Comfort dog? Or Comfort God

As humans, we desperately search for comfort.  Hotels, cars, furniture, clothes, even foods, all advertise and try to lure us in because of the comfort that they provide.  We long for comfort.  We long for true fellowship and the comfort that it brings.

We struggle to find it in ourselves and in each other.  So we look for it in things.  And we look for it in God’s other creatures.  Comfort animals have become the latest “in” thing.  No one asks to bring a comfort human with them wherever they go, but there are plenty of requests for comfort peacocks, comfort rabbits, comfort bearded dragons, and, of course, comfort dogs.  In the last several years, the numbers of individuals carrying comfort dogs in their arms, or on leashes or in crates, wherever they go has greatly increased — why?  They help fill our need for comfort.  They don’t talk back.  They don’t judge.  They are fully present and attentive with us. They appear to love us even when we feel like no one else does.  Even when we feel like we don’t deserve it.

We so long for that comfort, and we so often miss the mark as to where to find it. As usual, we have it backwards.  We look to a comfort d-o-g, when we should be looking to G-o-d.

Throughout the Bible, we are reminded where we can take comfort.  King David frequently rejoices in God’s comfort in his psalms:

My soul rests in God alone,

from whom comes my salvation.

God alone is my rock and salvation,

my fortress; I shall never fall.

Psalms 62:2-3

St. Paul also rejoices in the comfort of our Lord who has enriched us with spiritual gifts and provided us with grace through Jesus:

I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus [Christ].  God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 Corinthians 1:4-9

We don’t need a new car, or the softest fabric.  We don’t need a certified comfort animal.  God will keep us firm to the end.  He alone is our rock and our salvation.  Where our human comfort fails, God is faithful and by him we are called to fellowship with Jesus.  It is only through Him that we truly find peace, rest and comfort.  How did David and Paul know this?  Because God tells us.  He told Moses and Joshua (and tells us):

Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD, your God, is with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9

He told us again through his son, Jesus:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.

John 14:27

Although this world may make us feel alone and afraid, God is always with us.  He has spoken back to us, in a good way, through His word.  If we truly turn to him, we will find ourselves buried in His chest before we can even fully turn around, because He is in fact that close.  He is the peace and the comfort that we crave.  He is always fully present and attentive with us.  He loves us even when we feel like no one else does.  Even when we feel like we don’t deserve it.

Lord,

You are my rock and my salvation.  You are my comfort and my peace.  When I am lost and afraid, help me to remember to turn to you.  I want you to be my comfort.  I want to rest in your arms.  Thank you for telling us time and time again that you are here.  Help us to listen, every day and particularly when we need it most.  It is so easy to get lost in this world.  Thank you for all of your beautiful creation, including the animals that bring us comfort, and all of mankind.  Help us to do a better job of bringing each other comfort (through love and fellowship rather than material things).  Help us always know that true comfort comes when we turn to you, when we are in fellowship with you.  I want to live in that fellowship.  I want others to share in that fellowship. Help me to bring your love and comfort to others.

Do this is memory of me

This morning at Catholic mass, I heard the words that are familiar to so many of us:

Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.”

Luke 22:19

I have heard these words every week since before I was old enough to know what the words meant.  And today, for the first time, I think I understood them.

Jesus commands us to do this in memory of Him.  But do what?  I have always believed that He was just telling us to go to church on Sunday and celebrate the Eucharist.  But today, I focused on the actual words.  This is my body, which will be given for you. Jesus is giving up his body… for us.  He is giving himself… for us.  “Do this in memory of me.”  This is what He is calling us to do.  Give ourselves for others.  Give ourselves to Jesus. Its not just about breaking bread or drinking wine.  He is calling us to do.  He is calling us to give.  He is calling us to love.  John captures His words in this way:

This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

John 15:12-13

“Do this in memory of me.”  It is a tall order.  Just showing up at mass on Sunday is a lot easier.  Give myself for someone else?  Lay down my life for someone else?  Lay down my wants and needs for someone else?  Put someone else ahead of me?  Ouch.  I can barely hand over the remote control. But this is what Jesus calls us to do.  This is what true love is.  It’s not just the romantic love we see on tv. It’s not lust.  It’s not sex.  It’s not just enjoying the other person’s company.  It is giving one’s self, putting one’s own needs to the side, and laying down one’s life for someone else.

