Friday, March 23, 2007

Swim or Drown

Do not be afraid, for I am with you... Isaiah 43:5

When the girls were small we were fortunate to have a family house at the beach. With all the water around, Al and I thought it was important for them to learn to swim. We did put them in swimming lessons but to supplement their lessons, I would play that fun game, Swim or Drown in our calm shallow bay.

How this game worked was I would take one daughter into bay where I could stand but she could not. I would tell her to swim to me, and as she approached I would step back. And back. And back. She would yell to me "Mommy, don't move." And I would smile and say back to her "Swim or drown!"

Before you call DYFS on me, let me point out that, both daughters survived to ages 17 and 19. Both can swim and my older one is a swim instructor and life guard at the YMCA. I would never play this game with other children, only my own. The trick with my own daughters was this: they knew I loved them and would do anything for them. They knew I would never let them drown. So while they huffed and squealed, they were never really afraid because they knew I might let them go under once, but I would never left them drown.

My walking backwards encouraged them to try when they otherwise would quit. My presence gave them confidence. And they knew for sure that I could swim.

Because we have had a busy ministry week at church, I was reminded of this game. I felt what God was playing Swim or Drown with us. Stretching us, allowing obstacles to be thrown in our way, walking backwards almost, to encourage us to know all that we can do in His power.

And when children get sick, cars get hit, people have other obligations and cannot help, roofs leak, technology limits us, even the size of our building constrains us, I huff and squeal and say, "Father, don't move." But our game make us stronger. Builds our faith. Reveals His power. Demonstrates His willingness to use us broken vessels for His glory.

Despite the trouble and confusion, His presence gives us confidence. And we know for sure He can swim.

And yes, I am tired when it's over, but I always want to play again. Join me, won't you?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Free Coffee, Free Mercy

This morning I stopped at StarBucks. I needed a caffeine jolt and decided to treat myself. There was a longer line than usual, but I was willing to wait. When I ordered my small coffee, I found out why there was a line. The smiling man behind the counter said, "Good news! Today is National Coffee Day and your small coffee is free!"

I looked doubtful and so he continued his well-practiced speech. "Yes, today, between the hours of 10 am and 12 noon, at any StarBucks, you will receive your small coffees free." He finished pouring my coffee and placed it on the counter. I continued to look at him, mouth hanging open, I suspect, wondering what the catch was. It sounded too good to be true. "Do you want anything else?" he asked.

"No," I replied, willing the test the waters, thinking he was going to say I had to buy something else in order to get the free coffee. "I only wanted coffee."

"Ok," he said, grinning broadly and handing it to me, "Thanks and have a great day."

I walked out of there shaking my head. I still couldn't quite believe it. But I was thinking, "Gee, what a great marketing trick! We should try this where I work!"

I work in a church. And I thought, yes, we do this too. All the time.

Every day, all day, and all night too, God gives away mercy and grace for free. That's the good news. For the asking is love and acceptance, forgiveness of sins. Every tear will be wiped away. Every wound will be healed. We are offered an eternal relationship with the Creator of the universe. Just show up to enjoy community with the the King of kings and all His children. Joy, peace and life eternal.

Jesus Himself has poured the cup for you. There is no catch, nothing else to buy. Free, free for the asking.

Just one thing. Don't forget to drink it.

Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." John 4:13-14
BTW... At our church we do have free coffee and bagels, every Sunday, after services.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Al's Testimony, in his own words

On Friday, April 8, 2005, it was a chilly, raining morning. About 6 am, I was just finishing my route in Belmar, coming down Belmar Boulevard, and stopped at the light. The light changed for me to go and I proceeded. When I was crossing the third lane on the highway, lights on the right side of the truck caught my eye. I saw an 18-wheeler bearing down on me, coming into my front side door. I made a hard left and the truck hit my front right door, only a couple of feet away from where I sat. The impact sent me and my truck flying about 160 feet into the grassy fields towards the NJ Power and Light gas lines, which the truck narrowly missed.

As I went flying in the truck, a angel of the Lord helped me to have a soft landing in the cab. When I picked myself up, I asked myself, “why was I spared?” I was shaken but I only had a scratch on my hand. I felt that the Lord had spared me for some future purpose.

In the accident, when the angel gave me a soft landing, I felt like my heart was ripped open. In the next six months, I recovered from the physical shock of having the 18-wheeler barrel into me. After the first six months, and the shock subsided, the trauma to my heart began to to allow me to experience emotions that I had never felt before.

