Faith to Do God's Will

“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:45)

These are the words of Elizabeth to Mary upon her arrival at Elizabeth’s house. We might wonder how Elizabeth would know to commend Mary for her decision to accept Gabriel’s message that she would give birth to the Son of God before Mary told her about it.

The Gospel of Luke says that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit at Mary’s greeting. By the knowledge of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth commended Mary for believing what she was told.

Elizabeth was also aware that her husband, in contrast to Mary, was rendered mute when he questioned the angel’s message to him that Elizabeth would give birth to a son in her old age.

So, here we have the Holy Spirit in Mary giving rise to the Holy Spirit in Elizabeth, and the Holy Spirit in Elizabeth commending Mary for her faithful acceptance of God’s will and offering praise for God’s physical entry into human history.

Surely, Mary’s statement to the angel Gabriel, “May it be done to me according to your word,” has provided the example of true and humble faith in accepting God’s will for every generation since Jesus’ birth.

Seeking and fulfilling God’s will should be a primary objective for all of us in our walk of faith. This can involve significant life decisions such as our vocation, where we go to school, what our occupation will be, who we will marry, how will we raise our children, where will we live, to daily choices such as how we will relate to others, how we share our faith, how much will we pray, and how generous we will be.

Let me share an example that falls into the daily choice category. Once or twice a month I take communion to Catholic residents of a local senior living and care center. One of the residents, who I will call Patricia for the sake of anonymity, suffered a stroke and is totally paralyzed on her left side. As a result she is bed ridden and suffers a great deal. She is such a sweet lady and is always so gracious in expressing her thanks for bringing her communion.

Recently, I was prompted to pray with her for healing of the effects of the stroke. While I was cautious in not wanting to be presumptuous, at the same time I kept getting the idea that I should make the offer. So, after saying the Lord’s Prayer together and giving her communion I asked, “Patricia, would you like me to pray with you for the healing of your stroke?” It was something I thought God wanted me to do and she said yes. So we prayed, acknowledging God’s love for her, asking for healing and for her to be able to experience movement on her left side.

While I of course do not know what the outcome will be, I nevertheless felt like it was God’s will for me to offer to pray with Patricia.

Are you facing a significant decision in your life or perhaps a daily choice? Are you asking God what he wants you to do?

“Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2)

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The Holy Spirit after a Long Drought

“He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb.” (Luke 1:15)

These were the words of the angel Gabriel to Zachariah about the son that was to be born to his wife Elizabeth, whom we know as John the Baptist.

What is significant about this is that God had not been speaking much to the people of Israel, nor pouring out his Holy Spirit for several centuries before Christ. Malachi, the last prophet appearing in the Old Testament composed his work before 445 B.C. The Book of Daniel was written in the period of 167 to 164 B.C.

But now Gabriel is telling Zachariah that he and Elizabeth would have a son in their “old age” and that the son would immediately be filled with the Holy Spirit. After a long absence, God would be anointing John at his conception. God would “go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17)

With the power of the Holy Spirit, John would prepare the people of Israel for God’s son, Jesus.

As we begin this season of Advent and Christmas, perhaps we could reflect on how privileged we are to be able to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism at an early age, just like John — the same Holy Spirit that gave him the power to speak and bring the people of Israel to repentance, the same Holy Spirit that enabled Peter to bring three thousand to repentance on the day of Pentecost, and the same Holy Spirit that enabled the apostles, Paul and all of the early Christians to spread the faith against unbelievable odds and persecution.

If you are not currently experiencing the Holy Spirit in this way, ask the Lord to renew the Holy Spirit that is within you through your baptism. Ask Jesus to ignite the spark that never goes out, but is waiting to be fanned into a flame to live for God and to do his work. As Gabriel said to Mary, “nothing is impossible for God.” (Luke 1:37)

Many years ago, I was invited by a priest to ask Jesus to take my sins, accept his forgiveness and renew the Holy Spirit’s presence in me. He did, and my life was forever changed.

As Jesus said to the disciples just before his ascension, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Do you experience the Holy Spirit like John the Baptist, the apostles, or many Christians today? Ask Jesus to fan into a flame the Holy Spirit that is in you through your baptism.

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What Are You Thankful For?

