Category Archives: Pontifical

The Game of Life

Sometimes, I treat life like a game. I try to make the right move to win.

You know what I’m talking about, right?  You see something coming, and you try to say the right thing, do the right thing, or plant the right thought to foster your own desires instead of  God’s. That’s called manipulation.  Sometimes manipulation means trying to ‘make the right move’, and sometimes it means pretending you didn’t hear God say something when you know he did.

Manipulation is a double whammy:

  • The act of manipulation makes me think I’m actually gaining something, when I’m really losing more than I can imagine. Because, no matter what I dream up, it cannot compete with what God wants for me. His blessings are so much greater, His moves are so much wiser, and His plan is so much grander than anything I could ever contemplate.
  • Manipulation also leads me to think I am in control when, obviously, I am so not in control. Just thinking I’m in control causes me to worry about  things. I worry about this move or that move and a million other trivial things that hinders me from focusing on God’s plan for me and working toward His goal for my life.

It’s a costly distraction.

Don’t think so? Check out the Book of Jonah in the Bible.  When I’m feeling childish and not listening to God, Jonah reminds me of myself.

In Chapter 1,  God speaks to Jonah and tells him to speak to the people of Nineveh. They were a rowdy bunch, and Jonah was rightfully afraid to go tell them God would destroy them. He was afraid of the beatings, stonings, and other nasty things that might happen to him. So, Jonah ran from God. He stowed away on a boat, where the men on board knew he was running from God, and they threw him overboard in an effort to save themselves. Subsequently, Jonah was swallowed by a whale. Three days and nights he was there, and he prayed to God and finally agreed with God.

Jonah 2:  7 “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. 8 “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. 9 But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.” 10 And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

Do you ever try to make deals with God?  Jonah said, “What I have vowed I will make good.” And, the Lord saves him. Then Jonah finally goes on to make good. He tells the people of Nineveh that God will destroy them in 40 days if they do not change. The people of Nineveh believe Jonah, and they fast for three days and cease all the wickedness and violence in hopes that God will spare them. God does spare them.

Then, after God’s mission is successful, Jonah behaves like a sulking teenager.  In Jonah 4, he cries out to God and basically says, (and I’m paraphrasing here), “This is why I ran from you. I knew you weren’t going to destroy them. Now I look like a fool. Just kill me already.”  In Jonah 4: 9 God asks Jonah, “Do you have any right to be angry?” and Jonah responds, “I do. I am angry enough to die.” I can picture Jonah sulking with his arms crossed, lounging around in his PJ’s, I-pod on full blast, rolling his eyes, and giving God the cold shoulder.

Jonah isn’t angry because God kept his word. He’s angry because Jonah did not get the glory of a city destroyed. The prophecy he passed on from God came true. The city repented and was saved. Jonah wanted pyrotechnics, but that didn’t happen. So, Jonah felt justified in running from God.  Jonah was put out with God.

I think that attitude is what, more often than not, leads me to be manipulative. It’s the attitude that somehow I know better than God, or that I should get the glory, and God can just wait. It’s the quick fix, rather than following God’s path which is often tough, but has a way better ending then any path I map out.

Then there’s the sulking teenager in me that comes out when I do take a step in God’s plan for me, and I don’t see God’s wisdom immediately. I think, “Well that was useless, just kill me already. I knocked myself out for nothing.” God’s wisdom is there.  I just don’t see it yet. And, maybe I’m not meant to.

The bottom line is: Partial obedience is still disobedience. Here’s to following God’s plan today, and getting out of His way.

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Roses and Grace

I bought some pitiful little roses a while back. They were on sale. I didn’t think they were going to make it, but I figured for less than a few bucks it was worth a try. Plus, it gave my son some time in the garden with me.

I told him where to plant them, and my son planted them. He tended to them, weeded them, watered them, and when he was away, I did the same. After a while, the rose-bush started to get some new growth on it. I still didn’t think it was going to make it, but I hoped it would. Not just for me, but for my son.

I had other rose bushes. They were already blooming and beautiful. But this rose-bush, the one that had little hope of living, and the one my son planted, was just starting to bud. I was so excited to see the little buds on that rose-bush. It filled me with hope and excitement.

Pretty soon, the rose bloomed. I saw it one morning as I went outside, and I actually shrieked. It was so brilliant. I was so happy to see that rose bloom that I went outside and snapped a picture of it.

