It’s Your Choice

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Every once in awhile you hear or read something so profound you say to yourself “How can I steal that?” No, wait, I mean, “I wish I had said that.” Something will just hit you in the head like a two by four, and just make all kinds of sense, not that getting hit by a two by four makes any kind of sense, well at least not if you do it on purpose. Unlike most of what I write which makes absolutely no sense at all, here is what I heard today.

I was listening to one of my favorite Catholic radio shows, “Father Simon Says”on Relevant Radio, and he made the following statement (and this may not be exact because I was unable to write at the time):

“God doesn’t send us to Hell, He rescues us and brings us to Heaven.” Fr. Richard Simon

Sometimes we will hear people say things like “God will send you to Hell for that” but what really happens is we send ourselves to Hell by the choices we make.  We are the ones who decides where we will go, not God, not even Satan. We can choose to do right, or we can choose to do wrong, it is as simple as that. Satan will tempt us, but it is we who make the choice to follow through on the temptation. Read the following scripture passage:

Blessed is the man who endures the trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death. – James 1: 12 – 15

God does not tempt us, instead we are tempted by our own desire. Have you ever wondered why sins feel so good? It is because Satan wants to make them pleasurable so we will desire them. If any of you have committed adultery you will understand this. No matter how good your sex life with your wife may be, there is something about forbidden fruit that makes it taste so much better. Unfortunately, that pleasurable taste only lasts for a short time, but by then, the sin has been committed. Satan will tempt you again and again, and if you are weak (like a certain blog writer was) you will succumb to the temptation again. If you are strong, with faith and trust in God (like a certain blog author now) then you will be able to overcome the temptation.

Either way, you make the choice. God doesn’t, Satan doesn’t, you do.

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God and Temptation

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I have a tendency to waffle, at least with some things. I go back and forth as to what my favorite restaurant is (right now between a great BBQ joint or the brick oven pizza place with great Italian food), or my favorite musical, blues performer, etc. I do the same with trying to decide what book of the Bible is my favorite and what verse. I have learned my favorite is quite often the last one I have read.

Yesterday it was this:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. – James 1:13 – 14

This is one of the verses that appeared before me on one of my random openings of the Bible. When I began my journey back, I started each night having a conversation with God asking Him to clear some things up for me. I had a lot of questions for which I needed answers  before I could fully commit myself to coming back. At the same time I had begun reading the Bible both on a schedule and randomly.

The question I had asked this time pertained to the saying we all have probably have heard at one time or another, “God is testing me.” We use this in times of trouble, maybe we lose our jobs, have some health problems or lose a loved one. Many of us, okay maybe only me, would rather blame God for our sins, claiming He is testing us to see how we do and really wanting us to fail, instead of putting the blame where it needs to be. That blames needs to be on us, not God, not even the Evil One, but us.

Yes, Satan tempts us, but we have the choice to either reject this temptation or follow it. God gave us free will and He will let us make own decisions. With each decision there is a consequence, whether it is good or bad, whether it brings us closer to God or further away. As James says we are tempted when “lured and enticed” by our own desire. We make the choice to sin or not. And the funny thing about sin is it gets easier and easier to do it as time goes on. Believe me, I know. Why do you think Satan makes sin so pleasurable?

But here is the good news, just as it gets easier to sin after the first time, it also gets easier to resist after the first time.

Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. – James 1: 2 – 4

And each time you resist you will be brought closer to God. As I said in a post a few days ago, each journey begins with a single step, this goes for  resisting temptation, and therefore sin, as well.

Trust in the Lord.

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A Little Bit of a Ramble

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In my last post, I referred briefly how I began my journey back to the Catholic faith after a rather long absence. It began when I fell off the back of a truck, and a heavy piece of equipment that came behind me narrowly missed me. Someday I will write about the incident in more detail. After this happened I figured I was lucky this did miss me, even though it was coming right for me. A miracle? Luck? Divine intervention? I don’t know, but it sure got me thinking. More

Every Journey Begins With One Step

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firewoodweb

As anyone who has a house to take care of knows, there are some chores that you just dread each year. I had to begin one of those yesterday, stacking cord wood. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my wood stove, there is nothing better than sitting in my den on a cold, snowy winter day, with the warmth from the fire soaking into me. But I hate stacking it, moving one wheelbarrow load at a time from one side of the house to the other. However, it needs to be done, or else I have to trek it through the ice and snow whenever I need it.

Three things occurred to me while doing this dirty deed yesterday. One kind of led to the other. First, as muscles I don’t normally use began to ache, I compared this to the spiritual life. When we don’t exercise our muscles they get soft and we know they are going to hurt when we are done. This causes us to not want to exercise, to get out there and move that wood. That’s how I felt yesterday, I was dreading it all day. Once the muscles loosened as they warmed up, it was easier.

