The Las Vegas Massacre

•October 7, 2017 • Leave a Comment

crucified-lord

In 2001, I was preparing for my day at Focus on the Family—I was a senior Fellow then—when out-of-the-blue my brother called from Chicago: “Michael (he gasped), a plane has just hit one of the Twin Towers in New York City.”

That was, of course, the beginning of a story that is reverberating across the nation and around the world to this very day.

Then came my time to go to work and teach after just witnessing the second plane do the same thing….

Immediately I thought, how could I (as a priest) remain silent or disconnected from such a terrible event?

And so, I left my suit and tie behind me (my academic regalia at the time), and instead came to work at the Institute in my “blacks”, complete with clerical collar.

Yess, up until then, I had only been known as “Dr. O’Donnell”, but now—and from then on—I would simply be addressed as “Father”.

You see, the people of God gather at such times expecting that they will hear an anointed word from God.

To miss this cruel moment is to overlook an immense opportunity to herald the power of the gospel amidst the crucible of life.

And so, today, (likewise) after witnessing what the press is calling—the Las Vegas Massacre—some of you have come hoping to hear something from another world, a kind of declaration from eternity.

Yes, these moments, too, demand a pulpit response.

Haddon Robinson, a noted educator and homilist, has coined the phrase, “Preaching through the pain.”

Pain and preaching often go hand in hand, both in the experience of the preacher and in the hearts of those who listen to him.

Someone once asked: “Where is Jesus most fully encountered?”

Well, could it be that when you find the pain you find Jesus?

Or, to put it a different way, is it pain that often pries open the heart to hear the still, small voice of our Heavenly Father?

If this is true, what an opportunity crisis can provide.

You see, this is when people listen best.

What I said from the lectern to my students during 9/11 is no longer in my memory.

But I do know that I used that day to speak to the hurts, fears, and uncertainties that all my students felt — long-since graduated, they still carry a deep sense of responsibility and concern for the terrible events that occurred in New York City that day.

But these moments—like this past Sunday night—demands a pulpit response that goes far beyond the crises imposed on the church by evil, external forces; they also include the agony of Christian disunity,

…the pain of doctrinal and political discord,

…the grief of corrupt leadership,

…the shattering effect of sinful conduct,

…and even the constant pressure of financial woes.

Yes, these too are moments that demand a pulpit response.

And so, for those who have come this morning seeking answers, let m briefly present my list of the possible whys:

  • Each of us is part of a fallen race. Thus, none are immune from its consequences.
  • We can never fully understand God’s ways. His ways are far above our own.
  • God uses, what He does not cause, so that we can learn to trust Him. We call this, “God’s Permissible Will”.
  • Because our attachment here should remain tentative. The life of God’s perfect design awaits us in eternity.

Here, also, is my list of cautions about the possible whys:

  • People in pain need a loving presence. To stand by the side of people in pain is more powerful than words: show up and shut up.
  • Accept the fact there are no easy answers. God, being God, has not chosen to explain all that He allows to be done.
  • Trust is always the coveted response to crisis. Having done all, simply stand.
  • Keep an eye on the eternal.

By contemplating the shortness of this life when compared to eternity to come …

Hear what the Psalmist says in chapter 46, beginning with verse one:

1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.

5 God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.

6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

7 The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

 8 Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations he has brought on the earth.

9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields[b] with fire.

10 “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Yes, there are moments that demand a response from the pulpit — a word that resonates with a deep sense of God’s love and grace.

And these moments of crisis become invitations to proclaim the Word in such a way that it will bring …

peace where there has been strife,

understanding where there has been confusion,

hope where there has been despair,

comfort where there has been sorrow, and life where there has been death.

Yes, these are the moments that demand a pulpit response.

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A Time to Love … 2017

•December 30, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Alrighty folks, it’s TIME to get ready for the New Year and all that comes with setting goals and buying new calendars. What will be your New Year’s resolutions? Will they deal with weight, wealth, or just plain mental and spiritual well-being?

Actually, we have a lot to think about … a new president is about to be sworn in, the stock market is rising, and real estate is at an all-time high–well, okay, maybe not in Ogdensburg! But, things do seem to be getting better.

And yet, we don’t dare rely on what this world might offer in the way of hope and stability. The Bible is quite clear in warning us that this world is not our home. Our goal setting should not be about living comfortably this Side of Heaven, but in planning for what is our inevitable future with God.

