Monday, August 31, 2015

It's Not Fair!

It’s Not Fair!

We’ve all said it, whether in the frivolity of losing a close game of chance, or in the painful loss of a beloved to untimely death.  What silly creatures we are prone to be.  Like a two year old child, we expect the Grand Unfolding of the cosmos to coincide with our wishes and expectations.  
When this Cosmic Unfolding fails to go “my way”, my first reaction is to feel victimized.  I know better, but my emotions never grow up.  My first impetus is to view reality through the window of the two year old -that planet Earth, hurtling through space with its seven billion people, is revolving around Me.
If we feel victimized, then we must, at least momentarily, believe in a Victimizer.  If this happens in a game of chance, we blame our “misfortune” on the magical Lady Luck, who withdrew her graces from that determining role of dice.  Obviously, this is not a logical conclusion arrived at by our Adult Self.  It is as irrational as wishing for our past to be changed, or that Lady Luck would influence that next roll of dice.  We am not crazy, it’s just that our emotions never grow up.  This remnant of childhood remains our default mode.  While forever humbling, it is easily enough checked by the briefest subjection to logic.
This irrationality can, however, take a darker and more dangerous turn as our sense of victimization takes on increasingly profound proportions.  Our default mode for interpreting life’s hardship, for finding meaning in injustice, is to assign blame.  We say, "This should not have happened!"  The word should implies intention -that the injustice was conceived with some malevolent intention.  And of course, since it did not go according to our preconceptions, then we have been wronged, and we have a right to blame, because we have been victimized.  
When the injustice is frivolous, as in a game of dice, we can dismiss it with a silly accusation against a fanciful thing like Lady Luck.  But if, say, a precious infant dies of cancer, our default mode is to seek blame, to demand that this sense of victimization makes some kind of sense.  An Unbeliever might say it is the cruel randomness of fate that is responsible.  But a Christian, is left pointing his finger to God.  Both the Old and New Testament grapple with this dilemma.
In Job 34:10 we read,   “Listen then to me, like intelligent men.  So far is God removed from wickedness, and Shaddai from injustice, ...God never does wrong, do not doubt that! Shaddai does not deflect the course of right.   It is not as if someone else had given him the earth in trust, or confided the whole universe to his care.  Were he to recall his breath, to draw his breathing back into himself, things of flesh would perish all together, and man would return to dust.”  Job was renowned for his righteousness, yet he was stripped of wealth, prestige, family, friends and health, till he begged for death.  Only in being stripped naked before God, did he come to know his life was not his own, that his very existence depended on the will of God, that the source and meaning of his life could only be found in the will of his all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-just God.
The Gospels give us John the Baptist to ponder.  He was the Cousin of God, described by Jesus himself as the greatest of all born of women.  He gave up everything for God, spent every breath, every ounce of energy in service to his God.  And to what end?  His home was the desert.  His food was locust, his clothing, camel hair.  His short flash of fame –faded into obscurity.  He ended up alone, without family, wife, children or friends -imprisoned in a dark cell, and beheaded by a degenerate whim.  
After all he sacrificed, after a life of exemplary holiness, after giving his all, he dies alone, a shameful death, with his head a trophy of depravity.  Who could more justly claim victimhood?  Who had more just cause to cry out in protest, “It is not fair!”?  How is it he was not driven to despair, to self pity, to feeling as victim of an unjust and uncaring God?  How did he remain faithful to the end, confident in his purpose, to being a voice in the wilderness?  What powerful secret shielded his soul from reason?
John The Baptist did not expect the grand Cosmic Unfolding to be centered around his needs for affirmation, comfort, fulfillment, or even his need for meaning in chaos -for he did not see his life as his own.  He possessed a knowing, a faith, that his life served a Purpose far beyond the world of Self.  The Source of his Purpose, his Meaning, was the Will of God, the Great Unfolder of the Unfolding, the Realm where self-denial, suffering, and sacrifice are all trumped by Truth.  He trusted, that in surrendering, his humble finite space on the Timeline of God, however it unfolded, was of unfathomable worth.
          Lord, I am so vain.  I am prone to want my will to be done.  I presume to know so much that I am a fool.  I am quick to conclude and slow to listen.  Save me Lord.  I thought I could walk on water and am want to drown.  I have all the right words, but lack the love.  I need the lessons of Job, but lack the fortitude.  John gave witness to the Light, I am a witness in need of the Light.  Help me Lord to see the Way you have marked out for me, to Trust in you, that I may walk it Faithfully.  Come Holy Spirit.  Come.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Disney Bruenette

The Disney Brunette


I was standing in line with my two brother-in-laws, waiting to get on Cinderella's Golden Carrousel.  This was way back. I was twenty, Disney World just opened, and tickets were required for each ride.  Standing alone, two places in front of us, was an astonishingly beautiful woman.  Her long, straight, jet-black hair hung perfectly down her neck.  Her blue eyes seemed battery powered.  Every feature about her was perfect.  She was a goddess to behold.

Out of the blue, I blurted out, “I’ll bet you I can get her to go on the ride with me.”  It was a moment of madness I cannot explain.  I took a big breath, smiled at my brother-in-laws, and stepped forward to proposition a goddess.  A few moments later, I returned, asking to borrow some tickets. Seeing, that I was floating on a cloud, they said, “Take them all!”  So began my dream adventure with the beautiful goddess of Disney World.

          After the carrousel, we headed off to Pirates Of The Caribbean.  On the way as we began to talk, the Dream began to unwrap and a Nightmare began to unfold.  I was literally stricken by her emptiness.  She was so full of herself, that my presence was virtually unacknowledged.  Her extraordinary beauty became eclipsed by a repulsive darkness.  I desperately wanted to get away from her.  The intensity of my sudden revulsion was bewildering.  I did not know how to tell her politely that this was a big mistake -that I did not want to be with her anymore.   

We arrived at the attraction and climbed into something like a little row boat, which took us past the various pirate scenes.  She was oblivious to my panic, but all the while, my mind was racing over how to gracefully exit.  The boat had stopped for the next scene.  It was pitch dark and loud with noise.  That is when I noticed the little red Exit sign.  It was my opportunity to bolt.  When the boat moved back into the light, I was gone.  I’m sure she was surprised, but I doubt she ever missed me.

This memory came to mind this morning, as I was reflecting on the enigmatic words of Jesus, where the First shall be Last and the Last shall be First, where the Least shall be the Greatest in the Kingdom Of God.  I could see how these words have application here on earth, but I was struggling to grasp how they also pointed to different levels in heaven.  This was a conundrum, since in heaven, all are in unity, and all are complete.  But, just because all will be perfectly happy, does not mean all will have the same capacity for happiness -for those who loved more, there will be more happiness.

It was intentional, that Jesus connects “least” and “last” with our heavenly reward.  Least and last define humility, which is the antithesis of pride, the primary sin.  Humility must then be the foundational virtue, as it displaces both pride and selfishness.  Making others more important than ourselves is to make ourselves the least, or the last.  It is the beginning of moving up in the Kingdom of God.

Eternal happiness then has a correspondence to humility -to the degree we have learned to empty ourselves of selfishness.  The greater our emptiness, the greater is our capacity to be filled with the Love of God.  God’s love for us is infinite, eternal and unconditional.  We can do nothing to increase or diminish it.  However, we can increase our capacity to experience it, by cultivating humility -which is a hard and narrow road, as anyone familiar with farming knows.  For, cultivation is a demanding commitment, involving hard work, unending perseverance, sacrifice, tenderness -and stubborn Faith that the rain will come.

I cannot wish my selfishness away.  It is structural -a part of my flesh.  Just as air expands to fill the volume allotted it, so too my selfishness expands to fill the space allotted it, relentlessly seeking new pathways to occupy my heart.  I cannot command it gone, but I can choose humble acts of love to displace it, to drive it back, to subjugate it, to redefine it to increasingly confined boundaries, while simultaneously expanding the frontier to love.

