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Archive for November, 2013

Ascending to God

In ancient Israel there were three annual religious festivals celebrated in Jerusalem – Passover/Unleavened Bread, Weeks (Pentecost), and Booths (Tabernacles).  The Israelites celebratedChurch of St. Peter in Gallicantu in Jerusalem these important feasts by traveling to the holy city of Jerusalem. The journey was arduous, as this sacred spot was higher than all the surrounding area; it was 2,500 feet above sea level on Mt. Zion.  As the pilgrims ascended the mountain, they would sing Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134).  The Psalms of Ascent are encouraging, inspiring and comforting, and were sung by the pilgrims to strengthen each other on their strenuous trek.

Jerusalem has tremendous significance throughout the history of the Israelites.  Before they entered the Promised Land, God instructed them to meet him three times a year in a place that He would choose to place His name (Deut. 12:1-11). “But when you cross over the Jordan and dwell in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to inherit … then there will be the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide.”  But it would be another 400 years before Solomon built the temple and claimed the Temple as God’s house.  God affirmed Solomon’s prayer when He said: “I have heard your prayer and supplication that you have made before Me; I have consecrated this house which you have built to put My name there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually” (I Kings 9:3; cf. II Chron. 7:12, 16).

Jerusalem was the place where Abraham climbed Mount Moriah and had his faith tested; in obedience he prepared an alter and was about to kill his own son as a sacrifice to God, when the angel held his hand and explained that it was a test.  Abraham’s test of faith prefigured the sacrifice of God’s son, Jesus Christ.  When Abraham and his son Isaac reached the mountain, Isaac innocently asked “where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”  Abraham prophetically replied “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:8).  Solomon’s Temple was built on Mount Moriah, and it was on a nearby hill, Calvary, that Jesus was crucified to death, becoming the perfect sacrifice that would take away the sin of mankind.

God chose Jerusalem because it prophetically foreshadowed Jesus’ first and second coming to earth; the two important events connected to Jerusalem prominently prefigures the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world on a cross outside Jerusalem, as well as the the King who will one day rule the world from David’s throne on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.

Advent starts this Sunday and is a wonderful time to reflect both on Jesus’ first coming, as well as his second coming.  Just as the ancient Israelites traveled three times a year to draw closer God and give him homage, so too we can use the time in advent to ‘ascend to God’.  Jerusalem is a place of pilgrimage where both the ancient Israelites and present day Jews and Christians visit to encounter God and experience His overflowing love and mercy.

“What is God’s love? Many think of it as a big strong rope, a lifeline that God dropped down from heaven, and now we have the privilege of trying to climb it. In other words, God sent Jesus because of His love, and now that He has done His part, the rest is up to us. God has thrown us a rope and now we need to climb ever closer to Him.  There are many Christian books that tell you how to climb faster, higher, and with greater success.  Many study such books, underline them and then get on with the task of holding on to the rope and clawing ourselves upward to God.” (Blogger Peter Youngren)

Sometimes the trials in life weigh us down and we simply give up in exhaustion and discouragement.  It is crucial to have friends to encourage you and keep you uplifted in prayer just as the Israelites encouraged each other with the ‘Songs of Ascent’.  Psalm 125 “Those trusting in the Lord are like Mt. Zion, unshakable, forever enduring.  As mountains surround Jerusalem, the Lord surrounds his people both now and forever.”  Life is a never ending journey, up and down,  that we travel to draw closer to God.

During advent we reflect on Jesus’s first coming, when he was born as a human being, Emmanuel, ‘God with us’.   Why is this an important event?  Because through sin we become separated from God, and without God we are incomplete, simple creatures lost in despair, violence and loneliness.  But with Him, we are redeemed, saved and restored.

We are so blessed today to be able to encounter our saving and merciful God in a myriad of ways; daily mass, confession, personal prayer, adoration, helping the poor and sick, and praying with others.  This advent take time to discover a new way for you to rendezvous with our Lord.

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob.  He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.  The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Is. 2:2

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Can you imagine if Jesus Christ knocked at your door this afternoon and asked to come in?  In the book “My Heart, Christ’s Home”, author Robert B. Munger describes a young man entertaining Jesus in the home of his heart.  The first room Jesus visits is the study; as Jesus looked around and gazed at the graphic novels in the bookcase and the suggestive pictures on the wall, the young man became noticeably uncomfortable.  He became embarrassed seeing the room through Jesus’ eyes, and asked for help to dispose of the inappropriate items.

Jesus was glad to help and together they packed up the books that were impure, and instead replaced them with the bible and inspirational books and books about saints and other role models.  The pictures on the wall made it too easy for one’s mind to Christ at Heart's Doorwander into dangerous areas, so they trashed them and instead hung a large image of Christ drawn by Salman on the wall.  Jesus instructed him to “hang this centrally, on the wall of the mind”.

