Posted in My Journey

Answered Prayer

My family’s life is slowly getting back to a semblance of normalcy. We are learning more and more about autism, and learning more and more about our son each day. We have a predictable schedule set for him, a list of daily activities to go through with him, and lots and lots of prayer to carry us well into the week. Had it not been for all the prayer, I do not believe we could have had the miraculous turnaround that took place last month with him. Because, really, it was a miracle he woke up as he did from autistic shutdown.

This weekend was a breakthrough weekend for him. Finally, after months of growth, I was able to cut his hair and trim his beard. I say breakthrough, since after we had come back from Niagara Falls in October, he had not wanted anyone to touch him. Now, he is allowing hugs, kisses and me cutting his hair, which is a big deal for our family.

Again, much of the successes we are currently experiencing with our son are all due to prayer. I cannot see it being anything else. Naturally, patience and a lot of determination have made a difference with Luana and me. But, I would say, prayer is the key for us here.

I remember reading about Jesus and about how the night before he died on the cross he was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying for his disciples while, at the same time, Judas was betraying him to the high priest. Throughout the whole thing, he knew what he had to do, he knew he had to give up his life for the sin of all, and with prayer, he confirmed his fate as the Lamb of God:

“Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done’” (Mat. 26: 42 ESV).

Sometimes there is no other solution than to rely on God, petitioning him in fervent prayer, not only us, but others on our behalf. He does listen. I can attest to that. Otherwise, we would not be seeing the progress with my son that we are seeing with him now.

My son dresses himself, washes his face, eliminates regularly again, speaks, answers questions and sits out in the backyard. He has come a long way from not speaking and only staring for the better part of the day.

All of it I attribute to prayer.

Therefore, if you feel there is nowhere to turn, turn to God in prayer. He will answer. My son is a living example of answered prayer.

Posted in Other Things

What Is Autistic Shutdown?

My son is out of the hospital. I cannot express the joy my family felt two days after Christmas when the doctor told us we could finally take him home. It really was a miracle. We had thousands of people praying for him, and we, too, had asked God for his intervention. Imagine our surprise once we heard him speak again for the first time in a month.

I am writing this post with the hope that one day it will help other families with autistic children recognize what an autistic shutdown actually is. Because when it happened to our son, we did not understand it. We thought we had done something wrong and we blamed ourselves. In truth, autistic shutdowns do happen, and they commonly happen to high-functioning autistics, much like it did to my son.

Symptoms of Autistic Shutdown

  • Catatonia
  • Lack of self-care (includes hygiene, food intake and elimination)
  • Unresponsive to external stimuli
  • Non-communicative (complete mutism)
  • Staring at one spot
  • Withdrawing from social situations

The way it happened with our son was that one day, early November, he suddenly stopped. He stopped talking. He stopped looking around. He stopped doing anything for himself. He ate, but minimal. He held his elimination process until late at night when everyone had gone to bed. Most of the time, he sat in his bed and stared. If we tried to move him, he would stiffen. If we asked him questions, or talked to him, there would be no response. He seemed to be lost in his thoughts unable to break free from the state he was in.

We initially thought depression was at the center of it all, but other than a few statements he had uttered before his shutdown, we had no other indication that could be the cause. Then we thought he might be experiencing some other form of mental illness. We had gone as far as trying our best to fix it ourselves, like we had done throughout his life. I mean, we are talking about a kid who grew up with many people around, wrote short stories, wrote music, learned how to swim, won a gold medal for Speech Arts at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, took part in recitals, went to college, and was thinking about getting a job.

So for us, we have never seen this behavior before and that is why we had to get him to the hospital as soon as we could. We wanted to know what was happening to our son.

Medical Assessment

Once at the hospital, medical doctors ran tests to rule out the most likely causes for his state. Blood and urine tests all came back negative, which was great, but we still did not know what was causing the catatonia and mutism. Doctors ordered a CT scan to detect if there were any anomalies residing in his brain. It came back clean. At that point, doctors sent my son to the mental health unit of the hospital, where he stayed until his discharge.

