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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)

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Imitating the Star – A Prosecutor Leading a Defendant to Christ

untitledAs we know from listening to the story of the Magi every Christmas season, it was the star that guided and led the Magi to the Christ child.

Saint Leo the Great (Pope, 440 to 461) said we should imitate the star of Bethlehem in guiding and leading people to Jesus.   How appropriate, following on our celebration of Christmas and the incarnation of God becoming one of us in the person of Jesus!

God calls us to be an extension of his incarnation – God’s presence in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said, “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)

Just as God took on flesh and blood through the power of the Holy Spirit with the Virgin Mary, so too, he takes on flesh and blood in us through the power of Holy Spirit – in our baptism and as we continue to open the door of our hearts to Jesus. (Rev: 3:19-20)

God calls us to be his presence in the world and to bring that presence to the people in our lives — family, friends, colleagues and strangers.   In leading people to Jesus, we tend to think that this has to happen from our words of persuasion, but most of the time it is our conduct that persuades more than our words. 

John was a county prosecutor from Duluth, Minnesota.  One of his early prosecutions involved a former high school friend, Jim.  Over the next 26 years John would prosecute Jim a dozen times for theft-related crimes to support a chemical dependency.  During the first few prosecutions John looked on Jim as just another hopeless criminal.  Then John started praying for Jim.

In the last prosecution of Jim it was determined that he was terminally ill with sclerosis of the liver, and the judge assigned him to a hospice outside of prison.  Jim requested his attorney to ask John to pray for him.

Over the next six months, John did more than just pray for Jim.  He visited him two to three times a week at the hospice facility.  They reminisced about growing up in the 1950s and talked about their favorite baseball teams.  They also started reading the Bible together.  That fall, Jim repented of his sins and surrendered his life to Jesus Christ.  He died in late November.

“Over those last six months I frequently called Jim ‘brother’ because we had become brothers in Christ,” said John.  “Jim loved reading and praying the psalms.  God used Jim to teach me about acceptance of suffering and perseverance, and he showed me that it’s never too late to say yes to the Lord, no matter what we have done in the past.”

John concludes, “Because God answers prayers, Jim said ‘yes’ to Christ before he died, and I know he is in paradise today – just like another thief who died on a cross next to Jesus 2000 years ago.” 

Like the star of Bethlehem, John led Jim to Jesus through his visits, conversation, prayers and love.  He was God’s presence to Jim.

Fear vs. Trust

shadow-of-christmas-massacreFear and insecurity can be a terribly destructive force in our lives. 

This is illustrated by the visit of the Magi with King Herod who told him of their search of the “newborn king of the Jews.”  Matthew reports that “When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all of Jerusalem with him.”  Herod consulted with the chief priests and scribes who told him that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem.  When Herod learned that the Magi had ignored his instruction to return and inform him of the location of the Baby Jesus, he was furious and ordered all baby boys two years and younger in Bethlehem to be killed. (Mt. 2:1-18)

This horrific act was precipitated by Herod’s fear and insecurity of losing his position as King of Judea.  According to the Jerome Biblical Commentary, the Jewish historian, Josephus, “depicts Herod as being pathologically jealous of his power – a number of his family were murdered by him because he suspected them trying to supplant him.”

The potential list of fears for many of us runs long and deep.  We fear for our safety, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or position, the loss of our money and possessions.  We fear how we will look or be judged by others. We fear underperforming or not doing our best.  We fear illness, disability and loss of independence.

In the workplace, we may be tempted to tell the boss what he or she wants to hear rather than the truth, out of fear of incurring his or her disfavor.

We may even fear getting too close to God and what he may ask of us.  When Peter saw the miraculous catch of fish as a result of Jesus’ presence, he said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” He and the others were seized with fear, but Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching men.” (Luke 5:8-10)

Jesus does not want us to live our lives in fear.  Instead, he wants us to trust in him – in his love and provision.  For a long time I have suffered from insomnia at various times that has resulted in my becoming fearful of not going to sleep.  Neither sleeping pills nor the proverbial nightcap provided a reliable remedy.  In discussing my situation with a priest friend a few months ago, he suggested that my problem may not be insomnia as much as a lack of trust in God.  He encouraged me to pray several times a day, “Lord help me to trust more in you.”