Our heart and spirit is a mysterious realm, not prone to casually revealing their secrets.  Their laws of operation are not self evident.  They must be sought, discovered.  Scripture calls this Wisdom, and says it begins with our friend, Humility.  To govern this land of heart and spirit is in the jurisdiction of our mind, our self-control, our free will.  If we forfeit our authority to rule, other forces will take over, either of our flesh -our base nature- or forces of evil.  

Beyond our Self, there are many forces that influence this unseen land.  It is a mysterious interaction involving the grace of God; His faithful angels, including our guardian angel; His unfaithful angels; the intercession of the saints -in the here and now, and in the beyond; and what Scripture calls the “world”, which is a product of humanity outside of God’s will.  These forces are either good (according to God’s will) or evil (against God’s will).  The good, beckons us away from selfishness and toward freedom.  Evil beckons us towards selfishness and into bondage.

And so it was, that in reflecting on evil’s design to ensnare us into a life centered on Self, that the memory of the Disney Brunette was triggered.  Until today, I was at loss to explain the intense revulsion I had experienced in her presence.  Now, I believe it was evil that I had sensed.  She was empty -a Self so expanded, as to leave no space for God or Love, condemned to Loneliness, a glimpse of Hell, the destiny of all who follow the god of Self.

Beauty will always be in the eye to the beholder.  But to a Christian man or women, the most resplendent of sights, will always be a humble heart, empty of self and full of love.  

          Lord, empty me as I seek you now.  Fill me, with Your Light and Love, that I may reflect the Beauty of Your Face.  Help me to love others, as I have been Loved by you.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Breath Of God

Breath of God

Breathe on me, O Breath of God,
Abba Father.
Fill me with your Life Anew.
I am but a Borrowed Breath,
A Thought you Hold,
A Drop of Dew.

Breathe on me, O Breath of God,
Sweet Jesus.
Fill me with your Love, as Driven,
That Your Cross, I may Embrace,
With eyes Unblinded
To Beauty Given.

Breathe on me, O Breath of God,
Holy Spirit.
Fill me with your Blazing Fire.
Purify my Dreams, O Lord,
That I may Hunger
But your Desire.

Breathe on me, O Breath of God,
Triune One.
Fill me with your Praise till Bursting.
My Sins, my Fears
-Your Heart Consuming;
Lost in Mercy,
                                                               To You I Run.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

To Whom Shall We Go?

To Whom Shall We Go?
 
In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, we witness a scene so controversial, that its ripples continue to this day.  The ex-carpenter, Jesus, who has become a rising star to a large group of disciples who call him Rabbi  and Master, and whisper hopes that he is the Messiah, has just returned to his home town, and delivered a teaching which has evoked accusations of madness and blasphemy.  

He has claimed to have come from heaven; that his words are those of his Father, God, whom he has seen, and that whoever believes in them will never die; that he is the Bread of Life; that anyone who eats his Flesh and drinks his Blood will live forever; that his Flesh is real food and his Blood is real drink.
       
Many of his disciples protested out loud, proclaiming his words intolerable and unacceptable as they left Him.  Jesus asked His faithful Twelve if they too wanted to leave Him.  Peter, speaking for all of them, said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

Why did the Twelve stay and the other disciples leave?  Both groups had an intimate relationship with Jesus; witnessed countless miracles and lives transformed; both were moved to hope and joy by His words; and both, were equally confounded by their Master’s explicit declaration.

How is it that, what started as a large group of disciples, would end as a small remnant?  I believe the answer lies in Christ’s response to those leaving Him, “It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer.  The words I have spoken to you are Spirit, and they are life.”

Those who lost faith, who disconnected from their Master, demanded that His words make sense according to their human understanding, according to their flesh. They could not allow for the Mystery of His Spirit.  Those who remained faithful, who stayed connected to Jesus, trusted that He would make sense of the incomprehensible, that if they remained in Him, they too would come to understand the Mystery of His Flesh and Blood.

Only faith, stretched beyond reason, can transcend into knowledge beyond our realm of understanding.

Lord, humble me.  Give me a child’s heart, that I may know my Father’s Love.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

An Unfamiliar Face

An Unfamiliar Face


After Mass this Sunday, I headed to the hall, where I was looking forward to visiting with my daughter over coffee and a bagel.  I was hurrying through the crowd outside the church doors, when my path was suddenly blocked by a startling woman.  She was severely obese; dressed in gaudy mismatched clothes; had a dark blotchy beard on her chin; and lipstick smeared around her mouth and one side of her neck.  Her eyes were an empty stare.  I pretended I had not seen her, and continued on my hurried pace.

This morning, her Unfamiliar face visited my prayer thoughts. It was Unfamiliar as in outside of my family, outside of my kind, outside of my compassion.   She was an outcast, a troubled and lonely soul.  She was the Face of Jesus, whom I had just received in Eucharist, and yet did not recognize.  I lacked the mercy to recognize the Face of my Lord.  In truth, I denied knowing Him -out of fear and smallness of heart.

          Forgive me, Lord.  I am a pitifully poor and small soul.  Holy Spirit, expand my soul to embrace our Father’s Mercy.  Jesus, remake my heart of stone into one as Your Own.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Remind Me Lord

Remind Me Lord

Oh Lord, your Morning Light makes all things so clear.
I shall praise You in everything I do.
As the day grows cluttered and my mind weary,
If I begin an un-praiseworthy act,
Holy Spirit, remind me of your Morning Light.
 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Today Becomes Tomorrow

Today Becomes Tomorrow

    Today is both the present and a present.  Today is the present Now –the Breathing In of God’s Spirit, and the Breathing Out of my life lived.  It is a piece of time, the only place where I can change, where Becoming takes place.  It is where my past is expressed, where my future is chosen, where my true self is brought to life.  
    All this then, makes today, also a present –a Gift.  It is a gift of life from God, and a gift of my life to God …. ”Look Master, You gave me five talents and I made them into ten!”
    Today is a piece of time, a length of thread, which I weave into the tapestry of my life.  Just as I do not choose the Gifts given to me, I do not chose the color or texture of today’s thread, but every thought and action of mine, weaves it into the tapestry of my life.  This tapestry is pure Gift –the Gift of Life to me, and the gift of my Life to God.
    The Hope I have in Christ, is that my tapestry, will itself become a thread, that combined with all the Saints, will become the very image of its Source, that the intertwined unity of all the love that is, will become one with God, individual still, yet consumed in the Oneness Of Love.

You Are The Light Of The World

You Are The Light Of The World

My Child,

You are the Light of the world.
I have commissioned you
to give testimony to the Light. 

Be bold.
Speak My Truth in love. 
You were in Darkness once,
now, you are a Child of The Light. 

Do not let Fear of Rejection darken your Light.
Whether your Light is received or spurned,
you must continue to love. 

For it is Love that drives your heart to Shine,
and it is Love
that will open the Blinded Eye to receive My Light.

Do not be afraid.
Bathe My world
                   in Light and Love.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Hunger And Thirst

Hunger And Thirst

Father, You desire me for You alone.
Every desire of mine that leads me away from You is evil. 
Do not allow my eyes to wander from Your Gaze.
May I prize You above all distractions. 
Purify my soul. 
Make me Hungry for your Bread of Life,
Thirsty for your Saving Cup,
and Desperate for the Breath of your Spirit.
This is my Prayer, oh Lord.
Holy Spirit, make this my Life.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

On The Existence Of God

On The Existence Of God

          Preface: This composition began as some simple words of encouragement to an extended family member who was questioning the reality of God.  As I wrote, I became increasingly stirred by the importance of the message and the realization that there are many others who share in this struggle, young and old.  Those few simple words evolved into a serious reflection on the existence of God.   It is my hope and prayer that this message will find its way into the hearts of all who may benefit. These words are for God’s use.  May they find their home according to His will.
  