Metal Health Assessment

Of the half-dozen psychiatrists who saw my son over a one-week period, three had formed opinions. One suspected he was bipolar, which did not make any sense to my wife Luana and I. My son had never shown emotional instability, where his highs were highs and his lows were lows. The second doctor believed my son suffered from depression. Again, we did not see any sign of it, considering months before his shutdown he was smiling and laughing. He would have his off days, but not to the point where every day was darkness to him. We would have known it. We were speaking frequently with him throughout the day. Finally, the third psychiatrist suggested my son was battling schizophrenia, news to which Luana and I felt like a cinder block had struck us in the head. No way was he schizophrenic, we thought. Yet, it was not until several days later that Luana found the symptoms to schizophrenia are much like those of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Nonetheless, the psychiatrist prescribed a treatment of Olanzapine.

My son had never been on any medications throughout any part of his life, no less, anti-psychotics. The first 10mg dosage caused vomiting and diarrhea. The doctor lowered the dosage to 5mg daily. The expected result was that if he suffered from a psychosis (i.e. bipolar disorder, depression or schizophrenia), we would see a big difference with him. It did calm him, where he no longer resisted medical aid, but he had not broken from his catatonic state. That was what we were hoping, and it did not happen.

He was on the medication for three weeks before the attending psychiatrist requested a family meeting with us to discuss next steps. In that meeting the doctor said, the medication was not working and would like us to consider ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy). The only exposure I had with ECT was with the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, where the nurses used it as a form of punishment for when patients were not cooperating with their treatments. Naturally, I had my reservations. I learned, however, the treatment would work if, again, my son were suffering from a psychosis, from which Luana and I did not believe he suffered. Further to this, as one of the nurses explained to us, it would take a series of six to eight ECT sessions, to start, for the treatment to be effective. Even then, there may be monthly maintenance sessions my son would have to go through after discharge in order to ensure the symptoms of the psychosis do not return. Luana and I left the hospital devastated. For a week, we had no idea what to do.

Our Treatment Plan

Around this time, Luana began reading about Lorazepam, a benzodiazepine meant to treat anxiety disorders. In independent clinical studies, the medication showed a marked improvement in autistic patients suffering from catatonia. The only drawback was that the medication was highly addictive and withdrawal could trigger seizures that could potentially prove dangerous or fatal in some patients. When we discussed this medication with the psychiatrist, we first expressed our concerns with ECT, that we wanted to exhaust the medicinal route first, leaving ECT as the last resort. Next, we worked out a treatment plan, signed a consent form, and requested to have 6mg of Lorazepam administered daily to our son over a 72-hour period.

At the same time, I wrote a personal appeal for prayer to all my friends and relatives on facebook. I felt it important to have as many people praying for our son as possible. I released the news to the public and sure enough, the post went viral, garnering shares from people all over the world. This was all happening the day before my son received his first dose of Lorazepam. Luana and I had shed so many tears over the weeks that the only thing left for us to do was what we were doing the whole time, and that was to pray. The verse in the bible that comforted me the most was this one:

“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16 KJV).

An Awakening

The afternoon after my son received his first dose of Lorazepam, Luana and I went to visit to see how he was doing. One of the nurses who had cared for him all these weeks stopped us in the hallway. She said that she had never seen him act the way he did before that day. He was smiling, speaking, and playing cards. It was as if something woke him up from whatever state he was in and he was participating in life again. All the nurses were talking about him, too. Because not only had they never had an autistic young man who was catatonic in their ward before, but they also had never seen such a stark change in someone, as it happened with our son.

The psychiatrist quickly called us the next morning wanting to have another family meeting. We were at the hospital within the hour. He asked us what we wanted to do next. This was a couple of days before Christmas. We did not even have to think about it, since we had already discussed it before our meeting. We said that we wanted our son to stay in the hospital a few more days for observation. Luana and I wanted to make sure our son had healed from his catatonic state and he would still be talking once we brought him back home. The doctor agreed, and two days after Christmas, the hospital discharged my son.

My Son Today

Wednesday will be two weeks that my son left the hospital. During this time, we managed to wean him off the medication ourselves by promoting a diet rich in GABA. Now that we have confirmed anxiety was the cause for his autistic shutdown, we are teaching him techniques that allow him to control his mental wellbeing on his own. Deep breathing exercises, resting, reading are de-stressor activities he now enjoys doing. Identifying the cause of the anxiety is still on our list of things to do.

We also found he is not yet ready for crowds or people, at least, for long stretches of time. He does well with short visits, but anything longer than half-an-hour seems to cause him to regress into a protective state of staring and mutism that lasts upward to an hour. Twice this happened with him so far since he has been home.

He is looking after his hygiene, but not without prompting from us. We had to show him how to shower again, brush his teeth and comb his hair. He has yet to allow us to cut his hair or trim his beard, which we believe is a sensitivity issue due to his autism.

