The Divine Power of Truth

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.”  (2 Cor. 10:3-5 NIV)

St Paul is talking about truth having divine power.  Truth, the knowledge of God, his word and work, has divine power.  It demolishes lies, deception, and all manner of error.  Since truth is from God, it is eternal and never fades or dies, in contrast to lies and deception which may last for a while, but are eventually discovered and proven false.

Truth on the other hand may lie dormant for a time, but is always discovered and demolishes the stronghold of lies.  Examples in our world today include such questions as when life begins, and what constitutes marriage.  If we discovered biological cells on another planet, the headlines would declare “Life Exists on Another Planet.” Yet, a human egg fertilized with a human sperm is not?  Genesis and all of nature declare that marriage is between a “male and female” who become one to “be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it,” but the wisdom of this world through our highest court says it is not?  Is our culture exchanging the “truth of God for a lie,” as Paul discusses in Romans 1:25?

When Pilate was trying to determine who Jesus was and whether he was a king, Jesus said the reason he was born and came into the world was “to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  Pilate, like many of our leaders today, not recognizing the embodiment of truth standing right in front of him, asked, “What is truth?”  (John 18:37-38)

History testifies to the power and lasting nature of truth. The Roman Empire oppressed and persecuted Christians for almost 300 years.  Yet historian Will Durant eloquently observes:

“There is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few Christians, scorned or oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with fierce tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while their enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has known.  Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won.” (Caesar and Christ, p. 652)

In recent memory we have seen regimes such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union seek to oppress and outlaw the truth of God, but instead the power and eternal nature of truth brought each of them crashing down.

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching…you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (Jn. 8:32) May we never lose confidence in the power and eternal nature of truth against the lies of the world. 

Do you appreciate the power of truth?

“Do Not Be Afraid”

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)  

Moses made this statement to Joshua when he appointed him as his successor for taking the people of Israel across the Jordan River into the land of Canaan. Taking a people into a new land and removing the people who were previously there was indeed a formidable task and it was understandable that Joshua was experiencing fear and doubt.  Moses told Joshua to “be strong and courageous.”

Have you ever become fearful about whether you can handle a new task or situation that appears formidable?  The possibilities are many — taking on a new job whose scope and responsibilities appear to exceed your skills and experience; trying to restore a relationship that is broken; persuading a rebellious child to change his or her ways; providing ongoing care of a loved one; facing an illness involving suffering, disability or even death.  All of these circumstances can give rise to fear and doubt. 

After serving as an attorney for Mobil Corporation for most of my career, my last assignment involved overseeing our corporate policy and compliance for environmental, health and safety.  The entire staff was made up of engineers and technical people, taking me way out of my comfort zone.  There were times when our staff was challenged when attempting to bring certain compliance issues to the attention of senior management.  Although tempted by fear to back away from our findings, I prayed that the Lord would go before us.  Interestingly, on every occasion when this happened the senior management of our company supported our findings and ordered changes in how things were being done. 

When Jesus was calling Peter and Peter responded that he was a sinful man, Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid.”  When the angels approached Zechariah, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds, on each occasion they said, “Do not be afraid.”  At the Last Supper, Jesus said to all of the disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

St. John Paul II opened his pontificate with the words, “Be not afraid!”  He went on to say, “These are not words said into a void.  They are simply the words of Christ himself.  Do not be afraid of God who became man!”

Are you moved by fear and doubt when facing adversity or do you ask the Lord to go before you?  Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”

No Retirement from the Great Commission

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…” (Mt. 28:19)

In these days of political correctness and division, it may be tempting to forgo opportunities to talk about our Christian faith with someone who is not Christian or a practicing Christian.  Yet, we are familiar with the Great Commission that Jesus gave to his disciples and followers stated above.

A few years ago, our family traveled to Lee’s Summit, Missouri to celebrate the 100th birthday of my wife’s mother, Mary Louise.  We had a wonderful celebration, with all of her children, some grand children and great grandchildren present to honor her life.  From teaching eight grades in a one room country school house in the 1930’s to taking care of elderly parents and other relatives until she herself was 82, her life was a witness to a deep faith in God filled with love and service to others.

