Sunday, December 28, 2008
Stress and pressure in our lives is usually built up over time, although the onset of trouble may seem sudden. Blood pressure tends to increase gradually. As we age, there are different kinds of pressures—interior and exterior, self-imposed or circumstantial—which affect our well-being. Our hearts and circulatory system become sluggish, and often an irregular heartbeat develops, as in my case. Sometimes the condition is benign, sometimes more serious to require medication. As time goes on, eventually a pacemaker is implanted to assist normal function.
There are spiritual parallels. The Lord allows situations to test us on the treadmill of life to see if our spiritual hearts respond correctly under pressure. Some things may be blocking our normal responses to His voice and hindering the completion with joy of the course in life that God has appointed for us. Cares of this world, prolonged illness, relationship pressures, and multiple sufferings beset us. Such conditions may result in a breakdown in physical health as well as spiritual health. We notice fatigue in both areas; we can’t keep up the pace of life as we age. Our energy is depleted, particularly through our increasing limitations. Second Corinthians 4:16-18 notifies us, in case we are in doubt, that “our outer person is decaying (wasting away)” because we all are “earthen vessels made of clay.” We feel broken, run down, tired, used up, and physically and spiritually listless.
Just as we are given medication to restore normality, most of us whose pace is irregular need some assistance to regain the normal, regular function of our spiritual hearts. It is essential for our inner person, our spiritual infrastructure, to be renewed day by day. This refreshing comes from the Spirit of God as we seek God’s presence daily, and from the Word of God which nourishes our souls.
GOD, The Divine Pacemaker, is always available to mend our spiritual hearts and restore His pace for our final days. As we focus on Him, looking unto Him as the “Author and FINISHER” of our faith, and Finisher of our life course, He infuses sufficient strength for those Last Miles of our earthly journey. As the old hymn goes, “He giveth more grace as the burdens grow greater....” The assistance may also come through friends who pray and care for and encourage us, cheer us on, and bear us up when we are flying low. Thank God for The Body of Christ, the Household of Faith!
(Excerpt from a book in progress FINISHING UP—WITH A FLOURISH by Leona Choy)
Invariably, in the family letters I will read, “I LOST (a number of friends and relatives) this year” and they are fondly recalled by name. The older one becomes the more this is repeated in the letters. A significant number of my close friends, too, have departed this life this year.
From the Christian perspective, if we truly believe the promises of Jesus Christ which are recorded in Scripture, combined with our declaration of “I believe in the Communion of Saints” from the Apostles’ Creed, we do NOT LOSE our loved ones and friends who are in the Faith when they depart this mortal, earthly life. God created us with immortal spirits (or souls) which never die. Jesus’ words could not be clearer, “He who believes in Me shall live even if He dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me, shall never die.” (John 11:25)
From the time of the Apostles through the early Church age and in the writings of the Early Church Fathers, and throughout the centuries of the Christian Church, it was taught and believed that the “Communion of Saints” consists of unbroken relationships between those still living and those who departed this life to live eternally in the presence of God. “Saints” is the term given to all who are in Christ, as the word is used in the New Testament.
In the Catholic faith passed on through the ages from the time of Christ, it is taught and believed that our loved ones in Christ who are now in His presence are aware of our lives on earth. They can pray for us and we can ask for their prayers. They cannot DO anything for us because they are not Divine, but they can INTERCEDE for us to Jesus Christ, the One Mediator with God the Father. There is nothing in Scripture or in the early Church teachings to the contrary. This is NOT an attempt to communicate with the dead for the purposes of knowing the future, as the Scriptures clearly teach against.
There are many mysteries, things difficult to understand in the Christian faith. As finite beings we can’t expect to fully know the Infinite during our lifetimes on earth. We will know as we are known, the Scriptures say, when we come into the Presence of God ourselves. Time will give way to Eternity; God will reveal Himself fully to us, and we shall see His grand, sovereign plan unfold. Until faith becomes sight, we trust in God.
Let us accept as much as Jesus Christ has seen fit to reveal to us. The rest He keeps as a wonderful surprise for us in the future. He said, “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s House are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going. I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” (John 14: 1-6)
As difficult as separation is when loved ones or friends depart this earthly life, or how keenly we miss them because our emotions are involved, we do not really LOSE them! Nor do we LOSE CONTACT with them because of the availability of their intercession for us. This is good news! We would do well to meditate on the reality of their being ALIVE AND WELL in the presence of God and visualize them as so.
The veil between time and eternity may be thinner than we realize!
We lay in a huddled heap in our wooden crate on the back porch.
Ever since The Man found us scattered in gullies and crevices on the mountain and brought us to this Unknown Place, we lost all track of time. At least Out There we could breathe. Here we were mashed in upon one another, quite homogenized in appearance, caked with dirt.
“What will you do with those clods?” a curious voice asked.
“I’m going to turn each one into the likes of these,” The Man answered.
We shoved at each other trying to see through the slats of the crate. The Man displayed to a friend a splendid collection of highly polished stones that sparkled like diamonds. Our hopes soared. We fairly trembled with anticipation to think that we would soon be lifted out of our anonymity and transformed by some miracle into costly looking gems.
“Come along and I’ll show you how it’s done,” invited The Man.
He dragged our crate out of storage. But instead of picking us out one by one as we expected, He dumped all of us misshapen, mud-caked clods into a large steel drum. Oh! How it hurt to be treated so ignominiously! How the jagged edges of each clod hit and scraped against the others!
Scarcely had we rolled over trying to get more comfortable, than steaming, hot water began to pour over us. He shook an abrasive powder on us, dribbled oil on the whole mess, then slammed the door and locked it. We were terrified in the utter darkness.
