Created in Love

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Last week I wrote about how God created everything in the universe, plus He created us. Out of everything that He has ever created, or will ever create, we are his most beloved works of art. How do we know this? Because he made us in his own image and even blew air into our lungs. He is part of us. We weren’t made just to be loved, though. We were made TO Love. That’s part of us being a representative of God on earth; we are made to love one another as he loves us.

“When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them [a scholar of the law] tested him by asking, ‘Techer, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.'”

Matthew 22: 34-40 (NABRE)

When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment he didn’t say that it was to keep the Sabbath holy or that you shouldn’t eat meat on Fridays. No, he said that you will love each other as God loves you. Jesus even tells the parable about the Good Samaritan who saved a man who had been severly beaten and left for dead. Did the good Priest, a man of the cloth, stop to help the critically injured man? No, because if he had touched the man the Priest would have been considered “unclean” and wouldn’t be able to enter the Temple. Do you think God really cared if the Priest was “unclean?” No! He wanted the Priest to help his fellow man by loving him enough to stop and get him help.

Even when we mess up, God still loves us. Even when that Priest walked by the man in the ditch, God still loved him. He loves us so much that he gives us so many chances to ask forgiveness. None of us are beyond redemption. We may have to pay the consequences of our sins, but we can still be redeemed and know that God loves us. Have you ever heard somebody describe their child as an “oops”? How many people grew up being told that they weren’t planned and therefore they were an accident? I wish that parents wouldn’t tell their children such things because NONE of us were accidents! God knows us all by name and He even knew us before he knit us in our mother’s womb. God gave you life and put you on this earth at this point in time for a purpose. NOBODY was an accident! If that were the case, do you think he would have given his only son to die for our sins so that we might be reunited with Him? Absolutely not. None of us are really worthy of that kind of love, and yet God gives it to us every single second.

That’s the problem with addiction and listening to the negative voices. They convince us that we have no purpose and that we are worthless. That there isn’t a God and that nobody will ever love you or can ever love you. Don’t listen to the lies! I know it’s hard to drown out and sometimes it’s a battle just to keep from falling into the pits of despair, but always fall back on the fact that God loves you no matter what! Because you are redeemable. Because you are lovable. Because you are a child of God and he lovingly created you to be the person that you are right now at this time.

I want to ask you to please make sure you pick up a copy of Rescued; The Unexpected and Extraordinary News of the Gospel by Fr. John Riccardo. Read it and take it to heart. We need to be the Good Samaritans for those people who have been beaten up and left bloody by the negative voices. It is our job to pick them up and show them the healing Word of God, for the Truth will set you free!

Created

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Today’s post is going to be a little different than normal. Instead of going right to scripture I first wanted to introduce you to a book that I have found to be completely fascinating. I first listened to it as an audiobook that I borrowed from my local library. After listening to it three times I realized I needed to bring it to my small faith group, so I bought copies of it for all of us. Now I want to introduce you to it. If you can pick up a copy, or listen to the audiobook, I HIGHLY recommend it! It’s called Rescued: The Unexpected and Extraordinary News of the Gospel by Fr. John Riccardo.

I have heard the gospel many times at mass and I’ve read it on my own. Never before had I heard it told like Father John tells it in his book. It showed me another side of the gospel that I had never heard before and it gave me a completely different idea of exactly what Jesus did for all of us. Since this book has had such an impact on me I wanted to share a little of it with you. I’m not going to quote from it, and I’m going to do my best not to plagiarize, but you need to take a look at this, too. Hopefully I can do it in a way that makes sense without infringing on Father John’s work.

In a world where so many people have lost themselves and feel that there’s no hope we need to re-introduce them to Jesus who died so that they might have life. In order to do this, though, we need to start at the beginning.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God.

All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.

What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race;

the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

John 1:1-5 (NABRE)

Is that too lofty? Does it sound confusing? Are you still trying to figure out what is being said? I always have to read that passage through at least three times before I feel like I’ve got my arms halfway around it. Let’s simplify it a little more. In the beginning there was only God, but he was the Triune God (three-in-one) so Jesus and the Holy Spirit were there, too. They were just hanging out when one day God said to Jesus, “Hold my beer,” and he created Earth. What? You don’t think God was drinking? How do you explain the platypus and giraffe? Or the belly button?

