Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Maligned Christian

" Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your Hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if it be the will of God, than for doing evil." -[1 Peter 3: 15-18].

Throughout history, it has been extremely demanding to be a Christian.

During Roman Emperor Nero's time, so many Christians were crucified, Rome ran out of crosses. So, Christians were nailed to fences.

Emperor Nero was so evil, he commanded the burning of Christians at night, so that he had some evening light by which to read. Then, Nero blamed the Christians for setting the fires in Rome. Christians were also wrapped in wild animal hides and set upon by dogs. [Hence, Psalm 22: 16: "For dogs have surrounded me; a band of evildoers have encompassed me."] Sometimes, Christians' lives were violently ended in a spectacle in a public amphitheater, when wild animals such as lions, or armed men such as gladiators, mauled the Christians to death.

We can relate to all this today, as horrific persecution of Christians continues worldwide, by beheadings, burnings in steel cages, and modern-day concentration camps in North Korea. Christian persecution in the 21st Century is actually much worse than it was in Nero's Rome.

In America, the persecution is mild in comparison. But it is there.

Christians are regarded as backward, unintelligent, even extremist-- in the community, at work, at school.

In the classroom, some teachers instruct on the Bible in comparison to literature. But they use the Bible as a "foil" against the literature, as a way to teach the "Untruth" of the Bible.

At work, a man is asked, "What are you?" Non-plussed, he replies, "Uh? I'm a guy?"-- No. --Then, he identifies his profession. --No.-- Then, he identifies his ethnicity. -- No. -- Finally, he is asked his religion. He says, "I am Catholic." The boss says to him, "I thought you were smarter than that."

Growing up in my family, I was a believer. My family was not.  
In a talk I attended, given by a lively and insightful nun, I learned that whenever there is a believer, in a group of unbelievers, there is persecution.

Yes, even in families. . . . I was mocked by my family for modeling Love to all ethnicities. I was mocked for wanting to give to charity out of our excess. I was mocked for believing in a Higher Being, than any one of us ever could be.

Eventually, I took my Faith underground, deep inside me. I said, "My God", silently. I sang hymns softly, alone in my room. As I look back, I realize that as a child, I had decided to cling to my Faith no matter the cost, because somehow, I knew the Truth. I would not be mocked into denying the Truth, I would not be cowed or bribed or tricked out of my Faith. I took my Faith underground because arguing Faith with my family was a waste of breath. They would never convince me otherwise.

It is a long road back from burying one's Faith. I became literally afraid to show my Faith, to anyone, even as an adult.

When I finally converted and became a member of my church, I had a panic attack, as I walked the long aisle down to the altar to receive the Eucharist. I shook and felt dizzy. I prayed to my Irish Nana, to my deceased best friend who was Italian-Catholic, to my great aunt. When I got back to my pew, I was overcome with emotion, as I bowed my head. I had tears in my eyes, because finally, I had burst through the Fear, in favor of Christ.

This Scripture asks us not to shy away from speaking about our Faith. As Christians, we are ALL "defenders of the Faith."

We are NOT asked, however, to be obnoxious, ostracizing of others, or constant soap box orators.

We ARE asked to "be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks", and to speak with gentleness and reverence.

I have found that doing my best to "keep my conscience clear", trying always to avoid sin and transgression, is the best example of Christianity to others. There is no worse advertisement for Christianity than an evil Christian.

Sometimes, however, folks who are not so clear of conscience can become ashamed of their own behavior, and resentful of Christians. This is a fine line. In my own family, my Faith showed up my family's blasphemy pretty starkly. The more I demonstrated Christian behavior, even as I did not profess my Faith verbally, the more I was shouted down and shut down.

In the end, I had to leave home. I did not "become" them. St. Paul says, in Romans, "Do not repay Evil with Evil." -- I became instead, a fully realized Christian, with Christ sanctified as Lord in my heart. I approach all with gentleness and reverence. I will always explain my Faith if asked.

