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)

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Opening the Door to God

a56e43d9021bd6bcd50f01ab4fae112dAre we opening the door to God in our lives?  Jesus provides a continuous invitation.  He says, “Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20)

I recently came across a beautiful reflection from St. Augustine about how he had put God off for many years, and then he reflects:

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!

     You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.

     In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. 

     You were with me, but I was not with you. 

     Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you, they would              have not been at all. 

     You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. 

     You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. 

     You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.

     I have tasted you; now I hunger and thirst for more.  You touched me, and I

     burned for your peace.  (The Confessions of St. Augustine, Book Ten, XXVII)

While I will never attain the depth of Augustine’s spirituality and wisdom, I relate to his early struggles in resisting God’s invitations to have a personal and intimate relationship with him.  In my early adult years, I went to church every Sunday, participated in the sacraments and loved my wife and children.

There were times when I would experience a whiff of God’s special fragrance, but for the most part, I kept him at arm’s length, particularly when it came to moving forward in my career as a young attorney.  I allowed myself to be influenced more by the ways of the world than the ways of God.

Then one October evening, through God’s grace and the influence of my wife and other spirit-filled Christian friends, I met Jesus in a way I had never experienced before – just the two of us.  In the solitude of his presence and gentle love, I was inclined to ask him to take the sin and mixed priorities in my life, and before I could finish the request, he responded with an affirmation that words are inadequate to describe. 

It was a watershed moment.  If you ask my wife, she will tell you that from that point forward all my priorities began to change.  Jesus gave me a new thirst for reading scripture and spending time daily with him.  He gave me a new love for the Church and his sacraments, and a desire to share his presence with others.  Yes, I am still capable of failing him, but repentance eventually follows.

Like Augustine, we thank you, Lord, for breaking through our deafness, for dispelling our blindness and breathing the fragrance of your Spirit on us.

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.     

What’s in a Name?

After the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter and John were entering the temple and Peter heals a crippled beggar.  The onlookers are astonished and everyone is wondering how this happened.  Peter boldly proclaims, “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.” (Acts 3:16)

The elders threatened Peter and John not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, but Peter said, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20)

Later when Peter and John are with other followers, they pray, “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29-30)

Do we treat the name of Jesus with the same awe and wonder as Peter and the early followers of Jesus?  Have we allowed the name of Jesus to become so familiar and common as to strip it of its power and majesty? 

Peter was simply doing what Jesus had instructed the apostles when he said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (John 14:12-13)

Many years ago some prayer group friends of ours prayed for healing of my glaucoma at a large Christian gathering at the old Shea Stadium in New York.  They put their hands on my head and prayed in the name of Jesus that my glaucoma be healed.

It just so happened that on the following Monday, I had an annual field of vision test with my ophthalmologist.  I will always remember his words at the initial diagnosis that while we might be able to preserve the field of vision I still had, I would never be able to recover the approximate 30% of vision that had been lost.

While he conducted the test, I heard him continue to say, “hum.”   After about the fourth hum, I asked him what he was humming about, and he said that I had a full field of vision.  When I reminded him of his statement to me a couple of years earlier that the field of vision that I had lost could not be restored, he had no explanation.  When, I told him some friends had prayed with me on the prior Saturday for healing, he said, “Well, I will take all the help I can get.”

I realize that not all prayers by Christians of faith made in the name of Jesus appear to be answered.  Yet, might we not take Jesus at his word, have greater awe and reverence for his name, and act with the same faith as Peter with the crippled beggar.

“God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Phil. 2:9-11)

Jesus' Name, untitled

“We Are Witnesses”

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.  Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and poured out what you now see and hear.” (Acts 2:32-33)

These are the words of Peter to a large crowd that had gathered, wondering what was happening at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Feast of Pentecost.  They were hearing the sound of a roaring wind and the disciples praising God in various languages.  Peter was testifying to Jesus’ resurrection and the fulfillment of his promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus had appeared to the disciples a number of times and to “more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time” according to St. Paul. (1 Cor. 15:6)

The disciples of Jesus were witnesses of his resurrection, to his physical appearances with them and to his explicit instructions. 

  • He showed them his pierced hands and feet. (Luke24:39; John 20:20)
  • He ate broiled fish in front of them. (Luke 24:43)
  • He opened their minds to the scriptures. (Luke 24:27, 45)
  • He showed them where to catch 153 fish. (John 21:11)
  • He appointed Peter to take care of and feed his followers. (John 21:15-17)
  • He instructed them to make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:19), and to preach the good news to all creation. (Mark 16:15)
  • He stated that they were to be his successors when he said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21)
  • He told them, “You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:48)
  • Finally, he instructed them not to leave Jerusalem, but wait for the Father’s promised gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:4)

This past Saturday I attended a memorial service for my brother, Jay, who died two weeks ago.  At a dinner following the service, numerous men from his church’s fellowship and Bible study shared about Jay’s witness to Jesus and the salvation that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection has brought us.  A number of them said when their discussions would get off track, Jay would always bring them back with the question, “Is this about Jesus and his salvation?”

Like Peter and the disciples, we are all called to witness to Jesus and to his resurrection, life and teaching.  He gives us the opportunity to experience his risen presence in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.  

Scripture scholar N. T. Wright says in his book, Surprised by Hope, that we are called to partner with Jesus in the larger project of renewing creation and rescuing people from the way the world is now.

Partnering with Jesus includes witnessing to his risen presence in our lives as did the disciples and my brother Jay.  We can do this through the example of our lives in loving and serving God and others, in standing up for the truth of God’s ways, and in sharing his word when the opportunity is given us.