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But Wait . . . There’s More

Easter  commemorates  the most significant event of Christianity – that Jesus willingly became the Passover Lamb for all mankind and then went beyond sacrifice to rise from the dead. He arose, not as a ghostly apparition of some sort, but as a living being with a real body. True, He appeared in rooms without the bother of opening the door, but His body retained the wounds and scars of crucifixion. Thomas could actually see and feel them. And He ate food with His astonished followers.

Best of all, our theology teaches us that His sacrifice and resurrection purchased admission to eternal happiness for each one of us, if we decide to accept our prize.

But wait, there’s even more . . . This incident also forms a pattern to comfort all believers through times of stress, persecution, and even martyrdom. Namely, that God’s plans are much, much bigger than we can even imagine. And He is omnipotent, no matter how impossible things may look to us at any given moment.

During those 40 days that Jesus walked the earth after being killed by the Roman government, He explained again many truths in the Old Testament that the disciples had studied all their lives, but had never truly understood.

The disciples had become followers partially because of His parables  about love and forgiveness. Then the miracles He performed proved to them that He was, indeed, the long promised Messiah. However, mentally and emotionally they were so bound up in their own unhappy situation that they couldn’t begin to grasp the totality of God’s glorious plans.

At least three times* Jesus had plainly told them He would die and rise from the dead, but the disciples could not understand His statements because they contradicted all the prophetic descriptions they had staked their faith in such as:

For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts. Haggai 2:6-9

Like all devout Jews, the disciples knew that Jews were given special knowledge of God and that someday, under the coming Messiah, they were to share those truths with people everywhere. They expected to accomplish these results politically after some type of conquest or dramatic change in their status under Roman rule.

But we know, with the advantage of hindsight, that the message of The Messiah spread like wildfire by the people who had absolutely no status, no power, no authority. Instead the ones who changed the world were actually outlaws who spoke of their faith under penalty of death.

Also it generally spread from the servants to their masters, from the prisoners to their guards, and from the beggars to those wealthy enough to give alms. It had nothing in common with our popular campaigns promoted by graduates of the finest business schools.

Yet by AD 313, when Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, the Easter message about a common man who had been executed by the Roman government as a criminal had spread across the entire Greco-Roman world and beyond, with ordained bishops, ordained priests, and churches in major cities.

The point is that God’s answers to prayer or prophecy never resemble what we expect with our lack of imagination. So take heart, no matter what’s going on in your life today. God really does love you. Whatever you hand over to Him, will be turned into a great benefit for you and many others. While it probably will take longer than you would like, the results will reach further than you can imagine.  Just consider the difference in both the plans and the results the disciples envisioned versus God’s plans for spreading the gospel of the Kingdom if you get the least bit discouraged.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? Hewho did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or  sword? As it is written,       

““For your sake we are being killed all day long;
 we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 8:31-39

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*1 & 2) Jesus specifically told the disciples about a week before the Transfiguration. Then while at Mt. Tabor, he discussed his departure in Jerusalem with Moses and Elijah. Luke 18:21, 31
*3) After returning  from the mountain, they met other disciples and He again foretold His death and resurrection, but they were afraid to ask Him for an explanation. Luke 18:44-45

“My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?”*


Few can read or hear these words without profound sadness. Each of us has probably said the same refrain to ourselves and to anyone willing to listen. Today as the Palm Sunday congregation sang these words, no doubt, most of us remembered times in our own lives when we had felt abandoned by God. For example:

When a young child cries after losing a parent to a deadly accident
When a faithful, loving spouse discovers irrefutable evidence of infidelity
When a family member lies about his own guilt and projects it onto the victim rather than face himself
When a sibling moves to divide the elderly parent from the remaining siblings in order to increase his own inheritance
When a superior undermines an employee’s achievements to claim them as his own
When a supplicant is faced with damning lies during court cases, but not allowed to refute them because the “rules” are misapplied
When a grown child abandons the faith – and his own family in the process

Yes, devastating betrayal is part and parcel of our lives on this earth. No one I know has been exempt. However, today we all see that Jesus really did experience treachery from both friend and foe. Yet He submitted to it quietly and ended up defeating Satan and his evil “games” in the process.