Today, we must support persecuted Christians. We must attend church FOR and in the stead of those who cannot. (On this stance alone, by right, our churches should be overflowing). We must pray for them. There are ways in which we can financially support dwindling Christian communities in the Middle East.

I will never apologize for my Faith. I will not become ensnared in ugly arguments over my Faith. If ugliness abounds, I will walk away. But I carry my Faith with me, always.

My Faith speaks for itself.

[Resource:  Check out www.opendoorsusa.org. Open Doors USA, for a list of the World Watch List of Persecuted Christians. (North Korea is No.1) ]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Your Mother was RIGHT


Mother's Day is May 14, 2017

I think my mother was about 80 years old, before I gave her any credit for her simple advice.  Even then, it was a backhanded compliment -- I told her, "I hate how you are right all the time."  She just smiled.

Seriously, our mothers impart so much wisdom, but after awhile,  it all tends to sound like so many Old Wives Tales.

I have been noticing more and more since my mother passed on, though, that Mom's advice is being proved scientifically. I cannot fathom how many millions of dollars have been spent to prove that Mom is right, but here is a compilation how very RIGHT that mom is:

1) "Save your money" -- Haven't we all seen that ubiquitous TV commercial about how, if we save even small amounts of money over most of our working life, we will retire with a real nest egg?

2) "Get your education" -- Studies show that college graduates can earn 84% more than high school graduates.

3)  "Be nice" -- A new study shows that Nice Guys do finish first. They get better job assignments, are perceived as leaders, get better raises and get promoted more.

4) "Eat your vegetables" -- Studies show that the one food attributable to successful aging is dark leafy greens.

5) "Get enough sleep" -- Lack of sufficient sleep can lead to heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses. To say nothing of the accidents that occur amongst the seriously sleep-deprived.

6) "All you need is one friend" -- In a scientific study, researchers placed one fish alone in an aquarium. The fish began to act lethargic, ate poorly ad generally failed to thrive. When researchers placed one additional fish in the tank, the first fish became more active, ate better, and began to thrive. Isolation leads to depression, anxiety and can even cause serious physical health issues.

7) "Stay out of debt" -- Compounding of interest upon interest on credit card debt can cripple your credit rating and your future. Before you spend, know where the money is coming from.

8) "Turn that music down" -- A recent study showed that only one incidence of ringing in the ears after a loud concert can cause lifelong hearing problems.

9) "Drink water" -- Studies show that just 2-3 sweetened drinks per day can vastly increase your likelihood of diabetes or heart disease.

10) "Go outside" -- Many adult Americans have serious Vitamin D deficiencies. Getting outside during the summer months can give you all the Vitamin D you need for a year.

11) "A pet is a member of the family" -- Family pets can lower anxiety and prevent depression.

12) "Why do you think they call it DOPE?" -- My grandmother used to say that to my sibling and me ALL the time. A recent study shows that the use of marijuana does kill brain cells, making you at risk of dementia as you age.

13) "Have a good cry" -- There are actually chemicals embedded in our tears that are natural pain relievers!

14) "Bundle up in cold weather, or you will catch cold" -- Going outside without hat, coat, or scarf on a frigid day does not MAKE you sick, but it stresses your system enough to make you more susceptible to viruses.

15) "Eat breakfast" -- Eggs are NOT bad for you! And eating breakfast revs up your metabolism so that you burn calories more efficiently the rest of the day.

16) "Don't sit so close to the screen, you will ruin your eyes" -- Kids need about 45 minutes per day utilizing their long distance vision, generally outside gazing at the horizon, for vision to develop properly. Otherwise, you risk severe near-sightedness.

17) "Go to church" -- Studies show that if you attend a place of worship in community and you have a sense of awe about something larger than yourself, you will be healthier, happier, less depressed.

18) "If you stay mad, you will give yourself a heart attack" -- Studies show that people who live with an angry attitude have a much higher risk of heart disease, and even sudden cardiac arrest.

