Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Matthew 25:36. It is a powerful message in any version of the Bible. Here the King James states it eloquently. The new international version is: I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
This way I hope to reach all readers of any faith or church. It is relevant to me right now in that one member of my Bible group has been diagnosed with cancer and everyone is rallying for support. The church has organized a cleaning schedule with regular meal deliveries for the entire family. It is one’s Christian duty to help in time of need. We have secured volunteers to tidy up the house and do a solid round of vacuuming to give this man’s wife a break. We’re calling it The Vacuum Challenge. She is so busy driving him to doctor’s appointments and tending to his mental state. It must seem like an endless round of chores, and few are pleasant.
Other volunteers are rounding up meals, and eventually we hope to hire a day cook. There will be a need to drive our friend to the hospital for medical treatment, and later surgery. Recovery won’t be fast, so we are trying to plan ahead and envision other tasks we might perform. Perhaps the yard will need weeding and the plants watered. We can rake the leaves and trim the tree branches. We would like to hold a fundraiser such as a bake sale or car wash to provide funds for his care. At some point, we may need to rotate volunteers to take care of his routine grooming. In time, we hope and pray that he will recover and return to his normal life.
When any parishioner becomes ill, it strikes at the heart of the community. While we know that life is full of trials and tribulations, serious problems always upset the balance of nature. We feel strongly for each and every member of our church. We are like a big family with many branches extending their roots for miles around. When there is strife or suffering, we individually are affected. We join in prayer:
Your love is as wide as the oceans
As deep as the sea
And as tall as the heavens.
May your spirit rise like a mighty wave and come and restore he who is ill.
You are the water of life,
You are a fresh spring,
You are healing rain
To all those who are in need.
The people in my church are community focused and always ready and willing to help others. We have a particular interest in youth programs. We have established a Bible class for teens and already have a great following. Good Christians at any age are good citizens and thus we are preparing our kids for adult life doing God’s work. We teach them how to life a healthy and happy life by following His word. I can’t think of a better way to spend one’s spare time. I don’t do it get our Father’s grace and love, but I always hope that this comes with the path I have chosen. The rewards are, indeed, very rich.
One of the other successful activities for our youth is a soccer camp twice a year to instill the best principles and strategies of the game. Alongside softball, soccer is steadily gaining a foothold in our schools, and we are onboard with promoting it for boys and girls of all ages. After school sports are mandatory in my opinion, as long as the kids don’t miss the Bible class! They have shown that they can do both. The teachings of love and respect for one’s fellow man work right into competitive games and support good sportsmanship and team effort.
I am not a soccer rule expert, but just a volunteer who helps organize the soccer camp and make sure the parents are all well informed. I learnt the basics from Top Corner Magazine. It takes several adults to keep everything in order and moving along. We have a strict agenda to make the most of the time allotted. In addition to the basics of the game, we insist on a lot of practicing to develop stamina and skills. We show the teens how to workout at home to keep in shape, especially before a big game. Soccer takes time to master and become coordinated enough to score.
Given time, I might even be able to referee a game. I am really getting into this youth program and will persevere to fulfill the will of the Lord. I am happy to have this as a new calling. I think it will do the kids a lot of good. It will bring them closer to each other and their parents and siblings who support them. It is all about family and forging bonds between players and the coaches. We all have the same goals in mind and strive to achieve them with heartfelt effort.
If you have the opportunity to start a youth program or join an existing one, you will find great fulfillment. I believe in serving the Lord in practical ways that enrich people’s lives.
We work together as church members in our town. It might be sponsoring a Bible class, a lecture series, a Christian music festival, or a youth soccer camp. At the moment, we have something very special that is bringing us together. We are merging our creative minds to come up with a new design for the altar. It is in need of repair after a roof leak caused considerable damage. We were able to raise some funds in no time. As long as we are building its replacement, we decided to address the possibility of a handmade cross. We all agreed that a local artisan would be ideal. We hoped that a true artist in metalwork would be within our budget.