The best take away is that we believers can offer up our own dishonesty and the dirty tricks that we have experienced to the God who loves us enough to undergo the same physical, emotional, and spiritual pains that we have. Only He can cleanse us and set us free from their dominion in our lives so we can live in the Kingdom of Heaven while still treading the soil of this earth.

*This verse was part of the Psalm at today’s Mass. Below is Psalm 22 from the King James Version:

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
2 O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.
3 But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
4 Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.
5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.
6 But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.
7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
8 He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.
9 But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts.
10 I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly.
11 Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.
12 Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
13 They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
19 But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.
21 Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.
22 I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.
23 Ye that fear the Lord, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.
24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.
25 My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him.
26 The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the Lord that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.
27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.
28 For the kingdom is the Lord’s: and he is the governor among the nations.
29 All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.
30 A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.
31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.

Are You Asking God, “Why?” or “Why Me?”

man-857502__340For some time, I’ve been watching a person I love struggle with unanswered prayer that involves both financial and emotional hardships. I’ve tried to offer encouragement and advice, but there is absolutely no evidence that I’ve helped in any way whatsoever. Perhaps I am too close to the situation to discern the nuances involved. Or more likely, I offered too much advice too readily. When those we love have problems, we ‘Helpful Henrys’ should back off and just pray.

But his trials have brought to my mind the times in my own life when I was in the same boat. And I can testify with great certainty that the whole experience is incredibly painful. It seems to go on forever – until you are so discouraged, you can no longer even daydream about what life will be like after the prayer is answered. Finally, the solution sneaks in like Carl Sandburg’s fog “on little cat feet” and you can almost miss it.

There are a few things I’ve learned the hard way by living through the misery of various difficulties that I want to share in case someone else should ever benefit from my experiences.

  1. Keep your thoughts, words, and prayers as positive as you possibly can. Yes, I know your primary desire is to go to bed and sleep it off. You just want someone to “Wake you up when it’s over.” But thus avoiding reality only makes it worse, as I have learned the hard way.

As difficult as it might be, just get out of bed every morning. Just do it! I can remember many times whining to God, because no one else would listen to me anymore, that I was sick and tired of being plucky.

The complicated truth is that wallowing in pain only prolongs it. So gird up your loins and be positively, confidently, and absolutely plucky. In reality, there is no other rational choice, no matter what your emotions tell you.

  1. Be grateful! So you’re in dire need of X (a.k.a. job, phone call, car, money, etc.) And you’re not being indulgent or extravagant in your request. It’s just something you do really need, but don’t have. What on earth can you be grateful for?

  • You woke up on the right side of the grass

  • The bus came on time today

  • Your supervisor actually smiled for a change

  • You noticed a daffodil blooming

  • You got to hear a fabulous recording of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”

  • There’s enough shampoo in the bottle to last until payday if you’re careful

  • It didn’t start raining until after you got inside

Make gratitude a habit by keeping a gratitude journal every single day, especially if you’re not the journal type. Remember, you’re in a desperate situation and you must take your medicine whether you relish it or not. It’s the effect of the medicine you’re after, not the joy of the journal itself. Each entry is concrete proof that God really does love you and is concerned with all the little details of your life.  Also read a previous entry on this blog, “If this virtue were a drug . . .” written on August 10, 2016 for more reasons to be grateful.

  1. Do at least one thing every single day to make you feel proud of yourself, especially if it’s avoiding or correcting a bad habit. Ninety-nine percent of the people I know go through life fighting one or more bad habits. So, pretend it’s Lent and work on your habit(s). After all, God has arranged this special, personal “Lenten” season just to help you; so take advantage of His School for Disciples. Every day that you avoid that particular habit or actually do that good thing you ought to do, you will like yourself better. And you’re the one you most need to impress other than the good Lord Himself. On top of that, other people will like you even better when you learn to love yourself.

  1. As a corollary to previous suggestions, begin to seek God’s will for your life with great seriousness. We all have blind spots about our own faults, which is why they’re called blind spots. That’s the main reason we hate to receive advice – because we’re absolutely positive that it doesn’t quite apply to us. However, it is entirely possible that God may be trying to get our attention about something we’re carefully keeping out of our consciousness at the moment. That something we’re avoiding might be the key to our future success and happiness. Be willing, even eager, to change your actions and/or attitudes as needed.

Get down on your knees, fast, pray, and beg God to tell you exactly what you need to change in your life in order to fit in with His plans for you. Then obey whatever He says. If you’re not sure after prayer and fasting, ask a spiritual director, your priest, or some wise person you trust to help you discern the truth.

