Day: February 10, 2018

‘IT’S NOT OUR CHURCH, IT’S GOD’S CHURCH,’ ORTHODOX PRIEST REMINDS

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Father Joseph Huneycutt of Houston, left, led a retreat Feb.6-7 at St. Luke Orthodox Church, led by Father Philip LeMasters, center. Among the visitors was Father Mark McNary, right, of St. Peter Orthodox Church in Fort Worth. Photo by Loretta Fulton

By LORETTA FULTON

Father Joseph Huneycutt sometimes has to fight back the urge to say what’s on his mind, like when a teenager asks why there are no longer any miracles.

“I want to say, ‘you are a miracle,'” Huneycutt, pastor of St. Joseph Orthodox Church in Houston, said during a talk Feb. 6 at Abilene’s St. Luke Orthodox Church.

Huneycutt conducted a two-day retreat at St. Luke on evangelism. What the teenager really means, Huneycutt said, is “Why aren’t prayers answered?” People die despite fervent prayers. Why?

“God’s normal is not our normal,” Huneycutt said.

A person looks the same after confession, Huneycutt noted, but he or she is a new creation in Christ. Ordinary bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ and humans are changed by partaking in the Eucharist.

Huneycutt answered questions from the audience about the struggles the Orthodox church, and others, are facing for members. Huneycutt said there are seven churches in his deanery and all but one are suffering financially. But the church must continue to serve.

“It’s not our church,” Huneycutt said, “it’s God’s church.”

Huneycutt was asked if he sees people going deeper into ancient worship. Huneycutt’s own faith journey shows that he did. Raised in a Southern Baptist home, Huneycutt became an Episcopal priest and then converted to Orthodoxy. Everyone has to go deeper, Huneycutt said.

“For me,” he said, “I have to go to a monastery from time to time to recharge.”

 

 

 

MORE ‘RADICAL HOSPITALITY’ NEEDED

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Richard Beck talks about his new book with guests at a lecture Feb. 7 at First Central Presbyterian Church. Beck is chairman of the Department of Psychology at Abilene Christian University. Photo by Loretta Fulton

By LORETTA FULTON

“The battle to be like Christ is won or lost in a millisecond.”

It happens as quickly as looking away from someone in need–or looking at them. Everyone knows the story of the Good Samaritan, Richard Beck said to a group Feb. 7 at First Central Presbyterian Church. But we don’t become the Good Samaritan ourselves because we don’t notice. Seeing “Good Samaritan opportunities” takes intentionality and sometimes a change of heart

“To rewire one’s heart is hard,” Beck said, but worth the effort.

Beck, chairman of the Department of Psychology at Abilene Christian University, was guest speaker for the Feb. 7 Wednesday evening program at First Central Presbyterian. He based his talk on his new book, “Stranger God: Meeting Jesus in Disguise.” A promotional blurb for the book says that when Beck first led a Bible study at the maximum-security French-Robertson unit north of Abilene, he went to meet God.

Beck’s faith was flagging, but he still believed the promise of Matthew 25, that when we visit the prisoner, we visit Jesus. And sure enough, God met him in prison. In his talk and in his book, Beck talks about how psychological experiments show how we are predisposed to like those who are similar to us and avoid those who are unlike us.

The call of the gospel, however, is to override those impulses with compassion, to “widen the circle of our affection.” In the end, Beck turns to the Little Way of St. Thérèse of Lisieux for guidance in doing even the smallest acts with kindness, and he lays out a path that any of us can follow.

The Bible is filled with stories of “radical hospitality,” which Beck called “God’s thermometer,” and that is what the church should practice. We may be good at welcoming people into the church, he said, but there is a bigger question.

“Will we welcome people into our hearts?” Beck asked.

“Radical hospitality” calls for widening our moral or “affectional” circle, Beck said. That circle includes people who are like us. Expanding that circle to take in people we sometimes turn a blind eye to is what Jesus calls for.

“That’s a challenging practice for all of us,” Beck said.

Beck not only is popular guest speaker, he also is extremely popular with ACU students. He is an award-winning author, speaker, blogger and professor. During his tenure at ACU, Beck  has been selected Teacher of the Year, Honors Teacher of the Year, McNair Mentor of the Year and has won the College of Arts and Sciences Classroom teaching award.

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT DOES CHOCOLATE HAVE TO DO WITH JESUS? RECONSIDERING LENT

By JANICE SIX

As the season of Lent draws near, even Christians from non-liturgical denominations and traditions can be heard discussing what they plan to “give up” during the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter morning. It’s baffling to me what people choose to “give up” as a spiritual practice during Lent. For example: Chocolate. Yes, it’s considered to be a temptation and some even consider it addictive, but what does giving up chocolate have to do with Jesus? We all have a bad habit or two that we wish we’d never started, but is giving up an innocuous habit Lent-worthy?

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Janice Six

It concerns me that this spiritual practice, which is holy to many, is unintentionally being trivialized by those of us whose practice of it has little to do with repentance and more to do with short-term self-control. Giving up something during Lent is more than a test of our willpower. In fact, testing our willpower may be the antithesis of this spiritual practice that’s intended as a means of recognizing and confessing our weakness and dependency not on ourselves but on God’s grace extended to us through Jesus the Christ. Electing to give up something for 40 days with little or no thought given to how its continued practice threatens to undermine or stunt the growth of our relationship with the risen Lord, is to practice it in vain.

Are we not robbing this holy practice of the reverence it is due each time the something we choose to give up has more to do with vanity or accolades from our peers than enriching our relationship with the triune God? Are we robbing ourselves of a spiritual annual check-up when we fail to prayerfully exam our lives, admit our weaknesses, repent of wrongdoing, and submit our will to God’s will? This is not to suggest that we give up giving up something during Lent, but rather that we enter into this practice with prayerful forethought and an appreciation for the way the Holy Spirit might exercise its transformative power to change us during this time of contrition.

For those of us who have limited knowledge of Lent’s liturgical back-story, the first step we need to take is to educate ourselves about the purpose and contemplative practice of giving up something during Lent. The second step—if we choose to take it—is to thoughtfully and prayerfully examine our lifestyle, motives and goals to see if they are God-centered or self-centered. And the third step is to admit our powerlessness in the face of temptation and earnestly seek God’s strength and refuge in times of trial. Finally, a less conventional suggestion is to redefine what we mean by “giving up.”

Instead of focusing on the sacrifice or the act of laying down that which we are being led to give up, let’s consider God’s loss when we remain in our self-centered ways. For example, once watching television escalates to bingeing on entertaining movies, my interest in delving into the church’s response to human trafficking or listening to lectures by some of my favorite theologians is lost. My attention has been drawn away from justice efforts or edifying lectures that are surely pleasing to God and given over to guffaws and Hollywood drama.

God’s loss is my attentive ear and compassion for the oppressed. Therefore, rather than simply declaring that I am giving up bingeing on entertaining movies, I go a step farther and consider what will be gained by abstaining from the obsessive behavior. The gain then becomes the offering–with arms raised and outstretched hands. In this example, what I am offering is my attention and compassion for the oppressed and enslaved. No doubt, this pleases God…even more than giving up chocolate.

Janice Six is associate pastor of First Central Presbyterian Church