The Man flipped a motor switch and the steel drum began to rotate unmercifully fast. Scraping, grinding, banging, crashing, clod against clod we tumbled. We thought we could not endure for one more minute the deafening noise and pain of our forced contact with one another.
Nevertheless, the spinning, friction, jabbing, crushing, knocking continued! How long? How long?
“It takes time,” remarked The Man as He walked away with his friend while our pummeling went on and on.
Much, much later He returned and flipped the switch off. The drum came to a squeaking halt. We were unceremoniously dumped out into a trough outdoors, nearly blinded by the sunshine. The Man turned a powerful spurt of hot water on us from a hose. Dirt poured away in a murky stream. Would our ordeal never end?
“Beautiful! Marvelous! Exquisite!” exclaimed The Man’s friend.
Breathless and dazed, we lay there stunned until we realized that he was talking about us. We looked at each other and gasped with disbelief. Each was different from the other—sparkling, brilliant and clean! We had been transformed from earthy clods to gems!
The Man lifted one of us to display in His palm. “Look,” He spoke with delight. “I can see My reflection on the surface of this one!”
The Man explained to His friend, “One clod can’t be polished alone. It takes the friction of many clods against each other, together with Oil, abrasive, and hot water to get this marvelous result.”
He who has ears to hear, let him hear and understand the parable of the Clods.
PRAISE FOR THE PAST
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me,
bless His holy Name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none
of His benefits: Who pardons all your iniquities, Who heals all
your diseases, Who redeems your life from the pit, Who crowns
you with lovingkindness and compassion, Who satisfies your years
with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
PRAYER FOR THE FUTURE
HERE I AM, LORD—
As a new year dawns, I’m still on Planet Earth!
But You know that—You know all things
When You chose me long ago to follow You
You designed my destiny, planned my life
Ordained the number of my years: fourscore—and more!
How generous You are, Lord, to bless me abundantly
Allowing me to see my children grown to their maturity
And the children of my children—now their children too!
Why am I still here? Not to coast to a finish!
If Your plan for me is still incomplete
May I keep growing beyond where I’ve attained
Pressing onward, upward to heights Your love draws me
To become conformed to the image of Your Son
Your will fulfilled in me according to Your word.
I want to bear more sweet fruit for You this year
And continue to flourish like the aging palm tree
Though my outward flesh is weary, worn, and weak
Renew my inward youth daily with new vigor
Strengthen me to mount up with wings as the eagle
And not lose heart, grow faint, or be diminished in spirit
So that I may finish life’s race without stumbling
*ad majorem Dei gloriam.
(2 Cor. 4:16-18; Isaiah 40:28-31; John 15:1-8; Psalm 92:12-15)
* to the greater glory of God
Saturday, December 6, 2008
When Master Potter fashioned me from the crude clay, He decided to make me a vessel, a cup. At His discretion, He formed my cup with a large capacity.
"I will fill it," He promised.
In my youth, great thirst began to consume me. It seemed that unlimited years stretched before me. Every fountain of life sparkled and beckoned to me offering a fullness to which I might hold my cup and let its water bubble in to fill me.
"Just wait for My time," Master Potter cautioned. "I promise to choose the right fountain for you."
In due season (but none too soon, I complained) Master Potter led me to a certain fountain of His choice.
I stretched forth my empty cup with trembling anticipation. At last! Eagerness for the promised fulfillment nearly overwhelmed me.
There was nothing wrong with that fountain. Its waters were adequate, I suppose. But I was left unfulfilled, puzzled—and sad.
Time went by--a lot of time.
I realized with painful, excruciating dismay, that this fountain might always fill my cup barely one-quarter full! I grew increasingly restless. What a disappointment! Was this Master Potter's best for me?
Or had my cup grown in capacity with maturity?
Perhaps my thirst was greater?
Was this all that my fountain was capable of giving me?
My cup could easily hold three-quarters more!
I wanted my cup to be not merely full, but overflowing! Was that an unreasonable expectation? After all, it was Master Potter who gave me such great capacity. I became increasingly perplexed and discontented.
I questioned Master Potter's judgment and decided, "I shall take my cup back to Him. I shall demand a reason for His meager provision. I shall ask to change fountains!
On the way There, I unexpectedly came upon another fountain. Oh, how large and splendid and abundant it was! Surely Master Potter made this one too—it was clearly labeled as His possession. How sparkling was the water that bubbled to overflowing! I couldn't help myself; I was drawn to it with anticipation. I knew instinctively that this fountain would slake my thirst and give me the fullness for which I longed, for which I was made—that other three-quarters that I desired with all my being.
I shouted for joy! By myself I finally found the fountain I wanted!
Without considering whether the fountain belonged to anyone else, I held my cup to it. Yes! Water gushed in, filled my cup to the brim and then spilled over. Oh, how it quenched my thirst—more sumptuously than I ever dared to dream!
I drank and drank and drank until I was drunk with abandon.
Suddenly a strong hand grasped my shoulder.
Master Potter stood beside me. He shook me gently but firmly until I became sober again.
Coming to myself, I made as if to defy Him. "It was You who made me with this great capacity! Why did You give me a large cup and great thirst? Was it to taunt me by chaining me to a meager fountain that leaves me three-quarters empty? On my own I found a better fountain, another of Your fountains, which fills my cup to overflowing. It suits me better. So I want that one!" I pouted, stamping my feet.
