Month: August 2012

  • Dying to Self

    John 12:24-26

    I tell you, most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest. Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life. If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too. If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.

    Jesus tells His disciples and us a parable to illustrate the importance of dying to self and honoring God.  The best example of dying to self and honoring God is Jesus’ bodily death and resurrection.  The cross, central to the Christian life, reveals to us the importance of dying to self and allowing God, our potter, to mold and shape us into the instruments that He created us to be.  The cross reveals to us that Jesus gave up everything He had for His Church.

    Following Jesus’ example, we are challenged to die to ourselves and love His Church.  Saint Lawrence allowed the grace of God to flow through him and into the world.  His story was one incredible story of boldness and a deep assurance on God’s word and His promise to provide.  The prefect of Rome wanted Saint Lawrence to gather all of the Church’s wealth and give them to Him.  Instead of handing the wealth over, Saint Lawrence gave the wealth to the poor.  When the prefect of Rome asked Saint Lawrence where the wealth of the church is, he pointed to the poor and said, “Here is the treasure of the church.”  For his boldness, he was burned alive.  He gave up everything to preach the gospel and remind the Church how precious they are in the eyes of the Lord.

    Jesus sees us as His treasure.  He tells us that we are pearls in a field that a person would sell everything he had to obtain.  Having reflected on these scriptures and on the example that Saint Lawrence reveals, I am challenged to see whether I treasure the Church and whether my life reflects that my brothers and sisters, the bride of Christ, is as close to my heart as it is close Christ’s heart.  For Saint Lawrence, it is clear that the Church was close to his heart and what he did reveals the love that Jesus has for His church.  I am encouraged to reveal Jesus’ love for His Church in whatever way He shows me, whether it be small or big, it is all to honor the Father.

    A Reflection on Devotion for Today’s Readings

    Copyright 2012 by Christenstein

  • Faith: Coming to Jesus

    The Faith of a Canaanite Woman

    Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

    Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

    He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

    The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

    He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

    “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

    Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment. (Matt 15:21-28)

    Some time ago, when I read this passage, I thought it was about the faith of the Canaanite woman in Jesus to heal her daughter.  And, it does seem that her faith is unwavering as she continues to plead with Jesus to heal her daughter.  What we see here is a faith that is acted in actions, a living faith.  The Canaanite woman did not only believe that Jesus could heal her daughter, she acted this belief and continued to ask Jesus to heal her daughter despite the refusal.

    Sometimes, I wonder if we come to Jesus in the way this Canaanite woman did.  I wonder if we believe in Him so much that we continue to go towards Him instead of away from Him.  I wonder if our faith changes our lives and that we put our faith into action.  What I find interesting here is that Jesus literally turns her away.  I believe that Jesus did this to show us what it means to have living faith.  Here, the Canaanite woman believed and she put her belief into action.  Later, Saint James tells us that faith without deeds is dead. Some people think that Jesus was impressed with people’s faith when they come to Him against all odds.  I believe that Jesus already knew their faith; because faith is a gift from God, God already knows our faith.  Here, I believe that Jesus was not astonished with the Canaanite woman’s faith, but stated “Woman, you have great faith!” so that we can see what an example of what living faith is all about.

    Faith without deeds is dead.  Here, the Canaanite woman continued to look towards Jesus and did not turn around and leave like some others did. With our faith, do we continue to seek Jesus and continue to go towards Him.  Do we ever turn our back on Him and leave?  Will our faith withstand the test of the world and will we endure to the end?  Will we invite others to come to Jesus too and to experience His love and compassion just as Jesus did here?

    Copyright 2012 by Christenstein

  • Charity

    Jesus Walks on the Water

    Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

    Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.  When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

    But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

    “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

    “Come,” he said.

    Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

    Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

    And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.  Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

    When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret.  And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed. (Matt 14:22-36)

    When I was young, I always thought that if we had enough faith, we would not sink into the water like Peter did.  After all, Jesus did say, “You of little faith, why did you doubt.”  I always wondered why Peter who saw Jesus right there lost faith.  Jesus was right in front of Peter’s eyes.  As I grew up, my understanding of this passage really changed.  Instead of looking at Peter, I started to stare to my Savior.  And, having stared at Him, I realized that Jesus was asking Peter to come to Him just as He asks His sheep to come to Him.  When we come to Jesus and accept His invitation to be His disciples, He’ll ask us to walk on water, mainly doing wonderful things in His name.  And, one of the wonderful things that we do in His name is to love as love is greater than faith.  Here, it is Peter’s love for Jesus, His willingness to jump into the water despite all logic and odds that pleases the Lord.  And, as Peter comes to realize what He is doing, he starts to sink, starts to sink as he realizes that what he was doing was physically impossible, doubting for one brief moment that nothing is impossible with God.  After we accept Jesus’ invitation to be His disciples, He is still there for us to pick us up when we falter. He will remain in us and we in Him.  And, when we meet circumstances and situations such as Peter’s and may experience some doubts, Jesus will be there to comfort us, to rescue us, and to reveal His love to us further as we continue seeking Him.  He does not abandon us as we moves towards Him.  He continues to draw us to Him, closer and closer and closer just as He drew Peter to Him.

    It is comforting to know that it is our faith that initially draws us to Jesus, but is His love for us and our love for Him, exhibited through charity that continues to draw us into His heart.  And, when we try to cooperate with following Him, even when we sink along the way, He will come to us and pick us up.  Living the Christian life is actively seeking Him and meeting Him when He meets us. Like Jesus, we should meet others when they attempt to meet us.  We should welcome them if they come towards us.  This the “Come, follow me” mindset that we should exhibit in our walk with Jesus as He exhibits it to us.

    When others tell us, “tell me to come to you.”  Our reply should be, “Come!”  This is the example that Jesus gives to us. With open arms we should always embrace the prodigal son.

    Copyright 2012 by Christenstein

  • Another Encounter

    While watching history unfold at ground zero on Thursday at Chick-Fil-A, a homeless man came up to me and asked me for $0.50.  It is my policy not to give money to the homeless, but to feed them and give them drink just as the Bible says.  So, I looked at him and asked him if he was hungry.  He told me that he was.  I asked him how a chicken sandwich sounded.  He told me that it sounded great.  I asked him to wait for me while I get it for him.  When I came out and gave him the sandwich, he started to talk to me about his problems.  I did not want to be rude to him, so I asked him to sit down with me and eat.  I asked him what his name is and offered my hand to him.  He was hesitant to shake my hand.  I looked at him and told him that I do not bite (considering how ironic that may have sounded because he was the one who had dirty clothes and smelled).  He put his hand out and shook mine hand.

    Then, for a brief moment, he forgot all about his problems and started to tell me how appreciative he is of what I did.  I found this really interesting because he asked me for $0.50 and got a sandwich.  Most of the time, most people just walk away from me because they want the money more than the food.  What got me was that when he took a bite of the sandwich, he did not express appreciation.  It only after I offered to sit down with him and shook his hand that he expressed it. And, perhaps, I am reading too much into the situation, but he did mention to me how we are all human beings regardless of race, gender, and money.  I affirmed him saying, “yes, we all need to eat to survive.”  He was laughing and smiling, smiling so wide.

    Suddenly, he stopped smiling and his eyes became wide-shot.  He started to swear at me and swearing at Jesus.  He told me, “I do not want your love.  Go away.”  I had had many experience with demons and usually they are turned off by God’s word and prayer, but this was a first experience where they are turned off by love.  Then, the smile came back and the wide-shot eyes disappeared.  He then told me how great Jesus and other religious leaders were.  Then, he switched again and then started to tell me bad Jesus is and how Jesus hated the homosexuals.  Then, he became him again and said that Jesus loves the homeless, the crippled, the poor, etc.  This was going on for about thirty minutes.