          Recently, my 12 year old granddaughter, Grace, was sharing some of her summer adventures with me.  She was filled with enthusiasm and joy.  In the middle of one of her happy stories, she stopped suddenly, got very serious, and shared her confusion and bewilderment upon discovering a close relative does not share our convictions about God, the bible and our faith.  I listened to her as she was trying to process how that could be possible, as it is all so simply clear to her.  I assured her that most people have a time when they struggle to believe in the things they were taught about God, that God’s feelings aren’t hurt, and that He understands that we need to figure these things out on our own, that we can’t be forced to believe in Him.  I told her that God is very patient, that He is always waiting for us to love Him.  I told her that I understand what it is like, because when I was in college, I too decided I no longer believed that God was real.  But, even though I gave up on God, He never gave up on me, and He will not give up on our relative either.

          The following Sunday, our homily was about how all of us know people who are living a life estranged from God’s loving plan, and that we are called to be a light in the world, to proclaim the Truth about God’s love, especially in our families.  I immediately thought of my conversation with Grace and how she desperately tried to make her relative understand.  I felt so proud of her.  My next thought was that God gave her as a model for me to follow.
Since then, in my morning prayers, I have been feeling a nudge to share my own story -about the love Jesus has shown me after I turned my back on Him and what I have come to believe.  I have come to this understanding with God: If an urging toward good keeps coming to mind, and especially if I am resistant to that idea, then I can, with a high degree of confidence, believe it is the Holy Spirit making a request of me.  This composition is my response to what I believe God is urging me toward.  It falls into three parts: I.) A letter I wrote in the late 90’s for some aviation buddies; II.) Some thoughts regarding our search for truth and the reality of God’s existence; and III.) An excerpt of a talk I gave for our prayer group on knowing God. 

I.  The Letter
          The letter came about from a controversy on the “Kolb List”, an email group that I subscribed to at the time.  Kolb is the brand of ultralight aircraft that I was flying then, and the kind that has been languishing in my shop for fifteen years, waiting to be finished.  One of the rules on that forum was that all content must be related to Kolb aircraft.  Politics and religion were to be relegated to other appropriate forums.  Well the topic of God would invariably come up.  Someone would share their sense of awe while flying, or their gratitude for an averted disaster, or ask for prayers for a fellow member on the list.  Some guy got annoyed and was complaining that God is not Kolb related, and he asked, “Why was it so hard to not bring up religious comments?”  I saw this as an “opportunity” and wrote the following email response to that guy’s question:  

          [Since you asked the question about separating our religious beliefs from the content of this list, I thought I would offer a response.  You can hit "delete" now, if you wish.

             One day in 1973 I told God that I no longer believed he existed, that he was merely a phenomenon of social evolution & a crutch for the weak.  Within minutes after that declaration of my new religious belief or unbelief, a miraculous event occurred that unequivocally proved to me that God not only existed but that he had a personal interest in my life.  Since that day I try very hard not to separate God from my daily actions or decisions. Call me collect, 352-622-####, and I'll share the story with you.  As far as how this email is related to Kolbs & flying, I'll make the point quickly.

               For many of us, flying is a profoundly religious experience.  I expect it is for you as well, but you interpret it differently.  It is a fact, that my joy of flying Kolbs is much greater when I intentionally share it with God & acknowledge his hand in creating the laws of physics & the beauty of this planet.  I thank him for gifting his servants Homer & Dennis with the ability to create & economically provide these unique aircraft kits that we enjoy.  For some of us God & religion are inseparable from Kolbs & flying.] –end of email

          I knew I was pushing the limits of that forum’s rules, but I was technically still being Kolb related.  I had no intentions of taking my story any further.  I just wanted to get a good word in for God.  But the next day there were several messages on my answering machine and several email responses on the Kolb forum, all wanting to hear the rest of my story.  I could not put it on the Kolb forum, so I asked if anyone on the Kolb list had a personal website and would be be willing to host some space where I could post the rest of my story for the interested forum members.  I got an offer right away and the following is the letter I wrote:
The Rest Of The Story

                Let me start with a snapshot picture of myself.  I presently teach incarcerated teenage felons (boys) math. Three years ago I ended a 17-year hitch as a youth minister and director of adult education for a very active church of 3,000+ families.  Before that I was a counselor.  Before that I was a mechanic, a welder and an audiovisual repairman.  My wife is a school nurse.  Our daughter Julie is in her 3rd year of college and is engaged to a good Christian young man.  Our guitar-playing son is starting college this fall.  My first ultralight was a Maxair Hummer in ‘83, then I bought an almost completed Kolb UltraStar which ended up highly modified with long bungee gear legs, a semi-enclosure, and flaperons.  Next I had a Kolb MarkII which I flew only a few hours because I found a nearly complete Kolb SlingShot which I hope to have flying this month.  Now I’ll finish the rest of the story.

In 1973, I was a confused and depressed junior at the University of Florida.  I was deeply involved in the drug culture and immersed in the pleasures of the world.  My younger brother died in a collision with a rock truck, my dad was peaking as an alcoholic, the girl I was having relations with told me she was getting married to some guy, I was failing in all my classes, I was running out of money, and I had a mother who would not give up praying for her wayward son.  I was in a deep, dark pit, desperately needing a Savior who possessed an unimaginable amount of mercy.

Why a young man, in the state of sin that I was in, would wander into the back of a church, can only be said to be Providential, but that is what I did.   I thought I was alone as I stood there brokering a deal with God.  I was looking at a Life In The Spirit Seminar poster and thinking to God, “I’ll go to this seven week course if you straighten out my life.”

Out of nowhere, there was a gentle tap on my left shoulder.  I swung around and found myself confronted with a stunningly attractive ‘angel’ with long, silky, platinum blonde hair.  She stood there just smiling at me for a moment that seemed like an eternity.  I was riveted to her sparkling blue eyes which seemed to be melting my soul.  I felt exposed and bewildered.  Then, with her beautiful red lips pursed, she smiled and simply said, “Why don’t you come?”  

          Sacred Scripture clearly teaches that man has free will and that God will not violate it.  Well let me tell you, He sure can stack the deck!  He may be all-just, but He doesn’t always play with a level field.  I did the only thing I could do.  I squeaked, “OK” and nearly choked on it at that.  I didn’t have an inkling of the enormity of that little word which just croaked out of my mouth -how it would change my life.  Well, “Angel Lady” never broke eye contact.  She further disarmed me with another overwhelming smile and said, “Good.”  Then, abruptly turned around and disappeared out the door.  I was paralyzed.

We all know, it’s not what you say, but how you say it that counts.  Well the way she said “Good” haunted me.  It was said with a heartfelt sense that I was the most important person in the whole world.  I could only think she mistook me for someone else.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just been touched by the Majesty of God’s Love.  Angel Lady, later known as Joann, (Mrs., in case your imagination gets going) remains today as one of the holiest and most beautiful persons I’ve had the privilege to know.  The realization that God chose to pull out such a big gun in His arsenal to win me over will forever humble me.

God’s love, through His servant, Angel Lady, shook my spirit.  As I stood there, stunned by a power I had never felt before, something was happening deep within my hardened heart.  Its stone wall had become cracked, and a glimmer of hope, like a long lost memory, was breaking through -a faint echo of life long ago when our family laughed.  I don’t remember what happened next, or for the rest of the week, except I couldn’t wait for that seminar and kept wondering if Angel Lady would be there.

She was there and so were many other loving and committed Christians.  They easily recognized my spiritual poverty, but never lectured me.  Instead, they unconditionally loved me and welcomed me to become part of their community.  I learned a lot in the next seven weeks, about God’s love, salvation, the gifts of His Holy Spirit, and the need to center my life around prayer, scripture, service, and Christian community.