Master Potter waited until my bitterness was spent. Then He quietly and simply replied, "My child, I deliberately allow some emptiness in your life and only provide what you consider partial fulfillment so that I may fill your cup with Myself. In Me there is fullness and abundance. In Me there is satisfaction and the slaking of all thirsts. Yes, I have promised that your cup will be full but not through waters from the fountains of temporal things or human relationships. They will always prove inadequate no matter how satisfying they may seem at the moment."
I pondered His words. "But...the fountain I found," I argued, "fills me more than the one You provided! I like this one. I want it! I want it now! You have given me the wrong fountain!"
He was patient. "For the present, in my shaping and transforming of you into My Son’s image, I have ordained that you drink from the fountain I gave you, the one that satisfies you only one-quarter full. I hold the future. Trust Me to know what is best for you. First be content to have the least—the quarter-cup. I reward obedience and faithfulness. Have I not promised, 'all these things shall be added unto you,' and 'no good thing will I withhold from them that walk uprightly'? Seek Me first, the One who has made you and not satisfaction from the things which I have made."
I fell at His feet sobbing, pleading, "But I can't keep on living with my cup three-quarters empty!"
Master Potter said, "You are right. By yourself you cannot. But through Me you can."
"Teach me, teach me how to do it then!" I cried desperately.
"I shall," He promised. "Day by day, moment by moment, trust and obey Me, delight yourself in Me, and I shall surely give you the desires of your heart."
I clung to His feet in anguish. How was He going to work things out? And when? How soon? I wanted to lift the curtain on the next scene to see what the future would hold. I simply had to know how His promise would be fulfilled.
Otherwise, how could I write the conclusion to this parable?
But He didn't tell me….
Lord! I must wait—not with reluctance or rebellion but in joyful submission, obedience and trust.
So I must leave this parable unfinished...for now....
(Resource verses: Isaiah 55:8,9; 30:18,21; Psalm 106:13-15; 37:4; 84:11;107:35)
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
“I am alive! I am alive! I am alive! I didn’t miss out on living! And that is wonderful enough for me.”
A seven year old boy with third-degree burns over ninety-five percent of his body exclaimed the above. David was facing approximately 5,000 surgeries in his lifetime with all the excruciating pain that would entail, yet he was so thankful just to be ALIVE.
Are we overlooking the miracle of simply being alive? Do we have to experience tragedy or survive a life-threatening illness before we value life itself? We didn’t do anything to deserve life; it is an outright gift from God. We only need to open our eyes and hearts to accept and appreciate the wonder of everyday living and the everyday people God brings across our path. Someone suggested that many of us are like flies crawling across the ceiling of the spectacular beauty of the Sistine Chapel. We miss the grandeur all around us.
Let's tiptoe through each day experiencing the marvel of just being alive. Sing to the hills till they are alive with the sound of music--Sing out "I am God's workmanship!" (Ephesians 2:10) "I am God's temple!" (1 Corinthians 3:16) "I am bought with a price, the blood of Christ!" (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20) "I am God's child!" (John 1:12) Jesus came to give us LIFE and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)
A priest friend of mine distilled the meaning of LIFE in two sequences of letters: LPM and ADP. Live in the Present Moment/Abandoned to Divine
Helen Keller who became deaf and blind at the age of two courageously seized life with both hands and declared “Life is a daring adventure!” She challenges us who have eyes but apparently see little. We take for granted the panorama of color and action which fill our world.
“I, who cannot see, find hundreds of things to interest me through mere touch. I feel the delicate symmetry of a leaf. I pass my hands lovingly about the smooth skin of a silver birch or the rough shaggy bark of a pine. I feel the delightful, velvety texture of a flower and discover its remarkable convolutions—something of the miracle of nature is revealed to me….At times my heart cries out, longing to see these things, but if I can get so much pleasure in mere touch, how much more beauty must be revealed by sight?”
Have I lived in the present moment without focusing on the rear view mirror? Have I walked through my day yielding joyfully to God’s design for my life? Have I thanked God today for breathing into me the breath of life and generously blessing me with five senses? Did I arise this morning aware and thankful that I AM ALIVE! I AM ALIVE! I AM ALIVE!?
Tomorrow is another day, God willing, offering another opportunity to thank Him for LIFE, whatever it may bring--or however short or long! It is all filtered through the generous love and plans of God who has blessed us with both mortal life and eternal life to enjoy!
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
He gave us five senses with which to relate to the world about us. Some people born with one or another sense defect or because of illness miss out on the fullness of this interaction.
Our sense of taste, for instance, contributes greatly to our enjoyment of life. The average person has about 10,000 taste buds on his tongue. Each taste bud has very sensitive microscopic hairs called microvilli (mye-kro-vih-lye) that send messages to the brain about how something tastes. Without them you would miss the saltiness of a potato chip or the sweetness of an apple and everything would taste like sawdust.
In an effort to provide us with foods that taste good, the food industry conducts research using taste tests to determine the public’s reaction to the flavor of their foods. In some markets people are hired to offer you taste samples of different foods with the invitation to buy the produce. “Try it—you’ll like it!”
“O taste and see that the Lord is good” the Psalmist invites. (Psalm 34:8) “How sweet are Thy words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (119:103) Intangible things of the spirit can be tasted like God’s words, the heavenly gift, and His kindness. Peter, speaking of growing in respect to salvation by longing for the pure milk of the word, adds “if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” (1 Peter 2:3)
However, a warning is given in Hebrews 6:4,5,6 about those who “have tasted of the heavenly gift…and tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come and then have fallen away.” If they fall away, “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.”
