Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I have no particular verse to talk about this week, but events have conspired to make me consider a very important element of Torah and how it relates to Christians. First, I want to note that according to Exodus 12:38, that (37) “The Israelites left…and with them came many people of all classes as well as many sheep and cattle.” We see then that the Hebrews (Habiru) included not only the descendents of Jacob, but many other peoples as well who were incorporated into the twelve tribes of Israel. God had to take these people then and form once nation, so that they would be united. We need to mention as well that many of these people were slaves, just as many as us were slaves to sin. The story of how God used the Exodus to transform divers peoples into a nation, and slaves into freemen is also paradigm or maybe better a type of how God works with us.

First, God does not throw us into a situation without preparing us for it. In Exodus, we are told that the people of Israel do not take a certain route because they are not ready to fight. They wonder the desert for quite a while before it is necessary for them to fight. At the same time God puts them through various trials, relating to food and water, and safety. Trials are to build character and to teach the people to trust in God. Help does not come from the people. It always comes from God, from the plagues, to the dividing of the Red Sea to the Manna, to the water, God responds to the people’s needs in miraculous ways, so that they will learn to depend on him and him alone. Yeshua reminds us, we are not to worry about food or clothing, just as the Hebrews were to depend on God, so are we to depend on him. This of course does not relieve us from work, for even the Hebrews had to gather the manna, to gather the water, and for that matter take the first step into the Red Sea (wasn’t that a brave person to trust that the waters would not close back over him.) We also know that during all the time in the desert, their clothes did not wear out, and neither did their shoes.

God too, puts us in situations. They may look tough, but in the long run, they are for our benefit, building character and teaching us to trust in God. When I left for Honduras as a missionary, I did not follow the usual pattern. In the Episcopal Church, at the time, you usually became a missionary through SAMS or VFM. I for various reasons decided to become an independent missionary. The custom of SAMS and VFM was to arrange for the missionary to go on deputation for how ever many years it would take to raise money to live in Honduras for three years. I made a number of fund raising trips to the US, but never stayed long enough to raise money. One reason I did not do this, was it would have involved too much time, and I did not want to leave my churches without a pastor for that time. In fact, that is ultimately why I returned to the US, because I did not want to have to go fundraising without my family. Anyway, for the fourteen years that I lived in Honduras, I always had the money I needed, food and transportation. I was never rich, and some might have considered me poor, but I had what I needed. My first year or so, I lived in a house belonging to the church. One gentleman was sending me $80.00 per month. Doesn’t sound like much, and I don’t suppose many Americans would have liked to live on that huge amount, but I was happy with it. That covered gas, food, clothes etc. I taught school, visited ships, helped start a mission, and worked with street kids. After a year or so, I got a letter from my one pledge, that due to financial situations in the oil patch that he could no longer sustain me, and the next day another gentleman, unknown to the first sends me a letter that he will begin sending me $80.00 a month. Isn’t God good?

My entire life in Honduras was like that. I was never rich, but when I was truly in need, the money was there, or the tyres, or the motor part. There was even a gentleman keeping me supplied with Dr. Peppers and Tex Mex food on the Miskito Coast. It continues to be that way. I am not rich by any means, but I have what I need. I have only been in the US eight years. Upon returning I discovered that my credit rating had vanished. Today some eight years later, I find myself the owner of a house several cars, and a fat cat. My bank account is virtually nill, which worries my wife. I am self employed, with a very small income, and no immediate prospects, my wife and kids are worried about perceived needs, but I know one thing, God will provide and in his time.

In addition to teaching us that God will provide, he wants us to become one people. For the Hebrews He did this by giving them rules of Kosher, to keep them separated from the nations. Even thought Kosher does not apply to Christians, the same principles apply. We are not to be contaminated by the word (James). Unlike the Jews, we are to be in the world, but we are not to be contaminated by it. Unfortunately, the church in the west is more contaminated by the world day by day. It no longer preaches holiness in any form. Abstinence even for Lent is a dirty word. The moral laws are forgotten, or assumed not to be for us. Note that churches which do teach these things are growing. I see that Orthodox more united than many other Christians, because they still maintain the traditional fasts and feasts, which are done together so as to reinforce each other. Roman Catholics used to do the same for Lent, finishing off all meat in the house the Tuesday before Lent. Meat wasn’t even sold. But even this solidarity in fasting has vanished in the Last fifty years.

