Thursday, March 29, 2012
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” Romans 8: 18
Well, everyone in my family except for me has gotten hit with a bad stomach virus this week. From 2 year-old Joey all the way up to my 80 year-old mother-in-law it’s been one, non-stop vomit train since last Sunday night. And it’s still going. But in all of this a funny thing happened today. All week my son Bennie (who is 4) has been begging for popsicles, gelatin and ginger ale. I guess in his four-year-old mind it has been unfair that everyone else gets to have these special treats while he has had to eat stuff like grilled cheese, cereal, fruit, orange juice and milk. The kid has a rough life. Anyway, every time he has asked, my wife and I have responded by telling him that those things are only for people who have thrown up; which of course then makes him start wishing out loud that he could get sick. Then we tell him that even if he were to get sick, he would have to wait for two hours without vomiting before he could have a popsicle.
Well, this morning as I was getting ready for work he came to me and said he had to throw-up, so I grabbed the closest vomit pail (it seems like we have them in every room) and proceeded to hold it out towards him. Just in time, because he immediately started using it (I’ll spare you the details). After heaving for about a minute I was starting to ask him if he was done when he looked up at me with a HUGE smile and screamed, “Yippee, now in two hours I can have an ice pop!”
Kids. Boy can they teach us a lot. Pretty much everyone else that I know feels pretty lousy when they throw up. But not Bennie. I mean, that kid forgot about his suffering immediately (and trust me he was NOT enjoying the vomiting part) and focused on his reward. He was so thrilled to have finally thrown up so that he could get his popsicle.
Many people have often wondered how St. Paul could write about rejoicing in his sufferings. Many people wonder how someone could forget all about what they are going through. Perhaps you have wondered this as well. I know I have from time to time. But Bennie has shown all of us in a tangle example how we can rejoice in suffering. It’s not that we are enjoying the suffering. It’s not that we like it. It’s not that we are happy. There’s nothing phony about it: when we are sick, we feel bad. When we are in pain, it hurts. When we are being persecuted, it is tough and certainly not comfortable. But if we keep our eyes fixed on the PRIZE, then we can rejoice, even in the midst of pain, sorrow and suffering. If all we focus on is the pain, then that is all we will ever experience. But if we can focus on what comes after, then we can get through the pain and it seems like nothing in the end. Some women experience this when they give birth.
But what if there is no popsicle? What if the child is stillborn? What then? Well, ultimately the prize we look to is not to be found in this world or this life. As people of faith we need to constantly keep our eyes fixed on the prize of life eternal in heaven. The reality is that St. Paul was martyred for his faith in Christ, and throughout the centuries thousands more have died for love of Christ. Sometimes this life is just hard and painful. In the end, all of us die, whether as friends of Christ or not—but we still die. And if we live each day knowing that something far greater and more beautiful than this life and world awaits us, then there is no reason that we too, cannot rejoice in our present day sufferings. Not in any phony, self-righteous or hypocritical way, but like a child. Like my Bennie.
Dear Jesus, please help me to have the joy of a child, even in the midst of suffering. Amen.
Monday, March 26, 2012
“Then one of the elders spoke up and said, ‘Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?’ I said to him, ‘My lord, you are the one who knows.’ He said to me, ‘These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’ For this reason they stand before God’s throne and worship him day and night in his temple. The one who sits on the throne will shelter them. They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or heat strike them. For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7: 13-17
Have you jumped on the bandwagon? Do you have “Hunger Games” fever? Team Peeta anyone? With the first movie of the wildly popular book trilogy now out, the hype about this story has reached new highs. Why?
The story contains age-old themes that speak to our hearts: good versus evil, suffering, injustice, brutality, hope versus hopelessness, rebellion, violence and a desire for greatness among others. Ultimately the books and movie speak of a society in Northern America void of any religion or belief in God and the natural, logical conclusions that will be reached by such a society: where the few dominate the many with fear and power and control. This is not a new concept and there have been many works of literature and movies that focus on this type of post-apocalyptic world. But the reality is that our world has actually seen something similar to this in real life, for the society described in these books is not all that different from ancient Rome, where gladiators battled beasts and one another to the death in the Coliseum before thousands of eager spectators.
The analogy for our lives is that this present world is really the “arena” and all of us are in the “game”. And it is a game of life or death. But we do not compete against one another; we compete against Satan and sin. And what we strive for is eternal life.
