Entries with tag jesus christ .

Christ Comes First

Last week, we at Y2AM hosted the 2017 Youth and Camper Workers Conference in Austin, Texas. Well, to be honest, it was more like all my co-workers who pulled it off; I seriously had the chance simply to show up and participate. They poured tons of work into the conference, and it showed.

The theme of the conference was “The Seamless Garment of Christ.” Steve chose this theme because in practice, we often pursue what he calls an “ice cube tray model” of ministry. The idea is that we separate our ministries into individual segments of work: GOYA, Young Adults, Women, Men, etc. Usually these ice cubes are kept separate and don’t interact with each other much. Our idea at Y2AM, however, is that if we are going to function properly as the Body of Christ, then we need to understand that these ministries, while distinct, should never be separated.

Our keynote speaker, Fr. Stephen Freeman, the author of the excellent blog, Glory to God for All Things, started us off by perfectly introducing the topic. He suggested that everything in the Church – the icons, the sacraments, the music – existed for one purpose: Christ. They exist to unite us to Christ; for in Christ are all things complete and contained. He even capped this thought perfectly by saying, “When we speak of anything, we speak of everything, because we speak of the One Thing: Christ.”

As the conference progressed and various speakers contributed, I noticed that I heard the name of Jesus spoken more than I’ve ever heard Him spoken at any other Orthodox event I’ve ever attended. We love to speak of “Orthodoxy” or “the Faith” or even the “Ancient Faith,” but hearing each speaker offer a meditation of which Christ was the Center struck me as somehow sadly unusual.

But as I’ve thought more about this, I find that the reality is simple: our ministries can never be united unless they are united in Christ because they are actually His Ministry. There is one priesthood: Christ’s. There is one Church: Christ’s. And unless we keep Him at the forefront our meditation, at the forefront of our work, then we will never achieve the unity that we seek.

All of our ministry must be oriented toward Christ and His Kingdom; if we focus on anything else, then we are doomed from the start. His presence must infiltrate our entire lives. We must be His and His alone, seeing that all things are given to us by Him and that all things exist for Him and that all things are only fulfilled in Him.

Our ministries cannot oversimplify the Gospel, offering moralistic platitudes and feel-goodery with humanistic undertones. If we do this, if we pull our punches when it comes to Christ and water down the depth of the gospel, then we actually inoculate people against Christ, giving them just enough of the faith not to turn them off to Christ, but not enough to open the compelling reality of Life in Him. Christ simply becomes boring, something people “already know about,” rather than Someone people are invited to encounter and follow.

We boldly need to reclaim the scandal that is the Person of Jesus Christ, the God who became Man, who dwelt among us and ascended the Cross in the flesh, calling all people who wish to follow Him to take up their cross also and to follow Him to their own deaths.

Christian ministry must primarily be about Christ, and if it is not, then it is not Ministry. It is simply a philosophy that guides how we interact with others. Indeed, if we don’t have Christ as the Center of all our ministry, of all our preaching, of all our life, then we are only wasting our time.

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, podcaster, and CrossFitter. Christian has an MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary and is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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Check out Fr. Stephen Freeman's Keynote address below:

 

Why Jesus Came at Christmas

In a matter of days, we’ll be celebrating again the great feast of the Nativity of Christ: Christmas. We’ve spent weeks preparing for this day, sometimes with the stress that the holidays bring, but all the while saving room for Christ.

 

For those of us in the colder parts of the Northern Hemisphere, Christmastime reminds us of snow, ice-skating, hot chocolate, and evergreen trees. It’s a time of joy, a time of family, and a time for giving.

 

And with all of these ideas of what Christmas is about, Orthodox Christians in America struggle against the commercialization of it all, to “keep Christ in Christmas” and yet to “keep the Mass (liturgy) in Christmas” too.

 

As fun as it might be for some to argue about how we celebrate Christmas, I’d like instead to focus here on what Scripture provides – mostly what Christ says Himself – as the reasons for His coming into the world.

 

1. To be light in darkness

 

One reason that Jesus gave for His coming, was to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). One message we see repeatedly from the Prophets is that God would shine light in the darkness of this world. Isaiah says, "the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone" (Isaiah 9:2). When St. John the Baptist was born, his father St. Zachariah said, "the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).

