Wednesday, July 23, 2014
By Micky Wolf
There’s the old saying that when temptation knocks at the door, we need to send Jesus to answer it. Good counsel, yet not always the first thing we think to do.
We know grace is a huge part of being able to cooperate with God and make the loving choice at any moment. At the same time, my own experience has been we tend to cheapen grace on occasion by asking (hoping?) God will do for us what it is within the realm of our free will. Said another way—let’s not ask of God what is not His responsibility as He will never impose His will upon us.
Sitting here one day and pondering what was next on my to-do list, I had a suddenly-temptation-sin-moment. You know what I mean. You’re minding your own business and along come a thought or feeling which begs you to say yes.
“Do this,” it suggests. Sounds good. Even begins to tickle in your feeling realm.
“Not a big deal,” it continues.
Seems okay. What’s the harm?
“Take the bait—you will enjoy it.” Oh, yes. I’m almost convinced.
We are taught as Christians to take our thoughts captive and discern their source. The enemy of my human nature? Desires of the flesh? A quick opportunity to relieve boredom or stress? God-talk or devil-distraction?
Could be any or all of these things. Does it really matter?
Yes. And no.
I won’t kid you. A big part of me wanted to give in and go with the lure, the enticement to “do this.” No, don’t bother asking what the “do this” part was or we will both end up sinning.
The sin thing begins with the bait and the dance. Temptation arrives, often with a whisper, looking and sounding wonderful, a whole lot like the real deal. But it’s an imposter. If we succumb and take up this dance, staying until the end, we enter the darkness. Sin ends in death—every time we go for the bait, a little part of us withers and retreats from the gaze and protection of our One, True God.
On the other hand, the love thing usually means sacrificing a momentary pleasure in order to reap the more deeply fulfilling and lasting blessings that God promises us are the reward for being other-centered rather than self-centered.
For a few moments the “do this” was quite attractive. So much so, I came within a hair’s breadth of acquiescing to its’ allure. I didn’t. No, doesn’t make me some kind of spiritual super hero. Why? Because the occasions when I have given in to the “do this” invitation have occurred more often than I’d like to admit.
The solution? Acknowledging I want to—momentary pleasure is always fun—then recalling, with the help of the Spirit, the darkness that envelopes my heart almost immediately when I have said, “sure, why not. No big deal.”
Better that we throw ourselves on the mercy and grace of God to help us be courageous and strong when temptation comes knocking. There’s nothing like a few heavy duty sin hangovers to realize saying yes to the invitation, no matter how amazing it looks and sounds or well-attired in intellectual or sensory pleasure, is just that—momentary and self-centered.
Here’s the bottom line. We know the difference between the sin thing and the love thing—and on some level of interior awareness, we know when we hear a knock at the door of our hearts, we have one breath, a moment or two, to make a choice as to which direction we will go.
All of us sin—and we better not be in the business of counting (out loud or under our breath) when we think the other guy is ‘doing it’, or doing it bigger and worse than we are.
Instead, let’s recommit, as often as necessary, to turning away at the slightest knock that bears the allure to bite for the sake of immediate pleasure or personal gratification. Let us choose instead, to enter the dance with the One who will always be faithful to lead and guide us in Truth and Love.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
By Micky Wolf
Some consider being at peace in direct relationship to physical war involving sects or countries whose forces utilize a variety of weapons capable of rendering great destruction. Eventually, if one side or the other prevails or wants the violence to end, they instigate a way to achieve peace. Whether or not that is realized or for how long a truce lasts only time will tell.
Is there ever an occasion when it is necessary to go to war? Absolutely. Yet, we must be particularly careful if we choose this option as justification to bring about the desired peace.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not suggesting there aren’t occasions for a “just war”, however, most Christians consider this a serious issue. In part, Catholic doctrine states the following:
All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war. Despite this admonition of the Church, it sometimes becomes necessary to use force to obtain the end of justice. This is the right, and the duty, of those who have responsibilities for others, such as civil leaders and police forces. While individuals may renounce all violence those who must preserve justice may not do so, though it should be the last resort, "once all peace efforts have failed." [Cf. Vatican II, Gaudium et spes 79, 4]
Why is it so important to examine our motivations to go to war? For starters, the desires of our sinful nature are often intermingled with the good intentions of those of the Divine presence.
The real war…
Battles, violence, and war among communities and nations—in the name of true freedom (religious and otherwise) no less—seem to be occurring somewhere in the world at any given moment.
But what about the war-like thoughts and feelings you and I carry around in our heart and spirit? Those internal conflicts that leave us sleepless, confused, or upset? The slightest trigger and boom, we find ourselves in a battle with others or self.
Getting honest with what is unsettling us usually preempts the need to expel the junk on others. Of course, this means we have to confront the conflict within in order to enter into a personal peace which will transcend self—which is not to say we are responsible for their peace.
The why of war…
On a broader level, too often our justification and reasoning for going to war—battle—is more about one-upmanship or domination than bringing concerns or differences into the light for the purpose of achieving resolution—authentic peace—that is meaningful and lasting.
On a personal level, we resist getting to the why of our inner turmoil because we are afraid of what we might discover about who we really are, the choices we make, (or fail to make) and the way we behave. What if it turns out the root cause of my frustration is not really about the way my spouse behaves but rather how their habits or tendencies mirror my own imperfections?