Things of darkness like death can also be tasted. (Matthew 16:28) We can only imagine what it was like for Jesus to “…taste death for every one” through the suffering of the cross. (Hebrews 2:9)
God has given us our spiritual taste buds for a purpose; let us not neglect or treat them lightly. Once we taste of the Lord, we will surely long for even more of His goodness.
Friday, November 28, 2008
BRING ON THE CLIPPERS
Most of us get a haircut, trim or styling rather frequently. Our hair grows because it is alive. Likewise things in the natural world grow according to God’s design. Nevertheless, cultivation is necessary if the gardener, farmer, or vine grower wants to assure bountiful produce. God instructed Adam to tend the Garden in which He placed Him. Part of cultivation is to clip and trim and prune shrubs, grapevines, and especially fruit trees by removing overgrowth and wild shoots.
Pruning gets rid of the unwanted extras, the undesirables. The little sprouts or new twigs the gardener removes are not inferior or bad—they are usually healthy and strong. But if he allows all the natural branches to develop just because they look good or he feels sorry to cut them off, he limits the strong main growth. The life of the tree or vine would be detoured into too many branches and inhibit fruit bearing. The gardener shows wisdom and skill as he says NO to certain shoots and YES to others.
Does it hurt the tree to be pruned? Not in the emotional sense of pain. Even elective tree surgery is beneficial to future production. The gardener does the tree a favor by his apparent rough treatment of cutting off its little branches. If the tree could speak, it might NOT say, "Thanks, I needed that!" when the sharp clippers nip off an apparently healthy branch. It might even yell "Ouch! What did I do to deserve that?"
Jesus illustrated the pruning process in John chapter 15 and applied it to our spiritual lives. He made the point that pruning was done to a flourishing, good vine, the already-fruit-bearing vine, not to punish a bad vine. Pruning is done to produce MORE fruit and then MUCH fruit.
He said that God, the Father, is the vinedresser, the Master Gardener. Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. He taught that abiding in Him, and He in us, was absolutely indispensable for fruit-bearing. At the same time, He must deal with our wild shoots. If they aren't pruned, we, like a vine in nature, become a tangled mess of unfruitful, unruly shoots.
What are these untamed shoots that must be pruned? They are different for each of us. Some people have many popping out all over—like I do. Some have fewer. They may be good things in themselves: good works, good ideas, good talents, even good ministries. But if we attempt all of them, allow them to remain and mature in their own natural way, they will make a jungle out of our lives and hinder our productivity for the Lord.
We don’t always know which branches should be eliminated and which we permit to develop. Only God knows. And if we don’t prune the unproductive shoots ourselves, He takes over and removes certain branches for us. Painful? Yes, often. Resisted? Probably. Not understood? Generally.
The Lord prunes our branches by closing doors to us, removing certain people from our lives, teaching us to say NO to some things which appear good, but are not God's best for us. As we open ourselves to His will and work in our lives, He provides us with wisdom and the gift of discernment to lay aside the unproductive. Sometimes he lays US aside for a time so we can get our priorities straight and concentrate on His mainline will without wild shoots.
It is less painful if we joyfully yield to God’s way and live the self-examined life instead of waiting for the Lord to do the pruning. Either way, in the end we will flourish and produce more pleasing fruit for His glory.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
(Setting: UninhabitedDryland not far from Riverbank)
(Setting: UninhabitedDryland not far from Riverbank)
"Whew! It's hot and dry!" Green Tree shook the dust from his leaves with a swish and a shudder. "Time for another drink." The ground crackled as he stretched his roots imperceptibly deeper under the earth toward Riverbank. "Ahhhh!"
Parched Shrub, drooping nearby, tried to shake his brittle branch stubs and glared up at Green Tree whose leaves were verdant and healthy. "You think you're somebody special, don't you? If you were down here close to the hot sand you wouldn't act so high and mighty."
"We're in it together, friend," replied Green Tree surprised. "My roots are in the same dry desert. Besides, I'm up here closer to the sun and that's even hotter."
"Well, I'm waiting for Mortal Man to water me. He promised to come when I needed him. He’ll probably arrive by Prosperity Bus anytime now," mumbled Parched Shrub.
“How late is it?”
"Oh, a few months, give or take a few weeks."
"We live in
Parched Shrub was silent for a long while. Only his wheezing breath broke the stillness of the desert. Finally, "How do you get along so well through the drought? I even see fruit up there in your dense foliage."
"My hope is in Lord God," replied Green Tree. "He told us when He planted us that we shouldn't trust in Mortal Man. He said He would look after us Himself and never forsake us. He...."
"There you go being preachy again," coughed Parched Shrub. "You Green Trees are all alike. You think you're better than everyone else—some kind of special apples in God's eye."
"That's not true. Lord God doesn't play favorites or keep secrets. He told all of us Greenery Things where to send our roots, you included."
"Aw, I just don't trust 'im. I gave up that God-stuff when I was little."
You're still little," observed Green Tree with a little smile, not intending offense. "I started out as small as you are. You too can...."
"Don’t rub it in!" Parched Shrub interrupted, pretending to be angry, but one hot tear trickled down his bare branch, splashed on the sand and rapidly soaked in.
Green Tree was moved with compassion. He bent his chlorophyll-laden leafy branches low over Parched Shrub. "Come under my shadow, friend. I'll shelter you from the hot sun. It's really not far under the desert to stretch your own roots to Riverbank. You can do it! I know you can. Lord God pointed us in the direction of water."
Parched Shrub snuggled under Green Tree's luxurious foliage. "You'd help me? Even though I’ve made fun of you and turned away from Lord God so many times? Do you think there's enough water for both of us?"
"Absolutely! Lord God said that rivers of living water, cool and pure, flow nearby."
