Monthly Archives: January 2017

Joy in God’s Will

gettyimages-632848772Where does joy come from?

In St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians he says, “You became imitators of us and the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with joy given by the Holy Spirit.”  (1Th. 1:6)

Joy comes from the Holy Spirit.  In Galatians, Paul includes joy in a list of attributes which he says is the fruit of the Spirit.  It takes the Spirit of God to give us real and lasting joy – not just the emotion of momentary happiness, but the kind of joy that comes from the confidence of knowing we are loved by God and serve his purpose even though we may be suffering trials in the present moment.

Peace is a close cousin of joy.  It, too, is part of the fruit that comes from the Holy Spirit. The same pre-conditions are necessary – love of God, faith in his love of us, and having purpose that fulfills God’s will.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus says our joy will be complete if we obey his commands. “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s command 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)

In recent weeks my wife, through her daily prayer, believed that she was sensing a nudge by the Lord to attend the March for Life that took place on the National Mall last Friday.  She signed up to join a group of people from our local church who had chartered a bus to attend the March.

What impressed her most about the march was the joy of the people and how peaceful it was.  Here you had up to a half million people, shoulder to shoulder, jammed into a fenced-in area on the mall and then the confines of Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues, proceeding from the Mall to the Supreme Court.  The mood was joyful, and people were considerate and willing to help one another.  They were unified in their desire to uphold the dignity and sanctity of life.  Many had traveled thousands of miles to be there, a number on bus trips of more than 20 hours.

Like my wife, most people were there because they sensed that it was God’s will for them.  They were blessed by hearing inspiring speakers, and by being in solidarity with tens of thousands of others in a cause larger than themselves.  Equally important, they experienced the joy and satisfaction of knowing that their presence and sacrifice was pleasing to God.

Jesus said, “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. I always do what pleases him.” (John 8: 28, 29)

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“What is Truth?”

How ironic that Pilate would ask this question of Jesus, the embodiment of all truth standing right in front of him. 

The Jewish religious leaders wanted Pilate to execute Jesus for blaspheme and for claiming to be king of the Jews.  In examining Jesus, Pilate asked him if he was the King of the Jews.  Jesus responded, “You are right in saying that I am a king.  In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” To which Pilate responded, “What is truth?” (John 18:37)

This was not the first time that Jesus spoke of testifying to the truth.  Earlier, he told his disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)  At the beginning of his gospel, John describes Jesus as, the word becoming flesh and dwelling among us, and then adding, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

From the beginning of human existence, people have been seeking the truth about the reason and purpose for their lives.  It is part of our created nature put there by God to facilitate our search for him.  Our souls are restless, but instead of seeking God, we seek peace in running after greater wealth, or position, or recognition, or pleasure, or knowledge separated from the context of God and his creation.

St. Augustine captured the issue well when he said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests with you.” 

God became one of us in the person of Jesus, to help us better understand the truth from his words and example in order to free us from our sins.  Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching…you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Conventional wisdom in today’s culture often runs counter to the truth and the ways of God.  We see the denigration of life through state funded abortion and legalized euthanasia. We see the elimination of nearly all restraints on sexual mores, and a Supreme Court overturning thousands of years of tradition and natural law in redefining marriage.

We see people confusing tolerance for mercy.  We see increasing relativism on issues of integrity based on personal choice and societal whim instead of God’s revealed truths as set out by Jesus.

Like Jesus, we have opportunities to testify to the truth in our words and actions with the people and circumstances in our daily lives.  The more we regularly read and study God’s Word the better equipped we are to live the truth ourselves and gently represent the truth with others when the opportunity arises. 

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Your statutes are my heritage forever.”  (Psalm 119: 105, 111)

God’s Extravagance

water-features4How much wine is needed for a wedding? 

For the Wedding at Cana described in John’s gospel, the wedding party had run out of wine and the mother of Jesus asked him to remedy the problem.   John reports that Jesus instructed the servants to fill six stone jars with water holding 20 to 30 gallons.  He tells them to draw some out and take it to the headwaiter who tells the bridegroom that he has “saved the best [wine] till now.” (John 2:10)

This is Jesus’ first miracle, and how extravagant it is!  If we take an average of 25 gallons times six jars, we have 150 gallons of wine.  This would be equivalent to 757 bottles or approximately 63 cases.

