Author Archives: Bill Dalgetty

“Listen to Him!”

At the transfiguration, Peter responded to seeing Jesus transfigured and the appearance of Elijah and Moses by offering to build three shelters, one for each of them.  A cloud then enveloped them, and God said, “This is my Son whom I love.  Listen to him!” (Mark 9:2-8)  It was almost as if God was rebuking Peter to get serious.  Quit thinking about building shelters.  It is my son you are with.  “Listen to him!”

Like Peter, it is easy for us to get caught up with the circumstances in front of us.  We forget that Jesus is with us.  We fail to remember all that he has said about the most important things of life.  We forget to ask him for guidance.  Yet he has so much to say:

  • “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust in me.” John 14:1
  • “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Mark 12:30-31
  • “I am the way and the truth and the life.” John 14:6
  • “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” John 14:23
  • “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”  Matthew 25:40
  • “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged.” Matthew 7:2
  • “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” John 3:3
  • “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  Apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:4, 5
  • “Anyone who has faith in me, he will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these.”  John 14:12
  • “In the world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
  • “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

So much truth!  So much wisdom in what Jesus has to say to us! 

Over the last couple of decades we have seen the effects of people not listening to Jesus: the devaluing and decline of the two parent family, the continuous erosion of sexual morality, and the increasing lapses of integrity among people in authority.  We have seen a crisis in opioid and other addictions, and increasing acts of violence and mass shootings in schools and public places.

Unlike Peter, James and John, we are not covered by a cloud from God, but the haze of a culture increasingly focused on self and moving away from its creator.  But through the haze, God still says, “Here is my Son, whom I love.  Listen to him!”

How do you listen to Jesus?

Imprisoning God

“Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Mt. 7:21) 

Jesus expects more from us than just to worship him on Sundays; he expects us to carry his presence into all aspects of our lives.  He certainly expects us to bring his love to those closest to us, including our family and friends.  But he also expects us bring his presence into other areas of our lives such as our work and social lives. 

The idea that faith should be separated from living out the rest of our daily lives has become conventional wisdom for much of our culture.  We hear the phrase, “separation of church and state” and see it be applied to other venues such as the workplace and the public square.  We are told that that our faith should be private, not to be shared with others or manifested in our words or deeds, particularly in the workplace. 

This perspective is 180 degrees from God’s intention as indicated by the words of Jesus and scripture.  Jesus tells us that he is “the way, the truth and the life.”  He says, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14: 6, 23)  With Jesus and the Father living in us, he calls us to be and bring his presence to the people and circumstances in our lives.  In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, he says that those who reflect his presence by bringing food, drink, clothing, shelter, medical care and prison visitation to those in need will be welcomed into his kingdom. 

Even the workplace is not excluded from the Father’s call.  In Genesis 2:15, God reminds us that after creating us in his image and likeness he places us in the garden of his creation “to work and take care of it.”  Civilization is an extension of God’s creation, and he expects us to be good stewards of it and carry it forward through our work. 

There have been times in my life when I have put God in a box by compartmentalizing my life, separating my faith from my work and other areas of my life.  The unfortunate thing when this happens is that his presence may not then be available to the people in my life who would otherwise be blessed by him through me. 

Do we imprison God, only to be released on Sunday, or do we let him be manifested in every aspect of our lives?

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.” (Mark 14:29) 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 the daily prayer time we have set for ourselves.  After a busy week of work, and a Saturday filled with our kid’s sports activities, we may let a round of golf or some other activity 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 its 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?

God’s Shredder

“All, from the least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

As Christians, we are quite familiar with God’s promise to forgive us of our sins when we repent of them.  Even Jesus’ name meant that he would “save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)  And forgiveness is one of the petitions we recite in the Lord’s Prayer. (Matthew 6:12)

But Jeremiah promises that God will not only forgive us of our sins, he will remember them no more!

This is so contrary to our human nature.  For our part, we tend to resist granting forgiveness when we have been offended and may struggle even more with forgetting the offense.  When we have been the offending party, we also tend to hold on to the memory of our offense even when we have repented of the sin and received forgiveness or absolution in the sacrament of reconciliation.

When I was in my early 30’s and working in New York, I received a call from my father’s boss inviting me to my father’s retirement party in Iowa after 40 years of service with the H. J. Heinz Company.  I had just been transferred to New York to take a new position and had a business conflict with the date of the retirement party.  At the time I thought it was an important meeting critical to my new job.  I agonized over the decision for a while, but ended up opting for the so-called important business meeting.    

