Why? Why? Why?

Guest Post by James N. Watkins

If you have children, nieces and nephews, or younger siblings, you know that a three-year-old’s favorite word is “why.”

“Johnny, hold my hand while we cross the street.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t want you to run out in front of a car.”

“Why?”

“Because if a car hits you, you’ll be hurt or killed.”

“Why?”

“Because if it’s a contest between a thirty-five-pound boy and a three-ton SUV, the truck is going to win every time.”

“Why?”

“Because the laws of physics state that mass plus momentum equals . . . Just take my hand!”

And on it goes—right into adulthood!

“Why didn’t God heal my friend?”

“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

“Why do I still have acne at 50?”

I’ve worked up way too much spiritual perspiration trying to answer why my second-grade Sunday school teacher committed suicide, why I was laid off from the perfect job in publishing—twice—or why bad things happen to such good people as you and me.

I have learned that while why is often a futile question, God is more than willing to answer other questions. But, like the popular game show, Jeopardy, the answers are in the form of a question.

What can I know?

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5-8).

So, while I’ve struggled with hundreds—probably thousands—of questions about God’s workings, I have grown in my knowledge of who he is. While agonizing about an estranged relationship, I burst into tears—for God. I had described to a friend my pain: “It feels like my heart has been cut out with a chainsaw, run over by a logging truck, and then fed through a wood chipper.” If I was feeling this excruciating pain for one broken relationship, how was God feeling about billions of heartaches? It was one of the few times I actually felt I understood God.

I can also find the answer to . . .

How can I grow?

I’ve always leaned into Romans 8:28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV).

But what is that “purpose”? The very next verse answers: “To be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). So do other verses:

“And the Lord—who is the Spirit——makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18b).

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1).

That’s our purpose! So ask, how can I grow more like Christ through this difficult time.

Who can I show?

Second Corinthians 1:3-6 has become one of my favorite passages in encouraging me while I’m going through terrible times:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer” (NLT).

The Greek word translated comfort isparaklesis. It is a calling near, summons for help; a prayer, a plea; exhortation, admonition, encouragement; consolation, comfort, solace, refreshment; or a persuasive speech, motivational talk, instruction. And it’s feminine case. No one comforts like a mother.

We offer our best comfort to those experiencing what we have personally gone through.

So, sorry, we can’t always answer the “why” questions, but we can answer these three.

Condensed from The Psalms of Asaph: Struggling with Unanswered Prayer, Unfulfilled Promises, and Unpunished Evil by James N. Watkins.

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Living the Fruit of the Spirit: Gentleness

In some Bible translations, the word ‘meekness’ replaces the word ‘gentleness’. Many of us struggle with a clear definition of the word ‘meekness,’ but we know for sure the demonstration of gentleness when we see it.

We picture a mother holding her baby’s finger for the first time. A dad scrubbing with his hand the dirt from his child’s skinned knee. The way we would take a fish off a hook. Removing a splinter. Holding an elderly person’s hand.

The perfect example of gentleness, of course, is the manner in which Jesus handles us. Sure, He can be stern when He needs to be. (That’s how He handled demons.) For the most part, however, Jesus treats us as only a loving God can. Gentleness is one of His attributes and He can’t deny His own character.

The Golden Rule–which takes mercy into account–instructs us in gentleness.

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:31

Please listen today to the voice of the Holy Spirit in communicating with others.

“I Think I Am Happier Than I Think I Am”- A Book Review

By Reverend James O’Leary, copyright 2002, Battle Creek Area Catholic Schools, 180 pages

Here is a book with a title that, if you cannot relate to it, you only need read a few of the short essays and you soon will. These “pastor’s thoughts” wake you up to just how good life is even if a few bad moments come in an otherwise pretty good day.

When Father Jim O’Leary first released the book, I was so happy to see it. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing first-hand his words of wisdom, humor and kindness. Reading the book again after many years, I hear his voice and see that twinkle in his eye.

Father Jim shares insights into Catholic traditions, travels in Europe associated with his calling, missions trips, parenting, growing up in Michigan, and eventually serving there. He tells stories about simple living and what he learns from everyone he meets. While he may have rubbed elbows with some pretty important people, it’s obvious he’s energized by conversations with folks like you and me.

Each essay is a reflection of Jim’s heart. Like this:

“Our world is so full of people who are planning to change the world. They are simply waiting for the right time. I do believe that I must include myself in this group. We wait and wait and the right moment never comes, and we never make our contribution to the improvement of our world. Opportunities to serve people surround us. The right time is now. Always, the time is now.”

I haven’t met many people as humble as Jim O’Leary. Of course, he’d get a sour look on his face, glance at his feet, and shake his head if he heard me say that. And that’s because, as I knew him, he really was a self-effacing man.