It is the same when we don’t exercise our spiritual muscles. They become soft and we know they are going to hurt when we use them, so we avoid using them. Some of us, like me, didn’t use them for a long time, and it took awhile for them to loosen and there was, and still is, both stiffness and aching in them. But each day it gets easier and easier to use them. When we make our spiritual muscles stronger we are better able to resist temptation. It is harder for the Evil One to lead us into sin. When I fell away from the church, I never used these muscles and on the rare occasions I thought about using them, I knew they would hurt so I avoided it. It was very easy for me to succumb to temptation and therefore to sin. If only I had exercised…

The second thing I thought about was like bringing the wood from one side of the house to the other, the only way it is going to get done is by picking up each piece, putting it in the wheelbarrow, walking to the other side of the house and stacking it. In other words, you need to pick up that first log, you have to take that first step. It is the same with our spiritual journey, it starts with taking that first step. In my case it was falling off a truck that began me thinking about God, if He was real, what happens after we die, do we really have a guardian angel who watches over us, etc. The first step was to begin asking God all of these questions and finding the answers. I needed to take this first step to begin the journey.

The third thing I thought of was how interesting it was that as I was working I was actually thinking about these things. I have noticed as I travel along the road of my spiritual life, I spend more time thinking about God, his Word, what He has giving me and what I can do for Him. I won’t say I spend 100% of my time thinking about Him, but certainly a lot of it. I find myself asking the question “What would Jesus do?” more and more.

I have come a long way in my journey, but I also know I have a long way to go. But, like when I sit in front of the wood stove I know my effort was worth it, so it will be at the end of my spiritual journey.

Speaking of which, time to go stack some more wood.

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Jerry, Maury and Steve

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I have to admit that today I have been less than productive. I have the day off and I should be doing many other things than sitting here doing nothing, I am not even writing. Instead I have been watching the daily parade of assorted characters appearing on the string of endless talk shows like Jerry, Maury, Steve, Bill and Trisha. And this means I am all worked up and am going on a discourse about what is wrong with out society today.

My first few times I saw any of these shows I would shake my head in disbelief and say these people couldn’t be real, this was certainly not the norm. However, the more I watch the more I realize this is real. These people are really out there, and these are the lives they live. It also becomes clear that this is more of a snapshot of our culture than we would like to admit. I also realized that these shows are the perfect way to teach others about the Seven Deadly Sins.

What are the seven deadly sins? In Christianity, the seven deadly sins are the top sins you can commit and if you do, your chances of going to heaven are greatly reduced. They are like the root sins and all other sins can be grouped into one of these seven categories. In the Christian sense these are all sins against God, but whether you believe in heaven and hell, God or Satan, I think it can be agreed that a “sin” can be a bad thing, usually leading to more bad things.

The characteristics that are considered to be the seven deadly sins can be described this way:

  • Pride is the exaggerated opinion of one’s worth in comparison to God and others and a willful oblivion to one’s flaws.
  • Envy is the unhealthy longing for the possessions, abilities, or status of another.
  • Gluttony is excessive indulgence in the pleasures of food and drink.
  • Lust is extreme desire for sexual and sensual gratification.
  • Anger is manifested by fits of wrath and rage due to intolerance of others.
  • Greed is an insatiable desire to acquire material goods.
  • Sloth is an almost pathological laziness which hinders productivity and good health.

Watch any of the above mentioned shows and you will see at least one of the seven deadly sins, if not all seven, portrayed by the guests. Don’t get me wrong, I am not judging these people, after all “Judge, and you will be judged.” But what I can’t help thinking when I watch these shows is this could be the problem with the decline of morality in our society.

How many of our children, when left alone with the television as a babysitter, watch these shows and think this kind of behavior is okay, after all these people are on television, aren’t they?

But the deeper problem is not even the shows themselves other than the fact that they promote this kind of behavior (I am not saying they condone it) is it shows exactly what happens when there is no moral teaching, no moral compass in our world. This is what happens when we get rid of God and let Satan take his place. Can there be no doubt this is the case?

Here is a passage from the Old Testament:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! – Isaiah 5: 20

Isn’t this what we have done? Look back at the list of the seven deadly sins, look around you and you can find an example of any one of these without much trouble.

Pride, Envy. Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed, Sloth, they are out there every day and we reward them and call them good. The pro football star who makes millions of dollars is a hero, who care if he beats his kid. We want more and more, bigger and better things, we never have enough, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” We rejoice when a famous TV star has a baby out of wedlock. We can’t wait to see latest perverted act a popular entertainer will perform onstage.

