Category Archives: Christian Encouragement

Thorns of Busyness*

Does busyness choke out your relationship with God – spending time with him in prayer, reading scripture and seeking his will in your lives? 

In explaining one aspect of the of the Parable of the Sower, Jesus says, “Still others, like seed sown among the thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word and make it unfruitful.”  (Mark 4:18)

There are many kinds of thorns – worries, ambition, wealth, recognition, position, possessions and busyness, to name a few.  The Roman soldiers placed a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head, but he did not let the pain of them deter him from his mission.

Busyness, as much any other circumstance, makes the word in many of us unfruitful.  We rush to get dressed in the morning and have our breakfast before we rush to work.  At work, there is often more to do than the time available, so we rush from one task to another.  After work, we rush to take our kids to practice or a sporting event.  We then rush home for dinner because we have a meeting after dinner at church, school or some other place, or we need to help the children with their homework, or we have a brief case full of work.  Even when we are not in fact being rushed, we have a sense of being rushed.

All of this rushing crowds out God.  Intimacy with him is sacrificed.  The noise of busyness keeps us from hearing the whisper of the Holy Spirit and understanding the Spirit’s call each day.  Notice that Jesus says the outcome is that the word in us becomes unfruitful.  The rich guidance of the word goes unused.  Jesus’ desire for us is just the opposite – “I chose you and appointed you to bear fruit, fruit that will last.” (John 15:16)

Life will always have its demands.  Do we let these demands choke out God’s word and presence in us, or do we invite him to join us in their midst?  I used to pray a lot in hallways and elevators as I went from one meeting to another, acknowledging God’s presence and asking him to go before me.  There seemed to be more fruit when I did and less when I didn’t.

God’s presence is available to us in the midst of our busyness.  Offer up your schedule to him at the beginning of each day.  Remember his words, “I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20)

*Reposted from July, 2014

“Crucify Him!”

If you were present at Jesus’ trial, where would you see yourself?  

Would it be with the disciples who fearfully followed at a distance?  Would it have been with Pontius Pilate who found no basis for the charges brought against Jesus, but did not have the courage to resist the crowd’s demands for crucifixion?  Would it have been with the crowd shouting, “Crucify him?”

If I had never met Jesus, I would have likely been with the crowd.  Have I not demonstrated my lack of support for Jesus in my sins?  Have I not denied him in my failure to love and serve others on various occasions?

Even if I had met Jesus, I would have been no different than the disciples, following at a distance out of fear, or like Pontius Pilate, going along with the crowd.  How many times have I failed to speak up for Jesus or my Catholic faith in a hostile environment?

Unfortunately, the crowd seldom gets it right.  How often do we see conventional wisdom that is not wise, popular opinion that does not reflect the truth, and consensus that leads to the wrong result?  

Lest we think that the opinions of the crowd are not becoming more hostile to our Christian faith, a recent study by the Barna Group released in February, found that 45% of non-religious adults (atheists, agnostics and religiously unaffiliated) agree with the statement that “Christianity is extremist.”   More than 50 % of all U. S. adults were found to believe that the following practices were “very” or “somewhat” extreme: attempting to convert others to their faith; teaching their children that sexual relationships between people of the same sex are morally wrong; praying out loud in public for a stranger; or protesting government policies that conflict with their religion.

So, how do we resist the crowd of our culture that is becoming increasingly prone to crucify Jesus in its actions and beliefs?  Acknowledge and repent of our sins, commit or recommit our lives to Jesus Christ and seek the release of the power of the Holy Spirit received in our baptism.

It is the Holy Spirit that convicts us, gives us the courage and the power to resist both the crowd and sin.  It wasn’t until I personally experienced the renewal of the Holy Spirit in my life that I was given understanding, motivation and power that makes it now possible for me to resist the crowd.  I am still capable of stumbling if I don’t stay close to Jesus in daily prayer, the sacraments and surround myself with other like-minded Christian brothers and sisters.  But with God’s grace and mercy through the Holy Spirit, I am better equipped to say no to the crowd and yes to Jesus.

The crowd yelled, “Crucify him!” But the crowd got it wrong.  God redeemed the wrong and took the cross, a symbol of Roman cruelty and oppression, and transformed it into a symbol of love, sacrifice and hope.

Encouragement – God’s Special Gift

IMG_0494Who doesn’t like to be encouraged?

The Book of Hebrews says, “Encourage one another daily, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:13)  The Gospel of John explains what “sin’s deceitfulness” means when it tells us that the devil “is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)  His most frequent lies are that we are not worthy, that we are not loved or appreciated, that what we do doesn’t matter, and that God does not really care about us or our lives.

These lies seek to oppress us.  They cause us to forget that we are God’s special creation, made in his image and likeness with the important task of taking care of the garden of his creation and establishing his kingdom on this earth.  These lies can be disabling.  They derail us from the reason for our being. They prevent us from carrying out the work God has in mind for only us to do in the context of the people and circumstances of our lives.

The antidote for these lies is encouragement.  Psalm 10:17 says God encourages the afflicted.  We are his agents for encouragement.  It is an act of love.  One of the ways he shows his love for us is through the encouragement of one another.