 

But who would be this great light for us? The Prophets Isaiah and Micah say that God Himself will be our light. "The Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory" (Isaiah 60:19). "When I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me” (Micah 7:8). Jesus says that He came into the world at Christmas so that He might be our light:

 

I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. (John 12:44-47)

 

When light shines in the darkness, it reveals the darkness. St. Paul tells us that "at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light" (Ephesians 5:8). At Christmas, we are reminded that we have the gift of Light – of Jesus Christ – so we don’t have to live in darkness anymore.

 

2. To call and save sinners

 

During the Christmas season, we’re often tempted to feign perfection. We’re going to be with family, talking about our work, school, or family life and we want to look good. We want to make the best meal, buy the best presents, and show up at work or school afterwards with the best new clothes or gifts. We try so hard to keep up appearances, that we forget that Jesus didn’t come at Christmas so that we can look perfect. He came to call and save us.

 

Jesus tells us, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13). “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Mark 2:17). That means that Christmas isn’t about us being perfect and put together. At Christmas we don’t need more self-righteousness Christians, but more humble followers of Jesus. St. Paul tells us plainly, “the saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first” (1 Timothy 1:15). I am the only sinner I need to notice or call out.

 

At Christmas, I’m reminded that Jesus came into the world that I might be healed. But more than that, He came to renew all of my life.

 

3. Have life abundantly

 

Our world tells us to live it up – you only live once! – to get the most out of this life. But Jesus tells us that He is Life (John 14:6). He says of the world, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). Jesus came at Christmas that we might have life, that we might have Life Himself, that we might live our life most fully through our relationship with Him.

 

The Church, as the Body of Christ is where we encounter Christ and live in union with Him. St. Paul asks us, “Don’t you know that you all are God’s temple, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). We as the Church have this opportunity to be part of Christ because He first came to be part of us. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).

 

Christmas matters because God came to live with man so that we could live with Him. How could life be more filled, more abundantly lived, than by being lived with God?

 

*****

 

As Christians, we have a God who wasn’t content with leaving us in the dark. He desired to fill up our world with His own presence, His Light. He came at Christmas so that He could call us from sin to Life and that we might live life abundantly. God gives of Himself to be our gift at Christmas.

 

How is Jesus a Light in your life? What might He be calling you to change in your life? How might you live life more abundantly in the New Year?

 

 

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Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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Beauty, Harmony, and How Fleet Foxes Guides the Heart: Pop Culture Espresso Shots

It has been five years since Robin Pecknold and the multi-instrumental, harmonious dudes of Fleet Foxes have released an album. Sure, they broke up when the drummer and Pecknold’s sister, the group’s manager, didn’t work out, but still: I’m starting to get mad.

I’ve listened to the Foxes’ albums, both their 2008 self-titled release and Helplessness Blues, more times than I care to count. Needless to say, I sincerely love this modern, nu-folksy spirit baby of “The Beach Boys” and “Crosby, Stills, and Nash.”

But I do not love them for their lyrics. I do not love them because they convey a super great message with what they sing.

As Christians, I find that we are often tempted to approach art of any kind (but especially music), looking for a “message,” a worldview preached by lyrics. If this worldview is something that can be supported by Christianity, then we approve. If not, we largely reject it (or at least feel very guilty while we enjoy it).

While this isn’t necessarily a bad practice, it is an incomplete one, as it disrespects the integrity of the art as a hybrid of both content and form. Moreover, I think it also disrespects the integrity of the human being, implying that we are largely moved and formed by “messages,” things that we need to think about or believe.

But the human person is not simply a “thinking creature.” We are creatures who are made in the image of a God who is Love (1 John 4:8). As such, we are primarily loving creatures.[1] But as embodied, loving creatures, we do not simply engage the world unilaterally. Our hearts, our love is shaped by our interactions with the world, directing us to love particular visions of “the good life.”  Thus more than music directs our “worldview,” it directs our love.

Before I move on, don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that lyrics don’t matter. What I’m saying, rather, is that perhaps there is more to music’s power on the human spirit than just lyrics. Perhaps, rather, the form of the music itself has a – well – formative power over us.

This is precisely why I love “Fleet Foxes,” because their music directs my love, creating a longing for a particular vision of life through the very form of the music.

1.     Beauty Matters

One of the most notable qualities of any song by the “Foxes” is simply how lovely it sounds. “Lorelai” on Helplessness Blues is a perfect example of this.

Most music on the radio is written in the same time signature, encouraging us to clap on the second and fourth beats of the song. “Lorelai,” however, is written in the same time signature as a waltz. Its very rhythm almost conjures images of people in beautiful clothing, dancing elegantly through a ballroom. This visual is embedded within the song, not something that is sung about; it is not a message. It is a musical imaginary, something that the song rests on.

