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Faith is Not Private and Separate from Life

“Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Colossians 3:17)

The idea that faith should be separated from living out most of the rest of our lives appears to have become conventional wisdom over the last 50 years. We hear the phrase, “separation of church and state” and apply it to other venues in our lives such as the workplace and the public square. We are told that that our faith should be private and personal, not to be shared with others.

This perspective is 180 degrees contrary to God’s intention as evidenced in the words of Scripture and Jesus. St. Paul’s exhortation quoted above is not confined to what happens at church on Sundays, but to everything we do. Later he says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as if you are working for the Lord.” (Colossians 3:23)

This is a 24/7 exhortation meant for Monday as well as Sunday, the workplace as well as church or where we may have a daily prayer time. There are no boundary lines to Christ living in us, and we in him. Once we invite him in, he is present in everything we do – working for our employer, taking our children to soccer practice, helping with the dishes, assisting a sick friend with yard work, testifying at a City Council hearing, helping our children with their homework, listening to a work colleague share a personal problem – “whatever you do in word or deed.”

God created us to work and take care of the garden of his creation, including the physical world and one another. (Genesis: 2:15) Our work is how we make ourselves useful to one another and thus to God. It is a divine assignment.

From the time God became one of us through his incarnation in Jesus and the pouring out of his Holy Spirit on the people of his early church, his intention has been to dwell not in temples or buildings, but in us individually and personally, assuming we accept his invitation. I met him one evening many years ago in an individual and personal way, and accepted his invitation to dwell in me. Today, I experience his presence in many ways – the sacraments of my church, my prayer time (we meet for coffee every morning), and in many of the people he places in my life.

There are times when I have neglected his presence, or separated my words and deeds form his presence because I have put him in a box. The unfortunate thing when that happens is that his presence may not then be available to the people in my life who would otherwise be blessed by him. God created us with the freedom to accept or reject his invitation to dwell in us, but his desire for his creation and for his created, is that we not separate him from our lives and work.

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

God’s Presence Today

“For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?” (Deut. 4:7)

These are the words of Moses reminding the Israelites how faithful their God had been by being present to them as they left Egypt, crossed the Red Sea to Mt. Sanai and wandered in the desert for forty years. This was in contrast to all other nations where the presence of their so-called gods was governed by the location of their temple or an idol representing them.

As unusual as God’s presence to Israel was at that point in history, we are blessed today by even a greater closeness to God as a result of his becoming one of us in the person of Jesus. God is available to us today through Jesus and the power of his Holy Spirit far beyond what people could have dreamed in Moses’ day and even what many of us may expect today.

We remember Jesus’s promise to the disciples just before his ascension. “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20) But even more specific, he promised at the last supper, “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.” (John 14:23)

Think of it. The God of all creation wants to take up residence in us! Not in a temple or an idol or on top of a high place; he wants to be present in us at all times! Then, there are of course the sacraments where we can experience Jesus’s presence such as in the Eucharist. He wants us to love him and the people in our lives as we love ourselves.

On some weekends, I have the blessing of taking communion to the sick, and to the residents of a local nursing home and the county jail. While I am bringing the presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist to them, I also pray that his presence in me through the Holy Spirit will be evident by my listening, encouraging and praying with them.

Among those I visit is a beautiful lady who is 105 and lives with her granddaughter. For the sake of this post, let me call her Dottie. Even though Dottie doesn’t hear well she loves to talk and share experiences from her long life. She has a note pad with a felt pen for people to ask questions or write what they want to say to her, but mostly I listen. Here are some of the things she has shared with me.

“Love covers a lot of wrongs. I am not a perfect person, but God gives me a lot of love, so I love and that makes up for me not being perfect. I have found that it is easier to be happy than sad, and it’s also more fun. So, at my age, I just think happy thoughts.

“Satan is always hanging around to cause us trouble, but I just tell him, ‘Satan, be gone!’ And he runs from me. He is very tricky. He tries to get us to do things we shouldn’t do, but I tell him, ‘You get out of here.’” Her observations are in fact quite scriptural. (1Peter 5:8; James 4:7)

So, here we have God’s presence not only in the Eucharist, but also in Dottie and me, both bringing his love and presence to one another.

Separating Ourselves and Others from Jesus

“Send the crowds away.” (Mt. 14:15)

These words were spoken by the disciples to Jesus because they were concerned about the crowds needing to get something to eat. Jesus responded that they did not need to go away, that the disciples should give them something to eat. The disciples protested that they only had five loaves and two fish. Jesus asked that the loaves and the fish be brought to him. He gave thanks, and broke them and gave them to the disciples to distribute to the crowd. Matthew reports that “they all ate and were satisfied,” a crowd of five thousand men, besides women and children.

