Wednesday, July 9, 2014

How much is enough?

Once I was at a meeting with a group of church leaders. One woman there was the mother of a teenage daughter. She was lamenting how some of her daughter's friends had gone astray and she was wondering how we could keep our own children from going astray. One of the men spoke up and said, "We just need to pray continuously for them!". This didn't sit well with me. Afterall, how much prayer would be enough? Also, that seems to put it all on us. It also makes God out to be an ogre who witholds his mercy and grace from his children.

The truth is, God never withholds his mercy and grace.  
Luke 11:11-13 - What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent;  or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  
We just need to tap into and get in touch with God's heart. When I pray for my children and others, I try to join my heart with God's heart for them and get in touch with what he already wants to do. I then place them in God's heart and entrust them to him without taking them back. Then I stand back and watch in amazement as God works and makes up for where I am lacking. This also helps make intercession a form of contemplation where I am able to encounter him.

I am also a homeschooling mom. Some days can get a little overwhelming. There is always more that you feel like you could be teaching your children and there is always more housework and laundry that could be done.

The Lord has really impressed on my heart that my main goal everyday needs to be to encounter him and help my children encounter him. Encountering him does not mean we say some prayers and memorize some scripture verses. Encountering him means we seek his face, meditate on his love and place ourselves in his presence. Instead of having my children memorize scripture I teach them the stories of Jesus' life so they get to know him and love him.

As a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom, I do not always get through every subject. My house is often messy and I do not always get through all the laundry, but I can have peace at the end of the day knowing I did the most important thing...I encountered Christ and helped my children encounter him as well.

Friday, July 4, 2014

"Being Religious"

This might be a touchy subject but it comes up quite a bit so I thought I would address it. I know some Protestant, non-denominational, evangelicals who pride themselves on not "being religious". "It's about a relationship not religion" they will say. I know where they are going with this and to an extent, I would agree but I'm not sure they really know what "being religious" means. They are usually too polite to tell me to my face but sometimes they will imply that I am involved with a 'religious institution', as if it were a bad thing and say it is not for them. 

First of all, religion does not have to be and should not be anti-relationship with God. I agree that we are called to have a relationship with God. Through Jesus' death and resurrection, he made a way for that to happen. We are called to "rend our hearts, not our garments." (Joel 2:3).  And we are called to love God with our whole heart, mind and soul. He does not want just lip service, he wants heart service. In effect, he wants his law to be written on our hearts.

I know people that think that striving to be obedient to the Lord is "being religious". I don't get that! Didn't Jesus even say, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."(John 14:15)? I would like to propose that if you are not walking in obedience to the Lord but go to church every week and say that you love him, you are "being religious". If you are lukewarm in your faith, but still go through the motions, you are "being religious". I also had someone tell me once, "Shoulds are bad and if you tell yourself, 'I should do this and I shouldn't do that', then you are being religious." Isn't that statement in itself being legalistic and putting God in a box?

There are also those that say that 'guilt' is a bad thing as if ALL guilt was bad. Paul however in his letter to the Corinthians distinguishes and talks about a guilt that is a good thing. 

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10)

So, it sounds to me like there is a 'Godly guilt' that is a good thing because it can lead to someone leaving sin behind and changing their ways.

Some Protestants also think it is religious that Catholics have a liturgy (a collection of formularies for public worship). I hate to break it to my fellow Christians, but if you belong to a church, you probably have a liturgy. It may be a shallow liturgy, but it is still a liturgy. If you gather, sing a few songs, have a message and a time of prayer every week, that is a liturgy. If you are doing this every week but not inviting God to be in your midst, that is "being religious". If you are going through the motions but your heart is distant, not surrendered to the Lord and your thoughts are elsewhere, that is "being religious". In any given denomination you have those who just go through the motions but are not sold out for the Lord. It is not the religious institution or denomination that is the culprit, but the callousness of our own hearts. I think most of us have been "religious" at one point or another.

