Saturday, March 30, 2013

He is Risen!

When I was growing up, the first thing I heard on Easter morning every year was, 'He is risen!' (To which my sister and I were to respond, 'He is risen, indeed.') This was how my mother would greet us and everyone she saw that day.

In our family, Christmas was fun but Easter was holy.

When I was a seminary student in New Jersey, there was a small group of us who needed a break from the constant study of the Presbyterian Church and responsibilities we had on Sunday mornings. We needed a way to actually be able to worship - something that is hard to do when you are leading or assisting in worship every Sunday.

We started attending a nearby Greek Orthodox mission church on Saturday nights for vespers as a way to worship before we led worship the next day. It was foreign and yet so beautiful and moving to be worshipping the same God in a very different way; surrounded by the scent of incense, the sound of a different language, and icons that portrayed Jesus in ways I had not previously experienced. It was an incredibly visceral way to experience and worship God.

Holy Week had always been a special time for me because of my mother's affinity for it, but it wasn't until I participated in the Greek Orthodox church's celebrations of Holy Week and Easter did I really experience the full emotional depth of this Christian celebration.

The entire week was filled not just with worship services, but with vigils, in which the congregants stood for hours. The reality of our sin and Jesus' need to die for and because of us was a physical weight in those days. When Good Friday came and Christ was crucified, it was dreadful. "Great and Holy" Saturday night's vigil ended at midnight as the priest led the entire congregation out of a darkened and stripped sanctuary in a procession around the outside of the church three times that was filled with an energy of expectation. At the end of the procession, the priest led the congregation back to the door of the church where this was said :

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

Then the priest knocked at the door and it was opened. We re-entered into a sanctuary that had been restored of its 'decorations' and re-lit. Everyone was kissing and hugging and so incredibly joyous that Easter and the resurrection of the Lord had come. A literal feast followed in the actual sanctuary until about 2am with people saying to each other  'Christos Anesti' (Christ is risen) and  'Alithos Anesti' (truly, He is risen).

Easter is not just a date on the calendar or an excuse to buy chocolate bunnies and hold egg hunts. It is not just a day to put on your new clothes and look shiny and happy for the other Christians. It is a day to be reminded of how shocking it was for the women and disciples to find the empty tomb and realize that Jesus was so much more than just a teacher and leader.

It is a day to remember that God loves us so much He allowed himself to become human and accept a painful death on the cross as payment for our sin.

It is a day to be crazy with joy and thankfulness to the God who came and dwelt among us and loved us anyway.

I hope that your Easter has been more than a chocolate fest. I pray that your Easter has reminded you of the joy of your salvation!

Christos Anesti!

- Chesney Szaniszlo

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,  and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. - 1 Corinthians 15: 1-8


Monday, March 25, 2013

Live Oak Lenten Blog - Holy Week

This is my favorite week of the Christian calendar. I love it more than Pentecost, Advent, or Christmas day, itself. I love it so much because it's a roller coaster ride that doesn't make me nauseous and terrified. I go from the depths of sin to the heights of grace in one short week and it represents for me the entirety of the Christian life:

*We are sinners and doomed to death because of our depravity.

*God loved us so much that He sent Jesus (God incarnated) to save us.

*We hated His attempt to save us from ourselves and refused to accept his grace.

*But Jesus died a painful, earthly death for us in spite of us and willingly became an atonement for
  us so that our sin debt could be paid by his sacrifice.

*Jesus rose bodily from the dead on the third day (Easter Sunday) and through his death and
  resurrection we are given access to free grace and forgiveness of sins when we turn to Him...even
  if we turn and return to Him infinite times.

How awesome a week is that! I can hold the knowledge of my sin and depravity, knowing I am responsible for Jesus' death and yet at the same time hold the hope of grace, salvation, and eternal life for myself because I have seen my sin and confessed my need for Jesus.

It is not an easy week if you take it seriously but what you put into Holy Week you will get out tenfold in your walk with Christ.

I encourage you all to take at least a few minutes this week to think about why Jesus had to die for you. It will make you incredibly grateful for the dawning of this coming Sunday and I guarantee Easter will mean more you than just chocolate bunnies and egg hunts.

- Chesney Szaniszlo

Who believes what we’ve heard and seen? Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?

The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling, a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried— our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,  that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on him, on him.

                                                                                                   - Isaiah 53:1-6


Monday, March 18, 2013

Live Oak Lenten Blog - week 5

Ahhh - back home and back to normal. I love vacation but I love coming home even more :)

In preparation for Holy Week next week, I set my alarm to go off at 5:40 this morning to Miserere Mei, Deus (Have mercy on me, o God). This is an early 17th century composition by Gregorio Allegri which sets Psalm 51 to music that was sung during the Holy Week Tenebrae services in the Sistine Chapel under Pope Urban VIII.

I love this song - it puts me in the right frame of mind for Holy Week - the culmination of Lent in a week that focuses on Jesus sacrificial act of love for us. Take a listen if you've never heard it.

This morning, after listening to Miserere Mei, Deus, I opened my Bible App on my iphone and sat down to read, all prepared with a list of things to pray about afterwards, including some issues regarding reconciliation and forgiveness.  The passage I read was this:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. - Ephesians 6:10-12

And here's the funny thing - after reading that passage I realized that I didn't need to pray about other people, I needed to pray for myself. I needed to pray that I would be more forgiving and have a more generous spirit. Instead of praying for help to forgive people who hurt or aggravate me, I needed to pray that I have more bandwidth and more 'stock' in God. The problem is not with others, it is with me and the way I am allowing things that are not of God to sway and move me away from God.

I remember my mother using a portion of St. Patrick's prayer which has always resonated with me and seems particularly apropos today (since yesterday was his day and because of my realization this morning) so I am going to close with it.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit,
Christ when I stand,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me
- St. Patrick (taken from The Breastplate of St. Patrick)

May God be with each and every one of us today and always.

Chesney Szaniszlo


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Live Oak Lenten Blog - Week 4

So, I've hit the proverbial wall this week. Preparation for, and Spring Break itself, has thrown me off my schedule.

I am sad to say that for several days last week I shortened my time and for the past two days, I actually skipped my daily 30 with God.

Bad. Bad. Bad! In more ways than one.

I hate to set my alarm on vacation but its what I am going to have to do this week. God doesn't take time off from listening to us. I shouldn't take time off from talking to him.

When i finally got around to it, this was my scripture reading today:

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. (Ephesians 5:1, 2 MSG)

That seems a perfect way to start a new week.

Chesney Szaniszlo


Monday, March 4, 2013

Live Oak Lenten blog - week 3

This is the third week of Lent and I have continued to see a difference in my daily life when I get up early (no, really early) to read scripture and pray. I'm not sure if it's the prayer itself or the tone it sets for my day, but its something that has definitely had a positive impact.

Here are a few things I've noticed this past week:
-As I've spent more time in prayer, more people are asking me to pray for them, so my prayer time is more quickly and easily filled.

-I've also noticed that while I've been able to give God control over some things, I've also re-grasped some old issues.

Sometimes my life feels like a game of "whack a mole" - I let go of control in one area only to be faced with the need to let go in another.  It might just be what it is, a continual process of refinement until my time on Earth has ended. I'm okay with that. I'm wiser and have more self-control than I did 10 years ago and hopefully within another 10 years, I'll have learned even more. I also think that every time an 'issue' comes back around to be 'dealt' with, it has a little less power over me and I can look at whatever it is with more perspective.

But all of that has only happened because God's Holy Spirit is and has been busily at work in my life - so thank you God for refining me even though it is hard and sometimes painful.

-Chesney Szaniszlo