We discovered as well that he has a more pronounced desire to maintain a daily routine, something he was lacking last year due to all the changes that took place in the family schedule. For example, he came down to have breakfast yesterday morning without changing out of his PJ’s, because his clothes he needed to change into were not in their usual place.

Lessons Learned

Overall, the autistic shutdown my son experienced has taught our family some valuable lessons I would like to share with you.

  • Our autistic son thrives on predictability and routine. Should anything change, we would have to let him know in advance in order for him to adjust to the change.
  • We keep the home quiet of blaring sounds and noise. For me, this was difficult. I am Italian and everything with me being Italian is loud. I have had to usher in a quiet peace in the home, which now is having a wonderful effect on my son. A soothing environment promotes wellbeing.
  • Luana is slowly introducing GABA-rich food into our diet. GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) is one of the body’s primary neurotransmitters that calm the central nervous system (CNS) of anxiety. Cherry tomatoes are high in GABA.
  • Sleep now is a big thing in our family. At about 8:00PM, our family begins to wind down. This process also places our son in a frame of mind of wanting to go to sleep. The more rest he has, the better the next day will be.
  • He will have good days and bad days. I have learned this, and there is not a thing I can do about it except accept it.
  • Too much external stimulation lowers his ability to cope. I found that like a computer, my son’s brain could only deal with so much before it stops accepting things to process. I have had to learn to do one thing with him at a time. He does not multitask, at least, not for now.
  • We ask him one question at a time, as well. We give him ample time to respond, and we do not answer the question for him, unless he has trouble expressing his words.
  • We now speak to him with simple language and simple sentence structure. When we add multiple ideas in a sentence, we lose him. Therefore, one idea at a time, in the simplest terms, seems to work with him.
  • As parents of an autistic child, we ought to know what his limitations are. Regrettably, our son does not know his own limitations. He may want to push himself beyond what he can handle, or do, and find himself at the edge of another autistic shutdown.
  • We have replaced many of my son’s anxiety-driven activities (i.e. video games) with those that enhance a calm state of mind. Family board game nights and card games tend to bring us all together and give us a chance to bond. In the summer, we will be looking forward to a family vacation.
  • We learned a lot about people while my son was in the hospital. There are those who placed blame on us for what happened to him. There are those who promised to visit him and did not. There are those who said they visited him and did not. Some people even went out of their way to tell us what was wrong with our family, not realizing their own families may one day have a similar situation happen to them, and they will be looking to us for comfort.
  • And there are people we could not live without, who surprised us with their support, who comforted us with their kind words toward our son, who gave of their time to visit him when he was in the worst of conditions, who hugged, consoled and encouraged us when we were in a place we would not want anyone else to be in. To those people, I give you our gratitude and appreciation, for you have brought our family incredible joy we would otherwise not have had, had you not been there for him.
  • Most importantly, Luana and I thank God for being there every step of the way. While the storms of trial swirled around us, God was our rock, our fortress and our salvation. He comforted us when we needed comfort, blessed us when we looked for answers, and guided us when everything appeared the darkest. God, through Jesus, gave us the hope we needed to move forward. He was the one who provided us with the strength we so truly searched. He, above all else, showed us the greatest compassion.
Posted in How-To Guides

How to Find Gladness in God

I will make this a short post, as I know everyone is busy, and time is limited to a few sound bites and perhaps several interesting quotes to carry us through the day.

Think about this for a minute: The universe is 13.7 billion years old. A light-year is the distance light travels in a single year, which is 6 trillion miles (9.5 trillion kilometers). This translates to a speed of 186,000 miles (300,000 kilometers) a second. The universe is 93 billion light-years in diameter and always expanding.

We live on Earth, third planet from a star called the Sun, in the Orion Arm, one of the spirals in the Milky Way galaxy. There are 100 billion stars in our galaxy, each of which may have planets of their own.

About 3 trillion galaxies populate the universe.

Each of us is one of 7 billion people who live here on this tiny planet.

Now I ask you this: Is it possible we are wrong to think God, the one who created the heavens and the earth, made a mistake when he sent Jesus to die for our sins?

After all, who are we who live on this insignificant planet called Earth, among the 100 billion planets in our galaxy, among the 3 trillion galaxies in the universe, that God should so love us in such a way as to sacrifice his only son so that we could share in the inheritance of all things?

