Response

Image by Daniel Reche from Pixabay

Over the course of the last few weeks we’ve been discussing the Gospel story, and with a lot of help from Fr. John Ricarrdo’s book Rescued; The Unexpected and Extraordinary News of the Gospel, and our part in all of it. We have learned why we were Created, how we’ve been Captured, and then how we were Rescued. The last part that we need to learn is our Response. How do you respond to somebody who has rescued you from a life of hopeless slavery? How can you possibly repay that person?

Obviously, you start by showing that person gratitude, or thanks, every day. You can’t give that person money or buy them a gift. After all, your life is priceless. Luckily for us, God doesn’t want jewels, cash or fancy cars. All He wants is YOU. He wants a relationship with YOU. Tell him thank you! Tell him how much you love him. Show him your gratitude. God’s mercy and love are a gift that we can not earn. It is a gift that he GIVES us. The way to thank him for everything he’s done for and given to us is to worship him and surrender our lives to him.

Before we go much farther, let me explain that Worship is not just the act of going to church. Is that important? Yes. Is it all you have to do? No. Worship involves our mind, body and soul. You can go to church, say all the correct words to the prayers and tithe each week, but if you don’t feel it in your heart then it’s not really worship. In fact, it upsets God when people only give him lip-service.

“Since this people draws near with words only and honors me with their lips alone, though their hearts are far from me, and fear of me has become mere precept of human teaching, therefore I will again deal with this people in surprising and wonderous fashion: The wisdom of the wise shall perish, the prudence of the prudent shall vanish. Ah! You who would hide a plan too deep for the Lord! Who work in the dark, saying, ‘Who sees us, who knows us?’ Your perversity is as though the potter were taken to be the clay: As though what is made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me!’ Or the vessel should say of the potter, ‘He does not understand.'”

Isaiah 29:-13-16 (NABRE)

Think of somebody whom you love very much. Maybe a spouse, a parent, a friend, a child. Now think about how hurtful it would be if they said all the ‘right things’ to you, but their hearts weren’t actually behind the words. You can tell when somebody is just feeding you the information that they think you want to hear. When we worship the goal is to bring pleasure to God, not ourselves. You should be trying to put a giant smile on God’s face. And don’t forget, despite the words you are saying, God knows what is in your heart. He created you and knows everything about you. If you truly believe the Gospel message (Created, Captured, Rescued, Response) then loving God with your whole heart should be easy. Right?

Part of showing God our love for him is to surrender our entire lives to him. Some people might not appreciate the use of the term ‘surrender’. After all, that means to give up all of our personal control and free will, doesn’t it? Not necessarily. God gave us free will so we can use it as we please. When we surrender to God we are giving him control over our lives in the sense that everything we do is for his glory and praise, and we completely depend upon him and trust him to steer us through our lives. If you have control issues, like I do, then this is a difficult thing to do. If there is a problem in my life, then I have to fix it. I can’t just sit back and expect that God will take care of it. I HAVE TO DO SOMETHING. Yes, you have to do something, but that something is to put it in God’s hands, ask him to guide you to make the right decisions, and trust that no matter what happens God will take care of you. This isn’t easy to do, but every day you can decide, again, to surrender yourself into God’s hands.

How else can we respond to the great rescue mission that Jesus carried out on a cross? The great mission that has been entrusted to us is to go out and spread the message of God’s love and Jesus’ victory is by telling others about it. We are all sent to spread the Good News. After all, our mission is to sabotage Satan’s ultimate goal of turning humanity against God. The more people we can wake up and get them to understand what the ultimate life goal should be (eternal life with God in His Kingdom), the more that we take power and control away from Satan.

That might be easier said than done, though. Not all of us are meant to go on missions to other countries to tell the Good News through our faith and works. How does they saying go, “Charity begins at home?” What is your sphere of influence? Start in your own backyard. I can’t give you any advice on how to go out and spread the Gospel, but I can tell you to do it in love. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. You don’t have to be a “Bible Thumper” or talk about Jesus so much that people try to avoid you as much as possible. Just live each day for God and everything you do let it be done for His glory. What could that possibly do? Well, a few years ago we had a young man in his 20’s decide that he wanted to go through my church’s RCIA program. He’d led a pretty rough life and was currently part of a faith-based program to help men overcome addiction and substance abuse. When he was asked why he wanted to become Catholic he said it was because he saw the light and inner peace that the other guys in the program had, who had surrendered themselves to Jesus, and he wanted it to. Wow. These other guys didn’t sit there and shout at the young man about Jesus and being saved. Instead, they lived their lives to glorify God and that was enough to prove to the people around them just what the saving love of God can do for you.

