Sunshine on a Cloudy Day
After Paul and Silas left Thessalonica they tried repeatedly to return to the young church there. But, Paul says, "Satan stopped us" (1 Thess 2:18). He is not specific about how Satan stopped them. Perhaps it was the persecution, threats from the authorities, illness or some direct attack by Satan; we don't know. Nevertheless, Paul has hope and joy just thinking about the Thessalonians. It gave him great joy just to remember how they had received the gospel, how they had turned from idol worship to worshiping the one true God, how they had stood under persecution. Paul's reward in life and before God was knowing that he had brought people to Christ. That was his hope, his joy, his glory. No matter what came against him in life, no one could take away what God had done through him - the salvation of more people for the kingdom.
For Reflection: What is keeping me from remembering the great things God has done?
Let us pray. What can keep us from recalling the great works of God? Sickness or depression? Persecution or danger? Loss of job? Criticism by a loved one? No, we are more than conquerors through Jesus. Nothing in creation can separate us from God's love. Jesus, you are my sunshine on every cloudy day (based on Romans 8:35-36).
Putting Off; Putting On
As we grow in maturity in Christ there are things we must "put off" according to Paul. Since Paul is fond of lists, let us list here the things we are to put off: your old self, deceitful desires, falsehood, anger, stealing, unwholesome talk, grieving the Holy Spirit, bitterness, rage, brawling, slander, malice, sexual immorality, impurity, greed, obscenity, foolish talk, coarse joking, darkness, drunkenness (Ephesians 4:17 - 5:20).
Paul gives, of course, another list of what we are to "put on": our new self, righteousness, holiness, truth, wholesome talk (psalms, hymns and spiritual songs), kindness, goodness, compassion, forgiveness, love, thanksgiving, light, understanding, the Spirit.
Many of these have to do with our words, what we say to one another. As James says in his letter, if we control the tongue we control the entire person (James 3:1-12). If we change the way we speak, we will change the way we act.
For Reflection: If we don't find ourselves more in the second list from Ephesians than the first, can we find a way to immerse ourselves in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs?
Let us pray. I proclaim righteousness in the great assembly. . . . I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and salvation. I do not conceal your love and your truth . . . . (Psalm 40: 9-10).
"Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you" (Isaiah 35:3-4; cf. Hebrews 12:12).
As we look back and forth between the Old Testament and the New Testament at these descriptions of the Kingdom of God we see that there is really no difference between them. Isaiah and the other visionary prophets got it right. Jesus and his disciples proclaim the same coming Kingdom. It's a kingdom where the righteous are rewarded, where all illnesses are healed, every tear wiped away. Hang in there. God is coming. There is hope.
For reflection: Where am I flagging? What about me needs to be strengthened? Where am I lacking hope?
Let us pray. Jesus, I know you hold me in your hands but the Kingdom seems a long time coming. Be with me today. Give me strength. Give me hope in exchange for my fear.
"I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11). The Lord spoke those words to people in captivity. He was encouraging them to live their lives to the full - to build houses, plant gardens, marry, have children and grandchildren - while they were in captivity. "Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper" (Jer 29:7).
Like a good father, even when he is punishing his children for misbehaving, he wants them to do well; he is on their side and planning to help them do better. He also encourages them to make the most of a bad situation. Don't sit and sulk. Don't give up. Do what you can to improve your own life and the lives of those around you. If you work for the peace and prosperity of those around you, you too will benefit.
For reflection: It has been 2500 years since this encouragement from the Lord was spoken. These are still words to live by. What am I doing to increase the peace and prosperity around me? Do I have a tendency to sulk or to keep moving forward, knowing that God has good plans for me?
Let us pray. Father, I know that you have good plans for me, plans to prosper me and not provoke me. Help me to keep holding on, moving on, going forward, working for the betterment of all. May peace and prosperity surround me wherever I go.
Peter vs. Judas
There is some confusion among the Gospels and Paul's letters about the exact order of the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection. So in the next few weeks we will be moving around in the Scriptures to cover these stories. Evidently after appearing to the women at the tomb, Jesus next appeared to Peter (see Luke 24:34 and 1 Cor 15:5).
The Scriptures don't tell us what Jesus and Peter talked about on that first meeting. Perhaps Peter never told anyone. I suspect they had a little conversation about Peter's actions during Jesus' trial and crucifixion. Peter had denied three times even knowing Jesus - as Jesus had predicted. And Peter was evidently not there when Jesus died. Regret and forgiveness must have been on Peter's mind. Maybe Jesus asked Peter, "Why?"
I've often thought of the differences and similarities between Peter and Judas. Both were close associates of Jesus. Both sinned against Jesus. Their sins were not too different from each other. But their actions after their sins were very different. Judas went to the Jewish authorities looking for forgiveness. Receiving none (he had not betrayed them after all), he despaired and killed himself. What if Judas had gone to Jesus for forgiveness? I believe Jesus would have forgiven him. Peter, no doubt, asked Jesus to forgive him. They must have cleared the air in that first private meeting.
For reflection: For what do I need God's forgiveness? From whom else do I need to ask forgiveness?
Let us pray. Father of Mercies, please bring to mind the actions for which I need to seek forgiveness. Help me to make amends.