The following semester I was making straight A’s.  I had meaning and joy in my life.  I had died to an old way of life and was reborn a new man -forgiven, transformed and empowered.  I had discovered that the bible was not merely a history book about saints, but that it is a Living Word, a recipe for abundant living, here and now, for me.  That semester was like being on a honeymoon with God.  I did not know that the next semester would hold a pit that was deeper and darker than anything I had ever known before or since.

God is a perfect gentleman.  He will woo us, even entice us, to follow His son Jesus.  He will never force us to choose Him.  He will however, allow us to reject Him, His lordship, His way, His love.  I know this because I did this -even after all that I had seen with my eyes and experienced with my heart.

I crumbled because I was strong.  My strength was my weakness.  I always believed in the Truth, that Truth will prevail, that anyone who seeks Truth will find it, that there is not a nobler pursuit.  I still believe this, but now I know the caveat that accompanies it, that all men are capable of being deceived.  In 1973, I was much more arrogant and self reliant than I am today.  God has given me a keen mind and a strong will.  These gifts submitted to Him and His Word can be productive and a blessing.  These same gifts submitted to self, plus, coupled with naive arrogance, is a disaster and a curse.

That fateful semester I signed up for a course entitled Humanistic Psychology.  It was taught by Dr. Sydney Jerrard, the foremost authority in that field and author of the course textbook.  He was brilliant, enthusiastic, funny, inspiring, kind and obviously popular with the students.  In retrospect, he was also a troubled man.  He seemed to be obsessed and driven to disprove God and religion.  The entire semester he kept coming back to discourses revolving around the idea that God is a man-made concept which evolved out of man’s societal behavior.  And that, long ago, it had a positive function by providing meaning and order for primitive man, but now, we no longer needed this superstitious belief system.

          At first, in my new found faith, I scoffed at him.  But then he kept coming up with these logical arguments that were increasingly difficult to refute.  He even began explaining away the miracles that Jesus worked.  Then he began showing documentation of miracles that were happening today by people who were in no way connected with Christianity.  Eventually, in my pursuit of Truth, I found myself asking, “What if this is true?”  At first, that thought terrified me and I would toss it out of my mind.  But then I began wondering if I was being afraid of the Truth.  With my nature as it was, I ended up compelled to considerate it.  And this is the path that brought me to the darkest intersection of my life.

It was early morning.  I was by myself in my apartment bedroom.  I was emotionally exhausted.  I had alienated myself from my church friends.  I believed they would never understand or accept my struggle over the existence of God.  My other friends had no interest in the subject.  I was alone.  Sleep was avoiding me.  I felt guilty, confused, tormented and angry.  I finally slumped off the side of my bed and crumpled into the middle of the floor.  I looked up toward heaven and screamed out with a desperate and angry cry, “God, I don’t believe you exist.  If you do, you’ll just have to show me!”

At first, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.  For a moment, I felt weightless.  But then, I was flooded with despair.  I felt utterly alone in all the universe, without any horizon or reference, like a tiny cork bobbing in a storm in the middle of the Pacific ocean, lost, terrified.  Suddenly, all the reasons for not doing something bad, no longer existed.  And, all the reasons for doing something good no longer existed.  I was an empty shell, a man who ordered his entire life around a myth.  Now the Myth was gone, and my fantasized order-of-life went with it.  Fear and emptiness took their place.  All I could do was drown my thoughts with loud heaving cries.

If you were me, in that situation, would you go answer the phone if it was ringing?  That’s just what I did.  I got up from being a pile on the floor, wiped my running nose on my sleeve, sucked in my snot, wiped the tears off my face, took a deep breath, picked up the phone and said, “Hello?” as best as I could.  It was someone I had not seen in a long time.  It was Angel Lady’s best friend, Fran.  Fran was my small group leader in the Life In The Spirit seminars.  She is the one who led me in my prayer to receive Jesus as my Lord and to avail myself to His Holy Spirit.  She said, “Hello, Richard?  Something really strange just happened.  You might think this is really weird, but I was just having my morning prayer time, and I felt the Lord wanted me to call you and tell you to read Hebrews 11:1.” 

I don’t remember saying anything.  I don’t remember hanging up.   The next thing I remember is being immersed in an incomprehensible joy as I read the first verse.  I will quote it from the same bible that I read it from.  Hebrews Chapter 11, verse 1:  “Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen.” 

God is so merciful.  First, He rescued me from a life of depravity and brokenness.  Instead of allowing me to reap the consequences I deserved, He gave me His forgiveness and joy.  He lavished me with loving friends and success.  Then, while feeling so in control of life, I arrogantly betrayed, and even denied, the God that gave me my new life.  Again, instead of allowing me to remain in the hell that I chose and deserved, he miraculously intervened in the natural order of another person’s life so that He could reveal His existence to me -an unfaithful lost soul.  Why would the Creator-Of-The-Universe do this for puny, sinful me?  Why would He give me so many undeserved chances to choose Him?

Some might answer, “Because God is love.”  Others might quote John 3:17 “For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved.”  I would like to add, “Because God cannot lie.”  Throughout Scripture, we find this promise repeated, “When you seek me you shall find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”  Because God is Truth, Goodness and Love, He cannot make a promise and not keep it.  I believe I stumbled upon this promise of God, in my sincere pursuit of Truth, and He remained faithful to it.  His Word is full of many such promises, all of them equally inviolable.  All of them holding out life to us -if we just believe they are true, if we just believe that the Maker of those promises is who He says He is.

He says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. ...I have come that you may have life and have it in abundance.  ...I am the Good Shepherd.  ...from my breast shall flow fountains of living water.   ...I am the bread of life.   ...I have come for the sinner and the sick.  ...to bring good news to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free...”  Many are the promises of God and blessed are they who find rest and mercy in His redeeming grace.

I have never doubted God’s existence since that day in 1973.  I have doubted other realities of His kingdom and I have other stories of His saving grace in spite of my sinfulness and mistakes.  But always He is faithful and forgiving, taking my weaknesses and even my life’s tragedies, and turning them into good.  It is good to belong to Him, to have Him as my Savior, Redeemer and Deliverer.

Later that semester, on the day of the final exam, Dr. Sydney Jerrard said, “Oh, by the way, all of my discussions about God and religion are my personal opinion.  I guess we will not know the Truth until we die.”  Two days later, the whole class was waiting for Sydney to show up and post our grades.  His graduate assistant entered the room in tears and announced, “Sydney died this morning.  His car crushed his skull while he was changing the oil.”  Without thinking, I said to myself out loud, “Now you know Sydney.”  I wonder if he had another chance?
-The end of the Kolb letter


II.  Some Thoughts On The Existence Of God

             In retrospect, wondering if Sydney had another chance, was not the central question.  The bottom line question is “What did he do with his last chance to invite God into his life?” For, the fundamental purpose of every Being is to define themselves –either as creature or god.  This sweeping conclusion is, of course, based upon ‘Reality according to Richard’ which in one paragraph would read as this: 

God, who is Love, wants to share His love, so He creates the cosmos, a place to bring us into existence, all that we may have a chance to choose the love He is offering.  He then injects Himself into human history through the God-Man Jesus, to introduce us to the God we were created to know, love and serve.  Jesus crystallizes His revelation with the story of the Prodigal Son, explaining how His Father has nothing but unconditional love for His children, and that no matter how wayward they’d wandered or how much they rejected Him, He is ever waiting to restore them into the love and blessings of His family.  After cementing the image of God, He establishes His Church and gives it the authority to decree what is and what is not according to His will (Matthew 16:19).  This Church then, collated His Word and Story into a Sacred Book of Truth, gathered it’s followers under her wing, and proceeded to lead them through time, insuring their salvation in the integrity of His Word, until He comes in the culmination of time, where the faithful will reap what they have freely chosen, and unfaithful, will reap from what they have freely rejected.  
   
