Matthew 11:28-30 - Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Joshua 24:15 -
Choose this day whom you will serve; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Family Fun

Those of you following our adoption blog may have noticed we are getting close to traveling time.  Can't wait to meet our new little girl.  In the meantime, we have had some real fun times right here in New York State recently.  It is fall here in the Hudson Valley which means the colors are exploding everywhere.

Like outside my office window:

And on the New York State highways:

And from the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge:

Earlier in the week we got to pick some fall pumpkins and apples...
Apple and Pumpkin Picking

Then today we got to see the inside of that beautiful cathedral in Albany I mentioned briefly a few posts ago as well as visit the state museum in Albany.
From Albany Cathedral
From NYS Museum
So the fall is in full swing.  Hope you are enjoying yours too.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Another beautiful, holy place (Not a gloomy monastery)

When most of us think of religious life, we think of a demanding, austere lifestyle locked away in a murky monastery somewhere, don't we?

I've gotten a couple chances this year to get a glimpse of this lifestyle in a closer and more personal way then before.  The first was visiting the convent and order where my paternal grandmother studied for several years hoping to become a nun before having to leave for medical reasons.  The second is through taking my oldest son to a weekend program at the seminary for our area in Yonker's, NY - St. Joseph's Seminary at Dunwoodie.

What I have seen through these experiences is that these living, breathing communities are every bit as challenging, enjoyable and vibrant as any other kind of vocation.  The seminary is truly one of the most beautiful campuses I have ever visited.

Perhaps you already expected a seminary to look like that.  How about this - a recreation center with basketball, swimming, weights, table tennis, pool,...  It's hard to have a healthy mind without a healthy body, right?

What is the point of this?  Simply this.  The world needs more people who understand the value of sacrifice and who are willing to commit themselves to a cause larger then their own self interest.  But sacrifice in this sense only means "giving what you cannot keep to gain that which you cannot lose" (Jim Elliot, 1949).  When we commit ourselves entirely to the work the Lord has laid out for us, he has a way of compensating us far beyond that which our meager efforts could ever hope to earn.  If you feel Him calling you to something big, be it a religious vocation or something else, don't be afraid to answer.  You'll be glad you did.

For more on the beautiful and peaceful architecture of Dunwoodie, see the full album.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

My Musical Hero(es)

Those of you who know me know I love music.  Listening, playing, singing music is all good to me.  I've enjoyed most styles of music at one time or another in my life, but for the last 16 or so years, Christian music (some contemporary, some traditional) has been the main focus.  There is just nothing like a song whose melody and lyrics lift us up to God or place us in his presence.  Once you have listened to this kind of music, other styles sound like a pale imitation of something real.

When something touches your heart at its deepest levels, you want to share it with those around you.  For that reason I'd like to share with you about my favorite singer, songwriter and performer bar none, Steven Curtis Chapman (SCC).

With his 56 Dove Awards, 5 Grammy’s, 1 American Music Award, 16 studio projects, and 45 career number 1 radio singles, SCC is hardly a big secret of mine or anything, but I'm always amazed how many people I meet have not heard of him or listened to his music.  If you are wondering what possessed me to write this today, we saw Steven and a lot of his family in a very special concert night recently, but more on that later.  Let me start with the introductions.

He is a singer, songwriter, plays mostly guitar but does some fine keyboards as well.  Born in Paducah, Kentucky, he currently hails from Franklin, TN and the Nashville area.

The picture to the left (one of my favorites of SCC) I believe is from the sessions for an awesome acoustic album he recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London, former home to the Beatles.  How cool is that!

He and his wife Mary Beth were both born roughly in the mid-60s, around the same time as my wife and I.  They have three biological children and have adopted three times the same as we will soon have if all goes well.  Although they are roughly our ages they were married a good bit before us, so as we approach any milestone in life, we find the Chapman's have recently been there before and usually have some wisdom to share through their story and music.  Steven is a very gifted preacher and story teller, and has a way of sharing sacred scripture that is both accessible and memorable.