After having had another heart attack, life has changed dramatically for me. I’m trying to see things less from a worldly point of view.  Even casual acquaintances are more important to me now than ever before. Why? Because everything is so fleeting. Here today and gone tomorrow, as they say.

And so for me, and I want to encourage you to think about this, too, I’m going to strive to live everyday as though it might be my last. Therefore, how I attempt to treat people–especially, family and friends–will be with that extra care everyone deserves.

Would you please join me in 2017 in treating others as you would like to be treated? This isn’t just a good idea, but a Biblical command: “Love one another just as in Christ Jesus, God loved you” (John 13:34).

With Treasures in Heaven,

Michael+

Pitch Black

•December 30, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Dear Precious Lambs,

It is early in the morning and our Lord, who never sleeps, has invited me to stay awake with Him and pray.

While meditating on “Thy will be done”, He has gently asked me to release the lambs that weigh heavily on my heart; they are (after all) His, not mine. So much suffering, frailty, tender weakness, and loss of life.

Tonight their despair is too great for me, so I must surrender them to my Christ; who reminds me, I’ve not so sacrificed for them as to shed my blood.

He is their Shepherd. He died in their stead so that they might have life–and life more abundantly. It hurts to let go and let God. But, “Thy will be done.”

Now, I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord, my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.

God bless you,

Michael+

Time to Let Go and Let God

•May 5, 2015 • 3 Comments

Okay dads, I’m now part of an exclusive club: my daughter is getting married … heavy sigh.

Her upcoming nuptials reminded me of when she turned 16 and, to make the best of my growing despair of one day giving her away in marriage, I put on a suit and tie and took my daughter out for a candle-light dinner at a swank restaurant in the heart of the “Shops Kaylaat Briargate”.

I also gave her a “purity” diamond ring—wrapped in a beautiful jewelry box with a bow—and asked that she remain chaste until the “man of her dreams” puts a wedding ring in its place; so, until then (I explained) her heart will just have to belong to daddy!

Turns out, we had a wonderful evening—despite my anxiety—as we talked about… well, anything her little heart desired. Mostly, I sat gazing at her captivating smile and marveled at how all grown up she appeared to be. I was praying (to myself, of course), for just the “right” guy who, one day, would sit where I am sitting and similarly gaze into her beautiful face and nervously pop “the question”.

Please God, bring a gentle soul; a true man of God, to love my baby until “death do them part”. And now, that prayer has been answered.

Back then, however, I was smiling as she joked, but secretly I was fighting back the tears. I don’t want her to grow up, I was thinking at the time … I want her to stay young and live at the end of our hallway on the second floor of our house in Colorado Springs forever.

Oh, sweetheart, daddy loves you so much! So much, that I’m going to let you take flight, now. I’m just going to let your soon-to-be husband, Zachary, bask in your engaging presence while I thank God, through Jesus Christ, that such a daughter (however briefly) was given to me–to love and to hold.

This gratitude will have to suffice and ultimately sanctify my most common hours contemplating your Wedding Day when you will finally leave hearth and home and be joined to your husband—so that the two of you can become one flesh.

If he will love you even half as much as I love your mother, then my worries will subside, and I will walk you down that long, lonely isle to give you away for your hearts to be joined forever.

Be a Man, Husband, Father Set Apart

•December 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

My dad (m) with my older brother Billy (r)[God gave me] to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. —Romans 15: 16, NIV

There is an incredible concept that we need to grasp found in the writings of the apostle Paul and elsewhere in the New Testament. Paul calls it the “sanctification of the believer” (see Romans 15:16; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). “Sanctification,” simply means that little by little I become “set apart” from my old way of responding to life by the slow, powerful, determined work of the Holy Spirit in my daily experiences.

Sanctification occurs over a long period of time. You see, the idea is that every day after my baptism I am to let God show me parts of my life that need to be changed from my character to His character. When I see my weaknesses, failures, and sins, I go to Him for empowering grace and forgiveness by confessing and repenting of wrongdoing. I let God put the fruit of Christian character in its place (see Galatians 5:22-23).

Living It Out as Fathers

Fathers, as a man before God you can cooperate with the Holy Spirit as “Supreme Mentor” to your son or daughter. You need to trust that He will give your believing son and daughter insight on a regular basis, both through the Bible and through his or her conscience (see John 14:25-26; 16:12-13). He will cause your son and daughter to ask, “Is it wrong to do this?” “What is the right thing to do?” or “What should my Christian attitude be?” In these instances the Holy Spirit will bring insight — maybe a scripture or a memory of what you, their dad, would say or do — to help lead them down the right path.

