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!

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).

When Christians insult other Believers

When Christians insult other Believers

It seems these days that everyone around you keeps getting more and more thin-skinned. Total strangers get third-party offended. Family members that don’t like what you think of a particular behavior of theirs. Church members, deacons, and even pastors. None of them can take any criticism of anything they say or do with the same “sweet reasonableness” they preach that others should have (Phil 4:5). Needless to say that people are easily insulted these days and some make a profession of it. Now please understand that we are talking about Christians here.  Whether it is intentional or not Christians insult other Believers and, perhaps worse, Christians take offense at the words of other Believers.

Any cheek-turners in the room?

But what about Jesus, how did he handle Himself when people said unkind or insulting things about Him. Now, I’m not referring to the openly insulting statements that He received during His ministry, I’m referring to the little things along the way, the innuendos, the side jabs, the play on words, or simply the things that were not said in public where many would have heard and formed an opinion on. How did Jesus handle those?

The sin of sincerity

I’m sure our personal lives are full of instances where the words of other Christians have insulted us. By the same token, our own words have offended other Believers. Whether it was by sheer naivety or aimed with the intention to wound a friend, Christians have been as guilty at insulting other Believers as the “general population”. Fortunately, not many of Christiandom’s foot-in-mouth instances have been recorded in the annals of history. That is of course with the exception of the Biblical record.

One such comment that comes to mind is when Philip went and told Nathaniel that they had found the Messiah. Philip told him that His name of Jesus, the son of Joseph, from Nazareth. Nathaniel, thought to himself and said the first thing that came to his mind and said, “can anything good come out of Nazareth”? When he finally came to Jesus, the Master turned and said to him, “Behold! An Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile”. Not only did Jesus know what Nathaniel had said and not only did He not take offense but rather commended Nathaniel for his sincerity of heart. You see, Nathaniel had his doubts. His doubts were sincere but he still had enough hunger for the Truth to go and find out for himself. When he finally arrived where Jesus was and heard Him say two things. He heard Him say that only was there no guile in him but He was aware of him under the fig tree beforehand, Nathaniel suddenly realized that he was in the presence of God.

Sincerity as a lifestyle

A little background may be called for. Why would Nathaniel blurt out at Philip’s announcement of the Messiah cause offense? In the Jewish custom of the time “nothing good could come from Nazareth”. This was a widespread proverb and this was for two particular reasons. Reasons that are intertwined and, if Jesus was and considered Himself a prophet, He should’ve known better. His (supposed) Nazarene pedigree would automatically bar Him from being considered a prophet by any self-respecting Jew.

The hometown of the thick-skinned

For starters, Nazareth is in Galilee. That’s significant because its border country. Samaria (of the Samaritans) is just southwest of Galilee. Nazareth was a fairly large commercial center. It would have lots of gentile influences (Greeks, Samaritans, Phoenicians, and all manner of other pagan cultural influences). Seeing as Galilee shared a northern border with Phoenicia (of the Syro-Phoenician woman) with cities such as Tyre and Sidon that, although had long outlived their glory days, were still important regional ports of call.

 

Palestine in the time of Jesus

Galilee was not the ideal breeding ground for prophets. With such strong gentile influence,  complicated allegiances to God, Israel, and Rome,  Temple Jews considered Galilee to be a backwater sort of place. Far removed from the Temple cult of Jehovah. The Galileans’ tolerance for outsiders living and working among them made them, for the most part in the eyes of the Temple Jews, ritually unclean. By definition unfit for the office of prophet. This confluence of worldviews created a a “peculiar” people. Galileans were comfortable with speaking their minds and quite accustomed to hearing seemingly controversial comments. The insults and comments simply rolled off their back. It’s the biblical equivalent to being a new yorker. If we were to take offense at everything a stranger said, we would never make it past getting the car out of the parking spot.

Biblical backwater

Along similar lines, in all the history of the law and the Prophets, not one single prophet had ever come from Nazareth. The great majority of them were of Judean descent and many of them with traceable Davidic and/or royal lineage. Jesus, in their eyes, therefore seemingly lacked both the proper stock as well as the correct birthplace to hold such office, whether it be prophet or Messiah.

Surely Jesus was well-aware of the cultural and religious stigma that came from being a Galilean. Although not recorded in the Gospels, many others would have already said or thought such things. Both before then and afterward. However, Jesus was able to see into Nathaniel’s heart and saw the sincere heart-cry of a Seeker. It was  “credited to him as righteousness“. When Philip came to Nathaniel he made specific references to the Law and the Prophets. Surely referring to the countless conversations they had together in the past. Perhaps they scoured the Scriptures together looking for a sign. I imagine many other would-be prophets and Messiahs had come before. As history tells us, many of them and their followers ended up dispersed, discredited, or dead.

