Sunday, October 31, 2010
Blog #85 Five Words - Our Life Several years ago it occurred to me that we could sum up our Christian experience in just five significant words. They are: 1. FORMED. 2 INFORMED. 3. DEFORMED, 4. REFORMED, and 5.TRANSFORMED. I don't know who the oldest person on earth is right now, but we can be sure there was a time in the really not too distant past when none of us existed. We came to be. By God's desire and design we were formed. At the time of our birth we knew very little. As the years went on we grew in knowledge. We had to learn many things we now know very well and take for granted, how to walk, talk, run. play, and work. Some people received the gift of faith, which is a special kind of knowledge. We who believe in Jesus received a special kind of faith which tells us many things about the world ourselves and God. We are informed by our faith in Jesus. He is our teacher, teaching us about important questions like where the world came from, the meaning and goal of our lives, and how we are to live in order to please God, be a blessing to those around us, and be happy. Sometimes we live out our faith and do and say what we know is right. Sometimes we don't. That is when the design and plan and love God desires to have for us is sort of bruised or broken. The beautiful person God wants us to be in deformed. But God is so much in love with us that his love does not stop there. God never goes looking for someone else in place of us. When we realize this we come back to Him. God forgives, We are reformed. But even that is not the end of it. Jesus brought a gift from Heaven that no one else before Him ever even dreamed of. It is the gift of God's own life, shared with us in our own unique human way, through (Jn 14:6; 1 Tim 2: 5), with (Mt 28:20), and in ( Jn 15: 4 - 7) Jesus. Talking to Nicodemus Jesus identified this gift in terms of being "born from above", or "again" as some versions of the text have it. (Jn 3: 11). Other texts throw light on this one: 1 Jn 3: 1 "See what love the Father has bestowed on us in letting us be called children of God! Yet that is what we are". And 2 Cor 5: 17: "If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation!" In Christ, through faith and Baptism we are transformed. These thoughts and texts deserve more space and time than we are giving them here, but I thought it would be good to focus them with you and hope that will incline you to discover more of their richness power and possible impact on your life. Images come to mind for the key words. ALL of creation is FORMED by God. The image of God as the DESIGNER and OWNER OF ALL comes to mind. Following a process through which we pass from being informed by faith, deformed by sin, and reformed through forgiveness, we Christians are transformed. We are not merely made into better men and women. Rather, we are "born from above" as children of God in a definite and real way though, with, and in Jesus. Through Jesus our BRIDGE, with Jesus our FRIEND, COMPANION AND HELPER. and in Jesus our LIFE. Wow! What a story that is. And it is offered free to all who believe.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
BLOG # 84 JESUS NOW Long ago and far away. Those words seem rather innocent, and yet in religion they are some of the most dangerous. "Long ago and far away" are words of joy when spoken of the measles back in Brooklyn seventy six years ago. Long ago and far away. Thanks be to God! Jesus. Jerusalem. Long ago and far away. There is the danger! The RISEN Jesus is the timeless man, and Jerusalem is the world. We do not know Him if we do not know Him PERSONALLY here and now. For Christian people, wherever there is praise and thanksgiving to the Father, wherever there is forgiveness , wherever there is true fellowship and brotherhood, wherever there is hope for eternal life, there is the presence of Jesus living among us by His Spirit, blessing us with joy and giving us strength. By faith Jesus steps out of history and lives with us today. He calls us to the newness and development of tomorrow. Faith is knowledge. But the knowledge of faith must be received, handed down, given. "...faith comes by hearing..." ( Rom 10: 17). We need a witness, someone who speaks to us and reveals to us something that otherwise we would not know. Jesus in the prime witness to the Father's life and love. Jesus knew the Father by experience and He became a witness to the Father by His life and words. Jesus testified that the Father loves all people and wants all to be happy forever. Christians down through the ages have gone to all corners of the world sharng the knowledge they had by faith of the message of Jesus. Jesus Himself was in California when Junipero Serra limped through desert heat