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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus

O Come, Emmanuel

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A beautiful rendition of the classic Christmas hymn “O Come, Emmanuel.”

Written by MattAndJojang

December 22, 2012 at 8:45 am

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Just Because You Love Jesus Doesn’t Mean You Have to Disrespect the Buddha, Dishonor Muhammad or Disregard Moses

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Photo: Josh Kenzer/Flickr

On this 11th anniversary of 9/11, it’s a good day for us to look back and assess the damage.

The damage to buildings long been accounted for, and much has been rebuilt. The damage to the economy has also been debated and estimated — and replaced by new, greater, primarily self-inflicted economic wounds.

The damage to families is, of course, impossible to assess or quantify. It can only be mourned.

But there’s another impact of those attacks that is still too seldom tallied: how our religious communities have turned from their deepest teachings and values of peace and reconciliation, and have too often become possessed, we might say, by spirits of fear, revenge, isolation and hostility.

As a Christian, I’ve certainly seen it and felt it in the Christian community, expressed often in a sense that the more you love Jesus, the more inhospitable you’ll be toward other faiths. “Don’t let them build mosques or temples on our turf,” some say. “Don’t let them express their difference in dress or ritual,” others suggest. “Require them to conform to our holidays and cultural codes,” others demand.

This turn toward hostility has disturbed me, so a few years ago I began studying it more in earnest. My research led me to the underlying relationships among religious hostility, religious solidarity and religious identity. Today, the results of my research and reflection go public in a new book (“Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?“), and among many conclusions, one stands out — one that I hope my fellow Christians can hear and ponder.

To be a strong Christian does not mean you have to have a strong antipathy toward other faiths and their leaders.

To be hostile rather than hospitable, in fact, makes you a worse Christian, not a better one.

To be respectful, curious, humble, inquisitive and hospitable to people of other faiths makes you a better Christian — meaning a more Christ-like one. To love your neighbor means, at the very least, not to discriminate against him, not to dehumanize him, not to insult him or what he holds dear, not to act as if God made a mistake in giving him a place in this world.

Put more positively, to love your neighbor of another faith means to seek to understand her, to learn to see the world from her perspective, to stand with her, as it were, so that you can feel what she feels and maybe even come to understand why she loves what she loves.

In the book I recount a conversation I shared over lunch with an imam who became a good friend in the weeks after 9/11. We each shared what it was we loved about our religions and their founders. He went first, and then as I was sharing, he interrupted me. “I have never heard a Christian share what he loves about his faith,” he told me. “I have only heard my fellow Muslims tell me what Christians believe. It is so different to hear it from you.”

I knew what he meant.

What would happen if more of us, whatever our religious tradition, extracted ourselves from the vicious cycles of offense and revenge, hurt and resentment, misunderstanding and counter-misunderstanding, rumor and innuendo? One thing is certain: We would become more faithful to the vision of our founders, not less. May that be so.

~ Brian McLaren

Written by MattAndJojang

September 14, 2012 at 9:38 am

Competing Visions of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth Are Not Mutually Exclusive

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Photo: Ibrahim Iujazen/Flickr

In his Time magazine article, “Heaven Can’t Wait,” Jon Meacham contrasts two seemingly competing visions of heaven in contemporary Christianity. One prominent view envisions heaven as the ethereal place one goes when one dies. Images of winged angels, celestial music, golden thrones, pearly gates, and streets of gold variously occupy this vision of the hereafter. Heaven is conceived of as a future paradise of eternal rest filled with peace, light, and love. Everlasting life is seen as an eternal abode in the heavenly realm with God and the angels.

A second well-known view envisions heaven as how you live your life. This standpoint appeals to a younger generation motivated by causes and inspired by heaven to make a positive difference in the world. Guided by this outlook, these young evangelical Christians see themselves as agents of heaven on earth engaged in social justice and peacemaking. For this activist generation, heaven demands stewardship on earth in daily living.

