Monthly Archives: November 2016

“Your Prayer Has Been Heard”

zechariahImagine praying for something for many years and then being visited by an angel telling you that God has heard your prayer!   

That is what happened to a Jewish priest by the name of Zechariah, as he went into the temple sanctuary to burn incense.  Why did God send an angel to tell Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, that they were going to have a son in their old age?  Why not just let events unfold?

Perhaps to prepare their hearts and minds for something extraordinary – that a woman, long past child bearing age would give birth to a son, and that this son would be John the Baptist, destined to prepare the way for the coming of God’s son on earth.

I have always related to this story in a small way ever since the birth of our son following an eleven year gap from the birth of three daughters earlier on in our marriage.  It was by no means a miracle birth since we were still in our early 40’s, but it was a huge blessing to my wife and me, along with our three daughters.

We took on Gabriel’s words to Zechariah as our own, “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice in his birth.” (Luke 1:14)  This was certainly true for our family and close friends.  We named him Stephen after Stephen in Acts 7.  Our joy in Stephen’s birth did not diminish our joy and love for our three daughters, but in fact enhanced our overall joy for our family as a whole and what God was doing in our lives – even adding a fourth daughter a couple of years later with special needs but lots of blessings.

For Zechariah and Elizabeth, God was indeed answering a long term prayer request for a son, but it was also to accomplish a purpose much larger than their initial request may have intended.  

Who can know the mind of God?  He often has a purpose in response to our prayers that reaches far beyond our intended request.  Today, our first three daughters and son are all raising families of their own – bringing life to thirteen children created in the image and likeness of God, being raised in Christian traditions and ways.  Who can imagine how God will use these parents and their children to further his will and purpose in the years to come?  

“For it is God who works in you to will and act according to his good purpose.”  (Phil. 2:13)

Oh, the wonder of falling into the will of the living God!  

“Love Remains”

e05a5527e0b416c53c47620c731f931cDo our actions have lasting effect?

Our daily lives are filled with many actions.  Most of them affect the current moment, some may affect the future for a certain period of time, but few remain long term or have an eternal effect.

We get up each morning, shower, brush our teeth, comb our hair, eat breakfast, go to work, break for lunch, come home in the evening, have dinner, read the paper, watch the news, help our kids with their homework, attend an evening meeting for some civic or church related purpose, watch some television and go to bed with the expectation of restarting a similar cycle the next morning.   On the weekend, our actions may vary to include some household chores, taking children to sporting or school activities, going to church and engaging in some relaxing entertainment.

In the course of all of these many actions which are here today and gone tomorrow, we will have the opportunity to love and serve others. 

St. Paul has a glorious insight in his first letter to the Corinthians when talking about proper worship and use of the spiritual gifts in chapters 11-13.  After describing the various spiritual gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, prophesy and tongues, and how they build up the church, he declares that none of them are as important as love.  He then proceeds to give a beautiful definition of love and concludes that all of these other actions will at some point pass away, but love will remain.

He says, “Love never fails.”  Acts of love never die.  They have a lasting quality.  They are remembered and extend into eternity.  

The committed love of a married man and woman that result in children being born in the image and likeness of God with eternal souls; the loving care of those children into faith-filled adults; the encouraging word to a work colleague being harassed by a boss; assisting a disabled person in crossing the street; showing generosity to a homeless person or friend in need; forgiving a loved one who has wronged you – all of these acts of love have a life beyond their occurrence.  They have a ripple effect that just keep moving outward in infinite 360 degree rings, often having impact and begetting acts of love by others that we will never know about.  

How ironic that God in his love and mercy forgets repented sin, but remembers acts of love forever! 

We strive for meaning and purpose in our lives.  We seek achievement and recognition in our work and professions.  All of these actions may be worthwhile for they further God’s assignment that we “work and take care of the garden” of his creation. (Genesis 2:15) Yet, in time the fruit of that work will eventually pass.

However, the acts of love taking place in the course of those achievements and in the context of all the other actions that make up our daily lives will not pass, but will remain in the annuls of God’s kingdom.

These actions of love and our souls will last beyond the current season.

Mysteries Revealed

Is God a mystery to you?    the-creation-of-adam

At the last supper, Phillip asked Jesus to “show us the Father.  Jesus answered, ‘Don’t you know me Phillip, even after I have been among you such a long time.  Anyone who as seen me has seen the Father.  Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” (John 14:9, 11)

St. Paul says that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”  He goes on to say that God was pleased to have his fullness dwell in Jesus, and through Jesus to reconcile to himself all things on earth and in heaven through Jesus’ blood shed on the cross. (Col. 1: 15-20)

John confirms this in his gospel when he says, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side [Jesus] has made him known.” (John 1:18)

God is not this obscure, remote presence, hanging out in the clouds.  He is a person, made known to us in the human person of Jesus at a given time and place in history.  He is God’s presence in both the physical and in the spirit.  We therefore can see God in Jesus — in Jesus’ words and actions and through the Holy Spirit. 

Paul reveals one additional mystery that he says has been hidden for ages and generations. He says this mystery “is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:26-27)

So, we can see God in the person of Jesus.  When we accept this as fact and love him, acknowledge him, and obey his commands, Jesus and the Father come and make their home in us. (John 14:23)

The result: Christ is in us!  We can be and bring his presence to the people and circumstances in our lives! 

