Posted in Other Things

Rise Up

[Note from Jack Flacco: I have known Erica Hedtke Barreto for several years now. Her love for Jesus and the bible is beyond measure. When I asked if she would like to submit one of her articles to me for publication, she jumped at the chance. Below is the result. Please join me today in welcoming Erica as a contributing writer for Looking to God.]

What do these three entities have in common: Voldemort, Beetlejuice and the devil? All are evil and all their names are not to be spoken aloud. However, just because we may choose not to say their names, does not mean all of them are fantasies.

Not saying “Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice” does not change the fact that in fictional reality, this utterance would cause him to appear. In the same way, ignoring the devil’s presence will not change the fact that in our reality he very much exists and very much interferes in our everyday life. By ignoring his presence, we end up giving him power. We are like a parent who looks the other way as the child steals the piece of candy off the shelf. Rather, what we should do is call him by name and catch him in the act. Otherwise, we let him win. He goes about his time thinking that he owns us and knows exactly how to mess with us. We let him wreak havoc on our days, on our confidence, and on our relationships.

We need to recognize that the devil is as real as God is. We need to be okay with saying his name. We need to remember that he is that evil, little monster whose job it is to play mind games and to manipulate us into thinking we are not good enough for anything. From that point on, you call him on it. Do not allow him to sneak into your thoughts; he does not deserve any power over you. Confess in that moment, “The Lord is my light and my salvation,” as it says in Psalms 27:1. And if you notice that he is using his number one warfare tactic—fear—then continue that verse by saying, “whom shall I fear?” We are children of the King and our God Himself told us that if we are His, then we have no reason to fear anything.

So listen up devil: we see you. We hear you. And we are not afraid to put you back in that rightful place our King has sent you!

Let us rise up in 2019 not to be afraid to speak our salvation aloud. Let us not be afraid to take down these evil enemies. Jesus already won the war. Now, with His help, it is up to us to win the battles.

Posted in My Journey

A Gentle Spirit

Be kind to one another. Love each other as Jesus loved you, insomuch that He shed his blood for us while we were yet sinners. Give and never fear of going without. God will always provide. He is the one who created everything. Is it so difficult for Him to supply the needs for his children?

Above all else, remember to have a soft and gentle heart to those who wrong you. They are lost, and they do not know what they do when they are harming you. The apostle Peter says it this way:

“For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” (1 Peter 2:19)

Be merciful to your persecutors. For as it says in Hebrews 10:31, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

A gentle spirit is humble. A gentle spirit is pure. It does not desire vengeance, nor does it desire evil for evil. It returns love for hate. It shows understanding when there is a lack of wisdom. And it promotes comfort for those times when others feel insecure.

Never be afraid to show the world what Jesus looks like living inside you.

Posted in My Journey

What Is Love?

Love does not hate; it does not boast, nor does it seek revenge. Love cares for another more than oneself; it is not proud, arrogant or unmerciful. Love leads, conquers prejudice, and gives even when in need. Love is not afraid and will always be kind.

It would be easy to quote the apostle Paul’s inspired words about love from 1 Corinthians 13, but one of the greatest thoughts about love comes from Jesus himself, when he said:

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

Jesus demonstrated that very love when he died on the cross for us in order to pay for the penalty of our sins. And although the night before his death Jesus fervently prayed to God regarding this great responsibility placed on his shoulders, he still accepted it because it was God’s will. No other act in human history depicts just how much God loves us than for him to have given his son Jesus as a sacrifice to redeem us from death.

What is love? It is to look upon Christ’s sacrifice and to conclude how selfless an act it truly was for him to give his last breath for us sinners. It is to become like Jesus and to sacrifice ourselves for others as a means to allow Christ to live in us, not only in word but also in deed. We Christians owe our lives to God, and what better way to show our love for him than to give as he gave so that we can experience the fullness of his love living in us. No greater love is it than to sacrifice one’s life for friends.

As we move into the new year, let us resolve to let our light shine so that others may see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven.

Posted in My Journey

My New Book Is Here!

I am pleased to announce God Is Love: Comfort Through Trials is now available for download. All royalties go toward supporting Looking to God Ministries, an organization dedicated to spreading the Word of God through outreach programs, literature and preaching. Below is the Preface to the book:

I grew up Catholic. That means I was baptized into the Catholic Church. It also means I received my First Communion and my Confirmation in the Catholic Church. In all that time, I knew God existed, but I had a different idea of who he was than what I know of him today. I thought he was old. I thought he was distant. And I thought for a good portion of the bible that he was very angry with people.

It was only after I hit my twenties that I began to question God’s nature. I did not question his existence because I knew he was alive, well, and looking after us. I did not need a degree to understand that. All I had to do was look around at nature and I could see God there. For me, it never made sense to think God was dead when all I saw were the seasons changing like clockwork and the animals following a pattern of behavior. No, what I questioned were things like, “How could God, who supposedly loved so much, care so little for people that he would allow them to suffer?” And I wondered, “What kind of God was he if he would cause that suffering?” Because allowing something to happen was one thing, but to actually cause it?

So for a long time I searched for those answers. I was part of a cult for a number of years and learned about a god who was more interested in the letter of the law, than of the spirit of the law. Throughout that entire time, God was still an angry god who would punish Christians who sinned and would reward Christians who obeyed. Jesus was a passing notion, an emissary, delivering a message of the coming of the kingdom of God.

