Sunday, March 27, 2011
SHEEP--PRAY FOR YOUR SHEPHERDS!
The article to which this link will lead you could apply equally to the ministers, pastors, preachers, and other leaders of Protestant and Evangelical Churches. ALL Shepherds are under attack by the evil one. The more prominent and visible they are, the more vulnerable. They are targets. We are in spiritual warfare.
My Chocolate Heart: More Clergy Allegations? Strike the Shepherd - The Sheep Need to Pray
Below is a slightly different approach to a topic on which I've written several books in the past. When someone orders a copy, I slip it into my books on coping with illness or some other physical, mental, or emotional adversity.
Have you seen the TV commercial where a man who has suffered a previous heart attack has a hospital gurney following him around everywhere? A reminder that, like it or not, some kind of medical or surgical event probably waits for us around the corner.
Regardless of whether we are Christians, none of us can go through life without facing physical affliction. Something in or on our bodies or minds or emotions eventually becomes disordered through illness, abnormality, accident, environment, or other circumstances. Suffering is a stop sign—a Whoa! Stop—Look—Listen! Our attitude and our faith in God, or lack of it, will determine whether we will treat it as a Woe! –a negative experience always to be rejected—or a Wow! –a spiritual opportunity to grow in Christ.
Our temporary bodies are created by God; they are mortal and therefore terminal—death is our earthly end in every case. Although we grow from the time of our conception, the visible part of us nevertheless starts degenerating [decaying, diminishing, being destroyed and spent, in other translations], Saint Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 describes us as being both “the outer man” and “the inner man”—the former is our body of flesh, the latter our immortal, eternal soul or spirit. Whatever the trauma we suffer in our flesh, or to whatever degree, if we put it in Christian perspective, we should agree with Saint Paul that it is a “momentary, light affliction” when compared with our eternal state in glory. The good news is that ultimately these ailing, painful, and inevitably aging bodies will be resurrected and changed!
After my encounter with cancer surgery over two decades ago, I wrote and published a book which I subtitled “Discovering meaning in physical distress.” I was at that time a sincere, Bible-believing, evangelical follower of Jesus Christ and trusting in His love and providence. I offered my readers the best I knew of spiritual and practical help to cope with the trauma of whatever illness they might be experiencing.
I am still a sincere, Bible-believing follower of Jesus Christ trusting in His love and providence—but I am now a Catholic Christian by conviction. The principles I offered my readers previously were basic and valid and biblical, but they were only the first few rungs of the ladder to understand suffering in the lives of Christians. Just as the patriarch Jacob in the Old Testament story dreamed of a ladder which reached to Heaven, there are MORE rungs to climb on the suffering ladder all the way into God’s glorious presence.
Before I climb a ladder, I need to be sure I place it where the foundation is firm so it won’t wobble or be dangerous as I ascend. My sure foundation needs to be my personal faith and trust in God. Then I can climb peacefully and without fear. In hindsight, my basic premise for the above-mentioned book was sincere but a little shaky. Along with many of my Bible-believing friends, I took for granted that illness, pain, and suffering could never be God’s will for His children. Such things were thought to come from the devil and ought to be rejected as quickly as possible. Suffering was an aberration and therefore had no meaning. It seemed clearly to be a Woe! Healing and good health were at the top rung of the ladder to be vigorously pursued.
The Catholic Church teaches, along with the apostles and Christians since the time of Jesus, that there is intrinsic spiritual value in suffering. It is called redemptive suffering and is not without meaning nor should we automatically reject suffering because we can’t imagine how it could be in God’s will. The Scriptures don’t teach that God causes suffering, but that He sometimes permits it for His divine purposes.
At the same time, God can and does heal—but not always. When He heals, we thankfully and joyfully accept His decision, although we realize it is always temporary—realistically, our bodies will eventually die. We should not be presumptuous to demand healing or pout when God answers our prayers in some other way. God is God and we are not; we are His created ones. When we are not healed, it is not necessarily because our faith is deficient. Suffering, pain, affliction, illness, disease, weakness, grief, loss, and other adversities are our common human lot in this fallen world.
Nevertheless, we can climb some higher rungs on the ladder of understanding and responding to God’s plan of redemptive suffering. The Scriptures declare that we are privileged and obliged not only “to know Jesus and the power of His resurrection” but also to unite with Him “in the fellowship of His sufferings.” (Philippians 3:10) This is another of the “both/and” mysteries to contemplate.
The “Serenity Prayer” can give us a boost up the first rung. “God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.” For the things we cannot change, there are higher rungs on the ladder of suffering to climb. The Scriptures teach that those who belong to God are interrelated members of the Body of Christ. (Romans 12:5; Ephesians 4:4) The Catholic Church teaches that thus bonded to one another, we can offer up or surrender to God our suffering to benefit others who are suffering or in need of God’s mercy, strength, and love. “My sufferings for your sake” writes Saint Paul. We may not understand the spiritual logistics of how that happens, so it is one more mystery that we accept by faith.
