Rescued – Part 2

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“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

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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 2

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In last week’s post I discussed the Devil, who he is and why he has a problem with humans. As a reminder, this is based on Father John Riccardo’s book Rescued, which I highly recommend that you read or listen to for yourself. This week I am going to do my best to discuss the Devil’s game plan and what his tactics are that he uses pretty successfully.

We know that the Devil HATES us. His ultimate goal is to enslave and degrade us. He wants to DESTROY us. How does he do this? We know that the greatest thing in life is love, and most especially the love of God. To deprive us of love the Devil tells us that we’re not worth loving; that if we were lovable then bad things wouldn’t happen to us; that people who supposedly love us wouldn’t let us get hurt. He’s the one who whispers, “If there really is a loving God then why is there such suffering and tragedy in this world? Why would a loving God let that happen?” And we fall for these lies! There is such suffering and tragedy in the world because this is the Devil’s kingdom and he reigns supreme. Adam and Eve fell for his lies and we’ve inherited that trait from them. They didn’t have any reason to distrust God and yet Satan was able to get them to disobey God’s only rule in the garden.

Due to the fall of Adam and Eve, Death and Sin entered the world. These aren’t just things or states of being. Death and Sin have tremendous power over all of us. No matter what you do you are going to die. No matter how much money you make or how much time you spend volunteering, at some point you are going to die. There is nothing that will stop this from happening. We are doomed, right? So why bother going on. Why bother trying to resist? Because there is hope!

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believed in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

John 3:16-18 (NABRE)

Jesus came to earth to save us from the clutches of Death and Sin. Are we still going to die? Yes, BUT we will be raised with Christ! What does that mean? It means that when the day of judgement comes those who have believed will be welcomed into God’s presence with open arms while hearing, “Well done good and faithful servant!” That’s what we want to hear, right? We don’t want to hear Jesus tell us that we didn’t make it and we are banished to hell. Where does that leave us? That leaves us in the grip of the Devil to do with us as he pleases. Keep in mind that Newton’s third law says that for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. Who was the one who designed all laws of physics and science? God. So, Kerry’s First Law (that’s me… I’m claiming this as my own) states that for as much love as God has for us, the Devil has the opposite and equal hatred for us. Think about that for a minute. In the ‘Created’ section we discussed how each of us is God’s most precious and beloved creation above all else. That means that we are also the Devil’s most hated, most loathed and most despised creation. The worst tortures and sufferings that we humans have created have NOTHING on what the Devil can inflict upon us. That is what Death does to us… consigns us to the Devil’s power. Thus, we needed somebody to save us from this power.

“How can we who died in sin yet live in it? Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.

For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. For a dead person has been absolved from sin. If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him. As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as [being] dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.”

Romans 6:2-11 (NABRE)

Sin. Paul makes it sound so simple that you either sin or you don’t. I wish it was that simple! It’s not like black licorice where it seems like you either like it or you don’t. There aren’t too many people who are indifferent to this candy; either you passionately love it or you hate it with every fiber of your being. If people could walk away from sin as easily as they can walk away from black licorice, this world would be a much better place. But it’s very difficult! Why? Because the Devil is right there whispering in our ears. First he tells us that we’re not worth anything better. He accuses… He accuses God because God didn’t stop the suffering when he so easily could have done so. Then he accuses us that it’s our fault that something bad happened. Think of the child who thinks it’s their fault when their parents fight. Then he accuses others, that they could have stopped the bad thing from happening. As he’s doing all of this, and it’s working, he is slowly encircling you with chains to enslave you and keep you under his power. He also divides, lies, flatters, tempts and discourages.

The best example I can think of when it comes to how the Devil works is by taking a look at the girls who often end up in the Adult Entertainment industry. What happens? First, Mr/Ms Smooth comes up and tells the girl how beautiful she is, that she would make a billion dollars as a model and they can help her get those kinds of jobs. (Flattery) They set up a “photo shoot” or fly her out to a big city where she can meet the people who are going to throw cash her way. (Lies/Divides) When she is separated from family or people who actually care about her, they show her the life that she wants to live (tempts). However they finally get her to perform whatever act they have in mind, they have usually spent enough time discouraging her and accusing her of being an embarassment to her family, that she feels she has no power and can’t leave these people who have ruined her life. Can you imagine that kind of life? You used to be happy and proud of yourself. Now you hate the very things you are doing, but you feel that you really are worthless and that your parents or friends would be so ashamed of you that they would never want you back in their lives. You are all alone and completely at the power of these dispicable people. You are degraded and enslaved. You are unloved, unwanted, and completely devoid of all hope.