One day, during one of our brief meetings, I wanted to get a rise out of him. “Jim,” I said, “since I’m not Catholic, instead of calling you ‘Father,’ can I just call you ‘Dad?’”

He did laugh. “Just don’t call me what my parishioners call me,” he said.

“What’s that?”

In a matter-of-fact style and with a straight face, he said…No, I better not. It wasn’t a nice name. But I’m sure he was joking with me as well. That twinkle in his eye, you see.

“I Think I Am Happier Than I Think I Am” is filled with stuff like this. No, not bad words. But his way of seeing things. His constant love for God and for people. His explanations about Jesus and His earthly ministry. Metaphors for life derived from everyday observations. Father Jim doesn’t try in his book to convert anyone, but it’s plain he hopes you’ll believe in the One who was born, preached the Good News, and died to save us from ourselves. Jim always admitted that he needed saving from himself and his stories reveal his gratitude for God’s mercy.

The essays are gleaned from his columns originally published in the weekly St. Joseph Parish bulletin. Jim was a priest in the Battle Creek parish where I live. He was not my priest; as I mentioned, I’m not Catholic. But he was a good friend. The last time I saw him, we were both at a local American Cancer Society Relay for Life. Both cancer survivors, we met on the track and shared our news, chatting like old friends do.

I’m so glad I read the book again. It feels like we’re having another of those chats. Gosh, I miss him.

Living the Fruit of the Spirit 2: Joy

 

Joy is a gift. Like the other fruit of the Spirit, it’s not something we conjure up. It’s present in our lives because it’s the joy of our Lord. What a gift to receive. Why would anyone not want the joy of our God?

Joy is a permanent possession while happiness is fleeting. Our happiness quite often is expressed as something we have or we don’t . “I’m not very happy today.” or “Oh, I’m so happy right now!”

Joy can be described as exhilaration, delight, sheer gladness, and can result from a great success or a very beautiful or wonderful experience like a wedding or graduation but the definition of joy that the world holds is not nearly as amazing as biblical joy.

The joy we experience as we follow Jesus can be overwhelming and it’s often associated with gratitude, lack of worry, a simple life, a full life. Not to mention being in constant contact with God and availing ourselves of His love. When we know our identity in Christ, joy must naturally follow. That’s a joy we want everyone to experience, so we take the story of Jesus to everyone as often as possible.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

“At that time, Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” Luke 10:21

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.” John 17:`3 (Jesus’ high priestly prayer)

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.”Nehemiah 8:10

Dear Father in Heaven, remember your promise as Jesus said that His joy would be in us and that our joy would be complete. We praise you in our joy for your faithfulness to complete the work you’ve begun. Help us to walk in the Spirit and show the evidence of you which your Holy Spirit provides. Amen

 

It’s a Jungle in Here: Book Review

It’s a Jungle in Here by Kristie Wilde; 22 pages; copyright 2018

Kristie Wilde, the author and illustrator of this title, has a real winner with another in the Joyful Creation Series. 

When I saw the cover of the book in my selection email from Bookcrash, I wondered if all the illustrations in this picture book would be as beautiful as the cover. (It doesn’t hurt that I really like elephants.) I wasn’t disappointed. Since children are drawn to the pictures in a book as much as the story, these watercolors do the job and then some.

The book is short, but I think that just means it’s a book kids request by asking, “Read it again,” and Mom or Dad won’t mind because it doesn’t take long to repeat. And I mean it, the paintings Kristie supplies are also fun. Check out the page with the frogs. Those little guys are so cute and it took me a bit to count them all. There are brightly colored butterflies and birds; big cats; and funny monkeys. She even includes chameleons, which tickled me, the owner of a crested gecko.

In the back, the author includes simple, but pretty cool, information about each animal group she presents. Her degree in forestry is probably one of the reasons she finds it a joy to educate kids while encouraging them and entertaining them with a good story.

All that and the message that God made each of the animals in the jungle unique and that he’s pleased with them. “It’s a Jungle in Here” reminds children that God is pleased with them too, no matter who they are.

If you want a copy of this beautifully illustrated book with a special message for your kids or grand kids, look for it at Barnes & Noble or Wilde Art Press, the publisher.

Bookcrash supplied me with a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for the review. (I’m going to gift it to a friend who has youngsters.)

 

Helping Hands

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” ~ Jesus Christ

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another.” ~ Charles Dickens

“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” ~ Paul, the Apostle

“You have not lived today unless you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” ~ John Bunyan

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow.” ~ King Solomon

“We are all here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for I don’t know.” ~ W. H. Auden

People struggle. You do, I do. Everyone experiences hard times. People are grieving. Others are weary. People face health issues to the point of death. Some struggle with a crisis concerning their child. That child may be one with “special needs.” Adults are caregivers to an elderly parent or guardian to an individual who can’t help themselves.