I was quick to volunteer to be on the committee to see how I could help. While we could order a cross to our specifications from an outside source, we unanimously preferred to have designs submitted in the requisite dimensions. Given that there aren’t many fine metalworks on the level of art in this area, we had really only one contender. Fortunately, we know him and are familiar with his work. A construction welder would not be up to the job. We wanted a concept that matched the great faith of the members of our church. It must express the glory and power of the divine as the eternal symbol of Christ. It had to be appropriate, sparing of excess detail, yet profound. The sort of craftsmanship that you only see in the projects that people post on Rate My Welder. It takes a believer to understand and fabricate such an artifact. We were facing a unique opportunity and had to be sure in our decision.
We were more than pleased with the initial efforts of the artisan. He had carefully surveyed the existing style of the church and the degree of ornamentation. Since there isn’t much, the cross will be the focal point and a visual magnet for all eyes. As such it will bring enlightenment and engender faith. We asked the metalworker for a mockup to scale and he was quick to offer a model in just three days. It would then take another two weeks to finalize the project given the dimensions. We had requested that the new cross be 20% larger than the old one to better fill the space in the alter.
The church went into full gear to plan a “reveal” for the community. It would involve a special service and a reception. Everyone wanted to participate and make the occasion one of love and fellowship. It is a very unique event in the history of the church and one not likely to happen again.
Readers, there are days that I struggle. There are times when my heart is so heavy that I can barely move and I feel like I am at war within myself. I try so hard to forge a path so that I can move forward but it is such a fight to gain any ground at all.
Do you ever feel that way, readers?
I am sure that you do. We are all humans, after all. We are prone to making mistakes and living messy, complicated lives. Luckily, if you have ever felt this way, I have a very simple answer to our problem. I have learned that when this happens, when the struggle seems too much for me, that I am turning against God and trying to clear my own path instead of staying on the one He has selected for me. Asserting my own will goes against His Divine Plan. The stress and difficulties I face are caused by me alone. When I walk His path, He is with me and my heart feels lighter no matter what I face.
In my heart, I think we all know this. We do not want to admit that the reason we cannot see the path in front of us is because we are being led astray. No amount of hacking and struggling will actually lead to a clearing. Once we stray from the path that God has chosen for us, we are no longer under His protection and His guiding, Fatherly hand. There is nothing good waiting for us on a trail we have to blaze for ourselves. We need to turn back to Him.
That can be hard, folks. Sometimes the direction I want to go feels like a better one for me. There are so many reasons to ignore the voice of the Lord and simply do the thing you want. We think that it would make life easier. For a little while, it might feel that way. But in the long run, we will suffer without His love and guidance. We know it will be wrong – going against His predestination not only jeopardizes your rightful place in Heaven, it will cause destruction in our lives here on Earth. Temptations are traps threatening to swallow us. They will cause lies, distractions, and all kinds of other hardships in the end. Are you willing to sacrifice your Eternal life for a few moments of simple pleasure now? I know I am not.
Choosing the path of the Righteous may not always be easy, I know. The trail may narrow, and there may be obstacles, but you will always have your Heavenly Father by your side to walk with you and be a Light when all is dark. Life is never about avoiding struggles or hardship. Life is about turning to Him when things get hard, and giving yourself quiet time to listen for a Response so that you can find your way back to your true purpose.
My new Bible study group decided to take a break from our regular meetings in the basement of our church. Instead, we decided to have a more informal, social gathering at a coffee shop. I thought it might be a little awkward, as we wouldn’t be able to fall back on reading a passage if there was a lull in the conversation. But I didn’t need to worry. The time passed quickly, and I had so much fun I wanted to come home and blog about it!
