Cleansing Our Temples

“It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a den of robbers.” (Mt. 21:13)

All four gospels relate the story of Jesus going up to Jerusalem at Passover and clearing the temple courts of cattle, sheep and doves and the people selling them and exchanging money.  Obviously, he felt passionate about protecting the sacredness of God’s temple, and he was compelled to clear it of anything that detracted from that sacredness.

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen in his book, Life of Christ, observes that it was naturally a problem for people who came to the temple to offer sacrifice to get ahold of the material of sacrifice.  Accordingly, a flourishing trade in sacrificial animals gradually developed closer to the temple and, for the sake of convenience, eventually moved inside the temple courts.

Three different times in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, he declares that we are God’s temple or that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Co. 3:16)  If, as St. Paul says, we are a temple of the living God, then there may be things that need to be cleaned out from our lives in order to maintain the sacredness of our temple.

Like many a building or structure, we may have allowed things to accumulate that get in the way of our relationship with God.  Perhaps we have allowed anger, bitterness and unforgiveness to take up some of our space; maybe an addiction to opioids or pornography?  Have we allowed work or some other activity to become an idol detracting from our responsibilities to family and others?   Have we allowed our busyness and other activities to get in the way of a regular time of prayer with the Lord each day?

When I was young, I remember my mother doing “spring cleaning” every April.   She would take down our lace curtains to clean and stretch them, wash the windows and thoroughly clean the whole house.  My father would clean out the garage and basement of things that had accumulated over the winter. 

Similarly, we may need to do a periodic cleaning of our temple of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it may require just a good vacuuming or a little dusting; other times, a junk removal service may be needed. 

We can be confident that Jesus, who is experienced in clearing temples of things that don’t belong, will assist us in making our lives a fitting residence for the Holy Spirit and the presence of God!

What needs to be cleaned from your temple? 

How Do We Explain Evil?

“Then Satan entered into Judas, the one surnamed Iscariot, who was counted among the twelve, and he went to the chief priests and the temple guards to discuss a plan for handing [Jesus] over to them.” (Luke 22:3-4)

In all four Gospel accounts of the Last Supper, Jesus announces that one of the disciples will betray him.  Luke specifically says that Satan entered Judas and then he conspired with the chief priests to arrange for Jesus’ arrest.

As one of the disciples, Judas would have traveled with Jesus, listened to his teachings, and seen him perform numerous miracles. What caused him to want to betray Jesus?  Was he a loyal disciple one moment and then suddenly a betrayer?  What caused Satan to enter him?  The Gospel of John suggests that he was a thief and, as keeper of the money, regularly helped himself to it. (John 12:6)

Both Satan and evil are real.  They are spiritual realities just like the Holy Spirit.  While we may not be able to see Satan physically, we can see the effects of his presence, just as we can with the Holy Spirit.  St. Paul describes the contrast.  With Satan and evil, he says we see “immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.”  With the Holy Spirit we see “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:19-23)

What makes us vulnerable to Satan’s attack?  Peter says, “Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8)    Like all predators, Satan attacks our weaknesses, bad habits and self-indulgences, inclining us to serve first ourselves instead of others.  We relate to St. Paul’s statement, “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.” (Rom. 7:19)  Satan’s goal is to separate us from God whom he hates.

The antidote to Satan and the putrid fruit he dispenses is accepting Jesus’ offer to dwell in us through the Holy Spirit and embracing his example of death to self – the cross.  This is impossible for us without God’s presence and grace.  But as Jesus says, “With God all things are possible.” (Mt. 19:26)  Many years ago, I met Jesus one evening and asked him to take the present sin and disorder in my life…and he did!  I accepted his offer to dwell in me.  It was truly a life-changing moment.

“Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (James 4:7)  Sin begets more sin.  Grace begets more grace.

Do you recognize Satan’s efforts to pull you away from God?  What are they?

Surely Not I, Lord

“‘Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’  Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him one after another, ‘Surely it is not I, Lord?’” Matthew 26:21-22

These are Jesus’ words to the disciples at the Last Supper.  Notice how each one of them protested, yet all of them abandoned Jesus at the time of his arrest. And, of course, we are familiar with Peter later denying three times that he knew Jesus.

It seems that our tendency is to resist acknowledging our sin or wrongdoing.  Even when we acknowledge it, we often develop excuses or rationalize our conduct.  We resist correction and then compound our resistance by getting angry with the person who is trying to help us.

