Monthly Archives: July 2016

Jars of Clay

St. Paul says we have this treasure in jars of clay. (2 Co. 4:7)  What is the treasure and what are the jars of clay?  

The treasure is Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit in us.  The jars of clay are we who have accepted Christ, who have been baptized into his church, who have opened the door of our hearts to experience his presence and the release of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

But this treasure is not just for us, but also for the people and circumstances in our lives.  To release the treasure, the jars of clay need to be broken.  We need to be broken of our pride, our agendas and of doing things “my way.”  “A broken and contrite heart you will not despise.” (Ps. 51:17)

My self-focused nature is often the greatest obstacle to my sharing the treasure of God’s love with my family, friends and strangers that enter into my daily life.  It is amazing how easily I can forget that Christ lives in me when responding to an unsolicited phone caller, a store clerk who doesn’t seem to meet my expectations or the interruption of my plans for the day by a loved one.

It is interesting that Paul used the word-picture of a jar of clay rather than one of iron.  From his own self-described experience, he knows that we are weak vessels when it comes to holding God’s presence, love and willingness to sacrifice.

Yet as we share this treasure, the light of Christ, his love, truth and sacrifice will shine in the darkness of the world surrounding us even if the darkness does not understand it.  We must remember that one of Jesus’ harshest responses in all of scripture was directed at the servant who buried the talent given to him instead of investing and risking it for God’s kingdom.  Jesus concluded the parable by saying, “And throw that worthless servant outside into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mt. 25:30)

There are of course countless ways to share this treasure.  Let me offer one example.  One day I was having lunch with one of the executives of the company where I worked and he started to share with me how his wife of more than 40 years had left him due to some actions on his part.  I could tell that he was very distraught over both his actions and her response.  After listening to him for more than an hour as he described their life and the recent developments, I asked him if I could pray with him.   He said yes, I reached across the table, took hold his arm and prayed that God would give him courage to say he was sorry and ask his wife to forgive him; that she would be open to receive his request and the grace to forgive.  He was not necessarily a religious person, but by God’s grace they reconciled.  He subsequently retired and died of cancer a couple of years later in her love and care.

“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

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Speaking Truth to Today’s Issues

Does political correctness and conventional wisdom deter you from speaking up for the truth of the Gospel on issues of life and morals?   

In recent years we have seen increasing cultural acceptance of governmental actions that erode the sanctity of life, God’s institution of marriage, and sexual identity.  Our health care laws require Catholic institutions to provide medical insurance for abortions.  Public accommodation laws require Christian business people to provide services for same sex marriage in contravention of their personal conscience.

More recently, the Fairfax County, Virginia School Board voted to include gender identity in their nondiscrimination polices.  Critics are concerned that it will lead to allowing students to choose bathrooms, locker rooms and even sports teams based upon their perceived sexual identity instead of their biological sex.  The school board’s excuse is that they are being mandated by the U. S. Department of Education to do this under the threat of the loss of federal funds of more than $41 million.

All of these proposals present a dilemma to Christians since they run counter to God’s Word found in the Holy Bible, natural law and even basic common sense.  How should we respond in the face of the so-called conventional wisdom and political correctness that seem to accompany these issues?

When God called Ezekiel to be a prophet to the Israelites in the sixth century, B. C., he said, “Do not be afraid of them or their words.  Do not be afraid, though briars and thorns are all around you and you are living among scorpions.  You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious.” (Ez. 2:6, 7) The Lord went on to tell Ezekiel that he would hold him accountable if he did not speak up.

How often does fear of what others will think cause us to withhold our comments on proposed government actions that erode our First Amendment rights to live out our faith in our daily lives?    

Fear is a powerful human emotion.  Perhaps that is why God was preparing Ezekiel to deal with the resistance he would encounter when he began to speak God’s word.  That is why God told Isaac, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” (Genesis 26:24)  He encouraged Joshua to be “strong and courageous.”  (Joshua 1:6)   The first thing the angels told Zachariah, father of John the Baptist, Mary, and Joseph was not to be afraid.  The first words of St. John Paul II to the people in St. Peter’s Square upon his election as Pope were, “Be not afraid.”

The more a culture moves away from God, the more it moves away from truth.  When Jesus, the embodiment of all truth, stood before Pilate and told him that he had come to testify to the truth, Pilate asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38)

Fear is the favorite tool of the enemies of truth, but Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid.  I am with you always.”  (Luke 5:10; Mt. 28:20)

Complacency

Are you complacent in living out your Christian faith day-to-day? 

