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Acknowledging Jesus before Others

“Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.” (Mt.10: 32)

After experiencing a new relationship with Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, I was eager to share about my experience with others.  One of the first persons I shared with was Pete, a colleague who I had worked closely with earlier in our respective careers for a large international oil company.  He seemed quite open to hearing about my experience and its impact on my life.

A few weeks later I was at a company reception and met the executive who headed up our operating division.  I was wearing a dove in my lapel which he noticed, and in his gruff New York accent, asked “What’s the bird?”  Feeling a bit intimidated, I said, “It’s a dove.” I then went on hesitantly to explain that to some people it means peace and to others it stands for the Holy Spirit.  He shot back, “What’s it mean to you?”  I said the Holy Spirit, and he said, “Oh,” and walked off.

I thought, “Well, I didn’t handle that very well.”  I was upset with myself for muffing an opportunity to talk about the Lord with one of our senior people.

A week later I was having lunch with Pete.  He was now on the staff of this executive and when he asked Pete why I was wearing a dove lapel pin, Pete shared my entire experience of meeting Jesus in a new and personal way and how it had impacted my life.

Because of Pete’s relationship with this person he was able to share my testimony in a way that I would never have been able to do myself.  This person later became the CEO of the company.

Jesus was rather emphatic with the importance he placed on us bringing his life, truth and presence to the people and circumstances in our lives.  He warned, “But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” (Mt. 10:33)

When is it appropriate to share our faith and testimony with others?

It is noteworthy that when Jesus sent out the twelve and the seventy-two, he instructed them not to go from house to house, but stay in one place, build relationships and serve the people by healing their illnesses and casting out demons.  Only after they had done those things were they to proclaim the gospel and that the kingdom of God was at hand. (Luke 10: 1-24)

This guidance is appropriate for us as well.  While God is able to act in any circumstance, we represent him best when we develop a relationship and seek to serve the needs of the person before we start sharing our own experience with the Lord.  Words have more credibility when preceded by friendship and service.  Missionaries have been following this practice for centuries.

Jesus said, “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be as shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.” (Mt. 10:16)

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Seeking God’s Will in Moral Choices

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom. 12:2)

Pat had just completed her master’s degree in Instructional Design and was having difficulty finding work in her field.  Finally she was hired to complete the last six months of work on a three year federal grant at a small college.  The purpose of the grant was to build a media center in the college’s Agricultural Department to create more engaging learning methods using the media center facilities.

Part of Pat’s work was to conduct surveys on the effectiveness of the grant and then write an evaluation which would be sent to the federal agency supplying the grant.  When Pat presented her report to the department chair, he asked her to remove certain negative findings coming out of the surveys relating to the faculty’s lack of use of the media center.

The department chair did not want the college – or himself — to look bad, which led to his request to revise the report.  Pat says, “When I balked at signing a revised report, the department chair reminded me they were seriously considering offering me a permanent position after the grant ended.  He implied if I went along with the request, I could continue to work for the university.  He also implied that my lack of cooperation would make the post-grant job disappear.”

Pat refused to sign the revised report.  The department chair relented and forwarded the report to the federal government as Pat had written it.  But as he had indicated, the subsequent job never materialized.

In seeking God’s will on her choice, Pat reflected, “This was my first professional work after receiving my degree.  If I started my career this way, how could it not have an impact on how I conducted myself later on?”

Pope Francis in his recent book, Our Father, says, “God does not conceal his will; he makes it known to those who seek it.  He does not force those who are not interested in his will, but he is waiting for them.  He is always waiting.”

Referring to the story of Adam’s fall in Genesis, Pope Francis says there are always two symptoms to saying no to God’s will – fear and accusing others for our mistakes.  As soon as Adam ate the fruit from the tree of good and evil, he became fearful and hid himself from God.  When God confronted him with having eaten the forbidden fruit, he sought to blame Eve for his failing.

In Pat’s story she could have acceded to the department chair’s request to eliminate the negative findings in her report out of fear of losing the opportunity for continued employment.  She could have also blamed her choice on the coercive actions of the department chair.

Pat chose to do neither, but instead sought God’s will in making the right moral choice. 

Persevering in God’s Will

Seeking to carry out God’s will is not always easy and can often be met with numerous obstacles.   

Examples are endless.  Decisions with respect to vocation or career, responding to a difficult boss or work colleague, nurturing the Christian upbringing of children, balancing the demands of work and family; being generous with our time and money; setting aside time for daily prayer – and many more.

Perseverance is a characteristic nearly always found in the saints.  St. Paul’s life is a running narrative of perseverance.  From the time of Jesus’ personal call to him on the road to Damascus, to his death in Rome, St. Paul encountered rejection and persecution throughout most of his ministry.

He was forced to flee Iconium; he was stoned in Lystra; he and Silas were beaten and imprisoned in Philippi; his presence in Thessalonica and Ephesus provoked riots; and he was ridiculed in Athens.  On his last trip to Jerusalem, he was arrested and held for two years by the Roman governor, Felix, who refused to release him, hoping to receive a bribe.  He was later sent to Rome and was under house arrest for two years before his eventual death.

