Monthly Archives: February 2014

Wednesday’s Word: Darkness

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What I am telling you in the dark you must repeat in broad daylight… Matthew 10:27a

 

Having the courage to speak the truth in public can be challenging. An even bigger challenge might be hearing what God is trying to tell us in the darkness to begin with. Christ isn’t asking us to do the impossible, to see in the darkness. He’s inviting us to listen to what he has to say in the darkness. Listening comes before sharing. When we can’t see, we rely more on our sense of hearing. Maybe darkness is a blessing, a way to help us listen.

 

I’ve found it to be true in my own experience. The darkest times in my life have been the times I’ve listened most intently for God’s guidance. When pain, sorrow, and despair have darkened my life I cried out to God and listened for His answer–even when I felt like He wasn’t there. I had nowhere else to turn. The consolation and the strength to endure has always been provided–maybe through a phone call from a friend, or a chance phrase I happened to read or hear in a song. Once, after days sunk in desolation, I took a walk. A stone near the path caught my attention. It was the size, shape, and color of a heel of Italian bread. I hefted the stone in my hand. It felt solid and good and real. It was as if God reached through my darkness, letting me know that He was solid and good and real, too. Day followed day. Eventually the light came back to my life. It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last that I was brought through my gloom by God’s grace, not my own vision.

 

What I heard in the darkness was that God is good, he is solid, and he is there, whether we see him or not. I have something to share with others surrounded by darkness because I’ve been in the darkness myself. Putting one foot in front of the other, we can walk through the bleakest times by faith, not by sight. If we listen with our hearts, we will hear what God is saying to us, and all will be well.

 

Prayer: Light of the world, open my heart to listen for you in my darkness.

 

Reflection: When has God spoken to you in the darkness?

Wednesday’s Word: Presumption

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“The Father, who remains in me, does his own work.” John 14:10b

 

When we surrender our self-will, God can work through us. We’re effective when we cooperate with God, do the legwork, and become God’s hands and feet. It’s when we try to be the head that we get into trouble. It’s tempting to “help” God when things don’t go the way we think they should, but it usually doesn’t work out well.

 

God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many descendents, but as Abraham got older and older with no heir, he and his wife decided to help God. He fathered a child, Ishmael, through Sarah’s slave girl. That wasn’t the heir God had in mind. Ishmael and the promised heir Isaac and their descendants have been at odds ever since.

 

After Judas betrayed Jesus and committed suicide, the eleven remaining apostles decided that they needed a replacement. By drawing lots, they chose Matthias. Ever heard of Matthias? However, a Pharisee named Saul had an astonishing conversion after an encounter with God on the road to Damascus. Saul–also called Paul–ended up becoming the apostle to the Gentiles and writing much of the New Testament. It would seem that God didn’t need help in picking a successor for Judas.

 

What about us? Ever tried to help run your little corner of the universe? Maybe we’ve tried some or all of these ways:

 

  • Trying to guide friends, family, or other adults by giving them unasked for advice on what we think they should do
  • Trying to help God judge the world by mentally passing judgment on others
  • Trying to force or manipulate situations to turn out our way, to prevent the chaos we think will ensue otherwise
  • Thinking we’re the only ones who can help others, even when we’re running on empty
  • Giving God instructions in our prayers rather than ask for His will
  • Forging ahead with our own agendas without stopping to consider what God might want.

 

The days I rush to get done all I think I need to do are often the days that get me nowhere. I am much more relaxed, sane, and able to negotiate my days when I don’t try and take over God’s work.

 

Prayer: Lord, accomplish your work through me.

 

Reflection: When have you tried to take over God’s work?

Saturday Spotlight: Priscilla

iStock_000019044346_ExtraSmallPriscilla is mentioned several times in Scripture–always with her husband, Aquila. Like Paul, they were Jewish tentmakers. After being expelled from Rome, they relocated to Corinth. Both cities were thriving business and cultural centers, subject to the moral excesses that are so often bread in prosperity. Nevertheless, Priscilla and Aquila maintained their marriage as a true partnership.

 

Together they worked, traveled, opened their home to believers, and equally shared the risks involved. They risked reputation, security, and life istelf in order to extend hospitality and stand with fellow believers. Despite their Jewish background, they reached out to Gentile believers as well. After being uprooted yet again from Corinth, Priscilla and Aquila settled in Epheseus, remaining there while Paul moved on. In Pauls absense, they had the insight and courage to correct and instruct Apollos, another enthusiastic speaker of “the Way.” I love their humility in going about it. They did not challenge Apollos publicly, but welcomed him into their home. In that privacy, they supplied him with the information he lacked, without judgement or cricticsm. Apollos’ heart was in the right place, and he was able to make use of their constructive criticism as he followed his call to move on and preach.