It sounds crazy!

And yet, that is exactly what God has planned for every person who believes Jesus is his son. He wants us to inherit the universe and everything in it, just as it says in Romans 8:32“He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (KJV)

So today, as we make our way through the events that shape our lives, let us consider God’s view on this: We may be one of 7 billion who live here, but his plan is to give us all things according to his promises and his love for us.

If that is not something that brings gladness to your heart, then look toward the night sky for your inheritance.

Posted in How-To Guides

3 Steps to Being Happy with What You Have

What is happiness? Is happiness attainable? Is it something I can give to someone else? In other words, can I make someone else happy? Or, do I need something—whatever it is—to make me happy?

These questions I will try to answer with this short article about being happy with what you have.

1. Throw Away Envy and Ambition

Remember how you felt when you received that shiny new phone for Christmas? You had resolved that nothing in the world could ever take away your happiness.

That is, until you saw someone else using the upgraded version. Now, you want one, too.

Envy and jealousy are like poison to happiness. No matter what, someone will always have it better.

The best way to fight the urge to compare oneself with another is to take life one day at a time. Satisfaction comes from realizing today’s problems and successes are for today. As the cliché goes, tomorrow is another day—another day to fail, another day to succeed.

As I believe Jesus is the son of God, I also look to the bible for wisdom. James 3:16 says, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” NIV.

There is nothing wrong with planning. Wise stewards plan. But if planning leads to wanting to be better than others, then there will be no happiness.

Throw away envy and ambition and allow happiness to flood your heart and your mind.

2. Stop Humanizing God

There was a time in my life that I used to think God did not know what he was doing. I saw all the misery around the world, the pain people suffered and I did not believe God could ever fix this mess.

It was too great, even for him.

Thinking that way led me to invalidate God and ask that if he could not fix the world, how could he fix me? In a sense, I humanized God.

Making God equal with me made the thought of his inaction bearable.

I was wrong. Once I began to know God and to learn why he did the things he did, by reading his word, praying, going to church, I learned about real happiness.

I learned God does things in his own time. He allows things to happen because it suits his plan. I may not understand it all, but I know his decisions will make sense to me eventually.

Having the faith that God will work things for the best is my reassurance he loves me and is greater than me or anyone else. I may be a sinner, I may stumble and fall, but he will never leave me. He has never left me, nor will he ever.

That reassurance is another layer to my happiness.

3. Be Grateful

Have you ever exercised and found yourself exhausted to the point that you would give anything for a glass of water? Think about how it felt when you finally took that first gulp.

Satisfying. Thirst-quenching. Happiness.

For a single moment in time, nothing else really mattered. The neighbors could have been bickering, your car payment could have been late and your dog could have suddenly developed a case of worms.

But, for that moment—you were grateful.

Imagine carrying that grateful feeling throughout the day—all the time.

You would not complain about the noisy passenger on the train next to you. You would give food to the homeless sitting at the street corner. You would forgive those who had done you wrong.

Your life, as you know it, would change all because you were grateful with what you had.

You would not worry about money. You would not worry about peace. You would not worry about anything, really

When you are grateful, everything else falls into place.

When you are grateful—there is no reason to be unhappy.

Posted in How-To Guides

How to Love Unconditionally

What does unconditional love mean? How does it apply to those people who have harmed us? We could easily dismiss them and move forward. That is a realistic choice.

But how different would that make us from everyone else?

Would it not be more constructive to love our enemies in spite of their hatred toward us.

The high road is a far better road on which to travel.

Of course, we could never reach this decision without some help.

Love God

I recently read in the bible a reminder of what it means to love unconditionally.

Matthew 22:37-39 says, “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (NIV).

To love God—to really love God—means to do his will. His will is for us to worship him with joy and gladness in our heart.

And why not?

He sustains all things, great and small. His power infuses life in the largest of galaxies to the tiniest of particles. He set laws in motion for us to experience the wildest of sunsets to the most incredible of sunrises. His hand glides over the oceans imbuing his strength to the deep, so as we may marvel at his glorious handiwork.

When I kneel before him, I give him praise for his wonderful majesty over my life.

I would not be breathing, if it were not for him.

I learned unconditional love by his love for me. I did not ask God to love me. He does it because that is who he is.

God is love.

Once I learned that, loving others came easy.

Love Others

Oh, what a world it would be if there were no more wars. Oh, what a life it would be if we could only resolve hatred in our hearts instead of on the battlefield.