The Good News is that we have hope because God sent His Son, Jesus, to die in our place. Jesus offered Himself for us and through His blood we are made clean, we are made victorious, we are saved! We will survive the time of great distress because the Lamb who was slain will become our Shepherd. The Victim will become the Victor! And this action of God compels us, as His followers, to live and act as He did: to lay down our lives for others, not to take their lives. This is the central theme of Christianity and it is the only motivation to compel us to rise above our base instincts and desires for power, control and domination. And it is only this motivation and the grace of Christ that compels us to build a civilization of love and a culture of life, rather than the nihilistic, post-apocalyptic world of death, greed, power and violence offered in The Hunger Games.
Finally, when we have passed through this “arena” of life successfully, the hunger and thirst for Truth, beauty, goodness, joy, peace and love that consumes our hearts will be fulfilled beyond anything we could ever imagine in the eternity of God’s kingdom where there will be no more tears or worries and we will be completely satisfied forever. Let the games begin…
Dear Jesus, may I so hunger and thirst for You that I spend all of my life loving and serving others as You do. Amen.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
“He rescued us from such great danger of death, and he will continue to rescue us; in him we have put our hope that he will also rescue us again, as you help us with prayer, so thanks may be given by many on our behalf for the gift granted us through the prayers of many.” 2 Corinthians 1: 10-11
My brother should have died the other day.
The short version of the story is that he was in severe pain for several days and we suspected it might be a kidney stone. When we brought him to the ER for the second time, they brought him back for a CT scan and less than five minutes later the entire ER was rushing around and words like “critical” and “surgery” were being slung around like missiles into our hearts. He was immediately rushed into emergency, life-or-death surgery because he had an abdominal aortic aneurysm that had ruptured (we learned later it was 4 inches long). So basically he was bleeding to death inside his own body. They brought him back to surgery at 3:02am and we had no idea how long it would take or whether he would live or die.
About two-and-a-half hours later the surgeon came in and told us that he was “lucky” to be alive and in fact the only thing that saved his life was that the opening of the rupture was towards the back of his body where the organs are more compacted with the spine and the ribs and so the blood took a little longer to leak out of the rupture. Had the rupture opened toward the front of my brother’s abdomen, the doctor said he would have died before they got him into surgery. Thankfully after several up-and-down days he seems to be on the sure road to a slow, but steady recovery.
Several things have struck me over the past week. The first is that while that night in the hospital was certainly scary and there were tears of worry that were shed, we were not hopeless or helpless. In that instance, when life and death hung balanced on a precarious point, we had each other and we had Jesus. We could pray and know with certain knowledge that all of our lives are held in the Lord’s hands. We knew that we could place ALL of our trust in Jesus—no matter what happened. While the rest of the world slept and most people had no idea that a few of us seemed to be alone in that waiting room, we were NOT alone! The God of the universe, who made heaven and earth, was RIGHT THERE with us: holding us, supporting us, comforting us, crying with us. And He is with YOU in your times of trials and suffering too.
The second is that life is fragile and we need to live each day with eternal vision, for eternity could be thrust upon us at ANY moment. One minute we are riding a bike, having a conversation or sitting with friends and family and the next instant we could be face to face with Jesus giving an account of our lives. I think if we live with eternal vision we will recognize the gift that each day is to us and we will live it to the full to love God and serve our neighbor. Without this vision, we may get tempted to live below our dignity and settle for the comfort of a world we think is all there is for us.
Finally, I was struck by the Scripture from 2 Corinthians at the top of this reflection, which was taken from the Night Prayer of the Church. Yes, the Lord did save my brother from great danger of death and for that we are all thankful, but the death that the Lord most wants to save us from is eternal death. The reality is that someday, my brother will die, as we all will, and in that moment, God may not save our mortal life, but if we have lived with eternal vision and walked with Jesus our Savior in obedience and have loved Him and others, then we shall conquer death once and for all through His grace and mercy and be with Him in heaven for all of eternity, where we shall not fear death again. May we all strive to life forever by living this life according to the Lord’s will and by placing ALL of our trust in Jesus.
Dear Jesus, thank You for the gift of life, but more importantly, thank You for offering Your life so that the doors to eternal life might be opened wide to all people. May we live each day with eternal vision, cooperate with Your grace and love You and others at every moment. Amen.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
“While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing. But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.” John 2: 23-25
What is it about human nature that Jesus knew so well? The fact that we are fickle: that we can be mesmerized by something in one moment and then completely oblivious to it the next. People like to accuse politicians of “flip-flopping”—of switching their views from one side to the other, presumably to garner more votes on Election Day. We like to criticize people who say one thing but do another. And we are very intolerant of people who won’t take a side on any issue because they do not like conflict.