This perspective is my best attempt to summarize Divine Revelation as received by the Christian church.  If it instills hope and comfort, then I believe we are on the way to knowing the Mind of God –and life, even its tragedies, will become congruent in the Peace of God.  But, if Divine Revelation instills fear or derision in us, then it is because we have bought into a reality outside the Mind of God, outside of Truth –we are living, at best in a corrupted truth; or at worst, in Darkness, in opposition to Light.

It might be possible, that in devising our own reality, one which placates a lifestyle outside of God’s Will, that we might hide ourselves from fear and despair with selfish distractions; but in the end, like Sydney, we all will eventually come to a skull crushing moment, and no self manufactured truth system will undo the Uncreated Truth of God.  Sirach 15 & 16 speaks pertinently to this point: “He himself made man in the beginning, and then left him free to make his own decisions.   If you wish, you can keep the commandments, to behave faithfully is within your power.  He has set fire and water before you; put out your hand to whichever you prefer.  Man has life and death before him; whichever a man likes better will be given him.  For vast is the wisdom of the Lord; he is almighty and all-seeing.  …. His mercy is great, but his severity is as great; he judges every man as his deeds deserve: the sinner shall not escape with his ill-gotten gains, nor the devout man's patience go for nothing.  He allows free play to his mercy; yet every man shall be treated as his deeds deserve.  

In the world that I grew up in, you would never consider admitting that you do did believe in God.  You would have been looked upon as a freak.  Today, atheism is popular.  In many circles, to admit to believing in Jesus, is to invite ridicule.  To make things more confusing: believing in healing crystals; or that Mother Earth is a god; or to practice the ancient Eastern religions; is all quite fashionably the “in thing” to do.  In the twenty-one centuries, since the Apostle Thomas refused to believe in the Risen Christ unless he put his fingers into His wounds, it has always been a struggle to grow in faith.  But this 21st century is on course with being the most hostile to Christianity since the 1st century persecutions.

If there is so little support today, for Christians secure in their faith, how lonely and terrifying it must be for those who are struggling for reasons to believe.  And what voice is there today, competing for those who are lost in our culture of self fulfillment, chasing their own dreams, oblivious to The Dream God has for them?   No one can force another to choose the way of God.  If God is powerless to violate free will, how much more are we incapable of demanding our loved ones to drink from the Wellspring of Truth? 

The decision, to acknowledge that we belong to our Creator, is made in a protected, sacred place within our spirit.  It is accessible only to the individual self.  Even God must be given permission to enter.  This is a lonely and existential place, where the only movement is the breath of our own volition.   This is the place where our destiny begins, where we determine who we are, to whom we belong, and for what will we live.  Yes, the mystery of God’s grace is present.  Yes, we hear other voices beckoning.  But this source of our self-determination is an utterly lonely place, where blame has no meaning, where what we do is who we are, who we choose to become.  

We may see what another cannot yet see, yet it is for them alone to choose.  Our love for them gives us no right to manipulate or guilt them into choosing what we have chosen.  Love is always surrendered, whether human or Divine, it is always given and received in total freedom.  If this is scary for us, is it not then, infinitely more so, for God who is Love? 

               We cannot force someone to live for something beyond themselves, not for a cause, not for another person, not for the Truth.  At best, we can hope to be a voice that is received into their sacred space.  Maybe our lives can make them thirst for what we have found.  Maybe our Joy, Peace, and Love will give them a hunger for our Bread of Life.  How can we speak in order to be heard?  Let us ever pray for Wisdom, for the time to speak out, and for the sacred silence that speaks without words, that we may be humble vessels of Truth, that our lives lived may be a translation of the Word which has been planted in our hearts.  Make it so Lord.  Make it so.  

No one can prove that God exists.  Only the most arrogant of fools would dare claim to be able to define the Creator of all that is, so how can the puny mind of man determine what is valid proof or disproof of what is impossible to comprehend?  How can the finite proclaim the infinite nonexistent?  As Scripture says, “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity …that humility is the first step towards wisdom”. 

 If the most brilliant scientist on earth said to me, “Richard, your experience of God’s love failed to meet our criteria for what is real.” I would have to bite my tongue, to keep myself from saying something disparaging about one of God’s beloved and most pitiful of creatures.  If a thousand brilliant scientists and philosophers authored a decree that says God does indeed exist, my faith in Him would not be increased.  That God exists, I am certain.  There is no other sane explanation for that telephone call to faith at the very moment I denied the existence of God -other than the existence of a loving God. 

Our most prestigious universities of higher learning would offer other explanations: 1) I am delusional; or 2) It was a random coincidence -just as Humanity is a random coincidence of an infinite number of events which, over millennia, needed to happen in an their exact sequence, in order to produce a species capable of denying the cosmos was created.  This modernistic thinking is the basis of one of atheism’s biggest ‘Got you!’ points: “If you ask, ‘Who created the cosmos?’ -as proof of God’s existence, then I have the right to ask you, ‘Who created God?’”  They say, “If you can claim that God always was, then I can claim the universe always was.”

This argument is based on a logical fallacy.  They are comparing the universe, which occupies time and space, and is bound by the laws of physics, to God -who is spirit, exists outside of time and space, and is not bound by the laws He created for the universe.  Yet it is easier for them to believe that something can come from nothing -that there can exist an event (the universe) without a first cause, than to believe that creation has a Creator.  I wonder if believing in an uncreated universe is easier because it seems more reasonable to them, or because if they did believe in a Creator, they would then have to change their lives?  Faith is a fearful proposition.

Atheists present themselves as students of science, whose reality is based on the principles of scientific reasoning, while projecting believers as superstitious ignorant people whose reality is based on myth.  Yet, their most fundamental assumption about reality, that the cosmos was not created, is every bit an act of faith (a belief unable to be measured by scientific method) as is the Christian’s claim that the cosmos was created.  It begs one to ask if they believe their own lie, or do they suffer from an unexamined mind?  

The believer is free to use science in pursuit of Absolute Truth, but, the unbeliever, is consigned to use science in a manner that denies Absolute Truth.  The atheist’s faith in observed reality is based on something that does not exist -on the absence of a First Cause.  The believer’s faith is based on the First Cause –God’s Word; as in Genesis where God spoke and the world came into being; as in the Gospel of John -“In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God …Through him all things came to be,” and as in Jesus Christ, who said, “I am, the Way, the Truth and the Life.”  

In the fable of the two blind men describing an elephant, one, holding the trunk, said, "It is like a snake."  The other, who was holding its leg, said, "No, it is like a tree."  Both are limited by their blindness from comprehending the absolute truth of an elephant.  Truth and reality are inextricably linked.  They cannot be separated.  If truth is muted or denied, then too, is our grasp of reality.  We must allow all the voices of truth speak to the glory of God: science, beauty; the majesty of nature; the cry of a baby; the vastness of stars; the language of love; religious experience; our gift of reason; and most especially, God’s revelation –Sacred Scripture and the teaching of His Church.  If we limit our search for God to that which can only be proven by science, then we will only know what God is not.  And doesn’t that make a great atheist? 

In a Godless mentality -which demands tangible proof- the greatest questions in life will be left unexamined, as we will not bother to seek what cannot be measured.  Questions like: ”Is the sum of my parts greater than the whole?  Is my mind intertwined with  spirit or soul?  What is the Me that cannot be defined by my body or the function of my brain cells?  Am I transcendent  -can a part of me exist outside the confines of space and time?  Will my Creator hold me in eternal existence?  Can I know Him?  If I exist, does that mean there must be a purpose for which I was created?  Is there meaning in life?  How can I find fulfillment?  What makes happiness sometimes transient and other times deep and enduring?”  These kinds of questions might arise in the mind of the unbeliever, but self imposed blindness to religious truth, makes examination futile.