According to New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, heaven is not a future destination but rather God’s dimension in our ordinary life on the earth. For Wright, the hope of a new heaven and a new earth along with the New Jerusalem coming from God in the Book of Revelation should invite work in the world for justice. Wright emphasizes the biblical hope of the bodily resurrection and new creation in the New Testament.

Meacham asserts that early Christians did not understand heaven in the same way as those who now envision a heavenly paradise after death but rather envisioned heaven as a two-step process. First, the soul left the body to a place of rest and peace. Second, a bodily resurrection into a new heaven and a new earth would bring God’s kingdom to earth. Meacham concludes that Christians have largely departed from these concrete beliefs about heaven by Jesus and his contemporaries. For Meacham, Wright and others are bringing this emphasis on the bodily resurrection and the New Jerusalem back to contemporary Christianity. The implication is an active Christianity bringing the Kingdom to earth.

Yet, these two competing visions of heaven and the hereafter need not be mutually exclusive. A vision of heavenly bliss and celestial paradise after death is a compelling way to describe what early Christians saw as the first — temporary — stage of heaven. Immediately after death one returns to God and enters paradise. Notwithstanding, the entire biblical account points to hope in a bodily resurrection and a new eternal life with God in the New Jerusalem. Life with God on earth will be exalted. According to the New Testament, heaven is not the final destination but rather a temporary holding place before the end of the world. One can easily hold these two visions of heaven in tension in one’s faith.

Meacham implies, however, that one cannot believe in heaven as the eternal place of rest and vindication and also work for social justice as an imperative. Thus, according to some, the image of heaven as a future paradise pacifies Christians, most especially the poor and marginalized.

Critics of African American slave religion, for instance, argue that it was otherworldly, escapist, and compensatory. The black spirituals demonstrate the rich imagery of heaven and the hereafter in slave religion as release and vindication in another life. These images of heaven no doubt enabled black slaves to endure hardship and dehumanization. Yet, black slaves also believed in imminent liberation on earth as in the biblical Exodus. They hoped for concrete material and spiritual liberation from bondage in the now.

Rebellious black slave insurrectionist Nat Turner, for example, asserted that blacks should fight for the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth through revolt. African American Christian slaves held in balance the hope of paradise in another life and the equally significant hope of heaven on earth. They were able to resist slavery in myriad ways by believing in the God of both the hereafter and the present. Thus, black slave religion was both otherworldly and this-worldly. Slaves embraced the hope of a heavenly paradise after death that would vindicate them and erase the pain of the present life. Yet, they also hoped in imminent liberation on earth and the belief that God would initiate a new era of peace and freedom for blacks here in America.

~Karl Lampley

Written by MattAndJojang

April 17, 2012 at 7:12 pm

Happy Easter

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“The Lord is risen, alleleuia, alleluia!” ~ Antiphon, Liturgy of the Hours

May the joy of the Risen Christ fill your hearts today. Happy Easter!

~ Matt and Jojang

Written by MattAndJojang

April 8, 2012 at 11:13 am

The Jesus Prayer

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[Kyria; May, 2010]

“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances” (I Thess 5:17)

Have you ever wondered what St. Paul was talking about? How can a person pray constantly? Yet this wasn’t the only time St. Paul urged his hearers to constant prayer.

“Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” ( Romans 12:12).

“Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance” (Eph 6:18).

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving”  (Col 4:2).

If he took the trouble to say this to four different communities, he must have thought it was important. And he must have thought it was possible. He wouldn’t have kept urging his hearers to do something that was completely beyond their capability.

In the 2nd through 5th century, men and women began going out into the deserts of Palestine and Egypt to devote themselves wholly to prayer. They are known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers. They wanted to find a way to be in constant communion with God, as St. Paul had urged.

They soon discerned that the reason it’s hard to be in such communion is the ceaseless inner flow of wandering thoughts: old memories, desires, fears, criticism of others, any number of aimless thoughts that disrupt the mind and keep it unsettled. These are not the constructive thoughts used in problem-solving, but the wandering thoughts of a mind seeking something to “chew on.” Since the impediment came in the form of thoughts, the cure was a substitute thought—a single, simple thought of prayer. After experimenting with various short scriptures and petitions, this is the form that emerged: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” It called the Jesus Prayer.