19) "Wash your hands" -- The single best way for you to avoid getting sick is not organic food, vitamins or exercise regimens-- it is to simply wash your hands with soap and water.

20) " Don't eat all the cookies" -- We have long been taught that dietary fats cause heart disease, but actually, the number one culprit of heart disease IS sugar.

21) "Sit up straight" -- A new study shows that slouching puts pressure on your spine, and also squashes your internal organs.

21) "Brush your teeth" -- Studies show that gum disease can contribute to heart disease.

22) "Don't drive distracted" -- Texting while driving makes a crash 23% more likely.

23) "Accentuate the positive" -- Studies show that it takes five positive affirmations to neutralize just one negative comment.

24) "Don't head the ball in soccer, it will scramble your brain" -- New studies show that heading the ball can lead to concussion.

25) "Speak the Truth" -- Above all, tell the Truth. I think everyone can agree that today, we are drowning in Spin and Alternative Facts. We could ALL use some more of the Truth!!

ON Mother's Day, call your mom, visit your mom, hug your mom, thank her for all that she has done for you in your life.

BUT above all, tell her for once, that she is RIGHT!!

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Shepherd's Voice

" Jesus said, 'Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate, but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him and the sheep hear his vice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out . . . he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they do not recognize the voice of strangers.'
So, Jesus said again, 'Amen, amen, I say to you, ' I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. . . A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.' " -[John 10: 1-10].

The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is one of the most beloved in the Bible. A good shepherd protects his flock from the wolf. As John 10:15 says, "[Jesus] lays His life down for His sheep."

And what is "the Wolf", except the Enemy of the Spirit, namely, "licentiousness, idolatry, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like" -[Galatians 5: 20-21].

I would say that in my house, growing up, there were all these serious transgressions against the Spirit. One parent was a drinker. There were factions, one family member aligning with another, to abuse the third. That third was usually ME. . . As two aligned, the third became jealous. There was anger, expressed as physical abuse, constant verbal abuse, greed, blackmail, child neglect and abandonment. In this seriously dysfunctional family, I was the scapegoat -- to lifelong ill effect.

I had a pastor once express shock at how I did not end up becoming just like my family. At that time, I did not have the insight or the words to explain it.

As I have had more time to process and reflect upon all that happened in my childhood, I realize one simple fact. A child does not WANT Hate. A child is attracted to Love and Peace and Hope.

In a very real sense, you could say that I "heard the voice of the Good Shepherd." I sought Love; joy; peace; patience; kindness; generosity; faithfulness; gentleness; self-control as the antidote to the chaos in my home.  These are the Fruits of the Spirit.

I did not even "recognize" the things which my parents were saying and doing. It was as if I were growing up amidst a bunch of strangers! In John 10: 5, Jesus says, "The sheep will not follow a stranger, but will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers."

I KNEW, even as a child, that the abuse, jealousy, violence and hate were wrong.

Today, I still "hear the shepherd's voice." I run from all people or things that oppose the Fruits of the Spirit. It feels like I am still running from the Wolf.

Now I suppose that, in our modern world, hearing "a voice" may seem insane to many.

I remember when I was recently having trouble, for weeks, connecting with a girlfriend. I was in a discount store, I rounded an aisle, AND -- there she was! We both looked heavenward and laughed out loud! Then, we hugged joyfully! We had both been praying about how we could see each other again. That is Love, that is Jesus.

I also remember when I told my son that my friends, two former Lost Boys of Sudan, had been airlifted out of the refugee camps TO the same country (America) and TO the same region of the country, about an hour apart.  These two boys run in opposite directions when attacked, had been separated for years and had no idea how to find each other. My son said to me, "And, I suppose you will say that that is God." I told him, I can always tell that it is God, when I look heavenward and say, "What are the chances of THAT?"

