Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Get Ready for Rain!

It is easy to look at the state of the world and get discouraged and distracted. It would seem as if the devil is triumphing. It is often easier to lose faith and just focus on circumstances. However, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more - Romans 5:12. I believe God would have us look beyond the evil forces at work around us and focus on him, his beauty, grace and goodness.


Imagine it is a beautiful, clear day. The sun is shining, there is a soft, cool breeze and you are canoeing along a beautiful river. You are taking in the beauty of God's creation and through this experience, you encounter him. This encounter brings you much joy. Then out of the corner of your eye you start to notice an alligator on the bank. Then you notice a couple more in the water. Instead of losing peace and getting distracted, you decide to continue to focus on God's beautiful creation and abide in joy. Ultimately that is what God is asking us to do in our everyday life and in this hour. Even though the storms of life rage, the waves are coming up over the boat and the world seems to be overrun by evil, we are called to abide and even rest in him.

This past Sunday's Gospel reading was from John 15 about the vine and the branches. Jesus is the vine and we are called to be branches that bear fruit. The fruit we bear is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness and self-control (Galatians 5:22). We bear this fruit when we stay connected to and focus on Jesus.

We are currently in a season of preparation. God is preparing his people for the times that are coming. He wants us to be able to stand even in the midst of adversity. He is preparing us to help bring in a harvest of souls when chaos ensues upon the earth. People are going to be looking for answers and we need to be able to give a reason for the hope that is within us - 1 Peter 3:15.

Knowing the signs of the times
In 1998, while in prayer, I saw an image of Paddington Bear. He had his little raincoat, rain hat, and rain boots on and I felt like the Lord said, "Get ready for rain!" This was his way of telling me that he had plans to pour out his Holy Spirit in an unprecedented way! I do not think it is a coincidence that a new Paddington Bear movie was released the beginning of this year. I believe it is going to happen soon!

Currently we are in a season where Jesus is calling us to himself and leading all his "sheep" through the sheep gate. 
"But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice." - John 10:2-4
Jesus entered through the gate and is holding the gate open for his people to go through. Once this process is complete, he will walk in front and there will be a lot more clarity and Kingdom manifestations. It will be a lot easier to know what he is doing and to hear his voice. Miracles will be more prevalent!

Here is another analogy to describe the season we are currently in:  Imagine you are standing in ankle deep water. The sun is behind you, reflecting on the water. You see something shiny on the bottom but because the sun is behind you, you can not tell what it is, due to the reflection and sun rays bouncing off the water.

These are exciting times! We are about to enter a season where there is going to be a lot more clarity because the Son will be out in front so to speak. What we will see, others in the past have longed to see! Now is the time to get ready!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

What Purgatory Might Be Like


Last night a group of us that meets at our church was discussing Purgatory. The Catholic Church teaches that this is a state of being purified after death for those who are already saved, before entering heaven. This got me thinking about what it might be like. People always talk about the pain and suffering that people experience in Purgatory. I think that pain is due to the fact that they are closer to God than they were here on earth. Our God is an all consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). He purifies us with the fire of his love that burns away the impurities in our heart. 

Here on earth we can have the tendency to try and "hide" from God like Adam did in the garden. When impurities (fear, sinful thoughts and tendencies, wounds, shame, unforgiveness, and disturbing memories) come to the forefront of our mind and heart, we often have the natural inclination to stuff it down and escape. We drown out those thoughts and feelings by using our phones, turning on the television, sitting at the computer, busyness, etc.

I believe the pain of Purgatory is that we no longer have those idols to escape to. We are closer to God, his eyes are on us, our hearts are laid bare, we have nowhere to run, and we must receive his purifying love! The amount of time it takes for this to happen in the afterlife depends on how much we surrendered to this process and his love here on earth. He desires to perfect us in his love and transform us into his image!

One way I view Purgatory is based on an experience I had several years ago. I saw an image of the Lord's eyes.  They were periwinkle blue and see through like glass. They were beautiful beyond description and when he looked at me they seemed to pierce right through me and my heart was laid bare. I asked him how to back up my experience with scripture because the only scripture I knew of that described his eyes was from Revelation 1:14 - "His eyes were like blazing fire." He lovingly asked, "Can't you just take things at face value?" but then he answered my question and asked, "What is the hottest part of the flame?" I then realized that the hottest part of the flame was the bottom of the flame which is periwinkle blue. 

The next several weeks proved rather challenging and were bittersweet as memories from my past started coming to the surface and the Lord came into those memories with his purifying work. In much the same way as gold is purified in the fire, the dross in my heart came to the surface and needed to be skimmed off. This is not necessarily a fun process but necessary to become more like Jesus and become brighter so his glory can shine through us. 

I hope that I can get to the point where I am able to fully surrender to this process here on earth and some day people will be able to look in my eyes and see the love of Christ looking back at them!

Hebrews 4:12 - "Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account."


