Stepping into the Storm - Ninth Sunday of Matthew

Every week, I try to think of some adorable anecdote about my daughter, something cute to relate to the Sunday Gospel reading. Unfortunately, my reflections usually end up drenched in worry or concern about something.

Normally, I’m a bit ashamed of this but, as I think about it today, it’s not all bad: there is something bittersweet about the reality that life is often stormy.

Perhaps it’s because the storms remind us that we are simply human, desperately in need of divine grace. After all, it’s pretty easy to forget about the Lord when everything is awesome.

Now, I’m not saying that the Lord sends the storms (that would be kind of cruel), but I’m definitely confident that He uses them. As a parent, I’ve learned that it’s okay to let someone get a little shaken up, especially if you know they’re ultimately going to be okay.

For example, one evening last winter, I let my daughter leave our house without her coat (remember, I live in Phoenix). It wasn’t too cold, so I knew she’d live without it. But I also knew she’d be a little uncomfortable, and that I could use this discomfort to teach her something.

After we’d been outside for 10 minutes, she turned to me and said, “Dad…”

I knew exactly what was coming next.

Im coooooold.

And my response? “Oh no! I’m so sorry to hear that, honey. I know how that feels! One time I went out in the snow” (yes, she knows what snow is) “in my bare feet, and I was so cold! You can bet I’m never going to do that again!”

I didn’t make her cold. But I was willing to let her endure the cold while I shared her plight. Because the kid has to learn, and I’ll stick with her until she does.

In this scenario, the solution is pretty easy: my little one needs to put on a jacket. When it comes to our spiritual walk, the solution is just as simple, though it isn’t so easy: we need to put on Christ (Gal. 3:27).

That phrase has always perplexed me: how does one “put on Christ?” And what does it look like when one does?

Honestly, I’m not sure I have a solid answer, but I know one thing: its going to happen in the midst of the storm of life.

In the Gospel this Sunday, the disciples (as usual) find themselves in a predicament. They are at sea, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a storm, and Jesus isnt even in the boat. Then, out of nowhere, comes Christ (wait for it) walking on the water.

The stormy water.

When Christ makes Himself known to the disciples, Peter says, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water” (Matt. 14:28). And with a single word, Christ invites Peter to join Him for the most incredible stroll in the history of ever:

“Come.”

We all know the rest of the story. But what’s most amazing to me isn’t that Peter could walk on water with Christ, at least until he was overwhelmed by the storm (we’ve all heard that Sunday School lesson). What’s more incredible is that, even in the midst of the storm, Christ just keeps walking

In Him, there is no fear, no complaint, no concern for the storm. He is steadfast.

This offers a glimpse of what it means to “put on Christ.” We wouldn’t go out in the cold without a jacket (at least, not more than once), inappropriately dressed for the weather. So perhaps when it comes to the storms of our lives, we also need to dress more fittingly.

We need to put on the steadfastness of Christ by putting our faith in Christ.

We also see this lesson in the life of one of my all-time favorite saints, whom we happen to commemorate on Sunday: St. Stephen, the first martyr.

After being accused of blasphemy for believing in Christ, St. Stephen defended himself with an incredible speech. The crowd was unconvinced, and began dragging him out of city to kill him. As they stoned him, St. Stephen echoed some of Christ’s famous last words: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60).

Whatever else “putting on Christ” might look like, it has to resemble this. We may not face martyrdom, but we do go through all kinds of storms (job loss, divorce, betrayal), and Christ and St. Stephen show us that we can endure them without complaint, without resentment, and without the desire for revenge. We are simply to keep our eyes on Christ, and to keep walking.

We are to trust in Him, the One that no storm can shake.

For St. Stephen, putting on Christ’s steadfastness came down to trusting in the victorious and risen Son of God, whom he saw just seconds before this, stating, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). This is why his words echo Christ’s, for “when we see Him, we will be like him, for we will see Him as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2).

And to be like Christ means to be steadfast in the midst of a storm.

After all, Christ did not come to simply fix our problems, but He did come to share in and transform our suffering. And He remained steadfast in that mission all the way to the grave, and out again.

Following Christ, putting our faith in Him, literally putting on Christ doesn’t mean that storms won’t come. It just means that they don’t have to be nearly as scary as they once were.

