Tell them about Jesus

The name dropper

I have a friend that is a major league bragger! He makes sure you know he’s well-connected! He’ll send me pictures of him with politicians, council members, lawyers, and anyone that is a decision maker of any kind. Now, don’t get me wrong. He’s a really good man. He’s reliable, always willing to help and obviously a good person to know. He’ll call me out of the blue and ask me how I’m doing and where I am and who I’m with. I know that what he really wants me to do is ask him how he’s doing, where he is and who he’s with. He’ll casually tell me that he’s at some big-wig meeting somewhere getting paid overtime to hobnob with the upper echelon of his organization.

Now I know he means well. But I also know that it’s also part of who he is. Being a “modest bragger” is a part of his culture. He’ll talk himself up but then immediately after he’ll tell you something like “yeah, well I’m sure you could do the same in my situation”, knowing fully well that someone else may not be able to. I’ll remind him once in a while that he doesn’t need to keep this up with me and that we go way back and he doesn’t need to constantly validate himself to me. He’ll immediately answer me back and say “well if I don’t brag, who will do it for me?”. I always find his answer very interesting: it’s immediate and the same every time.

The name deniers

How about us as Christians: do we brag to our friends of our connections, of our inside scoop, our Friend in High Places? When was the last time you confidently and humbly told someone “I am a friend of God, He calls me Friend!” What brag could be more truthful, more worthy of boast, more favorable, more reliable than having the Creator of the Universe calling you “friend”? Do we go around looking for an opportunity to share with friends about our most recent encounter with God and how He did something amazing in our lives and how we’ve seen Him move.

Do your friends and relatives know that you have a Friend that sticks closer than a brother, a Strong Tower in times of trouble, an ever present Help in time of need? I can’t wait for God to complete a work in my friend’s life! He will be a major league evangelist and preacher and worker in the fields. If this is how he brags about the humans he knows, imagine what God can do with him?

Inventory time

What about us? What has God been able to do with us lately? Have you called a friend you haven’t heard from in a long time and shared how God brought you through a difficult time? Have you called your unsaved loved ones and had the need to tell them of God’s Grace in your life? When your children are complemented by teachers and parents alike, do you take credit or do you forward it immediately to where credit is due? Have people ever seen you praying with your children before they enter the school building? How about blasting Christian Music in your car rather than the worldly songs? Have you ever stood on a street corner sharing tracks with a smile on your face and a song in your heart?

Live it

People need to not only hear that you have a friend in Jesus, but they need to want what you have! If we’re walking around down, defeated, depressed, drowsy, droopy, disheveled, no one is going to want anything to do with our Jesus! They’ll say “If I believe in your Jesus, I can look forward to being like you? No thanks, I’m good!” We need to live His Grace daily! We need to be going around singing and smiling and praising God! If someone asks you how you’re doing, don’t necessarily tell them where you are: “oh I’m having a rough day, week, month, year!”. Tell them what you are: “I’m blessed and highly favored!”, “God is good, I’m better than I deserve”. The Bible says “let them see you…and they’ll glorify your Father in Heaven”. 

More abundantly

God has put us here to be a light. We’re to be a sign post, a compass, a guide. A road map always pointing to His Son. No matter what storm of life you’re going through your attitude should be, “I am blessed beyond all measure!”. We are called to be the “salt of the Earth”. We’re here to give the place some flavor! We are also not called to be “cookie cutter” Christians.

God has created us all different because each of us has a different ministry: some of us are weird, nerdy, quirky, introverts: those brethren speak to people like them. Others are loud, jocks, Prom Kings and Queens. They are called to witness to people like them; still others are debaters and philosophers and thinkers. Regardless of how you are, God has made you special to reach people not in spite of how you are, but because of how you are! 

As friends of the King, we have a responsibility to be ambassadors for the Kingdom. Earthly ambassadors go out of their way to shine a good light on their nation. Even when something is plainly wrong for all to see. They call it “saving face”. As citizens of Heaven, we have an advantage: our homeland has no down side! How much easier is our task than that of earthly ambassadors?! How can anyone speak ill of something with no down side? It’s like speaking ill of water!

Yet, people are always looking at what you’re doing. Notice how no one is looking to see if someone is a good Muslim, a good Hindu, a good Buddhist; no, everyone has their critical eye turned towards the followers of Christ. They are ready, willing and able to cast doubt, blame, ridicule. The Bible says that we are to expect it. If they did it to Jesus, how much more will it be done to us? 

Show them

But being friends of the King is a privilege, being ambassadors for Christ is an honor. We must muster ourselves up to not merely act the part, but live it. A friend of mine was always fond of saying “Life is an interview: dress accordingly”. The Bible teaches us that we should be “living Epistles, easily read of all men”. As Christians we should carry ourselves in a manner that is befitting of our citizenship (Heaven). Our bloodline is Holy (children of the Most High). Our position (Royal Priesthood) is regal, and our destiny (co-heir with Christ) is beyond compare. 

When you start living according to who God created you to be and not what the devil and the world want you to believe, you will see amazing things happen in your life. Blessings you weren’t expecting, favor you don’t understand, influence you can’t explain. You were made for so much more!  As C.S. Lewis would say, more than a “mere Christian”. You are an overcoming, a chain-breaking, a legacy-changing, marriage-restoring, blood-bought saint of the Living God and no weapon formed against you shall prosper! We need to live this Christianity out loud with boldness and in love! 

Out of season

I remember a long time ago when I was just about 20. I was working at a branch of an overseas Italian Bank in the City. It took me a few days but I got a good sense of people. I have to admit. I read people very well. A week in and I started feeling very comfortable around them. As always, I smile a lot, laugh, tell jokes, do my work and go home.

I didn’t advertise the fact that I was a Christian. About a month or so in, I was having a conversation with a colleague and the subject came around to religion. Since we were both Italian she assumed I was Catholic. I politely responded and said in a very mousy voice, in Italian, “no, sono evangelista”, which means “I’m evangelical”. I will never forget her response. She took a breath and with a very long “o” sound at first she said “that’s what’s different about you?!?”

She was shell-shocked and relieved at the same time. Later, she shared that she had finally figured out what the vibe was she was. She told me that “I knew you were different and weird, but in a good way.” Imagine. She figured out that I was “different and weird” under all my sin and worldly living. How much more would she have been able to see if I had been living righteously? She saw, felt, she sensed God’s anointing.

Seemingly aware of His Presence in my life even when I was doing my best to hide it! She was able to read my “epistle” covered under all that gunk and soot and sin. But the Bible teaches us that we are Royal Priesthood, a peculiar people: we can’t hide who we are any more than a leopard can lose its spots or a camel hide its humps! We are created to shine. To stand out. We were anointed to plant in every field and saved to harvest wherever possible! 

In season

We are here to point people to Jesus; show them that there is a Hope, not just “beyond the clouds” but one that is real and practical and tangible, able to help in their everyday lives. We have to show them that there IS something about us, about our lives, in us, in our lives, that gives us an above-human strength to get up every morning and face life with a smile, a sincere smile and face life without fear, confident that life is good because God is good! People need to see us and want what we have! The Bible teaches us that in the “presence of God there is fullness of Joy”.

People need to see in us that our old nature, our sadness, our faults, our sins, our depression, our lack, our struggles were already paid for in full on the Cross: sadness does come, but doesn’t have our permission to stay: lack may come but it’s just a pit stop, it’s not the road God has for us; our old nature fights for a “comeback tour” but we don’t have to buy tickets to any of the stops; our seasons of depression is a surprise only to us, not God! So, as the Apostle Paul teaches us, in ALL things, give thanks to God, knowing fully well that is is more than Ready, more than Willing, more than Able, to do abundantly more than we could ever expect, imagine, or, most of all, deserve!