During this past weekend, those of us living in the Washington D. C. area were snowed in with more than two feet of snow.  Since we were confined to the house, I decided to clean out my home office of old files, records, bills, letters, magazines and other materials that had accumulated over many years.  

One cabinet shelf included cards and letters from my wife, children, grandchildren, parents, and friends dating back as much as 40 years.  There were cards covering birthdays, anniversaries, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, letters from former work colleagues and friends, get well cards when I had cancer surgery, and thank you notes for a variety of things.  Of course, I couldn’t throw them away without reading them.

Over the next several hours as the snow was accumulating outside in record proportions, I was bathed in an avalanche of encouragement and love! Countless expressions of affirming love from my good wife and children, specially designed picture cards and artwork from grandchildren, a poignant letter from my father at crucial time in his life, letters from friends reminding me of special times long forgotten, a thank you note from the husband of a former secretary who died prematurely of colon cancer — were among the treasure trove of love and encouragement.

What a lesson in how God uses encouragement and love to sustain us in good times and bad! May we be ever mindful of the opportunities that God places in our paths to be his agent to bring encouragement and love to others.

God’s Power Announcer

How do we measure the power of a message?  Surely the efforts of John the Baptist in announcing the advent of Jesus’ public ministry would qualify as powerful, given the overwhelming response he received.  Mark reports, “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him.” (Mark 1:5)  Matthew says, “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.” (Matthew 3:5)

Given that communication was mostly dependent on word of mouth and that transportation was accomplished primarily by walking, it is remarkable that John was receiving huge crowds of people from all over Judea.  Jerusalem would have been at least a day’s walk and more remote areas of Judea would have taken even longer.

What made this even more extraordinary was that John’s message was not one of sweetness and light.  It was a tough message, calling people to change their ways and repent of their sins.  Imagine, people from all over Judea going to John to confess their sins.

Only by the power of the Holy Spirit, would John have been able to attract so many people, from such distant areas, with such a challenging message.

This was previously confirmed by the angel Gabriel when he appeared to Zechariah and told him that his wife, Elizabeth was going have a son whose name was to be John.  “He will be great in the sight of the Lord” and “will be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  Gabriel added, “He will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:15, 17)

In fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy, John was preparing the people of Judea to receive the coming of Jesus, the Messiah.  “A voice of one calling in the desert; prepare the way of the Lord.” (Isaiah 40:3) He was preparing them through the confession and cleansing of their sins in the waters of baptism.

Like John, we too, are called to lead family, friends, colleagues and even strangers to open the door of their hearts to Jesus. It starts with how we live our lives.  Righteous conduct gives credibility to our words. Sometimes, our role is just to plant seeds for God’s future cultivation.  Sometimes we have a more direct role such as with our families (spouse and children) for whom God gives us a direct responsibility.   Sometimes God places people in our lives for the purpose of introducing himself to them through us.

Like John, we too, have the power of the Holy Spirit who gives us the wisdom, courage, knowledge and opportunity to speak and build relationships with others for the purpose of leading them to Jesus.

As we move into this season of celebrating Jesus’ birth, are we acting with the same passion as John the Baptist in introducing people to Jesus?

Do Not Be Afraid

Have you ever become fearful about whether you can handle a new task or situation that appears formidable?

Many Possibilities – The possibilities are many and varied — taking on a new job whose scope and responsibilities appear to exceed your skills and experience; facing the loss of employment; trying to restore a relationship that is broken; persuading a rebellious child to change his or her ways; providing ongoing care of a loved one; facing an illness involving suffering, disability or even death. All of these circumstances can give rise to fear and doubt.

Moses and Joshua – When Moses appointed Joshua as his successor for taking the people of Israel across the Jordan River into the land of Canaan, he told him, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)

Taking a people into a new land and removing the people who were previously there is indeed a formidable task and it was understandable that Joshua was experiencing fear and doubt. Moses told Joshua to “be strong and courageous.”

New Assignment Outside My Comfort Zone – After serving as an attorney for a large international oil company for most of my career, my last assignment involved overseeing our corporate policy and compliance of environmental, health and safety activities of the company worldwide. The entire staff was made up of engineers and technical people, taking me way out of my comfort zone. There were times when our staff was challenged when attempting to bring certain compliance issues to the attention of senior management and our Board of Directors. Although tempted by fear to back away from our findings, I prayed that the Lord would go before us. Interestingly, on every occasion when this happened the senior management of our company supported our findings and ordered changes in how things were being done.

Jesus’ Words – When Jesus was calling Peter and Peter responded that he was a sinful man, Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid.” When the angels approached Zechariah, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds, on each occasion they said, “Do not be afraid.” At the Last Supper, Jesus said to all of the disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

St. John Paul II opened his pontificate with the words, “Be not afraid!” He went on to say, “These are not words said into a void. They are simply the words of Christ himself. Do not be afraid of God who became man!”

Are you moved by fear and doubt when facing adversity or do you ask the Lord to go before you? Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”