The leader of our group is a deacon. He is a really nice man. I think he is an office manager somewhere, but I am not entirely sure – it has never come up. I know that he has volunteered with the church for over a decade, though. I joined this particular group because of him. He has a very comforting demeanor and always finds a way to let everyone have their turn to speak. It makes discussions during our group very interactive and fun. I learn a lot and get to look at things in ways I never expected to. It was interesting to see him even sort of outside his role as a deacon. He was more laid back and seemed to really enjoy himself. That was cool to see.
Some of the other members took his laid-back manner and ran with it. They brought up all kinds of topics, like music and tv, that we would never talk about during group. I got to know people in a more personal way, which was really nice. I found out about their families and the kinds of things they do in their free time. It helped shed some light on their perspectives, and will make Bible study in the future a little more interesting now that I have some context into their lives and the way they think.
The reason I wanted to post this is not to brag about the great night I had with people I consider good friends now. It is because many people, possibly some of my readers, feel very alone in the world. I want everyone to know that there is a community out there of people who want you in their lives and who want the best for you. The easiest way to find people like that is by joining a parish in your area. Many places of worship will have different activities, either for parishioners or for the community at large. If you’ve just moved somewhere, becoming a churchgoer is a great way to meet like-minded people. And if you aren’t new, don’t worry. They’ll still welcome you with open arms. It doesn’t matter if you used to be a different faith, were never religious before, or had a lapse in faith. It doesn’t matter the minute you walk through the doors. All is forgiven. So, if you are longing for human connection, keep this in mind and give it a try. Hopefully you will find a great group of people you can call friends, just like I did!
December is my favorite month of the year. Everything feels cozy and everyone seems happier. It is the perfect time of year to let people know how much they mean to you. And when you are showing people how much you value them, it can be very easy to get caught up in all of the trappings of the holiday.
I used to love walking around and looking at Christmas lights and holiday decorations. But not any longer. Now it seems like a competition: who can have better lights, how can have the bigger displays, whose yard looks the prettiest? So much work, and for what? What do you win? God doesn’t care about who has the most strands of lights or the largest holiday inflatables. Having a plastic choir of angels on your lawn doesn’t give you passage into Heaven.
The same thing happens with gifts. It starts with kids. They want the biggest thing, the most expensive new toys even if they don’t play with all the other stuff they already have. Many people don’t appreciate the things they’re given. They’re too busy thinking about what they didn’t get or who didn’t reciprocate. Sure, it is nice to get something that you want and will appreciate, but remember the expression “it’s the thought that counts”? Why doesn’t that matter anymore?
Sometimes you just have to put aside all of the stuff – all of the trappings, the decorations, the expensive gifts, the need to out-do one another. You have to remember the point of it, the reason behind all the good cheer. The most important thing to remember during the holidays is that God loves you enough to send you his only Son. It is the birth of our Lord Jesus that is the cause of all our rejoicing.
That certainly is worth celebrating, but not by buying extravagant gifts or putting yet another giant object on your lawn. Luckily, there are much easier ways to show your appreciation for the greatest gift ever given, and it was given to all of Mankind.
First of all, the best way to celebrate is by going to church. You can sing joyous songs and hear the stories celebrating Jesus’ miraculous birth. I love going to midnight mass for the candlelight service. I look forward to it all year! And singing “Away in a Manger” lifts up my spirits every single time!
Another great way to celebrate is by being kind to others. By all means, acknowledge the people in your life that mean something to you. That’s a great thing. But include those you do not know as well. Jesus believed in treating all people with love and kindness, and what better way to celebrate his birthday than by doing the same? There are homeless shelters who need food and clothing, and children who have lost everything and need to believe in the goodness of the world once more. You can be that for these people by giving just a little of yourself. There are plenty of charities looking for assistance at Christmastime, all you have to do is reach out. It is a great way to celebrate in His Name!
I try to be a good person. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I do not. Like anyone else, I have good days and bad days, and sometimes the bad days are really hard. It’s hard to be nice to others, it is hard to stay calm, it is hard to forgive people when they hurt me. I know that I am imperfect, that I will make mistakes. That it is only natural to falter sometimes, and that it is normal to feel the way that I do.
