Tug of War With God

I am feeling just a bit worn, my emotions seem as if the have emerged from the mud pit after and intense tug of war battle! In the last couple of weeks there have been no really earth shattering events in my life, but certainly an immersion into the study of Human behavior. Through professional challenges at work, to youth hockey playoffs, to everyday personal encounters I have seen some of the best – and worst- of our behavior as human beings. Some behaviors I observed in others, some in myself. Upon reflection, I find myself in a fog of understanding. I mean, I know we are not perfect, but what is it that so often brings out the ugly in us when our intentions are more often loving and well meaning? I do not ask this question with an answer in my back pocket, waiting to whip it out and astonish everyone. nonetheless, I have a couple of thoughts in my head ( typically garbled thoughts!) that I would like to throw out there, maybe more questions than thoughts really? See what I mean about garbled… make up your mind! Are they questions or thoughts!

Maybe this brain confusion/tug of war is part of the answer, speaking for myself anyway. I am coming to realize that I am often my own worst enemy when it comes to choosing the humble, peaceful, Christ like option, when any number of daily occurrences provide me the chance to do so. For example, I opportunistically use the moments before an important playoff game to remind my son that no matter the outcome, it is his chance to do his best, have fun, and in the end realize it is simply a game and he should be humble and respectful either as the victor or in defeat. This is a good, responsible, Christian dad thing to teach your son. In other words, loving and well meaning. Now flash forward into the third period of the hockey game. His team is behind by one point, time is running out! He steals the puck from the other team and passes it to the teams captain! This is it, a breakaway, they are going to  tie the game! But then… the referee blows the whistle, the teams captain is off sides,the chance is gone, the game ends in defeat. At this point you would need to look out on the ice at the two teams to see the (although disappointed) humble son, shaking hands with the other team. You would not however want to look into the bleachers at the “well meaning” dad turned ugly, reminding the referee that his eyeglass subscription needs to be reevaluated! Yes ” I” wanted the team to win, ” I” wanted them to experience that joy. Forgetting that real joy was what was unfolding in front of me. God turning my sons disappointment into a lesson on what it really means to be Christ like in the midst of the disappointment!

In the end I guess I have one question and one thought. My question, what do I need to do, to let you God, shine through me, in all moments? My thought, in answer to the question, get my own desires out of Gods way. After all, as Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote, ” If, then, you are looking for the way by which you should go, take Christ, because he himself is the way”

Brother Juniper, pray for us!

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Opportunities to Strengthen Our Faith and Communicate With Love

We all have those in our lives that ask questions and offer alternative thoughts that at times are enlightening, and at others test the strength of our faith. I have come to believe that these encounters are truly a gift from God. Jesus was continually testing the apostles in order to strengthen them for their awesome responsibility of passing the truth on to ” all nations”. Jesus fulfilled His purpose and returned to the Father in order to ” prepare a place for us”. This does not mean that He left us on our own, that he does no longer test our faith in the same way he tested those that new Him face to face.

Recently, in a conversation with a good friend, one of those who I believe God put in my life for that noble purpose of strengthening my faith, I was somewhat taken back by one of their comments. While discussing the question of truth they talked about their belief that truth can be found along different paths depending on an individuals particular perspective and circumstances. They proposed the idea that, if God is who Christianity says he is, would it not make sense that he would lead people to Him by getting through to them by what ever medium they would understand and be able to embrace? In short, I agreed with this point in as much as God is of course more than capable of bringing people to Him in any way that He wills.They continued their assertion with an example in the form of a question. Would God not use someone like Buddha  and his peaceful, sometimes similar teachings, to begin to open hearts and eventually guide people to the ultimate truth, whatever that ultimate truth may be? I again agreed on a base level.

At this point in the conversation I felt it necessary to reaffirm my belief. Probably more for my own reaffirmation of beliefs than to ” win the debate” and prove the truth of my faith. To reiterate, I am grateful to God for these sometimes small but all important opportunities to grow! The thought that came to my head and I shared with them  the basis of Christianity, the belief of one truth, not many truths. The belief in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for us as the Son of God. So I agreed in Gods ability to bring us to Him in many different ways, but not in the statement that truth can be individual in nature. At this point time ran short and the conversation was forced to end, but the peace of knowing my belief on this one point was reinforced!

In the end I think our conversation brought mutual good points for contemplation! Thoughts that urged me to research their proposal further. Through some divine nudges I came across an article that was helpful to me and I wanted to share it with you via this link. It speaks directly to the similarities and differences between Christianity and Buddhism, but more generally to one truth that cannot be substituted for, as well as our continuing responsibility to look for similarities that will keep open the lines of communication.

Brother Juniper, Pray for us!

