Catch 22? Meet God’s Catch 33!

A mission for the mindless

“We’ve all heard of a “Catch 22”. It’s a situation where no matter which option you choose, you’re always wrong, always in trouble, you’re still stuck. It was made famous by a novel with the same name. As the saying goes, “you’re d—-d if you do and you’re d—-d if you don’t”!

But have you ever considered the implications of the following: “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” Romans 14:8

The Apostle Paul, here, introduces us to what I like to call a “Catch 33“! Similarly to catch 22, in a catch 33, the system is also rigged. However, it favors Christians. It favors those who have put their Faith, Hope, and Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. You see, life for the Christian is a win-win proposition. In living, we honor God, and in death we honor God. Now, we are in no means a death cult; Christians want to live abundant lives (John 10:10) but we do not fear death.

O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? Click To Tweet

Catch 22: The fear of the hopeless

The number one fear that all unbelievers have, and have in common, is the fear of death, as you can see from the rampant panic on tv. Newscasters continuously introduce all of us to all sorts of new boogiemen: a new disease that is going to decimate the world’s population or the next threat from Iran, North Korea, Russia, China, a food shortage, climate change, hurricanes, earthquakes, asteroids, the “wrong” politician for the job; in a sense, they’re disseminating fear over the one thing no-one has any control: the future.

Catch 33: The hope of the fearless

Christians, on the other hand, have “cheated” the catch 22 system: Jesus defeated sin on the Cross and Death by his resurrection and we are heirs of those victories. Life doesn’t startle us nor does the fear of death paralyze us. There’s a very beautiful secular Italian song where the lyrics speak directly to this phobia; the lyrics, translates literally, read: whoever is not afraid of death only dies once!

Chi non ha paura di morire, muore una volta sola. Click To Tweet

What a beautiful doctrinal Christian Truth! Jesus himself taught us not to fear the first death. The second death is the truly dreadful one: the death that leads to eternal separation from God! If you fear the first death, chances are you are not a Believer. Otherwise, there is something “off” about your walk with God.

Catch 22? Meet God’s Catch 33! Click To Tweet

What’s the catch?

Fear and anxiety will come calling your name. When they do, strengthen yourself in the Lord. In chapter 1 of his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes: “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

As Spirit-filled, Bible-believing,  born-again Christians, it is our responsibility to live in the light of this truth: whenever those around us, whether at work, at home, at school, or (more often than not) at church, lose heart over the challenges of everyday life, we must be the people in their lives that they can look to and see someone who hasn’t, who isn’t and who doesn’t lose not only their composure but more importantly their compass, their anchor, their focus, their Hope: Jesus Christ!

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Click To Tweet

Shepherd and Friend – Jehovah Rohi

Before he became king, David was a shepherd. Before David wrote the Psalms, he pondered them in his heart. For many years he observed the sheep and studied their behaviors.

Imagine David, out with his flock one day and, as a stroke of lightning, as he tended his own sheep, he pondered the following: (please read with emphasis)

Psa 23:1-6 BSB
1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.
3 He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for the sake of His name.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

The realization that God is his Shepherd must have totally changed his perspective on… just about everything. I pray that, like David, you too have come to a deeper understanding of who God is: Jehovah Rohi, God my Shepherd.

Why Sheep

If you were looking for a simple example as to why evolution can not hold up, consider sheep. Sheep are weak, easily confounded and without any natural defense mechanisms. Lambs are even worse. Without the protection of the shepherd, a small pack of wolves would put to death hundreds of sheep in just a few hours. Thankfully, God made Shepherds.

Why Shepherds

The Shepherd lives for the sheep. He defends the lambs, leads them to safety, collects the strays and puts their feeble minds at ease and if necessary dies for the sheep (John 10:11).

Debilitating Doubt

Where Doubt Hides

There’s a scene in the Left Behind movie series where the pastor is standing on the pulpit looking out into an empty congregation; the Rapture occurred and, believe it or not, he was…left behind! He goes through a monologue where He’s talking to God about “how could it be” that he would stand up there week after week and, of the whole congregation, the shepherd was the one who’s faith wasn’t genuine. As he’s reasoning with God, he comes to the understanding that, after all, “knowing and believing are two different things!”