It is definitely time for Christians to put aside their differences and work together. Each week I work together with Christians of several denominations to visit ships. We do not do the Divine Liturgy together, but we work and pray together to be Christ to the men who come to the Port of Houston. There is no reason why churches cannot get together to witness in other areas. We might even find that some of our differences are unimportant.
What is your situation this week? Is God putting you through a situation to prepare you to serve him in some way? Are you part of a church which truly teaches the Bible? Does your church work with others to build the Kingdom? If not, look to God. Walk by faith, not by site, not by feelings, but learn God’s word and allow his Spirit to guide you.

+Mar Michael Abportus
Bishop of La Porte, TX

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sexual Purity

The Torah portion for this week, Levitiucus Chapter 20 spent a great deal of time talking about sexual purity. It also speaks of prohibiting certain actions which we do not usually apply to our selves today, such as passing our children through the fire to Moloch. Many people think that the Bible and the church are far to worried about sex. Those are usually the people who aren't interested in applying Biblical standards to our own lives.

I note in passing as well, the lesson from Acts today mentions, "Relating to Goyim who are believers, we have written our decision, they may not eat meat sacrificed to idols, nor blood, nor the meat of animals which have been strangled, and they must avoid sexual immorality. (enphasis mine).

Our lesson today from Leviticusl gives a pretty good definition of sexual immorality. It defines who and what we may not have sex with. Men may not have sex with men, sex with animals is prohibited as well as sex with one's close relatives (uncle, aunt, neice nephew, brother, sister, etc). All of these relationships carry with them the death penalty. In addition, the Israelites are told that they must obey these precepts that the land not vomit them out, as it did the Cannanites. It is very important that we note, God does not give the Israelites the land for any great goodness on their part, but because of the evilness of the Caannanites. this is something that many people are uncomfortable with, but we need to get used to it. God is merciful, but he MUST judge sin as well. The people of Israel were evicted for their sin several times.

Does God still punish sin? The Bible itself tells us that, "God is the same, yesterday, today and forever," therefore he must still judge sin. Will God still dispossess nations? I see nothing in the Bible which would lead me to believe that he wouldn't. It is time for the USA, Great Brittain, western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and many other nations to heed the wake up call. Our societies are being destroyed by sexual immorality. A homosexual is now more valuabe than a heterosexual, because someone who commits a crime against a homosexual will receive a greater punishment. Three percent of the population (and I'm being generous I think) define a great deal of what is going on in politics, both secular and religious. We are still passing our children through the fires to Molech, we just do it in a different way. Most child abuse in the USA and Honduras is committed by a boyfriend who is not the father of the children involved. These children are sacrificed by their mothers and fathers to the god of free sex without committment. I just read last week about a four or five year old in Honduras. Mother's boyfriend is regularly raping him, but she does nothing. What kind of world is it that we live in. It is a world in which we, like Adam and Hava have decided not to accepts God's boundaries, but to make our own. It is a world in which society is slowly poinsoning itself by ignoring God's laws.

That same article about abuse in Honduras mentions, that Honduran girls no longer are ashamed of having children out of wedlock (well that was true 20 years ago too). What is the result then, of sacrificing our children to Moloch, and by ignoring the Bible's sexual standards?

To begin, in Honduras, a large number of children run away from home to escape abuse by mom's live in partner. This abuse is sexual, physical, emotional. Often the man refuses to feed or take care of kids which are not his. These kids end up on the street, sniffing glue (keeps you from feeling hungry) and living through prostitution and stealing. A fairly large number of younger boys have AIDS (as Honduras is a popular spot for sexual tourism, despite its high AIDS/HIV rate). Other kids end up on the street, because mom has no one to help her, and end up with many of the same probems as those who ran away. The average girl has her first child at age fourteen, causing the cycle to continue. Honest people are afraid to walk the city streets in some places or wear jewelry because of gangs. People with tatoos, and street kids are liable to be killed by police or other people.