When we take time to listen to a loved one or a work colleague and offer encouragement or assistance, we are being Christ to that person.  When we refuse to shade the truth for economic advantage or career advancement, we are being Christ by bringing truth and integrity to the situation.  When we are generous with our time, talents and resources with the less fortunate, we are being Christ in our communities. When we are doing our best in our work, we are being Christ in the workplace.  Let me share an actual example from Hope for the Workplace – Christ in You. (p. 80)

The office manager of Jack’s insurance brokerage firm, Ginny, was no longer able to speak clearly after having surgery for cancer of the tongue.  She asked Jack if she would be let go because of her inability to talk with customers, which was one of the most important parts of her job.  She only had a year until her retirement.  Jack took the time to personally call over eighty of his customers to let them know of Ginny’s condition and ask if they could work with her under the circumstances and pray for her as well.  Cards, letters, flowers and gifts started pouring into Jack’s office.  As a result of Jack’s love and extraordinary efforts, Ginny was able to work until her retirement.  

When we follow Jesus’ example of love and sacrifice, we are revealing the mystery of who God is and his plan for us to bring his presence to bear on a world in desperate need of his grace.

“Do Not Be Afraid”

How much does fear drive your decisions? a7d73ba0293be4532f8852ba9f84b465

When God called Jeremiah as a prophet, Jeremiah resisted saying that he did not know how to speak and that he was too young.  The Lord responded, “Do not be afraid…for I am with you.” (Jer. 1:8)

Throughout scripture God tells people not to be afraid.  In Genesis, he tells Isaac not to be afraid of King Abimelech and the Philistines.  (Gen. 26:24)  Moses tells Joshua and the people to be e strong and courageous and not to be afraid of the people they will encounter when they cross the Jordan River.  (Deut. 31:6)  As Jesus sends out his disciples to heal, cast out demons and proclaim the kingdom of God, he tells them not to be afraid. (Mt. 10:26) When angels appear to Zachariah, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds in connection with Jesus’ birth, their first words are, “Do not to be afraid.” (Luke 1 and 2) Among Jesus’ last words to the disciples were, “Do let your hearts be troubled, do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

For God to place this much emphasis on overcoming our fears suggests that fear plays a significant role in whether we live by faith and make daily decisions in accordance with God’s will and purpose.

While fear is an emotion that is part of our human nature to protect us against threats to our safety, it can negatively impact us in many ways when carried to excess.  Examples include fear of rejection and what others may think; fear of being humiliated and corrected; fear of failure and defeat; fear of change and the future; and fear of physical harm and death, to name a few.

Fear can keep us from doing the things we should be doing, cause us to worry unnecessarily about outcomes, and even get us off track in fulfilling God’s will in various areas of our lives.

A couple of years ago, I felt a nudge from the Lord to volunteer with the Chaplain’s office at the local county jail.  After completing the training, I must confess that I was somewhat fearful and intimidated by the structure, discipline and strict procedures of the jail environment.  Even the sound of the heavy steel doors clanging behind me was intimidating.

After encountering the inmates, however, I came to realize that there was not that much difference between them and me.  We are each created by God in his image and likeness, and loved by him in the same way.  God has given me a love for these men.   

I hurt for them.  I desire for them to come into relationship with Jesus and be blessed by his presence in their lives.  This love for them has overcome my fear.  “There is no fear in love.  But perfect love casts out fear.”  (1 John 4:18)

Trusting in God and his love for us is the antidote to fear.  “The Lord is my light and salvation – whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1)

Paradise for a Thief and Us

“Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise,” declared Jesus to the good thief. 68caea1a15b163e16f69b9402150ae03(Luke 23: 43)  Quite a remarkable promise to the thief, and quite an extraordinary implied promise to us!   

While nearly all who stood by and watched the crucifixion of Jesus were ridiculing, mocking and challenging him, only the good thief acknowledged who Jesus was, came to his defense and asked to be remembered in his kingdom.  Church tradition tells us his name was Dismas.

The passers-by hurled abuse at Jesus.  The rulers and soldiers sneered at him saying, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one.”  Even the other thief said, “Are you not the Messiah?  Save yourself and us.” (vs. 35, 39)

Out of this harangue and overcoming the difficulty of speaking while hanging from a cross, Dismas chastises the other thief, “Have you no fear of God?  We have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” (vs. 40-41) Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen in his book, Life of Christ, observes that this was the only word spoken to the cross that was not a reproach.  “The conduct of everyone around the Cross was the negation of the very faith the good thief manifested; yet he believed when others disbelieved.” 

If a thief, who right before he dies repents of his sins, acknowledges Jesus as Lord, comes to his defense and asks to be remembered in Jesus’ kingdom, is promised paradise that very day, how much more should we rejoice in this same promise if we are daily repenting of our sins and acknowledging Jesus as Lord in our words and actions! 

Jesus’ promise is that we will be with him when we die.  This is our destiny.  

As a child, I always remembered a story shared by my mother who was in serious auto accident when she was 24.  Her skull was fractured in several places.  She said that while she laid unconscious on the gurney in the emergency room, she had an out-of-body experience.  She was looking down on her body as the doctors were discussing her condition.  She heard them say that they did not expect her to live, and if she did, she would be blind.  She then saw herself walking up a stairway to a very bright light.  As she proceeded up the stairway, she realized that she was alone and that my dad was not with her.  She said, “Where is Larry (my dad)?  I can’t go without him.”  Days later she regained consciousness and later recovered from her injuries.  While she didn’t become blind, her vision was impaired for the rest of her life.

Like many near death experiences that have been written about in recent years, she was approaching the light of Christ.  Fifty-three years later she reached her destination.

“Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise!”