And today at mass, as the priest said these words, I got it.  Jesus loves me.  Jesus gave his life for me.  How can I not try (and I say try, because I know I will fail) to give myself fully to God, as He gave Himself to me?

Jesus,

You came to earth to show us what love is.  A love so strong and pure that we cannot fathom its depths.  Our own selfish needs, or more accurately “wants”, keep us from being capable of the love that you shared.  And yet you still call us to do it.  Jesus I love you with all of the love that I am capable of today, but I want to love you deeper.  Help me to continue to grow.  I want to give myself fully to you.  Help me to love here on earth with the love that you have shared.  Help me to give up my selfish ways and let go of the need to control.  Help me to give myself for the others I encounter.

 

Love through the Hurt

We are hurt.  Everyday.  By friends.  By loved ones.  By politicians.  By priests and pastors.  By people that we put our trust in.  And likely, we hurt many of these same people.  Everyday.   We are human.  We err.  We make mistakes.  We are selfish.  We are prideful.  And … so is everyone else.

Today, the country is divided by walls not even built, by politicians and media.  I am not sure any of them know what is right.  Yet, we choose sides and are hurt by anyone who chooses differently.  We focus on issues and political parties rather than focusing on God.

Today, many are struggling in the Catholic Church over the abuse perpetrated by some priests and the cover up perpetrated by others.  The devil knows how to strike where it can do the most damage.  The Church is hurt by the people we put our trust in.

There is so much hurt in the world.  So much unforgiveness.

This week, Jesus placed two passages on my heart:

“Stop judging, that you may not be judged.  For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.  Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye?  You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:1-5

We all sin.  Yet, we all think that we can judge.  I certainly can judge that there is evil in the world.  I certainly can judge that there is sin.  But can I judge another person?  Can I judge their struggle with evil?  Their struggle with sin?  Can my sin stand up to my own judgment?  I know it cannot.  I need God’s judgment and God’s grace and mercy.  Only God can truly know our heart and our struggles.  Only God can judge the person.  We can judge the sin and evil, and we should judge to stop and prevent.  But only God can judge the person.  We are called to love, even when we are hurt.  Because God loves us, even when we hurt him.

God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.  In this is love brought to perfection among us, that we have confidence on the day of judgment because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.  We love because he first loved us.  If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

1 John 4:16-21

We may not be able to stop others from hurting us.  We are human and so are they.  But we can stop the “hurt” from hurting us.  We can love.  We can hate the sin, hate the evil and work to stop and prevent it.  But we can love the person and leave it to God to judge their soul.

Jesus,

Thank you for showing me your love.  I am not worthy.  I am sorry for the times that I have hurt you.  I am sorry for the times I have turned away.  Help me to love others even when they hurt me.  Help me to bring your peace to the world.

 

 

I Wanna Be Like Christ

Remember the Gatorade commercials “I wanna be like Mike”?  In the commercials, kids try to emulate Michael Jordan while singing:

Sometimes I dream
That he is me
You’ve got to see that’s how I dream to be
I dream I move, I dream I groove
Like Mike
If I could Be Like Mike

Again I try
Just need to fly
For just one day if I could
Be that way
I dream I move
I dream I groove
Like Mike
If I could Be Like Mike
I wanna be, I wanna be
Like Mike
Oh, if I could Be Like Mike

Today, as the NBA finals are being played kids are probably dreaming of being like LeBron James or Steph Curry.

Today the Bible opened to John and the reminder that we are called to be like Christ (not Mike).  Jesus tells us:

“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35

This is how all will know that we are disciples of Christ — if we have love for one another — if we be like Christ and love no matter what.  Jesus says these words right after sending Judas off from the Last Supper to betray Him.  A reminder that we have to love even those who hurt us, who frustrate us, who challenge us, who don’t love us back.  That is how all will know that we are disciples of Christ — not by the cross around our neck or our appearance at Church on Sunday — but by our love — by our actions.

Maybe we could change the words to the song:

Again I try
Just need to fly
For just one day if I could
Be that way
I dream I love
Like  God above
Like Christ
If I could Be Like Christ
I wanna be, I wanna be
Like Christ
Oh, if I could Be Like Christ

 

Father’s Love

I found a new favorite verse in the bible:

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!”

Romans 8:14-15

I have heard before that we are children of God, and of course that sounds wonderful.  But tonight the part that struck me was that we “did not receive a spirit  of slavery to fall back into fear.”  God does not want slaves.  He does not want us to choose Him out of fear.  To me, the Old Testament often seems full of fear.

