Monthly Archives: March 2020

Separated – But Not from God’s Presence

We enter our third week of nearly complete separation from other people because of the Coronavirus. This is an unprecedented moment in our nation’s history as nearly all social and most commercial intercourse is curtailed. Our government calls for social distancing – no church, no school, no spectator sports or entertainment, no gatherings greater than ten. In public and commercial settings we are to separate ourselves by six feet. We have March Madness but without basketball.

While the virus separates us from one another and the rest of the world, it does not separate us from God. Jesus’ final words to the disciples were, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20)

Before his arrest, he told the disciples, “On that day [his resurrection] you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” Later he says, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

Jesus promises to dwell in us if we love him and keep his word. We may be temporarily denied his presence in the Eucharist, but not his presence in us through the Holy Spirit.

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus reasserts this promise. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20)

As we open the door of our hearts to Jesus, he promises to enter and take up residence. There are no qualifications or limitations to this statement. Wherever we are, whatever the circumstances, Jesus is available to us. What a promise! We can have a conversation with him just as we have a conversation with a loved one, a friend or colleague.

For many years I have been meeting with Jesus every morning for coffee. I read his word, share with him my concerns, ask for his help for various needs on behalf of my family, friends, and myself, and seek his guidance on various choices I face on daily basis.

Our family misses coming together with others for mass on Sundays and with other Christian friends on other occasions, but we are not separated from God’s presence in the midst of this present worldwide medical and economic crisis.

We cannot yet imagine how God will use and work during this time. As Paul says, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

How are you using this extraordinary time of restricted activity? Are you taking advantage of God’s presence? Are you taking time to open the door of your heart to him?

Faith and Uncle Tut's Outboard Motor

“’If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured.’ Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, ‘Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.’” (Matthew 9:21-22)

Have you ever noticed how often Jesus said to someone, “your faith has healed [saved] you?” We see it in the above reference to the woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years. She pushed through a crowd crushing around Jesus, hoping only to touch his cloak. (Luke 8:43-48)

We see it with Bartimaeus, the blind beggar sitting by the road outside of Jericho, persisting in calling out to Jesus as he passed even though the crowd attempted to silence him. (Mark 10:46-52)  We see it in the friends of a paralytic who went to the extraordinary efforts of taking him upon on a roof and then lowering him down through the tiles in the middle of a crowd in order to get him to Jesus. (Luke 5:18-26)

In each of these instances it was the actions that these people took based upon their faith that brought forth a response from Jesus.   

Faith is incomplete without some kind of action. We need to act on our faith in order for it to have effect. It usually requires that we go out on a limb and risk failure, embarrassment, or disappointment. Here is a small example.

A number of years ago three of my daughters and I were water skiing in Uncle Tut’s boat in the sound between Holden Beach, NC and the mainland when the outboard motor conked out. He tried to start it several times, he fiddled with a number of adjustments, but nothing seemed to work. It was getting late in the day. There were no other boaters in the area. He had no VHS radio, and it was a time before cell phones. We just sat there in the middle of the sound, unable to get back to the landing. I started to silently pray that the motor would start.   Uncle Tut kept pulling at the starter cord, but nothing happened.

I got a sense that I needed to pray out loud so Uncle Tut and my daughters could hear me. As Tut was giving it another pull, I shouted, “Lord Jesus, start the engine!” Varoom, the motor started right up. Uncle Tut, who loved to tell stories, told this story for years – how my prayer started his motor when nothing else could.

Every day we have opportunities to act on our faith. If we see a questionable business practice, our faith in Christ should enable us to speak up for integrity. If a friend is discouraged, our faith should motivate us to provide encouragement. If someone needs to talk, our faith should be willing to listen. If we see a need for healing, our faith should be willing to offer to pray with the person. If we need healing, our faith should be willing to ask others to pray with us.

Are you willing to risk, in order to activate your faith?

Following Jesus at a Distance

“Peter followed him at a distance into the high priest’s courtyard, and was seated with the guards, warming himself at the fire.” (Mark 14:54)

Like Peter, we may profess our allegiance to Jesus that “even though all should have their faith shaken, mine will not be.” We may recite the creed every Sunday declaring that we believe in “God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.”

Yet, like Peter, there may be times when we keep our distance from Jesus. We may fail to show up for a daily prayer time we set for the beginning of each day. After a busy week of work, and a Saturday filled with our kid’s sports activities, we may let a round of golf take precedence over our attending mass on Sunday.

We may fail to respond to a friend’s request for help because it is not convenient. We may put a higher priority on our comfort as Peter did when he warmed himself by the fire.

Like Peter, we may be thrust into circumstances where we are reluctant to be identified with Jesus. In Peter’s case, it was the guards, the elders and the mob. For us, it may be a boss who has disdain for God, or social friends who consider any reference to Jesus as foolishness.

Early in my career when I attended company meetings followed by cocktails and dinner, the conduct could sometimes get a bit macho and boisterous. It was not unusual for the conversation to involve exaggerated exploits, the building up of self and the putting down of others, off-color jokes, gossip, and the fawning over whoever might be the most senior person present. At some point I began to realize that when I went along with this kind of conduct I was distancing myself from Jesus. It was so easy to go with the flow and tempting to want to be a part of the group. It required a decision on my part not to participate.