Although her life in recent years was confined to an assisted living home where she and about 40 other residents lived, she had not forgotten the words of Jesus in the Great Commission in terms of reaching out to people and inviting them to church. 

In the course of our many conversations she mentioned that she had invited her friends Millie and Dodie to start attending church services that were held every Sunday at the home.  “Dodie had not been to church in 50 years,” she said.  “And Millie had not been for a long time either, but I got them going with me each week now.”  “I try to help them understand what the Bible says and means when I get the chance,” she added.

In Isaiah 49:6, the prophet says, “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”  At age 100, Mary Louise was still being a light to the people God put in her life.  She was still being faithful to God’s plan of working through us to be his presence and to bring his presence to the people and circumstances in her life. 

At 103, Mary Louise was welcomed into the arms of Jesus.  She never stopped sharing her faith.

 Are you talking about Jesus with the people in your life, or inviting them to church, a Christian event or other opportunity where they can meet Jesus and his Word?

Laser Tag and God’s Design for the Family

“God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him, male and female he created them.  God blessed them, saying to them: ‘Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.’” (Genesis 1:27-28)

The family is the natural result of this creation and all that follows. God calls us to carry forward his design from generation to generation. This is a blessed calling, ordained by the one who created all that exists. It is filled with challenges and sacrifice, but can be balanced with deep love and unforgettable blessings.  Let me share one small example.

A few years ago, we were visiting two of our children’s families to attend the high school graduation of our oldest grandson.  Following a post-graduation party and dinner, we were sitting around visiting with the two families, including our grandson’s paternal grandparents, when his siblings and cousins came up with the idea that the two grandfathers should take the six of them to play laser tag. Not only were we to take them, we were to join them in the game.

My first reaction was to decline, but a huge lobbying campaign ensued by the six grandchildren, being egged on by their parents (our children) who all thought it was a hilarious idea. Suddenly I felt the nudge of that inner voice saying, “You should do this.” 

So here we were, two white haired septuagenarians and six teenagers, ages 12 to 18, driving in an eight passenger van to a local laser tag arcade. For those who have never had the experience, laser tag is a game where you put on a vest with four electronic targets located on the chest, back and both shoulders, along with a hand-held infrared laser gun.  You are put in a low light room with two levels and various structures to run around and hide behind while aiming your laser gun at another person’s target areas.  A hit on another person gives you 100 points and a hit on you subtracts 50 points and disables your gun for three seconds.  The person with the most points wins.

Both the kids and the white haired old guys had a blast! The old guys were quite proud of themselves and will long cherish the memory.  Hopefully the young folks, separated by two generations, will as well.

We may not think that laser tag has much to do with God’s design for family, but In this case, there was love in the request from the one generation, and love in the acceptance of the request by the generation once removed.  Upon arriving back at the house there was joy among all three generations by what had taken place.

God’s design for his creation was being lived out through three generations of family, ironically and humorously highlighted through a mundane game of laser tag.

Do you see God’s hand in the ordinary circumstances of your family?

Being Good Shepherds and Stewards

“I am the good shepherd.  A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)

Most of us have never been around sheep, nor would we think of ourselves as shepherds.  We may view the analogy appropriate for pastors or bishops, but not for ourselves.

Yet, many of us are responsible for people or work just as a shepherd is of sheep.  The people may be members of our families or employees who work for us; they may be team members or customers who we are expected to serve, or even friends who may have an expectation of support. The work can be our job responsibilities, family responsibilities, or expectations flowing from friendship.

As the good shepherd, Jesus distinguished himself from the hired hand who abandons the sheep when he sees the wolf coming because he neither owns the sheep nor cares for them. (John 10:12)  Let me illustrate with a story.

