Monday, November 20, 2017

your death is the end of the world... for you


St John Chrysostom talks to us today about being ready for the end of the world in A Year with the Church Fathers. He says that we should live every day in preparation of the end of the world... because each of us will die on one of these days, and for that person, it IS the end of the world.

It's a sobering thought. For many throughout history, it was very important to keep the fact of one's death in the front of their mind all of the time. Because that fact, which is true for each of us, brings out the best in us, or it should. It reminds us what is really important. What's worth investing our time in, focusing our thoughts on, using our energy to pursue. Should we chase money and pleasure? They won't mean anything on that day. Should we express our love for those who need love, especially the important people in our lives? That will mean the most when the time comes.

The end of the world is coming soon. For each of us. How does that change how we live?

God, thanks for reminding us of what really matters.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

is bringing us back to life hard for God?

St Aphrahat talks to us today in A Year with the Church Fathers. He tells us that if we have a hard time having faith that God will raise us from the dead, we should think about the creation of the world. God made everything from nothing. Ex nihilo. He created the first humans and then breathed life into them. If He could do that, of course bringing us back to life after we die is a simple thing. Right?

That's true, I think. But we also have to believe that God created the universe from nothing and formed the first people. Which, as Christians, we do. But it's not a given anymore. There are so many people who try to convince us that the world came into existence from nothing all by itself, and then we evolved from primordial ooze into people who can think of things like this. So we have to have faith that God did the FIRST thing (create the world), so that we can have faith that He'll do the other thing (raise us from the dead.)

However, most of us have experienced Him working in our lives, right? Most of us know that He's there, taking care of us. And we also know that He can do anything. That takes faith, yes, but for me (and I hope for you), it's easier for me to have faith that He really will raise me from the dead one day, because I see what He's done for me today. And yesterday. And last year. All of the ways that He's moved in my life and fixed things and made me less horrible than I used to be.

If He can change me like He already has, it makes it easier for me to believe that He'll raise me to be a new creation one day. In a way, He made me a new creation today.

God, thank You for helping us to grow in our faith by giving us little examples of Your greatness.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

suicide is not an option


St Justin Martyr talks to us today in A Year with the Church Fathers about suicide. There seems to be little difference between suicide and martyrdom, right? I mean, in both cases the person ends up dead. But there is a huge difference, and Justin Martyr tells us why Christians don't commit suicide.

Apparently he was asked by some Romans why Christians, if they believe that heaven is so great, don't just go ahead and kill themselves so they can go there. And, apparently the Roman added, stop bothering them. Well, that's part of the answer right there. Just explains the other reasons why we don't kill ourselves... like the fact that our death is not up to us, but it's God's decision when we die. And that giving up on life is a form of despair that betrays a lack of faith in God.

But another major reason why Christians don't commit suicide is that we are SUPPOSED to be "bothering" the people who aren't Christians. We are to be salt and light, preserving the world from the form of total depravity that it would fall into without a Christian influence. We are to continue sharing the truth of the gospel to everyone who will listen, so that they might hear that good news and come to love God the way He wants us to. If all Christians killed themselves, that would pretty much damn the rest of the world, right?

So a big part of the reason why I'm still here is for other people. A major reason you're here is to help others find Him. Not that you or I would kill ourselves. But there have been times when I've been sick and just thought "Maybe it's just time to go home." But then I think that I need to stick around and help people know Him. Help people grow in their faith. I think that's a big reason why He wants us to carry on, walking this road, even when it gets dark sometimes.

God, please use our lives to help others find You.

Friday, November 17, 2017

the honor of martyrdom


Today in A Year with the Church Fathers, we hear from St Eusebius. He tells us of a VERY courageous young girl who told the emperor that he was doing her a favor by passing the sentence of her death, since it allowed her to join the ranks of the martyrs. When she said that, instead of having her tortured, he had her thrown into the sea, where she did indeed join the martyrs.

Quite a story. Not all of us are so brave, are we? In fact, most of us don't desire to join those ranks. But the picture above is of a different girl. Her name is Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. Also known as Therese of Lisieux. Also known as the Little Flower.