telling the people of the Father's love and they were brothers and sisters in Jesus. "I am with you always..." One night many years ago, while I was driving home from visiting a very poor family in rural Georgia the thought occurred to me: "you say God loves all people and wants us to be happy. What does that mean to those four small children whose father is too sick to hold down a job and whose mother is retarded?" The trip home was 38 miles, several of them over dirt roads. I had an hour to stuggle with the answer to that question. Before I parked the car in front of the church I was well aware of the danger and betrayal in regarding Jesus as a person who lived in the "long ago and far away". It is His will that we be for one another His living presence, His energy,consolation, and love. When I went back and forth to encourage and help that family grow lettuce and vegetables for a balanced diet, brought them food and clothing, helped return a used TV they had bought for a house that did not have electricity, and assisted in finding a job for the father, it was really Jesus doing all of his in the here and now. May your heart and mine be ever faithful kind and generous enough to make Jesus present in our everyday experience of life.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Blog # 82 PRAY ALWAYS "... never cease praying..., ; such is God' s will for you in Christ Jesus." Those words come from St. Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 5 verse 17. The words "never cease praying" could just as well have been given as "pray always". What could Paul have intended to say when he told the Thessalonians to pray always? Every day? No, that is not always. Almost always? No. The only thing always means if you take it literally is always. Taken in this sense it would seem that Paul is suggesting something that would clearly be impossible even to hope for let alone accomplish. In this sense I cannot imagine a monk or a cloistered nun praying always. What could it mean for a neurosurgeon in the midst of a delicate brain operation that requires every bit of concentration he can muster on the surgery in which he is engaged? It would be an immoral act for a person to be driving along a crowded highway at sixty-five miles an hour with one hand on the wheel and the other holding an open prayer book. Without changing the literal meaning of the word always, the solution comes in the meaning we have for the words to pray. The classic definition of prayer is a lifting up of our mind and heart to God to praise Him, to thank Him, to express repentance for our sins, and to ask His blessing on our life. For many people this lifting up of our minds and hearts is primarily if not exclusively expressed in words. Even to think in terms of words takes time and it would indeed be impossible to pray always if prayer were available only in terms of words or thoughts. An alternative concept of prayer could be formulated by understanding it as living in the Presence of God. Since God is our Creator always and everywhere, this notion of prayer can be realized at all times and wherever we may be. So, however, only if we will it. Logically therefore the best time to guarantee that we will be personally by choice living in the Presence of God all day long is to begin the day by choosing to do so. In the practical order this will mean before the first cup of coffee or the first of any other act but the act of making this choice. Years ago in order to put all of this into practice I formed the habit of imitating Jesus in the way I learned from the letter to the Hebrews ( 10: 5,7) which says: "...on coming into the world Jesus said: "...I have come to do your will O God." By habit now but with new meaning that prayer is the first thought of every day. Then throughout the day reminders come to keep me aware of what I have chosen when coming back to life after the 'death' of sleep. "...Thy will be done..." in the Lord's prayer." When I sit down at the computer to try to figure out what to say in the next blog...Lord, what's next?" When I gather up and recycle scraps of paper left by people on the parking lot of the church and other such simple yet prayerful experiences if done by the will of God by His Presence in me. Then by the end of the day the 17th verse of chapter 10 of the letter to the Thessalonians comes into focus: "Rejoice always, never cease praying, render constant thanks; such is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." "Thank You, Lord" is a fitting prayer to end the day rejoicing in God's will.