It didn’t occur to me that I might be disregarding the Fifth Commandment to “honor your father and your mother.” When it finally did occur to me, I repented of my mixed up priorities and inordinate self-focus that was so prevalent at that time in my life.  Today, I can’t even remember what the business meeting was about. 

While I have considerable regrets for this failure, I take great comfort in God’s promise spoken through Jeremiah that this sin has gone into God’s shredder of repented sins and he remembers them no more. 

This promise reminds me of St. Paul’s recitation of the various actions that constitute love in First Corinthians 13 — love “keeps no record of wrongs.”  But then, as the apostle John reminds us, “God is love.” (1 John 4:16) 

Do you have past sins that you may have repented, but continue to hold onto and worry about?

Cleaning Out Our Temples

“Don’t you know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Co. 3:16) Three times St. Paul declares in his letters to the Corinthians that we are God’s temple, or that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  (1 Co. 6:19, 2 Co. 6:18)

In connection with the Jerusalem temple, all four gospels relate the story of Jesus clearing the temple courts of cattle, sheep and doves, and the people selling them.  He said, “How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”  He made a whip out of cords and drove them from the temple, overturning the tables of the money changers.  He said, “It is written: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a den of thieves.” (John 2:14-17; Mt. 21:12-13)

Obviously, Jesus felt passionately about upholding the sacredness of God’s temple, and he was compelled to clear it of anything that detracted from that sacredness.  If, as St. Paul says, we are a temple of the living God, then there may be things that need to be cleared from our lives in order to maintain the sacredness of our temple.

Like many a building, have we allowed things to accumulate that get in the way of our relationship with God?  Perhaps bitterness and unforgiveness; maybe an addiction to alcohol, opioids or pornography?  Have we allowed work or some other activity to become an idol detracting from our responsibilities to family and others? 

Bishop Fulton J. Sheen in his book, Life of Christ, observes that it was naturally a problem for people who came to the temple to get ahold of the material to sacrifice. Accordingly, a flourishing trade in sacrificial animals gradually developed closer to the temple and, for the sake of convenience, eventually moved inside the temple courts. For the sake of convenience, do we allow our busyness to get in the way of a regular time of prayer with the Lord each day?

When I was young, I remember my mother doing “spring cleaning” every April.   She would take down our lace curtains to clean and stretch them, wash the windows and thoroughly clean the whole house.  My father would clean out the garage and basement of things that had accumulated over the winter. 

Similarly, we may need to do a periodic cleaning of our temple of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it may require just a good vacuuming or a little dusting; other times, a junk removal service may be required.

We can be confident that Jesus, who is experienced in clearing temples of things that don’t belong, will assist us in making our lives a fitting residence for the Holy Spirit and the presence of God!

As Lent begins this week, does your temple need some cleaning?

Building the Kingdom through Relationships

When Jesus sent out the seventy-two to proclaim the Kingdom of God, he gave them very specific instructions. He said, “Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you…Do not move from one house to another.  Cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’” (Luke 10:7-9)

These instructions provide an important message to all Christians who are trying to share their faith with others: Build relationships, serve people’s needs, and then share your faith and proclaim the kingdom of God.

How often have we tried to share our faith without first having established a relationship? Without the credibility of a relationship, without serving someone’s needs, our words about God and the life he offers through his Son and the Holy Spirit may ring hollow. 

After Jesus called Matthew, he dined and spent time with Matthew’s tax collector friends.  He invited himself to lunch with another tax collector, Zacchaeus.  He stayed on two days with the Samaritans after encountering the woman at the well, and John’s Gospel reports many became believers. (John 4:39)

The Parable of the Yeast seems to confirm the need to mix it up with the world in our relationships.  “The kingdom of heaven [God] is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” (Matthew 13:33) The yeast, which is the good news, needs to mix with the flour, which is the world, in order that the dough, God’s kingdom, can rise.

In my own walk, I can think of several people who reached out to me with sincere friendship that deepened my faith walk.  There was Father John, who gave me instruction to join the Catholic Church when I was a teenager.  We shared many hours together in our mutual love of music, in addition to his individual instructions about the faith.