Though you and I can be spiritual coaches, it is the Holy Spirit then, and no one else, who will give your son and daughter the power to live a life that’s different and godly. If we teach our children to yield to this process and not ignore the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit, then God will mold them into strong men and women of good character.

The familiar illustration is that of a molder in a foundry who sits by a crucible of molten metal that is not yet fit for use. As the molder watches the crucible, he occasionally removes some of the dross as it bubbles to the surface. He knows the job is done when he can see his own face perfectly reflected on the surface of the molten metal as in a mirror. So it is with the work of the Holy Spirit. God continues to cleanse and change us until He sees the image of Jesus Christ reflected in us, His sons and daughters.

The key is to help our children see the parallels and, likewise, yield to the work of the Holy Spirit (often depicted as a flame) instead of simply exerting their own will over sin. Paul the Apostle knew well the tactics of mere legalists, who were trying to force Christians to abstain from wrongdoing: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” (Colossians 2:21). He knew, however, that “such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom,” but lack any power “in restraining sensual indulgence” (vs. 23).

Discipline as a Tool

Paul likened the Christian life to a race. He talked about disciplining himself much the same way an athlete trained for the Olympic Games in Rome. Teaching your sons and daughters some simple, spiritual disciplines is important. Disciplines like a quiet time, study of the Word, prayer, and fellowship—will help our sons and daughters yield their lives to the heavenly Father on a daily basis so that He can guide and change them.

Richard Foster writes in Celebration of Discipline:

“Picture a narrow ledge with a sheer drop-off on either side. The chasm to the right is the way of moral bankruptcy through human strivings for righteousness…. The chasm to the left is the way of moral bankruptcy through the absence of human strivings…. On the ledge there is a path, the disciplines of the spiritual life. This path leads to the inner transformation and healing for which we seek. We must never veer off to the right or the left, but stay on the path…. As we travel on this path, the blessing of God will come upon us and will reconstruct us into the image of His Son Jesus Christ. We must always remember that the path does not produce the change; it only puts us in the place where the change can occur. This is the way of disciplined grace.1

Remind your children that that surviving the crucible difficulties or trials is the way of disciplined grace.

Put It into Practice:

Invite your son or daughter to go with you to a place of serenity — preferably, outdoors. Have a quiet time together; study God’s Word together; pray together. Help your children understand that you take such discipline seriously as a part of discerning and hearing the “still small voice of the heavenly Father” and better grasping God’s will for your life as a sanctified man of God.

1. Celebration of Discipline (New York, N.Y.: Harper & Row, 1978), p. 7.

Fr. Michael preaching at World Prayer CenterFr. Michael A. O’Donnell, Ph.D., is a best-selling author, researcher, and international lecturer best known for his Adolescent Wellness Research Project. He is a former Professor of Family Studies and Department Chair of Psychology & Behavioral Sciences at Rochester College. And he currently serves as Rector of St. John’s Church in Ogdensburg, N.Y. Michael’s eight books include A Question of Honor and How A Man Prepares His Sons for Life, which was nominated for Christianity Today and Gold Medallion book awards.

D.I.Y. Spiritual Training for Your Kids

•December 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Richard and his two boysAre you a do-it-yourself kind of guy? How about when it comes to teaching spiritual lessons to your kids? For some guys, that’s harder than finishing the basement or changing the oil. But sometimes it just takes some good ideas to get started.

Try one or more of these to take a walk through the Bible with your sons and daughters—to drive home some important points while your kids are home for Christmas break. Ask them for 30 minutes or an hour so that you can begin to highlight the following books or passages of Scripture with them. In true D.I.Y., man-of-action style, I’ll keep the list short and sweet.

1. Read a proverb or the whole book of Proverbs, which speaks out against sloth or slack and in favor of being diligent, hardworking, and wise.

2. Read and discuss Paul’s warning in 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (NIV). How does it apply to you and your kids?

3. Read about the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30, which talks about God’s expectations regarding the abilities He has given us. Talk about each of your own abilities, how you’re using them or not, and what you could do to apply them best.

4. Review Paul’s counsel that equates work with serving the Lord, not men (Colossians 3:23-24).

5. Review sins that pertain to the marketplace—pilfering (Titus 2:9-10), slackness (2 Thessalonians 3:11-12), being a man-pleaser (Colossians 3:22). How do these apply to you?

6. Study “the wife of noble character” in Proverbs 31:10-31, who “works with eager hands” and “gets up while it is still dark” and is “clothed with strength and dignity.”