Okay, so maybe God wasn’t drinking, but he did create the heavens and the earth. And it was good. Then he created the waters and the sky. And it was good. After that came dry earth and sea. And it was good. God thought that the earth needed a little color so he created plants and trees and flowers. And it was good. Then he realized we would need something to tell time by and help the seas ebb and flow, so he created the sun, moon and the stars. And they were all good. At this point God realized that he had a giant aquarium and terrarium, so he filled the seas and skies with creatures. And they were good. (Although, the penguins probably felt like they got a raw deal since they weren’t able to fly nor were they in a warm land.) Then God decided that there needed to be weird creatures like opossums and adorable fuzzy little kittens, so he made creatures for the land. And they were good. Then God made man. Man and woman were created in his image to have dominion over the lands, seas, skies and all living creatures. And they were good. As my priest likes to say, “God doesn’t make junk.”

But man wasn’t just another creature that God made, otherwise we would have been lumped into the group in Genesis 1:24. Instead, not only did he make us apart from the other creatures, but he also blew life into us (Genesis 2:7). The author of Genesis didn’t write down every single step that God took to make everything else, which means that these two facts are very important to our story. God could just bring things into being. Yet, he lovingly formed us and breathed life into us. Why? Because God LOVES us. After he created Adam and Eve he spent time with them in the Garden of Eden. Now, maybe he also spent time out on the plains playing with the deer and antelope, but we are specifically told of the time he spent with humans.

Think about a very important day of your life. When you tell somebody about this day do you tell them what time you woke up, what shampoo you used, or what television program you watched that day? Only if it’s important to the story and the overall picture of what happened, right? You talk about what is important and what made the day special, or what really stuck out to you. This is why we know that God creating man and woman is SO important to him. He wants us to know just how much we mean to him and how important we are in his plan. The first part of Genesis doesn’t name the planets or stars that he made, but it does name Man and Woman. Don’t get me wrong, God is very proud of everything he has made, but his pride and joy are humans.

Think about something that you are really good at doing or making. Maybe you make the BEST pies or perhaps you build the most comfortable furniture. Whatever it is, think about it and how proud you are whenever somebody tells you how great it is. Now, if you’re a parent this is going to be easier, but think about when a person holds their first child in their arms and looks down at that gorgeous face and those tiny little fingers. Can you feel the overwhelming love just pouring out of them as they gaze upon their child? THAT is how God looks on every one of us. You. Me. Your neighbor. Even that really weird looking guy who works with you. He doesn’t look on ALL of creation like that. Is he proud? Sure, but God loves us all as if we were his first born child. It is the only time that a parent can honestly claim to love all of their children equally. God doesn’t play favorites.

I have more that I want to say about God and his creation, but I think I’ve gone on for long enough. Next time I’ll do a little more with Creation. In the meantime, pick up a copy of Father John Riccardo’s book. It is amazing.

Destiny of Glory

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord

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but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.

In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weekness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.” ~ Romans 8:18-27 (NABRE)

I seem to be drawn to the passages of the Bible that mention hope in the face of darkness. I’m not sure if that’s a message meant for me or for somebody who may be reading this post. Either way, it’s not a bad message to ponder. So, let’s sit and ponder it for a moment.

This passage actually reminds me of what my mother-in-law is going through right now. Just when she thinks that she has managed to overcome an obstacle, another one pops up to smack her in the face. My husband is getting frustrated because he doesn’t understand why all of this is happening. To be fair, a lot of it is due to negligence on her late husband’s part. He let the house run down and now she’s having to fix things that she didn’t realize were bad. My husband is wondering where God is in all of this and why isn’t He giving her a little bit of a break before He tosses another obstacle in her way. I’ve been pondering this all week.

First off, I know that God is with her always and He wouldn’t give her anything that she can’t handle. Secondly, it may be that God is showing her that she’s way stronger than she ever thought possible. I know that’s not how she wants to learn it, but he’s guiding her down this path for a reason. I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s to put her to the test. Or maybe it’s to bring somebody else into her path who needs her in their life. We may never know. All we can do is continue to do our best and give praise for what He has already given to us.

