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Contents:


  1. 4 things God wants you to remember when life is hard. | Dave Willis
  2. TODAY'S WORD from the Pastor
  3. How to Slow Down So You Don’t Miss What Jesus Has to Teach You about Himself
  4. Editor's Picks

Maybe the local church would do better if they simply focused on making the church experience a place of rest and encouragement for the weary Christian and less a place to go to to get your sword sharpened! He will take care of the enemy if we just obey and trust Him for our needs rather than our wants.

We were never promised to get wealthy, as a matter of fact Jesus said that is it easier for camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to Heaven! Let go of everything and let God lead you through the Holy Spirit is the mission of the church and when we stray from that then people stray from the church. True with the back-biting and clickishness… If there is such a word… We moved across several states, found a church and began attending Wednesday night studies and Sunday services.

I worked diligently during each monthly dinner staying until nearly two pm cleaning. My spouse made an off hand comment about our little mini Aussie enjoying some icing leftover from a cake… Nothing I made was touched again. It was blatant too. Would they know my dishes come from near scalding dishwasher setting.. Doubtful since dishes at church are washed in lukewarm water with no need for gloves or rinsing in diluted beach.

If a church is only about gathering people, they will miss the beauty of the Great Commission. My concern with 9 is the idea of what engagement looks like. If we have a church with minimal programs, and a large body how do we engage everyone, or involve them in a way where their role in the church is meaningful to them? I see a movement of churches wanting to scrap down to brass tack basics, but then wonder why no one is engaged. We need to find the balance between intentional programs that will engage people into community, where they build trust and relationships, and then through that trust they will become invested into the body of the church.

We need to be spiritual gift testing our members and creating avenues where all can serve. You could start by spending more time in practical studies where everyone can speak in groups as part of the service rather than it all being about a handful of people. Many churches are now led by the very old. I just got tired of it. There also seems to be a huge disconnect with reality. I found myself wondering why I hung out with them two or three times a week.

Is Christianity real for you? Most Christians talk a good game, but there are the odd ones that do try and help where possible. You can do that the same as anyone else. There are wolves in church and church is a place to get away from that. I would rather stay home in quite peace. The Sabbath Day is to be kept Holy. I am sure I will be held accountable for this. The Devil and his minions are all about. The closer I get, the more chaotic my home and life become. I have had church leaders tell me I need meds.

Like I said about staying home—I can stay here and be at peace and not socialize with the unexpected. Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. If You are the Christ, tell us plainly. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.

And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. I and My Father are one. Accountability is an interesting thing. We all are. Sometimes your wolf is a sheep, and your sheep is a lion; part of faith is confidence, a trust in the Father, a trust in the Son, and especially a trust in self. Nobody here may rightfully judge you; even your peers.

Agreed, I try to keep leaders especially at arms length. The true Sabbath is Saturday since God rested on the 7th day. Jesus was a Jewish Hebrew. To me, church is not just four walls. Jesus went into brothels preaching! Try doing that now and see how downcast you get…. For the ways of God are eternal life through hope in Jesus, but the ways of the world, and man, are destruction and death.

The early church started gathering on Sunday morning in the first century…it was the day of resurrection. I sure hope so. I would not want to be following Vatican stuff. They try to replace God, which is what Lucifer got kicked out of Heaven for. I try to picture Jesus through the words of the Bible. He turned over tables at one. Churches do yard sales, food plates for sale, and other things. Bible Many people get really confused by this Saturday and Sunday format.

On another note, Apostle Paul considered every day to be just as important as the last. I believe that part of 8 not seeing the direct benefit can often fall on because people want to connect with people in the church, but not be depended on every single week to do something in the church. At a church that I used to go to, it was always you should come to church more often because we need you to do x, y or z. When a church tries to utilize the same people week after week, they start to feel used and burned out. If a church needs to get more people involved to doing things in church, first, make sure that they are interested and can actually commit.

One of the things that I have to come to realize in my own life is when I attend something, I am more attentive when I am not responsible for handling tasks than when I am responsible for a task. That would be because I am focusing on what I am doing or going to do, and focusing on my queue to step in. I then miss important or interesting points in the program or whatever the event is. I did not yet read your article on cultural changes, but I think that one of the things that churches need to start doing is recognize that there are other religions and cultures out there that people in your own congregation are connected to in some way.

It would not hurt to become educated about other religions, even if you do not practice or believe in them. So, if a church is so accustomed to bashing or judging other religions because they are not Christian or perceived as non-Christian, that can rub people the wrong way and they might not come back to your church because of that. My mom is Christian and my dad was Jewish. After my dad died, my mom raised us Christian, even though we did not go to church that much. She always wanted to raise us Catholic, but never got around to it.

I have gone to a variety of Christian churches, and except for the Catholic Church, the Protestant churches spent so much time judging other religions. It got to a point where that it what I believed that this is what Protestant churches do, bash and judge other religions, condemn them to hell. I have not seen that in any Catholic church that I have been to. You can imagine how that must make a person feel when they go to a church that condemns a religion or belief that a person has or practices.

It sounds like these Protestant churches are merely following what the Bible says. Sadly, people from other religions are going to hell unless they repent and follow Jesus. The church cannot condemn anyone — people condemn themselves. All the church can do is point them to the truth. No one comes to the Father except through me. John I know i am late to the conversation but i really appreciate this article as well as the additional resources. I find that many committed church attendees see the end result as what the church offers in its programs instead of the on-going transformation of Christ.

If only we can get our culture aligned to where our behaviors match our values. If we do, maybe engagement in church on a more regular basis has a chance. What we suffer from is a deficient ecclesiology as well as the lack of a deeply passionate love for Jesus. Unfortunately, blogs like this are what can unwittingly foster the idea that everyone is an expert when it comes to the theology of the church or theology in general.

Why is it that when it comes to brain surgery, we would feel foolish trying to tell the doctor how to do his job. But when it comes to the church, everyone no matter what level of training in the Bible or theology, feel free to speak as an expert. How deluded for instance to say that I love and am committed passionately to Christ and yet on the other hand to speak as though I do not need to be just as equally committed to and passionate toward His Body, the Church.

How grotesque to suggest that we love the Head but do not equally love His Body. An organic relationship exists between Christ and his Church. They cannot be separated. To love one is to love the other. To despise the one is to despise the other. So real is this connection that the apostle John in his first epistle teaches that one of the indicators of Christian impostors is that they do not love the brethren and do not have fellowship with the body of believers— i.

Could it possibly be that the elephant in the room—the thing few seem willing to say— is that the North American church is backslidden? Technically the Day draws nearer continually. Imposters may be many, but even bona fides to some may mean a preposterous requirement of proof.

And someone required to view the Bible as inerrant in all ways finds themselves with a load of working contradictions. And still, there is hope, believers can one day even judge the angels. Plenty of people imagine such things. They often enough think themselves into their beliefs or imagine it. Yet, there really is God, beyond the realm of madness, beyond chaos and confusion, beyond the noise floor of reality.

Many people claim to speak for Him. Nevertheless, true Authority rests with God. Not with the formation of some big ball of mud, but ancient in such a way as to defy enumeration. The Day many people think of as the End is one that is lost with people always looking ahead to their past, conjuring up all sorts of ideas for when and what that is. Mortal pleasure has an end. Would it be that one would have unending glee if they can simply flee the pleasure of sin we let in?

Not if then this pleasure would cut the Body off at even one knee. Faith is one that holds conviction, even if only in passing or even when facing certain death. Yet some parts of the Body still support politicians and even leaders that take on banners of both extremes of things, up to and even abortion. These things are abhorrent without any written rules, so what is it do we think that God sees? Should we need an obnoxious sign from the heavens, some catastrophic end, for this not to be? Just because a law allows it and such people exist, should any of that be necessary for a society with a faith firmly rooted by the reality of their beliefs?

Does any man think he has Authority over the Gate? Is it that one can walk to the door and tell those passing by whom can and whom cannot enter? No man, yet there is an endless line of those that think they could take that for which is not rightfully their own, making rites and covenants with death, on their own accord. What should come of those that try to hop over the fence?

Even if humanity were reset, it survives even a loss of record. There are those that know it and go their entire lives telling nobody about it. Does that make them apostate? Are they unworthy of being saved? Those that are most vocal can often use God as a lever. Should they also be held unworthy? If one is to speak for God on matters of such profound consequence for all parties, they better be right.

Find a man who would like to take a perfect stand, and you will find a Devil waiting to fall. Even the truth of what may come of one that knows God and denies Him would be enough for some. So then, in the End, should the Son come with a sword or a shield? Nonetheless, even if He came a second or hundredth time, nobody, and I mean not a single person would know, without first having His Spirit with them.

Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. A true Christian is Christ like, most just have a form of godliness. The guy that loves his sport so much that he will do whatever it takes to be the best even if it means ignoring conventional wisdom which will only take you so far will be the one that is ultimately better than the rest. This would mean ignoring those that have got so far and are happy with their place, ultimately we can never believe we are where we need to be spiritually only that we are moving in the right direction. At 57 you are still young enough to become an 80 year old Christian guru.

Read Todd Horrigans post posted 1 mth ago about shift workers. I would love to attend every Sunday morning but doing this in the middle of 12hr nightshifts is hard. Why do you want to be a full member? Will it make you a better Christian? Shift workers have it very tough. Could you ask your pastor if you might be able to do the membership class online or at an alternate time?

If the pastor cannot accommodate you in some way, I would seek another church if membership is important to you. I have come away from this, admittedly cursory, examination with this opinion: you have little, if any, experience with the NON-churched like me.

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4 things God wants you to remember when life is hard. | Dave Willis

Your analysis of the reasons for and the solutions to the decline in church attendance indicate a deep-seated ignorance about people like myself. I have read the bible cover-to-cover twice now and will begin again soon, but while I have found much that is interesting and even inspiring, in the main I have failed to find the source of awe that motivates yourself and those around you.

In contrast, the laws of physics as currently understood, most strongly suggest that the iron in my blood and the gold in the ring I wear on my finger were created in the cores of exploding stars and that the atoms in my right hand came from different stars than those in my left. This thought generates an almost overwhelming sense of awe in me. Interesting points. Yes, physics and the natural sciences do indedd provide much information that is awesome. So there is that. Understand that God draws all people to himself. That is how it works. It usually takes a tragedy for people to see this, but no matter.

The Bible is but one way that God can draw people to himself. A pastor is another. God moves in mysterious ways and one day you will have a chance to reject or accept him. Choose wisely. That is why pastors can easily mislead a lot of people and use fear tactics to control them. The standard churches are referred to as Babylon in Revelation and they are full of corruption.

People want to find God and the truth but they realise they are only getting a diluted version mixed with error. Even though they might not know exactly what is wrong they can sense it is there. I was the same, in and out of church for years, now I know enough to put my finger on things but it has taken 25 years.

Surely you know enough to know that homosexuality and divorce are not acceptable from what you have read?? To me that is worst than being atheist!! Spot on! CN needs to address the positive correlation between the number of years of higher education received and the likelihood that an individual will lack any religious faith. Believing has nothing to do with education or talents or abilities, or the lack thereof. We believe in God because we believe that he is real and true and beautiful. Taking the leap of faith is having the confidence for going from point A to point B, then actually going in the right direction.

By that, for where your faith is placed will dictate the acceptance of obstacles to navigate fully or the pursuit of shortcuts to circumvent. Simply put, one has to engender a trust in self, in order that their choices are fostered of by a sound mind. Sometimes the shortest path home is all the way around. Or in my case when frustration has overwhelmed me I just threw caution to the wind and prayed God would help me. I mean life is boring without risk anyway and the worst that can happen is you will die which you will anyway,.

The leap spoken of is not found by way of rational thought; tethered rationality will never allow you to take any leap or with that, pull you back to where you began, once the tether tightens. There are two basic kinds of faith. One that is knowing, with a blossomed understanding, given by the merits of growth: having been firmly planted, having taken root, being well nurtured, and producing good fruit. The other precedes it: a seed. Believing has everything to with knocking at the door of a fertile garden and asking how to till the land.

You can believe everything the gardner says, or not. When put to practice, it is by the fruit that sustenance is found. Taken as simply fair advice, without moving, the belief is emboldening, and still of little value outside of interesting conversation. And as the seasons turn, so do the opportunities of planting and harvesting. In the cold, rich and poor alike starve, without proper preparation or by paying or begging those that have done their due diligence.

There seems to be more educated people in church than ever these days. Which makes it all the more strange that they struggle to grasp the truth of certain scriptures. Few people seem to have the gifts of discernment, common sense or critical thinking. Bang on!! I am wondering about the influence of living away from families. Many of us live states or countries away from our families. We are torn between caring for parents and children. Also, many of us do not have traditional Monday thru Friday work schedules. For me, there are many reasons that even committed Christians are attending Sunday worship services less.

Many churches have even added Sat night or other opportunities for worship to adapt to challenging schedules. But I also know that God knows my heart and He meets me wherever I am. Has anyone come up with a tool to measure these metrics within their churches. I would be interested in hearing from those who attend our church if these reasons for attending church less often are a reality within our community. I found this in a web search to see what churches are doing today to attract regular attendees… just to see if anybody has any new ideas.

I could never commit to any ongoing class much less get involved in any sort of regular ministry work because I knew my work schedule would interfere with such things. If I get a chance to attend a Sunday morning service, because I rarely am able to, I feel left out of the loop without any relationships with the people who attend even though I have attended that church for years and years. I see Sunday churchgoers as having been blessed to work a Monday through Friday dayshift job where they have the time to attend Sundays and weeknight events.

I strongly feel that there are many unreached people who would go to church regularly if they could, they just cannot go Sunday mornings or even Saturday nights. My search was not to see if churches changed their regularly scheduled lineup. Rather it was to see if any church has ways to reach out to the lost-at-work church members who would gladly come to church if they could.

I find these 10 to focus totally on externals that we can blame for people not coming to church like we can blame for churches not gaining people to come to church. The secularization of pastoral leadership whom seminaries now train in a performance and technique model of Chruch, Inc and thus lack any ecclesiology to think of that shapes their pastoral theology from a biblical foundation.

Thus, they so often see themselves as the CEO of non-profit run like a franchise. With the secularization of pastoral leadership has come the secularization of church life molded by a market driven business model which has eroded the earlier theological foundation of ecclesiology due to growing biblical illiteracy. The secularization of pastoral leadership has also been seen in the lack of training in seminary concerning spiritual formation. This has resulted in churches viewing pastors less and less as spiritual leaders and to an abandonment of the spiritual formation of a church as a body.

The secularization of churches is being propped up by looking to church growth techniques and family systems theory to attempt to build healthy churches. We do this as if ecclesiology and the bible have nothing to do with it. If I may put it another way, however incompletely, people are realizing that fundamental factors are missing on so many levels in our spiritual and church lives. The people may not know or may not even be able to put their finger on it right BUT they sure end up wandering off in reaction to the funny after-tastes such encounters leaves as legacies to them.

In England, UK. There could be cultural differences and differences of experience in what I am writing to your data but I believe that my experience has some bearing to. I agree with a number of your points, yet I believe that there is one extra point that I could make which attaches itself to a few you have made. As technology is improving, and more exciting, and also as kids and young families would rather spend time doing sports or playing video games, or if people are simply unable to make it to Church on a Sunday.

The age demographic of the church is shifting particularly in parts of England towards the majority of attandees being aged over 50 and in many cases over As such church services are being taillored to appeal to more older members pf the community, little is done to attract youth into the church, even less to retain it. I appreciate that you are advocating that churches respond to the times and adapt, I just fear that those best placed to help namely people aged probably in their twenties or early thirties are some of the most deterred from regularly attending, and so are thier children.

That being said I credit the ELIM Church in which my Uncle is a Minister in the UK as one of the only church denominations to grow in number as they have the experience and the mindset to attract and keep younger members and to remain youmg at heart.

I read the comments, and there are just so many things to speak to. So, let me just share a small amount from my experience. We go to church service at our local church every Sunday morning barring illness, etc. This is due to a recent understanding about how negatively age segregation at that age affects our families.

I teach my teens at home. I would be completely open to all of us sitting the adult class, but to lessen the division, I chose this route. Also, we have ceased from Sunday evening worship. Honestly, this came out of a personal study that I did on what the Sabbath really means for us. I am not posting that here, but, in short, the Sabbath pre-dated the law and was for our benefit spiritually. Also, we often participate in Bible studies throughout the week. While many would shake their head, this has been fairly invigorating for me. Now, there is also the other problem.

Just saying. Not some building, but all of you woderful and broken members of the body of Christ out there and in here in the world! Remember 1 Cor All of the questions of our day: prophecies, tongues, doctrine yes, doctrine matters, but stay with me … they will all pass away. Only our love will remain. I have said THIS recently: let me be wrong on any other number of issues, but get love right. May our love grow stronger one for another that a lost world may see us shine — not based on our church attendance, but based upon the difference they see in our lives — the difference that love makes.

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. I could give you many reasons but they point to the same thing: The death of Protestantism. Does speaking in tongues exist or not exist? Truth matters. Especially when your theology goes completely against the Christian theology of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc.

Look it up. Justin Martyr describes the service from about AD and it is what is still practiced today in Orthdoxy. We gave the world the Bible. Your OT still uses Greek names for the books. Look around and you will find the best and brightest of young religeous Americans converting to Orthodoxy. That sounds both unfair and arrogant. Have you totally ignored Luther and Calvin? Ever heard of Karl Barth? We need our roots, yes, but only as much as we need many, large, outreaching branches. Noel, wow. I leave a message six months ago and you flame me without one bit of real evidence. Please get a grip.