The prayer is drawn from Gospels, from passages where people called on Jesus for mercy: the ten lepers  who cried, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13), the Canaanite woman who said , “have mercy on me, O Lord, son of David.” (Mt15:22), and blind Bartimaeus, who said,  “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mk 10:47). In Jesus’ parable, the publican “would not even lift his eyes to heaven but beat his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’” (Luke 18:13). These requests for mercy aren’t like a criminal begging a judge for lenience, but are stories of people in need asking for the Lord’s tender mercy.

I’ve been saying the Jesus Prayer for fifteen years now, and have found that it has greatly increased my ability to sense the presence and voice of the Lord. Mostly, it gets rid of the clutter. Instead of being blindsided by thoughts that carry me away into the past or future, I am able to size up the thought and decide whether or not I want to give it my time. The Jesus Prayer strengthens the part of your mind that observes your mind, building an entryway, as it were, where thoughts must prove their validity before being invited in. At all times, the inner you rests in the presence of our Lord, the light that drives away all darkness.

As we said, the goal is to pray constantly, but you can’t begin by doing anything all of the time; you have to begin by doing it some of the time, and gradually build up. The advice about acquiring the habit of this Prayer hasn’t changed for 1500 years. Set aside a bit of time each day when you will do nothing but say the Prayer—even just ten minutes a day. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and begin repeating the prayer inside. The ancient sources speak of “bringing the mind into the heart,” but you must keep in mind that “mind” and “heart” don’t mean “reason” and “emotion” in the ancient texts. (As best I can tell, the notion that we are divided into “head” and “heart” arose in the West in the Middle Ages. It’s not biblical and, I’ve become convinced, not true.) In the ancient writings about the Jesus Prayer, the “mind” is the receptive intelligence, the understanding or comprehension. It is always hungry for something to take in, and restless. During prayer practice, discipline that hungry mind to keep returning to gaze at the Lord. Deny it anything other than the words of the Prayer to think about. As St. Paul said, “Take every thought captive to obey Christ”  (2 Cor 10:5). You will find this impossible at first, but very gradually you will make headway. Those who stick with it report that, over time, there is a nearly physical sensation of the prayer activity move from buzzing around the top of your head, to being lodged securely at your physical center, the chest or heart. (This has nothing to do with emotions; the Prayer is a mental exercise, but it does, of course, produce better control over negative emotions.)

I wondered at first how it was possible to be praying all the time when I had so many other things to think about and accomplish. I found that it works by utilizing a layer of your awareness, not your entire awareness. It is like having a friend along as you go through your day. The presence of your silent friend wouldn’t limit your ability to concentrate and handle the demands of daily life, but it would give them a different color or flavor. In this case, the best of Friends provides tranquility, perspective, love for the unlovely, patience, and good humor.

But the purpose of the Jesus Prayer is not tranquility or inner healing; the purpose is to bring you into the presence of Christ. He is all our joy. I think it is wise that the Prayer asks for mercy, to remind us of the necessity of humility, rather than the narcissism that can accompany the self-designation “spiritual.” So the Jesus Prayer is not an end in itself, but a way of training the mind to remain always in his presence, no matter what else life brings. As the anonymous pilgrim says, in the 19th century Russian text The Way of a Pilgrim, “Sometimes my heart would feel as if it were bursting with joy, so light was it and full of freedom and consolation. Sometimes I would feel a burning love towards Jesus Christ and all of God’s creatures…Sometimes, by invoking the name of Jesus, I was overcome with happiness, and from then on I knew the meaning of these words, ‘The Kingdom of God is within you.’”