"Oh, I'm dying of thirst!"
"Come on then. Come to The Waters."
"How much does the water cost?"
"Nothing! Lord God already paid for it. It's free now!"
"Let's go then," Parched Shrub's prickly stubs stirred with new hope. "Don't leave me, though. Show me the way...."
A personified allegory based on Jeremiah 17:5-8 from various translations and versions of Scripture. Also reflective of Psalm 1:1-6; Revelation 22:17; Isaiah 55:1.
"Thus says the Lord, cursed is the strong man who trusts in mankind, in frail, mortal man, and makes weak, human flesh his strength, and whose heart and mind turns away from the Lord. For he will be like a bush or stunted shrub in the desert, like a person naked and destitute, with no hope for the future. He will not see when prosperity comes and good times pass him by forever. But he will live in stony wastes, in parched places in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitants.
"But most blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose hope and confidence are in the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, along a riverbank, that extends its roots by a stream, and will not be bothered when heat comes, nor anxious in a year of drought, but goes right on producing luscious fruit."
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
“But Grandma, you’ll have your cell phone in Heaven, right…?”
His eight-year-old bright, shining eyes looked into mine seriously. We were discussing the passing of one of Grandma’s close friends. Ah, a teaching opportunity for my newly baptized grandson, Jeffrey. He worried about losing contact with me when it was my turn to answer God’s call into His presence. We’ve been closely bonded during his early years.
“You know what? We’ll have something even better! Grandma won’t need the super-tech kind of cell phones you and Daddy have—anyway, mine is a couple years old and doesn’t do all the stuff yours does—but for sure we’ll be connected.”
“But when your body goes into the ground, you won’t have your five senses working anymore. How can we be connected?”
Good thinking. Jeffrey learned in his classroom at school about our five senses and the marvelous mechanism that is our body. We are reinforcing the spiritual aspect with conversations at home ever since he was a little tyke about how God created all things including every detail about our bodies.
“Remember how we talked about every person having two parts? A body, which you can see, at some point quits working because it gets very old or worn out or has some disease or an accident and that part of us dies and is put into the ground. But God gave everyone a spirit which you can’t see. That’s the real you and never dies! Jesus said so. It lives forever.”
“I guess you don’t have to be old to die. I remember a couple years ago when a boy about my age whom I met at the SportsPlex had an accident and died.”
“You’re right. Gage is alive right now in Heaven with Jesus—He is there in his own spirit without his body. Someday when Jesus comes to earth again, Gage’s spirit will connect with his body again, but it will be a new kind of body, one that will never die again. People will be able to recognize who he is just like when they knew him on earth the first time.”
“Tell me how I can connect with you when you leave us, Grandma.”
“This is deep stuff, but I know you can get it. Remember what we call those things that are true but hard to understand?”
“Yes, but not the detective and looking-for-clues kind. Just things that God wants us to believe but only He can really understand. Like those of us who were once alive will always be alive and will always be connected. Our Catholic Church calls it ‘THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS.’ We are all part of God’s big family. Actually, anyone who gets to heaven is called a saint. Those who were friends of God get to go to be with Him….”
“…to Heaven, yeah, and those who don’t want to be friends with God are separated from Him forever.”
“Right. God doesn’t make anyone go to Hell. Each person chooses for himself whether to be friends with Jesus or not. We can’t see inside people’s hearts and minds so we can’t judge. Only God can know where anyone is going after they die. Do you understand, Jeffrey?”
“I guess so. All but the part about ‘saints’. Tell me again, who are the saints?”
“The Bible calls all Christians saints, which simply means “holy ones.” Even on earth God wants us to live holy lives—that means clean and good lives and trying to love God with all our hearts and minds as much as we can. But “saints” also means every person who loves God and arrives in heaven. You’ll be a saint when you get there and so will I because we love Jesus and have Him in our hearts. We also use the word ‘saints’ for certain very holy people who lived extra special lives on earth. The Catholic Church asks us to give special honor to them.”
“So what does ‘Communion of saints’ mean then?” Jeffrey tried to get his mind around the concept.
“It means that all those who are friends of God and His Son Jesus, including those who are alive now, and those who have died, all stay connected together—forever. When someone dies who is a friend of Jesus, we don’t need to say ‘Goodbye forever’ and that’s that. That would be really sad. They are still family.”
“But Grandma, Jack who’s in my class at school and doesn’t go to our church, says we aren’t connected anymore to those who died. His grandmother died and he said his Dad told him they would see her in heaven someday, but she is having such a good time in heaven with Jesus now that she doesn’t have time to think about them anymore.”
“Many people have ideas about heaven that are not true; they just try to figure things out by themselves. That’s why we need the Church to teach us. For one thing, no human being who died has come back to tell us exactly what they do in heaven, right? We depend on what Jesus Himself said ‘cause He is God’s Son and He had been in Heaven with His Father God before He came to earth. He told us that those who believe in Him will never die so we can be sure that those in Heaven are alive.”
“I hope Jesus gave us more details about Heaven!”
“His disciples who traveled around with Him for three years heard Jesus teach a lot more. But it isn’t all written down in the Bible. John, one of his disciples, said that he couldn’t write down everything Jesus told them. John picked out certain important things. He said that Jesus told them so much more and did so many other wonderful things that if someone could write them all down, all the books on earth couldn’t contain them all.”
“Wow! I wish someone would have written down more of what Jesus said about Heaven.”