This was not the first time that the disciples tried to keep people from getting to Jesus. We might recall the time when people were bringing their little children to Jesus to have him touch them. “When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’” Luke 18:15-17)

The disciples rebuked Bartimaeus and told him to be quiet as he shouted out to Jesus to heal his blindness. (Mark 10:46-52) In another incident they told Jairus, who had asked Jesus to come and heal his daughter, not to bother Jesus any longer after word came that his daughter had died.   But Jesus went on to raise his daughter to life. (Luke 8:49-50)

How often do we unwittingly seek to separate others or ourselves from Jesus?

The possibilities are numerous — letting our kid’s soccer game or an invitation to play golf on Sunday morning get in the way of attending church; sleeping in and missing a time we had set aside for prayer; being a bad example to our children on an issue of integrity; holding on to anger and refusing to forgive another for some slight or wrong done to us; any kind of sin that tends to drive a wedge between us and God. Even though we may not realize it, all of these examples tend to build separation between us or others and God.

Rather, our actions should be like the friends of the paralytic who carried him on a mat and tried to lay him before Jesus to heal him. When they could not break through the crowd to get to Jesus, they carried the paralytic up on the roof, removed the tiles and lowered him down in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith and the efforts to which they had gone, he healed the paralytic and forgave him of his sins. (Luke 5:17-26)

One of our prime responsibilities as Christian parents is to introduce our children to Jesus. We should encourage them by our word and example to grow in their faith so that they will be able to live out that faith in their own lives.

Jesus called us to make disciples and teach them everything he commanded. Then he promised his presence would always be with us.

“I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise.” (Psalm 119:58)

Finishing the Race

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)

These are the words of Paul to Timothy while Paul is under house arrest in Rome and expects his martyrdom to take place soon.  Paul is reflecting on his life since meeting Jesus on the Road to Damascus, and his call from Jesus to bring the message of Christ to the Gentiles.  He is concluding that he has kept the faith in fighting the battle Jesus gave him and has now finished that battle and race.

Last week, Ann, a good friend of ours from Armonk, New York left this physical world to be with God the Father.  Like Paul, who brought the message and presence of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles two thousand years ago, Ann did the same in her time and place. 

I first met Ann as a fellow volunteer religion education teacher of high school students in our small Catholic parish.  She had a smile that radiated the joy and love of Jesus.  Her smile sparkled like a diamond and served like a magnet, drawing people to her, and thus to Christ.  Since I had never served in the role of a religion teacher before, she befriended me and became kind of a mentor.

After a few months, she started inviting my wife and me to various spiritual related events. One such invitation was to a week of Renewal in the Holy Spirit conducted by a group of nuns from Scarsdale at a nearby parish.  The result was that we both ended up experiencing the release of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

It was a watershed moment for both of us, renewing our relationship with Jesus and totally changing our perspective on all of the priorities of our lives.  And what was the driving force for this amazing impact – the loving and gentle persistence of Ann, conveying the love and joy of God, as reflected in that beautiful smile. 

The last time I saw Ann was in a nursing home with her husband Tony, living nearby one of their adult children.  Though she was in a wheelchair and partially paralyzed from a stroke, she still had that beautiful smile.

Before Paul’s imprisonment in Rome when he was saying his final farewell to the Ephesians, he prayed that he would “complete the task the Lord Jesus had given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”  (Acts 20:24)

While Ann fulfilled many tasks that the Lord had given her – loving and supporting her husband, Tony, for over 60 years, raising a family of three daughters and one son, she, like Paul, brought the love and message of Christ to many.

Ann, may you rest in the Father’s arms free of all physical limitation, with your beautiful smile still reflecting the joy and presence of God.

Mocking Jesus and his Followers

“But they laughed at him.” 

This was the reaction of the crowd who were crying and wailing over the death of Jairus’s daughter when Jesus said, “The child is not dead but asleep.” (Mark 5:21-43)  Jesus proved the mockers wrong when he raised the little girl to life.  Mark reports that their mocking turned to astonishment.

When reflecting on the mocking of Jesus we often think of his trial and crucifixion when the Roman soldiers put a crown of thorns on his head, a staff in his hand and knelt before him saying, “Hail King of the Jews.” (Mt. 27:29)  But the mocking started from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry when the devil began his temptations of Jesus with the words, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”  The devil was mocking Jesus and his being the son of God soon after Jesus heard the words from his Father, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”  (Mt. 3:17)

Even Jesus predicted his mocking to the disciples when he said, “They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him.” (Mt. 27:29)

We who follow Jesus are not exempt from being mocked for our faith.  Once in a gathering of several employees where I worked including one of our senior executives, I happened to mention that I was involved with an organization with the name of Christians in Commerce, whose mission was to encourage people to live out their faith in their work.  The senior executive started laughing and saying that Christians in Commerce was an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.  All of my fellow employees started laughing as well, taking joy in my discomfort and piling on with similar mocking statements.