When we reach that point in our lives that it makes more sense to allow God to work in us than to take matters into our own hands, that is when we finally allow love to work his will in our relationships.

God is love.

If God lives in us, it is easy to let a slight pass. It is easy to say to those emboldened to offend us, “I forgive you.” It is easy to see the other person’s point of view. It is easy to understand their actions. It is easy to fall asleep at night and not hold on to things for the next day. It is easy to make amends with those who do not want to make amends.

It is easy because unconditional love does not hurt, destroy, ridicule, hate, put down, torment, or devastate.

Unconditional love is just that.

Love.

Posted in Bible Studies, My Journey

There Is Hope

I would like to take a few minutes to talk about something that has been a weight on my heart for quite some time. Many of you may want to skim through this post to get to the point, but I know that if you read every word and listen to what I have to say, God will truly bless you.

This year has been good to me. I found God again, I returned to church, and I have a whole new set of people of whom I now count as my friends. I have learned all about forgiveness, love and joy beyond that which is superficial. I am also able to worship God with arms spread wide toward the heavens, much as I have read David had done countless occasions when he praised God.

Consequently, I have also made changes in my life that I could not have made had I not received the Holy Spirit earlier this fall to help me with my daily walk with the most high God.

Now, it may seem obvious that I would want to talk about how God has changed my life, given how I used to write about horror and all its variations, however, at this time, I do not feel God is leading me to do that. I am sure there will be a period in my life when I will have the opportunity to talk all about my change from being self-centered to thinking about others. I just feel now is not that time.

Therefore, if I am not going to talk about what is on everyone’s mind, why even write this post at all?

A Calling from God

With the Holy Spirit leading me, I believe God has a plan for each person reading this post today. He has never been shy to reveal to me what his intentions are concerning my life. Somehow, I believe, some of you need to hear these words. Perhaps he is also revealing to you through me your calling to reach out to him for comfort.

I know life is hard. Life is tough—especially now. For some of you, Christmas is a dark time of year. The lights mask the loneliness you feel when everyone is telling you that you ought to be joyful. Yet, how can you feel joy if nothing exists in your heart but emptiness? Yes, the gifts are aplenty, the food is delicious, and the company you entertain during the holidays may make it seem as if you lead a fulfilling life. Still, the emptiness remains.

Conversely, some of you may not even have enough money to purchase the simple necessities, let alone a gift for someone. Your families may also be broken, which makes getting together a chore, rather than a delight.

I am here to tell you there is hope (Eph. 1:11-12).

God Comforts the Brokenhearted

God is love (1 John 4:16). He is here for those who are looking for comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-4). He is here to heal the brokenhearted (Ps. 34:18). He is here never to let you go. He really, really does love you, in spite of it all. You may feel that you have done the worst thing in the world, but if you come before God and sincerely confess your wrongs, he will forgive you (Acts 2:38). He always does. All he wants is to have a relationship with you.

Forget about not feeling worthy. Forget about the guilt. Allow God to give you wings so that you can fly (Isa. 40:31). Allow his light to flood the darkness and provide you the freedom to escape your troubles (John 8:12).

There is no other God than he (Deut. 4:35). He created the heavens and the earth (Isaiah 42:5). He set the earth on its foundations (Job 38:4-6) and separated the day from the night (Gen. 1:5). He made everything under the sun (Isaiah 44:24) and breathed life into our lungs (Gen. 2:7). He is the awesome God. And his life lives in every one of us who believes (John 3:16). His mercy is just and his righteousness endures forever (Ps. 111:2-3).

In the good and the bad, all glory goes to God.

Somehow, and you know who you are, you needed to hear this.

Posted in Bible Studies, My Journey

The Righteous

“I am worried. I do not know what to do. I have made mistakes and I do not know if those mistakes will come back to shorten my days. The future seems dark, the present seems long, and I do not want to remember what happened in the past, as it makes me think of the wretched life I led.”

Or so I used to think.

When I was unrighteous, my insecurities swelled with boasting—boasting of my talents, boasting of how I lived my life, and boasting of my successes. In reality, I was missing something. I did not know what that something was until I discovered it with new eyes (Acts 9:18 ESV throughout). Even more so, I was not searching for anything. Instead, it appeared as a blip on my spiritual radar that would light up occasionally to tell me it was there, getting closer to the center, and me not doing anything about it.

