Sunday, November 22, 2015

King of Hearts

Happy Solemnity of Christ the King! I hope you are able to take advantage of the abundant grace available through this Solemnity! One of the graces offered is to help us experience greater interior freedom. We can do this as we more fully surrender our hearts to Jesus and allow Him to reign there. He desires to fully dwell and make a home in our heart!

Last Friday the Gospel reading was about Jesus zealously cleansing the temple. This is what Jesus desires to do to our souls. We are the temples of His Holy Spirit! He jealously wants to drive out anything that is hindering us from experiencing freedom in Him and His full habitation!

I don't know if anyone else struggles with this, but some days I struggle with irritability. I can easily get annoyed with my own children and other people around me. Don't worry, it's probably not you ;). 

The meditation from Friday's Magnificat was a real gold nugget for me and I've been chewing on it since. It is from Father Simon Tugwell, O.P. Here is a shortened version of it in case anyone else needs greater freedom in this area as well:
Faith, when actualized, leads us to fear God, which leads us to make some attempt to introduce order into our lives. And it is this attempt which shows us what is wrong with us. And it is here that we need to be attentive. The demons will, for instance, try to get us into a frame of mind in which we think that we are entitled to be annoyed at somebody. If we succumb to this, then we shall devote our attention to the thought of the person with whom we are annoyed. What the ascetic needs to do is to focus his attention instead on the fact that he is annoyed. Instead of seeing some other human being angrily, he tries to see his own anger. He can then begin to fight against it. And at first he has to use any device for restraining anger that he can think of.
But more essentially we need to reclaim anger for its proper purpose. It is always a waste of good anger to get annoyed with other human beings. Instead we should turn our anger precisely against our thoughts and against the demons who deploy them. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Devil Doesn't Exist

At least that is what the devil would like you to believe!

I didn't always believe in a spiritual realm myself.

Back in October of 1988, when I was 19 years old, my world was turned upside down. Before that I thought I had a good understanding of the way the world worked and I didn't think God was part of it. 

When I was faced with the reality of God's existence, my whole worldview changed. I came to realize there was a spiritual realm. There were also angels and demons.

Many people, even Christians would like to ignore the reality of demons but they are real and we should be aware of them and their tactics. The bible says the devil prowls about the world, looking for someone to devour - 1 Peter 5:8; and yet many post-modern Christians like to believe and teach that hell doesn't really exist.

Despite the lack of belief in the devil, he seems to be very active in the world today.There appears to be a lot of spiritual warfare going on. There are wars, factions, terrorism, abortion, human trafficking, an overall breakdown of morals in society and division even among Christians. 

Since choosing to follow Christ, twenty-seven years ago, I've had both angelic and demonic encounters. Some of the demonic encounters were due to my own stupidity.

When I was a new, young adult Christian, my friend and I, looking for something to do on a Saturday night parked our car next to a teen debauchery party and we sat in the car and prayed for them and tried to take authority over the demons that were influencing them. Well, I'm not sure that is something God was calling us to do and therefore we placed ourselves outside His protection. In that situation we became very aware of the spiritual realm as demons were flying at us and attacking us.

An angelic encounter I once had was actually through a dream but yet I have no doubt that it was real. Leading up to the dream, the Lord kept telling me I was going to have a visitation. I wasn't sure what kind of visitation He meant or when to expect it but one night I had a powerful dream that was very real. In the dream I was in a dark room, wading around in murky water along with many other people. In the distance, I started to hear singing. It sounded so beautiful but I had to strain to hear it. The song started to become louder and louder. The words of the song were, "Follow God and walk in the light." Then in the middle of the room, an angel appeared on a rock. She was the one singing this song. It was the most beautiful song I had ever heard! The angel then lifted up her wings and as she did, the whole room was filled with light. She was so big and so beautiful! She then disappeared. After she was gone, I stood on the rock and said to everyone, "Did you hear the angel?! We need to repent and walk in the light!"