~ Frederica Mathewes-Green

Written by MattAndJojang

June 16, 2011 at 4:43 pm

“Do Not Rejoice When Your Enemies Fall”

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Photographs of firefighters killed on 9/11 are seen outside the World Trade Center site after the death of accused 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden was announced May 2, 2011 in New York City. Bin Laden was killed in an operation by U.S. Navy Seals in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

“Do not rejoice when your enemies fall,
and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble.”
—Proverbs 24:17

We feel compelled to respond today to the killing of Osama bin Laden by the United States and to the jubilant response across the nation.

A nation has a right to defend itself. From the perspective of the fundamental national security of the United States, this action is legitimately viewed as an expression of self-defense.

But as Christians, we believe that there can no celebrating, no dancing in the streets, no joy, in relation to the death of Osama bin Laden. In obedience to scripture, there can be no rejoicing when our enemies fall.

In that sense, President Obama’s sober announcement was far preferable to the happy celebrations outside the White House, in New York, and around the country, however predictable and even cathartic they may be.

For those of us who embrace a version of the just war theory, honed carefully over the centuries of Christian tradition, our response is disciplined by belief that war itself is tragic and that all killing in war, even in self-defense, must be treated with sobriety and even mournfulness. War and all of its killing reflects the brokenness of our world. That is the proper spirit with which to greet this news.

This event does provide new opportunities for our nation.

President Obama’s respectful treatment of Islam in his remarks, and his declaration that Osama bin Laden’s body was treated with respect according to Islamic custom, offers all of us an opportunity to follow that example and turn away from the rising disrespect toward Muslims in our nation.

A second opportunity is for the United States to reconsider the questionable moves we have made in the name of the war on terror. From our perspective, this includes the indefinite detentions of scores of men at Guantanamo Bay, the failure to undertake an official investigation of detainee interrogation practices, the increase in Predator attacks in Pakistan, and the expansion rather than ending of the ten-year-old war in Afghanistan.

We also now have the opportunity for national reflection on how our broader military and foreign policies — including the placement of our troops throughout the largely Muslim Arab world, our posture on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and our regular military interventions around the world, create a steady supply of new enemies.

There can never be any moral justification for terrorist attacks on innocent people, such as the terrible deeds of 9/11. But we must recognize that to the extent that our nation’s policies routinely create enemies, we can kill a Bin Laden on May 1 and face ten more like him on May 2. Might it now be possible for us to have an honest national conversation about these issues?

May we learn the right lessons from the news of this day. For Jesus’ sake.

~ David P. Gushee

Written by MattAndJojang

May 3, 2011 at 7:36 pm

A Declaration of Flowers: Thoughts on Byron Herbert Reece’s “Easter”

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Photo: UGArdener/Flickr

It’s about as simple as poems come:

Easter is on the field:
Flowers declare
With bloom their tomb unsealed
To April air.

Little lambs
New as the dew shake cold,
Beside their anxious dams:
Easter is on the fold.

Its simplicity shouldn’t be confused with sentimentality, though. Today, little lambs, blossoming flowers, and the like are stock symbols of the season, largely taken for granted, appropriated by salesmen to be consumed by us. We buy stuffed toy lambs, chocolate lambs, Hallmark cards with pictures of lambs. It’s not my point to say whether this is right or wrong, but it is clearly sentimental.

Because Easter is a sentimental and therefore commercialized holiday, it’s all too easy to read Reece’s poem through pastel lenses, to imagine chicks and bunnies at the feet of the lambs, to imagine the lambs frolicking and stopping to sniff the blossoming flowers. But I don’t think it’s a sentimental poem at all.

Byron Herbert Reece wrote “Easter” in a setting far removed from the commercialized holiday we know today — sometime around the middle of the last century in a north Georgia valley bounded by mountains and crossed by the Nottely River, in a farming community called Choestoe. Reece himself was a small-scale farmer who worked a piece of bottomland alongside rhododendron-veiled Wolf Creek. As such, the flowers and lambs in his verses are not abstract ones. They weren’t conceived in the mind of an entrepreneur to be born in a Chinese factory; they are flowers and lambs from nowhere but the dew-wet hills of Georgia. The poet saw the blossoming of peach trees, service trees, and laurel. He watched the shivering newborn lambs owned by a Choestoe neighbor for reasons far beyond sentiment.

