Category Archives: Uncategorized

Building the Kingdom through Relationships

When Jesus sent out the twelve and the seventy-two to proclaim the Kingdom of God, he gave them very specific instructions. He said, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.” (Mark 6:10)  “Do not move around from house to house.” (Luke 10:7)

Although these two instructions might appear a bit obscure in the story the gospel writers were describing, they convey an important message to all Christians who are trying to share their faith with others: Build relationships first, serve people’s needs, and then share your faith and proclaim the kingdom of God.

How often have we tried to share our faith or evangelize someone without having first established a relationship?  Without the credibility of a relationship, without finding out and 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 the Apostle John reports, “Many became believers.”  He obviously had a relationship with Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary, because of the message they sent to him about Lazarus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” (John 11:3)

The Parable of the Yeast would seem to confirm the need of our mixing it up with the world in our relationships.  “The kingdom of heaven [God] is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” 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. (Matthew 13:33)

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

When I was a young man 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 a Christian outreach to business, Christians in Commerce, that helped me better live out my faith in the workplace.  All three founders of this ministry, who happened to live in different cities from where I lived, spent time discipling me in becoming a better Christian at work.  They offered guidance, witness and friendship, and stayed with us whenever they were in town.

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

“Let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)


Cleaning Out Our Temples

Jesus_templeDoes your temple need cleaning? 

Three different times in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, he declares that we are God’s temple or that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Co. 3:16)

All four gospels relate the story of Jesus going up to Jerusalem at Passover and clearing the temple courts of cattle, sheep and doves and the people selling them and exchanging money.  He said, “How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”  He made a whip out of cords, driving them from the temple, overturning the tables of the money changers and scattering their coins.  He said, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a den of robbers.” (John 2:14-17; Mt. 21:12-13)

Obviously, Jesus felt passionately about upholding and protecting 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 or structure, have we allowed things to accumulate that get in the way of our relationship with God?  Perhaps we have allowed anger, bitterness and unforgiveness to take up some of our space; maybe an addiction to 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 offer sacrifice to get ahold of the material of 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 and other activities 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 needed.

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!

“Listen to Him!”

Jesus-teaching-in-the-templeAre we following God’s admonition to Peter, James and John to listen to Jesus?

At the transfiguration, Peter responded to seeing Jesus transfigured and the appearance of Elijah and Moses by offering to build three shelters 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 forget to listen to all that he has said about all of the important things of life.  We forget to ask him for guidance in the daily choices of life.  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 you mind and with all you strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:30-31
  • “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
  • “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
  • “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
  • “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:13
  • “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Matthew 28:19
  • “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 several decades we have seen the effects of people not listening to Jesus: the decline of one of God’s pillars in his plan for creation — the two parent family.  We have seen the continuous erosion of sexual morality, an entertainment industry increasingly glorifying sex and violence, 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!”


Who Do You Say I Am?

After the disciples had been following Jesus for a while, he asked them, “Who do the people say I am?” The disciples answered, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 

Then Jesus pointedly asked, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:27-29)

No more hiding in the crowd; Jesus was asking the disciples, personally and individually, “Who am I to you?  Matthew quotes Peter as saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

The same question that Jesus asked of the disciples, he asks of us, “Who do you say I am?”

Like Peter, are willing to say with the same depth of conviction that Jesus is the son of the living God who became one of us, and sacrificed his life for us to save us from our sins?

Interestingly, Jesus goes on to define what is required of us to fully acknowledge that he is the Son of God.  He says we must pick up our daily cross, love as he loves and suffer as he suffered.  He says we need to die to self and give up our will for his in all things.  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 a large international company for over 30 years, Jim (not his real name) sensed it was time to do something different with his life.  After several months of prayer and discernment, he accepted an opportunity to work full-time in a Christian ministry.

He informed his boss and set a date for his retirement.  A couple of months before the scheduled date, the company announced that it was merging with another company.  In order to encourage employees to stay on until the merger was completed, a retention bonus was offered to various employees, including Jim.

As a result, Jim decided to postpone his retirement and the date he would start working for the ministry.  After all, he reasoned, it was estimated to be only six months, and the retention bonus would provide an additional cushion for his retirement account.

A couple of months later Jim was flying home on a business trip, looking out the window at an interesting cloud formation, thinking about the future.  All of sudden he 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!”  Jim said, “It was like a slap in the face.  What had I done!”

The next day Jim told his boss that he had made a mistake.  He had made a commitment to begin working for a Christian ministry and needed to keep that commitment.  He would not stay on until the merger was completed.  He would forgo the retention bonus.  As it turned out, the merger took almost two years to complete.