This has become the norm in our society, We have called evil good and good evil. We have allowed Satan to get the upper hand. The question is can we reverse this?

The Door Story

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A few posts ago I wrote about the recent deaths of two of my cousins. I also mentioned that one of them was the daughter of an uncle who passed away at a bad time in my life and there was a story of an answered prayer that goes along with the day of his funeral. I am not sure if I have relayed it or not on here, if so, forgive the repeat. One of the reasons I so strongly believe that God speaks to us is because of this story. I always refer to it as the “Door” story.

It goes way back to an incident from the early eighties when life wasn’t going all that good. I was drinking heavily, not running my father’s business like I should, I was committing adultery with a young woman who worked for me, basically making a mess of things, breaking lots of commandments. As I mentioned, one of my uncles had passed away and I left work to attend the funeral. I remember kneeling in the pew before the mass and looking up at the crucifix and saying:

“God, I know I haven’t been a really good person, and I probably don’t deserve anything from you, but Lord I am asking you for something now. I need help, my life is fucked up and I need your help. I can’t promise anything but Lord, send me some kind of sign, tell me what do do.”

This was a time when I had distanced myself from the Church, I had never really learned anything about my faith, although I did believe in God. But as so many my age, I had decided I knew better than the church and would pick and choose what I would believe. I would follow some of the church’s teaching and disregard the teachings I didn’t like.

After the funeral, I went back to work. There was a door which we used to enter into the back room of the building, separate from the customer entrance. As I reached for the handle, the door opened and coming out of the door was the man who I had basically replaced as the manager of the store. He had left and opened his own small store in the next town over from me. Unfortunately he was an alcoholic and gambler and ran his business into the ground. He had stopped by to tell me he had closed his business and wanted me to cash in some food stamps, which he had been taking illegally. (Yes I did cash them.) But what I remember most was seeing him when the door opened. I can only describe him as a ghost, his face was gray and drawn, eyes sunken in, a broken man. Even though I knew it was his fault, I had been hearing all kinds of stories about him, including from my then wife who had been working for him for awhile, about taking three hour lunches, coming back drunk, loud and boisterous card games at the store, while it was open, I felt bad. But going back to work I didn’t give it another thought.

That night I couldn’t sleep. Every time I would close my eyes, I would see his face coming through the door. That face and the look of defeat, beaten down, failure. It wasn’t until about dawn when it hit me as to why I kept seeing his face, this was the sign God was sending me. God was telling me if I continued in this way, I would be in the same place in a short time. (Many years later when I began my journey back to God, I had a different, more accurate interpretation of this dream, but it still was my “sign”.) I stopped drinking, I concentrated on my work, paid attention to my family, at least for awhile. I went back to my old ways, then would quit again, and then go back. This is another story for another time. The point is God sent me the sign I asked for, and it was the door opening for me.

A few years ago when I was first exploring this whole God thing, I thought about this incident. While I had always thought that the “sign” was seeing this beaten down man when the door opened and seeing myself the same if I didn’t change, God actually was giving me another sign, another message. And as He so often does he gave me the message through a scripture passage.

“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!  So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.” – Matthew 7: 7 – 12

What God had really been telling me was that I had knocked (my prayer) and He had opened the door. I believe the door was, and still is, a symbol for several things. In this instance it meant I needed to enter this door, follow Jesus, learn what He taught, and follow Him. This was the door He was opening for me.

I wish I had understood this message way back when I first received it but I guess it wasn’t time yet. Had I, I am pretty sure things in my life would have worked out differently than they did, but, if they had maybe I wouldn’t be writing and sharing my faith.

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Build a Strong Foundation

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As I am sure I have mentioned ad nauseum, I spend a lot of my day driving around. Much of this is spent in the northern regions of Vermont and New Hampshire. In this part of New England as in others parts of the country I am sure, there are many old barns, some still standing proud, others collapsing as from an invisible weight. There is one noticeable difference between those that are strong and up right and those that are not, their foundations. Some of these barns were built on strong foundations while others weren’t.

Today’s Gospel reading is from Luke 6: 43-49:

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?  Every one who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like:  he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But he who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

I have been working (sort of) on a book about what can go wrong with a marriage. When I was looking at those barns yesterday and thinking of the passage from Luke, I thought that besides needing a good foundation for our spiritual lives, we need good foundations for our marriages. I am referring to a good spiritual foundation, one thing I believe I was lacking.

If we build these strong foundations, we won’t be shaken from them no matter how hard the winds blow and the flood waters beat against us. Without the strong foundation it is very easy for us to be taken away in the flood, brought down river, tumbling over rocks in the tumult that is life. Like Jesus says “the stream broke and the ruin of that house was great.” Don’t take a chance of ruining your house, build a strong foundation and nothing will tear it down.

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