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.‚ÄĚ Stuart Chase, I believe, said it best when he commented that for those who believe, no proof is necessary, for those who¬†don’t¬†believe, no proof is possible”.

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

Today’s Doubters

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

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

The future of Doubt: Faith

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

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

Why have you come? Are you not entertained?

Entertained by chance

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

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

Entertained on purpose

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

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

The reason for the show

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

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

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

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

The Anatomy of an Insult – Part 2

Sticks and Stones

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

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

Fruits worthy of repentance 

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

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

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

Doubtful by default

The Greatest Insult is Doubt

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

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

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

Friends and their faithful wounds

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

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

Unmitigated Tamarity

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

Pearl of Great Price

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

Professional Profaners

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

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‚Äôs 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.

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.2 For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.4 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.Р1 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!.

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: ‚ÄúDear 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‚Äôt do it without you. Amen‚ÄĚ.

 

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”.