There are more instances than I can count in my life, when events dovetail so perfectly; when I "hear" a nudge towards the Fruits of the Spirit and away from strife; when I realize even in hindsight that God saved me from the power of the Wolf or from transgressions keeping me from His Son.

So often, I think that we modern humans do not recognize the Shepherd's Voice, because we race through our days at an inhuman pace. Then, we dare to ask, 'BUT where IS God?'

Finding the Shepherd's Voice takes reflection, prayer; and it takes those moments when we slow down, look heavenward and say, "God! Jesus. I KNOW that was YOU!"

[Related Postings: "Hearing the Shepherd's Voice", 4/19/16; "The 'Lost Shepherd' ", 4/25/15; "The Good Pastor", 7/14/12; "Where is My Flock?", 4/29/12; "His Flock", 5/16/11].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Road To Emmaus

"That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus' disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. And  it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. He asked them, 'What were you discussing as you walk along?' One of them, Cleopas, said to Him in reply, 'Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?'  They said to Him, 'The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people. But we were hoping that He would be the one to redeem Israel. Some women from our group, however, have astounded us; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that He was alive.' And He said to them, 'Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!' " --[ Luke 24: 13-55].

If you have read all of the Bible, or even most of it, you may well have favorite Scripture passages.

Without a doubt, this story of two disciples encountering Jesus, on the road to Emmaus, is my favorite. There is a strong thread of mystery here, as the unrecognized Jesus preaches the Scriptures, beginning with Moses. What DID Jesus say to them in His preaching here -- aren't you dying to know?

There is also the mystery, for the disciples, of who this man was. Even if the disciples had recognized him at first, they had been expecting a grand leader in Jesus, who would redeem Israel-- in other words,  a political ruler, not a humble carpenter.

The word "Emmaus" means "an urgent longing". How I love that evocation of a desire to rest close to another soul!

Today, when people think of religion, they are just as likely to misunderstand that it is a set of dogma, a rubric of rules that are impossible to follow.  Christianity his in danger of becoming merely a difficult moral code to just argue over -- to the point that the Commandment of Love has been lost. To the point that some Christians will not admit they are Christian for fear of being mislabelled hateful and rejecting.

But Pope Francis has decried the hypocritical judgment of Christians, who act as if they are the "Gotcha Police". In fact, there is nothing more important in being a Christian, than being in relationship with Jesus Christ Himself.

Jesus even called for this relationship with his fellow Christians, while He lived. Jesus was Divine, yet He was nonetheless incredibly human! --

Jesus wept when Lazarus died. -[ John 11:35].

Jesus grew angry at the greed and hypocrisy of the moneychangers in the temple, crying out, "It is written, my house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a 'den of robbers.' "-- [Matthew 21: 12-13].

At the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples, "I have eagerly desired to eat this last meal with you before I suffer." - [Luke 22: 15].  How poignant is Jesus' desire to be with his friends, one last time, in the breaking of the bread.

In John 15:15, Jesus tells His disciples, "No longer do I call you servants, . . . but I have called you friends, because everything I have learned from My Father, I have made known to you.  You did not choose Me, but I chose you."  Here, Jesus is practically pleading to His disciples to be His friend. By extension, Jesus pleads with US to be His friends.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus goes off to pray. Returning, He finds the disciples asleep. "Couldn't you men keep watch with me for one hour?" -[Matthew 26: 40]. The disciples need Jesus, but He needs them just as much!

Before we dismiss Christianity as cold, intolerant, judgmental, rules-bent, unloving and archaic, I urge you to try to meet Jesus where He is -- not as a hazy historical figure; BUT as a real man who lived over 2,000 years ago. And who lives today.

The Road to Emmaus is my favorite Scripture because of the mystery of who Jesus was, because of the poignancy of how misunderstood He was and still is today. And because Emmaus points out how very critical is that "urgent longing" to befriend Jesus Himself.

"No Jesus. No God.
"Know Jesus. Know God."

[Related Posting: "Emmaus", 5/7/11].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.