“Me too. Maybe Jesus wanted us to be really surprised when we get there! But Jesus’ disciples (who were called apostles because He sent them out to teach what He taught after He went to Heaven) went everywhere teaching even more of what Jesus said than what the Church collected into the one book we call the Bible. Guess what? We do have valuable writings about what the early churches believed from the apostles’ teaching! I’ll tell you more about that later. But that’s how we know we are all connected in “The Communion of Saints”—the apostles taught it!
“OK, so back to my question: Will I be able to talk to you when you leave for Heaven? How will I hear you if we don’t use a cell phone?”
“In a nutshell, you can ask Grandma to pray for you to Jesus just like you ask Grandma to pray for you to Jesus now. JESUS will be the one to answer your prayer though—I won’t be able to answer your prayer myself because when we are in Heaven, we are still just human people.
“I get it. Jesus is the only One who has power to answer my prayers. Can I ask any of those other “alive-saints-people” in Heaven to pray to Jesus for me too?”
“Sure, Jeffrey. It’s OK to have a lot of people praying for us and with us. Like when the listeners to our radio station join to pray for people during PRAYER TIME.”
“And can I still have a direct connection to Jesus?”
“Of course! And you can also ask Jesus’ Mother Mary to pray for you. She is close to Jesus now like she was on earth. Jesus honored her and His foster-Dad Joseph. Remember, Jesus’ mother, too, is still and always will be a human in Heaven. She is extra special but we don’t worship her like we worship God. She isn’t a part of the Trinity like ‘God, the Father, Jesus His Son, and The Holy Spirit.’
“The Trinity—that’s a ‘mystery’ too!”
“That’s for sure!”
“This is so cool. I’ll never really need to say a ‘Forever Goodbye’ to you, Grandma—if you get to Heaven before I do. Connecting with you by praying is way better than a cell phone anyway. You won’t need to worry where you can plug in a charger in Heaven!”
“Right on, Jeffrey!”
Part 1 of a Series “Conversations with Jeffrey” on Leona's BLOG
Autumn is a nostalgic time for me. I have more than eighty autumns committed to memory--they cover a lifetime from childhood’s innocent freshness to ripe maturity’s reflections.
This season reflects my emotions—bright and high-spirited with flashing color, yet somber with falling leaves tossed in the wind and the frost and chill of the pending approach of winter.
Autumn was the happy season of my marriage over sixty years ago.
Autumn was the poignant season sixteen years ago when my husband left so quietly and unexpectedly for his heavenly reward. God’s call to him came in the “season of the falling leaf.”
I dedicate the second poem to Ted, my husband for forty-six years, father of our four wonderful sons of whom he was so proud, grandfather of ten precious grandchildren, many of whom he never met, great-grandfather of six, all of whom he did not meet.
bluffing me, mocking me
with teasing, wistful
of high July
and summer fun
are tossed on the run
but mixed with
casting a chill
as winter steals
with cold appeals
into November's prime.
In the season of the falling leaf
my falling tears splash hot
upon my lonely pillow
in the dark night of my quiet grief
as I reminisce for what might have been
but can no longer be:
I bow to God’s decree.
Nevertheless—I can’t suppress
the tears from the depths of me
that flow silently
from a heart severed from my love
like the autumn leaf turned brown
detached from tree-life
floats to the ground without a sound.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Thank you for phoning me about the loss of your dear husband only a year ago after so many years together as a married couple. I can imagine how close you were and how lonely you feel since you and your husband didn’t have children—you and Larry were a family. Although you live across the country on the opposite coast, I feel a closeness with you in our sisterhood of new singleness—something we never asked for or imagined, but which God has chosen for us in His love and plan.
Do I have any good news to give you about our separation from our beloved spouses who have finished their earthly course first and been called Home by the Lord? I believe I do, and I’m eager to share it!
After my husband died and I walked several years into the experience of singleness myself, I wrote several books to help others who have lost a spouse: Singled Out for God’s Assignment, The Widow’s Might, and Walk the
Since then, I have become a Catholic Christian after much study and by strong conviction. I now believe there is more of God’s truth that I was not aware of when I wrote the above books.
Through my books I ventured to offer some biblical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, and practical help to assist my readers through the grief process toward healing with trust in Jesus Christ and optimism for the future.
I want to be clear: the Christian insights, encouragement, and counsel I presented when I published those books continue to be valid. They are biblically based and still help and bless people from varied religious backgrounds because I offer a non-sectarian Christian perspective on the topics. What I wrote as an evangelical was good, but I now believe it was incomplete. I want to offer a balanced view in line with my Catholic faith and present readers with biblical truths they may not have considered before.
So what’s the difference?
I previously understood that when a person dies, if he or she at some time had a “born again” experience as an evangelical would interpret it, he goes straight to heaven. He has a guaranteed reservation for heaven regardless of how he may live after his once-for-all conversion or whether he may die in unforgiveness or with unconfessed sin on his soul. His salvation was still considered eternally secure. However, the raising of one’s hand in an evangelistic meeting and/or “coming forward” publicly and repeating the sinner’s prayer or “making a decision” are, in historical fact, recent evangelical traditions adopted and started to be practiced during the revivalist awakenings in North America. I no longer see that as the balanced teaching of the Holy Scriptures. “Not every one who says to Me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” Jesus said. (Matt. 7:21)
From the days of early Christianity, the Catholic Church, which was the only church for most of 1500 years, taught that what determines one’s eternal destiny is the state of the soul at death. Statements such as “he who endures…perseveres…abides…stands firm…does My will…obeys My voice…keeps my commandments…” are more balanced Scriptural exhortations and promises. God’s question to me is: What is the state of your soul now and what have you done since you raised your hand and prayed the sinner’s prayer? Moreover, how we finish our lives is all important.