Faith & Doubt

How many times have you found yourself in that very same situation: you read all the books, you can quote all the right verses and can argue with the greatest of Pharisees as well as the biblically uneducated; you’ve brought dozens to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, you’re the head of a ministry, give regularly and with conviction and, when it’s all said and done, it all amounts to nothing more than mere religion. Somehow, everything you know to be true about God feels like “head knowledge” and that’s all! Of all the people around you, you’re the one with doubts and skepticism! How could it be? How did you get here?

[Tweet “you’ve led dozens to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, you’re the head of a ministry, give regularly and with conviction and, when it’s all said and done, it all amounts to nothing more than mere religion.”]

Where Doubt Lives

Well, the simple answer is that we all get there from different directions: Peter and Thomas were there with Jesus during His earthly ministry, and even they doubted; what chances do we have of going through life free from the debilitating effects of doubt! It has been said that “If you’ve never doubted, then you never really believed in the first place”. If that isn’t just merely editorial, we must be in good company. Many of the great fathers of Apologetics began life as atheists, agnostics, deists, or came to Jesus from other belief systems. Men like C.S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, Lee Strobel, and Thomas Aquinas, to mention a few.

If you've never doubted, then you never really believed in the first place Click To Tweet

Forgiveness & Doubt

Unfortunately, being in good company doesn’t always make for a good party; surely Hell will be full of A-Listers but I doubt that any of them would choose to stay if given the choice to leave, no matter how many blue bloods are roasting with them. Knowing that Peter denied Jesus three times or that Thomas needed to put his finger in Jesus’ side before proclaiming “my Lord and my God”, does very little to shore up my standing during these moments of crisis.

Two thousand years later I have just as many questions as hairs on my head. If I can just go back in time a week or so before this thought pattern began; before I entertained any of these questions for longer than the 2 milliseconds that they are usually allowed to stick around for, I wouldn’t be in this predicament. Luckily  Thankfully,  2,000 years ago, Jesus was thinking of messy, fickle humans like you and I and through us a lifeline. His reply to Thomas tells us what Jesus thinks of our faith; my faith and yours!

If I can just go back in time a week or so before this thought pattern began before I entertained any of these questions for longer than the 2 milliseconds that they are usually allowed to stick around for, I wouldn't be in this… Click To Tweet

Doubt’s Hindsight

How many of us say to ourselves: “if I had been in Peter’s or Thomas’ shoes, I wouldn’t have doubted as they did.” We think of ourselves as having more faith; or at least the sort of faith that would have believed under those circumstances! We’ll never know if that is true or; if permitted, we’ll have that answer as well on the other side of Eternity. Perhaps, it’s for the best that we were born when we were. After all, Jesus’ response to Thomas gives us lots of credit for fighting the good fight in our modern concrete jungles. in the very next verse, Jesus said,

Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed. - John 20:29 Click To Tweet

In God’s eyes, our faith is stronger! We were given a different set of facts, a different set of signs and wonders than what the apostles were given. Granted, some of us may have very well seen the dead rise, or cancers cured or limbs grow back but, for the most part, our faith is based on personal experiences with the Word and its Truth working in our lives. The Apostles and the Pharisees of Jesus’ time were there: the Apostles marveled in awe; the Pharisees pouted because He was healing on the Sabbath so it must have been from Beelzebub.

In the end, no amount of evidence convinced the large majority of Jesus’ countrymen that He was the Christ. Jesus himself said in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” Stuart Chase, I believe, said it best when he commented that for those who believe, no proof is necessary, for those who don’t believe, no proof is possible”.

If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead. Click To Tweet

Today’s Doubters

As Christians, as humans, as thinkers, a bit of doubt and skepticism is par for the course. God invites us constantly and consistently to “reason together“; He is not afraid of your difficult questions and He’s certainly won’t be insulted that you have doubts. There’s no reason to keep your doubts to yourself and let them fester. Consider this: you’re keeping your doubts to yourself (not addressing them with God) because you don’t want to offend the same God that you doubt exists, or loves, or cares, or sees? If He’s real: He cares, He sees, He loves and is longing to address your needs; if He’s not real: the answers to your questions (along with the questions themselves) don’t matter.