“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35 (NABRE)

Think about it. Pray about it. Ask God to guide you on your mission to spread His love throughout your sphere of influence. And don’t forget to say, “Thank you.”

Rescued – Part 2

Image by tprzem from Pixabay

“Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came [before me] are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.”

John 10:7-10, 14-18 (NABRE)

Over the course of the last few blog posts we have explored the reasons why Jesus came to earth. We have learned that God created us and loves us more than any of his other creations. We know that Satan wants to destroy us due to the position that we hold in God’s ultimate plan. He hates us and wants to degrade us as much as possible. God loves us so much that he’s come to earth to rescue us from Death’s grasp so that we will have eternal life with him. How does he do this? We know that Satan is not dumb. He’s not going to let two inept guards stand at the doorway and be tricked into letting God enter.

We already know how this story ends, but let’s take a closer look at it. Jesus defeats Death on the Cross. How? He’s crucified, dies, is buried and rises again. Is that the whole story? That sounds pretty boring. What we need to keep in mind is that the Cross wasn’t just two pieces of wood nailed together on which Jesus died. No. THAT was the battlefield! THAT was the trap! Read the next sentence, then close your eyes and think about it: God, the one who created the entire Universe and EVERYTHING in it, has been scourged, made to carry his own heavy cross, and nailed to it for everybody to see. He is covered in his own blood, naked and dying. Does that look like the most powerful being to ever exist? No! He looks like a pathetic man who is weak and powerless. This is the same man who had resisted the devil’s temptations in the desert, and here he is nailed to a cross. Can you feel the devil salivating as Death nears? Now go back up and re-read the scripture from John. Read the bold sentence a few times.

What does that tell us? It tells us that God ALLOWED himself to be tortured and nailed to the cross. This is God! He could easily have blinked us all out of existence. He could have easily resisted and avoided the suffering. But he didn’t. In order to save us he had to take on a human form, after all, God can’t die or suffer for our sins. Why would he have to die? Have you ever seen the movie Armageddon (with Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck)? If you have, you might remember that NASA decided they were going to detonate a nuclear bomb on the asteroid in the hopes of breaking it up enough that the pieces would not end up hitting earth, or if they did they would burn up in the atmosphere. The oil-drilling guys were confused as to why they were chosen instead of fancy astronauts. Billy Bob Thornton explains that they can’t just place the bomb on the surface because that won’t do the job. Instead, they needed somebody to drill a deep hole into which the bomb could be placed so that when it went off it could destroy the entire thing from the inside. How does God destroy Death? From the inside. To get in, he would have to die. That’s where the real battle took place, where Death was destroyed and we were set free.

Jesus has destroyed Death and set us free. What does that mean? We will still physically die. However, our death is just from our current state of existence. This is all temporary. Destroying Death means that we get to have ETERNAL life with our heavenly Father. We have been adopted into HIS family where we are given grace and mercy because of his love for us. We can’t earn those gifts no matter what we do. They are freely GIVEN to us through his love. His love recreates us, too.

“‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.’ The one who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.'”

Revelation 21:3-5 (NABRE)

He makes all things new. How does he recreate us? When you are baptized your “old” self is washed away so that your new self can take its place. This means that NONE of us are beyond redemption. We can change. “It is what it is,” is a bald-faced lie when it comes to who you are as a person. If you truly want to change who you are deep down, you can do it. You just can’t do it on your own. You have to surrender yourself to Christ and ask for the Holy Spirit to dwell in you and help to make you new. It’s not easy because Satan is still out here tempting us, but with Jesus on our side we can’t lose! When you are picking teams you ALWAYS pick Jesus first!

Isn’t all of this news great?! We can’t lose! God is on our side and has told the Devil to take a hike so that we can be with God forever! But wait a minute… why? Why would God do all of this for me? He can create a universe out of nothing. He can destroy Death. He creates billion of stars at unfathomable distances away from us. God is AWESOME. So why me? I’m only one tiny little microscopic speck in all of his creation. Why would he care about doing any of this for me? I’m insignificant. Do you still not understand? God loves YOU. He thirsts for you. You wants to always be near to you.

“You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know. My bones are not hidden from you, When I was being made in secret, fashioned in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me unformed; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be.”

Psalm 139:13-16 (NABRE)

Remember, God is perfect and doesn’t make mistakes. He made YOU. On purpose, with a purpose. Even if you don’t know what your purpose is, He does. He knows the real you and LOVES you. Embrace him, surrender to him, and recreate yourself anew. It’s never too late.