Getting Out of Gods Way

I would just like to dive right into a tough subject this week! A tough one primarily for Christians trying so diligently to live the faith as Christ desires us to live it. First of all, we know that it is quite the daily battle to live up to Jesus’s example. Second, we also know that that is exactly what we are called to do. So, taking into account our inevitable human stumbling’s, my question is this. Is my life, as seen by others, overall, a good Christian life? In other words, does the love of Christ cut through the mistakes, the misconceptions, the humanness, and shine despite my inability to live it perfectly?

I continue to be humbled on this level every time I turn around! Every time I think something like, ” wow, I really got a good point across in that conversation” , I at some point later realize something along the lines of ” I really said that in a condescending way”. My point is this… well, let me let GK Chesterton say it for me! ” What embitters the world is not an excess of criticism, but an absence of self criticism…”.  In other words where are we coming from when speaking to others? Are we trying to prove our point, or do we truly desire that the person on the other side of the debate finds, knows , and embraces the love of Christ? Are we pointing our fingers in the face of the sinner, or are we fighting the sin out of the love for the sinner? After all, who among us is without sin, who among us would throw the first stone? Further more, when is it ever our calling to throw the stone at all? Are we not simply called to speak and live the truth with love and let God be the judge of the heart of another?

This I do know, the world is full of many, many good Christians that exude the light of Christ in a bright and fantastic way! At times, I think I even get out of the way enough to let God shine through me, if even for a moment. God in the end will use us all, successes and failures, for it is his will not ours, His gift to us all, not our gift to others. I also know something else. I know that it saddens me when I hear good people ( as I did today) tell me that although they agree with much of Christian teaching, they do not really believe that God is the power behind it all. It saddens me the most that, at least in part, their belief has been influenced by what they would call judgmental, self-serving “Christians”. I know that they speak of experiences with certain individuals and not of an encounter with the true heart of Jesus. I pray God gives us all the grace to do our part to dispel these misconceptions that separate beautiful people from the peace of knowing His son Jesus Christ!

Just getting started!

I am super excited but ironically at a bit of a loss for words! You know, first blog, what to write? I am not feeling the need to bore everyone with the history of who I am ( at least not yet! ). I do think a brief history of the sites name is probably a good jumping off point.

Just a few short years ago, about this time of year, I was attending an RCIA ( Right of Christian initiation for Adults) class and contemplating my possible conversion to the Catholic Church. I remember thinking to myself quite often how crazy this seemed? At this point I was entering my forties and spent those years living my Christian Faith in what I would call a ” loose” fashion.  The Methodist faith I was raised in provided more than ample opportunity to live my faith better, so this looseness was fully my choice.

I of course had been sorting through many Catholic traditions that I did not understand. One of these mind benders was of course the Saints. I was really enjoying the thought that the Saints were up there listening and praying for us. I had just never experienced anything in my faith that connected me so deeply to the reality of Heaven. My mind simply saw Heaven as a place where we end up, not a place that we could actually interact with? What a cool thing that would be! But how? Well, God ( and ” Brother Juniper”) were listening!

The time had come, I needed to choose my confirmation Saint. I got into the car and began to drive to the church for class, still not having even a clue how or who I would choose for my Saint. I was distracted with this thought so much I drove past my exit and had to take another exit which guided me to the church through a neighborhood, although close to the church, I had never seen. As I sat at a red light, my preoccupied thoughts broke and I looked out the window and noticed a bearded gentleman sitting on the chilly ground taking a sip from his brown bagged bottle of beer. As our eyes met a chill covered my body and I just remember feeling an instant connection with this man I had never spoken with. As I drove further I came across a small house that was surrounded by police cars. In the front yard several people were upset and yelling while children and others stood by with fear and sadness on their faces. It was again like I was in a time warp or something? Everything moved slowly, allowing me to in some way sense and understand what they were going through.

I pulled up and parked at the church. I sat there trying to make sense of what I had just seen and felt? I remember thinking how sad it was that these people were so close to the church yet I had never noticed? I was asking the question, ” why am I noticing today, and why have they entered my head and heart in such a profound way? I pulled out my phone to check the time and noticed I had a new email. It was an advertisement about some web site that had something called ” the saint of the day” ? I clicked, and God spoke! What appeared on my screen was a short blurb about the Catholic Saint of the Day, Brother Juniper. As I read, I began to tremble slightly. It talked about how this Brother Juniper served others. He served those who he encountered every day. He did so with no thought, no regard for anything except for the need of the one standing in front of him!

At this moment I had found my confirmation saint! But beyond that, I had my first experience with recognizing the real presence of God and the Saints, right here with us! It was the first time my heart opened up and was able to see God truly active in my life!

There is more to the Juniper story I can share later on that are some of my most cherished memories. But for now I will say that I hope some enjoy what I share and hope a few may share their own thoughts as well! As Christians we need to be united and never stop searching for the truth, and stay united first in Love, avoiding the misconceptions that all to often separate Christians today. After all, Jesus desires for everyone born into this world to choose life, to choose Him!