It was then that I had stopped attending church. My disillusion with organized religion was just the beginning. I simply felt no one had a clue who God was and why suffering existed in the world. For twenty years, I laughed at people who would put their faith in a god who did not care for their well-being.

Soon, one January morning, I began to read the bible. I had made a resolution that I would read the bible in its entirety strictly for its literary value. Little did I know what would happen to me. I began seeing a god who ruled all creation. I began to see a god who looked after his creation. I saw God love human beings so much that he would give his only son as a sacrifice so that he could save them from the penalty of sin, which is death. Then I saw my life unfold before my eyes.

I returned to a church, and as quickly as I had returned, a year later, my oldest son took ill. He spent a month in the hospital having suffered an autistic shutdown. That month was when God revealed himself to me. He showed me why people suffered. He taught me trials were good. And he took care of my family throughout the ordeal.

If you are looking for answers, read God Is Love: Comfort Through Trials knowing I was looking for answers, too.

Posted in My Journey

All Glory to God

All glory to the Highest, King of Heaven and Earth. Let all the angels praise His name, for He is good. There is no one greater than God. He reigns supreme above all things. There is nothing He has not made, for He made all things. He is the beginning and the end, the creator of all, and we are in his image, wonderfully made, perfectly crafted.

“And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (Revelation 4:8)

Give thanks to God, worship Him with arms outstretched; praise Him in the fields, praise Him in the woods, praise Him in the quiet places. Give glory to the Father of all, for His gift to us is eternal life through Christ Jesus His son.

The Lord is our rampart, He is our protector, He is our guard. His mercy is forever and His life lives in us through his Spirit. Worship God in the mountains, worship Him in the valleys, worship Him from sea to sea.

“And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’” (Isaiah 6:3)

God is good. All glory belongs to Him. Let us give Him thanks, praise Him and worship Him in all that we do. All glory to God.

Audio transcript:

Posted in My Journey

The Reward of Our Trials

When I think about of all that has happened in my life, of all those times when I could have failed miserably, and of all those moments when one decision could have altered my future permanently, I am thankful. God could have allowed one of those fleeting instances to change my life irrevocably. But he did not. Instead, he looked after me. He watched over me. And he protected me as I went on my way. Why?

That question, why? is a big question to me. Why would God spare me the pain I would have otherwise experienced had I endured certain trials?

The Apostle James talks about trials this way:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

James is saying, trials offer opportunities to grow in faith, in that no matter what happens to us, God will give us the patience to endure whatever trial comes our way. Saying it another way, God will provide the help we need when we suffer.

I may have avoided certain trials, but I cannot tell you how many times I have felt alone, broken and upset, only to find God there, waiting to help me. He never leaves us. He is there always, hoping that we would come and give of our hearts to him in prayer. All God wants is a relationship with us. He offered his son, Jesus, as a sacrifice for our sins. Everyone who believes Jesus is the son of God will have salvation. So how difficult is it to understand that God loves us more than he loves anything in this universe?

When I think about trials this way, it is then easy to accept the truth that God allows suffering, because no one suffered more than Christ did on the cross. And although Christ’s suffering was not a trial for him, his whole purpose for coming was so that we who suffer would have hope—hope for a future—hope for eternal life. James confirms this when he says, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).

Friends, continue to love God as he loves us, unconditionally and without end, for as we love him this way, our trials will then be as steppingstones toward our reward, which is the crown of life.

Audio transcript:

Posted in My Journey

Be as Little Children

The kingdom of heaven belongs to the little children. That is something Jesus said. Jesus made it a point to encourage his disciples to receive the kingdom like a child. What does that mean? Here is the text as written in Luke 18:15-17:

“Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’”

A friend of mine recently said to me, “I used to be so passionate and driven. What happened?” I took a moment and thought about it, and then I realized God was trying to tell me something; not only tell me something but also tell my friend something. People do not say these things without a reason. There is always a reason for their statements.

I explained it this way: I think, and this is purely out of my own experience, that as we get older we tend to lose more and more of our childlike qualities because the stresses of reality tend to choke them out of us. We are looking so much at what is happening now, with the bills to pay, the meals we have to prepare, the clothes we have to wash, the friends we think others want us to be, that we do not look at what God has given us and what he wants us to be. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.” I thought about this a lot, and I believe kids are the happiest when they know someone loves them. Now I know Christ loves us, otherwise he would not have given his life for us like he did. But I also think that somehow, as we grow older and as we try to become more like Christ, we should remember what it was like to be as a child. That means, not worrying about what comes next, but living for God every day in the best possible way we can. How am I making a difference by simplifying my life so that the cares of this world do not choke God’s gift from me.

That was my quick explanation. As I give it more thought, however, I am more inclined to go deeper. Matthew 18:3-4 is Jesus’ answer to his disciples when they were arguing about who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. He said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

In other words, we have to turn, or have a change in heart, in order to become great in the kingdom of heaven. That change in heart requires having the humility of a child. Of course, we cannot do this on our own. When we come to Jesus and ask for forgiveness for all our sins, he will give us the Holy Spirit to help us have that change in heart.

Let us strive to become more like children, for great will be our reward in the kingdom of heaven.

Audio transcript: