Unlikely Heralds

“When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child.  All who heard it were amazed at what had been told them by the shepherds.”  (Luke 2: 17-18)

The Gospel of Luke reports that at the time of Jesus’ birth, shepherds nearby were told by an angel that a Savior, the long awaited Messiah, was born. They were told where they could find him and how they would recognize him — in Bethlehem, tightly wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in an animal’s feeding trough. 

God chose shepherds, one of the humblest of occupations at the time, to be the news media of the day to spread the word about God becoming one of us.

We can only imagine the reaction of Mary and Joseph to having some complete strangers visit them and share a story that confirmed what they, too, had been told by an angel – that the son born to Mary was the Son of God, Savior, and Messiah. 

A savior of the world being born was of course amazing news.  This good news that the shepherds first proclaimed 2000 years ago is just as important to the world today as it was then.   A savior has been born!  The creator has become one of his created!  An anointed one has come to reconcile God and mankind, and be an example in reconciling each of us to one another.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, this savior offers to dwell in us and enable us to be and bring his presence to the people and circumstances in our lives.   

Like the shepherds, we may consider ourselves unlikely heralds that Jesus is still present in the world today, but he is present to all who accept his offer to dwell in them.  We have the same opportunity as the shepherds to spread the word about Jesus in what we have seen, heard, and experienced. 

Over the past few years, I have been participating in a Christian ministry to the local jail.  The venue of the jail has certainly taken me outside my comfort zone.  But on one occasion I found myself sharing about how in between the first and second coming of Jesus, there is a third coming – when we invite Jesus to come and reside in our hearts. Sharing how Jesus changed my life prompted three of the inmates to share how Jesus had changed their lives.  This was remarkable because inmates are very cautious about sharing anything personal in front of one another. 

As with the shepherds, I was an unlikely herald in the venue of the jail, but telling others about Jesus is part of God’s plan for us.  All who hear will be “amazed!”    

Are we following the example of the shepherds in telling people about Jesus?

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 for which I am deeply thankful:

  • 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 59 years and a mutual love that grows deeper each year.
  • A family of five children, including three sons-in-law, one daughter-in-law and 13 grandchildren who are believing Christians and enjoy one another’s company.
  • An adult daughter with Down syndrome whose bright smile, hugs and inclination to love shows the rest of us the face of God; and who recently started Coffee and Community after daily mass on Tuesdays and Thursdays at our local parish.
  • Christian friends from the People of Praise community, Christians in Commerce, St. Marks Catholic Church and our neighborhood who would take a call at 3:00 A.M. if the need arose.
  • A declining PSA after 38 sessions of proton radiation for recurrent prostate cancer. 
  • Meaningful work in business and ministry spanning 60 years.
  • Material blessings that are sufficient.

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

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

Praying for the Right Words

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us.” (Rom. 8:26)

Have you ever strained for what to say to a person at a critical moment?  Perhaps it is a friend who has lost a spouse or child; maybe it’s a friend who is depressed from losing his or her job, or a teenage son or daughter in need of correction.  In such moments, do we ask God and the Holy Spirit to give us the right words?

A few years ago, I came home and my wife said a former secretary from my work at Mobil had called and wanted me to call her back.  “She didn’t sound well,” my wife said.  I was astounded.  It had been more than forty years since she had been my secretary!  What could she possibly be calling for? 

I called her back.  She was indeed very ill.  She had had cancer, followed by a stroke, and was now confined to a wheel chair.  She thought she was dying, and she wanted to thank me for encouraging her to go back to school to finish her college education so she could move into higher level jobs.  She did complete her degree in an evening program, and later enjoyed a successful career at Mobil moving through several positions.

As I was talking with her, I was prompted to pray with her, but I was resistant.  I started to have a second conversation in my mind with the Lord.  Since I am used to praying in the name of Jesus, I asked the Lord, “How do I pray for her?  She is Jewish.”  The thought came into my mind, “Pray in the name of the Father.”  So I asked if she would like me to pray with her.   

She said yes.  So, I prayed in the name of the Father to bring her comfort and healing.  I finished by saying , “Marilyn, I am going to continue to pray that you will be able to get out of that wheel chair and walk again on your own, and when you do, I want you to call me and let me know. 

A few months later I received a call.  Mr. Dalgetty, you told me to call you when I was able to get out of this wheel chair and walk.  Today, I took my first steps!”   

The Holy Spirit is always present to give us the right words for the circumstances before us.  Jesus says all we have to do is ask. (Luke 11:13)

In challenging circumstances, do you call on the Holy Spirit to give you the right words?    