An insult revisited

With all of this in mind we can take a fresh look at Nathaniel’s question. It was part incredulous and part hopeful. Nathaniel was open to the idea. He was also hopeful that he had misread or misunderstood something in the Scriptures. He hoped that with a sincere heart he had been sincerely wrong before. Perhaps the time had come for them to finally find the Messiah. Hopefully, to be found by the Messiah.

Jesus revealed to him the condition of his heart. He was perplexed. He asked “how do you know me”? Skipping the actual question  He replies, paraphrasing, “not only do I know you, I even saw you under the fig tree”! Typical Jesus style. What Nathaniel responds tells us a lot about the situation that we, at first glance, are not aware of directly.

Low-lying fruit

Here’s the low-lying fruit here (pun intended). The fig tree must have been out of the line of sight for Jesus. It must have been hidden from from His view. Possibly over a hill or around a bend or something of that nature.  From this Nathaniel would see two things. Not only was the man before Him master over men’s inner thoughts but the forces (read “laws”) of nature. Jesus had correctly identified his internal personal state and his specific geographic location. His thoughts and location would only have been known to Philip.

Foregoing what else Jesus tells the men there assembled about what else they will see and hear in the times to come, we learn a few things about both Nathaniel and the heart of Jesus.  Nathaniel’s eagerness and thirst for Truth pays off. His first answer is a resounding “yes!”. Good things can come out of Nazareth. By association, good things can come from Galilee. Specifically, Jesus and His motley crew of friends. Those men would go on to change history. He also answers his second question. Jesus knows Nathaniel (read your own name there) like a “wheel within a wheel”. Jesus knows our innermost workings even when we are not aware of Him.

Insult, the teacher

Perhaps the most astounding discovery we can take away is His early interaction with His disciples. We see that Jesus is available for questioning. We will study in upcoming posts the way Jesus responds to other sorts of inquiries. Here, we are assured that Jesus does not turn away anyone searching with all their heart (Jer 29:13). Also, He answers the underlying question regardless of presentation. Jesus has no interest in form. His interest is function. Nathaniel’s question may have been or sounded course but it came from a ready heart, from a heart that wanted the Truth, was earnestly seeking the Truth. In exchange for his childlike sincerity, Jesus paid him a truly beautiful compliment, one that we should all aspire to hear from the Master: “an Israelite (read: Christian) indeed, in whom there is no guile”.

Third Temple Believer

How shall we then live? A question for the ages, as the Jews watched the temple being destroyed. The answer can be found in Jesus alone.

In the beginning

Before there was the Temple, there was the Tent of Meeting. Before the Tabernacle in the wilderness, there was Beth-El. There, God’s servant spoke to Him in Spirit. In turn, He answered in Spirit and in Truth. Solomon’s Temple replaced the Tabernacle. Destroyed because of the people’s disobedience. The people rebuilt the Temple. However, because of disobedience, it was once again destroyed. Now both Believers and Jews alike await the final third Temple. 

third temple
Jesus in Disguise

Shadows and dust

Just like anything made by men, the second temple also did not last. After the prophecy of the coming Messiah had been fulfilled, the Lord kept His word and the Temple was destroyed once again.

However, something was different this time. The people scattered to the winds and to the four corners of the earth. Many of them were taken to Rome. They were to become slaves. Others, put to death. Although any hopes of rebuilding the Temple had all but vanished, by some type of miracle, “Jewishness” survived.

To the utter dismay of the Jewish people, millennium-old Temple Judaism came to a sudden and abrupt end. The sect of Judaism that depended on the Temple itself, the Sadducees, disappeared; the Essenes, that preached against the corruption of the Temple, lost their raison de vivre. This left only the Pharisees. These would become what we know now as the rabbinical schools. Also, a new Jewishness also appeared. Christianity.

Honest misunderstanding?

Although no rabbinical scholar would admit, Christianity is Judaism. The reason for not agreeing on this point is purely of a personal nature. Personal in this context refers to Jesus. There is only one difference that separates Temple Judaism from Church Age Christianity. While Jews are still waiting for the Messiah to their own detriment, Christians believe the Messiah has come. 

All else being equal, Christianity is the logical next step of historic Judaism. This is in a very crucial way very unfortunate. I say this because they are scheduled to accept the imitation over the real thing. When the antichrist comes, their eschatology will resemble very closely our own. Obviously with their tragic misunderstandings built in. 