I’m going to leave you with that thought. Spend some time thinking about being in that pit of despair, abused and controlled by people who don’t care about you. You are trapped without hope of rescue.

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.

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.

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)

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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.

Weeds Among the Wheat

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“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?

Where have the weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”‘” ~Matthew 13:24-30 (NABRE)

Can you relate to this parable? Have you ever planted a garden, tending it with care, just to discover that as your delicate vegetable plants are growing they also have buddies growing up right next to them that aren’t supposed to be there? Did you ever get daring and attempt to pull the weed? I’ve had to replant the good plant quite a few times due to my desire to be rid of the weed. Fortunately for me my tomato plants are much easier to replant than a stalk of wheat.

It’s really disheartening to look out at a vast field that was so carefully planted with good seed and see all the weeds growing among them. You did everything that you were supposed to do, but all it took was one errant weed seed to find its way into your field and then the weeds were all over. That must be how God feels when he looks at earth. He so carefully created the earth, the animals and humans. He made us in his own image and then blessed us. We were good seed. Then the snake crept in and spewed evil all over, which turned us into one of the weeds. God couldn’t remove the sin that we had done, so he pulled out the good seed along with the weed and tossed us out of the Garden of Eden.

The thing is that God tries to give us all the Miracle Gro and extra nutrients that he can to help us grow. He wants to harvest us all and welcome us back into his presence when the time comes. However, evil is among us planting its seed and watching us be crowded out by the weeds. What is God to do? The only thing He can… when the time comes the harvesters (angels) will come and take the good seed with them and toss the weeds into the fiery pit.

It’s up to us to make sure that we remain good seeds. We can’t allow the weeds to sap the nutrients from the earth and starve us out. If we hold together and gather with like people, then we can grow even better and overshadow the weeds. We need to stay true to ourselves and not give the weeds a good foot hold. Be the best person that you can be. Don’t lower yourself to the same level as the weeds. You are better than that! Just because the Queen Anne’s Lace looks pretty doesn’t make it any less of a weed. Stay true to yourself and your faith. Love God and love one another. Remember, God loves you.

Rest and Recharge

The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place.

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People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. ~Mark 6:30-34 (NABRE)

At the beginning of this scripture Jesus is trying to teach the apostles a lesson that many of us today need to learn, too. You must make time for yourself to be quiet, rest and recharge. When you are constantly interacting with people, processing lots of information and trying to act on what needs to be done, it really takes a toll on your body. Both physically and mentally. Jesus knew this very well. How often do we read about him going off by himself to pray? Quiet time to re-center, re-group and re-charge is what everybody needs. Even God rested on the seventh day!

How often do you see family, friends or coworkers who are so frazzled and at their wits end because they have so much to do and not enough time to do it in? Between work and home we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. A few years ago I actually suffered from stress hives for almost five months because I wasn’t taking care of myself. Stress is horrible, too. It can cause all sorts of issues including weight gain, weight loss, hair loss, hives, excema, heart attacks, etc. You have to learn to say no and put yourself first. If you break down then you can’t help others.

The only “problem” is that when Jesus disembarked from the boat he saw the vast crowds and had to help them. Their need for what he had to offer was greater than his need for quiet time. Parents know this all too well. How many times do you feel like just plopping on the couch and zoning out in front of the TV, but then little Johnny comes up and needs help with something or just wants you to spend time with them doing some other activity? Do you tell them no, that you need to have Me time? Of course, not. You probably sigh and then get up to go spend time with your child.

That doesn’t mean that you never again take time for yourself. You have to know your limits and know when to say ‘no’. It doesn’t specifically say that Jesus weighed his exaustion level against the need of the crowd and decided that he had a little more to give. If you read further in this chapter of Mark you read about the feeding of the five thousand and then you arrive at Mark 6:46, “And when he had taken leave of them, he went off to the mountain to pray.” Jesus helped all of those people and then still found some time to recharge his batteries.

When I start to feel guilty that I’m doing something for myself such as spending time crocheting instead of cleaning the house, I just remind myself of this chapter in Mark. Don’t feel guilty for taking some needed downtime. Don’t feel guilty that you sat and read a good book for an hour instead of dusted the house. Now, if all you’re doing is Me things, you definitely need to re-prioritize. I’m hoping that the pandemic helped a lot of people learn that a lot of what kept them busy was nonsense stuff. I hope they learned how to just sit with themselves in quiet or realize that what they had been doing was just a bunch of noise. Take a lesson from Jesus; do good works and help out your fellow man, but don’t forget to be quiet and talk with God.