Revealing the Father to Others

“I have revealed you to the ones you gave me out of the world.” (John 17:6)

These are among Jesus’ last words on the night before he was arrested.  He is praying to the Father, asking that he protect the disciples and observes that he has revealed the Father to them through his teaching, his miracles and the example of his life.  He had earlier told Phillip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)

Just as Jesus saw his responsibility to reveal the Father to his disciples, so too do we have a similar responsibility to reveal the Father to the people God puts in our lives.  This certainly includes our spouse and children for whom we have a special responsibility, but it also includes friends and colleagues. With respect to our children, we have a teaching responsibility similar to Jesus.  The Church assists us in this effort through religious education, Sunday school and sermons. 

With respect to our spouse, friends and colleagues, the primary way of revealing the Father is through the example of our lives and in our actions of love and service.

I am reminded of a former boss, colleague and friend who passed on a few years ago.  Tom was General Counsel of Mobil’s worldwide marketing and refining operations.  I reported to him in various assignments over eleven years. 

Without ever mentioning the words God or Jesus, Tom revealed the presence of the Father in his life by his example.  He didn’t talk much about his faith, but he lived it in the daily actions of his life.  While demanding the highest quality of legal services from the lawyers and staff he oversaw, he was always fair and truthful in dealing with people and what was best for them in their career development and training. 

He never winced from speaking the truth to management on controversial legal issues. Once he was convinced that the legal work of his staff was correct, he fully supported that work with senior management.  Tom’s leadership of our legal group reflected integrity, excellence and a special respect for all people.   

When I think about Jesus’ words and example of revealing the Father to his disciples, and the example of Tom’s life, I am prompted to reflect on whether my actions and words have been revealing the Father to the people God has put in my life.  In the Parable of the Talents, we see that God expects us to be good stewards of the talents, time, and possessions he entrusts to us. (Matthew 25:14-30)  This also includes the people he puts in our lives – our spouses, children, work colleagues and friends.      

Richard Blackaby in his book, Spiritual Leadership, says the primary goal of spiritual leadership is “taking people from where they are to where God wants them to be.”   

Are we helping the people in our lives come to know the Father and be where he wants them to be?

Peace – God’s Elusive Gift

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”  (John 14:27) 

These were among Jesus’ last words to the disciples on the night before his arrest.  In spite of these words, our experience tells us that ongoing peace is a challenge for us to attain, particularly the kind of peace St. Paul describes as passing all understanding. 

Thomas A Kempis in his book, Imitation of Christ, says, “Our peace consists in humble bearing of suffering and contradictions, not in being free of them, for we cannot live in this world without adversity.  He who can best suffer will enjoy the most peace.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran minister was imprisoned by the Nazis in 1943 and executed just days before the war’s end in April, 1945. Eric Mataxas, in his biography of Bonhoeffer, says that he brought peace and calm to his fellow prisoners.  “His strength was borrowed from God and lent to others,”said Mataxas. 

On the day of his execution, the prison doctor observed, “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God.  I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain God heard his prayer.  At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer, and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed.  I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

Most of us are not likely to experience the challenges that Dietrich Bonhoeffer did, but as Thomas A Kempis says, we cannot live in this world without adversity– sickness, unemployment, estrangement from loved ones, a difficult boss, caring for a disabled relative – the list is endless.  Are we able to handle these challenges with the kind of peace that Jesus is talking about?

In the prime of my career as an attorney for a large company I declined a promotion to avoid a relocation that my wife and I believed would have adversely affected our family which included three teenage daughters at the time.   For a couple of years I was not very peaceful as I was asked to take an assignment I held once before so someone “more promotable” could take my job. 

Then our company had an incident at one of its facilities for which I was responsible for overseeing legal services.  We had several lawsuits, regulatory actions, a legislative effort to outlaw our operations and even a criminal action against two of our managers.  We were able to resolve all of these matters in a satisfactory manner, and it turned out to be the most challenging and rewarding legal work of my career.

In Jesus’ closing moments with the disciples he said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

How do you find your peace?

Temples of the Living God

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Co 3:16)

If we are temples of the living God as St. Paul suggests, who is building the temple?  In Old Testament times God dwelled in a tent and then in the temple in Jerusalem, but Jesus declared that the time had come when true worshipers would worship the Father not in a temple, but “in Spirit and truth.” (John 4:21) Jesus also said that if we love him and obey his teaching the Father and he will come and make their home with us. (John 14:23)

Psalm 127 says, “Unless the Lord builds a house, the builders labor in vain.”  So, who is building our temple?  Are we seeking the Lord’s help or are we trying to do it by ourselves?  How is our character and conscience being formed?  Is it with the Lord’s help, or are we leaving him out of the process?