In his own words he says, “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move.  I have labored and toiled and have gone without sleep… Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (2 Cor. 11:24-28)

Most of us are not likely to experience these severe difficulties in fulfilling God’s will, but we can expect to encounter various challenges. 

As an attorney for a large oil company, in my mid-40’s I was offered an assignment that would have required our family to move back to New York from northern Virginia.  It was a career enhancing assignment, but we had three teenage daughters and a two year old son at the time.  My wife and I discerned that our daughters were all in a good place with good schools and Christian friends, and we were not sure we could replicate those conditions in New York.  Therefore, I declined the offer.

While I did not lose my job because of this decision, further advancement in my career was certainly put on hold.  Not long afterwards, I was asked to take a position I had previously held in order to give a “more promotable person” the experience of my current job.  I started to see attorneys who used to report to me being promoted over me.  I would like to report that I accepted all of this with understanding and grace, but I struggled mightily for several years.

In the meantime, God blessed us with another daughter; the teenage daughters we were concerned about completed their education, met wonderful husbands and are now raising Christian families of their own. The same is true for our son.

After about five years, my career seemed to get off its side track. Now in retirement, as I divide my time with family and a couple of Christian ministries, we could not be more blessed.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with perseverance the race marked before us.”  (Hebrews 12:1)

Belief’s Impact on Family

How important is our belief in Jesus on family and household?

There is a fascinating story in Acts where Paul and Silas are beaten and imprisoned for delivering a slave girl from an evil spirit.  This deprived the owners of the slave girl from earning money from her fortune telling.  As a result they dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace and incited the people and magistrates to order them to be flogged and imprisoned.

Placed in an inner cell with their feet fastened in stocks, Paul and Silas started praying and singing hymns at midnight.  Suddenly there was a violent earthquake, the prison doors flew open and their chains came loose.  The jailer, thinking everyone had escaped, drew his sword and was about to kill himself.  Paul shouted, “Do not harm yourself! We are all here!”

The jailer fell trembling before Paul and Silas and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.” (Acts 16:30-31) They then spoke the word of the Lord to the jailer and all the others in his house and they were baptized.

Because of the practice of holding jailers responsible with their life if prisoners escaped, the jailer may have been thinking about how he could save his life.  Paul was intent on saving not only his life but also his soul and giving him eternal life, and the rest of his household as well.

We may not fully appreciate the impact that our belief in the Lord Jesus has on the rest of our family and members of our household.   I thank God for the Christian heritage that I received from my mother and father, my grandparents and those who went before them.  I believe that there is a certain grace that flows from such a heritage that nurtures the gift of faith God desires for each of us.

While the heirs of such a heritage are free to reject the gift of faith, a heritage of faith enriches the soil into which the seed of faith is planted.  The greater the example of a life lived by faith on the part of the parents, the more fertile the soil in the children to receive the seeds of faith, and for those seeds to grow and mature. 

How often have we seen a rebellious son or daughter come back to the faith through a parent’s example and prayers of intercession?  St. Augustine is one of the more notable examples who returned to God through the intercession of his mother, Monica, after having lived a rather promiscuous life for a number of his early adult years.

St. Paul tells us that an unbelieving spouse is sanctified by a believing spouse. (1 Cor. 7:14)  Our belief in Jesus and how we live out that belief is not just for our individual benefit, but part of God’s plan to spread the faith to others, particularly our own family and household.

“So then they said to him, ‘What can we do to accomplish the works of God?’ Jesus answered, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.’” (John 6:28-29)

Faith vs. Presumption

When are we acting on faith and when are we being presumptuous with God?

The gospels are full of Jesus’ words about the importance of faith.  He says if we have faith as small as mustard seed we can move mountains.  To the Canaanite woman, the leper, the paralytic, the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years and blind Bartimaeus, he says, “Your faith has healed you.”

Yet, we cannot presume that God will always protect us from evil and harm.  As Jesus challenged the disciples with the question of whether the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices were worse sinners because they suffered in this way, he answered, “I tell you, no!” (Luke 13:3)

There is an interesting story in Acts where the Sadducees who were jealous of the apostles for performing many miraculous signs and wonders in the name of Jesus, have them imprisoned.  They are brought before the Sanhedrin who wanted to put them to death.  A Pharisee by the name of Gamaliel persuades them not to kill them, but they are still flogged before they are released.  The apostles rejoiced because they had been counted worthy of suffering for the name of Jesus. (Acts 5:17-42)

We may remember the words of Job to his wife when she challenged him for holding on to his faith in God after God lets Satan take his property and family, and inflicts him with the physical torment of boils from the soles of his feet to the top of his head.  Job’s retort, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10)

While Christians in America have generally escaped persecution for most our history, recent trends indicate this may no longer be true.  In the last decade we have seen growing efforts to criminalize some of our Christian beliefs about life and principles of natural law.  For example, the first amendment guarantee of the free exercise of religion in the daily actions of our lives is being eroded by the redefinitions of what constitutes discrimination in the marketplace, and what constitutes hate speech even when reciting God’s word.