I am not being unfair and arrogant. In fact, if you want to argue, then please go and find someone else to argue with. A local Orthodox priest maybe. Or, if you want, I know some lay Orthodox people for you to argue with. I just stated my experiences and beliefs. Just rhetoric. Do you also think the slaughter of the Anabaptists by the Lutherans in the years that followed were also the work of the Holy Spirit? So which one is? Read Ignatius and there is no way you can make your claims or truthfully say you are respecting him.

He speaks of only unity in Christ: one bishop, one baptism, one Communion, etc. But since you asked me, I will give you a brief. Remember, due to brevity, the following will have holes in it. This is only meant to be an attention getter. Nice try. You must be saying that they are all correct or that the Holy Spirit lies. This is why there are so many evangelicals and other protestants are coming to the Orthodox Church. It is the other way around. Heck, even the Lutherans lost their no. Or do you believe it was the work of the Holy Spirit that led to Luther making critical erros in the execution of his own stated rules on what books should be included in the OT?

Noel, please, I am humbly saying this. I used to be very similar to you. I am just stating what I have found to be true…and its ugly. Heck, even Luther did that, right? We both agree that he changed a word in the bible, right? This is not me being arogant. I am just stating facts, historical events and what the Church believes. Peter, I would say physician heal thyself. Become humble and find out for yourself. A very ill prepared one, at that.

Sometimes the message is found through the resonance in reality that all are witness to. But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. We need to be interactive at church, and creative. In practice, it is a place to worship God, not sit and listen. It is a place to experience corporately and privately the Grace of God and be healed.

It is a hospital for sick people, not a club for elites.

Americans have a very soft, cushiony idea of what true Christianity requires. We can look at the Middle East as many are being martyred, or the Russia, which has a renaissance of Classical Christianity having emerged from the yoke of state sponsored Aethism as examples of what Church means and why it matters.

Travis, your description of what church used to be is what I crave today. For that one hour I want to worship, to glorify God, to commune, to send my soul soaring up to Him, or to look quietly within. Worship and communion allow me to be restored. Then you should go East young man!

Go to the Church Jesus Christ set up. The faith given to the Apostles and handed down to us. Wolves in the pulpit. Or immature, ungodly, shallow men in the pulpit. Take your pick. Manipulation and guilt-tripping a. Not allowed to think, question or challenge leadership 4. Man-made traditions which Jesus spoke against — and in the OT as well 7. Sunday is their worst day of the week. Time-set and clocked. You would show up when you got there, stay as long as your family was able, and sit, listen, be taught, pick a person to listen to in various areas, pray, give God your tithe, be outside in nature, have discussions with other people, etc.

Oh and bring money. They are craving God and His peace and filling. Not using cheap marketing tricks to invite them IN. I left the man-made, business model, institutionalized, nothing-like-Scripture church building to find the real God of the Bible. I found that when I left church… and found God. Check Revelations 3 well. We are not to forsake the meetings of ourselves together per time BUT legalistically putting people under guilt-trips on the basis that attending meeting days is solely responsible for spiritual growth is simply preaching the Word of God out of context.

We seek community where relationships are open and there is a safe place for discussion and inter-dependent learning. Or are you simply suggesting that going to church on Sunday with no real fellowship and sense of connectivity is neither stimulating or fulfilling? Sincerely, KGD. Thanks Ken for seeking clarification. I can hear sincerity and gentleness in your tone. I pray that I communicate in that same spirit.

1. For When You Feel Weary and Drained

It might include not having a paid Pastor. One might compare it to education decisions of school vs home learning. If one chooses school then one chooses the curriculum and objectives that the ministry of education has deemed appropriate for this age group or level- you show up and you learn what you are supposed to learn in grade 7. Sermon-on-Sunday model is in all essence an hour long lecture.

Pedagogues would agree that it is a far from ideal learning environment. I think the crux is that we long to be in a place whether it includes sermon on Sunday or not where we can expect the people who show up to be authentic and in doing so, it would be a safe place.

We want to be the church, not go to church. This creates a tendency to insulate and seek power. No sooner do Christmas decorations disappear from store shelves then hearts and candies deck the halls of retail stores. I wonder what the retail industry would do without holidays. In all fairness to them, their creative ingenuity is to be applauded. However, what I find troubling is a cultural message that equates love with things that make us feel good.

Such expressions of love aim to satisfy sensory appetites which were created by God and therefore are good. The senses serve as gateways to the physical world, but they also help us understand abstract concepts through sight, touch, taste, smell and hearing. Paradoxically, love can evoke contrasting emotions, triggering tears and laughter, pleasure and pain.

Consider that no valentine is complete without an angelic looking cupid delivering an arrow straight to the heart. Scripture tells us that God is love, but what exactly is love? We look at a crucifix and we are reminded that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son to a world so violent that it nailed him to a cross. Unlike jewelry, candy or roses, the cross reminds us that love involves a sacrificial dimension that is freely embraced for the well-being of another. Ask a pregnant woman if she is looking forward to experiencing the pain that precipitates the birthing process.

The answer is obvious. Or how about the man who works at a lackluster job to provide for his family? Both are expressions of love that point to something more important than sensory gratification. Whether pain is physical or emotional, the motivating force behind the pain is about what comes after the pain. When we consider love and all that it entails, there is far more to love than what the world would have us believe. The senses play a role. They alert us to what we need, but when satisfied, they remind us that they are only a temporary fix.

No matter how shiny an object, after awhile it loses its ability to excite. The empty box of chocolates eventually ends up in the trash much like the bouquet of roses that days earlier made hearts sing. Therein lies a great lesson. Physical pleasures are passing, but true love remains.

Love is neither a possession nor a feeling. Consider that you are a few minutes older now than when you began reading this column. Bygone moments can never be retrieved, but we can be richer for them if we take time to appreciate the Love that is present in each. Right here and now, we can thank God for his presence in us, with us and around us. We can decide to make love present to the next person we encounter. It might be a co-worker who needs an encouraging word, a street person asking for a donation, or a family member who could use a helping hand with a household chore.

The important thing is that we put our heart into whatever we are doing. It may mean moving beyond our comfort zone, but that too is a choice we are free to embrace or dismiss.

TODAY'S WORD from the Pastor

After years of seeking happiness in all the wrong places, St. January 28, Every story worth its salt bears within the story line a grain of truth and explains why literature looms large in human and spiritual development. Storytelling is an art that engages the imagination, informs the mind and touches hearts, which is why Jesus spoke in parables during his public ministry. Following the Christmas season, the Church returns to ordinary time, where we encounter Jesus as teacher, healer and storyteller in the Gospel readings.

His parables are proclaimed from the pulpit, studied by theologians and discussed in Scripture study groups. They never grow old or become irrelevant even though Jesus was speaking to an agrarian society with little or no education that lived more than 2, years ago. He drew countless followers because his message was as unmistakable then as it is today. We may not be farmers, but most everyone has tended a plant, even if it was a potted one, and know that for a plant to thrive certain conditions are required.

You get the idea. Parables turn our attention inward. They make us squirm because the truths they contain convict our soul. Absent relentless nagging that drives people away, stories invite listeners to examine preconceived notions that are laced with prejudice and self-righteous judgements. They were about ordinary people, things and events that are part of everyday life. The same could be said about historic novels, coming-of-age books and timeless classics that we return to again and again. They are intergenerational and intracultural. They act like mirrors that reflect our deepest desires, needs and failings, but they also help us to recognize goodness in people and cultures that are different from us.

They reflect the good and the bad that are present in every person and invite us to examine our values and behavior in an honest and non-threatening manner. Prior to Christmas a local bookstore enticed buyers with a buy two, get one free offer, an effective ploy since I left the store with several copies in hand.

Having read it more than a decade ago, I was familiar with the story, though many of the details had escaped me. Consequently, as I am wont to do, I read it before giving the books away, and found it just as enjoyable. It offers a wonderful lesson about the value of process — a lesson we tend to overlook. In a culture that prizes achievement, our focus on the end too often overlooks the means. The missed directions, wrong turns or assumptions carry within them important lessons, but unless we take time to notice and absorb lessons learned, life is reduced to a series of successes and failures.

The fulfillment of our deepest desire is here and now for those who have eyes to see. Jesus told his followers that the Kingdom of God was in their midst. Like us, they failed to understand, and so he told stories about everyday life, a powerful tool that changed hearts then and continues to do so today. Jesus knew that hearts are transformed not by chance, but by change, so let the storytelling begin. January 14, However, when we descend with Christ, we discover graces embedded in the ongoing challenges of daily life.

Simply put, life is a journey and faithful disciples need wings and feet as they travel a road beset with obstacles. We need feet to embrace the real even as we are motivated by the ideal. Clear evidence of this is visible in the thousands of pilgrims who journey to Washington on behalf of the unborn.