Beyond trying to cope, stoically endure, or persevere when going through suffering, is the element of actual joy—the Wow!—another rung higher on the ladder. “Count it all joy” writes Saint James. Saint Paul wrote, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His Body, which is the church….” (Colossians 1:24) That is another richly mysterious declaration that we should not misinterpret. The verse does not imply that Christ’s atoning death on the cross was defective, insufficient, incomplete, or lacking in any way. No one can ever add to Christ’s once-for-all sufferings for our salvation. Nevertheless, we can share or participate on some level in His sacrifice for mankind. As Christ identified Himself with the suffering Church in Acts 9:4, so we can identify with Him through our suffering. That Colossians verse has depths to plumb that are hard to understand, but it is the inspired Word of God. Let’s simply admit that with our finite minds we can’t fathom all the infinite designs of God. Trust that God is in control and has a purpose for everything He allows in our lives.
Let’s climb still another rung higher: the Church teaches that we have accessible to us in our times of affliction not only the intercession of our Christian brothers and sisters on earth, but the prayers of our departed Christian loved ones and friends including those in Christ who lived in past ages now in the presence of God. This describes the oneness of Christ’s Body which includes not only Christians who are alive on earth today, but also Christians departed from this life who are being purified on their way to heaven, together with those who have arrived in heaven. This Communion of Saints has been an integral part of the Christian Creed since the days of the apostles and the early church. The Church teaches through the authority of the “keys” given to it by Christ through Peter (Matthew 16:19) that those who have left this life and are already in God’s presence are available to present our petitions to God the Father through our One Mediator, His Son Jesus Christ, assisted by “the groanings of the Holy Spirit that cannot be expressed in speech.” (Romans 8:26, 27 and Revelation 5:8) Let us understand that there is a difference between “mediator” and “intercessor.” People can intercede for us, but only Christ can mediate with the Father.
The final rung on this ladder is reached in Heaven when “we shall know as we are known.” The answers to the complex questions surrounding our common experience of suffering and pain endured in these mortal bodies on Planet Earth will become clear. As a Catholic Christian, I find these fuller dimensions about suffering biblical and historically, theologically, and spiritually compatible with the Scriptures and with the Christian faith I have embraced over a lifetime.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
After Barbara pulled out of my driveway, I hurried to my computer eager to introduce her and her remarkable story, her unbelievable family, her wide national ministry, her popular books, and surprising faith journey to all my friends via my blog. I love to share my friends!
Apparently Barbara did the same. I was surprised to see the link below pop up when I clicked into her fascinating and varied blog. Once you sample it, be prepared to stay at least an hour or two. You'll be informed, inspired, and challenged by her insightful comments about anything happening in the world that's worth knowing about--from parenting to politics. I can just about guarantee that you will bookmark her blog for regular return trips!
Mommy Life: Meet my new friend, Leona Choy
and click "new document."
Something that has never been written, created, or shaped into words
from thoughts waits for me to present it on a new blank page.
I am going to create something that has never existed before!
I am going to offer to God something of myself in a tangible way
for His greater glory: ad majorem Dei gloriam.
Such a thought led me to express in verse the following poem:
"Someday" has arrived
but I haven't.
"Just around the bend"
but I'm not there.
"If only" never happened
so I didn't get it done.
"Tomorrow" drove right by
and never stopped.
What I wanted to become
has been a fantasy
and what I have become
to fit my plan.
But I still have TODAY
before it turns to yesterday!
I have an opportunity
to open a new document
start a fresh page
and successfully display
on my life's computer screen
what never has been seen.
I can type it and select it
with my chosen font and style
print it for tomorrow
and save it in God's File!
"For His [God's] compassions never fail. They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness." Lamentations 3:22,23
gray: a color between white and black; having a neutral hue; dark, dismal, gloomy; indeterminate, intermediate in character
Spring doesn't appear full blown one morning to announce with a shout, "Here I am!" It lingers at the threshhold of the season's door like the family cat that can't seem to make up its feline mind to come in or go out. There are melancholy gray days, misty and bone-chilling between winter and spring. So it is with the transient times of my soul when God is growing me, stretching me to reach the next level of conformity to His image.
Gray days uninvited but designed by God are not meant for me to merely endure but to embrace in anticipation of the joy and strength to come.
GRAY DAYS UNINVITED
between winter and spring
and bring gray moods
and mental monotones
snow birds chirp in muted notes
the season seems suspended
with winter open-ended.