As far as those life milestones go, Patty and I saw Steven on tour the first year we were married when we were expecting our first child.  It was in Worcester, MA with the Newboys on the "Heaven in the Real World" tour.  The child we were expecting during that concert turned out to be our son Caleb, somewhat coincidentally the same name as the Chapman's oldest son (2nd child) Caleb.  It would be about 10 years before I would have a chance to see SCC live again.

In the intervening 10 years our family would grow from three to six members, two more by birth, one by adoption.  The Chapmans adopted a little girl from China.  We adopted our little Gabriela from Guatemala. Once again they were one step ahead of us leading the way.  Never ones to do things halfway, the Chapmans established an orphan ministry called show Hope after their first adopted daughter Shaohannah.

While we were busy with our first adoption and raising our new baby girl and other three children we lost track of the Chapmans, while continuing to listen to his music all the time.  The next thing you know we heard the wonderful news that the Chapman's had adopted not once more, but twice more, and were now the proud parents of three little girls from China.  This did not seem the typical family story of a super affluent Nashville family.  We were pretty impressed.

In 2005, I saw him live in Albany, NY with my two oldest children on the "All Things New" tour with Casting Crowns and Chris Tomlin.  I had never heard of either artist before that night, but Steven introduced me through that concert to what would become two of my other favorite Christian groups/musicans over the next 6 years.  Sure enough during the concert that night Steven shared a video and lots of stories about their three little princesses back at home.

Life rolled along for the Lococo family. In May of 2008 we heard with shock and horror that the Chapman's youngest daughter Maria Sue had passed away in a tragic accident in the family's driveway.  Our hearts grieved for this family and the little girl they loved so much that they sought her out to bring her home from the other side of the world.
Maria Sue Chapman Memorial

Like many around the world interested in their music or adoption ministries, we prayed for the Chapmans.  Around the same time we began to feel called to adopt again.  The story of our second and third adoptions (last one still in progress) are covered in more detail on our adoption blog "Hope for Every Child".  As we pursued that second adoption we waited to see how God would work in the Chapman's lives following this sad, sad event.  We didn't have to wait for long.

Within the year after Maria's death, Steven somehow found the grace to write again, and begin to process all they were going through.  He created a set of simple, raw, beautiful songs to describe the process that would ultimately become the recording "Beauty Will Rise".

Steven's good friend Michael W. Smith offered to create a joint tour titled simply "United" where they could go on the road together and try to begin a return to normalcy (in a professional musician's interpretation of that word).  Amazingly the show came to the wonderful Palace Theater in Albany, NY near us, so we got to see the show.  In an added treat, Steven's boys Caleb and Will Franklin, were traveling with him to learn the music business.  Caleb played backup guitar for the band and did really well!  The night was truly one of the best concerts of my life, with outstanding contributions from both the SCC and MWS camps present.  The amount of hope and strength exhibited by the Chapmans despite what they had been through was nothing short of inspiring.

It is in times such as these that you see if a person's faith is real or make believe.  Steven once again used every bit of his faith, speaking and writing abilities and musicianship to tackle this situation head on and search out his Father's will in it.

This concert was around November and we were in the middle of the process to bring home our son Addisu from Ethiopia the following June.  It was a beacon of light and hope to us during this process. 

That beacon ended up being much needed because the following Easter our entire Ethiopian adoption dossier was lost in transit to the orphanage.  Anyone who has ever prepared an adoption dossier knows this is not a small deal.  We actually got to see Steven and the boys twice during that adoption.  They came back even closer to our home to a nearby church in Poughkeepsie, NY in June 2009 shortly before I left for Ethiopia.  Seeing the fine musician's both  Caleb and Will were growing into was refreshing.  They were joined by Steven's good friend Geoff Moore for some good times during the evening as well.

Which brings us up to today. We are nearing the end of our third adoption as I said before.  The Chapmans and Show Hope have completed building a wonderful facility in China for special needs orphans called Maria's Big House of Hope.