Take some time to think about what you’ve read. Open the Bible and see what God has to say to you. After all, the Bible isn’t a History textbook; it’s a love letter to you from God. Read his words. Feel his love. See what he has done for you. Listen to the song “You Are Near” by Dan Schutte as you think about what God has done for you.

What is your response?

Rescued – Part 1

Image by tprzem from Pixabay

I am writing this blog post the day after Christmas. The day on which all Christians celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It was on this day that we were given the gift of hope and new creation. Why? Exactly why did Jesus come to earth? Was it merely to teach us parables and give us new commandments? No. He came to RESCUE us. I am sharing what I have learned from a tremendous book by Fr. John Riccardo. Rescued: The Unexpected and Extraordinary News of the Gospel is an amazing book and one that you should definitely read. Today I want to discuss the third part of this book.

Remember, in the last two posts, we learned how we have been captured by Satan because he HATES us. Satan’s ultimate goal is to destroy, degrade and enslave us. He’s doing a pretty good job at it, too. What did God do? Did he send others to see if they could free us? No. He came HIMSELF. We are so important to him that the creator of everything came to earth to fight for us.

“”The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.””

Luke 4:18-21 (NABRE)

Why would he do this? Why did Jesus take on human form? He did this to fight for you and me.

“Whoever sins belongs to the devil, because the devil has sinned from the beginning. Indeed, the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil.”

1 John 3:8 (NABRE)

Wow. Jesus came down to destroy our enemy and set us free. If this was a movie we would see him getting into his uniform, gathering his weapons, putting on his face paint, and really gearing up for the battle ahead of him. The inspiring rock music would let us know just how serious and courageous this warrior really is and the big task that he has ahead of him. He would be muscular, athletic, and undaunted. Just looking at him would reassure you and make you think that everything will be okay.

Yet, I’ve never heard my church portray this version of Jesus. Have you? Is this new information to you, too? You hear about how Jesus is love, how he is compassionate and heals the sick, he teaches us parables so that we know that God loves us and forgives us no matter how bad we’ve been in the past, and that we can get to our Father only through Jesus. To be completely honest, I had always pictured Jesus as a wandering hippie who was trying to turn everybody’s heart to God. This Jesus in my mind was mild-mannered, softly spoken, and not very interesting. Boy, was I wrong!! Maybe it’s because when I read the stories about Jesus turning water into wine, giving the blind sight and raising people from the dead, it doesn’t seem “real” to me. It’s similar to when you were in history class and your teacher stood there telling you about past events in a flat voice that almost lulled you to sleep. Yet, how many times have you read a different approach to the same event and saw it in a completely different (and much more fascinating) manner?

Instead of just reading the words, let’s use the Ignatian method of reading scripture and actually put ourselves in those moments. There are so many examples, but I want to focus on just one. Let’s take a look at the woman with a hemorrhage.

“There was a woman afflicted with hemorrages for twelve years. She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse. She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?” But his disciples said to him, “You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?'” And he looked around to see who had done it. The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.'”

Mark 5:25-34 (NABRE)

You may need to read that a few times, but feel the emotions of hoplessness that the woman must have felt after suffering for so many years. She had spent EVERYTHING she had in order to be cured, but nothing worked. Then, somehow, she hears about Jesus. He can heal the sick. Others talk in amazement about the leper who was cured and the other man who had been possessed and how easily it seemed that Jesus was able to cure them. If he could cure leprosy and exorcised demons, then maybe he could cure her, too. She didn’t have money, but she had hope and faith. When she saw him in the crowd something made her go up and touch his cloak, knowing that just the slight touch would cure her. She had THAT much faith. And it worked!

Now flip it around and imagine being in the crowd trying to catch a glimpse of this Jesus character. You’d heard all the stories, too, and you were curious. What did he look like? How did he act? Would you be able to tell that there was anything special about him just by being near him? Then you see him stop and ask who had touched him. Hmmm, this was interesting. Where was this going? The guys traveling with him seemed to dismiss this reaction, but you can see on Jesus face that something happened. You notice a woman come out of the crowd to fall down in front of him. You are close enough to hear her story and read her face, which convinces you that every word she has spoken is true. This is amazing! The joy, amazement and awe on her face clearly beams out for everybody to see. Then lovingly Jesus tells her that her faith has saved her and to go in peace. What feelings do you experience from having witnessed this exchange? Can you imagine how much more powerful it would be if you were actually there?

