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Trusting God in High Winds

“He awakened, rebuked the wind and the waves, and they subsided and there was calm.” (Luke 8:24)

We may recall the story when Jesus and the disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee. A furious squall came up with waves breaking over the boat. The disciples woke Jesus who was sleeping, exclaiming that they were going to drown. Jesus rebukes the wind and the raging waters. The disciples were seized with amazement and fear, asking one another, “Who then is this, who commands even the winds and the sea, and they obey him?” (Luke 8:25)

A few years ago, a friend and I went out on the Potomac River south of Washington,     D. C. Our intention was to go down river a few miles to a crab house, but the wind became so strong that we could not dock safely, so we decided to return to the marina. The Potomac widens to about three miles in this area so the wind has room to kick up.  Our boat is a cruiser with a flying bridge and a canvas Bimini on top, so there is sufficient bulk for the wind to impact the steerage of the boat. My friend, Bud, an experienced sailor, estimated the wind at 35 to 40 miles per hour with white caps everywhere.

I said to Bud that we needed to start praying because the wind would hit us broadside as soon as we started to turn into the alleyway of the marina, causing us to crash into the boats adjacent to our slip. We started praying, “Lord Jesus, you calmed the wind and waves on the Sea of Galilee; calm these winds.  The wind did not abate.  I asked Bud to go down to the stern with a boat hook (pole) to try to keep us from hitting the other boats. We both kept praying, “Jesus, calm the wind, Jesus calm the wind!” The wind kept blowing.

As we approached the alleyway, I told Bud, “I need to come in fast to control the boat.” I was so focused on controlling the boat and yelling instructions at Bud, I didn’t notice what was happening. Bud yelled back, “Bill, the wind has stopped!” I proceeded to pivot the boat and backed into the slip without any difficulty. As soon as we tied up and secured everything, the wind resumed its fury.

There are many ways we can experience high winds in life – a spouse or child who is critically ill, the loss of a job, a life-threatening illness, a boss who cannot be satisfied, a child who struggles making friends, the backbiting of a competitive work colleague, the birth of a child with a disability, a tax deficiency notice from the IRS — the list is long and varied.

Jesus is available to calm the high winds, whatever form they take. Do you call on Jesus when you encounter the winds of life? Do you have faith that he will come to your aid?

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Telling People about Jesus

“The first thing Andrew did was look for his brother, Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.” (John 1:41 NIV)

Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist. John saw Jesus passing by one day and observed to his disciples that Jesus was the “Lamb of God!” Andrew then followed Jesus and spent the day with him.

After meeting Jesus and spending time with him, Andrew, who was also Peter’s brother, immediately went to Peter to share that he had found the Messiah and wanted to introduce him to Jesus.

When I was in my mid-thirties, I met Jesus in a new and personal way, different from anything I had experienced before in the practice of my Catholic faith. While I have shared the details of this encounter in prior blog posts, let me just say that it had the effect of enhancing my faith in God and the Church. It gave me a desire to pray more on a daily basis, read scripture and experience everything about my spiritual and faith life in a more intense and real way.

Like Andrew, one other thing it did was give me a desire to tell others about my experience of meeting Jesus. I was so excited about my encounter and the effect it had on my life that I wanted to share my experience with family, friends and even co-workers.

I remember writing lengthy letters to my parents and a cousin, who was a nun, explaining in great detail all that happened. I shared my experience with a couple of close work colleagues who seemed to accept what I had to say. One of them retold my story to other work colleagues. Some friends invited me to share my experience at a church prayer meeting. One invitation seemed to lead to another.

For over forty years, I have been responding to opportunities to tell people about Jesus, including this weekly blog. Yes, there have been times when I have missed or failed to act on opportunities. But telling people about Jesus and introducing them to him seems to be the way Jesus started out with Andrew, Peter and the others he called. Andrew introduced Peter to Jesus, and Peter, Andrew and the other disciples, with the help of the Holy Spirit, were Jesus’ “witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

We might ask ourselves, have we sought after Jesus like Andrew, and have we sought to introduce him to others?

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Trusting God like Joseph

“Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” (Mt. 2:20)

Three times God speaks to Joseph through an angel in a dream. The first time was to tell him to take Mary as his wife after he had decided to divorce her quietly because she was pregnant. The second time was to flea to Egypt to escape Herod’s efforts to kill the child Jesus. The third time was to return to Israel when it was safe.