These deeply profound questions have preceded recorded history.  They are fundamentally religious in the sense of addressing a reality that transcends the limits of our material world.  How is it, that modern man has become too sophisticated to ask them?  How smart is that?  We pay lip service to religious freedom, but shriek, “Fowl!” if it’s expression is publicly manifested.  We cannot allow the Modern Mind to highjack science, to relegate religious questions to irrelevance, simply because they cannot be subjected to experimental proof.  

This reminds me of the joke where a guy is looking for a lost coin one night, under a street light.  A second man kindly offers to help look for it, and asks where he lost it.  The first replies, “Oh, about a block from here.”  Confounded by the absurdity, the second asks, “Why are you looking here?”  The first replied, “Because there is no light there.”  To limit our search for Truth to the light of science is no less an absurdity.  To dismiss the single most influential source of Truth in all of history -God’s Word as revealed in Sacred Scripture, is to be resigned to a search with a self imposed blindfold. 

Millennia of wisdom, science, math, philosophy, art and poetry has been produced by people whose meaning of life was integrated with Holy Scripture.  The foundation of science itself, the scientific method, was given to us by a monk.  Schools, universities, and hospitals found their origin in the institutions of the church.  Science and reason are not truth.  They are merely tools we can use to discover or suppress Truth, to search for it, or to hide from it. 

God’s Word is the gold standard of Truth for the believer.  It is the revelation of God’s mind; of what is good or evil; of eternal importance, or dust.  It is God’s recipe for happiness; His way for breaking into our lives with unexplainable power, to live when life seems unlivable; it’s His source of peace, hope and fulfillment for all who will trust in His love.  It is the portal to transcendent knowledge for those who are willing to risk a “…faith that proves the existence of realities that at present remain unseen.” (Hebrews 11:1)  If I am to believe that I am not created by a God who loves me and has a unique plan for my life, then I must dismiss this Book as myth, and avoid reading it at all costs.  Any use of this book as the path to fulfillment must be ridiculed and never considered.  I must be as all good unbelievers are –closed to God’s Word.

Atheism cannot admit to Absolute Truth.  That would lead them to the God whom they deny.  Instead, they must proclaim truth as relative -dependent on circumstance or experience.  With 7.3 billion people, that would make 7.3 billion equally valid versions of truth, 7.3 billion equally valid realities, each protesting the existence of the other, each closed to Divine Unity. 

When Mary was confounded by the angel Gabriel announcing that she was to become the mother of God (Luke 1:26), her response epitomized our search for meaning.  She asked God’s messenger, “How can this be?”  When trying to make sense of her world in that moment, she didn’t take a poll, or get all scientific.  She sought the Mind of God.  Her search for Truth is crowned with integrity.  That is to say, the end was not conditioned by consequences.  She wanted THE right thing to do, not the right thing that would make her feel better, or the right thing that would allow her to do what she wanted.  She was in search of Truth with a capital “T”, the one that spells the Mind of God -no matter the cost.

What a contrast to what is modeled by our most brightest, our university professors of higher learning where quantum physicists theorize how there are an infinite number of alternative realities with no beginning or end; and philosophers, who proclaim reality itself is an illusion -that our experience of reality is just a compilation of synapse firings in our brains; or the law professors who champion the “rightness” of butchering over fifty-five million babies since Roe vs Wade.

Only the smartest of people can achieve truly profound stupidity.  In fairness to smart people, it is not intelligence that is the root cause for the denial of God, it is intelligence coupled with pride or hurt, or both.  I count myself as having been one of them.  I was an atheist who was angry with the God I didn’t believe in.  I was arrogant, hurt, confused, and deceived.  I bought into their lie.  I was emotionally wounded.  You might have correctly describe me as mentally ill -filled with irrational thoughts blurred by painful emotions, all, in search for an excuse, primed for a life centered on Self, with a capital “I”.

Why God miraculously delivered me from my madness, and not all other nonbelievers, is not for me to explain.  However significant his intervention is in my life, it is a minuscule revelation of the Mind of God.  What I am compelled to say, is that God is real, and He loves me.  He proved it to me in a manner that I can never deny.  And if He loved me after my betraying Him, then He surely loves you, no matter what.  You can fill in your own sinful details, but it doesn’t matter.  He loves you anyway.  He cannot not love you -because He is love.  Since 1973, when I made that terrifying decision to live my life according to the Will of Jesus, I have had four decades to test His faithful love, to test the truth of His Word that I vowed to follow.  I would die rather than deny the love He has shown, or the truth of His Word.

After four decades of serving Him –of calling on His Name for His saving help, I have only known the faithful face of God.  I have had the privilege of witnessing His love transform the lives of countless people.  One Sunday afternoon at a conference, after listening to the Pope welcome the Charismatic Renewal into the heart of the Church, I was photographing a touching picture of a priest praying with a small group in a field of grass.  He looked at me and said with a commanding request, “Come join us.”  I did.  They were praying for healing.  He lead, as the rest of us laid on our hands in prayer with him.  Miracle after miracle took place before us.  Then the priest was paged over the PA system.  He again turned to me, and said, “I must go.  You can take over for these last three.”  When he saw the shock on my face, he said, “What, do you think it was I who was healing these people?  I had no choice but to say, “No” then step forward to lead the prayer.  

The first, was a woman who was deaf.  We prayed and she was cured instantly.  The second was a young lady who had one leg several inches shorter than the other.  She sat, while I held the foot of her short leg, everyone else, laid their hands on her shoulder.  As we prayed, her leg pushed my hands.  It grew past the normal leg, then shrunk back even.  The last, was a very old, wrinkled nun.  She was stooped over, could only hobble, her hands and fingers were knurled and rigidly twisted inward.  Seconds after we started praying she began to loudly cry.  She began dancing, turning in circles, bending over, then standing straight up with her arms  towards heaven, opening and closing her hands, and wiggling her fingers, alternating between laughter and crying.  We could only join her, in praising God with tears and laughter.

How would an atheist explain these interventions of God’s love?  Probably, they would deflect the question and focus on what didn’t happen, on all the people that have prayed and nothing seemed to have happened.  Maybe they would just say, “Whatever” and continue on in unbelief -unwilling to confront the incongruity of God’s Grace.  In the end, all of us will have our skull crushing encounter with Truth –sooner, or later, all untruth will be exposed.  If we bet our life that God exists, and we are wrong, our life will eventually end, and it will just be over it.  But if we bet our eternity that God does not exist, and we are wrong, we will have forever to regret.  What is not worth the effort to seek the love of God with all our heart, mind and strength?   Must not we at least examine the evidence with our eyes open?

The first chapter of Ephesians is one of the most profound and beautiful in God’s Word.  It says that before the world was, God chose us that we might live in love with Him.  This is our purpose, the reason we exist.  All humanity, it says, is predestined to live in love with God.   This is however, unattractive to a true unbeliever.   They will object, “But, who would desire a God who allows bad things to happen to innocent people?”

If God’s invitation of love is to be authentic, then, not only must we have the choice to choose Him, but it must exist as a real option, not just an either/or alternative, as in, “You must choose either eternal happiness, or eternal damnation.”  That would be a forced choice.  Who wouldn’t choose love with God, if hell was the only alternative?  Actually, many do make this mad choice, but that involves a complicated answer that is unnecessary for the present point, which is, that God does in fact offer a very attractive alternative to rejecting Him.  It is the same alternative offered in the prehistory of Adam and Eve.  It is the immediate attraction of short term happiness which is in conflict with the long term commitment to an eternal relationship with God.  It is the choice of self pursuit over the pursuit of God. 

Thus enters the mystery of sin and suffering, the arena of free will -where God allows Satan to test us, to provide us with real choice, to choose our eternal destiny of love with God; or, by necessity, the default choice -an eternal destiny without God, without love.  What is offered us is a reward of infinite magnitude.  Therefore, the consequence of rejecting His love is an incomprehensible reality -an eternal absence of love, an eternal deprivation, an eternal loneliness.