[Tweet “Consider this: you’re keeping your doubts to yourself (not addressing them with God) because you don’t want to offend the same God that you doubt exists, or loves, or cares, or sees?”]

The future of Doubt: Faith

Dear friend, doubt is debilitating only if you let it. You’re not an atheist, believe me. You’re a thinker; you are who He created you to be. The God we serve is not a figment of our imagination: He doesn’t stop existing when we stop thinking about Him or have doubts; we serve Him still, in the doubt, through the doubt, in spite of the doubt and, just as important, because of our doubts. The biggest victories in my Christian walk always came after such moments; when God stepped into history, again, for me, and showed me just how real He really is. The only figments of imagination are, truly, us! We exist only because of Him. He constantly thinking of us, sustaining us, supplying life, and holding Nature together so that we may exist in it.

The biggest victories in my Christian walk always came after such moments; when God stepped into history, again, for me, and showed me just how real He really is. Click To Tweet

Why have you come? Are you not entertained?

Entertained by chance

I grew up in a small denominational church. On any given Sunday, we had about 110 people in the building. The church was full. The choir loft was full.  The pews were all taken. The hymns were old and the message was good. The pastor would hit you over the head with brimstone, slap a cross on your back, wash your tears away with the Blood, and have you rejoicing as Resurrection came at the end of every sermon. Entertained Believers was not the point. It was a happy coincidence. That was reality 25 years ago. As I fast-forward to this post-COVID reality, much has changed.

The church is still there; the hymns are still old, the message is still good but the passing of time exposes more and more of the blood-red cushions on the pews. Some have moved to different states where life is cheaper. However, too many, I feel, have moved on to other “bigger”, more hip, churches. No pews, just folding chairs. “Standing-room-only” is for the late comers. Choir lofts give way to concert stages. The hymns are replaced with modern music and the message has more in common with Dr. Phil’s self-help than Jesus’ self-sacrifice.

Entertained on purpose

In the churches where many have gone off to, pastors New York Times best-selling authors. The sanctuary is musically fine-tuned for maximum sound efficiency. The lighting is complex and computerized. the songs are popular and copyrighted by the church. The associate pastor is the pastor’s son and the message feels like a great big hug and a pat on the back for time well-served. You can’t help being entertained. In fact, the only real question everyone is asking themselves and each other is:

After all, who doesn’t like good music, young friendly faces, feel-good message, a light-hearted atmosphere, and a guilt-free conscience? My answer is “I don’t know, but I sure know who does“! I know what you’re saying, “there’s nothing wrong with…..”. And, begrudgingly, I would have to agree with you. God made it all: good music, good feelings, good atmosphere, etc. Consider this. Would anyone remember what the preacher said if the title wasn’t on the screen? Better yet: does anyone care what the preacher said? Another great question to get to the heart of the matter is: what are you here for?

The reason for the show

Don’t get me wrong, churches should stay relevant and people should feel “entertained”: as far as music and social media and architecture and all the rest: but not at the cost of the Gospel. You want no dress code: great; loud music: fine; you want a “come one, come all”: amazing; Jesus did too! But once you have them, hit them with the mind-numbing, Life-altering Truth of Jesus Christ. Give them the “streams of living water”; give them, the “Truth that sets you free”: give them the whole Gospel, not this new-Age “God loves you just as you are, and He made you just as you are”!

Yes, tell them God loves them, but tell them why God loves them. Tell them God loves them in spite of what they did and tell them what to do about it. Give them their current state of affairs and tell them of the amazing Love of God: But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Thirteen guys walking around together for three years, I am sure they were entertained! Click To Tweet

If anything in churches needs to modernize let it be everything possible but not everything imaginable. The Truth, as always, needs no compressor to smooth out the edges, no equalizers to make it universal, no filters to give it the right appeal, and no sub-woofers to give it the proper emphasis. If the message needs all of this then it’s not the Message that anyone needs. If they are to be entertained let it be on their way to heaven, not on their way to perdition.