“Enter the temple gates with praise, its courts with thanksgiving. Give thanks to God, bless his name; good indeed is the Lord, whose love endures forever, whose faithfulness lasts through every age.” Psalm 100:4-5

What are the chances that 102 pilgrims sailing from Plymouth, England in 1620 would encounter two English speaking Indians on the North American continent? These Indians, named Samoset and
Squanto, became instrumental in the pilgrims’ survival. They helped the pilgrims learn how to plant corn, catch fish, and trade with friendly Indian tribes.

Was God looking out for the pilgrims? Apparently the pilgrims thought so. At the end of the summer of 1621, after building new dwellings, planting and harvesting food to get them through the next winter, the pilgrims were “brimming over with gratitude” and Governor Bradford declared a day of public thanksgiving in October. (See The Light and the Glory by Peter Marshall and David Manuel)

As our national day of Thanksgiving approaches this week, I pause to reflect on a long list of blessings:

  • A Father God and his son Jesus Christ who love me and offer to dwell in me through the Holy Spirit, and give me purpose in loving and serving the people in my life.
  • A loving wife of 56 years and a mutual love that grows deeper each year.
  • A family of five children, three sons-in-law, one daughter-in-law and 13 grandchildren, all of whom have a genuine love for one another and are living out their Christian faith in their day to day lives.
  • An adult daughter with special needs whose bright smile, hugs and inclination to love shows the rest of us the face of God.
  • Christian friends from the People of Praise Christian community, Christians in Commerce, St. Marks Catholic Church and my neighborhood who would take a call at 3:00 AM if the need arose.
  • Good health that allows me to continue to work, serve, love, and enjoy all these blessings.
  • Meaningful work in business and ministry spanning over 50 years.
  • Material blessings that are sufficient.

This list does not mean we are exempt from trials and challenges for who can escape them in this world. But we share the God of the pilgrims who calls us, strengthens us, and upholds us with his righteous hand.

What are you thankful for? Make a list and offer it up to God in thanksgiving.

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Are You a Witness to the Resurrected Jesus?

“God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses.” (Acts 2:32)

These are the words of Peter on the day of Pentecost after the disciples experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Peter is trying to explain to people who had heard the disciples praising God in various tongues and languages what was happening. The disciples had just experienced an outpouring of the Holy Spirit as Jesus had told them in Acts 1:8 “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.”

Four hundred years earlier, the prophet, Joel foretold, “I will pour out my Spirit on all mankind. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; even upon the servants and the handmaids, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.” (Joel 3:1-2)

Acts 1:15 indicates that there were 120 present following the ascension of Jesus. Paul reports in 1 Corinthians 15:6 that Jesus appeared to “more than five hundred of the brothers at once.” All of these were witnesses to Jesus and his resurrection.

God invites all of us to meet the resurrected Jesus in a way that is unique and personal to each of us. Then like Peter and the several hundred disciples who saw Jesus after his resurrection, we are called to witness to the resurrected Jesus in our own life – that we have met him, that he lives in us and that he is real. Many years ago, I met Jesus one October evening during a healing mass, and he took some disorder and sin from my life and offered me a new life if I would accept his healing, forgiveness and love.

I accepted his offer. Ever since that time, I have been trying to witness to his resurrection and presence in my life and the life of my family and others. I don’t always do as good a job as I should, but the reality of his presence is there nevertheless. I have spoken about him to my family, business colleagues, bosses, subordinates; to people individually, in small groups and large groups; sometimes to strangers.

I have spoken of his love, his forgiveness, his provision, his guidance, his revelation of scripture, his presence in the sacraments and his presence in others. The greatest challenge is being his witness not just in word, but in conduct. That takes constant prayer, God’s grace and awareness of his presence through the Holy Spirit.

Have you accepted the offer of the resurrected Jesus to live in you, and have you been a witness to this reality?

No Law Against Love in the Workplace

“Love is kind, love is patient. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated. It is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury. It does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Co. 13:4-7)

These words of St. Paul might offer guidance to Christians as to how they should respond to hostility to their faith in the workplace. Some people believe that faith should be private, not to be shared or otherwise evident in the workplace. Others object to hearing talk about Jesus, complaining that they do not want Christians imposing their beliefs on them. They contend that the workplace should be a religious free zone.

There is, however, no law against love in the workplace. There is no employee handbook that can object to conduct exhibiting the characteristics enumerated above. If as Christians, we adhere to these actions, we will stand out; people will notice that we are different; they will seek our counsel and advice on both business and personal matters.