Their commitment is as real as the ideal they espouse: the moral law always takes precedence over civil law. Abortion has become one of the most controversial issues not only in our country, but in Poland, Ireland and Brazil where there has always been a significant Catholic presence.

Even more problematic is the fact that statistics show the number of Catholic women who have abortions is consistent with that of the general population. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Church has affirmed the moral evil of abortion since the first century. From the first moment of existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person. Abortion directly opposes the natural law and order of life.

The morality of abortion is not the issue here. The Church has always been clear on the moral evil of abortion. The problem we face is that many fail to understand, or refuse to accept, the fact that the moral argument against abortion is not the same as a legal argument. The answer is clear and simple, but life situations are not.

Having listened to the stories of women who have considered or who have had abortions, my heart goes out to them, just as the love and mercy of God does. Their decision was never easy. Many continue to pay a price. Therefore, for every person who marches to overturn Roe v. Wade, an army of equally dedicated advocates must work to change a culture that has put the sanctity of life at risk and must pray for those facing life or death decisions. The saint is telling us we cannot be guided solely by civil law; there is a higher order.

That higher order is the moral law which forbids Catholics to have an abortion even if civil law permits it. Aquinas reminds us that civil law is not perfect, it moves gradually toward the common good and must be enforceable. That said, the annual pilgrimage to Washington may take another 46 years to effect change — or it could happen next year. In the meantime, we need to polish our wings and invest in a good pair of boots, because the March for Life is too great a cause to abandon.

At the same time, we need to keep in mind that reversing the law can make abortion illegal, but only God can change hearts. Life is a process that must be valued every step of the way, for we never know how many people will be inspired — not only regarding abortion, but for every life issue from womb to tomb.

December 31, However, few people give much thought to the meaning of the words, or the origin of the song. The bitter aftertaste of repeated failures has led some to abandon the practice altogether. If this has been your experience, allow me to recommend reversing the process by incorporating a lesson from the Ignatian spirituality playbook. Ignatius of Loyola counseled his followers to reflect each evening on the events of the day, mindful of what they did, who they met and what happened.

Without straining or effort, he recommended they rest in what surfaces, take note of the feelings that arise within and express them to God. Next, the saint recommended taking a moment to pray with one feeling or feature that stands out and reflecting on what God might have been revealing through that event or encounter. Rather than ending the day with the typical examination of conscience that involves reviewing the times we messed up, failed to put God first or fell into sin, the Ignatian Examen, as it is called, offers a positive approach that generates feelings of gratitude, which lifts our spirit rather than depressing it.

By taking time to intentionally focus on the many graces that come our way during the day, we begin to realize that we are never alone, that the process of conversion is ongoing and that each challenge is accompanied by grace. As we stand on the threshold of another new year, we can apply the same process to the events and encounters of the past year. Ignatius believed the Examen was a gift that came directly from God, and that God wanted it to be shared as widely as possible.

One of the few rules of prayer that Ignatius made for the Society of Jesus was the requirement that Jesuits practice the Examen twice daily — at noon and at the end of the day. There are few guarantees in life, but by putting these steps into practice as we begin the new year, we may be inclined to practice them on a more frequent basis, perhaps even daily.

As in all things, it is wise to approach the practice one day at a time. As beckons, we can be confident that God is present in the world, healing and transforming it even as he invites us to be part of the process. We know the world will be transformed in direct proportion to the interior transformation taking place in each person when we are moved to action.

Every new year is a source of blessing, not because of anything we do, but because of what God can accomplish through us. December 17, The pause is so minuscule, we hardly notice, but its impact on the earth is significant. In some ways the final days leading to Christmas seem to mirror this pause as the time to prepare grows increasingly short.

So much to do and so little time. With last minute gifts to buy, homes to decorate and cards to send, it seems there are never enough hours in the day to complete the tasks at hand. Therefore, unless we are intentionally mindful of Advent, we can be swept away in a flurry of activity that wearies the soul and depletes the spirit. One way to do this is by reflecting on the infancy narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

The events remind us that the supernatural takes place within the natural order, not apart from it. Elizabeth, who was thought to be barren, conceived a child in her old age. Mary, a virgin who was overshadowed by the Most High, conceived the long-awaited Messiah through the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet, amid such wonders, their pregnancies followed the natural order while both women fulfilled the responsibilities consistent with their state of life.

These were busy times as each prepared for the birth of the child in her womb. Mary was particularly active as she journeyed to Elizabeth and back to her home in Nazareth. She set up housekeeping with a man whose faith was tested. Then, heavy with child, she set out for Bethlehem with Joseph where she gave birth in a borrowed cave away from family and friends. I find this reassuring, knowing that Christmas is coming, whether or not everything on my to-do-list is completed. Christmas is about Jesus coming, and that means I must make ready the interior space within my heart.

This year we are closer to Jesus coming in glory than we were last year at this time, so how have we prepared? Like the journey the earth makes around the sun every days, we embark on a sacred pilgrimage that is repeated every year. The journey began in the heart of God the moment we were born. We entered the world at a time and place not of our own choosing, yet from the moment we uttered our first cry, time became ours.

The hours are ours to win or lose, to waste or use. How we spend them is our choice, but the winter solstice reminds us that the days are getting shorter. Year after year, God shows himself to us as the Infant Christ. As we continue our journey toward Christmas, let us remember that nothing will be lost if we pause, pray and reflect during these last days because the Christ Child takes what we offer and exchanges it for the gift of his love. If the gift we offer is our heart, then the joy of Christmas will be ours now and forever. Amid horrific fires in California, hurricanes on the East coast, mass shootings and political rhetoric that grows increasingly angry and accusatory, the words from St.

For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? As we begin a new liturgical cycle, Advent serves as a reminder that God Incarnate came into the world in the person of Jesus Christ more than 2, years ago, that he is with us now and that he will come again. However, amid or perhaps despite the hope-filled mood that permeates Advent, the earth continues to groan, longing for a better world. As we prepare to welcome the Son of God anew, I find myself wondering: Has anything really changed?

This is where the words of the apostle comfort us. They provide reassurance that the conversion of the world did not end with the coming of Christ; it was only the beginning. Therefore, even we who have been gifted with the fruits of the Spirit continue to groan inwardly.

The difference is that Christ is now present in the groaning. His coming in the past made it possible for him to be present to us here and now, not only in Word and sacrament, but in people and circumstances. How tempting it is to imagine a utopian world, a world that God would magically transform by putting an end to suffering. But that would negate not only the gift of free will, it would also eliminate the need for hope, for as St. In order to hope we need faith, because it is faith and hope that enable us to love. God works through the human process, healing the world of its wounds and sins through the conversion of hearts, and we are part of that process.

Through our baptism, we have been commissioned to convert and transform the world as agents of hope and healing. John of the Cross, whose feast the Church celebrates on Dec. As I watch victims sift through ashes, trying to imagine how they might put their lives together, I also see a cadre of volunteers, many of them victims as well, helping others salvage not only material possessions, but remnants of hope in what seems like a hopeless situation.

As a people we have become increasingly skeptical of institutions and especially of politicians who promise to fix all that is wrong with the world. This is not a license to throw up our hands and give up, but an invitation to allow ourselves to be inspired by the Holy Spirit so that everyone becomes the person God created them to be — beginning with our self.

As a result, they remain frustrated and disappointed, an illusion that runs contrary to holiness. Mother Teresa made during a television interview years ago in which she was asked how she could remain happy while surrounded by suffering and the endless challenges of her work. Her disposition, which some might consider contrary to the virtue of hope, is exactly the opposite. In fact, her attitude was not so different from that of St. Teresa of Avila who regarded her work with what she called holy indifference. Every good thing we enjoy is a gift from God.

Nothing we have belongs to us. We neither merit them nor do we have a right to expect them. Therefore, gratitude is the only appropriate posture for people of faith. The theme of our indebtedness to God is worth keeping in the forefront of our minds as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving with all that it entails. The planning, shopping, cooking and gathering are all as much a part of our giving thanks as the celebration itself.

Thanksgiving is about sharing the fruits of our labor, the work of our hands and the relationships we nurture along the way. Like the God in whose image we have been created, we are called to be living examples of divine generosity. The mandate leaves no room for discrimination, false notions of entitlement or judgments based on the motives or plight of others.

Consider the under-employed who work two or three part time jobs to put food on the table, or victims of war who flee the terror and bombs of a dictatorial regime. And what about people born with disabilities and chronic illness, victims of violence and racial discrimination?

Our ignoring their needs and cries for justice may well be our undoing when we stand before God who is Father and Creator of all. Do I think of me instead of us, I instead of we? We are indeed the sheep of his flock, but as we travel the road to Christian maturity, we are called to be shepherds as well. With an abundance of blessings comes responsibility. As we gather to give thanks around tables laden with the goods of the earth and the work of our hands, let us pray that the gifts we have received as individuals, as families and as a country will be shared prudently.