If “Easter” is not a sentimental poem, then, what is it? The next temptation, I think, is to read it as a symbolic poem, to see the blossoming flowers and the lambs as signs of new life with the obvious correlation to Christ’s resurrection. But I don’t think that’s quite right, either.

Reece was a practicing Christian, to be sure — even filling in for his preacher from time to time — but he was also too good of a poet to build a poem upon cliché, and the great cliché of Easter is that the vitality of spring represents the vitality of the risen Christ. To see the cycling of nature as nothing more than a religious symbol is to live on another plane. I think Reece understood, with Thoreau, that “heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” And so Reece does something lovely with this poem: He turns the usual metaphor around.

“Flowers declare / With bloom their tomb unsealed / To April air,” he writes. The “tomb unsealed” is an allusion to Christ’s death and resurrection, of course, but it is the tomb, rather than the blossoming flowers, that serves as symbol here. In the same way, it is Easter itself that blesses the sheepfold, and not the other way around.

Flowers and lambs, then — and by extension all created things — have worth independent of doctrine. Doctrine, at its best — and in this case the doctrine of the resurrection — sheds light on the holiness of this world. Reece would’ve known that Mary Magdalene, the first to see the risen Christ, mistook him for a gardener. Resurrection abounds if we would but look.

~ Christopher Martin

Written by MattAndJojang

April 24, 2011 at 9:09 am

God Always Forgives

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Photo by Forti Suarez

MANILA, Philippines – “A face that only a mother can love,” so goes an old dictum. With God, that should be rephrased thus: “God loves faces that even mothers cannot love.”

The image of a loving, forgiving God is illustrated in this 24th Sunday’s gospel about the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, and Lost Son (Lk 15, 1 ff).

God as the solicitous shepherd takes pains to look for the lost sheep. To search for one insignificant sheep leaving the ninety-nine is illogical and unthinkable, according to the principles of pasturing.

Shepherds never go after one lost sheep. They have greater responsibility for the ninety-nine. That single lost sheep represents only one percent of the flock.

Not so with the loving God “who came not to condemn but to save.”

A speaker once made an analogy. He held up a crisp hundred peso bill. “I want to give this away,” he said, “but first let me do this.”

Then he proceeded to crumple the bill. “Who wants it?” he asked. Several hands were raised. He dropped the money on the ground and crushed it into the floor with his shoe.

When he held up the bill again, it was now more crumpled and dirty. “Who still wants it?” he asked again. The same hands went up. “My friends, you have all learned a very valuable lesson,” he told them. “No matter what I did to the money, you still wanted it. Why? Because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth a hundred pesos.”

Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by the sins we commit. We feel as though we are worthless, like the prodigal son in today’s gospel.

But no matter what has happened or what will happen, you will never lose your value in God’s eyes.

Another important lesson we can learn from the parable of the prodigal son is willingness to accept our mistake and change. Yes, God will always forgive us but we should be willing to admit we did wrong, that we committed a mistake, as a condition for restoring our broken relationship with God.

– Fr. Bel San Luis, SVD

    Relatives of Haiti Victims Pray

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    MIAMI — Martine Jeudi held photos of her aunt and other relatives in her hand at a Miami church Jan. 13 as she prayed for victims of the magnitude 7 earthquake that struck Haiti Jan. 12 and devastated areas of Port-au-Prince, the capital.

    “My aunt was killed,” said Jeudi, 36, who came from Hollywood to attend a memorial prayer service at Notre Dame D’Haiti Church. “My other relatives are missing. The building (where they lived) was destroyed.”

    She was one of hundreds of Haitian-Americans whose relatives were killed or missing in Haiti.

    Fr. Reginald Jean-Mary, pastor, called the earthquake the darkest moment in that country’s history.

    “Nobody foresaw this,” he said in impassioned remarks at the service. “God and nature surprised us. God reminded us that something must be done. Haiti needs more than food and water. We need substantial change in Haiti.”