Back in 1998 when we still lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan, we lived in a historic, 2 story home. There was a door at the bottom of the stairs. One morning, around 6 am, I woke up before everyone else and decided to go downstairs and pray. I closed the door leading to the stairs and sat on the couch and prayed. While praying, I felt like the Lord asked me if I would like to be like a fly on the wall and see the schemes of the enemy. I was a little nervous but said, yes. As I was continuing to pray, there appeared to be what sounded like a rubber ball bouncing down the stairs and hitting the door. This kept happening and I was getting angry, assuming it was one of my kids. I fought through the distraction and continued to pray. I then started having visions of people fighting and being divided. When I was done praying, I opened the door and nothing was there. The kids were still sleeping. There was also no ball. I was a little freaked out but what I gathered from that experience is there are three main schemes of the enemy:

  • Cause distractions - he likes to distract us from God and our main goal in life.
  • Cause anger - he loves when we become angry with each other.
  • Cause division - he loves to create division. He especially loves when Christians disagree and argue among one other.
Since the Lord showed me that, I have become very aware of how the enemy tries to do this in my own life and the many times I fall prey to these things. We are called to love and to love well. Anything short of this goes against who we were created to be.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner!

Ultimately, this type of prayer of humility is how to wear the armor of God, fight and overcome the enemy that very much DOES exist!

Ephesians 6:10-18 - Finally, my brothers, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your waist girded with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, having your feel fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace, and above all, taking the shield of faith, with which you will be able to extinguish all the fiery arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit always with all kinds of prayer and supplication. To that end be alert with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Kingdom of God is Within

If you have been following my blog, you know that I haven't been blogging as often as usual lately. To be honest, Tom (my husband) and I have been going through a tough time and have been trying to figure some things out. 

For years now, we have been trying to figure out our ministry niche and what God's will is for us. Tom has a degree in Theology but for the last seventeen years he has been working in insurance at a company in Clearwater. Ten of those years we have lived in Lakeland and he has been commuting to and from work. That means for three to four hours he is in the car everyday. He usually leaves the house around 7am and arrives home between 7 and 8 pm.

It would be one thing if it was a job he loved but it is not his passion to say the least. It also is a very stressful and demanding job with unrealistic expectations that cannot humanly be met unless he lived at his job 24/7. It sucks the life out of him! By the time he gets home after a stressful day and 2 hours in the car in rush hour traffic, he is SPENT! Also since he doesn't usually arrive home till close to 8pm and around the time the kids are also getting ready for bed, the most stressful time of the day, this has not been good for his relationship with our children. It also does not allow him the time to be involved in much ministry at the church. We are thankful that it pays the bills but feel there must be more to life. 

We have been crying out to the Lord about it for some time. I know the Lord has used it to build character and whatnot, but I would love to see Tom find a job where he could use his gifts and talents and a job that is rewarding and he enjoys going to. A job that doesn't suck the life out of him and take up all of his time.

Several months ago Tom came across a ministry position that made his heart race. It was a national, young adult ministry position that would have availed him the opportunity to also work from home. This sounded like a dream job and made us both excited. He applied for it and even was interviewed for the position. He ended up being one of the five final candidates. We were hopeful! For six weeks we prayed together every night and even prayed a couple novenas. Well, after six weeks of waiting, we found out he didn't get it. It was very disappointing to say the least even though we knew that if he didn't get it, then it wasn't God's will. If it wasn't God's will and his best for us then we wouldn't want it anyway, but it was still disappointing. 

So, now we are in a place again of seeking and waiting. We are continuing to pray together most evenings, which has been very uplifting and faith-building. The Lord showed me that through us praying together, he is able to build infrastructure so we can eventually fly spiritually. Kind of like the bones in a bird's wings. Praying together has been helping build those bones.

If both Tom and I search our hearts, what we ultimately want to see is God's Kingdom manifest in our lives and the lives of others. God's Kingdom is His presence, manifestations of the Holy Spirit, lives changed and transformed, and also miracles. I think for us to get to the place where we see this kind of Kingdom manifestation, we need to continue to surrender to the Lord's transforming work in our own lives. We have been doing this for a long time so we are probably closer but there is probably still more the Lord wants to do before releasing us.