Now, I will give "non-religious people" this, "religious people" might be more prevalent in a denomination where there are many born into it instead of choosing it. That is not as much the fault of the church as it is those in charge of teaching and catechizing (which should primarily be the parents). In the Catholic Church there also might be more to ensnare someone who is prone to scrupulosity and someone who has not yet had a personal encounter with the Lord. However, for someone who has had that personal encounter, there is so much richness and beauty that can aid to help one grow deeper in the faith and love of the Lord.  Knowing what is there, why we do what we do and out of love for the Lord, putting our hearts into our Faith is not "being religious".

I grew up in the Catholic Church, and growing up I did not know that we could have a relationship with Christ. I thought he created us, left us on this earth to fend for ourselves and watched from a distance like that 1980's song "From a Distance". However, that couldn't be further from the truth and when I was 19, my spiritual eyes were opened (through the breaking of the bread) at a Mass. I then discovered that God was very much in our midst, walking among us and imparting his grace through the Sacraments of the Church. I also was involved in non-denominational churches for ten years and knew people who went to church every Sunday but were not surrendered to Christ or living for him during the week.

I propose that we as Catholics and Protestants who love the Lord, work together to help those around us encounter Christ. I say we stop judging, labeling and start loving one another, recognizing all we have in common instead of what is different. It is then and only then that Christ will be revealed in and through us! 

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Dealing with Strongholds

Eventually if we live in this world long enough we will experience hurt and disappointment. The hurts we experience in life can create unhealthy patterns and wrong ways of thinking that influences the way we act. In turn we could end up hurting others, push people away or cause unhealthy co-dependent relationships.

Romans 12:2 says, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."

These unhealthy patterns in our life are called strongholds. They need to be pulled up by the root and replaced with truth.

So, the question is, how does this happen and how do we do this? 

It really isn't about anything we do as it is about surrendering to the work that God wants to do in us. As we meditate on God, bask in his presence, and encounter him, we learn to lean back and rest in his perfect love for us. Hebrews 12:29 describes God as an all consuming fire. As we encounter the fire of his love, just like gold when refined in the fire, the dross or impurities in our heart are brought to the surface and need to be skimmed off. 

This can be an uncomfortable process and there can be a temptation to run in the other direction. However, if we will surrender and cooperate with the hand of God, we will be transformed from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).

When hurtful memories from my past come to the surface, I first reflect on whether I have any unforgiveness toward the person who hurt me and whether I need to forgive them. Sometimes this is hard to figure out so I think about how I would feel if I saw them in person. I then think about what I would want to do to that person and what I think they deserve for their actions. I then picture Jesus on the cross, taking on that punishment I think that person deserves. This usually makes me feel pretty sad to think about and makes it easier for me to forgive that person. I then repent for having ill feelings toward the person. I know I have been able to forgive that person when I can then think of them and feel no animosity and even joy at the thought of being in their presence.

Once that stronghold is uprooted through forgiveness it then needs to be replaced with truth otherwise there will still be a vulnerable hole. What I do is try to picture Jesus in that memory and ask him to show me what he was doing or saying in the situation.

I personally like when the Lord brings things into the light in my own life. First of all it means God has his eyes on me and second I get excited because I know that as I allow the Holy Spirit to do a work in me, I will be able to draw closer to him and will better be able to love other people.

Here are some  examples of some strongholds the Lord has brought to the surface recently in my own life:

When I was a kid, I got asked the same question many kids get, "What are you going to be when you grow up?" However, I never knew how to answer that question. Finally one day when I was 11 or 12  I was watching a documentary about a missionary. It was like a light bulb went on in my head and I realized that was what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was so excited and ran to tell my mom. When I told her, she said, "No you don't! They get killed!" I walked away from her feeling crushed and really discouraged, dismissing that dream.