God sent His Son and His Spirit so that we would know His love.  His Spirit surrounds us, not to force us into a relationship with God, for what kind of a relationship would that be.  (Can a slave love his master, or is he always looking for the day when he can get away, when he is finally free.)   But rather the Spirit is a constant reminder that  God chooses us. He willingly adopts us.  He is not stuck with us like a birth parent might be.  Not only did He create us, but even with all of our faults and sins, He chooses us again and again every day. He sent His Spirit to lead us to Him, if we choose to follow, so that we can have a real relationship with Him, so that we can run to him like an innocent child runs to her father crying “daddy” as we leap into His arms, with total confidence, trust and the purest love.

Father!

Forgive me for turning away.  Send your Spirit to lead me and guide me.  I want to be with you!

 

 

 

Made and Loved by God

Tonight’s passage is wonderful (and easy to understand):

For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for you would not fashion what you hate.  How could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?  But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Ruler and Lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!

Wisdom 11:24-12:1

God loves us.  He made us.  He created us.  By His will, we exist.  We are His. It is just that simple.

As I read this scripture over, it almost makes me say “well, duh — of course He loves us.”  I can feel my soul breathe a deep sigh of relief, because this passage makes it so simple and clear.  We all have a tag on our soul that says Made by God.  (Who needs a Made in the USA tag — we all bear the Made in Heaven stamp!)

And just when I think it cannot get any better, the very last clause blows me away: “for your imperishable spirit is in all things.”

I watch my son, the one little part of God’s creation that I had a hand in making and I can see part of me in him (some good and some not so good).  God made us.  And just like part of me is in my son, part of God is in each of us.  And that is all good!  God’s imperishable spirit is in all of us!  We need to let that part shine!

God,

I love you!  I am not worthy of your love, but I am so grateful to have it.  Let your Spirit  fill me and shine through me!

 

Janet’s Joy

Today, I went to a funeral service for Janet, the mother of a friend and a faithful servant to God.  I was lucky enough to meet Janet and to speak with her on a few occasions.   On one such occasion she shared her love of God with me and she shared this verse:

Yet even now—oracle of the LORD—return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning.  Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God, For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting in punishment.

Joel 2:12-13

She shared this with me when I was questioning whether God was the God of the Old Testament (who often seems angry and maybe even mean) or the God of the New Testament (who seems to be all about love).  Janet cited this verse to assure me that God was the same throughout time — all about love.

Return to me with your whole heart, He tells us.  No matter what we have done.  No matter where we are.  God invites us to return to Him.  He tells us to rend our hearts, not our garments and return to Him.    Sometimes our hearts and minds are fixed on something other than God.  Rend your heart, fast, weep, mourn and return to God.  I think sometimes we are afraid to make the change necessary to return our hearts to God.   It needs to be a conscious decision.  We need to fast and cleanse our body, weep and cleanse our inner spirit, mourn and say goodbye to something in our life.  We change our heart, change our life and follow God.  And the good part is…  He will take us back.  He is gracious and merciful.  He is slow to anger.  Look around at the world.  He has lots to be angry with.  But He still loves us, all of us!  He is abounding in steadfast love.  That is my favorite part.  Abounding in steadfast love.  God is love (Old Testament or New Testament — He is love).

And He is constantly calling us to Him.

Janet’s body is now returning to God, but I believe her heart, her whole heart, has long been with God.

God,

Thank you for your abounding and steadfast love.  Show me how to share the same with others.  I am sorry for the times I turn away.  Help me to rend my heart.  Help me to return to you whenever I turn away.

(And God, thank you for Janet.  No matter her struggle she remained steadfast in you.  Welcome her into your kingdom.  We will miss her here, but know that she is finding everlasting joy in you.)

Discipline and Love

We discipline our children hoping that it will lead them in the right direction, but knowing that one day they will have to make choices on their own.  I don’t enjoy the disciplinarian role of being a parent.