The Bible does not reveal many details, so we don’t know the time periods involved or all of the circumstances. Whatever the time, perhaps years, Joseph’s response to the sequence of events exhibited great trust and confidence in God. He accepts an explanation for Mary’s pregnancy that defies all human experience. Then he takes his wife and new baby to a foreign land in reliance on a warning in a dream.

We see the faithfulness of God to Joseph in his multiple words, signs and the evolving circumstances. The angel’s message about Mary giving birth to a son, who was to be a “Savior” and “The Messiah,” was subsequently confirmed by some unknown shepherds who report that angels told them the same thing. (Luke 2:11)

By the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth recognizes Mary as “the mother of my Lord.” (Luke 1:43) Further confirmation comes through the words of Simeon and Anna during the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. (Luke 2:2-38) Then God directs three kingly men from foreign lands to find Jesus, Mary and Joseph and give them gifts that probably sustained them in their flight to Egypt. (Matthew 2:1-12)

Finally, Joseph receives one more message that it is now safe for them to return to Israel. We see trust and faithfulness in Joseph in his willingness to act on the words he had received and in his submission to the circumstances.

What is our level of trust and confidence in God when he gives us that gentle nudge or whispers in our ear? Do we hear him when he speaks through others? Do we see his faithfulness and desire for us in the circumstances of our lives?

Lord, let me trust in you like Joseph.

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Unlikely Heralds

“When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed at what had been told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2: 17-18)

God chose shepherds, one of the humblest of occupations, to be the news media to spread the word of Jesus’ birth. They were told by an angel that a Savior, the long awaited Messiah had been born. They were told where they could find him and how they would recognize him — in Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in an animal’s feeding trough.

We can only imagine the reaction of Mary and Joseph to having some shepherds, complete strangers, visit them and share a story that confirmed what they, too, had been told by an angel – that the son born to Mary was the son of God, Savior and Messiah.

The news of a savior of the world being born is of course pretty amazing stuff. The good news the Shepherds first proclaimed 2000 years ago is just as important to the world today as it was then.

A savior has been born! The creator has become one of his created! God has become one of us through the cooperation of an unknown teenage girl in a remote area of the world under the most humbling of circumstances. The anointed one has come and is present to reconcile God and humankind, and humankind with one another. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, this savior offers to dwell in us, to be present to us and enable us to be and bring his presence to the people and circumstances in our lives.

Like the shepherds, we may consider ourselves unlikely heralds that Jesus is still present in the world today. He is present to all who accept his offer to dwell in them. Like the shepherds, we also have the opportunity to spread the word about Jesus in what we have seen, heard, and experienced.

Are we spreading the word about Jesus, like the shepherds who were the very first to give witness of him? Are we spreading the word by how we live that Jesus Christ is present in the world today through us?

All who hear and see his love, peace and joy through us will be “amazed!”  

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An Incarnation Analogy

Do you ever struggle with grasping the full meaning and purpose of God becoming one of us in the person of Jesus Christ?  

For many years radio commentator Paul Harvey shared the following story at Christmas to help us understand.

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The man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge; he was a kind, decent, mostly good man; generous to his family, and upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas time. It just didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus story, about God coming to Earth as a man.

“I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve.” He said he’d feel like a hypocrite. That he’d much rather stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.

Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound…then another, and then another. Sort of a thump or a thud…at first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.

Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it. Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on the light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them.

So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them…he tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms…instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm lighted barn.

And then he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me…that I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them and confuse them, they just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him.

“If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to safe, warm…to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.” At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells, listening, listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. And he sank to his knees in the snow.

Merry Christmas!

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No Room in the Inn

“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)

How ironic! Jesus experienced rejection even before he was born. There was no room for Jesus in the inn, so Mary and Joseph had to settle for a cave that was used as a stable for animals.

While these circumstances may have served God’s purpose in taking on our humanity in the humblest of settings, you have to wonder what the innkeeper might have done had he known who Mary and Joseph were and what was about to happen.