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:35)


Preparing the Soil

009-parable-sower-seedIn three of the gospels, Jesus tells The Parable of the Sower, in which the sower is God and the seed is his Word.  He describes four kinds of soil onto which the seed may fall, which serves as an analogy to where our hearts may be relative to receiving and acting upon God’s Word. (Mark 4:1-20)

  • A soil that is hard and packed down so the seed cannot penetrate, resulting in Satan snatching the word before it can take root and impacting our way of life.
  • A rocky soil where God’s word is received and even welcomed, but not allowed to take root. When the first sign of trouble or persecution comes along, we forget what the word says and resort to our old ways.
  • A soil that is full of thorns where the word is heard and we want to act on it, but the worries of life, the deceitfulness of wealth, the lure of recognition and fame, and the pride of our own agenda chokes out the word from having a positive effect on our life and conduct.
  • A good soil that receives the word, provides conditions for it to germinate and grow so it can multiply thirty, sixty or even hundred times what was sown.

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 provides 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 sacraments that are available to us, for we receive grace upon grace through them.  The Holy Spirit that we receive in baptism 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 for our lives.

Being prayed with many years ago for the release of the power of the Holy Spirit that I received in baptism as an infant made a huge difference in my life.  It opened my heart and mind to God’s word and helped the soil of my heart be more fertile for the Lord’s purpose in every aspect of my life – family, work, ministry, etc. 

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. 30:5)  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)


Kinship with Jesus

How do we grow in kinship with Jesus?  A curious story reported by Matthew, Mark and Luke may provide some insight.

At one of the many times that Jesus was surrounded by a large throng of people, he was told that his mother and brothers were outside.  Jesus asks, “Who are my mother and brothers?”  Mark reports, “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 seems to be a rather curious and harsh response by Jesus.  Yet, he is not denigrating his mother or kinship as much as he 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.  The following story may serve to illustrate.

Ruth’s co-worker, Stella, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  After frequently talking with Stella on the phone, Ruth came to realize that the Lord was putting it on her heart to bring his word to Stella.

Ruth’s first reaction was one of apathy and denial.  “Lord, are you sure you want me to do this? I am not very good at this sort of thing,” she observed.  After lots of prayer and several 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 God’s word and offer of salvation to Stella before she died.  By doing so, Ruth was furthering her kinship with Jesus.

We remember the words of Jesus before his arrest, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)


Hearing God’s Voice

Knowing when we hear God’s voice is a major challenge for most of us.  Our lives are filled with continuous noise in today’s culture.   Television, radio, I-pods, robo calls and e-mail boxes stuffed with spam — all contribute to a cacophony of noise that tends to drown out the Lord’s whispers to our heart and spirit.

Samuel did not recognize the Lord’s voice the first time he was called.  He thought his elder, Eli, was calling him instead.  Each time he heard his name being called, he went to Eli, thinking it was he who was calling him.  It wasn’t until the third time that Eli realized that the Lord was calling Samuel, as he guided Samuel to say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:1-21)

Samuel went on to become one of the great prophets of the Old Testament.  “The Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.” (1 Samuel 3:19)

Do we recognize God’s voice when he is calling us or asking us to do something?

When I was in my mid-30’s, I started to serve in the religious education program for high school students in our parish in Armonk, N. Y.  One of the other teachers whose name was Ann started to befriend me.  She was a noticeably joyful person and began to invite me to various prayer meetings, conferences and other spiritual related events.  After declining each of her several invitations over a period of several months, she started inviting my wife who agreed to attend a Life in the Spirit program at a nearby parish being conducted by some nuns from Scarsdale.  The program took place over five evenings from Sunday through Thursday.

My wife asked if I wanted to join her but I initially declined indicating I had a brief case full of work.  Each night when she came home, I noticed how happy she seemed to be. On the fourth evening when she walked in the door, she was absolutely radiant.  Then she said, “You know I think I could forgive almost anything of anyone.” 

I thought to myself, “Wow! I have to check this out.”  I told her I wanted to join her the next evening even though it was the last evening and I had missed the four previous sessions.  The following night, I met the Lord Jesus Christ in a new and very personal way, and my life was forever changed.  I later experienced the release of the Holy Spirit in my life, and I have been trying to walk every day since with the Lord in all the venues of my life – family, work, social and ministry.

Like Samuel, I was not recognizing the Lord’s call when Ann was extending me all of those invitations. It was what I saw God doing in my wife’s life that helped me to respond to his call in my life.  

“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)