In the US, it is well known, that children of unwed mothers tend to be unwed mothers themselves, tent not to finish high school, are more likely to be physically, sexually, and verbally abused, and are more liable to abuse drugs and alcohol.

It is time for us as Christians to start making a difference. Wilbur Wilberforce made a difference in the slave trade. Christians made a difference in India. It is time for us to once again be leaven to society and transform society, instead of letting society transform us. It is a battle that we must win, or the earth will indeed vomit up out.

Shalom b'Yeshua haMoshiach,

Mar Michael Abportus,

Monday, August 6, 2007

6 August 2007: Work and leisure

In Genesis 2:15 we are told that YHWH placed man in Gan Eden to cultivate and care for the Garden. In other words, man is created to work, even before the fall. It is only after the fall that work becomes something disagreeable. It is very important that we understand the nature of mankind. Mankind is created to work, and not only to work, but to work according to God’s purposes, which is why it is so important for us to seek the Lord’s help when preparing for a vocation, whether it be secular or religious.

In our popular culture today, work has become a four letter word so to speak, which is very said. Today, many people work to play. In my Father’s generation, most people worked to survive, or to take care of their family. Some lucky people actually work because the like it. I have a cousin, who plans on working as a dentist until the day he drops dead, because he loves his work. I myself intend to keep proclaiming the Gospel in one way or another until I day, and even my funeral sermon is an exposition of the Gospel. If I become unable to preach the Gospel, then I hope to slow down and train others to do so. Do you enjoy your job? I can honestly say, I have never had a job that I didn’t like. I’ve had some that were no so fun, and I have had some with disagreeable people, but in general I like to work, and in times past was usually able to combine work with sharing the Gospel.

The next generation coming up seems to have a different viewpoint. How many I have heard say, they will not marry because they do not want to work hard and share the benefits of that work. Many of that generation work to party, which seems to be a changing of God’s purpose, not that leisure is bad. In fact YHWH worked leisure into the Bible. YHWH rested on the 7th day of creation. The 4th commandment commands us to have a day of rest, which in fact seems to be one of the most frequent injunctions in the Torah. In fact God even programmed about three weeks of vacation a year for everyone in Israel.

The question is how do we view work, or vocation. If we are just surviving, and our work is drudgery, then we need to look at our lives. Bro. Lawrence in his book, Practicing the Presence of God, tells us that in our work we should do everything as if we were doing it for Jesus, not only in our attitude, but also in our quality of work. Imagine if everyone in the world would practice this. Brother Lawrence himself practiced this. He found himself washing dishes (not his favourite job) and he learned to wash each plate as if Jesus was going to use it himself.

Whatever your work is, wouldn’t your attitude change if you worked as if you were doing the job for Jesus. Wouldn’t you have more joy and enthusiasm. And when people ask why you are smiling and joyful at work, you can tell them why and witness for Jesus. IN other words, your work will become less a means to an end, but an end in itself, and end that will give you true joy.

But this means that we need to reevaluate our leisure time as well. First, leisure time should not be an end in itself. Leisure time and partying have become the end, in other words an idol for many people, which is a big shift. My day off in Honduras, was truly a day of rest. After visiting 3-4 churches by horseback or canoe, a day of rest was in order. What did I do? I read books, both the Bible and Christian related books, but secular books as well. Was my leisure time my end? No it was a means to an end so I would be refreshed to do my work in the week to come. Many people spend so much effort on their leisure, that they need a mini-vacation to recover so they can return to work rested. Isn’t that defeating the purpose of leisure. We have turned Holydays (holidays) into activity days, instead of learning to relax in the Lord. In other words, leisure has become an idol to our society. Leisure becomes a problem for older people, forced into retirement at 65 or 67 years of age, some of whom live another 20 years. I have noted, those people who retire and have no hobby are often gone in 5 years or less. Those who give themselves work, will last and have happy lives. My grandmother sewed (wedding dresses, pillow covers, etc) until close to her dying day. All of her grandchildren had pajamas made by her (of course with the buttons on the wrong side), but we still loved them. After all, how many kids in the 60’s or 70’ had custom made pj’s. In passing, my grandmother died at the age of 92. She lead a productive and happy life.