That’s the thing that we need to keep in mind. No matter what our struggles are right now, they are nothing in comparison to the glory and love that awaits us. If you’ve ever had children (and I haven’t so I’m taking their word for it), many mothers will say that the pain and suffering through pregnancy and labor were well worth it for their child. In fact, many don’t let the pain and suffering from one baby stop them and they have multiple children. So all of this pain and suffering that we are going through here will be completely forgotten when we are in His presence.

We cannot see what awaits us, but that’s okay. “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for wat we do not see, we wait with endurance.” (Romans 8:24-25)

Hope. Endure. Love. It will all come out right in the end.

Faith in Despair

“How long, LORD? Will you utterly forget me? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I carry sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day? How long will my enemy triumph over me?

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Look upon me, answer me, LORD, my God! Give light to my eyes lest I sleep in death, Let my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed,’ let my foes rejoice at my downfall.

But I trust in your mercy, Grant my heart joy in your salvation, I will sing to the LORD, for he has dealt bountifully with me!” ~ Psalm 13: 2-6 (NABRE)

How often do you feel this way? Every time we look at the news there is yet something else going wrong in this world. Evil seems to surround us. How could God have abaondoned us to this fate? The darkness creeps over you and there doesn’t seem to be any relief. And then you see it… it’s a tiny itty-bitty pin-prick of light. Do you see it? Can you make it out? It’s there. It’s the Light of the World! He is with you. Just hold on a little longer.

That’s what the psalmist is telling us today. Even though everything looks bleak and dark, guess what? He still has faith. How do we know that? He wouldn’t be talking to God if he didn’t. Why would you talk to somebody whom you felt wasn’t there for you? If you had truly given up all hope, this psalm wouldn’t even exist. The book of psalms would have stopped right after #12.

So how do you keep that hope kindled even among all of the bad? Especially when bad news sells way better than good news. Open up any news website and count how many negative headlines there are as compared to positive. Watch the news. How many negative stories do they report on versus positive stories? This is why I no longer watch the news or pay attention to a lot of the media. They aren’t out there for our well being. They aren’t journalists. They are gossip mongers who are just trying to make the most cash. TURN IT OFF. Turn off social media. Turn off the news. Take a break from the negative.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1: 1-5 (NABRE)

When I am feeling down and I think that the world has gone to the devil without any hope of redemption, I think of John 1: 1-5. I repeat to myself that, “the light shines in the darkness.” Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean that it’s not there. Perhaps it’s hidden under a bushel basket. Perhaps a shade obscures it, but it’s STILL THERE. There are a bazillion stars in the sky and you can’t see every single one, but they are still there. Just as the sky and the number of stars are infinite, so is God’s love for you and He will NEVER desert you. Hold tight to that truth and one day you’ll look up and see that light shining bright; you’ll feel the darkness beginning to dispel and you will feel the warmth. Hold tight to the Truth. He loves you and is always with you.

God Will Take Care of Him

“Let us lie in wait for the righteous one, because he is annoying to us; he opposes our actions, Reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training. He professes to have knowledge of God and styles himself a child of the Lord. To us he is the censure of our thoughts; merely to see him is a hardship for us,

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Because his life is not like that of others, and different are his ways. He judges us debased; he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure. He calls blest the destiny of the righteous and boasts that God is his Father. Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him in the end. For if the righteous one is the son of God, God will help him and deliver him from the hand of his foes. With violence and torture let us put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.” ~Wisdom 2:12-20 (NABRE)

Even though this passage comes from the book of Wisdom, the story is very familiar to us. You would think that this was one of the Pharisees writing an internal memo to the rest of the group. These were the guys who should have known this story because they were the men of God. Yet, they acted it out as if they had been memorizing their lines and rehearsing for their moment.

Let’s pretend, though, that we don’t know this story. We don’t know about Jesus and the crucifixion. With this in mind, go back and re-read that passage. Now what do you see? I see a rough street gang who is angry at the world and doesn’t care who comes down the street next because they need a target. Is it due to envy? Jealousy? An incorrect sense of injustice? They see somebody who represents what they want, but don’t have, so they are going to take out their rage on him. Why? It doesn’t make sense to me.

