Monthly Archives: February 2017

The Singularity of the Kingdom of God

e05a5527e0b416c53c47620c731f931cWhen considering kingdoms, we tend to think of nations, or groups of people in a collective sense.  Yet, when the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21) 

The kingdom of God is not visible in the same way a worldly kingdom is with a king and his subjects located in a defined geographic area.  The kingdom of God is also different in that membership is determined by individual choice instead of residence or citizenship.  The Individual chooses whether he or she wants to be a part of God’s kingdom.  God gives individuals complete freedom to choose or reject his kingdom.

Jesus had a lot to say about the kingdom of God and used the parables to explain what the kingdom is like.  He tells us the kingdom has great value, like a fine pearl or treasure, and we should be willing to give everything we have to attain it.  He says it can grow from the tiniest desire similar to a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds into the largest of plants.  It can coexist with evil like good seed planted in a field where weeds also grow.  God’s kingdom, whether one individual or many, can impact the world around it like a small amount of yeast impacts a large amount of dough. (Mt. 13:1-36)

Jesus tells Nicodemus that no one can see or enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again of water and spirit.  A spiritual rebirth is necessary.

So, the kingdom of God is wherever there are individuals who accept God’s offer to dwell in them through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  The Church, the successor to Jesus and the apostles, facilitates the growth of the kingdom of God through the sacraments and its many forms of outreach.

Yet, like all of creation and physical matter that is made up of countless single parts called atoms, the kingdom of God starts with individuals making a decision to accept God’s offer to dwell within them.

Thus, the kingdom can be present through an individual or a collection of individuals.  The Church, of course, reflects the collective kingdom of God, but more often the kingdom is quietly reflected in the actions of individual Christians showing their love of God through their love and service to others in countless ways.

A few months ago I visited a friend of more than forty years who has always reflected the kingdom of God.  Her love of God and her constant joy played a part in my own spiritual rebirth many years ago.  Though her body is now incapacitated by a stroke and confined to a wheel chair, her beautiful smile still reflects the joy and amazing grace of the Lord and the kingdom of God.

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Angels — Reality or Myth?

jp-dress1-popupHave you ever experienced the presence of an angel? 

A number of years ago, after being with some business colleagues at a dinner on the upper west side of Manhattan, I started back to my hotel.  Because of the lateness of the hour, there were no cabs readily available so I started walking on Central Park West toward my hotel.  There was hardly anybody on the street and after walking a couple of blocks, I noticed a gang of five young men following about a block behind me.

As I picked up my pace, so did they.  I began to get concerned.  If I started to run, there was no place to run to.  All the shops and restaurants in the area were closed.  They got closer and closer, obviously intent on catching up with me.  Just then out of nowhere, a taxi came roaring up with the driver yelling at me to get in, which I did as he sped away.  On the way to the hotel, he hardly said a thing.  Upon arrival, I thanked him profusely and watched him drive away.

Was he just a benevolent New York City taxi driver who happened along on Central Park West late that evening and came to my rescue?  Given the circumstances and the quickness with which he appeared, I have always believed he was one of God’s angels assigned to look after believers.

The Bible is full of references to angels in both the Old and New Testaments.  Psalm 91 says, “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in your ways.”  Psalm 34 says, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.”  An Angel held the arm of Abraham preventing the sacrifice of Isaac, wrestled with Jacob, and appeared to Moses in the burning bush.  An angel protected Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the flames of the furnace.

Angels appeared to Zachariah, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds in connection with the coming and birth of Jesus.  Angels told all who came to Jesus’ tomb that he had been raised from the dead.  An angel freed Peter from prison, and assured Paul that he and all those on board his ship would be saved from a shipwreck the next day.  Finally, an angel described to John what the new heaven and new earth would look like at the end of the Book of Revelations.

Paul describes angels as “ministering spirits, sent to serve, for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.” (Heb. 1:14)  In describing the preeminence of Christ, Paul declares, “For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible.” (Col. 1:16)  Angels are part of the invisible.   

The soul or inner person of an individual cannot be seen.  Yet, the actions of an individual reflect the nature of the soul.  So too, with angels.  Though they cannot be seen, their actions can be manifested in the results of their protection and the messages they convey.  

Just as we embrace on faith the words and events of Jesus’ life, including his resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, so too, should we embrace on faith the action of angels in our lives.

No Law against the Fruit of the Spirit

f2227291104b8a23ab29fdc0bfbb3102Is it possible to live out our faith fully today without running afoul of some law or regulation?

Our culture seems to be keenly sensitive to whether Christians are imposing their religion on others.  This appears to be particularly true in the public square where nativity scenes are barred, and in the workplace where sharing your faith with a co-worker can provoke a harassment lawsuit.