Only, what I thought was my center was nothing more than sin living in me (Rom. 7:17 NIV).

Over the past several months, I have gone through a transformation. I wrote about this transformation and the things that I have learned in my previous post Forgiveness. In short, I wrote about reconciliation and letting go of grievances in order to move forward to becoming a new person in Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17 NKJV). I also learned God has played a bigger role in my life more than what I was expecting. I found evidence of a deeper theme running through my years that, although I was not aware of it, came in the form of a realization.

This post is about that realization.

The Verse That Changed My Life

Those unfamiliar with the Holy Bible, the book of Matthew, chapters 5-7 is where Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Mount, teaching his disciples about God’s blessings on the humble and the peacemakers, instructing them on how to overcome anxiety, and encouraging them to set aside treasures in heaven. As God was leading me into a new walk with him (Mic. 6:6-8 NIV), the one scripture that kept appearing everywhere throughout this period came from Jesus sitting on the Mount,

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mat. 6:33).

Do Not Be Anxious

Learning about the concept of “and all these things will be added to you” required me to not only search, but after having found it, to read the entire passage in context beginning from (Mat. 6:25), “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” The anxiety one feels striving after food, drink and clothing also extends to attaining lodging and all the other necessities this life has to offer. In other words, Jesus says I should not worry about all that. Verse 26 explains why, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” He goes on to explain that Solomon, King of Israel, once the richest and wisest man in the world, could not compare his array of royal garments to the attire with which God clothes the lilies of the field.

When I think about it, there really is no need to hold on to that sinking feeling of uneasiness regarding tomorrow because God has it all figured out today. If he can look after flowers and animals, which are of lesser value than I am, who is to say God will not take care of my needs? Did he not create me out of the dust of the ground, shape me into his image, and breathe into me the breath of life making me into a living soul? Has he not given me dominion over all things under the heavens and in the sea below? Was it not he who forged the universe and everything in it promising it as an inheritance to all who believe in his son for generations to come?

If he could do all that, he can certainly look after my needs and me. Nothing is impossible for God (Mat. 19:26). Jesus even emphasizes this point when he concludes his teaching by stating, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Mat. 6:34).

To understand Jesus’ intentions when he came to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, I had to define what the kingdom of God was. To do that, I dedicated last year to accomplish one of my life goals—to read the bible from cover to cover. I reasoned that if I needed to understand God’s will, I had to understand his word.

Much to my astonishment, I am reading the bible again this year for the shear pleasure of it.

The Kingdom of God

During one of my study sessions, the very first verse I came across regarding God’s kingdom I found in the Lord’s Prayer, “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’” (Mat. 6:9-10). Above all things, Jesus wanted God’s kingdom to come on this earth and taught his disciples to desire likewise. And why not? Part of his mission was to proclaim the kingdom of God to the entire world, as described in the gospel of Luke, “And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose’” (Luke 4:42-43).

Aside from being the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world (John 1:29), Jesus also taught others to seek the kingdom of God. However, he preached his message in such a unique way that the people at that time sought him from all the ends of Judea and Galilee. Only, his method of delivering his message was not for preaching the kingdom of God to everyone but to a select few, “And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven’” (Mark 4:10-12).

As strange as it sounds, Jesus taught in parables not to make things clearer, but to hide the true meaning of God’s kingdom. Odd, is it not? Why would Jesus do that? Why would he want to hide the true meaning of the kingdom of God? Was it not his mission to save everyone from his or her sins?

Surprisingly—for that time—no.

Jesus was the sower planting the seeds, and it was his disciples who would reap the harvest (Luke 10:2), in terms of the new church he was building (Mat. 16:18-19). The book of Acts reveals the actual growth that took place once Jesus had ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit for all those who hungered for the kingdom of God, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).

Over the course of his ministry, Jesus likened the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, yet, once fully grown, provides a shade for which birds can build their nests (Mark 4:30-32). Said differently, Jesus emphasized how his ministry, proclaiming the kingdom of God, which started humbly soon after the arrest of John the Baptist (Mat. 4:12-17), would one day flourish to engulf the entire world, as written in Revelation 22:1-5, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”

Being a believer to me means looking forward to the time when God will reign over all things with power and great glory, and his kingdom, of which Jesus proclaimed there would be no end.

Yet, the kingdom of God is only one-half of what I should be seeking.

God’s Righteousness

Getting back to the last part of (Mat. 6:33), where Jesus stated “and all these things will be added to you,” I desired never to worry about food, drink, or clothing ever again. Instead, I concentrated my efforts on God’s will.