This occurs in varying ways.  It can be a job evaluation that indicates we are not doing our best.  Sometimes it shows up in an argument with a family member or friend when we don’t get our way.  We may dismiss our use of negative humor or participating in gossip.  We may go along with a business practice of questionable integrity so as not to rock the boat. 

Following a social engagement with some friends, my wife commented that I had been harsh with one person in connection with a certain political discussion.  I protested, claiming to have been quite reasonable in my comments – “surely not I, Lord.”  It took me a while to acknowledge that what counted was not my perception, but the perception of the person with whom I was having the discussion.  

No matter how long we have been walking with the Lord, we are still capable of betraying Christ’s presence in us, along with his mercy and kindness.  We can deny our wrongdoing, or acknowledge it, seek forgiveness and pray for greater faithfulness.  Proverbs 12:1 gets it right when it says, “He who hates correction is stupid.” (NIV)   

Do I humble myself and acknowledge when I do something wrong, or do I say, “Surely, not I, Lord?”     

Showing Up

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?’ ‘Here I am;’ I said; ‘send me!’” (Isaiah 6:8)

These are the words of Isaiah, the prophet, who finds himself in the temple in the presence of God.  He immediately becomes aware that he is unworthy to be there, being a man of unclean lips who lives among a people of unclean lips. An angel touches his lips with a live coal taken from the altar and declares that his guilt is taken away.  Then Isaiah hears the Lord say who shall he send, and Isaiah replies with the above words, “Here I am. Send me!”

A Christian friend mentioned to me a few years ago that he was going to Cuba with a Christian group.  He said that he wasn’t sure what he would be doing, but realized that over the years the most important thing he could do was just show up.  He said that he found that God’s grace was at work in any given situation or need. Since then he and his team have gone on ten of these trips, and their efforts have led to over five thousand professions of faith by individual Cubans.    

Jesus said, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.”  He instructed his disciples to declare that the kingdom of God is at hand. “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons,” he told them.  “Whoever receives you, receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”  (Mt. 9:35; 10:8, 40)

Many years ago, I was asked to help start a local chapter of Christians in Commerce, a national organization whose mission is “to encourage and equip Christians to be God’s presence in the workplace by the power of the Holy Spirit, exercising faith, integrity and excellence.” I contacted a couple of close Christian brothers, and we invited about 20 men on a weekend retreat.  The Northern Virginia chapter was established and has been meeting every Wednesday morning since May, 1985, albeit by Zoom this past year.  Over the years, hundreds of men have been invited to experience the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit in a much fuller way, countless lives have been changed through these retreats and weekly meetings, and many workplaces impacted. 

I didn’t do anything special.  Like my friend said, I just showed up.  God was already there through his Holy Spirit, touching and changing lives.

Are you available to be God’s presence to the people and circumstances in your life?

Passing on the Good News

“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.” (Psalm 71:18 NIV)

As parents, we have a profound duty to instruct and witness to the reality of God to the next generation.  In today’s world, if parents are not experiencing God’s presence in their own lives, it may be difficult for them to pass on much to their children. 

Even if parents believe in God and are practicing Christians, they may leave this instruction up to the church in the form of Catholic schools, religious education and Sunday school.  While the church does indeed have a role, parents still have the primary responsibility. 

I know of many Christian families who do indeed fulfill this responsibility in a variety of ways — reading stories from a Children’s Bible; praying together at meals, the beginning of the day or at bedtime; establishing family traditions during Christmas and Easter, and otherwise nurturing faith and knowledge of God. 

Just as important is the personal example parents can provide to their children.  While I never made a show of it, I never hesitated letting my children see me in my personal prayer time as they came down stairs before breakfast.  More important was for them to see my wife and me treat each other with love and respect, acknowledge our mistakes, seek forgiveness when we messed up, and let our actions generally reflect love, truth and service.  While we didn’t always fulfill these objectives, we tried. 

Today, our children are adults with families and children of their own.  We are blessed to see how they are passing on their love of the Lord and the importance they place on his presence in their lives.  As grandparents, we now have the opportunity to let our words and conduct be a subtle witness to our grandchildren – even yielding to their favorite form of communication, texting. 

In a culture where traditional Christian values seem under attack, what better gift can we provide than to let the next generation see through our lives that God is real, that we can have a personal relationship with him, and that the Holy Spirit empowers us to bring his presence to the people and circumstances of our lives — all for the purpose of bringing about his kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Are you passing on the Good News to the next generation, particularly your children and grandchildren?