The feelings that were experienced as crowds witnessed these actions were what caused Jesus to be so interesting. Yet, how often are we bored in church wondering how busy the breakfast place is going to be after we get out? How often do we dismiss the miracles that Jesus did? How often are we afraid to even say his name because it might ‘offend’ somebody? He wasn’t just a random hippie blowing through these various towns. He was awesome. He did things that nobody had ever seen before. The tales that went raging ahead of him had to seem unbelievable until you finally saw him and could absolutely believe everything that was said. This was a guy who caused tax collectors (the greediest, most affluent, and wealthy people in a town), prostitutes, gamblers and others who were only out for their own pleasure, to drop what they were doing and follow him. He drew crowds of thousands!! People had to tear open other people’s roofs in order to get their sick friends close enough for healing. Back when the population wasn’t very big, this was a huge deal. Think of Elvis, the Beatles, New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, and One Direction all rolled into one. That’s the kind of presence that Jesus had. In fact, he had such an aura of power about him that the Pharisees instantly hated him and wanted him killed; Herrod had been so afraid that he had ordered all males under the age of 3 to be killed (and this was when Jesus was just a BABY). What person has that kind of power that exudes from him so that all can feel it without having to be IN his presence? This is Jesus, our Lord and Savior, who has come to destroy Satan’s hold on us. As I leave you this week with these thoughts to mull over I want to add just a little more kindling to the fire.

“For when peaceful stillness encompassed everything and the night in its swift course was half spent, your all-powerful word from heaven’s royal throne leapt into the doomed land, a fierce warrior bearing the sharp sword of your inexorable decree.”

Wisdom 18:14-15 (NABRE)

Captured – Part 1

Image by Ronald Plett from Pixabay

Today I am continuing to try to teach you what I’ve learned from Father John Riccardo’s book Rescued: The Unexpected and Extraordinary News of the Gospel. I highly recommend this book. If you get a chance, please read it!

In the first part we learned about why God created us and that we have a purpose. We learned about His incredible love for us. We know that we are more beloved to God than anything else that He has created. That’s all great, isn’t it? Then how come life is such a mess? If he’s such a loving God then why do terrible things happen to good people? Why is there poverty and hunger? Why do children die of cancer? Why do people suffer?

In order to figure this out we need to go back to before the beginning. The Bible doesn’t tell us EVERYTHING that God created, it only tells one part of it: our story. It doesn’t tell us everything that was in existence before God decided to start making our universe. We are given a hint, though, that God wasn’t alone. “Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26, NACBRE) Obviously there was somebody else with him. We already know that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were there (John 1:1-5). As you read through the Bible you realize that God just assumes that you know he has his Angel Corps working, too. In fact, after Adam and Eve are kicked out of Eden, God posts two sentries at the gate to protect the tree of life. “He expelled the man, stationing the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword east of the gard of Eden, to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:24, NABRE). You might wonder, like I did, why He didn’t come out and tell you about the angels at the beginning. After all, at least a couple of them have big parts in the Bible. Then I thought about all of the biographies I’ve read and they never tell you about stuff that isn’t very pertinent to the story. If I was writing a book about my life I wouldn’t have to tell you that I have grandparents because you would just assume that I did. God trusts that we don’t have to be given every little detail in order to understand what’s going on. As it becomes important we are given the information.

God created EVERYTHING, including angels. He gave them some pretty sweet powers and special jobs. There were the two angels that He sent to Sodom and Gomorrah and we can’t forget the angel Gabriel who appeared to Mary to tell her that she will be the mother of the Son of the Most High. Did we need to know what the angels names were who went to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? Apparently not because they aren’t ever mentioned. So we can see that angels are very special beings who serve God and are with him all the time, even if we don’t know exactly how many there are or what each of them do.

In fact, we don’t even realize that we are introduced to one of the fallen angels at the very beginning of the Bible. We know that we’ve just been shown how we were expelled from the Garden and that Death entered the world, but we aren’t told that it was all due to a bitter and envious ex-angel, Lucifer, until much later.

“How you have fallen from the heavens, O Morning Star, son of the dawn! How you have been cut down to the earth, you who conquered nations! In your heart you said: ‘I will scal the heavens; Above the stars of God I will set up my throne; I will take my seat on the Mount of Assembly, on the heights of Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will be like the Most High!'”

Isaiah 14:12-14 (NABRE)

A translation of ‘O Morning Star’ is ‘Lucifer.’

“You were a seal of perfection, full of wisdom, perfect in beauty.