The Anatomy of an Insult – Part 2

Sticks and Stones

In a recent post, we discussed how Nathaniel’s unthoughtfully sincere words were not enough to cause offense to Jesus. We also learned how something good can “come out of Nazareth”: whether it be in the natural realm, meaning Jesus Himself, or in the spiritual realm: the majority of the people that will read these words are “gentiles” by birth but Jews and Royal Priests by our adoptions as sons because of what came “out of Nazareth: the Nazarene and His disciples.

The last time you read the passage in John 1:43-51, what probably stuck out to you the most was Nathaniel’s “insult”. Nathaniel’s audacity to speak such a thing about Jesus is not a likely Sunday School lesson. But don’t forget, Nathaniel didn’t know then what he would know just a short time later. Although Nathaniel’s name doesn’t ever return to prominence in the New Testament accounts, his words would surely become the “faithful wounds of a good friend” in short order. 

Fruits worthy of repentance 

For too many people nowadays authentic Nathaniel-like sincerity is insulting. Unfortunately, all too often this is offense-taking sentiment is prevalent in the Church as much it is in the World. Thankfully Jesus shows us how to peer into the heart of the matter, overlook the “letter” of words and find hidden treasures in their “Spirit”. Jesus goes on to teach us the meaning behind “the faithful wounds of a friend”. 

When looking at the loving way Jesus answered Nathaniel’s sincere heart cry for the Truth, it couldn’t have been any more different than the total disdain He reserved for those who insisted they knew better but in fact these scholars and scribes and Pharisees but could not bear witness to anything resembling fruits worthy of repentance“.

One instance where the fruits worthy of such repentance were put on display immediately! In the account of Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:24-29) lies the well-known encounter of Jesus and the disciple Thomas. This passage is where we get the expression “Doubting Thomas”, which we use when people are distrusting of any news, no matter the source. Thomas demanded proof that Jesus had risen from the dead. Thomas told his fellow disciples that he would need to put his finger into His pierced side and perforated hands. An empty tomb is one thing; saying that the body in the tomb is not dead elsewhere is a whole different story. 

Doubtful by default

The Greatest Insult is Doubt

To be honest, in a secularized modern world such as our own, no one blames Thomas for being so… rational. It is reasonable to imagine that Thomas had seen many people crucified in Palestine. The Romans had made crucifying enemies of the State into an art form. Thomas simply couldn’t conceive how anyone could survive such punishment. I’m sure that many other disciples had even shared his pragmatism until they saw Him in the flesh again. Thomas however, was bold enough and honest enough with himself to speak it out loud. 

As they assembled there together days later, Jesus walks through the wall and puts His hands up for closer inspection by Thomas. He shows Thomas His chest wound where the spear had punctured all the way through to His heart. Thomas falls to his knees and bears witness that Jesus is truly the Son of the Almighty God. 

So, what was it that offended Jesus? Was Jesus even offended at all? Were the “faithful wounds of a friend” that Solomon was referring to the insult and offense that comes from those who are the best positioned to do the most damage and yet handle their words with the dexterity of someone with no impulse control? If Jesus really was offended by Thomas’ words there is little evidence here. However, He does make an example of Thomas and his secularist, materialist mindset. After all, believing after having seen is easy. Jesus takes the opportunity to pronounce a blessing on the billions of Believers that would come to Him throughout the millennia: “Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed” (John 20:29). After all believing after seeing that no faith at all. 

Friends and their faithful wounds

Jesus was surely not pleased. After raising the dead, walking on water, feeding the thousands, silencing a storm, and healing the sick, one of His most trusted friends doubted this final triumph over the forces and the Laws of nature. Thomas’s doubt was unbecoming of a man that had spent the better part of 40 months together with Jesus.

