Monthly Archives: November 2014

What Are You Thankful For?

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 became instrumental in the pilgrims’ survival? Was God looking out for the pilgrims?

Apparently the pilgrims thought so in their actions and prayers. Elder William Brewster quoted from Isaiah 41:9-10 in encouraging them to persevere during their first harsh winter that saw 47 of their party die.

“I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I call you. I said, ‘You are my servant;’ I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

These two Indians, one named Samoset, the other Squanto, helped the pilgrims learn how to plant corn, catch fish, and trade with friendly Indian tribes. During the summer of 1621, after building new dwellings, planting and harvesting enough 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. (For more detail, 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 loving wife of 51 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 the day to day throes of life,
  • An adult daughter with special needs whose purity of heart and humble ways show the rest of us the face of God,
  • A Father God and his son Jesus Christ who love me and offer to dwell in me through the Holy Spirit, who give me purpose in loving and serving the people in my life and in working to take care of God’s creation according to my circumstances,
  • Christian friends from the People of Praise Christian community, Christians in Commerce, St. Mark’s Catholic Church and my neighborhood who would take a call at 3:00 AM if the need arose.
  • Meaningful work in business and ministry spanning over 50 years,
  • Good health that allows me to continue to work, serve, love and enjoy all of these blessings,
  • Material blessings that meet our needs.

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 Jews and the pilgrims who calls us, strengthens us, and upholds us with his righteous right hand.

What are you thankful for?

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Work — a Job, an Idol, or a Partnership with God?

How do we view our work? Last Saturday I participated in a seminar conducted by Christians in Commerce International (www.christiansincommerce.org) entitled Hope for the Workplace. One of the participants who worked for a large aero-space manufacturer observed, “I have never thought of my job as serving God.” She went on to explain that she just looked on her work as a job to earn a living in order to do all the other things she wanted to do in life.

Her view of work is one held by many. She never thought about how God views work, that it is part of his design for creation. Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work and take care of it.” From the very beginning God assigned us the task to work and take care of his creation. Work is not a curse resulting from the fall, for work was ordained by God before the fall.

Both Catholic and Protestant teaching uphold the value and dignity of work, and consider it a part of God’s plan for creation. The Catholic Catechism states, “Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another.

Lester DeKoster, a former professor of Calvin College in his book, Work, The Meaning of Your Life, defines work as, “the form in which we make ourselves useful to others and thus to God.” He goes on to explain that culture and civilization don’t just happen. They are made to happen and keep happening by God, the Holy Spirit through our work. The difference between barbarism and civilization is simply, work.

DeKoster observes that in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Jesus’ choice of services we can do for one another is carefully calculated to comprehend the vast number of jobs of humankind – providing food, drink, clothing, shelter, health care, social services, etc. He says, “The fabric of civilization, like all fabrics, is made up of countless tiny threads – each thread, the work of someone.”

Like the people in the parable, we may be surprised that in doing our work, we too, are serving God. Whether our work is that of a migrant farm worker or the CEO of a large international corporation, it is one of those threads that make up civilization and matters to God. Work is a part of his design for creation and the civilization that follows. It has value and purpose.

How do we view our work? Is it just a job so we can do and have all the other things we want? This is a pocketbook perspective. Is it an idol, becoming an obsession and subordinating all of the other responsibilities we have in life? This is a self-centered perspective. Is it a partnership with God, being a good steward of the talents and gifts God has given us to further the work of his creation? This is God’s perspective.

Where is God’s Temple Today?

After Solomon built the first temple in Jerusalem in 964 BC, the Bible says that the glory of the Lord filled the temple in the form of a cloud. (1Kings 8:11) For several centuries the Jewish people looked to the temple to worship, sacrifice and seek God’s presence. Because of various periods of unfaithfulness, God eventually removed his presence from the temple.

Jesus declared that from his time forward, people would no longer worship the Father in Jerusalem, but “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23) He proclaims that his body is the new temple and if it is destroyed he will raise it in three days. (John 2:19)

Later with his disciples on the evening before his trial and crucifixion, he surprises them with the words that God’s new dwelling place would be in them and all who believe. “On that day [his resurrection] you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20, 23) He continues, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” The disciples and all who follow in their footsteps believing in Jesus Christ will become temples of the living God.

St. Paul confirms this when he says, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you.” (1 Cor. 3:16)  Again, “We are the temple of the living God.” (2 Cor. 6:16)

Through our baptism and our “yes” to God, we can accept his offer to dwell in us.  Jesus, says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev.3:20)

The first time I heard the phrase, “Christ in us,” or “be Christ” to others, I reacted with skepticism. I have struggled with sin in the past and I struggle with sin today. While I may try to be like Christ, I fall far short. Certainly, I do not always live up to the Beatitudes or all the other restatements of the commandments in Matthew 5, 6 and 7. Yet, Jesus says, “Come to me all who are burdened…for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Then I realized that God’s plan for his creation is to dwell in us through his son, Jesus Christ, so that we, with the power of the Holy Spirit, can partner with God in being and bringing his presence to the people and circumstances of our lives. This is where God both resides and acts in the world today – in and through us. We are called to live in Christ and as Christ, to do what Jesus did – to love, show mercy, heal, witness to the truth and share with all who come into our lives that the kingdom of God is in our midst. Jesus says, “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these…so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (John 14: 12)

“The mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations…is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:26, 27)

Where is God’s temple today? We are his temple, the New Jerusalem.

God Will Have His Way

Although we may abuse God’s gift of free will, he eventually has his way by finding people who will do his will.

In the Book of Acts, the Sanhedrin had arrested the apostles and wanted to put them to death. A Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, cautioned the Sanhedrin not to carry out their intention. He said, “Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” (Acts 538-39)

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.

History is replete with examples of the failure of individuals and nations whose actions were of human origin and failed. Next week we will remember the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Its creation was of human origin and not from God. Established in 1961, it lasted 28 years, but it was destined to fail, coming down on November 9, 1989.

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.

A few years ago on the day I was scheduled for prostate cancer surgery, a snow storm almost prevented us from getting to the hospital but for the help of a neighbor and his 4 X 4 pickup truck. While I was in a pre-op unit, being readied for surgery, 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, and 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 was himself 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 12 miles in that snowstorm to get to the hospital.

His act of love and the memory of that scene, however, will be seared in my memory for eternity.

In today’s culture the actions of human origin tend to dominate the headlines while the actions from God often go unnoticed. But this should not cause us consternation, for the actions from God endure while the actions of human origin fade.