Next they entered the living room, which was intimate and cozy, with a fireplace and comfortable couch.  Jesus was pleased with the room and promised to meet with his host  every morning to start the day together.  So every morning the two would meditate on different bible verses.  The young man’s heart “sang and Jesus shared His love and grace, and unfolded the wonder of God’s savings truths.  They were wonderful times”.

Then the pressures of life took over, and the meditation time was shortened, and sometimes skipped altogether.  One day the young man was rushing out the door and saw his guest on the couch waiting for him as usual.  He apologized to Jesus for ignoring him and asked if Jesus had been there every morning. His guest replied “I told you I would be here every morning to meet with you.  Remember, I love you.  I have redeemed you at a great cost.  I value your friendship.  Even if you cannot keep the quiet time for your own sake, do it for mine.”

The workroom was next; Jesus looked around at the workbench and tools, and then glanced at the few little gadgets his host had produced.  The young man explained that he really wanted to do more to help others and share his faith, but he felt as though he didn’t have the skills or strength.  Jesus took his hands and said “relax in me and let my Spirit work through you.  I know that you are unskilled, clumsy and awkward, but the Holy Spirit is the Master Workman, and if He controls your hands and your heart, He will work through you”.  Jesus placed the tools in the young man’s hands, held both in his own hands and went to work.  “The more the young man relaxed and trusted him, the more He was able to do with his life.”

They visited the dining room next, the “room of appetites and desires”.  The young man spent a lot of time there trying to satisfy his wants.  Dinner was served and the menu was the host’s favorite dishes: money, power, important positions, stocks, fame and fortune.”  The guest noticed his host did not partake and asked if something was wrong.  Jesus replied “I have food to eat that you do not know of.  If you want food that really satisfies you, do the will of the Father.  Stop seeking your own pleasures, desires and satisfaction.  Seek to please Him.  That food will satisfy you.” (John 4:34)  The young man was thrilled to “taste the joy of doing God’s will.”

The last room was the hall closet.  The young man found Jesus standing by the door complaining of a rotten odor that smelled like something had died.  The young man knew exactly what Christ was talking about; he had stored some personal things in that closet that he didn’t want anyone else to see.  They were left over from his old life, and he didn’t want to admit they were there.  The young man became angry; he had given his host access to every other single room in his house – wasn’t that enough?  There was no way he was going to let Jesus into that nasty closet.  His guest told him that he wouldn’t stay where there was such a horrific stench, and turned to leave.

The young man felt immediate remorse and told Jesus that he simply didn’t have the strength or courage to clean out the closet himself.  Jesus took the key, “walked over to the door, opened it, entered, took out all the putrefying stuff that was rotting in there, and threw it away.  Then he cleaned the closet and painted it.  It was all done in moment’s time.  Oh what victory and release to have that dead thing out of his life!”

The young man was so thrilled he asked his guest to take over the management and operation of his home.  He asked “Would you take the responsibility to keep my life what it ought to be ?”  Jesus replied “I’d love to!  You cannot be a victorious Christian in your own strength.  Let me do it through you and for you.”  The young man’s life was forever changed when Jesus Christ made His home in his heart.

Ephesians 3:16 “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth…

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Adopted by God

November is National Adoption Month, so I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to talk about the incredible blessings we receive by virtue of our adoption by God the Father.  I have a friend who was married for fifteen years and was unable to have children.  My friend and her husband made the heroic decision to adopt a foster child; the first step was to become foster parents.  After they finished their classes, an adorable three year old girl was happily brought home to increase the size of their family.  The adoption has been a long, arduous process, and it still has not yet been finalized.  The last two years have been difficult, but remarkably fulfilling and rewarding.  It has been so heartwarming to witness the bond of love grow exponentially between the parents and child.

Michelle Benzinger is an adoptive mother and a wonderful speaker; at one conference she related her struggles to adopt two children from Haiti.  This was around the time Haiti had a devastating earthquake, which caused substantial damage and tremendous chaos to the area the orphanage was located.    Michelle shared her frustration at being so far apart from ‘her children’ and how helpless she felt to protect them.  Even though she didn’t yet have guardianship, a bonding had occurred, and she was a mother tiger fiercely protective of her cubs.  Even before we turn to him, God the Father loves us just as passionately!

Every foster child dreams of one day finding their own ‘forever family’, a permanent home with a mommy and daddy who will never leave.  God the Father is patiently waiting for us to turn to him for protection and for our promised inheritance.  Under Roman law, an adopted child gained Roman citizenship, just as we become citizens of heaven, our true home, when our Heavenly Father adopts us.  When new parents adopt a child, they have full authority and become legal guardian and caregiver.

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.  Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”  So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” Gal. 4:4

Under adoption laws today, when a child is adopted, the birth certificate is changed to reflect their new name, and the child has the exact same rights and privileges as a natural born child. Since an adopted child has the right to their father’s name, so too we can take the name of Christ and have the right to be called Christians. The inheritance we receive is an amazing treasure trove of grace; the full power of the Holy Spirit and the seven supernatural gifts of wisdom, knowledge, fear of the lord, piety, fortitude, understanding, and counsel.  God the Father tenderly cares for us, offering us protection and guidance, and most importantly, the gift of eternal life.