People need to see that our connection, our Friend, our “Only Phone Call”, our first Resume Reference is God the Almighty through His Son Jesus Christ. When people say it’s impossible for us to get that promotion, we need to be able to say with boldness “Once God makes up His mind, it’s a done deal!” If they tell us we’ll never get that loan, we say “No worries, the Owner of all things is a friend of mine!” Whenever they tell us you’ll never get into that college, we answer “I’ll ask the Head Recruiter and see what He says!”.

And around again

Rain, shine, hail, drizzle, blizzard, earthquake, drought, flood: whatever circumstances we may have around us, we rise above them through our Lord Jesus Christ. And people will be able to see this best, not in our triumphs, but in our defeats! It’s easy to be a “Fair-weather Christian” all is well so God is good. You need to turn that around: God is Good so all is well. If He leaves you out in the rain longer than expected or the job situation takes you beyond the unemployment checks. When the illness needs an extra round or treatment, the marriage counseling needs more time. If the kids are wondering off: will we still be faithful and say “All is well” believing that God is in control of everything.

He has our very best in mind for us: will they see you preaching and praising then? When it counts? Even when it hurts? How about when it’s hard? What if you can’t find the words, will you praise Him then? Will you say like Job, with a sincere heart, “Thou He slay me, yet will I trust Him!”. When it’s pitch black, will you trust that a new day has begun even though you can’t see the sun? Will you walk in victory in spite of the circumstances shouting out defeat?

No posing, please

You see, people have had their fill of “Fair Weather Christians”, but deep down inside of them God has put this yearning to want to hope for something better; they know that despite all our faults and all our mistakes along the way, Jesus is still the only answer to the void they feel inside, they just want to see it done, they want to see what it looks like!

They want to see that it’s real. Believe me when I tell you, when they question things in their lives, they think of you. When they come across a moral dilemma, they think of you; when they encounter a new challenge, they think of you. “What would Billy do in this situation; what would Jane say in this situation”? We are called to let our “light shine before Men, that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in Heaven”.

Tell them

Our light is not our own. It was bought at a price. A price we could not pay for a debt He did not owe. God is asking us: what will we do with that light, what will we do about His Son? Will we hide like I did for far too long? Hopefully, we will stand and be counted. Counted like Joshua, Caleb, Stephen, John, and Daniel. There isn’t a whole in Creation deep enough from which God cannot rescue and to which His Light cannot reach. People want to, need to see us boast in the Lord. Tell your friends, family, your neighbors, and coworkers, “My God is Able”. These souls need you to tell them. Tell them your smile, sunny disposition, faith, Peace, demeanor, your surrender, and your reasonableness, are not yours. They were bought at a price.

They need to know the Scandal of Grace. Grace is freely given. Since it was freely given then freely you received it. Therefore, freely you share it with them. Tell them there’s nothing they can do and nothing they have to do to earn it. Tell them that they too can claim their right to be called Sons and Daughters of the Most High, Heirs and coheirs with Christ, tell them they no longer have to live under the circumstances but they can live above the circumstances. They need us to tell them that God is always Good and God is Just even if life isn’t fair. Tell them they too can be Friends of the King! God loves them just the way they are.

From the mountaintops

They’re precious to Him. Tell them that. Tell them Jesus died for their sins. Why? So they can finally be at peace with God. Tell them to come just as they are, scars and all; to speak this simple Truth: “I believe that Jesus is Lord. I believe that God the Father raised Him from the dead”. Tell them that this simple Truth, this only Truth, has set them free! Free from who they were. From who they thought they needed to be. They are free from who they were told to be. Who they wanted to be. Freedom from who they thought they wanted to be. Tell them that now their life starts anew! They are renewed, redeemed and restored! They are reborn. Indeed, born again! If you receive this, let it be done as you have said, in Jesus’s name, Amen!

Bewildered by Grace

Where sin abounds

My best man is not what you would call a “Christian”. We’ve been friends for years and, although he grew up Russian Orthodox, there’s very little semblance of religion in his life. He does as he pleases, goes where he wants with whomever he wants and doesn’t suffer fools lightly. He is an intelligent, classically educated, well-traveled, eloquent, multi-lingual and a very successful cosmopolitan. Although he himself is not religious, he “understands the role it can play in people’s lives”. Our prayer for him has always been that he be bewildered by grace.

All in all, he’s the poster child for a jaded, calculating, cynical yet pragmatic post-cold-war soviet youth. One might even wonder “what does this man have in common with you”? Surprisingly enough, I have to say that he is the only secular friend from my youth God has allowed to remain in my life. And I’m sure He has His reasons. I believe so that he can be bewildered by Grace.

Opportunity presents itself

On one of his many excursions to Europe for a skiing trip with his newlywed wife, they decided to cross the Alps and make some stops in Northern Italy; he wanted to take advantage of the proximity to Milan to take in the sights with his wife. As “luck” would have it, his rental car broke down. He’s not the type to panic so he very calmly called the rental company and arranged to bring his car in for repairs. He arrives at the mechanics’ shop to discover that no one there speaks English. Again, he calmly reaches out to me back in New York, explains the situation, and asks that I speak to the mechanic. He wanted me to communicate to him very clearly what he needed done to the car.

Grace abounds even more

He puts the mechanic on the phone, I introduce myself, explain that the gentleman is my best man, in Italy on vacation and that his car broke down on the road. I extend my availability to translate at a moment’s notice, I thank the gentleman for his time and add “che Dio vi benedica”.

Now, please understand that, although translated into English it means “God bless you”, unlike the ease with which we use it in America, from sneezes on the train to prayers at the altar, in Italian and in Italy, those words are hard to come by. It is not part of our daily lexicon to go around blessing people. For example, for sneezes, we say “salute” which is basically “good health”. Although we are the seat of the Catholic Church, it would surprise anyone to see just how secular Italy has become over the years. Religion and God are making a slow but steady exit out of public life.

Bewildered by Grace

So, just like any other normal phone call, the mechanic and I said our goodbyes. I told my friend it was taken care of. We both moved on with my day. However, what came next was more than just unexpected, it was extraordinary.  The next day, after he had gotten his car fixed and left the mechanics’ shop, he called me again and said: “I just have one question: was the mechanic, like, your cousin or something”? Bewildered might be an understatement.

It’s not every day that my best friend is caught off guard by anything, let alone bewildered.   He reads people and situations extremely well and has an uncanny ability at hedging himself against any unforeseen circumstance. So when he started our conversation with such a question I knew something very unexpected had taken place. I asked him to explain what he meant by such a left-field question. He went on to tell me how, right after we got off the phone, he noticed something different about the mechanic. I was happy to see that the mechanic was bewildered by Grace as well.

He described him as typical northern Italian: straight to the point and not very warm; courteous but not warm. He continued to tell me that after we spoke he went to work in earnest. The mechanic started bossing people around. He was telling his workers to get working on the car. He took a piece of paper and wrote down the following day’s date and a time (assuming it was the pickup time). Before leaving the shop, they shook hands and the mechanic gave him one of those half tap/half hugs sort of goodbye. But then, he said the mind-blower came the next day.

Where mercy found me

When my friend showed up to pick up the car the mechanic greeted him with open arms, welcomed him in, and personally escorted him to the vehicle: he wouldn’t even accept a tip! He said the mechanic smiled and laughed the whole time and waved him off as he left the shop! “Again, I ask you: are you related”? I assured him that I had never met him nor had ever spoken to him. So he asked me: “then what could you possibly have said to this man that changed his mood so drastically”? I thought about it for a moment and then I remembered, I had said: “God bless you”.