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Few Random Thoughts


The Grace of the Resurrection

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Easter and had a blessed Lent! One year I was feeling sad at Easter because I felt like I could have done a better job taking advantage of the grace available during
Lent. The Lord encouraged me however and told me, "There is even more grace available with the Resurrection!" So, if you are one of those persons who could have taken advantage of more of grace during Lent, you have another chance during this Easter season!

Divine Mercy Sunday
I had an interesting thing happen this past Sunday. Right after Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday, we stopped at our local grocery store to pick up some lunch food. I was at the deli counter and right in front of me a fight almost broke out. There was a man in line but he did not get a number. Another man came along, got a number and right after, his number was called. Well the guy that did not get a number was ticked because he was there first. He started calling the other man, who by the way was elderly, all kinds of names and told him he deserved a punch in the face and he even aggressively rubbed up against him. I was very impressed at how the elderly man handled himself. He just kind of smiled at the other man and didn't try defend himself or fight back. Meanwhile, I was right in back of them with tears welling up in my eyes. I had just left Mass, was very moved when I received Jesus in the Eucharist and then encountered this unsettling scene. That was just a small glimpse into the sins people commit everyday. Further proof that the mercy of God is a bottomless ocean since he sees everything and doesn't decide to annihilate us all!


Faith Alone
I have picked up on the fact that there seems to be an overwhelming presumption among many Protestants that Catholics think they are saved by their works. Some of these Protestants feel that it is their duty to clarify to Catholics that "It is by grace through faith alone that we are saved and is a free gift!", as they quote Ephesians 2:8.  First of all, I do not see the word "alone" when I read that passage. Secondly, I find this very ironic because often times these same Protestants believe that children are not "saved" and can not be baptized until they can vocally profess faith in Christ. If it is by grace and a free gift, then wouldn't it make sense to allow even a baby who can not do anything to have it too?! Instead that child has to do something, like say, walk down an aisle as they respond to an altar call to get it? Also, how do these same Protestants reconcile passages like James 2 that talks about faith without works is dead and Acts 16 that says your whole household will be saved? And for those of the "once saved, always saved" camp, how do they interpret Philippians 2 that says we need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling? 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Behind the Name, Beautiful Thorns

Years ago I went through a severe trial and very intense spiritual warfare. After that happened, I cried out to the Lord and told him, "I just want a normal, leisurely life"! Well, he heard my prayer and he left me alone for the next 6 years. Needless to say, I was miserable! There were no spiritual consolations; I did not sense or hear from the Lord at all during that time. The worst part about it though was my passion towards him was gone! I had no desire to pray or to serve him. I felt like Jesus could have appeared in all his glory right in front of me and I would not have been moved. It was a very scary place to be and even made me question my salvation.


At first I did not recognize that this was an answer to my prayer. When I finally realized it, I repented for praying that way and began pressing in to have God's presence again in my life.  I cried out to the Lord and asked for passion to return. I also asked for the intercession of St. Raphael (an Archangel found in the book of Tobit, associated with bringing God's healing). Well, to put it mildly, he heard and answered my prayer. I received a great spiritual and emotional healing. It was more like St. Raphael took a burning coal from the throne room of God and touched my heart with it and it caused me to bawl like a baby for hours.


Since that happened, I have been very careful not to go back to that place of desolation and lack of passion for the Lord. I even told the Lord never to let me go back to that place again and to do whatever it takes to keep me from it. You see, I am human and when given the choice between comfort and carrying my cross, I usually choose comfort. I flinch at the idea of fasting and doing penance. The Lord knows that my flesh is weak so he sometimes gives me what I call "thorns". He lovingly hands me thorns from his crown, an opportunity to share in his sufferings. He does this so I can come up higher and deepen my relationship with him.

I have not always received these thorns well and out of fear and false humility would tell Jesus in my heart, "Oh, I could never handle even a fraction of what you went through!". I have learned over time however that he knows best and I can trust him. He knows the best and quickest way to transform me into his image and draw me closer to him. When everything is going well, I am less likely to cling to him and recognize my need for him.

When the thorns or trials of life come and when I am not feeling well physically, the temptation is still there to get discouraged and depressed but I am learning to lean back in him and let him do a work in me. When I do cling to him and he pulls me through it, I usually come to a place of greater love for the Lord and others and am able to receive greater revelation. Hence the name Beautiful Thorns!
2 Corinthians 4:17 -For our present troubles are small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Lenten Deep Cleaning


Once we had a vacuum cleaner that would only suck up a certain amount of dirt. For some reason the dirt was not going into the canister and was only going through the hose. We kept cleaning the dirt out of the hose and it kept getting clogged up. We knew there must be a blockage somewhere that was hard to get to but we didn't have the time or energy to take the whole vacuum apart to discover where the blockage was. Finally it got rather old; vacuuming a little, cleaning out the hose, vacuuming a little, cleaning out the hose. So, we finally got out the screw driver and took apart a whole section of the vacuum. It was then that we discovered that there was a toy stuck in a very narrow section at the beginning of the hose right by the canister and it was preventing dirt from getting through. The air flow was blocked.