“How cruel!” some will say.  “How can an all loving God create such a hideous thing as hell?”  They have these thoughts because they are ignorant of the Mind of God.  They do not know the Truth.  The words of Jesus repeatedly speak how The Father does not want a single soul to be lost, that He wants all men to be saved, that He even sent His Son to show us the way, knowing that we would reject His words and kill him.  God did not create Hell.  Hell is a consequence of our own making, of rejecting the Love that God wants for us.  It is the product of our sinful choices.  It is a personal consequence of rejecting God’s goodness.  Just as cold is not a created thing, it is merely the absence of heat, which is a created thing.  So too, evil is not a created thing, it is the absence of love.  Sin is not a created thing, it is the condition of living outside of God’s loving will for us.  We cannot blame evil, sin and hell on God.  These are of our own creation - the logical consequence of our rebellion against God’s loving will for us.
 
          The fullness of all Truth is beyond comprehension.  So too, is the mystery of Perfect Justice demanding short term injustice.  That we are free to reject Good, demands that God must allow evil to happen.  All sin is fundamentally selfishness.  But all selfishness is not sin. Many desires for our self are pleasing to God.   Sin is choosing selfish desires in opposition to God’s Will.  When I sin, Goodness is denied to a wanting world, which in turn brings evil into reality.  This evil, which is outside of God’s Perfect Justice, does not discriminate whether its victims are deserving or innocent.  If I steal, suffering visits my soul and the world of the victim.  That act is not part of God’s perfect will, for he cannot desire what He despises.  My selfish act then, "demands" that God permits the injustice -in order to allow the exercise of my free will.  That the victim experienced unfairness due to my sin cannot then be blamed on God.

But what about innocent victims of random acts of nature?  How can an all loving God allow this kind of suffering?  Since He’s all powerful He could prevent earthquakes, famine, sickness, poverty, accidents, or the other countless injustices.  This is perhaps the biggest gun in the atheist’s defense against God.  In our search for Truth, questions take precedence over answers.  Small minded questions yield small minded answers.  Cynical questions don’t even wait for an answer.  Humble questions can lead to a lifetime of answers.  The questions we ask; how we ask them; and to whom or what our questions are submitted to, will determine the depth of the Truth we seek.  “Why does a loving God allow us to suffer?” if asked cynically, yields futility.  If asked humbly, can bring meaning out of chaos.

The question of suffering is indeed a question worthy to ponder, for though this is ultimately a mystery, there are answers that allow us to peer into its veiled truth.  The answers are not for the faint of heart.  They are not what we want to hear, as in a child crying for its mother while the babysitter is saying, “Mommy is not here, she will be back soon.”  But, we do not like that answer, so we continue crying for mommy.  All must suffer.  It is a condition of existence.  We can whine about it, use it as an excuse to throw God out of our life, or we can seize it and take charge of our destiny.

If you do a word search of the bible for “suffering” and its related terms, a trove of wisdom will present itself.  Assimilating those words is not at all like eating candy, and everything like holding your nose to swallow nasty tasting medicine.   Suffering was unequivocally what drove me to darken the door of that church were Angel Lady touched me.  It was suffering that God used to point my Disinterested Soul toward the answers only He could provide.

Jesus never adapted the strategy of softening His words to keep the faint of heart from shriveling in response.  He just spoke the Truth.  Days before His crucifixion, He said, if we want to be His followers, we must take up our cross and follow Him.   He did not offer us a detailed explanation, just the Truth for us to ponder.  He certainly didn't water it down to increase the number of followers.

In 2 Corinthians 12:8, Paul shares how three times he asked God to remove an affliction (miracles remain a possibility for believers) but God told him that His power is at its best in weakness.  Without suffering weakness, we cannot know God’s strength.  Without His rescue, our faith could not know victory.   Roman 8:28 says, “We know that by turning everything to their good God co-operates with all those who love him…”.   Suffering then, is God’s opportunity to demonstrate His love and power -for those whose faith places them into His loving care.

Suffering is like water, you can sink in it and drown, or you can float on it and use it to get to the other side.  Floating is an unnatural act.  When you’re fighting the water, you’re being pulled down into its death, but if you relax and surrender into it, it will buoy you up.  Faith is an unnatural act.  If we fight suffering it will want to drown us, but if in faith, we surrender ourselves into the hands of God, He will buoy us up and deliver us to the other side.

It is not usually our choice to suffer, but we can always choose how to suffer.  2 Cor7:10 reads: “To suffer in God's way means changing for the better and leaves no regrets, but to suffer as the world knows suffering brings death.”  The world’s way of suffering is to mask it with drugs or distractions, or to flee from it with all our might, but in the end it leads to death.  But God’s plan offers a path through suffering, transcending death, offering deliverance and life.  There are thousands more words in Scripture giving wisdom to the mystery of suffering, waiting to be sought and pondered.

I will end this address on suffering and God’s love on a philosophical note.  If we can fantasize a utopia world devoid of all suffering, then I propose that world could not harbor humanity.  If everything was easy, if all struggle was absent, if there were no need to be concerned about tomorrow, and there never existed a need beyond reach, then that world would produce a species devoid of muscle, initiative, perseverance, heroes and saints, even atheists could not exist there, only a robotic race, incapable of transcendent love, could exist.  This is reality: That we exist in a universe which demands suffering.  For those who believe, who find faith in God’s Word, there is the comfort of His Unconditional Love, which provides a hope and joy that transcends this world, now and for eternity, and maybe, there are even miracles.  For the unbeliever, there is not this.

God’s promises are held out to us as long as we have breath, until our last chance to choose.  Hebrews 9:37 “…he has made his appearance once and for all, now at the end of the last age, to do away with sin by sacrificing himself.  Since men only die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, too, offers himself … to reward with salvation those who are waiting for him.”

One of faith’s greatest hurtles, is that the Good News seems too good to be true, that Scripture is great for greeting card clich├ęs, but not for application to real life scenarios.  We can read it, quote it, but until we live it, we will never know the depth of its truth.  If you give God permission to guide your life according to His will, and you faithfully follow His Word, then you will know the Truth and it will set you free to be the person you are destined to be.  I know this in Faith, because I have come to Believe in what I cannot see or explain.

Faith precedes knowledge of God.  I didn’t really know until I first believed.  And the more I grow in faith, the more God becomes known to me.  I saved this argument to the last because it is not only unscientific, but illogical.  Yet, it is not in the least unreasonable -because like Thomas the doubter, I believe because I have seen with my own eyes.  What I have personally experienced, what I had previously only known second hand, now has taken on a concrete, unshakable knowing.  This is indeed reasonable to me.  Understandably, it cannot be as reasonable to you, as my first hand experience is still second hand to you, though perhaps, it is at least not now third or fourth hand.  Perhaps now, in trusting the word of someone you know, you will find the faith to trust in the God you may not know.

Faith is mystery.  It is illogical yet reasonable, it is beyond price yet free, inaccessible to the unbroken, yet accessible to the broken.  It is pure gift, yet it must be sought.  It is an existential act of personal will, yet dependent upon God’s grace.  This grace is the Finger Of God, making undreamable dreams come to life.  It is a key begging to be turned -the Call to transcendence, to commune with God; it is the Warmth that turns our face toward Truth.  This Grace ...which leads to Faith ...which leads to Truth, is the subject of these last few pages which is an excerpt of a talk for our prayer group.


III.  An Excerpt From A Talk -To Know, Love & Serve God

God created us body, mind and soul that we might love and serve Him with all the strength and capacity of our body, mind and soul.  Indeed, this is the “Great Commandment” he enjoined upon us: To love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.  But is this not also the “Great Impossibility”?  Are we not dependent on our senses to understand what lies beyond our self?  Does this not then make God the Great Unknowable?  Is it not then, impossible for us to love God?