 

Scripture doesn’t tell us if Priscilla nad her husband had children. If they were childless, I wond’er how Priscilla felt about it. How did she feel about relocating, not once, but twice? A true helpmate for her husband, Priscilla apparently nurtured her marraige and was nurtured by it. She did not seem driven to act independently, nor was she so absorbed in love for her husband that there was little room left for outsiders.

 

Many of us face the challenges Prsicilla did. Married or not, we may need to relocate, due to employment or circumstances beyond our control. We might even resent being forced to give up a familiar or comfortable lifestyle. Maybe we mourn a childless or loveless marriage or state in life. We might struggle with surrendering our will at times for the sake of our loved ones. It’s okay to feel whatever we do feel about our circumstances. After all, God created us to have feelings. We can bring our feelings safely to God and allow him to lead us through them. God can teach our hearts to balance lvoing others with loving ourselves. Learning this balance is a process. We are not responsible for our feelings, but for our choices.

 

In your faith journey, what have you had to leave behind? What did you gain? What helped you cope with your feelings about the change?

 

Taken from “Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes.”

Wednesday’s Word: Faith

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For all of us must appear before Christ, to be judged by him. We will each receive what we deserve, according to everything we have done, good or bad, in our bodily life. 2 Corinthians 5: 10

 

Did St. Paul really write this in his letter to the Corinthians? Wasn’t he always saying:

That we’re saved by faith, not by works? (Ephesians 2: 8)

That he looked on all his achievements as so much trash? (Phillipians 3: 7-8)

That if we could earn our own salvation that Christ died for nothing? (Galatians 2: 21)

 

There is no doubt that God does for us what we could never do for ourselves. We’re human. We’ll never be good enough to achieve our own salvation. We all fall short. God’s mercy and love goes deeper than our worst shortcomings.

 

So how does that fit in with being judged by Christ and receiving what we deserve? Although I honestly don’t know, I suspect it has something to do with the sin of presumption. We can go from one extreme to the other. We might think: If I’m saved by faith in what Christ did for me on the cross, I’ve got it made in the shade. I don’t have to worry about a thing. This warped assumption of pre-emptive forgiveness tempts us to think we might as well do whatever our self-will dictates because we’ve got a free pass.

 

That’s not what Paul did. Once he had a direct encounter with Christ, Paul saw that it was all about what Christ did, not what we did. Nevertheless, after that encounter, Paul doubled his efforts to spread the good news throughout the known world. He preached, risked life and limb, endured beatings, jail, shipwreck, and more. Why bother if it doesn’t matter what we do? It was because of his faith in Christ. In other words, Paul’s works didn’t earn his salvation, but his trust in God’s priceless gift of salvation impelled Paul to share what he’d been given with others.

 

It isn’t so much a question of faith versus works, but of which comes first. If we think of our works as merit badges that will put God in debt to us and owe us salvation, we have a pretty low opinion of God’s grace. On the other hand, our acceptance of God’s grace, along with his forgiveness of the wrongs we could never make right, produces gratitude and trust. That’s what inspires us to reach out in love and service. We will be judged on our faith but the evidence of our faith is not in what we say we believe but in how we live our lives.

 

Prayer: Lord, live Your love through me.

 

Reflection: Actions speak louder than words. What are my actions saying about my faith today?

Saturday Spotlight: Ananias

iStock_000019044346_ExtraSmallPaul, also called Saul of Tarsus, headed to Damascus to persecute Christians. On the way, he was blinded following an encounter with the risen Christ and had a conversion experience, but Ananias didn’t know that.

 

When God called Ananias, he responded, “Here I am, Lord.” So far, so good. Then God asked him to go to Saul, lay hands on him, and heal him of his blindness. If we read between the lines in Acts 9, it’s clear that Ananias’ response was, “Lord, are you sure you know what you’re doing? I’ve heard about this Saul, and he came here to persecute your followers.” Whether Ananias was reluctant to put such a threat to Christianity back in commission, or for his own personal safety, or both, he still remained open to God’s guidance.

 

God revealed to Ananaias His plan to empower Saul to share the Good News with Gentiles as well as Jews. It took three days before Ananias went to Saul, but he did go. I can relate to his hesitancy, but I also suspect God was using that time. Both Saul and Ananias were both learning to see with the eyes of faith. When he entered the house where Saul was staying, Ananias greeted him as “Brother Saul.” What a change of heart! As Ananias placed his hands on Saul and restored his sight, Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit.