Victory - Psalm 60
Whenever David prayed for help in overcoming his enemies he was concerned with people trying to kill him or armies fighting for his kingdom. With God's assistance, David never backed down from a fight. This is the guy God called "a man after my own heart."
We can still call on God for help in overcoming our enemies, whoever and whatever they may be. Enemies and temptations come in various forms. I noticed this year that several friends gave up Facebook for Lent. Others have told me, both men and women, that they have become addicted to pornography on the internet. Temptations abound.
But where temptations abound, grace can abound all the more. David never had to fight the internet, but he gave us an example in going out to face the enemy, calling on God at all times, and listening when God spoke. Following this model, we too can be people after God's own heart. We can be victorious; we can conquer our enemies and hold our ground.
Psalm 60:11-12 Give us aid against the enemy, for the help of man in worthless. With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies.
With any psalm there are short portions on which one can meditate to great effect. The opening of today's psalm has been meaningful in my life. Many times I have ruminated on "Where would I be now if I had not given my life to Jesus?" The answer is never a good one. I agree with King David that God "lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth."
I hope this song helps you to reflect today and to appreciate what God has done for you.
Can't Run, Can't Hide- Psalm 139
Recently I was talking with a woman who has a long-term illness. She was telling me she is tired of the illness, tired of being sick, and fed up with the medicine, the treatment and the limitations. I asked her, "Have you told God how you feel?"
"Can I do that?" she asked.
"You're already thinking it, aren't you?"
Why is it that we think (1) We can't talk to God about anything and everything and (2) He doesn't know what we're thinking? God wants to talk to us about whatever is on our minds - even if it is just the weather. Jesus will sit and have a chat with us or take a walk with us. He is always available.
The Psalmist says: You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.
What an awesome thing it is to have the Almighty know us that well. And there is nowhere we can run or hide to get away from him. You hem me in - behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. . . Where can I flee from your presence?
He's not too busy. He's not far away. Call him.
A Challenge to Unite Against Violence
A week ago we in the U.S. experienced another shooting in a school. Unfortunately it was not the first, and may not be the last. Many people are again raising the issue of gun control as a way of
decreasing or eliminating these random acts of violence.
I am not against gun control, but I don’t see it as the sole answer, or even the primary answer, to the problem that has been manifested. It could reasonably be argued that if people did not have access to guns they would still find a way to act out their aggression. There are other ways to kill people, individually or in groups. We cannot control all the means available.
The people responsible for killings of this type have been disturbed individuals, obviously. Some were known to the local mental health professionals; others were not receiving any kind of treatment. I applaud the mental health practitioners and the parents and other loved ones who made every attempt to help these disturbed individuals. I’m sure they are heartbroken about the death and destruction of lives. But people who need help can’t be watched 24 hours a day or locked away on the possibility that they might commit a crime. There is no known cure for many mental illnesses, depression, anger or other factors that lead people to commit such atrocities. So, unfortunately, better mental health care is not the answer either.
Since gun control and better mental health care are not the answer, what is? I would like to challenge Christians to unite against violence. How? Through prayer. Jesus said, “With God all things are possible.” Why don’t we take him at his word? I propose that we each choose one person to pray for daily who might be at risk for violence. But we must do so out of love, without passing judgment on them. If you don’t know of anyone personally, ask a teacher which one of their students they would most like prayer for – perhaps a bully or the victim of a bully, a child with a learning disability, or an unstable home life. Are all of these people prone to violence later in life?
Of course not. But we can still do incalculable good to those for whom we pray (Eph 3:20).
How ought we to pray for these people we have chosen? Pray blessings on them (Rom 15:13, Eph 1:16-20, Eph 5:1-2, Philippians 1:9-11). Pray that they choose life ( Dt 30: 15-16, 19-20); pray that they have life to the full (John 10:10), pray that they know God as their refuge and help in times of trouble (Dt 33:27, Ps 2:12, Ps 9:9, Ps 18:2, Ps 36:7, Ps 46:1, Ps 91:2). Pray for an increase of the fruit of the Spirit in their life (Gal 5:22-26). Pray for peace in their life (John 14:27, Luke 24:36). And pray above all that they be healed in body, mind and spirit. For after all, we are one body in Christ. What we pray for them, we also pray for ourselves.
There is a way to overcome violence because with God all things are possible. Let us unite in prayer.
Another Mass Killing
A number of people, adults and children, were killed this morning at a school in Connecticut. I'm sure the media will dissect what happened for days to come - you can already watch video of the scene.
I guess I'm strange because I find myself praying more for the gunman than for those who were killed by him. I'm sorry for whatever circumstances led him to believe that killing was the solution to his problems. I pray that he now has peace and knows God's presence. (And I pray this for all who were killed today.)
After 9/11 I found myself praying for Osama bin Laden. Yes, for him, not against him. I prayed for him to come to know Jesus. When I asked other people if they were praying for him, I got startled looks. Many told me I was wasting my time. But Jesus said: pray for your enemies; do good to those who persecute you. So I try to do that.
If Christians don't pray for these people, who will?
What do you think? I welcome you comments on this post or any of the others.
I started this website and blog on May 1, 2012. I am a Catholic who has been in ministry for many years. I first developed what I would call a close relationship with Jesus in the early 1970s. Ever since then I have been praying with people for healing and other needs. It is because I have seen so many of these prayers answered that I am so bold as to offer to pray for you individually through this website and phone line.