Since we’ll all struggle at some time, remember how difficult it can be. Some people, for whatever reason, find it hard to ask for help. Don’t go through it alone and don’t let someone else. Pray for that person, but put feet to your prayers. Platitudes will not help. A helping hand will.

Be a blessing to someone today.

Foodie Failure? There’s Grace

What have been some of your worst foodie failures? Seriously, share in the comments and let us know. We’ve all had them. From poached eggs that wouldn’t stay together, steak too well done (can you say ‘burned?’), cakes with a soggy middle, to pudding that wouldn’t “pudd.” If you putter in the kitchen, it’s bound to happen sooner or later.

I subscribe to a few Foodie blogs and it’s fun to read their posts about exotic recipes and drool over the photos accompanying the descriptions of that food. But sometimes I wonder how many tries it took to get the recipe right. And how many actual photos were taken before they found the one shot which had the food situated just right on the plate, the lighting was correct, and the food didn’t melt into a creamy mess.

Remembering that I’ve had my own Foodie failures, I’m inclined to offer grace to my fellow cooks. Getting a cheesecake loosened from a spring-form pan the first time is tricky. That’s okay. It tastes the same as if it had beautiful edges.

You get the idea.

I have a classic Foodie Failure story which I posted just so my readers could see how people will extend grace when we flop at cooking.

That was a great experience for me. Those friends were women from my church and fellow choir members. They knew the story of how God has extended grace to us by sending his son, Jesus, to die on a cross to save us from sin. Grace to me for how my zucchini came out that night was the least of the things they could forgive me for. After all, they knew me well.

Today is Good Friday. It’s a good, if not great, day for us, because it’s in remembrance of that day when the ultimate story of grace occurred. From the Cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them.”

Enjoy this Easter season any way you prefer. I hope you find a way to fit in the story of Christ loving us to the ultimate, despite our failures. Because of his sacrifice, he makes all things new. If you haven’t experienced a relationship with Jesus by receiving him as savior, please consider it.

I’m going now. It’s time to fix a traditional breakfast for myself today. I don’t usually do that. But I’m hoping for no Foodie failures like when the toast is the wrong brownness, the poached eggs are too runny and the bacon gets a little too crisp.

Happy Easter, Eat Hardy, and Be a blessing to someone today.

When “Holding On” is Unhealthy

Heavenly Father, I’m holding on to something which I need to release to you. Give me strength to trust your love. I want to be free and receive your blessings and the only way to do it is to believe you will do what you promise. Give me peace about this decision because I’m fraught with fear of the unknown. I pray this for your glory and in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Living a “Good Deeds Life”

My life isn’t rife with so many examples of doing good deeds that I can tell you I’m always on the spot helping. To my dismay, I’m not always paying attention.

Author Henry James said, “Be the kind of person on whom nothing is lost.” This practice probably helped when he wrote fiction. But it has an amazing translation for each of us as well.

Paying attention means we see situations where we can help. We might also recognize when a person needs prayer or encouragement. If we pay attention, it might stir us to be be a cheerleader for people who are making the attempt to do better in their own lives.

I like the idea of living good deeds. It reminds me of the “One anothers” in the Bible. It reminds me of Jesus saying that the world will know we are His disciples if we love one another. Good deeds done from love reflect the love of Jesus.

While browsing the table near the entrance of my local independent bookstore, I found a little gem to introduce to you. Erin McHugh’s One Good Deed: 365 Days of Trying to Be Just a Little Bit Better leads you through a year of simple but effective good deeds. She didn’t start the book on January 1; she started on her birthday. What a cool idea; it was “her” day, but she hoped to put light into someone else’s.

Erin’s ideas are things she did herself every day for a year. I started reading and hoping I could put into practice the same thing she suggested for that day. I’ve also read ahead a bit to see some of the other ideas she wrote about. Her practices are the reason for the book, but her writing is extremely casual; often funny and embarrassingly relateable.

One day she gave fifteen cents to a woman who’d miscounted her change to ride the bus. Erin said she was happy to lean in and say,

“’Here, I’ve got it.’ Because anyone can miscount; she didn’t do it on purpose. And besides, what’s better than when you see a stupid hassle coming and someone steps in and just makes it go away?”

This example is typical of Erin’s book full of living a good deed life. One blurb on the back of the book says, “Erin McHugh is one wise, funny, smart woman, and her book is a blast to read.”

The title of the book suggests that when we do good deeds as a regular practice, we’ll be “a little bit better.” I like to think the motive is less about us and more about watching out for others’ needs. Even when that need is as small as needing fifteen cents more to ride the bus.

Could you be on the lookout for a way to help someone today? Pay attention and you’ll see opportunities around every corner.