the best at basically any of these things lately. I haven’t been putting on love like Paul calls for us to do.

But that’s the beauty of this season! It’s another opportunity for a fresh start, to put on love, to be ruled by the peace of God, to be filled with the word of God.

Instead of being ruled by our passions and pride and selfishness and insecurities, let’s choose to be ruled by the peace of God.

Take Me Off This Roller Coaster

Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward.
For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise

— Hebrews 10:35-36

So I’ve been struggling quite a bit the last few months. The last few months have been filled with doubts and insecurities and disappointments…basically the opposite of confidence and endurance. I have depended so much on myself and on the hope I tried placing in others. So naturally I was let down. Repeatedly.

To be honest, things have really stunk lately. I have been riding an emotional roller coaster — no stability, nauseating, and filled with a lot more downs that ups. And for what? For nothing. I cast away my confidence in God and in His love and care for me, and I tried to depend on myself instead. What did I gain from that? Nothing but heartache. Nothing but misery.

I lost my confidence. I lost my endurance. If I’m really being honest, I lost my faith in God’s grace. No reward. No promise. Only bitterness and hurt. That’s what resulted.

Can anyone else relate to this? Lord, I hope not, but also kind of hope so.

But you know what? I’m done. I’m done trying to do things on my own. I’m done seeking after things that mean nothing if I’m not rooted in Christ to begin with. No more running after nonsense. It’s time to get back to where I need to be, where my soul will finally be at peace once more, where self-doubt will turn into love for who God created me to be.

I hope if you are struggling with self-worth, if you are struggling to find meaning or are just filled with hurt and doubts, that you will join me this Lenten season to throw all that out so we can fill ourselves with the thirst-quenching Living Water.

May we remember that the Holy Spirit is He who is in us. May we remember that we are the Father’s royal children. May we remember that we are the beloved of the Son.

Now is not the time to give up on hope. Now is the time to renew our confidence, to increase our endurance, and to prepare to receive the promises we have been given.

I Am Great

 

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
– James 4:10

I don’t think I’ve ever stopped to think about the meaning of this verse. I’ve been singing it for years in churches, at conventions, in my cousins’ basement (ah, memories). But not once have I taken the time to think about what it is I’m singing.

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord…” The definition of humble means “to lower (someone) in dignity or importance.” This means I am to lower myself. This is what James is telling us to do: in the presence of God (which, with Him being present inside me should be all the time), I am to lower myself in importance. It’s like in the movies when one guy is trying to be the hero, the hotshot, but then the true hero or the “big boss” shows up. What does the hotshot do? He quiets down; he realizes his place, and he offers the respect and importance the boss man deserves.

I am perpetually trying to be a hotshot, but do I really offer God, the true Hero, the honor and importance and dignity He deserves?

It isn’t always easy stepping back and giving someone else the glory, but it’s not like that’s the end of it. Look at what God does when I finally give Him the glory: “…and He will lift you up.”

That is not nothing. That is a big deal! It’s one thing for me to talk a big game and toot my own horn, but when God, Creator of all things, King of kings, Lord of lords, lifts me up in His glory, that’s a whole other ball game. Take Joseph for example. If he just decided one day, in his position as a servant or a prisoner, to start talking up how he was this awesome guy who could interpret dreams and should be Pharaoh’s right hand man, would that count for anything? No! Because he was a servant and later a prisoner. But when Pharaoh lifted him up to be his second hand, everyone respected Joseph, and it meant everything.

Illustration-of-Pharaoh-giving-kneeling-OCI0000374

So it is with me. When I lift myself up and puff myself up, it means nothing, and in fact it leads to my destruction because “God resists the proud” (James 4:6). But when I humble myself before God, and let the glory be to Him, He will lift me up, and I will share in His glory which is far greater than anything I could have done for myself!

I Am Rich

“Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.”‭- 1 Timothy‬ ‭6:17‬

It’s amazing how I act as if God is holding out on me, how I decide to take matters into my own hands as if God isn’t already doing things in my life, as if He isn’t giving richly.

We talk about the parable of the prodigal son, but in that story it is the father who is prodigal. He gives and gives and gives to his lost son despite the fact that the son was young and reckless. And when the son returned, the father threw an extravagant, lavish party celebrating his return. We know that this parable is about God the Father and us, His children, who wish to take what we think is rightfully ours and leave the safety of His house. God truly is the prodigal Father. He gives far more than I could ever hope to deserve. And yet I act as if He is trying to keep me from having the things that will make me happy.

> But He gives me richly.

> He gives me all things.

> He gives me so that I may enjoy.

So he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”
– 1 Kings 19:10

Walking this road, living this life, I am meant to be set apart from others in this world. I am not meant to be like everybody else. And sometimes this path will be filled with loneliness. Even Elijah – Elijah! – felt lonely. The man who raised a young man from the dead, the man who brought fire down from heaven, felt lonely, and scared. It’s clearly not unusual, clearly not something I alone struggle with. Being in a land where it seems that “I alone am left”, I find myself feeling lonely. I feel like no one is here to support me or protect me or at least be here for me. But what I sometimes fail to realize is that God is aware. And He is near.

And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
– v. 9

God was there. God knew that Elijah was going into the cave and was about to let the self-pity settle in, and instead of leaving Elijah to mope God’s word came to him, offered an ear to listen, offered comfort where he could find none.

Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice [a delicate whispering voice].
– vv. 11-12

And so God took Elijah out of his cave of self-pity and woke the man up. Nothing wakes a person up quite like tearing winds, earthquakes, and fires. But then after all of that, He came quietly, delicately, speaking to Elijah.

Is this not so typical? How many times has God done this in my life? He takes me out of my slump, wakes me up, and just when I think I may fling myself from the proverbial mountain because of the quakes and fires, He speaks ever so delicately to my heart. I never noticed this translation before: “a delicate whispering voice”, but it makes perfect sense when you think of who God is and how He works.

I am about to give you a little insight to my past here in hopes that it will help make this message more tangible.

When I was in high school, I had a very teenage heartbreak. There were winds blowing and quakes shaking inside of me. I will never forget how hard I took it. I will never forget how I could not make myself stop crying even though I had been sobbing nonstop for hours, curled up on my bedroom floor. And then God asked me, “What are you doing here, Marina?” And I begged, I pleaded for Him to make it stop, to hold me and making the crying stop because I was just so tired. Then instantly, the winds quieted, the quaking stopped, the fire extinguished, and my crying finally ceased. He held me, and I could actually feel it. He spoke delicately to my heart and quieted the storm in my soul.
This is a night that I will never forget, even when I am 75 and the Alzheimer’s has kicked in.

brokenheart

More recently than that, God set me back up on that mountain. There was fighting, crying, hurting, all winds, quakes, and fires. I was experiencing weeks of unbearable tempests. And again, God spoke to me, this time through Abouna Bishoy, saying, “What are you doing here, Marina?” Things became clear. The storm quieted. And a delicate whisper eased my heart for the first time in a month.

God will not leave us to wallow in self-pity. He will not leave us to die of loneliness in a cave somewhere, but instead He will wake us up. He will shake us. Then He will delicately whisper words of comfort to us.

Sometimes we need to be woken up by blasting winds in order to be ready to hear the still small delicate whisper.

Stronger Than A Thousand Mighty Men

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
– 1 Corinthians 1:18

This verse is kind of easy to gloss over. When I read through 1 Corinthians at one point or another I had underlined it, but that’s it. I feel like a lot of the time we read verses such as this one and think, That’s a nice sentiment, having the power of God, and then we move on to the next one.

We need to stop. We need to meditate in what “the power of God” really means. The power of God is not something neat or kind of cool. It is awesome, in the true, original meaning of the word: The power of God is so great that it fills people with awe and wonder. It moves mountains – literally! It heals the sick, lifts up the dead, disperses demons, even forgives sins. And that’s only to name a few!