Beyond this, the instrumentation itself is layered, and if one listens closely, one can hear a flute playing softly throughout. It is staggeringly beautiful and somewhat heartbreaking, evoking almost a visceral reaction and a deep longing. It is a beauty that is not lectured about. A beauty not taught about. It is a beauty that is experienced.

Since all beauty is God’s beauty, and God alone is the Beautiful One, our hearts are trained to long for beauty, to seek the Beautiful One, whether we realize it or not. While there is a danger of seeing beauty as an end in itself (an issue I won’t address here), when we continually experience that which is truly beautiful, our hearts are pointed in the right direction, toward beauty and Beauty Himself.

2.     Singing Together

One of the most notable qualities of almost any Fleet Foxes song is their use of harmony.

Anyone who has sung in a choir knows that harmony rests on sharing the song’s key and the song’s tempo. Harmony simply wouldn’t work if each voice sang its own song. Rather, harmonies rest on the song’s melody, and this means that each singer must listen to the others. The result is beautiful: multiple voices working together, each with its own contribution.

As human beings, we are made for harmony. We are made to join in the one song of praise to our Lord. We are made to work together to care for God’s world, to bring it to it to Him in daily offering.

It is a reality of the Kingdom of God, wherein there are people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Rev. 7:9,10)

 

Harmony is an image of mutual submission, with each voice needing the other, listening to each other without overpowering any other. Fleet Foxes gives us an image, an embodied expression of the harmonious unity of God’s Kingdom.

 

3.     Listening Again

 

The Fleet Foxes are ultimately so great because listening to them over and over again is deeply rewarding. The beauty, the harmonious vision of human flourishing – these are things we would do well to repeatedly receive as people designed for love.

There is a reason that the Church offers us the same Liturgy every week: repetition is important. It is through repetition that the Word is written on our hearts and lodged in our thoughts, shaping our internal rhythms and ways-of-being in the world according to Christ’s own Life.

All beauty and harmony are God’s. Beauty and harmony thus work on us and direct our hearts toward the source of all beauty and harmony: God Himself. We may not even realize this is happening, but it is.

Blessed Augustine once wrote, “You formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.” Everything we listen to is directing our hearts toward something, some particular vision of human flourishing.

That’s why I’m grateful for bands like Fleet Foxes, directing my heart through beauty and harmony toward life everlasting.

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


PHOTO CREDITS: Depositphotos

Fleet Foxes: Rasmin via Compfight cc 

[1] James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016), p. 7.

Watch Your Heart; Till the Ground - Third Sunday of Luke


When I lived in Illinois, one of my favorite winter activities was attempting to slide across long patches of ice on the sidewalk. The challenge was, of course, to make it all the way to the end of the patch still standing, without slipping and landing on your rear-end or cracking your head open.

I’m happy to say that I never did the latter, but a few failed attempted definitely ended with a bruised bottom. Yet I succeeded many times and made it all the way to the end of patch. And it felt great.

The difference between success and failure was simple; when I succeeded, it was because I was all in. I didn’t think about falling. I didn’t get scared. I didn’t worry that I wouldn’t make it.

I just went for it.

Yet when I worried about falling, when I thought, “Oh, dear, this might not turn out so well,” it was like a self-fulfilling prophecy. My double-mindedness would almost always lead to falling down.

Sometimes, I would attempt the ice-skid once more after completing it successfully, and these anxious thoughts would still creep into my mind. That was always when I felt the most crazy: I just did this a second ago, I would think. Why is this so hard right now?

Looking back, it’s hard to make sense of why I was sometimes scared and why I was sometimes confident. In the end, it just seemed that some days were better than others. Things changed from day to day.

I changed from day to day.

We may be tempted to think that things ought to be the same, or at least that they ought to maintain their general direction. But our lives are dynamic, and so are we.

This Sunday, the Lord tells the Parable of the Sower and the Seed. In it, a man throws seed on the ground and the seed responds in various ways based on what kind of soil receives it. Interpreting the parable for his disciples, the Lord says:

The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience. (Lk. 8:11-15)

If we aren’t careful, it might be very easy to read this interpretation and assume that we are one kind of a soil or another. We may even be tempted to think that we are generally doing a pretty good (or pretty bad) job of being soil that receives God’s word, as if  the state of our soil has already been determined.

But maybe our receptivity to God’s word is just as dynamic as the rest of our lives. Maybe we aren’t just one kind of soil, but instead we are each of the different soils from one day to the next.