Just as Peter’s faith was tested, so is our faith tested in numerous ways, some obvious and significant, others subtle and small. From a faith perspective, the subtle can cause as much harm as the obvious because of their corrosive effect.

The world inclines us to keep our distance from Jesus, while Jesus bids us to draw near. He says come to me all who are burdened from the cares of this world and I will give you rest. Come to me all who are thirsty for meaning in life and I will give you understanding. He says step across the distance that separates us, and you will experience my love, my strength and my peace. He warns us that in the world we will have trouble, but assures us that he has overcome the world.

Are there times when you follow Jesus at a distance?

Waiting on the Lord

“The Lord is waiting to show you favor… blessed are all wait for him.” (Isaiah 30:18) 

Have you ever grown impatient with a prayer request to the Lord?

In the course of our daily lives we place numerous requests before the Lord seeking his blessing and response. We pray for a new job if we have been laid off; the conversion of a loved one or friend; the reconciliation of an alienated relative; the admission to the right college for a family member; the healing of an illness or physical injury for ourselves or others. The examples are endless.

Jesus, of course, encouraged us to pray constantly for our needs and gave us a model in the Lord’s Prayer which contains several requests. He also encouraged us to be patient and persevere in prayer and never give up as illustrated in the parable of the persistent widow. (Luke 18:1-8) 

Our experience suggests that there is often a time of waiting between when we offer up our prayer and when it appears to get answered. I had this experience one summer when my sixteen year old grandson, Mark, and I went on a two day boating and fishing trip down the Potomac River south of Washington, DC.

Our plan was to travel down the Potomac about thirty-five miles, stop at various locations to fish, eat the fish we caught for dinner, stay overnight on the boat, and head back the next day, doing the same thing.

At the beginning of the first day I prayed fervently that the Lord would bless Mark with being able to catch many fish. So we proceeded to our first spot on Mattawoman Creek that is usually a sure bet for at least a catfish. We fished for over an hour, but were not even getting a bite. We then proceeded to a nice area just north of the Quantico Marine Base. Again, nothing!

I prayed, “Lord, what’s going on? We should have been able to catch something by now.” So we made a couple of sandwiches, had lunch, and then proceeded further south. I could tell Mark was getting discouraged because he decided to take a nap. We headed down to Fairview Beach where the Potomac turns east for a few miles before it turns south again just north of the 301 Bridge.

It was now later in the afternoon, so we only had about an hour before we had to arrive at a marina where we had a slip reserved for the evening. We stopped at an area where there is an underwater ledge which drops from fifteen to sixty feet. We started fishing. I’m praying, “Lord, we’re running out of time.   We made no other provision for dinner.” Then Mark yelled, “I got one!” And indeed he did, a nice size catfish that ended up being more than two hungry fishermen could eat for dinner.

The Lord’s timing was perfect. It made Mark’s catch all the more memorable. Later that night and the next day we caught several more fish.

Are you willing to wait on the Lord for his perfect timing?

The Lord’s Prayer Awakens a Soul

“Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be your name…” (Mt. 6:9)

When was the last time you listened closely to the words in the Lord’s Prayer?

Once or twice a month, I take communion on Sundays to Catholic residents at a nearby nursing home, including a few residents in various stages of Alzheimer’s. Some of the Alzheimer residents are not able to receive communion, or are often asleep when I arrive, so I usually just say a short prayer with them.

One Sunday, when I came to one of the women who had her eyes closed (let’s call her Alice for the sake of privacy), I gently touched her on the shoulder and asked her if she would like to say the Lord’s Prayer. She opened her eyes in kind of blank stare. I knelt down beside her, put my hand on her hand, and started to slowly recite the Lord’s Prayer. Her eyes began to open wide and she started to say the words with me. Her eyes became wider and wider as she saw herself remembering the words. A slight smile spread across her face. She appeared as if she were proud of herself for remembering the words. As we finished a small tear appeared in the corner of one of her eyes. I said, “Alice, would you like to receive communion?” “Yes,” she nodded, and I placed the Eucharist on her tongue.

This was the first time that I had ever seen Alice receive communion. It was as if the Lord’s Prayer had awakened her soul and memory, enabling her to recite the entire prayer. It made the back of my neck tingle.

I, too, was impacted by seeing the power of Jesus’ words on Alice, words Jesus suggested to his disciples when they asked him how to pray. (Luke 11:2) For some of us, the Lord’s Prayer may become so familiar that we may recite the words but let their meaning bounce right off our mind and heart.

When I first started to take communion to the residents of this nursing home, I was uncomfortable with the Alzheimer’s residents. In fact, on my second visit I skipped going to their floor. But after seeing the impact of Jesus’ words on Alice and watching how those words awakened God’s presence in her, I received a new love for Alice and all her fellow residents.

How do you retain the meaning and power of the Lord’s Prayer in your life?