What was interesting was that when I was later with this executive with no one else present, he would ask me all kinds of questions about Christians in Commerce, the Bible and God.  This happened several times.  While he may have not realized it, he was searching for God.  We had worked together at various times along our respective career paths, so we had a good and credible relationship with one another, and were able to have meaningful conversations.

Proverbs 9:7 says, “Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult.”  Jesus did not respond to people who mocked him.  He let his works be his response.  After his arrest, he did not respond to his accusers and mockers; he let God respond for him with his resurrection.

So, how should we respond when we are mocked for our Christian faith?

First, we should stop and ask the Lord what he wants us to do.  There may be circumstances where we have the opportunity to clarify a misunderstanding.  Then again, he may want us to trust in him and say nothing, like Jesus — letting God act then or at a later date.   For me with this executive, I was given an opportunity to speak about all kinds of things with respect to Christians in Commerce and my faith at later date.

Two Become One

DSC_0321So, they are no longer two, but one.” (Mt. 19:6)

These are Jesus’ words spoken to some Pharisees who were trying to test him about whether divorce was permissible.  Jesus responded, “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator made them ‘male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.  So they are no longer two, but one.  Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate.’”  (Mt. 19:4-6; Gen. 2:24)

My wife, Marilynn and I celebrated our 56th wedding anniversary on Saturday.  We were married back in a day when a simple brunch for family following mass was an adequate celebration and five dollars was a sufficient gift.

I once heard a speaker say that the bringing together of two separate and independent wills and making them one is surely an act of God’s grace, for how else could it be sustained.   Only God’s grace can transform the self-focus inherent in most individuals, to the love and care for the other marriage partner and his or her welfare.

But as Genesis indicates, marriage is part of God’s plan for his creation.  “Male and female he created them.  God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and rule over it.’” He placed them in the Garden of Eden “to work and take care of it.” (Genesis 1:27-28; 2:15)  It only follows that God would bless and have a special grace for people who are attempting to carry out his will and plan for creation.

Still, we live our lives in the world and the flesh with the enemy of God always at work in attempting to detract us from God’s will and plan.  We learn from Jesus that his call to follow him in pursuit of the Father entails an ever increasing dying to self in order to love and serve him, our marriage partner, our children and all the other people God puts in our lives.

Like all marriages, we have experienced both blessings and challenges, but we believe the blessings have outnumbered the challenges.

As we reflected on year fifty-six, we concluded that our love for one another has grown deeper over the years – so many memories – working together in our challenges – sharing in our blessings.  

“Teach me, Lord, your way, that I may walk in your truth, single-hearted and revering your name.” (Psalm 86:11)

Letting the Holy Spirit do His Work

“He will take from what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:14)

These are among Jesus’ last words to the disciples before his arrest and execution.  Jesus is explaining the importance of the Holy Spirit to them, and that the Holy Spirit cannot come to them until he leaves and returns to the Father.  He goes on to explain, “Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he [the Holy Spirit] will take from what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:15)

This is amazing!  Everything that is God’s is Jesus’s – God’s wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge and reverence (Isaiah 11:2); and everything that is Jesus’s the Holy Spirit will declare to us and make available to us!  

We will recall that after Jesus’ resurrection, he instructed the disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, that “In a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” and “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” (Acts 1:4-5, 8)

So, God, the creator of all that exists, becomes one of us in the person of Jesus.  All that God is resides in Jesus, and Jesus says all that he is and has will become available to us through the Holy Spirit.

Let me share a story that I may have related before, but may help illustrate how the Holy Spirit working through us can impact a situation.  One day a number of years ago, Ann, a young woman who was a word processor in our legal department came to see me at the urging of my secretary.  She was a couple of years out of high school, had become pregnant, and the prospective father refused to take any responsibility.  She had little family or support in the area, didn’t think she could be a mother and was thinking about having an abortion.

I don’t remember all that was said, but we talked for a long time about how she was carrying a real person inside her and how God had already given that little person a soul and an identity.  We talked, she cried, and we prayed.  I remember praying with her that God would show her love and give her wisdom and courage.  I didn’t tell her what to do.  A few weeks later, she decided to have the baby and then decided to raise the baby herself as a single mother.

Our paths didn’t seem to cross much after that for many years until she came up to greet me at a reception for my retirement.  She asked if I remembered our conversation and reported that her son was now sixteen years old.  Over the course of my last week of work, I was the beneficiary of many kind words, courtesies and gifts, but the greatest honor and gift was to be reminded of that conversation and hear about Ann’s son.

While I may have not realized it at the time, the Holy Spirit was working through me to bring God’s love and support to Ann.  Several gifts of the Holy Spirit were in play – wisdom, knowledge, courage, faith, prophesy and love.  I wasn’t thinking about them. They were just present to Ann through me and the action of the Holy Spirit.  As a result, one life was changed – Ann’s – and another life was allowed to live – her son’s.

“I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)