She teaches us so much in her short book called The Story of a Soul. I highly recommend that you listen to it, for free, right here. In her little book, she talks about how she was able to become a martyr for Jesus, but not in the way that you and I usually think of martyrs. No one came and threatened her life unless she deny her faith. Instead, she offered up all of the little sufferings that she had in her life, and accepted them gladly, because they enabled her to participate in the sufferings of Jesus. They allowed her to become a martyr. She makes so much sense of the sufferings that we all go through in our lives. If you listen to her book, it will teach you the value of suffering.

Maybe you and I ARE called to become martyrs in the traditional sense. Maybe ISIS or some other group will come and threaten our lives unless we deny our faith. Or maybe, in the daily ins and outs of our lives, we will find the little way that Therese teaches us to become martyrs in all of our little sufferings.

In either case, they will bring us closer to Him, if we let them.

God, thank You for teaching us how to suffer in a way that brings us to You.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

and if sleep is not enough


Today St Aphrahat talks to us more about resurrection in A Year with the Church Fathers. He says that God goes beyond the lessons we've been talking about the last few days. If you've been reading along each day, you probably remember we talked about how God teaches us through going to sleep and waking up every day that something similar will happen when we die.

But God takes the lesson a step further. He shows us throughout both the Old and New Testaments examples of people being brought back to life after they die. In the OT, Elijah and Elisha both raise people from the dead (or, rather, God raises them from the dead through them). In the NT, we see Jesus raise Lazarus (and the Pharisees then tried to kill Lazarus because he was proof of Jesus's authority over death) and a few other people. He even raises some righteous people who were buried in Jerusalem in the hour that He died. See Matthew 27:52 for details.

So God is basically saying "Trust me. Don't be afraid of death. I'm bigger than death. Put your faith in Me, and I will raise you up." And He will. We can put death in the list of things that we no longer fear, because God is with us.

And with God, all things are possible.

God, thank You for teaching us, since we learn so slowly, that we really can trust You in everything.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

to make light of what is mortal


We hear from a remarkable saint today in A Year with the Church Fathers. St Agapius speaks to us from the Roman colosseum, where he is about to die as a martyr. He tells the crowd that he hasn't been dragged there against his will. That he rejoiced to be counted worthy to suffer martyrdom for Jesus. ANd then he says some things that are so profound I have to just give them to you verbatim. He says: "Furthermore, I am contending for the sake of my faith, to give encouragement to those who are younger than I am, so that they too may despise death while they follow after their true life, and may disregard the grave in order to obtain a Kingdom: so that they should make light of what is mortal, and always remember the life of the Giver of life; and so that they should not have any dread of punishment that is momentary, but be in fear of those flames that are never quenched."

To make light of what is mortal. Not to take too seriously the fact that we will die. He said this while staring death in the face. To despise death while he followed after his true life. These are the words that will kindle a fire within us, if we allow them to. If we meditate on what it means to make light of what is mortal, and follow hard after the REAL life that God gives us, both now and in the world to come.

Remember these words when you're facing the dull banalities of life tomorrow. When you hear the news from the doctor. When there's a car accident. When we read about another shooting. We look death in the face, like Agapius did, and we despise it. We take our mortality lightly, and look forward to what is more real than death itself: our lives in eternity.

God, please remind us daily to remember what really matters.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

practicing death


St Cyril of Alexandria talks to us about death today in A Year with the Church Fathers. He says that Jesus was laid in a new tomb, in a garden, because "paradise" meant garden in that time and language. And His death and burial transformed the meaning of death and burial into a brand new thing. It meant that instead of being forever separated from our loved ones, and the beauty of His creation, we now merely go to sleep. Paul refers to it as sleep as well.

And we know what sleep is. Every human being in the world knows what sleep is. We don't understand it. Scientists can't tell us why we need to sleep every day. They tell us what happens when we do sleep. They tell us what happens when we DON'T sleep - eventually we die. But they still haven't figured out why we sleep.

But one reason we sleep is that it is practice. Every night, we lie down and are "gone to the world." Every morning, we wake up again. God is teaching us, not just once, but over and over every day of our lives, not to be afraid when it comes time to lie down at the end of our natural lives. Because we will wake up again. He taught us to trust Him, and to lie down... to rise again in the glorious morning of eternity.

God, thank You for teaching us every day of our lives that we don't have to fear death.