And once again the Chapman's came to visit us.  This time for the "Night with the Chapman's" tour.  It was a wonderful chance to see the boys new band "Caleb", see Steve playing his new custom/signature model Taylor guitar, and hear Mary Beth's side of the story.

Two years after the tragedy the family seems to be doing really well.  Their work in orphan ministry and proclaiming the Gospel continues, and for now that is enough.  They know Maria is safe in her saviour's arms and they will be with her again in God's time.

Musically the performances were outstanding, and the boys proved their band can stand on its own with fresh, compelling, original songs of their own.  They still backed up Steven for his set and did a great job at that.  And Mary Beth got to poke some fun at SCC in a way that only a wife can.

So, what does this saga of adoption, family and Christian music mean, and why did I bother writing it?  I think it means, when you put yourself in he middle of God's plan and engage yourself in his work, wonderful things will happen.  Sad things will also happen, but you will be able to bear them, and even turn them for good.  It means we are all kind of the same regardless of if we live in Nashville or New York, are famous or regular, because we are all made is His image ultimately.

Thank you Steven and Mary Beth for your witness.  Caleb and Will Franklin - keep on doing your thing - you are on your way!  We love you all.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Keep It Simple Silly

Do you ever find yourself making the simple complex unintentionally?

Do you ever find yourself wondering what to do next when the answer is as plain as day before your eyes?

Do you sometimes find yourself worrying about things you can do nothing about, causing you to miss doing the thing that is needed right in front of you?

I must confess I struggle with all these things at times.  Ok - probably even frequently.

Like today.  It is a beautiful Saturday afternoon.  I happen to be near New York City today, and thinking of what happened there 9 years ago on the fateful and sad day of September 11th.  What can I do about all the sadness and strife in the world?

Then I read the prescribed (Lectionary) readings for today from Holy Scripture.  I just love the Psalms.  There is so much wisdom in them.  Today's verse from Psalm 116 says:
12 How can I repay the LORD
       for all his goodness to me?
 13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
       and call on the name of the LORD.
17 I will sacrifice a thank offering to you
       and call on the name of the LORD.   
18 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD
       in the presence of all his people
or as one translation says "I will offer a sacrifice of praise"!

There it is.  A question, and the answer, right in front of my face.

Thank you Lord.  Thank you for this day, for my family, for our freedom and each breath that I take.

Let us never take your gifts for granted.  Let us never fail to serve you and our neighbor.

Guide us in the paths of righteousness all our days.  Amen.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Cathedrals of Light

I have always loved churches.  The architecture, the artwork, their choir lofts and pipe organs.  The way they reach to the heavens and honor God by their very existence and the blood, sweat and resources invested by their builders.  I love to take and look at pictures of churches.  In fact, I have a collage of such photos posted to the web.  The cover photo for this album is a church I attended in Kingsworthy, England as a young boy.

This collage album has other church's of significance from my life.  Where we were married.  Our first church as a couple away from home.  The church where our firstborn received his first communion.  You get the idea.

Here is an album of our mostly renovated parish church, St. Peter's in Kingston, NY.

This church is part of a convent where my grandmother once studied.

Which brings us up to today. We were in the New York state capital of Albany doing some paperwork for an upcoming adoption and saw this beautiful cathedral.

Hope you enjoyed this little whirlwind tour through sacred architecture.  While God is everywhere and we can and should talk to him wherever we are, a proper church can give us a glimpse of what eternal worship will look like on the other side of life's veil.  Next time you drive past a church, stop and take a look inside.  God may have a message there just for you.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Justice for all in Manhattan

Much as I wish I could ignore the raging debate on building a "mosque" at  "Ground Zero", the press won't leave it alone, so I was forced to spend a couple hours reading today to decide for myself what is really going on here.