A few weeks ago, Nike surprised Justin Gallegos, a member of the University of Oregon track team, with a contract naming him an official Nike athlete. The occasion made news not because Justin excelled in athleticism, but because, despite having cerebral palsy, Justin continued running, inspiring teammates and all who know him. He learned early on that running made him feel better and so he continued to run.

Justin is an inspiration to many, but Nike is also to be commended for choosing to celebrate someone who would never rise to the performance level of celebrity athletes.

How to Slow Down So You Don’t Miss What Jesus Has to Teach You about Himself

The decision by Nike executives to reach out to these two athletes could not have been easy. Standing in sharp contrast with the negative image of corporations that cater only to profitability, the willingness of these companies to highlight unconventional contenders as role models reminds us that goodness exists in the world at large, often in places where we might least expect it. In reflecting on the celebration of the Solemnity of All Saints, I was struck by the many good and even holy people who may never be canonized, and yet help make the world a better place.

There are many such saints, and not all are sitting with us in the pews. Last month the doors to a state-of-the-art homeless shelter opened in Virginia Beach. During the dedication ceremony, people from numerous faith traditions who had been working tirelessly behind the scenes on behalf of the least and often most alienated members of society witnessed a dream come true. In addition to being offered a place to call home, residents receive job counseling and assistance in navigating services that will help lift them out of poverty.

The facility stands as a beacon of hope in a world that for many seemed like an endless series of roadblocks. They are saints not because of what they have accomplished but because of the One in whose name they served. Some have paid the ultimate price of martyrdom, others have been reformers who founded religious congregations, hospitals and institutions of learning in the name of God. But there are also ordinary lay people who have done extraordinary things, many whose names will never be celebrated.

While not everyone may be called to heroic levels of sanctity, we are all called to be the compassion of Christ in the world. How and whom we serve depends on our life situation. Caring for a sick child or an aging parent, or supporting a neighbor during a time of crisis, might not make the news, but it makes the love of Christ visible to those being served. Opportunities abound, but we need to be willing to move out of our comfort zone and act on them. It may not always be the easiest or most appealing path, but the joy and peace that God gives makes it well worth the effort.

And in the process, we just might become saints. Can you imagine a bride showing up on her wedding day in a stained and torn wedding dress? Most brides take every precaution to ensure their gown is not only stain free, but wrinkle-free as well. As a result, many churches now provide a room where the bride can dress, complete with a full length mirror, an iron, and an emergency sewing kit in the event of an unexpected wardrobe mishap.

How would the groom respond? Would he turn away in disgust or would his heart go out to his beloved standing at the entrance of the church in disheveled array? Would he long to wipe away her tears as he reassured his bride that his love for her could not be altered by a soiled wedding garment?

The analogy is worth pondering as the Church, which is the bride of Christ, comes together to celebrate the Mass of Atonement in response to the current sexual abuse crisis. As the Church continues its 2,year journey to celebrate the eternal wedding banquet in the heavenly kingdom, it is only fitting that we come before Jesus, the Bridegroom of the Church, and ask forgiveness for failing to take proper care of our wedding garment. During a recent conversation, I was asked why the laity, who have had nothing to do with the sexual abuse crisis, should participate in the Mass of Atonement.

As always, we need only look to Jesus for the answer. Excusing our personal sins while pointing to the sins of others is nothing new. While we may not have been guilty of the crimes committed by members of the clergy, we have all been affected. Sin corrupts the Body of Christ, of which we are all members. We have all sinned against the spotless Bridegroom who waits patiently for us to celebrate the wedding feast with him for all eternity, for we are all called to the marriage feast.

Bernard of Clairvaux wrote more than 80 sermons likening the individual soul to a Bride of Christ, longing for the Bridegroom. God sets forth his marriage proposal and patiently awaits the response of the bride. Each of us has a standing invitation to the wedding feast. We were issued the fabric for our bridal gown when we were baptized, but the garment in which we were clothed on that day has been soiled by sin. As individuals, we repair damage through the sacrament of reconciliation and receive the Eucharist as a means of grace in anticipation of the day when we will behold our Bridegroom face to face.

Enter into the Kingdom that has been prepared for you since the beginning of time. As an institution, the Church, clergy, and laity gather for a Mass of Atonement. It is an opportunity for all members to make reparation to God, whom we have wounded by our sins, and to pray for healing for those who have been sinned against, either directly or through scandal that sin has caused.

No one is without guilt. May we never lose sight of the Bridegroom to whom we offer atonement in anticipation of the day when we stand spotless before the Bridegroom of our soul. There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nothing hidden that will not be made known. The words of Jesus addressed to the crowds more than 2, years ago served as a warning against hypocrisy. For much of my life, this Gospel passage evoked images of the Last Judgment.

Sins that were committed in secret are now being exposed on a regular basis as more and more women come forward with charges of abuse that took place years, even decades, ago. Accusations and denials have become part of the daily news cycle. Attacks and counterattacks fuel headlines while the abused and accused are tried in the court of public opinion. The process is painful for the victims and the alleged perpetrators, particularly when the accused and the accuser become political footballs and victims of a media frenzy that have little to do with victim advocacy or justice.

I was reminded of this a few days ago during a conversation with a friend who is an advocate for victims of sexual trafficking. Her heartfelt compassion for these women has been a source of inspiration. Her one desire for them is that they come to believe they are loved and loveable. As I reflect on her words and the mission to promote healing and wholeness she feels called to embrace, I wonder about the women whose names and stories are paraded across the television screen day after day.

What goes through their minds when the first response to their coming forth is suspicion rather than concern for their well-being? What effect will the public frenzy have on them and their families? What would it take to hold those who do harm to admit their wrong doing? Hopefully, the pain that has brought us to this point will lead to greater transparency, no matter the cost. In the Lukan passage quoted above, Jesus goes on to reassure the crowds they have nothing to fear.

He tells them not to be afraid of those who harm the body, but only those who harm the soul. He reassures them they are loved by their Father in heaven, who is mindful of even the hairs on their head. When people have been used, abused or wrongly accused, such reassurances fall on deaf ears unless words are accompanied by compassion and acceptance. When cries for help from victims of sexual violence are met with doubt or blame, silence and shame become life-long companions.

We might not be able to take their pain away, but neither can we remain silent bystanders. We might never meet the victims portrayed in the media; our paths might never cross, but we can pray for them and we can work for restorative justice within our own communities. We know God hears the cry of the poor. We trust that God can heal deep-seated pain, regardless of the cause. What we have, dear readers, is the love of God. As St. May we draw strength and encouragement from his words during times of crisis and pain, and may we lead others to do the same.

We hear a lot about listening to our better angels. On the opposite shoulder is the devil, pitchfork in hand, offering conflicting advice. The message is clear: choosing good over evil is not always easy. Paul described it as a battle that was taking place within his members and lamented the fact he often did what he did not want to do and failed to do the good he wanted to do. Angels and archangels are a gift from God. They serve as friends and companions on the journey, and their role should not be taken lightly. The Church marks the presence of these noble patrons in the life of every Christian by celebrating the feast of Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael on Sept.

Angels have always been part of the Judeo-Christian tradition, with some having their names recorded in Scripture multiple times. Michael is mentioned in the Book of Revelation for defeating Lucifer, casting him, along with the angels who defied God, from heaven. As protector and champion of the Church, we call upon the wisdom and valor of Michael to guide and defend the institution from those who wish to diminish the Body of Christ.

And we look to Raphael, who accompanied Tobit on the journey, confident each of us has been given a guardian angel to travel with us and protect us. Jesus spoke of the existence of angels on several occasions. As spirits, angels are not bound by limitations of space. In addition to protecting us from physical harm, guardian angels are entrusted with our spiritual well-being. In his sermons on the Song of Songs, St. Bernard of Clairvaux explained that angels act as messengers carrying our prayers to the throne of God and in turn deliver messages from God to us.

Not unlike the angels that Jacob saw in his dream ascending and descending the staircase to heaven, they serve as intermediaries. Books have been written, television shows produced, and songs have been sung about angels. The legend portends that when Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden, their punishment was to dwell in an eternal winter. However, knowing God was about mercy not punishment, an angel who had witnessed the verdict intervened. As the snow began to fall, the angel turned a snowflake into a snowdrop, a tiny white flower indigenous to England that blankets the ground every February.

The floral carpet that covers the English countryside is regarded as a symbol of hope, reminding people spring is coming, and love conquers all. Clearly, the presence of angels does not negate free will. What we do and how we respond to everyday situations remains a personal choice, which returns us to the image of competing voices whispering on our shoulders. Amid the noise of continuous opining in the media, we do well to turn our attention to the voices of those who reflect our better angels — voices that call us to rise above the clamor.