As an evangelical I didn’t think nor did I hear taught that any communication or communion was possible between the believing departed and those left behind. We always imagined that the departed one was now so totally occupied with the glories of heaven that he was oblivious to anything or anyone on earth. Pure conjecture! Therefore, we stopped praying for our departed loved one because since he went directly to heaven, our prayers were no longer needed. It never entered our minds to ask for his prayers on our behalf.
Catholic teaching from the earliest days of Christianity differs in important ways. Whether or not the Christian’s soul goes directly to heaven, which is possible for some, depends on whether he died in a state of grace with no unconfessed mortal sins. The degree of holiness one has attained is another factor that determines whether or not one’s soul will have a swift or even an instant entrance into the presence of God after death.
Another factor is whether good deeds were a fruit of his life in proof of his faith, (not as a basis for his salvation). (James 2:14-26) Good works are the “proof of the pudding.” Many Scriptures indicate that Christians will be judged on the basis of their deeds; among them is 2 Cor. 5:10. The Catholic Church is absolutely clear, however, that we cannot earn salvation by our works or by keeping the works of the Law. Salvation is given as a free gift by God’s grace alone through the merits of Jesus Christ.
This perspective was new to me, of course, and I spent much time and prayer to see if it agreed with Scripture. We are to test all things and hold fast to God’s revealed truth and the balanced teachings of God’s Word.
As I understand and now believe the Catholic teaching to be the true interpretation of Scripture, the soul of a person whose faith is genuine and personal but whose life may have been somewhat deficient in holiness or in good deeds of mercy and love is indeed on his way to heaven because Jesus paid for and forgave his sins. (1 Cor. 3:10-15) He may, however, upon departure from this life, experience a temporary pause en route to his heavenly destination during which time the consequences of his forgiven sins are dealt with. At that point he may suffer loss or receive reward.
Shouldn’t we welcome the opportunity for God to finish the work of making us pure and holy, since “nothing unholy can enter God’s presence?” (Rev. 21:27) Who of us can claim to be without sin and living in perfect holiness and not in need of this cleansing process to make us fit for heaven? (1 John 1:8-10)
God’s provision for holiness
Directly related to how we view the loss of our Christian loved one in death, and how we view our own soul’s journey to heaven when our life is over, is the teaching about Purgatory—the temporary stopover. The word comes from the Latin purgatio simply meaning cleansing or purifying. The word Purgatory is archaic and at first sounds not only strange but ominous to modern evangelical ears. Without accurate information, I initially wrote it off as unbiblical, a peculiar invention of the Catholic Church, and a hangover from the Dark Ages. On the contrary, it is an authentic, biblical, generous, and loving provision by God to enable our souls to become fit for heaven. It is like a happy and necessary “pit stop,” so to speak, on our sure way to our heavenly home. Or perhaps like a speed bump—not meant to stop us but to slow us down a bit. It is definitely not Hell from which there is no way out or onward. Nor are we being punished for sins which God already forgave.
Is this purification process the same as the declaration “It is given to man once to die, and after that the judgment.”? (Heb. 9:27) Is this the time when we all go through what the apostle Paul describes in 1 Cor. 3:11-15 as God “testing by fire the quality of each man’s work”? These are end times questions—eventually we will find out God’s time line. Meanwhile, let’s trust God with the details. To know it will happen is enough for us now.
The Church does not attempt to say definitively whether Purgatory is an actual place, or a state, a process, or a condition. We can be sure that only the soul or spirit is involved, not the body. Any pain that we may feel is not physical, of the senses. Although we think and speak in terms of duration, the time element doesn’t really apply either. When we die, we step outside of time into eternity where God is. Catholic teaching is clear and biblical—this is not a second chance to be saved. One’s eternal state is permanently fixed at the moment of death. At death the books are closed. The Church also declares that it is unable to judge what the eternal destiny of any soul will be—heaven or hell, only two alternatives. Nor should we be so presumptive to say we know a person’s eternal state with certainty. Where any soul will spend eternity is known only to God and decided with perfect justice, mercy, and love by Him.
Hope for the grieving
How is this doctrine relevant for someone who has lost a Christian spouse, loved one or friend through death? These broader implications taught by the Catholic Church are full of hope and joy! The Church, by the authority Jesus delegated to it until Christ returns, teaches that souls can be aided in their purification by prayers, sacrifices, and loving deeds of Christians on earth on their behalf. Our departed loved one may still need our prayers until they arrive safely in heaven. The spiritual logistics of how this all comes about are a mystery. We don’t fully understand, but we take on faith the teachings of the Church that Christ established. The Church teaches that the souls being purified cannot pray for themselves, but they can pray for other souls undergoing purification and pray for us on earth.
When our Christian loved one’s soul ultimately reaches heaven, he can continue to intercede for us. More good news—we can request his prayers! He is not able to answer those prayers by his own power because those who were human on earth will continue to be human in heaven. They do not become angels nor will they ever be divine. The departed one prays for us to God the Father through Jesus Christ, the One Mediator.
What a comfort to realize that the living and the departed remain united forever in the “Communion of saints!” We do not suffer stark separation from our departed loved one. We really don’t need to seek “closure.” The good news is that we don’t need to shut the door on them. Saints (holy ones righteous in Christ) on earth and saints (holy ones righteous in Christ) in heaven continue to be one family together, and the departed ones are still fully alive! Let’s not think of them as dead! We may be surprised when we get to Heaven how thin the veil between us has been.
Never fear—we do not “communicate with the dead” in the sense that the Bible forbids, nor do we seek to know the future from them, which is forbidden by God. We may, however, freely ask for their intercession in the same way that we seek the prayer help of our family and friends on earth.