This story reflects the extravagant love of God in many ways.  We begin with Mary, the mother of Jesus, interceding with her son for the first time on behalf of a likely friend to save the friend’s family from the embarrassment of running out of wine at their wedding.  My wife and I have hosted weddings for three daughters, and I can certainly relate to how embarrassing it would be to run out of wine or food at a wedding celebration.

God’s response to this need was far more generous than required, both in the quality of the wine and its quantity.  This is emblematic of what God has in mind for people who respond to him through his son.   

Jesus is the new wine, quite distinct in quality to the old wine offered by the prophets that preceded him.  This new wine allows people to experience God in the flesh, up close and in person.  This new wine gives new meaning to the Jewish law, teaching and writings.  This new wine reveals the power of God over demons, illness, and the physical elements of wind, storm and sea.  This new wine demonstrates the love of God for all people by becoming one of us and then enduring torture and death to free us from sin and leading us to a righteous life through the power of the Holy Spirit.

My wife and I have been blessed to experience the extravagance of God’s love and this new wine through the Christian heritage of parents and grandparents, through respective personal encounters with Jesus within a day of each other, and through the presence of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit in the daily action of our lives.

This extravagant love has been manifested through five children, four of whom are now raising Christian families themselves, meaningful work in the care of God’s creation, opportunities in ministry, Christian friends who support us in life and work, and a disabled adult child who teaches us each day about God’s love and ways.

God’s extravagant love and new wine are available to all who are willing to shed the old wine skin – the old way of life accompanied by sin and self-focus. (Mt. 9:17)  “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

We will never be able to match the extravagance of God’s love.  We cannot out-give him, out-sacrifice him, or out-love him, but we can return his love and generosity by opening the door of our hearts to his gentle invitation. “Here I am,” he says.  “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)

He Came for All People

Who did Jesus come for? 

The first visitors of Jesus covered a broad spectrum of people.  We have the shepherds, who were poor, uneducated and likely represented the lowest end of the economic spectrum of that time.  Then we have Magi, who seemed to represent a kingly class, educated and wealthy.

The shepherds appeared to have nothing to offer the newly born Messiah other than themselves and their faith in believing that what the angels had told them was true.  The Magi, on the other hand, were learned astrologers who studied ancient writings and the heavens to discover the rising of a new star. Some scripture scholars believe that they were of a Persian priestly class.

The angel told the shepherds that Jesus had come for all people.  “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.” (Luke 2:10)

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; it includes people who are Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu.  It includes the atheists of our day.

Whether they know it or not, 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 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 opportunity to introduce them to you first through my conduct and second by my words as you give me the opportunity.

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

 

God’s Confirmations to Mary and Us

untitledWhat was it that Mary was pondering in her heart following the visit of the shepherds?  (And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Luke 2:19)

Could it have been that the shepherds were confirming what the angel had separately said to her and Joseph, that she was to give birth to a son who was to be the savior of the world?   For an angel had told the shepherds, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people.  For today in the City of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

How loving and merciful of God to give Mary these several confirmations of her momentous decision to say yes to his plan for her to be the mother of God becoming one of us!  

But God providing confirmation of important decisions is not confined to the Holy Family, but is something available to anyone who seeks an ongoing relationship with the Father and asks for guidance in the decisions of life.  Confirmations can take various forms – sometimes a word from a friend, sometimes a scripture that pops out at us, and sometimes even an extraordinary event.

Let me share a story involving my mother when I was teenage boy, growing up in Mason City, Iowa.  I was born with a deformed sternum bone that was inverted inward and had the effect of crowding my heart and lungs as I grew older.  When I was 15, it was determined that it was causing my heart to enlarge with serious consequences on my future health and life expectancy.  A thoracic surgeon in Des Moines had developed a procedure where the sternum bone would be cut from the rib cage lifted out and a bone strut placed across the ribs from one side to the other and then the sternum laid back down over the strut with everything wired back together.

Since this was in the 1950’s and the surgery was considered unusually invasive and experimental, my parents agonized over the decision to proceed.   After seeking second opinions, deliberating extensively and praying, they decided to go forward with the surgery.

The Sunday before we were to travel to Des Moines for the surgery, my mother was earnestly praying at mass, asking God for some kind of assurance that they were making the right decision.  As she was praying, she felt a hand on her shoulder.  It was quite distinct.  She paused, looked behind her, but there was no one in the pew behind her or anywhere nearby.  She knew it was a confirmation of their decision to go ahead with the surgery.  Sixty-two years later, I am still here to share the story.

“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”