    Jean-Mary told the congregation to make a commitment to what is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

    “I don’t want you to come to church and cry,” he said. “I want you to make a commitment so that Haiti can stand on its feet. Today, many of you are wondering where your loved ones are in Haiti. But, how many times did you contact them? You know how hard life is in Haiti.”

    Jean-Mary said that the death of their fellow brothers and sisters was not a defeat.

    “The light of God will continue to shine on Haiti,” he said. “We are here to show our solidarity and our commitment to Haiti. We are here to be a light in the darkness.”

    The emotional aftershocks of the quake were being felt by south Florida’s large community of Haitian immigrants, who anxiously waited to hear about the fate of loved ones.

    Marie Claire Kernizan was talking to her husband in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake hit.

    “He told me, ‘Oh, oh, oh, oh,’ and after that, no communication,” said the secretary at St. Mary Cathedral School in Miami.

    Seven hours later, she managed to speak with him for about three minutes on his cell phone, before communications were cut off again.

    “It’s a miracle,” said Kernizan, who unlike many others in south Florida, knew her husband was all right even though their house was “a little bit damaged.”

    But “I haven’t heard from my mother and my brother who live in Petionville,” Kernizan added. Petionville is a suburb built on the hills above the Haitian capital.

    At St. Mary Cathedral School, most of the 380 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade are of Haitian descent. They gathered for Mass Jan. 13 to pray for strength, to pray for their loved ones, and to pray for those who will be helping with rescue and relief efforts.

    “Almost every child has relatives over there,” said Sister Jane Stoecker, a Sister of St. Joseph and the school’s principal. “It’s been very sad. They can’t reach them.”

    “People are very scared. That’s very natural,” said Msgr. Terence Hogan, rector of the cathedral.

    Using language they could understand, he told the schoolchildren that “nature sometimes brings earthquakes” and if the earthquake is really big “the walls cannot stand up” and people are hurt or killed.

    “Many of your relatives, many of your friends are going to suffer greatly,” Hogan said. But he reminded the children that no matter what happens here on earth, “Jesus is right here in our midst. He is our hope and he is our salvation.”

    He urged them to do two things: Pray for the victims and their rescuers, and “be very generous” when donations are called for. “Whatever it is you have to give, whether it’s a little bit of money or a jacket, be ready to do that.”

    Speaking after Mass, Hogan told the Florida Catholic, Miami’s archdiocesan newspaper, that he had no doubt Miami’s Haitian community would come together to help the earthquake victims.

    “They’re very willing to help one another. That’s one of the beautiful things about the Haitian community,” he said.

    He added that he could see, in the faces of the older children, “that they were concerned. They’re wondering about their relatives. They don’t know what’s happening.”



    Let us keep the victims of the earthquake in Haiti in our thoughts and prayers. Also, let us do what we can to help them.

    Written by MattAndJojang

    January 16, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    The Seed of Faith

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    I am with you always.

    Matthew 28:20

    A few days ago I read this excerpt from the writings of a scientist:

    “For me, and probably for all of us, the concept of a personal, interested god can be appealing, often deeply so. In times of sorrow or despair, I often wonder what it would be like to be able to pray to God… and believe that I was heard, believe that my petition might be answered. When I sing the hymns of faith in Jesus’ love, I am drawn by their intimacy, their allure, their poetry. But in the end such faith is simply not available to me. I can’t do it.”

    I felt sad that, although she realized how faith could be a powerful resource in her life, she concluded: “…in the end such faith is simply not available to me. I can’t do it.”

    Although I personally struggle with certain aspects of my faith, I am grateful that the seed of faith has been planted in my heart.

    My faith has taught me that there is a purpose for everything that happens in my life.

    My faith has given me the strength to cope with the difficulties and challenges of life.

    My faith has given me the courage to go on during the darkest moments of my life.

    Thank you, Lord, for the gift of faith. Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.


    Written by MattAndJojang

    May 29, 2009 at 10:00 am