It made sense. The last thing I said to him was, “God bless you, God repay for your diligence and your time”. My friend said that it was as though someone had lit a fire under him. I went on to explain that, perhaps, that man had very rarely come across such a salutation and he really took it to heart and it made a tangible difference in his day. “It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever witnessed”. he said. I smiled, said “yeah, ‘God bless you’ goes a long way!’ and moved on.

Living Epistles

Too often we want to preach and push and pull our loved ones into the Kingdom. My friend definitely got his share of it from a few of us when we were younger. After a while, we just loved him for who he is. We decided that prayer might work better. So it’s these rare moments when God shows up and shines out in ways that he understands that make up for years of preaching. He was able to witness first hand how God took care of his needs. Even in such little things above and beyond his expectations. So much so that he thought he had fortuitously landed among relatives of friends.

God doesn’t need us to hit people over the head with the Message: we are called to be “Living epistles, easily read of all men“. For my jaded, calculating eastern European cynical friend, what happened that day made him stop and take notice. Perhaps a few more such close encounters and, who knows, the Lord will lead him to Himself soon. We, as Christians, can only pray. As we pray, let us ask for opportunities for people to truly be bewildered by His Grace.

Come, let Us Pray Together!

What a day that we be, when my Jesus i will see, As He takes me by the hand and takes me to the Promised Land. What a day, Glorious day that will be!

Has your need to “know” and “understand” driven you to madness yet? How many times so far: once, twice, more? I agree that the heart of the apologist is to know and to understand but we should never loose sight of what our subject matter is: God! It is, by definition, impossible to know him fully, at least in this current life. The Bible teaches us that:

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known”. 1 Corinthians 13:12

Even the greatest apologist of all times, the Apostle Paul, knew that what really saved people was not “head knowledge” but the move of the Spirit in their lives. In fact, when speaking to the Corinthians, Paul writes:

1 And I, brethren, when I came to you declaring unto you the testimony of God, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom.For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.And my speech and my preaching were not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not stand on the wisdom of man, but on the power of God.– 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (bold and underline are mine).

What a powerful revelation from the Apostle Paul: “that our faith should stand…on the Power of God”! Sometimes we might feel that we have an obligation to dump all of our knowledge on someone to win the argument and prove to them the rationality of our beliefs, almost as though it were up to us to defend the Word of God. That, fortunately could not be farther from the truth. In fact, it’s the other way around: it is the Word of God that defends us as we “put on the full armor of God…for we wrestle not with flesh” and since we do not wrestle with flesh, our battle cannot be and cannot be won in the body but through prayer and the reading of the Word. An unbeliever is not merely the person standing in front of you but the spirit of unbelief that is inside of them and that spirit is just as knowledgeable as you are which means that the only thing that can save that person is God through a miraculous work in their life.

The next time you find yourself at your wit’s end with trying to wrap your head around the whole Scripture or find that your apologetic is not working the way you thought it would, remember that apologetic is not a part of it not the only part and the battle is certainly not yours!.

The God of my sister! Part 2

Everyone’s journey to God is unique and special; mine walk was through a series of shady valleys as I observed my sister in her own journey of faith. The following meditation is a retelling of some highlights in my walk in Christ and to Christ. As always, I pray that you will be blessed and that you share it with at least one other person. May God richly bless you. I call this:

The God of my sister: Part 2

For as long as I could remember I always looked up to my sister. Ever since we moved to the States, she was always the one who took care of everything: bills, documents, school. She was the only one that spoke any English; she had taught herself basic conversational English in the few months before we left for New York using a neighbor’s college textbook. Smart as a whip, astute as snake, she always knew what the right answer was. I was only a young boy at the time: watching my sibling’s lives play out in front of my eyes was like watching one of those american movies, when we were still in Italy, with the big cars and the drive-In’s and the big hair.

The years came and went and we moved back to Italy and, after a brief stay, we came back again to the U.S.. However, those two short years in Italy would forever change the destiny of our family: my sister found Jesus Christ in Milan and she brought Him back to our house in Tuscany. As I’ve shared before I met Jesus at the dinner table a short while after, when her relatives came over to visit once.

She spoke of Jesus as the neighbor next door, as her school age friend. She was in love again! Our return to the U.S. was anything but a smooth transition for me. I had found my place in Tuscany: I had good friends, good grades and lots of freedom; suffice to say that coming to the U.S. was a quite the sacrifice on my part.

In the months that followed, my sadness turned into depression. I had left my storybook life back in Italy and I now found myself ripped out and transplanted back in New York, a place I thought I would never see again. I was broken, it was dark inside and had never felt like this before. I had forgotten about my encounter with Jesus and had lost my reason to live.

I decided that it would be a good idea to go speak to the Guidance Counselor at school. After a brief conversation she becane very concerned and so she reached out to my parents for a meeting. As with all things, “parents” at my house meant all three of them: my mom, my dad and, of course, my sister. The next day my mom came up to school with my sister for a meeting with my guidance counselor. She recommended I see a psychiatrist and go on medication immediately. My sister took it all in and shook her head in agreement. I can still remember her saying: “yes, I know exactly where to bring him”!

That Sunday my sister woke me up early and told me to get ready; we were going to church. Church, it turns out was just a few blocks away. I hadn’t been in a church in years. The only people I knew that went to church every week were old ladies. We got there and I immediately sensed something was different. People were singing and happy and smiling; like nothing I’d ever seen before. It was very moving but I was very cautious. At the end of the service, the pastor stood by the door and greeted everyone and a few others introduced themselves. I was a very welcoming place.

When I got home, church started fading away. My thoughts returned and my mental state worsened. I pushed on for a few days longer droning away at school but nothing helped. I would remember the words of the pastor and my sister telling me that “Jesus loves me” and that everything would soon turn around but I couldn’t get myself out of it. I was empty and all alone. Home life was somewhat of a refuge; seeing my parents and my sister and her family gave me some point of reference to hold on to.

But then, like every other day, night came. I was tired, afraid and alone. The room was darker than every other night before it. My bed was a foldable cot pushed up against a corner sofa to give it the impression that it was bigger. As I tossed and turned, sleep never came. With tears in my eyes I hoped against hope that the emptiness would go away. That’s when it came to me. I figured I would give my sister’s God one last try. I held back my tears and came to my senses and prayed, really prayed for the first time in my life. I spoke to God, like my sister had taught me, as if He really was right there with me! it was a few simple words, really. I had put together enough mental clarity to do the unthinkable and basically put it all in God’s hands.

As I laid there in my bed, I closed my eyes and I said to Him: “If you can keep me from killing myself tonight, I will serve you the rest of my life”. Within moments, a deep and heavy and restful sleep overtook me and I had the soundest sleep in my life. The next morning, when I awoke smiling and refreshed, I could still remember everything that had taken place but the pain was gone; I could think of it without it bothering me. I was healed. The God of my sister had physically saved me from myself. As of the time I’m writing this, it has been roughly 25 years almost to the date that Jesus saved my life and my soul from the grips of Hell. I know that I know that I know that since He did it for me, He is willing, ready and able to do it for you.

No matter what it is you’re going for, there is nothing, absolutely nothing that Jesus cannot save you from, take you out of, or find you in. Wherever you are today, call out to Him and say: “Dear Jesus, I know You can see me where I am as I am, come to me Lord, change my heart, change my life, I make you my Lord and Savior. I can’t do it without you. Amen”.

 

The God of my sister: Part 1

When your own Walk gets overrun with weeds, it’s good to know there’s someone’s footsteps you can follow.