Unfortunately, Thomas’ doubt and double-mindedness were not exclusive traits to this one disciple. Judas’ internal conflict brought to the end of his rope, it brought Peter to deny Him to a little servant girl and caused the majority of others to run, scatter and hide. In fact, the Gospel accounts only place John the Beloved at the crucifixion of Jesus.

Unmitigated Tamarity

Thomas, like Nathaniel, spoke from his honest internal dialogue. Unlike the latter, Thomas had a purely worldly view of his surroundings. Thomas was perhaps the kind of man that struggled with his doubts even as he witnessed the miracles themselves. Thomas had room for miracles in his mind and as his relationship grew closer to Jesus he struggled less and less. But there was just something about Jesus raising Himself from the grave that was too much for him to handle.  

Pearl of Great Price

It is therefore our greatest fortune that the “faithful wounds of a friend” are the ones Jesus bears on His body to this day. Jesus overlooked, covered, atoned, and erased the insults of both Thomas and Nathaniel. The blood that oozed out of His hands and gushed out from between His ribs paid for not only the insults of those that accepted His forgiveness; it lies in wait to be discovered as payment in full for the countless millions around the world that have not yet come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. They unwittingly spew insults on Jesus all day long and bearing in their own lives the cost. It is our sacred responsibility to introduce the world to this magnificent Forgiver of wrongs. For those of us who have found this great Pearl, we too often discard it in the busyness of life. 

Professional Profaners

In an upcoming post, we will discuss antiquity’s best orators of calumnies and Jesus’ favorite hypocrites. When it came to this group of people, Jesus held back no punches. He hit back hard in their war of words. His replies were pubic in the form of plain language as well as in the form of parables. I hope you’ll come back for part 3 when we discuss some of my favorite passages from the Gospels. Also, if you’ve missed out, be sure to read Part 1 of this 3-part series on the Anatomy of an Insult. 

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.

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!

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!

 

Love Called My Name

Hello Everyone,

In all my years on this planet, I’ve seen a lot of crazy things, done some very stupid things and condoned some very awful things. I’ve been called lots of names; most of them were true, but I thank God that He saw in me what He also saw in you. He called my name from the inside out, from a place deep within, a place I usually kept filled with all different sorts of sin.

This is a retelling of stories many of you may know, I pray that it blesses you and it helps you to grow. For all the things I have loved, I treasure them no more; The God of Heaven called my name, He gave me something to live for.

[pdf-embedder url=”https://lifemoreabundant.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Love-Called-My-Name-by-Antonio-Rullo.pdf” title=”Love Called My Name – by Antonio Rullo”]

Please share with someone you believe may benefit from this.

Thank you for visiting.

Museum of S-x

 

Imagine for a moment, you’re a New Yorker living in the five boroughs somewhere and you’re taking your children to school or taking them to Central Park or any other of the thousands of children-friendly things there is to do in such a city as ours. Living in New York gives our children experiences and exposure to many great things of all shapes and sizes.

As parents, we go out of our way to shield our children from certain things that, in our judgement, they’re not ready for or, better yet, no one should have to put up with. We put parental blocks on computers, tv, internet, certain shows and anything else that we as parents would like to address at the proper and under a controlled environment. Even the movie industry itself, under government guidelines, flawed as the system may be, uses the rating system and gives us an idea of what is appropriate to watch for certain age groups and content.  rightfully so, school districts across the country implement training for staff and parents on how to properly address certain topics. Parents can have their child opt out of certain parts of the curriculum that they may want to address on their own time.

Enter the New York City MTA!

Harassed women bus drivers
Museum of Sex Ad campaign is still going strong, even after residents, drivers had asked for and MTA had said the campaign would be discontinued.

As of last year, the MTA had reportedly given in to pressures from both residents and bus drivers themselves. That was a year ago. Please #share this post in an effort to pressure the MTA to remove this campaign that supposedly had expired last year.

We understand that America is a beautiful place because everyone has equal rights: men, women, companies, government agencies, and lastly, as in this case, children. So many things in society are wrong, and unfortunately, so many of them, as individuals, we can’t do anything about. Luckily, this is low-lying fruit. Let’s get this garbage off the streets!