In Eden, the garden of God, you lived; precious stones of every kind were your covering: Carnelain, topaz, and beryl, chrysolite, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, garnet, and emerald.

Their mounts and settings were wrought in gold, fashioned for you the day you were created.

With a cherub I placed you; I put you on the holy mountain of God, where you walked among fiery stones.

Blameless were you in your ways from the day you were created, Until evil was found in you.”

Ezekiel 28:12b-15 (NABRE)

Both Isaiah and Ezekiel tell us that Lucifer was part of God’s group of angels, but then out of his own free will, he became evil. God didn’t create him to be evil. Everything that God created was good. So how did Lucifer become evil?

“But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are allied with him experience it.”

Wisdom 2:24 (NABRE)

Okay, I think I’m starting to see the picture. To be sure, though, let’s take a look at the definition of envy. “A feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, possessions, etc.” per Dictionary.com. What other words can be substituted for envy? Hatred, ill will, malice, prejudice, resentment, rivalry, coveting, maliciousness, spite…

Isaiah says that the Devil’s problem was he wanted to be more powerful than God. Then Ezekiel states that the Devil lived in Eden and was placed among the most precious things, and that he had been good until the day that he came down with a case of the Evil. Why? Due to Envy. What did the Devil envy? Here he is, hanging out in Eden, enjoying the beautiful weather and looking at everything God has created. There are plants, fish and creatures of every kind. Everything is great! But then…. God created humans. Humans weren’t created to serve as slaves for God (despite what some other ancient myths would have you believe), instead they were created to be equal with the angels. And God loved them so much!! Apparently He loved them even more than the angels because they seemed to have a special relationship. Knowing God and how things go in the grand scheme of things, Lucifer probably figured that the angels would have to serve these creatures who were not nearly as powerful or special as they were, and that these humans were destined to be as great, if not greater, than him! This is where the feeling of discontent regarding another’s advantages and success comes in. Why should a powerful being like him have to serve those gross humans?? So he came up with a plan and carried it out with great success, for the most part. Sure he was kicked out of the garden, but so were the humans and now they would also be subject to Death. Death is a power that we can’t control. No matter what you do, Death will eventually get you and everybody you love.

That’s why there is evil in the world. HATRED. RIVALRY. MALICE. RESENTMENT. The Devil HATES you. He doesn’t hate God. HE HATES YOU. He knows the kind of forgiving love that God has for all of us, so it’s the Devil’s job to make sure that you turn from that love. Not only does he want to separate you from the love of God, but he wants to degrade and enslave you. I guess in one way that also gives him more power than God; the power and control that he holds over drug addicts is often more powerful than any willpower or love of God. Think of any of the other sins: lust, greed, gluttony, sloth, wrath, envy, prejudice. If you have fallen under the spell of one of these, then you know the power and control that the Devil holds over you. It’s not easy to shake off, but God loves us and has given us the Devil’s playbook so that we can learn the strategies that are employed against us and how we can twart them. But that will have to wait until next time…

Created

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

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.

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?

Image by Marlon Sommer from Pixabay

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,

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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!

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?

When the Going Gets Tough…

Elijah went a day’s journey into the wilderness, until he came to a solitary broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death: “Enough, LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” He lay down and fell asleep under the solitary broom tree, but suddenly a messenger touched him and said, “Get up and eat!” He looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water. After he ate and drank, he lay down again, but the angel of the LORD came back a second time, touched

Image by Eleabarjavel from Pixabay

him, and said, “Get up and eat or the journey will be too much for you!” He got up, ate, and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb. ~1 Kings 19:4-8 (NABRE)

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? We don’t think that we can take any more so we plead for it all to just end. Just put us out of our misery! How often does that happen? I don’t think that it has every happened for me. Usually something comes up to either support me as I continue on, or it gets worse so that we look back and wish we were back at that previous spot. That’s life. Unfortunately for us, that’s how it’s supposed to be. Just like what happened for Elijah, though, the Lord supports us and sends us what we need to continue on our journey.

Elijah was a prophet of God, but did you notice that didn’t keep Elijah from danger? He was running because Jezebel sent him a note that said she was going to kill him. Right before this he had defeated the prophets of Baal by showing the people that the gods of Baal were false gods and the only true God was our Lord, and then he had killed the other prophets. He had done what the Lord told him to do, and this is what happened. So when he makes the request to die the Lord instead sends an angel to urge Elijah to eat. There is more for Elijah to do so he will need strength.