Neither good times nor bad times last forever and neither do the trials that test our faith. Occasionally, the cavalry will ride into the situation, guns blazing, and get rid of the bad guys. Occasionally, the answer is so dramatic, we tell the story of resolving our predicament to anyone who will listen for weeks, months, or years afterward. Most often, for me, the situation changes as imperceptibly as the earth rotates around sun. At some point, I discover I don’t really need or, perhaps, even want whatever I had asked for. Instead I am in another place altogether.

God loves me more than I love myself.  He wants only the best for me. So I can rest in His care and trust Him to provide answers.  Just as loving parents insist their children learn to eat vegetables and meat, not just candy bars, so God insists that even if life becomes uncomfortable, we mature emotionally and spiritually through a type of boot camp. And He personally provides a precise program that enlarges  and enriches us to whatever extent that we cooperate with Him. Some of us give up and fall away early, some of us complete a type of basic boot camp, some go on to graduate the officers’ training program, and some, the saints, finish the equivalent of Seal training.

Reporting for duty, Sir!

 

“If [this virtue] were a drug, it would be the world’s best-selling product with a health maintenance indication for every major organ system.” Dr. P Murali Doraiswamy

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 Imagine the impact on your life if you just injected a drug every morning to enhance your health, both physically and mentally.  And then, imagine what life would be like if you injected the same drug into all of your family, friends, and even co-workers. No doubt life would be immeasurably better for all.

Doriaswamy, a professor at Duke University, is an internationally recognized expert in brain/mind health and successful aging. And the virtue to which he refers is thankfulness or gratitude. 1

The more frequently you practice it, the better off you are.2 For example, you will experience less anxiety, cope with stress more easily, and sleep better.3 The improvements in your body are measurable in several areas. For example:

  1. Mood neurotransmitters (serotonin and norepinephrine)

  2. Inflammatory and immune systems (cytokines)

  3. Reproductive hormones (testosterone)

  4. Stress hormones (cortisol)

  5. Social bonding hormones (oxytocin)

  6. Blood pressure and cardiac and EEG rhythms5

  7. Cognitive and pleasure related neurotransmitters (dopamine)

  8. Blood sugar

Another scientific expert on gratitude is Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at UC Davis.6 He teaches that gratitude is good for at least four reasons:

  1. Gratitude allows people to actively celebrate the present moment

  2. Gratitude blocks negative emotions like envy or resentment and helps people function better

  3. Gratitude makes people more resistant to stress

  4. Gratitude strengthens social ties and self-worth

I applaud the researchers who are proving the wisdom of God in the Bible. And proving that the instructions found there are for our good and not to restrict us.

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For some reason, Satan has tricked most of us into believing that obedience to God is painful and futile even though Jesus promised in John 10:10 (Amp): The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows].

In other words, to have the abundant life one must have an attitude of gratitude.

Sources: 1.ABC News November 23, 2011 – 2.Huffington Post November 22, 2014 – 3. Psychology Today November 9, 2011 – 4.American Journal of Cardiology 1995 Nov. 15:76(14):1089-93 – 5.Greatergood.Berkley.edu

Answers to Prayer: A Follow-up to Why Pray?

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Of course, there are times when we are shocked because our prayer ARE answered, sometimes in an unexpected way, sometimes when we least expect it. Not only is it always a good and joyful thing to praise the Lord, it encourages others to discover both big and little ways that God makes Himself known to us.

I am a cancer survivor of 25 years: breast cancer in 1991, metastasis to lung in 2006, colon cancer in 2005, and ocular melanoma in 2005. So in June I went to one of my oncologists because I had become much more of a stumblebum than usual, I had frequent headaches, I found a bony abnormality on a rib near where the original breast tumor had been, and I couldn’t get rid of a cough. And I could not walk a straight line (the kind of test they give on side of highway with DUI cases) in her examining room,  so she ordered a CT scan like I’d been having since 2005 and an MRI.

I left her office with the possibility of either Multiple Sclerosis or brain tumor hanging over my head while I waited for the results of the tests. With my history, I figured MS would be the best I could hope for.

I did attend a special healing service at my parish, which just “happened” to be scheduled a few days before the tests. But, because I no longer drive at night, I had to leave before the laying on of hands or individual prayers. As I walked out, I silently told God that I was ready for whatever He wanted in my life, but at that point, I didn’t expect much.