    My sense was not to encounter the demon because I sense that he was not ready.  However, I did not notice that love is reaching out to the man.  I did notice that he is breaking through at times and the demon is losing ground.  I did notice that the demon is struggling to hold on.  And, having reflected on the incident for about a few days, I realized that God’s love touched the man and reached out to him.  Then, these verses came to mind.

    And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor 13:13)

    Copyright 2012 by Christenstein

  • Unwelcoming Patron at Chick-Fil-A

    During the national controversy surrounding Chick-Fil-A and marriage, I observed events at ground zero – the Chicago Chick-Fil-A. While I am impressed with the overall respect that each side of the public debate afforded to the other, I am extremely disappointed with one of my sisters for making a mockery of Christ by making assumptions about me and where my faith laid.  On Friday, I went to Chick-Fil-A not to support the “Kiss-In” event, but to show them love and to support them even if I do not agree with their views.  One of them, outside and on behalf of Equality Illinois, asked me to sign a petition for gay marriage.  I kindly answered her that I had very deep convictions and I cannot support with that; however, I supported her efforts and her right to voice her opinions on the subject. She just looked at me.  Perhaps, she was confused or perhaps, she saw something different about me as compared to the more militant ones she may have encountered in her life.  Then, I extended my hand to her and asked for her name. She told me her name and I told her my name. It was really a pleasure to meet another person properly.  Yes, she is a person like you and me and a sinner like you and I are.  Instead of condemning her, we should love the sinner and not the sin as we are sinners and Christ loves us. Hence, I did not endorse the cause though I love the person.

    In contrast, while I was in a line for a Chicken sandwich, this women came up to me and offered me a Bible verse.  It was one of those gospel tracts.  It totally turned me off. I did not come to Chick-Fil-A to hear an old lady preach about Jesus.  I came to Chick-Fil-A to have a chicken sandwich.  I politely replied to her that she should keep those verses for someone who really needed them.  Instead of going on her way, she asked me what I believed.  I did not want to answer her because she already had turned me off.  Not to mention that I was getting frustrated and agitated with her not getting what I communicated with her earlier.  I was ready to yell at her, but I held my tongue.  Then, I answered her, “I believe in the God-man, Jesus Christ.”  To which she replied, “we are all Christians here” and left to sit down.

    What a laughable and ignorant comment for her to make. First and foremost, you do not have to be a Christian to come into Chick-Fil-A and eat a chicken sandwich.  Secondly, to say that only Christians go to this place really makes the place feel unwelcoming. However, it is not Chick-Fil-A, just an old lady, who is one their customers.  Nevertheless, if I, a firm believer in Jesus Christ and in marriage being between a man and woman, felt unwelcomed by her comments, imagine those who do not believe. Imagine how they would feel.  Was it appropriate for her to badger others with Bible verses because she thought that homosexuals were coming to Chick-Fil-A on Friday?  Was it appropriate for her to hand out Bible verses when all I wanted was a Chicken sandwich for lunch?  Was it appropriate for her to make gospel tracts a part of the dining experience at the restaurant?

    For myself, I really believe that it is Christians like her that make Christians like me look bad and make it difficult for me to show others charity and love just as the Bible says.  While she made the experience not so great, the lady who was protesting made the experience better.  Before I left, I passed her at the front of the restaurant (she never went inside to collect signatures or to voice her opinion compared to the old lady who did).  I wished her well and said her name. She wished me well and said my name (she remembered me after all those hours protesting).  We are first name basis and that is welcoming indeed.  The old lady never bothered to introduce herself and ask me for my name.  She just left when she realized I was a believer.  All she was interested in was throwing Bible verses at me.  The Bible tells me that God calls us by name and I believe that not asking for a person’s name is not reflective of who God is and His love for others.

    The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. John 10:3

    Copyright 2012 by Christenstein