Taking the high road may not always be easy, but we can be certain that in the end, our better angels will never disappoint. Its been said that Scripture is a combination of history, myth and poetry. It elevates it to a unique status which engages the imagination, informs us of its purpose and alerts us to a living truth. Consider the fact that no one receives a love letter and reads it only once. Be it in the form of an email, a text message or a handwritten note, words of endearment touch the heart of the receiver. We guard such communications and keep them in a special place, savor the words and return to them often.

Not only is the message carefully gleaned from the page, but we try reading between the lines, lest any subtleties or hidden meanings escape our notice. We might imagine the person who is writing to us. What was the person doing, experiencing at the time and how should we respond? It may happen that after reading and re-reading the words often, we are able to quote phrases or entire paragraphs.

Repetition unconsciously enables us to commit treasured messages to memory, allowing us to call them to mind at will. Likening Scripture to a love letter from God invites us to spend time with it, reading it for the head and again for the heart because both are important. This became increasingly clear to me during these past months as I prepare for an upcoming adult education series on the City of Jerusalem. Having read Scripture and numerous commentaries, I thought I had a pretty good idea of how to proceed. But as I began to look over my work, I knew something was missing.

It read more like a history lesson than a love story. Scripture is our family history, so when we read about our ancestors and their relationship with God, we do well to ask: How are we like them? What were the obstacles they encountered, what can we learn from them, and what do they teach us about God? Unlike them, we have the benefit of knowing the end of the story. However, if we are to understand the full impact of those words, we must allow them to seep into our heart because hearing them once, twice or even a hundred times is not enough.

Reading and rereading a passage from Scripture from the heart makes all the difference. The practice is referred to as Lectio Divina. It involves choosing a passage from Scripture, reading it once for the head and a second time for the heart. A third reading may consist of choosing a sentence from the passage for reflection and finally allowing a single word or phrase from the sentence to become one with your breath so you can return to it throughout the day. Over time, those who faithfully practice this prayer form discover that words are no longer needed.

Like lovers who enjoy the presence of the other without having to say a word, the presence of God is experienced in the heart on a conscious and unconscious level. Knowing we are loved requires a response. There is a reciprocal dimension when it comes to human love relationships, but our relationship with God is of a higher order, and therefore requires a response on a personal and communal level.

This is the first and greatest commandment. We can love God and neighbor only because God loved us first. The topic comes up when talking with friends, family members and those who come for spiritual direction. To ignore the topic would be to avoid the elephant in the room. At a time when too many people have already left the Church, the horrific practices by some priests and the cover-up by some bishops have added fuel to a fire that we have not been able to extinguish.

In addition to the pain perpetrated on victims, the consequences are considerable, including a rationale for some who have left the Church, and a justification for others who may be tempted to leave. However, to interpret the horrendous scandal as a reason to do so is to confuse the Church with God. We are able to see the Son in our lives as He walks with us, and we find ourselves motivated to follow Him. But then things can get cloudy. The Son of God isn't as clear in the tough times in our lives. Maybe it's a broken friendship. Or a failed job attempt, a tough co-worker, or a denied promotion.

Whatever it is, we can't see Jesus, the Son of God, as clearly when things get cloudy. We can feel alone and lost. This then becomes a breeding ground for the memories of our past addictions and bad habits to resurface and become enormously enticing again. The attractions of this world suddenly seem a whole lot more gratifying and satisfying, while the words of God seem heavy and burdensome. So we choose to walk in the path of self-gratification and go back to our old destructive ways of thinking.

And no matter how sincere we are in our desire and attempts to repent and turn back to follow Jesus, we keep straying far away from God - rarely thinking about what pleases Him, and choosing our ways instead of His ways. I thought of these as the magnets that the devil uses to confuse and disorient us - especially on the "cloudy " days in our lives. The devil comes when he knows we're feeling down and discouraged and when it's dark around us.

He'll come with his array of attractive magnets, trying to disorient us in our walk with God. He'll come offering us various things in this world that we find attractive and seductive. Or he'll seek to re-introduce those destructive habits that we vowed to leave far behind in order to follow Jesus. If we're not careful and alert, we'll find ourselves being oriented to the strong magnetic pull of this world. We'll calibrate our relationships and our priorities by the standard of this world, and we'll begin to conform to the values of this world.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. We have to renew our mind constantly, reminding ourselves of God's awesome promises for us. We have to renew our mind constantly, reminding ourselves of how really big Almighty God is. We have to renew our mind constantly, remembering again the boundless mercy of God in forgiving and cleansing us from our past sins. We have to renew our mind constantly, recognizing our commitment to Him as sons and daughters of a Holy and Perfect God. As we renew our mind, we re-establish our compass.

We reject the disorienting attractions of the devil, and choose God's Word as our moral compass. So on the bright days, we know we will easily see Jesus in our lives. And we rejoice for such days. But even on the cloudy days, we will resolve to renew our minds and calibrate our moral compass to the truth about God. Then, just like the dark clouds invariably give way to the sun in the natural world, the dark clouds in our lives will pass and we'll once again see the Son of God shining in our lives.

The dark clouds may last longer than we want them to, but we know for sure that they do not last forever. Even if they last the rest of our earthly days, we know that when He returns, every last cloud will be lifted, and we will see Him face to face for all eternity - shining like the noonday sun! Lizards are my least favourite animal. Now I know they serve a purpose - for example, they feed on mosquitoes and so help reduce the number of annoying mosquitoes that I also don't care for.

But yet, somehow, the sight of the common house lizard in a house revolts me like no other. So I've had numerous "battles" with the house lizard - which usually ended up being my running away and wanting no contact whatsoever! But I have also noticed something interesting about them. I've noticed that if their tail happened to be caught or struck, something remarkable would happen. The tail would separate from the rest of the body of the lizard, and the lizard would dart away without its tail!

There was no blood loss, and there were no broken bones. The tail, however, would keep wiggling even though it was completely detached from the lizard's body. It would keep doing this for a few minutes, and then finally come to a stop. The lizard meanwhile would run away and didn't come back looking for its tail! The lizard didn't seem to suffer any pain in all of this, and its tail re-grew over time!

This intrigued me so I researched this, and discovered that this was common among lizards. Their tails had been designed to "separate" from their bodies when attacked. Lizards used this as an effective escape strategy against predators - the predator was left holding the tail, while the lizard escaped to safety. Even the twitching tail had a purpose - it served to temporarily distract its attacker, while the lizard got a head start in running away.

For those who care, this is called autotomy or self-amputation. I also learned that lizards do indeed re-grow the tails they lose. It takes a few months, but an adult lizard can re-grow its tail in a process called regeneration. Absolutely fascinating! But I think there is something we can learn about our fight against sin from this. Please first understand that when I use various animals to illustrate a point, I am not attributing either goodness or evil to them.

I use the animals and their behaviour just as a visual image to see my spiritual walk in a new light. So whether I talk about a dog's obedience or a lion's roar, it's not at all about the dog's goodness or the lion's evilness. So in the same way, I want to look at the lizard and its tail. As children of God, we are asked to also participate in the defeat of Satan in our own lives.

In this revealing verse in Romans , Paul says: The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. I hope you noticed the word "your" here. God wants to crush Satan under our feet. So how does He want us to do that? The same way that Jesus, our Example, defeated Satan! We find the answer to that all the way back in Genesis, after humans first sinned.

After Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God says this in reference to Jesus and the devil in Genesis He [Jesus] shall bruise you [the serpent - but a reference to the devil] on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel. All of us know that a strike to the head will kill just about any animal. So God uses this imagery to describe how Jesus would crush the devil. His first-born Son, Jesus, attacked the "head" of sin in His life for 33 years. Now, God wants the rest of His sons and daughters to do the same.

How does this apply to us? Those of us who are Christians know that we must fight against sin. It is NOT God's desire that we keep fighting sin but never overcoming. He is not a cruel God who tortures us by allowing these sins to linger and fester. He gives His Holy Spirit freely so that we can overcome sin and live in increasing freedom from sin!

So why is it then that we never seem to experience victory in some areas? I believe that the reason is that we often beat at the devil's tail. We fight against sin in our lives, but we keep hitting the tail of sin instead of the head of the sin. So we have a sense of temporary victory from time to time, and we think we have overcome, only to find that the sin is still alive and strong - and the tail has in fact re-grown! Now some sins are easy to address, but others are much more troublesome.

For some this is a propensity to anger. For others it may be a compulsive propensity to lust sexually, or an inability to control one's tongue, or to speak insensitive and hurtful words. For us young people, we often struggle with the doubts that accompany some deep and searching questions about life and its meaning. So questions about one's identity who am I, what am I doing here, what is my goal, etc , and questions about one's image I'm too fat, I'm too thin, I'm not as muscular as those others, etc.

These are deep struggles that many of us can find difficult to shake off easily. Most young men struggle in the area of sexual lust. It is so pervasive and overwhelming that the battle quickly balloons from simply in one's thought-life, into an addiction to pornography and even an insatiable appetite for inappropriate sex. Since we are taught to fight this as Christians, we do just that.