While God continues to invite us to grow closer to him, he gives us complete freedom to accept or reject his invitation.  He offers us several tools, however, to help us build a temple for his presence. 

The first is as simple as conversation with him, which we call prayer.  He stands ready, knocking at the door of our hearts waiting for us to open the door and invite him in.  it usually involves an intentional act on our part.  The second tool is his word. The Bible reflects his word in many different forms.  If we read his word regularly, we can come to know God better.  We can take on the wisdom his word provides.  We can learn from the lives of the people of the Bible, the words of the prophets and the psalms.  We can learn from the teaching of Jesus and the example of his life.     

One of the most important tools God gives us is his church. Through the church he gives us sacraments to experience his grace and presence.  Through his church he gives us a community of believers to strengthen our journey.

God makes all these tools available so that we can build a temple for him to dwell in.  Many of the cathedrals of the world have taken decades to complete.  Our temples take a life time.  We never quite finish the final touches, but God is with us as soon as we start construction.      

Where are you in the process of building a temple in which God can dwell?

Unknowingly Searching for God

“When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.”(Mark 6:20)

The Gospel of Mark reports that after King Herod had John the Baptist imprisoned, he liked to listen to him.  He had imprisoned him at the urging of his wife, Herodias because she resented John pointing out that she was also the wife of Phillip, Herod’s brother.  Herodias wanted to kill John, but initially she was not able to do so, “because Herod feared John and protected him.” 

How fascinating!  Herod was attracted to what John had to say, so he apparently visited him from time to time in prison.  He may have been puzzled by John’s words, but he was still drawn to listen.  Though he may not have realized it, Herod was searching for God.

Once when a work colleague learned that I was involved with a ministry called Christians in Commerce, he laughed and loudly proclaimed that the name, Christians in Commerce, was an oxymoron.  When we were with other colleagues he would kid me about the ministry and mock my Christianity, but when we were alone he would ask all kinds of questions about the ministry and about passages from scripture that he did not understand or agree with.  He would not admit it, but he was searching for God.

God creates us with a desire to seek him and the truth about life and existence.  It may not be a desire that is obvious to us.  Yet, we all seek meaning, purpose and what is real in life.  

We are attracted to the truth.  When Jesus explained the meaning of the scriptures about himself to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection, the disciples later exclaimed, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

Unfortunately, sin and the distractions of the world often keep us from listening to Jesus.  We listen to other voices that obscure the truth and the message God has for us.  Paul speaks to this problem in his letter to the Romans when he says, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” (Romans 1:25)

Fortunately, God never stops working to draw us to him.  In honor of our free will, he never forces our acceptance of him.  But he made it part of our DNA to seek meaning and truth.  As St. Augustan said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests with you.”

Are we created with a built-in desire to search for and come to know God?

Pray First

“In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” (Phil. 4:6)

How often do we enter into a challenging situation and forget to pray for God’s assistance?  It may be a difficult meeting with the boss, or an effort to resolve a disagreement with our spouse, or a discussion with one of our children over a certain disciplinary action.

Over the years I have experienced times when I have neglected to pray and times when I remembered.  At work, I often found myself praying in the hallways and elevators as I walked to meetings where potential conflicts needed to be resolved.   The outcomes always seemed to be better when I prayed.

Here is a non-work story for which I have found memories.  Many years ago our oldest daughter was in a serious dating relationship with a young man who I had met on several occasions.  He called one day and asked if we could get together for lunch.  Since on a prior occasion he had expressed interest in a workplace ministry I was involved in, I had thought that he wanted to follow-up on that conversation. 

As I was leaving my office to meet with him, the thought hit me, “What if he wants to ask permission to marry our daughter?  How will I respond?   So, I started to pray, asking God what I should say. We had no reservations about him being a good husband for our daughter.  It was more a matter of what form should my response take for such an important request. 

After a prolonged discussion on a variety of subjects, there was a pause and then a request for permission to marry our daughter.   As a result of my prayer, I said, “Well, I have two requirements.”  His countenance gave a worried look.  “The requirements are that you love God and that you love our daughter.”  He let out a sigh, and said, “Oh, I can do that!  That will not be a problem.” 