I have followed his advice and my sleeping has improved many-fold without resort to the prior presumed aids.

How ironic that out of fear, Herod sought to destroy the one true antidote to fear – Jesus, the Messiah and son of God.  For the King of Kings says:

“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.” (Mt. 6:25)  To Jarius, when told that his daughter had died, Jesus said, Do not be afraid; just believe.” (Mark 5:36) On the night of his arrest, he told his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Why We Celebrate Christmas

After hearing the Christmas story over and over, year after year, its true meaning and impact may fade against the backdrop of today’s culture.  Yet, if we think about it, God’s willingness to become one of us is the greatest act of humility and love in all of human history.  “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” John 1:14

Here we have God, the Father, creator of all that exists, creator of the millions of galaxies and the billions of stars whose distance is measured in light years; this God who created the atom and the molecule whose size is measured in nanometers – that’s one billionth of a meter; this God who created the human person with a body, soul, and mind, became one of his created in order to free each of us from our sins and the world from its bondage to sin – to reconcile us to him and one another.   

Father William Barry, in his book, A Friendship Like No Other, says, “God took humanity seriously enough to become one of us, and we do God no service if we downplay what God has done in becoming human.”

God in Jesus was a real human being, born of Mary in the humblest of circumstances in a cave or stable with animals nearby.  He had to be toilet trained, learn a language and be raised from childhood to an adult just as we all have been.   His family was forced into exile to Egypt to escape the sword of Herod. He evidently followed his earthly father, Joseph, in the trade of a carpenter, for the people of Nazareth were later to ask, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” (Mark 6:3)

After assuming his public ministry, the leaders of his own religion handed him over to the Romans to die a horrible death.  God is no stranger to suffering.  God in Jesus knows what human life is like from the inside.  His desire for friendship, to dwell with us and in us knows no bounds.

A cobbler does not become a shoe, a cabinet maker does not become a cabinet, but God the Father and creator of all that exists became one of us.  Little wonder that history’s calendar is measured in terms of before and after this event.

Let us celebrate the birth of Jesus for what it is – the greatest act of humility and love in all of history.

Birth by the Holy Spirit

thenativity%20600%20x%20300The birth of the baby Jesus and our spiritual birth have a common element.  The agent for both is the Holy Spirit.

The conception of Jesus in Mary was brought about by the Holy Spirit.  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”  (Luke 1:35)

The same Holy Spirit is the source of our spiritual birth.  Jesus said to Nicodemus, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” (John 3:3, 5)

Both Mary and Nicodemus asked the same question, “How can this be?”  Both the angel, Gabriel and Jesus gave the same answer.  It is by the Holy Spirit that these things happen. 

As a result, Jesus instructed the disciples before his ascension not to leave Jerusalem, “but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit… and “will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1: 4-5, 8)

Thus, as Jesus was born through the power of the Holy Spirit, so too was the Church.  And so too, are we.  As St. Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17)

Ever since I was a young boy growing up in a small town in Iowa, I have experienced a special feeling of God’s presence on Christmas Eve.  It is a feeling of peace and love.  A calm descends; the earth is quiet from all the hurrying and scurrying of Christmas preparations.  It is the Holy Spirit.

When I was old enough to drive, I would often leave the house after our Christmas Eve traditions with family were completed and drive through various neighborhoods in our small town.  Very few cars were on the roads.  Some houses would be dark.  Others would be full of lights with people inside celebrating the coming of the baby Jesus.

The words of the song Silent Night gently echoed: “Silent night, Holy night; All is calm, All is bright.”

As we move closer to the celebration of Christmas this year, let us remember the role of the Holy Spirit – the means by which the creator of all that exists became one of us through the Virgin Mary, and the means by which we can experience God’s presence and saving grace at this very moment.

Jesus, the Great Multiplier

CIC_FoundersCropWe are familiar with the story reported in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus took five loaves of bread and two fish, gave thanks, and proceeded to distribute the bread and fish to a crowd of five thousand men, not counting women and children.   