In my mid-thirties there was Ann, a fellow teacher of Religious Education to teenagers in our church.  Ann had the radiance and joy of the Lord.  She kept inviting my wife and me to various charismatic Christian events, which resulted in my meeting Jesus in an entirely new way and experiencing a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

In my mid-40’s, I was introduced to Christians in Commerce, a Christian outreach to business, that helped me better live out my faith in the workplace.  All three founders of this ministry, who lived in different cities, spent time guiding me in becoming a better Christian at work.  They offered witness and friendship, and stayed with us whenever they were in town.

Like the seventy-two, Jesus sends us out and instructs us to build relationships, serve people’s needs, and then proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand.

How do you build relationships in order to share about Jesus?

Who Do You Say I AM?

After Jesus asks the disciples who people are saying he is, he then asks them, “But who do you say that I am?” Matthew quotes Peter as saying, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:13-16)

Jesus asks us the same question, “Who do you say that I am?”  Like Peter, are we willing to say that Jesus is the son of the living God?  Are we willing to follow him and his will in the daily decisions of our lives, large and small?

The following story illustrates an initial failure of this standard followed by the action of God’s grace in redeeming the outcome.

After working for Mobil for 37 years I started to sense that it was time to do something different with my life.  Following several months of prayer and discernment, I decided to retire early and accept an opportunity to work full-time with Christians in Commerce (now WorkLight), a ministry to the workplace.

I informed my boss of my intentions, but he asked me to hold off for a couple of months before I told anyone what I intended to do.  It turned out that he was involved in negotiating a possible merger with Exxon.  As a part of the merger there was a retention bonus if you stayed on until the merger was completed, calculated by various multiples of your annual salary depending on the level of your position.  A couple of months later the merger was announced along with the retention bonus.  I got caught up in all the talk about the amount of money involved and arranged with Christians in Commerce to delay the beginning of my work for them for six months. 

A month later I was flying home from a business trip, looking out the window at an interesting cloud formation and thinking about the future.  All of sudden I felt like the Lord was saying: “So, you tell me you want to work for me in ministry.  I arrange an opportunity, and now you put me off for some extra money!  Haven’t I taken care of you and your family?”  It felt like a slap in the face.  What had I done?

The next day I told my boss that I had made a mistake.  I had made a commitment to begin working for a Christian ministry and needed to keep my commitment. I could not stay on until the merger was completed.  I would forgo the retention bonus.  As it turned out, the merger took almost two years to complete.  Had I stayed on to receive the bonus, I would have surely missed the many blessings of having worked for Christians in Commerce for the next nine years of my life.

How have you been challenged in following Jesus and doing his will?    

Preparing the Soil

Being prayed with for more of the Holy Spirit a number of years ago made a huge difference in my life.  It opened my heart and mind more to God’s word and helped the soil of my heart be more fertile for the Lord’s purpose in all aspects of my life.  While I am still very capable of messing up, experiencing the Holy Spirit in a fuller way has helped me be more attentive to God’s purpose and will. 

The Parable of the Sower may illustrate.  (See Mark 4:1-20)   A farmer went out to sow seed.  Some of the seed fell along the path and birds came and snatched it up, which Jesus likened to Satan taking the word away as soon as it is heard.  Some fell on rocky soil, where it was not able to take root.  Jesus said these were people who hear the word, but because it does not take root, as soon as they encounter trouble or persecution, they fall away.  Some of the seed fell among thorns where it started to grow but was choked by the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desire for other things.  Finally, some seed fell on good soil which grew and multiplied thirty, sixty and even a hundred times. 

Notice how Jesus observes that people whose soil accepts God’s word may produce different size crops.  The more fertile the soil, the greater the yield of the seed, the more fruit it produces in a person’s life, and the more a person can be used by God to fulfill his purpose and will.

Jesus is always knocking on the door of our hearts, waiting for us to invite him into our lives.  We have to be intentional in opening the door and inviting him in.  Once we invite him in, we need to spend time with him in prayer and with his word as given to us in Holy Scripture.   If we are a part of a sacramental church, we should partake in all of the available sacraments, for we receive God’s special grace through them.  The Holy Spirit is particularly beneficial in opening our minds and hearts to the meaning of God’s word and his will for us in the daily choices of our lives.