Joyful Worship

“Shout joyfully to the Lord, all you lands; worship the Lord with cries of gladness; come before him with joyful song.” (Psalm 100:1)

Thirty-five other psalms begin with this same encouragement according to my cursory search.  St. Paul urges us to: “Rejoice in the Lord always. (Phil. 4:4)  Jesus in his Lord’s Prayer begins with, “Our Father in heaven, hollowed be your name…”  

A number of years ago, our daughter Emily, who has Down syndrome, showed me how we should approach the Father with praise and worship.  We were at mass, and I was serving as a Eucharistic minister and just happened to be serving the isle in which she and my wife were coming down. When she realized that she was coming to me for communion, her face lit up with that big bright beautiful smile of hers, she held out her cupped hands to receive the body of Christ and started running toward me exclaiming loudly, “Daddy!”  It was an expression of complete and total love. 

My heart melted with her response, but then I thought, isn’t this how God would like all of us to approach him – unreservedly expressing our love and joy for him, not worrying about what others might think. 

While I begin my prayer time each day with a short bit of praise, I am not sure I fulfill the expectation of the psalms or the level of commitment suggested by Jesus in his Greatest Commandment to “Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Mt. 22:37)  How often does my praise come from duty or a routine approach, instead of a joyful heart?

As the Psalmist says, “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise.” (Psalm 8:2 NIV)

May we follow their example and sing hymns with enthusiasm, offer our prayers and responses with fervor, and seek the Lord with a pure heart.

“I will praise the Lord at all times; praise shall always be in my mouth.” (Psalm 66:1) 

Listening More, Talking Less

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.” (James 1:19 NIV)

If we calculate the amount of time we talk versus the amount of time we listen, what would be the ratio?  Would it tilt toward talking or listening?  A good friend of our family had an uncanny ability to listen.  If you would ask her how she was doing, she would quickly turn the conversation back to what was going on in your life.

On a Sunday morning a few years ago, I experienced the blessing of taking communion to a 95 year old gentleman, a widower who lives alone in the house that has been his for more than 40 years.  In response to my question of “How are you doing today,” I heard about his wife of 52 years who died a few years ago; about his son who is a priest; about the many missions he flew in World War II and the Korean War; how he was a consultant to Congressional committees overseeing the Air Force, and finally, about his current health issues. What a blessing it was not to talk for more than 30 minutes, but just listen.  

We have the opportunity to listen wherever we are — at work, at home, or social gatherings. If our desire is to learn and grow in each of these venues, we soon realize that we don’t learn much from talking, but we do from listening. As an attorney, I found that I was able to better serve my corporate clients when I listened more.  At home, I serve and love my wife and children better by listening more. At social events I honor our guests by listening more.  While my efforts are sometimes spotty, I try to change course as soon as I realize that I am talking too much.   

We can also listen even when we are alone.  The Lord loves to put thoughts in our minds about various things going on in our life so long as we are open to hear him.  When Moses was giving his last instructions to the Israelites, he said they would inherit the land God had promised them by, “Loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.” (Deut. 30:20)  Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.” (John 10:27)

I have often allowed the noise of everyday life to drown out God’s voice, but the psalmist says, “Be still and know that I am God.”  (Psalm 46:10 NIV)  Like Elijah, who went up on Mount Horeb to hear God, he did not hear him in the powerful wind, or the earthquake, or the fire, but in “a tiny whispering sound.” (1 Kings 19:12)  God loves to speak to us as a gentle whisper in our thoughts. 

Are we listening to the Lord and others, or to our own voice and noise?          

Faith in the Name of Jesus

Whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13)

In Acts 3, Peter and John are entering the temple at the same time a man who had been crippled form birth is being carried there to beg.  He asks them for money and Peter responds, “Look at us…I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give to you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, walk.” (Acts 3: 4, 6) Peter then takes his hand and lifts him up.  His feet and ankles instantly become strong, he jumps to his feet and he begins walking, jumping and praising God. When the people recognize him as the man who had always been begging they are filled with wonder and amazement.

When Peter said, “Look at us,” he wanted to get the man’s attention because what he was going to do was not the usual response of throwing a coin in a cup.  This time was going to be different.  Peter was going to give the man not what he asked for, but what he needed.  He needed Jesus and healing.  Peter gave him both.

How much faith do you have to pray for something in the name of Jesus?