Life happens in seasons. It is full of ups and downs, ascents and falls, hills and valleys. Sometimes I need to be reminded of this in my relationship with the Lord.

Some days I wake up and I can’t wait to greet the Lord and commend my day to him. Other days, I’m so overwhelmed with things I need to do that I can barely breathe, and God doesn’t even cross my mind. Other days, the first thought on my mind is, Breakfast.

My heart changes from day to day. That’s all part of life. We wake up to discover that the soil of our garden is different today than it was yesterday, even though we aren’t doing anything differently.

Some days its just easier to receive the Lords word. But that doesn’t mean we can just sit back and wallow in the fact that today our soil has more thorns than it did yesterday.

In our life, we are called to till the ground of our hearts at all times, every day. If today happens to be a difficult day, we’ll need more than a pep talk and positive thinking, more than just psyching ourselves up and saying, “Okay, time to focus on the Lord! I just did this! Why is this so hard right now?

What we need is real work; the ascetic work of the life in Christ.

The task of tilling the ground is going to be different everyday. And everyday, we need to honestly confront the soil in our hearts and cultivate it.

It’s not easy.

If our hearts are full of thorns, for instance, the only thing we can do is deal with them rather than ignore them.

And that means, sometimes, we’re going to get pricked.

Of course, this responsibility doesn’t mean that we are totally on our own when it comes to tilling the garden of our hearts. We have spiritual fathers, we have the Church, and most importantly, we have the Lord.

We must present ourselves to the Lord daily, offering whatever soil we have, asking for His wisdom and help to till the garden of our hearts as we hope to receive His word (and His Word) with gladness.

Roll up your sleeves; there’s work to be done. 

Photo Credit:

Winter: marla_rochester via Compfight cc

Weeds: elixir b 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 cultivating a life of prayer with Christ, check out this episode of Be the Bee:

For more on relating openly with God, check out this episode of Y2AM's new YouTube series, The Trench:

In Whose Image?

I know of no one who has done more for humanity than Jesus. In fact, there is nothing wrong with Christianity . . .  The trouble is with you Christians. You do not begin to live up to your own teachings.
-Mahatma Gandhi
 
We're made in God's image.  We've heard it said countless times, even if we don't know exactly what that means (though, if you're interested, this is a great place to start).
 
One important piece of this is that we, each and every one of us, reveal God to the world.  Even "the heavens declare the glory of God," after all.  And human beings are something even greater: icons of Christ, the Icon of God the Father.
 
However we need to be careful.  The image we carry can become distorted.  Like a picture spattered with mud, our souls can become disfigured by our sins.  Our misshapen character can affect what we show the world.
 
So, when people see us, do they see Christ, the Son?  Do they see the God the Father?
 
Or do they see someone else?
 
God is love.  And love, true love, is not conditional.  It has no strings attached.  It is freely given, a gift completely undeserved and unearned.  That is the love we're called to offer, since God is the One we're called to image in our lives.
 
Yet it seems that we offer love most freely when it's easiest.  When others are acting as we think they should, we're all smiles.  When they do otherwise, we build up walls.  We cut them off.  Our smiles are replaced by vicious, angry stares.
 
Instead of acting in love, we react in sin.
 
Who exactly are we manifesting when we do so?  When people see us, whose image do they see?
 
God is love.  The one, true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of Israel; the God of our Fathers; the God we receive at every Eucharist; the God who invites us to share in His eternal life and joy; does He love us any less when we stumble?  Is the Bridegroom's love for His Church ever anything less than absolute?
 
Unfortunately, the god we image to the world (and yes, even worship) is not aways the God who truly Is.  As it happens, the god we sometimes manifest is the idea of god that we've built over time.  It's the idea of a bloodthirsty god of atonement and wrath and damnation, who only seems to love us when we please him.
 
It's the idea of a god whose love is not active but reactive.  In one hand he holds a treat, and will reward us when we jump through the right hoops.  In the other, he holds fire, ready to make us suffer us whenever we falter.
 
 
Do we worship (and image) the One True God, or a god of our vain imagining?
 
Of course (and thank God for it), no matter how much we may obscure it, we remain icons of Christ.  We can see it every time a mother gently wipes her crying child's eyes, every time an elderly married couple walks hand in hand, every time a young man offers his seat to a pregnant woman.
 
God's love is victorious.  When we can see it, we will find peace.  When we cultivate it, we will become who we were born to be.
 
Originally posted at http://orthodoxyouthministry.blogspot.com/.
 
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