There are two answers.  The disheartening answer is yes. It is impossible for us to know God, let alone to love Him, for we cannot love what we do not know.  God, as the object of our love, cannot be seen, or touched, tasted, or smelled.  And even if we could somehow sense Him, His majesty is so infinitely beyond our finite ability to comprehend Him that we would surely be blind, if we said that we could see.  Confined then, to the limitations of our finite-ness, and confronted with the Infinite-ness of a God, who sustains the Cosmos by merely willing it to be, would it not then, be wholly illogical, as well as utterly audacious, for Man-The-Creature to even consider attaining this personal relationship called love, with the Creator-Of-All-That-Is?  The answer is most assuredly, a disheartening “Yes!”

But, we need not be disheartened, for there is another answer:  His name is Jesus, The-One-Who-Saves!  He is the One-Sent to bring the Good News -that, what is impossible for man, is possible for God!  We cannot find God, so God reveals Himself to us!  It is for this that God became man, that we might know Him.  It is for this, that The Father sent His only begotten Son, Jesus, to become subject to our sin, to suffer and die, that we might live in Truth, that we may know the Way.  Thus, we do not first love God, but He first loves us.  The Unknowable Truth became knowable in the Incarnation.  The Pre-Existing-Son took on our nature, that the carnal may know the Incarnate.  This is the Good News – that the Father-Of-All-That-Is has willed to pour into our hearts, through the blood of His Son, the very Manifestation of their Love, the gift of His Holy Spirit.

God so desired to share His love, that He spoke us into existence, that we may choose Him, and participate for all eternity in His Triune Love.  And anyone who surrenders to this Love will come to know Him as the Fullness of All Desire.  We will come to know the purpose for which we were created: To know, love and serve our Creator –with all our heart, with our entire mind, and with all our soul.  Such is the mind of God.  So it is that we have come to be in Love with God, not from any causal act from within, but from a response to a Gift from outside our realm of existence or knowing, from the very Heart of God.

As the time for The-One-Sent drew near to return to His Father, Jesus with a Heart now breaking with Love’s Sorrow, promised He would not leave us orphaned.  He revealed that He was going to prepare a room for us in His Father’s house.  He made known the desire of His Father’s heart –that from eternity, we have been destined to be one in Him and Him in us.  Then, taking on the position of Our Servant, Jesus washed our sin dirt feet, and bequeathed to us His unceasing presence of Body, Mind, Soul and Divinity, by instituting the Holy Eucharist.  Only then, did He set out to Calvary, to burn into history, the indelible image of His Love.  And after rising from the dead, He comforted us with many tender goodbyes before ascending to His place at the right hand of His Father.  Being faithful to His Promise, He breathed His Holy Spirit upon us, establishing His Church, promising that it will prevail till the end of time, when He will come again, to gather His Faithful into the fullness of His Love, into the Bosom of the Father.
We were not this wondrously created just so God could have subjects to lord over.  God is Love and He created us to be in love in Him, with all the strength of our body, mind and soul.  As we grow into the Image-We-Reflect, we discover our true identity: that we belong to the One who loves us.  The more we surrender to the grace of this Truth, the more we are driven to respond to the One Who Loves us -the One Who Betrothed Himself to us.

The more we desire God over self the more we begin to glimpse this Incomprehensible Love.  We find ourselves desiring to respond to His Love, desiring to respond like a bride, who longs for ever deeper ways to express the longing for her Beloved that is bursting in her heart.  It is here we discover that the room Jesus went to prepare for us is not just a fancy room for us to hang our hat for eternity, but that this room is his Bridal Chamber for the eternal consummation of his Love for us, and our love for Him.  This room is the Bosom of God, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Womb of the Holy Spirit – the place where He is in us and we are in Him.  God’s Love never ceases to surprise, and one of these surprises, is that this Room which is waiting for us in heaven, is even now, receiving us this moment.  It is our Father’s ” Son-Room”, a Place For Praise, a place that transcends time and space, a room built by The Carpenter just for us, a place to encounter our God in our heart, the “Portico for Praise”.

Jesus, the Incarnate Son of our Transcendent God, loves us!  But, how can we possibly respond in like kind?  We are mere finite creatures.  He is the Infinite Creator.  What can we possibly give that He does not already have, or, that He has not first given us?  The answer is again, Jesus!  He gave Himself to us that we might become an acceptable gift to His Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  This mystery of grace is what opens the door to our desire for God.  Jesus is the source of our desire.  And it is this desire, this act of our will, the surrendering into His love, which becomes our personal gift.  In truth, the surrender of our life is a “re-gifting” of what God has given us.  Yet, in his eyes, it is no less a precious gift.

Jesus came to show us how to love His Father, and to enable us with the gifts of Grace and Faith, through the power of His Holy Spirit, that we may do, what for us is impossible: To know and love God.  Yes, Jesus gave Himself to us, in the fullness of His Love, in the fullness of His Holy Spirit, and in the fullness of the Eucharist as Body, Soul and Divinity, all, that we may return to Him the sacrificial offering of His Love, rebranded as our own.  He literally has given to us Himself, who is Love, that we, with our sin disfigured image, may be reconstituted, reborn, that we may re-present ourselves as the love offering we were intended to be from eternity, that we may become a holy Sacrifice of Praise.

If, after receiving this Revelation, this Good News, we accept the gifts of Grace and Faith in Jesus, then never again, can we believe it is impossible to live in love with God.  Truth, once known, can never again become unknown.  Whether, we embrace it, or renounce it, this Truth will forever remain Known to our spirit.  It will forever live, as Wisdom or as Guilt, demanding to be expressed in the living of our life –with all of the strength of our heart and mind and soul.  With this conviction of our purpose, how do we respond in like to God’s Love for us?  What is it about Jesus’ life that shows us how to love His Father?  What does it mean that we are to love as He loved us?

The defining image of Jesus’ life is the Sacrificial Lamb.  He chose to surrender His privilege – to be humbled as a man, to become the Obedient Slave.  He chose the path to Calvary, to surrender to the Father’s Will.  His sacrificial life was not based on the good feelings He was having.  It was not based on His need for approval, or comfort, or even the desire to live.  Everything He did was based on one condition:  That it was in Truth, that it was the Father’s Will.  God’s Love is always sacrificial.  At every moment, the Father was willing to sacrifice his Beloved Son, and Jesus was willing to sacrifice His rights and needs, to fulfill His destiny on Calvary.

This too is our destiny -to love as Jesus loved us – to love as Sons and Daughters of God, to sacrifice our Self on the altar of life.  To say that love is sacrificial is like saying water is wet.  If we must bleed in order to love, then we must know that from his Cross a river of blood flows.  This Blood is the Love that heals our wounds.  It is the Blood that we drink to nourish our body, mind and soul.  It is the Blood of Christ that gives us the strength to die to our self, and reason to live for the God of Life.

Love is contrary to our base nature.  Our instinct is to live for self.  Hence, the battle line is drawn:  To live for Love or Self.  Our spirit, and the Holy Spirit within, draws us towards love.  Our sin and the Adversary, Satan, draws us toward self.  This is a most dangerous arena, where humility is our only hope, for selfishness and pride are two sides of the same coin.  Pride is the primary sin.  Pride is the delusion where our Self and the great “I AM” are confused as one, where our needs and worth are valued above all.  All mankind has been consigned to this battle: to serve God or Self.
-End of talk excerpt 

Thank you for inviting my thoughts into your heart.  They are who I am and what I believe.  I pray you will ponder them, that they will be of service to you in your search for Truth, in your efforts to help others in their search.  Please, receive my love and hope, and freely pass along these words as you see fit.

-Your Dad, Grandfather, Brother, Uncle, Cousin, Nephew, Friend
–Richard