We should not be too harsh in judging the innkeeper, for how often have we failed to make room for Jesus in our lives? There have been times in my life when I made more room for my career than I did for Jesus. There have been other times, when, like the innkeeper, I did not recognize Jesus in a colleague looking for someone to talk to or the street person looking for help on the streets of New York City. Let me share a story.

When I worked in New York I would sometimes attend daily mass at St. Matthews Catholic Church just a half block east of Grand Central station. Since my train did not arrive until 7:32 and mass started at 7:30, I would always be rushing to get there by the time of the first reading. One day as I was rushing into the church, a man on the church steps asked me to help him, but because I was so programed to get into the church I ran right by him.

As I sat down I thought to myself, “What did I just do?” Someone was asking me to help him and I blew right by him in my haste to get into the church. I was just like the innkeeper. I had no room or time for this guy.  

When I went back outside he was leaning over the front bumper of a car, vomiting. “No way,” I thought, and started to walk across the street to my office. But then I turned back and asked if he wanted some breakfast. We went into a little diner next to the church.

His name was Richard. He had been a trumpet player for a band, got fired, started drinking, got rolled, and lost everything. After connecting him up with the Salvation Army, I saw him about a week later. He was all cleaned up with new clothes and had a suitcase. He said he was going to Hartford, Ct., which was his home. I congratulated him and was delighted to see what had happened.

Then a couple of days later, there he was again, all beat up, his clothes torn, looking awful. “Richard, what happened?” I asked. He just looked at me with his hollow eyes and shook his head. I told him to meet me at 10 o’clock, at 43d & Lexington; that I was going to buy him a train ticket to Hartford and put him on the train. I bought him the ticket, went to 43rd and Lexington, but Richard never showed and I never saw him again.

God never ceases to give us opportunities to make room for him through his son, Jesus. He is always inviting us to open the door of our hearts to love, to forgive, to serve — to build his Kingdom on this earth in the daily circumstances of our lives.

Am I making room for Jesus today in how I relate to the people in my life — my spouse, my children, school friends, work colleagues and the stranger for whom there is no room in the inn?

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Faith to Do God’s Will

“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:45)

These are the words of Elizabeth to Mary upon her arrival at Elizabeth’s house. We might wonder how Elizabeth would know to commend Mary for her decision to accept Gabriel’s message that she would give birth to the Son of God before Mary told her about it.

The Gospel of Luke says that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit at Mary’s greeting. By the knowledge of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth commended Mary for believing what she was told.

Elizabeth was also aware that her husband, in contrast to Mary, was rendered mute when he questioned the angel’s message to him that Elizabeth would give birth to a son in her old age.

So, here we have the Holy Spirit in Mary giving rise to the Holy Spirit in Elizabeth, and the Holy Spirit in Elizabeth commending Mary for her faithful acceptance of God’s will and offering praise for God’s physical entry into human history.

Surely, Mary’s statement to the angel Gabriel, “May it be done to me according to your word,” has provided the example of true and humble faith in accepting God’s will for every generation since Jesus’ birth.

Seeking and fulfilling God’s will should be a primary objective for all of us in our walk of faith. This can involve significant life decisions such as our vocation, where we go to school, what our occupation will be, who we will marry, how will we raise our children, where will we live, to daily choices such as how we will relate to others, how we share our faith, how much will we pray, and how generous we will be.

Let me share an example that falls into the daily choice category. Once or twice a month I take communion to Catholic residents of a local senior living and care center. One of the residents, who I will call Patricia for the sake of anonymity, suffered a stroke and is totally paralyzed on her left side. As a result she is bed ridden and suffers a great deal. She is such a sweet lady and is always so gracious in expressing her thanks for bringing her communion.

Recently, I was prompted to pray with her for healing of the effects of the stroke. While I was cautious in not wanting to be presumptuous, at the same time I kept getting the idea that I should make the offer. So, after saying the Lord’s Prayer together and giving her communion I asked, “Patricia, would you like me to pray with you for the healing of your stroke?” It was something I thought God wanted me to do and she said yes. So we prayed, acknowledging God’s love for her, asking for healing and for her to be able to experience movement on her left side.

While I of course do not know what the outcome will be, I nevertheless felt like it was God’s will for me to offer to pray with Patricia.

Are you facing a significant decision in your life or perhaps a daily choice? Are you asking God what he wants you to do?

“Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2)

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