It means that we can have the utmost assurance that Jesus doesn’t blench at the sound of thunder or the rolling of a giant wave. No, Christ keeps walking, and He invites us to do so too, keeping our eyes on Him every step of the way.

What do you think?  How has your Faith in Christ helped you during difficult times. Leave a comment and let us know what you think!

Photo Credit:

Kid in Snow: yorkd via Compfight cc

Storm: Joseba Barrenetxea Altuna via Compfight cc

St. Stephen Martyrdom: "Garzi (attr) Stoning of Saint Stephen" by attributed to Luigi Garzi (1638–1721) - http://www.van-ham.com. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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For more:

For more on putting on Christ, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

The Burden of Choice

Choice is overwhelming.

 

When I was a kid, I was sure my life was going to follow a pretty standard path.  I was going to grow up, graduate high school, go to college (study politics), get a great job, get married, and have kids, all while going to Church.  

 

I had a clear idea in my head. After all it’s what I grew up seeing, and I didn’t think there was much variation.

 

All of my preconceived ideas of what life would look like shattered when I realized the thrill (and terror) of choice.  Not only could I decide NOT to do all of the things I thought I would, but I was faced with an endless amount of alternatives.  If I decided tomorrow to pick up and go to clown college, I could (provided they accepted me; my resume isn’t exactly circus-ready).  

 

At first, that feels incredibly liberating.  But it quickly becomes burdensome.  

 

It’s difficult to not only have to make a decision, but to have to make the right decision in every little situation.  

 

What should I wear today?  How many cups of coffee are too many? Do I really to buy more video games?

 

And once I’ve made a decision, how can I be sure it was the right one?  What about some other option I didn’t fully consider?  What happens if I’ve picked wrong?

 

This alI takes up way too much of my energy.  My life is an endless weighing of pros and cons, and if I’m struggling to sift through choices when it doesn’t matter, how can I expect myself to make good decisions when it does?

 

I haven’t always.   

 

The small choices we make in our daily lives usually don’t carry much weight in the long term.  What I have for dinner, or what brand of toothpaste I buy, doesn’t really matter all that much; so, if I wanted to, I could make these choices without much thought.  Yet when our day is full of so many inconsequential and rushed decisions, we need to be careful that the serious decisions don’t fly by without a second thought.  

 

But how inconsequential are the small choices, really? It’s easy to forget that every day, from the moment we wake up, we are choosing what kind of person we want to be.  Every choice throughout the day defines and shapes us.  And there is no end to the decisions we need to make, great and small.  Which is daunting, to say the least.

 

I certainly don’t have all of the answers, and I’m hardly qualified to offer any decision-making advice; I make questionable decisions all day, every day.  But I do know that most of the really bad decisions I’ve made in my life have one common denominator: I forgot that, despite whatever situation, what I’m really trying to choose is Christ.

 

Who I’m trying to choose is Christ.

 

I forget occasionally that I have to make that decision over and over again.  It’s not a one time thing.  And each time I make that decision I am choosing to trust that God will guide me.

 

Now that I’m an adult (mostly) the responsibility to choose, and choose correctly, falls exclusively on me.  I am actively responsible for making Christ the center of my decision- making process.  I have to remember on my own to prioritize Church.  There is no one reminding me what time Liturgy starts, or that I shouldn’t stop for a Redbull because I want to receive Communion.

 

The active nature of choosing to go to Church on a Sunday morning helps me remember that, every time I make that decision, I am choosing Christ.

 

It’s kind of like fasting from sleep rather than food, a little choice that helps clarify where my  focus really needs to be.  

 

And this understanding, seeing my choices in light of my relationship to Christ, helps ground me in an otherwise stressful world.  

 

I can’t weigh the pros and cons of every decision I make in minute detail.  Even though we live in a culture obsessed with options (sometimes just for the sake of having more options) the benefits of choice shouldn’t mask the cost. Options are liberating, but they can also trap us in anxiety and doubt.  We can easily allow ourselves to get bogged down by the small things.  