Any of you who know me, know that I am intensely patriotic and committed to Christian faith and tradition at the deepest level.  That doesn't mean I am for the abuse of the liberties of Americans who do not share my faith.

When you peel away the politics, the facts of the matter here are as follows:
  1. Park51 is a proposal for a community center focused at promoting American Islamic beliefs and interfaith dialog, part of which will include a prayer space for Muslims.  There are already other such prayer spaces within 800 ft. of the proposed site where Muslims have assembled and worshiped peacefully for 40 years.
  2. The proposed site is not on "Ground Zero" unless all of lower Manhattan is declared as such.  Much as I understand the scale and impact of 9/11 living near to the city and having worked in and around the site for a couple years after 9/11, I can't abide those that would call all of lower Manhattan "holy ground".  It is a city and business center that has grounds with quite varying levels of holiness, and there are a lot more important things we can do to increase it's holiness then try to keep out Muslims who are already there.  Much as I can get myself worked up over a discussion of the Crusades or the Battle of Lepanto, this part of Manhattan just isn't the equivalent of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where Jesus Christ lived, walked and taught.
  3. The people proposing this project are not radical jihadists.  In fact they are just the sort of Muslims that jihadists hate for conceding and pandering to infidels of the West.  The Wall Street Journal says of Faisal Abdul Rauf "Mr. Rauf, a Kuwaiti-born cleric who came to the U.S. in his teens, is an unlikely rabble-rouser. Over three decades, he has denounced terrorism and anti-Semitism, attended "peace seders," and preached democracy and human rights for the Muslim world. His congregation is diverse, bringing together black, Asian and Arab Muslims in lower Manhattan. The FBI once hired him to teach agents about Islam."
People of all faiths died on 9/11.  This center also includes a tribute to those who died on 9/11, including many Muslim Americans.

When we attempt to supress the rights of this group because it makes some groups of Americans uncomfortable (even if they are or become a vocal majority),  we ignore the very best parts of our Democratic and Christian roots.  If we fail to have charity for our fellow citizens, and if we place no value on their religious freedom, how can we claim to be Christian or American?

For a couple other reasonable explanations of what is going on see these articles on the "Ground Zero Mosque" that really is not a Mosque and not at Ground Zero:
I am not naive about the doctrinal or historical divides of Christianity and Islam, nor am I ignorant to the continued danger of terrorism.  I just don't think the debate as it is being conducted is doing anything to advance freedom, America or Christianity, but rather it is damaging all three and is therefore something I cannot support.

Let's let the laws of the land and building codes of Manhattan govern here, and let reason, charity and decency guide the rest of our actions and we'll all be a lot better off.  If the projects proposers decide to relocate to keep the "peace", it may make some politicians happy or feel vindicated, but I don't think any great justice will have been done.

Enter, Stage Left - The Rabbit

Our son Joshua (and his sister Elizabeth) have been in a number of productions at the Rhinebeck Performing Art Center (RPAC).

Joshua just finished up as the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.  Here's links to professional photos by Kathy Cassens of each of the Kids on Stage productions

Congrats to all the fine up and coming actors and actresses.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A beautiful, holy place

The traditional summer vacation is something we all look forward to. Time to get away from our normal routine, spend time with family and friends and all that. Many sites for a getaway come to mind. Sites of great beauty like Yosemite national park. There are sites that celebrate our national history or the arts. Millions flock to Disney and Six Flags parks all over the nation.

Often we are not aware that there are more economical alternatives that also have the benefit of great spiritual significance. There are churches, shrines and basilicas that celebrate our Christian heritage. Some far away and some are quite close. One such treasure of the US northeast is the National Shrine to the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Divine Mercy is a Catholic devotion celebrating the limitless grace and mercy available through our saviour Jesus Christ. It commemorates the private revelation of Jesus to a Polish nun, Sister Faustina. The diary of these revelations has many important messages for our times. In those revelations, Jesus conveyed the specifics of an image depicting his divine mercy that was later depicted by an artist like this.
Our church recently made a pilgrimage to this site, and it was a rewarding and refreshing day. I wanted to share a few pictures to encourage you to check out the devotion and site if you get a chance. This shrine has beautiful sculpture, architecture and artwork to honor many other saints as well.