When I was in sixth or seventh grade we had a new girl attending our school. I had no idea who she was, but she was in a few of my classes so I knew of her. For the most part I was too involved with my friends and my interests to really pay attention to random new people. Until one day after gym class we were in the locker room waiting for the bell to ring and release us to our next class. My best friend and I were sitting there chatting about something when we heard a commotion. I looked up and saw that almost all of the other girls had surrounded this new girl and had her pinned up against the wall. I don’t remember what they were saying to her, but it wasn’t nice and they were kicking at her. I told them to knock it off and tried to wade my way into the group, but they started to kick me. I ran to the gym teacher’s office and told her what was going on. She came out and let those girls have it! For the next several weeks I was NOT a favorite among the other girls, but that didn’t bother me because I really didn’t have much use for them. Well, that new girl looked on me and my friend as her heroes and she attached herself to us. After a few months she ended up transferring to another school, but every once in a while her cousin (who was also in our class) would tell us that she still talked about how great my friend and I were.

I don’t understand the mindset that says, “That person is different than me so I need to go beat them up or hurt them in some way!” As long as they aren’t bothering me, hurting others or infringing on my rights, I don’t care what they do. Let them live their life! If I’m infringing on their right, then I would like to hear about it in a mature and non-violent fashion. What does violence solve? In our modern world all it does is cause more violence and the losers end up harboring hurt feelings which then typically flare into more violence. It’s a horrible circle that doesn’t ever seem to end.

We all know that in order for us to be saved, Jesus had to die on that cross. So in this one case, violence and jealousy actually led to a very good end for everybody (except Jesus). Look back at that passage and read the last few sentences where they are planning to do evil. How can they feel that even if they aren’t about to test the son of God, that they should be following through with that kind of behavior? How can they feel justified? It’s because the whole thing is about THEM and how THEY FEEL. The feelings of others don’t matter. They are self-centered and selfish. They don’t want to be judged, but yet they are judging somebody else. They are offended that he considers them to be impure and yet they don’t see that they are being the hypocrites because they ARE impure and debased! How could they have changed this? They could have improved their behavior and shown that they weren’t any of the things he thought they were! If you know that you aren’t being impure, then what does it matter what the other person thinks? Just because he calls himself a child of the Lord doesn’t mean that you have to test him to see if it’s true. Because guess what, if it is true? You’re in big trouble!

Many Parts in One Body

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“For by the grace given to me I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than one ought to think, but to think soberly, each according to the measure of faith that God has apportioned. For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Since we have

gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one contributes, in generosity; if one is over others, with diligence; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” ~Romans 12: 3c-8 (NABRE)

In school you often hear the term ‘student body’ to refer to the entire group of students. We were all one group, though that group was made up of many different people with different interests and different gifts. Collectively we referred to ourselves as “The <insert school’s mascot here>”. Yet, when you walked into the cafeteria at lunch time you would see many different groups that had formed. Did you sit with the athletes? Maybe you were part of the Popular group. Then there were the farm kids, the goths, the science nerds, the band geeks, and I could go on and on… The point is that even though you all identified as one Body, you were also MANY different parts.

I was thinking about this as I sat through a medical test my husband was undergoing. He had to have a cardiac stress test with an echocardiagram. As the tech placed the wand against my husband’s chest I could see the image of his heart beating on the screen in front of her. I watched the valves open and close with each beat. I could hear the sound of the blood pulsing through those valves as they did their jobs. Maybe it was just me, but not only was I fascinated by the fact that we have the technology to be able to do this, I also marvelled at the fact that SOMEBODY has to invent this machine and this process. I was never good in science because I can’t quite wrap my head around a lot of it. When it comes to calculating the distance between the Earth and the Moon you might as well be speaking a foreign language as you explain it to me because I will understand it just as much.

My husband and I were sitting through this test (well, technically at this time he was laying on his side) because he is going through the process to be evaluated as a living liver donor. Did you know that you can remove over half of your liver and it will regenerate itself in about 6-8 weeks? Due to this they can take a healthy part of a liver and give it to somebody who is in need of one, but not at the point of needing an ENTIRE liver (which can only be procured through donations when somebody has died). First off, whoever discovered this fact was either VERY twisted or a genius. However, I started thinking about how God made us in His image. Then how we are His design. The idea that He created us in such a way that we can donate blood, platelets, antibodies, and even organs to each other is amazing. How many things has God created us to do that we have yet to discover??