Accepting the imitation

When the antichrist arrives on the scene they will accept as completed all of the Scriptures that Christians already know as fulfilled. This counterfeit Messiah, I believe, will not be Jewish. Neither will he adhere to the ways of his forefathers. Scripture even references him not being…very manly.  

Essentially, there are two types of third Temple believers in this world. On the one hand there are those waiting for the Temple to be built again. On the other hand, although they might not actually be aware, Christians believe it will descend from Heaven in the the form of the Heavenly Jerusalem. So the question is, “who’s right”? Both are.

Built to last

Scripture tells us clearly in Daniel 11 that the antichrist will sit in a physical temple and declare himself to be God. This will come with the initial adoration of the Jews. But in the fullness of time, as Zechariah 14 shows us, Jesus will return and rule the Earth from the Mount of Olives. Having destroyed the antichrist He will bring down the new, permanent, Jerusalem. Enthroned in His rightful place, He will wipe “every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 21). 

One third Temple only

Here’s the clincher. There are only two possibilities for who is reading this post. The first option is that you’re waiting for the third Temple. Both Christians and unbelievers alike are on this Earth together at this point. The other possibility is that you’re living in a time of it being physically present. If the second possibility is true, then you have missed the Rapture of the Church. It also proves that no one bothered to take down this post, at which point I’m insulted. However, I’m glad you’re here. The people that went missing around you haven’t vanished. They’ll be back soon. Then, you’ll see what the real Temple of God looks like! But this is your opportunity to repent. Say these simple words, from the heart:

Dear Jesus, 

I repent of my sins. I agree with you that I sinned against You and Your perfect Law. I receive you as Lord and Savior of my life. I accept the free gift of Salvation. I know that it is not by anything that I have done that I have deserved this. I welcome you into my heart, my mind and my life. I thank you for Eternal Life that you have provided for me. 

In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Like sheep among wolves

Friend, if you have said that simple prayer, from your heart, you are born again. Whether you are in the Tribulation right now or still awaiting the Rapture of the Church, we want to encourage you. Find a Bible-believing, Spirit-filled church and look for ways to serve God by bringing this Gospel to others in your life.  God bless you

 

The Anointing of Jesus – May 3rd, 2020 – Lighthouse Assembly of God

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus teaches us, “Therefore I tell you, because her many sins have been forgiven, she has loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little”. (7:47) Our gratitude is often based on how much we receive: a big gift gets the giver public praises and posts on FaceBook; a small gift, gets you a handshake, and a semi-sincere smile.  Let’s follow along with Pastor Geer as he teaches us from the Gospel of Mark about the gratitude of one particular sinner that Jesus Himself said would be spoken of wherever the Gospel is preached.

But first, we invite you to worship along with us to the praises and glory of God the Father through His Son and our Savior Jesus Christ.

Our prayer is that you are blessed as you take time out of your day to be in God’s presence and grow spiritually from the sharing of His Word.

Click the link below to watch the video from a secured server.

The Anointing of Jesus

Life More Abundant International Ministries is fully funded and maintained by the Men’s Ministry of Lighthouse Assembly of God in Glendale, Queens, New York. If you would like to prayerfully consider coming alongside Lighthouse Assembly of God with a gift of any amount, we encourage you to do so through our Venmo Page. Every penny you donate goes fully and directly to the Church. And if you have been blessed, as we’re confident you have been, please share this link with someone, anyone, everyone you know. May God continue to richly bless you and His Church.

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!.

Acceptable Sacrifice

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. – Romans 12:1

The Bible teaches us that we are to bring sacrifices to God that are worthy of He who is receiving them. But what can we possibly bring to God that is an acceptable sacrifice; once Jesus paid the price for all of our sins, what can we possibly give God something that is new and fresh and worthy of being received by the Creator of the Universe? Just like the old saying “what do you buy a man that has everything”?

The Psalmist David (Psalms 49:14) as well as the writer of Hebrews (13:15) teach us to bring “sacrifice of Praise”. Praise is the only thing that we can bring to God that He will accept; we give it out of our own volition that is spotless and clean in His Presence. Because it comes from our spirit, it is “pure and undefiled” worship; it is not out of material goods which, technically, we received from Him in the first place.

God the Father wants us to want to worship Him in spirit and in Truth. God created us so that we may have a relationship with Him. Relationship with God is no different than relationship with humans, it requires time, effort and sacrifice. Now sacrifice is not intended to be some sort of self-inflicting pain ritual but rather a willful decision to give of yourself to the other person. What better way to worship God in an undefiled Temple than to offer up sacrifice of praise, which is after all our “reasonable and acceptable service“.

Is God real?

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”.

 

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”.