7. Read Genesis 2:2 about God resting after His work. What does this teach us about keeping the Sabbath a day set apart for rest, Sunday worship and family?

Here are a few more starters for thought and discussion.

8. In Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he provides an entirely new paradigm of delegation, called “Green and Clean.” The idea is to train our sons and daughters to be stewards who are trusted, their own bosses governed by conscience and committed to agreed-upon results. Ask them how will such an approach help prepare your son or daughter for the workplace? How can it apply to them now as students?

9. Ask them what this Indian proverb means: “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” How does it apply to them? How does it apply to you in the task of preparing your son or daughter for the workplace?

10. Covey writes in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “No amount of technical administrative skill in laboring. . . can ever make up for a lack of nobility of personal character. . . . It is at a very essential, one-on-one level that we live the primary laws of love and life.” Ask your kids if they agree and why or why not.

Which action will you start with to engage your kids in spiritual lessons?

photo illustration of Fr MichaelFr. Michael A. O’Donnell, Ph.D., is a best-selling author, researcher, and international lecturer best known for his Adolescent Wellness Research Project. He is a former Professor of Family Studies and Department Chair of Psychology & Behavioral Sciences at Rochester College. And he currently serves as Rector of St. John’s Church in Ogdensburg, N.Y. Michael’s eight books include A Question of Honor and How A Man Prepares His Sons for Life, which was nominated for Christianity Today and Gold Medallion book awards.

Good News!

•August 15, 2014 • Leave a Comment

prayerI didn’t quite believe it until I read it for myself …

Two Amish girls, 6 and 12, who were abducted just outside their home, were returned to their parents in less than 24 hours. Something you rarely, if ever, hear about these days.

I ran to my brother’s room and literally shouted the Good News! We stood there, just hugging and crying for joy, because what had once been lost had now been found by the mercy of God.

So … what just happened, my friends?

A miracle?  Why, Yes. A genuine miracle of when heaven and earth meet. When two hardened hearts, predisposed to do evil, are stymied by the unseen hand of God, and all who witness it are at once transported from this known physical planet called “earth” to the supernatural Kingdom of our Christ. A kingdom where the blessed Trinity reign…

St. John describes it in Revelation 21:10-27, this way:

10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.

12 It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.

13 There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west.

14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

15 The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls.

16 The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 1,400 miles in length, and as wide and high as it is long.

17 The angel measured the wall using human measurement, and it was 200 feet thick.

18 The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass.

19 The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone….

21 The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass.

22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.

24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.

25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.

26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.

27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

And so, we all witnessed a miracle … and for a brief moment, our collective prayers from every conceivable denomination, from Jewish, Protestant, to Catholic, in neighboring towns, boroughs and cities all throughout the North Country rose like incense as a sweet smelling savor into the nostrils of God.

And, the heavens responded, mightily.

You see, a battle was waged against the supernatural forces of wickedness in the heavenly realm, with St. Michael the Archangel leading the charge.

The kidnappers’ plans were cut to the quick.  How dare they conspire to lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed—two darling daughters of God.  No doubt, God used their underestimation of the Amish girls against them and both Fanny and Delila, guided by the Holy Spirit, were able to slip away, alive.

And so, I just had to talk about it.

I knew you’d agree.

To pass it by as some casual event; or worse, merely happenstance would perhaps be a kind of anathema this side of heaven.

And so, I wanted to rejoice with you and celebrate the goodness of God and commend increased unity among Christians and all God-fearing friends. Indeed, a cord of three strands is not easily broken; and, so too, when Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic peoples join forces in prayer.

“How good and pleasant it is,” says our Lord, “when brethren dwell together in unity.” Perhaps this will mark a change; a kind of revival, if you please, in acknowledging what was spoken by God so long ago:

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”


About the Author

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The Reverend Michael O’Donnell, Ph.D., OSF,  the Rector at St. John’s parish in New York, is married to Rachel, a principal with The Classical Academy, and they have two grown children—Patrick (married) and Kayla (engaged). They have been married and in love for over 27 years and in 1991 lost an infant daughter, Cara, to a birth defect.  Home from Oz (Word) and The Oz Syndrome(Hillcrest) were books that Michael penned shortly after her death that helped him to process her early passing.  Michael  is also a principal blogger for Faithhappenings.com .

For a view of his parish St. John’s Church, please click: St. John’s Church in Ogdensburg, NY

For a more complete academic bio, please see: Wikipedia Article