It seems that when we are young in the Faith God shows Himself in very personal and tangible ways so as to reassure us that what we have believed in is real. I can still remember one of my earliest incontrovertible proofs of God’s presence in my life: not just in my mind but able to control circumstances of even the smallest things around me.
One day, as it was my custom, I would go into my sister’s apartment to pray with her. For some reason or another, my sister wasn’t available to pray with me at the time. I decided that I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to spend time with the Lord so I closed my eyes and started to pray.
I’m easily distracted so I make it a point to always keep my eyes closed, it’s not because of some hyper-religiousness. As I was pouring out my heart to the Lord and thanking Him for His Mercy, I saw a pretty little bird, more like a white pigeon (at the time, I wasn’t aware of the term “dove”). This pigeon was in a very narrow and deep canyon that had opened up right in front of me. It was just sitting there on this rock ledge. The vision ended as abruptly as it had begun. I continued to worship for a while longer and it was then time to go into God’s word.
As we always did together with my sister, I asked God to guide my hands to what He had for me that day. I prayed over the Bible, put my thumbs on the pages and split the Bible open. The Bible opened to Songs of Solomon Chapter 2. I had never read nor heard of this book in my young Christian life. As I began reading the chapter, I got to verse 14 that reads:
O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the crevices of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your countenance is lovely
When I read that, I was so overwhelmed that I got out of my chair and went running and screaming to my sister: “Stella!, Stella! Come, quick”! She came running thinking something had happened; the way I was screaming you would think the house was on fire. When we finally met in the stairs I brought her to the kitchen table and I started explaining to her what i had seen and how I opened the Bible up and, pointing to it, how it opened exactly to what I had seen in my mind. She praised God with me and she shared her own recent experiences with the Lord as well. We sang hymns and closed in a word of prayer.
There’s lots of arguments that people put forth why they don’t believe God exists but, as you can imagine, none of them are valid to me. I know that I know that I know; there’s no way to duplicate, replicate or simulate what I experienced that day and so many other times after that.
If today you find yourself, like that Bible verse says, between a rock and a hard place, God wants you to know that He loves you and He thinks you are beautiful; He’s calling you to Himself. 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”.
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”.
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!
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!