Part of the role of an adoptive father is to:

  • Embrace adopted children as their own;
  • Help the children succeed in a home free of abuse and neglect;
  • Value the children’s connections with family and loved ones;
  • Foster the children’s cultural connections;
  • Nurture and guide the children’s development;
  • Handle difficult parenting situations, including lifelong emotional, behavioral, medical or developmental challenges that may result from the child’s experiences with abuse, neglect, loss and separation;
  • Provide the children with unconditional love and a lifetime of support.
  • (From the Jefferson County Foster Program):

God the Father certainly embraces us as his beloved daughter or son, protects us lest we ‘dash our foot against a stone’ (Psalm 91), nurtures and provides ‘unconditional love and a lifetime of support’.  But our Heavenly Father goes further than an earthly father; his care continues into our new life in heaven.  Our spiritual inheritance includes a share in the divine life, graciously shared by our Father in heaven.

Part of a father’s responsibility is to correct his child’s mistakes, and to discipline him when he is disobedient. “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” Heb. 12:7

The trials in our lives are part of God’s discipline; the financial and health issues, a family member’s addiction, a micro-managing and controlling boss.  We sin daily through greed, anger, lust and selfishness; so God allows problems to humble us and open our eyes to the dark areas in our heart.

While pondering the astounding inheritance we receive by our spiritual adoption, take time this month to consider adopting a foster child.  There are over 100,000 children in the foster care program available for adoption.   Even if you are unable to adopt, spread the word and pray for these precious children.

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Many Christians tend to compartmentalize our faith; we go go Church on Sunday, and may pray every morning, but we seldom think of God the remainder of the day.  Taking time  in our hectic schedule to remind ourselves of  His presence is called ‘recollection’, which means ‘the action of remembering something’.  As Brother Lawrence tells us “we should establish ourselves in a sense of GOD’s Presence, by continually conversing with Him”, which is a reference to Thes. 5:17 to “pray without ceasing”.

It is far too easy to stay busy with the cares of the world, whether working in an office or some other job, or by staying home and cooking, cleaning and caring for children.  An ancient prayer, called the Angelus, is generally prayed three times a day at 6:00 am, noon and 6:00 pm.  This prayer evolved from the 12th century as a way to stop briefly throughout the day and ‘recollect’ the presence of God.

We are called to become holier every day, and to unite ourselves  more closely with Christ.  But the busyness of our lives obscures spiritual truths and keeps our feet firmly planted on the ground, blocking us from growing in holiness.  Scripture tells us to be “in the world, but not of the world” (John 17), and “to set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colosians 3:3).

But setting our mind on ‘things above’ can be challenging.  Throughout our day we face many difficulties and crises, large and small; we may have forgotten to give our child lunch money, or we may have made a costly mistake in a huge project at work.  Being recollected helps us to turn to God immediately and seek His wisdom and guidance, and prevents us from getting angry and frazzled.  But how do we achieve this goal?

One pastor found a way to be recollected by texting himself six messages every three hours with a reminder to focus on God.  It worked so well that every time he got a text, he thought of God!  One author, Don Everts, recommends setting your watch to go off every hour, or to wear a bracelet or pin which will jog your memory.

Blogger Sharla Fritz places a small cross in odd places around her house.  Every time she sees it she reminds herself “Jesus is here. My Savior loves me. Christ makes this place sacred.”  This little trick helped Shara to “pray unceasingly” and to be more joyful.  One pious practice to turn our thoughts to God is to say a quick “Hail Mary” and pray every time you encounter an ambulance or fire truck, or when passing a cemetery or church.

I own a Catholic bookstore and I am surrounded by sacred crosses, pictures and figurines, and other reminders of my faith.  I can definitely recommend filling your home with religious objects, especially on your television, next to your computer and in other places where you tend to forget about your faith.  Listening to Christian music on the way to and from work, and on your lunch hour can also be extremely beneficial.  Another handy prayer is the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, which is generally recited at 3:00 pm every day.

Catholics are extremely blessed to have the opportunity to attend daily mass; some churches have daily mass at 6:45 am for those who work, 9:00 am for those with more leisure, and noon mass for those want to attend on their lunch hour or who prefer to sleep in.  Daily mass is a terrific way to plug in to God, and get unplugged from the internet.  Many churches have perpetual adoration, which means that Jesus, who is present in the Eucharist, is placed in a monstrance, presenting the opportunity to spend time with him any hour day or night.

I have two adorable Yorkshire Terrier dogs, who love to go outside almost every hour.  Whenever I walk them I try to visualize the angels walking with me, bringing God’s blessings to all my neighbors, and pushing out any evil from our neighborhood.  I encourage you to either choose one of the above options, or devise your own method to stay more focused on Christ.

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