 

Christ recognized this, and reminded us that if we place our trust in Him we will be provided for:

 

Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? … Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? ... But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:26, 28-29, 33)

 

I’m not going to make the perfect decision every time, and I’m going to regret some of the decisions I make.  Rather than obsess and stress over making the perfect choice every time, I need to learn to take a breath, to step back from weighing pros and cons and turn to Christ. As Christian discussed on Tuesday http://blogs.goarch.org/blog/-/blogs/when-all-you-have-ain-t-all-that-much-eighth-sunday-of-matthew, I need to remember that I don’t have the strength or wisdom to handle this on my own.

 

Rather than rely on myself to make the right decision each and every time, I need to learn to trust God.  

 

I need to remember that I can’t do this on my own.

 

As I make all these decisions, I need to remember to trust that Christ will guide me as I move through a world of almost limitless options.  I just have to make sure I’m open to His grace.

 

 

Charissa is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM.  Charissa grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah where she studied political science at the University of Utah.  She enjoys sunshine, the mountains and snowcones.  Charissa currently lives in New York City.   

 

For more on choosing Christ, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

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When All You Have Ain't All That Much - Eighth Sunday of Matthew

Lately, I feel like I’m barely holding on.

I’ve been grumpy, tired, and honestly, a little difficult to live with. I’m afraid that I’m always two steps behind my responsbilities, and I’m certain I’m not good enough to keep up with everything else in my life.

Even though my own life feels so out of control, I also frequently feel a great deal of pressure to make sure that everyone I care about is perfectly okay all the time. Unfortunately for them (and for me), I’m entirely incapable of doing so.

And so, I feel burnt out.

And there’s nobody to blame for this but myself! I put so much pressure on myself to do everything perfectly all the time: to write the best blog post, to quiet a fussy baby quickly, to respond patiently to a 4-year-old’s tantrum, to keep up my end of our "You-Cook-I-Clean" arrangement, to do more and more and more.

But the reality is that I just cant.

I cant do it all.

I cant stretch beyond my finite limits. And when I try, I become grumpy.

I can give what I have, but once I’m spent, it’s time to rest.

And that’s hard. Especially for perfectionists like me.

Being brought to the limits of my own power is deeply humiliating, and often leads me to say something I don’t mean or act passive-aggressively.

I know I need help, but I’m never sure how to get it, so I just end up keeping my head down and powering through, flexing my “be-a-better-you” muscles harder so I can be nicer or more patient.

If I’m not perfect, that just means I need to work harder.

But this ends up feeding the problem because I’m relying on myself to get it right. When that strategy (inevitably) doesn't work, it leaves me wanting to quit. “And why not quit?” I ask myself. Giving it my all didnt work, so whats the point of trying at all?

My best is never good enough.

This anxiety has prompted me to think about how Christ relates to us and what He asks from us. On the one hand, as we saw two weeks [hyperlink], Christ loves us as we are and forgives us without our asking. On the other hand, as we saw last week [hyperlink], Christ commands us to be the light of the world.

There must be some dynamic interplay between these two realities.

And this Sunday, we get a bit of an answer, as we see Christ do something truly amazing after spending the day with a huge crowd.

When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves. Jesus said, They need not go away; you give them something to eat. They said to him, "We have only five loaves here and two fish." And he said, "Bring them here to me." Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Matt. 14:15-21)

We’ve heard this story enough times that we may be tempted to roll our eyes halfway through: “Got it. Jesus beats Meals on Wheels.” But this story moves me so deeply that I’m not satisfied rolling my eyes. Another look is necessary.

This Sunday, the Lord asks the disciples to complete an impossible task; He wants them to feed five thousand people. Wisely, however, the disciples tell the Lord, “We only have five loaves and two fish.” You see, unlike myself, these disciples recognize the limitations of what they can offer, and they confess it. They tell Christ the truth.

While five loaves and two fish are not enough to feed five thousand, such logistics are no problem for the Lord. Christ asks the disciples to bring what they have, even though it doesnt seem like much.

Then the Lord gladly takes it, and He multiplies it.

I frequently fall victim to thinking that I have to fix things, both myself and those around me. So I try, and then I give up because my own strength is never enough to make my life perfect.

Just like there’s no way the disciples could have fed the crowd with the little food they had.

Abundance and perfection don’t come from our own strength: they come from the grace of God. Today the Lord stands before us and asks us to bring Him what we have, which isnt much. But Christ wants it all, and He wants to do something with it.