When we finally surrender to the process of allowing God to show us some of the finer (or is that worse?) aspects of who we are, it doesn’t take too long for most of us to realize the battling and warring going on in our souls is not easy to acknowledge, let alone change. After all, if I have some responsibility in creating the circumstances that lead to discord—a nice way to describe home-front war—then that means I need to be part of the resolution. Or better yet, work things out with God before I ever unleash my stuff on the other guy.
Christians, me included, are fond of repeating the Scripture about how God loves “to work all things to good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Well, thank goodness!
On the other hand, there is something much larger at stake when it comes to living in peace, personally or corporately: In the end it is not enough to wage war to achieve justice without treating the underlying causes. "Injustice, excessive economic or social inequalities, envy, distrust, and pride raging among men and nations constantly threaten peace and cause wars. Everything done to overcome these disorders contributes to building up peace and avoiding war" [CCC 2317]. The Church has no illusions that true justice and peace can be attained before the Coming of the Lord. It is the duty of men of good will to work towards it, nonetheless.”
Yes, this applies to governments and nations. And yes, this applies to you and me.
Maybe the real question we need to ask ourselves and ponder with God when we are thinking and feeling war-like is this: have I truly exhausted all efforts to achieve peace?
To move through daily life with this kind of heart attitude does not mean caving in or acquiescing to the most literate or loud person in the room. What it does mean is being the kind of Christ-servant who God can depend upon to go the extra mile for the sake of bringing about true peace and justice. From God’s perspective, this will always begin with my heart and my home before extending to my community and my country.
Is there some kind of war going on in my soul?
How do I feel about cooperating with God to get to the root of the unrest?
What does “once all peace efforts have failed” mean to me?
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
By Micky Wolf
Doesn’t look all that appetizing at this stage, eh?
On the other hand, one of a cook’s favorite methods for creating a tasty, tender, juicy meat entrée is to give it plenty of time in a marinade. Whether in the form of a dry rub or a palate-pleasing combination of herbs and extra virgin olive oil, the purpose is the same—to tenderize and flavor.
Hmm…moments of your life ever bear a resemblance to this process?
Softening the tough places…
The human heart is an amazing organ. Absolutely necessary for our physical body to function, it also serves as the residence for our soul and spirit. All that we are and do is connected with our heart, and our heart-health.
Nonetheless, most of us need some tenderizing. Oftentimes this concerns our wherewithal to love God, others or self. Have some selfish tendencies? Harboring a few subtle prejudices or judgments? Acquiescing to fear and resisting making a choice or taking action? No problem for God. His business—if we allow Him to apply His Truth to the way we think, feel and behave—will most assuredly soften and eliminate these tough spots.
The Divine process of tenderizing is unique to each of us; however, what we do share is the manner in which He produces a more pleasing end result. God frequently works through the circumstances of our lives—the unpleasant, the painful, the unexpected—to demonstrate His strength and power. In Love, He gives us the time He knows is necessary to transform us into a more Christ-like nature.
Along with circumstances, God works through people—family, friends, total strangers—to get our attention and show us a better way. These encounters are critical in effectively softening a hardened heart. Lest we have any doubt, recall a recent incident when the actions of a person you care about hurt deeply and left an imprint on your soul. If we hope to forgive, or be forgiven, we need to be tender, towards others and self.
Adding complex flavors…
What you cannot see by looking at the chicken is the kinds of herbs and spices used in the marinade. And here’s the best part—it doesn’t matter. That they are mixed with the olive oil is what is important.
When God chooses to focus on our need to be more flavorful Christians, He comes up with a blend of ‘seasonings’ that will produce a tasty servant-dish indeed.
The aforementioned selfishness? Have rooms stuffed with stuff? An abundance of finances? A gift or skill that needs to exercised and used? You can be sure you will experience many opportunities to give of your resources, time, and talent.
Those judgmental attitudes? It may seem every event and personal ideology you least agree with or find downright contemptible will touch your daily life. You may feel less threatened if those people and things show up on your television or other form of technology (changing channels is easy enough), but more likely, the flavors God chooses to enhance your nature will manifest through the person at your dinner table or sitting beside you on the plane—or standing in front of you at the grocery check-out.
And that fear that tends to dominate? God won’t waste one unsettling or scary incident (at least to you) in order to help you cooperate with His grace and get your life in motion, no matter how small the steps forward. How better to help us become courageous than by stirring up our faith, hope and trust in He who is greater than any challenge or difficulty we face?
Hidden in plain sight…
It is necessary to place the marinating chicken in the refrigerator for at least an hour, preferably several, but no more than one day before it is to be used.
The reality is you or I won’t be treated this way, and yet, we can count on some similarities to being transformed IF we choose to say yes and surrender to the fullness of God’s will in our life rather than our own.
Resting in God’s marinade typically includes:
…being put on a shelf for awhile, seen but maybe not heard
…being subjected to misunderstanding or rejection by those who don’t know or comprehend what is happening
…being patient and letting God work rather than trying to do it ourselves
...giving the process the necessary time rather than shorten or circumvent the discomfort we may experience
Have to tell you—when I removed the chicken from the bag to grill for dinner that evening, my beloved couldn’t stop raving about how tasty it was.
“You have to use that marinade again!” Well, at least that’s what he seemed to be saying amidst mouthfuls. I heartily agree.
Go for it, God. We anticipate your flavorful results!
Ever felt like God was seasoning your spiritual life?
How would you describe the process?
Are you willing to be willing to become more fully the person He has created you to be,
especially when it is uncomfortable?