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

A call to Ministry – July 12th, 2020 – Lighthouse Assembly of God

Receiving the call to Ministry

From the moment God saves you, you receive a call to ministry: a ministry of service to Him. “Rocking chair” Christians is not our calling in life. We are swim upstream like salmon. Against the current! We are not here to run out the clock. We are to be a visible sign of the invisible God and of the life-changing Power that He has displayed in our lives!

The goal of the life of every Christian? to be like Jesus! Click To Tweet

Answering the Call to Ministry

Today’s message is drawn from the Epistles to the Colossians, where the Apostle Paul explains what is it, exactly, that we can expect from living, or attempting to live, a life that is pleasing to God. Look at shiny tv preachers. Observing them you would think that a call to ministry is a way to be “served” rather than to serve. They mistake the prosperity of the Gospel with a Gospel of Prosperity. I like the way William Carey, the Father of modern-day missions, put it.

Expect great things from God; attempt...great things for God Click To Tweet

Never the same again

As Spirit-filled, Bible-believing Christians we must, as the Pastor Geer proclaimed, “shine”. Let people see the Light in you. Once they do, they’ll want to talk to us about Jesus. 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.

Shameless Plug

We want to remind everyone that Life More Abundant is an outreach ministry of the Men’s Ministry of Lighthouse Assembly of God in Glendale, Queens, New York. 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. Please share this link with someone, anyone, and everyone you know. May God continue to richly bless you and His Church. Also, please prayerfully consider becoming a patron of Life More Abundant.

 

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.

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”.

 

The God of my sister: Part 1

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

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

The God of my sister

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you.

 

Life More Abundant

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

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

Life More Abundant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thanks for Nothing

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

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

Thanks for Nothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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