 

We can take heart from Ananias. It’s okay to face our doubts and fears and reason them out with God (or with a trusted spiritual guide.) God will meet us at our roadblocks and either remove them or enable us to overcome them. The Lord may be inviting us to reach out to someone today. Maybe it’s someone we might not think needs our help, or someone we even find threatening. It might be the perfectly dressed soccer mom whose kids always sit still at church while ours fidget and squirm. It might be the sullen teen with the dark eye makeup and darker scowl that our duaghter befriended. Maybe it’s the colleague at work that is a little too charming or the pastor who seems so full of wisdom we suspect he has all the answers to life.

 

Who might need our understanding and help today? It might be the one we least expect.

 

Adapted from, “Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes.”

Wednesday’s Word: Purgatory

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“You cannot follow me now where I am going,” answered Jesus; “but later you will follow me.” John 13: 36b

 

Jesus’ comment got me thinking about Purgatory. What if, for some reason, we can’t follow Him now? I believe there’s still a chance we’ll be able to follow him later.

 

“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect…” (Catechism of the Catholic Church. (1030-1031) Although not specifically mentioned in Scripture, the teaching on Purgatory is deduced from certain Scriptural texts and the practice of praying for the dead also mentioned in Scripture.

 

I came to my own personal understanding of Purgatory some years ago, when someone I loved very much died. Because he had deteriorated mentally and physically, I wondered if he had been able to fully turn toward the Light before his passing. Because only God truly knows each human heart, none of us are in a position to judge anyone else. Still, I wrestled with the question: What happens to someone whose body gives out before fully repenting?

 

Of course, God respects our free will. Those who freely choose to reject God’s love–who refuse to love God, neighbor, and/or self, who refuse to change–separate themselves from union with God who is Love. That definitive self-exclusion is called “hell.” If our hearts are not completely one with God’s will, we wouldn’t be happy in heaven anyway.

 

But God is also beyond time, and knows our choices before we do. It brought me great comfort to think that God wouldn’t pull the plug ten minutes before any repentant heart had time to fully turn around. I began to see the concept of Purgatory as an extension of God’s mercy. We are given all the “time” God knows we need to bring our hearts into alignment with His perfect will. If we haven’t completed our journey of spiritual growth on this side of the Earth plane, God will provide us with whatever we need on the other side. As long as we are willing—even if we aren’t able to follow Christ now—we’ll be able to follow Him later…whenever “later” happens to be.

 

Prayer: Merciful Savior, grant that I may follow you.

 

Reflection: What is holding you back from following where Christ leads today?

Saturday Spotlight: Tabitha

iStock_000019044346_ExtraSmallTabitha never preached a sermon, wrote an epistle. or defended the faith against unbelievers. It’s quite possible she never traveled outside her hometown. She was too busy helping others. Tabitha was called to preach through her service and was faithful to her mission. Her life made a difference, not because of spiritual insight, but because she put her belief into action.

 

Apparently Tabitha had the domestic skills common to women in her culture. She used her sewing ability to make clothes for the needy. She trusted God to meet her needs, and gave to others generously. But even a giver like Tabitha also needed nurturing. Distressed at finding her lifeless body, her neighbors sent for Peter–the leader of the entire Christian community at that time–and he came. If she had been conscious, I imagine her squirming at the thought of troubling anybody–let alone Peter. He prayed, took her by the hand, and helped her up. Ultimately, when Tabitha was helped by Peter, she was given back to the community.

 

When she was beyond helping herself, Tabitha received ministry, and rightly so. We all need help at times. It is possible to distort self-sacrifice into reverse pride. It is a subtle form of pride to think we can always be on the giving end. That kind of power belongs to God alone. Knowing our limitations and accepting help is an act of healthy humility. It also gives others an opportunity to be blessed by giving of themselves.

 

Those who serve in unspectacular ways–looking after a child or relative, serving up meals at a soup kitchen, listening to a lonely voice on the phone–are great in the kingdom of heaven.  As Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disicples, if you have love for one another.” Tabitha is a role model for us all.

 

Why is it important to balance giving with receiving? What would that balance look like in your current life?

 

Adapted from “Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes”

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Meditations

But Jesus answered “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.’” (Matthew 4:4)

 

All Bible quotes are from the Good News Translation unless otherwise noted.

 

It is reassuring that Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to be his followers. These were laymen, not Scripture experts. It is wise to seek guidance from religious scholars and clergy who have studied Scripture to avoid errors in interpretation. But the Bible is also a gift given to each of us, to use as a basis for prayer and meditation.

 

I’m not a Biblical scholar; I’m an expert only on my own experience. Following the Scripture passage is a brief meditation along with a question or two as a springboard for your own reflections. Please feel free to share your own thoughts or insights on the passage by adding a comment. All comments are moderated, so please allow some time for your comment to be posted.

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