Everyone’s journey to God is unique and special; mine brought me through a series of shady valleys, deep wooded forest and dry deserted places. Beside the unfailing Grace of God, what was always there to point me back home was the opportunity to observe my sister in her own journey of faith. The following meditation is a retelling of some highlights in my walk in Christ and to Christ and how, by His unmerited favor, He provided faithful stewards of His Love to bring me back on the Path. As always, I pray that you will be blessed and share it with at least one other person. May God richly bless you. I call this:

The God of my sister

To be honest, I would have to say that I met Jesus several times. The first time I met Him, He changed my heart: I was arrogant and loud and self-confident; I was of no earthly good without any heavenly value. I was a Evolutionist, a Darwinist and, for the lack of a more accurate word, an agnostic. I believed the same way any secular person believed: tangentially and only on special occasions. Believing was a matter of tradition not a lifestyle. We paid lip service to a God that had no real place or space in our lives. However, one day, in the middle of what I would call the best time of my young life He showed up to Sunday dinner in the guise of my brother-in-law’s uncle and his family.

We were living in Italy at the time; it was the first in our series back and forth moves to and from the United States. My sister, her husband and my young nephew had gone to visit family in Milan and they, in turn, had invited them back to our house in Tuscany. My sister had spent a several days with them in Milan and had accepted an invitation to their church. Suffice to say that she came back a different person from her trip. She started talking about Jesus as if He was actually a person you could relate to on a daily basis. She told me stories people had shared with her during her trip along with a few of her own experiences during her ten-day stay. She told me of miraculous healings and of divine interventions into people’s personal circumstances and of inexplicable coincidences that could only be explained by intentional design. This went on for weeks. The person that returned home from this brief vacation was not the same person that had left from our home just a few weeks prior.

For as long as I could remember I always looked up to my sister. Ever since we moved to the States, she was always the one who took care of everything: bills, documents, school. She was the only one that spoke any English; she had taught herself basic conversational English in the few months before we left for New York using a neighbor’s college textbook. Smart as a whip, astute as snake, she always knew what the right answer was. It was exactly this part of what I knew about her that troubled me the most: the answer she had didn’t sound like the right one any longer: this could only be a grievous  misunderstanding on her part, a single flaw in what could otherwise only be described as a flawless record on her part. So, the day my brother-in-law’s relatives came to visit us, I was ready. Textbooks and quotations at hand from scholars and scientists from all walks of life, I would prove to this man and his family how terribly misguided they were and I would, in my own special, magnanimous and selfless way, walk them back to the truth of science and reason.

When they arrived we all introduced each other and we had lots of wonderful conversations about personal history and origin and as much small talk as we could muster until eventually, we slowly but surely made our way to the most important topic on their hearts. They were very pleasant, cordial and reasonable. The husband shared his testimony and spoke of Jesus, I countered with evolution; he spoke of his testimony, I countered with the Big Bang. The conversation went on for hours and I have to say that not once did he show any sign of frustration on his part; he was at least twenty years my elder and still spoke to me with eloquence and gallantry. My mom came into the living room, signaled to my sister, and we all went into the dining room to eat dinner.

That’s when it happened. Of all the years I had spent at my father’s table we had never once said Grace, ever! This man, Dino, turns to my father and asks if he could pray for the meal. My father, from his part, had no objection: we had never prayed but we were still “catholic” so we wouldn’t dare say no. He starts praying. He makes this long list of things he’s thankful for, talking to God as if He could actually hear him. He thanks God for the food and the warm reception and the engaging conversation and for the safe trip and prays for our family and our salvation. At this point, something came over me; it was like guilt and release at the same time. I started to weep and wail uncontrollably. I cried like I had never cried before. I can still remember saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry”. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. As his prayer came to a close and everyone saw me balling my eyes out in my seat, him and his wife came and hugged me and told me “it’s okay, you’ll be okay. Jesus loves you”.

That was the day I met Jesus for the first time. That was the first day in my whole entire life that I wasn’t alone. There was now this “presence” in my mind that I couldn’t explain; my thoughts were no longer on their own in my brain, there was something else, someone else there: I didn’t know what it was but I knew I was safe. I was just a boy and that was a long time ago. But that day something else happened: I realized my sister’s record was still intact. Whatever she had experienced, whatever she had seen and heard actually did happen. She was right about this Jesus, someone that now that I had encountered Him for the very first time I knew she had found the path, the True Path, and our lives and the lives of our families would never be the same.

Of course, we all know that whenever the Lord sends someone to seed and water and nurture, the enemy of our souls sends someone or something to steal, kill or destroy; and believe me, things did come and in a hurry. As believers, however, we are reminded that “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose”.

Please stay with us over the next few days as we continue to testify of the Goodness of God the Father through His Son Jesus and how, on a lonely, dark night he kept a young man from the pit of despair.

God bless you.

 

Life More Abundant

“I have come to give you Life, and Life more abundant”. John 10:10

I must’ve heard thousands of sermons in my life on just about every topic in the Book. Unfortunately, I have to say that more often than not, the message was about how, as Christians, we were “stealing from God”; a concept that, when I compared it to the God I knew and know, was as ridiculous to me as evolution. The message below is the inspiration for everything that we have planned for this ministry. As always, our most sincere yearning of our hearts is that you may be blessed and share that blessing with someone you know. God bless you. Here it is…it’s name, of course is:

Life More Abundant

There’s one verse, in particular, I believe, that sums up what the difference is between what the Devil’s will and what God’s Will for my life is. It’s very simple: the enemy of my soul wants to “steal, kill, and destroy”; the Father, Creator and Lover of my soul wants to give me “life” and that I may have it “more abundantly”! For the last 2000 years, the Church has struggled to give this verse meaning, too often, while trying to shy away from what has come to be called “Prosperity Preaching” and at the same time struggling to keep its distance from “Self-Denial Preaching” like that of the Stylites and of the self-inflicting practices of the Opus Dei. But what is the Gospel if not a message of Prosperity! When John the Baptist’s faith fell short, he sent his disciples to inquire from Jesus whether He was truly the Messiah, Jesus’s reply was not a yes or no but “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor”. To the people of the time good health was just as life-changing as winning the lottery would be to us today! The lame man walking suffered two instantaneous life-altering miracles; the first was as plain as day, but the second…was his legacy! He could now work and provide for his family or start a family and his name would not be blotted out from history. For a leper to be cured was an incredible upgrade in social status: no longer being deemed “unclean” made it possible for them to return to a “normal” life with full reinstatement of party, place, and position, rights duties and responsibilities that they enjoyed prior to their illness. The dead being raised?! What would any of us give for a do-over, a “free life”, repeat last down! How is that not Prosperity Preaching?! God in His infinite Grace, even granted a king, Hezekiah, 15 more years! That didn’t just change his life but the trajectory of a kingdom and, most assuredly, the history of man!

The good news was proclaimed to the poor because the rich and powerful were well-educated and well-versed, they knew and could read Scripture; for them, to them, “much was given” and therefore, from them. much was expected! They knew the Law and therefore could not claim ignorance. The poor could not and would not be allowed to read and were left depended on the scraps that fell from the lips of self-righteous and self-serving priests whom, according to Jesus, were they themselves blind and would neither enter nor let anyone else enter the Kingdom! Jesus himself said that He didn’t come for the healthy but for the sick. And who were these sick if not those who did not have nor know the Word. Afterall, faith can only “come by hearing, and hearing the Word of God’. The masses were malnourished both physically and spiritually and so the Word came to them.

But perhaps I’m looking at this all wrong; my ambitions and aspirations and love of money are clouding my judgement. Perhaps a different take, a second look, is needed. This may be a good time to go back to the original text and compare and contrast the two contenders for my soul. It is written that the enemy comes to “steal, kill, and destroy” and the very next words are “but I [God]…..”. The very existence of the word “but” in the phrase points us to  the fact the whatever comes next is a polar opposite to the statement that has just been made. To steal, kill, destroy: what is, what what are the polar opposites to these things? 