I have often wondered about the Old Testament.  God often feels like a disciplinarian in it.  We hear about Him destroying cities, smiting and raining fire and brimstone.  He feels much different than the loving God revealed by Jesus.  Today the Bible opened to Galatians:

Before faith came, we were held in custody under law, confined for the faith that was to be revealed.  Consequently, the law was our disciplinarian for Christ, that we might be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a disciplinarian.  For through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus.  For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant, heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:23-29

When we are immature, we need discipline, rules, order to try to keep us on the proper path.  The Old Testament is filled with stories of human immaturity.  We were not ready for faith alone.  As we individually grow, we also go through phases where we need discipline, rules, and order.   Sometimes we are not ready for faith alone.  We need to be confined by rules so that we are in place for faith to be revealed.  But ultimately, like a child, we must grow up and make our own choices.  Ultimately we must choose faith.  We must choose God.   Jesus opened us to faith.  He came into the world so that we might have faith.  So that we could see and believe.  He came into the world to show us love.  The love of our Father.  Despite all of the times that we deserve discipline, God loves us.

Lord,

Help me to be a good parent.  Help me to set rules and order but also to show love.  Help me to have the faith that you have made available.  Help me to grow from my immaturity.  Thank you Father!

Love without Obligation

I hate being told what to do.  And I hate when others do what they think they are obligated to do without meaning what they do.

In Philemon, Paul asks for the release of a slave, Onesimus.  But he does not order it.  He urges it out of love.

Therefore, although I have the full right in Christ to order you to do what is proper, I rather urge you out of love, being as I am, Paul, an old man, and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus.  I urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment, who was once useless to you but is now useful to [both] you and me.  I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.  I should have liked to retain him for myself, so that he might serve me on your behalf in my imprisonment for the gospel, but I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary.  Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord.  So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me. And if he has done you any injustice or owes you anything, charge it to me.

Philemon 1:8-18

This passage is powerful.  In it, Paul urges the slave’s master to forgive the slave who has run away (and perhaps committed another crime against the master).  To welcome him back with love.  To release him.  And in releasing him, releasing the master himself.

Paul refuses to order the master to accept him back and refuses to keep the slave away because doing either would prevent the master from having the opportunity to respond with love.  Paul recognizes that you cannot force love.  You cannot order love.  Love must be chosen willingly.  Forgiveness must be chosen willingly.  The good you do must not be forced but voluntary.   Paul is offering the master the opportunity to free the slave from any past debt or wrongdoing, and at the same time freeing the master to love and be loved.  Paul suggests that the “bad” that the slave did (running away) will bring about good: “Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord.”

We all have slaves in our lives.  People who we have imprisoned or condemned in our own minds.  People who have made us slaves to our own anger and ill will.  Paul urges us to release these slaves.  To welcome them with love.  Not because of some obligation but out of a voluntary choice to love.  Out of a choice to follow God’s greatest commandment.  We all meet people everyday who seem useless to us.  But Paul reminds us that each of them is an opportunity.  An opportunity to choose love.  An opportunity to share God’s love, so that they (and we) can be useful.  After all, Onesimus is just one of us.

Lord,

You call us to love, not just to do good out of obligation.  Help me to release those who I have imprisoned in my thoughts and words.  Open my heart to the true love that you call us to share.  Open my heart to forgiveness.  Help me to share your love every day with every one that I encounter.

Fruit of the Vine

Today I did not need to open up the bible to find the verse.  Instead, while I was driving to work this morning, out of nowhere these words came to me: “I am the vine, you are my branches.”  And the words took hold.  So tonight, I opened the Bible to John:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.  He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.  You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.  Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.   Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.  By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.  As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.

John 15:1-10

I have heard this verse it seems a million times, but today as I was driving to work it started to make more sense.  God has connected us to Him.  We are connected just like a branch is to a vine.  A branch by itself is meaningless.  It is dead with out its source of life (as are we without God).   But when we stay connected, we can grow.  Sometimes we may try to grow too far away from the vine, but as long as we keep our connection to God, he won’t let us go.  If we remain connected, we will bear fruit.  God’s love flows to us, just as the water and nutrients necessary for a branch to bear fruit flows to it.  And just as a gardener sometimes has to prune or cut back a branch in order to allow it to bear better fruit, so too, God sometimes needs to prune us — to cut us back.  He does that with His word, and we can help others by sharing that word — by bearing God’s fruit.  And sometimes, maybe, God has to prune us back a little more sharply.  And sometimes it feels like it cuts deep.  But out of those dark times, if we stay connected, we bloom forward even more beautiful than before and we strengthen our connection to God.

Dear God,

I want my connection to you to grow stronger.  I don’t want to be connected by just a little twig.  I want a wide base — fill me with your love and your word so that I can bear fruit pleasing to you.  I want to remain in you forever.