During the middle of the eighth century before Christ, the prophet, Amos, said to the kingdom of Israel that was becoming increasingly rich and prosperous, “Woe to you who are complacent in Zion.”  He was decrying that those who were accumulating wealth were neglecting those who were poor.

Complacency is ruinous to almost any endeavor of life – athletics, parenting, doing your job well, and living out our Christian faith.  I am reading a book entitled Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis describing her experience of going on a mission trip to Uganda over Christmas break of her senior year in high school and how it led her into full time ministry to care for and educate the poorest children of Uganda.

The book describes multiple stories reflecting a special God-inspired love she acquired for children who live in houses of sticks, stones and mud, and sleep on hard dirt floors surrounded by filth and disease.  After returning to Uganda instead of going on to college as her parents desired, her reaction was:

“In my mind, these people had every reason to be despondent and downcast, but were the most joyful human beings I could imagine.  I learned so much from them as they made my frustrations seem small and petty and taught me just to rejoice in the simple pleasures God surrounded me with.  Once I could do this, I embraced extreme exhilaration; I felt closer to God, to myself and the people, and more alive than ever before.” 

Katy is the exact opposite of being complacent.  She is full of passion for the Lord Jesus Christ, and she is bringing his presence to hundreds of children in Uganda, thirteen of whom she has since adopted as a single mother.

Like Katie, all of us who have been baptized, have God dwelling within us.  Do we let his presence, love and compassion be manifested through us to the people and circumstances in our lives, or do we bury his presence through our complacency?   I wish I could say that I always embrace the same level of passion for the Lord’s call on my life as Katie’s, but I struggle with the distractions of my comfortable life.

We must remember the words of Jesus to the church of Laodicea, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:15)

Fortunately, through my affiliation with Christians in Commerce International, I have been able to support in an indirect way the people of Uganda to hear about Jesus Christ and to assist with their need for clean water, food and education.   But we don’t need to go to Africa, to bring God’s presence, and his love and mercy to the people in our lives including our families, work colleagues, friends and strangers.

Lord, may my lukewarmness be transformed to passion for the call you have on my life.

Exercising Faith on Another’s Behalf

Is there someone in your life who needs you to exercise your faith on their behalf? 

The Gospel of Luke reports the story where some friends of a paralytic are trying to bring him to Jesus on a mat so that Jesus could heal him.  When they arrive at the house where Jesus is teaching, they could not get in because of the crowd.  So they take him up on the roof, remove the tiles and lower him down on his mat into the crowd, right in front of Jesus.  “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend your sins are forgiven.’”

When some Pharisees who were present began to think that Jesus was speaking blasphemy because no one but God can forgive sins, Jesus responded, “That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…he said to the paralyzed man, ‘I tell you get up, take your mat and go home.’  Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. (Luke 5:24-25)

Luke’s account of this event indicates that Jesus healed the paralytic and forgave his sins, not because of the paralytic’s faith, but the faith of his friends and the extreme efforts they undertook to get him to Jesus. 

This is a good example of how we can exercise our faith on behalf of another to bring the Lord’s presence, healing and forgiveness.  Sometimes a person cannot act on his or her own faith or take the kind of action that may be necessary.  While we don’t know anything about whether the paralytic had faith in this story, it does not appear that he would have been able to act on this faith without the help of his friends.

A few years ago a close friend who had been battling cancer for more than four years had a massive brain hemorrhage.  He could not pray for himself or take other action, but his family and friends gathered around his hospital bed praying with him and for him, singing his favorite hymns, reading his favorite Bible verses and leading him into the arms of the Father who was waiting for him.  Instead of lying in a comatose state indefinitely after years of suffering, his family and friends escorted him to the Father.  What a glorious day it was for him AND us who were privileged to be present exercising our faith on his behalf.  

Jesus healed others on behalf of the request and faith of family and friends.  He healed the servant of a centurion who believed that Jesus could do this simply by saying the word without even coming to pray over the servant. (Mt. 5:5-13)  Others were healed based on the faith of a parent — Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:21-43); and the royal official’s son in Capernaum.  (John 4:43-54)

We should never underestimate the power of our faith to bring God’s presence to others.