The shrine is set in the beautiful Berkshire mountains.

The shrine itself looks something like this.

The site has an outdoor altar where a special mass is held on Divine Mercy Sunday (the Sunday after Easter) each year.

It has many other areas for quiet devotions including these tributes to Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

You get the idea. I have an album of another 75 or so photos if you are interested - just let me know.

So when you are planning your getaways, be they day trips or extended ones, research the significant spiritual places in the area.  You just may find a little piece of Heaven like Eden Hill.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

And now for something completely different...

I've talked much in this blog about the blessings of marriage and family in my life. Sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words.

Here is the light of my life on the day we were married.

Here we are on the occasion of our daughter's first communion, at the restaurant where we had our wedding reception! How's that for coming full circle!
And finally - that "quiver full of arrows" referred to in Psalm 127.

Wisdom from the past on the Blessings of Family

I have posted in the past of the importance of marriage and family in God's eyes as I have come to understand these things. Here are a couple of my favorite scriptures that seem particularly clear on the plan of the Father in this regard.

Psalms 127
1 Unless the LORD build the house, they labor in vain who build. Unless the LORD guard the city, in vain does the guard keep watch.

2 It is vain for you to rise early and put off your rest at night, To eat bread earned by hard toil-- all this God gives to his beloved in sleep.

3 Children too are a gift from the LORD, the fruit of the womb, a reward.
4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children born in one's youth.
5 Blessed are they whose quivers are full. They will never be shamed contending with foes at the gate.

Psalms 128
1 Happy are all who fear the LORD, who walk in the ways of God.
2 What your hands provide you will enjoy; you will be happy and prosper:

3 Like a fruitful vine your wife within your home, Like olive plants your children around your table.
4 Just so will they be blessed who fear the LORD.

5 May the LORD bless you from Zion, all the days of your life That you may share Jerusalem's joy 6 and live to see your children's children. Peace upon Israel!

Religious Liberty and Rights of Conscience

Before I start, let me state that I know many friends and family whom I love dearly disagree with me on the points expressed in this post. I respect their views and them. I ask only for the same respect to be heard and understood where possible. If you feel that is too much to ask, this post is probably not for you, so move onto a lighter post. ;-)

We live in a country founded on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In recent times this has sadly been taken to mean liberty to pursue anything except for timeless truth and spiritual freedom. The press is rife with concerns about the "radical right" taking over the country. This fear shows ignorance of a couple basic facts.

There is nothing radical about the Christian faith, except the radical demands it places on its members to love and serve others. Others here means all your neighbors including those of different faiths, cultures and lifestyles. Note however that loving someone does not mean accepting everything they do. Some things are just wrong for all people at all times and places. Murder is an example. Marrying a close relative is an example. There are others.

The other thing being ignored in these articles and conversations is that this country is not being taken over by Christianity. It was created and founded that way. Our laws are based on Judeo-Christian ethics that assume that basis for their proper functioning. To exclude (and persecute) Christian belief, is to destroy the foundation on which our nation is built. (And yes - I know that some of our founding fathers were not Christian, and were far from morally perfect. That does not negate the history and precepts they were relying on when they wrote our founding documents).

Some view belief in a moral truth, and simple convictions like the fact that sound societies must be built on sound families as a form of discrimination and intolerance. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most Christians believe in freedom of speech, religion, etc and simply wish those right's to continue to apply to them. By contrast, those on the political left demand recognition of their views as right, true and superior to all others. Where is the true intolerance there?

Take the debate on same sex unions as an example. The lines on extending financial and legal recognition to significant others and non-marital partners have long ago been crossed and extended. But that is not sufficient for these minorities. Marriage (which is primarily a religious and not a civil union, founded by the Church from God's own teachings on this subject) must be redefined to suit their whims and dispositions.