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Blog # 81 UNITY IN TRUTH Jesus is with the Apostles in the final hours He would spend with them before His agony in Gethsemane and his loving and obedient death on the cross. (Jn 17 : 20 ff). We hear him praying: "I pray...for those who will believe in me. May they all be one. Father, may they be one in us as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me , that they may be one as we are one. With me in them and You in me, may they be so completely one that the world may realize it was you who sent me and that I have loved them as much as You have loved me." I cannot see how anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus could take these words of Jesus lightly. Yet we tolerate divisions of the Church almost as if they were in agreement with His prayer and desire. Part of the problem seems to be that none of us wants to be wrong or deficient in our faith, which is perfectly natural. In order to give ourselves the security we need to live in the conviction that we are right, it turns out that others who differ with us must logically be wrong. Then we try to discover and hand down among ourselves our assessment of the error we are judging. With various levels of success and generally with little or no personal contact and discussion with members of the actual group of people we are judging, we place personal salvation at the top of our concerns and relegate the prayer of Jesus to a back burner. On the other hand, as I see it, none of us is completely right until all of us are one. Isn't that what Jesus prayed for the night before He died? Suppose you were a teacher and you had eighteen students in your class. Suppose you taught them all to spell cat C-A-T. In learning it, all eighteen students would agree with you. But then, when they related to one another, if they really learned what you taught, it would necessarily follow they would also agree with one another. If not, , something would be wrong. This is similar to the way I think it is with the churches. Jesus is the teacher of all. We wish to learn and believe, to follow and live what Jesus taught. We want to agree with Him, to be one with Him. Others feel this same way about Him. The fact we are not one indicates that something is wrong. It is this problem I am inviting you to pray about. "...that all be one...that the world may believe it was you who sent me." Our divisions stand in the way of the success we hope for in our missionary endeavors in fulfilling the GREAT COMMAND to bring the Gospel message to all the world. (Mat.28: 16 - 20). Lord Jesus, have mercy on us. Send your Holy Spirit to open our eyes to see the tragedy of your Church divided. Help us to see the evil of our divisions as infinitely worse than the evil of terrorism which can kill the body but not the soul. Help us to see how we are betrayed by the evil of personal sin and led astray in our quest for happiness by the secularization of our current American culture. Father, may the desire of Jesus that all who believe in Him be one be our desire. In His Holy Name I pray.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Blog # 80 SALVATION NOW Think for a moment of the fate of the millions of notices that are sent through the mail announcing a particular contest or drawing. Many of them are never opened by the people to whom they are addressed and are thrown into the wastebasket at the Post Office or at home. Some are opened and read, an intention made to send it back and enter the drawing but time passes and it is forgotten or put aside. The deadline for the drawing passes and the opportunity to win the prize is gone. Other entries are completed and returned. Another mailing comes telling us the good news that a valuable prize is ours. It is somewhat like this with the Good News of salvation, but also very much different. Some people receive the invitation to believe and never open it. Either they are too busy or too interested in other pursuits to give the Gospel a chance to influence their lives. They never seriously consider whether not not Jesus is God, whether or not He could have a personal relationship with them, whether or not His Good News of faith and salvation is addressed to them personally and could be theirs today if they so desired. As far as they are concerned there might as well not have been a lucky drawing. For them it is not real. The life death and resurrection of Jesus can be unreal, a nonentity, for someone who does not give it a thought. Some other people hear the Good News of His love and intend to do something about it but they keep getting distracted, putting it off, waiting until tomorrow, until all their tomorrows have turned to yesterdays and the time for believing is over, and the time of judgment, the time to reveal the score of the game of our lives has come. Wouldn't it be sad if someone died yesterday who intended to believe in Jesus today?