Several days later, I steeled myself as I heard the door knob turn and I knew Dr. Kramer was coming in to explain the lab, scan, and MRI reports to me.

But when the door opened, she danced into the room almost laughing as she said there were no problems. The scans showed no change in three years and the MRI revealed absolutely no problems. We talked and laughed and repeated ourselves for about 1o minutes. It was one of those occasions when the news is so overwhelming and so good that even educated, articulate people just babble happily with each other.

As I drove home, I thought about my score: Kaye, 4 and Cancer 0, even though two of those cancers were Stage 4. How can I possibly measure up to such an abundance of grace?

I invite any reader to continue this saga by reporting your own answers to prayer in the comments section. Please.


Why Pray?

 

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If God knows everything about us, especially all the things we need, then why should we waste our time praying?

We pray because prayer benefits us like nothing else.

  • Prayer develops our relationship with God, just as all close relationships develop through communication.

  • Prayer opens our minds and hearts to understand God more fully, especially His expectations of us.

  • Prayer keeps us from being too self-centered

  • Prayer teaches us to appreciate other people in our lives and to understand how important they are to our well-being.

  • Prayer helps us understand more deeply how much God cares for us.

  • Prayer gives us direction about choices and changes we need to make.

  • Prayer coaches us as we grow in the virtues, which are necessary if we are to live a happy life.

  • Prayer enables us to love other people.

  • Prayer renews our spirits so we can face the challenges in our lives instead of running away from them.

  • Prayer provides calm in the middle of a crisis.

  • Prayer connects us with a powerful God who loves us and eagerly wants to help us

  • Prayer improves everything.

PEACE

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And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body;                 and be ye thankful. Colossians 3:15 KJV

Peace is just another five letter word unless you’ve struggled with anxiety, unless you’ve suddenly awakened in a panic wondering how you will be able to survive one more day in the mess you find yourself in, or unless you put on your glasses to search for the light at the end of the tunnel, but find only blackness no matter how hard you squint your eyes. It is a positive good, not just the absence of conflict. Indeed, real peace is possible in the midst of uncertainty and conflict.

Peace is a pearl of great price the we can only acquire from God Himself. We might acquire it when we have made the difficult, but good decision or done the truly loving deed. Once experienced, we long to live in that peace again and we joyfully let go of bad habits and preconceptions into order to feel it again.

The peace of God is the perfect high that all people pursue. Unfortunately, most of us seek it in the wrong places and in the wrong way, totally unaware that God hardwired us to seek it through Him. Although sexual fulfillment is a wonderful gift from God to all husbands and wives who wholly give themselves to each other, it is not the ultimate high. The peace of God is a greater, more lasting high that is readily available to all: married, single, old, young, educated, illiterate, rich, or poor.

Seeking the peace of God propelled Mother Teresa into the streets of Calcutta to joyfully care for the  abandoned ones, the untouchables. She herself said that she wouldn’t do it even for a million dollars, but she gladly did it for the love of God even when the rest of the world watched with disgust, curled lips, and disbelief. She and the many people who followed her into her ministry from all over the world were the happiest people one could ever find.

Perhaps we anxious ones could learn a lesson from her. . . .

 

ROMANS 15:13   May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing [through the experience of your faith] that by the power of the Holy Spirit you will abound in hope and overflow with confidence in His promises.

 I THESSALONIANS 5:23-24   Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you through and through [that is, separate you from profane and vulgar things, make you pure and whole and undamaged—consecrated to Him—set apart for His purpose]; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept complete and [be found] blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 HEBREWS 13:20-21   Now may the God of peace [the source of serenity and spiritual well-being] who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood that sealed and ratified the eternal covenant, equip you with every good thing to carry out His will and strengthen you [making you complete and perfect as you ought to be], accomplishing in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

II PETER 1:2    Grace and peace [that special sense of spiritual well-being] be multiplied to you in the [true, intimate] knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

COLOSSIANS 3:15   Let the peace of Christ [the inner calm of one who walks daily with Him] be the controlling factor in your hearts [deciding and settling questions that arise]. To this peace indeed you were called as members in one body [of believers]. And be thankful [to God always].

The last group of  quotations are from The Amplified Bible.