Why is maintaining the definition of marriage as a relationship between a man and woman important? Is it to exclude same sex relationships and make their members feel inferior? Of course not. It is recognition of a simple, biological fact which hardly needs to be explained to your average rational adult. Only through the natural complementarity of men and women can new members of society come into existence. Same sex relationships cannot generate new families or members of society. Societies cannot sustain themselves, much less grow and flourish without the birth of new children.

Science, and man made contrivances are a poor substitute for God's plan for men and women and the natural family. Study after study in the fields of psychology and social science have affirmed that children develop best in homes with their biological parents and the balanced influence of male and female personality and parenting. Obviously this does not mean that all heterosexual homes are balanced and functional - some are quite disfunctional. The same can be said of alternate lifestyle homes and families.

What is the solution to all this in the end? It starts with the ultimate of American "virtues". Respect for the individual and the rights of all people, which includes the rights of expression and freedom of conscience of Christians.

It continues with the rational acknowledgement that Christian marriage and civil unions are different for the reasons stated above. US Law may choose to acknowledge them as having equal civil privileges. Christian churches cannot ever acknowledge them as equivalent, because to do so would contradict the explicit design of our Creator. To demand the redefinition of a church institution/sacrament to meet civil or social whims and fads is a violation of the rights of conscience of our Christian majority (though by a small margin) in this country.

May God bless our land with compassion, and a willingness to hear and understand one another that we may once again have the blessings of peace and prosperity.

For more on why issues of family, life and conscience are things for which we must stand against the political tides, see the Manhattan Declaration, an ecumenical statement by hundreds of thousands (over 460,000 at present count) of reasonable Christian believers. Don't assume you know what it says and the writers must be religious extremists. Read it first before you judge. Isn't that the ultimate expression of tolerance?

Choosing a church - Does it Matter?

Whenever a close friend or family chooses to join or leave a church, questions arise. What was wrong with their old church? What caused them to join the new? Does it really matter what church we go to as long as we love God in our hearts?

This article addresses the question of what are fundamental reasons for choosing or not choosing a church. While it considers most directly choosing a particular congregation within a broader church, many of the principles apply to choosing one's major denomination and faith as well.

For the Christian, criteria for choosing a place of worship should include the following:
  1. Is the life of Christ visibly present in this congregation, not so much in what they say, but in what they do? Are they willing and able to serve each other and the surrounding community?
  2. Is the Word of God proclaimed honestly, truthfully, regularly? Is there apparent love and reverence for Holy Scripture? This implies knowledge of the Bible in the first place of course.
  3. Is the teaching of the church in accord with the history of the Church in the broadest sense? Is there reference to the earliest church fathers - those who learned from Jesus and his disciples directly and proclaimed the faith in the first centuries? Be cautious of a church that prefers modern "innovation" to truths that have withstood thousands of years of persecution. Is the unity of the Old and New Testaments proclaimed, the contribution of Judeo-Christian history and ethics recognized?
  4. For Catholic churches we must add the criteria of sacramental vitality. The lifeblood of the church flows through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Confession, Eucharist, Marriage, Holy Orders... Through these vessels the essence of the Holy Spirit is conveyed visibly and effectually from generation to generation until Jesus returns to the Earth to claim his own.

What should NOT be primary criteria for choosing a church?
  1. Are all the current members of the congregation perfect saints? (No church presently in existence meets this criteria).
  2. Which preacher is the most charismatic and dynamic? The prior point refers to pastors/priests as well. They are imperfect humans like the rest of us. They have good and bad days, and may err at times. Many people have left a sound church/congregation over a personal disagreement with the pastor, and this is a mistake.
  3. Which is the prettiest church in town?
  4. How cool is the music?

This second list is not to suggest that places of worship and the liturgy practiced there should not reflect the glory of the creator of the universe. It should be that as much as we are capable of making it.