Even before Christ walked this earth and showed us some of what He is made of, it was evident how incredible God’s power is:
The three saintly youth (Daniel 3:19-30)- God’s power kept the flames of the furnace from harming Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as they praised God.
Daniel (Daniel 6:10-23)- God’s power kept the lions from devouring him.
Or how about Elijah! He caused a drought (1 Kings 17:1-7). He raised a young man from the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24). He brought fire down from heaven (1 Kings 18:20-40)!

And there are countless more wonders that have been done through the power of God!

elijah

Just listen to what King David had to say about merely the voice of God:

The voice of the LORD is powerful;
The voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars,
Yes, the LORD splinters the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes them also skip like a calf,
Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the LORD divided the flames of fire.
The voice of the LORD shakes the Wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth,
And strips the forests bare;
And in His temple everyone says, “Glory!”
– Psalm 29:4-9

The power of God is not just some nice, abstract idea. It is alive as He is alive. And if I am live through His resurrection, then the power of God is alive in me. If I truly have faith, even of a mustard seed (do you know how tiny those things are?!), then I could literally move mountains from one part of the earth to another; look at St. Simon the Tanner! He was just an average Joe like you and me, except for one thing: he had real faith. And with that faith he moved a mountain!

Or even more recently than that, people like Abouna Makary Younan, who casts out demons daily!

The power of God is real, and it is very present. And it does not just belong in the times of the apostles or early Church martyrs.

Which brings me to the next part, the “how” part. How do I attain the power of God within me? How do I find the faith I need? How can I be like Daniel, like Elijah, like the apostles?

Two words: the cross. 

There is no way around it. There is no way above it or below it. You know how in “Finding Nemo” Marlin and Dory don’t want to go through the deep, dark abyss so they swim above it instead? That isn’t an option here. The only way to have the power of God in me is through the cross. 

The entire premise of this verse centers around “the message of the cross”. The cross is what gives us this power. The only way to attain the power of God is to live the resurrected life. And to live the resurrected life, I must first die the death of the cross.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him.
– Romans 6:8-9

Take a look at the players mentioned above:
The three saintly youth still had to go into the fire.
Daniel still had to enter the den of lions.
Elijah was terrified for his life, was living alone in a cave, and thought he was the only follower of God left on the earth.

Each and every one of the key players in the Bible or Synaxarium carried a cross in one form or another. Every one of them offered his or her life as a sacrifice for the Lord.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
– Romans 12:1

It is only through putting to death the old man in me, the flesh, the earthly nature, that I will be able to live a true and resurrected life. And only then will I be able to live with the power of God in me.

Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.
– John 12:24

Imagine the wonders God could do through us, the grain, the fruit, if we would just die to ourselves and live for Him instead.

Tunics, Cloaks, & Miles

If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.”
– Matthew 5:40-41

secondmile

As a child of God, a follower of Christ, a member of the New Jerusalem, I am to be sanctified, consecrated, set apart. I am not meant to blend in, to be a member of the pack.

What does this look like? How am I supposed to be set apart? John 13:35.

By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

The love of God surpasses all love. His love goes beyond the love of this world. According to this world we love only those who love us. And by love, I mean we love until it no longer benefits us, then we move on. We “fall out of love”. We are taught by this world to love very conditionally, as long as it is convenient or we see that it is good for us. Why do you think people are so screwed up and why there is so much brokenness?
We accept this distorted, demented view of what the world tells us love is as truth.

Real love is nothing like this idea of love we have adopted from the world.

Real love is unrelenting.
Real love is uncontainable.
Real love is unconditional.
Real love is unyielding.
Real love is putting down my own life for the person in front of me.
Real love is death, even death on the Cross.
Real love is going the second, third, tenth mile when I am asked for one.

No part of love is about myself. Love “does not seek its own” (1 Corinthians 13:5), but seeks the joy and fulfillment and salvation of the people around it.

IS MY IMAGE OF LOVE SELF-SERVING OR IS IT SELF-SACRIFICING?