I don’t help myself when I ignore my limitations try or to overcome them by sheer force of will. Instead, I need to bring myself before the Lord and admit that I have just five loaves and two fish.

Some days, it seems I only have the desire to treat my family kindly.  I cant actually do it without Gods grace.

Of course it’s scary to admit our limitations before the Lord (even though, lets be honest, He already knows them). And the promise of this Gospel reading is that our limitations are no problem for the Lord. He will take the little that we have, and He will multiply it..

It may happen slowly. It may happen all at once. It may happen in an unexpected way. In any event, it is God who works, and He promises to work with what He is given.

Christ stands before us and promises to work a great wonder in our lives. This is the very same Christ who turns sinners into saints.  Who fills the hungry.  Who grants life to those in the tomb.

He asks so very little of us, and offers so much in return. But make no mistake: He does ask something of us.

He asks for everything we have, for everything we are. He wants it all.

He asks us to trust Him.

Because Hes about to do something awesome.

Photo Credit:

Stress: Luke P. Woods via Compfight cc

Perfectionist: ~ Taly ~ via Compfight cc 

Abundance: FeatheredTar via Compfight cc 

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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For more:

For more on the little God asks, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

For more on letting God work, check out this episode of Coffee with Sr. Vassa:

Call to Conscience: Orthodoxy and the Environment

His All-Holiness is in Paris for a major preparatory meeting organized by President Francois Hollande, who will host the international climate change meeting in Paris (COP 21) later this year. Fr. John Chryssavgis, who works for the Ecumenical Office of our Archdiocese, is accompanying him and was asked to deliver a brief introduction to the work of the Ecumenical Patriarch. His remarks follow below:

 

For over two decades, the world has witnessed alarming ecological degradation, a widening gap between rich and poor, and increasing failure to implement environmental policies. During the very time that we should have been acting, we have only been talking.

During the same period, HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew discerned the signs of the times and called people’s attention to the ecological crisis. I don’t know if any other religious leader has made the environment the central plate in his pastoral ministry and spiritual worldview. He has persistently proclaimed the primacy of ethical values in determining environmental action. And his endeavors have earned him the title “Green Patriarch.”

Since 1988, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has sounded the alarm about the climate change crisis. Since 1989, it invited Orthodox Christians throughout the world to reserve September 1st as a day of prayer for environmental protection; numerous Christian communions have followed suit, encouraged by the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew organized eight interfaith and inter-disciplinary symposia from 1995-1009: in the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea, along the Danube River and in the Adriatic Sea, in the Baltic Sea and on the Amazon River, as well as in the Arctic and on the Mississippi River. Since 2012, he has organized international summits assembling scientists and academics, intellectuals and artists, politicians and activists.

In 2002, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope John Paul II co-signed the “Venice Declaration,” the first joint environmental statement by two world religious leaders. And this year, Pope Francis generously highlighted the Patriarch’s pioneering leadership in his encyclical Laudato Si’.

For Patriarch Bartholomew, responding to global warming is a matter of truthfulness to God, humanity, and creation. As early as 1997, he dared to condemn environmental abuse as sin! He has widely and repeatedly proclaimed that the environment is not a political or technological issue but a religious and spiritual challenge. Climate change is an existential crisis for the planet, for its resources and species, including humankind.

Today, alarms are sounding off in every religious community, in every scientific discipline, in every corner of the globe. Why, then, are we so slow in responding? When will we actually dare to make changes – in our hearts as in our communities, in our politics as in our markets? Why are we still . . . just talking?

Paris, July 21, 2015

This Little Light of Mine - Seventh Sunday of Matthew

The other day, I let my daughter know that For-The-Hundreth-Time-No-You-Cant-Change-Your-Outfit-At-The-Restaurant with a bit more frustration in my voice than I had intended.

That’s when she hit me.

I wish I could tell you that I responded with the love of Christ, that I was the most compassionate father in the world, that I said with great kindness, “Ouch! I see that you’re upset right now, but hitting hurts daddy’s body. Be gentle.”

Sadly, that’s not what happened. I put on my “serious face” and lowered my voice to make sure she understood as I growled: DONT. HIT.

Due to my unloving, impatient, unChrist-like response, my daughter failed to learn that hitting is wrong. Instead, she stated the real lesson she learned: “Youre a mean daddy.”