The way this experience created a stronghold in my life and set up an unhealthy pattern is by causing me to value the opinions of others over my own even if they were not true. I  also would have the tendency to base my actions on the opinions of other instead of my own, especially those closest to me. If those closest to me would disagree with a dream and a desire I had then I would dismiss it and let go of it, figuring it wasn't from the Lord after all.

Once I realized this, I invited the Lord into that memory and asked him to show me the truth. I then saw him kneel down to my level, hold my hands and tell me he was proud of me that I was in tuned to him and listening and he did have plans to use me.

Another example had to do with an authority figure. I have had a tendency to be intimidated by authority figures and fearful of being misunderstood by them. The Lord showed me a memory that helped cause this. It had to do with a meeting I had with a priest to help me deal with a certain crisis in my life. Instead he misunderstood and rebuked me. I thought about how I would feel if I saw him and realized I would probably want to give him a dirty look. I then thought about Jesus on the cross and taking on that dirty look. This made me sad and I was able to forgive that priest. I was also able to see that when this crisis was resolved soon after, it was sovereignly by the hand of God.

This process has helped me step into greater freedom and joy. That is ultimately what the Lord wants for his people. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free." - Galatians 5:1. Jesus desires for us to have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10)! It is the interior freedom that comes from the process of allowing Christ to do a work in us that gives us this life full of joy!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Thoughts on Hiddenness

Last week I was watching a documentary put on by the Imagine Sisters giving us a glimpse into the lives of several religious sisters from different orders. One of the sisters talked about working in a thrift store. While there she would ask customers if there was anything she could pray about for them. One woman she encountered and asked this question to said no because she was an athiest. This caused great sadness with the sister. She realized that if the woman didn't believe in God then the woman had no hope. She then heard God's still small voice telling her to meet the woman where she was at. The sister remembered that when the woman first came into the thrift store she saw a bird house she really liked but didn't have enough money for it. The sister then went over to the bird house and gave it to the woman as a gesture of God's love for her.

How often does God meet us where we are at too?! He could Lord his authority over us, reveal his glory and demand submission but he doesn't.  He knows all our flaws and imperfections and ways we are not able to receive his love but he is so patient and only brings things up when he knows we are ready. He remains hidden until our hearts are open to receive.

There are times we may beg for him to speak and reveal himself to us regarding a certain situation. We do not always understand when we do not receive an answer right away. Oftentimes it is out of his great mercy if we do not hear from him right away or see what he is doing because he knows we are not ready to receive and obey. If we hear from him and we don't act on it we will be held more accountable. He never witholds from us for his own benefit but out of mercy and compassion for us. "Blessed are those who have not seen and still believe!" - John 20:29

Maybe the reason Jesus hides himself under the appearance of bread and wine in the Eucharist is so more people will receive him. If our eyes were truly open to the reality of the magnitude of his presence in the Eucharist, would we run in the other direction and proclaim that we are not worthy or would we still be able to humbly receive his love in that way and be willing to approach his throne of grace? This way he is able to work his grace in hidden and mysterious ways.

The Lord also often hides us, his people. There are some reading this that may feel unnoticed and almost hidden to the world. There are things you desire to do but almost feel invisible at times. That is because you are like a lucky penny that someone finds on the street and puts in their pocket but went unnoticed by many other people before. Like the person that notices a lucky penny, the Lord notices you and hides you in the palm of his hand. He desires to do a work in you and transform you into his image. He reveals himself to you in secret and desires you to grow in intimacy with him.. You may feel hidden and ordinary to the world but the Lord calls you his beloved. The only thing you are required to do during this process is surrender and receive his love. Often times we can grow impatient and question why it is taking him so long and why is he doing it this way?!

 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'" - Romans 9:20.