John was a county prosecutor in Duluth, Minnesota.  In one of his early cases he was surprised to discover that a former high school friend, Jim, was the defendant.  Over the next 26 years John would prosecute Jim a dozen times for theft related crimes to support a chemical dependency.

For a number of years John thought Jim was just another hopeless habitual criminal.  Then John recommitted his life to Jesus Christ and experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit.  The next time he saw Jim in court he told him that he would pray for him.  Jim said not to bother.

Then Jim was again caught with a cache of stolen goods, sentenced to prison, but learned that he was terminally ill with sclerosis of the liver.  His lawyer arranged for him to be assigned to a hospice.  Jim asked his lawyer to let John know his condition and to request his prayers.

Over the next six months John did more than just pray for Jim.  He visited him two or three times a week.  They reminisced about growing up in the 1950s and talked about their favorite baseball players.  They also read the Bible together.  That fall, Jim repented of his sins and surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. He died in November. “Jim loved reading and praying the psalms,” said John.  “God used Jim to teach me about acceptance of suffering and perseverance, and he showed me that it’s never too late to say yes to the Lord, no matter what we have done.”

John concludes, “Because God answers prayers, Jim said, ‘yes’ to Christ before he died, and I know he is in paradise today – just like another thief who died on the cross next to Jesus 2000 years ago.” (Hope for the Workplace – Christ in You, p. 46-47, www.zacchaeuspublications.com.)

John was a good shepherd of his responsibilities as a prosecutor and of even the people he prosecuted such as Jim.  John says, “I pray before every case that truth and justice will prevail regardless of the outcome it brings.”  John sacrificed his time in supporting Jim and leading him to Christ before he died.  He did not run like a hired hand in the face of a challenge. He persevered in going after a lost sheep in the person of his former friend Jim, and was faithful until he brought him home to the Father just like “the good shepherd [who] lays down his life for his sheep.” 

Am I a good shepherd of the people and responsibilities entrusted to me?

Lift Up the Gates of Your Heart

“Lift up your heads, O gates; rise up you ancient portals that the King of glory may enter. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts is the King of glory.” (Psalm 24:9-10) 

At the time of Moses, God would make himself present in the Meeting Tent and speak to Moses. (Exodus 33:7-11) Later, the Israelites built a temple for God in Jerusalem where he was present in the Ark of the Covenant.

In the above psalm, the psalmist is declaring that the gates of the city be opened so that the people could experience God’s visitation and presence.  A millennium later, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well that “the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”  (John 4:21, 23)  He would also declare that the “the Kingdom [of God] is within you.” (Luke 17:21 NIV)  St. Paul would add, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and God dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16)

God’s desire is not to reside in a Temple of bricks and mortar, but in the temple of our hearts.  Let me illustrate with a story.

Beverly is an oncology nurse and says to her patients as she begins an IV, “Let’s pray that this IV will be painless.”  At some point she will ask her patients if she can pray with them.  They always say okay.  At a time when medical care can become quite impersonal, Beverly says, “We get very close to many of our patients. I went to Pat’s house to help her out before she died.  We’ll go to the hospital and pray with patients, even in a coma.  People tell me, ‘You shouldn’t get so close to your patients,’ but I tell them that ‘this is my God job.’”

Beverly is bringing God’s presence to the patients that come to her clinic.  She cares for them; she intercedes for them; as a Gospel singer and concert violinist, she sings and plays for them – she loves them just as Jesus would love them if he were physically present.  He is physically present to them through Beverly.

When we open the gates of our heart to his presence, God shares his own Holy Spirit with us.  The Spirit of God comes to dwell in us and empower us to do the same things that Jesus did and even greater things. (John 14:12) God’s love becomes our love, his strength becomes our strength and his word becomes our word – all for the purpose of bringing about his Kingdom through us to the people and circumstances of our lives.

Lift up the gates of my heart, O Lord, that the love and mercy of your presence may be present to all you place in my path – my wife and family, friends, colleagues, bosses, subordinates, customers, suppliers and strangers.

