Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Your Personal Apostolate: Chapter Four

A series of blogs presenting you the contents of the book, an award-winning love story for every soul.

Not sure what God has in store for you?
His plans are wondrous, loving and beautiful.

Accept Him, seek Him, love Him,
and return His love to those around you.

Prepare to be amazed, for
God is at work in you!


One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Luke 23:39-43

Think of just one mutually rewarding relationship you have had during your life and the positive impact that relationship has had on you. Now go a step farther, and imagine for a moment the impact an intimate relationship with God can have on you! If we aspire to have close relationships with people, it makes sense to aspire to a close relationship with the God who created us, loves us, and awaits our love in return. Have you ever heard the expression “To have a friend one must be a friend”? This expression begs the question, do we welcome God's presence and His goodness in our lives, or do we reject Him?

Do we even recognize God’s presence? If so, how often do we acknowledge Him? Only when times are good? Only when times are bad? Monthly? Just on Sundays, Christmas, and/or Easter? Daily? Hourly? Moment to moment? How many times we say to ourselves, “Not now, later, because…” How often we create and nurture relationships on our terms, not giving any consideration to what others want or need. How often we treat God the same way!

The first step to beginning any relationship requires making the decision to have a relationship. To have a relationship with God, we must respond to our longing by deciding that we want to have a relationship with Him. Just like relationships with people require effort, so too does our relationship with God. Decision first, effort second! Healthy relationships require love, respect, effort, nurturing, time, good communication, patience, trust, understanding, forgiveness, and sacrifice from both parties.

God is our ultimate relationship role model. In His relationship with us, God always gives us love, respect, attention, nurturing, and time. He communicates openly with us and is patient as we learn, make mistakes along the way, and make progress. We can always trust Him, and He is always very respectful. God never forces us to do anything, and allows us to make decisions for ourselves.

In His relationship with us, God is infinitely and unconditionally loving and understanding. He is not distant but is always close. He is forgiving, having died for us sinners. God is also sacrificial, having dwelt among us as Jesus our Brother, and secured our redemption when He took on our sins and paid the debt we owed through His passion and death. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13).

Evaluating the time and effort we put into relationships yields very useful information about ourselves and about the quality of our relationships. Such self examination can stimulate personal growth, improve our relationships, and most certainly can be put to good use as we carry out our life’s work. Relationships suffer when they are neglected. Regardless of the current quality of our relationship with God, He always loves us, always pursues us, always welcomes us, and is always willing to take up where we left off. No matter what effort we put forth, God always does His share. Let us eagerly meet our most loving God halfway.

Think of how many times you have been rebuked, blamed, rejected, neglected, or condemned by another person for something that you have or have not said or done. Think of how many times you acted this way toward others. How many relationships end because of a lack of forgiveness. What pain we feel when we are rebuked, blamed, rejected, neglected, condemned, or not forgiven. Imagine how God feels when we rebuke, blame, reject, neglect, condemn, or hold a grudge towards Him. How many times we unjustly reject God! Yet He eagerly awaits our return and always welcomes us back.

The Gospel of Luke shows Jesus continually exercising His ministry of pardon (The Jerome Biblical Commentary) 5 . In Luke 23:39-43 we read that the Good Thief crucified on the cross next to Jesus recognized and acknowledged that his own punishment was just. In his deplorable condition, the guilty man accepted responsibility for his actions. At a time which could have been one of utmost despair, the condemned criminal allowed himself to be enticed to faith. He asked for forgiveness and accepted salvation.

Why would the actions of a condemned criminal merit mention in the Bible, and secure a place for the Good Thief in history? The Good Thief voiced compassion for the battered and dying Jesus. At the moment Jesus redeemed the entire human race, one whom Jesus came to save recognized his Savior. He acknowledged Jesus as severely and unjustly punished, offering no resistance while forgiving and redeeming the guilty. Imagine the joy the Good Thief’s decision must have given our suffering Lord! May we also give Jesus the joy of accepting all He offers us.

The Good Thief acknowledged his Savior and was remorseful for his sins. “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” The story of the Good Thief is significant because he acknowledged Jesus’ personal ministry of sacrificial love and forgiveness, and accepted Jesus’ entire offer in one sentence. “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

Jesus’ final words spoken to anyone on earth were directed to the Good Thief: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” For his trust, the Good Thief gained redemption and was rewarded with the privilege of being among the first of men to enter into heaven, right on the heels of his Savior! May we respond to the lesson taught to us through the personal apostolate of the Good Thief by accepting the redemption offered to us by our Savior, by accounting for our actions, and by treating everyone with the mercy shown to us by Jesus.

Each of us has the opportunity to have a relationship with someone who knows us better than anyone. God knows us even better than we know ourselves. Imagine having a relationship with someone who is always available to us, is always patient, kind, and merciful. God never rejects us, always hears us, and is always willing to reconcile with us. Envision having a close relationship with the One who loves you so immensely that He gave His life so that you could spend an eternity filled with joy in His most loving Presence.

Once we choose to begin a relationship with God or improve the relationship we have with Him, and truly work at it, the quality of our relationships with other people also improve. Peace and joy abound. We are better able to carry out our apostolate and are more fulfilled in them. Let us model all our relationships on God’s relationship with us. We can begin like the Good Thief did, by welcoming Him into our lives and accepting His love, for He comes where He is welcomed.

Accepting God’s Love: A Personal Reflection

A few years ago on a hot summer day I was curling my hair for a special occasion with a combination curling iron and hair dryer. Roughly half way through the process I rolled an uncurled section of hair to the crown of my head. My tresses were coiled in the bristled curling iron right to my scalp. Much to my surprise and frustration, the curling iron became stuck right there on top of my head. Naturally, I resisted the inconvenience and began struggling to free my hair.

No matter what I tried, the curling iron would not loosen its grip. I became very frustrated and overheated during what became a bitter struggle to free my hair. In time my arm pained with fatigue from holding the enmeshed curling iron over my head. All efforts to free my hair were futile. Finally, at a loss for what to do next, I balanced the curling iron on the crown of my head, put my arm down for a rest, stopped doing anything, and waited.

After I resigned the struggle, it happened. God provided me with the answer to freeing my hair. He told me to ask for His help whenever it was needed. No problem is too small or too impossible for God! How often we make things complicated, when with God things are so simple! How often we struggle alone, instead of asking for and accepting His help. God is always available and willing to help.

I immediately followed through and asked God to help me. On my very next attempt, the curling iron that was stuck at the top of my head slipped free. I learned a very important lesson about God’s desire to help us and the power of asking for His assistance. This very effective life strategy has helped me many times since. God is such a great teacher!

Accepting God’s Love: For the Reader

How much effort do you put into the relationships that matter to you? What is the quality of those relationships? How much effort are you putting into your relationship with God? What is the quality of your relationship to Him? What have you done to welcome His presence in your life and meet Him halfway? How has your relationship with God affected your discipleship?

Dear Lord,
Help us to recognize
Your many invitations
to have a closer relationship
with You.
Grant us the grace to
meet you halfway,
and accept
Your loving offer of
salvation and sanctification.


Chapter Five ~
Loving God Back