John tells us that the Word existed before all else and was God; and that the Word became flesh in Jesus. (John 1: 1, 14) Paul tells us that the Word of God is Spirit and is living. (Heb. 4:12; Eph. 6:17)  The Psalmist tells us that the Word is flawless. (Ps. 18:30 NIV)  May we prepare the soil of our heart so that the Word yields a harvest many times what is sown.  “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6)

What is the condition of your soil to receive and nurture God’s Word?  

Kinship with Jesus

Ruth’s co-worker, Stella, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  After talking with Stella on the phone a few times, Ruth came to realize that the Lord was putting it on her heart to visit Stella and bring his word to her.  Ruth was initially reluctant.  “Lord, are you sure you want me to do this? I am not very good at this sort of thing.”  After some prayer and few sleepless nights, Ruth asked Stella if she was receiving visitors.  Stella said yes, and also mentioned that she had been having several dreams and that Ruth was in each of them.  Ruth took this as a sign that the Holy Spirit was bringing them together.

When Ruth visited her the following day, Stella spoke of her religious upbringing as a child; she asked about the right way to pray, and wondered if her illness was a result of something bad in her life.  Ruth assured her that was not the case and that God loved her more than she could comprehend.  All she needed to do was invite God into her life.

Ruth said, “Over the next few visits, we continued to talk and pray, and Stella invited Jesus into her life.  The last time I saw her she had an angelic, peaceful quality about her, and although she could barely whisper, she assured me that she was praying and would be fine.”

Although Ruth initially resisted the promptings she was receiving, she eventually yielded to God’s will to bring his word and offer of salvation to Stella before she died.  By doing so, Ruth was fulfilling God’s will and furthering her kinship with Jesus.

Three of the gospels tell a story about how we can grow in kinship with Jesus.  On one occasion when Jesus is surrounded by a large crowd of people, he was told that his mother and brothers were outside.  Jesus asks, “Who are my mother and brothers?  Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, ’Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

This may seem to be a curious response by Jesus.  Yet, he is not denigrating his mother or kinship as much as he is raising those who do God’s will to the importance and level of kinship.  For most of us, there can be no more honored status than our mothers who gave us life.  Jesus is saying that those who do God’s will are similar in status and importance. 

Jesus is using what appears to be an extreme statement to get our attention on how important it is to do God’s will in all things — in all our daily choices, large and small. 

Are there areas in your life where you can seek greater kinship with Jesus by doing God’s will?

God’s Compassion and Will

“A leper came to [Jesus} and said, ‘If you wish, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, ‘I do will it.  Be made clean.’  The leprosy left him immediately.”  (Mark 1:40-42)

All of the Gospels report stories of Jesus’ great compassion for the poor, the sick, the blind and the lame as he taught and ministered to the people of Galilee.  Yet, we know from scripture that not everyone was healed.  We also know from our own experience that many people experience illness and other adversities, prayers are offered, and the adversity appears to continue. 

Why are some people healed in response to prayer and others appear not to be?  Maybe a better question is what is God doing in this particular situation or need? 

St. Paul says, “Affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope.” (Ro. 5:3-4) James tells us, “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2-4)

Our life experiences also teach us that we grow more in our trials than we do in our consolations and successes.  God often uses adversity to draw us closer to him.  He often uses final illnesses to bring us into his presence. 

A number of years ago, I was diagnosed with an advanced and aggressive form of prostate cancer.  My wife, children and friends prayed for my healing.  My treatment included surgery to remove the prostate followed by three years of hormone therapy.  The surgery revealed that the cancer had migrated outside the prostate to at least one lymph node.  One of my friends, who himself was suffering from renal cell carcinoma, prayed for me several times including in the pre-op room after persuading the nurse that he was my brother [Christian, that is].

While he and I were good friends and Christian brothers before my cancer, we became particularly close afterwards.  We now shared a similar adversity that could be potentially life threatening.  I prayed for him and he prayed for me.  When we were together our conversation often took on deeper meaning.

A couple of years later he died.  I am still alive.  We could ask why, but again, the better question might be what was God doing with us?  Perhaps my friend was ready to come into God’s presence, and I was not.  These are mysteries for which we will never know the answer in this life, “for who has known the mind of the Lord?”  (1 Co. 2:16, NIV)

While we may never know why God responds in different ways to different circumstances, we can know by faith that out of his great compassion and love he “wills” to do what is best for us long term. 

How has God used adversity in your life to draw you closer to him?