However, I know that no matter what, God will forgive me. He understands and loves me anyway. That knowledge can really help people through some trying times, when they feel that all is lost. Sometimes we don’t feel loveable at all, you know? Understanding that He loves us through it all can be our saving grace.
Perhaps that is why my favorite quote from the Bible comes from Colossians 3:13:
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Two perfect sentences!
It reminds me that there is a reason to be patient with those around me and offers me a gentle reminder to be kind to others, just as God is patient and forgiving of me. You never know what they are going through. You need to bear with people, just as you hope they will bear with you – just like in another great Bible passage: 1 Corinthians 13:7:
“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
That’s a tall order for the rest of us, for sure. But real love, like the kind God has for all of His Children, can survive anything. He believes in us, hopes the best things for us, will endure anything for us. And yes, He will bear all things for us. All our bad choices, all our destructive behaviors, all the terrible things we do to each other. He forgives it all.
And if God can forgive us all of that, the least we can do is tolerate each other. We all make mistakes. Nobody is saying you don’t have the right to be affronted or hurt by someone’s behavior. But you can choose to let those grievances go in the same way that God would forgive you. You don’t have to hold on to the things that have happened to you. You can release the other person from their guilt and sorrow over their actions toward you. You’ll feel better too, I promise.
If those passages aren’t enough to convince you, here is a short line that is another favorite of mine, Proverbs 21:3:
“To do righteousness and justice is desired by the Lord more than sacrifice.”
I believe that quote says it all: that if you do the right thing (which in most cases is to forgive those who have trespassed against us), God values that choice more than all the tithing, all the times we go without, all the things we give up.
I love these passages. What a beautiful thing forgiveness is, what a powerful gift the Lord has given us!
What about you, what parts of the Bible speak to you?
I love to sit in my pew every week and listen to the homily. Having a Bible passage explained by someone who has studied theology is always uplifting. But that is not the only way for the Scripture to be part of your life. You can read the Bible yourself and interpret it in a way that enriches your own life. I have a few ideas on how to do it, too.
My best recommendation is for you to join a Bible study group. You will likely find one at your church. These meetings are sort of like a book group, where people gather socially to talk about what they read and what they think about it. You can find all kinds of Bible study groups. Some are led by clergy, others are led by laypeople. There are some that focus on certain sections of the Bible or are for certain groups of people (i.e. a men’s meeting or a group for teens discussing behavior and values). These types of groups are both fun and fulfilling. You might make friends or learn a different way to look at a certain passage. Leading one is also a great way to give back to your spiritual community.
Don’t worry if a study group is not your thing. There is nothing wrong with reading the Bible on your own. You can start in either Testament, and work your way through. If that seems intimidating, remember that there is no reason to rush. You will get out of the exercise what you put into it – meaning that if you breeze through it, you might miss passages that could be comforting or enlightening. Using this method means you can focus on a section of the Bible you find most appealing, for example the Psalms or a certain book that gives you comfort. If you reach a passage that is confusing, you can reach out to your pastor or another clergy person with questions. I am sure they will be willing to sit down and talk to you about it.
If reading the whole bible on your own gets you confused, there are annotated Bibles. An annotated Bible is the same Gospel as a standard Bible, but includes detailed information that adds context to the Scripture. These types of Bibles can be helpful if you are trying to gain historical understanding of events in the Bible. However, they can be off-putting, as the annotations are often more secular in nature.
Another great option are daily readings or affirmations. There are some books you can buy that will focus on a specific passage or verse. There will be a specially selected passage for each day, selected for relevance and maybe a certain topic (for example, there might be an affirmation book for mothers, or passages selected for specific dates like holidays). If you look in a religious bookstore or online, you’ll be able to find one easily. Or you can ask around at your place of worship to get recommendations. There are also websites and apps that offer daily readings and interpretations.
Have you made an effort to read Scripture daily? If so, how did it go and what techniques did you use?