As I stood there, staring at the rose with a camera around my neck, I couldn’t help but think how God must feel when we finally ‘bloom’.  It made me think about how Grace works.

I can imagine God looking at us and thinking, “Well that one is struggling, but hang on a minute, maybe she’ll finally grow and ‘get it’.”  When we finally ‘get it’,  and when we finally find our way back to the Lord, I wonder if he shrieks with joy?

Luke 15 tells us that He does.  In that one chapter alone there are three parables that Jesus uses to demonstrate how Grace works:

  • The parable of the lost sheep
  • The parable of the lost coin
  • The parable of the lost son

The parable of the lost coin says:

Luke 15:8-10 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Jesus says, “I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  Rejoicing. In Heaven. For us.

If you’re feeling that you cannot possibly be saved. If you think you’ve done something so bad that no Church would have you. Think again. The angels in heaven in the presence of God are waiting to rejoice…for you. Don’t wait. The long walk back begins with a single step toward God.  Finding your way back to God only requires you to ask for God’s love and help. His Grace will shine down on you, nurture you, and help you to blossom as you’ve never done before.

Hope: The Centerpiece of Life

Hope is one of the great “intangibles” like love, compassion, and understanding that we all need to thrive. The human race is poor indeed without hope. We need hope to get out of bed every morning, to turn a doorknob and trust that it will open the door, to put a key into lock and trust it will turn, to use our money and pay for our transactions, and to keep doing this day after day as we work toward a future for our families. But, what happens when you lose hope?

First, nothing. You go through the motions of the day mindlessly as an act of habit for a time. But after a while something else creeps in: Doubt. Then you ask yourself, “What’s the point?”. Logic cannot explain why we move forward in life. Logic would say that we do it to pay the bills. Why? Because we need a home for our families. But, if there’s no hope for a future – what is the point? Then the questions that lead to real self-destruction come: That drug might help me, why not take it? That sexual interlude might make me feel better, why not do it? That shiny new thing might make me feel better, why not buy it? In the case of Nadia Sulman, “More kids might make me feel better, why not have 8 more?”. But I digress… The problem is: The why-not-actions have to be performed over and over again to try to fill the hole in the spirit where hope used to be. Pretty soon you have a negative feedback loop with all the power of a black-hole that will suck the life from you and everyone around you. You see, when hope is lost by one, others suffer. ALWAYS. Why? Because you are someone’s brother/sister, father/mother, son/daughter, neighbor, friend, example, employee/employer, and a community member.  All  are affected by your actions. We become selfish when we lose hope and selfishness can be as destructive as an emotional-atom-bomb.

I refer to certain people as “Emotional Vampires or Emotional Terrorists”. You know the type – they always see the glass not just half-empty but “just about empty”. No matter your encouraging words, they have an overwhelmingly negative retort. Leaving you and those around them drained.

A pessimist is defined by John Maxwell this way: “A pessimist is a person who, regardless of the present is disappointed in the future.”

What makes an “emotional vampire/emotional terrorist” aka a pessimist? Bad circumstances? Bad upbringing? Just a bad break? A bad decision? I think it’s hope that comes from faith. Hopeful people recover from a bad decision. Those who don’t have hope – usually don’t. People around the world and here at home have serious problems and some live in dire circumstances and still they have hope. So it must be more than just external circumstances.

Consider Job the long-suffering servant of God. When he lost his possessions, his family, his health, his friends, his livelihood, and his home Job clung to one thing: Faith. Faith translates into  hope. So it’s not surprising that Hope is mentioned many times in the Book of Job.

Job 8:13 “Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless.”

Job 11:18 “You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety.”

That’s how I sleep at night. I rest in the word’s of God and my faith. I have hope that the Lord will see me safely through the night. This is not easy for me as the victim of TWO home invasions. But I realized, at an early age, that I had a choice: Be paralyzed by fear or Live in Hope.

For those of you who lament, ‘Yeah but that’s the Old Guy in the Old Testament’ then let me reference someone who is both hopeful and living in difficult circumstances today: The Dalai Lama. He was exiled from his own country. He is a man without a country and without a family and without a true home, yet he is hopeful and despite his circumstances happy.

“There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’ No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.”
— Dalai Lama XIV

“When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways–either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.”
— Dalai Lama XIV

So to those of you who have hope I ask you this: What gives you hope? What’s your bedrock of faith that hope springs from?