St. Paul describes a way to avoid these conflicts.  In his letter to the Galatians he talks about the importance of living by the Spirit.  He says that if we do, we will experience the fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

He then declares, “Against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:23)

Our society is swamped with rules and regulations at every level of government.  We seem to measure the performance of our legislators by how many laws they can adopt.  According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, 81,611 new pages of regulations were added to the Federal Register in 2015, covering all manner of conduct of businesses, professions, schools, churches, individual citizens, etc.

Yet, in the workplace, for example, there is no law or employee handbook that is going to prohibit supporting a co-worker in Christian love; being joyful in our countenance; promoting peace where there is conflict; being patient, gentle and kind in our relationships with co-workers, customers or suppliers; and being loyal and faithful to our employer and beliefs.

I have a friend who owns a freight forwarding business with warehouses in Chicago and Minneapolis.  He makes it a point to meet regularly with all his employees.  He tells the following story of employees in Chicago working overtime to help employees in Minneapolis.

Late one Friday night in Chicago, a truck arrived, carrying products to be delivered to customers in both Chicago and Minneapolis.  The truck had been loaded in a very random way with individual orders mixed up and paperwork not matching the orders.  An employee in Chicago, who had already put in a full day, could have just offloaded the items to be delivered in Chicago and sent the truck on its way.  Instead, he said, “Why don’t we unload the whole truck and reload it correctly for the guys in Minneapolis?”

It took two employees four hours, working into the wee hours of Saturday morning to identify, sort and reload a multitude of orders destined for Minneapolis.  As my friend observed, “This is a small story that could have gone unnoticed, but it is really huge because it reflects an attitude of the employees in Chicago who wanted to support the employees in Minneapolis who had just gone through a difficult time of changing warehouse locations.”

The Chicago employees were exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit in showing love, kindness, goodness and faithfulness to the employees in Minneapolis.  My friend, their employer, was pleased that they did.  

By exhibiting the fruit of the spirit, Christians demonstrate a clear contrast to much of today’s culture, and will evangelize more powerfully with their conduct than they ever could with their words.

 

Our Jewish Heritage

2-5-8_crippled_woman_torah_scrolls

As Christians, do we fully appreciate our Jewish heritage?

In Luke’s narrative of two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus, Jesus comes up along-side of them and asks what they are talking about.  Not recognizing him, they describe the astonishing events of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion and supposed resurrection. They wonder what it all means.  Jesus gently chastises them for being slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had said about him, and that he had to suffer these things to enter into his glory.  “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the scriptures about him.” (Luke 24:13-35)

As Christians, it is tempting for us to focus primarily on the New Testament. Yet even the gospels in describing the life and words of Jesus, make numerous references to Old Testament events and prophesies.

In Genesis, God tells Abraham before he is circumcised and the Jewish covenant is established, that he will be the father of many nations. (Genesis 17:6)  He tells Moses that he will raise up a prophet like him who will teach people everything God commands. (Deut. 18:18)  There are of course numerous references in Isaiah to the birth and coming of Jesus, along with a description of his character and purpose. (Is. 7:14; 9:6; 40:10-11; Chapter 53 and more)

In Isaiah 53, the writer speaks of the suffering servant, Israel, which later becomes a description of Jesus, bringing redemption and salvation to a sinful world.  “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord causes his life to be a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hands.” (Isaiah 53:10)

Jesus connects us with the Jewish people and their heritage whether we realize it or not.

This heritage, which enriches the understanding of our Christian faith, is not unlike the Christian heritage provided by our parents and grandparents who leave us a legacy of teaching and example. 

Since my mother was Catholic and my father Baptist, growing up in the 1940’s and 50’s, I had the benefit of an ecumenical Christian heritage.  From my father and grandparents, I saw a steady faith with a focus on scripture.  From my mother I saw a special reverence and piety in her prayer and sacramental life.  From them flowed a conscience of right and wrong that carried me until the day I had my own personal encounter with Jesus and the power of his Holy Spirit in the context of my Catholic faith.

I will never know how much the prayers of my parents and grandparents influenced the course of my life, and its protection, but now having the vantage point of parent and grandparent myself, I suspect there was a considerable impact.  My wife would similarly testify to the influence of her parents and grandparents on her Christian faith today.

Heritage is part of God’s plan for his creation — each generation passing on how they have experienced God and what they have learned from the time of Abraham to the present day.  We Christians share so much with the Jewish people – the same God and father, the Ten Commandments, the Old Testament prophets, the wisdom literature, and the sacredness of life.  May we one day share the same Messiah!