Often in our own lives, we keep dealing with the same sins over and over again. We even confess these sins but get discouraged when we can not seem to overcome them. Even so, we recoil at the thought of actually being still and seriously seeking God in order to discover what is in our own heart that is blocking the flow of his Spirit and the root cause of our sin. However when we finally do decide to deal with the root cause of our sin, amazingly, we feel so much better and experience a greater level of freedom in our lives. We can also once again experience God's loving presence.

Lent presents itself with a great opportunity for self-examination. An opportunity to slow down, take a step back, be still and reflect on our lives in light of the cross. If we are truly honest with ourselves, we will realize that when God seems distant, it is often because we would rather conform him to our image and likeness instead of us being conformed to his image and likeness. Being conformed to God's image and likeness requires a little effort on our part. It requires us to fast and do penance from those things that we turn to instead of God. It requires us to be willing to take a deeper look at the dirt in our own hearts. We naturally want to flinch at the idea of fasting and doing penance. Our flesh cries out and we want to run in the other direction and drown out God's voice. If we persevere however and are willing to go deep into the desert of our lives, it is there that we will find Jesus and a greater level of freedom as we allow him to get to the root of our sins instead of us just dealing with the symptoms.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

What is Prayer?


I don't know if anyone else suffers from this problem, but I tend to forget things easily. I am also not a very organized person and can be scatter-brained so if I don't write things down, I easily forget. One spiritual thing I realized I forgot about recently was "The Jesus Prayer". I used to do a version of this quite often but as life got busy, I got away from it. This Lent, the Lord reminded me of it. By his grace, I picked it up again, repeating this prayer often throughout the day. 

One version I say is "Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner."  I also like to repeat the verse from Revelations 4:1-8 "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty  who was and is and is to come!" Do you know what began to happen? As I began saying these prayers, I found myself getting a lot less agitated and becoming more patient, especially with my kids. You see...it is not necessarily about the words and how many times they are spoken. It is about being mindful of God and becoming aware of his presence; being aware that we are in him and he is in us and walking in the knowledge of that. It is about leaning back in Christ and receiving his grace and strength; uniting ourselves with him. Ultimately, that is what prayer is. It is not about how many words we say. Scripture even says, "Do not babble like the pagans." (Matthew 6:7). It is about uniting ourselves with Christ and abiding in him. Repetitious prayers like "The Jesus Prayer" and the rosary are wonderful tools that can help us do that.   




Another powerful form of prayer that unites us with Christ is adoration. When we adore Christ, we stand in awe of his greatness. This is a way to honor and worship him. A beautiful form of adoration is Eucharistic Adoration. This is when the Eucharist (which Catholics believe to be fully Jesus) is exposed on the altar. This makes it easy to adore him, because even if he is hidden under the appearance of bread, his presence is usually very tangible. Since my church only has Eucharistic adoration once a month, I have found other ways to spend time in adoration. I personally like to gaze at a picture of Jesus, like an artist's rendition from the Shroud of Turin. This has proved to be very fruitful in my own prayer life. In fact, I believe the Lord once told me that he left this image for us as a gift and he wants his face to be imprinted on our hearts.



I also want to talk about intercessory prayer because I think it is often misunderstood. I know I have talked about this before and I don't want to sound like a broken record but it is something I feel passionate about and want others to understand. Intercession is about us acknowledging God's goodness and mercy. It is about us being aware of what he already wants to do and then participating with him. Through intercession we should be joining our hearts to his heart  for the person or situation that needs prayer. What intercession should not become is us begging God to act as if he is an ogre withholding good things from his children. I think he even finds this insulting and one of the reasons we don't always see our prayers being answered. He is pleased when his children trust him and believe in his goodness. 



There are many different types of prayer and ways to pray, but the true goal of all prayer should be to encounter God and to become more united with him through Christ! True prayer is transformative! True, faith-filled prayer that unites us with Christ causes heaven and earth to collide and we begin to experience God's Kingdom in the here and now!   


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Bread That Does Not Satisfy

This Wednesday, February 18th, is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. I happen to love Lent! Lent is a time when we can take stock and reflect on the things in our life that we may be turning to and trying to find satisfaction and fulfillment in other than God. It is a time to do penance and fast from these things.

Often without even realizing it, we turn to "bread" that does not satisfy.  "Bread" that the world offers us. "Bread" that leaves us longing and still hungry. Our God is so good and kind that sometimes he allows us to have this worldly "bread" so we can get it out of our system and realize that we do not really want this "bread" and the only bread we really want is HIM. Jesus is the true bread that came down from heaven and the only bread that can truly satisfy the longing in our heart!
Isaiah 55:2 - Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?
John 6:35 - [Jesus said] I am the bread of life. he who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.  
During Lent there is abundant grace available for us to come up higher and grow closer to God. It is a much quicker way to fast and be purged from earthly desires and attachments than to give into them and find out the hard way that they are not going to satisfy. Lent gives us this opportunity.
Colossians 3:1 - So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
Let us take advantage of this Lenten season, being willing to be purged from worldly attachments so we can come up higher and be transformed into his glory!