One of the marks of being a Christian is reading and studying Holy Scripture. We must recognize, as an aside, how fortunate we are in the modern world to have printed copies of the Bible available easily and affordably. The earliest Christians did not have that luxury, as it was virtually unheard of and ghastly expensive to have written copies of Holy Scripture back then.
Anyways, back to it. I have begun to follow a reading plan that I heard Fr. John Whiteford put out awhile back. You read six chapters a day, one chapter from each of the major sections of Holy Scripture. So, a chapter from the Torah, a chapter from the Wisdom writings, a chapter from the Prophets etc…
This morning my chapter from the Gospels was Matthew 7. If you’ve never read it or at least haven’t read it recently, you should go and do that before proceeding. Jesus says something here that is absolutely terrifying. Picking up in verse 18,
“A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”
Right in the middle of this text..see that? Jesus says that not everyone who calls Him Lord and even prophesies, cast out demons and does wonderful works will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He says that not only will He say to them, “I never knew you” but also calls them workers of iniquity. What?! Think about this. These people, He says, will prophecy, cast out demons and do wonderful works in His Name. That indicates, to me, a certain amount of faith and we would even call them Christians. But He says that He will cast them out.
Because they will be known by their fruit. Because they will just hear but not do, He says. I’m noticing a trend among most people who call themselves Christian these days (including me). In fact, I had this conversation with a young man yesterday. I said to him that, if early Christians saw us today (in both our private and church lives), they would not recognize us as Christians. We are far too worldly.
We are far too worldly.
For example, I dare say that our forefathers in the faith would never have asked or thought, “if I go to a wedding, does that count as my Sunday obligation?” They would not have viewed attendance at Church as merely an obligation. I dare say that our forefathers in the faith would not have worried if the clothes they were wearing made them hip or trendy and they certainly would have made sure that their bodies were covered. Many of them lived in rags and abject poverty in the desert and monasteries and didn’t really care about the style of the day. Our forefathers would never have questioned “sacrificing” sleep for prayer or the giving of tithes because inflation has risen. Our forefathers in the faith never said they needed a vacation or that Church services lasted too long or that fasting isn’t necessary.
We are weak and worldly people, brothers and sisters. We have traded a way of Life, a manner of being for comfort. We have traded Christ for TV, fasting for fish on Fridays during Lent, and our preferences over prostration in humility before the majesty and grace of our Lord Jesus.
Will you join me as we purify our lives and hearts? We must flee from sin and run to Christ (1 Timothy 6:3-14). We must get rid of the things that hold us back from Christ (Hebrews 12:1-2). Jesus even went so far as to tell us that, if our eye causes us to sin, we should gouge it out (Matthew 5:29)! We should be ruthless with sin and the things that can lead to sin and the world. We should be ruthless with ourselves and the passions which so easily enslave us (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Do we really think we are immune from God’s wrath because we espouse a certain set of moral imperatives? Because we go to what we call church once a week and don’t sleep around? What about what we say, the words that come out of our mouths (Eph. 4:29, James 3:10, Matt. 12:34-37, Prov. 4:24, Luke 6:45)?
We are weak and worldly, brothers and sisters. Let us fall on our faces and repent. Let us cleanse from our lives, our hearts the things of the world that we have allowed to distract us from Christ. Let us throw off the things that so easily ensnare us and turn again to Christ.
Pray for me and each other.
I heard somewhere that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist. I don’t think that’s true at all. I think the greatest trick the devil has pulled is creating a false Christianity, a false truth.
Especially in the West.
Think about it. Look around you at what passes for Christianity in the West today. It is a “faith” that has a shiny coat of paint on it, a thin veneer of “Jesus” but lacks the substance, belief and practice of the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).
I run in to this often these days. People in my circle sound good. They talk about going to church, call themselves Christians and maybe even do what they call praying. But once you start digging a bit and asking questions, that so-called faith starts to show some cracks.
For example, when I argue that Christians should probably not watch TV, I get lambasted. I have had eyes rolled; I’ve been laughed at. I even got called a prude. But, let us consider the words of St. Paul,
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Phil. 4:8).
Can anyone reading this really say that the vast majority of things you see on TV these days is anything but honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous or praiseworthy? Can anyone reading this say that anything they see on TV is any of these things? Even if you find a sporting event that seems innocuous, you have to deal with the commercials that push all sorts of sordid agendas.
Or, read the end of Romans 14:23, where St. Paul says, “…for whatever is not of faith is sin.” Whoa. Now, I want to be fair. In this text, St. Paul is speaking specifically about meat offered to idols and other things like that, but this is relatable to every aspect of our lives. Or Romans 12:1-2,
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
Again, can any of us believe that what we see on TV is the way we need to present our bodies as living sacrifices or the way we are to live holy lives? Can we honestly say that, by consuming the things of the world, we are transforming our minds to be renewed in Christa and prove what is good, acceptable, perfect or the will of God?
I think not.
But what our enemy has done is to make us complacent. He has created for us a false version of Christianity. It’s kind of like the Matrix. It’s a version of truth but not actually the truth. He has done this since the beginning. Look back at the Garden. We find it in Genesis 3. If you’re not familiar with the story, go read it right now. Look at what satan did. He deliberately used what God had made as good and slightly changed the phraseology. God told Adam in Genesis 2 that he was free to eat of any tree of the Garden, except the one, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But what does the enemy say? He takes what God says and twists it. Look at Genesis 3. The enemy asked (I’m paraphrasing), “Did God really say you can’t eat of any of the trees in the Garden?”
The enemy knew exactly what God had said. See how he twisted it? That is not what God said. And then he brought to humanity the great temptation that we all experience. Instead of obedience and living as God has commanded and as His Church tells us to, the enemy creates a false narrative.
Where God said, “Let us make man in Our image,” the enemy says, “Let us make God in our image.”
And this is where we get this pseudo-Christianity that is so popular in the West. Rather than obey what God has said to His people and what Christ gave to the Apostles and told them to pass it on; rather than obey that, we have to make things in our own image.
Fasting is too extreme and people will think you’re a fanatic.
Don’t prostrate yourself physically before God (at times) when you pray because it’s hard on your knees.
Don’t burn incense because it makes people sneeze. Don't have long services; people have things to do.
It’s okay to listen to worldly, lustful music because it’s not actually hurting you. It’s got a good beat.
Don’t worry about what the school system is teaching your children. They’ll be fine.
Who cares if you cuss a little? And don’t worry about what kind of clothes you’re wearing; it’s fine.
And whatever you do, don’t be too fanatical about attending all those services that the Church holds throughout the year and observe all those feasts and fasts. I mean, if you did, you’d be forming your whole life and schedule around the life of Christ and the Church. We can’t have that now, can we?! I mean, we can’t be living like Christians have always lived and believed what Christian have always believed, right?!
Most modern people who call themselves Christians are much more concerned with their own comfort than they are obedience to Christ and His Church. Let’s be honest.
Jesus had some hard things to say at times. He said that we were to take up our cross and follow Him. He said that some would lose their families and livelihoods and even their lives because of Him. He said that those who put their hand to the plow and looked back were not fit for the Kingdom.
He had hard things to say.
But, luckily for us, He gave us His Church, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). The Church is where Christ is found!
Dear brothers and sisters, let us turn away from the world. Let us turn away from this thinly veiled worldly culture that has a shiny coat of “Jesus paint” on it. This is not Christianity. The Church has been with us, virtually unchanged since our Lord and His Apostles started it. As Pentecost approaches, let us turn again to the Church.
Let us turn again to Christ.