A number of years ago I had a work colleague who was Jewish.  He shared with me how his family had lost relatives in the holocaust of World War II.  He and his family were still bitter against Christians in Germany who did not stand up against the Nazis for the persecution, forced encampment and genocide of Jews.

As Christians, we are called to stand up for our beliefs and the advancement of God’s will and kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  Jesus said, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.  But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” (Mt. 10:32)

While Jesus calls us to faith, we cannot presume to escape persecution or suffering.  In fact he says, “In the world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

A Life Well-Lived

John Mooney (2)“I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ said the Spirit, ‘let them find rest from their labors, for their works accompany them.’” (Rev. 14:13)

What a wonderful thought!  All that we do for the Lord in this life goes with us into the next and into the resurrection.  It is like a bonus added to eternal life promised by Jesus.  All that we have done for the Lord in raising a family, being a good steward of God’s creation through our work, loving our spouse, children and others, witnessing to the Lord through our conduct  and sharing the good news with others – all of these actions do not die with the death of our physical bodies.  They accompany us in some way into the next phase of life after life.

This past weekend, I traveled from Virginia to Sedona, Arizona to attend the funeral and celebration of the life of John Mooney, a good friend and Christian brother whom I have known for 33 years.  

John was one of three founders of Christians in Commerce, an international Christian ministry whose mission is to encourage and equip Christians to be God’s presence in the workplace, bringing faith, integrity and excellence.

John was a mentor, teacher, evangelist and friend to hundreds of Christian men and women, including yours truly.  I still carry in my Bible a frayed edged, handwritten guide to daily prayer that John gave me more than 30 years ago.

At his funeral mass, there was a sizable contingent of men from Christians in Commerce not only from Arizona, but also from around the country.  We were privileged to be able to sing two of John’s favorite hymns at the beginning of the service, Rise Up O Men of God and He is Exalted.  During the homily, the presiding priest asked how many people John had mentored and a large number of people from around the church raised their hands.

John was instrumental in starting a number of the local chapters of Christians in Commerce in both Arizona and California, many of whom still exist today.  He owned and managed a chain of retail shoe stores.  He carried the vision of Christians in Commerce into his work in how he dealt with his employees, customers and suppliers in the policies he established to manage his business.

John was renowned for his airplane stories of befriending whoever was sitting next to him, gently inquiring into their lives and moving the conversation into one about Jesus.  These conversations would often end with John praying with the person for whatever need they may have had.

In all that he did, he always maintained his personal touch with the people in his life.  Whenever he was in the Washington, D. C. area, he would usually stay with us.  When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer a number of years ago, John called my wife first before talking to me in order to give her assurance and support.

The trail of John’s works for the Lord, accompanying him into his new life, is long and varied.  His family and all of us who were present at his funeral rejoiced in a life well-lived.

Overcoming the Spiritual Blahs

Do you struggle with spiritual dryness from time to time?  I certainly do.  St. Augustine offers an appropriate remedy for spiritual dryness.

In commenting on Jesus’ commandment to “to love one another as I have loved you,” Augustine says, “This is the kind of love that renews us.  When we love as he loved us we become new men, heirs of the new covenant and singers of the new song.”  He says this kind of love is distinguished from natural love by the qualification: “as I have loved you.”  (John 15:12)

So, the lesson seems to be, if you want renewal in your life, love others as Jesus loves us.  And, how does Jesus love us?  By the greatest act of humility ever recorded, he became one of his created.  Then, after teaching, modeling, encouraging, listening, healing and serving, he laid down his life for us.  He characterizes the latter action as, “No one has greater love than this.” (John 15:13)

If someone were keeping score, I am sure I have had many more failures to love according to this standard than successes, but nevertheless, I am blessed with a loving family and other opportunities to love as Jesus loved.

One such opportunity involves taking communion to shut-ins and a nearby senior living center.  On Palm Sunday and Easter this year, I had the privilege of taking communion to a lovely and gracious lady who is a 104 years young.

What a delightful person she was and what a blessing it was to listen to her share about her outlook on life and the events of her life transpiring over a century in time.  I was advised that while she could speak without any problem, she had some difficulty hearing and that there would be a pad nearby her chair that I could use to ask her questions or comment on what she would say.  Surprisingly, this method of communication did not deter or limit our conversation.  I would listen to what she had to say, and then write out a comment or question.

I heard about where she and her late husband were born, about his Scottish heritage, her children and grandchildren and their families.  It turned out that we had some similarities in our heritage and in the number of children we had, and in my mother-in-law who lived to be 103.  This just delighted her.  Each time I took her communion, we visited for more than thirty minutes.

Of her many gems of wisdom, my favorite was, “At my age, I think only nice thoughts.”

In the weeks following these visits, my spirit was renewed.  My prayer time and reading of scripture took on a new life and vibrancy.  St. Augustine was right.