Blog # 79 ALL This is a transcript of an essay I wrote years ago when I was Pastor of St. Francis de Sales Church in Idabel, OK. It seems like only last week! As I sit here in the office, the new First Baptist Church is being constructed directly across the street. Two men on the roof are hammering nails. A third man is climbing up the scaffold to join them. It is a beautiful sunny day. It occurred to me to think of this same church building ten years from now. It is a typical Sunday evening service. The church is full. The music is beautiful. The message is clear and consoling. People are happy and thankful for the opportunity of expressing their faith, praise, and thanks. Then my thoughts came back to today, as the church building is being constructed. Many nails are being hammered into the roof. Each nail is a part of the church, though small in itself and not doing the work of other parts of the church or of other nails. Ten years from now there may be hundreds of people at the service I envisioned a few moments ago. Yet I think none of them will be thinking of the nails being used today in the church's construction. It is not that anyone would deny the existence of the nails or say they are not useful or important to the building. They are merely not remembered, unthought of, and as a result to some extent unreal. A similar experience as this is common in other areas of our lives. Unless we take time to reflect, unless we train ourselves to be observant, unless we are ready to see and appreciate all there is around us, the danger is we will see only part of it, observe a small portion of it, see and appreciate too little of it to be as happy and appreciative as God and the world around us call us to be. I look again across the street. So much more is going on than the construction of a building. I think of the person who invented the hammer and appreciate the great gift this has been to all who work with wood and nails. The buttons on each shirt, the shoes on each foot, the hats, jackets, and jeans are there before me. The tailors, the shoemakers, all are real. All of them are part of me if I permit them to be so. I think of several people who are possibly reading these reflections. I pray for you to the Lord, that you may rejoice in all God is doing in your life, that you may know and love the Lord more perfectly every day, that you might be happy in your faith, that the Lord will bless you with a deep appreciation of creation, the things and people around you whom God has given us as a reminder and expression of His presence among us and of God's infinite love for us all. Thanks be to God for every nail in the roof of my home, for every pane of glass in the windows, for every inch of the path that leads to the street, and every person I will ever meet, and above and in them all thanks be to Thee, O Lord, for Your love and Your salvation. Amen!
Blog # 83 Worship Love is a personal response to a particular relationship. We have many relationships in our everyday experience of human life. We meet a burgler on a dark street. We view the Grand Canyon from the south rim. We win the lottery. We stand in a long line at the checkout counter of the grocery store. Our response to these experiences might be expressed by fear wonder joy patience, etc. Our relationship to God is somewhat similar to our relationships with fellow human creatures and with all of creation. Our relationship to God and others on particular occasions may be expressed by praise thanks petition and in the case of disobedience or sin on our part, by reparation. I praise a neighbor for the paint job he has done on his house. I thank another neighbor for the gift of tomatoes from his garden. I ask him what type of fertilizer he used to produce such wonderful tomatoes. I express my sorrow and ask forgiveness for having stolen some of his tomatoes. Similar patterns are played out in our reponse to our relationship with God. The praise and thanks we give, the breadth of our petitions, and the depth of our reparation to God is greater than that given to others, but yet is similar. With love,however, we have an essential difference. Our love for God is not merely a more fervent or higher degree of the same type of love we give our neighbor. Our love for God stands alone in its unique category, essentially different from all other love we may experience. As the CREATOR of ALL that EXISTS, ALL gifts are gifts from God, and God is worthy of ALL praise and thanks. We can seek ALL we need and legitimately desire from God, and EVERY evil is an offence against God. The love we have for God in response to our relationship to God as our creator is total, which means unconditional. Only God deserves and is worthy of such love. The name of our unique love for God is WORSHIP.
Monday, October 11, 2010
Blog # 78 Attitude "Your attitude must be that of Christ." (Phil 2: 5 ). Nations, even so called Christian nations, seem to be unaware or forgetful there is an attitude of Jesus toward world problems and we should be seeking to make that attitude our own. So, too, many Christian believers seem to be unaware or forgetful there is an attitude of Jesus we should bring to all of our personal human experiences. We are to have the attitude of Jesus toward our family our Job good health or lack of it. There have been ages in the history of our Christian experience when believers decorated their homes and places of business with Christian symbols as reminders of the presence of God in all they did and as invitations to respond to God's presence regularly during the day. A favorite bible verse, framed beautifully and hanging in the bedroom, a rustic cross made into a wayside shrine, a picture in the den of Jesus blessing the children , or with His disciples at the Last Supper placed in the dining room could all serve as reminders there is an attitude of Jesus toward all that we do, and we are invited to discover that attitude and make it our own. But we have to face the facts. Here in modern America reminders like these are not frequent or forceful. Church buildings are numerous enough but our normal daily paths do not necessarily lead to them. We could however train ourselves to see in our church buildings reminders of the attitude Jesus wants us to have toward our world ourselves and those around us. On the other hand they are constant witnesses to the tragedy of the division of the community of believers in contradiction to the prayer of Jesus the night before He died that we all be one. Here in America we have so much both of food and clothing that we can get into the habit of taking it for granted. The only thing we need to make it all our own is money. When we enter a store to buy food, the only thing that might prevent us from buying any item there is money. We tend to overlook the fact we really need more and there is so much more available with no cost at all other than that we have the attitude of Jesus. We need sun rain earth people and God for every onion we see in a local grocery store. For every friendly letter we receive in the mail we need not just the paper on which it is written but the mail carrier, the paper manufacturer, trees, and many people other than our friend. To see this and understand it, to remind us of it, and to live it in praise and thanks to God we need the attitude of Jesus. Father, may the attitude of Jesus Your beloved Son ever be my attitude and the attitude of each one of my friends and neighbrs, always and everywhere, Amen !