Drab days endured
with passive acceptance
will always pass I know
the cycle is ordained:
gray, in-between days are always
followed by The Grand Spectacle of spring
when the somber draperies of the sky
are suddenly drawn back
and songbirds warble cheerily
heralding the splendid season
and the inevitable renewal
of every living thing.
My soul too passes through
gray times, waiting times
shrouding me in melancholy
with a certain sadness
that fogs my thoughts
tempting me to despair.
Be patient, soul! embrace
the transient testing times
welcome them assured
that you are being fortified
by gray days uninvited.
Mellowed and molded
my subdued spirit rests and waits
in the assurance of God’s time
for its dismal winteriness to be dispelled
by the predictable burst of spring.END
Friday, March 25, 2011
Forgive me for being so excited, but it seems that every day God brings someone or something to enrich my life! Never a boring moment! I’m reluctant to waste time going to sleep at night because of these incredible adventures. I always pray as I roll out of bed in the morning, “Lord, bring into my life today anyone and everyone whom You want in my life, or whose life You want me to touch and bless for You.”
Then I wait on tiptoe for God’s serendipity surprises!
I normally have busy days and a tight writing schedule, (that’s why, as much as I would like to, I don’t post daily on my blog) but I don’t regard anything or anyone as an interruption—I recognize each one as God’s pre-arranged appointment, actually an answer to my prayer.
Often the encounters are launched with an unexpected e-mail message (I receive up to a hundred a day) from someone who has read one of my books, or someone who wants to come visit me, or has a problem to unburden and asks for counsel, very often prayer requests, or a sharing of joys. I have the humble privilege of walking by means of cyberspace alongside many friends across the country who are on their journey into the Catholic Church or have been newly received.
Just in the past week or two the following surprises have blessed my life: a young mom in Poland saw my story on the Internet and e-mailed me asking whether I would help her with some questions concerning her spiritual journey back to the Church. A former priest in the Episcopal Church wrote me to share his joy of being received into the Catholic Church last Sunday with his entire family, and the news that he is now preparing for the Catholic priesthood. The daughter of a distant relative whom I’ve never met wrote to unburden her anguish about her abusive marriage and asked whether I would help her find faith. A well-known missionary professor from India who was a classmate at Wheaton College 64 years ago wrote me recently from London to reconnect our friendship. A former Lutheran minister in Texas wrote me that he came into the Catholic Church not long ago along with about ten of his parishioners. They’ve all read my recent book about my spiritual journey and have become prayer partners. Frequent e-mails with another new convert in Wales have bonded us as close friends although we have never met. A seasoned-in-life couple who served God with the Catholic Church in Jamaica came yesterday from a neighboring parish to have sweet fellowship in Christ.
The above is a brief sampling of what I’ve come to expect God will bring into my life to enhance my walk with the Lord. My life is never the same after each of these new encounters and many hundreds more especially during this wonderful prime time in my eighties!
Ah, one more special encounter—I love to share my friends! Earlier this week someone whom I didn’t previously know asked to visit me. God generously launched me into a new friendship with Barbara Curtis whom I want you to meet on the Internet so you too can be blessed: www.barbaracurtis.com and her blog www.mommylife.net. Don’t fail to click the STORY of her life and her RESUME. A new book, DISCOVERING FAITH, has been released this month featuring Barbara, among other prominent people, telling the stories of their conversion to the Catholic Church. Her picture is on the cover between Martin Sheen and Clarence Thomas!
She is the “mega mom” of 12 children, among them 3 Down syndrome adopted sons (in addition to one Down son of their own). Barbara is an award-winning author, political and social issues commentator, parenting specialist, media personality, columnist, public speaker, and one of the most energetic and engaging and genuine Christians I’ve ever met. Hard to believe her hippie, counterculture, radical left, drug and alcohol addictive, feminist background!
And don’t miss this: Tripp and Barbara’s youngest daughter, teenager Maddy, has recently been on American Idol—before she turned 16. View, listen, and enjoy by Googling: Maddy Curtis American Idol or any of the other sites which come up.
Here is an authentic Christian young lady who is courageous in her witness and really going somewhere for God. I can't wait to meet her!
Well, Lord, who do you have in store to bless my life tomorrow?
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Series: Conversations with Jeffrey #6
“Grandma, what’s that black smudge on your forehead?”
“It is a small cross that our priest, Father Krempa, put on everyone’s forehead at Mass this morning. Today is ‘Ash Wednesday,’ a special day once a year when we start counting 40 more days until Easter Sunday when Jesus rose from the dead.”
“Did Father use a magic marker? Will it ever wash off? Is it like a tattoo?”
“He used a mixture of ashes and holy water. Yes, I'll be able to wash it off, but it is good to leave it on all day to remind me of what it means. And when people ask about it, I can tell them.”