This brings me back to Romans 12. Not only are we all humans who can share literal pieces of ourselves with others, but all of the talents and gifts that God has entrusted to us have allowed us to discover these processes, technologies, and procedures. He gave somebody the talent and intelligence to create imaging machines so that we can look inside our bodies to see what’s going on without having to undergo exploratory surgery. Yet he also gave somebody the talent to be able to machine the tools needed to perform the surgery once the problem has been detected. You need a place to perform the surgery, so he gave some people the talent to be able to design structurally sound buildings in which the doctors can work. I could go on and on…

Next time you put yourself down for not being able to do something that another person is good at doing, take stock of what YOU are good at doing. In order to function as a body or a society you need a variety of skills and talents to make everything work smoothly. What part do you play in the functioning of the body? What are your talents and gifts?

Walk by Faith

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“For we know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven. For in this tent we groan, longing to be further clothed with our heavenly habitation if indeed, when we have taken it off, we shall not be found naked. For while we are in this tent we groan and are weighed down, because we

do not wish to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a first installment. So we are always courageous, although we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yet we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord. Therefore, we aspire to please him, whether we are at home or away. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.” ~2 Corinthians 5: 1-10 (NABRE)

Many people like to go camping. They get excited about going out into the middle of the woods, pitching a tent, and living right next to a happy little creek for a few days. I am not one of those people. I have grown too used to the comforts of my life. I work very hard to keep the bugs out of my house; I am not going to pitch a tent and sleep next to them for a week. Most people, though, know that this experience is just temporary and then they get to return to their home with all of the modern conveniences they can desire.

This experience of going out camping, but being able to return home, is the image that I get in my head when I read Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Think about it, God knew us before we were born. Then we spend time down here, but in the end we get to return to Him. Here on earth, we’re just camping. This shelter is just temporary and is not meant to house us for all time. There will be an end to this camping trip and we’ll be able to go home and be with the Lord. That’s really where we want to be. There are many days when we’re sitting in our tent, the rain is pouring down, the ants have crawled all over our food, and you feel like you are wearing the forest floor on your body… and the only thing keeping us going is that this will end and we can go home where we can peel off all of our dirty clothing, take a nice long shower, and curl up in a soft, warm bed.

The only thing is that in the camping scenario we KNOW that we can go home and take a hot shower. In real life, if we don’t be moral and live a Christ-like life, then there’s no guarantee that we’ll be able to cross the threshold of our heavenly home. If we aren’t careful we could get done with our camping trip, arrive at the door of our house, and find out that we’ve been evicted. What must we do? Again, we must be moral, love one another, and lead a Christ-like life so that we can gain entry to the house of the Lord. Do we have to be perfect? No. God knows that we aren’t perfect, but that’s why he extends his love and mercy to all of us. Ask and it shall be given. Be truly contrite and humble, ask for forgiveness and He will forgive you.

That’s why we have to walk by faith. There is nothing that will prove to you 100% beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a God and you will be with him after you’re done here on this earth. We can read, pray and believe, but it all boils down to faith. Do you have faith? This doesn’t mean that you don’t have questions. Ask God your questions. Have a conversation with Him. Only then will you be strong enough to truly walk by faith with your head held high no matter what anybody else says. And remember, no matter what, God loves you.

What’s In Your Heart?

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Now when the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed hands. (For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the

marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles [and beds].) So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?” He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts,’ You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” He summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.” ~Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 (NABRE)

If you’ve read some of my previous blog posts you will realize that there seems to be one theme that I bring up a lot: the power you have over what you put out into the world. Perhaps that’s because it was a common theme with Jesus, too. He taught about love, charity, mercy and so many more ways to love one another. Growing up Jewish he knew that there were laws that the Pharisees held to be more powerful than the Word of God. If they were truly men of God then they would not only recognize that everything Jesus was teaching was filled with God, but also they wouldn’t have been so upset about what Jesus was doing. They really had a problem with this guy. I mean, who did he think he was?? God?? Only THEY could interpret and teach God’s law to others. They obviously weren’t listening very closely to what Jesus was saying.