In the year that followed, my wife, Barb, and my daughters were confused as to exactly what was happening to me. There were days when I was angry for no apparent reason and other days when I showed love for everybody. I also remember at times, my love for Barb was changing from a physical attribute to more of an sentimental, emotional loving and caring. But as the months passed, it seemed like a roller coaster ride of different feelings that I had no control over.

Almost a year and a half later, on October 2, 2006, my uncle Donald suddenly died. At the wake, cousin Louise relayed this story to Barb and I.

The morning of Uncle Donald’s death, his son, my cousin Don, stopped by his house to try to convince my uncle to be more tenderhearted with Aunt Olga, his wife. But my uncle and aunt were having problems and my uncle had hardened his heart. He refused to heed my cousin and instead shouted, “I’m going to hell and I’m taking your mother with me!”

That evening, as he sat to watch TV, Uncle Donald had a massive heart attack and died. By the time the paramedics arrived, he was already gone.

When cousin Louise told us this story, my heart sank deep; it was badly hurting. By that time, I knew about accepting the Lord. Barb had been talking to me about this for a long time, but in that final month, she had been repeating this to me. I remember her emphasizing letting the Holy Spirit enter your heart and letting Him work from within.

But I wasn’t quite ready to give up my identity as a Ruglio.

My grandfather, Frank Ruglio, was a strong-willed person. Either he liked you or he didn’t and you always knew where you stood. He had a stubbornness and meanness at times but he also had a big heart. He also was intent to show he was the head-boss, which was something I always admired. He always knew what was the thing to to do at the time.

My father was the head of the family also. All or most decisions had to go through him for approval. My mom never questioned this. This was how I was raised. I thought these were great character traits to have and to show.

However, the problem with stubbornness is that you are not open to other people and their feelings. You are not open to the Holy Spirit either. You know best and that is just the way it is. This was the trait of my grandfather, and then my father and his brothers and it passed on to me and my brothers.

When Barb and I argued, it was always my logic against her feelings, and since they were only feelings, they were invalid to me. Once my heart was opened by my experience in the accident, I started to change inside. But the story of my Uncle Donald was the part that totally broke my heart.

On October 8, Barb and I left for the Poconos to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. She was reading a book by C.S. Lewis called The Great Divorce and we were still discussing the implications of what had happened to Uncle Donald.

The book illustrated, in a more meaningful way, how I was putting worldly idols in front of the Lord. It explained specific things that I had to do in order to accept the Lord into my heart. It explained how my life was full of sin, because idolatry was sin. I never really understood this before.

Also I had a heaviness in my heart because of my uncle. It just felt so sad that my uncle had said that just before he died and for some reason, I didn’t want to go that way. It just wasn’t right and it wasn’t what I wanted.

Barb and I continued to talk about it, and before she fell asleep, on October 10, she prayed with me, about accepting the Lord into my heart. She fell asleep, but I had a rough night. It was like a whirlwind came into my house, and it was throwing out things that no longer belonged. That whirlwind was the Holy Spirit. He changed my attitude, and I felt what I later read about in the Bible. He helped me to die to all the things that no longer belonged in my life. That night I promised to keep the Lord in my heart, for Him to be part of me. It was a very emotional night.

The next day, I had a peace and a different outlook. We went to a Poconos Christmas store and they sold items about the Lord Jesus and St Nick, but I felt repelled about the St Nick items, that he was stealing the attention that rightfully belonged to my Lord.

The next night the Holy Spirit returned to me for more house cleaning and afterwards a love and a peace totally overcame me that night.

I thought Barb knew what had happened to me, although I didn’t outright tell her. My feelings were so strong that I thought it showed. However, a week later, I realized that she didn’t know and this was how I told her.

She was standing at the sink with a cup of water in her hand. I stood up and took hold of her finger. “You can do this,” and I placed her finger in the water, “or you can drink it.” Then she knew.

All this time, I had been in a house surrounded by Bibles and believers, but I had never received it myself. Now, it was inside of me too. I had drank the Living Water.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Who is the enemy? Who is my Hero?

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12

It is not them.

It is him, the enemy of my soul.
he wants me to despair
he wants me to give up
he wants me to think this is death and not only a valley.

It is not them.

It is Him, my Savior, Beloved Jesus, Mighty God, Love of my soul
He fills me with HOPE
He is Stronger than my enemy
He is Trustworthy and True
He is the Giver of Life
He will build His church
He is Victorious!

I must tell Him -- He is Able

I must trust Him -- He will Do It

No one else
No one else
No one

Because You alone are Lord.

They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, O Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that You alone, O Lord, are God. Isaiah 37:19-20