Have you lifted up the gates of your heart to God and his Holy Spirit?

The Stones Will Cry Out

“Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He said in reply, ‘I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out’” (Luke 19:39-40)

As Jesus was entering Jerusalem prior to his passion, a crowd of his disciples began to praise God joyfully in loud voices for all of the “mighty deeds” they had seen.  Their exuberant and unrestrained praise caused some Pharisees in the crowd to complain to Jesus, and he responds with the above words.

All of creation had been awaiting God’s personal and physical visitation to make things right upon the earth.  That visitation was now taking place in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Son of David, King of Kings.  Jesus is saying that if those who recognize his visitation and miracles are restrained in their joy and praise, even the stones, inanimate objects of creation, will cry out.

Years later, St. Paul captures this same thought when he says, “For creation waits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God.  We know that all creation has been groaning in labor pains” for God to bring his saving presence to the human race. (Romans 8:19, 22)

As current day disciples, are we loud and joyful in our praise of all the good things God has done in our lives, or are we restrained in our cool and sophisticated ways?

On a winter evening in 1977, I was prayed with for the release of the power of the Holy Spirit by some sisters from the St. Elizabeth Ann Seaton House of Prayer at an evening of renewal program in Briar Cliff Manner, New York.  I experienced a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and my faith was renewed.  It was a mountain top experience.  I remember driving home in a blinding snow storm on the hilly and curvy roads of upper Westchester County, New York.  I could hardly see beyond the hood of my car, but it didn’t matter, for I was brimming with joy and praise of God for his visitation and the changes that he was bringing about in my life.  Even the blizzard, like the Pharisees, could not restrain my joy and praise.

Today, with five older children and thirteen grandchildren, this space is not sufficient for me to acknowledge and praise God for all his works and miracles I have witnessed in my life.   But if you will stay tuned into this blog, I promise that I will share some of the many blessings with you in the weeks ahead.

Do you hold back your praise of God for the blessings and miracles in your life?

Prayer – The Antidote to Temptation

“Why are you sleeping?” Jesus asked. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”  (Luke 22:46 NIV)

After Jesus and the disciples retired to the Mount of Olives following their Passover meal, Jesus suggested that they should pray so that they would not to fall into temptation. He then withdrew to pray about his impending passion.  Even he was tempted to ask God to free him from the trial he was about to undergo, but then submitted to God’s will.

Meanwhile, the disciples were not praying as he suggested, but had fallen asleep.  He chastises them for sleeping and not praying.  We know what happened next; they succumbed to the temptation of fear, and all of them scattered, abandoning Jesus at his arrest.

Jesus’ antidote for temptation is not complicated.  It is simply prayer. In his suggested prayer to his disciples and to us, his concluding petition is, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Mt. 6:13)

Jesus invites us to pray just as he did the disciples.  He invites us to begin our day with him and the Father. He knows from his personal experience that we will not be able to withstand the temptations we face each day without prayer.  Yet, how often do we choose a little more sleep instead of prayer at the beginning of our day?

Prayer nurtures our relationship with Jesus and the Father.  The temptations we face are many and varied — telling the boss what he wants to hear instead of the truth; getting angry when things don’t go our way; engaging in negative humor at the expense of others; flirting with a co-worker; overstating an item on an expense account; getting short with our spouse; or not spending time with our children at the end of a busy day.

One of my more frequent temptations is to get impatient with a store clerk or the person on a help desk when their response seems to take too long or is off the mark.  When I don’t pray, my pride’s expectations are often disproportionate to the problem at hand.  When I do pray, I am reminded to be patient and kind.

With each temptation that Satan threw at Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus countered with a scripture that refuted Satan’s premise for the temptation. (Mt. 4:1-11)  Prayer and scripture are weapons Jesus gives us against temptation and the wiles of Satan.  St. Paul describes them as part of the armor of God. (Eph. 6:12-18)  To these, the Church adds the sacraments of reconciliation and the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

How do you protect yourself against temptation?