Let's not forget that he came to us as a little baby and remained hidden for 30 years. He does not have a problem with hiddenness if it will help us and bring God more glory in the end. So, let us surrender to the process, be content with hiddenness and at the proper time, the Lord will pull us out and display his glory through us.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Upping the Ante

I believe God's greatest plan for us is to perfect us in love. We are called to love God and love others with Christlike sacrifice and abandon. In order to get to this place we need to be able to abide in God's love (John 15:1-9). The way we abide in God's love is through contemplation which should be the ultimate goal of all prayer. Contemplation is a state of beholding God and union with him. Through contemplation we encounter God. It is ultimately a gift but we can place ourselves in a state that is best able to receive this gift and then it is ultimately a work that God does in us as we surrender to him more completely. As we behold Christ frequently we come to know just how dependent we are on him. We recognize our spiritual poverty. Like St. Catherine of Sienna's revelation, we become aware that we are the ones who are not and  God is the one who is. As we surrender to this knowledge, he strips away the layers that keep us at arms length from him. He often uses circumstances in our life to open our eyes to our own weakness and dependence on him. It should be our goal to walk in a state of contemplative prayer, leaning back in Christ in everything we do; learning to live and move and have our being in Christ (Acts 17:28), making the prayer of St. Patrick a reality.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit, Christ when I stand, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

How do we know when we have come to this place? We will know when even in the midst of the storms of life, we have a peace and calm in our soul, trusting in God with our whole being in reckless abandon. We may even think we have arrived at this place; after all we have overcome some incredible obstacles, keeping our eyes fixed on Christ, surrendering and trusting in him through the hardships in life. Then it seems the ante is raised, our faith is shaken or the circumstances in our life once again causes us to be distracted. Where it was becoming easy to lean back in Christ, contemplating on him all day long, making our life a prayer, suddenly a distraction is thrown into the mix and we come to an even deeper understanding of our reliance on him and that we can do nothing apart from him. Once again we are called to surrender, trust, and lean back in Christ, letting him more fully take the reins.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Most Important Thing...

Recently I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine. She is a Protestant and she has been burned by most of the churches she has been involved with. She and her husband have encountered numerous people in the Church that have been anything but loving; people that have been caught up in a power trip and their own agendas. Currently they are not involved in any church and she was lamenting to me that they do not know where to go anymore. I encouraged her to seek the truth and seek intimacy with Jesus. I told her the problem with many of the churches she has belonged to is they were starting in the wrong place. They were seeking the things of God instead of God himself. They were also seeking community for community's sake instead of first seeking intimacy with Jesus, his presence, the Kingdom of God. Intimacy with Jesus leads to love and is the right foundation to build a house on. A house built on any other foundation will crumble and fall (Matthew 7:24-27) which is what literally happened to a couple of the churches Tom and I were involved with in the past. I then had an epiphany based on the Annunciation of what led Tom and I to leave the Catholic Church 15 years ago. There were things on our heart we believed to be from God that we desired to do. Going off of what we knew in the natural, we didn't see how those desires could be fulfilled within the framework of the Catholic Church.

When  the angel Gabriel asked Mary to bear the Son of God in her womb, she asked, "How can this be since I have no relations with a man?" She didn't understand how it would come about, but she believed that nothing was impossible with God (Luke 1:24-47). Tom and I, however, had trouble believing how the desires of our heart would be fulfilled as Catholics so we went outside the Church to try and find community and operate in our gifts. The churches that we got involved with were also seeking these things first and in the end they crumbled and fell. When Jesus is the center and focus then community naturally flows out of that and it becomes strong and healthy and thrives.

I then told my friend that the reason we became Catholic again was because we recognized it to be true and believed Jesus was truly present; body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. I told her there are only two things you can believe regarding the Eucharist; either it really is the Body of Christ or Catholics are idolaters and we worship bread. However, if it really is the Body of Christ then that is something to seriously consider.

My friend asked me if they would encounter mean people in the Catholic Church. I told her they probably would because there are Catholics that need to be evangelized and who are in need of transformation. Also wherever there are people, there is going to be sin. The difference is that there is an Apostolic covenant there and even if there is sin, Jesus is still present in the Eucharist and grace is imparted through the other sacraments. From my experience, when there is major sin among people and especially the leadership in Protestant churches, it's as if God's presence leaves the building.