We do our best to avoid staring at images that trip us up, and staying away from Internet sites that will cause us to fall. But I find that while these are important steps to take to overcome sin, at the end of the day, these are often attempts that beat at the tail rather than to attack the head. Please understand me here - I am not saying that it is wrong to attack sin this way. We must do these things. The whole body of sin is worth attacking. All I am saying is that we must recognize that such acts are a secondary part of our overall attack against sin.

If we concentrate on just the tail, we'll find that like a lizard's tail, the sin reappears and continues to live on. When I say we must attack the head of sin, this is what I mean: We must settle the issue of who is in charge and who is in control who is the head. Look, we can call Jesus our Saviour and we can come to church every Sunday and we can continue to pray to Jesus and do many other spiritual activities - but Jesus may not be head over our lives.

Instead we can have another head - namely, ourselves and our self-interests. We can know that we are the head of our lives if we want to run our own lives, or if we want to satisfy our own selfish desires, or if in any particular area of our lives, we are not willing to give it up totally to God. It is this head of my own self-will that must be attacked most furiously most of all.

We must vigorously and ruthlessly attack the attitude within all of us that desires to keep control over our lives. Our eyes need to be opened to how critical this battle for control is to our spiritual health. I don't know if we have seen that the issue that made an exalted angel into the evil devil was the fundamental question of control. An angel who was in God's holy and majestic presence still became the devil because he thought that he should control things and be equal to God.

He did not want God to be absolute Lord and Master. So in our battle against sin, let us keep the battle for "headship" in the forefront of our minds. This posture of humility is vital, because it is the ONLY posture by which we can receive the grace of God needed to overcome any sin. He was an extraordinary man who cared for over 10, orphans in his lifetime.

Most people today would love to imitate his ministry, especially in this social-justice-conscious age. But few realize the secret to his ministry. But back when he was in his twenties the time that is referred to in his statement above , he decided to deal death-blows to the head of sin in his life - i. I once stayed with a friend who had a sheep dog. This dog looked just like most other dogs that I had seen, but its personality and behaviour was quite remarkable.

It didn't bark a lot, but it was also very determined. It was extremely loyal and brave, and so was very good at protecting the house, and so good for a family with small children in it. So I decided that I wanted to learn more about this beautiful animal. I read more about this dog and learned that it is very affectionate with people it knows. It has adapted into a marvellous companion to humans, but is still extremely industrious and dutiful. It gets along with most other dogs and pets.

It is slightly reserved with strangers, and people who are not welcome will be stopped in their tracks. The sheep dog often helps a shepherd take care of his sheep. In mountainous areas, these dogs can be left for long periods alone with a flock. Sheep dogs are so trustworthy and will not roam off and leave the sheep. They are always on the alert for predators e. I also learned that the sheep are not generally fond of the sheep dog. First of all, the sheep dog has sharp canines, quite like the wolf that attacks the sheep.

Yet the sheep dog will never attack or harm the sheep. But the sheep dog is not primarily interested in the sheep's comfort. The sheep dog is always keeping the sheep in line and not letting them wander off. It is always on the alert, sniffing the ground and air, looking in every direction - always watchful for the wolf. And at the first smell let alone sign of a wolf, the sheep dog springs to action - rallying the sheep and mobilizing them to a place of safety. So sheep don't really care for this watchdog… that is, until the wolf shows up!!!

Then the entire flock all look to the sheep dog for protection. When the wolf shows up, they'll do just about anything that the sheep dog wants them to do! The entire flock can't run soon enough and hide behind the lone sheep dog. When facing the wolf, the sheep dog is their only hope of protection. Sheep live their lives as if the wolf doesn't exist and as if the wolf will never attack them. Sheep dogs, however, live their lives as if the wolf could come at any moment. Their entire existence is wrapped up around protecting the sheep that they have been entrusted with.

What a beautiful picture of a selfless protector. What a beautiful example of sacrifice for the survival of the weaker ones. Now we know that Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and that we are His sheep. He tells us as much in the Gospel of John. Jesus doesn't talk about sheep dogs, but I think I see its place. I am inspired to seek to be a sheep dog that could assist my Good Shepherd with the sheep that God has put me in contact with.

There is a great need for good sheep dogs to help the Good Shepherd. Jesus says this in Matthew - 36 Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. The task of the sheep dog is often a thankless job, and so is this same role in the church. Those who put their time and effort to help protect the church body are often overlooked, taken for granted, or even considered an obstacle and a pain. Truly spiritual and godly leaders preach words of truth from the Word of God, exposing sin and deception.

They bring the conviction of the Holy Spirit that can pierce the heart. So, just like the sheep dog shares the same sharp canine teeth as a wolf, a godly leader can be uncomfortable for a wandering flock as he wields the sharp sword of the Spirit the Word of God - seeking to keep the people under his watch in line. But godly leaders should never be mistaken with the evil one. Godly leaders will never harm the sheep or do anything to their detriment.

Godly leaders are NOT interested in controlling the flock at all. They live only to protect the sheep from the cunningness and the surprise attacks of the wolf. It means watching and studying the life of the Good Shepherd very closely. So I must look past His outward actions and study the burdens of His heart. I take note of the things that energised Him most - namely, the well-being of His sheep even over His own well-being.

I earnestly desire the same Holy Spirit that was constantly present in His life. The times of "quiet" and "rest" are opportunities for me to prepare proactively for battle. If the passion of the Shepherd is to protect and save the sheep at all costs, then this becomes my passion as well.

So I seek to equip myself with the promises of God and put on the full armour of God. I know that the wolf will attack; I just don't know when. So I am always on the alert and on guard. And when the wolf attacks, this is the day to represent the Good Shepherd. Since I have been practising in private to use the Sword of the Spirit, I use that to purposefully and aggressively attack the wolf, while being as intentional not to hurt the sheep. So this means that I will willingly lay down my life, my reputation, my pride - if it means the preservation of His sheep - and keeping them in the path of life.

Read slowly this paraphrase of what Paul says to the leaders of the church in Ephesus Acts - The Message : 28 Now it's up to you. Be on your toes-both for yourselves and your congregation of sheep. The Holy Spirit has put you in charge of these people-God's people they are-to guard and protect them. God himself thought they were worth dying for. So stay awake and keep up your guard. First, I want to talk about the lark and the rooster. Those who live in India have seen their share of roosters male-hens.

And those who studied Shakespeare at school like I did have read about the lark. The lark is a small, furry bird that flies effortlessly through the air. Early in the morning, this lark chirps making sounds like it is singing. I first learned about this bird when I read Shakespeare in school, and he spoke of the lark as the bird that almost woke up the sun!


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He describes the lark as the "herald of the morn" in Romeo and Juliet and the one that wakes "the busy day" in Troilus and Cressida. The only other bird that could battle for the "waking the sun" title is the rooster or cock. Growing up in India, my mother raised a few of them in our backyard, and so I got to know this animal quite well! I remember them being terrible at flying because their body shape is not really aerodynamic! They were also always getting in the way of our cricket games in our backyard.

But its crowing was most memorable in my morning memories. Even though its crowing was not melodious like the lark's, it reminds me of my childhood and so brings back many fond memories. The rooster's crow to indicate the next morning is referenced in the Bible as well. So what we have here are two birds that are quite the contrast physically. One is a cute, furry bird that sings melodiously and was a favourite of the greatest poet of all time. The other is an ill-proportioned bird that crows rather than sings, and that was always a sad reminder to Peter's most tragic failure!

Yet they both have one important function in common - they both herald the sun and wake us up to a new day! We have spiritual larks and roosters in our lives. Both herald the Son of God and wake us up to a new life with Jesus. So I must be open to both and realize that they use different means but have the same end. The spiritual larks are those that herald the love of Jesus to me and wake me up again to the beauty of a life in Him. Just as the sounds of a lark are pleasant to my ear, the sweet promises of God to me in His Word are indeed pleasant and give me a restful confidence.

I listen to them through sermons at church or elsewhere, and they assure me that God has a purpose for my life. It can be like water to parched lips. It is to the soul what the lark's singing is to the ear - soothing and laden with joy! But the spiritual roosters are also important.

The spiritual roosters are those that proclaim the commands of the King I serve, and point out the areas where I trivialise His commands. Just as the sound of the rooster crowing was the tell-tale message to Peter of his sin, so also are these Words from God. So such messages convict me of my hypocrisy. They can come from loved ones and friends, who graciously or sometimes not-so-graciously point out the selfishness inside of me. And God Himself shows them to me as I invite Him to search the deepest recesses of my heart.

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Once again, those who have experienced this know what I mean! It can cause us to weep bitterly, and cry in anguish. So while it doesn't feel good at all, it can cause us to humble ourselves before a Holy God! So we need both the larks and the roosters in our walk with God. A lot of us have a natural tendency to gravitate towards the larks because it sounds so uplifting and so comforting.