So let us look at our attitudes. Learn to serve Jesus in your work. In you leisure time, actually do something restful and refreshing. If you are retired, find some work. That work could even include visiting shut ins and praying for the sick and missionaries. Don’t make leisure an end in itself, and don’t let your job cause you misery by being your idol either.

Shalom b'Yeshua haMoshiach

Mar Michael Abportus

Friday, August 3, 2007

2 August 2007: Marvin Zindler

My apologies for not being regular in these postings. I will endeavour to be more regular from now on.

Yesterday an Houston icon was buried. His funeral was at congregation Beth Israel and took several hours and was broadcast on channel 13 in Houston with no commercials. A truly interesting part of this funeral were the religious speakers, who were his Rabbi, David Lyon, Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell (Windsor Village UMC), Pastor Bill Lawson (Wheeler Ave. Baptist), Joel Osteen (Lakewood Church) and Bishop Joe Fiorenza (Archbishop Emeritus, Houston-Galveston Roman Catholic Archdiocese).

Pastor Caldwell and Pastor Lawson in particular did a fantastic job of remembering Marvin Zindler. What they did was preach a Christian sermon in a Jewish synagogue without mentioning Jesus Christ, using only Old Testament references. I need to mention in passing that Marvin Zindler was for 35 years a consumer affairs reporter, who did a lot of good for a lot of people over the years. In addition to consumer affairs, he took medical brigades all across the world and solved people’s problems with government and other agencies. His father owned a big clothing store and Marvin was known for dressing to the nines.

Rabbi Lyons began his comments with a verse from Micah, “Do justice, love goodness and walk humbly before your God.” Pastor Caldwell continued by stating that Marvin Zindler reminded him of God Almighty. Now some of us might take issue with that remark, but as Christians we should consider it carefully. Pastor Caldwell tells us that Marvin was like God in that he was concerned with helping the downtrodden, and in seeking justice. Marvin Zindler was behind the law in Texas making it illegal to run odometers back. He was also behind the law making sneeze guards mandatory over open food in buffet and salad bars in Texas. In other words, he cared about justice, and he cared about other people’s health. Marvin was always looking to help those in need and had a crew of Marvin’s Angels who contributed time to helping those in need.

Now in the Christian east, we have a term, theosis. Theosis is the process in which we become more like God. Now I ask each of you. Are you becoming more like God? That is the reason why we study his word, receive the sacraments and pray, so that we may become more like God, more like Jesus. Are we willing to sacrifice for others? Are we willing to serve others as Jesus served? Will anyone say of you, after you pass on, that you reminded them of God? A friend of mine, Bishop Barry Ferguson who has a growing ministry, told me, we just feed the hungry. Well, isn’t that what Jesus did? He fed the hungry, healed the sick, proclaimed the kingdom. Shouldn’t we be doing that as well.

Theosis should be a goal for each of us as Christians. We should seek those commandments from the old and New Testament which apply to Christians and apply them to our lives. We do need to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our strength and all our mind. We need to love our neighbours as ourselves, and to love justice, love goodness and walk humbly with our God, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, visiting the downtrodden, telling people that God cares and died for them that they be free.
Now how far should that go. Interestingly, Pastor Caldwell also mentioned Marvins fastidiousness relating to his clothing. Now this is something that we do not often think about, but do we dress as God’s representatives? And here I am not talking so much about dressing provocatively, or sleazily, but do we dress in a way that indicates that we represent God Almighty, that we are children of the King? Do we behave as children of the King? Now you do not have to be rich to look good. Clean and neat count for a lot.

So let us put on Jesus Christ. Let us imitate him, as the Bible commands us. Let us be holy as he is holy, and let us learn to be Jesus to those around us.

For those interested in seeing the funeral and hearing the different pastors for themselves, please go to: http://abclocal.go.com/ktrk/story?section=news&id=5531004
and follow the links.

Shalom b'Yeshua haMoshiach,

Mar Michael Abportus