Sunday, October 10, 2010
BLOG # 77 THE MOON One evening last week as I was out walking just as it was about to get dark I noticed the moon high in the sky. After a few moments of reflection on its beauty and marveling at the fact I could see it at a distance of about a hundred and twenty-nine thousand miles it occurred to me to think of verse eighty-eight of psalm eighty-nine. There the psalmist refers to the moon as a "faithful witness in the sky". How beautiful and powerful that image is! The moon has a real substance of its own but no light. All the light we see coming from the moon is coming from the sun, reflected down to us from the moon but coming from the sun. Whenever we see the moon 'shining' we know the sun is shining. The moon is a faithful witness. Then I began to apply t his image to ourselves as believing Christians. We have something definite of our own as simple creatures of God just as the moon has something of its own independently of the light of the sun. We share with other creatures certain natural gifts. With other creatures of the one Almighty Creator we have life sight hearing, the ability to move about, reproduce, and death. These realities in us can be compared to the substance of the moon, real in itself, capable of reflecting light, but with no light of its own. Receiving light from the sun the moon reflects the light to us and becomes the faithful witness in the sky. We believing Christians are invited and empowered to do something similar with regard to the very special gift which Jesus came to share with us and which He refers to as "life". ( Jn 10: 10). "I came that you may have life." (Jn 8: 12 ) "I am the light of the world. No follower of mine will ever walk in darkness, no, he will possess the light of life." (Jn 14: 6) "I am the way and the truth and the life." (Jn 5: 39f. "...you are unwilling to come to me to possess that (eternal) life." As the sun is to the moon Jesus is to those who believe, bringing us the light of truth about ourselves and all of creation. His light reveals the answers to the fundamental questions we all have with regard to the purpose and meanng of our life as creatures of an all-loving all-powerful Creator, about the meaning and value of suffering, and about death and eternal life beyond the grave. We reflect the truths we have received by faith into the darkness of the secularized culture around us in the form of joy peace kindness patience hope and love, just as the moon reflects to earth the light of the sun, no matter that it is a hundred and twenty-nine thousand miles away! In living out our faith we are faithful witnesses to the presence of Jesus in our world today. Praised be He, now and forever!
