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.