In a postscript to this story, it turns out that our second daughter was also in a serious dating relationship.  About a month later I received a call from the young man she was dating who lived out of state.  He said that he had hoped to talk with me in person, but his circumstances did not allow it.  He was coming to town to see our daughter and wanted our permission to marry her.  Thinking back to what happened the month before, I said, “Well, I have two requirements,” and before I could state what they were, he said, “Yes and yes.”  He had obviously consulted with our other daughter’s fiancé. This past year both marriages celebrated their twenty-sixth anniversaries.   They and their families have brought us much joy and many fond memories.

The Bible is full of stories of people who prayed for God’s assistance before entering into challenging situations – Moses, Joshua, Esther, Nehemiah, to name just a few.  Jesus conspicuously prayed to the Father before commanding Lazarus to rise from the dead.

How do you pray before entering into a challenging situation?

Joy Complete

“If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:10-11)

These words of Jesus from John’s Gospel are about how we can have joy that is lasting and complete.  Over the years I have experienced joy in a variety of ways — when I proposed to my wife on a snowy Christmas eve 60 years ago this December; when I witnessed the birth of our five children; when I received a promotion in my work; when I used to hit a good golf shot; when the Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl (many years ago); when I have had the courage to share about God’s grace and the saving power of Jesus Christ; when I do something for someone else instead of myself.  

The world tends to look at joy in terms of pleasure, good fortune and success.  Even Webster defines joy by using these terms.  But in John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that if we obey his commands we will remain in his love and our joy will be complete.  It is ongoing.  It gives rise to a general state of well-being regardless of the circumstances.  It is a joy that survives setbacks, disappointments and even tragedies.    

Many years ago, some people prayed with me at a Life in the Spirit program to experience more of the Holy Spirit in my life.  Later, as I drove home in a blinding snowstorm on the curvy and hilly roads of northern Westchester County, NY, I could barely see beyond the hood of the car.  Yet, I was about to burst with joy from experiencing God’s presence in the Holy Spirit. The blizzard didn’t bother me one bit.

As Jesus suggests, it is God’s presence that is the source of our joy.  The more we are in his presence, the greater potential we have to experience that joy.  We can seek his presence through prayer, scripture, and the sacraments, and in joining with other Christians in his name.   

But perhaps the best way to experience God’s presence is simply to seek him at all times in our thoughts, in our work, in our time with others, and in whatever we are doing.  If our life is a constant dialog with the person of Jesus, we will be in his presence through the Holy Spirit, and our joy will be “complete.”  As the psalmist says, “You fill me with joy in your presence.”  (Psalm 16:11 NIV)

How do you experience ongoing and lasting joy in your life?

We All Want Purpose

“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and finish his work.” (John 4:34)

Jesus’ disciples were urging him to eat some food, and Jesus responds that his food was to do God’s will.  From his words and actions we know that God’s will for him was to save us from our sins, to show us “the way and the truth and the life,” and to defeat death by his death and resurrection.

I have never met anyone who didn’t want to have purpose and meaning in their lives.  Rick Warren has sold over 35 million copies of his book, Purpose Driven Life, indicating a fairly high level of interest in the subject.   

As Christians, the Church teaches us that we are called to come to know God, to love him and to serve him and others in this life, so that we can be with him now and into eternity.  How this plays out in real life varies with each individual, for God creates each one of us with unique characteristics, skills and purpose. 

For me, I came to know God through the Christian heritage of my parents, as well as through a personal encounter with Jesus Christ many years ago.  Early in my adult life my primary purpose was to love and support my wife and children and advance in my career as an attorney as far as possible.  I didn’t give much thought to whether those two objectives were God’s will for me.   

My wife and I practiced our Catholic faith by going to church every Sunday, raising our children with Christian values and getting involved in a few church activities.  It wasn’t until we experienced a renewal of our faith through the power of the Holy Spirit in our mid-30’s that I began to look at the purpose for my life through the lens of God’s will for me. 

Through that renewal experience, God enlarged my perspective of purpose.  Loving and serving my family, and serving my employer and others well were part of his desire for me.  I also came to understand that God wants us to be good stewards of the talents, time, possessions, responsibilities and people he entrusts to our care.  Just as he commanded Peter at the end of John’s Gospel to feed and take care of his sheep, he commands us to love and take care of the people and other responsibilities he puts in our lives. 

He also places us in the garden of his creation “to work and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15)  Our work is important to God.  His plan is for us to be good stewards of his creation and the advancement of civilization that results from our work.  Like a cloth made up of a multitude of threads weaved finely together, each one’s individual work contributes to the civilization that has evolved from God’s creation.

What purpose has God revealed to you in terms of your unique characteristics and gifts?