You may wonder why I chose a picture of a kitten (unfortunately, not mine) to start this post. I think that if Jesus had led the Pharisees into a room full of kittens, they wouldn’t have been so grumpy about the disciples breaking their laws. Have you ever been in a room full of kittens? You can NOT walk out of there without a smile on your face. To have that little ball of fur purring and loving on you is one of the best feelings in the world. As you hold that kitten and it rubs its little face all over yours while it’s purring, your heart just about bursts with love. That’s how you defeat evil. There is no room in a kitten-filled heart for all of the nastiness that Jesus listed in today’s reading. Okay, so let’s say that you’re more of a dog person. I won’t be offended if you swap out a puppy for a kitten in this example. As long as your heart is bursting with love, that’s what I want you to think about.

The Pharisees are a good example of how people can start out with good intentions, and then before you know it they’ve veered off the path and are insisting that you follow them because they are the ones in charge. When Moses brought the 10 Commandments down from Mt Sinai I don’t recall any of them saying that you must wash your hands before eating, or wash anything else that might come into contact with your food before you eat it. From what I can recall from memory, most of it was about LOVE. Love God. Love your neighbor (don’t covet, steal, or murder). Love and honor your parents. There’s a lot of love in those ten laws. Unfortunately, at that time, the people had a hard time keeping just those ten! Then over a period of time the leaders started making up clauses and addendums to the laws that then also included these other behaviors that you couldn’t do. By the time Jesus comes along the Pharisees are more concerned over these imposed human-created laws than the original law of God. No longer is the faith about God, it’s about the constraints that have been imposed upon you.

That’s why Jesus was such a non-conformist. He worked on the Sabbath. He didn’t make his disciples wash their hands before eating. He even dared to heal people with all kinds of problems whenever he felt like it! What a rebel! He was breaking the law and thumbing his nose at the authorities. Except, what they didn’t understand, was that he was actually following the law of the ultimate Authority. The Author of all creation. That’s why it doesn’t matter what you ingest. If you have a clean heart and are spreading the love of God then you can eat with the dirtiest hands and God won’t strike you down. I mean, He really might think, “Geesh, your hands are nasty. A little water and soap wouldn’t hurt!” but he’s not going to condemn and judge you for it. As long as you are living a Jesus-centered and Christ-like life, you will be allowed into heaven with your dirty hands.

Who Will You Serve?

Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem, summoning the elders, leaders, judges, and officers of Israel. When they stood in ranks before God, Joshua addressed all the people: “If it is displeasing to you to serve the LORD, choose today whom you will serve, the gods your ancestors served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

But the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods. For it was the LORD, our God, who brought us and our ancestors up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. He performed those great signs before our very eyes and protected us along our entire journey and among all the peoples through whom we passed. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.” ~Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b (NABRE)

Joshua 24:15 is a verse that we hear a lot all by itself. I’m sure that you’ve heard, or read, it many times before today. Have you ever really stopped to think about it? Why was Joshua making that statement? If you don’t know anything about the book of Joshua you might think that it’s a statement of faith made to somebody who was persecuting him. Or maybe it’s a conversation that he’s having with somebody about the state of somebody else’s household. Instead, we learn that Joshua is actually giving the Israelites the choice. After the passage above, Joshua goes on to warn the Israelites that it’s not going to be easy to serve the God that they are promising to serve. He lets them know that they are going to be judged and if they start worshipping other gods then they are going to be in BIG trouble with the LORD. The Israelites were adamant that they would still worship the Lord. Just like Ace of Base, they too, saw the signs (sorry, I couldn’t help myself…). They personally knew God’s love and mercy because he had brought them and their people up out of slavery and had fed them manna in the desert.

We know that the Israelites were not as good at serving the Lord as they had promised. How do we know that? Because God sent us manna once again, this time in the form of his only begotten son, who was crucified on the cross to pay for our sins. So, in essence, we too have been brought up out of slavery, freed from sin, through the sacrifice of the lamb of God. Some of us have even stood in front of our church families and promised to serve the Lord with our whole heart and soul. Then what happens?