Connecting God and Work

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15, NIV)

How much do we connect our work with God?  In a seminar on faith and work which I attended a few years ago, most of the people in my small group of 12 said that they never thought of their work as having anything to do with God or their faith. 

Our increasingly secular culture would like to keep God and faith confined to Sundays and inside church buildings.  But that has never been God’s plan. He created us in his image and likeness and put us in the garden of creation to “work and take care of it.”  The Second Vatican Council said, “This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted as one of the more serious errors of our age.”  In commenting on this condition, St. John Paul II said, “A faith that does not affect a person’s culture is a faith not fully embraced, not entirely thought out, not faithfully lived.”

I always remember the response by a legal secretary in our company when she was being counseled about her poor performance in serving the attorneys assigned to her. “I don’t serve anyone but God,” she indignantly declared as she angrily reacted to her job being described as “serving” her assigned attorneys. She was obviously confused about what serving God entailed — that we serve God when we faithfully serve the people and responsibilities in our work.

As Christians who have accepted God’s offer to dwell in us, we serve God and take care of his creation when we bring his presence into our work, seeking to bring his love, truth and excellence to our jobs and the people and circumstances of our workplaces.

James Hunter, in his book, To Change the World, says that the “great commission” has long been interpreted geographically in terms of sending missionaries to faraway places.  But the great commission can also be interpreted in terms of the church going into all realms of social structure, including skilled and unskilled labor, the crafts, engineering, commerce, art, law, architecture, teaching, health care, volunteer service, family life, etc.  He says, “When the church does not send people out to these realms and when it does not provide the theologies that make sense of work and engagement, the church fails to fulfill the charge to “go into all the world.”   

We serve God and take care of his creation when we do our jobs to the best of our ability no matter how significant or insignificant we may view them.  We are acting in God’s plan for us when we bring his presence, truth, love and excellence into the conduct of our jobs. 

How do you view your work?  Do you see it as a piece of the garden of creation to take care of on behalf of the creator of all that exists?  Do you see it as “a thread in the larger fabric of civilization?”    

God Will Have His Way

“So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go.  For if this endeavor or activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself.  But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” (Acts 5:38-39)

The Book of Acts reports that the Sanhedrin had arrested the apostles and wanted to put them to death because they continued to preach about Jesus contrary to the Sanhedrin’s orders.  A Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was well respected, cautioned them not to carry out their intention.  He said that if the disciples’ actions were of human origin they will eventually fail.  But if they are motivated by the desire to do God’s will they will endure, and the Sanhedrin will actually find themselves fighting against God.

If our actions are of human origin – motivated by ambition, pride, recognition, anger, resentment, revenge, sexual immorality, etc., they will eventually fail.  If they are motivated by the desire to do God’s will they will endure.

St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:8 that “love never fails.” He goes on to say that three things always remain, “faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.”  The effects of a kind word or a merciful act last forever, radiating outward to others like the ripples from a pebble thrown in a pond. Let me illustrate with a story.

On the day I was scheduled for prostate cancer surgery a number of years ago, a snow storm almost prevented us from getting to the hospital.  While I was being readied for surgery in the pre-op unit, a nurse came in to say that my brother was outside and wanted to come in and pray with me.  He was a brother in Christ, whose name was Dave.  He soon had everyone standing around my bed holding hands, including the two surgeons still in their hooded parkas, the nurses, and my wife as he boldly, but humbly, led a prayer for the doctors and the success of the surgery. 

What was remarkable about all of this was that my friend, himself, was suffering from renal cell carcinoma and a neuropathy in his feet which made it difficult for him to walk.  To this day, I do not know how he was able to travel the twelve miles in a snow storm to get to the hospital.  His act of love and the memory of that scene will be seared in my memory for eternity.

We might ask ourselves, are my actions motivated by seeking God’s will, or are they of human origin motivated by my own self-interest?  Am I fighting against God, as Gamaliel observes, or am I letting the Holy Spirit work through me for his end and purpose?