It is, after all, music to our ears. But we must allow the roosters into our lives as well. They will keep us humble. They will keep us on our knees. And they will help us see our flaws and make us seek God's help for deliverance. While the average person probably gravitates toward the spiritual larks, there are still some who will gravitate towards the spiritual rooters.

These are the people who go "against the grain" even in their spirituality. They are disgusted by the feel-good and superficial spirituality in the Christian world around them. So they gravitate towards strong preaching on holiness and repentance. They love listening to fiery sermons that speak about impending judgment. But because they rarely listen to the lark, they struggle to have a deep joy in their lives. Their spiritual life is defined more by what's wrong with them and with other people, than by what's beautiful in Jesus and what is so wonderful about walking with Him.

Listening to the lark alone will make us spiritually soft, vulnerable to a life of false ease. And listening to the rooster alone will make us spiritually hard, vulnerable to the deceptive life of gloom and legalism. Jesus often used this phrase to conclude his thoughts - "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

Let us have our ears open and attuned to the songs of both the spiritual larks and the roosters. Both herald the Son of God and can wake us up to a better life with Him! Donkeys and horses are two animal species that are part of the same biological family equidae. That's probably not too difficult to believe, because they do look similar. But then again, I don't think many people will look at a donkey and mistake it for a horse. They might be part of the same biological family, but they are still distinctively different in appearance and purpose.

I recently showed a group of people a picture of a donkey and a picture of a horse, and I asked them to tell me what came to mind. The responses for the two animals couldn't have been more different…. Some words used for the horse were: Majestic, swift, graceful, beautiful, expensive, and very desirable. Some words used for the donkey were: Dumb, stubborn, ugly, big ears, cheap, and a beast of burden. I'm pretty sure nobody's surprised by this. Over the centuries, kings and world leaders all rode horses, and none of them would have ever been caught dead on a donkey!

Most of us have probably seen statues or paintings of famous kings and leaders. And if they're seated on an animal, it's invariably a horse. In Biblical times too, kings rode on horses or on chariots drawn by horses. When they had won a battle, the king and his commanders entered into town, triumphantly riding horses and horse-driven chariots. Kings simply did not ride on donkeys. This was true in Jesus' day as well. The culture then knew that kings and aristocracy rode on horses! Donkeys were for the working class and the poor. This perspective helps us as we read how Jesus planned His "triumphant " entry into Jerusalem.

Jesus was intentional with His choice of the animal to be used to introduce the Kingdom He was bringing. Mark - 2 [Jesus] said to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find a colt [young donkey] tied there, on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here. It was a colt a young donkey that Jesus picked out. It was this young, untested donkey that the Lord had need of for His triumphal entry. Jesus intentionally chose a donkey to carry Him into Jerusalem. In His world, He didn't need the pomp and splendour of the horse. He wanted the ordinary and simple donkey.

We also read in this passage that as Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people waved palm branches and heralded Him and praised God. I'm sure some noticed that Jesus was riding a donkey and not a horse, but probably just assumed that Jesus just couldn't find a horse. Even now, I wonder if most of us who read this story realize that Jesus specifically instructed His disciples to find a donkey that He had need of. As it applies to our own lives, we can look at our brokenness and messiness and think that God has no use for us.

We could think that we'll be useful once we've worked through our present ugly state with our lack of skills and personality. Maybe one day, when we have sorted out our low self-esteem and other insecurities, then we'd look less like a sorry donkey and more like a majestic and beautiful horse, and then maybe the Lord could use us. Then, we think, the Lord will have a fitting vehicle to showcase His love.

We can even fool ourselves that we are only being humble. We can feel that we would honour Jesus best if we don't volunteer to be of use to our Lord. So we tell Him, "Jesus, my spiritual life looks quite like a donkey. It's hard to find even one thing beautiful about my spirituality. You meanwhile are a King, the greatest of all kings. So You deserve a beautiful horse.

You deserve a majestic animal that will best honour You. So let me work on my junk a bit. Give me some time to clean up my act and then I will be ready for You. It will be shameful to be presented as King with me nearby. Besides, I'm untested and untried - I'm still a young donkey.

Why don't You wait till I fix myself and get more confidence and get a bit older - then I'll look more like a horse. Then I'll be fit to carry You and present You to others! But the message of the story in Mark 11 is clear. Jesus does not need or want a horse - He has "need of" donkeys! He is not on the lookout for the exquisite and the well-polished horses of this world. He wants to use plain and simple-looking donkeys. So, even though you might look at yourself and see your spirituality and your gifts as ordinary or unsightly with its pointed sharp edges, and you always have your head down because you don't feel you are of much use, God has different ideas - God has need of you, starting just as you are.

God doesn't need the donkey for some complicated task. God has a very simple task: He wants you to showcase Jesus as you carry Him in! If Jesus used a splendid and magnificent horse, maybe people would have admired Jesus and the horse! But when Jesus rode in on a donkey, the focus and praise was completely for Jesus. So also, in our lives too, as we begin to carry Jesus amidst our broken lives, Jesus will have a chance to shine - and people will have a chance to praise Him!

So let's come to Jesus just as we are - with our broken, ugly, and messy spirituality and tell Him, "Jesus, I believe You called for me. You say You have need for me, even though You know full well that I so often feel like and act like a donkey. But nonetheless, because of Your call, I come to You. Here I am, available for Your service.

No matter what others think of me and what I often think of myself, I choose to trust Your voice. I know You will use me - for Your purposes and to bring You the honour You richly deserve! That morning, I was scheduled to visit a top-ranking, powerful government official. My three brothers were with me and one of them had set up this meeting for us. Security was very tight. There were armed personnel everywhere, so I knew that every move was being watched.

When it was time for our meeting, we walked up to this man, and he greeted us all warmly. We talked about different things - I remember that we talked about India, and he mentioned how impressed he was with its growth as a nation. Knowing that he was a Christian, we asked him about his faith and the spiritual disciplines that kept him going in such a tough work environment. Almost immediately, he replied, "Prayer". At first I thought that this was a typical answer, and that he would move on to another topic.

But he seemed genuinely interested in answering that question, and elaborated about the need to be consistent in spending time every day in quietness and prayer, and for help to make the right decisions to very important matters. He also mentioned that a daily commitment to reading the Word helped him staying grounded. He didn't seem in a hurry to answer our questions, especially those questions about his faith - it seemed clear to me that his thoughts on this subject were personally important to him. As I drove back from the meeting with him, there was little doubt in mind that he had a sincere faith in God.

One night every week, he and I had committed to spending the night with the patients there. The patients there were in different stages of their illness. One had become blind, another had lost a lot of the skin colour on his face, and two others were slowly losing feeling in their legs, and probably need amputation. We were there to simply help patients through the night with any help that they needed.

And before we left in the morning, we gave them their morning medicines. This particular night was uneventful, and I went to the different rooms to leave the medicines on their bedside. Most of them were asleep, but one patient, Sam, was awake. Sam walked with a noticeable limp because of his weakened leg muscles, but he was one of the most cheerful and thankful people there. He was profuse in his thanks for my help, and was very happy to see me. We talked for a while, and then he got up from his bed and slowly shuffled to the make-shift chapel down the hall.

He sat there, and silently prayed to God. Over several weeks, I had seen him do this consistently every morning and night - taking the time to talk to God and worship Him in spite of his past mistakes and amidst the pain that now flooded his body. All in all, it was remarkable that within the same hour period, I met two people both followers of Jesus Christ but who lived in completely different spheres. One was an extremely powerful man in this society - and I believe that I will see him in heaven one day. Less than 24 hours later, I saw a man who was diametrically opposite in terms of social significance - mostly forgotten, discarded, and unloved by society.

But I believe just as much that I will see him in heaven as well. It was a most singular incident for me because God revealed Himself to me that day as the Great Equalizer! The one of great esteem shares the same common access to his Creator as the one that is given up for dead.

In God's master plan, the most despised in this world commune together with the most powerful. There is no special seat of honour for the esteemed of this world, and neither is a back corner for the broken of this world. Both take their seats next to each other at their Heavenly Father's dinner table. In God's Kingdom, the powerful and esteemed leopard most certainly lies down with the simple-minded and fragile kid goat. In the next few comparisons on animals, I want to write on animal lessons that I learned from my Dad, Zac Poonen.

He was the one who first taught these to me. I just talked about the powerful leopard and the fragile kid goat. But the analogy that is most applicable to contrast power against fragility is probably the lion and the lamb. If the lion is the king of the jungle, then the lamb is at the other end of the spectrum when it comes to defending itself! Revelation - 4 Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; 5 and one of the elders said to me, "Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.

Let me put this passage in context. The writer is the Apostle John, and he is relating what he saw in heaven. He saw a scroll that had been sealed. To me, this book is a symbol for the story of the lives of all humans, and which was intended to express and extol the glory of God. However, ever since Adam had sinned and submitted to the devil's way of thinking, the book had been sealed.