His will for me was to seek his kingdom. His will also was for me to seek his righteousness.

Of course, what I did not know was how to define God’s righteousness. In my mind, righteousness had to do with integrity, morality, and walking upright in the face of adversity. However, those were just words according to my own opinion. Anyone, really, could have an opinion as to what God’s righteousness is. What I wanted to know, though, was God’s definition of righteousness. At any time, had he made a clear statement about it? If so, where could I find it? Was it something complicated I could not understand on my own? Or was it as simple as reading a single passage?

Psalms 143:1-2 came to mind, where it talks about God being righteous. However, there is more to it than that. It says, “Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness! Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.”

When I first read this, I wondered if I even had a chance to understand God. If no one is righteous, what is it to say that I can seek his righteousness in order for him to bestow me all things? I had to know more. It could not simply end there.

And it does not end there. The apostle Paul wrote the book of Romans as a means to address the necessity for justification through faith due to sin, as he wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Rom. 1:16-17).

Paul was saying faith gives life to the righteous. Without faith, the righteous could not understand God because faith reveals God’s righteousness. To put it another way, faith is my lifeblood. Faith is the means by which I will know God. Hebrews 11 demonstrates that throughout the generations great biblical figures have accomplished incredible things, not from anything other than by faith.

Therefore, as Paul stated later in Romans 6:1-11, death does not have dominion over me because I have died to sin and am now alive through faith in Jesus. Verses 12-14 says, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

It took me a long time to figure out what Paul meant because I thought through grace I was free to do whatever I wanted, including sinning without penalty. But Paul was not condoning that idea at all. On the contrary, I became aware of sin through the knowledge of the law (Rom. 3:10-20). Without the law, I would not have known what sin was. Additionally, when sin is no longer the chain that holds me in bondage, I am free to act as God’s instrument for righteousness.

Who Are the Righteous?

Throughout these studies, though, the question that kept resurfacing was, “Who are the righteous?” If Psalms 143:2 declares that no one is righteous, and in Romans 3:10, Paul agrees, then why does Jesus say, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mat. 9:13)?

The bible is replete with verses pointing to the righteous as those whom God will show favor.

For instance, Abraham attempted to intercede on Sodom’s behalf asking God if he would punish the righteous along with the wicked for the city’s iniquities (Gen. 18:23). And after Solomon built the temple of the Lord, he presented a prayer of dedication to God expressing his desire for God to condemn the guilty all the while rewarding the righteous according to their righteousness (1 Kings 8:32). And the prophet Isaiah foretold of God’s judgement on Judah and Jerusalem assuring the righteous the protections afforded to them by the Creator of all things (Isa. 3:9-10).

Nevertheless, the question remains: Who are the righteous?

The apostle John, the disciple whom Jesus loved and whom Jesus gave charge over his mother while hanging on the cross (John 19:26-27), wrote his first epistle to the church in Asia Minor (now Turkey) instructing believers there to remain faithful to the truth. In (1 John 1:5-6), he wrote, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” Later in verse 9, he said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Now, for a long time I had to think through that idea because I had the notion I was unrighteous. I thought my sins would always keep me separated from God. Yet, what John was saying is God will purify me and make me righteous.

John brings the message home in 1 John 3:7, “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.” And to ensure it is God’s righteousness of which he is referring, John explains it clearly this way, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (v. 8-10).

I cannot describe how incredible a truth (1 John 3:7) is. I will repeat it once again, “Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.”

Which brings me to the realization I spoke about earlier.

The Wow Moment

Jesus gave his life as a ransom for sinners (Mark 10:45). He was perfect in every way, without blemish (1 Pet. 1:18-19). He was righteous. To think I could measure up to Jesus’ stature is unthinkable. Still, the scriptures are clear. If I practice righteousness, I am righteous, as he is righteous—not only I—but also everyone who repents, accepts him as savior, and sins no more.

No other truth comes close to understanding God’s love than for him to have given his only begotten son, Jesus, as a sacrifice for the sins of the many so that I and everyone else can live a true life in righteousness.

And that, dear friends, is a wow moment!

I learned this over the course of several months, but not after a lifetime of doing things the wrong way. I still find it difficult to imagine that I had no clue who God was.

Yet, he was there for me. He never left me. He simply waited—waited for me to catch up while he did a great work (Deut. 11:7).