Simply put, stealing is taking possession of something that belongs to another without permission and by force, if necessary. So what’s the opposite of all that? I would argue that being the owner or having the ability to afford an object and therefore not taking possession by force, but after having reasoned with the owner, a mutually satisfying agreement is reached regarding the price he requires and the value I assign it. God credits my soul with an immeasurable worth: He was willing to watch His Son die in my place, to pay a debt He did not owe because I owed a debt I could not pay. That is the level of graciousness of God’s bargain-making on my behalf. The enemy comes to steal, enslave, subjugate, coerce, deprive; to make us debtors, borrowers, of little account, of low repute, disadvantaged, underprivileged, poverty-stricken, impoverished, poor, destitute, needy.  But God wants to enrich, empower, liberate, emancipate, entitle, qualify, enable, and equip us; He wants to make us owners, proprietors, possessors, titleholders, masters, heirs, creditors, lenders; the head and not the tail. He has seen it fit to continuously raise my position and status in His Creation: from creation to servant to people to child to son to heir. The Bible teaches us that a Good man leaves an inheritance for his children and their children: a good name and a strong position. Our lot as children of God is to find favor among men and angels and to lack for no good thing.

Secondly, Jesus proclaimed that the enemy comes to kill: his goal is to murder, assassinate, eliminate, terminate, and execute.However, God’s intentions for us is Life, and one more abundant! Again, my bias and ambitions may be shrouding my thoughts so it is important that we stay focused on the Word. In fact, His first spoken instructions to man were to be “fruitful and multiply”, to fill and occupy the land. Later on, Moses was instructed to lead the people towards a land filled with “milk and honey”. I don’t know much about farming and herding, but my dad would teach us that these two things would require great expanses of green pastures and flowering plants of many kinds. God was, again, instructing them towards plenty, not lack.  Many of the Patriarchs had large families and even larger extended families, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Jacob had 11 children,David had 19 and in turn each of them had several children and so on and so forth. For many practicing Jewish, as well as many Christian families, this is still a tenement of their faith which is taken very seriously: it is not uncommon to find nuclear families with more than 5 children.This makes for lots of mouths to feed, bodies to clothe, beds to warm, minds to educate and souls to instruct. All of this would require a tremendous amount of resources without  resorting to stealing. Surely where God leads, He also provides: He would not instruct us to multiply and ill the land just so we could watch our progeny struggle and suffer.

Lastly, the enemy comes to destroy; he comes to end, extinguish, dash, quell, quash, ruin, wreck, shatter, crush, frustrate, thwart. Thankfully, the first thing we learn about God in the Bible is that He takes great pleasure in planning, designing, building, manufacturing, constructing, arranging:God’s good pleasure is turning His imagination into reality, the same way how He created space, time, matter and light out of the nothing, by His sheer will, on the sixth day, it says, he created man in His own image.He truly created us in His own image…on the inside: we have the power to create: our thoughts, our words, our actions shape and impose our will on space, time and matter in a way that nothing else He created can and does. There are greater force of nature but no greater forces in nature. Volcanoes, Tsunamis, Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Black holes, Supernovas; they’re are all vastly more powerful than any one man. And yet, as any insurance underwriter will attest, these are all classified as “Acts of God”; they are not free agents. Humans, in fact are the only free agents, in the likeness of God. In fact, the whole history of man is full of great feats of engineering and terra-forming that have left an indelible mark on the earth and beyond though the imposition of man’s will on his surroundings: the Tower of Babel, Hanging Gardens, Colossus of Rhodes, Lighthouse at Alexandria, Parthenon, the Colosseum, Great Wall of China, Hagia Sophia, Moon Landing, and the International Space Station just to name a few. Over the centuries, we’ve learned to harness the power of the waters, the winds, the waves, the Sun and even the atom. We’ve gone from smoke signals across short distances to receiving satellite data from distant Pluto and beyond. These are all part of a testament that our very nature strives to imagine, invent, improve, progress, explore and prevail against all odds.

And yet, too often as Christians, even with all of this arsenal of proof and knowledge and assurance, we live in a mentality of lack. Too often you’ll hear brethren testify that God is the “owner of the cattle on a thousand hills” and minutes later listen to them complain of their lack and want and lowliness. Why is it that God, our Father, owner of all those cattle and His children struggle every day to make ends meet? Are they the children of a lesser god? In no uncertain terms: No way! Did God not give them the same more abundant life as He promised to the rest of us? Of course He did! Does not the Bible call us to be givers, supporting every good work? Absolutely! But, when hard times, struggles, burdens, and situations come upon us, it is our attitude in those situations that will determine how we get out of those situations! We have to remind ourselves that “these light afflictions” are temporary; they came to pass not to stay. We have to remind ourselves that too much month at the end of my money is a proving season and that God is moving things around on our behalf and we have to be thankful for the breakthrough as if it already took place: the message was sent, the angel has been dispatched, now we’re just waiting for the orders to be read out loud! It is important, as children of the Most High, that we don’t get comfortable in those situations and, just as important, don’t let those situations get comfortable in us

Jesus teaches us that we have not because we ask not, and when we do ask, we ask for the wrong things, so therefore a loving God cannot answer those prayers. You want to see your prayers being answered, start being a blessing to others; ask God to show you how you can make yourself available for others: your neighbor, your friend, your co-worker, even your enemy. When you become an answer to prayer, God will most assuredly answer your prayer!

If we would start believing the things that we prophesy over our own lives and use the Word to speak Life into our own lives, with thanksgiving in our hearts offering up the sacrifice of praise, we would be giving God the permission and the space to act in our lives, on our behalf, in the best way He sees fit, trusting that what He sees, is a good fit. 

I truly believe that God has every intention for us to have a more abundant life, not free from struggle but free from its long-term results; not free from trials, challenges and rough patches, but free from worry: He again calls us to live like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. The Bible teaches us that the birds of the air and the lilies of the field are on God’s mind and He watches over them: they have no cares regarding where their next meal or sip of water is coming from:how much more will He care for those whom He created in His own image! I believe that God has so much more for us than what we could even imagine, if we would just let Him. Ask God to make you a blessing to others: when you ask for more for yourself, think of ways how you’re having more will be a blessing to others. King Solomon wrote that his whole life he had never seen the righteous forsaken nor their seed beg for bread! What kind of God, King of all the Universe, would keep His chosen people down and out in the slums; we call Him Father, Savior, Redeemer, Provider, Lord, Shelter, Friend: stop simply calling Him those names and believe that He is those names! Prophesy over your unemployment, over your legal situation, your illness, your marital struggles, your wayward children, your unsaved loved ones and claim these victories through the promises that God has made to us all. 

Whether you’ve been saved for 80 years and you’ve seen and tasted that the Lord is Good, whether it’s been a long time since you’ve seen Him move, or this is the first time you’ve heard the name Jesus: friend, you’re here for a reason: whether you’re reading this somewhere or you’re listening to the sound of my voice, the reason you’re here now is that Jesus wants to take away your guilty stains, your worries, your anxieties, your passions, your crowded thoughts, and your oppressive worrying. He wants to mend your broken heart, He wants to heal your wounded spirit, He wants to restore your mind and give you something special in return. God’s deal for you today is this: come, let Us reason together: confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, Believe in your heart that He is the Son of God and that He rose from the dead, repent of your sins and He, is turn, will hear your prayer, He will forgive your sins and will cleanse you of all unrighteousness. He will bring you forth into a new life, a new Light, full of Love, Mercy, Grace, Favor, Abundance and all the things He has planned for your good. He will release from the chains that bind you, your addictions that enslave you, your worries that depress you and the hurt that enslaves you! And if you agree, say it with me: “Lord, may it be done to me as I have said!” In Jesus’s name! Amen!

 

Thanks for Nothing

Too often, the things that don’t happen are more important than the things that do happen!