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
BLOG 74 - A FAITH In the Gospel of Luke 17: 5 the apostles said to Jesus, ""Increase our faith". The Lord replied, "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed you would say to this mulberry tree, 'be uprooted and planted in the sea', and it would obey you. In response to this reading I thought it would be good to share a few reflections about faith. First of all faith has to do with truth. To have faith in its strict sense is one of the two ways we have of acquiring truth. The second is experience. They can be illustrated anecdotally this way. A mother tells her little four-year old son to keep away from the stove because it is hot and if he touches it it will burn him. If he believes her he will know the stove is hot and he will know that if he touches it it will burn him. On the other hand he can discover the same truth in the experience of touching the stove and burning himself. In the case of experience we acquire truth first hand. In the case of faith we acquire truth through the experience of another by way of his or her testimony to his or her experience of the truth. The request of the apostles to Jesus that He increase their faith can have a twofold application. First the question applies to the content of their faith, as for example if you were to ask a friend who just came back from a ski trip out in Aspen, Colorado whether the snow is still good for skiing, how much are the hotels charging for rooms, and how long did it take you to drive there from here, the content of your friend's testimony and your faith will cover three items. The second application of the request for an increase in faith has to do with the degree of trust you have for the revealer or the degree of confidence you have in the revealer as a trustworthy witness, that he or she knows what he or she is talking about and is telling the truth, 'neither deceiving nor deceived'. Without perhaps actually thinking of the experience as an experience of faith, we do experience faith on a regular basis every day, as for example the report of the weather back in Augusta on the radio or TV when you are traveling out in California, the golf and baseball scores in the newspaper, the price of milk and vegetables in a local supermarket as printed in the advertisement that comes in the mail, or the witness of your watch to the time of day. In these and similar instances faith is useful due to the fact we do not have on our own the time, talent, money etc that would be needed to acquire the truth we are seeking. Faith is absolutely necessary, however, when it comes to some questions that are important to us but cannot be answered by our limited human experience, as for example the question of the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus, the infallible authority of the Church, the fact of eternal life, and the Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. An important feature of faith is that it is not designed to be an end in itself, but rather you might say as a tool such as a hammer or a saw which derive their meaning and value for us in our response to them or our use of them. A hammer is really a hammer when it is hammering, a saw when it is sawing. So faith is really itself in the response we make to the content to what we believe. We believe God is real and really present, always and everywhere. We respond in prayer and worship. We believe in the mercy of God. We respond in our seeking and receiving forgiveness of our sins. Now with regard to the Gospel story in Luke. Do you think Jesus really meant it when He said that with faith you could tell a mulberry tree to uproot itself and be planted in the sea and it would obey you? My answer to that question is CERTAINLY! The catch is : WITH FAITH! IF God told us to do such a thing to a mulberry tree and we did it it would be done. Biblical scholars agree that Jesus said what He did as an extreme example of the power of faith and the trustworthiness of God, but also what He said is true. We can depend that much on God. We can believe God that strongly. God is ABSOLUTELY TRUSTWORTHY, including all we can imagine of trustworthiness and beyond. Confident in knowing this, martyrs in the history of the Church joyfully gave up their lives in testimony to the truth of what they believed.
Saturday, October 2, 2010
BLOG # 74 BLINK ! Blink your eyes ! Go ahead, I mean it. ( Pause). I wonder how many people blinked their eyes. Whether you did or not, the experience you are having can give you an idea of what it is like to be a Christian. There is a certain mystery involved in the number of people who blinked their eyes, and before that in the number of people who happened to be reading this BLOG and received the invitation. Some people probably blinked their eyes at the mere suggestion. Others in the second paragraph, and perhaps others before they put the Blog away. Others won't do it voluntarily. Altogether, if all who received the invitation blinked their eyes there would be a lot of blinking people. And then if they, in turn, extended the invitation to others it would not be long before the entire neighborhood would have blinked their eyes. In Jesus the invitation goes out to be born from above by faith and Baptism into the world we know today, among your friends and mine. Then to grow with Jesus, to discover the miracle of prayer, of receiving and granting forgiveness, and of sharing the wonder of the water of ordinary realities transformed into the wine of our Father's love. This is part of the vision a Christian holds dear. Thanks to our Father the Christian knows the goodness and love of Jesus our Savior. He dedicates himself to announcing the Good News of Jesus to others. As I said "Blink your eyes !" the Christian says: "Love Jesus, believe in Him,trust Him, imitate Him." There is a parallel between what I have done and what the Christian is chosen and sent to do. And there is a parallel in the response that is given. Why is it that some people believe and some do not? In searching for the answer we are confronted with at least a threefold mystery, the mystery of reality itself, of individuality, and that of freedom. The reality is that some do not receive the invitation at all, each one understands it in his or her own way, and all are given the freedom to say yes or no. We know that God "wills that all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2: 4). "Pray to the Lord of the harvest that He send laborers into the harvest field." ( Mat 9: 37f). "I want my house to be full." ( Luke 14: 13. God desires that all people share the knowledge, love, and joy of Jesus. And what a joy it is to have heard the invitation, to have understood it, and to be given new life in Jesus! Thank you. Lord !