On a personal note, I have seen prayers in the name of Jesus: heal a hole in the heart of our daughter, Emily; restore a vision loss in me from glaucoma; find wonderful Christian spouses for our four married children, to name just a few examples.

In the workplace, I have seen prayers in the name of Jesus: turn a negative work environment into a positive one; enable a person to forgive a business partner who defrauded him of thousands of dollars; encourage a company to decide to forgo short term profits for the long term good of the company and its employees; heal a colleague’s brain tumor; guide a prosecutor to lead a defendant he had prosecuted several times to surrender his life to Christ before he died.

Jesus says in the above scripture that when we pray in his name we create an opportunity to bring glory to the Father.

Bringing glory to the Father through prayer in the name of Jesus is not something that was meant only for the early Church. These words are applicable for us today as well.

How much faith do you have in the name of Jesus?  Pray for something in the name of Jesus today in order to bring glory to the Father.

Getting Out of the Boat

“Lord if it’s you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, “Come.” (Mt. 14:22-33)

When we read Matthew’s account of Jesus walking on the water and Peter’s attempt to get out of the boat and walk toward him, we tend to dwell on Peter’s apparent lack of faith which resulted in him sinking until he called out to Jesus to save him. 

Still, of all the disciples, Peter was the only one who had the courage to get out of the safety of the boat and walk towards Jesus.  The others no doubt thought it was foolish and reckless.

It is a normal thing for us to seek safety and comfort, but sometimes the Lord calls us to step out of our safety and comfort to do something for him or for ourselves that is beneficial, even though it may not appear so at the time.

When I was in my mid-forties, I was offered a new assignment by my employer that would have certainly furthered my career, but would have required a move back to New York from Virginia.  We had three teenage daughters and a two year old son at the time. Our daughters were all doing well in school, were involved in Young Life, a Christian outreach to high school teenagers and had great peers for friends. 

For three days, I agonized over the decision.  While I didn’t think I would be fired if I declined the assignment, I knew it would have a negative impact on my career. There was a lot of pressure from my superiors to take the job and to decide quickly.  The corporate culture fostered success, and moving up the corporate ladder was something highly valued. You were expected to accept promotions, not turn them down. 

After three days of prayer, consultation with colleagues, and lengthy discussions with my wife, we discerned that I should decline the offer.  I had to get out of the boat of my security and comfort to walk on the waters of going against the corporate culture at the time.

The decision did have a negative impact on my career for a number of years, but when I look back today and see all that has happened in the lives of our children and all the blessings we have experienced in our family, I am absolutely confident that this decision was God’s will for our family and for me professionally. 

Our children went on to complete their education and have since married wonderful Christians who are all raising Christian families of their own.  After about five years, my career eventually got back on track.  I was also led to become active in Christians in Commerce, a ministry encouraging Christians to live out their faith in their work with integrity and respect for others.  There is more, but too much for this space.

Is the Lord calling you out of your boat of comfort and security?  Jesus says, “Come.”

He Came for All People

“Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people.” (Luke 2:10)

These are the words of the angel who appeared to shepherds in the region where Mary gave birth to Jesus.  The angel told the shepherds that Jesus had come for all people.

The “good news” was not just for the shepherds or the Jewish people, but for all people.  All people included the unbelieving and pagan world of the Roman and Greek cultures at the time.  It included the Magi, educated and wealthy, and believed to have come from Persia.

Jesus is everyone’s savior. 

The prophet Isaiah says that Jesus came for the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, those who mourn and grieve, and those who are in despair and darkness.  He says that Jesus wants to give them a crown of beauty and a garment of praise so that they may become oaks of righteousness. (Is. 61:1-3)

While Jesus walked this earth he did exactly what Isaiah said.  Today, he expects to continue to do this, but through us by the power of his Holy Spirit.

For us, “everyone” includes the check-out clerk in the grocery store, the telephone solicitor who we hang up on, the person at work who is difficult to get along with, the person asking for money outside the metro station, the person who talks during church services or the children who can’t sit still.  “Everyone” includes those who think different politically than we do and even the terrorists who wish to do us harm.

Lord, when I see the people you put in my life, let me look upon them with the understanding that you came for them just as you came for me.  It doesn’t matter who they are, what their religion, race, position or financial status is.  Your offer of salvation and new life is available to them.  Let me use the occasion to introduce them to you through my conduct and words as you give me the opportunity. 

John’s Gospel tells us that all who accept the Lord Jesus, and believe on his name will become sons of God. (John 1:12)

Do you look on the people you encounter in your life as people Jesus came for?