When was the last time we made a full list of the things we are thankful for? I don’t mean the “cover all my bases” kind of prayer, I mean a sincere, heart to heart, confession of gratitude for even the things that didn’t go our way? We pray that this meditation blesses your Walk as it has blessed ours. As always, please don’t keep it to yourself: if you find anything wholesome, commendable, as the Apostle Paul said, please pass it on. God Bless you. We call this:

Thanks for Nothing

I remember my first Thanksgiving. It was 1988 and it was our first year in the States. We went over to a family gathering at a relative’s house and ate massive amounts of food: turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing but also very non-traditional Thanksgiving dishes: shrimp and lasagna and tiramisú. We ate to our heart’s content and then…had some more tiramisú! We never gave “thanksgiving” any thought; for us and so many other families like ours, I fear, just like any other holiday, the reason for the holiday was buried under gifts and plans and “x-mas” and “gobble-gobble” and trips and food and football games and everything else except the holiday. 

For so long, thankfulness for the food at the dinner table was implicit, taken for granted and more often than not, never reached its final destination: we would say things like: “thanks, Mom, that was delicious!” or “Wow, Dad, the oranges from the grove are amazing this year!”; God wouldn’t even get an honorable mention. We never even gave it a second thought.

It wasn’t until many years later when we gave our hearts to Christ that we finally took the time to understand and appreciate the meaning of the word and the value of being thankful. We began praying at every meal, something that had never ever happened in our home before under any circumstances. Finally, thanksgiving and gratefulness became part of who and what we are because of what Jesus did for us on the Cross. It was never lengthy, just long enough to say what we were thankful for, give some specifics and thank Him for every little thing along the way. We made it a point to ensure that it wasn’t repetitious; we had walked away from empty prayers and meaningless repetition. So many times, my Dad would start to say Grace but it was in such a low voice and he would get so choked up that we would just smile and pick up along the way and finish off altogether with a family “Amen!”. I always felt that my dad’s few, simple and tear-filled words were his way of making up for all the meals he had gone without giving thanks: he was both giving thanks and asking forgiveness for missed opportunities to be thankful.

For a really long time I thought it was enough: being thankful for what you had, whether little or much, like the old hymnal says, knowing that God was in it. We made every attempt to express gratefulness from the most sincere place and with gladness of heart, thank God for His Majesty. Again, I looked to my father as my example. He’s an old and quiet soul with decades of wisdom and humility, as well as a simplicity of heart but a very astute mind. So many times, he would just take a deep breath, let out a deep sigh and say “Thank you, Jesus!”. Those three simple words encompassed so much meaning and complexity and yet expressed with the genuineness of a farmer. That was the type of prayer I wanted to offer up to God, a prayer that in action and words acknowledges God’s Sovereignty and fully accepts His will.

As the years went by and the more my faith grew, the more my eyes were opened to how many things there was to be thankful for: every breath I took, every moment of rest where I could close my eyes without fear, every loving family member, every caring friend, every moment of happiness, every day among the living and so on and so on. Being grateful brought its own satisfaction and filled my heart with gladness and laughter. Understanding that God is sovereign not only in the long-term Plan but also in the moment-by-moment brought me to a reverence and an awe of God. The phrases we would hear preachers and pastors alike say so often like “If God were to call you Home right now, would you be ready?” took on new meaning. What if He called me right now, would I be ready? I learned to thank Him for not only saving me but for keeping me: I realized that it was only by His Grace that I stayed the path. As in all human conditions and situations, churches are not immune from strife and contentiousness and all sorts of things that may disrupt a church over the years. I had seen so many affected by various strife and lose heart, lose touch and lose faith. I can honestly say that it is by His Grace alone that I have not forsaken the fellowship of the brethren or fallen back into my old ways or found new ways of messing up. And for all of that I gave thanks.

That’s when it hit me! I understood that God honored the sincere gratitude of my father’s prayers, that He honored the detailed gratitude of my prayers, but there was still more. My father and I were was still missing the other side of the coin: we gave thanks for the water and the food and the clothes and the strong family and the cool summers and mild winters and bountiful harvests and the fresh air and all the rest but something was still missing.

As Christians we’re almost programmed to think that good things come from God because He is Good and therefore bad things come from the Devil because he is bad. Therefore, we only thank God for good things. We don’t thank Him for the bad things when they happen or the bad or worse things that never happen. We’ll go around rebuking the bad and thanking God for the good as if God isn’t the Master of it all. I came to realize that the Earth is truly the Lord’s and the fullness thereof! With a new-found contentedness in my heart I started thanking God even more for the good things in my life, for the horrific things that never took place and for the bad things that could have certainly been worse. 

With this new level of understanding, I started thanking God for “nothing”. I thanked Him for things never took place: accidents avoided by Grace, catching the “late” bus that kept you from being at the wrong place at the wrong time, ringing the “wrong” doorbell, not getting in a friend’s car. Thinking back I could only stand in awe of the fact that, against my better judgement, I’m still in one piece, breathing, without a criminal record, married to a beautiful women with three amazing children, with a great job and a solar disposition. It could’ve just as easily happened that all the things that didn’t take place played out and I could’ve been miserable, penniless, divorced, addicted, away from the Church, unfulfilled and/or dead. I recently came across someone I hadn’t seen in 17 years. As is customary with “blasts from the past”, you spend most of the time catching up on the people that were important to both of you at the time. After a major download of unbelievable twists and turns, this person shared with me this priceless jewel: “lucky for you, they didn’t want anything to do with you anymore!”.  

Giving God thanks for “nothing”, I believe, is to truly understand the innumerable ways in which He provides for us. Whether it’s the things we don’t want to happen that turn out to be a life-changing blessings when they do or the things we do want to happen that, for our benefit, never pan out. This lesson was a very expensive one for me: It took a difficult time and a very dark place in my life for me to learn that the things we as humans believe are important and necessary in our lives don’t even begin to compare to the things God knows are important and necessary in our lives: passed up for the promotion? Be thankful. Lost a friend along the way? Be thankful. Suffered an illness? Be thankful.A loss of a loved one? Be thankful. Truly in ALL things, be thankful! He knows what you need and He is a better Planner than you are! He know where you’re headed, what you need to get there, who you’ll need by your side, and what “pre-existing conditions” you will have to have gone through to prepare you in mind, body and spirit, for when you get to where you’re going.

The idea of giving thanks for the wrong you’ve suffered, the bad breaks you endured and for the scars you’ve picked up along the was is as crazy, and yet as simple, as to believe in a God who loves us enough to send His Son to die in our place so as to restore a relationship with us! These “light afflictions” as the Apostle Paul described them, are not a necessary evil but a necessary good to prepare us, to bring us, often times kicking and screaming, closer to God with a deeper and more free-willed dependency on God and a more intuitive surrender to His will, understanding that truly ALL things work for good for those who fear the Lord and are called according to His Purpose.

We never want to leave off without giving you an opportunity to make Jesus the Lord of your life. Just say: “Dear Jesus, I repent of my sins; come into my heart; I make you my Lord and Savior”. Dear friend, if you said that simple prayer, we believe you got Born Again. Find yourself a good Bible-Based church, keep God first place and He’ll show things you haven’t even dreamed of. In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Amazing Love

Have you ever been truly loved?

I wrote this devotional a few months ago, the day of my dad’s birthday. It is a very emotional subject for me because my parents live far away: nothing on this Earth teaches you what truly matters like longing. I pray that you are blessed and, as always, I encourage you to share this with as many people as you possibly can in the hopes of reaching someone, anyone for the Kingdom. Here it is…

Amazing Love

Today is my father’s birthday. Today my earthly father turns eighty-one. My father and I have come a long way in our relationship: from when I was a child and being fearful of what he would do or say if I did something wrong, to when I was a teenager and resentful that I was not understood and that, seemingly, my opinion didn’t matter, to now. Now, now that I’ve seen the look in his eyes when I graduated top of my class, to when he watched me get married to Michele, when we welcomed my firstborn Madelyn, my second child Claudia and then our boy Joseph into the world. Now I can finally say with utmost certainty something that was true all along; that man loves me more than his next breath, I am the apple of his eye: there’s no hardship he wouldn’t endure, obstacle he wouldn’t overcome and no price he wouldn’t pay to see me live a long, fruitful, abundant, satisfying, productive, blessed life, pressed-down, shaken together and flowing over! 