There was a certain executive where I worked that when he learned of my affiliation with a Christian ministry called Christians in Commerce, would mock my Christianity when we were with other colleagues, but when we were alone would ask me numerous questions. With others present he would contend that Christians in Commerce was an oxymoron, but privately, he would ask me what we did, and seek my opinion on things in the Bible he did not understand or agree with. Whether he realized it, he was searching for God, and because of the credibility established in our relationship over many years, the Lord may have given me the opportunity to plant some seeds.

Our initial witness to Jesus Christ is usually better accomplished with conduct than words. The conduct establishes the credibility and opens the door for the words to have more impact when the opportunity arises. The expression, “talk is cheap” applies to Christians too. If you want the opportunity to witness to Christ with your words, witness first with your conduct. Hostility to Christians in the workplace is often a reaction to words that come before the credibility of affirming conduct.

What workplace can object to patience, kindness, humility, forgiveness, truth, hope, trust, perseverance – in other words, love?

Making Requests to God

“Ask something of me and I will give it to you,” (1Kings 3:5)

How would you respond if God made a similar offer to you?

God did make that very offer to Solomon. Surprisingly, though Solomon was Israel’s new King, he replied in complete humility, “O Lord my God, you have made your servant, king to succeed my father, David; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?” (1Kings 3: 7, 9)

While God offered him whatever he wanted, Solomon did not choose the things people usually think of first such as wealth and power, or good health and a long life. Rather, he acknowledged his lack of experience and need as he came to serve as King.

When we are approaching God with a request, we might want to follow Solomon’s example and come humbly, acknowledging our true status and need. Solomon characterized himself as a “mere youth.” How appropriate when coming before God!  Jesus said unless we become as little children we will never enter the kingdom of God.

We may not always understand what to request, confusing wants and desires with real needs.  Solomon was overwhelmed with the task he was about to face as a young and new king. That is not necessarily a bad place to be since it helped him recognize his needs in contrast to his desires.

One other thing Solomon did in his request was to leave God some room to act in what would be in his best interests.  Solomon did not ask to be a successful king. He asked for wisdom and a discerning heart. The Bible tells us that God was pleased with Solomon’s request and gave him not only what he asked for, but also what he didn’t ask for including riches and honor. God also told him that if he obeyed his commands he would give him a long life.

Centuries later we hear the echo of this same response, when Jesus tells us not to worry about what to eat or drink or wear, but “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) Seeking God’s will in all things may be the highest priority in our lives. It is a measure that far surpasses the world’s view involving wealth, fame, and power.

So, what would you ask?

Are You Willing to Stop to Help Another?

“‘Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.’ Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’” (Mark 10:47, 49)

Ask someone how they are doing, and they will likely tell you how busy they are. We seem to be always busy – demanding jobs and active families with children involved in numerous activities often result in our rushing from one place to another.

The Gospel of Mark reports that as Jesus and his disciples, along with a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar heard that it was Jesus passing by, and began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” Those standing nearby rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the louder, “Son of David have pity on me.” (Mark 10:46-52)

Above the din of the crowd Jesus hears this man call out to him as the heir to King David. Ironically, Bartimaeus, the beggar, may have known who Jesus was better than the disciples and the crowd following him – that Jesus would reign over David’s throne forever. (Isaiah 9:7) Bartimaeus is appealing to the King, and the King has stopped to hear his plea.

Jesus responds by asking, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus says, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus says, “Go your way, your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (Mark 10:51-52)

Are you willing to stop what you are doing to respond to someone in need? Sometimes I have stopped; sometimes I have passed by.

One evening when I was driving to a meeting, I came upon a man who had just been hit by a pick-up truck as he was crossing the road with a grocery cart. The man was on the street in front of the truck and the grocery cart was under the truck. As one of the first on the scene, I immediately pulled into an adjacent parking lot and ran to him. I kneeled down to see how he was. As the sound of sirens approached, he asked me if he was going to die. I said, “No, you are not going to die,” and started praying with him as a crowd gathered around. The rescue squad arrived and pushed me aside. They put him on a board and took him to a nearby hospital. I inquired of the hospital, but since I didn’t know his name, was never able to learn whether he lived or died.

In reflecting on the moment, I came to understand that I was the King’s delegate that evening and the King wanted me to stop and let the man know that whatever his physical condition, he wasn’t going to die, but would live for eternity.

There is blessing in stopping. Are we willing to listen above the din of the crowd and resist the pace of the moment to stop – and respond to the need of another on behalf of the King?