A Protestant speaker and prophetic person that I respect a great deal is Graham Cooke. One thing he talks about is seeking a habitation of God instead of just a visitation. There are some Protestant churches that have a certain level of habitation and the presence of God is very tangible from the moment you walk in the building. That occurs when those churches are centered on intimacy with Jesus, prayer and a true gospel message centered on the cross of Christ. Unfortunately my friend is discovering that that kind of church is hard to find. Every Catholic Church however has that habitation and has for over 2000 years. The gates of hell shall not prevail against her (Matthew 16:18)! The Catholic Church is not perfect and often there could be better preaching but the good thing is it isn't all about the priest. I believe there is no higher form of worship than the Catholic Mass and the greatest level of intimacy we can experience with the Lord here on earth comes from being able to receive him in the Eucharist.

I still do not have a clear vision of how the desires of my heart and words the Lord has given me are going to be fullfilled within the walls of the Catholic Church but I am choosing to wait and trust because the most important thing is, this is where I find Jesus and intimacy with him. Supernatural intimacy with Jesus is the most important thing. Everything else is secondary.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Tiny Bubbles - A Life Transformed

One of my favorite bible verses is 2 Corinthians 3:18 - And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Anyone who thinks that walking with the Lord and the spiritual life is boring probably isn't serving the same God I serve or perhaps they are just not in need of as much transformation as I am. With the Lord there is never a dull moment especially as we press into the light. The more transformation a person needs, the more exciting it can be.

Now I will admit that as we press into God, we can feel a little schizophrenic at times even if we are not. As we press in, insecurities, fears, anger, depression and anxiety can rise to the surface of our heart. Darkness can seem to consume us and make us want to run in the other direction and escape to idols. When we are in that dark place, it can feel like we are being lowered into a dark well. God can seem very distant but in actuality, he is holding us so close we can not see him. If we will persevere during those times and join our sufferings to Christ, remembering that there is nothing negative we can experience that he didn't experience, especially on the cross because he took on our sin, we will be transformed from glory to glory into the Lord's image.

We can also find consolation in the fact that we are not alone. Besides the Lord experiencing this kind of darkness, so did many of the Saints. St, John of the Cross has a whole book about the 'Dark Night of the Soul'. Mother Theresa experienced it for forty years. Can you imagine the glory she is experiencing now?!

The analogy most often used to describe this process and one that is found in the bible is of gold being refined in the fire which is an excellent analogy. When gold encounters fire it causes the dross or scum to surface and then it needs to be skimmed off. In the same way as we encounter the fire of God's love (Hebrews 12:29), the impurities in our own heart will surface and need to be skimmed off. Just like the gold, as we surrender to God's love and allow him to do this work in us, we will shine brighter and be even more beautiful than before, giving greater glory to God.

Another analogy that can be used to describe this process is a bottle with a little bit of soap at the bottom. You may not even notice that there is soap in the bottom of the bottle until you pour water into it. This causes bubbles to form and rise to the surface. The only thing that will cause the bubbles to rise and come out is to continue to pour water into the bottle. Eventually the water will run clear. As we allow the water of the Holy Spirit to pour into us, imperfections will rise to the surface. As we persevere and continue to allow the water in, the imperfections will leave and we will experience more of God's presence and greater clarity in our life.

Now, it is almost not natural to put oneself in a place to experience this kind of discomfort. That is why if we are trying to walk in the light of Christ, the world will hate us. My four year old made a pretty profound statement recently as she said, "The soldiers killed Jesus because they didn't like light and Jesus is the light of the world." In John 15:18, Jesus says, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first." There are many who are not going to "get" us. That's okay. As we give our whole selves over to Christ whole heartily, leaving the World behind, the glory we will encounter and become will far surpass anything the world could have offered (Matthew 19:29).

Hebrews 12:1-3 - Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.