As a Catholic Christian, I am now satisfied and joyful to firmly accept these biblical teachings.
Making it personal
I am not under the illusion that I will be able to reach a goal of holiness by the end of my life. I hope and I strive and pray to endure and persevere, and when I finish my course to die faithful in Christ. After that, I would be happy, if necessary, to allow my soul to get cleaned up a bit—or a lot—in the “mud room,” as it were, before an angel escorts me into the spotless wardrobe room. There I will be given a white wedding garment of holiness tagged with my name, so I can be appropriately dressed for the “Welcome Home Reunion” and “Wedding Supper of the Lamb” in God’s magnificent presence with all the angels and saints and the rest of His children who knew Him on earth.
We won’t have physical bodies at that point yet because our resurrection comes later! I wonder how it’s going to work to have my soul clothed with a white garment. I’m willing to leave all those logistics to God. I’m relieved to learn about this Purification process in advance so I won’t experience it as a surprise! Now I can joyfully anticipate that opportunity on my way to heaven, whether it will all take place in only an instant after death or whether time somehow still applies to it.
The automated car wash
It helps me to visualize my soul’s purification process like going through an automated car wash!
My Chrysler is mud-splashed and grimy. I plan to drive to an important event to meet a special person, and I want it to be clean. Someone gave me a paid-in-full coupon, and I present it to the attendant at the car wash. Several men jump around my car and hand-rub soap suds all over the car body. One beckons me to drive slowly forward and center the tires onto ramps that lead into a dark, cavernous space.
“Put your car in neutral, roll up your windows, lower your antenna, and take your hands off the steering wheel” are instructions posted on a sign. I do as I am told, sit back, relax, and let it be done unto me with my glad consent. I have nothing to do with the cleansing process. I know I need it. Of course, I know I won’t have to go through this process forever—I see light at the other end of the building.
An outside power propels my car through the dark tunnel. Lights blink at intervals. Soon the noise is deafening as high pressure warm water squirts at my car from every direction. Monster-like, black, spongy tentacles begin to slap and seemingly punish my poor car. I keep reminding myself, “This is a happy thing!” This continues for a short, frightening time, and then the noise abates. All is quiet until clean, warm water sprays over my car followed by bursts of hot air.
My clean car slowly rolls out of the enclosure and down the exit ramps into the bright, welcoming sunlight. I blink my eyes from the brilliance. My car is spotless, dirt free, and sparkling. I’m happy to be ready for the wonderful event to which I have looked forward so long.
Do you see the similarity to Purgatory? To Purification? Who wouldn’t welcome that? Thank God for providing it for all of us who long to fully gaze upon His face in the beauty of His holiness!
I hope this will be an encouragement, comfort, and good news to you, Marcia. You have not really “lost” your husband Larry! If he is in the presence of God, he is alive and well and may be praying for you.
Your friend and prayer helper,
Leona Choy welcomes correspondence with anyone who wishes to comment on or discuss the topics she addressed in this BLOG.
Friday, October 17, 2008
The Bible has lots to say about EARS—those two strange looking appendages on the side of your head that never see each other. Aren’t you glad that in creation God didn’t decrease by one and place only one ear in the middle of your forehead, single, like one nose and one mouth. What if he had placed them on the top of our heads and made them tall and furry and pointed and able to rotate directionally? Or made the outside flap as big as an elephant’s?
Have we ever solved the problem of whether a tree falling in a forest makes a sound or not, if there are no ears to hear it?
Consider how intricately God designed the physical ear. Do you think He had to draw a blueprint first and try out a prototype to see if it would pick up the right sound waves—and at the same time create the sound waves with their various frequencies? Or did He just speak the word: “LET THERE BE EAR” –and there was an ear—perfect and entirely functioning? And the first voice Adam heard was God’s voice!
Although Jesus’ reference to ears had primarily a spiritual connotation pertaining to attentive listening, God’s design of our physical ear is absolutely a stroke of genius—of course, one would expect that of the Original Creator. Could it have simply evolved by accident? What a fable! The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 103, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me—bless His holy name!” All that is within me—oh, the marvels of the inner ear that we take so much for granted! The following is a medically and picturesquely accurate description of our marvelous hearing mechanism.
“The inner ear is a flower bed inside a blacksmith’s shop. Way inside and down below the outer auditory canal, past the hammer, the anvil, and the stirrup, sprout the hair cells of the cochlea. They are planted in tidy rows along the basilar membrane like geraniums in a window box. (Jesus said that the hairs of our head are numbered—doubtless these ear hair cells are exactly numbered too so that we can hear!) As the hammer and anvil pound sound waves into shape, the stirrup taps out the beat on the basilar membrane. That in turn sets the hair cells swaying like a breeze through a cornfield. Each of the hair cells’ undulations fires electrical signals to the brain, where we discern the cause of the commotion. Is it a cymbal crash? Or the soft exhalation of a child’s breath? Other senses may rest, but the ear never sleeps. It is insomniac, always alert to the slightest pulses, awake to the faintest tremors. It is the last of our senses to fade when we are called from this life.”
LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE EAR! And let’s heed Jesus’ admonition, “He who has ears, let him hear.” (Mark 8:18) Most of us do have ears that hear. However, are they tuned to God’s frequency or channel so that He can say of us, “My sheep hear My voice, and they follow Me.” (John 10:3) God promised that His ears are open to our prayer. (1 Peter 3:12) and if we hear His voice and open the door of our hearts, He will come in and intimately share a meal with us. (Rev. 3:20)