“They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve baskets of broken pieces of bread and fish” that were left over. (Mark 6:30-44)

The five loaves and two fish were of course, insufficient to feed such a large crowd, but Jesus took what was insufficient and made it sufficient.

He does the same thing with us.  He takes what is insufficient – our faith, our love, our knowledge, our wisdom, our various skills – and makes them sufficient to carry out his will and purpose.

Thirty-six years ago, three men in three different cities were trying to develop some kind of Christian outreach to people in business.  Each of them was trying to serve a need – helping people in business to see how God was calling them to impact the marketplace by bringing the presence of Christ to bear through their day-to-day actions.

Two of them, Louie Grams from Minneapolis and John Mooney from Phoenix, Arizona, met at a conference and discovered they were each trying to do the same thing.  Thereafter, Louie and Bud Rose from South Bend, Indiana got together and started to develop a format for a possible retreat.  They then met with John, and together prayed and asked God how they should proceed.

Over a couple of different weekends their prayer resulted in the outlines for a weekend retreat where attendees would be given a vision of being Christ in the workplace.  They would be encouraged and equipped to be God’s presence in their work by the power of the Holy Spirit, exercising faith, integrity and excellence in their day-to-day actions.  They would be challenged to be good stewards of God’s creation, using their talents, time, money and possessions to impact how business gets done.

Today, Christians in Commerce (CIC) has thirty-three chapters across the United States, with a multitude of small groups meeting weekly.  Fifteen thousand people have attended the weekend retreats and have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to make a difference in their workplaces. Twenty-three chapters in Africa have brought Christian renewal not only to Christian business people, but also to marriages, and youth.  Food for the poor and numerous water wells have contributed to the welfare of many communities.

Publications by CIC include a monthly newsletter and daily e-mail reflections which apply God’s word to workplace related challenges and issues.  Podcasts share stories of people being Christ to the people and circumstances in their workplaces.  A recent video based workshop, Working for our Father, gives people a vision for how important their work is to God and how it is a part of his plan for creation.

As Jesus multiplied the five loaves and two fish, we see how God takes the inspiration he has given to three men, and multiplies their efforts by the power of the Holy Spirit into something none of them would have been able to do on their own. 

Whatever task we face, let us call on Jesus, the Great Multiplier, to assist our every action!

Unknowingly Searching for God

Are we created with a built-in desire to search for and come to know God?

The Gospel of Mark reports that after King Herod had John the Baptist imprisoned, he liked to listen to him.  He had imprisoned John at the urging of his wife, Herodias because she resented John pointing out that she was also the wife of Phillip, Herod’s brother.

Herodias wanted to kill John, but initially she was not able to do so, “because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man.  When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.” (Mark 6:20)

How fascinating!  Herod was attracted to what John had to say, so he apparently visited him from time to time in prison.  He may have been puzzled by John’s words, but he was still drawn to listen.  Though he may not have realized it, Herod was searching for God.

Once when a work colleague learned that I was involved with a ministry called Christians in Commerce, he laughed and loudly proclaimed that the name, Christians in Commerce, was an oxymoron.  When we were with other colleagues he would kid me about the ministry and mock my Christianity, but when we were alone he would ask all kinds of questions about the ministry and passages from scripture that he did not understand or agree with.  He would not admit it, but he was searching for God.

God creates us with a desire to seek him and the truth about life and existence.  It may not be a desire that is obvious to us.  Yet, we all seek meaning, purpose and what is real in life.  

We are attracted to the truth.  When Jesus explained the meaning of the scriptures about himself to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection, the disciples exclaimed, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

When Pilate was questioning Jesus about whether he was a king, Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king.  In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37)

Unfortunately, our sin and the distractions of the world can often keep us from listening to Jesus.  We listen to other voices that obscure the truth and the message God has for us.  Paul speaks to this problem in his letter to the Romans when he says, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” (Romans 1:25)

Fortunately, God never stops working to draw us to him.  In honor of our free will, he never forces our acceptance of him.  But he made it part of our DNA to seek meaning and truth.  As St. Augustan said, 

         “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it                rests with you.”