The person I just described to you is, again, my father, a human: a mortal man with character flaws, sinful by nature, bound by opposing interests of love towards his children and of self-preservation, confined by an imperfect and incomplete understanding of the world around him and how his decisions shape it and vice versa. In spite of all of this, I stand here and tell you that my father loves me, fully, to the best of his ability, and beyond my wildest expectations. I know that if it was up to my father to design and plan the rest of my life I would be in good hands; it would be full of selfless love and abundance of every kind and long years of good health with my wife and children and their children and their children’s children. I know that if it was up to him, I would never know lack or want, my children would be counted among the wise and powerful, we would lend and not borrow, our tables would overflow with every good thing, we would be a stronghold for the righteous, a safe harbor during the storms, and my descendants could no more easily be counted than the stars in the night sky. Again, this is just simply my father, my earthly father.

And yet, with all of his love and good will and good intentions, as sure as I know that he loves me, I also know that somewhere along the line he has, unknowingly, unexpectedly and unintentionally wronged me somehow. I can say that now not because I know of something in particular that he did; I know it based on what I know him to be: a flawed human with an incomplete knowledge and understanding of himself, of me and the world around us.

But….as Brother Izzy, a deacon in my church, would say…..”but God!” But God, who is Understanding and Wisdom and Perfection, loves me more than my father ever could and more than I could ever fathom.

The love of God is not like the carnality of human affection and its hierarchies. Even the worse of human families “love” each other after a while simply out of pure habit; the best of human families love each, deeply, from the heart, and it’s still cheapened by the biology of it all: they don’t foster those same strong visceral feelings for strangers, do they? No, the love of God is not that of a father, a mother, a child, of a lover, of a friend or any other: it is all of those, none of those and some much more.

God loves a part of me my carnal affections can only say that they love but not understand what it means: God loves my soul. My soul is precious to God; it is the life-spark He created out of the void of space and time and placed it into my very first cell. God loves my soul because He created it; not like a mother nurtures a baby in her womb and her love grows with every movement and every additional awareness she has of the growing baby. No, God loved me fully and completely from the moment He first thought of me and decided to assign me to be born for such a time as this. 

In the fullness of time, God revealed himself. St. Augustine explained that we were given two revelations: Holy Scripture and Creation, and that whenever one seemed to be in disagreement with the other it was due to our imperfect understanding of one of the two. In Scripture, God revealed Himself first as the Creator, then as the Lawgiver and Judge. For too many souls around the world, unfortunately, their voyage through His Revelation stops there. Thanks be to God that we have come to know him as King, Father, Brother, Friend, and Redeemer. Lyrics and verse suddenly spring to mind like “I am a friend of God”, “son, do you know I still love you?”, “I know my Redeemer lives”. The Apostle John wrote “what Love the Father has lavished upon us that we may be called His children!”

God loves us so much that He steadily and progressively, through His Mercy and Grace, kept moving closer and closer to us, even while we were trying to do our very best to run away from Him. The Israelites wanted Laws like the peoples that surrounded them so God gave them the Ten Commandments. Instantly, in their hearts, they pondered “who is my neighbor?” Still not satisfied, He filled in the “gray areas” for them giving them rules for everyday living filling three more Books with rituals and rules and procedures; still they were unsatisfied. Then they asked for a king to be like the peoples around them; they would not listen so He gave them Saul. 

Having watched us break, compromise, detract, subterfuge, lie, cheat, steal, connive, murder and rationalize our way around every single possible Law, Rule, Procedure, and Advice, He came one step closer and gave us one Rule, one Law above all the Laws and the Prophets: Love your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul and with all your strength…and love your neighbor as yourself. 

Having found us physically, emotionally and spiritually unable and/or unwilling to do so and therefore remaining under the weight of the Law and the power of Sin, He took one final step towards us; one final solution. “Ego te absolvo”, “It is Finished”, “Paid in Full”, “Remember no more”, “Father forgive them”. The hymn lyrics tell that “I owed a debt I could not pay; He paid a debt He did not owe” that “whomsoever will” come and accept freely! Can you conceive it; being deservant of Death and Hades and Hell and Torment, God sent His Son, to die for my son, my father’s son and each and every single one of us! What kind of Love is this?! What father would sacrifice his son for hostile, belligerent, arrogant, self-important, self-righteous stranger or even an estranged relative? Adding insult to injury, He now calls me son, Heir and Co-Heir with Jesus!

My father turned eighty-one today, and I know that he loves me; I know he wishes me well and even better than what he wishes for himself. But, there is One, who loves me more than I could ever imagine loving someone or being loved by someone; He loves me more deeply and more fully. I know this because He sent Jesus, the firstborn of many brethren, and instructed Him to leave Heaven to come and stand in the gap, pay our debts, settle our scores, remove our chains, open our eyes, wash us clean, anoint our heads with oil, cover us with His blood, give us news robes for our rags, put a ring on our finger, take us into the Holy of Holies, as honored guests at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and present us to God the Father as a Bride, perfect and without blemish! Amazing Love! 

 

When a Rational Mind Meets Despair!

I have always thought very highly of myself: good grades, great in social situations, able to read people and circumstances. I was both my own biggest fan and my own worst enemy. What I share below is how I met this Jesus one night, in a very dark, scary and lonely place and how a simple prayer into the dark saved my life. I pray that you are blessed. Please don’t keep this to yourself: share it, post it, comment, pass it on. In Jesus’ name. Amen! God Bless you! I call it:

The Scandal of Grace

         Growing up, I was what many people would consider very fortunate. Now this is not because we were rich or famous or both. In fact, our lives were very normal: nuclear family, the youngest of five siblings, surrounded by dozens of cousins, uncles, aunts, and grandparents; all encompassed in a small warm little town in southern Italy. Even as a little boy I could feel that there was something in the air, it was as though time had stood still: no matter where I went, whether alone or with friends, everyone knew who we were: they knew our names, whose children we were and could literally quote the degrees of separation between themselves and someone in our family. Life was simple, predictable, enjoyable. 

My family wasn’t very religious: we knew God existed, that Jesus was also God, that He was born on Christmas Day, died on Good Friday and resurrected on Easter Sunday; we showed reverence where and when it was due but for the most part, life moved on without much consideration for the things of God. Now this didn’t mean that we were blasphemers or that we took the name of God in vain, on the contrary: we were always taught of the Goodness of God and how He loved us but it was never to the point of a personal relationship with Him.

Even though God wasn’t the central figure of life, much of life played out within the realm of a healthy fear for God and his Commandments. As a young boy, I didn’t know what domestic violence was, had never heard the word “divorce”, police presence at our house was limited to the captain coming to say hello to my parents and coming to seek friendly advice of a personal nature or simply to chat a bit about soccer or politics. This was not just my reality but the reality of everyone I knew. We had what I later learned would be described as a “charmed life”. No one I knew struggled with drugs or alcoholism or sloth or the stain of a bad reputation of any kind. 