Ouch!

To be fair, I did act unkindly. The world is pretty black-and-white to my young daughter, so for her, I am either a nice daddy or a mean daddy. In this case, I was a “mean daddy.” But while this either-or way of thinking may be age-appropriate, as we grow, it comes time to put childish things behind us (1 Cor. 13:11).

We must learn that we, and the world generally, exist in a tension: not “either-or” but instead both-and.

Otherwise, I may be tempted to leave that interaction with my daughter feeling deeply ashamed, convinced that I am indeed a “mean daddy.” I believe the lie that the evil one whispers to me: “You did something bad, therefore you are bad.” But if I approach the interaction with the “both-and way of thinking, I can leave on a more sober and productive note, “I am both a loving father and acted poorly. I will try harder next time.

Either-or, black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking about ourselves causes deep shame, keeping us in emotional and personal gridlock. It transforms every misstep into a damning indictment. As Brené Brown writes, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we can change and do better.”[1] Repentance becomes an impossibility if one believes, “I’m bad to my core. Why bother?”

As Christians, we can see how shame and “either-or thinking can be crippling to the spiritual life.

On the other hand, living in the tension of “both-and helps us accepts the reality of trial and failure without despair, thus allowing us to take the risks necessary to change. It says, “That thing I did was bad. That doesn’t mean I’m bad. I’ll try harder.”

Last week I wrote about feeling like a bad Christian while Christ comes to us, crippled by shame. He does so freely, without being asked, and tells us, Take heart! Your sins are forgiven. But if we are stuck in “either-or thinking (either I’m a good Christian or a bad Christian), we may not hear His words of healing, nor will we hear the call to follow Him.

After all, why would Christ call a mean daddy like me?

No, as we learn to put on both-and thinking, we can hear what Christ has to say to us this Sunday, and we can see it as the perfect counterpart to Christ’s message to us last week. First, He heals our paralysis, and now He wants us to do something with our newfound ability to walk:

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 5:16)

Does Christ come to us and meet us where we are, offering unconditional love, forgiveness, and acceptance? Absolutely. After all, Christ joins Himself to us completely in the frailty of being human.

But does Christ also call us to do our part? You bet.

God totally and unconditionally loves us as we are. And He invites us to join Him in totally and unconditionally loving those around us.

Christ is the Light in our darkness that says, “Take heart.

No matter how lonely the night may be, there is hope because, “Though this present darkness is thick, a New Day is coming, and it is Christ Himself who is the morning star (Rev. 22:16).

As Christ Himself shines in our lives, we are challenged to let that Light shine into the lives of others.

Yet to let that Light shine is, according to the world, absurd.

The world buys into the broken “either-or” model that feeds shame and spiritual paralysis. This world often tells us that we’re only acceptable and lovable if we’re rich enough, thin enough, or smart enough.

Sadly, it seems we never are good enough.

In the face of this, Christ’s unconditional love and acceptance is almost impossible to comprehend. I mean, could you imagine what it would be like to be fully and unconditionally accepted?

Yet isn’t that exactly what we all need?

So what if, instead of judging the man on the side of the road, we listened to his story? What if, instead of seeing a shipwrecked life, we saw the image of Christ and responded with love?

What if we didn’t see people as either good or bad, but instead saw them as both broken and capable of more?

Just as we are both broken and capable of more?

Can you imagine what that would do to this world?

We are called to live in this world both as residents of this one and citizens of the next one. To both anticipate the coming Kingdom and see that it is already at hand, and that it’s doors are open to all in need of healing.

It is only Gods radical and total acceptance of sinners that has the power for the radical and total transformation of sinners into saints. And it is that same radical love, that same radical light of the Kingdom which shines in our hearts, that we are called to share today. Because we are all both broken and capable of more.

We are all both sinful and forgiven.

It is a big task, to live as though the Kingdom is at hand, and we will undertake it imperfectly. But it’s better to undertake it and fail than to fail to undertake it all.

Take heart, and let God’s light shine. 

 

[1] Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (New York: Avery, 2012), p. 72.

Photo credit:

Mean Daddy: chexed via Compfight cc

Shame: madamepsychosis via Compfight cc

Man with Cup: Rod Waddington via Compfight cc 

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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For more:

For more on letting Christ's Light shine, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

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