“What does it mean?”
“When Father Krempa made that sign on our foreheads, he said, “You are dust, and to dust you will return.” That is what God said to Adam after Adam and Eve disobeyed and sinned for the first time. God created man from the dust of the earth, and He was letting Adam know that some day he would die because he had sinned and be put back into the earth. Before that, Adam didn’t know about death. And since then, everyone’s body has to die—but our souls will live forever! We can read all about that in the first book of the Bible….”
“…which is called Genesis, right?”
“Good, you remembered that, Jeffrey!”
“Well, where did Father get the ashes? Did he have a bonfire?”
“The ashes are from the burning of the dried up palm leaves that we were given at Church last year on the Sunday before Easter which we call ‘Palm Sunday.’ That was the day all the people who followed Jesus were happy and sang and shouted to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem by waving palm branches. It was sort of like waving flags to welcome someone special, like a king or a president.”
”Like thousands of people waved flags in Washington, D.C. at the Inauguration? I saw that on TV once. But why do we count 40 days until Easter?”
“We call those 40 days ‘Lent’ from an old English word ‘lencten’, which means spring. Easter is always celebrated in the springtime. Jesus did many miracles and taught important things during those 40 days before He sacrificed His life on the cross for us. Forty is kind of an important number in Christian teaching. After Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, He went alone into the wilderness to pray and prepare for what God, His Father, wanted Him to do.”
“What are we supposed to do during Lent?”
“It's a time for us to think seriously about our Christian lives and what is really important. We should try to pray more and read books about God and ask God to forgive us for the things we have done wrong and ask Him to help us do better. We do special things to help other people. Our Church helps us to do that. Lent is also a time when many Christians decide to give up certain things they like during those 40 days. These are things that are good in themselves, or some not-so-good habits that we want to change for better ones. We want to let Jesus know that He is more important to us than foods we like and favorite things we do.”
“I had to go to school today so I couldn’t go to Mass with you, Grandma. If I did go, would Father Krempa have put the ashes sign on my forehead even though I am not Confirmed yet, and I still can’t take the bread and wine that is Christ’s Body?”
“Sure, Father would have put the ashes sign on your forehead too. The children who attend our Church’s Academy were all there, and Father put the ashes sign on their foreheads. Even on the foreheads of some little children who were carried in their parents’ arms. SACRED HEART is your Church, Jeffrey. You were baptized there.”
“Could I think about something that I especially like and give it up for Lent too, so I could let Jesus know that I love Him? But…what if I forget what I promised and kind of slip up…?”
“Not to worry. Jesus knows your heart, Jeffrey. He knows what you want to do for Him, and always lets you start over again. We don’t give up something because of a list of rules, but because we want to know God better by learning what pleases Him and what is important in life.”
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
One problem of advancing years is often dry skin because the natural lubricants of our body diminish. Creams and lotions crowd the store shelves touting miraculous results.
Psalm 92:10 is a prayer for “anointing with fresh oil.” As Christians, we’ve hopefully had our exhilarating, anointing times in the past, but fresh oil is still abundantly available to us now—and needed more than ever. The Holy Spirit is both the dispenser of that oil, and the oil itself.
Psalm 45:7 promotes the “oil of joy” as our essential oil at every age. Joy is not the predominant emotion we think of in older people. Rather, it seems that depression, sadness over losses and limitations, weakness, discouragement, and melancholy are more characteristic of aging.
When Jesus referred to “old wineskins” in His teaching, He may not have meant only institutions and traditions. Another layer of understanding is people. The Holy Spirit’s power is prophesied to come upon the old and simultaneously on the young irrespective of gender, status, or position in life. (Joel 2:28-31) The Oil of the Holy Spirit can soften hardened, dry, brittle, leathery wineskin-people so they can contain the new wine of the Spirit which is being poured out these days. God puts oil on the old wineskins to restore them to youthful elasticity and usefulness. We will find we have been stretched in our capacity to hold more of Him.
God does not limit himself to making new things and to moving by His Spirit on the young. He can, and in these last days spoken of by the prophets, may be about to move in tremendous power of renewal upon those more advanced in age. It is never too late to reach higher by opening ourselves to more of God’s fullness. For both the young and those advanced in years there is available “new every morning” refreshing and rejuvenation. There is great potential for elderly people who are not retired but refired with zeal for evangelistic witness to bring into God’s Kingdom other elderly friends.
The Gospel is not just for the young. There can be a great impartation of power by elderly Spirit-filled believers to other age groups in the church. Generations can move in power together similar to the way patriarchs passed on truth to their families in Old Testament days. God’s Kingdom has no retirement plan. We are called to go on “from glory to glory!”