Needing some encouragement, Tom and I were praying together recently and the Lord showed me a coconut. In the middle of the coconut is the rich, nutrient filled coconut milk. First however, you need to break through the thick, outer shell. In this analogy, the coconut milk represents the Kingdom of God. The hard outer shell represents unbelief, fear and doubt, to name a few. I share this because I don't think Tom and I are the only ones that can use more faith and may struggle with unbelief at times.

Last Thursday's Gospel reading was from Luke 7, which says,The reign of God is not “out there” but is already among us.

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” 

The Kingdom of God is within us. If we are believers, we have the Holy Spirit. If we want to walk in the fullness of that knowledge and see the Kingdom manifest around us, first it needs to burst forth within us We need to allow the Lord to break through the walls of unbelief, fear and doubt that have accumulated through trials and giving into worldly mindsets. We need to have the faith of little children again, knowing that we serve a good and loving Father that withholds nothing from His children (Luke 11:11)! It is then that others around us will also be able to taste and see that the Lord is good!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Now is the Time to Cultivate Your Heart!

There are a lot of people right now going through tough times. Maybe you are one of them and it seems that there is one trial in your life after another and you will never catch a break. Maybe it feels like you are in a washing machine that is constantly on spin cycle and you are being stretched and wrung out to the max. Be encouraged that the Lord has a plan and is in control! What you are going through is not in vain! He is trying to get you to the point where you can stand and have faith even in the midst of adversity.

I believe the Lord has shown me there are dark times coming.The good news is however that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more! During such times, the Lord plans to pour out his Holy Spirit in an unprecedented way. Now is the time for his people to cultivate their heart so they can receive as much of the fire of God's love as they can possibly handle. His love and the power of his Spirit is what is going to sustain and propel people forward when darkness blankets the earth. It is his love and the power of His Spirit that will help us to stand and share the Gospel. You were born for such a time as this!

How do we cultivate our heart? Through prayer, fasting, penance and service to one another. We are called to be in the world but not of it. Worldly attachments can distract us from intimacy with the Lord and our destiny. The more we are able to let go attachments and surrender, the more the Lord will be able to pour His love into our hearts and transform us into His image. Only then will we be able to become more authentically who we were meant to be and fulfill our destinies!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Be Happy! Don't Sit In the Seat Of Scoffers!

It has been a little while since I have blogged. I have been doing a lot of ministry lately and felt the need to retreat to make sure I am remaining centered in Christ. I think that is always a good thing for us to do. There should be an ebb and flow in the spiritual life; time spent alone with the Lord in silence and times of being active in service to others. There needs to be a balance between being and doing, otherwise one risks the temptation of becoming puffed up, prideful and losing one's way themselves.

In retreating, one Psalm from scripture I have felt led to reflect on is Psalm 1. I have always been a little baffled by Psalm 1. It seemed a little Pharisaical to me and like putting oneself up on a pedestal. It says we shouldn't sit in the seat of scoffers but Jesus sat with sinners. I knew I must not have the right understanding if I saw it that way. After all, God's Word is true so I began to seek understanding. 

After much reflection and reading it daily, through the  Holy Spirit's help, I think I am understanding it better. 

Psalm 1:1-3 says, 
Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
I believe there is a difference between someone who is wicked and a scoffer and someone who is struggling with sin. The definition of a scoffer is someone who mocks, jeers, doubts and speaks derisively which means to express contempt and ridicule. The definition of wicked is - immoral, iniquitous, corrupt, vile, nasty, and capable of harming someone. I have witnessed this with non-believers and ironically people who call themselves Christian. The "Christian" scoffers can be the worst scoffers of all! They go to church every Sunday but they won't let go of their pride and let Christ's love into their heart. They often don't believe in prayer or that God is alive and still works miracles today. They also scoff at the suggestion of it and when they hear stories of God's intervention in the lives of his people they roll their eyes and sneer (2 Timothy 3:5).

The most prevalent scoffing I have encountered among Christians and non-Christians has been in regards to Tom and I being open to life in our marriage and also being pro-life. This seems to be pretty typical in our society today as people can not see beyond the temporal and material world.