Thinking back, all of my memories of interactions with adults, whether blood relation or not, was a positive one. I don’t have any recollections of adults calling me disparaging names, being belittled, or ever being hit out of anger; never went to school without clean clothes on, without being well-groomed and all my homework done and checked by at least one adult. In fact, some of my most vivid childhood memories include my uncle bringing me to the town square to show off to his friends how quickly I could do mental math. They would all cheer and clap and smile and I would inevitably end up with ice cream paid by whichever gentlemen had posed the math problem. From this young age, I learned to trust and respect others and had come to expect a solar disposition from people, even strangers. Unbeknownst to me, God’s Grace permeated every angle of my life, so much so that I thought that everyone’s home life was the same as mine. I couldn’t imagine anything else. I wasn’t even aware that all of this was because of Grace; I thought everyone lived this way. Concepts such as racism, divorce, domestic violence, alcoholism, drug abuse, or premarital pregnancies weren’t even words that I knew as a child. Life was good. It’s because of this that I can recall that even at a young age I didn’t fear death: I thought that I would simply die and go to Heaven and everything would be exactly how I had left it back on Earth: peaceful, loving, caring and gracious: warm long summer days and crisp, clear summer nights; The days would be filled with play and cold drinks and moms chasing us down holding a banana hoping we would eat; nights would be filled with the sounds of neighbors sitting outside talking and laughing until the early hours of the morning and young men driving by on the motorcycles hoping to catch a glimpse of their sweetheart casually serving cold drinks to the gatherings in the streets. I never questioned any of it, I couldn’t imagine anyone living a reality different than mine: I knew life was good, I just thought everyone’s life was good!

It wasn’t until much later, in high school that I caught my first glimpse of an alternate reality: I learned that people had complicated, often painful and stress-filled lives haunted with want and lack and struggles of every kind. It was then that I started to realize that the life I took for granted and assumed as the status quo for everyone was anything but ordinary, it was in fact very rare and very special. Friends and acquaintances that I had made over the years had a myriad of differing life experiences: some lived one parent, some lived with grandparents, some lived alone, some were abused, still others were neglected and rejected: from broken homes to foster homes and every variation in between, I saw just how special a normal life truly was. 

I questioned this reality that, apparently, was very special: a gift. I wondered if it was because we were special: was it something about us that made us special. Slowly I realized that people are, for the most part, all the same and the only “moving parts” are things that they cannot control: their birth and their initial circumstances. The old adage came to mind “you can pick your friends but not your family”. But if I can’t pick my family, Someone must have! The only reason why I wasn’t born into lack and want and abuse was by sheer Grace! I could’ve just as easily been born in another time and place where my reality could have been a hell on Earth scenario rather than the one I had which I could only refer to as “Heaven’s Waiting Room”. 

In my  mind I accepted this Truth, thankfully so, and moved on with life. I accepted, in my own teenage way, that, by God’s Sovereign Will, my life was good and it could’ve just as easily not been so. This understanding did give me more empathy for my fellow man, but nothing that moved me to tears or to action, it simply gave me a sense of pity for them: I understood that their decisions were the result of complicated factors and that they didn’t know any better. This gave me a false and unwarranted sense of superiority: I pitied them like you would a child throwing a tantrum in a mall or someone arguing and cursing in full view of their young children. I knew it was random “luck”, God’s Sovereignty, and nothing that I did on my own, and yet, I did not learn the right lesson and it had catastrophic effects on my self-image

I reasoned that all of this was partially possible because of factors that were unique to us: how our heritage and geography met with history: Etruscans, Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines all called our little corner of the world “home”. Pythagoras derived his formulas literally a few miles from our town; Crassus defeated Spartacus in the fluvial flood plains in the valley below my town: this sense of pride and history, I realized, permeated every single aspect of our life. Everything was very structured, hierarchical, clan-like, our sense of who we are came, also, from a knowledge of who we had been. In fact, everyone there could be described as an “old soul”: children wise beyond their years, elders with millenary memories of old feuds and sad stories of dead kings. It made us very wise but, in a way, very arrogant. 

I was not immune to any of this by any stretch of the imagination: I suddenly “knew” who I was: we were civilization. Where I come from we have a saying: “La Storia siamo Noi!” which translates loosely to: “we are history!”. With very little evidence to the contrary, from what I could see, this sense of pride rose in me and became arrogance. But, through it all, His eyes were still on me. It was then, that He started sending His servants my way: humble men and women with a true reverence and love for God to point me in the right direction. I paid them little mind: I was sure of myself, self-assured that they were wrong and that I had no need for their philosophy. 

But, it was during a winter night, after yet another move across the Atlantic to the United State that it happened. I found myself alone, separated from what made me feel safe, again forced to make new friends and rebuild an identity and find a way to fit in, that it finally happened to me. After struggling for weeks and months telling myself that it’ll be alright, that I finally broke, and asked for help. Sleeping on yet another foldable cot pushed up against a couch so as to make it a bit bigger in yet another small and cramped apartment, that it finally happened. Having lost connections to what I thought was important, to what gave me purpose and meaning and direction that it finally happened. Looking for sleep that wouldn’t come and wrestling with thoughts that wouldn’t leave, I cried out in my mind to this far away God that I had learned of as a boy, heard about from these zealots and discounted as an unnecessary complication. I pleaded to this God that I didn’t even know was real to prove Himself to me. I dared and begged and pleaded with Him to give me rest in mind and body. I asked Him to keep me in my bed and to keep my mind from doing what it wanted to do to my body. I cried out from my soul without making a sound, as someone that had lost their next breath after a bullet impact to the chest, I pleaded with God: “Jesus, give me rest!”. If He would only take me out of this misery, keep me from committing the unthinkable, and restore me to my former self, I promised that I would serve Him for the rest of my life!

In an instant, a deep and restful sleep washed over me like a warm wave over dry feet on a Mediterranean beach. It was the most restful sleep I had ever experienced until then and every day since. The next morning I woke up refreshed with a smile on my face and went about life as if nothing had ever happened. I could recall the thoughts and the pain but none of it bothered me; I was suddenly floating above it all. My mind was restored to me, my demeanor returned to the self I recognized and all the pain was gone.

This God that I had only heard of in passing and had learned stories, almost like fairy tales, had suddenly become not only real but very personal. The same God that had provided for me and sheltered me from evils unknown, that had bestowed on me abundant levels of unmerited favor for my material needs, had now done the unimaginable: He saved my life and, in doing so, saved my soul!

Despite all the benefits of a stable home-life, caring friends, neighbors and teachers and being sheltered and kept from every evil, I realized that day that I would still have ended up in Hell had it not been for my encounter with Jesus. It fell on me like a blanket from Above that Hell is not a place filled with depraved and unrepentant sinners like we see in the movies, but a place where “good people” end up every day. 

It was that day that I started my long and winding walk with the Lord. Along the way, through peaks and valleys and everything in between, I understood that what Jesus has done for me, personally, is truly scandalous! 

This moment, this episode, this stumbling block in my life, was nothing less than His Grace, again and continuously looking out for me. This season was not only allowed to happen but it had been preordained since time immemorial to cause me to stumble to the point where, like in the darkest night, the deepest foxhole, all that is left is your soul and God. In yet another show of His love for me, my life and my soul, Jesus reached out from Heaven and entered my life, my story, my history: He made me part of His story. 

The Bible teaches “what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”. I am thankful beyond words that, in my bankrupt condition, God saw it fit to send His Son to die on the cross in my place so that I would have the only currency that could pay for the release of my soul from the grips of Death and Hell. The Scandal of Grace is that, just as the songwriter says: “He didn’t have to do it, but He did”: when I didn’t want to know Him, He came looking for me; when I didn’t think I needed Him, He was patient with me; and when in my foolish hubris I would say “there is no God” He was gracious with me.

I write to you now as the heir to fields I did not plant, homes I did not build, storehouses I did not fill: my Heavenly Father owns it all, my Redeemer ransomed it all, and now, by the Scandal of Grace, I will enjoy it all. Thank you, Jesus. Amen!