What happens is a lot of us fail. As soon as we leave that church building on Sunday we go back to our daily lives of just trying to survive the day. What gods are you serving on a daily basis? Are you a slave to your job? Do you spend hours playing video games and ignoring everybody else around you? Do you spend hours obsessing over your social media accounts and tracking how many ‘likes’ you received for various posts? Status. Wealth. Influence. Greed. Opinion. All of these are gods that are worshipped by too many people on a daily basis.

Somebody might say that I’m being unfair. They HAVE to work six jobs to make ends meet. Okay, I understand that, but I’m not talking about you if you’re doing it to take care of people you love. However, if you’re doing it because you need the extra money to pay for the mortgage on your vacation home in the Hamptons… I would say that you are worshipping other gods (status, money, appearance, etc). You should be doing all things for God. You should not be doing all things to impress the Godfreys.

I’m not perfect, either. There are times that I find myself being swayed to do something for purely selfish and non-Christ-like reasons. The important thing is that you recognize when you are doing this so that you can stop, ask God for forgiveness and turn back to HIM. Put HIM first. Invite him into more of your day-to-day life and then you will slowly find yourself turning away from the other gods who entice us. In the morning when I’m driving to work is often when I have the best conversations with Jesus. He sits beside me and we just chat about things. Sometimes it’s serious and sometimes it’s a bit light-hearted. The important thing is that he’s there with me. And he’s always there with you, but are you paying attention?

So, who do you serve?

Not Foolish, But Wise

Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord. And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another [in] psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. ~Ephesians 5:15-20 (NABRE)

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

In the 1990’s it became popular to ask, “What Would Jesus Do?” I didn’t attend church at that time, but even I was aware of this statement being all over the place. This is essentially what Paul is asking us to think about today. What Would Jesus Do? Have you ever found yourself asking this while trying to sort out a situation? Has this phrased popped into your head when you’ve become angry at somebody and wanted to take revenge? Perhaps it should.

Paul tells us to, “Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.” There are so many thoughts running through my mind regarding this statement, but I keep landing back at the conversation I had with a former coworker who was going to be taking over my position when I left the company. She was a bit grumpy because the raise she had been promised had not been processed. From what she said, I understood that she was not going to do anything extra, and especially not anything that involved my job, until she saw the raise. This kind of attitude is a bit shocking to me because no matter what is going on, I always feel that I need to give my best effort and that I will be rewarded for it later. That has really worked out for me and I tried to impart this wisdom to her. She is young and hasn’t had a lot of experience in the “real world”, so she was looking at it from the perspective that this had been promised to her because she had agreed to undertake more responsibility, so if the raise wasn’t there then she wasn’t going to do the extra work.

I feel like this attitude is taking a strong hold in our society today. The reward must come first before the work will get done. The younger generation doesn’t seem to understand that they aren’t being rewarded for walking through their employer’s doors; they are supposed to earn the money they are paid. Can you imagine if we applied that thinking to getting into heaven? “Sorry, Jesus, but unless you guarantee me that I’m going to make it to the pearly gates, I’m not feeding the hungry or clothing the naked. Why should I go through all of that effort and work just to be rejected in the end? It wouldn’t be worth it!”

Maybe there needs to be more of us willing to model this type of behavior for those who have never been taught to think in this way. Sometimes all it takes is one person to act in a positive way and it influences others who are just observing. An insurance company, or a bank or something, had a commercial a few years ago where one person did a good thing like picking up a piece of trash on the sidewalk, another person watched them do this and when she was on the bus she stood up and gave her seat to an elderly person, another person on the bus saw this and he was the one who then did a nice thing for somebody else… etc. If enough of us act as Jesus would act, then it wouldn’t matter how evil the days were because we would all have each other to link arms with and fight against those evils.

I challenge you to go out and live wisely. Live as Jesus wants us to live, loving one another as he loves us. And when you lay your head down on your pillow at night thank him for another succesful day of battling the evils with kindness and love. We can only do it with his help and the guide of the Holy Spirit. The love of God and having him by our side will be our reward.