Psalm 1 says we will be happy if we do not follow the advice of the wicked, take the same path of sinners, or even sit in the seat of scoffers. The first two suggestions are self explanatory even though it is not always easy to reject the advice of the world and the same path that everyone else is taking. I have always wondered however what it means to sit in the seat of scoffers. I believe one way we do this is by getting into heated discussions with scoffers. You often see this being done on social media. Occasionally it may be necessary to speak the truth in these situations for the sake of others who may be listening and observing, but for the most part, it is useless to get into debates with these people because they are not interested in the truth. Their hearts are prideful and they are not open to any other opinion other than their own. They are also not open to change. They just want to mock, jeer, show contempt and sow doubt and discord. Taking the time to get into a debate with such persons will only distract, sow division and rob us of joy and peace. Also, we risk becoming what we hate and becoming a scoffer ourselves.

We are called to meditate on God's law day and night. The most important law that also sums up all the other laws is to love God with our whole heart, mind, and soul and love our neighbor as ourselves. It is hard to do that and distracting if instead we are trying to prove our cause and get into arguments with scoffers and wicked people.

When Jesus was confronted with such people, he usually turned the tables by asking them a question (Mark 12:16), or he chose to be silent (Matthew 26:63) but he did not get into back and forth heated arguments. He knew who he was and he was confident in that. He didn't need people to follow him, believe in him or understand him. He kept his eyes on his Father and the mission his Father had for him.

Yes, Jesus did sit with sinners however. He sat with those who were broken, dejected and struggling with sin. Often because of their struggles they were able to recognize their need for a savior. They were humble and open to God in their lives. They realized they were sinners. Because they recognized their need for him, they were open to the truth and Jesus was able to transform them from sinners into saints! 

If we avoid negative discourse with the wicked and scoffers, stay focused on the Lord and drink in the stream of his goodness, like Psalm 1 talks about, eventually we will bear great fruit in our lives. The fruit of love, joy, peace patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control will then be evident to others. If people are going to be attracted to Christ through us and His truth, it will be only then! If you are looking for a good modern day example, I would say Pope Francis is a pretty good one!

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Thing About Fasting

So, I haven't always understood or been a big fan of fasting. Hence the name of my blog - Beautiful thorns. When given the choice, I usually choose comfort. The Lord in his goodness and mercy however has lovingly given me "thorns" so I can progress in my spiritual life and be more transformed into his image. I am learning however that it is better to fall on the rock and be broken than have the rock fall on us and be crushed - Luke 20:18.

I am starting to get the whole notion and importance of fasting as I am trying to be more obedient to a life of penance I believe the Lord is calling me to. Let me tell you though, fasting is not for the faint of heart! It causes all the junk and impurities in our heart to come to the surface more quickly, things you didn't even know were there! Satan likes to then play on those weaknesses and try to get us to lose heart. Should we be surprised at this - Jesus was even tempted in the desert - Matthew 4:1-11. If we persevere however, I think we come out ahead.

I guess that explains why I have been in a funk lately...Tom and I have been doing a 40 day fast for Tom's job situation and for us to come into the things God has for us. I believe it is the fasting that has caused all kinds of emotions, doubts, insecurities, and fears to rise up in my own heart. I know however that if I can persevere through it, I will grow in my spiritual walk with the Lord and it will be fruitful. I think being aware of what is going on is half the battle. I also think this is causing me to be a fan of fasting. I am finally getting it!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Funks of Life

I don't know if anyone else can relate, but sometimes I find myself in a funk. I usually try to avoid giving into negative thoughts but this week the negativity has gotten the best of me. 

It has been really hard for me to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I am having a hard time seeing how God is going to fulfill the desires of our heart, especially as my body is wracked with pain and fatigue, causing me to be irritable with my children. My thoughts say, "Gosh, I can't even be faithful in the little things!" We also have some very pressing financial needs and Tom for the past 10 years has been driving a 3 to 4 hour a day commute to a very stressful job that he doesn't exactly enjoy and causes him to miss out on a lot of family time. I probably need to be thankful that at least his job mostly pays the bills.

One thing that has brought me out of the funks in the past and is working to bring me out of the current funk is the thought that, "I am going to feel really silly when the Lord finally comes through for us!". I am trying very hard to keep my eyes on Jesus and believe in his promises. I would love to hear from my readers! Please share some faith building stories of how you have persevered through tough times and the Lord was faithful to his promises...