God has a reason for everything. It may not be pleasant, but there is a reason for our suffering. Maybe we are supposed to learn lessons that we can then pass on to other people who are suffering in the same way. Maybe we are to learn how to cure the suffering we are experiencing. Or, maybe, you are just supposed to grow stronger through this experience so that you can get through the next stage of suffering. Either way, there is a reason though we may not know what it is at the time. We may never know what the purpose of our suffering is until we get to see God face-to-face.

The thing to remember is that even through our suffering He is with us and watching over us. He doesn’t enjoy watching us suffer, but it has to be done. He had to watch Jesus suffer and die on the cross. If God was going to protect and keep somebody from suffering it would have definitely been His own son, right? And yet… because Jesus died on the cross we have received new life. Last week I mentioned the bread from heaven… Jesus is our bread of life. He is the bread come down so that we may have new life. God gave the Israelites manna when they were journeying through the desert. He, again, provided bread to Elijah when He knew that Elijah would need the strength.

God is providing you with bread, too, when you need it. Have you been almost at your wit’s end, and then out of no where the one thing you needed to keep going suddenly appears? Or you suddenly find the strength to keep going? Or perhaps a thought pops into your head that makes you go a different way, and you are preserved from further destruction? That is God. He loves you.

Please listen to Dan Schutte’s song You Are Near. It says it all.

Bread From Heaven

Image by Robert Cheaib from Pixabay

Here in the wilderness the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our kettles of meat and ate our fill of bread! But you have led us into this wilderness to make this whole assembly die of famine!”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain down bread from heaven for you. Each day the people are to go out and gather their daily portion; thus will I test them, to see whether they follow my instructions or not. I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them: In the evening twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will have your fill of bread, and then you will know that I, the LORD, am your God.”

In the evening, quail came up and covered the camp. In the morning there was a layer of dew all about the camp, and when the layer of dew evaporated, fine flakes were on the surface of the wilderness, fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground. On seeing it, the Israelites asked one another, “What is this?” for they did not know what it was. But Moses told them, “It is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat.’ ~Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15 (NABRE)

The Israelites had been held in slavery for generations. Then God sent Moses to liberate His people. God brought the plagues to Egypt and then they experienced the promise of Passover when their marked homes were passed over as the angel of death carried off all the first born in Egypt. If those events weren’t enough, they experienced the parting of the Red Sea as they were escaping Pharaoh’s army. Finally they were free! Can you imagine how that must have felt to know that you were no longer at the service of somebody else? You were your own person and nobody could tell you what to do.

Except, they were hungry. When they had been slaves they had at least had food. Now that they were free they had nothing. They decided they would rather still be slaves with food than free with empty stomachs. God heard their grumbling and sent manna from heaven. They didn’t know what the fine flakes were or what they were supposed to do with them, but Moses set them straight and told them it was a gift from God.

I don’t quite understand the mindset of the Israelites. They knew God had brought them out of Egypt and they saw what Moses was able to accomplish with God’s influence, so why didn’t they automatically ask God to bless them with sustenance? Later on we’ll see that when Moses leaves them alone for two minutes they act like toddlers and start causing all kinds of problems by beginning to worship the golden calf. How many miracles did God have to do in order to make them turn to Him?

Then I stop and think… how many times do I act like the Israelites? I have been very fortunate to not be a slave, but how many times have I let myself be a slave to something just to have God rescue me? Do I then continue to turn to him or do I run off, yelling “Thanks” over my shoulder, as I go off to prove that I can do it myself? When things are going bad do I turn to him and ask for help? Do I continue on and figure that I will come up with a solution?

God knows us and he knows that we’re going to mess up. And yet he continues to help us. He sent the Israelites bread from heaven, but today in a lot of churches we also receive bread from heaven at our weekly celebrations.

Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.”

Luke 22:19 (NABRE)

Jesus died on the cross for our sins. It was this “bread” from heaven that allows us to be welcomed back into God’s presence. Did God leave it at that, though? Did he give us Jesus to be our Savior and then leave us to our own vices in the hopes that it will stick? No. We have his Word in the version of the Bible. When we hunger for the Lord, and don’t know where else to turn, we can at least open the Bible and read the Word. All of his promises are there in print for us to read. We don’t have to rely upon guys like Moses to tell us what the Lord wants us to know.

When I’m having a bad day and I feel like I need to hear something from the Lord I can quench that hunger by opening up his Word. It may not be exactly what I thought I wanted to hear, but I always get something out of it. Even if all I get is the sense that He is with me always. Remember, God loves you.