But aren’t we ALL like that from time to time, about one thing or another? Don’t we pick our battles and ignore some things? Don’t we get lazy and stop trying so hard? Don’t we sometimes switch allegiance from one political candidate to another the more we hear what they have to say?
And Jesus knew this. So He didn’t take too much stock in the crowds of Jerusalem who came to believe in His Name because of the signs they saw. He knows how short our attention span is and He knows how short our memories can be. Was it not many of these same people that would cheer for Him on Palm Sunday? And was it not many of these same people that violently called for His death just five days later. My how public opinion can ebb and flow and bob and weave from one side to the other.
And so we ask ourselves today: what sign can Jesus perform that would cause us to completely believe in Him without ANY doubts, without any fear, without anything held back. What ultimate sign could He show you that would cause you to abandon EVERYTHING and follow Him, even to the point of death without looking back and without any regrets? What sign could He show us to prove that He loves us and will never leave us and that we can confidently place all of our hope and trust in Him? I fear that if we are waiting for this sign before we give Him our lives, we will never give Him our lives.
For one, we need to stop asking and looking for a sign and start asking for the gift of FAITH: a faith that sustains us even when all of the “signs” seem to show nothing but destruction. A faith that carries us when there are no “signs” at all—when all of our prayers and cries are met with apparent silence, when our feelings tell us nothing is real, when we are surrounded by fears and doubts and enemies. And for another, what other sign can God offer us to prove His love for us but the sign of the cross? He’s already proven His love for us, His willingness to donate Himself completely and totally on the cross so that we can be saved and have eternal life. There is no need for another sign! If our faith is based on signs rather than the reality of God’s love for us, then our faith will be fickle and we will flip and flop as our feelings or circumstances change. Jesus knew this about our human nature. And we need to realize it about ourselves as well so that with His grace we can overcome it.
Dear Jesus, I do not ask for a sign, I only ask to understand Your love for me more and more deeply in my heart. By Your grace may I overcome the fickleness of my human nature and ascend to a place where my relationship with You is based on faith and not feelings. Amen.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
“But whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ…” Philippians 3: 7-8
Still complaining about daylight savings time? I still see people on facebook or hear people in person who say they have still not recovered from losing that one hour of sleep last Sunday morning. Really? I bet there are plenty of days that we waste a good hour’s worth of sleep watching TV, going on-line or watching movies. I bet there are plenty of times that we could’ve had more sleep had we not had homework to finish, sick children to take care or bad dreams that woke us up. And there are certainly plenty of times we voluntarily give up that hour of sleep to spend time with friends or family playing games or talking. The issue really isn’t losing that hour of sleep. The issue is what do we gain by losing that hour?
So often in life we measure things in losses. How much did we lose in the stock market? How much lower did the worth of our house go down this year? How much less is the US dollar worth? How many times have I been dumped? How much hair have I lost? Where did my figure go? But in life we have the choice to see things from the negative perspective or from the positive perspective.
I’m not going to lie to you and say that I always see things from the positive side, because I don’t. But what I know is that in any situation or circumstance in life there is always someone better off than you and someone worse off than you and if all you ever focus on is the negative, then far from living a life of greatness, all you will see is what you lose or don’t have.
The key is to see things for the way they really are: the way God sees them. Sure, we all lost an hour of sleep last Sunday, but for the next 5 months we gained an extra our of daylight each evening. Losing one hour of sleep to gain months of extra time in the day sounds like a good trade-off to me. Getting dumped by your boyfriend or girlfriend might hurt for a couple days, but perhaps they were not a nice person and in the end, you deserve better and have gained more respect for yourself. Maybe you’ve lost some of your hair (or all of it), but you’ve gained years of wisdom that you didn’t have back when you had a full head of hair.
One of the great tragedies in life is that so many people never live a life of greatness or find true happiness and love because all they see is the losses and don’t recognize the gains. By following Christ we might suffer the loss of friends, financial security, and comfort in our lives, but in knowing Christ we gain unconditional love, a life of greatness and eternal security! Any lose suffered in this life for Christ will be quickly overshadowed by the peace in our hearts that comes from the hope and realization of His love, protection, and providence—not just for this life, but for eternity! May we come to see that so often, we gain by losing.
Dear Jesus, save me from losing the eternal for the gains of this life which are passing. Help me to see as You see, with eyes of love, recognizing what is truly important and worth losing or gaining. Amen.