Aesthetics no doubt do play a major role in attracting people to a church initially, but they will not keep them there. No one will die for the color of paint on the church walls, or the style of music played on Sunday (although they may be willing to bicker over it quite a bit over coffee or in a church council meeting).

What they will die for is the truths proclaimed by that church. That Jesus Christ is fully divine and yet fully human, one god, but also a blessed trinity.

When there is division in a church or community, the root cause is almost always emotional and the vice of pride inevitably rears its ugly head. One person insists something must be one way. Another insists the opposite. Neither can find it in their hearts to listen to the other and understand their point of view enough to compromise. We don't have to look any further then our own experience, and the unfortunate myriad of divergent Christian denominations in existence today to know that this is true.

This brings us back around to the question we began with. Does it really matter what church we go to as long as we love God in our hearts?

The answer is, it certainly matters what faith you proclaim and theology you believe to be true. It should matter so much that you would be willing to die for it if someone tried to deny you that right to practice it, as it did for martyrs from the time of Daniel to those persecuted for the faith in various countries of the world today.

It also matters that you worship in a specific local congregation, and which one it is. Private worship is necessary, but not sufficient. Same goes for communal worship. God created us for a relationship with him, but for relationships with our fellow man as well, and we cannot live in balance unless we are able to nurture and connect both dimensions.

If you are blessed to live in an area where there are multiple churches in your chosen faith, secondary issues of aesthetics can be used to decide between them. If there are no churches in your area that meet the primary criteria, it is worth traveling to find one that does.

Having chosen a community, do not leave it simply because the lectors or music ministry is having an off season. Ask yourself, are you committing as much of your personal talents to the community and liturgy as you could be to make it all it can and should be. A community is only as dynamic and vibrant as its' members, and their willingness to share their unique gifts.

Keep "first things first" and "secondary things second" and you are sure to find a place of worship that benefits you spiritually.

May God bless you on your spiritual journey, and may all roads lead us to the house of our Father in Heaven.

The Value of Life

Imagine a war where the casualties were over a million people a year. Imagine a war where the combatants had no regard for the lives of children or women. If such a war were occurring somewhere in the world, you would do something to stop it, wouldn't you?

That war is going on, and the battleground is the United States of America.

The war is between ourselves and our misguided notion of "freedom" and the fundamental laws of our being and Creator. It is between those who would follow God's law ("Thou shalt not kill") and those who value their own liberty and convenience over the life of another. It is the war against legalized abortion on demand.

Scripture says again and again, that God created us and knew us even as we were in our mother's wombs. (Psalm 139:19, Psalm 22:10, Galations 1:15,...). He also says children are a great blessing (Psalm 127:3). He condemns most strongly those who would sacrifice their own children (2 Kings 17:17).

In the Old Testament, he lays before the nation of Israel a choice. (Deuteronomy 30:16)

"If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today,
loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees,
you will live and grow numerous, and the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land...

If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen, but are led astray and adore and serve other gods,
I tell you now that you will certainly perish; you will not have a long life on the land...

I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.
Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live"

These words seem clear. It could hardly be argued that America is walking in God's ways any longer. We will not even allow his name to be uttered in public.

In the words of Father John Corapi:

"If we do not soon stop the genocide of abortion in the United States, we shall run the course of all those that prove by their actions that they are enemies of God - total collapse, economic, social, and national.
The moral demise of a nation results in the ultimate demise of a nation. God is not a disinterested spectator to the affairs of man."

A nation without God in the public square is a nation without a soul. A nation that despises God's law is doomed. You need only to look to history to see the outcome of nations without a strong moral fabric.

Stand up for what you know to be right. Stand up for life and liberty as the forefathers of this great nation did. And remember - Freedom doesn't always mean the ability to do "what you want". The greatest freedom with the greatest outcome, is when we see ourselves as free to serve others, and ultimately to serve the God that gives and preserves life. That is a freedom that Americans have most uniquely had for the last couple hundred years, but it can be taken away.